IDLES Crack Magazine | Issue 95
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UK Rap vs The World 38
The radical moves of London's dance community 48
Top 50 Albums of the Year 60
Top 25 Tracks of the Year 70
One moment in... 56
Editor's Letter – p.25 Dear Fankie – p.88
Recommended – p.26
20 Questions: Riz Ahmed – p.89
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When we feel discarded by society, we create our own communities. We show up for each other. During a tense year, IDLES’ fanbase have done just that. The Bristol band’s breakthrough album lit a spark back in August, igniting a movement which feels bigger than the music. In our cover story, Angus Harrison investigates the remarkable community that has since rallied around the band, and why their politically provocative punk feels especially necessary right now.
U.S. Girls Rosebud Ariana Grande thank u, next Sheck Wes Mo Bamba (Jumping Back Slash edit) Raze : Plan B Biig Piig Barrie Canyons Joji Yeah Right Metro Boomin Overdue (feat. Travis Scott) Lack Multiplier Barrie Canyons Nation of Language Reality Natural Sugars The Soothsayer Banoffee Muscle Memory Unmade Thom Yorke Earl Sweatshirt The Mint ft. Navy Blue Makaya McCraven Young Genius ft. Joel Ross Belly Squad Sos
It’s the December issue and we’re feeling reflective. So we’ve highlighted a handful of communities who needed to unite to rise above the bullshit in 2018. Figures from the UK rap scene tell Ciaran Thapar how they came together to prove their critics wrong. Tales from three cities – London, Tbilisi and Washington DC – pinpoint pockets of connectivity and resistance in nightlife culture. Our feature on the wild spirit of London’s experimental dance scene also spotlights dancers whose work extends past the individual.
For more on significant movements in music this year, we ranked the albums and tracks which resonated deeply, offering us something to cling to in 2018. And the effects of all this collectivity are perhaps best expressed by our new agony aunt, Frankie from NYC DJ crew Discwoman. As she reminds us: “when you have a collective of people behind you, standing up for yourself becomes a lot easier.”
IDLES shot exclusively for Crack Magazine by Charlotte Patmore in London, October 2018
Anna Tehabsim, Editor
Recommended O ur g ui d e to wh at's goi n g on i n y ou r c i ty Junction 2 Tobacco Dock 29 December
Clams Casino Electrowerkz 13 December
As Junction 2 Festival heads towards its fourth year, they’re taking the rave out of their usual home in Boston Manor Park and bringing the party to east London’s Tobacco Dock for a massive year-closing bill. Techno heavyweights Adam Beyer, Dixon, me and Rødhåd will head up the festivities with the help of breakthrough Belgian producer Amelie Lens and the UK’s very own Fort Romeau. A night of forwardthinking techno in all its styles, this isn’t one to miss. Just be quick – tickets are flying.
Westerman The Jazz Cafe 12 December
John Gómez b2b Nick The Record All Night Long The Pickle Factory 14 December Mid-December is that perfect sweet spot where it’s still socially acceptable to rave until the early hours without being a disappointment to your family, but it’s still close enough to The Christmas Wind Down. Fortunately, you can always count on The Pickle Factory to satisfy your party urges. This time, the venue opens its doors to crate digging mates John Gómez and Nick The Record for an all-night b2b session. It’s time to get some shakedowns in before mince pies render us comatose. Ms. Lauryn Hill O2 Arena 3 December
Low Barbican Centre 1 February There’s something truly magical about watching live music in the brutalist surroundings of the Barbican Centre. The lauded performing arts centre is no stranger to hosting some of the most hauntingly beautiful performances around, and this event is no different: Minnesota three-piece Low are performing their brooding harmonies and minimalist guitar soundscapes to an intimate crowd. Masters of slowcore, on recent album Double Negative Low pushed their sound into strange new territory. You might experience intense emotions at this show, but we promise it’ll be worth it.
The Cardigans Eventim Apollo 7 December
Slowdive The O2 13 December
Flohio Corsica Studios 6 December
Lcmf x The Death of Rave Bloc 14 December
Charlotte Gainsbourg KOKO 11 December
Denzel Curry KOKO 16 December
London Contemporary Music Festival's The Death of Rave features many firsts. Experimental Spanish producer Jasss is making her London club DJ debut after releasing critically acclaimed album Weightless; Budapest producer Gabor Lázár is bringing his choppy A/V set to the capital for the first time ever; and Black Mecha will premiere his highlyrated Mentation Electronics project for the first time in the EU. The night doesn’t just end here – you can also catch a dreamy live performance from ambient pop specialist Teresa Winter. The perfect tonic to get you in the mood for some cataclysmic techno.
There’s an urban myth that says if you don’t relentlessly weep to Slowdive’s cover of Syd Barrett’s Golden Hair, you don’t have a soul. OK, we made that up, but the sentiment remains. The iconic seven-piece shoegaze band make the sort of crushing guitar music that’s equal parts devastating and cathartic. Slowdive are joining Philly’s most beloved Americana wunderdudes The War on Drugs, whose anthemic indie rock tunes feel larger than life. A perfectly balanced bill.
Pusha T O2 Kentish Town Forum 12 December
Nils Frahm Eventim Apollo 4 December
Jeff Mills Printworks 15 December
Hinds EartH 1 December
Bea1991 The Glove That Fits 5 December
DVS1 All Night Long Village Underground 15 December The first thing to spring to mind when you think of the Midwest may be sprawling landscapes, endearing accents and the odd bit of tumbleweed rolling past. While all of those things definitely exist in the vast region, it’s also home to a thriving underground rave scene and its faithful leader DVS1 – the Russianborn, Minneapolis-raised producer that brought his innovative angular techno to his hometown. Picking up where he left off, DVS1 is heading back to Village Underground for his annual end-of-year residency. If you’re one for deep, slicing techno, find yourself here.
Hunee XOYO 14 December When XOYO announced its new resident to snatch the baton from Flava D, we were stoked to see it was beloved house aficionado Hunee. On this night, the DJ, producer and renowned disco king will be closing his residency in a typically enthusiastic fashion. Enlisting the help of Brilliant Corners’ Donna Leake, Deborah Ipekel and Love Vinyl's Ece Duzgit as Winds & Skins, you can expect the vibes to be as uplifting as Hunee’s cosmic house expeditions. A super posi end-of-year send off.
Warehouse Project NYD Dr Rubenstein, Shanti Celeste, DEBONAIR Store Street, Manchester 1 January New Year’s Day. A fresh start. The beginning of a new chapter. Your chance to leave everything you want to forget about behind in 2018. Or, in most cases, the morning of an excruciating hangover. Trusty curator Warehouse Project is here to change that with their final Store Street event featuring The Black Madonna, Palms Trax, Shanti Celeste and so many more. Start the year off right or just keep the party going from the night before. Your secret’s safe with us.
Years & Years O2 Arena 5 December
Julia Holter EartH 12 December
Kamaal Williams Electric Brixton 6 December
Iceage EartH 7 December
YG O2 Kentish Town Forum 11 December
Reaktor is heading over to our neck of the woods for the first time ever. The popular Amsterdam promoter has been throwing some of the most cutting-edge techno parties for the last six years, and for this special event, they’re blessing us with UK debuts from Neon Chambers (aka Kangding Ray & Sigha) and Lotus Eaters (aka Lucy & Rrose) in the vast Wapping warehouse. Expect a night full of thundering industrial techno, immersive visuals and some of the best vibes the rave has to offer.
Lily Allen Roundhouse 17 December
Mariah Carey O2 Arena 11 December
In:Motion NYD The Black Madonna, Call Super, Palms Trax Motion, Bristol 1 January After Motion’s stormer of a year, it’s only right that they see 2019 in with one of their most dynamic line-ups yet. Ushering in the new year is a 12-hour marathon session of house and techno, bringing high-energy sets from The Black Madonna, Jayda G and Palms Trax, while forward-pushing selectors Call Super, Batu and Saoirse head up The Marble Factory. With four rooms churning out the best in electronic music, it’s become increasingly clear that the only way to start any year is knee deep in the rave.
Christmas has come early with a fresh delivery straight from Compton. YG – real name Keenon Jackson – rose to success after his breakout hit, the Ty Dolla $ign-featuring Toot It and Boot It. Since then, he’s rather impressively released over 10 mixtapes and albums, all oozing with classic West Coast flair. From comedy skits to musings on LA street mythology, YG keeps his craft entirely rooted in his ends. And with collaborations with hip-hop’s elite (Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne and more), we’d say it’s proved successful, to say the least.
Reaktor London E1 London 29 December
WE’RE ALL IN
Against the backdrop of broken Britain, IDLES have become a symbol for collective joy and care
Words: Angus Harrison Photography: Charlotte Patmore Photography Assistants: Ruth Kilpatrick & Leila Afghan
“People are saying: I want someone who believes in something on the radio. I want broken men on stage”
IDLES are a five-piece rock band from Bristol, England. Following six years of gigging in relative anonymity their fortunes changed in 2017 with the release of their debut album Brutalism, which won plaudits for its combination of hard-edged punk and raw, progressive lyricism. This year they released a follow-up, Joy as an Act of Resistance, an album which has catapulted them to mainstream attention, eventually climbing to number five in the UK album charts. Yet alongside the critical acclaim and sold-out shows, between the wild Jools Holland appearance and the Charlie Brooker endorsement, something else has been happening. IDLES have found themselves the unlikely centre of a movement. §
Brian is 47. He lives in Southend, Essex, with his wife, five kids, three dogs and seven cats. When he reached the door of the working men’s club in east London where IDLES were launching their debut album on a mild March night in 2017, he stopped. He’d stumbled across the band a month earlier on Spotify – an experience he describes as akin to being punched in the face and hugged at the same time – and not long after, seen they’d announced a London date only a 45-minute train ride from his home.
But now that he was standing outside, sound rattling the woodwork, he’d lost his nerve. Knowing he’d regret it but powerless to do anything else, Brian turned around and walked away, his insides churning. Anxiety and depression had always been present in his life. Jobs in retail meant he’d worn a mask most of his career – there were staff to manage and customers
to serve – but at home he was nearconstantly low. In his 40s, his wife eventually suggested he see a doctor, which allowed him to acknowledge his depression and seek medication, but he was still withdrawn. He made for a pub near the venue and it wasn’t long before he’d drunk his way through two support acts. Emboldened by the glaze of booze, he decided enough was enough. He approached the door of the club again, this time crossing the threshold and sliding through to the back of the crowd. He took it all in: the noise the band were making, the furious singer with sweat-drenched pink hair, the guitarist prowling the stage in his Y-fronts, and the celebration on the faces of the people watching them. “I knew I was watching something special,” he remembers, “or at least, something that meant a lot to me.” His ears were ringing all the way home.
I’ve been waiting in the dark of Oxford’s O2 Academy for a while. IDLES’ tour manager has already made a couple of trips between the venue and the bus parked outside to assure me Joe Talbot, the band’s vocalist, is coming. When he eventually emerges he looks sheepish: redolent of the night before, rubbing his eyes and edging towards me. “You’ve caught me on a bad day,” he croaks. “I’m an alcoholic and last night I slipped up.” Joe is 34. Born in Bristol, he moved to Exeter aged six, a place he still speaks of disparagingly: “You know you live in a shithole when people higher up the hierarchy are hard. The only place that should be true is in prison.” IDLES’ recent success comes at the tail-end of a difficult few years for the singer. Following his mother’s stroke when he was 16, and the subsequent death of his step-father, Joe became her primary carer. It was a situation that left him cut off, trapped in a cycle of
“savage behaviour”, substance abuse and unhealthy relationships. She died while the band were recording 2017’s Brutalism, an event that shaped the album in all senses, from the lead track Mother to her photo on the LP’s cover. It marked the beginning of a period of reflection for Joe, setting him on a path towards counselling and ultimately sobriety. Yet despite giving up drink at the start of the year, touring has taken its toll. His partner is expecting their second child in March, and while away he feels there’s little he can do to support her. (Their first child, Agatha, died during birth last year and, while he sings defiantly about the tragedy on recent album track June, it’s left him understandably scared about going through something similar again.) Last night, during one of his few nights off on the UK leg of a 55-date tour he cracked and ended up inside most of the pubs in Oxford, he explains, pointing them out as we plough towards the city centre to find somewhere to eat. “It’s no big deal,” he assures me with a smile when I threaten to get too sympathetic, “going sober is just fucking difficult.” He asks if I mind if he calls his partner. I tell him it’s fine, and walk alongside while he confesses the night before and scolds himself for bottling it up. My instinct is to move away and give him space but he makes it clear there’s no need, cracking jokes for my benefit between telling her how much she’s missed. As he ends his call we pass a bakery. He darts in and buys us both a Pastéis de Nata (the Portuguese custard tart). “I’m all about my sweet treats,” he grins, handing me a brown paper bag shining with spots of grease.
“We tried to sustain that gratitude by writing songs for the critics that liked us,” Joe explains of their first attempts at writing new material post-Brutalism. He’s sitting across from me in a branch of Wagamama now, having just placed an impressive hangover order. “The lyrics weren’t honest, they were forced. We were pandering to our own egos, instead of fighting again.” The band put a halt on proceedings and decided to talk. The conversation started about music but soon became one about mindfulness and changing their lives for the better. Inspired by Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man, Joe found himself thinking about masculinity, compounded by revelations he was making about himself during counselling. “That’s where Joy... came from,” he says. “It’s a step forward in terms of being more aware of your surroundings.” Where Brutalism pitted them in a struggle against the world, Joy as an Act of Resistance pairs the same frenzied instrumentation with a positive call to arms. On Television, against the backdrop of clomping bass and Jon Beavis’ motorik drums, Joe demands their audience love themselves in spite of media standards of beauty, while Samaritans finds him tearing off the “mask of masculinity” that keeps men from crying. “Man up!/ Sit down!/ Chin
up!/ Pipe down!,” he bellows against a chorus of wailing guitars. “I like that denaturalising of masculine tropes,” he later tells me, “because they don’t make any fucking sense.” Then there’s Danny Nedelko, a post-Brexit love-song to immigration, named after a 25-year-old friend of the band who came to the UK around a decade ago from the Ukraine. The song’s triumphant chant has turned its namesake into something of a cult figure among IDLES fans – he also appears in the video for the track and his band, Heavy Lungs, supported IDLES across their UK dates. When we speak over the phone, Danny tells me he listened to the song for the first time alone in his bedroom through headphones shortly after it was finished, and was moved, almost to tears, by the experience. “Of course I know the song isn’t just about me, it’s about immigration, but hearing those words... it was a beautiful moment in time.” Towards the end of GREAT, the album’s appraisal of Britain’s right wing suburban hinterlands, Joe howls the words “we’re all in this together”. It’s a far cry from High School Musical, coming off more like a death sentence for 66 million divided people, stuck on an island together. It’s typical of his perspective on Joy: scathing but complicit. IDLES are part of the mess.
