Speaking About Charts, Data & the Music Industry

I’ve set myself a goal of becoming a better public speaker. I didn’t do a lot of that in my time at Universal Music, and I used to be pretty good at it. Turns out though, public speaking isn’t like riding a bike. In my efforts to improve I keep saying yes to requests, so late last year I spoke on a panel at the Botswana International Music Conference and did an interview with Kaya FM.

The South African charts I’m talking about in the interview are here:

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Over the last year, they have become really interesting to look at because the time period is the same (Friday – Friday) but the user bases and price points for these services differ. In a society as dynamic and heterogeneous as South Africa, there’s more to music data than just identifying the hits. These different services highlight what is popular for different communities and consumers, and it’s exactly the kind of feedback that aspiring domestic musicians need.

That’s why we joined BASA – because until now, artists haven’t had free access to this data. Music is the most popular of the Arts, yet there are no official or independent music charts. I did a little more speaking at a BASA event and they published a bit of news about Labs.FM. All in all, I’ve got some things to say, and I’ll be doing more of that over the course of the year.

The Top 20 Albums & Best Wrok of 2018 Playlist

I’ve seen a post on social media saying this year tried to kill everyone. Tom Waits said it best though: “I’ve been riding on the crest of a slump.” The process of reinventing oneself is not easy and in the midst of all that uncertainty, music saves lives.

2018

An albums girl living in a playlist world, I listened to more records this year in comparison to the last few years. I also spent more time discussing music (with a bunch of like-minded reprobates over Whatsapp) than I’d ever done before. It was the year that classical crossover and millennial power pop stood out for me. If they keep making music this good I’ll gladly hand over the keys to our Young Overlords. Also, the mish-mashing of everything from genres to grammar just worked. Janelle Monáe combined Vaginas, Sci-Fi and Prince in a landmark R&B infused pop-operatic statement. Let’s Eat Grandma mashed up everything from the Oxford Comma to Pink Floyd-meets-the-Spice Girls. In terms of things being turned upside down, thank goodness for music, because the world is a mess.

There was so much of it this year that I’ve made a Top 20 list to avoid leaving out some of the incredible new releases. My yearly playlist is at 60 tracks vs the recommended 30 (my own rule, I get to break it), which makes just under four and a half hours of this year’s personal musical highlights available on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and other platforms:

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And that brings me to the Top 20 Records of 2018 list:

1. Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m all Ears

Let_s Eat GrandmaI never thought my record of the year would be made by teenagers. Time and again I returned to this duo’s brave pop experimentation, which takes inspiration from the listener’s expectation of what two nineteen-year-old girls can do, and smashes it. The rapturous highs and lows of this album range from confrontational to vulnerable, all while defying genres. From start to finish it’s bold and adventurous. I’m all Ears is an extraordinary record that doesn’t sound like anything else out there.

2. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

Janelle MonaeDirty Computer is a spectacular, honest body of work that dares to occupy all positions – playful and provocative, pansexual, powerful, and iconic. In a time so clouded with double meanings, Monáe’s fearless conviction is a beacon. Nevermind smashing the patriarchy, this is a black woman calling bullshit and taking the power back while she’s dancing.

3. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

1975-400pxAn unapologetically positive record, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is the antidote to Brexit and Baby Boomers. It flies high in the in the face of the depressing current political landscape, equipped with sparkling crisp lyrics and buzzing beats throughout. It’s got something for everyone and is an optimistic testament to new beginnings.

4. Niklas Paschburg – Oceanic

Niklas Paschburg.jpgPaschburg’s debut is a gentle record that is as much of a slow burn as an ambient meditation. It occupies an interesting space in the growing classical crossover genre, with more pop influences in the instrumental song structures than his peers. It’s the most beautiful record I’ve heard all year.

5. Hookworms – Microshift

HookwormsMicroshift is a constantly moving, driving and pushing electro-psych masterpiece. The dynamic record captures an urgent tone while floating synths alongside unexpected time signatures, bursts of noise and declarative pop hooks. At times it feels like it could go anywhere, but with intense focus. A pinnacle of art-rock.

6. Anna Calvi – Hunter

annacalvi.jpgOn this gloriously badass record, Anna Calvi slams the notion that strength is masculine. It’s classy, fierce rock that is wildly ambitious and delivers with dreamy cinematic abandon. She sensualises and reframes predation in a manner that is liberating for women. A tour de force.

7. Boy Azooga – 1, 2, Kung Fu!

Boy-Azooga.jpgAn explosive album that rolls in and chews on, serving a taste of inspiration from just about every genre. It’s a garage-rock disco slacker soul record that feels like an adventure, discovering new sounds and depths with childlike wonder in every listen.

8. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar

young fathers.jpgExperimental indie at its core, this is a challenging and rewarding record. From speed-rapping to krautrock, the combination of alternative ideas with sharp and focused songwriting from the Edinburgh trio has an unsettling yet shimmering effect. Groundbreaking, dark hip-hop infused pop that speaks to the times.

9. Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine

big reg machineA collaboration between Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner sounds like a dream come true, and indeed this is an album to get lost into. Along with a host of guests, they create soundscapes that feel ethereal and warm while experimenting with odd time signatures, instrumental effects and choral melodies. It’s a minimalistic and introspective record that is experienced rather than consumed.

10. Preoccupations – New Material

Preoccupations.jpgPost-punk has never been this trippy, even though Preoccupations are a band comfortable in the bleak shadows. This is a gritty and euphoric record that marches forward relentlessly, hitting the listener with changes in pace, noise and bright production.

11. Caroline Rose – Loner

Caroline Rose.jpgA buzzing glitter party of a record that bubbles with wit, multi-instrumentalist Rose switches gears between considered and trashy with the catchiest of melodies. From pop synths to surf-rock guitar riffs, it’s adventurous and carefree. Caroline Rose is wild and this is the most fun album on this list.

12. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

Car Seat Headrest.jpgWill Toledo aka guitar genius of this century redid a previous (2011) release with a full band and better budget, and it’s bliss. The queer powerhouse nails awkward angst with killer riffs and deft songwriting about depression, meditation and coming of age. It’s lo-fi and slick, with layered guitars and muddy production in all the right places.

13. Lucy Dacus – Historian

Lucy Dacus.jpgLucy Dacus is a classy lyricist and master of the slow guitar buildup. On Historian she’s both serious and subtle, ruminating on the relationships that form our stories. A pensive and mature slow burn of an album that washes over you with Dacus’ effortless vocals and intoxicating melodies.

14. Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs

Wye-Oak.jpgA yearning, dream-pop album that buzzes with guitars and engulfs the listener in synths. Wye Oak have written laid-back folk earworms as well as the most cathartic guitar solo of the year on “Lifer.” A self-conscious record that dazzles.

15. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In

kurt vile.jpgBottle It In is this generation’s warm hug of Americana. Vile’s thoughts and loose guitar tumble from the mundane to melancholic, always with a smile. Comfortable stoner rock at it’s most emotional.

16. Bill Ryder-Jones – Yawn

billryderjones.jpgThis record is the beautiful sound of surrender. Indie and lo-fi, the earnest singer-songwriterness is met with wailing guitars and Ryder-Jones effortless vocals. A touching personal album that permeates sadness and bares our defeated human conditions.

17. Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds

jonathan-wilson.jpegA sprawling, ambitious collection of influences with imagery that would be well suited to a soundtrack. Between Wilson’s pop melodies, the synths and glowing production it’s a generous rock record and a thoroughly enjoyable listen.

18. Haley Heynderickx – I Need to Start a Garden

Haley-Heynderickx.jpgFrom the spelling of her name to the stream-of-consciousness lyrics, this is a quirky AF album and an incredible debut. Heynderickx’ goes from finger picking to full-on Nirvana grunge, accompanied by a trombone. Vulnerable, wise and playful indie-folk, It’s jammed with earworms and lyrical gems like “she’ll never get to eat you like your heart’s a pomegranate.”

19. MØ – Forever Neverland

mo.jpgA masterpiece of electro-pop with a layer of strawberry lip gloss, Forever Neverland is a confident banger of a record from a blossoming artist. It’s a treat that mainstream pop is this indie because I’m all about that lo-fi bass.

20. Ovlov – TRU

ovlov.jpgAn energetic and distorted collection of bubblegum hooks, this juggernaut punk rock record has a rainbow heart and majestic shredding guitars that make my ears rejoice.

Other stand out albums of the year that would have been a top-30ish include Son Lux, Low, Rhye, Soccer Mommy, Gaz Coombes, Villagers, Amen Dunes, Blood Orange, Mitski, Oh Sees, Miya Folick, Kacey Musgraves, Olafur Arnalds and Middle Kids.

Merry Christmas, happy birthday (to me) and have a great new year friendly people of the Internet. At last, 2018 is almost done.

2018 edit

 

 

Playlists! New Music! Spotify!

All the playlists I’ve published are now on Spotify, Apple, Deezer and YouTube; and sometimes Soundcloud, Tidal and Google Play.

I’ve been making mixtapes since I was old enough to press play and record at the same time. Yesterday I opened my old box of tapes and it was a treat to look through, but it reminded me that I’ve been rather lazy with publishing my playlists. But now that Spotify has launched in South Africa (I personally invited them in 2007), I thought it’s a good idea to share share share!

