2017. Gone but not forgotten. Here we are with the last of the festive round-up things, like a Christmas tree up past the 12th night, looking like it’s needing watered, its decorations embarrassingly bright and hopeful in January’s bastard glare.
My favourite tune of 2017. I don’t know what my favourite tune is, how would I know? What a horrible question to ask anyone. Hyperbole aside though, it’s usually a fairly easy one to answer when you actually sit down and think about it. Unless you’re a shop-soiled musical academic sort, bent on making some terrible and prescient point on the music’s role in the contemporary strata, and building complicated data models to support your oddball, joyless, thesis, deciding whether we like something is usually a fairly innate act. I usually base this kind of thing on how often I listen to a tune. What a weirdo I am.
My listening was all over the place in 2017. I probably listened to less electronic music than I’ve done in years, filling the spaces with hoary old rock and Derrick and Clive CDs. When I did give the machine music a go, I drifted fairly evenly between the various camps, but rarely alighted for longer than a quick shuffle at each. Some tunes, like Finn’s excellent Late At Night or the creepy shoogle of Forest Drive West’s Static wormed their way in to my brain and stayed their long after they should have moved on. Others, like Tinfoils’s Twerp, Stenny’s Old Bad Habits, and a host of other bad-tempered, crumbly, bangers briefly flared at the moments I needed a hit of something harsher (and there were quite a few moments like that,) and departed as the moods subsided. The less frequent needs to luxuriate in house were dealt with too. Casio Royale’s acid peaker Organa, and Posthuman and Josh Caffe’s dark and brilliantly malicious Preach fed on the same well of energy, but took it in different directions. Jared Wilson’s lazy, tumbling, Getting That Feeling stole at the quieter minutes.
But as for something more permanent, those tunes were strangely absent. Even electro seemed devoid of something longer lasting. I rattled through piles of electro records this year, some of them brilliant, but very few individual tracks clawed their way to the surface for anything more than a moment, although the ones that did, like Privacy’s old school invoking U Can Tell, Adapta’s dirty funkbomb Drapse Harmonic, CEM3340’s Salacya, and the tight tremor of London Modular Alliance’s Wolves, stayed up there for the way they each captured a different facet of what is still the most inventive genre around. While Frankie Bones’ two Bonesbreak records weren’t strictly electro they kicked some ass, with Mandolay Break leading a dirty charge through a large part of the year.
It was albums which ended up providing the bulk of the special moments, in fact. Perhaps it’s an indication of a growing confidence producers have in creating these larger bodies of work, of tying things together, and using it to feed the music that made the difference. Maybe, but I suspect there was more to it than that. The two albums I probably listened to most, John Heckle’s Tone To Voice, and Karen Gwyer’s Rembo played on deep memories of an era when genres were fluid. For some reason I spent a large part of 2017 on a vague nostalgia trip, but one not easy to define. These two albums helped to solve the condundrum. It wasn’t really old sounds I was looking for, but something more fundamental to why I started listening to all this stuff in the first place. They brought together those incessant ghosts with the drama, whimsy, and adventure of earlier forms of house and techno, allowing melody and drive to form new bones for the spirits. John Heckle’s Obsidian Cityscape locked all that down – and more. Relentlessly groovy, it built a new world for itself out of classic Detroit and IDM, colouring itself with flushes of Model 500, Kenny Larkin, and Black Dog, it shone with rare optimism and excitement, the melody blooming over the rogue stammer of the kicks.
Gwyer’s Rembo was perhaps less informed by that vibe, and the ghosts were blurred by her talent for a sort of quiet experimentalism which often goes unremarked upon, but is central to the way the tunes unfold. The Workers Are on Strike, endlessly effervescent and fizzing with rude invention, is a long moment of continuous discoveries. The initial vibes are much the same as they are with the Heckle track, but the point of departure is much earlier, and is more determined, perhaps, to investigate how those starting points influence the future. It too is a beautiful track, shaping a gracefulness from the tune’s coltish movement. At times it feels like a piece of Cronenberg soundtrack accelerated far out of sync with the movie, at others a garbled radioburst from a distant, glimmering, star.
But it was Hodge and Peder Mannerfelt’s All My Love which I came back to more than anything else. In the increasingly occasional mixes I messed with it became a vital component, powering up and throttling down the ride when needed. I don’t really recall why I took to it as much as I did. It opens fairly unassumingly, unfolding carefully like a piece of flat packed Blawan before it flies right up your brain and slaps it around. Oh, balls; you know what? I’m going to go all soiled academic here after all. All My Love felt like a distillation of a lot of what was good in music this year. It brought something of the fundamental fun and darkness of the hardcore and rave resurgence without resorting to simple musical theft. It locked down techno DNA from the very earliest days, and brought a freshness and moodiness which we were in dire need of. It was neither big nor clever, it didn’t open doorways to new and fundamentally different styles. It simply provided a sliver of dancefloor dark matter that felt joyously, brilliantly, right. All My Love was ‘just’ a great tune. And as the outside world continued to fold in on itself that alone was more than anyone could wish for.