2016: Our Year in Music

First: we want to wish all of our readers, visitors, friends, collaborators, contributors, patient interview subjects, festival friends and fellow music lovers a very Happy New Year and all the best for 2017. We thank you for your friendship and support of our ideas, writing and photography, and we appreciate what you have brought to the mix in progress. Our own personal experience has changed and our world opened up in new ways, finding great music chats in unexpected places, our focus and happiness redoubling with each new conversation, our ability to focus on what matters growing along the way.

New Year’s Eve was always our favourite holiday in the calendar. We loved its sentimentality (hidden cleverly behind a veil of detached partier cool) its spirit of the promise of renewal, that fantasy of a reset, and the focus on friendships (Auld Lang Syne)- friendships come and gone over the years, and new friendships made.

 

The group focus on the midnight countdown creates a fleeting feeling of sports fan magic; kids are allowed to stay up late for it; adults will remember the great years overlooking a ski hill on a frigid deck popping champagne, the botched years still in a cab trying to get somewhere, the parties that only took off long after midnight, the time a friend made their way over to make sure you weren’t alone with your broken heart, the time you were newly in love and the world was your oyster. The excitement of travel, the freedom of our teens and twenties (constrained as it was by money and mobility, yet it was freer than we then knew) and the occasionally necessary bunker mentality of the carefully quiet night of grief, of mental fatigue, of illness, when you muster a tiny party with The Goonies and Chinese food.

Oh, sorry, this is just a few of our own mental pictures of New Year’s Eves past. Each is treasured, each remembered, if we even rest for a minute on what the feeling means. New Years Eve, for us, will never be corporatized and co-opted the way evil forces would do with Christmas and even Halloween nowadays. For we’ve always made it our own. We’ve always defined it with a roving band of great friends come and gone, new friends, or at home. We still remember the excitement of being able to stay up super late as kids with careless babysitters, everyone infected by this madness, a Christmas eve with wildness and no parents.  Mostly we remember past ski hills and snowy cottages borrowed rented or by invitation, cold, frigid cold, impossibly steep Montreal streets and scarce late night food, fun defined by randomness and not by perfection, money incidental, once the booking was made. Then it was just drinks and one meal a day, champagne insisted upon even though most people don’t even like it, the clubs that offered a cornucopia of favours, meals, snacks, crowns and toasts, that always failed to deliver; ready for this, we brought our own or grabbed the discards left on a table, germs forgotten, in the height of flu season.

This New Year’s Eve might just be a night off for us, like Glastonbury, we need to let the fields heal and recover, even great times need a comedown. We’ve done a lot, had a lot of excitement, worked & invested a lot, and had some very good experiences. Like everyone else, we do this by fighting through obstacles and with difficulty, and we are deeply proud of the good work and positive attitude we bring to the discussion with all of you who celebrate music wherever you stand or whatever way you do that. Many do it just by being part of great groups on Facebook or in sharing their playlists, which fuels and inspires each other. We had some great advice lately which gave voice to what we are already doing and what all do in life: “build your army”. It’s a reset for us even if we don’t go out tonight as we take this website and magazine into the next phase, new site design, yearbook and print edition. With the turntable spinning with early 80s Cure, Love and Rockets, New Order, OMD, and Spoons.

A beloved survivor recently unearthed from our original circa ’80s stash, with only 2 skips!

2016 was a year of far too many musical tributes to dead musicians. Many reflective pieces have already forgotten Merle Haggard who died early in 2016, but we never will. The genius songwriter had a one in many millions voice, an undeniable talent no matter what music you draw boundaries around personally. He’s interwoven with our deepest, saddest and happiest family memories, so personally as resonant as Bowie.

Much has been written about David Bowie, whose unexpected, well-protected sudden death rocked the world early in the year. Because of the Starman references, his otherwordliness, his magnificent beauty and creative genius, as well as that timing, the year has rolled along with some generally accepted notions that Bowie is now selecting key talents to join him on his home planet. This mass delusion is real, and offers real comfort to many. For we are now without Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) Leonard Cohen, Haggard, Inspiral Carpets’ Craig Gill, Sharon Jones, and many more. (The Specials’ John Bradbury died just at the end of 2015).

