Once more around the sun go we – 2017 has been a curious year for the music industry as a whole. To unpack a full 365 days in ‘the business’ would be an unassailable endeavour, especially in a few short paragraphs. Given the endless dimensions of discussion on offer, these are just some of our personal highlights from the past 12 months…
What is worth mentioning above all, is that musicians once again found themselves at the epicentre of the cultural milieu. Albums like Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, and Kelela’s debut, Take Me Apart shone through a smog of fragmented and often tumultuous political and social discourse. So too, on a micro-level, the likes of Matthew Herbert and his “Brexit Big Band” took to the stage to encourage collaboration, as the world seemingly moved ever-further apart. As history tells us, this is nothing new in the music game; from jazz to punk and back again, music has always provided a social and political commentary. However, in an era where much of the most popular musical talent is brewed-up in a vat of streaming algorithms, superficial marketing and social media followers, it has been refreshing to witness the success of socially conscious artistry once more – with the aforementioned albums both finding their way into numerous ‘Best Of 2017’ lists.
Continuing down a path of painstaking archival work, labels such as Be With, Music From Memory and Far Out Recordings, have all pushed reissue culture even further into the fore. Looking back has become the future for many, and with good cause. The dominant presence of streaming platforms has rendered the sounds of decades past increasingly accessible – the symbiotic growth of the two should come as no surprise. In the Melodic Distraction studio, Ahmad Jamal’s ‘The Awakening’ and Midori Takada’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’ have become personal favourites.
On the dance floor, diversity blossomed. As electronic music burgeoned into cavernous warehouses with gargantuan line-ups, smaller promoters found themselves posed with new challenges. As booking fees rose and exclusivity contracts were signed, many parties became more adventurous in the sounds they were willing to promote. In Liverpool, the likes of SisBis, Huma, C4E and 24 Kitchen Street were happy to push their booking policy into uncharted territory – welcoming a spectrum of artists into the city for debut appearances. So too did jazz music find its way back ‘up North’ in 2017, with a large chunk of credit directed at Lee Fleming’s Anti Social Jazz Club. A residency that blossomed into a radio show, pop-up jazz café and clothing line, the ASJC crew have been flying the flag high this year. Coupled with the appearance of MOBO award-winning artist Moses Boyd, as well as Shabaka Hutchins’ trio, The Comet is Coming, the Liverpool jazz scene enjoyed as much visiting talent as it produced in 2017.
Navigating their way through all this, and so much more, the Melodic Distraction writing staff distil the year down into their personal highlights. Rounding up their favourite album, single, artist and gig – join us for the final time this year, as we journey back through the wormhole of 2017. To purchase any of the music or events listed, please click the album, track or event name in the header.
Album of the Year
Melanie De Biasio – Lillies (Aiden Brady)
I first heard Melanie De Biasio and her new album, Lilies, via Giles Peterson’s BBC Radio 6 show earlier this year. De Biasio featured on the show playing select tracks from the album, intermediated with discussion of her roots, influences and processes.
I’ve only recently started listening to jazz during the latter half of this year, and while it could be argued that this album fits more into blues, it’s been one of the definitive tracks of this recent kick.
Lilies was recorded in the space of about two weeks in a room, “Where there was no light, no night or day at all, no heat. Very uncomfortable.”
This is a stark contrast with the slick, studio production on her two previous albums. On this, De Biaisio has said, “I just wanted to retreat to a cave with my Pro-Tools, my computer, and my cheap, 100 Euro, Shure SM-58 microphone. I could have gone to a big studio, made a big production – but I wanted none of that. I wanted to go back to the seed of creativity, the simplest materials.”
On Peterson’s show it was mentioned that the album was intended to sound or feel as a live performance does. For an album to truly and totally capture the experience of a live performance is impossible. However, on every listen my mind returned to the same image of watching the album be performed in an anonymous and dimly lit basement bar. So perhaps it serves its intention rather well.
Alfa Mist – Antiphon (Toby Taylor)
A stunning contemporary jazz album that effortlessly fuses chilled-out, melancholic jazz with soulful hip-hop.
