“It’s a place where you can do what you want. You can dance however you want, wear whatever you want. There are no restrictions. There’s no VIP section. Everyone’s equal, everyone’s under the same roof, having the same experience.” This description isn’t exactly typical of a classic St Andrews event. £90 for a student-run fashion show, £75 for a ball… even the pints are expensive here. It’s not a university famed for its inclusivity. But this is how Szentek 2019 has been described by director Chiara Wilkinson – and I’m sold.
So, what actually is Szentek? According to Chiara, it’s “a creative platform to foster internal artistic talent whilst bringing outside music in”. This little town isn’t exactly representative of university life in the UK: in cities like Bristol and Manchester, the idea of a big ruin bar-esque techno event wouldn’t be particularly revolutionary. But here, it’s filling a major void in the nightlife. Head of Music, Matt Apud Payne, says, “It provides an outlet for a lot of people to experience something that you can’t get in this town very often.” Over the last couple of years, the student body has reacted in its own amazing way to the not-so-great nightlife offered by the Union: there are countless DJ collectives and groups putting on underground events with a similar vibe. But nothing ever really compares to the main Szentek event, and nothing tries – it’s pretty much perceived as the pinnacle of the St Andrews techno subculture.
This year, we’re being treated to sets by heavyweights of the Scottish dance scene: Eclair Fifi, an NTS-affiliated female artist and a pretty major booking, was the first to be announced. “There has been a surge in female artists on the underground scene,” says Chiara, “and it needs to be acknowledged. One of my main aims this year was to get more female representation, so we have female artists on every stage.” Another artist taking on the main room is Glasgow-based duo, Optimo, another huge name on the Scottish techno scene.
In the smaller room, Peverelist will be taking to the decks with some heavier sounds – but Chiara says that this vision of Szentek as an “edgy, hard techno dance music thing” is totally inaccurate. This year especially, the committee have endeavoured to curate a line-up which champions genre-blending. “If people are worried about not being used to these styles of dance music, they shouldn’t be. There will be something for everyone.” In addition, to accommodate for those students who aren’t as familiar with these genres, the division between the two indoor rooms has been shifted so you’ll have more control over what you’re dancing to. “It used to separate local artists and bigger artists,” Matt says, “but we’ve made a move to making that division sound-based.” Chiara adds: “It takes away the hierarchy. I want our resident artists to get just as much recognition as Optimo.”
It’s easy to focus on the big headliners at events like these, but Szentek’s resident DJs are what keep it operating close to home. Jack Ogilvie-Richards, a very familiar face behind the decks in St Andrews, is one of these residents. “If I’m asked to play on an evening, I’ll take time to pick music that is appealing and progressive for the Szentek crowd. Sometimes I might let myself drift into harder genres. I try and show people the coolest music that I’ve got.”
And while Chiara and Matt are determined to keep the playing field even, and to minimise any ranking of artists performing at the main event, there’s something to be said about St Andrews’ student DJs getting to play alongside huge names like Eclair Fifi, Optimo and Peverelist. But Jack says it’s always a lot healthier to focus on yourself when you’re in that situation. “To be in the shared space is just mutual recognition of two people who love music, and admiration for each other’s production. You can get sucked into this idea that you’re as important as the people you’re booking, but you just have to stay focused on you and what you’re making. But yeah… it is also pretty cool.”
So, you’ve got your big headliners and your local student artists, but what makes Szentek different from the many collaborative events hosted by music collectives almost every week? According to Chiara, it’s the art. “The art is a big side of what we do – visual art, video, and little wacky surprises that make it more than just a music night out. It’s a whole sensory experience.” Szentek 2019 will place massive focus on sustainability in terms of the art it’s showcasing; at their launch event, they had a Tennents can drive, and the main event will feature a giant Tennents tin man next to the outdoor stage. “It’s playing on the ruin bar idea. Not having to spend loads of money, and waste resources on the décor. There’s so much you can do by going to charity shops, using old rubbish and just getting creative.” Every Szentek event, including the smaller ones, showcases a massive variety of art pieces by student artists, but the main night decks out Kinkell Byre like no other large-scale event. It turns the building into a huge art installation: it’s like an art gallery, but with music that makes the walls shake.
The whole event is an amazing way to celebrate the ridiculous amount of talent hiding in all corners of the St Andrews student body. And Kinkell Byre is the perfect place to put it on, too. “It works really well as a warehouse-style rave space,” Chiara explains. And there’s something about being put on a bus and driven to the middle of nowhere that works perfectly with the Szentek vibe.
Kinkell Byre is a venue typically associated with weddings and balls, but as Jack says, “Taken down to its key elements Kinkell is just a giant hole with a lot of segmented space and if you work with that, then you have a major event space.” Szentek do this perfectly. For example, the entrance way – which, for a ball, is usually just a red carpet walkway – has been turned into what is effectively a smoking area, but with student DJs playing and people socialising and appreciating the music. “It’s your recuperation zone.”
But the most important thing about Szentek, for the whole team, is the inclusivity. “It’s really good how people can come to this event and everyone feels welcome and the crowd has always been great and really friendly,” Matt says. From the way the sound is curated to the layout of Kinkell to the marketing of the event, everything is designed to make Szentek as welcoming as possible – because, ultimately, the majority of its target audience probably haven’t come into contact with many events like it. For Chiara: “Respect is a big thing: respect on the dance floor. Good vibes.” And for Jack: “The culture that comes with underground music scenes can seem a bit hyperactive and uncomfortable, but I think for all the people who give it time, it ends up being so enjoyable. And you’ll learn to like the music if you keep coming back.”
The other aspect of Szentek that people might not know about is its dedication to supporting charities. For the last two years, and again this year, they’ve chosen to support Variety, a Glasgow-based charity which provides equipment and transport to disabled children. “You’re going to a dance event which has got all these wild associations, but you’re dancing for a good cause,” Chiara says. “You don’t need to feel so guilty!”
So, where is Szentek going? “It’s gotten bigger every year in the sense that it’s becoming more recognised as a brand in the Scottish electronic dance music scene, so hopefully in the future people from other universities will want to come as well,” says Chiara. “I’d like to do more collaborations, and I want to bring out the art side more because that’s often something that is overlooked.”
But at its core, Szentek is a ridiculously successful amalgamation of the two main cultures of partying in St Andrews: makeshift techno nights, and balls. And who’d have thought they could go together so perfectly. “You could perceive it as the ball for people who like underground electronic events,” suggests Jack. With a lower price tag than the vast majority of big Kinkell events, it’s essentially taking all the stuff that’s good about St Andrews’ student-cultivated underground scene, and all the good stuff about a ball and throwing it together to create a massive, gorgeous party on the same scale as a fancy Kinkell event but with none of the elitism. And it’s not only a music night, but an experience. You perceive an environment, not just a club space. “I hope it sticks around,” says Jack, “and continues providing this wicked event that people can go to instead of yet another nameless ball.”
Szentek is happening on Thursday 21st November at Kinkell Byre, and limited cheaper standard tickets are still available on Resident Advisor now. Final release tickets will be made available nearer to the event, and all profits go to Variety charity in Glasgow.