The Year That Was According to Us: Music News, Culture, and closer to home.
January belatedly kicked off for us with a small but decisive bang: a WordPress account was unlocked after much delay to finally launch our baby, Step On Magazine. How little we knew the fates would conspire by the end of the year, taking a labour of love 8000 kms to see and cover the band whose attitude and unshakable originality inspired our name, The Happy Mondays, on a 25th-anniversary-celebrating Pills n’ Thrills and Bellyaches. As a wild adventure ought to, this culminated under a big top tent in a strange and beautiful resort town in the south west of England with thousands of like-minded individuals led by a few astounding wizards. But to the larger picture:
2015 was yet another big year for music reunions and tours. None of them disappointed. All of them come from a place and time when talent, drive, and hard work rather than “trends” made them as big as they were and as important as they are, even as the music industry has changed and the life of touring musicians has become more of a labour of love than ever. Happily, this saw fans dig deep and happily break their wallets to see The Jesus and Mary Chain, Manic Street Preachers, RIDE, Primal Scream, (all of which have been covered here in show reviews and photos) AND Suede headlining a stage at Glastonbury as fresh and urgent as ever; while under-appreciated pioneers such as Paul Weller, Jane’s Addiction and massive yet misunderstood geniuses The Prodigy, came to Canadian shores. Positive thinking and unshakable fan spirit has its own currency that defies what we are told is news and music. Hats off to all who trek to shows and support real music old and new.
Summer Festival season in our land far from the mecca of Europe was marked by newcomers: Wayhome Music and Arts, brought a spirit of bold festival culture to the area. Under the beating sun of an unprecedented local heat wave for Ontario’s first proper camping music fest in over 20 years, a historic 3-hour Neil Young set stilled a Friday night in the country back to a better time, signalling a relaxed weekend-long vibe from organizers and real hope for the future of peaceful, hassle free weekenders to come. In other good news, Bestival TO saw visionary Bestival (UK) founder Rob de Bank bring the fancy dress, daytime rave and spontaneity-filled music festival concept all the way to Canada with promises to return in 2016.
The festival “season” was extended this year thanks to the big top of Butlins Minehead, Somerset, U.K. and the efforts of the four day Shiiine On Weekender which we’ve written about here at length, celebrating, no doubt, having been, for once, able to say “we were there” at a notable, special first outing. This line up capped off a year of change and renewal for so many great 80’s and 90’s bands and their core fans who’ve never stopped listening, shoring up something that the industry might ignore with dollars and cents. As the monster festivals in general have started to lose their focus, integrity and value, there is strong hope yet for the many smaller weekenders that continue to provide value and great memories while keeping the taps flowing and the shiiine going.
The continued growth of a new wave of Global Shoegaze rolled on this year as the music that has always celebrated itself continued to grow in stature and reach, aided often by the independent labels, artists, promoters, websites, radio and bloggers who create real communities out of their shared love and talent (see Revolution – The Shoegaze Revival). We joined the fray with an ongoing playlist series of so many new essential tracks that belong on the radar of the discerning music fan. Raise a glass to all who’ve contributed to the scene and who’ve introduced readers to all kinds of great music, and great people.
Musical discoveries: Some highlights of Step On Magazine’s year included the discovery (or being introduced) to newer bands reviewed here including I Am Lono, The Lovely Lonely, Clustersun, The Virgance, Wozniak, Sleep Therapy, Slow Motion Picture and Mark Martyre. Interviews and reviews have begun in earnest in 2015, with lots more to come in the coming year.
As we close the year we want to note a few more exclusive Step On Magazine highlights of 2015 including an in depth interview with Pete Fij and Robert Dillam of underrated early 90’s band Adorable (whose music is eternally a major touchstone for us) ; Questions for Musicians with The Virgance; an exploration of the bitter and the sweet that lies beneath Gervais & Merchant’s The Office; Author Ben Vendetta’s original soundtrack that informed his latest novel, Heartworm, and our uniquely titled essential shoegaze resource guide; all of which were well received. Thank you to all our interview subjects & writers who gave of their time this year.
The Year Ahead in Music: We predict more, newer, and smaller music festivals getting back to basics, authenticity and good value for music lovers, as Shiiine On Weekender delivered. Rosters of complementary artists instead of random mishmash lineups for a start. More band reformations (Lush) and major tours from must-sees (The Cure). Prediction or wishlist? Suede mounts a major world tour or at least comes to Toronto Canada or one of the festivals on the prospective calendar! Ditto Pulp. Ditto Catherine Wheel. Ditto Belly. What’s on your wishlist?
