In California’s Bay Area, where I grew up, a single adult movie ticket costs $13.25. In Columbus Ohio, where I currently live, a single adult movie ticket (with my student discount) costs $3. On Tuesdays, popcorn is free. The independent theater I frequent is walking distance from my house. So, since moving to Ohio for graduate school, I’ve been watching a lot more movies.
We all know that the making of movies is political, and that who and what we see on screen is political too. But lately I’ve been thinking about what I’ve taken away from the movies I’ve seen this year, and especially, what I’ve continued to hold on to; the things I hold tell me what I’ve learned and am learning. In 2018, it turns out, what stuck with me was not characters, or dialogue, or scene, but soundtracks.
The music of movies gets lost sometimes, glazed over by the Oscars, and ignored by the Grammy’s, but this year it seems that so many movies hinged on their music. A Star is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther–movies which held songwriters, songs, and soundtracks close to their core thrived. This blossoming is something that I held on to through the year, turning the possibilities of my favorite soundtracks until they resembled something worth folding into myself, and keeping to grow. The year was long, and, at least in Columbus, cold as hell, but it was also frequently punctuated by joy and by learning.
JANUARY: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
It is newly 2019 and people are calling to BURN THE TRASH FIRE THAT WAS 2018. Last year, people called for burning 2017 too. Which will burn hotter? I’m not sure. Recently, my old selves have come to roost in me again, and I’ve decided to lean in to the cyclical nature of being alive, at least for a while. It feels right to be listening to knowledge already had, instead of always forging ahead, alone. Call Me by Your Name, which came out early last year, counted, I think, on the return of nostalgia which often comes during a period of great political upheaval. Whom is the nostalgia for? In the case of Call Me by Your Name, the question didn’t matter to its makers–the film’s drenched colors, quiet tension, and warm, bare scenes of ’80s Italy were familiar because they are canonized markers of familiarity; we recognize sweet sadness in these things the way that, when man runs towards woman in a movie, our hearts soar as they recognize a coming kiss. So when I went from watching Call Me by Your Name into the bright rest of the year, my ears rung with the movie’s recall of dancing, heavy with concealed emotion, and, more specifically with “Love My Way” by the Psychedelic Furs.
“Love My Way,” one of many ’80s throwbacks and inspired tracks on the Call Me by Your Name soundtrack, led me to the music I played on repeat for the rest of the year. I’m back on my ’80s alt bullshit, I told people in January, and February, and March, and any other time someone asked me what I was listening to this year. The siren’s call of ’80s nostalgia could be seen, as many critics of Call Me by Your Name saw it, as an escape from the barrage of evils done by the United States’ government, but I’m holding on to it as a turn towards strength. The ’80s, too, was a violent and volatile time–as every period in the white supremacist colonial project of the U.S. is. ’80s queerness rarely looked like sun-soaked Italian summers; more frequently, it looked like makeshift hospitals to care for those made victim to President Reagan’s policies regarding the AIDS epidemic, like the continued care provided to young trans youth by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera at S.T.A.R. house, and like the creation of ACT-UP, which Johnson later joined.
This is not to say that the soundtrack to Call Me by Your Name is inherently radical–it isn’t. But in the saccharine return to early-synths and dancing melodies holds a call I think we can’t ignore: towards learning from those who came before us.
JULY: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
After flying back to California in early July, I saw Sorry to Bother You on a date at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, only a few miles away from where the film was shot in Oakland, California. The Roxie is one of several small, independent theaters in SF still housed in its original Victorian walls, beautiful and scary; the building itself one of the remnant, haunted teeth of earlier settler-colonial narratives, narratives which resonate around the present-day Roxie in the sounds of construction and drunken slurs spit on the sidewalk. Sorry to Bother You is a film about this legacy of displacement and more; the film exposes the absurd violence of capitalism and its terrifying intersection with racism. It’s also a film about Oakland–Boots Riley, the film’s director, has been leading East Bay band The Coup for years, and collaborated with another Bay Area musician, Tuneyards, for Sorry to Bother You’s score.
