Was a pleasure to guest on VHS¥DEATH‘s debut show Viral Nights for London’s Threads Radio, a show for all things post-punk, goth and cold-wave! Taking thematic guidance from the ‘isolation’ angle, I’ve contributed a cheeky 45 mins of instrospective rumination to round off the mix, enjoy!
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. Mø‘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.
When writing ‘end of year’ anythings, it’s hard to avoid the cliché line of ‘this year was better than the last’, but it honestly feels true. It never ceases to amaze me how cutting-edge, transformative and exciting music is right now, both in my hometown of Bristol and across the world.
After spending an agonising hour trying to write something profound about the year, I instead decided to save the yakkin’ for the upcoming end of decade playlist and instead let the music do the talkin’!
‘Originating and penetrating, advantageous and firm’ is the first line to Zhōu Yì, the central core of the ancient Chinese text I Ching. Meaning to be open and upon receipt of divinity and further enlightenment, Qián 乾 and the 63 other units which comprise the archaic manual has profoundly influenced Eastern thought and provided the western world with spiritual guidance on art, literature, religion, and science.
Tao of I Volume 2 is the second entry in a planned eight-volume series of works which explore each of the 64 hexagons in its correct, King Wen order. Inspired by Jon Hassell’s ‘Fourth World’ theory, Glaswegian artist Iona Fortune fused her sound understanding of traditional Chinese instrumentation with deep synth washes to conjure the heady and brilliant 2017 debut Tao of I, winning her a support slot on Shellac’s U.K. tour of that year.
Expanding her palette of sounds with the addition of indigenous instruments such as the zhong and yanquin, Fortune avoids her sophomore effort feeling like a retread of her debut, but instead provides new hues and flavours to illustrate a sense of journey, or ‘Tao’. The thick rumbles of the EMS Synthi AKS cut and bristle once again, but you stumble into new territory on the nervy woodwind of closer ‘Yù 豫’, the flute-like bawu creating skittish and troubled energy.
The zen balance of the synthetic and organic courses throughout, the meditative percussion and echoing strings on ‘Xiǎo chù 小畜’ recall Eduard Artemyev’s haunting score for the cerebral sci-fi classic Stalker, as well as Coil’s ambient explorations. The utterly exquisite ‘Tài 泰’ reaches extraordinary depths of arcane mysticism, beautiful singing erhu strings glide and soar to sensual serenity, doing its hexagram meaning of ‘peace’ or ‘greatness’ justice.
The world is busy, stifling, and choking itself. Spiritual nourishment has no value in the rapacious demands of the neoliberal age, and we’re sicker and alienated for it. Tao of I Volume 2 reminds you there was a world before it, a universe of curiosity you’re probably neglecting, and sincerely transports you to the ether.
Music right now is colourful, biting, stirring, and so cutting edge you feel lucky to be in the middle of it all. A significant part of this progressive wave, both musically and politically, are the amazing women seizing music away from the tired hands of the male, pale and stale, and smashing the patriarchal rock clichés with vigour.
There’s such an ocean of brilliant women creating pioneering music, how does one do that justice by a mere 25 song playlist? This is simply the tip of the iceberg, and the artists that have sound tracked my last few years, an entirely subjective collation, for whatever my opinion is worth.
Here we have a gamut of all manner of musical awe: The icy soundscapes of Void Vision, Pleasure Venom taking a tiki torch to MAGA SS red caps, the digital venom hurled at male entitlement by Girl Pusher, the cavernous mysticism of Iona Fortune, and the kaleidoscopic alien visitation that is Spellling. I hope you enjoy as much as I did!
International Women’s Day is more than just a day, and your solidarity should consist of more than compiling a playlist. Support your local female artists, let’s ensure our venues and musical spaces are safe and free for everyone, and let’s be vigilant at removing the social hurdles and obstructions that stifle great art.
There’s still a way to go, in society, in the music scene and industry, and perhaps even IWD itself. My good friend, singer and musician Amber Watson, has this to say:
‘On the one hand I want to feel excited about IWD and celebrate my womanhood. But honestly I do that every day. It’s the parts of IWD which dosen’t see consistency throughout the year that troubles me the most, and therefore make me view the day as somewhat pointless. Promoters, bookers, venues, labels, radio managers and presenters… etc etc etc… they all hold responsibility to ensure more women are being placed on their line up, in their workforce or hosting their shows etc. Holding an annual day to say “oh look we’re on the band wagon too” isn’t enough to make change. The issues will never be fixed if we leave it to a yearly celebration and conversation. The music industry deserves diversity; creativity flourishes when you have more views and ideas added to the bucket, and shit well we all wanna hear new epic music right? Unfortunately I am not seeing huge movements in the stats across the board, and the industry is constantly disheartening to me. So IWD makes me cringe a little, yes, let’s celebrate, but how about in 2019 we ALL continue to keep that motion swinging and work towards equality like certain organisations and groups are persistent with. Don’t be a hypocrite, be a fully fledged, 24/7 ally, and reap the benefits through some fit as fuck tunes and shows.’
Head over to Noods Radio and discover all the women/female identifying residents and DJ’s being celebrated on their ‘Women of Noods’ feature series.
Check out Loud Women, a not-for-profit initiative dedicated to showcasing women artists and pushing women music journalists, with an option to submit your own editorial contributions too!
Bristol Women in Music is currently ‘under construction’ at the time of writing, but has a growing reputation of raising awareness of the issues faced by women when navigating the music industry. Also organises women focused DJ lessons!
Audiofemme is a NYC femme and non-binary run music and culture blog. Give it a follow!
Bristol’s Exchange is hosting the International Women’s Day Extravaganza, a jamboree across two days, full of live acts, drag kings and queens, and DJs til the early hours. Also screening the documentary So, Which Band is Your Boyfriend In? on the Saturday. Get a bundle ticket for £10, with proceeds going to Mind, to raise awareness of the mental health support for Women and those in the LGBTQ community.
If you miss the Saturday screening of So, Which Band is Your Boyfriend In?, here’s a list of all further screenings.
The Zion Community Art Space in Bedminster Down, Bristol, is hosting the International Women’s Day Gig Night, a roster of female acts with proceeds going to the breast feeding support group ‘Babes@Zion’. Includes Mexican food!
Give artist/singer and radio expert Amber Watson a follow. Not only did she kindly contribute to this post, but is also a talented reviewer at Tap the Feed. I had the great privilege of seeing her sing live, and her 5 minutes was the sincere highlight of the entire set.
Check out singer Annie Nash, a new and upcoming artist returning to the Bristol music scene after a hiatus. Follow her Instagram to keep updated on forthcoming releases!