Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

THE F.U.N.K 2014 END OF YEAR LIST - MY YEAR IN MUSIC

19:02 Posted by neil kulkarni , , 3 comments


Couldn't believe most of the end of year lists I've seen. Not just cos I've never heard or listened to any of the artists who have featured, I've come to expect that in recent years not just cos of general decrepitude but also as my estrangement from the industry accelerates through  a mutual forgetting, as the footfall of jiffybags through my door dries beyond a trickle to outright silence and emptiness. An exile that suits us both, it's just that now I can't waste anyone's time talking about all that white music I don't really understand anymore because I never get sent it and have so little time to seek it out. Thought it might happen eventually, I'm a lazy lazy man and they're getting younger and younger.

   Anyhoo, no, it wasn't the content(mentof the lists that threw me,  I just couldn't believe the TIMING of the lists. In much the same way that shops start hawking Xmas shit as soon as the Halloween tat is taken down so I couldn't help noticing that people were bringing out their end-of-year-lists when it was still November. I was getting e-mailed lists of label-releases for end-of-year chart consideration when I was still slopping rotten pumpkins into the garden wheelie bin. Why the gun-jumping? Why the rush? Why the desire and the assumed ability to call a year out musically well before that year has actually drawn to a close? And why are so many critics, though unable to deny the utterly transformed nature of music-access and distribution in the current age, still so tethered to those old traditional industry-cycles of December shutdown?

Little Simz' last release of the year came out 2 days before Christmas

   Partly it's about over-enthusiasm. Critics LOVE doing end of year lists. Makes them feel all important and criticcy, cloak themselves in an eclecticism that justifies their political silence, 'corrects' the limitations of what they've been allowed to write about all year. Partly though I think it's about something going fatally wrong with music critique at the moment and it's a problem beyond my usual whining about lack of purpose. I checked the NME list, the Wire list, the Q list, the Mojo list, the Uncut list and noticed one very telling thing best expressed in a double negative: next to nothing on those lists WASN'T on a label, didn't arrive in those writers lives via a jiffy-bag or a friendly e-mail. And that's at such utter variance with the way I've experienced music in 2014 I start wondering whether I can even call myself a music critic anymore, whether being a music critic now in a palpable and powerful sense means you're plugged in, PART of the industry, another PR tendril, doing favours for mates. Because for me, and for alot of people I know, music is found now anywhere BUT major labels, music is found in places that seem ripe with possibility not constricted by committee-think commercialism, crucially music is found and got from places where it's either free or you feel that the money you spend on it goes directly to the person making it. The idea of giving money to a corporation to give me music, to not find a way of getting that money to the artist another way, via some method that doesn't imply a system of indentured debt and slavery, via some way that's direct - it's disappeared for me in 2014. It has been a year where bar-coded major-label/major-subsidiary-indie product hasn't really been a part of my listening. It's been the year of Bandcamp and direct purchase from tiny labels. Bandcamp perhaps more than anything else.

Strange U emblematic of what's ace about Bandcamp

    It's in its infancy but I can't think of a more exciting place to hear music on the planet. Best bit of music news I heard all year was its taking care of potentially threatening changes to digital V.A.T legislation. So much of it to wade through yes, so much dross yes but some real fucking gold as well, especially in those marginal musics so forgotten about by most established labels. All you need is a nod, a wink, a pointer in the right direction from somewhere or someone you can trust and before you know it you can get lost in Bandcamp, following up supporters and like-minds, finding oceans of all kinds of music that even when applying the most stringent of criteria (I still say every bit of music I hear has precisely 10 seconds to grab me & lead me on and if it doesn't it's dispensed with) still deluges you with too much to hear, an endless game of catch-up.
   Because Bandcamp isn't really a 'community' it's genuinely diverse. There's no bullshit 'shared spirit' behind the millions of artists on Bandcamp. Each one is allowed to be themselves. Because Bandcamp isn't a label or part of a racist sexist industry there's no racism, no sexism on bandcamp unless you're actively looking for it. You can explore genres if you wish but it's way more fun to just follow trails and digressions, previous releases, namechecked friends, other artists, links to mixes. And the fact most of these artists and bands can't get record deals, don't want record deals, have committed themselves to bringing their music out on a platform they can control, means you hear alot of astonishing music absolutely shorn of any of the mainstream's ideas of compromise or presentability. Because this stuff isn't hand-fed to journalists, and consequently remains untouched by music journalists' suffocating rhetoric of cross-reference and hyperbole-of-the-mediocre you have to make up the mythology yourself. Bandcamp fundamentally for me is a place where the mystery and magic of music is allowed to remain intact and where something like a fair way of making a living out of it is emerging. Slowly I know. Very slowly. But as an alternative to those venal corrupted traditional channels, Bandcamp is something that needs exploring, supporting, rhapsodising about. Besides anything else it's made buying music in 2014 feel right. I haven't bought much product from labels this year. I've mainly exchanged money for music from people. And hopefully helped them to continue. Bandcamp feels pure, untainted. The only thing I can see that's wrong with it is that the bands can't compete in a promotional sense with the powers-that-be. In every other sense that matters, Bandcamp kicked ass in 2014. I hope music fans start to catch up more. I hope it becomes the primary platform. I've stopped listening to much else.