When Yussef Kamaal split in May of this year, I was left wondering where the next great British jazz album would come from. I needn’t have worried however, because in June Alfa Mist released an album that is at least an equal to, if not better than Black Focus. The concept behind the record was a conversation Alfa Mist had with his brothers, with some of the album’s smoothest moments occurring when the music drops down a level and accompanies his musings, such as on the laid back ‘Potential.’ The instrumentation, whilst decidedly melancholic throughout, is classily executed, as exemplified by the dynamic, yet remorseful sax on ‘Errors,’ backed by some twinkling keys and dreamy vocal harmonies. The guest vocalists featured on the album hardly detract from its quality, heightening its emotive feel, with Kaya Thomas-Dyke’s performance on ‘Breathe’ particularly haunting (especially when in tandem with the track’s evocative saxophone and stirring string finish).
Alfa Mist firmly cements his status as one of the most captivating contemporary jazz artists out there with this record; indeed this is a record that stands out for its sheer utter brilliance throughout and I personally cannot wait to see where he goes from here…
Burnier & Cartier – Burnier & Cartier (Josh Aitman)
While this Brazilian gold mine is certainly not a product of 2017, Burnier & Cartier’s legendary self-titled album has finally caught a repress by way of the fantastic Brighton-based label, Mr Bongo – No doubt a welcome relief after previously fetching hundreds of pounds on Discogs. I received this record just two days before Christmas, a fantastic conclusion to a very long story that began with discovery back in January, finding out of a repress in October and a subsequent two months of patient thumb twiddling. The sheer angst, joy and patience that this record has put me through makes it my definitive album of the year.
Sampled by Andrés, Tom Misch, Kaytranada and innuemerable other high-profiling, accomplished producers and musicians, the 1974 release by Octavio Burnier and Claudio Cartier spans a wide range of genres including soul, jazz, disco, boogie and popular Brazilian music. Each track on the album explores a different realm of their musical upbringing and notably my favourite track, ‘Lembrando Ed Kleiger,’ never gets old with its fast paced rhythmics, playful relationships between each instrument and the irresistibly funky undertones that bare close resemblance to the later works of George Benson. If you are yet to dive in to Burnier & Cartier, there’s a real surprise in store.
A collection of music born from a compelling and painful time in Brazilian history, Outro Tempo stands out as one of the most thoughtful and progressive sounds to (re) emerge this year. Pioneering a new sonic identity outside of which Brazil is so often a typecast, this compilation offers innumerable sounds and emotions that convey hope, grief and a passion for innovation.
With feet inescapably placed in the context of a broken Brazil seeking a better future, the music is pioneering and provocative; a concoction of traditional sounds and visionary experimentation. Launching with ‘O Sol Na Janela’ by the famous Piry Reis, a track with yearning vocals and challenging rhythms, it is apparent that we’re set for a curious ride. The rising flute and delicate rhythms on Anno Luz’s ‘Por Que’ clash with the challenging polyrhythms on Fernando Falco’s ‘Amamnhecer Tabajara’ (A Aleceu Valenca)’. This release is as much a representation of visionary Brazilian music as it is an existential question.
On the Better Days radio show, I must have played at least half of the compilation over the course of this year. Launching the February show with Andrea Daltro’s ‘Kiua’ has helped me shape the overriding theme of that particular episode. A theme with many perspectives; yearning for hope and optimism yet plagued by a sorrow at the same time.
Music From Memory has been one of the most important labels to emerge over the last few years. Taking this release for example; the research and dedication that John Gomez took in compiling Outro Tempo is apparently clear, with extensive liner notes providing a written context to many of the artists and producers behind the original songs. There is often a question raised about the significance and impact of repress culture nowadays, but this release is testament to the positive impact that such a thing can have. Alas, listen to the album. If you like it, buy it. Repress inbound!
Single of the Year
Ishmael Ensemble – ‘Songs For Knotty‘ (Tom Lye)
We’ve had the Banoffee Pies crew up in Liverpool a couple of times over the past year. The first time they came up they put us onto this 6-piece ensemble of talented musicians straight out of Bristol and I was hooked immediately. ‘Songs For Knotty’, their first release, is a delicate and complex piece of music. It’s quite clear that they have a passion for what they do and love, and this becomes overtly clear when you listen to the recently released Live edition of the tracks included in this EP.
