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Dazzling musical moments of an otherwise terrible year.

Nobody had a good 2020, but if you want to know who had it really bad, talk to a working musician. Already squeezed to the limits by a combination of pernicious forces, artists had their primary revenue stream cut off at the knees this year. Unable to tour (and by extension, sell merch) it was an incredibly rough year to be someone who writes songs for a living.

And yet...

In the midst of a compounding catastrophe, our balladeers and troubadours, producers, players and vocalists managed to pull another rabbit out of a bag many considered empty. 2020 has been responsible for some of the most sublime creations in recent memory. Our bodies and minds have suffered, but our souls emerge from the flames nourished. …

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Genre implosion, teenage devotion.

You hear it first at a house party.

It’s that liquid dusk of adolescence, where cliques coalesce quickly. Binge drinkers on the balcony, smokers in the backyard. In the parents’ study, the early adopters are figuring out how to fashion a bong from a Gatorade bottle. And here in the bedroom, where the only functioning Hi-Fi system is, are the rockers.

You’re not sure if you’re a rocker yet. One foot in either camp, seeing what the girls gravitate towards. Always the crowd pleaser, trying on 50 Cent for size one minute, skipping over to Red Hot Chili Peppers the next. But the evidence is mounting. You play the drums, you’re in a band, gel your hair in spiky tips and write secret poems about dying. …

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Our uncertain future of self-curation

I have a recurring nightmare in which all of my Spotify playlists have been deleted.

As someone who’s been fanatic about recorded music since he could request CD singles for his 9th birthday, this makes some semblance of sense. Music fans of my generation have witnessed more seismic changes to formats — in less time — than any before us. It took about twenty years for society to move from tapes to CDs, but only half of that for us to go through mp3 players, Napster, iPods, iTunes and streaming services.

Growing up, our family’s electronics drawer was filled with rapidly obsolete music delivery models; Walkmans, Mini-Discs, Rhapsody players, SanDisks and multiple generation of iPods classic, mini and shuffle. Don’t even get me started on phones. …

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‘Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family.’

Sacred texts are really just stories we tell each other, codified through conversation over thousands of years, so there’s no reason to believe the same won’t happen with Fast & Furious.

In Judaism, the Old Testament is roughly diced up into five segments before we bow out and hand over the torch to Christianity. Fast & Furious realistically makes it to seven films before the wheels start to fall off, but even the early demise of the group’s metaphorical Jesus doesn’t stop them meting out biblical battles (F8 & The Furious, 2017) and, by way of sage meta-commentary, the Midrash of Hobbs & Shaw, an entirely uncalled for spin-off in which Jason Statham and The Rock join forces to pummel bad guys and save the world from bioterrorism, or whatever.

When Dad dies, we’re locked in our house for seven days, which in Hebrew is called Shiva. We’re not allowed to shave, listen to music, go outside or do anything apart from sit mutely in a self-imposed fog of grief and pick through the mounting pile of smoked salmon other people’s aunts keep leaving by the front door.

Shiva is hell for the extrovert. 48 hours in, all four of us are already well on the way to losing it. We’re simply not programmed to do nothing. Eventually Zac, who is studying undergraduate psychology, proposes we watch a stupid movie to get outside of own heads. This is how we embark a quasi-spiritual relationship with Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Ludacris. We are saved from insanity by a series of films that make no sense.

Our family is torn apart by suicide but bonded together by fast cars, hole-riddled plots and a criminally underrated hip-hop soundtrack. The rabbi who comes to counsel us on Day 3 remarks on how well we are all doing given the circumstances, and we don’t have the heart to tell him that while we haven’t left the house, our heads are in the illegal street racing worlds of Los Angeles and Tokyo.

Fast & Furious has all the elements needed to start a religion, including a cyclical collection of stories based around the ancient mores of betrayal, redemption and tank tops for both genders. There’s Moses in Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, shepherding his flock through one last job before they call it quits and settle in the promised land, which we all know never quite happens.

