Nearly a decade ago, Summerhall’s year-round series of contemporary rock, indie and electronica gigs Nothing Ever Happens Here began; also known as NEHH, its name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to complaints that Edinburgh’s music scene is too quiet. NEHH’s festival bill has become a major constant of the city’s contemporary music provision in August for a decade, booking artists including Pussy Riot, Cate Le Bon, Grandaddy and the Sun Ra Arkestra.
Now, after a decade, NEHH’s founder Jamie Sutherland – who also plays in the band Broken Records, which releases a new album this autumn – is leaving to take up the post of creative director at SEALL on the Isle of Skye, and an era of great live music on the Fringe may be ending.
“When I came to Summerhall, there was some really good work happening, but no real musical provision,” says Sutherland now. “There were a few bits and pieces, but it was all quite scattershot. As a musician working in the city, Edinburgh was missing a 450-capacity space, and there was room for it here.” He talked Sam Gough, then general manager, now CEO, into giving NEHH a try. “I liked the idea of adding creative, contemporary music into the world of visual arts and contemporary theatre. That's where we wanted it to sit, there are clear lines between this building and the Barbican and Southbank Centre in London. It operates on a smaller scale, but I wanted to have the same ambition.”
What’s been seen of this year’s programme so far has shown the breadth of NEHH’s remit. As is now tradition, Glasgow’s Optimo (Espacio) hosted the opening party (4 Aug), an evergreen blend of techno and post-punk attitude, with a live set from Eyes of Others, aka Heavenly-signed Edinburgh musician and producer John Bryden, whose two-person analogue set was rich and dub-fuelled, a perfect accompaniment to the music being played on the dancefloor.
Sutherland himself played a support set for Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band (11 Aug), whose set of measured indie-rock was infused with an occasional country edge. The 61-year-old Liverpudlian Head made jokes about needing his eyes checked, but the presence of old Shack classics like 'Pull Together' and 'Meant To Be' inspired a youthful, passionate reaction among a crowd of his contemporaries.
The flip side of the coin arrived with Los Angeles’ burst of funk-rock silliness Thumpasaurus (13 Aug). On record, the overall-wearing six-piece’s music is a featherlight, frat boy riff on Prince, but in person it’s considerably elevated, with raw live power coursing through the dense basslines and ‘80s keyboard riffs of 'Lipstick Makeup', and a fierce saxophone solo accompanying the menacing grind of 'Evil'.
Before this phase of Summerhall’s music journey – and maybe NEHH itself, it’s uncertain – comes to an end, shows by the Rebecca Vasmant Ensemble, Breabach and Maranta’s closing party happen this month. “We’ve put through some amazing shows,” says Sutherland. “Ticket sales have gone up in Edinburgh across the board, and while I take some credit for that, other people have been doing the same kind of thing. Through that collective will, more shows come to Edinburgh than they did eight years ago, and that's been real, tangible success in my eyes.”
Nothing Ever Happens Here’s Festival 2023 gigs continue until Sunday 27 August. See listings at festival23.summerhall.co.uk