Another year gone by, and if there was ever a time to feel cynical about the state of things, December 2016 is certainly it. To parrot the same tired phrase as everybody else, this has been a really shit one.
And of course there’s no doubt in my mind that you were screaming out for me to come through with some reflections, considerations and predictions so you can add “tedium” to that long list of things that 2016 rubbed in your face this year.
First up, this has been a year of literally celebrating mediocrity. If there was ever an indicator of the tragedy that is journalism in 2016 — particularly online — it’s the end of year “Best of” lists that trumpet absolute garbage because they either don’t know any better or they’re just terrified of looking irrelevant. Prime example: Drake – Views. Nobody thought this was a great album. Everybody thought it was his weakest work yet. Tired, repetitive, clichéd, meandering and ultimately going nowhere. And yet there it is on countless publications’ end of year listicles for no reason other than sheer terror that it might affect their credibility to try looking like they actually have an opinion instead of firing off the same dozen names plus whoever the flavour of the month is.
The same is true of The Life of Pablo, though in softer terms. Of course there are bangers on there, and it’s decent enough by Kanye West’s standards, but ultimately it was a mess; badly-produced, poorly-assembled, overly-long and a case study in amateurish practice masquerading as artistry. When Kanye released Yeezus it was a deliberate attempt to disrupt, offend and smash the music industry; an album full of abrasive sounds, schizophrenic structures and provocative lyrics. There was method to the madness. The same is not true of TLOP. Shitty lyrics and fabricated celebrity feuds, crap soundcloud throwaway tracks about Yeezy sneakers, artist features that either squander potential or end up being utterly superfluous, confusing co-opting of another artist’s song with just enough alterations to make it something new? Like a lot of our generation I have a lot of respect for Kanye West and the things he’s done throughout his career, but this album, objectively, was sheer mediocrity; the by-product of too long spent in the Kardashian media-manipulation machine and the yes-men echo chamber. He’s not the messiah. He’s a very naughty boy. Round that off with hanging out with Donald Trump and standing by his side, looking like a cross between the MAD magazine mascot and a prize pig, and he can take a fucking seat. Get help, get well, love and respect, but you’re in the bin for now.
And so the same phenomenon of terrified pundits praising average efforts and being too scared to risk passing up the opportunity to get click-throughs and ad-revenue has soaked thoroughly into fashion and streetwear also. To be clear; fashion mags have always chased these things, but it certainly seems like we’ve reached a point where the objective is solely that, with no actual focus on providing a particular, crafted opinion or tone-of-voice anymore. “Controversial” think-pieces revolve around simplistic, barely-edgy discussions that skate around the subject without alienating potential advertising and sponsored content clients, and objectively shit product is heralded and hammered into your skull on a daily basis because god forbid you might think one of these websites hasn’t heard of Anti-Social Social Club or VLONE.
I’m hoping that 2017 might be the year when streetwear finally swallows its own tail; when these high-fashion labels trying to convince you they’re gritty and street-level are forced to confront the fact that the people whose essences they co-opt can’t afford their product; and these shitty t-shirt brands charging $50 for a screen-printed Gildan tee are finally told to get in the fucking sea and stop trying to convince themselves and others that they’re doing something revolutionary. Low-end shysters chase the high-end dollar, and alienated high-end brands with no ideas chase the cultural kudos of the low-end. It’s utterly exhausting. There’s nothing clever about charging young kids through the nose for a screen-printed hoodie. You’re not a genius. You’re not a marketing mogul. You’re not a social media influencer extraordinaire. You’re a snake-oil salesman, and 80 years ago people would’ve covered you in tar and feathers and run you out of town. Public service announcement to anybody reading this: Stop following charlatans on Instagram because you’re scared you won’t know what to say at the next contrived industry event. People who talk about those guys only do so because they themselves are eye-wateringly boring.
That same over-saturation and housing bubble effect can’t come sooner for collaborations, either. Over the past four years, big brands and indies alike have completed the final cycle of bastardising the notion of collaborative endeavour. Fewer and fewer collaborations carry that allure of the idea of likeminded spirits coming together to build on each other’s talents; more and more now leave a lingering, putrid stench of desperate attempts to make a particular silhouette or trademark relevant again, or to bolster a new release with the validation of aforementioned t-shirt brand charlatans whacking their logo on the heel to reassure you that the hype isn’t dead just yet (OBJECTION: it is).
It’s been a great year for me musically. I was lucky enough to see some of my favourite artists multiple times. Stars of the Lid, ambient/drone duo signed to the Texas-based Kranky Records, went on an extensive European tour and I was fortunate enough to catch them at the Barbican Centre and a red brick neo-gothic church in Brighton. It was the closest I’ve had to a religious experience in a church and sounded absolutely phenomenal. I’ve sung their praises multiple times on this site but seriously, if you’re partial to downtempo and minimalist music then you really should be listening to Stars of the Lid already.
At the Barbican show, the band was supported by Claire M. Singer, a contemporary classical musician who performed ‘The Molendinar’, a 25-minute piece performed on a mechanical drawstop organ — not an electric one basically. It’s a powerful study into how precise control of wind through pipes can affect dynamics, tone, pitch and so on, and it’s one of the best pieces of music I’ve heard all year. Try playing it really loud in your apartment so your neighbours think a church has moved into the flat above.
Fans of more animated music should divert their attention to Mssingno, who recently released a 24-minute mixtape entitled ‘M1 – Personal Trainer’. Loaded with samples from the likes of Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Imogen Heap and the like, it’s safe to assume the featured tracks have been released in this manner as getting legal clearance for a proper release would be an absolute fucking nightmare and would probably never happen. I especially want to draw your attention to the Ariana Grande song around 11 minutes in which makes me want to dance around in a pink faux-fur mini skirt spraying prosecco and glitter all around the room. No homo? So homo. Don’t @ me.
It’s been 1200 words and I can feel this piece heading down a totally different road for a different day, so I’ll leave it there. Should any of the things I’ve hinted at in this piece come true, then I want you to think of them as predictions and carry me through the street, praising me as a modern-day Nostradamus. If they don’t, then it’s just stuff I wish would happen and doesn’t really matter anyway. Duplicity. It’s man’s greatest gift to himself.
That’s it. 2016’s over. Shop’s closed. Fuck off.