Emerging out of band leader Pete Cunningham’s studio experimentation, the release is a well-thought out collection of tracks. Tripped out ambient jazz builds with evolving percussion on the first track, ‘Kito’s Theme’, whilst ‘Bembe’ features the opulent vocals of Holly Wellington. The release’s namesake track, ‘Song’s For Knotty’ has been on repeat. Out of ambient chords emerges piano keys rooted in sadness. This, however builds into such a celebratory and powerful piece. The emotion is clear.
With some radio shows and Boiler Room performance under their belt, I’m excited to see what other projects the Ishmael Ensemble get up to in 2018. Keep doing your thing!
The Cyclist – ‘Antiexist’ (Aiden Brady)
A very short track, coming in at only 2:02, this is my favourite from The Cyclist aka Andrew Morrison’s recent album Sapa Inca Delirium. The entire album is inspired by the warm analogue textures that were prevalent toward the end of the 20th Century, particularly in electronic music.
Morrison has likened the album to Geogaddi by Boards of Canada and this is one of the tracks that shares most in common with that style. The track features an operatic vocal that has been warbled and distorted in the track’s production. Sombre melodies and the downtempo rhythm throughout Antiexist give it a dark, morose atmosphere.
The vocal used is attributed to the inspiration of Warner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. Morrison himself stated that the intention was “Wanting to bring a music which he describes as the farthest musical representation of human emotion into such a hostile and novel environment.”
The juxtaposition of these human and electronic album elements perfectly captures the sense of alienation caused by being in a land or culture totally removed from one’s own.
Tracks such as this have The Cyclist at his best, most well-rounded self. Prior to the album’s release he said that he finds himself best able to stretch his creative muscles on ambient productions.
The witching hour vibe occurring here has earned this track a place on many of my downtime and late night playlists, I thoroughly recommend it and the entire album.
Joe Armon Jones & Maxwell Owin – ‘Idiom’ (Josh Aitman)
With the South-London jazz scene moving from strength to strength in 2017, my single of the year has to go to the collaborative efforts on ‘Idiom’, compiled by Joe Armon Jones and Maxwell Owin. 2017 has seen a vast number of jazz-influenced newcomers shine across the UK. Labels such as Brownswood and Jazz Re:freshed have striven in connecting this musical community with the mainstream via album releases and record deals.
The Idiom EP offers listeners a who’s who of this scene; jazz saxophonist Nubya Garcia puts in an appearance whilst guitarist Oscar Jerome, part of the Sumo Chief collective, also features. A product of such a tight-knit circle of musicians, ‘Idiom’ stands as testament to a strong pool of talent coming out of South-London in 2017.
Not only does the release embody a fusion between old and new, pressing jazz influences between contemporary electronic trends but, ‘Idiom’ paves the way for an exciting 2018. Young musicians all over the UK are being given the opportunity to push out their talent as labels, established and new, open their doors, providing a new generation of creatives with the leg-up they need to get themselves out there. Keep watch as these artists make their way to the forefront of a scene that without doubt is set for a continued resurgence throughout 2018.
Sevdaliza – ‘Bebin’ (Nina Franklin)
Written in response to Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban,’ the Dutch-based Iranian singer Sevdaliza penned ‘Bebin’ over a mere two days. Brimming with aching and melancholia, the track is nothing short of a dirge. ‘Bebin’ is the first track Sevdaliza has released in Farsi, and it stands as a uniting call for the Iranian diaspora and a cry against the racial bigotry that western media seeks to make normal. On ‘Bebin’, she says, “In protest of the inhumane political climate, I could not rest my head in privilege. I wrote ‘Bebin’ in Farsi, to solidify. I stand strong with love. In this case I choose to avoid mainstream media, because I have no interest in part taking in a victimized concept. As I will not be able to travel to the United States for indefinite duration, take this message without lights, camera, action. I am solely a messenger. In the act of love, there is no place for racism nor bigotry.”