Joe formed IDLES in 2011 with Exeter friend and bassist Adam Devonshire (Dev), while the pair were living in Bristol. By 2014 the line-up was completed by Lee Kiernan and Mark Bowen on guitar, and Jon Beavis on drums. To begin with the band had to fight to be heard. Years of badly paid gigs, punctuated by two overlooked EPs and backdropped by personal struggle, hardened them into an underdog mentality. So when the success of Brutalism suddenly elevated their status to “Britain's most necessary band” (according to a review in the Guardian), they were left with a problem. Having spent so long being ignored, they approached writing their second record in the uncomfortable position of being liked.
From left to right: Mark Bowen, Jon Beavis, Adam Devonshire, Joe Talbot, Lee Kiernan
035 The more shows she went to, the more Lindsay began to notice the same faces in the crowd. She started adding them on Facebook, messaging to see who would be at which show and suggesting meetups beforehand. When the band played in Bermondsey, Lindsay met Louise. She remembers that within 30 seconds the pair had shared intimate details about their lives with each other. They talked about having met other IDLES fans who’d done the same thing. “We knew we needed to bring these people into one place, and that’s where the idea for the Facebook group started.” The AF Gang – pronounced aff-gang, named for the abbreviation of “as fuck” that used to adorn the band’s kick-drum – started with around 100 members. In the beginning the group would swap photos from gigs and organise pre-show drinks, yet quickly the conversation developed into something else. “I think people were just like: this is such a refreshing group of people,” Lindsays recalls. “People started becoming a lot more open, saying everything was really shit but that IDLES had made it better. They wanted to talk about their depression, their anxiety and how this is helping.” At the time of writing, roughly 18 months after it was first created, the private group has just over 12,000 members. While it’s officially a fan community, in practice it functions
as a support network. Between posts about the band, people detail how IDLES and the community have helped them overcome anxiety, relieve anger issues, or carried them through nervous breakdowns. There are stories of bereavement, struggles with medication, or bad days at work, alongside the good news: the births, graduations, the new jobs and marriages, all shared with a collective of thousands who respond with guidance and support. In fact, the volume of posts is so relentless – averaging as many as 500 a day – the group’s five moderators now have a full-time task approving them, and in many cases not (there are strict rules around ticket selling, and situations that are considered too sensitive are filtered and referred to professionals). Brian, who is an admin on the page along with Lindsay, tells me he’d put 25 hours into reviewing posts the previous week. For his part, Joe finds it all hard to believe. It was an early UK tour when he first realised people were travelling long distances to see the band, and since then he’s tried to cultivate as personal a relationship with their fans as possible – throughout our time together he regularly stops to talk to fans, many he knows by name. He doesn’t read the AF Gang group regularly, part of a wholesale decision to stay away from social media, but is shown all of the most powerful stories that are shared on the group. He is most comfortable thinking of the band as a catalyst for a following which has now escalated into something bigger than them, strongly countering any notion of being a figurehead. He started the band for the same reason Lindsay started the group, he tells me, to be part of something greater, to not feel alone. “It’s a community of people, who are jaded by being made to feel
shit,” he continues. “People are saying: this is boring now. I want someone who believes in something on the radio, I want broken men on stage. I don’t want good looking clothes horses from London, I want chubby fuckers from Bristol.” He’s got a point. For an emergent act IDLES are unusually rough around the edges: all over 30, with unruly beards and their fair share of balding scalps – discounting guitarist Lee Kiernan that is, whose hair falls reliably in front of his face as he thrusts himself around during every set. Onstage they often descend into orchestrated chaos, Dev’s towering figure see-sawing over his bass while Mark Bowen roves and writhes, wandering into the crowd and playing his guitar like he’s trying to escape it. At their centre Joe commands his audience completely – “All the women to the front,” he directed the crowd at a recent London show, only for rows of men to part like a shoal of fish. It’s unruly and inclusive: a safe space for complete release. “You could be in IDLES,” as he later puts it to me, “it’s easy, we’re shit.”
Lindsay, 37, is a music photographer who lives in Sheffield. She’d played in bands herself for years, until she lost her confidence and swapped her bass for a camera. She first saw IDLES the same night Brian did, when she was sent to shoot them for a magazine. It’s a night she says changed her life. She went on to watch and take pictures of them roughly once a week for the rest of the year. “They couldn’t get rid of me,” she laughs.
“People started becoming a lot more open, saying everything was really shit but that IDLES had made it better. They wanted to talk about their depression, their anxiety and how this is helping”
Connie, 20, first saw IDLES in Cardiff in 2017. She’d come straight from work so had little choice but to end up in front of the stage in her coat and scarf, negotiating a massive bag. When their set finished she didn’t know what to do with herself. Crushed against the barrier, dripping in sweat, she need to gather her thoughts. For so long getting out of bed had felt like an effort, yet suddenly she felt inspired, motivated. She left before the other bands on the bill, heading straight home to buy Brutalism, a t-shirt, and tickets for their next show in Bristol. “They [IDLES] have inspired me to go out and do things,” she tells me, “I used to be painfully shy, would never talk to anyone. Now I put myself out there and make an effort.” She reads the AF Gang group everyday – she credits it with giving her the courage to move out of her parents’ place, and gifting her a best friend. With the help of the community she now runs a blog focused on mental health in the music industry, My Big Mental Head, which is regularly updated with posts about gigs and interviews with bands. ‘IDLES Chant’, a weekly column, gives AF Gang members the opportunity to write at length, unedited, about how the band has touched their lives. “When I was in London I had a lady who wrote one of those posts come up to me,” Connie says. “She told me she’d never been able to speak about those things before. It felt like a burden had been taken off her because she had a platform to speak out about it.” We hear a lot about the UK’s patriotic left-behind: the ones who voted for Brexit, want strong borders and less political correctness. But the left
behind are also the lonely; the single parents who used to drink in punkfriendly pubs but can no longer find the energy to leave the house; the ex-New Romantics forced to care for elderly parents; the low-income left-wingers fed up of being told their tolerance makes them middle-class; anyone over 50 living in a culture that’s barely interested in anyone past their 30th birthday; the teenagers confined to their bedrooms by months-long waiting lists for therapy. Consciously or not, IDLES have found an audience who have been on the outside looking in for longer than they can remember. Now this audience have found each other. It’s love in times of austerity. On our way back to the venue Joe calls his partner again. This time the conversation is lighter and calmer. They are getting married in February – she proposed totally unexpectedly during a recent holiday to Paris – so are now organising the nuptials, long-distance. It’s evening now, the temperature has dropped and our pace is brisk. As Joe passes, occasional faces of varying ages and hair colours stop and smile, or wave, many of them sporting IDLES t-shirts or badges. His mind is on other things, however. “I want a Vicky sponge and a really chocolatey chocolate cake,” he purrs down the phone, this time seemingly forgetting I’m there. Joy as an Act of Resistance is out now via Partisan
Lindsay, co-founder of IDLES fan group AF Gang
Amid rising crime rates, this year politicians and the mainstream media passed the blame onto the voices of UK rap. But the establishment couldn’t stop the wave.
From left to right: LD, Headie One, Kenny Allstar, Suspect
Words: Ciaran Thapar Photography: Rosie Matheson Photographer’s Assistant: Marcos Huerga Creative Assistance: Daniel Falodun
This year, British underground music culture has entered what feels like a new era. Modern rap from the UK, in all its splintering, cross-pollinating forms – drill, trap, road-rap, afro-swing and everything in between – has permeated the wider cultural conversation like never before, rising like steam from the capital city’s multicultural melting pot. While we overheated during the hottest summer on record, writhed in identity crisis about Brexit, had our hopes raised and shattered about the prospect of football coming home from the World Cup, and continued to buckle under the stranglehold of government-enforced austerity, domestic rap music has matured at pace. It’s ready to tell its own tale. The men I’m here to speak to are some of its leading scribes. “Kenny’s the glue!” yells Suspect, cackling loudly, turning around from his seat to nod at Kenny Allstar. Kenny grins and shakes his head in humility, but Suspect’s metaphor makes sense. As a Radio 1Xtra DJ and YouTube freestyle host, Kenny has been the binding ingredient for a large portion of music over the last year. He’s mediated the space between budding artists and their audiences, providing visibility to a whole legion of young, aspirational and otherwise overlooked musicians across London. In other words, YouTube channels are to drill what pirate radio was to grime and Kenny Allstar is the face of this shift in consumption. All three of the rappers sat on the sofa in front of Kenny feature on his compilation Block Diaries, an authoritative document of UK rap in 2018. When we met a few weeks before its release at the end of the summer, Kenny described the project
as a “culturally significant voice for young people in London… especially those who come from disadvantage.” Headie One, who is leaning on one end of the sofa recharging after a night performing at a Halloween show in Portsmouth, provided the vocals for Kenny’s first single Tracksuit Diaries. It’s a proud, catchy ode to the very uniform which causes hooded teenagers to be stopped-and-searched by police across the UK’s major cities every day. “The people have the power to determine what’s hot,” Kenny says when I ask what he thinks about the shifting status of rap in the UK. “A decade ago, radio stations and label execs pushed the buttons. Now, someone can easily pick up a phone and type in 'Suspect', or 'Fredo', or 'Dave', or 'Giggs', and become a fan like that,” he continues, clicking his fingers. He speaks like an economist studying financial markets. “These higher-ups who used to run the scene can’t control what we’re listening to any more. It’s down to us. So it’s quite simple. Everything is booming because now artists have a great relationship with their listeners. Dave and Fredo going to number one, that’s the power of the people. It’s Dave talking to the people on social media, so they feel like, ‘Yeah, he’s my bredrin, I’ve known him for years, I need to go out and buy that shit!’” In October, Dave and Fredo’s Funky Friday knocked Calvin Harris and Sam Smith’s Promises from the number one spot in the UK singles charts. For this to have been achieved by two young, black artists, who have both risen from poverty to fame by rapping about topics ranging from youth violence to the criminal justice system and the grimness of life on the roads is no mean feat. (“Just dropped three bills to my youngun in prison, ‘cause daddy don't care, and mummy still sniffin'” Fredo spits on YRF.) What’s more, it signifies how far the scene they represent has come, in 2018 specifically, as a traditionally overlooked form of expression that can now viably compete with pop music in the charts.
During the same month, a mysterious, balaclava-clad MC called Drillminister was commissioned by Channel 4 News to recite words spoken by British politicians over a UK drill instrumental. Inverting the widespread criticism directed at drill music from the political establishment this year, it highlighted the hypocritical use of violent language by politicians in higher debate. Still anonymous, Drillminister was then invited as a guest on ITV’s Good Morning Britain breakfast show. For underground forms of MC-led music, cultural milestones like this, combined with the widespread commercial success of its artists, forge an alchemy that has rebranded 2018 as a year of victory, not defeat. The value of this victory cannot be overstated. Because if you turn back the clock to the first few months of 2018, major obstacles lay ahead. At the start of 2018 I appeared twice in Parliament to explain UK drill music, following claims that it was a core reason for London’s youth violence epidemic. As I sat beneath crystal chandeliers and dusty paintings of ageing white men, it felt bizarre having to defend such an underrepresented,
young portion of society against accusations being thrown at its music by policymakers. Throughout the summer, legitimate concern about spiralling youth violence tipped more and more in the direction of blaming music, rather than seeking to understand why that music exists, or how it might be harnessed as a tool for solving the social disaffection being expressed by its artists. Understandably, throughout this time, most drillers stayed quiet. But not all of them. “Someone big needed to bring out the message on a strong platform,” LD tells me, when I ask why he and the other members of his South London group 67 decided to appear on BBC Newsnight in August (a month before, 67 member Dimzy had written an open-letter in The Fader defending their music). Inarguably the most senior and instantly recognisable drill artist on the UK circuit, LD’s mixtape The Masked One came out this year. With features from the likes of Tiggs Da Author, Dizzee Rascal and Belly Squad, it has proved to be one of the strongest signs yet that drill as a genre is still innovating in unpredictable, melodic, accessible directions.
Gathered around a brown leather sofa, four men pose for the camera. They look like a family, a fraternity. Not warring forces from disparate ends of the city, but a collective of united representatives. Princes of the unheard, and unseen: Kenny Allstar, LD, Headie One and Suspect. Four names who, between them, have come to embody what it means to be a London MC in 2018.
“I guess what is happening is the power of the people: freedom of speech, freedom of views, freedom of opinions”
“By talking about drill negatively, it’s just made people look for it and listen to it”
At the photography studio, LD is sat front-and-centre on the sofa, wearing his iconic mask. I ask him what impact he would like the increasing popularity of drill music to have. “We always say people don’t understand where we’re coming from. But there is gonna be a time soon where people understand us. It might take some time. Music is a way of getting on people’s radars, bringing people together, understanding different cultures,” he explains. What effect does he think the moral panic about his music has had? “The fact it took so much negativity to get here is jarring,” he replies. “But there is a positive to every negative. So by talking about drill negatively, it’s just made people look for it and listen to it.” Polite and reserved, Headie is another flag-bearing MC – in addition to heavyweight rhyming pair Skengdo & AM – who articulated a robust defence of drill music on a mainstream news platform earlier this year. In April, he explained to Sky News that drill lyrics simply describe a life many young men are forced to lead in London, far from the green grass and grand architecture of Westminster. “Things I talk about in my lyrics are situations I’ve been in,” he tells me. “I don’t like to brush things under the carpet. Whether it’s a negative thing or a positive thing that happened in the past, it still happened. So I try to not hide the reality from anyone.” Typified by his musically versatile mixtape, The One Two, Headie One has become the most popular
figurehead of the drill genre in 2018. He has been behind anthems which span from traditional, M1OnTheBeatand-MKThePlug-produced bangers like Broni and Golden Boot, to crossover sing-a-longs like This Week with Yxng Bane, and Missing with Belly Squad. Not unlike LD – as well as artists like Loski, K-Trap, Skengdo & AM, and newcomer Unknown T – Headie One enters next year as a commercialising drill pioneer. His innovative delivery fluidly switches between melodic, afrobeats-style harmonies, and slurred, hyperrealist raps about life in the urban trenches; from cryptically detailing the intricacies of a prison regime to the day-to-day struggle of growing up on Broadwater Farm estate, in Tottenham, north London (which has become known in the drill lexicon as ‘The Niz’; home to Mark Duggan, who was shot dead by police in 2011, sparking the London riots). What does Headie feel has changed about music making in London this year? “No one’s afraid to be creative no more. I feel like that’s where it lacked in the past, people were trying to stick to one thing too much, and now it’s a free-for-all. Everyone’s in a good creative space, whether you’re rapping, or trying different styles. People have gained confidence,” he replies. I ask what the secret to his success is. “I don’t know,” he mumbles looking down at his phone. Then he smirks and glances up with a proud sparkle in his eyes. “I feel like I just caught a lot of people off-guard, still.”
