This article originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on October 31, 2013.
Oh, the perks of Aberfeldy. As well as being a scenic realm and earthly muse to Robert Burns, the leafy Perthshire town is on the verge of a weekend of pop, art, poetry, cinema, fireworks and amber carousal. And it’s all to the tune of King Creosote, Stanley Odd, James Yorkston, Conquering Animal Sound, Withered Hand, Meursault and more.
Now in its fourth year, and sponsored by Dewar’s (whose historic distillery is based in the town), Aberfeldy Festival was instigated by local artist Ryan Hannigan, of local Americana-heartbreakers Star Wheel Press, and is co-curated by writer and rock ‘n’ roll aficionado Ian Rankin, who will appear at the festival. The programme promises a blend of upcoming talent (alt-rock gunslingers Book Group; femme-pop rabble TeenCanteen), old friends (Star Wheel Press) and revamped favourites: The Phantom Band’s Rick Anthony revisits under his peat-crackling solo Rick Redbeard moniker; FOUND frontman Ziggy Campbell returns as kosmische-pop wolf Lomond Campbell.
In addition to Campbell’s performance on Saturday night – where he’ll be joined by FOUND’s SEPA-goading techno-deviant River of Slime – he is set to collaborate with King Creosote in the town square on Saturday afternoon (Withered Hand, Saint Motel and Rick Redbeard will also play sets). Billed as “Lomond Creosote”, this acoustic union ties in with a unique collaborative vinyl LP that was conceived by Dewar’s, and which will be available to buy at Aberfeldy Festival.
Entitled Experimental Batch #26, and starring, among others, King Creosote, Lomond Campbell and James Yorkston alongside Indian pop trailblazers Raghu Dixhit and Suhail Yusuf Khan, all under the loose-knit “Dewarists” umbrella, the album thrives on spontaneity and collective spirit. It was largely made in a week last summer, in a pop-up studio at Edinburgh College of Art. “It was pretty on-the-hoof and muddled, but that was great,” recalls Campbell. “I had half-ideas, and Kenny [Anderson, aka King Creosote] jammed his out on the spot. There was a lot done in quite a short space of time.”
Produced by Paul Savage and with vintage, homely artwork and photography from Sean Dooley, Experimental Batch #26 underscores Dewar’s penchant for product fetishism. Their commitment to bespoke artefacts, unique experiences and catalogue numbers – which also includes commemorative whisky blends for a live-only King Creosote album (Nth Bits of Strange), and for FOUND and Aidan Moffat’s #UNRAVEL art-pop installation – has more in common with the post-punk ethos of Factory Records or Fast Product that it does with traditional corporate backing.
Stephen Marshall of Dewar’s, who also sponsor the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award, suggests that they’re interested in the facilitation and creation of art and events, as opposed to simply branding them. “It’s important to contribute to Scotland culturally,” Marshall offers. “Scotland’s an incredibly creatively fertile place and whisky has always been integral to that – we should all play our part. Creating the album was one of the best things we’ve done. That music is out there forever now. And it’s really good.”
Suhail Yusuf Khan will perform with James Yorkston at Aberfeldy Festival on Sunday night, as part of the “Dewarist Sessions”, and the weekend sees many more pop treats besides, including Randolph’s Leap and The Last Battle. Marshall believes that the festival programme resonates with the Dewar’s aesthetic. “We try and work with folk we think are interesting and have stories to tell – whisky is all about stories,” he says. “Two of the most interesting things this year are Aidan Moffat and FOUND’s #UNRAVEL and Neu! Reekie! which is Michael Pederson and Kevin Williamson’s amazing visual, poetry and music thing. And we worked on another art installation this year with FOUND, it’s called Tasting Notes and we’ll debut it at the distillery at Aberfeldy Festival this weekend.”
FOUND continue to operate as a truly ingenious, thought-provoking and collaborative art collective, often in cahoots with Simon Kirby, a Professor of Language Evolution at Edinburgh University. Following in the android footsteps of Cybraphon, their Bafta-winning emotive robot pop star (in a wardrobe), and their interactive mechano-band #UNRAVEL, Tasting Notes allows individuals to “dial in” whisky flavours, aromas, and moods, and in return they’ll receive a bespoke printout of whisky tasting notes, with an almost unique piece of music attached (as a download code), courtesy of variations on the Experimental Batch #26 album.
“Tasting Notes came out of a conversation with Stephen,” Campbell explains. “He was talking about the idea of synaesthesia, and the term tasting notes – the notes that you get from wine or whisky – and maybe tying that in with music notes. Simon is quite interested in synaesthetes, and how they experience things differently, so we hacked away at this idea of building Stephen a device that he could take all over the world that tapped into this idea of synaesthesia, and that also gave him a tool to get people interested in tasting whisky, and understanding how memory [and perception] can affect the way you experience taste.” Or indeed how you experience music or art? “Yeah, exactly,” he nods.
FOUND have long reconnoitered the impact of environment on art, and on our perception of art, and questioned the prevailing notion of recorded music as a permanent entity – and Tasting Notes furthers these ideas. “Yeah, if there’s a central theme that you could put through all our works, it’s that there doesn’t have to be a definitive version in a fixed sense,” offers Campbell. “I think there’s still more we could do with that yet.”
Tasting Notes, FOUND and Aberfeldy Festival also explore the ways in which memory can affect an experience: how music sounds; how whisky tastes; what we take away from a piece of art, a song, a place.
Aberfeldy Festival, Nov 1-3, tickets still available. http://www.aberfeldyfestival.co.uk
The Herald: #UNRAVEL Interview (FOUND, Aidan Moffat, Simon Kirby).
The Herald: #UNRAVEL Live Review
The List: River of Slime Interview