And then, tangentially connected (after all, they’re not really mates in the original Bible) is our blue-eyed, genetically blessed Christ. In July 2013, Dad is no longer alive, but Paul Walker still is. …

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One thing I enjoy about being someone that works with musicians is that this is an industry could innovate its way out of a paper bag. It’s been at the forefront of digital disruption for decades, faced multiple threats to its entire existence and still managed to survive. The people that work in music are not only the most passionate, but also some of the brightest.

But here’s the thing: live and recorded music are different — and always will be. We’re currently in the midst of a new golden age of mechanical exploitation; the streaming boom, deep back catalogues, new formats and platforms have allowed labels and publishers to derive significant blood from what was once thought to be a totally barren stone. The recording industry returned to the black for the first time in over a decade in 2018. …

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Photo credit: Benedikt Frank for BRICK Magazine

Finding home with Africa’s ARIA-winning first lady of hip-hop

The vast multitudes of Sampa The Great sit cross-legged in a meeting room at Ninja Tune’s South London office, sipping lemon tea to preserve her voice. Formerly known as Sampa Tembo, this swarm of spirits has become many things to many people since leaving her native Botswana. Her identity, history and soul have been pinned down and scrubbed over so many times that it’s sometimes hard to know who wrote which words first.

It is these many Sampas that make Sampa The Great, a title she conferred upon them at the grand age of seven in her childhood Zambia. “I wanted to put a name beside myself that I could aspire to be,” she says, her expansive voice sonorous even at breaking point. …

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The running joke in our family is that having had and recovered from Covid-19 has given us a superpower — now we would like to use it

This piece was originally published on Guardian Australia.

We were supposed to be getting married today. We came back to Australia from the UK for our big moment. Right now, we’re finding other things more exciting. Unable to walk down the aisle or even leave the house, driving ourselves to St Vincent’s hospital for our coronavirus PCR tests is as wild as it gets around here.

For those fortunate enough not to have had one of these yet, imagine a cotton bud being rammed up your nose, somewhere close to the region of your brain. Now multiply that by your other nostril. It’s definitely up there with the most romantic things you can do with your fiancee in her first week in Sydney, second only to testing positive for the most topical virus since Y2K. …

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the sirens, they aren’t coming for me
4am lie awake but it’s easy to see
through the crumbling darkness
who their quarry is likely to be

the sirens, they pierce the flesh and mind
leave me twitchy, jittery all of the time
cropdusting dopplers wax and wane
stoking a fear undefined

the sirens, they’re coded in binary
angels of death shriek, they swoop over me
hungry only for firstborn sons
owned and raised by the streets

the sirens, they signal your colour’s a crime
or rather it isn’t if you’re talking ‘bout mine
a pigmented wheel of fortune
odds stacked by…

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The One Song of The Year, 2019.

Hard work gathering them all together, but somehow, he managed to do it. The invitations couldn’t be sent by post; he didn’t know where half of them actually lived and besides, asking for addresses would seem suspicious. And so he did as he’d always done, showing up at their places of work with crisp envelopes, freshly licked, sealed and smoothed over again, delivered directly into their hands.

He’d written each name in thick black script using a Sharpie he’d stolen from an office he didn’t remember working at. Covered them in festive stickers from the post office like he was a nine year-old because he didn’t really have much to lose. Half a day wasted trying to recall if Niel was ‘Neil’ or ‘Niell’, debating adding a surname to even up the alignment. …

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The tunes that brought us closer in a year full of division

2019 has been an out of control, raging bin fire of a year, both politically and environmentally. As it staggers to a close, it seems like the first time many of us are actively worried about what the next year holds. But in the wake of all this wanton and catastrophic destruction of our democracies, our planet and our belief that Tarantino still makes good films, comes a glimmer of hope.

Music has not been this good for years. Freed of significant industry debt, creatively buoyed by new formats and unpredictable release schedules, 2019 proved to be the year that art reacted to the world around it in the best possible way. In 12 months that have given us so much to lament, music brought us an almost unparalleled joy. There was a lot to love about what we heard this year, so rather than rank songs in order of 50 to 1 or wrap the decade into a bar graph, I thought I’d focus on that sensation for a hot minute. …

jonathan seidler.

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