Sad City. The musical moniker of Gary Caruth seems to relate perfectly to the situation that the seaside town of Bangor finds itself in. By no means am I saying that Bangor is in dire need of emergency aid, or is depressing in any shape or form; merely suggesting that the salty aired surroundings have become somewhat sombre. Potential exists for it to be so much more.
Openhouse Festival has been taking place throughout the month of August in Bangor; inviting poets, musicians, comedians and actors alike to come to inspire onlookers with their artistic flair. It’s a step in the right direction for the community. Brighton has been used as a key example in the bid for re-generation. If they can use creativity as a catalyst for progression, then we can too.
Belfast institution Twitch and Drum & Bass concept Crilli will throw an all day party in the wake of their sold out secret location show with techno pioneer Phil Kieran. A selection of the finest talent Bangor has to offer will also be on display, with Sad City performing an experimental live set.
Caruth is originally from Bangor, but relocated to Scotland at the age of 18. In the time since he has morphed into a truly forward thinking artist. With releases on R&S Records sub-label Meda Fury and London’s beloved Phonica under his belt, his work maintains a rhythmic, yet ambient approach, creatively piecing together forms of music that exist as polar opposites to achieve an aesthetic that bleeds pure experimentation.
It’s a homecoming of sorts. We sat down with the artist himself to talk early memories, creative processes and cultural defensiveness.
I presume you return home often to visit friends and family, but how does it feel to be returning to Bangor to play a gig? How long has it been since you played here?
I don’t think I have ever actually played a show in Bangor. I moved to Scotland just after I turned 18 and didn’t play this music live before that. Until becoming a bit more established, travelling across the water for shows with a load of equipment can be awkward and expensive. It’s only been in the last three or four years that I have started playing shows further afield.
Do you have fond memories of growing up in Bangor?
Yes, very much so. I am still very close with the friends that I grew up with, so our memories of Bangor are always there, despite us being scattered across the world. Usual story with a small town, you’re desperate to get out to a big city by the time you get to your mid-teens, then 10 years or so later you’re desperate to return for the quietness. I get home three or four times a year. I would make the trip more often if I could find the time.
How important do you feel concepts such as OpenHouse festival are to the regeneration of Bangor’s creative community? It has been compared to the likes of Brighton, who have channelled their creativity into a catalyst in which the town can thrive.
Unfortunately, I’m not very in-touch with the creative community in Bangor, but having an active arts scene is definitely important in revitalising a town. Unless you’ve got a huge pot of money, regeneration is about being creative with a limited amount of resources. I think it sends a positive message to young people if they can see their home town respecting the importance of creativity and investing in it in a progressive way. Young people are key to the progression of any creative community and the more inclusive a community is, the more it thrives.
Your moniker, Sad City, is an interesting one. Where did the idea for it come from? Is it something to do with you being more connected with a melancholy or emotionally moving sound?
The name is a reference to the city of Novi Sad. I thought it would be interesting to use a word that in English carries a purely emotional connotation, to see whether this affects how people interpret my music. In reality, the name has nothing to do with sadness.
Do you have a creative process when producing? Isolation? Long walks to soak in nature?
I’ll create a certain sound that I like, in terms of its image or rhythm or the atmosphere it creates, then build around it. What I end up creating will often get put aside and I will work on something else. Maybe a week later I’ll merge this first part with what I am currently working on and this will progress to form a track. I’ve always liked the idea of counterpoint, so I try to apply this in making music – combine two unrelated pieces of music that I have been working on and make something out of it.
Some people who don’t quite get electronic music always put it down to its repetitiveness. I read somewhere that you enjoy the repetitiveness of it as when listening to it your mind must be aware, as you’re never quite sure when the next element is coming. How would you explain that to someone who doesn’t quite get it?
I’m not sure there is much to get really. People are into different things. I think people who call ‘electronic music’ repetitive probably can’t be arsed with the challenge of discovering something new that doesn’t give them the immediate satisfaction that they may be used to. Most music has an element of repetition, whether that’s in song structure, rhythm, melody.
What I imagine people don’t like is the type of repetition they hear, maybe parts of the percussion being more audible than they’re used to, or the brilliantly jarring sound that sampling can have. People are protective about the music they like; in a way it’s a kind of cultural defensiveness – electronic music (specifically electronic dance music) is still relatively new and there are only a small number of generations who have grown up with this and so do not see it as a challenge to accept or dip in and out of; to some older generations, or those who are more influenced by them, this is an attack on their comfort.
People are free to criticise whatever they like, but personally, I don’t get much satisfaction from dismissing broad, diverse styles of music. Don’t see the point.
I think music should be challenging and it is important to me not to strive for mass appeal. If challenging music was liked by everyone then it would likely not be very challenging.
You now reside in Glasgow, a city renowned for its vibrant electronic music scene. Was this a pull factor or were there other factors at work too?
It was. I moved from Aberdeen, where there weren’t many places you could go to hear dance music. I had a lot of friends in Glasgow, so would visit a lot and go out while I was there. It felt like the natural thing to do move down. We are lucky to have pretty easy access to good electronic music here.
You have released on a variety of esteemed imprints, including Meda Fury and Phonica, but which concept of your work was the most challenging to make and why?
It can be tough choosing tracks to cut from a record. Vinyl obviously has set run times on each side, so this can mean having to cut tracks or re-order them. If the record is written with a specific flow in mind, cutting or re-ordering tracks can completely change this.
Another thing is the amount of time it can take to get a record out, sometimes a year or more, and by the time it does come out, you can be into a completely different thing. Unfortunately not much you can do about this. I’m not an expert but there are very few pressing plants active these days and the few that are, are generally swamped. By the time all the other work around getting a record out is done, you have to join the queue. It would be good to see some more pressing plants opening.
What can people expect from your live set who may not have yet witnessed it?
A mix of loud and quiet sounds and rhythms. Repetition galore.
Have you had a chance to listen to any of the other Bangor located artists on the line up for August 26th? Brien? Celestian?
Not yet, but looking forward to it!