Music scenes need physical spaces, and the key to Edinburgh’s is a dark, sweaty,

100-capacity independent club and live music venue on the Cowgate. Sneaky Pete’s has been a vital home for local bands and DJs to play for over a decade, truly embracing the meaning of grassroots. Kate Walker talks to those behind Sneaky’s glorious success

neaky Pete’s significance to Edinburgh’s musical landscape was officially recognised at the Music Week Awards back in May, when it was named the UK’s Grassroots Music Venue of the Year. The prize reflects the important work carried out by owner and founder Nick Stewart in championing causes such as the Music Is Audible campaign, which successfully fought to revise the City of Edinburgh Council’s notorious ‘inaudibility’ clause that stifled live music in the capital for many years. ‘I didn’t really intend for Sneaks to get to this point,’ says Stewart. ‘I was running a tiny 3am bar that had a DJ offering, and little by little we’ve improved the venue. When we’d learned to do gigs properly with a great sound system and lights, we got to a certain point where I thought “yeah, maybe this really is a venue”. A lot of people gave us the benefit of the doubt in the early days, which I’m very grateful for.’

But more than being just a physical space, it’s the spirit of Sneaks that grabs hold of so many who make memories on its dancefloor. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever tire of introducing people to Sneaky Pete’s, just for that moment they stare around at the room, trying to piece together the scale of the stories of nights spent in the place,’ says DJ C-Shaman, whose night Heaters makes its home in the club every Wednesday. ‘When the lights come on at the end, you can always see they’ve fallen for the weird wonder of the place, hooked by a wave of intimate dancefloor moments that give the place its unique charm.’ ‘Sneaky’s mirrors the Edinburgh scene: it’s small, but perfectly formed,’ say Miss World, who have been bringing their ‘musical beauty pageant’ to the club as resident DJs for the past year. The club’s teeny size means that good vibes are pretty much guaranteed, and for Miss World, DJing at Sneaky’s is always a treat. ‘It’s a total sweatbox, with the DJ booth right on the dancefloor, which throws us right in there with the crowd and keeps the atmosphere electric.’ This charged, goodtime energy, coupled with a reputation that reaches beyond Edinburgh and Scotland, make Sneaky Pete’s a unique venue for bands that are just starting out. Sneaky’s fully embrace their role in fostering local and emerging talent, especially through their Central Belters gig series, which is all about giving local bands the same quality treatment as bigger, touring acts. ‘As a booker and promoter, the capacity of Sneaks means that we can

afford to take risks and book acts we really love, not necessarily the ones we think will sell the most tickets,’ says Jamie Pettinger, part of the Sneaky’s team. ‘This results in a really vibrant and varied programme of music that Nick and I are always 100 per cent behind! I also love that Sneaky Pete’s is where local residents can build up a real profile for themselves. Nights like Wasabi Disco, Miss World, TEESH and Hot Mess are a real testament that people in the city come out in a really deliberate way for their local DJs. Ultimately, that’s what a good dance music scene is built on.’ As well as this solid calendar of regular parties, Sneaky’s is where to head to see some of the biggest names on the international DJ circuit.

For a small venue with such notoriety, it would be easy for Sneaks to have adopted an air of exclusivity; yet this could not be further from the truth. ‘As a collective devoted to promoting women in DJing, we really appreciate the variety of sounds and genres that are welcome at Sneaky’s,’ say Miss World. ‘It’s allowed us to bring in so many different women from across the spectrum of dance music, including total newcomers, like those who’ve been through our programme of DJ workshops. Importantly, the club also has a more robust safe-space policy than most, so it’s somewhere we feel safe as both clubbers and DJs.’ It’s this warmth and accessibility that has put Sneaky Pete’s at the heart of an inspiring and supportive creative network, something that C-Shaman says makes the venue truly special. ‘I think it’s because the team there have managed to infuse it with a culture of collectivism. Sneaks is all about finding creative ways to bring people together. If you come along for a dance, a laugh and to be respectful, then you’ll be part of the family before you know it. There are no gatekeepers, everyone collaborates and you’re blessed with an open-minded crowd who love it when you take risks and push boundaries.’

‘Sneaks is great but it’s not the perfect version of the club,’ says Nick Stewart. ‘It’s a process, you never really get there, but it’s good to keep your eyes on the prize. Every now and then you get to be involved in a magic moment, like the overwhelming waves of good feelings emanating from the crowds at the recent sold-out Auntie Flo, Trudy and the Romance, and Club Mediterraneo shows. Getting intense responses like that is why we do what we do: we’re the medium through which great DJs and musicians can affect their audiences, and bring them to a higher place. It’s really not about us, but we do have to work hard to play our part.’

44 THE LIST 1 Nov 2019–31 Jan 2020