Kicking off our alternative culture feature Dougie Strang reports on the Hidden Door Festival in Edinburgh.
I have mixed feelings about the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe. On the one hand it would be hard to argue against it as the highlight of Scotland’s cultural calendar – a vast array of renowned and emerging artists and performers filling the city and making it, for a month, one of the most exciting places to be in the world. On the other, it does tend to define and dominate the capital’s arts scene. When I lived there in the nineties, it often felt like there was a price to pay during the other months, for the buzz of August – the city like a rare plant, producing one dazzling flower and then wilting to spend the rest of the year building up strength for the next .
I think that may be changing and yet, still, there’s the perception that Edinburgh, whilst a wonderful host for visiting artists, doesn’t support and showcase its home-grown talent as well as it might. There are, of course, exceptions – venues like Summerhall hosting events like Neu Reekie, curated by Bella’s own Kevin Williamson. But when you compare it to Glasgow, there’s no doubt which city appears to have the more vibrant, year-round music and performance scene.
Rather than stoke rivalry, however, I’d rather turn your attention to a venture that seeks to redress the balance. In 2010 a group called Hidden Door took over Edinburgh’s Roxy Art House and, for a weekend, created a fantastic mix of music, art and performance . It was a riotous success and a real vote of confidence in the city’s young emerging artists and musicians. This year they’ve returned with an even more ambitious project.
Back in the nineties, whenever I wandered past the series of vaults that line the top end of Market Street, the arched wooden doors were always closed and locked and I remember thinking then that it was a shame nobody thought to do something with them. All that’s about to change! From 28th March to 5th April, the Hidden Door Festival will transform the vaults. The scale and ambition of the project is impressive, especially when you consider it’s a volunteer run, not for profit organisation. There’s also something particularly exciting about an event that is grass-roots and artists led. This is not a centrally funded festival, it’s a bunch of folk, bubbling with ideas and energy, who are keen to shake up old Edinburgh and let her flower at a time of year when she’s still supposed to be in hibernation.
The vaults are unique as a venue. All 24 of them will be used, housing exhibitions, cinema, theatre, music, cafes and bars. It’s the kind of event that represents an increasingly healthy and irrepressible culture, not just in Edinburgh but country-wide. For more information got to Hidden Door Festival, and if you feel inspired to help make it happen, listen to this from David Martin, the festival’s main organiser. But more than that, just come along – it’s going to be amazing!