Hidden Door Festival 2015

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Saturday 30 May

Hidden Door: Errors and The Dark Jokes
Bongo Lives: Sea Bass Kid and Bombskare
Hidden Cinema: KinoKlub

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Day number nine, the final evening of the grassroot DIY arts festival falls upon us with a heavy heart.  Last year we saw David Martin and his team of volunteers create a nine-day pop-up festival of music, theatre, visual art and film to the Market Street Vaults.  And this year they have done it again, although in my opinion their latest venue at the Old Street Lighting Depot on King’s Stables Road near the Grassmarket triumphs over the one before!  Located in a secret hidden courtyard, surrounded in a myriad of buildings, from office blocks to old horse stables, it’s the perfect place to explore art and performance.  One would not know this place existed; the large arched entrance is normally closed off by a gate and unofficially occupied by Edinburgh’s homeless.  Martin and his squad of volunteers have developed four different performance venues within, an ideal place for breakthrough artists to meet and collaborate.  The result is a welcoming
bohemian courtyard village reminiscent of Berlin’s arts scene, free to wander during the day and ticketed in the evenings from 6pm.

It was a rare beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, so I took the opportunity to investigate the Hidden Door festival early before the evenings event.  The courtyard thronged with over 200 sun worshippers, enjoying an afternoon drink from one the three bars on site supplying local beers and cider.  Generally, the aptly named Hidden Door Festival seems to have a recycle and reuse philosophy.  Making good with found materials.  From the bar in the Long Room, designed and fabricated by Splinter, is made from a jigsaw of old doors, to a light feature made from old light bulbs and fluorescents.  Your gaze was constantly distracted by another element of art, projection or graphic graffiti.  Come six o’clock the crowds dispersed as the ticketed event commenced, £14 for Hidden Door or £19 for the joint Hidden Door and Bongo Lives event.  The event had sold well, as patrons cued at the box office.

As dusk fell the courtyard became illuminated, strings of coloured lights zigzagged the space and trees were lit up with different hues.  Within another bar located within the stables, Donald Watson had created ‘Traverse Green 3’, a ceiling-mounted arc of vivid green vinyl strips fluttering around from the fans behind, creating a rustling noise as if we were surround by a running burn.  The Edinburgh based drinks sponsor Daffy’s Gin handed out gin and tonic samples.  Harajuku Kitchen and Ninja Buns where on hand in the courtyard providing much needed nourishment.  Cages made from chicken wire surrounded the bar upstairs flanked by old office rooms holding art installations, the mind boggles as to what these cages were actually used for by the council?!  It was here we saw some shadow theatre within the cages.

Need Fire

Need Fire

The theatre program is more extensive that last year, with 20 different productions over the nine days.  Another theatre performance was by Creative Electric called ‘Treat’, which involved a lass gorging on ice cream and various condiments over four hours in the Peely Room – named after its decaying interior.  The performance was a somewhat disturbing study of time and deterioration, as we watched her shovel more and more ice-cream and sprinkles into her mouth, the ice-cream melts… it gets messy!  Physical Theatre Scotland created an intense piece called ‘Teine Eiginn – Need Fire’ author Dougie Strang explained is was a custom fire practice from the past, where fire ceremonies were created to cure illness and spread the knowledge of fire.  The village would extinguish all the fires and relight a new fire, take the embers of the main fire and create new fire for all the families in the village.  The performance was set within a tiny shed like structure with only 7 seats.  An eerily intimate act where a duo perform the ceremony and mark each audience member’s hand with red paint, representing the knowledge of fire and how to manage fire.  At the end of the courtyard your eye was drawn to foldout caravan, which was utilised as a mini stage for acoustic performances and spoken word.  The cinema for tonight selection was KinoKlub, presenting dreamy obscure films by Maya Deren.

Between acts and music we were able to explore the warren of art exhibits, such as the eye-catching ‘Loveletters’ a multi-coloured flight of paper aeroplanes by Juliana Capes.  Over the courtyard there was Paula Petroll and Rhona Taylor’s amazingly detailed wall, floor and ceiling ink drawings.  In another room we are hypnotised by moving images across honeycomb hexagons, an exploration of the diminishing numbers of bees on earth.  ‘We come from the earth, we return to the earth and in between we garden’ it poignantly states.  Also quoting Albert Einstein ‘If bees disappeared of the face of the earth, man would only have fours years left to live’.

The first band we witnessed was Edinburgh’s own, The Dark Jokes in the Long Room performing some of their new modern psychedelic, indie and prog-rock material, even with their bass player still in Brazil they smashed another excellent performance.  Giving it their all and getting the audience warmed up.  The stage flooded with smoke and lights flashing across the band and audience, the energy is heightened.  The lead singer, Aaron Dennington, has so much talent, one wishes there was four of him and however with his brother also in the band, a sibling symmetry is created.  You get the feeling that Aaron could start a gig in an empty hoose!

Unfortunately, with our joint ticket covering both Hidden Door and Bongo Lives on at the same time some sterling acts conflicted with one another, meaning we missed Sea Bass Kid, the reggae come blues, come rock and ska original 7 piece band at Bongo Club, but managed to dash over to catch the last half off Scotland’s ska juggernaut, Bombskare.  The reason behind the double venue was due to Hidden Door not receiving confirmation from the council in time, therefore as a back up, Hidden Door booked Sea Bass Kid and Bombskare, just in case the courtyard fell through.  As ever, the 9-man band maintains their legendary reputation to get ever soul in the audience stomping and dancing to the high tempo sweaty fun-time music!  Their tight delivery tears up the stage with their three part harmonies, explosive horn bursts and fast paced chords.  As a surprise treat Bombskare were also joined with some vocals from the Bevvy Sisters, who added some softness to the hard-hitting ska band.

After ‘one last song’ from Bombskare we dashed back over to Hidden Door for the headline act in the now, close and sweaty Long Room.  From Glasgow, Errors, a post-electro band combining sample synths, resonance vocals and electronic grooves. The Hidden Door had sold to capacity however some people complained about having to cue to get into the Long Room performance area, with a one-in, one-out policy.  The Errors was the perfect set in preparation for the official Afterparty at Mash House.  Although it was a bit mellow after the highly charged pumping performance from Bombskare in the venue prior, the band none-the-less produced a head nodding, bopping and crowd-pleasing set helping Hidden Door’s nine-day festival go out with a bang!

If only there were more festivals like this, this is what Edinburgh needs in the some-what lacking live music scene.  There is a element of sadness as this amazing, collective, non-profit festival comes to an end for the courtyard and buildings only to be stripped down for the next property developers to turn the space into luxury flats, hotel or restaurant, sparing no thought for the capital’s cultural provision.

Reviewer : Sarah Lewis

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