Suspect’s raspy cackle ricochets between the studio’s high walls throughout the morning. He moves around the room energetically, in one instance rapping and bopping to the music that is rumbling from the speakers, in the next making sure his three-year-old son eats his breakfast, and says hello to the other guys when they greet him with a fist-bump. In person, Suspect’s way of articulating himself is just like his jagged flow when he raps, in which he explodes with intensity and humour across the vast, futuristic trap landscapes constructed by his executive producer Flyo. He brings this spark to his music in a way that is fairly incomparable to anyone else and excitedly refers to it as “the expensive factor… the flair” when we sit down to chat. In late 2017, Suspect’s anthem, FBG, unconventionally plonked the rapper onto an international stage after Frank Ocean selected it for his radio station on cult video game Grand Theft Auto V. “FBG changed things for me around the world,” Suspect says. “Not immediately in London because not all my local fans are gamers. But when I’m in Tokyo and Seoul, and I’m rapping with Asians, and I’m asking how they came across man, and they’re saying GTA, I’m thinking, rah! It was actually mad!” The success of Suspect’s 2018 mixtape Still Loading, featuring boisterous singles Say It With Your Chest and One Way, further established his position as one of
the UK’s most distinctive rappers, standing out in a musical landscape which includes experimental and uncompromising acts like Octavian, Jesse James Solomon, Tiny Boost, Fredo and Nines. A number of their tracks feature verses from Suspect, whose vocal presence now almost seems like a seal-of-approval for any artist wanting to demonstrate relevance. Why does he think the scene is looking so healthy? “I don’t stop to study that shit, if I’m honest. I don’t look at the ting like that. I guess what is happening is the power of the people: freedom of speech, freedom of views, freedom of opinions. It’s carrying people into a new time.” As the day comes to an end, the four guests stand together again to take a quick photo for the ‘gram. Whilst picking up my bag to leave, I realise I forgot to ask Kenny Allstar how it feels to be here, celebrating the year’s success. “Moments like this prove to the industry, to publications, to everyone, that people from different corners of London can come together and be positive and celebrate,” he replies, with a beaming smile, as he heads towards the door. “We’re proving people wrong. It’s beautiful.” Kenny Allstar’s Block Diaries is out now via Columbia
Produced exclusively for Crack Magazine by Christian Kirch Knudsen - christiankirchknudsen.com
It’s an exciting time for dance in London. The city’s artists are shaking off tradition and using their practice as a vehicle for social connectivity. A snapshot of London’s experimental dance scene, meet the performers whose work dismantles ideas of class, race, gender and sexuality.
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Words: Anna Tehabsim and Rachel Grace Almeida Photography: Kent Andreasen
Malik Nashad Sharpe
The choreographer, who performs under the moniker Marikiscrycrycry, channels themes of melancholia and identity in their thought-provoking work. How did you get started in the dance scene? What impact has it had on your life? I like building things and that's where my interest in dancing started. I came to London to study in a conservatoire and then stumbled upon something both in the fabric of this place and in myself, which led me to making my work here. I'm actively trying to deconstruct and undo much of what I learned from training as a dancer – it’s given me a lot to do. I'm still working at it.
Can you tell us about a standout performance for you this year and why it meant something to you? Earlier this year during a performance of $ELFIE$ in Glasgow, I got a standing ovation for my impromptu monologue about care, black skin, exhaustion and the ability to claim victimhood. But I ended up feeling really emotional. Not because of those affirmations, but because it showed me that crafting with abstraction would only get me certain information or feedback. I thought, I'm already perceived as Other, angry
and combative by the audience. It felt like they were wanting me to say 'OK after all of this abstraction, here is something clear, angry and combative... neat and digestible for you to take home instead of this conflictual, difficult, leaky, complexioned subject.' I'm not interested in the easy way out, though, and my work reflects that. I'm just trying to humanise myself. This has been a huge realisation. Tell us about the dance classes you host. What do they provide for yourself and your community? I don't teach 'dance classes' regularly because authority is somewhat violent and the body is tender space, so personal and confusing. I usually teach students who are studying in
institutions, doing degrees in art or contemporary dance, or are practising artists who are interested in my rigorous aesthetics and movement practice. I always try to subvert the teacher-student bullshit relationship because some of my dance teachers abused their power, and left a lot of us damaged – sometimes it’s useful to have someone lead stuff, but in my work and teaching I'm trying cultivate the 'I do what the fuck I want and I know why I'm doing it' kind of body. Daring to cultivate the formal, emotional, political and aesthetic all at once.
How did you first get introduced to vogueing? What impact has vogueing had on your life? I found it back at school when I was around 14. I always danced in school but I felt like I had a calling for voguing in particular. It has given me more than I can say, two additional families which are supportive in more ways than you image. It gave me a space to give space.
Can you tell us about Let’s Have a Kiki? What’s the atmosphere like at one our your events? Let’s Have a Kiki – a monthly event which aims to bring vogueing back to the capital’s dancefloors for voguers and friends. The atmosphere is out of this world! It's full of love, want, laughter, gag-worthy moments and all round fun. How would you describe the spirit of London’s dance community? The London ballroom scene is full of life, it’s bold and it’s powerful. What are you most excited about for the future? I’m excited for the unexpected.
A figurehead of the London Ballroom scene, Jay Jay Revlon caught wider attention in 2017 when a video of him vogueing at London’s vigil for Orlando went viral. With his Kiki house and events, he is driven by the impact dance can have on his community.
Jay Jay Revlon
Benjamin Milan The esteemed choreographer, dancer and movement director has worked with the likes of Madonna and FKA twigs, as well as being the UK Father of the House of Milan. Tell us about the House of Milan. How would you describe the attitude of the house? House of Milan is a ballroom house inspired by the fashion capital of Milan, think Versace late 80s. The House is iconic as it’s been in the scene since the late 80s when ballroom got stronger and more established in NYC. The attitude of the house is a silent storm, you don’t see us coming but you will definitely have felt us when we’ve been in the building. Creative, innovative and not scared to think outside of the box. How are you and your community building on vogueing’s legacy? In the UK we have been establishing a flourishing ballroom scene in the last five years that’s very exciting to see. All the houses are contributing and people who are 007 [free agents, the name given to performers who don't belong to a house]. This fall alone there are four major balls and one Kiki ball happening. When I first started we didn’t have any balls in London so it’s a very exciting development. I think we are carrying on the legacy by being true to the origins of ballroom and bringing our own fingerprint and personality to the development of the culture.
Where’s your favourite place to perform? When and where do you feel the most creative and free? In the studio to be honest, to go to my laboratory and express and develop myself and my movement. I feel the most creative and free when I feel no pressure, when I can just let go and let the movement take me where it wants to take me – let my body be a vessel, that’s when dancing is pure ecstasy. What advice do you have for someone looking to break into your industry? I would say to break into the dance industry you have to believe in yourself, trust that you’re enough. Be realistic about where you are on your journey and be conscious of what you want and how to get there. The best advice I got is: work hard, be humble and socialise.
Valerie Ebuwa tells powerful stories, both as a part of women-led performance platform Woman SRSLY and with her own politically-charged dance art. How has London’s dance scene evolved over the past year? How do you see it changing in the future? I think there's this beautiful blurring of styles and genres taking place which is super exciting. The contemporary dance scene in particular is calling on an amalgamation of different skill sets taken from other dance/movement forms (vogue, breakdance, etc) which help to create a true representation of the word contemporary, which in fact means new. I feel that contemporary dance hasn't been new for a while. It's nice to be part of a generation that is fighting to break, push and redefine the boundaries.
How does your womanhood inform your choreography? Is dance a useful tool for feminism? Choreographically, I'm constantly trying to subvert or challenge how society depicts womanhood or femininity, particularly black women. Black women are just as badly stereotyped in the dance scene as they are in the world. If I'm not pointing my feet then what I present is a dancehall, African dance or something 'urban' it seems. I play with and fuse different styles of dance so that I can trip people up a bit. You start to understand then what lenses people are really viewing your work with. It also creates an unpredictability which I love. I also reference different black women (Missy Elliott, Sarah Baartman, Lola Falana) to illustrate how these women were either boxed or found liberation through unapologetically being themselves.
Can you describe a performance this year that was transformative for you? Why was it so powerful? Balloons by Grace Nicol is a piece that was super powerful for me because originally it was a solo which required me to play multiple characters in a short space of time. It starts with me as this pretty balloon sculpture and ends with me being a strong, naked woman, swearing at the audience because we as women are super duper tired of being limited to the rubbish stereotypes and bullshit patriarchy. I can be beautiful, I can be sexual, I can be strong, aggressive, rude all in the space of 15 minutes. Yes it’s possible! I pop the balloons in sync with this stripper track (The Stripper by David Rose) so suddenly I morph into this weird burlesque act. I'm empowered by both nudity and modesty, so it was amazing to express that in one piece as well as give a big fuck you to those who think that both can't coincide. Also a big fuck you to the male gaze. I can and will take full agency on how I want to be seen and represented.
These women were either celebrated or ridiculed for their womanhood or completely redefined what a black woman is or can be. Dance is definitely a useful tool for feminism because it can illustrate the inequalities within society and challenge people to address why they have these beliefs in the first place. Dance is my tool for feminism.
With messy performances – this year’s The Rite of Spring had dancers rolling naked in clay for its duration – Florence Peake blurs boundary lines to create provocative, urgent art.
How would you describe the spirit of London’s dance community? Within the independent dance community I am involved in: politically charged, ethically concerned, fiery fiery...
How do you channel your politics through dance? Recent interests have included looking at qualities of vulnerability, intimacy and instinctive intuitive qualities that the body possesses. How these qualities can be a force for change and a way of disrupting normative conservatism attitudes to the bodies and sexuality. With the rise of fascistic and restrictive perceptions of people and bodies my work has been using materials like clay that have a visceral, primal and bodily quality to further express a kind of protest against these attitudes.
What are you most excited about for the future? I would love more collectives to be involved in curating programmes in places like Rambert, Sadlers Wells, The Place to give more diverse programmes – what would it be like to really let artists be part of the decisions. As the fab choreographer Gillie Kleiman says: “More artists making more decisions about more resources.” Location: Raven Row Gallery in East London Cable's residency studio
Eve Stainton Co-founder of politically-charged outfit The Uncollective, Eve Stainton’s experimental movement work explores vulnerability, utopian ideals, and the power of the queer body. How is London’s experimental dance scene evolving right now? That’s a good question because I can find myself being quite critical about the systemic dance condition in London, which potentially dismisses or undermines any progress that has been made – of which there has been some. Also it feels important to say that I’m writing from the place of a white, queer cis-woman from a working class background and so imagine these large political questions from that place.
Tell us about your collaborations with Florence Peake. With Florence, the collaboration comes from a very personal place. We first got together during a performance and from there erupted this passionate complex explosive deeply invested relationship and creative collaboration – it’s hard to define them separately. There’s a lot at stake. To kind of give a ‘copy’ description, we are working with the expressive potentialities of queer bodies through heightened states of performed intimacy. Promoting
an emotional landscape of bravery in response to restrictive attitudes to the sensual and visceral body, the collaborative work elevates the marginalised affection, sexuality, power and energies within non-normative relationships. Our meeting points are through movement enquiry and somatic practices, deconstructing gender codes, queer discourse rooted in feminist theory, sex and our romantic relationship. Scissoring and pathologising.
It’s quite difficult to get perspective on or measure change within a time scale from inside the current, but I am feeling a constant sense of evolution, maybe in terms of a desire for individualism and reclamation for the artist away from the Institution (capital I) and the depletion of the company model. I’ve felt something like a surgence, or re-surgence, of extremely political solo work dealing with complex subjectivities, prioritising identity politics, sensuality and emotional states. There’s a lot going on – we're in the middle of Brexit, #MeToo is more present than ever in the dance world, there are TERFs at Pride, it’s pretty absurd right now. I think there could be a crisis revolution scenario – maybe that’s my secret desire. It’s also really revealing of my context and typical of a movement that is prominent at the moment; this canon of speculative utopian fantasy.
Illustrations: Vasya Kolotusha
Small acts of resistance or defiance through the lens of nightlife culture in 2018 MUSIC
On 12 May, armed special police units raided Bassiani and Cafe Gallery, two clubs central to the rise of techno culture in Tbilisi in recent years. The clampdown sparked protests in front on Georgia’s Parliament which led to clashes with right wing extremists. Davit Chikhladze and Keta Gabunia from Tbilisi club Mtkvarze reflect on the city’s ‘year of fear’.
Before we get onto the club scene, we need to tell you a bit about Tbilisi. The city is quite messed up. The collective memory is a brief timeline of fears infused into society across the centuries, especially during the Soviet’s great terror of the 30s and the civil war of the 90s. Sometimes when you walk around the city and it’s sunny and peaceful, you get this feeling out of nowhere, that everything might explode at any moment, and that's quite scary. Modern Tbilisi exists to make you feel insecure. Most of the people you ask will tell you that the club scene changed this. That our club scene liberated the souls of the youth, who can now dance until dawn and care only about the next drink they are getting. No matter how hard the local community will want to believe in this nicely told story, or how much excitement the cultural west can muster about the liberation of the former Soviet east with dance, this will not be true. The truth is that the will of liberation brought the clubs and not vice versa. At some point, in the massive authoritarianism that ruled Georgia with fear, the city’s youth found a loophole in the minds of people in charge, people who think they are in charge and people who are afraid of people who are in charge, which basically was the entire population of the country. So we started to dance, because nobody cared what happens during the night. We started to dance in old cafes, former Soviet fish restaurants and disused swimming pools. We started to dance because we felt that these places were empty from the people and influences mentioned above. These places were empty from fear. In other words, it was the community who built clubs and not clubs who made communities. First clubs were established by people, who partied in the city for a long time – we have seen them on our dancefloors for ages. And it didn't cost much to start a club, you just needed to be creative in finding spaces. Now it is all changing of course, but for example, Mtkvarze was started in the abandoned Soviet-era fish restaurant and with zero funding or help from investors. Seven years ago you simply didn't need that.
