The Yellow Movement: A Scottish DIY Triumph
Talking to David Blair, member of Colonel Mustard & the Dijon Five, after their historic performance at Barrowlands a fortnight ago, he tells me:
“Our Yellow Movement manifesto lays it out clearly: ‘lose your self-consciousness, lose your inhibitions’. If you dream it, you can believe it. If you believe it, you can achieve it. What are you dreaming?”
Think that’s a bit naff? Reflect on this: five unsigned, independent bands managed to sell out a 2,000 capacity venue with very limited coverage from the mainstream media. That’s more than simply impressive; it’s absolutely unprecedented. ‘Yellowland’, as it was billed, brought together a range of bands from different genres who all hold the DIY values of the self-styled Yellow Movement. This counter-culture community of artists and fans shine like a yellow beacon in Scotland’s underground, devoted to promoting independent music and important causes,
As one affiliated artist, Jo D’Arc of punk duo The Twistettes, told me when I was first exposed to the scene last year, “The overall point is to cultivate positivity and madcap daftness.” That doesn’t just mean turning up in yellow attire with a smile on your face – although that appears to be an essential pre-requisite – but like other historically successful DIY movements, there’s an emphasis on spontaneity and embracing your inner child.
This attitude was embodied by headline act Colonel Mustard & the Dijon Five, a fifteen-member funk/ska/alternative battalion backed by a yellow-clad supporting cast of backing dancers and b-boys. Their set had everything: synchronised dance instructions, a cameo from Alabama 3’s Rev D Wayne Love, an on-stage fake wrestling match and band members crowd surfing on an inflatable dinghy.
“It was a climactic night,” says Blair. “Judging by the feedback since the show, the crowd knew they were part of a true ‘I was there’ moment. It was one the most positive and loving atmospheres I’ve ever experienced.”
Atmosphere was probably the most overwhelming aspect of Yellowland. You literally couldn’t turn to the side without being greeted by a beaming smile from a stranger – not out of some cult-like enthusiasm either but out of genuine sincerity. This wasn’t limited to a single group: there were people of all ages and backgrounds, from old rock n’ rollers to young teenagers.
Ethos and energy was essential to the night’s appeal. One attendant even told me that he “wasn’t really into music” and was “mainly here for the feel-good vibes that Yellow Movement nights bring”. That’s not to say the various acts on the bill weren’t thrilling in their own way, but none of them could be remotely compared to each other in terms of genre. Punk-rap combo Jamie & Shoony, for example, seemed a million miles away from the Americana-tinged folk vibes of Have Mercy Las Vegas. The Twistettes’ raw punk minimalism was in sharp contrast to Colonel Mustard’s overwhelming theatrics.
Glasgow has always had a strong community ethic and supported its local music acts regardless of hue. It feels like the Yellow Movement have given these voices a unified identity, building a post-genre landscape of solidarity and kinship. Jamie Keira, frontman of Jamie & Shoony, even posits that “the movement is now more about the ever growing number of happy people that wear the colour and attend the events than the acts themselves.”
Given the ego-centric nature of today’s music industry, such an attitude feels almost revolutionary. In fact, all profits derived from Yellowland went towards the Clutha Trust, the charity set up in the wake of the Clutha Bar tragedy that support various causes for young and disabled people (amongst other things).
It was a night of commendable gestures, including Still Game’s Gavin Mitchell presenting an award inducting the late David Bowie into the Barrowlands Hall of Fame. In many ways, Bowie represents everything that the Yellow Movement seeks to encourage: self-belief, independence and challenging the norm, as well as perhaps a degree of flamboyance and silliness. “I think he proved that you don’t need to conform to what might be called ‘mainstream’ in order to pursue your artistic and musical dreams,” says Blair.
Quite fittingly, Yellowland was capped off by songwriter Eli Stewart, an eighteen-year-old who has been diagnosed with cancer, performing a stunning rendition of Bowie’s classic ‘Life on Mars’ that had the whole venue chanting his name. The Clutha Trust have announced that all profits from the show will go towards funding cancer research and care for young people with the disease. What was most touching about all this was the beaming smile on Stewart’s face as he led the crowd in the memorable refrain. Without sounding faux-sentimental, it was a uniquely beautiful moment to see such love and support transmitted from the crowd to the stage and vice versa.
Credit must go to organisers Blair and Mark McGhee (whose grunge outfit The Girobabies also had the performance of a lifetime) for what I assume was tireless work in getting Yellowland off the ground, but it was the crowd that truly made the night feel so special.
Naturally, not everybody will endorse the music of every Yellow Movement act. Considering the increasing number of acts associated with it, the Yellow Movement is a pretty accurate reflection of what Scotland’s diverse musical underground looks like at the moment. Very few people could argue with the collective’s intentions, though. In a social-media savvy post-referendum Scotland that is increasingly supportive of its own artistic output, the Yellow Movement has emerged as a self-sufficient scene in itself. It’s done so not via mainstream channels but primarily through social media and word of mouth.
Crass, one of the great punk bands and proponents of DIY culture, famously said that “if
you don’t like the life you live, change it now, it’s yours.” For the Yellow Movement this feels like a collective sentiment, motivated out of a genuine desire to inspire confidence and maverick spirit. Whether you’re a natural eccentric or a cynical critic like me, you can’t deny it’s refreshing to see.