What can one say about this year that isn’t stating the blindin’ obvious and centred in every end-of-year appraisal across every blog and publication out there? The COVID pandemic has dominated all spheres of life in such a profound way that even the cast-iron doctrines of unbridled capitalism screeched to a halt, the free-market fanatics themselves enforcing half the nation’s workforce to pause their labour extraction. After years of Brexit bludgeoning and its resulting social division, the Coronavirus was an oddly unifying experience, cutting through the dichotomies of Leavers and Remainers and inadvertently ushering a feeling of collective experience and responsibility, a shared duty to each other long felt dormant after decades of Thatcherite atomisation. Everyone’s lives have been struck with deep uncertainty, many stung by the painful losses of loved ones and near-unanimous despair at the political ineptitude causing further chaos.
Spending months in your own company, or trapped in problematic living environments, demonstrated just how vital a lifeline music is. The arts, long been neglected in the austerity wasteland and held with contempt from a grey and joyless, right-wing faction who abhor the empathy and imagination it fosters, was suddenly held up as the indispensable joy it always was, the deep, human need for creative expression and escapism breaking through the hollow priorities of a society dictated by unbridled capital. The sudden absence of live music and events wrought some urgent perspective on the preciousness of our creative spaces and independent venues, and did make one ask the question: had we taken it all for granted?
Late-stage capitalism rarely affords the time to stop and think, and the lockdown, so alien to our daily routines and established orthodoxies, unleashed a major space for deep contemplation. The cultural reckoning against racial injustice spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter movement inspiring direct action against authority on a scale unseen since the civil rights era, but to be vigilant against clumsily wading into ineffectual social media campaigns that solve nothing (Heads on Sticks was guilty of this). The grim stats on streaming revenues for artists in light of the Spotify Wrapped rush have raised much-needed awareness as to how we can responsibly consume music that the artists we love spent time and money on, and to keep an eye on the venues who missed out on Arts funding and staying afloat on Crowdfunders. The systemic failure that enabled Trump his ascendency, and an emboldened Far-Right in the U.K., cannot be considered put to bed now that Biden is the president-elect, to quote Ocasio-Cortez, “you’re not going back to brunch”.
When artists have been the soundtrack to such a tumultuous year, the relationship one has with their work takes on an even deeper significance. The songs collated are the hopelessly personal, utterly subjective. Not some hierarchal ‘best-of’ or exclusive document of heavy rotation, but simply the 25 tracks which rattled around The Head’s static ridden box. I hope you enjoy as much I did!
Here’s to a fortunate 2021, and thanks for the music!
Tom (a fan)
Check the Heads on Sticks 2020 list here!