Clubs grew in popularity, and the number of clubs increased accordingly. While the people dancing grew up on those dancefloors, the numbers of dancers grew as well. If this all started with 100 outcasts, now we were much, much more, and not outcasts anymore. We became the mainstream of youth, because somehow dance as a medium has become a message. In other words, and we need to be entirely clear in this, people do not dance for freedom, people dance because they feel free and by dance they mediate the condition to society, stating "look at me, I am free." We won't be wrong to say that Georgia has never had a government or ruler or leader who likes and encourages people to be free from fear. This is quite sad, but that's how it is. Now is no different. What happened in 2018 was that today's Georgia made us know and realise this again. On one day, they started to build tension around the club scene in media, and on one night in May, they just sent armed police on to the dancefloors. The official reason given for the raids was that for our safety and security we need to be shown that this kind of lifestyle drives us to take drugs and engage in pointless bohemia, something which is totally unacceptable for conservative Georgia. The true message behind this was: “you people are having too much fun”. And now we are afraid to be on the dancefloor. Even though there were massive demonstrations, there were apologies from the government, there was an enormous feeling of unity in front of parliament where we started to defend our rights, there was a substantial Western media hiatus, not a single night on the dancefloor had felt same after the night when armed forces invaded the dancefloor, made us leave the clubs and occupied the space for hours. Once we went to clubs because it felt safe. In May 2018 that feeling was gone.
On 13 July, tens of thousands of protesters took the streets of London for the ‘Together Against Trump’ march against the President’s first official British visit. So naturally Gideön Berger, one half of the Block9 duo behind Glastonbury’s NYC Downlow, smuggled in a huge sound system.
My life’s work is to persuade people to engage in politics by using music as a sweetener. People need to see the world unfolding in front of them for what it really is, and by partnering causes with music, you make them much more appealing. People are more likely to engage. People often say, “don’t pollute the party with your politics, music is sacred. Isn’t it just enough that dance music unifies people on the dancefloor?” In my mind, dance music has always been political. House music has always been a radical leftist force promoting queer people and queerness, black people and blackness, celebrating humankind as a patchwork of diverse variation and non-compliant freakishness. One of my first ever DJ gigs was to 50,000 people at the Criminal Justice Bill demo in Trafalgar Square in 1994. I remember the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp protests in the 80s that my mum used to take me to as a kid. Music was central to that scene. Protest doesn’t have to be shitty and cold and boring, it could be totally fun! Some of the best parties I’ve been to have been linked to some sort of political or social cause. When I found out Trump was coming to London, I sent a text message to all the big name DJs in my phone book asking them to play at an illegal outdoor protest rave. I said, ‘I can’t believe Trump is coming to London on Friday the 13th, let’s have a massive sound system street party and tell him to fuck off.’ Together with Soho Radio, Love Music Hate Racism and about 20 DJs, we pulled off an amazing day of resistance. We had a massive articulated lorry – the kind you would get at Notting Hill Carnival – with a huge sound system on it. After five hours of trying, we finally got the lorry into central London, managing to convince the police that the truck had deliveries for
a building site on The Strand. We already had a sound system outside Soho Radio studio with about a thousand people dancing on the street when we finally smuggled the truck into the no-drive zone enforced during the anti-Trump protest. One of my favourite moments of my life so far was when the curtain was pulled back and myself, Prosumer, Luke Solomon and the Horse Meat Disco boys jumped on the back of the truck and put on the first record. A thousand jaws just dropped, a unanimous ‘what the fuck’. The street was so rammed no one could shut us down. It was completely insane. We had trans go-go girls crowd surfing 50 meters down the street, members of the public raving from lamp posts. All you could see was FUCK TRUMP and FUCK BREXIT banners all the way down the street. A huge gathering of strangers united in resistance. We managed to pull off an epic, free event entirely funded by goodwill. All it takes is for people to be switched on enough, angry enough and motivated enough to take action and mobilise. Terror is all extremely close to all of our front doors, even in the privileged, fabulous Western bubble of organic Chai lattes that we live in. Knowing that and feeling that is really important. We’re going to be force-fed to eat this shit sandwich for the rest of our lives unless we flip the table now. Let’s come together and kick out this corrupt Tory government and stop this bullshit farce called Brexit. As Spiral Tribe, the original radical techno sound system collective, said 25 years ago… forward the revolution!
Madison Moore is a DJ, writer and assistant professor at the department of gender, sexuality and women's studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. On 29 September, following the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the dancefloor offered some much-needed release.
It’s 6:40am and I’m crawling out of a warehouse in some unremarkable crevice of Northeast Washington DC, a street so discreet, so far off the grid, that there’s no reason to come here unless you were trying to have car sex. I love coming to unassuming spaces like these with no other clubs or bars or parties or venues in the area because it means you’re choosing to come here. A destination. You’ve put your faith into the experience. This is where you want to be tonight. I’ve been dancing to techno and downing Club Mate-vodkas for six hours and I’m feeling fabulous. Tons of cute guys, maybe 150 people total. People going apeshit by the speaker towers. Bump into a friend of a friend I haven’t seen in at least two years, she’s in town from LA visiting for a wedding, how random. Cracks of my big black fan as I dance, pose and cool myself off. As a seasoned punter I’m interested in spaces that are hot, raw, taped together, and in process, and that’s just one reason this is the best club night I’ve had all year. The people were alive, the music was good, the sound was impeccable and the space felt improvised and makeshift, like the whole thing was held together by a single piece of masking tape and a few specs of glitter. But there was something else going on tonight — something else in the air. Not even 30 hours prior the nation watched in horror as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of a panel of white men about her sexual assault allegations against United States Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. My place of work held a screening of the testimony that was open to anyone interested, and over the course of the day people popped in and out of the seminar room. For hours we sat and ate pizza, groaned in horror, took breaks, screamed at the television set, and ached in disgust as the spectacle of white male privilege and entitlement raged on at full speed. We were so repelled by the end of the hearings that everybody felt they needed to do something, anything, to restore themselves. One of my colleagues went to the beach for the weekend. I jumped on a bus to Washington, DC, found a place to say, and danced for six hours in the northeast crevice of the District in a space anchored by weirdos, queer people, people of colour and femmes. Techno spaces are unfortunately not always so diverse nowadays, even though people of colour and queer people invented the shit. Tonight, though, we feel centered in the space. And even though it never came up once, here we are, in the same city or parallel universe where only 30 hours ago straight white men made a desperate, final plea
for relevance. We are weirdos, queer people, people of colour and femmes raging against the machine. A tale of two cities. Club and party spaces are not utopias, and they are not perfect, immune to critique or even always safe. But they are certainly portals to other realms of experience and ways of being in the world. In clubs we free ourselves from all sorts of things as well as we flee from all sorts of things. My night in DC was exactly this kind of portal to other ways of being that allow us to tap out of our bodies, stresses, anxieties and worries, even if only temporarily — but at last.
Top 50 Albums of the Year Glossy sounds, shapeshifting oddities and artists finding purpose in uncertain times, these albums captured the mood of 2018
Dean Blunt Soul on Fire World Music
Mariah Carey Caution Epic Records
Jlin Autobiography Planet Mu
Low Double Negative Sub Pop
It’s exciting to follow the shadowy movements of Dean Blunt, whose most intriguing work is often tossed out in temporary WeTransfer and MediaFire links and cherished by his fanbase like digital ephemera. In 2018 the Hackney musician uploaded (then quickly removed) the three track Bookey EP, released a joint LP with Delroy Edwards, scored production credits on ASAP Rocky’s album Testing and curated a compilation of unnamed bands and singers. Soul on Fire was the release for which Blunt stepped out to front of stage. With stripped-back guitar and string arrangements, there was a nakedness to the vocals of Blunt, Rocky, the mysterious newcomer Poison Anna and Tyson McVey – sister of Mabel and daughter of Neneh Cherry. Blunt’s disregard for commonsensical strategy suggests some kind of purity in his desire to create music. Maybe this is why he always cuts through the noise of endless press releases and sponsored Facebook posts.
Mariah Carey fans certainly had reason for caution in the run-up to her fifteenth studio album. With DJ Mustard, Skrillex and Drake beatmaker Nineteen85 among the modern luminaries on production duties, all signs pointed towards a risky, rap-inflected 2018 overhaul of her sleek soul-pop. They needn’t have worried. Caution is an understated slow drift of R&B emotion and feminist defiance that smartly updates and expands, rather than reconstructs, Mariah’s signature sound. With You packs the same feather-soft flutter as Butterfly ballad Close My Eyes. Ty Dolla $ign drops in on The Distance for a sparkling cameo. Later, Dev Hynes collab Giving Me Life does exactly what its title promises. Mariah lose sight of her R&B roots? In the words of Caution’s opener: GTFO.
At this stage in her career, referring to the music of Jerrilynn Patton – aka Jlin – as “footwork” feels a little reductive. This follow-up to last year’s extraordinary Black Origami album is a soundtrack for a ballet choreographed by Wayne McGregor. Autobiography sees the producer conjuring harsh, metallic structures out of stutters and stammers of rhythm, an all-enveloping sonic world that sucks the listener deep into its jagged core. This LP is the sound of Patton exploring the limits of dance music, or, more accurately, danceable music. She flitters between vast experiments in just how far percussive propulsion can be pushed, and the sort of pseudoambience that often accompanies contemporary dance performances, with tracks like Anamnesis Part 2 and Second Interlude. With Autobiography, Jlin’s managed to make an artform as old as ballet sound like the future.
Your 25th year as a band is a brave, if not strange, time to choose to release perhaps the most challenging album of your career. But Minnesota trio Low have always been an unflinching and uncompromising band. From the moment it begins, Double Negative sounds like being inside a violent storm, holding up a mirror to the turbulence of the world right now. It’s an abrasive and overwhelming maelstrom of seething static, high-in-the-mix pounding drums and uneasy, dissonant textures. That’s to say: it veers further into the more experimental side of post-rock than Low have ever gone before. As you come out of the other end you find Disarray, a burbling, beautiful beat. A moment to take stock. The storm is still raging, but there’s a glimpse of light on the horizon.
! Al Horner
! Danny Wright
! Josh Baines
! Davy Reed
Kenny Allstar Block Diaries Star Work / Columbia
Eartheater Irisiri PAN
Helena Hauff Qualm Ninja Tune
Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer Wondaland Arts Society / Bad Boy Records / Atlantic
Kenny Allstar’s debut album runs like one of his DJ sets. It’s a crafted tour through various genres – drill, trap, afro-wave – that have taken shape and excelled at speed in London over the last year. Through a range of features from the year’s most original UK artists – Skengdo & AM, Suspect, Belly Squad, Afro B – the album starts at melodic ease with the album’s first single Tracksuit Love, featuring Headie One, revs all the way up to showcase a mix of thumping drill selections. Bringing together such a high calibre blend of musicians who define our sonic times is an achievement only Kenny could achieve. His “voice of the streets” mantra and position as effective overseer of the blossoming London rap scene is now fully on show, and justified.
Irisiri is slippery. Irisiri is strange. A sonic universe where beauty is always a click away from the grotesque and concepts like gender, humanity and technology are as mutable as the churning, turbulent production. Whether juxtaposing classical harp with thumping techno, pushing vocal fry, croaks and gurgles high in the mix, or making melodies squirm under the weight of sonic detritus, you sense New York art eccentric Alexandra Drewchin is happiest when the angles are off and the boundaries are leaking. Thankfully, for a record spring-loaded with concept, Irisiri feels the opposite of academic – what other record in 2018 takes inspiration from cyber feminism, DIY electronics and Alan Menken? Irisiri is… well, it’s one of the bravest, weirdest records of 2018. For Drewchin, we doubt there’s a higher compliment.
Sometimes it’s good to get your face rubbed in the dirt, and Helena Hauff was happy to oblige on her second album, Qualm. The top-tier electro DJ’s affinity for battered-sounding hardware remained potent. Qualm kicks off with Barrow Boot Boys – a grizzly, blown-out drum track that runs the levels straight into the red, before Lifestyle Guru steps up the tempo and introduces raw, troubling layers of synth. Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg is a highlight – an acid-soaked stomper which quite suddenly morphs into a glorious Italostyle workout. There’s no point in pretending Qualm is for everyone. But maybe that’s the way club music should be.
Janelle Monáe’s third full-length follows a life’s work interrogating gender and sexuality, prejudice and class, framed within carefully constructed science fiction worlds. It just so happened that in 2018 those themes are more relevant than ever. Dirty Computer is set in an American near-future where difference and individuality has been outlawed under a totalitarian government, and so visibility and empowerment are the key imperatives underpinning the album. I Got The Juice touches on the defiant feminist war cry of the day (“If you try to grab my pussy cat/ this pussy grab you back”). The jangling funk rock of Screwed flips shame on its head with the double-barrelled innuendo of how to really fuck things up (“You know power/ is just sex/ now ask yourself/ who’s screwing you”). An ecstatic protest album for an era that will keep people pondering its significance for generations to come.
! Ciaran Thapar
! Louise Brailey
Albums of the Year
! Xavier Boucherat
! Steph Kretowicz
Bruce Sonder Somatic Hessle Audio
Brockhampton iridescence RCA Records
03 Greedo The Wolf of Grape Street Alamo
Kali Uchis Isolation Virgin EMI
After EPs for the likes of Hessle Audio and Timedance, Bristol’s Bruce delivered a sophisticated debut album. For its most rambunctious techno moment, What, a computercrash voice stutters and cries, ramping up an intensity reminiscent of Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy, flying off the hinges into a tumbling K-hole of shock. McCarthy’s fascination with textural strangeness re-energises old ideas, creating both challenge and rapture. Sonder Somatic is an album alive beyond the grid, with a wild slither behind the kick drum and electricity crackling at the edges.