Sorry to Bother You was a long time coming by the time it debuted last year–the name of the movie can be traced back to a 2012 album by Riley’s band. And so, when the film started playing in the Bay last summer, it felt celebratory–friends told me about friends who were in the movie, or about places they knew that scenes had been filmed. Celebratory might not be an adjective initially ascribed to anti-capitalist art like Sorry to Bother You, but I think that joy in life and collaboration is integral to believe in liberation. The Coup’s music, as well as Sorry to Bother You’s animated humor, embraces that. Riley has said that, for the final soundtrack, he wanted The Coup’s songs to sound like they fit within the social landscape of the movie–to sound as though they really would be blasted in the car late at night, or played at a party. This vibrancy is at the core of what is, in my opinion, most successful about Sorry to Bother You: the movie, and its music, are urgent but not unreal, calls to action rooted in depictions of relationships which are built day by day.
John Carpenter created an entirely new score 2018’s Halloween, marking the first time he’s worked directly on the series since 1982. The result is, imho, a banger. The 2018 soundtrack takes copious references from the original score, but the production is sleeker, more taut–it sounds like, as synths have developed in the forty years since Halloween’s original debut, Carpenter was able to collect the tools he needed to settle the score into his vision. So even as the music creaks and skitters, its theme, which keeps the same gripping 5/4 refrain, is fizzy enough to be danced to. Halloween invented dark wave! my friends and I joked after watching the movie–sliding into our car from the theater, immediately turning on the score and blasting it.
I listened to the Halloween theme so many times this year that it showed up on my Spotify “most played” list in December–and, honestly, I’m not even embarrassed. I like the campy tropes of Halloween; in them I find a dark refuge from the cutting edge of the world outside theater curtains. While many took the return of Halloween this year to be a timely reference to the horrors of sexual assault, mirroring the #metoo movement, I’m not convinced that the series has evolved much beyond the gore and suspense it sprang from initially–and that’s what draws me in. Giddy in the theater, I took pleasure in bouncing along to the thrum of the movie’s theme, while I watched Michael Myers advance upon the world of the film. It was fun to see Laurie Strode build up a fortress of revenge, and fun to see her get it.
But most of all, it is fun to take my own revenge on the violence of the world–from Michael Myers to my own assaulter–by dancing on the beat of their soundtrack to giddy murder. It is fun to steal Halloween from the killing sprees of men, and bring it into parties I throw with my friends, into rides in my roommate’s car, and into the circles of care I strive to weave around me.
The circularity of movies is oft-discussed; the re-makes, serialized action films, and adaptations which cram our theaters critiqued for being built solely for profit. But there is something to be said about going back to go forward. The myth of independence encourages us all to forge ahead without considering the work that has been done before, but doing so, I’ve found, just leaves each of us more vulnerable than we would be when armed with collective knowledge. Movie soundtracks, I’d argue, are deliciously interdependent: strung between narrative, image, symbol, and the popular imagination. In 2018, I tangled myself in soundtracks when I was feeling most alone; when I needed a nudge to re-invest in the lives of those around me. Perhaps this pattern of music-driven blockbusters will end in 2019 (though I suspect that’s not the case). I will still gather the elaborate reminder of continuity and context which soundtracks give me.
Since hitting her stride with 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek and its critically acclaimed follow-up Puberty 2 (2016), Mitski’s audience has tended to project onto her as a symbol of their sadness, a microphone of sad-girl feelings. But Mitski does not want to be remembered this way, a position she asserted clearly this year with her much-lauded album Be The Cowboy. The songs here are largely fictional, more like a short story collection than they are a memoir. When Mitski discusses what “Be The Cowboy” means, as a phrase, she talks about adopting the swagger of the American Western as her own. The cowboy is one of many characters that Mitski embodies in the live performances of her breakout record, and she uses performance itself to elevate their meanings at every turn.
