At the end of August, marking the end of the Fringe and Edinburgh International Festival, on a bright day interspersed with patchy drizzle, people from all over Scotland (and further) flocked to Connect Festival. In spite of launching in 2007, due to the financial crash and long period of dormancy, 2023 only represents only the fourth iteration of the festival, following fast on the back of 2022’s success with acts such as Idles, The Chemical Brothers and The National.
House Gospel Choir launched proceedings on The Grand Parade (main stage) as the vocal group danced and sang with infectious joy, their swaying and bobbing quickly seeping its way into the growing crowd. The Guitars and Other Machines stage was broken in by Ethan P. Flynn whose raw set rounded off with a powerful solo performance.
Georgia Ellery, the violinist for Black Country, New Road took to the stage next with her experimental electronic project with Taylor Skye, Jockstrap. The duo gifted their audience a riveting set full of noise and chaos, and after their song ‘Glasgow’, they provided a well-received announcement that they decided to come to Edinburgh instead of Glasgow (as originally suggested by a character in the song).
Scottish favourites Franz Ferdinand demonstrated the certainty of their place as festival greats, with numbers like ‘Take Me Out’ and ‘No You Girls’ prompting belted singalongs even from those largely unfamiliar with Alex Kapranos and co.
Iconic body lighting is the most immediately eye-catching facet of Confidence Man’s live sets, with front-duo Janet Planet and Sugar Bones having their chest and shoulders illuminated. The two proceed to bleed, booze and dance on the stage as their quirky brand of electro-pop endeared the crowd.
At the end of the night, Primal Scream took to the main stage, with Bobby Gillespie announcing the commencement of ‘an old Scottish hymn’. The field of joyous and half-cut music lovers grouped together, led by a gospel choir in an epic take on ‘Movin’ On Up’. The psychedelic-garage group bashed through their cult album Screamadelica, and while Gillespie might be nearing the end of his historically emphatic performing days, the band as a whole were as electric as one would expect.
Saturday brought with it true festival weather, and sweaty bodies were strolling around in sun hats and caps begging one another for suncream. Local indie-electro group, Redolent, fought valiantly through a tech issue, proving their worth in the form of ear-worm melodies and all manner of buzzing synths and busting drums.
On the same stage, Canadian singer-songwriter, Leith Ross gave a mesmeric rendition of their songs, captivating, tragic and gorgeous. Ross bonded with the entranced Scots who represent their familial heritage, (hence EP title Motherwell and the first name ‘Leith’).
MUNA thrived on the main stage, professing queer love as they bashed through their iconic discography, including ‘I Know a Place’ and the anthemic ‘Silk Chiffon’, (with guitarist Naomi taking Phoebe Bridgers’ part) prompting one of the greatest sing-alongs of the weekend.
Kilmarnock’s own TAAHLIAH put the crowds in awe with dance and techno-influenced discography, gracing the stage with flair and presence. A paragon of the Glasgow music scene, she’s known to big up her contemporaries, and with a capacity for such expressive music, it’s no wonder those she praises are vocal in their return of support.
From one Scottish act at the top of its game to another, Young Fathers were blisteringly energetic. Collective dancing and singing to the riotous ‘Get Up’ followed by swaying and swaggering to the newly anointed modern classic from earlier this year, ‘Rice’ were among a plethora of highlights.
An on-screen announcement of the last time Fred Again.. had played Scotland being a small venue on the Isle of Harris flickered to kick off the mammoth headline set of the London-based musician and producer. Light shows and repeating visuals that accompany the integrated samples in his songs flowed through the set. The sizable Saturday crowd came together as one for a suitable finale featuring tracks like delicately glitching ‘adore u’ and the frenetic drum-led ‘Turn On The Lights again..’ with its iconic woodwind-synth-sound hook.
Sunday was initiated by a stunning Grand Parade set by songwriter Christian Lee Hutson, focussing on his under-appreciated gem of an album Quitters. For the last few songs of the set he was joined by a hooded Phoebe Bridgers to play through their band, Better Oblivion Community Centre’s ‘Chesapeake’ and a few others, their dainty vocals floating perfectly together in the dense air.