We even lost relatively unknown artists who we’d just discovered such as Eric Miranda, the singer and writer of In Letter Form, who were making waves with their Joy Division-esque sounds which moved well between covers/homage and into their own burgeoning sounds and vocabulary. We mourn.

But we also celebrate.

There is good news in the world of Indie music in cities across the globe. In a small Toronto room on a weeknight we heard Copenhagen’s The Foreign Resort on tour with Dallas’ twin-threat, Nite. All of these faraway places are part of a shared conversation, of those who know and care about music and its life. We organize our searches around key words (such is the burden of internet as it has been built on such things) like Shoegaze, Post-punk, noise, synth…but the definitions are expanded and thrown away once we are in the crowd of an exciting new band. Earlier this year we saw Beliefs, who have been receiving worldwide recognition for their latest release, and they were a marvel. On the bill with very different UK bands (one very established), these homegrown artists showed us something new that made us remember to look at our local scenes with more attention. We met fellow fans of a band as we all clutched merch in the afterglow of a face-melting show during which one of us kept our eyes closed almost the entire time, in rapture, to find they were to become new friends and also had a new band we’d become big fans of, who were on the verge of their first release. Private miracles like this happened to us and happen to others who go out and see live music, are focused on the entire experience, and are open. Now we know to celebrate and seek out Tonemirror.

Beliefs

We saw our spiritual leaders The Cure at Bestival Toronto, on a massive North American and semi-world tour that would consume much of the year of that band and their devoted fans, some of whom make it their vacation plans to see multiple shows. The Cure’s standard for excellence, stoicism, longevity and marathoning concerts is a double-edged sword. Once you do three hours for one city, too many people start reading something that is art, and art alone, as something that could be reduced to statistics. Out come the knives, the only (dull) knives that the lazy reporters (and tweeters) could grasp in the world of magnificence that is The Cure: the nitpicks about set length (often a city ordinance decision, as far from the artist as you could imagine) or the toddler-like whine that a favourite song in the bands’ many-hundreds’ deep catalogue was not played. The band practiced, toured and were ready to play some 150 songs that were played at various times on this tour. Think about that. Free of oppressive album promotion cycles (that dinosaur) you can today experience our generation’s only surviving (and thriving) Rolling Stones/Beatles, long after the implosion of their one-time contemporaries The Smiths, New Order, and a hundred others. We saw The Cure in our hometown this year for the first time in years, learning too late that we failed ourselves, forgetting how good it can & must be; so we’ll shift priorities and plans for a contingency fund of a different but still critical sort, we’ll be on that dead-head/cure-head away team of fans next outing.

We’ve been discovering a lot of new music we’ve shared via our New Music Radar, which has been a solid new feature wherein our skeleton crew can cover, if briefly, more new music we discover. Dave alone works on this, listening to every submission we get as well as having an ear for new music. Discovery is important. Many of the bands on the New Music Radar and our many Shoegaze lists (part 1, part 25!) are part of our regular rotation, and we look out for opportunities to see them live for those touring. We care a lot about giving voice to these new artists and we know first hand there’s a lot to celebrate and more voices needed to focus on real music being created in the indie world and outside the mainstream. We hope you’ll join us or start your own little corner of celebration.

Our autumn almost wiped us out with excitement, happiness, and live music. In our city, we saw giants & personal musical icons back to back in our favourite venue (big enough to get a rousing crowd and fuel the bands with a true connection not always possible in stadiums; intimate enough to make eye contact; standing room so you can and must talk to people; a party; what is now our nightclub scene). We saw Toots and the Maytals, The Specials, Primal Scream, Billy Bragg and Peter Hook and the Light in about a two-month period. All were immense, special, quality evenings. All were beyond affordable, but many required you to be alert and care and prioritize these tickets many months ahead of when announcements show up in the local paper.

