There's this fantastic collage going round that parodies Peter Blake's Sgt Pepper's album sleeve, replacing the iconic stars (dead or alive) of 1967 with just the dead of 2016. It kept getting updated, right up to the end of 2016, with the untimely deaths of George Michael and Carrie Fisher sealing the perceived deal that we were dealt a bummer of a hand last year. There's no doubt that many bloggers, commentators and reviewers have, or will report, that 2016 was a bit of a bitch.
It's all hogwash, of course. Social media has made us all commentators now, and amongst many of my Facebook friends, it has been the death of famous musicians that has in particular exercised their tear ducts and pseudo-theorising. But rather than mourning, we should be celebrating. As they do with such life-affirming style in Mexico. Indeed, the theme of 2016 should be about celebrating in the face of adversity, be it emanating from politics and world affairs, or that of art and entertainment.
And how do we celebrate? By revisiting the incredible music that the likes of David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael et al produced, of course. Indeed, there was even more excuses for further celebration in the cases of Bowie and Cohen, by dint of the fact they both produced some of their finest ever work in their dying days. And for that we should be thankful.
We should also be thankful that the increasingly justifiably maligned format, The Music Download, continued its freefall into the grave, shortly to permanently snuggle up against phonograph cylinders, minidiscs, 8-tracks, laserdiscs and DAT. Vinyl, meanwhile, after itself flirting with extinction, has been resurrected and, most impressively, overtaken downloads in sales. This is another genuine cause for celebration, as it was only nine years ago – 2007 – that vinyl reached its nadir, when a paltry 200,000 albums were sold in total. Then, many major and independent artists and labels opted not to bother with the format at all. Death seemed likely.
But, after initially coughing and spluttering, vinyl is now comfortably riding the general retro/tangible zeitgeist to the point that 2016 saw an incredible 53% rise in sales in the UK year-on-year, and the biggest volume since 1991. Together with the inexorable rise of streaming, helped total monetary sales to actually outperform 2015. Who keeps saying the music industry is dead!? It may eventually die, my friends, but by golly it's going to be one of the slowest deaths you'll almost certainly never experience in your lifetime.
However, a worrying downside to all this was the inexorable rise of the pop and rock giants of yesteryear continuing to cast an ever larger shadow over new music. A glance at the top selling vinyl records of 2016 revealed that only two releases were actually new records. And even they were by veteran artists (Bowie and Radiohead), one of whom died. Prince, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Bob Marley, Stone Roses, Amy Winehouse and the ubiquitous Various Artists took the other top ten positions. And with aged rockers and heritage acts continuing to come out of the woodwork, riding the wave of high end ticket gigs, the situation will probably only intensify next year.
But, and there's always a but, there were some great 'new' sounds coming out last year, which Brightonsfinest did its best to document and report on. And it's what we'll continue to do throughout 2017. We're looking forward to new releases by The xx, Laura Marling, Ed Sheeran, Bonobo, British Sea Power, Ryan Adams, Flaming Lips, and Sun Kil-Moon amongst some of the more established names, as well as releases by new acts such as The Big Moon, Rag’n’Bone Man, Anna of the North, Cabbage, Declan McKenna and many more. There's always lots of fresh produce to devour, you just need to dig a little deeper sometimes.
For me, personal highlights included another brilliant 'new music' Great Escape jamboree, the continuing programming excellence of Love Supreme festival, top notch gigs by the likes of Goat and Kate Tempest, the utterly riveting docu-music-drama of Nick Cave's One More Time With Feeling, and high quality albums by the likes of Savages, Steve Mason, Damien Jurado, PJ Harvey, Swans, Michael Kiwanuka, Metronomy, Ryley Walker, Warpaint and Tanya Tagaq.
