2016 was a great year for music as far as I was personally concerned. I attended a grand total of 65 shows and three festivals (Netherland Deathfest, Desertfest and Brutal Assault) which boils down to more than one show per week and a little less than 200 bands seen live without even counting the bands I saw at festivals. It’s all numbers, however, otherwise, I could just go a pub every night and watch tons of bands and never hope to find an experience as compelling and life-affirming as the ones I have witnessed this year. In short, this is a list of ten of the most touching and powerful performances I have enjoyed this year. Some have guided my path in the past and will continue to do so, some will push my journey in new directions in 2017.
01 – Agoraphobic Nosebleed @ Netherland Deathfest (Tilburg)
I have been a fan of Agoraphobic Nosebleed (AnB for short) for more than a decade and seeing them live never crossed my mind. The experience of getting my eardrums pummeled by the frenetic pace of the drum machine and the multi-layered vocal attacks of the two (then three) vocalists was enough. Through them I found out about William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Conspiracy theories, the insane perversion the human mind can go for, the countless fascinating subjects touched on their lyrics and artwork that I approached with a similar mix of horror and fascination. After they offered me so much, I did not expect much from a live experience but still got a hundred times what I wanted. Two vocalists exchanging like they were acting out an argument, each possessing one side of the stage and shouting at each other, ignoring the audience. The drum machine placed in the middle guided their way, its series of beats dictating the shows from recent songs from Arc to oldies like The house of feasting (one of my personal favorite from Honkey reduction), ordered them also out of the stage for a drum solo presented by one of the vocalist with nothing more than a shrug, as if nothing could be done to stop it. Pig Destroyer performed also the same weekend but even the beauty of their madness didn’t touch the sheer perfection that this show was.
02 – Converge performs Blood moon @ Electric Brixton (London)
I have never made a secret of my fascination for Converge, the Slayer of our generation as I often say without any trace of irony, but it took me two different shows to start appreciating their live performances. Now, nothing can stop me from attending one, even if their quality does vary, never delving into auto-parody. With Blood moon, a show first only scheduled for the Roadburn festival, they could have fallen into the same ditch Prog Rock fell into in their pursuit for greener pastures. Thankfully, the addition of Chelsea Wolfe and Stephen Brodsky (Cave In, Mutoid Man) didn’t do anything but add layers that always flew over their music without ever landing as gracefully. Grim heart black rose was finally performed properly without Jonah Jenkins (Only Living witness, Raw Radar War, Miligram) on-stage thanks to the beautiful vocal aerobics of Stephen Brodsky while Chelsea Wolfe‘s guitar and mournful vocals helped transform Last light into a dark-folk number. Finally, an encore of Jane Doe performed mostly with as a five piece with Stephen Brodsky confirmed that he should join Converge as a full-time member, bringing the band back to its original formation. Hopefully, my dream will come true…
03 – Incendiary @ The Unicorn (London)
Incendiary is one of the most essential Hardcore band of the last ten years and witnessing them finally live was essential to finally take in their full power and mastery. Their mastery of the heritage of both Snapcase and Inside Out on album made every song on Cost of living a torch of anger bringing rightful justice to a world of dynamite. Hearing their frontman shout to the audience « If you are not involved in politics, you are part of the problem », the idea that I had of this band’s conviction in their own songs was completely confirmed. From the songs to their stage presence, Incendiary is all about the shock they can provoke and the impact they can leave. On the stage of The Unicorn were bands can be seen for free they were at the perfect place to rock, mosh and stand up against the daily oppression people who want to live their lives as they wish are facing every day. Incendiary are not just great because of their songs and their shows but because they make you want to do more about what they sing and talk about.
04 – Oranssi Pazuzu @ Electric Ballroom (London)
Oranssi Pazuzu is a band I had doubts about since most people started being enthusiastic about their mix of Psychedelic Rock and Black Metal. I listened and paid attention but nothing but boredom happened, until their latest album where every element finally collided to form something altogether new and vital. Live these elements continue to exist and flourish without ever feeling like a bad patchwork. This is not Progressive Rock but a genuine progress for their music but also for Extreme music. Oranssi Pazuzu finally sound like no other band and will undoubtedly influence many to follow their lead.
05 – Black Milk @ Brooklyn Bowl (Greenwich)
The rapper put out this year a new album in collaboration with Jazz band but unlike what you might have expected from this collision, it didn’t push Black Milk further away from Hip Hop. Instead, the rapper and producer from Detroit continued to found in this new band (he was already performing with one in 2012) an outlet for the dynamism and energy of his production. A Black Milk show is not just a collection of songs, it’s an exchange with the audience and between band members, a musical and human performance that you leave with more energy that what you came with. This one didn’t betray this tradition.
06 – Chelsea Wolfe @ Brutal Assault (Jaromer, Czech Republic)
Despite arriving very late at the festival, missing Neurosis and part of Mastodon, carrying my tent, my clothes and my duvet, I still managed to be enthralled by Chelsea Wolfe‘s performance at eleven in the evening with very little energy left and the cold breeze of the night calling me a much warmer place at every occasion. If that’s not the proof of a fantastic performance, I don’t know what is.
07 – Mutoid Man @ Boston Music Room (London)
With only an album and an EP, I have caught Mutoid Man live three times not only for the songs but for the jokes. Stephen Brodsky has nothing in common with Weird Al Yankovic but he and his bandmate are as apt as musicians that as comedians. This is no surprise that both Brodsky and Koller were the house band for the pilot of Two minutes to late night, the Late night Metal show. With bassist Nick Cageao, they act like three old friends who alternate between catchy songs and unrehearsed comedy routines for both their, and the audience’s, pleasure.
08 – Yob @ Scala (London)
When I first saw Yob at the Alexandra Palace in 2010, they converted Slayer fans to their cause. Six years later, I didn’t expect another trick as impressive as this but they still managed to play a fantastic performance. Heaviness can invoke a serene calm and Yob simply does that. A unique and essential band.
09 – Death Grips @ Roundhouse (London)
It’s not easy to come back from a disappointing performance after being lauded with hype but Death Grips did just that. The trio of musicians came onstage, said nothing, started playing and only stopped when they came out after an hour and twenty minutes of music between Rap, IDM, and Punk. Dressed to kill, they instead energized the crowd and made them ready to riot as soon as they got out (which they didn’t, this is Britain after all). Death Grips offers the kind of pulse racing and enlightening experience you only get from bands who are doing something truly unique and of its time. Death Grips is one of these bands and will no doubt continue to play against people’s expectations to better reflect what they need rather than what they want.
10 – Siege + DropDead @ Temple of Boom (Leeds)
Coming back from the world of eighties Hardcore, Siege brings a few songs but a massive heritage. After influencing several generations of bands and musicians, the seminal band only performs with a few original member, including some who seem to have lost touch with the scene (one of the guitarists was performing with a Chevelle shirt on for Christ sake!). Nonetheless, the time machine worked and these guys showed how sheer energy can make up for any sort of technical ability. Add to this the presence of DropDead whose integrity and songs could power a small scale riot and you have got yourself the kind of bill Power Violence and Hardcore fans only dream of. A dream that became reality and left everyone with a smile and more energy to spare.