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Lilura's witch pop casts its spell

By Kyle Walker

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For the longest time, in the Highlands, pop music was something that happened elsewhere.

Classic chart-toppers and club-fillers were the reserve of the major labels, the big cities, the multi-platinum artists – nowhere across the rolling Cairngorm range or the craggy edges of Sutherland could the slick beats and samples of producing a healthy, hook-filled floorstomper.

Yet as technology has evolved, so too has music. With programmes available for home computers offering studio-quality recording capacity and the chance to produce samples, beats and bangers from your own living room, the chance has finally arrived for aspiring pop titans to take matters into their own hands.

Enter Lilura. The moniker of Nairn’s Jemma Tweedie – who until 2017 had been known for her solo folk-tinged work – the independent singer-songwriter has switched gears, swapping the acoustic in favour of brooding, atmospheric electropop for more than a year.

“Yeah, it’s different,” Jemma understated. “Obviously I did the acoustic stuff before which was convenient at the time – just me and a guitar – and I would have a much bigger sound in my head.

“It’s been a massive learning curve – I’ve actually learned a lot more than I thought I was going to, because obviously I had to brush up on the production side of things as well.

“I pretty much taught myself off YouTube how to use most of it, but that’s how I learned guitar – so I thought ‘well, if I can do it with guitar then I can do it with something else!’”

Since kicking off this self-described “witch-pop” project with a home show in Nairn last summer, that learning curve has been steep. There have been recording sessions in London and LA, singles and EPs released under the Lilura name, and live shows across Scotland.

All the while Jemma has been learning the ropes of the rapidly evolving pop industry – one that’s finally cracked its doors open to people from outside the labels. “There’s a lot more people doing it now as well,” she said.

“I mean, when I started out acoustically, I had no friends who did pop music – maybe I was out of the loop. But now there’s like a small handful of people doing more poppy stuff, it’s quite good to see more of that happening. I don’t feel that pop is as much of a dirty word anymore.”

But while the resources are there to produce the music, there are still challenges for an aspiring pop star looking to be noticed by major labels. “Like, being an independent artist it’s expensive to fund as well. As much as I’d like to produce all my own music, I still need someone who does pop music to tidy things up and master it, mix it, and all the things I can’t do myself.

“I feel it was okay to be a bit more raw when I did acoustic stuff, but I think there’s a certain standard if you want to be signed by a major label – and you’re doing pop music, it has to be almost as good as what’s already signed and out there.

“So it’s expensive and a lot of pressure,” she added before laughing. “But I like a challenge!”


And what a challenge. One of the other big changes within music is how the industry has shrank back its capacity or inclination for developing raw young artists in favour of scouting out ready-made talent – as Jemma puts it, “Everybody wants you to already be the finished product.”

“I guess my biggest issue or challenge is the cost of getting it produced and engineered to that standard. I still have a day job, but then I need the day job to pay for the tracks, but then you don’t make a lot of money back off the tracks. Having a major label would help get your music out to people because that probably could cost money as well, like CD production, putting things up for release, if you wanted to pay for things like press and PR...

“I will get there, but it’s going to take a lot longer as an independent artist to be record label ready whereas if labels were able to put time into developing artists...I don’t know! I can see both sides of the story to be honest.”

Until the day comes for a label, Jemma will continue plugging away. Her next single is due for release soon, with fans who buy tickets for her upcoming shows in Aberdeen and Inverness this weekend invited to vote on which one of three songs she will release. “I thought it was kind of nice to involve people, and it’s good for me to get feedback on what people actually like, you know?” she said, chuckling. “It’s handy – and it doesn’t cost anything!”

In the meantime, the Lilura project continues to stand out. Creating unabashed pop music in the Highlands is something no one else seems to be doing. “No, not at all – which is really strange!

“But it’s good, because hopefully I think my target market is kind of aimed at younger folk anyway.

So the first gig I did as Lilura [in Nairn], I was able to get it for 14-pluses which was really good. It makes you feel nice when you see young people enjoying themselves, and I dunno – I just hope that it inspires people!”

She laughed. “If I can do it – a wee girl from Nairn – anyone else can do it!”

Lilura headlines the Off Axis Scotland showcase at the Tooth and Claw on Saturday night, with support from Park Circus and Vansleep.

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