And of course, there were the terrific swansongs that came from legends David Bowie and an 82-year-old Leonard Cohen. In particular, Cohen’s profound ‘Steer Your Way’ was a beautifully delivered philosophical lament that spoke an elegant, Buddhist truth about the pain of existence, toil and regret: “They whisper still, the ancient stones, the blunted mountains weep / As he died to make men holy, let us die to make things cheap / And say the Mea Culpa, which you probably forgot / Year by year / Month by month / Day by day / Thought by thought”.
I am bored of the conventional narrative: that 2016 has been some sort of horror show of a year, although I have to admit the evidence is compelling. Sure, politically it was the year that gave us Brexit and Trump, but these self-imposed disasters are, in fact, the gifts that will keep on giving. It would be naive to expect the impact of these world-shaking choices to end with 2016; over the next few years we will see the true effects. But enough doom and gloom: this is a music magazine, right?! Well, it's pretty easy to end up with the blues on that front too. 2016 is likely to go down in history as the year celebrities died en mass, and music lost out big time. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Rick Parfitt, Phife Dog, George Michael… (I'm not going to pad this out by listing everyone). Whatever your tastes, there was some massive star of rock or pop to mourn this year. That's undeniable. The thing that got on my nerves though were the amount of people I saw on forums online declaring, "Ooh – they don't make 'em like they used to" and "there are no talented young musicians any more". Seriously, I kept seeing this. Fans of 90s bands whose sole goal in life is to get them to reform, or, indeed, to see their heroes reunited on their fifth reunion tour playing the same tired old hits.
Well, I've got news for you: 2016 was an absolutely brilliant year for new music. Brightonsfinest Presents made our first releases as a label this year, starting with our bold first compilation which sold out for record store day featuring both established acts and exciting new prospects associated with our fair city. I am biased, of course, because my band Fragile Creatures released our début album on the label: …And Other Wild Things. A reformed Los Albertos released their first EP in years and this is just the start!
Exciting debuts in 2016 were rife: Blossoms, Hinds, Sunflower Bean, Pavo Pavo, Whitney, Nao, Flock Of Dimes, Julia Jacklin, Beach Baby, Lakuta, Let’s Eat Grandma, I could go on. So, I'm going to make my favourite track of 2016 'These Words' by The Lemon Twigs as it’s a great example to prove my point about young, original talent still holding strong in the music industry. These two young brothers, aged 17 and 19, released their début album Do Hollywood this year and it's so refreshing. Sure, it's not perfect: it’s heavily influenced by Brit Invasion groups of the 60s for starters. And while it wears those influences proudly, maybe even brazenly, it's also a record of astonishing creativity and compositional skill, especially when you consider their ages. If a cool new band like this can break through with a sound all their own, brimming with potential on their debut, all is far from lost. I for one am most looking forward to more exciting new music in 2017 and the slew of great releases we have lined up for Brightonsfinest.
Over the ruckus that has been 2016, in the midst of deaths, strikes and such, Brighton's music scene has seen one of its best and most memorable years yet. We have to thank all the promoters and venues for pushing the newest, best and most exciting acts around at the moment, and continually having a mind for Brighton, its bands and music lovers. Some of the most exciting bands to have emerged out of Brighton in recent times have taken a big step up into the wider public eye; it’s safe to say TIgercub have become one of the best rock bands around after releasing their debut LP as well as a thrilling UK tour with local legends Demob Happy. Afro beat maestros Lakuta released one of the best albums this year with their debut – the likes of Gang, Breathe Panel, Our Girl, Abattoir Blues and Yonaka have all had tremendous releases while Black Honey continue to dominate with sell out tours. The Game, Akon and D12 have all been talking about Ocean Wisdom’s flow after the release of his debut album – not forgetting Brightonian darlings The Magic Gang. Also with the superb sophomore effort from The Wytches and a Mercury Prize-nominated album from Bat For Lashes, never more than now has Brighton suited its title as the alternative hub of UK music.
