Edinburgh’s Sonic Mass: stoner, psych, doom, sludge and more

In the last Scottish fest interview, we looked at BOB Fest, one of the country’s longest running events of its type. This time around, the focus is on a brand new show, Sonic Mass, organised by Edinburgh based Pisschrist Promotions, and entertainment website Echoes And Dust. Pisschrist have continuously hosted some great up and coming names in their relatively short existence, including Karma To Burn, White Wizard, and Jex Thoth. Sonic Mass sees them up the game, with a double-figure bill.

Again, this is a project (jointly) managed by a musician, with Pisschrist owner, Ewen Cameron, laying down the low-end in Cthulhu worshipping doom troupe Atragon. Cornered and nursing a hangover, he was kind enough to mumble some responses to what I’m sure was some very welcome pestering.

Ewen Cameron

Valkyrian Music: Hey Ewen, how are you this fine evening?

Ewen Cameron: Hungover, tired and suffering from pretty bad tinnitus.

VM: What were up to to cause such a bangover?

EC: I’ve just finished a run of four days of shows, three of which I was promoting.

VM: Ouch! Well, I’m going to pick what’s left of your brain about your new Sonic Mass event. Can you give us a brief description of what it is?

EC: Sure, it is a weekender dedicated to all things space rock, prog, doom or sludgy. It is the brainchild of myself and Sander, the editor of the website Echoes and Dust.

VM: Why a stoner-prog-space rock theme?

EC: There’s a number of festivals in the country dedicated to doom and stoner stuff, and a lot dedicated to the more psychedelic end of things. We felt there was room for something more eclectic. We didn’t set out with a strict list of genres we wanted to target, we just knew the vibe the event should have, and went from there. There’s a focus on the experimental, the weird, the psychedelic. Don’t expect us to book anything too clichéd or run of the mill!

VM: You’ve been part of building that scene for a while now, right?

EC: I’ve been promoting for about 3 years now. There was a lack of heavy gigs in Edinburgh, as a few great promoters all called it a day around the same time.

VM: That’s some good timing!

EC: It wasn’t so much a case of good timing. More of a case of “If I don’t, who will?

VM: Strangely enough though, some people think the small festival market in the UK has reached saturation point. Do you think there is room for more events like this?

EC: I’d certainly agree that the music scene in Scotland at the moment is healthy. Possibly too healthy. It has reached the point where people cannot afford to attend all the shows they would like to. Even a small festival is a big ask for your average punter. Not everyone works Monday to Friday, and two days of loud music / drinking isn’t great for the body or the wallet. I see the future of these events being more niche-focussed, and designed to bring in crowds from further afield, rather than the current, local scene approach. Scenes only ever hold a certain number of people, so you limit your maximum attendees. We had a people from Aberdeen, London, Manchester, etc travel to Edinburgh for Sonic Mass.

VM: If you’re talking about niche markets, you must have to be deeply involved in the relevant genre. How important is personal taste in a project like Sonic Mass?

EC: Hugely. The number one requirement for us is that we like the band. I’ve always maintained that rule as promoter. I’ve never put on a show to make money and never will. I put on the bands I want to see and that is it. When it comes to Sonic Mass, Sander and I pick a list of potential bands we both like and fit the vibe of the event. Obviously the local scene is important too and we’d never run it without a good collection of local bands that fit the vibe.

VM: To be honest, it seems better that way. There are too many people putting on shows based on what they think the numbers will be, then wonder why the audience dries up after a year or so.

EC: Definitely. It is impossible to predict every outcome. Some promoters think that a band that brought 50 people last year will bring 75 this year, but that’s rarely the case.

VM: With the first SM done and dusted, and a second one possibly in October, what have you learned, and what would you like to change?

EC: We’ve still to set a date but October seems likely. It will come down to availability of bands. We’ve got some names we know we want to book for it. Ideally we’d like grow the festival to include more acts, probably a second venue involved, earlier starts. The second one is definitely going to be a case of more of the same; we didn’t have too many issues other than the obligatory late running. Totally my fault, but it did mean some attendees missed the end of headliners sets, as they had to leave for trains, buses etc. I’ve been attending gigs in Glasgow for years and missed so many sets due to late finishes, so I feel their pain. That is definitely something we’ll tighten up on for number 2.

Sonic Mass

VM: Are there any bands you’d like to book for SM who seem like a pipe dream at the moment?

EC: Yeah, but if you’d told me last year about some of the bands I’m booking this year, I’d have not believed you, so I’m happy to entertain these thoughts. Ideally for myself, Ufomammut, 40 Watt Sun, Ahab would be my top 3.

VM: So, it pays to dream, then!

EC: Yeah, I started out booking some local bands to play in a 70 capacity venue, with no idea what I was doing. Now I’m putting on bands from the other side of the world that I never expected to see, let alone promote a show for.

VM: Well, that about wraps it up! Thank you for taking the time talk. Before you go, though, I’ll ask you what I asked (BOB Fest organiser) Luke James in the last interview: Do you have any closing advice for those thinking of taking on a similar event?

EC: Book bands you genuinely like, don’t expect to make any money, and lay off the beers until the headliners are on stage each night, if you can.

by Paul Macmillan

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