Glasgow has long been seen as a vibrant centre of contemporary culture in Scotland, and the stream of amazing bands and musicians in the city shows it. The city is home to a hugely diverse and DIY-minded community of bands and musicians.
And as you’ll see from this list, there’s a strong tendency for artists in Glasgow to channel their work through stunning live performances. The first 20 artists on this list include new artists to emerge from Glasgow. The last 5 are some of Glasgow’s most famous bands.
Graham Costello’s STRATA
Hugely lauded by critics, Graham Costello’s STRATA are a weaving, poly-rhythmic force of nature. Led by drummer Costello, their sound is a dense, highly textured re-purposing of standard contemporary jazz instrumentation.
Piano, drums, brass, and guitar vie for attention on Obelisk, their debut album. It’s an exhausting but thoroughly rewarding listen, with moments of post-rock, prog, and occasional moments of Santana style wig-outs.
Like another on this list, they’ve been selected to represent new Scottish music at Glasgow’s Jazz Festival in June, and rightly so.
The Modern Institute
Glasgow has always been particularly good at nurturing deeply experimental and entertaining performers. The Modern Institute are by far one of the best live bands I’ve seen in recent years. Their name – a shameless poaching of the name of an established gallery in the city – hints at why.
The group channels amused agitation into both the music and performance. Firstly, faux leather trench-coats are a must. Secondly, the music is a pummelling high-speed electronic rocket journey accompanied with minimal but rhythmic snare drum.
Thirdly, they operate without much regard to traditional band formats – for example using ‘fake’ lead singers, turning up as just a single performer with a snare drum and laptop, or projecting distant band members onto a paddling pool. With the two key members being part of Golden Teacher, I’d expect nothing less.
Listen to their latest release on Diagonal here.
Standing for Ladies as Pimps, LAPS is a duo made of Sue Zuki (Organs of Love) and Cass Ezeji (Golden Teacher), who originally met on a production course at the legendary Green Door Studio.
They’ve been catching attention both sides of the Atlantic, and their EP Who Me? has just been re-released by DFA Records in a chopped up format with extra remixes from Duppy Gun, D. Tiffany and Roza Terenzi.
Their music is focused and club-ready, with each track touching on different angles of dub, post-punk, and RnB. The vocals are absolutely at the forefront, and provide a brilliant interjecting counterpoint to the pulsing music below.
Listen to the US version of Who Me?
There seems to have been a blossoming of 6-7-piece post-punk bands of late (see also Duds, Crack Cloud), and Kaputt likewise make superb use of their many arms.
Their music is dexterous, fun, and melodically intelligent, taking you on twists and turns and throwing harmonious hooks in at a moment’s notice. The saxophone evokes X-Ray Spex’s Lora Logic, and around it swirl multiple vocals, complex guitars, and percussion to make something truly special.
Like Duds, it’s all quick and sharp – before you know it the songs are over – but Kaputt cram so much joy into their music it’s worth many repeated listens.
Listen to Highlight / Suspectette.
The ‘travelling bard’ is a common trope in folk music, but for Howie, it rings true. Constantly touring, he arrives accompanied only by a warm demeanour, a thumb piano, and an acoustic bass.
He’s been enrapturing audiences across the world for several years now with his deeply touching music – a combination of personal reflections in lyrics, and post-punk inflected bass that is both warmly soulful and refreshingly erratic.
He lives and breathes through the DIY community, and his latest album, the crowd-funded Cracks is the first to have guest musicians, which is a welcome addition.
Listen to Cracks.
Another incredible, intensely potent live band, this new hardcore punk four-piece delivers high-speed chunks of anger in all the right directions. Featuring Chrissy from post-punk 6-piece Kaputt (see below), this is straight-up hardcore, but there’s a succinct step into melody and dynamics with some fantastic moments on their recent demo where the breakneck speed drops to a stomp.
