Dundee - A city of music

Published on 14 August 2020

From exciting emerging artists to international rock bands, Dundee has seen its fair share of musical talent. Paul, Katie and Sam share what Dundee’s music scene means to them and how it’s going from strength to strength

On this page
“Dundee has a feeling to it I’ve never experienced anywhere else and I initially didn’t realise its impact on my creativity until I had left and come back”

Katie Lynch, MA(hons) Philosophy, Class of 2016

Katie Lynch

Katie is one half of the Dundee based band, St Martiins. Contemporary, poetic and reminiscent of hazy summer afternoons, Stmartiins’ sound has made waves in the indie music scene and has seen them play in Glasgow, Manchester and London as well as for the opening of the V&A in Dundee. 

How did the band form? 

Stmartiins formed as a project when I left university with my lifelong friend, Mark Johnston. We have worked together creatively for a long time so this particular band was a natural progression, a more tangible place to keep the music we’d worked on together. 

How would you describe Stmartiins style? 

It is so hard to describe genre and I actually think our music is hard to place. It has influences from so many places. The music itself has a sad, wonky yet driving pace to it. It is thoughtful and can sound deceivingly upbeat until the words and sounds are picked apart.  

How has Dundee shaped Stmartiins and why have you decided to base your band there? 

We have lived in Dundee our whole life apart from small times spent in the USA and Glasgow. Dundee has a feeling to it I’ve never experienced anywhere else and I initially didn’t realise its impact on my creativity until I had left and come back. Where we live is so wonderful and I feel I can live the way I want to without judgement. There are limited distractions, our families are here and financially it made no sense for us to leave. We tried that before and it failed. We built our own studio with the help from my Dad and it means we have a place to work at any time. There may come a point we have to go elsewhere but that would be a sad day for me. 

Paul Smernicki

Since graduating with a degree from DJCAD, Paul has pursued a career in the music industry where he became Director of Digital at Universal Music in London. After working with artists and bands such as Snow Patrol, Ellie Goulding and the Rolling Stones. He has now returned to his home-city of Dundee where he is manages some of Scotland’s exciting new talent.  

You came to the University of Dundee to study Town and Regional Planning but why did a career in the music industry appeal to you? 

I’ve always been a huge music fan, and it’s always been part of my life passed on to me by my parents. They were also both Dundee graduates and so are my brother and sister. Most of my time at University was severely distracted by playing in a band who I’d generously describe as ‘nearly did it'. Oh what could have been! I also used the computer room to print out my own fanzines. I would write gig review and previews, album reviews and do music news round ups then use the printer there before using actual cut and paste then a photocopier to make up the issues. 

What music did you listen to while at University? 

My musical foundations were laid down at 80’s indie discos so I listened to lots of fey guitar bands. The more obscure the better normally. I was a serial gig-goer, heading all over the country to see bands like The Sandkings, Cud, House of Love, The Sandflowers. Early REM and U2, Lush and The Wonderstuff were heavily played at this time. 

We have a number of students with ambitions for working with artists and record labels – what would be the one piece of advice you would give to a student or graduate looking to start a career in artist/record label management? 

Make your own luck and pursue your passions. It’s highly competitive and if you’re putting on your own nights, running a blog, into photography or video making and generally making a noise with your own thing, it’s a great way to showcase your enthusiasm and skills. And do it because you love it. We need people like you! I’m happy to talk over email if a student or graduate is looking for advice.   

What are you up to now? 

I run my own music management company called Big Music MGMT that looks after a small roster of artists. This includes Glasgow duo HYTTS who are signed to Warner Records, Jessie Buckley who is star of the movie Wild Rose, swim school who are one of the hottest unsigned bands in Scotland, and a great Bristol based artist called George Glew who I met and started working with during lockdown. 

You’ve recently come back to Dundee – why is Dundee an exciting place to base your family and business? 

From a business point of view there were a few factors. Firstly, technology allows me to work from wherever I want so why not! Secondly, I have a gang of close friends here who are all involved in the music business in one way or another who gave me the confidence to make a move. And I’ve found that there is an even wider community here in Dundee and Scotland that give things a real buzz. For my family it’s an easy lifestyle choice. I’ve got two young kids and their quality of life will be fantastic here, from a well-being, social and cultural perspective.  

a man standing at a podium giving a talk
Most of my time at University was severely distracted by playing in a band who I’d generously describe as ‘nearly did it'. Oh what could have been!

Paul Smernicki, Town & Regional Planning, Class of 1993

Sam Harland-Sendra

Sam is a English Literature student,. He writes about music for the University’s monthly student magazine, The Magdalen. An artist himself as well as a reviewer, Sam writes about why music writing is important and contemplates the modern age of music:

“Writing about music is simultaneously really easy and really difficult.  Its simplicity stems from how evocative it is, music is a language all of its own that brings together people who might not speak a word of each other’s tongues. The difficulty comes from having to translate that language into something more tangible, something that can exist on the page.  ”

Sam Harland-Sendra, a English Literature student

"Someone once told me that music stimulates the brain in much the same way as psychoactive drugs, and quite honestly, I wasn’t at all surprised. I often end up using words and phrases that seem more suited to a cookbook, or a visual arts review- crunchy, thick, or bright. This application of synesthetic language I think highlights the transcendental nature of song, impossible to fully capture in words.  

And what a time to participate in the music scene- especially the Scottish music scene- as both a writer/consumer, and as an artist myself. It is flourishing, and yet the entire structure is shifting. Now more than ever there is the ability to do it all yourself, to book gigs via Facebook pages, self-promote with the help of social media, even record in your bedroom for less money than you might spend on a festival ticket. There’s still an undeniable rift between this DIY subsect, and the rest of the music industry, but there’s space there for true art to thrive. 

Stylistically, these artists have a ridiculously large back catalogue to pick from (another benefit of the information age). Something I’ve noticed in these artists, especially those that are accruing a fanbase is that they make excellent use of this- musicians nowadays site sources stretching from obscure 60’s garage bands, experimental composers, and art-punk groups from the early 80’s, all the way to household names like the Beatles or Bowie. I wouldn’t say that there’s a specific movement happening in music right now; rather it is a patchwork of generic nostalgia, mixing and matching generic influence to create something new. This lack of consistency, in my opinion, is the perfect platform for originality, and I’m excited to see what comes from it."

The Bridge

Read the rest of The Bridge and more of our stories 

Story category The Bridge Magazine