It's not only Brighton which has benefited from a great year, the music industry as a whole has certainly had a year to remember. Through all the uncertainty Brexit brought and the continuing pandemic of venues having to close their doors, the music business sector has found another gear and became entertainment’s fastest growing sector. Forget that legal music downloading figures have plummeted and that CD's slow gruelling death continues with a mammoth fall in sales from last year, there is still very much a silver lining to these gloomy statements. 2016 has had the highest figures in vinyl sales since 1991! That must mean people are giving more thought to the music they are buying. Though, when the UK’s bestselling debut album is by bloody Bradley Walsh (unlucky Blossoms), it does give heed to where the music industry actually is. The biggest boom in the industry has to be music streaming, jumping up 65% on its previous year – by no means a surprise, as no one has any time to just sit down, do nothing and listen to an album these days, we want to multi-task and consume our music on the go. While this is very much the future of where music is heading, at the same time it does highlight a further cause for concern. With no thanks to the industry’s heavy emphasis on single releases as well as the fact more and more bands are opting to release EPs instead of an album, could 2017 signal the decline in the Long Player format?
Personal music highlights have been aplenty in 2016 with a fine collection of new albums being released. After the launch of Brightonsfinest Presents record label at the very end of 2015, Brightonfinest successfully released the first in its compilation series celebrating the wealth of incredible established and emerging musicians Brighton has to offer. The Avalanches (yes, that is the same Aussie band which had the song ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ back in 2000) remerged with a second album which certainly didn’t disappoint. Underworld and DJ Shadow reaffirmed their greatness with new albums which only extended their legendary status. Debut albums from Kaytranada, D D Dumbo and Pavo Pavo have made us very excited for what is to come from these exciting emerging musicians. More household names such as Anchorsong, Gold Panda and BadBadNotGood came out with fantastic new albums that are sure to feature on many Best Of lists. Alternative country musician Lambchop released his twelfth album, taking a “step into the unknown” by revolving around electronic and hip-hop influences to create a truly spectacular and beautiful LP. A year couldn’t be capped off any better than with unlikely albums from De La Soul and, even more surprisingly, A Tribe Called Quest bringing buckets of nostalgia and glee with two typical masterpieces from two of the best in hip-hop.
Alas we will miss; Phife Dawg, Sharron Jones, Billy Paul, Maurice White and Papa Wemba – to name just a few of those who have sadly passed in the last 12 months.
2016 was the year that I truly got to know Brighton’s music scene, scratching below the surface and finding more diversity, colour and culture than I could have expected. I tapped into the current of multiculturalism that runs through the city, taking in the afro-cuban rhythms of Lakuta, the Latin American percussion of Voodoo Love Orchestra, and the west African beats of King Nommo – all of them local bands. It struck me how amazing it is to live in a place that musicians from all over the world can call home. This feeling was nowhere more powerful than at the Kemptown Carnival, the biggest – and most beautiful – ever.
Many of my favourite local bands I’ve now known long enough to see them progress, improve, and impress. I was ecstatic to see Normanton Street’s year culminate in tour dates all over the world and headlining the Concorde 2. Likewise I was thrilled, but not surprised, when Ellie Ford’s debut album got the excellent reception it deserved.
Our venues were also blessed with performances from visitors of the highest calibre. Think the aching southern harmonies of The Lone Bellow, or the scorching Tuareg rock of Imarhan; the glacial Nordic melodies of Daniel Norgren, and the creeping Cameroonian lullabies of Blick Bassy. I was particularly taken aback by Tom Misch, only twenty-one years old but already original, and so clearly talented.
Stepping away from bands for a moment, I would also say 2016 was an exciting year for Brighton’s musical infrastructure. We gained a new venue, Mono, whose bookings have raised the bar for our electronic scene. We’ve also seen the birth of three new radio stations, 1 Brighton FM, Gaydio and Platform B. They should all be on FM soon, and can only serve to improve our music scene, offering more opportunities for musicians and more choice for music lovers.
My track of the year has to go to Vulfpeck, because 'Dean Town' sounds absolutely nothing like anything else I heard all year.
