Music Survival Guide 2022 – Year in Review

Posted: December 22, 2022 by Kat Meow in Action/Adventure, Coventry Carols, Fishbone, General, Ho99o9, Hoddy, Ibibio Sound Machine, Live Shows, N8NoFace, OfficialSoda, Sho Madjozi, Stromae

In the winter of 2021, while poking through shelves of thrift shop CDs, I posed a pitch to Soda Survive about Music Survival Guide.  My favorite band’s new album was underrepresented by people who make words mean things, and I was frustrated about it enough to act.  “Sure,” he said, handing me an inbox full of submissions he had no time to manage, having just given birth to Coventry Carols.  I began sucking down new music releases like crab legs at the Chinese buffet and regurgitating the thesaurus about ‘em.  Forty-five posts and roughly 20,000 words later, I have come to a few conclusions:  

  • I like writing, but I really like attention.
  • I know I’m good at writing, but I will be excellent at it.
  • I have absolutely no qualifications to write about music in any technical or academic way.  But I am going to keep doing it anyway.
  • If I could be at a show every night, I would be.
  • The hardest and most frustrating posts to write are about shows, and yet they end up being my favorite pieces to have written.

For the last few years, I, like all of us, have all relied on hours upon hours of media content to keep ourselves entertained, functional, and relevant.  But our artists are struggling.  Artist after artist is canceling tours, citing astronomical costs.  They are subsisting on pocket change while half-dead code monkeys figure out new ways to gatekeep which songs break out to wider audiences.  Artists can’t get on radio, as if most radio played new music anyway.  Artists are handmaking merch only to find that venues want a cut of the pie. And you can’t even blame some venues, who are pressured to keep tickets and drink prices low while keeping the lights on with soaring rents.  Some smaller venue owners never really turn a profit, but they keep the machine turning because they like to see bands play – if they managed to stay open.  And yet everyone has their hands in the pockets of people with the fortitude to put their feelings on stage.  I can’t help but wonder what invisible voids are being left by artists who throw in the towel so they can make sure the lights stay on and the kids are fed.  

The ecosystem isn’t functioning.  I don’t know if it ever really functioned – I have no way of knowing, being an outsider.  But I do know that the rest of us take on responsible jobs to be flush with cash, and we’re not getting paid our worth either.  So imagine being the artists, carving their flesh on the stage, for dollars that can buy fewer and fewer groceries each week.

As listeners, we are the largest group of stakeholders in this ecosystem.  But we’re not going out to see shows, even though we’re curating playlists out of artists that make fractions of pennies for all the free pleasure we take.  And without us to consume the art, what is the purpose of performing it?  So much of our consumption of things is at home now.  We’re all gobbling Ubereats and White Claws while binge watching seasons of Gordon Ramsay’s Forehead Wrinkles.  We’re numbing ourselves to these fifteen second snippets of TikToks and reels flying by our faces so fast we can hardly consider the literal nothing we waste our time watching.  We’d rather be in bed than in the world, and we’d rather flake on our friends than muster the energy to connect, and boy don’t we feel numb, because if we weren’t numb, we’d be miserable anyway.  We’d rather keep the ten bucks, even though it’ll eventually end up being spent on corporate weed.  

But, starlight is starting to shine through the miasma.  On any given night, a dozen bands are playing a dozen crappy bars in a dozen cities, and doing it for ten dollars a pop to earn enough gas money to make it to the next town.  And they’re doing it because the alternative is eating some middle-manager’s shit for slightly more money.  There is no reason why any person with a dollop of disposable income and a couple hours of free time shouldn’t be standing in a room listening to someone wailing behind a thrift shop Casio.  There’s nothing at home, people.  The golden era of niche TV is nearly over, and whether Marvel movies are art or trash, we’ve all had our fill of them.  Even the shittiest band’s live show is better than most of the offerings on the streamers, or worse, the cultural feces of trending videos and sounds on the socials.  The plague made staying at home jump the shark.  What a bore.  And yet societally-induced depressions and anxieties have us telling ourselves home is better.  Change the conversation.

But I’m tired.  I’m always tired.  If I’m going to be tired, it should be because I danced.

It costs money.  If I have enough money to order Ubereats, I can afford a $12 cover and a watered-down vodka.

I haven’t heard of them.  I’ll hear of them tonight, then.  

Nobody will go with me.  Go alone.  Being with oneself is the shit.  Experiencing life alone is underrated and yet it still has a stigma of being off.  Fuck stigmas.

What if I don’t like them? I don’t think people understand the power of having a safe experience like listening to music-you-don’t-like-at-first and trying to understand it anyway.  There are few things in the world that teach a person about themselves better than leaning into something one dislikes.  Some of the best experiences I have had this year have been from breathing through something that strikes me wrong, and leaning in instead of retreating.  Remember, THEY have the guts to get on stage.  So give the act the respect it deserves just for having the br/ovaries to try.