They’ve just released this demo on tape, and it absolutely lives up to the furious live show. They’re also proud makers of one of the best band banners I’ve seen (see picture).
Listen to DEMO 2019,
As a change from the experimental leanings of the list so far, here’s something very different – pure pop majesty from another of Glasgow’s famously enrapturing live bands.
Their most recent single, ‘Up All Over Me,’ is a sassy, retro inflected stomper – and the rest of the EP sees them continue the unabashed swagger. The track ‘Whiplash’ itself is a real highlight, using playful synths, field recordings, and crowd vocals to bring child-like energy to the slow trap groove.
They’re also keen collaborators, and having recently released a brand new remix EP of Whiplash with a bevy of friends including Uniiiqu3, Dance System, Paradise 100, and the band’s own John Ballie Jnr.
Listen to Whiplash.
Coming highly recommended is the bass and drums duo Cartilage, which features ex-members of Divorce and Citizens. Using a simple setup, they deliver a hefty slab of doomy sludge punk. Vocals are provided by bassist Vickie, suitably gravelly salvoes of aggression over the riff-heavy backing.
2019 saw the release of their relentless Lung Butter EP on Cassette – the 5 tracks are seldom short, which hints to doomier influences and makes for an even more enjoyable slog of a listen.
Recently playing alongside Cartilage, Acid Cannibals are a speedier affair – this may be in part due to a devotion to Buckfast, the infamous caffeine-filled tonic wine that’s so popular in this part of the world.
Carrying through the sense of fun (and commitment to that certain beverage) from guitarist and singer James’ former band The Cosmic Dead, Acid Cannibals are an overt and brazen punk band. You’d probably be able to make a good guess at what their music sounds like from the cover and title of their latest EP Horny For Tomorrow. But this is no shade – it’s absolutely fantastic.
A Finnish DJ and promoter now based in Glasgow, IDA has been making waves and creating a lot of excitement with her Acid Flash parties.
Originally starting off in Aberdeen, the acid and 303-soaked nights have crept south-wards to Edinburgh and Glasgow. As a DJ herself, she’s in high demand with regular sets in the city’s incredible Sub Club – using the best of Acid House’s influence to string together an atmospheric journey across techno, ghetto house, and ambient music.
There’s also news of her own productions lurking on the horizon – so keep an eye out if you regularly crave the squelch of a Roland 303.
Listen to some of IDA’s fantastic mixes.
Burd Ellen is the solo outlet of the accomplished folk singer Debbie Armour. Backed by the various instruments and vocal harmonies of Lucy Duncan and Gayle Brogan, the project looks to reinterpret traditional folk arrangements with a raw and varied approach.
Her debut album Silver Came is absolutely stunning – a journey through dark narratives and landscapes with incredible pacing, often using the juxtaposition of lo-fi and hi-fi recording to great effect. A particularly special moment is ‘Awake Awake,’ where a deep, bassy piano accompanies Burd Ellen’s beautiful take on an American song from the ‘Silver Dagger’ family.
Listen to Silver Came.
Tarantula are a freewheeling, rotating noise collective that has featured some fantastic luminaries from the Glasgow DIY scene, including Cucina Povera, Spinning Coin, Hairband, Lush Purr and more. The current touring line-up of drums, live electronics (a simple keyboard and Volca Bass), clean guitar and vocals make for a forceful combo.
Drifting as they please between sparse post-punk, completely free noise, and moments of melodic cohesion, it’s a joy to see them share a moment of restraint, laugh and then dive head-first back into the chaos. They’ve got a fantastic, semi-interactive website with lots of free music. Delve in!
Hairband are a relatively new band formed of veterans of Glasgow’s DIY scene. They’re something of a supergroup, featuring members of Spinning Coin, Breakfast Muff, Lush Purr and Kaputt – and this speaks volumes when you listen to their music.
