As we make our way into 2016 proper, it finally feels like there have been enough days to turn around and actually have a good look at 2015. What a funny headspace ‘Best Ofs’ fall into. In terms of music, performance and releases, the idea of only taking the cream off the top feels redundant. We knew for this roundup we wanted to celebrate the good, the weird, and the heart-wrenching. And once yesterday’s news broke, that David Bowie had passed away at just 69 years old (in earth years), there was no other way.
If this is the last ‘Best Of’ list you read on 2015, that’s by design. Who wants to only fill their lives with the new, the micro-trend, the out-of-context-by-next-week? We chose clubs, artists, albums and sets that will stay with us. If it feels out of date just two weeks into a new year? Well, it wasn’t good enough.
Last week, days before Bowie’s birthday and Blackstar’s release, I found a note from Glenn Max, Village Underground’s Artistic Director, tacked to the very start of his 2015 round-up: “Somewhere in a separate category, David Bowie’s epic Blackstar hovers over my list… based on tracks released, [it] looms as the towering musical moment of 2016.”
Blackstar is the gauge we’ll be measuring the rest of 2016 by: an entirely apt stage exit from a luminous visionary. Returning to Lazarus, his second single from the album, re-reading the reviews of the final track, I Can’t Give Everything Away, and what those lyrics could mean… it all seems painfully clear now what we were handed with Blackstar. As parting words go, there have been few better.
While that record will no-doubt cast a final Bowie spell on to the 12 months ahead, here are the albums, tracks, nights and early mornings the team at Village Underground will also be clinging on to a little longer.
Which albums defined 2015 for you? Why?
Glenn Max, Artistic Director: I always think it good to preface ‘Best of’ lists with a statement of the impossibility of assessing any album the year (the month!) it’s released, thus eviscerating the very nature of the album review. And then there’s dealing with the sheer glut, combined with movies, concerts, raves, theatre, …well…we’re lucky if our reviewer has actually listened the whole way through the album, listened in sequence, listened more than once. Even looking below, I feel guilty for not having spent more time with these gems. But it’s a nice way to encapsulate the year.
How to Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens
Simple Songs – Jim O’Rourke
Multi-Love– Unknown Mortal Orchestra
No Cities to Love – Sleater-Kinney
Junun – Shye Ben Tzur and Jonny Greenwood
The Miraculous – Anna von Hausswolff
Solo – Nils Frahm
Born Under Saturn – Django Django
Have You In My Wilderness – Julia Holter
Declan Cosgrove, Programming Assistant: June– Acronym.
This album for me really stuck in my head this year. It’s a mixture of ambient textures and techno. An album to listen from start to finish, creating a listening journey.
Ava Szajna-Hopgood, Editorial Assistant: Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens
When Carrie & Lowell came out in spring of 2015, the press release asked people switch off from what they were doing and to just give this album time. I did exactly that, and listened as my damp, grey, freezing cold flat in North London transformed through my headphones with nostalgia, memories, tingles, goosebumps- the lot. Sufjan wrote an album you urge on to others. As much as it is crafted, it’s painfully raw. It makes for difficult listening, but it’s ultimately a thrillingly understated record. I think you’d be lucky to be given one song this good from an artist you care for, and with C&L we got eleven.
Dan Davies, Editorial Director: Carrie & Lowell– Sufjan Stevens
Peaking my anticipation via a recommendation by Ava and an interview by Dave Eggers I knew entirely what this album was about before the first mandolin note was hit. A heart-breakingly beautiful album with precious personal insight.
The Race For Space – Public Service Broadcasting
My favourite musical era was when all the Brit Hip-Hop passed through the filter of labels like Tummy Touch and Ninja Tune and post-rock bands who’d just discovered raving started pushing their sound, so PSB have always been up my street. I love what Willgoose and Wrigglesworth do and I liked the focus of this album, using archive footage from the Space Age from both sides of the cold war I loved the hope and passion in the old Pathe reports.
Radek Kieczka, Bar Manager: Slayer Repentless, Enslaved In Times and Titus Andronicus The Most Lamentable Tragedy.
Jim English, Marketing Manager: Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden Of Delete, a noise record which is beautiful enough to play when you’re hungover on a Sunday morning. Platform by Holly Herndon- Amazing progression from her last record, rapidly becoming my favourite artist on 4AD. Algiers, Algiers- When mixing R&B and Gospel doesn’t turn out shit.
Dermot Hurley, Head of Commercial: Elaenia– Floating Points. The most Dad-dancing I’ve done since the birth of my son nearly five years ago!
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Which track could you not get enough of? If you heard it at Village Underground, who played it and what night?
DC: Don’t Stop, No Sleep (Robert Hood Remix) – Radio Slave. This track was a massive party track this year with catchy hooky vocals.
JE: Kiasmos, Swayed – played by Kiasmos at around 2am at their Brixton Electric show.
Ty Vigrass, Operations Manager: Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky – The David Byrne-esque Ought front man Tim Darcy singing ‘YES’ to a packed, bopping VU crowd. And they were really nice to work with.
DD: Middle by Herbert. My appetite was whetted by the Convergence booking. Then, sometime during a very pleasant chat about The Lego Movie, Matthew Herbert sent me the unmastered version of the album. I thought the whole record was a real return to the 4/4 form of the early albums that first made Herbert’s name. The live show at Village Underground was the perfect opportunity to delve in, and at points remix his own material but the new tracks proudly stood next to the old to prevent this being just a nostalgia exercise. A soon as Middle kicked in you knew that Matthew and his new band were out to make you move your feet.
Best gig of the year?
DC: DVS1 playing for Klockworks, delivered a monster of a set. Didn’t hold back, was all-guns-blazing.