Brockhampton have been busy. Between a global tour and festival season, the boys also pushed out iridescence just nine months after 2017’s Saturation III. The hard hits and shocks of tenderness come through on the rap group’s fourth studio album, along with laid-back grooves like on the balladesque Something About Him. There’s the soulful heartbreaker Tonya as well, which they took to Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show with Jazmine Sullivan and serpentwithfeet for an intensely emotional live performance. The boys take flight on their moshpit anthems, and songs like New Orleans and Where the Cash At throb like a strobe light as the best boyband since One Direction throw around bars like they’ve been doing it for decades.
Following a prolific run of mixtapes between 2016-17, with The Wolf of Grape Street 03 Greedo reached more ears than ever before, giving new fans that thrill they felt when hearing unique vocalists like Young Thug or Future for the first time. The West Coast artist’s gargled melodies and frogthroated raps didn’t exactly guarantee commercial crossover, but there were many moments of melodic and lyrical brilliance to be discovered on The Wolf of Grape Street. Greedo has described his music as “emo music for gang bangers”, and here he pours his heart out over raw hyphy beats, gothic trap and greasy G-funk that’s followed by psychedelic trails. While ...Grape Street established 03 Greedo’s reputation as an underground legend, he remained entangled in legal troubles, and around two months after the project’s release he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Colombian-American artist Kali Uchis has spent the last half of the decade making a name for herself on the West Coast soul circuit. But it was the arrival of Isolation, her long-awaited debut album, that cemented her as an unstoppable force in pop. Gliding through reggaeton, funk and R&B, Isolation is an album steeped in self-reflection. Uchis contemplates past relationships, past mistakes and her complicated relationship with her family. But ultimately, she ends on a note of don’t-fuck-with-me defiance on closing track Killer. Sometimes you just need a soundtrack to stuffing the fuckboi who wronged you in the boot of your Cadillac – this album is it.
! Gwyn Thomas de Chroustchoff
! Nathan Ma
! Rachel Grace Almeida
! Davy Reed
Blood Orange Negro Swan Domino
Oneohtrix Point Never Age Of Warp
Robyn Honey Universal
Daughters You Won’t Get What You Want Ipecac Recordings
You couldn’t help but pause to digest the title of Dev Hynes’ Negro Swan – a stark comment on the complexity of expressing natural beauty in a world where your very status as a human being can, at times, seem more precarious than it ever ought to. Negro Swan is, above all else, unapologetically black, and its magic lies in finding the celebration amidst the struggle. There’s something quasispiritual about the way Hynes delivers his lines: on Hope, featuring Puff Daddy, his voice echoes towards the heavens. Moreover, few other artists could put Puff and transgender writer and activist Janet Mock on the same record, the latter musing on the communities that minorities build out of social necessity, “the spaces where you don’t have to shrink yourself.” It’s clear that this is the kind of world Hynes is striving to create: one where the negro swan isn’t only desired, but allowed to soar.
As Oneohtrix Point Never, Daniel Lopatin is something of a ghost in the machine, bridging and simultaneously destroying the gap between ideas of humanity and technology. With Age Of, 0PN took things up a notch. With its pitch bends and shimmering synths, Toys 2 evokes the curiously unnamed sensation of learning to sincerely feel for arcade game characters in story mode, while myriad.industries combines the blissfully uneasy feeling of exploring new terrain with the frenetic energy of half-expected violence. These 13 tracks stand as testament that melancholy – above all – is not an exclusively human experience.
Robyn’s voice has been marked by a childlike enunciation that clips words short but elongates each phrase. On Honey, the songs burn slower, longer, and with a murkier tension than the beltalong breakup anthems we’ve been nursing our wounds to over the past eight years since her last album. The result is an album that gestures more than it strikes: Robyn eschews the pop-canon gut punches for more subtle confessions with a lived-in delivery. “You’re not going to get you need,” she issues on the title track as less of a warning than a confirmation. She plays a temptress in the song, calling for the love and affection of a partner who knows she’s not the one, that she’s not what they need. She then extends an offer: “But baby, I have what you want—come get your honey”.
In 2010, Rhode Island noisemakers Daughters officially broke up, citing internal conflict. You Won’t Get What You Want is a bold statement to make for a band that has been gone for nearly a decade. Known for their explosive, menacing sound, Daughters are now opting for the slowburn. The quartet’s musical style has always been ambiguous (they’ve been labelled grindcore, art metal, even “Elvis Presley being tortured”) but on You Won’t... experimentalism takes centre stage. Distortion-heavy opener City Song is a breathless remark on the bleakness of modern life. Less Sex is the best post-punk song Nick Cave never wrote. Guest House closes the album on a dark, ambient note, reminiscent of this year’s Yves Tumor output. Daughters may not have given us what we wanted, but they gave us what was right.
! Karl Smith
! Nathan Ma
! Rachel Grace Almeida
! Cameron Cook
Albums of the Year
U.S. Girls In a Poem Unlimited 4AD
Key! and Kenny Beats 777 Hello!/D.O.T.S
Snail Mail Lush Matador
Ryuichi Sakamoto async Remodels Commmons
There’s a precedent for artists using dancefloorfriendly forms as sugar coating for progressive ideas. But if pop had previously offered slowrelease subversion for the mainstream bloodstream, In a Poem Unlimited was a cyanide capsule wedged between the teeth of patriarchy. Here, U.S. Girls’ Meg Remy ditched the lo-fi production of her first five LPs, opting instead to filter a millennia of female rage through disco grooves and euphoric chord progressions. Across the album’s suite of psychodramas and revenge fantasies, it doesn’t matter if it’s Saint Peter or Barack Obama, all men (yes, all) are presented as part of the same rotten, oppressive system. “As if you couldn't tell, I'm mad as hell,” Remy sings on the album’s centrepiece M.A.H., a track which sounds like Blondie channelling Valerie Solanas. In 2018, that sentiment was easy to get behind.
Three years can feel like an eternity in hip-hop. These days it’s ample time for a rise and fall and, time permitting, another rise. Back in 2015, Key! was already a seasoned spitter by way of the group Two-9, though he opened solo for iLoveMakonnen and, notably, brought out then-unknown Post Malone to perform a simmering SoundCloud single that would soon take the world by storm. The Atlanta rapper’s tertiary role on Father’s viral breakthrough Look At Wrist that same year had made him one to watch. Teaming up with Kenny Beats – 2018’s breakthrough rap producer, who is formerly known to arena EDM devotees as half of Loudpvck – Key! demonstrates just how much he’s learned since that first taste of underground fame. Versatile and bursting with energy, 777 showcases the vocalist’s knack for silken-throated hooks and rapidfire rhymes alike, sometimes on the very same track.
That 19-year-old singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan has grown up in these apathetic times and created such tender songs is nearly as remarkable as the talent she’s accrued at her young age. On her debut album as Snail Mail, Jordan pines for a series of former lovers throughout the album, and it’s refreshing to hear the emotions which we usually thrash out in our own heads being clearly communicated with no shame. On Full Control, she asserts the importance of keeping a sense of herself, even when she’s utterly smitten: “I’m not lost, even when it’s love” she repeats, determinedly. In a world of ghosting, situationships and an innate fear of ‘catching feelings’, Snail Mail’s Lush is the sound of Lindsey Jordan reminding us authentic emotional connections really are out there – even if you have to wade through some terrible shit along the way.
The original async was both a resurrection and a swan song: Ryuichi Sakamoto’s 16th solo album, recorded after he underwent radiology treatment for throat cancer, turned out to be one of the best of the synth innovator’s five-decade career. Remodels employs a motley bunch of producers to put their own stamps on async, but the results are surprisingly cohesive for a remix project, paying tribute to the Japanese composer's relentless experimentation. Sakamoto’s old mucker Alva Noto reimagines disintegration as a frozen tundra, while the late Jóhann Jóhannsson brings a windswept desolation to Solari. A flicker of warmth comes from the younger acolytes, with Yves Tumor bringing the bass while Arca’s operatic unspooling of async is a fitting tribute to a fearless innovator. If async turns out to be Sakamoto's last album, the Remodels are a deep bow of gratitude.
! Sammy Jones
! Chal Ravens
! Louise Brailey
! Gary Suarez
Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth Young Turks
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs King of Cowards Rocket Recordings
Deena Abdelwahed Khonnar InFiné Music
In essence, Kamasi Washington’s music is part of the soul jazz continuum, absorbing elements of spiritual jazz, Latin, fusion and R&B. It might not be formally radical, but the tunes are irresistible, and Washington and his band The Next Step have a winning charisma. Disc one of this stunning record, Earth, opens with a bold new arrangement of the theme from the Bruce Lee classic Fists of Fury, with Dwight Trible testifying like a Pentecostal preacher – in the context of Trumpian white supremacy, these lines become a forceful expression of Black Power. While Earth consolidates the group sound, Heaven sets its ambitions higher, with gospel undercurrents coming to the fore on the final tracks. It might sound patronising to talk of Kamasi Washington’s generosity of spirit, but his music gives great pleasure and emotional uplift. No wonder it has resonated so widely.
The second album from Geordie five-piece Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (that’s seven pigs), tries to took their exhilarating live shows and made them flesh. In the main it works: songs sound like molten tar oozing out of the speakers, capturing the lightning of their white knuckle delivery in the proverbial grimy bottle. Singer Matt Baty takes on all seven deadly sins as he howls through GNT which revels in its Black Sabbath rattle, while A66 pulverises with raucous, hedonistic venom. While it doesn’t always hit as hard as those incendiary live shows, swaggering closing track Gloamer is where their manifesto is set, the track tumbling into the abyss for four minutes as demented guitar relentlessly hammers your head until it falls apart.
Following a summer in which her formidable DJing won her new fans the world over, Deena Abdelwahed delivered her debut album amidst a mixture of anticipation and surprise. The potency of her artistic flair left first-time listeners scrabbling for clues as to where this new talent came from (France via Tunisia, as it happens). Khonnar drips with intrigue and vitality, swerving from bludgeoning low-end pulses to dubstep mysticism and deconstructed electronica. The mixture is intoxicating – not only is the music incredibly fresh and forward-facing, but it also seems to transcend temporal and geographical boundaries. For all the stylistic trysts, it’s Abdelwahed’s personality that comes through as the fundamental ingredient.
! Danny Wright
! Oli Warwick
! Stewart Smith
Albums of the Year
Teyana Taylor K.T.S.E. G.O.O.D. Music
Tim Hecker Konoyo Kranky
Jorja Smith Lost & Found FAMM
Amnesia Scanner Another Life PAN
Teyana Taylor’s come a long way since choreographing the music video for Beyoncé’s Ring the Alarm and starring front and centre in an episode of My Super Sweet Sixteen. For her sophomore album K.T.S.E., Taylor pulled out all the stops. Nimble, soulful, and always right on the money, she floats effortlessly between the smooth, sultry torch songs like Issues/Hold on that burn like Brandy on vinyl in a coffee shop to ballroom-ready bops – vogue-friendly, Mykki Blanco-assisted WTP (Work This Pussy) ends the album with the same sweaty energy that stole the show when she dance in Kanye's Fade video. Teyana's voice is limber and powerful in its own right, though, and it's clear that on K.T.S.E., the young star is just warming up.
Few musicians over the past hundred years have engaged with the balletic poise of Japanese courtside music gagaku: the instruments largely date back to the sixth century, for one, and it’s not exactly the most common influence to happen upon in any case. Those that have, such as La Monte Young and Toru Takemitsu, have situated the lilting pentatonic scales within barely-there scores. On Konoyo, Tim Hecker uses the dormant style to bring light to choking darkness. Swaddled in thick droning passages, sharp flutes and ringing gongs ebb in and out of focus, bringing newfound clarity to a style the Canadian musician has made his own. Nine albums in, Hecker remains a restless presence in experimental music.
The Finnish-born duo’s debut LP starts with a terrible wailing: a thickly auto-tuned shriek of such unnatural quality, that its underlying humanity is betrayed only by a sharp, sudden intake of breath. Big-room synths land like heavy rain, and what first seemed like a voice crying out in pain becomes something more like ecstasy. The pair have explored this manic juxtaposition before. "Then I was on the verge of tears / Then I laughed a lot", said 2014’s AS ANGELS RIG HOOK - and Another Life’s toxic nightmare-pop dives deeper, bringing into sharp focus the havoc that technology, and its impossible complexity, is wreaking on our emotions.
! Nathan Ma
! Gabriel Szatan
Navigating life is hard at the best of times. Jorja Smith has been doing this publicly, through music, since she was a teenager. Now 21 years old, the Walsall-born singer and songwriter has learned a few life lessons. Smith’s highly-anticipated debut album Lost & Found had been a long time in the making – about five years – but her growth as an artist feels immeasurable. Here, she ponders her own place in the world, reflecting on the pressures of formative adolescent relationships (Teenage Fantasy) to the effects of austerity and the leftbehind (Lifeboats (Freestyle)). All to the backdrop of jazz-inflected arrangements and sweeping soul melodies, Smith tries to make sense of it all with grace and candour. The world could use more of that.
! Xavier Boucherat
! Rachel Grace Almeida
Kamaal Williams The Return Black Focus
Prince Piano and a Microphone 1983 Warner Bros.
Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Domino
Various Artists Kulør 001 Kulør
As part of his previous band Yussef Kamaal, Kamaal Williams created lush 70s jazz-funk, part Lonnie Liston Smith, part Grover Washington Jr, subtly indebted to the broken beat and UK house he’d also made under the name Henry Wu. The Return was in the same ballpark as Williams’ Yussef Kamaal material. Broken Theme shows off his molten synth jazz chords amid incredibly fluid, funky drumming and bass thrums. High Roller is irresistibly sinuous and spry funk, with bass that curls around a rock solid beat and uplifting strings that provide a backdrop to neon synth squiggles. Catch the Loop has a more modern sound, full of stop-start, broken beat drums and synth hits, while Rhythm Commission is the kind of glorious 80s boogie that Roy Ayers himself wouldn’t baulk at. For contemporary jazz and funk lovers, this one’s a gem.
Even for someone whose genius was pretty much unparalleled during this lifetime, there’s still so much we don’t know about Prince’s legacy. It’s always been pretty much accepted as fact that for every cherished Prince record we know and love, equally brilliant music resides somewhere in the Paisley Park archives, never to see the light of day. As such, you almost feel guilty listening to Piano & a Microphone 1983, the first posthumous release by Prince, an incredible one-take session of old classics and never-before-heard compositions. Under his expert fingertips, Purple Rain becomes a spirited sketch, and Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You takes on a whole new, jazz-flecked form. Only someone of Prince’s calibre could make such simple arrangements sound so grand, and if Piano is any indication, he will continue setting new standards in rock and soul music for decades to come.