The track itself is short, a breathy lament that feels almost freestyled. A rattly, trappy drum beat and some sparse synths pad the track but leave it pared back, giving Sevdaliza’s voice room enough to breathe, with her sensual whispers giving way to raw power. Expansive, heartbreaking and full of pride, it’s a track thats been on my playlists all year, and it should be on yours too. Proceeds from the sale of ‘Bebin’ will be transferred towards funds supporting victims of racial exclusion.
Artist of the Year
Yasmin Lacey (Tom Lye)
It’s refreshing to hear Yazmin Lacey making a success of herself this year. Since seeing her perform at Constellations for the Brownswood Future Bubblers event, she has gone from strength to strength, garnering support from across the world. The event emerged from a development programme within Brownswood Music which looked to highlight the talent on offer in cities across the UK and Yazmin is a notable graduate.
With radio play on the BBC networks, Worldwide FM and a whole host of others (ourselves included), her music has been transported from her bedroom to ours. Combine that with support slots for Fatima & The Eglo Band as well as Natalie Duncan, she has had a fantastic 2017. Her debut EP, Black Moon, was released earlier this year on Running Circle and she has recently announced her first solo tour in March to coincide with her second release.
Her honesty and determination is clear, with her soulful, smoky voice a formidable vehicle for the thoughtful poetry and catchy hooks that she writes.
Larry Heard (Toby Taylor)
2017 saw the deep house legend build upon last year’s fleeting comeback after a five year hiatus and complete his triumphant return to the live arena. Heard played the most dates in a calendar year since 2011 (including his first set in London for over twenty years) and his live set up headlined festivals across the world, including Sunfall, Into The Valley and Dekmantel. Away from DJing, the deep house pioneer also had a productive year in the studio; releasing a new EP with long-time collaborator Mr. White on Alleviated Records in September and announcing a new album (to be released in 2018).
Given his contributions to the world of electronic music, it’s an absolute joy that he has made a return to performing live – it really is a privilege to be able to witness genuine house music royalty performing tracks that were so revolutionary and whose influence continues to be reflected in so much contemporary dance music. Indeed, watching a Larry Heard set is to be given a rare glimpse into the era that bore witness to the dawn of house music and giants such as the late Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles. In that regard, I consider myself very lucky that I was able to catch Larry Heard at Sunfall festival in August. That his tracks continue to send crowds wild to this very day, is testament to Larry Heard’s enduring artistic talent and his music’s inherent ability to bring people together. Welcome back Larry, heaven knows we missed you.
Loyle Carner – (Aiden Brady)
This has been a remarkable year for Loyle Carner. The release of Yesterday’s Gone in January received massive acclaim from critics and laymen alike. Shortly thereafter he made a splash on the national and international with a series of live dates and festival appearances. He has even made his way onto commercial mainstream fronts, featuring in a recent Yves Saint Laurent advertisement. The latter is perhaps not worth getting overly animated about, but it is a testament to LC’s ability to break down barriers and put UK hip hop on the map. The scene has been present since the late 20th century, but hasn’t made much of a splash since birth. UK hip hop needed someone to propel it toward the mainstream. In order to get its deserved attention, and show would-be artists there is a scene here they can participate in.
Back in May, our own Chris Cannell provided some great insight into the South-Londoner’s background and work which is well worth a read.
With origins steeped in poetry, the playful and clever lyricism throughout his work comes naturally.
Carner is consistently forthright and open, both emotionally and intellectually. He has tracks exploring issues such as the passing of a best friend’s mother, the little sister he never had and late-night loneliness. However not only does he talk the emotional and conscious talk but he also walks the walk. Exemplified at a recent performance in Norwich where he confronted a punter for making sexist remarks at his support act. This led to the crowd identifying the heckler and their removal from the venue.
In 2017 Loyle Carner proved that UK hip hop can succeed beyond the underground. Whilst he has made himself a tough act to follow, I’m excited to see what the next 12 months bring for LC.