DD: Sufjan Stevens at the Royal Festival Hall. A gig that I was willing to pay good money for but I missed the opportunity to buy the tickets on announcement and knew that everyone in town would try and blag guestlist. So, I went alone to see on the off chance that there may be some returns. Amazingly, I managed to get a box which made the experience all the more enjoyable. The gig itself was surprisingly uplifting with Sufjan regaling us with tales from his irregular upbringing.
JE: Foals at Village Underground. Top flight, arena-capacity band playing in a 700 capacity venue. Awesome. Also, Pantha Du Prince.
ASH: Ought blew me away. They played at the back-end of summer to a room eager to be proved right. There was something about the energy that night and the whole crowd enraptured by Tim Darcy. It was great to catch a band like that on their way up.
Romilly Martin, Managing Director: Foals. There was such excitement and anticipation around this show, and a huge coup to have them play such an intimate gig at VU. A massive effort was made to ensure no photography or recordings happened inside, and the fact it was a balloted event made it even more special as everyone there was so happy to be there and so ‘together’. The energy in the room was like I’ve never felt it before, they worked the crowd with light and shade, highs and lows (literally, getting us to sit on top of each other on the floor before jumping up at the crescendo), with top crowd-surfing to boot. Epic.
[Pias] Nites – Ghostpoet and Fat White Family, this was definitely one of my favourites of the year. We had been warned that the FWF have a tendency to do gross things like piss or wank on stage so we weren’t sure what to expect. Luckily no bodily fluids beyond punk sweat were featured, but I was blown away by their authentic spirit and attitude. The lighting design had their skinny bodies silhouetted against the bricks and they created amazing shapes whilst totally punking it out. Ghostpoet supported, who also blew me away with his undulating rhythms and lyrics – it had me transfixed.
Best club night of the year?
Amélie Snyers, Office Manager: Job Jobse x Joy Orbison at VU in September
JE: Kiasmos at Brixton Electric – Superstition went on tour, with amazing headline and supports.
Most surprising support act?
DD: Kieran Leonard, I actually saw him in support slot downstairs and as one of our guests for the Rooftop Sessions. He also filled the “who was that?” slot with The Strokes and Beck at British Summertime. Clearly the support slot times are coming to an end for Leonard. He makes music that should be filling out the enormo-domes of the UK but his songs are shot through with a lyrical acuteness that stands his material up for repeated solo-listens.
DH: That Fucking Tank…
JE: Pole, Supporting Robin Fox & Atom TM
Best encore of the year?
DD: DakhaBrakha at Village Underground. I loved the fact that they were a set of Ukrainian ice maidens who slowly thawed under the warmth of a completely engaged audience. The big bow on the encore, clearly overwhelmed by the attention the deserved made me proud to be involved with getting them to perform here.
DH: Julian Cope – denied!
Was there a moment this year that you felt could only happen at Village Underground?
AS: Convergence’s Tropical Beats Party with Batida. The night of Batida’s gig, I had organised an event for our tenants to get to know each other. It was fuelled with tequila and so everyone was in the mood for some music, especially the Batida kind of music. It was the first time I went to a gig with so many of the tenants and it was so great to spend such a good time with them. It was a Thursday and it was messy but the music and the company were so great, I would have danced all night if I could have!
TV: Busting in on Father John Misty in the green room and disturbing him mid-Yoga, pre-gig warm-up session. He was not happy as we’d spoiled the vibe, man. We were stocking up the bar in the green room with sparkling water and valerian tea…
RM: The rooftop gig in the summer. This was the first rooftop session at VU I’d been to and it was a huge team effort to pull it off, I even got to wear a radio mic which was, basically, amazing. Lovely vibes, beautiful acts and the sun shone down on us. Kieran Leonard being my personal favourite – great songwriting and rockstar presence.
And then there was Superstition’s Voyage Direct takeover. We’d had a massive VU community BBQ on the roof and it had been an afternoon drinking and eating in the sun with wonderful people and we all bundled down to the Superstition and danced our socks off. We’d also had the En Masse wall painted (as shown above) and finished that day. That was my favourite wall of the year, so it felt like a special day all round.
DD: Lianne La Havas. We were very fortunate that Lianne launched her debut album with us a few years back and although I’d seen her in the audience at a few VU gigs, I thought that her days of playing our humble stage were well behind her. So, it was very great that Community gave her the headline slot for their multi-venue festival. As bessie mates with Prince and a superb follow-up album, La Havas is already playing much bigger places, but it was nice to feel that she’d kind-of come home.
JE: New Years Eve, tearing it up without fear of too much reprisal.
Now for 2016 Questions. Who are you most excited to hear from this year? Whether it’s a show or a new release? Why?
DC: It would be great to get DVS1 back at some point this year…
JE: Either the new Blanck Mass or Daniel Avery Albums.
DD: Loyle Carner – I can’t wait to see how his tenderly honest album translates with a live band and his biggest headline show yet.
Big shots for 2016 – whose year is it going to be?
DH: Always mine, or Bowie’s.
DD: Section Boyz, their take on tag-team Grime is largely something that sails above my head but they really have the potential to break the big time, if they can hold it together. It’s thrilling stuff that reminds me of the nihilism and clarity of punk.
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Which nights have you already got in mind? Why?
ASH: When February and March roll around at VU. There’s Money, Girl Band, Loyle Carner, yet another Kitsuné Maison Valentine’s club night and The Gaslamp Killer Experience playing as part of Convergence. I’m psyched to start the year on all of those.
What else are you feeling this year? Artist, sound, or anything-wise? What do you hope 2016 will bring?
DD: World peace on earth. We’ll do it by showing people that we can have a good and mind-altering time and affect change through culture rather than cynicism, capitalism, dogma and the promise of paradise. Let’s just do that right now, here.