2016 will go down as a year of ups and downs with many of the downs likely to be acknowledged over and over again for many years to come. To avoid dwelling on them at all would be ignorant but with this review, I don’t wish to miss the many positives that also emerged. Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Prince, George Michael – the list goes on, each tragic in its own right. Each artist has left us a wealth of fantastic material to sift through at our own leisure and with all due respect, at least their deaths have unearthed some of their hidden gems. Most importantly though, their deaths have drawn attention to their individual catalogues over again. New audiences are now being enlightened by some of the finest music ever written and, with this in mind, there is a silver lining.
Asides from the deluge of deaths, 2016 has seen the return of artists, beginning with Radiohead both on record and live. I was one of the lucky ones who managed to secure a ticket to one of their London shows in May. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was perhaps the best live performance I have seen in a long time. A Moon Shaped Pool is an album worthy of repeated listens too, do not doubt the haunting nature of ‘Daydreaming’ and ‘True Love Waits’, especially in light of the sad passing of Yorke’s long-time partner just prior to Christmas. The latter of those songs mentioned above perhaps cuts it as my song of the year.
Elsewhere The Coral made a fine return to form on their eighth effort. An album that was a long time in the making, Distance Inbetween summarised the group as one of the UK’s finest cult bands. The Merseyside group have spanned a web across the city culturally, musically and through Skelly’s Skeleton Key Records. Never underestimate the relevance of this band in contemporary music.
New music came in its hauls too. Cabbage, Vulgarians, Anderson Paak, Kaytranada and Trudy and the Romance being a few artists that particularly captured my interest throughout the year – this is by no means the end of the list, it’s just to keep it as something comprehensible! I thoroughly recommend exploring various Spotify lists and Soundclouds though, there is a lot to scope out. Leave no stone unturned!
Finally when it comes to the all important question of ‘what’s your album of the year?’ – expect difficulty in anyone answering this question. It’s too hard to ignore the fact that 2016 was nothing short of marvellous. A few highlights for me were Car Seat Headrest, Whyte Horses, Yak and Suuns. Each one splendid in its own way. Once again though, explore lists, discographies and your friend’s recommendations. 2016 was great, albums were in abundance both with new and established artists – ultimately proving that there is a lot of sweet that comes with the sour.
Well it seems that a lot of people thought 2016 was a terrible year because we lost some great artists but, for me, it was a year of discovering great new bands. I spent some time with new albums from Tigercub, Black Foxxes, Black Peaks and the long awaited The Qemists’ Warroir Sound album. All great albums and after seeing The Wedding Present live quite a lot over the last few years, I gave their new album Going, Going… a good listen, I liked it so much I bought the CD to get the DVD with videos for each song.
On the live side of things I saw so many great perfomances it’s hard to narrow them down to the best. Two of them have to be John Carpenter and Jean-Michel Jarre as they are both musicians I’d never have guessed would play Brighton and both great fun. Along with that I got to see New Model Army, who have been on my list of bands-to-see for decades and they did not disappoint. The surprise gig was Gong who had the most amazing back-projections and kept me hooked to the end of the set. Goat get the prize for best costumes and Fable, for most watchable singer. Then there was the legendary Toots and the Maytals who are still great on stage and I also caught Los Albertos twice this year, always great fun.
That just leaves the festivals, which kicked off with the Brightonsfinest Alternative Great Escape event, so many great bands all in one place. Wild Life was fun again with Anne Marie’s high energy performance and great to see Ice Cube too. Together the People introduced me to the amazing Seratones and I enjoyed Suede much, much more than I thought I would. Oxjam was the usual eclectic mix of upcoming bands and great fun again. One of the nicest was a new one to me, Funk the Family / Funk the Format hidden at the back of Hove Park. Chilling out with Soul II Soul at the end of May in the sunshine was one of the high points.
2016 has certainly been one of the more memorable years in some time. A certain blonde headed figure becomes president, the UK puts a middle finger up to Europe and we lost more legends than ever could have been expected. Safe to say it’s certainly been a year of changes. (No Bowie puns intended).
