Hidden Door

The Complex,


Neil Cooper

Five stars

Ghosts of office parties past came out to play in the latest artistic intervention by Edinburgh’s nomadic grassroots festival, Hidden Door, as the John Hardie Glover designed hive-like former home to Scottish Widows was transformed over five days and nights into a sprawling arts village.

Where an army of temps once passed through the building, the pandemic induced rise of working from home has seen such white collar temples of administration become artistic playgrounds, just as closed down factories were reclaimed by rave culture before them.

Two music stages possessed a breadth many shoebox size Edinburgh venues lack. The Cabaret Stage took over the building’s former canteen, with highlights including the emotional bombast of Porridge Radio, Glasgow skronk power trio, AKU! and Edinburgh electronic duo, Maranta.

Chamber pop combo POZI’s vocalist Rosa Brook, meanwhile sported a T-shirt of the poster for one of post-punk Edinburgh’s seminal gigs, when in 1980, Scars, The Associates, Josef K and Fire Engines shared a bill.

The Herald: The Environments at Hidden Door 2023 -20230530_Dan Mosley_0002 (1)The Environments at Hidden Door 2023 -20230530_Dan Mosley_0002 (1) (Image: free)

The Loading Bay Stage (the clue’s in the name) was roughshod enough to cope with the psych guitar wigouts of Butch Kassidy, and the marauding spirit of Yorkshire’s Deadletter, who galvanised the punk provocateur energy of The Clash, The Mekons and The Fall to enforce a blisteringly vital prole art threat. A third poetry and spoken word stage doubled up as an equally expansive club space, while more than thirty visual artists showed their work across every nook and cranny of the building.

At the heart of this year’s Hidden Door, however, were The Environments, a series of eight ecologically inclined immersive promenades that unearthed the natural world that exists beneath the concrete and glass of The Complex to make a series of multi-media spectacles. With the audience undergoing an induction a la office protocols before moving deep into the bowels of assorted sub-basements, a gaggle of pied piper like Wanderers with office issue (strip) light sabres acted as our guides.

Chanting in an imagined language to choreographed martial arts like moves, the Wanderers led us through Garden, Forest, Wasteland and beyond, as a series of abstract performances melded dance and ambient sounds from a welter of artists and musicians.

This made for quite a trip, with each Environment substantial enough to stand alone in more ordinary festivals, both as sculpturalinstallations and as performances.

At times it felt like you were navigating your way through the space age interior of a 1970s science-fiction film, falling somewhere between the hippy eco vibe of Silent Running and the shopping mall dystopia of Logan’s Run.

It was here too that the real sound of the underground burst forth from the lower depths, with the Holocene space playing host to mini raves led by Glasgow DJ Sofay, who played a magnificent ninety minute set in a caged interior. Sound artist Alliyah Enyo, meanwhile, brought the building’s former car park to life with her swooping vocal gymnastics providing a close encounter of the ethereal kind.

With such subterranean wonders at play, what a shame Glover’s A-listed Expressionist building looks set to be transformed into flats and a ‘business hub’. As Hidden Door has shown so magnificently, a little creative vision can make for an artistically seismic experience.