More and more, these initiatives are producing dazzling music. Both Golden Teacher, whose third EP for Optimo Music, Party People / Love, was an RA Recommends in April, and Whilst, whose Everything There Was Was There EP for the same label garnered similar praise in February, came together as a result of these courses, which train NEETs (people aged between 16 and 25 who are not in employment, education or training) how to use studio equipment and record their own music, all free of charge. Golden Teacher and Whilst are the courses' best-known electronic acts, but many others have been through the studio in recent times, and all describe an incomparable creative space.
Claudia Nova, who makes dark, atmospheric synth pop under the name Hausfrau, and has recently made an album at the studio, said the atmosphere there is "incredibly open to experimentation—there is never just one way to do something." Lewis Cook (Happy Meals / Instructional Media), another graduate of the studio's youth initiatives, describes the place as a "living instrument" and said that a single day in one of the courses took him and a friend "from having no material to having a band and a good idea of where we were taking it." Alexander Johnston of NAKED said that in the studio "fear is replaced by a confidence to experiment and to move forward. The studio becomes part of the creative process rather than the conclusion—it is a magical place."
It isn't just young locals who use the studio either. When I visited, ex-KLF man Bill Drummond had just been in ("He recorded a very old Hammond drum machine and then layered loads of buzzsaw guitar and some bagpipes over it," said Evans), as had former Rolling Stones manager and producer Andrew Loog Oldham ("He had very expensive trousers on," said Smith). Optimo's JD Twitch told me he uses the space for "all sorts of projects and purposes, from dumping tracks onto tape to recording vocals and live instruments." Twitch also used Green Door to produce albums by Sons & Daughters and Tussle, and said that around a third of Optimo Music's releases have been recorded at Green Door. He describes the place as "inspirational."
Despite the praise, the Green Door Studio is a humble place—an unpretentious, relaxing environment with the floor space of a large bedroom—and its beginnings were humble, too. MacLaren, one of the studio's three founders, begins the story: "By the end of 2006 I had been on the dole for five years so I was put on a training course that was set up to help people in my position come up with business plans. I'd been working with ZE Records in the south of France, and I told the guy I was working with on the course that I'd like to set up a studio when I came back to Glasgow. I met Stuart and Sam at around the same time and we ended up getting a bit of money from the government to get started."
Together with local music fixture Jamie Grier, the three spent an arduous year laying the groundwork for their idea. They finally moved into the space, in a quaint little spot called The Hidden Lane. "It was a long uphill battle at the start," MacLaren said. "When I tried to explain that I wanted to start a non-profit analogue recording studio for unemployed and independent musicians, folk didn't quite get it. Then finally we got some financial help and we were ready to go. It was a lot of unpaid work at the start—we were working 60 hours a week entirely as volunteers, and we didn't actually get paid for anything until three years into running the studio."
Despite the adversity, MacLaren said the group worked well as a team from the beginning. "We all brought different kinds of experience. We'd all been playing in bands, but Sam had been working as an engineer at another studio, Jamie came from more of a DIY scene doing live sound, and I'd come from the ZE studio in France, where I'd been recording and overdubbing, experimenting in an unconventional space. We all brought something different and we all learned from each other."
They started with just a skeleton setup. "Emily and I went on eBay with the five-and-a-half-grand she'd managed to get as start-up money and found an Allen & Heath mixing desk and an eight-track tape machine to get started with," Smith recalled. "All of us also had bits and pieces of equipment ourselves so we collated it all and had just about enough to get going." Seven years in, Green Door is much better stocked. The three passionately discuss their Korg MS10 mono synth, their Roland Chorus Space Echo and a '60s Watkins Copicat Tape Echo that was donated by Optimo's Jonnie Wilkes. It's clear they could talk for days about the equipment they've gathered over the years.
The control room's two huge old mixing desks are the most immediately striking pieces of equipment. "We had to spend a lot of money restoring the Studer desk after we bought it from a dodgy bastard who miss-sold it to us as recently serviced and in full working order," Evans said. "We were originally told that the desk was coming from Derby, then it was apparently coming from Dubai. And then when it finally turned up three months late and in a total state it turned out to have come from South Africa, and had been used by the South African Broadcasting Corporation under apartheid. When we pulled the guy up about it he threatened to break into the studio. We had to spend the night here armed with a hammer and a saw, with our giant '60s Vox bass cabinet wedged up against the door, and with all the hi-hats and crash cymbols in the hall so we could hear him if he tried to break down the outside door. It was like Home Alone! After our technical wizard Iain McClean restored it to full working order we had to play a whole lot of Jamaican music through it in order to cleanse the desk and exorcise its past."