Gig of the Year
Or:la All Night Long – 24 Kitchen Street (Aiden Brady)
I actually reviewed this party back in February of this year. At the time Or:la was still in residence at 24 Kitchen Street and her DJing had started to garner a lot of attention on the national circuit. Since then she’s played out at major clubs such as Fabric, XOYO along with many others both nationally and internationally. Before all this however, as is the case with most DJs before they crack the circuit, Or:la was regularly a supporting name on the bill.
As such, this format of set is the perfect opportunity for any DJ to flex their music collection. The styles on offer spanned many genres of electronic music from two step to techno as well as afrobeat, disco and a few curveballs.
At any party, the crowd and vibe are always decisive in whether or not the night is enjoyable. This may seem like an obvious statement but I think individuals are affected differently by the people around them. However, this was not a concern whatsoever. In my experience the majority who turned out were great and delivered the kind of energy that just makes for a great party. Something that’s especially important when the DJ is selecting tracks that can be a little left-field. These factors, plus a little social lubricant, made for one of the most enjoyable and hedonistic nights I’ve had this year!
Juan Atkins – One Tribe Festival (Nina Franklin)
Is it fair to place a festival gig as the party of the year? When you’re already a little lubricated by the festival atmosphere, it’s easy to have a rose-speckled view of those late summer nights. But One Tribe’s inaugural festival left no holds barred, arriving onto the festival circuit less with a bang and more with an explosion. Whilst some of the other bookings were spot on (Afriquoi, DJ Bone, Move D, Henge) the jewel in the crown had to be Juan Atkins.
Now, let me set the scene. One Tribe is entirely not-for-profit and run by volunteers. In fact, I’d wager practically all of the 2000 strong crowd were either working or performing. Lending this aura of personal ownership to the event resulted in that perfect heady atmosphere so often idolised in dance music circles but rarely achieved; complete acceptance, open-heartedness and mutual respectful. And here, surrounded by cannabis legalisation stands and pyramidal mediation chambers, a Detroit legend wanders onto the stage.
Considered personally responsible for the birth of techno in Detroit, I couldn’t help but feel it was a little surreal seeing Atkins in a teeny tiny tent in Cheshire. Blasting an unrelenting train of belter after belter after belter of the finest electro and techno, and with the crowd going tops-off ballistic, even the typically stony-faced Originator cracked a smile and bounced behind the decks. I’m loathe to say it was a ‘you really had to be there’ moment, but Juan Atkins managed to curate an atmosphere that showed us the best and purest essence of the euphoria that dance music has to offer. As we wandered out of the tent, the words on everyone’s lips were the same – ‘we already can’t wait for next year’. Now that we’re edging into 2018, keep a weather eye on One Tribe and their associates, 303 and Meat Free. See you there in August.
Cedric Maison – Gottwood Festival (James Zaremba)
Gottwood’s fabled Walled Garden promises revellers a few things; killer sound, amphitheatre-esque views and a splash of danger on rainier outings (Dozens fell, slid and tumbled onto the dance floor from the surrounding slopes above!) It was to be expected then that Hypercolour Records’ Saturday night takeover of this stage would prove a festival highlight for many. The brilliantly-minded Matthew Herbert and legendary Roman Flügel set the stage gorgeously leading into label manager Cedric Maison’s closing set (Real name Jamie Russell).
As the outside world offered a typical Welsh welcome of intermittent biblical downpours, all inside the tent danced with an energy befitting of the music on offer. Traversing genre and moods, Maison flew through the Hypercolour back-catalogue, throwing out some unreleased gems all the while. (See the Special Request remix of Herbert’s ‘Brand New Love’ for a flavour of the energy levels at their peak.)
However, it was Maison’s ability to dial in the dance floor for extended periods at a time that created such a unique atmosphere. Offering up Floating Points’ ‘Myrtle Avenue’ in its entirety, mid-set, had hugs and kisses flying across the floor. Similarly, deploying Traumprinz’s ‘2 The Sky’ to even greater effect as the set drew to a close proved that DJs don’t always have to reach for the unknown and unreleased; in fact, transcendency can be found in the most well-trodden of musical paths, so long as risks are willing to be taken!