Nonetheless, in amongst the grey there have been more than a few diamonds in the rough. Musically at least, it has been a pretty great one. The return of Red Hot Chilli Peppers with The Getaway and their performance at Reading & Leeds Festivals saw a complete revitalisation of the legends which was well overdue, Whitney’s debut album Light Upon The Lake blew audiences away and HoneyBlood’s Babes Never Die out did even their first album! The list of great albums released this year could easily be a page long in itself! Personally it has to be Biffy Clyro’s Ellipsis that takes the pièce de résistance of this year. The album is just fantastic from start to finish and has an immense level of diverse song choices, making it one which will undoubtedly go down as a success in the band’s legacy, ‘Animal Style’ is an incredible reminder of the level of ferocity that we have come to love from Biffy and possibly takes my track of the year.
On a somewhat more personal note, this year has led to me joining Brightonsfinest and has made me realise just how much music journalism and photography means to me. It has been incredibly humbling to have been welcomed so warmly by everyone at Brightonsfinest, as well as many of you readers! I cannot wait to see what 2017 can bring, all I'm sure of is that it is set to be bigger and better than even comprehendible!
2016, in summary, was awful. Period. But at least the music that stemmed from the feeling of unrest was good. Dark, pulsating motorik seemed to be a constant in my earphones, with the likes of FEWS, Diiv, Ulrika Spacek, Cold Pumas, TOY, Cavern of Anti-Matter and Scarlet Rascal each releasing brilliant LPs over the course of the past 12 months. However, it was the Preoccupations and Kate Tempest records that managed to summarise the year best, with the former’s gig at The Haunt on the day of the US election providing the perfect soundtrack to the vast feeling of dread. This wasn’t the case a few months earlier in Barcelona as LCD Soundsystem headlined the Primavera festival. To watch a band I thought I’d never see again was a truly momentous experience and equalled the following day with Radiohead, leaving myself and thousands of Catalans spellbound. Fat White Family’s historic Brixton homecoming at the academy was another highlight, along with Diiv’s return to form in the capital.
My top tracks of the year was Preoccupations – 'Memory'
Highlight of the year were all the ‘A’s!
Andrew Bird’s Are You Serious is sublime – jam packed with masterful songwriting, brimming with melody and first class playing.
Andy Shauf continues to impress – The Party is imaginative, tender and expertly engineered as Shauf sharpens his pop but loses none of his effortless melancholy.
Anohni’s Hopelessness is stunning – articulating a very genuine fear and disappointment with global issues married with a bold, new sound can’t be easy but everything clicks. You’ll be hard pushed to find a more soulful and genuine artist.
The consistently good:
Miike Snow, Field Music, Besnard Lakes all delivered. Radiohead and Wilco (Schmilco) aren’t bad, either.
Sprawling concept albums:
Blood Orange, Solange, Frank Ocean. Ocean delivered a brave, low-key record that requires effort and attention. Blood Orange delivered on imagination and intention. Solange beats them both for me – a really coherent, stylish, tasteful record with a powerful message.
Bon Iver. Maybe I just haven’t got over the fact that he has veered so far away from For Emma, Forever Ago, but to me, each release is more self-indulgent.
A word for David Bowie:Blackstar is a stunning record. It feels perfectly conceived and executed – completely unrelated to fads and fashions – an incredible, brutal, beautiful blend of technical jazz and classical pop. No-one else on earth could do that.
Adam Luke Atkins
2016 was a mixed bag. It felt like for every good thing that happened, something bad did. Daniel Clowes released his exquisite book Patience, but Leonard Cohen died. Cannibal Hymns released a slew of records that put them on the musical map, but Lunar Quiet lost their frontman. England got knocked out of the European Championship but Iceland proved that a small nation, that had 10% of its country watching in the stadium, could defeat Europe’s footballing elite.