The unique Gavlyn


   Similarly and analogously - I've stopped listening to critics to be honest, to the point where I find it hard to name names, only really remembering the few I trust. Loads I wouldn't trust to organise their own shit into the pan without help, usually from those places that try most closely to cleave to auld habits, insist on a general optimism to masque their reshuffling of the same old shit, their adrev-friendly corporate cheerleading. In 2014, like most people the places I find out about music has been forums, fan-reviews, the odd straight-up music site  where you feel that people untutored and unhinged enough can show you the way with genres you might not have time to get fully absorbed by. Long been convinced that crossover is anathema to good music/stuff I wanna hear. Rather it's those things furthest WITHIN their respective genres that are most pleasurable, the darkest metal, most un-chartfriendly grime, the harshest d'n'b, the strangest most unsignable pop. Thus, it's sometimes those writers who you feel absolutely DON'T listen to loads of different genres who are most useful at the moment, those bloggers and monomaniacs who can pick through the surplus from deep within their respective obsessions and bring you the golden nuggets. Quietus and Resident Advisor for electronica, CVLTNATION for metal, directly from DJs (community stations and places like Rinse/Itch have been goldmines all year) and fans for hip-hop, d'n'b and grime.

As heard on Rinse FM, Sir Spyro

Speaking of which, Grime's been a totally refreshed love for me this year. BOYA DEE, THE CLICK, FOOTSIE, SLIMZEE, D DOUBLE E, MANGA, RIVAL, GHETTS, EYEZ,  JME, FRISCO, P.MONEY, BIG NARSTIE, M.I.K muscled themselves back into my days, courtesy pretty much of one radio show. SIR SPYRO'S show on RINSE FM is a weekly check-in I get alarmingly excited about every Sunday night - then the wait until the morning for the podcast to be up so I can dl it and burn it to a disc and stick it in the car and on the stereo (hooking my deck up again has meant that computer-sized music simply doesn't satisfy anymore, has to be room-sized, house-sized, car-sized). Simply put, with its futurist beats, dubby bass-heaviness and total lyrical freedom and fury and finesse and fuckery it's two hours of the most exciting British music every week, ever-surprising, ever-joyous, ever hilarious, ever mind-blowing. Some of the guest cameo freestyles he's had on this year have been the most free-wheeling, intellectually far-ranging, hysterical human transmissions from anywhere on the planet in 2014.  Spyro knows his shit, has the best guests, plays the best music.  Make his show, downloadable from the Rinse podcast site,  a part of your weekly digest immediately.

D Double E


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In drum and bass, WITH ONE CRUCIAL EXCEPTION I'LL RETURN TO LATER,  I've liked the dirty stuff, the attention to detail stuff, the stuff that sounds like the best EBM, prime Front 242, the industrial strength stuff that remembers the bass part of drum and bass (far too much stuff out there, especially now the Americans are involved, that just coasts on trebly Skrillex-style EDM noises and ballachingly predictable builds/drops). Stuff like XTRAH ft. MIKAL's chrome-plated fucked up masterpiece 'No Good' (Metalheadz Platinum Breakz). Stuff like ANTAGONIST & PARAGON'S 'Deadly Design EP', four tracks of ice-hard brooding d'n'b so dark the only place you could hear it on the radio this year was on DOC SCOTT's always superb Future Beats Radio Show (also on the intriguingly shady NurturedBeatz check out INTERLINE's bruising 'Mentality' EP). Stuff like SCAR's 'Fairgame' (a revoltingly wonky bass-heavy monster from Survival & Script), everything I've heard from BATTERY, OPTIV & BTK's self-descriptive 'Zero Tolerance', EPs like MINDSCAPE's brutal 'Rat Pack', MAKO & DLR's 'Hungry For Atmosphere' IVLAB's 'Missing Persons' and MISANTHROP's nutzoid 'Greed Of Gain' (which crosses into the same electro-harshness as everything I've greedily devoured from BODIKKA this year).

