Blending electronic sounds and traditional folk, Niteworks are gearing up for one of their biggest shows to date
This article is from 2016.
Niteworks' debut album NW, which came out late last year, featured danceable club tracks set against bagpipes and powerful Gaelic singing, a deft crossover of genres and musical traditions which produced fascinating results. When asked how Niteworks have managed to weld such disparate genres together, band members Ruairidh Graham and Innes Strachan insist it was a natural outgrowth of their musical milieu.
'We didn't really set out to try and put those two things together, it just kind of happened,' says Graham. 'We've always just framed it as a natural output of growing up where we did – growing up playing traditional instruments, then discovering new forms of music as adults – and bringing those seemingly opposite worlds together,' he continues. The combination works remarkably well, with tracks like 'Beul na h-Oidhche' mixing club grooves with mesmerising pipe melodies.
'We used to play traditional stuff growing up and we were involved in the fèis movement [summer schools specialising in Gaelic and music education]. So we have the traditional side of things from there, and after we went to school and uni, I think we all discovered new forms of music through clubbing and stuff. And then we started producing music and experimenting with synths and stuff, and it just started happening from there,' he says.
Strachan suggests that traditional music has a lot more in common with electronic genres than many listeners realise. He says: 'There's a lot of repetition in traditional music and Gaelic songs, so I could say there's similarities there with electronic music. I think there's similarities in the walking tunes – old songs that used to be sung when people were on the move, they have this really hypnotic feel. I think a lot of Gaelic melodies are quite hypnotic too. They're often quite dark melodies as well – there are lots of songs written about death. I suppose some of the darker and techier numbers on the record take something from that.'
Using the Gaelic language on an electronic track has become something of a calling card for Niteworks, all Gaelic speakers themselves. 'We grew up with it, both our mothers speak it and we use it all the time to speak to each other,' says Graham. Their deference for Gaelic shows in their music, which uses the language as an instrument in its own right, fitting electronic instrumentation around the natural melodies of the songs as on tracks like 'Maraiche', which features a gorgeous Gaelic hook, or sampling it for effect, as on 'Obair Oidche'. 'We try not to take away from it as well, to try to give the songs the respect they deserve,' says Strachan.
Recalling the clubbier moments of Hot Chip or Delphic, NW sounds on first hearing like a pop record. Listen closer though, and there are some powerful messages lurking beneath. 'Somhairle', an ambient album highlight, samples the legendary Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean holding forth on the struggle to keep Gaelic culture alive in the face of language death and the impact of historic depopulation on the Highlands and Islands. Graham insists this political edge in their music would not be lost on non-Gaelic speakers: 'What 'Somhairle' is saying, I think people from outside the Gaelic world can relate to. It talks broadly about historical injustices, the effects of colonialism. People can relate to that in all sorts of different ways … people who were effed over post-Thatcher in de-industrialised towns or forced by economics to migrate to somewhere else. It's a pretty powerful piece.'
Speaking about their upcoming gig at the Queen's Hall, both Graham and Strachan sound excited. 'We've been playing a summer festival set throughout this season, but we'll be bringing in a few special guests and extra musicians. This is quite a big show for us – definitely the biggest show we've done to date in Edinburgh,' says Strachan.
Niteworks' shows have gathered serious acclaim from gig-goers, and with a full complement of special guests and instrumentalists to join them on stage, their festival-closing show promises to be one to remember. 'We've got a full line-up for the Queen's Hall show. It'll be a busy stage, but good fun. The songs you hear live will be different to how they sound on the album because of a different arrangement. It can be quite a challenge sometimes working instruments into a set, using them to the best of their ability, but I think it works in our favour,' says Strachan.
The Queen's Hall, 28 Aug, 8pm, £15.