2016, you’ve moved in mysterious ways. In the world of music alone, you took so many wonderful artists that we began to think there was some kind of macabre paranormal activity afoot, deliberately robbing us of musicians that we’d foolishly mistaken for immortals. We began the year with the losses of David Bowie and Boulez. The shockwaves ran deep. Losing two great visionaries was beyond careless; going on to lose such well-loved UK stars as Ronnie Corbett, Terry Wogan, Alan Rickman, Caroline Aherne and Victoria Wood was vindictive and reckless; having Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Prince, Sir George Martin and Leonard Cohen all join them in the same year, barely comprehensible. The rumour is that Stevie Wonder has been literally wrapped in cotton wool since mid-October and told not to leave the house until New Year’s Day. And so, as the year draws to a close, you may be unsurprised to find that many do not mourn your own passing, 2016.
However, we’ve looked back and found reasons to be cheerful in amongst the gloom, with some genuinely fantastic rays of sunshine from the live music we’ve seen this year, particularly here in the UK. Our music team brings you their favourite tracks from the best live shows of 2016 in this new playlist; find out who picked what and why below.
– Stephen Bloomfield
Check out our Favourite Tracks from the Best Live Shows in 2016 playlist below and find out who chose what and why further down the page.
LEAH ZAKSS (MUSIC TEAM)
Sunderland’s Field Music played a brilliant set at Dorset's End of the Road fest, despite rain and the trauma of having their vehicle break down en route. Superb musicianship, impeccably tight, and loads of fun. Like Talking Heads with Peter Gabriel sneaking in…
How Anna managed to fit this commission around her hugely successful Varmints album release, I’ll never know. Loosely based on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with a linear series of projected visuals by Anna’s sister Eleanor, electronics were combined with live strings, performed with passion, precision and energy by Jonathan Morton’s Scottish Ensemble. Made me grateful for those rigid A-Level music analysis sessions, but perhaps also set me free from the memory.
NAOMI NEKESA (MUSIC TEAM)
One of the best shows I have been to this year was Afriquoi at the Jazz Café. Their music is a combination of traditional African instruments (Gambian kora and Congolese guitar) alongside electronic beats created live onstage by UK producers. The show was memorable for animating the dance floor with a unique and lively fusion of world music ranging from electro-house to soca to soul.
It's been a great year for the British singer/song-writer Michael Kiwanuka and when I saw him play live onstage at Afropunk Festival in Paris I understand why. His band played with such passion and he sang with such conviction, taking the listener on a journey of story-telling through the rich lyrical content and deep subject matter of his songs.
TOM BOUGHEN (MUSIC TEAM)
You have to know where the Oval Space is – crouched in the shadow of disused gasworks in Bethnal Green, it hasn’t a huge capacity but it’s perfect for the crowd this pulled in. The unmistakably Welsh three-piece Joy Formidable pull you in with energy and enthusiasm (along with brash, blasting riffs). They’ve featured on Selector and The Last Thing on My Mind is from their latest album Hitch, an infectious, cathartic anthem which always sounds best live.
KATE WYATT (MUSIC TEAM)
I love site specific performances in non-traditional spaces and this opera was certainly that. The highlights for me were the boxes we were given to carry which turned out to have speakers in and so we literally ‘carried the music with us’ or at least some of it, as it was also interspersed with live performance from Siglo de Oro and Oliver Coates. The other highlight was seeing the nooks and crannies of the hotel, ‘behind the scene’ if you will in particular the corridors by the kitchens where everyday reality clashed with the world of imagination the opera was creating.
JOEL MILLS (MUSIC TEAM)
Massive Attack played Brixton Academy around the time of new EP and album collaborating with Tricky, 3D, and Young Fathers. As ever they were dark, mysterious and bittersweet by turn. Their LED visuals are stunning and politically pointed. Young Fathers supported then joined for new collaborative tracks and brought an explosive energy to the evening.
When I saw that Kraftwerk were performing albums in their entirety over 9 nights at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, I fixed a weekend break around getting tickets for Trans Europe Express. Having never seen them before it was a great and quite intimate setting to see them perform. We were handed 3 D glasses and enjoyed their performance with added 3D visual zing.
Savages – Roundhouse enjoys its 50th birthday this year and always hosts a huge array of great shows. I was lucky to see Savages intense and stark show here. Their androgyny reminds me a little of Bauhaus but they cut their own music path that draws on punk spirit and energy.
STEPHEN BLOOMFIELD (MUSIC TEAM)
I had seen a show just a few weeks before this one where the visuals had been pretty dreadful, but the shape-shifting abstract images behind Rival Consoles were inspired – the perfect backdrop as he told these strangely emotive stories through his wordless sound worlds. I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the music and felt a greater connection with what producer Ryan Lee West was getting at than with many a singer songwriter that claims to pour their heart out with every word. I’ve also never heard Rich Mix sound so good – huge, clean, chest pumping sound: bliss. For more of the same, it’s also worth checking out Rival Console’s After Dark Mix for our very own Selector Radio.
A real, feel-good gig this. I went home smiling with a spring in my step and put the album on as soon as I got in. You can’t ask for much more than that! Not only was the music and the playing spot on, but the band’s humour was thoroughly infectious and by the end I don’t think there was a single person in the place not stamping their feet and singing along. Read more about my Dallahan experience here.
My third pick is not a British band, but this was the band that performed on David Bowie’s final LP, Blackstar, save for Jonathon Marron deputising for Tim Lefebvre on bass. Band leader, Donny McCaslin, is clearly still raw from Bowie’s loss and will be forever associated with being a key driving force behind the album. This was an emotional night for him – a first gig in Bowie’s hometown with this group since Bowie’s death which meant this was a show that held special significance and it poured out in every note. The band played ferociously at times, leaving no doubt that McCaslin and drummer Mark Guiliana, in particular, should rightly be considered among the finest exponents of their instruments working today. But they never let their technicality overshadow their material; the music was a unique form of therapy and had to be administered with care only they alone could have handled.
- Listen to our words and music playlist here
- Listen to our journeys playlist here
- Listen to our film and music playlist here
- Listen to our hidden gems playlist here
- Listen to our cover versions playlist here
- Listen to our whistling playlist here