Music Review Hidden Door Festival

20 July 2022

Old Royal High School - June 2022

The Hidden Door Festival Credit Chris Scott(Image Credit: Chris Scott)

If there’s one event and organisation that perfectly captures the creativity, eclectic spirit and uniqueness of music (and arts) in Edinburgh, it’s arguably the Hidden Door Festival.

This unique annual festival is an absolute must-visit for music fans planning a trip to Edinburgh – such is its popularity that early bird tickets for its May 2023 event are already on sale.

Since its inception in 2014, this not-for-profit festival has made a name for itself by staging events in empty buildings and opening otherwise often forgotten spaces across Edinburgh. The events are always underpinned by excellent live music alongside an array of visual art, dance, theatre and spoken word experiences.

Along the way, the volunteer-run festival has staged gigs and other arts experiences in spaces such as a series of empty vaults, a derelict old theatre building and an old gasworks.

Each festival has featured a carefully curated and eclectic mix of music featuring local talent and critically acclaimed headline acts from across the UK and beyond. Past guests have included hometown heroes Young Fathers, plus visitors such as Nadine Shah, Sylvan Esso and Kelly Lee Owens.

This year's secret venue

Hidden Door Festival Credit Dan Mosley(Image Credit: Dan Mosley)

This year’s festival took place in June and Hidden Door wove its magic inside a series of iconic buildings which were once home to the city’s Royal High School. Empty since the 1960s, the building will soon be transformed into Scotland’s new National Centre for Music.

Located just beyond the east end of Edinburgh’s Princes Street, the 19th century neoclassical buildings are perfectly placed to take in some of Edinburgh’s beauty spots. Calton Hill and the Nelson Monument provide the backdrop for the main entrance to the building. A 180-degree turn offers a stunning panorama of Arthur’s Seat with the Salisbury Crags behind Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament.

For the festival, which ran for several days and nights, Hidden Door erected a special outdoor music stage which sat beautifully nestled under Calton Hill offering a truly memorable setting in which to enjoy the music on offer.

The outdoor stage featured performances from Edinburgh’s own Broken Records and riotous local community orchestra Tunderbox, plus big hitters such as Saint Etienne and BBC 6 Music favourites Dry Cleaning.

One of the stage’s highlights was Warmduscher who brought their post punk energy and enthusiasm in abundance. Frontman Clams Baker Jr effortlessly engaged the crowd and his ability to lead a festival type atmosphere is reflected in the audience reaction. Kaputt and Cheap Teeth also offer up excellent sets to complete the lineup on the outdoor stage.

Inside the building, a myriad of classrooms and chambers, staircases and corridors were utilised with installations and performance spaces meaning every turn of a corner offers something new.

A ‘rave cave’  created in a stone vault deep within the building was hosted by Edinburgh’s online community radio station EHFM with an array of DJs proving a pulsating highlight of the festival. Revered Edinburgh electronic music producer Proc Fiskal played a mind-bogglingly good live set in this space.

Other areas included a unique ‘pianodrome’ – a circular tiered structure created entirely from old pianos which hosted a range of performances – and an inside stage also curated by EHFM and featuring local acts such as Billy Got Waves and Dinosaur 94 alongside visiting artists such as Lonelady and Real Lies.

The music performances

Hidden Door Festival Credit Chris Scott(Image Credit: Chris Scott)

One of the most notable spaces was the central debating chamber. With a stage constructed at its heart it allowed the audience to surround the performers whilst impressive light and sound offered a truly immersive experience.

None more so than Post Coal Prom Queen’s presentation of ‘Music for First Contact’. The electronic duo performed what was billed as a ‘unique space opera’ with an element of audience interaction.

Indoors, PVA were also a particular highlight. The expertise and ease with which they switch between genres draws the crowd in as do the instrumental build ups in several songs.

This was a paid review, written by Stuart Niven for Forever Edinburgh and in partnership with Edinburgh Music Lovers.

Edinburgh Hidden Door Festival in 2023

The Hidden Door Festival Credit Dan Mosley(Image Credit: Dan Mosley)

Hidden Door are keeping their cards close to their chest with regards to the 2023 venue, but rest assured it will be just as utterly fascinating

Early bird tickets for Hidden Door Festival in May 2023 available here >