Sandwiched inbetween these shows was our personal travel high, our second annual 8,000 km trip to Minehead, UK for Shiiine On Weekender in November. Founded and curated by true, uncompromising music lovers, supported by the coolest, sometimes underground musicians and UK scenesters (many from the beautiful north, Manchester and Liverpool) and attended by 8000 like-minded celebrants who formed easy friendships at long and jovial lager line ups, this non-stop party at Butlins has put autumn festivals on the map in the U.K. 72 hours of bands (major and up and coming) DJs, along with the best in cover bands keeping the vibe going late into the night (4 am late) made for a special brew indeed. Notable acts of this year included The Farm, the return of Echobelly and The House of Love, The Wonder Stuff & Cast.

We did a lot of dedicated work on major local festivals: TURF (which brought the Lush reunion our way shortly before it ended) Wayhome and Bestival Toronto. Here, we formed a new style of coverage that is a move away from the usual mode of digital journalism or blogging. We gave an overview but wrote focused reviews only on the bands that held the most meaning for us, and were the standouts, including indie artists. Shiiine On was such an utterly different entity to the experiences locally over the years (which seem to be based upon an unsatisfying American model) that we’ll be shifting our 2017 focus to travelling & reporting on only the best festivals that are innovating and delivering the best value, like Shiiine. With a few years of experience we’ll gear our coverage to recommendation-based reviewing of festivals, after all, many of them want quite a lot of money for sight-unseen bands. How many of them are worth it?

In the midst of very-real public grief of lost musicians, Canada had its own experience of a new type of loss, one that is commendable in its refusal to lie down and go away and communicates its truth on its own terms. We learned in May that our own unofficial poet laureate of Canada, The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, had been treated for brain cancer all year, the disease now incurable. The band, as bands do, had already recorded a new album Man Machine Poem (think about that title) and booked a summer tour, and the show would go on. Fuck cancer. No one’s ever said “fuck cancer” quite so well as this man, this band, and this country. A triumphant cross-Canada tour which would end in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario rallied a nation whose default position is endless swaths of regionalism, its bigness and barren stretches dividing us whether we like it or not. Few bands have even been able to tour it all, let alone touch every corner. And so, Canada was closed on Saturday, August 20th for that final show, when our national broadcaster, the CBC, suspended SUMMER OLYMPIC COVERAGE to livestream the final Hip show of the tour (and possibly forever) for millions watching at home.

We watched in a free public broadcast, a mess of joy, sorrow and tears as we thought about a very real piece of our own Canadian identity and history ill with disease, when, like so many others, we’ll always need him. He changed the very face of this illness that has by now touched and hurt everybody out there in life. He gave power to fight something utterly black in our nightmares. He’s turned the rest of his life to music and art, specifically, speaking out about Reconciliation (working to reconcile Canada’s cultural genocide of aboriginal peoples through the residential school system) a national concern that Downie predicts ought to be a priority for the next 100 years, and yes folks, this is just the iconoclastic cherry on top of a stunning body of work that the world hasn’t even fully reckoned. The band is a rare family of all original members, continuing unchanged for 25 years. They taught us much.

The Stone Roses returned to a triumphant tour (aka massive party); Peter Hook conquered North America with Substance 1987/ 2016; The Specials returned as vital as ever, even as members were lost; The Twilight Sad shimmered as support for the stunning North American/demi-world tour by The Cure; Johnny Marr released his memoirs…these were some of our musical highs. We’ll have a few best of lists compiled in the coming days.

And at the end of the year, celebration that befits the day, in our own way, we are sitting down quietly with a small but beloved collection of new/old vinyl for some private Auld Lang Syne to celebrate the music that defined us and will continue to define our worldviews and our attitudes, interwoven by punk grit and independent, critical thinking; raised to transcendence by synthpop symphonics; made cool and naughty by Happy Mondays, Stone Roses & Britpop; given a tempo by underground electronic music, made literate & philosophical in ways that school utterly failed us (thank you Robert Smith, Johnny Marr, Steven Morrissey, Billy Bragg and Peter Hooton) eternally chic with the hidden city maps in Stay-Pressed like The Specials, and forever grounded by this:

To all our musical heroes, please be well and stay safe, we’ll always need you. To all our friends, the same.

Dave MacIntyre & Jacqueline Howell