Edinburgh Festival: Why the Fringe is rocking

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The Independent Culture

"It always struck me as strange that there wasn't a contemporary music strand during the Edinburgh Festival," Dave Corbett says. It was after he moved north of the border 12 years ago to work for DF Concerts, the Scots music promoters who run T in the Park, that Corbett set about remedying the situation.

This August's inaugural Edge festival is the rebranded T on the Fringe, the month-long series of high-profile gigs Corbett has been in charge of promoting since 2000. When T on the Fringe kicked off as an adjunct to the Fringe proper, it featured 15 concerts; last year, the number of gigs had quadrupled and 130,000 tickets were sold. Over the years, the likes of Radiohead, Franz Ferdinand, Pixies and Arcade Fire played arenas like Meadowbank Stadium and Princes Street Gardens. Live music is now as much of a Festival draw as theatre or comedy.

The brewer Tennent's decided this year to shake up its music sponsorship and stopped funding T on the Fringe, but their backing has been invaluable in building the brand, and it has reached the point where it can operate under its own reputation.

"Edinburgh doesn't really have the same live music tradition as Glasgow," Corbett says, "but we've built up a situation where Edinburgh has become far more attractive during August, at least. The crowds are bigger and the atmosphere's amazing."

The expansion of venues has helped. The opening of the 3,000-capacity Corn Exchange was a boost, while this autumn sees the similarly sized Old Picture House opens in Lothian Road. Corbett is hopeful it will host part of the Edge bill next year, and he forecasts a return to al fresco events.

This year's Edge bill incorporates bigger acts like The Raconteurs, Maximo Park, Kate Nash and N*E*R*D; young artists such as Santogold, the Presets and Sam Sparro; and a few Scottish artists edging towards national recognition. This last group includes Sergeant; Steve Mason of the Beta Band's new project, Black Affair; and Edinburgh's own Broken Records.

"We want gigs that are of-the-moment," Corbett says. "I'm looking forward to Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip; they agreed to do this last-minute one-off show, though they weren't planning to tour. Maximo Park, I think, are very underrated; their gig should be a bit special. And we've booked Jay Brannan, who was in the film 'Shortbus', who I think will get under people's skin a bit."

Of course, those who provide Edinburgh's indigenous music scene all year round are still out there in August. Past years have seen locally focused mini-festivals like Planet Pop and Tigerfest come and go, with some small-scale success. This year, a group of local promoters will take over a café in St John's Church Hall, off Princes Street, for the Retreat! festival.

"It's difficult for Edinburgh bands to find an audience during the Festival," says Emily Roff, an Edinburgh University student who's also one of Retreat!'s promoters. "You can't find venues because everything's so expensive, and DIY promoters are squeezed out. We're not in the Fringe programme, but we'll still go flyering up the Royal Mile."

The Edge; www.theedgefestival.co.uk, 0844 499 9990

Retreat!; www.myspace.com/edinburghretreat