In such a big year it’s easy to forget that an early milestone was the first major North American retrospective of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work This is the Time which was staged at Toronto’s AGO. The life-changing preview show was covered here at length. Along with us, a new generation of young artists was informed and influenced by this large and impressive show which was a major international effort and included a rare look at many privately held pieces. Still MIA are all the fridge doors and table tops and fences Basquiat once painted- here’s hoping they are hoarded away in the hands of deserving, eccentric, rent controlled living New Yorkers and not inside indifferent warehouses held by those with no art in their souls.
2015 continued from the year before as a great period in music books. This included the highly readable Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth (written and clearly lately edited strongly amidst her sudden, devastating bad break up from long time partner Thurston Moore, but never cashing in on the same). For the patient student of human nature/ amateur psychologist, there’s the bizarre, must read memoir from our dear old maddening uncle Morrissey, who spends many more pages on the court case than on the entire history of The Smiths. In Then and Now: Toronto Nightlife History, DJ & Journalist Denise Benson expertly maps the city’s significant place on the world scene of nightclubs and music in the golden era of 80’s to late 90’s, an important era where we rarely stopped to take a note and never took pictures. Zoe Howe’s new biography of Dr. Feelgood’s founder and frontman Lee Brilleaux makes a compelling case for this Rock n’ Roll Gentleman’s place in history as rightly deserving of the highest public honours (up to and including a bid to rename an airport) as well as a strong argument for both the inherent value of one’s childhood drawings (and dreams) and the true value of approaching life as a sometimes far too- short adventure best equipped by good humour, a willingness to buy a round, and entertaining foot furniture.
On our shelf to read: Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man; Bernard Sumner: Chapter and Verse. Wishlist: A memoir, prose or fiction from the mind of Pete Fij.
The year in film: There’s hope yet in the form of the rise of filmmakers working outside Hollywood and outside the typical streams of media. Mad Max: Fury Road with a nearly silent, riveting Tom Hardy was an epic moving spectacle and sits among the best cinematic visits in not this but in many years. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night merged genres and cultural perspectives creating a new cool in B&W. Topping Best-Of lists worldwide, The Look of Silence shows the endless power of good documentary to expose and offer healing of even the worst injustice. ROOM brought bravura performances and explored beautifully the human heart and spirit. Festival darling Brooklyn still has legs as an end of the year prestige picture for, perhaps, everyone. The Editor breathed some fresh life into horror. Ex Machina taught us all a few lessons about what can be done with less obscene budgets and true vision, while exploring the timely question of how far we are willing to go for the AI we are so enamored with. Montage of Heck, despite its treasure trove of Cobain writings and art (and priceless soundtrack) was a poisoned pill. Netflix continued to upset both the TV and Film worlds in ways that benefited audiences (their latest triumphs: Making a Murderer, River).
How the year ended:
In a year where world leaders and the powers that be continued to frustrate and disappoint so many good citizens and those lacking in citizenship alike, here in Canada, a new Prime Minister, moreover, a new regime led by Justin Trudeau was elected in a sweeping victory.
And so we founding editors, suddenly feeling very much Canadian in that season, said goodbye to 8 years of Ultra-conservative leadership via the “Anybody but Harper” movement, which reversed 8 (plus) years of Harper government policies, indifference, unkind cuts and voter apathy as a deep national need for change united youth, boomers, farmers, activists, artists, scientists and most of the media (as well as making a serious bid for the value left in the precarious mid-aughts idea of citizen journalism).
And finally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens… both in months of anticipation and the record shattering premiere at Christmastime. More important than money and box office: the glow on so many faces who got to feel like kids again, who were not let down, and who were finally rewarded for the sequel trilogy, the endless repackaging and reformatting, and the years of strife between sometimes overly exuberant fans (who broke copyright to express their love) and once visionary creator George Lucas (who sold it all to Disney 3 years ago). See it. Ignore the hype and the inevitable backlash. Let your inner child come to the forefront, the one who’s been needing this and has almost starved in recent film going years. For a couple of hours, you can feel sure that it’s all going to be ok, somehow, in this troubled system of galaxies we inhabit. That you are still right. The old rusty spaceship is still better than the cheap model of today. That you are shored up and warmed by unlikely but enduring friendships and the rarest of all commodities, they bring, loyalty; that families lost and newly made will triumph against all odds. It’s a new year. By Jacqueline Howell
All photos copyright Step On Magazine except where noted.