A ten dollar show is an adventure waiting to happen.  And I can’t think of anything more dreadful than thousands of people sitting at home doing the same old nothing and feeling the same old nothing while even the shittiest, least developed, and greenest young indie band can make you feel somethingMore people need to be going out to shows.  Let’s get off our asses.  If we can leave our hangups, our identities, and our preconceived notions at the door, we can find something in almost any piece of music made with the teeniest amount of skill and thought.  

So in 2023, I am going to write more about live shows.  I want to put my body out in the world, where the music is playing.  And I want other people to do it with me.  When the body is tired, we rest.  But when the soul is tired, we dance.  So let’s fucking dance.

To celebrate a year of good shows, here is a top five countdown of the best shows I saw this year, including a couple I hadn’t written about yet.

5. Too Many Zooz supported by YamYam

Yam Yam started the show off pretty good.  Funky and soulful, with a number of really groovy moments that had me moving.  The bassist was up there looking like Jaco’s grandcousin playing that funk and a handful of smooth covers.  I enjoyed them.

I was supposed to see Zooz many times and never made it, so it was really satisfying to finally be in the sprawl and see what they really do.  Saxophonist Leo P was equal parts gutter and glam in sparkle jorts, Beavis and Butthead tank, and vaguely pink mullet.  Ever a showman, Leo blurts out these deep fat tones while he grinds Ginuwine “Pony” style against his baritone sax.  To the left, the trumpeting was crazy wild from Matt Muirhead.  That trumpet sounds even farther out front in the real world, screaming with impassioned frenzy that vibrates the chest.  But it’s King of Sludge that engaged me most – his face was concentrated, framed by his strong jawline adorned with curly beard hair, framed in a bright pink beanie.  Sludge is lean and solid, and even though he could put down his tools in this non-busking context, he remains pregnant with his drum on his waist, thundering airily like Zeus banged it himself.

4. Ho9909 supported by N8NOFACE and Hoddy

N8NOFACE remains unlike anything I have ever seen.  His maddening self-inflicted violence over darkwave synth loops color his intensely painful traumas, leaving you with powerful danceable Tucson punk.  Ho99o9 headlined with their own combination of hellish cyberpunk filth. Ever been turned on by a six foot tall horror clown with dreadlocks and platform boots? My second 999 show and not my last.  Read more.

3. Stromae supported by Sho Madjozi

This show opened with Sho Madjozi, whose pop Afrobeats and wild dance moves were fun to watch.  She was the first South African musician to ever play the Garden, a dream come true for her.  She’s a high energy mix with her Tsonga-fusion looks and stomping dances and lots of fun.

But Stromae!  I had decided to swear off arena shows after the disappointment of Pumpkins and Jane’s at UBS.  But Belgian pop icon Stromae had sold out two nights at Madison Square Garden, and I had never seen a full stage pop spectacular before.  Plus, I had good company: a friend that had introduced me to Stromae’s heart-grabbing Europop and vibrant imagery through their love of French language.  Stromae’s dramatic voice poured through his most profound songs.  He was illustrated by fifteen enormous screens positioned on robot arms with articulated ball joints; screens that alternated between precise visual choreography and being one giant beast theater for Stromae’s charming animations.   “Fils de Joie,” for example, used images of animated marching soldiers, in military garb of many nations, to illustrate a facade of dignity over the tale of an exploited sex worker.  Geometric animations colored Stromae’s incurable hurt during “Papaoutai.”  A choreographed recliner partnered with Stromae during “Mauvaise Journée” et “Bonne Journée.”  I wanted a spectacle, and I got it – one of very few arena shows that I think were worth every penny.

2. Fishbone supported by Action/Adventure

Action/Adventure are cutie patooties with their barrier-blasting pop punk and branded hot sauce. Fishbone is a tried and true favorite.  A Fishbone show is family. Six down, infinity to go.  Read more.

1. Ibibio Sound Machine supported by DJ Sinkane

Ibibio Sound Machine is now a no-miss band for me.  A friend asked me if they were becoming my new Thumpasaurus, I had them on repeat so much.  That’s some high-as-hell praise if you know me. And Eno Williams is a goddess. DJ Sinkane was a worthy watch considering I’m not a lover of DJ sets. Sweatiest most joyous show of the year.   Read more.

I won’t only be writing up live shows.  Keep the submissions coming!  A handful of career retrospectives and interviews with artists are also coming when I bring back the Music Survival Guide Podcast.  Thank you for reading and for all of the clickies and internet points. Happy Winter! I’ll see you at the end of January 2023.  Keep in touch on instagram, @officialmusicsurvivalguide.

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