There are two lines within a bridge on the jaunty album opener here that succinctly summarise Arctic Monkeys’ fork in the road after the insane success of AM: scamper off with the “easy money”, or let Alex Turner ride an “elevator down to my makebelieve residency”? We should be thankful they opted to take that left-turn into a surrealist space lounge. Arena-sized authenticity is a fleeting thing – just look at how desperately hard Jack White tries. With this new album’s material at their disposal, the Monkeys have never been better live; old favourites sound brilliant retrofitted to this lounge style, and the beguiling, Bowie-aping affectations of the new material comes alive. Yes, Tranquility Base is inconsistent, and yes, it’s fucking ludicrous. But isn’t that rock ‘n' roll?
Where fast techno and trance both fell off in the early 00s was their reliance on tropes that had gone stale. Grandiose breakdowns, thundering tempos and ham-fisted emotion were used as a mask for personality. The 10 vibrant tracks gathered up by Denmark-raised DJ/producer Courtesy on her new label Kulør zip right around those pitfalls. For my money, it’s the pair of Sugar and IBON tracks that romp home the winners, but it’s all killer stuff. Merging techno’s rush with trance’s uplift, and – crucially – allowing memorable melodic leads to the front, Kulør001 makes for an electrifying primer into a brave, blistering, 145bpm world.
! Ben Murphy
! Cameron Cook
Albums of the Year
! Gabriel Szatan
! Gabriel Szatan
Pusha T Daytona G.O.O.D. Music
Moses Boyd Displaced Diaspora Exodus Records
Mac Miller Swimming Warner Bros.
Christine and the Queens Chris Because Music
G.O.O.D. Music pumped out a lot of quality music this year, but it wasn’t always easy to engage with it. While Kanye West’s MAGA-hat antics – which continue to complicate the ethics of enjoying his art – could have distracted from his label’s music, Pusha T’s Daytona was so powerful it cut through the furore. Across 21 minutes, Pusha’s lucid flow lands effortlessly on some of the finest production of Kanye’s career. From the ornate euphoric highs of If You Know You Know right through to the dusty minimalism of Come Back Baby – it’s the sound of two longtime collaborators rediscovering a certain electricity. Some of the other Wyoming albums (namely Kanye’s ye and Nas’ Nasir) felt somehow unfocused. But Daytona plays like it was constructed under quarantine, a near-clinical demonstration of the key to Pusha’s staying power – an unflinching focus on the final product.
This era of jazz belongs to London – or at least it feels that way when you listen to Displaced Diaspora, a project led by Moses Boyd and recorded in 2015. A key player in the South London jazz circuit, Boyd is known for incorporating elements of hip-hop, grime, afrobeats and dub into his distinct sound. As the name suggests, Displaced Diaspora was a product of a displaced generation of namely Caribbean and African descent. But while traditions are honoured, Displaced Diaspora feels remarkably fresh. Jazz is often said to be a genre of the past, but Boyd’s vision of displacement is rooted in a matter-of-fact attitude that celebrates the present while setting a new agenda for the movement.
It feels uniquely tragic to be writing about Mac Miller’s “legacy” – Swimming, the American rapper’s fifth solo album and his most realised and heart-wrenching record to date, was never meant to be his parting opus. The hip-hop world spun off its axis earlier this year when Miller died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 26, and the honesty, maturity, and self-reflection of the album he left in his wake show an artist wise beyond his years. “Hell yeah, we’re gonna be alright” raps Miller on the lead single Self Care, his voice buoyed by soft synths and a skittering trap beat, sounding so assured that, despite it all, you still believe him. Through its emotional peaks and valleys, Swimming is undeniable proof that Miller had so much more music to make.
In the public output of the artist-still-kinda-known as Christine and the Queens, one emoji kept cropping up: three drops of water, mid-arc. It’s fitting imagery for Chris. Sweat so noticeable as to be impeccably framed, so blue as to be pure. Chris is a hot, sultry album, one to put on when you’ve already been dancing through a long afternoon and need a second wind. It’s an album for endurance, no dips or dives, just a steady and beating pulse of synths and sex. The record swoops and soars. Subterranean gloom builds into something cascading and enveloping on What’s-her-face; a bassline warps and shimmers on infectious “crisis single” Doesn’t Matter. This is an album that navigates the ambiguous waters of sexuality and identity, relationships and selfhood, with a steady, sure hand.
! Gunseli Yalcinkaya
! Cameron Cook
! Mikaella Clements
! Duncan Harrison
Shinichi Atobe Heat DDS
DJ Taye Still Trippin' Hyperdub
The Internet Hive Mind Columbia Records
Part of what makes Shinichi Atobe such an exciting artist is the unpredictability. Heat quite literally dropped unannounced through Demdike Stare’s letterbox: a fully formed package from half the world away, ready to go. That’s perhaps the level of nonconformity you’d expect from a hithertountraceable Chain Reaction producer. The more significant, if somewhat overlooked, element is the breadth of the Japanese producer’s craftsmanship. It can be easy to let your mind drift to assuming his output is all deep and dubby hypnotism. But then, doesn’t Bonus sound like the final boss theme from a SNES side-scroller? And can’t you picture So Good So Right being a punchy 3am monster in the hands of Zip or Z@P? Heat is Atobe’s most diverse set yet. We can only hope there’s another FedEx shipment due soon.
Chicago artist DJ Taye admits to a burden of responsibility in keeping the spirit of departed footwork hero DJ Rashad moving. This resulted in Still Trippin’, one of the more varied albums in the field for a minute: Taye goes for broke with upfront drum assault here, but brushes them with a feather touch there. Vocal cuts featuring Chicago rapper Chuck Inglish and Jersey club Queen Uniiqu3 sit alongside tracks where the main thing singing are the sour synths. There’s a surprisingly strong chiptune influence coursing through the album, as on the Pac-Man mania of Matrix, or Trippin’ – a chalk-and-cheese combination of 16-bit trills and Taye’s pitch-shifted raps, which probably shouldn’t come off as well as it does. At its best, footwork breaks free from the genre’s strictures, and it soars. Still Trippin’ is footwork at its best.
Hive Mind is a smooth, clever consolidation of what The Internet were already doing well, and what they’re now doing better than ever. The Internet’s sound is now confident and polished, proving they’re a band of accomplished solo artists that work even better together. There are standout tracks, like Come Over, with its crunchy electric guitar and dirty promises, but the real strength of Hive Mind is the way the album, and the band, blends together. A brilliant record which kept us dancing throughout the summer.
! Gabriel Szatan
! Mikaella Clements
! Gabriel Szatan
Albums of the Year
Iceage Beyondless Matador
Cardi B Invasion of Privacy Atlantic Records
Skee Mask Compro Ilian Tape
When Iceage blew up at the turn of the decade, no one predicted longevity from Copenhagen’s teenage punk sensation. But Beyondless was their best work since their 2011 debut. Brass sections boost Pain Killer, which sees Elias Rønnenfelt joined by Sky Ferreira for a lovestruck duet, as well as the hook of the densely distorted stomper The Day the Music Dies. The finest moment is the closing title track – a euphoric blast during which Rønnenfelt envisions himself as a vagrant wandering the city, a ricocheting bullet and being lost at sea. Beyondless honours the lineage of the great musicians that came before Iceage, but this music is too alive and too lustful to be sterilised by the praise of rockist bores. It’s the sound of a band who’ve been bound together by music since they were kids, and they’ve not lost an ounce of passion along the way.
If 2017 was the year that Cardi B went from reality star to everyone’s favorite new rapper with Bodak Yellow, 2018 saw her transition from budding household name to unstoppable pop culture phenomenon. Her meteoric rise has been so aggressively ubiquitous that only truly inspiring music could transcend her celebrity. Luckily, her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, did just that. Through its 13 tracks, Cardi never stumbles. Not only are her rhymes as tight and searing as ever, but her ability to juggle love songs, trap anthems and hood wisdom proves that she is so much more than the flavour of the week. Invasion is an excellent rap album, one that justified Cardi’s position on 2018’s hip-hop throne and should stand the test of time.
Breaks were the biggest trend in dance productions this year, bar none – and Compro was the best execution of them, bar none. What set Skee Mask apart was his mastery of sound design and restraint. Rev8617 harks back to the wooly abstraction of The Books. Soundboy Ext. and Kozmic Flush could have been rote rinse-outs, but instead the rhythmic complexity takes a backseat to uncanny Autechrian textures. Calimance (Delay Mix) is sweetest of all, a soothing balm to close out. By turns dreamy, direct and dazzling, but never less than extremely fucking well made, Skee Mask stood a mile out from a crowded pack. ! Gabriel Szatan
! Cameron Cook
! Davy Reed
Tierra Whack Whack World Self-released
Nines Crop Circle XL Recordings
Mitski Be the Cowboy Dead Oceans
The beauty of beat tapes is in their self-restraint, with brief loops abandoned abruptly in favour of the next. Even compared to the shorttempered bursts of SoundCloud brats, Tierra Whack’s strict asceticism feels daring. Each of Whack World’s 15 stunners clock in at precisely one minute apiece, leaving listeners bewildered and yearning for more as if they were Dilla mini donuts. She dazzles amid the minimalism, from the salivating comforts of 4 Wings to the flossy n’ bossy Hungry Hippo, her voice supremely centered over sparse keys on Black Nails and devastating on the clattering trap soul of Dr. Seuss. With Whack World, Whack presents herself as a savvy, genre-warping artist playing on our Instagram attention spans to create a postmodern marvel.
Nines’ sudden return to the frontline of British rap music back in April sent shockwaves across the internet. The release of his celebratory anthem I See You Shining, produced by curators-of-the-moment Zeph Ellis and Steel Banglez, and a short film Nines directed himself, was followed days later by this sophomore album. After his year facing hostility from an authoritarian and risk-averse music industry, Crop Circle was warmly received, and it reached no.5 in the UK albums chart. Easily Nines’ most mature, eclectic and accessible body of work to date, the album will undoubtedly form a blueprint for how to garner new listeners while staying loyal to an authentic, rounded sound. Cheeky similes, raw road raps, car stereo-friendly production and energetic features from Ray BLK to rising driller SL tailored this album to be a summer rap classic. Bring on more from the king of Harlesden in 2019.
The first words to appear on Mitski’s fifth studio album Be the Cowboy are “You’re my number one/ You’re the one I want”. Sung to the backdrop of a polyphonic organ interrupted by static shocks, her voice stands alone and tall until a sweep of galloping guitars release the tension. With that, her message was clear: Mitski may be vulnerable but she’s not defenseless. The Japanese-American singer and songwriter is often emotionally unguarded in her music – you only have to look as far as the self-critical A Pearl – but this approach feels completely crystallised on Be the Cowboy. Through lopsided pop songs pulsating with desire and conflict, Be the Cowboy feels vast. Yet it somehow evokes a certain privacy. Mitski, despite shouting about the tribulations of self love and loneliness with her whole chest, has the comfort of her own voice. Luckily, so do we.
! Ciaran Thapar
! Rachel Grace Almeida
! Gary Suarez
Albums of the Year
Playboi Carti Die Lit AWGE / Interscope
IDLES Joy as an Act of Resistance Partisan
Yves Tumor Safe in the Hands of Love Warp Records
High off the hype around last year’s hit Magnolia, Playboi Carti hopped back in the studio with Pi’erre Bourne for Die Lit. Delving deeper into their world of neon-coloured nihilism, Bourne enhanced a sound that’s so fresh you could whisper avant-garde. For Carti lyrics were largely an afterthought, instead he sharpened his syllables to the extent that his voice often acted like a percussive instrument, instigating moshpits and depicting a whirlwind lifestyle of quick money, misused pharmacueticals, designer clothes and emotionless sex with the fleeting speed of an Instagram story. From Eric B and Rakim, to Noah “40” Shebib and Drake, and Metro Boomin and Future – many of the records in the rap canon were brewed by the magic chemistry of a producer-vocalist duo. Die Lit argues that Carti and Bourne belong there too.
Any future generations seeking to understand life in Britain under the looming mushroom cloud that is Brexit should turn to IDLES’ second album. Building on the searing brilliance of their 2017 breakthrough, Brutalism, Joy as an Act af Resistance found the Bristol band entirely fuelled by righteous fury, twisting the knife into toxic masculinity, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the demonisation of the working class, with a combination of bone-dry wit and scorched, post-hardcore punk aggression. By turns laugh out loud funny (Never Fight a Man With A Perm), celebratory (Danny Nedelko), and unspeakably sad (June), IDLES’ second album offers a much-needed opportunity for catharsis in an increasingly absurd world.
Yves Tumor is a chameleon. Tumor’s third full-length record, Safe in the Hands of Love, feels alien, like a transmission from a distant galaxy, an extraterrestrial paen patchworked together from intercepted radio waves emanating from planet Earth. Its genre-hopping is stupefying, though never expected: the waking nightmare of Aphex Twin, the pop sensibility of Björk, the Afrofuturism of Shabazz Palaces, the lovelorn paranoia of Massive Attack. And through it all, Tumor’s chanting, growling, acerbic voice cuts to the quick, weaving tales of urban spirituality across crunchy breakbeats and wailing, demonic guitars. More than merely experimental, Safe is existential in its desire to deconstruct, destroy, and rebuild what left-of-center pop can be.
! Gemma Samway
! Cameron Cook
! Davy Reed
Sons of Kemet Your Queen is a Reptile Impulse!
Tirzah Devotion Domino
If there’s one band that captures the ethos and possibilities of the UK’s (new) jazz community, it’s Sons Of Kemet. They’ve harnessed the idiom of jazz, but made it punk. A continuation of Shabaka Hutchings' call for new myths and longer memories, Your Queen Is A Reptile asks us to use our imaginations to envision alternatives to the present, and to resist that value systems we live within, be that the idea of the monarchy, the logic of whiteness or institutional racism. To prove its possible, each track is named after phenomenal black women throughout history who have done just that. Drawing musically from soca, Nyahbinghi drumming, highlife, electronica and more, each track is testament to the dexterity of each musician in the band. The album is a triumph for British jazz. And it must be said one more time: fuck the Mercury’s.
