Heads on Sticks end of decade 2010’s playlist!!

”And some people say it’s just rock and roll,

Oh but it gets you right down to your soul

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, ‘Push the Sky Away’, 2013

Music has been my greatest companion. My favourtite drug, a rubber ring in emergency, a tool for surgical introspection. Anyone who loves their music will often struggle to summarise their decade without listing a string of albums or gigs before detailing actual events. The cathartic properties of music are forever intertwined with the narrative of our lives, from our deepest most private battles to the socio-political turmoil stared down by the nation. What this decade means to me is overwhelmingly represented in just 100 songs.

I entered the 2010’s in a fog of uncertainty, as did the country. The financial crisis seemed to coarsen people, the New Labour consensus lay dying, and an emerging appetite for punitive politics reared its head. For many young people, the student protests of 2010 were the seeds of their political awakening. Having had to endure the gleeful relish at further debt for simply wanting an education from pissheads at a bar I worked part-time at, I was well aware that my Media Practice and Film-Making degree would gather scant respect in a new climate of bitter division, and was sure that economic precarity was to follow due to the recession at the time of my graduation.

Right toward the end of my studies, I got hit by the ‘lightning bolt’. One of the greatest experiences is the hit of a fantastic tune when you discover an artist so brilliant it terrifies you that life could have carried on without their songs in your system. As a deep admirer of the original wave of synth artists (Cabaret Voltaire, Kraftwerk, early Human League etc.) I was dissatisfied with the way the synthesizer was being used as a mere indie-toy as opposed to the mysterious beast it was capable of. Stumbling around on YouTube late at night I was exposed to a song called ‘Vigils‘ by Xeno & Oaklander and it was exactly what I wanted to hear. Deep, cold, and analogue, it seized me with its glacial grip and before the song had finished I knew I had heard one of the best electronic acts there had ever been. They opened a door to a plethora of related acts I was totally oblivious to (Sixth June, Daybed, Automelodi) in addition to Veronica Vasicka’s excellent minimal-synth archival project/label Minimal Wave.

The dull, grey thud of intermittent unemployment and bullshit jobs plagued me and many of my friends from the summer of 2011. Despite the camaraderie which comes with living in a house full of struggling artists on the dole and not knowing what the fuck they were doing, anger and disillusionment were never too far from the skint revelry. Cccandy and Youth Code were on repeat during this period, perfectly matching the corrosive effects of austerity breakdown with their volatile and abrasive synth-punk pummel. When we finally got our shit together around 2013 and found some stability and money in our pockets the pop around us seemed brighter and effervescent. ‘s ‘Pilgrim’ and Arcade Fire‘s ‘Reflektor’ were my ‘songs of the summer’, whenever I hear them now I’m taken over with a sense of sunny renewal.

Each year brought more and more fantastic music, and little did I know that I was living in the city which was at the forefront of the ‘new’. Wych Elm, New Haunts, Avon Terror Corps, E B U, Orryx all knocked me sideways and enthused me so much that I finally plucked the courage to start Heads on Sticks. Any resulting success I’ve had I owe to the mosaic of artists, labels, promoters, and radio stations that make up the Bristol music monster invigorating me to want to get stuck in.

There’s an ocean of songs to sift through but I’ve settled for 100, ten per year. 100 good friends that have seen me through the tribulations of the tumultuous decade. No hierarchy, no objective ‘best of’, just simply the story of my 2010’s, and pretty much my twenties.

I approach the 2020’s with uncertainty once again. The devastating defeat of what felt like a once in a lifetime chance of national healing has left me fearing for the future of our country. I take great comfort in knowing that I enter the new decade in a total golden age of challenging, unique, exquisite and fiercely creative music and performing art.

Thanks for the music,

Tom (a fan)

Heads on Sticks 2018

The amount of fantastic music that made 2018 makes creating a playlist an arduous task. Originally totaling 50+ songs, the painful, gut-wrenching process of elimination to just 25 songs demonstrated just how many tracks there were I loved. This is no objective best of, but a purely subjective collation of the songs that sound tracked my year.

Honourable mentions include the power pop indie of Flasher, MAGA frat boys eaten alive by Pleasure Venom, vomit in your turn ups and piss stinking tales of broken Britain by Hotel Lux, Jarada tearing your face off with their brand of blistering Israeli hardcore, the haunted candle lit flickers of dungeon synth mage Old Tower, and the great return of industrial juggernaut Ministry, with AmeriKKKant being their best record since Animositisomina.

Here’s to the heroes of 2018, and here’s the songs which wooed me, wowed me, moved me, and smashed me in the face like a sledgehammer. Merry Christmas! 🎄

HMLTD ‘Hate Music Last Time Delete’

Happy Meal Ltd. HuMiLiaTeD. Her Majesty’s Latent Torpedo Disasters. Eschewing easy categorisation in their very name, HMLTD apparently stands for all and none of the above.

Turning heads for the last three years with their glam/punk/EDM/honest to god pop explosion, and tales of raucous shows complete with angels handing out lipstick amid the pungency of burning hair in their efforts for a truly multi-sensory live experience, their kaleidoscopic plume breathed much needed life to the notion of the ‘rock band’, an archetype in crisis struggling with creative stagnation and political irrelevancy.

Like Kraftwerk or Devo, this is a band underpinned with an ethos, fully realised right from their debut single, ‘Stained’. Dismantling gender boundaries as gleefully as they do with genre, their initial output presented a vision of masculinity free from its rigid demands for conformity. Accusations of ‘queer appropriation’ have arisen, with the band insisting on their act being an expression of their unadulterated identities, and an encouragement for society to do likewise.

Hate Music Last Time Delete signals an appetite to enter the mainstream and turn it inside out. Signing to big label Sony Music, and attracting the attention of Justin Tranter (collaborator of Britney Spears and Justin Bieber no less), their brand of sonic hedonism is given a deliciously sleek commercial appeal, adding further subversion to a band that sang of Mother Teresa ‘being stained’.

HMLTD EP wastes no time in its radio friendly affirmation with its first track, ‘Pictures of You’. A sultry smooth electro-pop banger, exploring narcissism and sexuality in the internet age, is confidently allowed to strut uninterrupted with their standard genre U-turns, all delivered with a Dave Gahan croon. Things heat up with the giddy euphoria of ‘Proxy Love’, club land bounce donks its way to baroque synth-pop, a paean to self-love peppered with cheesy string stabs. ‘Mannequin’ seamlessly follows, continuing their pre-occupations with identity and the body, and feeling like a spiritual successor to Roxy Music’s ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’, before screeching to a halt with the dizzying stomp of ‘Apple of My Eye’.

The disparate cataclysm that was their first three singles have been refined and distilled into a satisfying cohesion, without compromising on their provocative blitz, and with their confident embrace of a new commercial direction, songs of masturbation and camera rolls are deceptively at home amid the Radio 1 pop climate. Jello Biafra instructed to not fight the media, but become it, and HMLTD EP looks set to mould pop in its own image, and it will look like their Jenkin van Zyl videos. Pretty good for a band yet to release an album.