These days it’s easier than ever to make your own digital mixtape and publish it on social media. Not everyone uses the same streaming services though, which is why I’ve made dedicated pages (in the side column) for my Spotify and Apple Music playlists, as well as one for Other Services.

All the playlists I’ve published are now on Spotify, Apple, Deezer and YouTube; and sometimes Soundcloud, Tidal and Google Play. You can also follow me on Spotify and never miss a new playlist, as this is my preferred Streaming Service. More playlists coming soon!

Reuniting The Faithless

This is an old story, one that begins before the other music industry stories I still have to tell. It’s the one about how I missed Faithless the first time around.

In the early 00’s I was working as a waitress at a small-town grill. The tips were good but the people, not so much. My boyfriend got us tickets to see Faithless live in concert. I was looking forward to it because he was into dance music, and Faithless was the only band he liked whose songs I actually knew (and liked). Also, it was a time when South African promoters only brought out one international band a year, so best you be there.

The week of the concert, I checked the shift roster and there it was, my name on the evening I’d asked to have off. And so, after not being able to get anyone to fill my shift, I pitched up to work because I’m that person. Sad Boyfriend went to the concert alone.

That night Sad but incredibly resourceful Boyfriend got me an autograph of every member of Faithless. It’s memorabilia that I still have, long after the small-town grill closed and we broke up. My Calvinistic parents didn’t teach me that it’s okay to throw in the towel sometimes. I’ll certainly teach my son about Loss Aversion and Sunken-Cost bias, and also to just quit stupid part-time jobs if they get in the way of life.

Next month multi-instrumentalist, DJ and producer Sister Bliss will be in South Africa doing a Faithless set, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. This is the talented woman who led the expedition into a Man’s World behind the decks, while at the same time wrote all of Faithless’ hits (there are so many). God Is A DJ, and I’ve been waiting to see her for years.

Details:
Johannesburg 9 March at Wild Waters in Boksburg: Tickets at Webtickets
Cape Town 10 March at Shimmy Beach Club in Cape Town: Tickets at Webtickets 

 

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Finally, Up The Creek

I’ve lost count of the people who have told me that I would love Up The Creek, so this year I finally hit the road with my lilo.

 

My wingman, the seriously talented and ridiculously hard-working photographer Henry Engelbrecht, drove us there after a red-eye flight on Friday morning. As the valleys unfolded we found ourselves in the middle of farmland with a secret ingredient: a gorgeous river. It was only knee-deep when we got there, but lilos (and festival-goers) don’t care.

Tent, mattress & bedding – check, check, check. I went off exploring the river stage, food stalls, bars and landscape. It’s such great venue and setting, everything is close together but never too crowded, and in the event of you needing to be alone for a little while, there’s plenty of space for that too. The organisers cap the event at 2500 tickets, and this number is just right.

Cashless Howler RFID armbands were a stroke of genius. I first saw these in 2016 at Panorama NYC, and have been singing their praises since. Being able to walk around without having to remember to look after a wallet or card is a liberating experience, and the process of cashing out took me less than 5 minutes (funds clear in 1-2 days). It’s a transparent, crime-diminishing feature that makes it as easy as possible for festival-goers to trust a payment system.

Liny Kruger from LK Mediabook ran the media and held a feast of a breakfast for us on Saturday morning, despite a bit of a drizzle. I kept hearing from people that Swellendam is always hot as hell, but this year the rain and clouds broke the usual 40-degree Celsius temperatures. There was always something to do, whether missioning between the stages or getting food or going to a bar or bumping into someone you know. And of course, all the excellent music!

 

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BRYNN, killing it.

 

It was a treat seeing bands that aren’t usually on the Gauteng circuit. BRYNN was a breath of fresh air, friendly and incredibly intense on stage. With Hezron Chetty on violin, it felt like the crowd might orgasm. Dave van Vuuren is also a band member in Southern Wild, and these two bands are both at the top of their game.

Fokofpolisiekar were luxurious to watch. Not only did they perform my favourite song Tiny Town (first time I’ve ever seen it live), they also audibly shifted a gear into AC, while showing people they’re the same on-stage rockers you remember from varsity. Cape Town crowds are different, and it was good seeing them in their natural habitat.

Other highlights included Retro Dizzy, a glorious hot mess of bodies and rock guitars, as well as the Sublime Tribute Project (so much fun and bouncing, don’t think I’ve ever smiled or sung as much at a festival). I missed The Shabs, but I hear they’re a hoot. Crimson House played on Thursday before I got there, and I missed my beloved Bongeziwe Mabandla on Sunday in order to rush back to Cape Town (so that I could climb The Mountain).

