Meet the Edinburgh student who’s been to The Big Cheese over ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY times

He’s now doing his PhD

You might have seen our story last year about an Edinburgh finalist who had attended over one hundred Big Cheeses.

Enter Robbie MacNiven, a PhD student ready to give him a run for his money. MacNiven has been studying at Edinburgh since 2010 – giving him ample time to experience Big Cheese again and again. And again. Over 170 times, in fact.

Becoming a regular during the second year of his History and English undergrad degree, by the time he was finishing up and starting his master's it was an obsession. So much so that he's happy it's to be knocked down in 2021 – because it'll finally give him closure.

Despite currently researching for a PhD on the American Revolution, Robbie has kept his attendance up solidly, usually making two out of every three weeks – though not as many as some, he suggests.

We caught up with the Cheese aficionado to ask him all about his eight year relationship with Le Grande Fromage.

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(Right) MacNiven's Big Cheese shoes from 2010-2016 (Left) Their replacements

How has Big Cheese changed since you first started going?

"Attendance has definitely risen over the years. I've no idea if EUSA have the stats to prove it, but it felt quite busy when I first started going regularly in 2011/12, then took a dip in 2013 and 2014. It really picked up after that though, even in the dead parts of the year it could be packed out from the stage back to the rear seating."

Is there anything you miss that they don't do anymore?

"A special mention should go out to the Wheel of Cheese. That was a thing – literally a big game-show spinning wheel with various prizes like £100 or a load of free VKs – that lasted a couple of years. Around midnight they used to have dance-offs from people chosen from the crowd, with the winner getting to spin it.

"Looking back it sounds fun, but at the time I think the general consensus was that it just detracted from quality cheesy music. I fear the Big Wheel itself is still stored up in a EUSA cupboard somewhere, waiting to be resurrected."

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Robbie in 2012 before the downstairs renovation

Favourite VK flavour?

"I'd say common consensus has to give it to orange, but really if you're VK-ing in general you're living up to the true Cheesy spirit."

What's the maddest thing you've experienced?

"There have been a few incidents down the years, some more fondly remembered than others. I think it was 2014 when the Napier rugby team kept setting off the fire alarm and forcing an evacuation. After the third time the staff just shut the whole place down.

"There was also one night when the upstairs dance floor was absolutely frigid, and none of the staff knew why. It wasn't particularly cold outside, and the rest of the building was fine, but when you first emerged upstairs it literally hit you. It must've been about four degrees, you could see your breath. The only way to survive was by dancing."

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Big Cheese in 2012

Best act you've seen?

"Of course, the Cheese has pulled some big – and many not-so-big – acts down the years as well. There were flops – Atomic Kitten need to take their shows off the road – unintentional hilarity, Gareth Gates being bombarded by VKs, some that were simply "ok" (S Club 3), and a few that were amazing.

"The greatest has to be Cascada. Both her April 4th 2014 performance – personally speaking, the greatest Big Cheese night ever – and her more recent one in Fresher's Week 2017/18 were brilliant. She still has a great voice and quality stage presence. Back in 2014 the queue for that night circled all the way round Bristo Square and curled back in on itself in a spiral. We turned up at seven just to get in, only for a bunch of our mates to walk in at 11 without even having to queue – ridiculous luck."

What's your average Big Cheese night?

"Pre-drinks and, if it's a big one, Domino's pizza from seven onwards. Depending on when we were going we'd leave at different times. Back in the early days you used to get in free before ten, then they changed it to free for the first 100 people, now there's no concession at all. In undergrad years we'd literally sprint from the flat at about 9.50 to get in for free.

"Now, if it's a busy time of year, we go between 9.30 and 10 – long enough after it's opened to let the initial queue go down. We almost never leave again after getting stamped. Drinks are downstairs at first – that's changed a lot since Potterrow was renovated around 2012 – then upstairs at the seats at the back around 11.15.

"Unlike most Edinburgh clubs, the Cheese gets started early. You wouldn't be seen dead in Hive before midnight, but by 12 it's usually approaching peak attendance for the night. We hit the dance floor around 12 and pretty much stay there between drinks and toilet runs until three. The last song is a must – no one's going for jackets unless it's 500 Miles."

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Back in 2013/14 when there was a Big Cheese photographer

What's your ultimate favourite thing about the Cheese?

"The greatest thing is obviously the music. It's nostalgia central, but there's this common misconception that it's "pure" cheese, ala 90s and early 2000s pop. That's not true – the start of the night is really whatever Justin and the other DJs fancy – there's nobody really around anyway. Then around midnight it starts getting cheesy, there's a bit more of a chart flavour between one and two, and then it reverts to the old classics again with an extra dose of the emotional stuff (Flying Without Wings, Angels, you know the stuff).

"They're not afraid to let music industry fads wither. Gangnam Style and What Does the Fox Say were massive when they came out, they were played almost every week. Even stuff like Let it Go from Frozen was regular. And, of course, nowadays we get the excellence that is Big Shaq's Man's Not Hot.

"Occasionally there'll be cheeky ones too, like the Countdown theme or the Match of the Day anthem or the tune from the start of Grandstand. My current favourite is Freed from Desire – better known as Will Griggs on Fire. I was worried it'd fade after a few years of high intensity, but it's still there every three or four weeks!"

Are there any songs they play which you don't like?

"Overrated hits include 500 Miles, the Makarena, Mambo Number 5, Cha Cha Slide. The first because I'm not a Hibs fan, the latter three because they just annoy me.

"I think everyone has a few of the cheesy hits they secretly hate, like 212 by Azealia Banks. I personally like it, but it's on almost literally every week and has been for years, so I can see why some wouldn't. Must be a DJ fav!"

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The Big Cheese nowadays

Do you club anywhere else?

"I do. Cav is my favourite outside Prow for obvious reasons – that upstairs dance-floor – though the downstairs has grown on me over the years. I like the recent refurbishment, though miss the naked people wallpaper and the Carpet from Hell – just kidding.

"Hive is also a place of necessity since I live five minutes away and it's free entry more often than not. After that Silk (RIP) and Why Not are occasional ventures."

How do you show your Big Cheese appreciation?

"We've got our own Cheese flag with the best memorable cheese dates written on it. I'm also in the Korfball club – you may have to look that up – 2nds team, and our squad name is The Big Cheese – we'll be competing in BUCS in February and March under that name"

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The Big Cheese flag

Finally, any plans to invest in the new Big Cheese merch?

"Absolutely, full kit wanker for me. The mates are all putting in a full order for as soon as we're all back in P-row."

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University of Edinburgh