My Review of 2016
This year wasn’t my busiest, but I still managed to get to over 150 gigs. Part of the reason for the drop in numbers was my visit to SXSW. I really couldn’t afford it, so I’ve spent much of the year paying it back (and I’m still paying it back). But transport also played a big part. In 2015, I’d managed to double up gigs on many Saturdays. But this year, trains have been so poor at weekends, that I haven’t wanted to stay in London too late and risk my train being cancelled. This has effectively killed off Saturday evening gigging as I only really look for gigs at the Lexington. I suspect 2017 will also hover around the 150 number as I can’t see the trains improving.
I had aimed to see more new artists this year. But looking back at the year. There were about a dozen bands I saw at least once, so the number of new bands is lower than I had intended. For example, I managed to catch Aldous Harding six times this year. Sadly, it was a quiet year for British Sea Power. Hopefully, with a new album in 2017, they will be more opportunities to see them.
January, was busier than usual. The Savages released their new album with an 8am gig at the 100 Club. (No, that’s not a typo). It’s the first time I’ve queued and seen the sun rise! But it was a brilliant start to the year. Even at 8am, they played with a verve and intensity most bands can’t match.
The Slaves also transitioned to the bigger stage with remarkable ease, playing a fantastic set at the Forum. At the time, I thought that would be the last time I’d catch them, as I’m not a fan of the bigger venues, but more on that later.
I also managed to catch a few new bands. The most impressive were Chorusgirl who played an effortless set at the Lexington.
February was a quiet month, as serious economising kicked in so that I had enough dollars for SXSW. But despite the limited number, it was pretty high quality. With gigs from Sunflower Bean, the always fun King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and the Joy Formidable. The big highlight was another Savages gig. This time accompanied by another of my favourites, Bo Ningen. An almost perfect line-up.
SWSW dominated March. Two weeks in the sun (and thunderstorms) of Austin. It was an odd experience. It’s still a unique festival. There’s just so much to see and do. My two weeks varied from Film Premiers, to Nasa talking about telescopes, to listening to a talk by Barack Obama. How many festivals can boast such a wide-range of events? Every day, there was free food and drink to be found and even during the Interactive portion of the festival, I was able to find bands playing somewhere in Austin.
But it was also disappointing.
The reason why I loved SXSW was how quickly I could bounce between venues. Sadly, the significant presence of rap on the bill has changed the festival for the worse. Spring Breakers are now descending on Austin hoping to catch free shows. After deaths in 2014, Austin has been trying to reduce the number of unofficial shows. So many arrive and find they have nowhere to go, so walk up and down the main streets between venues making it difficult to move around. So rather than rap artists appearing across the city, as they previously did. Entire venues are essentially given over to rap to make it easier to police, pushing the indie venues away from the centre. This means that moving between venues becomes more of an ordeal. Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy my two weeks. I still managed to catch well over 100 bands. But it was just so frustrating moving around. Luckily, I can’t afford it this year. So I’ll be able to watch it from afar. Hopefully, the crowds won’t be so bad this year. If they continue to get worse, then I guess I’ll have to find a new festival!
April was light relief from the intensity of March. Black Mountain impressed with their analogue goodness. But it was Aldous Harding‘s two performances that impressed me the most. Especially the gig at Hoxton Square where she managed to silence a usually noisy crowd and did a frankly amazing Kate Bush cover.
The Great Escape has become a permanent fixture of May. Although it hasn’t the range of bands that SXSW has, it’s actually a great value festival (early bird tickets are about £50) and I now use it as an opportunity to take a short break in Brighton, to have a few beers, relax and catch a few new bands.
The standout gig in May was YAK. I had been trying to catch them for months and finally managed to see them at SXSW. Their gig at Dingwalls was their biggest headline set and it quickly descended into anarchy as the band scattered the photographers by diving into the enthusiastic crowd. After that point, it was a constant stream of crowd surfers.
British Sea Power have been quiet this year recording a new album. But a summer tour dragged me down to Gloucester for a short June break. Also in June, Camden Rocks was mildly diverting, if a little expensive for the number of bands I managed to catch. But it did feature a great new band called the Nova Twins and a favourite from 2016, Queen Kwong.