This sort of laidback humour is central to the success of Green Door's youth projects. Alumni of Supergroups (aimed at young existing bands) and Sonic Youths (for individuals) talk affectionately about the combination of relaxed creativity and deep knowledge that the three bring to the table. "Every week we look at a different studio, and we set up our studio to emulate what it would have been like to record there," MacLaren explains. "So one week we do Chess Records in Chicago, then the next Lee Perry's Black Ark, and then Martin Hannett's Strawberry Studios, then Kling Klang. It helps to look at different approaches—for example the Chess Records week involves just recording in a room live with no overdubs, which teaches them that sometimes you can learn from having limitations."
"Limitations make great music," Evans added. "There's nothing more depressing than someone sitting in front of a computer with 500 different options for how the kick drums should sound. Your brain has to get creative when there are not many options."
The band Golden Teacher, who formed on one of these courses, described the experience: "We (and many other musicians in Glasgow) have been really lucky to get free recording time through Green Door's community projects. This has been fundamental to how we record. It ultimately removes the financial pressure to 'produce results' each time we record, which creates the atmosphere necessary to experiment. From the practical side, the point of all the courses is to learn exactly how the studio works—how every piece of equipment functions, how every mic can be positioned, how all of the effects work, how to use the tape machine, and, most importantly, the sense of freedom to experiment with all this gear. This is knowledge many studios possibly wouldn't share for fear of their role as engineers becoming redundant. With the Green Door it's the opposite."
One afternoon, I sat in on a Golden Teacher recording session as the band worked on material for their fourth EP. In the control room, two members of the band worked with Evans on mixes of recent recordings using the studio's beautiful old analogue equipment, while in the live room the others gleefully jammed through a variety of styles on a vintage synth, piano, drums and guitars. The odd bit of interpretive dance was thrown in for good measure, and everyone seemed to have brought along a different type of biscuits.
"When I think about Golden Teacher I imagine a robot dancing with a leopard," said MacLaren, "because you have this amazing cross between drum machines and live percussion and live instrumentation. That combination of synthetic and organic can lead you to so many interesting places."
Scott Duff and Conal Blake of Whilst—whose Optimo Music EP Everything There Was Was There pulled off takes on krautrock, North African funk, punk funk, free jazz and more—echoed these sentiments. As Golden Teacher member Cassie poured us pints in the café of the city's Centre For Contemporary Arts (Glasgow's music scene is so close-knit that there are several bars staffed almost exclusively by people who're also in very good bands) Blake said: "Everything I've done in music has been because of Green Door. The great thing about the courses they run is that they totally demystify the idea of a recording studio. I'd never been in one before and I was really nervous before I went in for the first time, but they instantly made me feel so calm. They have no attitude towards anything, it's a really cosy and nurturing environment. You go in and have a cup of tea with them and a chat and just start doing stuff whenever you're ready."
As everyone involved was keen to point out, this is an amazingly fertile time for Glasgow music in general. "It's ridiculous what's going on in Glasgow at the moment," said Evans. "There's no Glasgow sound, just so many people doing radically different things and coming out with the most interesting music I'm hearing from anywhere in the UK. We've been very lucky to be going as a studio during such a great time in the city." But it's important to acknowledge the central role the Green Door Studio is playing in this golden age, plucking young people who've barely ever considered making music and giving them the tools to unlock creative riches.
The three don't know of another studio like Green Door anywhere ("I hope there isn't one," Smith laughed), but the simple ingredients that have led to its success—enthusiasm, talent, sharing knowledge—could potentially be replicated in towns and cities around the world. "With us it's not so much about the tape machines as it is about the attitude," Smith said. "And I really don't think there's anywhere that combines the two like this place does. It's to do with interaction, physicality and sociability. With a lot of records I can tell they've been recorded on Ableton in isolation in someone's bedroom because there's just this signature to them. I think to myself, 'A fucking robot could have made this'—but not one that's dancing with a leopard."