We Are Unseen and 2016: A review of the year in music

Sadly, this year really did happen. But least we still have music! Lovely, lovely music. In our New Year feature, writers at We Are Unseen reflect on the past twelve months in the hope of lifting your spirits and bringing a glimmer of hope to the year ahead. We hope you enjoy our year in review!

We will continue to break boundaries

December saw vinyl sales outperform digital downloads by £300,000 for the first time since the revival with many young people breaking their Millennial Apple-crazed stereotype to swap Beatles records with their grandparents. If 2016 has taught us anything it’s that people still care about music; we are a nation not only mourning our idols but adoring and thanking them for all their work beyond their albums. The losses of LGBT icons such as Bowie, Prince and George Michael across a year so concerned with identity politics, equality, and notions of gender and sexuality is a bittersweet reminder of everything they stood for, the progress we’ve made and the barriers we still have to overcome.

Abigail Herbert, Writer

Great music continues to be made (and performed) 

My musical highlight of 2016 is going to see Bastille live at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham. With the release of their second album Wild World, the band decided that the best way to celebrate their incredible accomplishment was a world-wide tour, bringing their Indie-pop music to listeners across the globe.

Bastille was formed in 2010 and, after three years of hard work, Dan Smith, Kyle Simmons, Will Farquarson and Chris Wood released their first album. 2013 saw the band’s instant rise to musical success with their debut album Bad Blood and, in September 2016, listeners celebrated again as Bastille released a subsequent album. Their second instalment is incredibly powerful and includes  astounding tracks to accompany the thought-provoking lyrics sung by Smith.

From the very beginning of the concert the atmosphere was electric; the backdrop of elaborate videos, showing visual representations of the stories told in their tracks, was captivating and set the stage alight. Bastille played many songs from Wild World, along with some from their debut album. Singing the tracks which were the foundation for the success of Bastille, this tour was not only a celebration of their recent successes but also a celebration of how far they had come. Bringing true emotion and a dazzling voice to each performance, Smith’s vocals were unquestionable and the live instrumental accompaniment added another spectacular dimension to the performance.

A world tour is the perfect way to showcase the musical talent of 21st century musicians and for supporting groups, such as Rationale who were supporting Bastille, it gives a platform for new talent to be recognised. The tour was a true celebration of achievement, success and raw musical talent- definitely my highlight of 2016!

Emma Humphrey, Writer

The Cremation of Punk

It is very rare to see much-loved musical genres and movements get put to rest; even 2016 was rife with Harrington-clad Mod revivers, Acid House enthusiasts donning their rave jackets stuffed with psychedelics and the proud Madchester scene still circulating around the dwindling possibility of an Oasis reunion. While some genres are forced to retire (we’re reminded weekly that Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead, technology has killed guitar music, the 70 year old woman talking to herself on the bus was one of the original founders of Woodstock…

But if any music genre was not going to allow itself to wither and age gracefully, it would have  to be Punk. In true anti-establishment fashion, many people were outraged at the news of Joe Corré’s public arson display on the 40th anniversary of the release of the Sex Pistol’s debut single ‘Anarchy in the UK’. In late November, a crowd of onlookers witnessed the son of Vivienne Westwood and Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren set fire to approximately £5m worth of punk memorabilia amidst dummies of David Cameron, Theresa May and George Osbourne riddled with fireworks aboard a boat on the river Thames in protest of anniversary plans to build a Punk museum funded by the notably un-Punk British Library and British Film Institute.

As ‘Punk’ as a senseless act of destruction would be, there was reasoning behind the display: ‘Punk was never meant to be nostalgic and you can’t learn how to be one at a Museum of London workshop’ Corré explained to the crowd. Vivienne Westwood, who was also at the demonstration, told everyone watching that ‘[punks] never knew what to say before…never had a strategy…that’s why we never got anywhere’ but used the publicity stunt to discuss climate change, the free world and conformity; ensuring audiences had something to take home from the event, since Sex Pistols memorabilia was off the cards…

But despite dividing fan opinion, the risqué anti-nostalgic stunt couldn’t have been more relevant. It’s consistently noted that a large quantity of 21st century culture – music, fashion, television – replicates that of previous decades – you can hardly sell an item of clothing that isn’t labelled ‘vintage’ or walk into a record store without some middle aged bloke telling you ‘they don’t make ‘em like this any more’. As Corré euthanizes punk before it becomes ‘conformity in another uniform’ maybe this is the beginning of the end, and out of the ashes of these retired eras may be born something revolutionary in its own right.

Abigail Herbert

Legends never die

It seems that this year started as it means to end, with the loss of one of the most seminal artists of all time, David Bowie, marking the first celebrity death of 2016. Whilst we all mourned his passing, we were also reminded of how lucky we were to have experienced his music. Whether you waited in line for hours to buy his records when they were first released, or were introduced to the icon by your parents, or just happened to hear one of his tracks playing in a vintage store and became immediately hooked, you were – and still are – part of the magic that it Bowie.From Aladdin Sane, to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, to Blackstar, his work never failed to take listeners to another world, far beyond our own. Throughout every challenge of my life, I have always turned to his music for guidance and comfort. I realise now more than ever just how powerful a figure he was, and what a significant influence he will always have over my life. His legacy reminds us that there is nothing more admirable than being different and being proud of it. At a time threatened by division and marginalisation of minorities, his message of self-belief is more pertinent than ever. You are a legend, Bowie – and legends never die.

Revolutionising sexual and gender politics, Bowie broke boundaries and redefined masculinity. Another artist that was influential in transforming ideas of gender and sexuality was Prince, who refused to adhere to any label ascribed to him. His death in April saw fans unite to remember the ways in which he challenged notions of  gender and sexuality. The meaning behind his work is elusive, which is what made his artistry so intriguing. His mystery will surely lead him into musical posterity, and his advocacy of non-conformity will always be relevant.

Similarly, George Michael frequently expressed pride in his sexuality by regularly underlining the importance of acceptance and inclusivity during interviews and . One of the most poignant points he ever made was that he wanted to be remembered for being gay, a brave statement to make in a society which has only relatively recently begun to promote gay rights. Self-acceptance was essential to his character and career. His support for the LGBT community will see his legacy continue long into the future. In addition to this, he spent his money and time helping the most vulnerable of people across the globe through voluntary work, performances for charity events and even donating to complete strangers whom he saw were in need. His talent was immense, and so was his heart. Three figures with exceptional talents, Bowie, Prince and George Michael have rewritten the rules of the music industry and illustrated that true art can never be censored.

If there is any lyrical comfort to be found from the omnishambles that has been 2016, it lies in latest album to be released by Childish Gambino, Awaken, My Love. A sensuous feast for the ears, it resembles the funky style of Funkadelic’s landmark ‘Maggot Brain’; and is soulful as hell. After what has been a year of surprise, turns and shocks, treat yourself to this auditory delight. Listen to the track ‘Stand Tall’, and remember that even in the darkest of times, all you need to achieve anything is hope. Happy New Year!

Beth Andralojc, Co-editor


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