On the Guitars and Other Machines stage, Louis Culture was emphatic and thankful for the bouncing crowd who engaged with him on a level only the most impressive performers could do. His songs are endlessly fun – even when touching on meaningful topics – as is he.
Off the back of the recent release of ‘Your Ex’, Inverness-born singer Katie Gregson-Macleod gave a characteristically humourful solo set, taking up guitar and piano at different points. Later in the day, she gave an informative chat on her career thus far to the Speakeasy crowd (during which her breakout song ‘Complex’ could be heard over the mainstage PA).
As per their name, Public Service Broadcasting displayed an acute ear for art-rock and post-punk grooves as public information service announcements rang out above them. Plus, as far as diverse engagement with genre goes, the Sunday-Connect-goers needn’t look further than RAYE, as her talented backing band suits her powerful vocals dutifully as they switch sounds at nearly every song.
Back at the Speakeasy, Intercultural Youth Scotland continued their outstanding work discussing the potential ways to nurture the up-and-coming BPoC creatives in Scotland. Community is key, and creativity will follow.
Headlining the night, (but due to a little reshuffling, not taking the final slot), super-group boygenius leap on stage suited up to riffle through their debut album The Record and their wonderful EP boygenius. Between Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, they each take turns leading songs, displaying their varied vocal styles, but more importantly, empowering one another’s songwriting. Between songs, Dacus looks up to her right and observes that ‘the planes taking off, from where I’m standing look like they’re heading for that Ferris wheel – it’s like a big dartboard.’ The emotional epicentre of the set comes as Bridgers leads the group in a rendition of ‘Letter To An Old Poet’ which climaxes as the melody comes to represent their older track ‘Me & My Dog’, and the swarming crowd puts their hands up as they join in singing (or screaming) ‘I want to be happy’.
Falkirk-duo Arab Strap began immediately after boygenius finished their set, whacking through a few older tunes and some of their brilliant 2021 album As Days Get Dark. As expected (and passionately hoped by all) they conclude with their cult track ‘The First Big Weekend’ which covers drunkenness, camaraderie and generally the enjoyment of youth (even in its sensitive moments – Homer and Marge will forever escape the doom of love).
De facto headliner (by virtue of being the final act on the mainstage) Loyle Carner takes the new position in his stride, working the crowd well, energetically pounding through the highest points of his growing discography.
Meanwhile on the Unknown Pleasures stage, club favourite Daniel Avery entrances the rabble of hangers-on, brave enough to not rush for the bus – all of whom are rewarded in the form of an ecstatic set, topped off with a funny wee cherry, Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’.
In spite of having run through the festival unravelings in chronological order, it would be remiss not to finish the write-up with a few lines on the beating heart of the weekend: The Gardener’s Cottage, in association with Tiny Changes. Named after a line in Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Head Rolls Off’, Tiny Changes is a young people’s mental health and well-being charity set up in honour of the late singer Scott Hutchison. The team provided a safe and positive space over the weekend, full of the loveliest of people, gorgeously intimate performances and apples, lots and lots of apples.
Across the three days, Belly Rachel, Finn Brodie, Becky Sikasa, Cara Rose, BEMZ, Leith Ross, Former Champ, Jacob Alon and Theo Bleak played wholesome and beautiful sets to the surprisingly big crowds – with Haiver, PAWS, Quiet Houses and Arab Strap being the most gorgeous of highlights (and ‘highlight’ has never been used so subjectively, as any one of these performances was special enough to live a lifetime in the memories of those who were there).
The true headline of the Tiny Changes stage (and perhaps the weekend) is that, on setting out with the ambitious target of raising £5,000 to aid in their many meaningful projects, it quickly became evident that such a number was a miscalculated target. No, £5,000 was off the mark. The dedicated staff, volunteers, musicians and even Connect attendees helped the cause raise over £10,000.