Something in the Ayr: Ewan McVicar's Pavilion festival is a celebration of hometown pride - Features - Mixmag

Something in the Ayr: Ewan McVicar's Pavilion festival is a celebration of hometown pride

Part audacious experiment, part family reunion — Chris Cahillane travels to Scotland's West Coast to attend the second edition of Pavilion

  • Words: Chris Cahillane | Photos: Francis Mancini
  • 3 July 2024

Despite the grey, gloomy skies and the firm North Sea winds, the mood around this quaint seaside town on the West Coast of Scotland is anything but miserable as hundreds of festivalgoers descend upon Ayr Beach. This spot of coast hosts crowds of this size a couple of times a year for events such as the Scottish Grand National, The International Ayr Show and more. However, ravers arriving in their thousands remains an unusual sight for Ayrshire locals — which is a shame, because the rave legacy of this stretch of beach runs deep.

Much of this is down to the Ayr Pavilion, a 103-year-old auditorium located in Low Green that was once home to one of Scotland's most infamous nightspots... Hanger 13. In its acid house heyday, it was often given the title of "Scotland's best club," and was the home of the legendary '90s party STREETrave — that is before it was shuttered in 1995, following three ecstasy-related deaths within its walls. While Hanger closed, and Ayr Pavilion was eventually transformed into a family-friendly amusement and soft play centre — STREETrave endured, inviting the likes of Roger Sanchez, Carl Cox, John Digweed and more to its later bases of Prestwick and Glasgow. However, the musical heritage of the Pavilion (and the sleepy town it sits all neat-and-white on the edge of) had been largely sidelined — that was until Ayr-born electronic star Ewan McVicar managed to attract a 5,000-strong crowd to these shores last year for the debut of his very own festival, aptly named Pavilion.

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While Pavilion has expanded this year's capacity to 7,000 and added an extra day (curated by the original promoters of STREETrave of course), it feels less like McVicar is trying to create a festival brand and more shine a light on his hometown – something that appears to be at the core of everything this festival is. The 30-year-old told The BBC ahead of this year's festival that "delivering an experience people want in Ayr" is "what it's all about." So as you can expect, this year's line-up is a hearty mixture of Scottish favourites, friends of the 30-year-old DJ/producer and international stars — including Patrick Topping, Derrick Carter, Octave One, Optimo and Éclair Fifi.

Walking straight off the beach and onto the festival site the historical significance of Low Green is palpable, which is probably because it is situated right next to the Ayr Pavilion. The building's four iconic towers are reflected by the main stage's own four large pillars just below — but the nods don't end there. Towards the back of the festival site, beneath the large ferris wheel, is a jet-black tent that stands in contrast to the colourful surroundings visible everywhere else — this is the "Sub Club" tent. Named after the iconic Glasgow venue, dancers during Octave One's cavernous set are covered in near-darkness inside its draped expanse, with a hefty soundsystem and subtle lighting helping amp up that authentic "nightclub" feeling. Ewan's young brother, DJ Rory McVicar, holds nothing back during his early slot at the Ten Tent – filling the greenhouse-like structure with dancers despite the mid-afternoon drizzle. There's a feeling of community as we watch locals singing and moving to music from Roose and Rio Tashan, with everyone cheering in unison as his brother joins him behind the booth in support.

Despite there being plentiful toilets available on-site, I notice a large queue at one portaloo and curiosity piqued I go along and join at the back. When I finally reach its door, I'm not greeted by the typically grim interior of a festival toilet, but by an entrance to a secret stage. It is decorated like a pub, fully-kitted out with a wooden-style interior, dart board, bar and - of course - two CDJs, a mixer and soundsystem. The space's tiny capacity adds to the experience as ravers enjoyed secret sets from multiple DJs including Ewan McVicar himself.

The ponchos and coats come out as it starts to spit, but the weather doesn't dampen the mood of the crowd, who keep the energy levels high as they tuck into main stage action from Optimo (Espacio) and Special Request — followed by a disco masterclass from Chicago house legend Derrick Carter before a headline hour-and-a-half from Patrick Topping. The Trick label boss is playing his first set of the year after becoming a father and uses the opportunity to debut his new track with McVicar. “I have been dying to play this song,” he tells me. “It’s crazy that the first opportunity I get is at Ewan’s festival, with Ewan, what a moment man!”

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With the other stages wrapping up during Topping’s set, the Geordie legend hands the decks over to McVicar on the main stage in front of a full crowd. All the ravers gather to see their local boy shell out his biggest tunes, dancing and singing in the rain. Even though an ankle injury has the Scotsman on crutches, he's undeterred from jumping up onto the table and partying behind the decks. Taking in the connection between the local crowd and one of their own spinning records is an emotional experience.

Celebrating its 35th birthday this year, STREETrave takes on the reigns of Pavilion on Sunday. Just a stone’s throw from where it all began back in 1989 — many of the fans who have followed the party throughout the years are present on Ayr Beach for what feels like a family reunion, all soundtracked by the likes of David Morales, Heather Small and 808 State.

“STREETrave is a family, it is friendship and mates,” according to its founder, Ricky Magowan. Described by Ewan McVicar as the "Godfather of promoters," he started STREETrave with his friend James ‘Jamsy’ McKay and has continued to put on parties all over the world featuring some of the biggest names in the business. He said: “STREETrave is like a family because we have all grown up together. In that building (Ayr Pavilion), people met their future husbands and wives, and we now know their kids, so it is a whole amalgamation of 35 years. Like any family, we have had our ups and downs, but we stuck together, so it is amazing seeing everyone back together today celebrating.”

Could Pavilion be the start of a new musical chapter for Ayr? Coupling up the audacious ideas of an international DJ who wanted to host a huge festival in his hometown, with the party-throwing experience of one of the largest events in history adds up to a truly unique festival. We were blown away by how consumer-driven the whole weekend was, which is how the most successful festivals keep their fans coming back year after year. The community feel at Pavilion was infectious, and I boarded the train home feeling like an Ayr local myself.

Chris Cahillane is a freelance music writer, follow him on Instagram

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