Bat For Lashes released her new album in July and her Rough Trade gig and made me wonder why I’ve never listened to her before. The new album was one of the best of 2016 and Natasha has a really nice live voice.
August was incredibly quiet. I think everyone was away on holiday. For me, it meant attending a few Proms. But I did catch some new music in the form of Pumarosa who played the Globe Theatre.
September was a pretty strong month. The Slaves decided to launch their new album with a return to some of the small venues they played on the way up. So for the £1, I got to see The Slaves play The Horn for a second time. But this time, it was packed out by a much more enthusiastic crowd. It was great to see the venue’s staff buzzing with the excitement of a big band playing their venue.
Earlier in the year, The Kills played SXSW and Village Underground. But I’d failed to catch them. So there was no way I was going to miss October’s Roundhouse gig. They finally added a drummer to the mix. I’ve been saying for years that they should and it definitely added to their performance and this was one of my highlights of the year.
The Savages returned to the UK after a long US tour playing their biggest headline gig at the Brixton Academy. They’re such an excellent live band. They seem to be able to take each step up to the ladder with ease and November’s gig had all the passion and energy they have showed throughout their career. It’s was always my concern that they’d fail to transfer the energy to the larger stage. But I shouldn’t have been. Their Brixton gig energised me in the same way, everyone of their previous gigs had. Sadly, it looks like touring has taken its toll and they are taking a well earned break to work on their own projects. Hopefully, it won’t be a permanent.
November, also continued the 2016 love affair with the etherial music of Aldous Harding. Playing new material from her forthcoming album, it sounds like it’s going to be one of my highlights of 2017.
Best Gig: Savages at the 100 Club
So many good gigs this year. But the unique experience of getting up early, travelling into London for an 8am gig was my highlight. It was so odd watching Londoners scurry off to work while I’m queuing for a gig. It was even more odd, leaving a venue before 10am in the morning.
Band of the year: Aldous Harding and Savages
Both Aldous Harding and Savages have have been brilliant live this year. So it would be unfair to separate them.
The Savages are simply the best live band around and they showed this by playing an 8am gig in the 100 Club. How many bands could motivate themselves to play with such energy before the World’s woken up?
Similarly, Aldous Harding needs her own call out. Her music is bewitching. She has such a distinctive voice and performance style. There’s really no one else like her around. Her gigs this year have been excellent. Hopefully, she’ll tour the new album next year.
Best new band: Pumarosa
Lots of good news bands. But there are times when you first see a band at the right moment. I’d heard some of Pumarosa’s music earlier in the year and really enjoyed it. So they were on the list of bands I was trying to catch. The lead singer is very theatrical, dancing and twirling around the stage. So catching them play the candlelit, Globe Theatre, was a perfect introduction to the band.
Best venue: Sam Wanamaker Theatre at the Globe
How many venues have somebody coming around between sets to swap the candles. It such a beautiful little theatre and made a surprisingly good music venue.
Best Festival: SXSW
There was never going to be another choice. Sadly, I suspect it will be my last SXSW. It’s very expensive and I think it has reached the point where there are just too many people turning up expecting free gigs. Although the council are trying to control the number of unofficial venues, based on this year, it’s not working.
Best gig photo: Vulvko at Camden Rocks
I’ve taken a lot of photos this year. I’ve been regularly shooting Daylight Music, often with good results. I’ve also been dragging my Sony A7s to many more gigs this year which has improved the quality of my photo (or often limited me due to the lens I decided I really needed but left at home!). I’m still standing in one position so that I don’t get in people’s way too much. So the quality of photos is heavily dependent on where I stand. But I’ve had some good results and most importantly, still enjoying taking photos and watching the gig. My favourite photo from this year, was this photo of the lead singer of Vukovi who stared down my lens to make sure I got her best side.
Album of the Year: Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
A very late entry. For most of the year, my favourite album has been IV by Black Mountain. But I bought the latest album by Car Seat Headrest in December and its been on constant rotation. I suspect if you ask me next month, IV will be back at the top. But at the moment, this is rarely off my stereo.