A FESTIVAL of light aimed at brightening the long, dark, northern nights has become so successful it has been expanded by adding music and an international conference to its programme.

Proving that Aberdeen is not just about oil and gas is Spectra, which next month returns to the city for its fifth year.

Running from February 8-11, Spectra this year celebrates the Scottish Year of Young People through the theme Play the Night which will see leading international artists and Scottish collaborators deliver a four-day light and music spectacular.

Alongside the light installations, Spectra 2018 will welcome a musical smorgasbord of Nordic and UK talent which will culminate in ambitious AV shows.

In addition, the festival will build on the success of the inaugural Catalyst Conference of last year to again bring together an array of highly successful cultural leaders, artists and experts from across Europe and within the UK.

They will reveal their strategies for cultural development, presenting their successes so far and their aspirations for the future, with a strong focus on Aberdeen.

DIRECTOR Andy Brydon says the aim of Spectra is to show what Aberdeen has to offer culturally.

“We are trying to make the point that, although there has been a kind of monoculture of oil and gas in Aberdeen, we are working with the council and other organisations to make the case for culture because if the city does have a future we need to create these connections to be exciting and interesting,” he said.

“The festival has grown quite organically – the key is to make very good quality art accessible so that we are presenting work of a very high quality to people who might otherwise not go into a gallery.

“This year we have visual artists from countries like the Netherlands, Germany and Bulgaria who are world leaders in their field. They do things like projection mapping where they project light on to buildings and make them look like they are changing shape.

“We’ve got around 30 visual artists, 23 music acts and 40 speakers so it is the biggest thing we have ever attempted.

“We think it will be another success because in the last few years there has been a brilliant atmosphere. It is a very walkable site and the streets are full. We are trying to bring the city to life and get people to look at it in a different way.

He added: “We have also introduced the conference programme to bring peers in the cultural sector to Aberdeen to show how cultural ambition does not have to look towards the Central Belt of Scotland in order to be successful. There is a perception of Aberdeen being on the periphery but Aberdeen doesn’t need to look to Edinburgh and Glasgow – people here can look towards the Nordic countries instead.”

THE music programme kicks off at The Assembly on February 8 with an eclectic mix of UK and international names including up-and-coming indie-electronic act Cymbals, avant-garde Icelandic Jazz outfit ADHD and finishing off with Mt Wolf.

On February 9, its Reykjavik Grapevine 2016 album of the year winner, Tonik Ensemble (pictured), followed by the minimalist techno of Faroe Islands duo Orka. Wrangler, with Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder fronting the electronic supergroup, will close The Assembly with a show combining stunning visuals and irreverent lyricism.

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Friday’s late programming takes audiences over to Tunnels to see emerging Scandi-influenced pop songstress Bruch, followed by synth-techno producer Mental Overdrive who hails from the city of Trømso in Norway and is an integral member of the scene that spawned Royksopp, Bjorn Torske and many more seminal acts.

THE Saturday programme kicks off with psychedelic electronica infused rock trio Nányë, followed by the celebrated Icelandic Mammút act. Finishing the Saturday programme at The Assembly will be the Hidden Orchestra, with a visually stunning AV show.

Late programming spreads into Tunnels and Unit 51 with Scotland’s own Emma Pollock and blues act Seafoam Green. Producers and DJs Cler Lever and James Orvis will take the stage playing heavy, progressive, melodic and deep house and techno in Unit 51.

The final night of music on Sunday sees The Assembly come alive to a raft of electronic treats from Icelandic trio Sykur, London-based duo Wyles & Simpson and Warp Records legends Plaid – unveiling an all new AV projection show.

Following on to the late programming at Tunnels and Unit 51, indie-rocker Emilio Pinchi and vaudeville dream-pop eight piece Science of the Lamps will be live in Tunnels. Unit 51 will host two pioneers of their respective fields, as Steve Cobby plays a DJ set before the headline act of the weekend Lindstrøm take over.

DESIGNED to strengthen and sustain the cultural buzz in Aberdeen around the popular annual light festival, the Catalyst Conference will take place on February 9 and 10 in the Anatomy Rooms at Marischal College. Leading artists, designers, academics, business leaders and social entrepreneurs will once again come together again for the two-day conference, with international partners from Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Norway, to identify ways to develop the cultural economy in Aberdeen while also fostering conditions to define, draw attention to and distinguish the industry and city on a global scale.

Run in collaboration with Creative Scotland’s Place Partnerships Team, the ticketed conference will explore the theme of creative place-making, concentrating on the important role that the arts play in improving a community’s wellbeing and prosperity.

Headline speaker Martin Green, who successfully led Hull as the City of Culture 2017, will be joined by the First Lady of Iceland Eliza Reid, who is the co-founder of Iceland Writers Retreat, as well as very actively promoting the art and literature scene in Iceland.

Sif Gunnarsdóttir, director of the Nordic House in the Faroe Islands is also confirmed as well as Hilary Nicholl, associate director of the Look Again Visual Art and Design Festival.

“The arts are the driver of and not just the result of a successful place,” said Aberdeen City Council culture spokesperson Cllr Marie Boulton.

“The discussions that will take place over the two-day conference will shape a series of follow up projects that will influence the arts community locally, but also on a national and international scale.

“The economic landscape of Aberdeen is shifting and as it does we must look to our cultural offering to enhance the changing economy of our city.”