The Hidden Door festival aims to instil Edinburgh with a new DIY events ethos

'We can do things like this if we want; we don’t have to wait for permission'

‘Edinburgh suffers from what you might call institutional repetition,’ says David Martin, creative director of the Hidden Door Festival, a defiantly DIY agent of change on the capital’s cultural landscape. ‘What we wanted to do was something a bit unpredictable in its format, so we decided to find a disused building. We thought that this must be possible, but it’s taken us three years.’ And now, all that work comes to fruition in the curious vaults which line Market Street opposite Waverley Station’s car park and the city’s council offices, with a nine-day celebration of grassroots art, music, theatre and film.

Two intriguing instalments of Hidden Door have been staged at the Roxy Art House: a pop-up degree show and an in-the-round concert at the heart of five stages in one room. Martin’s original aim had been to find a non-traditional venue for his Edinburgh College of Art students to show off their work alongside music and spoken word. ‘The idea grew arms and legs as more people became involved,’ he recalls. ‘When we found the Roxy we decided to transform the venue into a shape it’s not normally associated with, putting collaboration right at the heart of the process.’

The new site was decided upon after a search full of infuriating dead ends, until a sympathetic council official walked Martin around these disused spaces in the city centre. They are a series of 24 vaulted spaces which are barely high enough to stand up straight in at their smallest, rising up to about six or seven metres high. ‘It’s such an exciting site,’ he says. ‘The scale of the space dictated the scale of the event, so we realised we could have two live music spaces, two bars, a theatre and a cinema. We also realised it would be too much hassle to do it for just a weekend, so we expanded it across two weekends.’

With individual groups and artists curating different days, the programme includes music from Scottish luminaries Miaoux Miaoux, Meursault, LAW, Auntie Flo and Orkestra del Sol, while Kid Canaveral hosts a night featuring their Lost Map labelmates Randolph’s Leap and Tuff Love, and Vic Galloway will programme a night to tie-in with his Songs in the Key of Fife book. There will also be around 80 art displays, 30 theatre performances and a film programme featuring contributions from 48 Hour Film Project and the Play Poland Film Festival.

Sadly, it won’t happen in this location again, with the site earmarked as part of the controversial Caltongate development. What does Martin want Hidden Door to leave Edinburgh? ‘An attitude that we can do things like this if we want; we don’t have to wait for permission. One of our guiding principles was that we wouldn’t apply for funding and wait for an institution to do it on our behalf. I think Edinburgh needs a desire to take some risks. Let’s not wait for a venue to open, let’s make it ourselves.’ Will it be the end after this week? Not if Martin has his way. After all, now he knows where all of Edinburgh’s hidden doors are.

Hidden Door Festival, Market Street vaults, Edinburgh, Fri 28 Mar–Sat 5 Apr;

Hidden delights

Neil Cooper selects three artists from the festival’s Project Space programme


Emma Macleod's raison d'être is to create miniature set models of installations that are photographed or filmed. For Hidden Door, the Edinburgh-based artist has taken a step up, and built a full-size version of one of her models that heightens the atmosphere of her sound and moving image installation even more.
Fri 28 & Sun 30 Mar.

The Ratchet Effect

Composer Matthew Collings has been on Edinburgh's experimental music scene for some time now, and this audio-visual live performance sees him increase his electronic palette even further with a mix of electric guitar and sub-sonic electronics using what he calls ‘prepared amplifiers’. This makes for a more direct physical relationship between human and machine as the amplifiers become instruments in themselves.
Fri 28 Mar.

BOAR Collective

Edinburgh's fecund experimental music scene has thrown up a smorgasbord of disparate delights, with the BOAR Collective just the latest purveyors of interesting sounds to come into view. Using an array of saxophones, violins and electronic devices, BOAR marry digitally inclined systems with improvisation to create a hybrid set of sounds.
Thu 3 Apr.

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