Hullo, my name is Alex Holroyd. Based in Aberdeen, Scotland, I’m a photographer and a co-conspirator in the affairs of Offset 57, a local creative collective. I have a fondness for houseplants, a big love for music and I’m rarely seen without facial hair. You can find my photography here. This is a wee tour of some of the creative scene of Aberdeen.
Aberdeen is a funny place. I wasn’t born here, but grew up here in one of its suburbs. It’s a place that’s known primarily for its striking granite buildings and its oil wealth. It’s also a place that many have found easy to bemoan, myself included, but after a time away, I’m beginning to find more to it than I previously appreciated. It is pretty corporate on the one hand as a result of it being the energy capital of Europe, but there’s also a crowd of creative folks making things of all types and existing outside the mainstream, both old and young. This is the side of Aberdeen that I feel most at home in. I’ll take you through a few of my favourite things:
The Belmont Filmhouse (formerly of the Picturehouses chain) is Aberdeen’s local indie cinema, and is the go-to place to see quality, interesting films. Its recent change to being part of the Filmhouse family is thankfully expected to increase the variety of foreign and independent film on offer. They often put on special screenings of films you may not have seen on the big screen before; a place where you can watch Predator or Home Alone with a beer is a good’un in my book. Downstairs you have The Bar Below, host to the E.A.R.L. (of sandwich) guys, who make one of the best chilli bowls in the ‘deen. You’ll often find artwork down here too, and it’s just a nice place to kick back before or after a film. A game of scrabble here never goes amiss.
Further down the street from the Belmont, you’ll find a wee bar called The Tippling House. Head down the stairs and you’ll find yourself in Aberdeen’s best cocktail bar (in my opinion anyway). Headed up by Adrian Gomes, the bar has won a stack of awards for its food, its cocktails, and its staff’s skills. The food is taken care of by Eat Beetroot, culinary mavericks in their own right. The Tippling house’s style has been much emulated, but not bested. My personal recommendation has to be one of their white Russians. As we’d say here, affa fine.
Another bar to mention is BrewDog. The brand probably doesn’t need much of an introduction, but the Aberdeen bar is its Flagship. BrewDog is famous for its unconventional approach to beer and business, and the Aberdeen bar has been a welcome home for creatives. Most recently, they’ve teamed up with a local creative collective that I’m involved with called Offset 57 to launch Flagship 57. This is a monthly event involving live illustration, live music, a pop-up stall with work from local creatives, and prints for sale by students and former graduates of the city’s art school and college that remain in the bar over the course of the month. They’ve also got a sister venue called Musa near Union Square, a restaurant, gallery space and live music venue. The Monday open mic night hosted by Pete is a good mellow way to enjoy an evening, with a decent lineup of regulars, some good, some odd…
We’re lucky enough to have a few collectives making work here. Local favourites are a duo that go by the name of WLDWLVS. Neil and Stu are a pair of designers and illustrators and all round rad dudes who have carved a pretty big following for their work, and rightly so. Their tees, hoodies and beanies have featured some really nice designs, with collaborations with local artists like Stu Allan and others further afield like Glasgow based Conzo Throb. They’ve also partnered with BrewDog recently for their Glasgow Beer Geek Brunch event, and started the #seeninthedeen stream that many folk now contribute to on twitter and instagram.
Real Nice Collective and more specifically, the Hell Yeah crew have recently reared their heads. Katie, Mike, Lee and Neil are freelance illustrators who collaborate on illustration installations and have worked with us at Offset 57 twice and put on some really impressive shows. Katie and Mike recently killed it on the mirror illustrations at BrewDog at the Flagship 57 event. Really looking forward to seeing what they’re going to do next.
Back to Belmont street we go to visit 17, the not so new home of the Arts and Culture side of the Council support but fairly new home of Make Aberdeen, a digital fabrication studio delivered by Peacock Visual Arts. Armed with all sorts of machinery including laser cutters, CNC routers and a fleet of macs, creative possibilities here abound (like engraving Brian Blessed punching a bear onto the back of your phone). 17 had a super shaky start but is beginning to realise its place in the cultural map of the city. They’re currently playing host to the ‘In the shadow of the breast’ exhibition curated by the Scottish Sculpture Workshop. This is a Year of Natural Scotland project inspired by Bennachie, featuring film, a sound installation, paintings and prints. Here’s to 17 going from strength to strength.
Peacock Visual Arts remains a central connecting point for creatives in the city. They’re the leading contemporary arts organisation in Aberdeen; current exhibitions include Marc Wilson’s photography work ‘The Last Stand’, and the annual pre-degree show exhibition from local Gray’s School of Art printmaking students. Aside from exhibitions and events, PVA are also home of screen printing studios that artists can use as well as facilities for lithography, etching, a darkroom, and more. Over the years they’ve hosted both big name artists and provided a platform for local artists to showcase their work. They unfortunately lost out in the Union Terrace Gardens debacle, but I’ll not get into that otherwise I’ll get angry, and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…
The music scene in Aberdeen is pretty varied. The yearly jazz festival is a big draw and pulls in several music venues around the city, including jazz scene staple The Blue Lamp, a stone’s throw from BrewDog. The recently held Big Beach Ball hosted acts as varied as Fatherson and Krystal Klear in the lineup alongside pop up shops and food market. Nice.
Right next door to The Blue Lamp, you’ll find the Candle Close Gallery, housed in part of Soapy Ogston’s Victorian soap factory. You’ll find reclaimed fixtures from notable Aberdeen buildings as the old Frederick Street School and the Astoria Cinema House here alongside bespoke furniture, jewellery and gifts. I buy my nag champa from there.
One wee place that many don’t know about is a shop in the west end called Peltoniemi Concept Store. I’ve had the pleasure of working with owner Tytti on a few projects. Her shop showcases high end design and is always well curated, stocking items Tytti has hand picked from London, Paris, Milan and further afield. As she’s a Finn, there are of course a few Moomin related items in there too. Also a cracking interior designer, she’s responsible for the sophisticated design of the Adelphi Kitchen, a new restaurant in the Adelphi area of the city, off the main line of Union street.
Coffee wise, favourites are Contour Café on the green and Food Story on Thistle Street. Both of these places do events outside the normal realm of a coffeehouse. Contour has hosted clothes swap nights, and Food Story has hosted whiskey tasting evenings. Both also do excellent food.
Snow, skate and BMX shop Boarderline is always worth a visit. The staff are all pretty gnarly riders of their chosen board/wheels, and both Katie and Mike are also part of the Hell Yeah crew mentioned earlier. Skate culture has always been tied to the arts and visual side of things, so it’s no surprise that this place is pretty well connected to the indie scene in the ‘deen. They’ve played host to screenings of local skate films, the latest of which being ‘Ah Dinna Ken’, screened in local music venue The Lemon Tree.
I haven’t even mentioned the Shire yet. Aberdeen is nicely situated not only on the coast (shame about Trump’s oafish installation), but right by an affa bonny bit of country. There are hills and green things aplenty the further west/north/northwest that you go, along with more creative potential too. Check out the Woodend Barn if you’re out Banchory way, and while you’re at it, hit the Birdhouse Cafe for a giant flat white (they mistakenly were given big cups instead of regular flat white ones, and so just make their flat whites bigger. What a shame.) The dunes at Newburgh are also worth a trek.
See more of Alex’s work in this Central Station showcase.
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