  


As with grime, Podcasts and specialist Radio have been the best way to find out about d'n'b this year. Doc Scott's show does it exactly right, chat to a minimum, no pointless guest-interviews (as a rule d'n'b creators don't make for the most fascinating chats), just two hours of ace music every month. DJ FLIGHTs show on Rinse FM was a similar goldmine, a brilliant mix of her own wayward musical consciousness and exclusive dubs you could only hear via her, a real shame to hear her 'Next Level' Rinse show is coming off the air and hope she re-emerges with something new in 2015 cos she's that rare thing, a DJ you can trust, a DJ genuinely there to show you music, not themselves. Rinse are saying it's all about 'giving new people a chance' - I fucking hate that kind of thinking. Flight is awesome and as a rule any company that starts getting rid of awesome people for the blind stupidity of pointless 'change' is fucked somewhere, fucked somewhere centrally just under the ribs. Her shows are archived on her mixcloud page and are as good an index as to what was happening in 2014 as you'll find anywhere.

The superb DJ Flight whose Rinse show will be sadly missed




   Oh yeah, I said re: d'n'b that I've been into the dirty stuff in 14 with one exception - that exception is the utterly ravishing 'Fourfit EP' on Marcus Intalex' Soul:R records. Intalex was previewing stuff from this in November 2013 and is a master at playing dubplates well in advance of release to build anticipation, anyone who heard LSB's startlingly beautiful 'Leave' on MI's superb Metalheadz podcast back in November 2013 was pretty much gagging and dribbling innappropriately by the time it found a home on the four-track 'Fourfit' come September this year. The EP was everything that liquid d'n'b COULD be, everything it seemed so rarely to attain bar the most gorgeous Calibre productions (Cal's rerub of BREAK's 'They're Wrong' was an undeniable highlight of the summer). 'Leave' itself was hypnotic, oceanic, subtle, magical, Boymerang/Spring Heel Jack in its delicious detail, pure club-roller in its rampaging warmth. Also on the EP was FD's 'Ice209' which similarly skewed dreamy drift with diamond-hard beats and ANILE's stunning 'Depths', hinging on a piano-hook that lanced you like an unplaceable untraceable childhood memory, bustling on beats that hit with the pleasure of full-phat Dillinja. Just a sublime record from front to back that I shelled out cash-money on cos I had to have it in my life and my god on vinyl it sounds awesome. Don't let 2014 slip by without checking it.

In hip-hop, well - it's been a year for hip-hop to do its job. I can't remember  a year in the recent past that's been as healthy for dissident voices, contrary perspectives, hip-hop fulfilling ALL it's functions and not just adhering to the commercial entertainment strictures it's been so willing to fall into for so long. Again, not for me a year of albums per se, more a year for individual single transmissions that are inarguable, crash in and take you over. Emissions and emanations like 7EVENTHIRTY's 'The Problem' . . .



Stuff like COMMON & AB-SOUL's bruising 'Made In Black America'


From the US in general I was digging the isolated, the cut-off, those too busy zeroing in on the unique thing they had to say and the unique way they said it rather than engaging in twitter-beef and diss-tracks and the other forms of connected tedium yr whiteboy hip-hop critics get so excited about. PARANOM & PURPOSE's 'Microphone Phenomenal', RAVEN FELIX' hilarious 'Girl', ROC MARCIANO's unique 'Trying To Come Up', JAMAILL BUFFORD's dazed disasterpiece 'Oh My God Forever', GAVLYN's haunting 'Guilty Pleasure', JUNGLE PUSSY's ribald & rude 'Satisfaction Guaranteed', catching up with everything I could find by SPARK MASTER TAPE, MICK JENKINS 'Free Nation Rebel Soldier', FIDDY's impossible good 'Hold On', AMIRI's 'Still' & VON PEA's 'So East Coast' both on the ace HipNott Records, THE GROUCH & ELIGH's awesomely wasted 'My God Song', 9TH WONDER's incredible 'Jamla Is The Squad' comp, SKYZOO & TORAE's superb 'Barrel Brothers' LP, STEPBROTHERS' amazing and vivid and deliciously lurid 'Lord Steppington' album, BADA$$ & FREDDIE GIBBS on 'Carry On', J-LOVE's ace collabo with Ghostface & Cormega on 'Glorified Excellence', MAX MARSHALL's sweet-as-anything 'Your Love Is Like', DENZEL CURRY's febrile funkadelia on 'Stadium Starships', NEHRUVIAN DOOM on Lex, JUNCLASSIC's 'No Realer', PLAYDOUGH & SEAN PATRICK's awesome Edan-like 'Been Dope', ENDEMIC EMERALD's 'Cardinal', OPEN MIKE EAGLE's truly bizarre transmissions and CASTLE & HAS-LO's hilarious 'Return Of The Gas Face' LP both on the ever-engrossing Mello Music Group, the long-awaited returns of BLACK MILK and also J-ZONE . . . . phewff, it's been a fucking awesome year and Iggy and Banks and Kanye and all the people the twats on twitter twat on about have absolutely fuck all to do with it.