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Leaving the festival was a piece of pie. Without an early lift back, I hitchhiked for the first time in my life. Gail, A carefree middle-age woman in a Mazda 2 piled full of lilos, gave me a lift all the way to my Airbnb in Rondebosch. I would never dream of hiking for a lift with a stranger, but the festival seemed so open and trusting that I was convinced the universe would serve up an interesting experience (it did – “It’s later than you think” is the casual wisdom tucked into Gail’s sun visor).

Next year I’ll go from the Thursday and be the last to leave on Sunday. It’s so pleasant and relaxed, you can call it a holiday, not just a festival. Cheers, and thank you, Up The Creek.

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The 10 Best Records & Wrok’s Best of 2017 Side B

Side-B

When I joked (badly) in January that this Chinese year of the Rooster is really just the Year of The Cock, I had no idea. There were so many great songs for the last part of the year, and not even from all the big bands or artists that you’d expect. In-between all the political, economic and climatic mayhem there was some sensible music being made.

Trends for the year include hearing amazing female vocals everywhere I listened and a return to “solos” in pop songs (guitar solos for sure, but other instruments too). Trumpety-trump proved to be a strong influence, adding a whole new chapter to the history protest songs. Everyone from Arcade Fire & Mavis Staples to Billy Bragg took a stab from across the pond, not to mention all the angry music (see Best Of Albums list). On the Side B playlist, the orange man gets a cameo on “House Cat,” and is summarily dismissed by a nonchalant Mark Kozelek (as a cat). But that’s just one of the 2.5 hours of my favourite tracks from July-December 2017. Let’s all hit shuffle and go on holiday.

national

1. The National – Sleep Well Beast

The National really are at the top of their game, and this album seems so effortless and smooth, I’d like to inhale it. They struggle though, and the intensity with which they wrestle their creative beasts are so pleasing and intoxicating. There’s absolute harmony and discordancy at work here, as well as really intimate lyrics. The record features the band’s first real guitar solos (there are two and they’re glorious).

LCD_Soundsystem

2. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

The most brilliant record released this year to be met with equal and opposite amounts of scepticism. It’s one of their best to date and is overshadowed by their previous work. I only discovered LCD Soundsystem late anyway, but to me, this record sounds like prime LCD Soundsystem: the same themes but darker and the same sharp wit but with more bite. I don’t know why everyone calls it a comeback album when it’s clear that James Murphy never left the room.

Courtney_Barnett_Kurt_Vile

3. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

This record is my go-to album for 2017. It always matches the mood. With lots of happy, sad, rocking and laid back bits of quirky wisdom it makes sense that an honest, down to earth record would be the outcome from these slacker-rock indie darlings.

war on drugs

4. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

This album builds on the high standards set by Lost In A Dream, with the same wash of sound that transports you somewhere else. The mood is higher and the sound bolder, as if to resolve the two records in a celebration of victorious, dirty guitars.

Richard Dawson

5. Richard Dawson – Peasant

An exciting and strange British freak-folk album from this dude who came out of nowhere. Dawson shows incredible bravery on this medieval Celtic off-key album. It’s dirty with beautiful melodies scattered haphazardly, and the record sticks and stays with you. The weirdest and most groundbreaking album that has chosen me for a while.

weather station

6. The Weather Station – The Weather Station

Oh, my kingdom for beautiful Canadian singer-songwriters! This record is classic Folk Gold in the vein of Joni Mitchell, but at the same time is Tamara Lindeman’s confident own voice. With mint production, engaging lyrics and a rolling musical urgency, this is definitely both a vinyl/headphone and crowd-pleaser record.

protomartyr

7. Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent

Finally, a band has risen to take the flame from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Protomartyr are pissed-off and mysterious like a good Goth-inspired Post-Punk band should be. They have great rhythm and pace, with a surprising lulling quality for minor chords and dramatic badassery. Definitely music to watch Trump speeches or have existential crises to.

GSYBE

8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

A very simplified GY!BE record that hits home and feels very true to now. The album fits in well with their body of work, although it’s by no means an extensive movement of beautiful music. Rather it presents a well-organized progression of rage as grandiose tracks bombard your ears for just under an hour. A cathartic listen.

rostam

9. Rostam – Half-Light

An eclectic debut from one half of vampire weekend. The album turns pop song structure around while echoing traditional pop melodies. An inspiring sweet, detailed album from Batmanglij that doesn’t really go anywhere, but that’s entirely ok.

 

bongeziwe mabandla

10. Bongeziwe Mabandla – Mangaliso

A record that masterfully balances the traditional and new. South African Xhosa music has never sounded this modern or hypnotic, and this album turns sweet world music turned on its head.

That’s it. Special mentions to Bjork, Sza, Josh Ritter and Sylvan Esso. As Vicky would say, “soz lol.”