With the foundations for Tirzah Mastin’s debut album laid as early as 2002, Devotion could refer to the South London singer’s perfectionist approach as much as it does the record’s themes. Yet remarkably, these pared-back productions feel utterly effortless. Written in collaboration with Mica Levi, minimal percussion mingles with skeletal synths, spidery piano arpeggios or looped guitar, while Mastin’s melismatic coo imbues the entire set with a tender warmth. Subject matter is similarly understated, ruminating on the rewards of self-sacrifice, the quiet joys of sustained intimacy, and the challenges that come with vulnerability, in a manner that feels both relatable and true. A startlingly beautiful record. !
! Tej Adeleye
Albums of the year
SOPHIE OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UNINSIDES Transgressive 2018 was the year of the winkingly artificial. A deep dive into uncanny valley, we saw CGI Instagram influencer Lil Miquela reveal herself as virtual in a postmodern PR stunt. The first AIgenerated art to be sold at an auction house was ‘signed’ in the bottom right corner with the algorithm used to produce it. Sophia the robot continued to creep us all out as the first android to become a legal citizen, who looks very close to, but not exactly like, a human. And it was a real headfuck. It’s difficult to think of a musician who reflects this mood more than SOPHIE, who harnesses the powers of the uncanny for good. Her music is disorienting, futuristic, a little surreal, and ultimately indicative of a paradigm shift. After breaking through in 2013 with the arrival of Bipp on Glaswegian label Numbers, early releases toyed with dualisms: ideas of human and machine, organic and plastic. Synthetic sounds mimic the squeak and snap of latex, the whip of a ponytail, the euphoric rush of a fizzy drink.
SOPHIE’s world is playfully artificial, and the enigmatic producer has always existed in a slippery realm between reality and fantasy. While her music enhanced the visceral thrills of the physical world, SOPHIE used to be somewhat intangible. A faceless producer with little biographical information and visuals depicting suspended plastics. Early on, this raised questions about her gender identity, while some listeners took aim at the level of sincerity in her work – were SOPHIE and her PC Music affiliates really serious? This wasn’t real music? Who was the butt of the joke? But SOPHIE’s future shock was unflinching. In the electronic underground she came up through, her ecstatic sound was unapologetically poppy. In the pop world, she was strikingly avant garde, going on to lend her bombastic sound design to Madonna and McDonalds. SOPHIE's sonic universe began to expand, and it has become clear that her project transcends the limits of a postmodern prank. Slowly, we are all catching up to her vision. So it’s fitting this was the year SOPHIE became an avant-pop cult leader. In October 2017, she became properly visible for the first time in the selfdirected video for It’s Okay to Cry, a tender ballad about self-acceptance. In June 2018, her vision was crystalised with the release of her debut album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES. Across the album, SOPHIE plays with concepts of real and fake, organic and synthetic, then pummels them until they are mush. As Chal Ravens put it in our May cover story with SOPHIE: “In SOPHIE’s cyborg universe, fake is no longer a category.”
Albums of the Year
On the album’s cover, SOPHIE is a part-plasticine goddess marooned in some alternative universe. And Oil of… does exist in its own dimension. It smuggles avant garde sound design into pop sensibility and vice versa, often in extremes. It ricochets between heavenly fantasy worlds (It’s Okay to Cry) and dungeon-dwelling kink anthems (Ponyboy). Storming closer Whole New World: Pretend World even sneaks an Aladdin reference into its pitch-black industrial clangs. At points it’s so full of physicality that it feels like a living, breathing thing, but it’s punctuated by icy soundscapes which take a deep stare into the void (Is It Cold In The Water, Pretending), plunging us into a soft oblivion. These moments of disembodied fantasy come into focus on the album’s thematic core, Immaterial, a rallying cry against corporeal limitations. The chorus (“Immaterial girls, immaterial boys”) promotes the joy of being divorced entirely from any physical form of self. It’s extraordinary high concept pop, and the message is that you can be anything you want. Indeed, the fluidity of identity is one of the main themes of Oil of.... And in a year characterised by tension surrounding gender identities in particular, SOPHIE cast a decadent light. Oil of… feels like nothing that came before, seeing SOPHIE embraced by the mainstream, the electronic vanguard, and a young, queer fanbase alike. It’s a manifesto on defying boundaries and creating your own reality, your “whole new world”. And there wasn’t another world as radiant as hers in 2018. !
Top 25 Tracks of the Year Freedom, fury and big big bangers, here are the tracks that resonated this year
700 Bliss Ring the Alarm Halcyon Veil
Childish Gambino This is America RCA Records
Puma Blue Only Trying 2 Tell U Blue Flowers
Burna Boy Ph City Vibration Atlantic
DJ Haram and Moor Mother are in perfect syncon Ring the Alarm, the highlight of their EP collaboration as 700 Bliss. It’s a supremely catchy and surprisingly slick production from the Philly musicans, channelling the stop-start grooves of Timbaland through DJ Haram’s taste for Middle Eastern rhythms and, centre-stage, Moor Mother’s fiery, guttural poetry. There’s no room for misunderstanding when she raps: “Now you wanna steal my culture/ Already killed my father/ Now you wanna stop my bread.”
After the 2017 cultural moment (and potent viral content) of Redbone, it seemed an almost impossible feat for Childish Gambino to better his Grammy awarded album with whatever followed. But with unanticipated smash This is America, Childish Gambino not only managed to command global attention once again, but also cement himself as a cultural behemoth. Alongside a spectacularly chaotic visual featuring globespanning choreography, powerful imagery and a captivating performance from the man himself, the timely track served as a potent critique of the increasingly toxic nature of US – and subsequently world – politics.
One of the breakout talents of South East London’s STEEZ community, Jacob Banks boasts a falsetto so gossamer-light and otherworldly it frankly has no business emanating from a young man based in Croydon. He put it to excellent use on February’s crepuscular single Only Trying 2 Tell U, caressing lyrics like, “Eyes are tearing up, I don't know why I'm so scared,” and turning in a vocal performance pitched somewhere between Jeff Buckley and D’Angelo. A luxurious slice of jazz-tinged soul, which packs all the emotional clout of a still-green heartbreak.
A highlight from his Outside album, Nigerian artist Burna Boy came through with a lively love-song dedicated to the city he was born in, Port Harcourt. Bursting with an addictive, afrobeat flavour and executed with impassioned delivery, Burna Boy remembers the city with proud nostalgia, confidently encouraging the listener to move to the song’s slinky rhythms. In part thanks to the surging international excitement about African music scenes – and especially, the musical connection with London’s afroswing movement – in 2018 Ph City Vibration reached the huge audience it deserved.
Jay Rock King’s Dead ft. Kendrick Lamar and Future Top Dawg Ent / Interscope
Connan Mockasin Charlotte’s Thong Mexican Summer
SahBabii Anime World Warner Bros.
Octavian Hands Drilla
After appearing on the Black Panther soundtrack, this slick-but-strange banger remerged on Jay Rock’s underrated album Redemption – arguably improved by the removal of both Kendrick’s frantic attempt to pin the song to the film’s narrative and an inexplicable James Blake interlude. Now we were left with an excellent triumvirate: Kendrick in an absurd setting reminiscent of Backseat Freestyle, Jay Rock anxiously fighting for any pocket of the beat he can find and Future referencing Juicy J with a childish squeak. When major league rappers feel free to get weird in the booth, great things can happen.
Charlotte’s Thong, the opening track on fourth solo album Jassbusters, feels like Connan Mockasin at his most vulnerable. Here, the Kiwi crooner offers a nine-minute silky psych odyssey, characterised by his trademark languid vocals masking barelydecipherable lyrics about – you guessed it – a thong. This track doesn’t play into puckish tropes, however. Instead, the wonky and repetitive lead guitar riff sounds comfortingly incomplete, like he’s creating space for you to get to know its inner workings more intimately. Mockasin’s previous bops offered swift snapshots into the allure of loungey pop. On Charlotte’s Thong, he seemingly offers us a closer look at his mind.
A highlight off the Chicago-born, Atlanta-based rapper’s late summer Squidtastic project, the dynamic cut recalls all the hypnagogic trap allure of 2016’s Pull Up Wit Ah Stick with an authentic touch of otaku insularity. Propelled by Based Tj’s enchantingly ethereal beat, SahBabii dives headfirst into an amalgamated fantasy world of his own creation, albeit one inspired in no small way by Naruto, mixing mystical samurai swordplay with more modern day comforts like iPhones and Uzis. A lowkey modern rap gem that shimmers with originality.
One of the three excellent 2018 singles leading up to (and conspicuously absent from) Octavian’s Spaceman mixtape, Hands was the moment which confirmed that the French-born, London-raised artist’s breakthrough success was much more than a fluke. Co-produced by Octavian alongside close collaborator JRick, the song – about the sadness and spite of moving on from a relationship – morphs and multi-layers the singer-rapper’s croaky vocal textures, evoking the emotional tenderness of gospel music, while the garage-influenced beat nods to a love for dance music he’s harboured since his days as an underage raver. A special new voice had arrived.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Tracks of the Year
Novelist Smiles Mmmyeh Records
Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour Universal
Aphex Twin Collapse T69 Warp
J Hus Dark Vader Epic / Black Butter
Taken from his Mercury-nominated debut album, Novelist Guy, Smiles is emblematic of the artist Novelist has become. As a 17-year-old back in 2014, Novelist was talked up as grime's biggest talent since the OG golden generation of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, D Double E et al. In the years since, his trajectory didn't feel like it'd always lead him to this point, but his resourcefulness, spirit and positive, empowering messages have emboldened his music in a way few others can match. Written over a sugary, looping beat, Smiles is stripped back and centred around a simple, earworm hook by collaborator Pascall – "No frowns in the bits, bare smiles" – which kinda says all you need to know. While others have tried to escape the hood, Novelist has always aimed to elevate his.
2018 is the year we all got really into country music. Thanks to Texas singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves, even the staunchest techno bro thought about sampling a banjo. Musgraves’ brand of country is inherently accessible: it’s simple, magnetic country-pop, ditching the pseudo-earnest showboating that often characterises the genre. Golden Hour, the title track from this year’s critically acclaimed album, is a perfect example of that. A shimmering love song, Musgraves muses on the wonders of intimacy and affection to a backdrop of lightly-strummed guitars, a galloping drum beat, and melodies so ethereal you feel like you’re floating through space. A much-needed feeling this year.
For a few seconds there, you think you’ve heard it all before. The first couple of minutes of T69 Collapse hark back to the Aphex of old, with stut-stuttering beats caught up in gorgeous wisps of sad-eyed synths. Then the lid comes off: a knock-out assault of bass blasts under a collapsing wall of detuned not-quite-melodies, before the final third combines the two in an itchy fit of electro energy. A megalobanger from Richard D. James’ reopened vaults – keep ‘em coming, pal.
He might have released a generation-defining album in 2017, but J Hus continued to shine this year as one of the UK's most culturally important and musically exciting artists. Dark Vader is his biggest and baddest offering of 2018 (taken from his Big Spang EP). Again he draws from not only his Gambian roots, but also dancehall, as he navigates punchy, sloping rhythms with all the personality we've come to expect: “All praise goes to the maker, Auntie put rice in the container". His lyricism is never particularly complex, but Hus is an artist who's mastered hitting his own brand of sweet spot, where specific lyrics – sometimes just the one – can boast more cultural impact than entire albums.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Ariana Grande breathin Republlc
slowthai Ladies Method
Ploy Ramos Timedance
Flohio Bands Alpha
Ariana’s vocals have always grounded her songs in technical excellence, but breathin comes in with a different approach. The song came after she revealed her relationship with Pete Davidson shortly after she had split up with Mac Miller, and around a year after a bomb was detonated at her stadium show in Manchester. With Grande's voice at its most vulnerable, breathin carries a dizzying sense of melancholy as she describes the onset of a deep panic, repeating the song’s title like a mantra to quell the falling skies of her anxiety. An intense moment of vulnerability from pop’s most cherished hero.
With slowthai dropping material prolifically throughout the year, it’s hard to pick a single defining moment. Unusually melodic single Ladies is a strong contender, revealing a more delicate side to one of the UK’s most evocative rap talents, with a well-meaning (albeit a touch simplistic) ode to the importance of women in society which also ruminates on drugs, religion, violence and class politics. Paired with tinkering xylophones and poignant synths reminiscent of Ruff Sqwad, slowthai’s voice sounds more distinctive than ever, exposing the trembling vulnerability buried by his bravado.
This year saw Batu’s Timedance label deliver another volley of taut and off-kilter heaters. Sam Smith aka Ploy’s Ramos captured its daring agenda well: a sparse and highly-strung rhythmic assault, propelled by a relentless roll of snares and toms which swing in that half-cut way particular to the UK. The expert build-ups of tension place it squarely in the category of ‘escalation tracks’, ideal for use around the 1am mark when drinks are starting to get spilt and everyone’s ready for things to get out of hand. Whether it’s passing comment on the football world’s most-hated isn’t clear.
Having lurked around as promising newcomer throughout 2017, in March Flohio pounced into the year with Bands, staking her claim as a refreshing new force in UK rap. A statement of intent from the proud South Londoner, she demands to ‘see bands’, and confirms her no-fucks-given attitude. Powering through with unrelenting energy and selfconfidence, the track’s neo-grime beat bleeps and squelches, with synths firing out like warning alarms to mark Flohio’s thrilling arrival.
Tracks of the Year
Rosalia Malamente Sony
Barker Look How Hard I’ve Tried Ostgut Ton
Donato Dozzy Cleo Eerie
Charli XCX No Angel Atlantic
Historically, flamenco is an art form characterised by the way its performers process pain through meticulous recital. Look away for just one moment and you’ll miss a snapshot into someone’s soul. The same could be said about Rosalia, the Catalan-born singer and dancer bringing Spanish melodrama to the mainstream. This year’s breakout single Malamente is brimming with ominous attitude. The stylish R&B song, accented by traditional flamenco claps and folkloric melodies, feels like it exists in a dark parallel universe. From the foreboding lyrics of shattered crystals and eerie fever dreams to the hazey production of the song, Rosalia carries herself with the kind of inimitable Latin snarl that makes your heart race.
In the techno world, it’s been a banner year for fans of weeping in the club. Whether it’s the rocketing value of sincerity in these dark times, or the longawaited admission that everyone loves trance, it seems that high-emotion numbers are finding their way into even the most austere of record-bags / USB folders. Barker’s Look How Hard I’ve Tried, from his incredible Debiasing EP, is one such number. It’s a delicate, kick-free masterpiece with bright, excitable synths that bristle with drama and romance, built to tug gently at your heartstrings before the lights come up.