Open Mike Eagle



    Massively exciting year in the UK, from the WHOLE UK (if you're only looking in London my god you've missed out, especially on the amazing stuff coming out of Bristol, the South Coast, East Anglia at the moment). SLEAZE & REKLEWS cone-destroying 'Heads Will Know', BILL NEXT & PARO's 'Weedmasons EP', MELANIN 9's wonderful 'Amulets', ED SCISSORTONGUE's amiably ambient 'Theremin EP', ROCKFORMZ grainy & paranoiac 'Grow Room', FLIPTRIX and JAM BAXTER and BVA on the rising High Focus Records (keep em peeled on HF in 2015), ILLINFORMED's ace 'Rld' tape, KINGDOM OF FEAR's 'Be Still' and CONFUCIOUS MC's 'The Highest Order' LP and JEHST's fucking awesome 'England (Boot Remix)'  all on the ever-ready YNR . . .




Couple of names really stood out from the UK this year for me, STRANGE U just got better and better and stranger and weirder and mightier as the year went on, culminating in their utterly startling 'EP#2040'
and I also massively dug the oceanic, sharp-as-fuck, beautiful work of LITTLE SIMZ this year - her 'E.D.G.E' album from June was one of 2014' most criminally undersung highlights.




The wonderful cover-art to Mizmor's astonishing 'Hell'

What with 2014 not being a year where either THROWING MUSES or JUANA MOLINA released records, records with guitars on didn't bother me much this year bar IAN CRAUSE's stunning 'Songs Of Phaethon' and 'Vertical Axis' releases  Everything else I heard still tethered to the six and four sounded both appallingly dated (forgiveable) & just plain weedy (unforgiveable). Something you could ever accuse 2014's best metal albums of being - here was a genre where I actually treasured the long-form, the album, here was a genre where once again untraditional avenues of investigation & discovery yielded gold, another genre best served by Bandcamp. All of my metal this year was on Bandcamp. All of it.
  HIghlights for me in 2014 (once I'd caught up with 2013's two most vital metal releases, BOLZER's astounding 'Aura EP" and PRIMITIVE MAN's scarifyingly awesome 'Scorn' LP) included מזמור aka Portland fuck-ups MIZMOR's utterly utterly pitiless "VII - Epistemological Rupture", NOÛS' 19-minute megabeast "ἀηδής", NAUGHT's really quite unpleasant 'Tómhyggjublús', THRESHING and GATECREEPER's s/t debuts , the charred pustulence of ALTAR's 'Plague Pit', Londoners QRIXKUOR's 'Consecration Of The Temple', tapes from Nashville's GRACELESS RECORDINGS (check out PISSGRAVE and SEWER GODDESS) and Northern Idaho's SOL Y NIEVE (check out NEMORENSIS 27-minute nightmare-scape 'The Lady In The Lake' and HELLEBORE's 'Anouf Thwo'). The growth in tape culture, especially in metal, isn't just an empty retroism, it's both homage to the way metal found its underground in the 80s and also an attempt to drag metal back from hi-fidelity commerce to a new murk, a new dankness, an artistically untrammelled, fan-controlled place again. Two things stood head-and-shoulders above the pack in 2014, IRKALLIAN ORACLE's simply staggering 'Grave Ekstasis' (only available on tape before 2014) and Portland bass'n'drum duo TOWERS' P.I.L/Scorn-style dub noise on the utterly fucking awesome 'II' from Eolian Empire. Wrote about the former here,  and the latter here.  They both warrant repeated revisitings and cannot wait to hear new things from them both in 2015, horned hands crossed.

Towers (photo by James Rexroad)


Although a good year, I worry about 2015. I wonder, with Flight's departure, how many other supposedly 'underground' places will start mindlessly chasing/boosting youth in a way that serves neither young nor old. I worry, as I hinted here, about the BBC. I worried like fuck about the V.A.T thang for Bandcamp, succumbed to the sense that things like that were too good to be permitted to carry on under the grind of greed from everywhere else. I hope that in 2015 its potential is tapped, especially politically - this year I want to hear music from those places where music is an important choice, not a hobby, those places where music is increasingly being demonised. Stay vigilant, stay busy, stay lost. In a years time lets hope there's more people we can trust. More people we help to make music.