Arriving in a new city as a student, there’s always a whole lot to take in: new house, new pals, that new accent you’ve been practising all summer. As much as there’s a glorious joy in the cheap shots and cheesy pop of the Freshers’ Week cash grab, we’d just not be performing our duty of care as responsible journalists if we didn’t help to steer you in the direction of some stuff that’s more soul-expanding than the Neon Glow Rave.
Starting with Glasgow: most likely the place your favourite band’s favourite band is from. The Atlantic Northwest has turned out some of the most interesting art and music of the last few decades, and that’s at least in part because it is bristling with world-class independent venues. The Old Hairdressers and neighbour Stereo Cafe Bar, tucked away on Renfield Lane, still feel hidden from the madness of the city centre and are the places to catch garage rock, free jazz and experimental Korean cellists (plus stereo is the place to go for queer club nights).
The Barrowlands is one of the most celebrated and iconic venues in the city and the area around it exemplifies the changes coming. You can (and should) still buy punnets of whelks and oysters next to the cutting-edge street food pop-ups. Out that way, you’ll also find St Lukes, a beautiful converted church consistently putting on some of the best touring bands around, and Mono Cafe Bar, where you’ll get excellent vegan food and probably spend too much money on great records after a few pints. Speaking of which, Mixed Up Records is likewise a great spot to cop second-hand and new records, too.
Take the train south and you’ll hit The Glad Cafe, a community-led venue with great food and a boundary-pushing programme of gigs, and The Rum Shack, who have (as the name suggests) a cracking selection of spirits and a bunch of incredible musicians packing out their tiny basement.
Tiny basements are a feature of the Glasgow scene (usually with an attendant view-blocking pillar – blame the Victorians). The Hug & Pint, Broadcast, and Bloc+ all cram noisy revolutionaries into their sweaty below-stairs spaces seven nights a week. If you’re looking to be before-they-were-stars-struck, Broadcast has played host to artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, King Krule, Mac DeMarco, Courtney Barnett, Ty Segall, DIIV, Albert Hammond Jr., Nia Archives, Catfish and the Bottlemen, and more. Bloc+’s gigs are free and generally wonderfully scuzzy.
Over in the east, Edinburgh has significantly less dirt under its fingernails than its coastal counterpart but no shortage of great events, what with hosting Europe’s largest arts festival once a year. Outside of August, Sneaky Pete’s put on nearly 600 gigs a year in their cave-like Cowgate club. The Wee Red Bar lives up to the description and is your go-to for experimental and perspective-altering performances, and The Jazz Bar continues Edinburgh’s trend for literal venue naming, with music through till 3am every night of the week.
Summerhall curates a diverse programme of visual art, live music, and cinema in a Victorian-era ex-surgeon’s college that enables you to cut about pretending to be Clive Owen in The Knick. For Comedy, The Stand is your place to be. Their weekly Red Raw nights are perfect for catching up-and-comers every Monday in Edinburgh, and Tuesdays in Glasgow (just £3 a ticket during Freshers week).
Home to videogames, comics and the finest pies north of Wigan, Dundee is one of the great small cities. Easily navigable by foot and with a strong independent scene bolstered by a world-class art school. Rad Apples hosts righteous vegan punk all-dayers and LGBTQIA+ burlesque shows, The Arctic Bar and The Hunter S Thompson cover the headbangers and the technoheads respectively whilst the DCA and Dundee Rep take care of the highbrow art and theatre.
And we’d be remiss not to mention The Tolbooth in Stirling, which often features some of our favourite bands in a picturesque wee bit of the Old Town that feels like you’re on holiday, and the very exciting spoken word scene coming out of Paisley’s Nights at The Round Table.
This list just scratches the surface of a rich, vibrant scene, and there’s joy in discovering nights and bands and finding the places that are uniquely yours. And of course, if you can’t find the revolution you want, then you’ll just have to start it for yourself.