Recorded at the incredible Green Door Studio, their self-titled EP released at the end of 2018 is a deft, multi-layered fruit-salad of guitar pop. Every note and harmony seems perfectly positioned and songs like ‘Flying’ achieve the golden chalice of sounding calm and relaxed while also being deeply complex.
Often math rock musicians can be maligned for constantly treading the same water – those facing writers block, take note – Hairband show an exciting route forward.
The brilliant GLARC Label, a small independent tape label based in the city, released Bamya’s debut at the tail end of 2018. Unique and mesmerising, ‘Jolly Little Rococo Death March’ was recorded between Glasgow and Athens and is wedded to both locations.
Sonically it’s a mix of kraut-rock and experimental rock, all the while drawing influence from Greek folk traditions. Vocals are sung in both English and Greek, infrequently delivered amongst a sea of twirling and swirling guitars that sit on the edge of being detuned.
Yet, this is no ascerbic noise assault – instead Bamya deliver a surprising record of gentle intensity and moments of sweetness on a chaotic bed.
I’m a strong believer that with the modern technological forms of consuming music culture, we need to recognise that the way people listen to music has fundamentally changed. Spotify and automatic playlisting, in some ways, fits nicely with the parallel rise of internet radio. Clelia Ciardulli is a DJ, based predominantly on Subcity Radio, who has embraced the potential of radio to deliver long-form pieces of expression.
My first experience her was on her former show on Sheffield Live – with no knowledge of what was on the schedule I remember turning on the radio to hear just a constant drone. Suddenly, 10 minutes in, a Roy Orbison song rose up through the ether, played out for 2 minutes, then disappeared again – ten minutes later, Clelia began playing melodies by changing the pitch slider on the record deck.
She continues to deliver slow-burning, thematic journeys through jazz, noise, and left-field music on a regular basis in her new home with the show Truth Of One.
Listen to her show archive.
Another project released on GLARC, Luki is the solo project of Lucy Duncan. She’s a singer and pianist based in the city and this first release, Wisps, is absolutely stunning. Deadly simple, with just piano, voice and synthesizer, Luki carries the songs with restraint and her mesmerising vocals.
After an opener sung in Mandarin (Tiānyá gē – from the 1937 film Street Angel), ‘Gelsomina’ is a real highlight. Showcasing the minimal arrangement that carries through the rest of the EP, just after the chorus line a strange synthesizer sound – part trumpet, part voice, part Theremin – appears suddenly.
This is perhaps a perfect summation of how much Luki’s music sounds like it should be in a mysterious, enrapturing film – it’s narrative driven, evocative, and with delicate touches of the surreal.
In a similar vein to the dormant Golden Teacher and The Modern Institute, Total Leatherette tap the rich seam of disco-twisted industrial with vigour.
They’ve accumulated quite the following in Glasgow already, and with tracks like ‘Work Harder,’ on the Extra Noir compilation, you can see why. Again, Glasgow has produced another band that makes brilliant music then manages to eclipse this through thrilling performances that go far beyond the normal expectations of a live band.
Their live shows have been described as an erotic, deeply queer sensory overload – all leather, pounding kick drums, Germanic vocals and pulsing strobe.
I’m an absolute sucker for good album artwork, and the cover for Lylo’s new album Post-Era is a strong contender for my favourite on this round up. It’s also a very good indication of what lies within. The sound is smart, very cool, and deeply maximalist in approach.
Originally a 3-piece, the addition of a saxophonist and keys player has developed Lylo’s sound to encompass UK Jazz, yacht-rock and New-Wave. And honestly, it works brilliantly. Underneath this techni-colour wash, there’s a steady base-level of pop driven indie-rock.
It’s been good to see the removal of some of the stigma surrounding overtly political music in recent years – with bands like Sleaford Mods signalling a return to earnestness that’s highly resonant in an increasingly frantic political landscape. Comfort fit this mold well.
They are direct and noisily unrelenting, whilst staying open-armed and rousing. Constant, breathless vocals are yelled over solid drums and choppy electronics.