Along with a full length LP– Flio Loves the Acid, a collection of 303 excursions for Tresor’s 303rd release – the Italian master-producer found time this year to release some of the airy, long-form techno that has made him an enduring figure. Of the two cuts from the Mindless Fullness EP, A-Side Cleo is the standout. A slow-burning eight minutes of into-the-clouds euphoria, it moves at a regal half-time pace, drums gently thudding beneath a glittering layer of minimal synth, and waves of heavenly ambience. Sublime listening.
Charli XCX took 2018 as an opportunity to get further under the skin of album release cycles. Shirking off the pressure to follow up last year's standout POP 2 mixtape, she spent the year releasing a steady stream of instant pop classics, and No Angel is the show stealer amongst them. Over the slick kicks and slaps of SOPHIE's production, Charli's cocky drawl finds its place crying, "Don't let me, don't let me go/ I'm no angel, but I can learn". The song feels like rolling down a sunroof while cracking open a wine cooler – it feels like Charli XCX.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Kokoroko Abusey Junction Brownswood
Travis Scott Sicko Mode ft. Drake Epic
Unknown T Homerton B Self-released
Lana Del Rey Venice Bitch Polydor
We Out Here, the compilation by Brownswood Recordings, offered a snapshot moment of the much celebrated community of musicians playing jazz-not-jazz in London. But more than a moment, it also hints at the shape of jazz to come. The closing track, Abusey Junction, by the contemporary afrobeat-inspired band Kokoroko, foreshadows this new sound. Based on a composition by guitarist Oscar Jerome, and inspired by Gambia’s nocturnal soundscapes, the track is laced with gentle, abetting percussion and breezy, haunting vocal harmonies. Led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice Grey and percussionist Onome Edgeworth, the band aims to craft modern lexicons for afrobeat and highlife in the UK, where in some cases the music has fallen victim to pastiche and inertia. Fresh but timeless – it’s an elegant highlife record that will be celebrated for years to come.
2018 brought no shortage of dynamic and notable hip-hop team-ups, yet this pairing generated one of the year's most ubiquitous results. While the duo's North American free trade previously manifested on projects helmed by the Toronto half, this prominent placement on Scott's album helped make it an event in rap. Travis Scott cunningly chops up his Drizzy feature for a power play few in this shady business would dare execute. Even the beat snaps in two, abruptly shifting from the dramatic grandeur of its opening vibe to the burble and warble of its main musical motif to allow Scott, Astroworld’s Walt Disney figurehead his time to shine.
In 2018 UK drill music proved itself as a force to be reckoned with. The genre’s first song to officially chart was Unknown T’s proud anthem, dedicated to his hometown in the North East of London. It remains the strongest evidence yet that the drill genre is able to transcend the dark, problematic world it exploded from. The song’s dance-focused aesthetic and the MC’s deep, hypnotic flow borrows as much from grime’s playful performativity as it does from drill’s characteristic lyrical realism and sliding sub-bass. There is still, frankly, nothing else to compare it to. It is a classic of British underground music.
If you needed proof that Lana Del Rey is, indeed, fresh out of fucks, Venice Bitch is it. The standalone track’s first act comprises top-tier Lana-isms over a folky acoustic. Here, relationships, like the denim, are American-made. But the mood quickly shifts: Rey’s laconic vocals become submerged by drifts of unmoored electric guitar and synth, and the trip begins. Every ring of guitar, wash of distortion and abstracted pop paraphrase justifies the near ten-minute timestamp – this is sublime psychedelia from a summer of little love. It should come as no surprise that, as a songwriter attuned to interiority, Del Rey knows the power of giving the listener space to just, well, feel.
Tracks of the Year
IDLES Samaritans Partisan Samaritans is the seventh track on IDLES’ triumphant album Joy as an Act of Resistance. It lives in between June and Television. The former is a heartbreaking song about lead singer Joe Talbot’s stillborn child. The latter is a guidebook on self-belief and breaking tellies. The space between them is vast and that’s testament to the universe IDLES have painted with the album – a place where anguish and inanity live together in a blissful disharmony. Worlds apart, but joined by a common cause. Samaritans is that cause. The song confronts the silence surrounding mental health struggles among men. In a burst of fury, it tackles the expectation that men should be tough; the pressures to assert dominance. “Man up! Sit down! Chin up! Pipe down! Socks up! Don't cry! Drink up! Just lie!” Talbot barks against a twitchy riff and a relentless tightly-screwed beat. It’s a mantra that presents in plain terms the ideas and expectations which have held men back from confronting mental health issues, where anger and aggression have often overtaken honesty and emotion.
According to the World Health Organisation, around 100 million men around the world are thought to have depressive disorders, and almost 17% of men in the UK are thought to have symptoms of depression or anxiety according to the Office for National Statistics. The culture of “bottling up” and “powering through” has long been acknowledged as an issue. But in 2018, it has become part of the wider conversation surrounding male mental health, as people have become increasingly aware of its destructive impact. It is now being understood as a catalyst leading to violent behaviour, self-destruction, isolation, addiction, fear and a range of nuanced, slow-burning manifestations. This is the web IDLES untangle on Joy, or at least stare at head-on, which can feel just as radical. The “conversation” around mental health at large is in a complicated place. Buzz phrases like “Time to talk” and “Open up” have become popular among brands and advertisers producing work which is positive – but are these messages too sweeping to be truly productive? Meanwhile the think-pieces and overall discourse is sometimes too intellectualised – there are still huge swathes of the population who need to hear messages delivered in plain spoken and urgent terms. IDLES capture the mood of a new generation coming to terms with these deeply entrenched societal structures.
Tracks of the Year
We are increasingly looking inwards and unlearning behaviours, and at the same time unpacking the cycles which exist around us. Within this movement, Talbot delivers his message with sincerity, channeling the brutal honesty of lived experience. He has spoken openly about the role counselling played in his own life, helping him to confront and deal with loneliness and grief, these experiences are the lifeblood of the song. Experiences that have resonated with their loyal, passionate fan-base. In 2018, the world felt overrun with toxic masculinity, so art which fixed its gaze on it felt more necessary than ever. Samaritans’ chorus, “This is why you never see your father cry”, provides a shockwave of clarity. A point-blank breakdown of the cause-and-effect of this toxic cycle. The song ends with that phrase repeated like a battle cry. Against a scratchy clamour that builds and builds, Talbot’s voice just about pierces through the racket. In the sea change in our relationship to mental health, voices like these are the ones driving the shift. !
DJ Stingray Mumdance Sadar Bahar The Pickle Factory
Gwenan Jane Fitz Josey Rebelle Leif ovalspace.co.uk
Crack Magazine Presents:
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH SENNHEISER
We’re proud to present the Metropolis Sessions – a new live session series recorded at London’s iconic Metropolis Studios, one of the best recording spaces in Europe. We’ll be using this series as an opportunity spotlight for some of our favourite artists, welcoming them to the studio to capture their sound through a world-class system. Watch the full series so far at crackm.ag/tv
A truly unique voice in the contemporary UK landscape, Tirzah performs the mesmerising Gladly from her debut LP Devotion, one of our favourite albums of the year.
Armed with her guitar and backed only by a drummer, Anna Calvi delivers a searing performance of Indies or Paradise, a slow-burning, ultraviolet anthem from her latest LP Hunter.
003: SL: Tropical
004: Fatima: Dang Fatima has been a Crack Magazine favourite for some time. Her luminous neo-soul, silky jazz experimentalism and confessional songwriting is irresistible. For Metropolis 004, she performs Dang with the Eglo Live Band and brings her kaleidoscopic style to life.
With one of the biggest UK rap tracks of the year, 17-year-old London rapper SL is in a different class. The South Londoner performs his breakout hit Tropical live from Studio A.
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH SENNHEISER
002: Anna Calvi: Indies or Paradise
001: Tirzah: Gladly
“ Advice on dancefloor politics and the holiday season from the member of NYC’s Discwoman collective.”
FULL COLOUR MAGAZINE
Design : CokeOak
When you are the only woman in an ego-ridden bro club, how do you stand up for yourself while simultaneously ‘playing the game’? Sometimes not taking shit can backfire into being alienated and ultimately losing out on opportunities.
I'm tired of dating – unappreciative fuckbois are really draining my energy rn. What advice do you have for single ladies like myself? How can we resist?
I love going clubbing because I'm surrounded by likeminded people. I'd like to become friends with them, but the problem is I'm really shy – or I find it difficult to extend past typical club small talk. How do I strike up meaning ful friendships on the dancefloor?
This is a constant thing to navigate. I really don’t have a complete answer. I trust my gut a lot and if something doesn’t feel right, I pretty much always say something. However I know I’m in a advantageous position when combating men as Discwoman’s whole identity is based on this, so when you have a collective of people behind you, standing up for yourself becomes a lot easier and the fear of loss becomes smaller. But this is not most people’s situation. To answer literally: if you’re by yourself at a club and dealing with shitty men I think it’s worth talking to the management about it. BUT what if the management are shitty? THEN I think public complaints about public spaces can force them to become accountable. But there is also the reality that they just remain shitty and in some cases we have to take the L and move on for our own sanity. To answer more figuratively, I don’t think anything changes unless people speak up. It’s history’s biggest lesson. However, one of the hardest parts of being an activist is not really seeing things change at the pace you like. It can often feel unrewarding, alienating and sometimes people don’t want to work with you because of it. But it’s the price you pay for what you believe I suppose. That being said imagine a world where no one fought back, where the fuck would we be?
Looking for wisdom on sex, politics, techno and reality TV? Ask Frankie at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve basically been single my whole life, save a few trial runs lmao. Once I had a friend tell me that I was lucky that I hadn’t been in a relationship, she said it was the most oppressive experience she’d had. Whilst I don’t think that’s true for everyone, it drastically reframed the way I looked at relationships as something we feel pressured to aspire for. I believe being single is a place of resistance, I think often people just end up accepting the person they’re dating because they’re scared of being alone or not being loved. The commitment to this aspiration has damaging effects on your confidence and ambition. Every man I’ve dated has been a fuckboi, some more likable than others. I really don’t think there are many men that aren’t. I don’t mean this in a bitter way but that it sociologically makes sense that they would be. They’ve pretty much been doing whatever they want with us forever and now we’re seeing a pretty big discourse and pushback around this but they just can’t keep up so they always kind of fail in a way. God this sounds really depressing, but dating is really just a barometer of how much bullshit you’re willing to put up with. There’s never going to be a perfect man and we shouldn’t really have to deal with anything less than perfect BUTTTT the reality is there’s always going to be work we have to do within that context and it’s up to you how hard you want to have to work. It’s perfectly acceptable and, for me, aspirational to not want to do any work at all. That being said I love love, I love intimacy, I love sex and these are things I cannot sacrifice so if the first time you challenge their behavior it’s met with reflection and not defensiveness there’s some hope. Test it on your next fuckboi.
Honestly it took me like five years of living in NYC to really cement a group of people I can call my family. It’s definitely a process that one shouldn’t feel pressured to force. I’ve had some really shitty friends, and it’s remarkable how much we can convince ourselves to put up with that just because we desire company. I was obsessed with being liked and accepted, when really the best people gravitate to you when your focusing on yourself. Anyway digressing a little but I guess my point is I wouldn’t feel too stressed about making friends, the right people will be drawn to you and it will be way worth the wait. Dear Frankie, I don't have a great relationship with my family. What can I do to cope with feeling blue over the holiday season? The veneration of family time feels like such a dated concept to me, so anything connected to that, like holidays, etc really offend me in some way so I completely understand that dread that comes with this season. I do have family I spend time with, which is nice however I think creating your own holiday events with friends can offer the same familial moments that perhaps help to redefine the season for you. But if you’re not interested in celebrating the holidays with your family, then literally don’t. Life is too short to spend time with people you don’t like. Like watch every single Office episode both UK and US or South Park or Lord of the Rings or listen to every Lil Wayne album or anything that’s really long and passes time until this shit storm of season is over. Of course paired with wine (if you drink) or seltzer w/ lemon (if you don’t).
RIZ AHMED - EST. 1983 -
It seems like Riz Ahmed can do it all. From being the first Muslim to win an Emmy for a leading role at the Emmys to making waves in politically-charged hip-hop group Swet Shop Boys, the British rapper and actor has always placed activism at the heart of everything he does. Mogambo, his new single as Riz MC, is a bold example of what he does best. Over a clattering minimal beat, he candidly spits words of hope for the many marginalised communities feeling unheard in our current social climate. We caught up with Ahmed to talk activism, hip-hop and home.
Words: Rachel Grace Almeida
How would your friends describe you in three words? Never on time. Favourite song of all time? Gabriel by Roy Davis Jr & Peven Everett. It reminds me of a certain time and the lyrics are sublime. Is there a particular activist movement inspiring you right now? Ava Duvernay as an artist; Linda Sarsour as an activist; and the movement towards justice for the Rohingyas of Myanmar. What makes you feel nostalgic? UK garage. That was an amazing time. Everything was ahead of us. 9/11 hadn’t happened yet. Who’s one person in music right now that you’d love to collaborate with? M.I.A. If you could change places with someone who would it be? I used to think like this but I realise now it makes no sense. We all have our own path, our own obstacles and victories. I wouldn't trade. What’s your worst habit? Not knowing when to switch off.
Which city feels like home? London ‘cos it's passive aggressive, moody and has shit weather. When was the last time you were genuinely star struck? Meeting Jackie Chan at the Oscars. Who’s the best rapper of all time? Technically, Eminem. As an icon, Tupac. As an all round package, Biggie. As a crew, Wu Tang. As an innovator, Wiley. What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? Support through dark times. What is the proudest moment of your life so far? Playing Webster Hall with Swet Shop Boys. What’s your least favourite trend? Phone addiction. What’s your favourite account to stalk on Instagram? I don’t like going on there much. What book has stuck with you? In Other Rooms Other Wonder by Daniyal Moinuddin. It’s a great collection of short stories set in Pakistan.
What was the last series you binge watched? I don't actually watch much TV. Favourite food? Nihari. What’s the weirdest thing someone has caught you doing? My ADHD nervous twitch when I was 11. It was an elaborate sequence of ritualistic muscle spasms. What has disappointed you the most this year? Our desire to destroy our own allies rather than focus on the real threat. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever given? Get out of your own way. Mogambo is out now via Customs