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Burning ambition

It began as a one-day local counter-culture music bash 12 years ago attracting less than 2000 people.

Main photograph: This year's Wicker Man effigy awaits the flames Inset, from left: One of the whacky figures at the festival, organiser Helen Chalmers and Edinburgh's hip-hop outfit Young FathersPhotographs: Brian Sweeney
Main photograph: This year's Wicker Man effigy awaits the flames Inset, from left: One of the whacky figures at the festival, organiser Helen Chalmers and Edinburgh's hip-hop outfit Young FathersPhotographs: Brian Sweeney

Twelve years later and the two-day Wickerman Festival is catering for six times that number, and has become a microcosm for the increasing diversity in Scottish popular culture in 2014.

Only on the sun-kissed natural green field amphitheatre of East Kirkcarswell Farm at Dundrennan, a rural community just 25 miles southwest of Dumfries, will you find last night's rousing headliners 80s pop rockers Del Amitri share a bill with a cellist, a brass band, opera singers, a string quartet and some Scottish-accented rapping.

This is because the organisers encourage the best of Scottish new and more traditional music in all its different shades and flavours.

The emerging crop of Scotland-branded hip-hop and rap was rewarded with the two headline slots in the Solus tent, one of the two dedicated havens for new homgrown music at the festival.

Glaswegian tinged rap combo Hector Bizerk wowed the crowd last night as headliners in their third Wickerman, which culminated last night with the traditional burning of the wickerman effigy.

Drummer Audrey Tait had no doubt that the Wickerman is the best festival in Scotland for discovering and encouraging new homegrown music - and credits the vision of Solus booker Chay Woodman from Dumfries. "He does so well to promote the unsigned bands, and is always one step ahead," she said. "Often, when you see his line-up for Solus, he has booked them all well before the likes of T in the Park. And I think T Break (the new music stage in T in the Park) follow his lead a wee bit, unofficially."

The hip-hop duo who open for godfathers of rap Public Enemy in Glasgow on Wednesday, also welcome the fact that rising Scottish bands are not just consigned to new music tents, but are also given key spots on the main stage.

Yesterday afternoon was the turn of critically acclaimed Glasgow buzzsaw guitar pop upstarts Baby Strange, who tore through an exhilirating set.

The previous day it was the Dumfries pop rockers Finding Albert whose captivating 40 minutes included a rousing My Friend Jack which conjured up comparison with Muse at their best.

"I can quite confidently say they are the best festival in Scotland certainly for championing Scottish music," added Tait.

"If you look at us, this is our third year in a row getting to play and now headlining the Solus, rather than having one gig in an unsigned tent and that's it, you're done.

"Finding Albert are from Dumfries and the fact they are now on the main stage is brilliant.

"If the festival organiser is supporting new talent, that says it all about the direction."

Helen Chalmers, the festival co-ordinator, said it was rooted in the Scottish music scene and remains committed to celebrating all that it has to offer.

"It really is Scottish music right across the board, in all its glory!

"This is, of course, only possible because of the vibrancy of Scotland's music scene year round. We are incredibly lucky that Scotland has such a wonderful music culture that stretches from the major spectacle of a pipe band to the indie rockers playing small music venues night after night around the country.

"Music really is in our blood and Scotland is rightly renowned across the world for our talent and passion in the world of music.

"It's never more evident than in the Wickerman unsigned bands competition that we run each year which receives hundreds of brilliant entries and demonstrates just how rich the talent and diversity of the music scene is across the country.

"But it's not just about what goes 'on-stage'. Scotland also has some of the world's best promoters, venues and events to support an artist's rise behind the scenes and I do believe that the strength of our live music scene is a big factor.

"The big tourism and event agencies have also realised that music is a great selling point for Scotland, so they are now doing their part to support the industry at home and internationally.

"The other vital ingredient is the fact that Scotland is a nation of music fans. Up and down the country our live music venues are packed year round with people of all ages turning out to see live music - and not just the big names. There is a warmth among Scottish audiences for new bands and sounds which is supportive and encouraging, and we see it every year for emerging Scottish artists on the Wickerman bill."

But for some bands, talking about belonging in any pigeon-hole is anathem, a no-compromise stance that keeps Edinburgh-based alternative hip-hop combo Young Fathers vibrant and fresh.

As one of the most exciting breakthrough bands in Scotland they confirmed that status with a flawless headlining slot on the Solus stage on Friday, combining a beautiful collision of rap, soul, pop, afro-beat, electronica and other extraneous noises and tweaks.

The trio, made up of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham 'G' Hastings, respectively from Liberia, Nigeria and Scotland, earlier deservedly picked up the Scottish Album Of The Year award for the truly inspired Tape Two.

But G said they do not feel they belong in any country or to any musical genre, saying there is little encouragement for their music in Edinburgh which is home to their recording base.

"I don't really care about Scottish hop-hop, none of us do. I don't care where anything comes from it. It doesn't really come into our thought," he said.

"I don't think we even think of ourselves as hip-hop or Scottish.

"The thing with us is we haven't wanted to make music for our mates or local people, we have always been about the bigger picture. As a band, we are all from everywhere, and we don't have any loyalty to any country, or race, or genre. We have toured America, which was great, that was just unbelievable, but we want to be everywhere. All we want to do is be heard by as many people as possible all over the world.

"There is a lack of that much coming out of Edinburgh, except perhaps the folk stuff, and that has pushed us to go into a basement and do the most extreme other thing.

"There is something missing in Edinburgh that Glasgow has. In Glasgow, people go to see a show before going out to a club, or going for a drink later. But in Edinburgh that really doesn't exist. There isn't really a live music culture. So we used to play wherever we could, down south, in London and Europe."

Tait understood that the general public might view Scottish-accented rapping or hip-hop as a novelty, but feels that given a proper hearing, those impressions could be altered.

"I think it would be ridiculous if it wasn't in a Scottish accent. It would be like us talking in a German accent, what would be the point in that."

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