The latter, performed by co-vocalist Natalie, is refreshingly varied – sometimes full disintegrating noise, other times claustrophobic pads – but always delivered as chunky stabs of sound that walk alongside the stomp of Sean’s drums and vocals. This is powerfully simple music with a brilliant message.
Listen to Built to Waste.
A huge ensemble collective based in Glasgow, Fat-Suit make funky, modern fusion Jazz that touches on a world of influences. They were recently picked out to represent the best of Scottish contemporary music at the forthcoming Glasgow Jazz Festival, and are sure to go down a storm.
As a band, they’re confident in their size, and make deft use of multiple musicians playing big, bold melody lines – it’s also deeply fun, with tracks like ‘Nuscle In My Link’ suddenly weaving off into a synth jam out of nowhere.
Watch a live performance of ‘Nuscle In My Link‘.
Formed in 1982, Primal Scream are one of Scotland’s biggest musical exports. Their 1991 album Screamadelica, with its iconic artwork, remains their best-loved album.
Their most famous song is the uplifting ‘Movin’ On Up’ – a big 90s anthem, which channels gospel song vibes with its gospel choir vocals, as well as that bold 90s-esque piano comping.
Other big singles include ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’ and ‘Higher Than The Sun,’ both of which featured singer Denise Johnson.
The undisputed masters of Scottish post-rock, Mogwai blend delicate orchestral strings and hushed breathy vocals with immense distortion and noise.
Formed in 1995, the bands melancholic and noisy brand of art rock has drawn comparisons with bands like Radiohead and The Smashing Pumpkins. However, Mogwai clearly stand on their own as one of the great post-rock bands of all time.
Their 2001 album Rock Action is one of their most-loved (check out ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ for a taster), and their epic 2021 album As The Love Continues showcases the band’s continuing maturity and skill.
Belle and Sebastian
Indie pop duo Belle and Sebastian are one of Scotland’s best-known bands. Drawing on influences from folk rock to chamber pop, their simple, folky musicality has had widespread appeal.
Their most famous song is cheerful and sweet ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ from the 1998 album of the same name. Make sure to also check out the lovely acoustic track ‘Piazza, New York Catcher.’
Franz Ferdinand had their heyday in the 00s with the rise of a certain style of alternative, angular indie rock. Blending elements of dance and rock, Franz Ferdinand’s cheeky, light-hearted take on the scene saw them rise to international success.
Their all-time enduring legacy is the timeless stomper ‘Take Me Out’ from their 2004 self-titled album. From its strangely disconnected introduction to the overdriven guitar riff and disco drums, the track takes you directly back to 2004!
Glasgow composer Craig Armstrong is best known for his work on film soundtracks. His music has appeared on countless Hollywood blockbusters from Love Actually to Baz Lehrman’s Romeo and Juliet. He references his native Glasgow in the titles of numerous instrumental tracks.
To get a taste of what he’s about, his epic 1998 album The Space Between includes a number of tracks from films, all of which stand as beautiful compositions in their own right, whether or not your hear them in the context of cinema.
His 2021 album, Nocturnes – Music for Two Pianos is a beautiful showcase of his deeply visual compositional style, with delicious traces of minimalist composition.
Special Mention: Akashic Records’ N.E.E.T Compilation
Keen eyes will have spotted several mentions of Green Door Studio in this list, and for good reason. It’s a hugely influential presence on Glasgow’s DIY scene, in part due to their work going above and beyond what a studio would normally do.
This is one output – a compilation of recordings from a community programme which teaches young people out of work to make and record their own music. Naturally, the project has been a hotbed for musicians meeting and going onto incredible things (Golden Teacher, for example, met on the course), and this compilation is all the more exciting thinking about this, and also perhaps some of the bands that never came to fruition.
Enjoyed this article? Check out our guide to Glasgow music venues.