One stand out moment was witnessing London’s hip-hop group Baishe Kings fulfill a ridiculous claim they made, to release an album a month for the whole year. Let’s just let that sink in for a moment. An. Album. A. Month. And what’s more not only did they do it, but each subsequent album eclipsed the one before it.
These albums ran the gambit from boom-bap, drum and bass, conscious hip-hop, a party album and pretty much everything in between. Highlights included an album devoted to cheese and the first ever 3/4 hip-hop album. But what made these albums special wasn’t that the music felt it was knitted together from forgotten samples and new loops, but the lyrics. Baishe King's lyrics are filled with these subtle lines that mix England’s past with its present.
If this is your first time listening to the Baishe Kings, don’t try and force it and follow everything from start to finish, as you’ll miss some amazing name drops and beats. Instead, just let it wash over you, but keep an ear open for some reference that seems tailor made just for you. While the lyrics are the heavyweight title main event, to use a Baishe wrestling reference, the music is definitely worthy of a ladder or intercontinental title match. The beats are laid back with inventive samples that pop and fizz in the background, rather than banging and slamming in your face. If you think Tricky and Prince Paul you’re on the right track. In fact the SuperKush album sounds like the Baishe Kings only had the Tricky vs. The Gravediggaz – The Hell EP as kids and decided to make music that sounds like it.
2016 was an interesting year to say the least. The world lost some of its most prolific musicians, all the while some huge albums were released, such as Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ and Radiohead's ‘Moon Shaped Pool’. It was an eventful and equally sorrowful year for music, but one of the highlights for me, and I’m sure many others, was not to do with the musicians who dominated the scene at all: it was the soar in Vinyl sales.
Physical music sales have been in depressing decline since the invention of downloads and online streaming – in 2015 CD sales reached an 84% drop compared to the last decade, a sad and worrying statistic. However, 2016 saw an unexpected turnaround in the form of a renaissance of vinyl. In the UK alone, 2016 saw Vinyl sales reach it’s highest total in 25 years! More than 3.2 million records were sold, a rise of 53% on the previous year according to the BP. David Bowie's Blackstar was the most popular album on vinyl in the UK, selling more than double the number of copies of 2015's biggest-seller, Adele's 25.
It has been heartening to see a resurgence in physical music sales. Although digital music provides a clean, clear and cut recording, records are filled with all the hisses and pops digital music has erased. These flaws, for me at least, add a depth and a warmth to music that is easily forgotten about when streaming. I can only hope that 2017 continues to see a growing love for Vinyl.
Best Two Albums 2016:
Both were remarkable and heroic while having a common connection. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree. An album born out of the need to carry on and cope with grief following the tragic death of his 15-year-old son. Totally heart-wrenching but delivered with unbelievable style and poignancy. The second album was Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker. A stunning farewell, perfectly crafted and beautifully produced by his son.
Best gigs in 2016:
GOAT at the Corn Exchange – powerful, musically awesome, visually stunning.
Crystal Fighters at the Brighton Dome – intoxicating, arms in the air, summer festival wave of dance and light.
Bear’s Den at Brighton Dome – returning in triumph to a place where it all started.
Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys at Together the People Festival – the mind blowing opportunity to see the creator of Pet Sounds and 'Good Vibrations' up close having just seen 'Love & Mercy'.
Brightonsfinest Alternative Escape at One Church – All day event-12 amazing artists with headliners the Moulettes and Los Albertos.
Best Emerging act of 2016:
Christine and the Queens (album and gig).
Best Emerging Brighton act of 2016:
Fragile Creatures (debut album & headline gig for Spectrum at Dome Studio).
Best Compilation 2016:
Brightonsfinest Vol 1 – 21 tracks -double vinyl album released exclusively for Record Store Day.
Read our six month reviews here: http://brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/spotlight/1605-best-of-the-year-january-june and https://brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/spotlight/2049-best-of-the-year-july-december-2016
See our best photos of the year here: http://www.brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/Gallery/best-of-2016