Escapism at its most unadulterated…Nothing beats shaking off the woes of the world like a good gig. Whether you prefer watching a disc jockey spin records that were released before you were born or veer more towards standing in a sweaty venue, watery pint in hand, to watch your mate’s grunge band – everyone loves a good night out.
From highlife in London to techno in Manchester, our writers give us a run-down of their top gigs this year.
Ata Kak – Moth Club
Chosen by James McElhone
Highlife star Ata Kak spent many years unnoticed in the music industry but the Awesome Tapes founder, Brian Shimkowitz, brought him back to life after finding his cassette, turning him into a cult hero. Just this year he ventured on his first European tour and I was lucky enough to catch his show at the Moth Club in Hackney, London. The gig was full of energy and eccentricity, as he took to the stage and performed his album: Obaa Sima. It was a gig where I didn’t know what to expect, but it was even better than listening to the album. Instead of the raw, low budget recordings, we were gifted with a full band performing of these wonderful tracks; bringing new levels of sound to songs that have never been heard before, just proving how genius the record actually is.
Steve Reid Foundation Fundraiser with Four Tet & Floating Points & Gilles Peterson & Jamie xx – Phonox
Chosen by Toby Taylor
Four of the best in the business, playing all night long… what’s not to like?! Needless to say, with the absolute plethora of musical knowledge that these four possess, the track selections were on point, and I often found myself scrambling to try an ID many an obscure selection. Musically, the night was spanned many a genre, seamlessly transitioning from Samba, to techno with just about everything in between. Highlight of the night was most definitely was when Azymuth’s ‘Jazz Carnival’ was dropped – its thumping bassline sounded incredible on the Phonox sound system. All in all a great night, for a great cause, with some great DJs – all good.
Yussef Kamaal (Black Focus Tour) – 24 Kitchen Street, Liverpool
Chosen by Josh Aitman
One of the most pioneering groups in contemporary jazz whilst only one album deep, Yussef Kamaal have captivated audiences around the country with their debut tour. Showcasing the Black Focus album, released on Gilles Peterson’s label, Brownswood, the album has received nothing but praise since its release. Their appearance in Liverpool back in October has to be my favourite gig of this year. A complete lock out at 24 Kitchen Street, the Bam Bam Bam and Madnice Marauders crew created an atmosphere in the venue that I have never experienced before. Not only is it a first for me to experience the venue being used as a gig space but a first to be in the venue before 10pm!
The moody sounds of Ranga and Harambe’s warm-up set swept over the crowd. For most, this was the first encounter with the Liverpool-based part electronic, part live duo. Headlining, Yussef Kamaal, went far and beyond the Black Focus album, improvising large parts of their set and conjuring up jazz combinations that were truly transfixing. Easily my top gig of the year due to the complete fulfilment of my expectations and also the introduction to a local talent that I would otherwise never have heard of.
AVA Festival – Belfast
Chosen by Aiden Brady
Call it home bias but for me AVA Festival knocked it out of the park in 2016. The Belfast techno festival’s sophomore year had heavies such as Bicep, Mano Le Tough and Rodhad taking the main stage. Clear to see on the day, house and techno have been on the rise in Northern Ireland. Thankfully, institutions like AVA are there to foster the development of this new musical culture and community. With attendees of all ages and backgrounds coming together the buzz in the air was palpable. A standout moment was Phil Kieran’s Boiler Room set…crowd involvement in Boiler Room sets tends to be relatively minimal…at AVA however, countless ‘whoops’ and ‘yeos’ hung in the air. The rowdiness culminating in Phil Kieran crowd surfing at the end of his set. I’m very excited to see what next year’s first ever two day edition of the festival brings.
Jurassic 5 – Tramlines Festival 2016
Chosen by Tom Lye
18 years since their first self-titled album and 10 years since their last full lenth release, you could be mistaken to think that Jurassic 5 were getting a bit stale. How wrong you could be….
As they helped bring Tramlines 2016 to a close this year, the highly esteemed hip hop group was full of energy and brough the vibe to Ponderosa Park, this year’s setting for the Main Stage. With Tramlines bringing a wide-ranging Sheffield community together for one weekend in July, the Main Stage on Sunday was a bustle of young and old, recovering from the antics of the previous two nights. I was definitely ready for some head nodding hip hop to ease my reality. Being treated to classics such as Concrete Schoolyard, the group embraced and engaged with the crowd, with sing alongs ensuing for the particularly relevant Freedom, taken from their album Power in Numbers. If that wasn’t enough, the resident scratch DJs took to the forefront of the stage and underwent an extravagant solo between them, with Cut Chemist donning a turntable guitar (?) and DJ Nu-Mark repping a drum pad chain. Absolute highlight.
Gottwood Festival 2016 – Carreglwyd Wood
Chosen by Josh Aitman
Last June I left a large chunk of my mind, soul and…belongings in a field in Wales. Without a doubt one of the most creative festivals I have found myself at since, well, ever. From their careful curation of world-renowned artists combined with their close community of local DJs; to the phenomenal attention to detail when it came to art installations, set designs and ongoing creative development…Gottwood goes far beyond, and it shows.
Moments including the Max Graef band nailing it on the Lake Stage, Move D’s disco set at Traigon Stage and the insane outgoings at Stamp The Wax’s Stage in the ditch with master selector Ruff Dug…Lest we forget the Melodic Distraction residents Nick Wood & Nathan Bailey tearing things to pieces by the lakeside to close off our Sunday evening. The intimate crowds and woodland setting throw this to the top of my list without batting an eye lid.
RBMA presents Club Cosmos w/ Moodymann – Invisible Wind Factory
Chosen by James Zaremba
A reluctant globetrotter and a fierce guardian of his city’s musical heritage, Kenny Dixon Jr. AKA Moodymann is a hard man to lure out of Detroit. An ever-illusive producer, DJ and rollerskating enigma, Moodymann has gained legendary status across Europe following a career of genre-defining releases on Planet E, Peacefrog and his own imprint: KDJ Records.
Somehow, and for reasons still beyond me, Red Bull Music Academy managed to lure the Detroit Don out of his hometown and into Liverpool’s newest venue, the Invisible Wind Factory. A set that invited revellers into his world, the experience shimmered with US-based funk and soul. Yet not to be confined by genre or trend, the Detroit legend swung between 70s funk and 90s East-Coast hiphop, warmly filling the Kazimier’s cavernous new space with sounds from across the Atlantic.
With other cuts throughout the night coming from; Roy Ayers, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, LTJ, Fred Wesley and many others, the man from Detriot took his audience on a generous tour of his musical neighbourhood, top down in the passenger seat of his ’65 Impala.
Feel My Bicep curates The Warehouse Project – Manchester
Chosen by Chris Cannel
The initial thought when considering Warehouse Project tickets is always astonishment at the price and then the consideration of “is it worth it?”. That being said, there was certainly no hesitation in this instance with a line-up of this quality. From techno to disco to house, the range of genres represented was incredible, and to top it off, Bicep only went and booked techno veteran Jeff Mills. However, I did have a concern that the solid German techno beats of Rodhad would clash with the funky-disco sounds of Motor City Drum Ensemble. But how could I ever have doubted their ability as selectors. Midland’s set in particular was just the suitable amount of techno, house and disco to blend into the tone of the night.
Bicep themselves played a set that was crammed full of the finest edits and tunes, many of them their own productions; so many, in fact, that a joke developed on the “Identification of Music” Facebook group that any unidentified music from the night was simply: “Unreleased Bicep”. For me, their set will go down as one of the greatest I will ever see. In the year of Bicep’s rise to prominence, this night truly was their crowning glory.