2016 has been a particularly eventful year. I don’t think I liked it too much; it was a year full of death and other negative surprises. One might almost forget some pretty amazing music was released in the same year. Will 2017 be any better? I don’t think so, lets just hope for less death, even more creation and much more activism. That’s the best New Year’s wish I can offer. Now, let’s have a look at the 16 events that surprised, amazed or saddened me most in 2016.
16. Lady Gaga enters the stage of authenticity
Lady Gaga will probably never be one of my favourite artists, but in 2016 she at least showed substance and authenticity. As a hardcore Bowie fan I think her Bowie medley at the Grammy’s was more genuine than some of the harsh comments seemed to suggest. You don’t have to like it to respect the effort. In addition, she actively supported Hillary Clinton in her run for president. Finally Lady G. opened up about suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition most people associate with soldiers coming back from war. In her case it was the result of being raped as a 19-year-old. Maybe not her best year musically, but Lady Gaga made important, positive contributions to 2016.
15. The death of George Michael
On the 25th of December George Michael joined the already long list of musicians who died in 2016. Ironic that the man I associate most with Wham’s hit single ‘Last Christmas‘ and its opening lines ‘Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away’ would die on Christmas Day from heart failure. But then again, everything that used to be ironic before 2016 all of a sudden became reality. With George Michael one of the last soul oriented Pop masters died. He was also an outspoken advocate of gay rights and gay sexuality, and more politically active than many people realise. Find 20 essential George Michael songs here.
14. The unfortunate case of ‘grower’ albums – PJ Harvey’s ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’
End of year lists are and will always be dominated by late releases. A relatively good album released in November is more likely to make the cut than a masterpiece released in January. People’s attention span is just too short. It is also difficult to be nominated with art that needs time to get under your skin, to grow on you. ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ is a far better album than most end of year lists seemed to suggest (I didn’t spot it on any ‘best of 2016’ list). I think that’s a mistake that will be corrected in the future. For now, just listen to PJ’s second political album (Let England Shake was her first one) and think about the state of the world, the US in particular.
13. Bruce Springsteen gives depression a voice
‘You don’t have to be rich, to be my girl’ (Prince, 1986)
‘You don’t have to be poor, to be depressed’ (Bruce Springsteen, 2016)
In his autobiography ‘Born to run’ Bruce Springsteen revealed a long history of depression. All the more remarkable because his most violent spells of depression seemed to have coincided with his most productive periods as an artist. Why is this important? First of all, because it shows us that mental illness can happen to anyone, that there is no magic shield against it, not even wealth or fame. Secondly, maybe even more important in this case, because Springsteen is the archetype of a blue-collar working class hero, not the type of person who will easily admit mental illness. His story will pave the way for 1000’s of people to seek the professional help they need.
12. The death of Alan Vega
Alan Vega died on July 16, 2016. In New York’s 1977 punk scene he and Martin Rev, the other half of Suicide, were the outsiders among outsiders. Instead of guitar, bass and drums they used synthesizers to create punk music. Punk music based on something far more scarier than punk’s prevailing ‘No future’ philosophy. In the words of Henry Rollins:
‘…Suicide had something that nothing in my language could compare it to. I didn’t own a Kraftwerk album back then. I didn’t know to say, “Oh, it’s sounds like 1974 Germany with the motorik rhythms.” I didn’t have that knowledge in my young arsenal at the time. We just put it on and listened to it. And then you hear “Frankie Teardrop” for the first time and nothing in your record collection or your life—outside of war—prepares you for the storyline. To this day, no record I own compares to that first Suicide album, and that song in particular. It remains the most intense thing I ever heard. (read the full interview here)
11. Female abstract electronics
Women in electronic music is nothing new, but up till 2016 nerdy, minimal and abstract electronic music was still the exclusive domain of men. Not anymore. Just listen to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Jenny Hval, Elysia Crampton, Marie Davidson, Marielle V. Jakobsons, Sarah Davachi, to name just a few and submerge yourself.
10. Music, more music
It was such an eventful year that it’s easy to forget how much good music was released in 2016. Year lists serve a purpose but should also be treated with suspicion, especially in such a good vintage as 2016. Year lists are ultimately a snapshot, back in 1973 no professional reviewer liked Lou Reed’s ‘Berlin’, an album we now accept as a masterpiece. So, even though they didn’t make the ‘best of 2016’ list don’t forget at least the following albums:
Savages – Adore Life. Siouxsie Sioux meets Gang of Four in 2016
DIIV – Is the Is are. Drug-infused requiem for dream pop.
The Swans – The glowing man. The Swan’s closing chapter.
SubRosa – For this we fought the battle of ages. Salt Lake City Doom.
Tyvek – Origin of what. Detroit punk.
9. Death in music
Death was everywhere in 2016. Major artists like David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and George Michael died in 2016, but there was something else, death was also very present as a topic in the music released. Sometimes for obvious reasons (Nick Cave recording ‘Skeleton Tree’ in the wake of his son’s death, Leonard Cohen recording ‘You want it darker’ feeling his own end approaching), sometimes because we probably live in dark times and art is just a reflection of the times we live in. In that last category: ‘Departed Glories’ by Biosphere.