The Be The Cowboy tour is the first tour where Mitski isn’t playing an instrument consistently during the show. Instead, the show involves a dance piece, where Mitski sings and performs choreography by Monica Mirabile. It is a choreography conscious of its own performance: both natural and premeditated. It begins with something as simple as the pantomime of holding a cigarette and taking a drag as she’s singing “I Don’t Smoke,” from Bury Me At Makeout Creek, but by the time she sings “If you need to be mean, be mean to me / I can take it and put it inside of me,” she’s throwing something invisible across the stage, perhaps the lyrics’ “trinkets in your room.” Over the course of the show, the dance evolves: a seduction for “Me and My Husband,” a baby bird desperate to fly at the top of “I Will.” On “Drunk Walk Home,” Mitski The Performer interrupts the choreography’s drunken hands to curtsy: “I wore this dress for you.”
To the audience, the Performer’s function is to entertain. The Performer is someone the audience takes for granted; it is demanding, exhausting, to be the Performer. At the December 1st Brooklyn Steel show, the set began with “Remember My Name.” For the duration of the song, she is completely still. In its lyrics, Mitski confesses: “I gave too much of my heart tonight,” and asks her audience (real or imagined) to provide some love she can “save till tomorrow’s show.” It is a plea for the audience to remember there is a person behind the songs.
Performance on Be The Cowboy is the show you put on for others – whether it’s literal nightly performances as a touring musician, the catharsis in embodying someone else, or even a faked smile flashed for someone whose presence you can’t stand. In an interview with Paper Mag, Mitski talks about writing songs from the perspective of fictional people, rather than strict autobiographical experiences: “I find using a character or using a narrative that didn’t happen to you is better equipped in telling your story and expressing your feelings than what actually happened in your life.” Be The Cowboy is full of fictional characters, each played by Mitski with the confidence of the aforementioned cowboy. As she plays the characters, she explores the role of performance in their lives, and her own.
“Me and My Husband” begins with a heavy sigh. “Me and my husband, we are doing better,” the speaker insists, but the tense chord movement states otherwise. The idea of “sticking together” is not romanticized–it’s just an inevitability. She goes on to call herself “The idiot with the painted face / in the corner, taking up space.” The word “painted” evokes not just the character’s makeup, but a strained, vague smile worn like a mask. Though the song is short, each verse adds instruments–a keyboard, brass, heavier bass, building tension. What she’s saying is one thing, but what she means is in the progression; on the last repetition of “So I bet all I have on that furrowed brow,” the brass climbs chromatically.
Mitski sings again about being an object on “Washing Machine Heart.” It’s never “object” in the way “objectified” hints at sexualization. It’s something sadder and more everyday–being something of function to another person, and losing yourself in that process. Rhythmic synths bang like the aforementioned appliance, strings sound otherworldly. Here, she’s a receptacle for dirty shoes, or maybe the other half’s emotional crutch. Again the movement of the vocals and strings betray a tension that is only hinted at in the lyrics (“I know who you pretend I am”).
For Mitski, that kind of awareness (and any pretense that it doesn’t exist) creates a rift, one she spends the duration of Be The Cowboy exploring, her last frontier on the way to becoming whole and loved. Loneliness sometimes feels like the record’s most obvious motif – on “Lonesome Love” Mitski spends “an hour on my makeup to prove something,” while “Nobody” even opens with the line “My god, I’m so lonely.” Its rhythms are easy to dance to, though – at her shows, each audience member enjoys it as though trapped in their own personal disco, a club where people go to exorcise their loneliness by being out somewhere, but only dance alone.
Listeners take songs into their heart and project their own feelings, interpretations, personality on them. But the narrative that runs counter to this is one of someone learning to love themselves, as on explosive single “Geyser.” It grows from small synth sounds to something grand, profound, Mitski telling herself “I will be the one you need / I just can’t be without you.” The video, also choreographed by Monica Mirabile, sees Mitski chasing after her own outstretched hand on a darkened beach. She stumbles and crawls, ending the video digging through the sand.
When you’ve become an object, or a function, for another person (or the audience), the only person you can rely on is yourself. Though it can be liberating to ride into town on a horse and leave no trace, it can also be exhausting to act like someone you’re not. Beneath the sand in “Geyser,” beneath the facade of the cowboy, the wife, the elderly couple, is Mitski, telling stories that ring true, no matter the character who tells them.
It’s been a long time since music videos have aired on television, but as the popularity of YouTube soars among a generation who doesn’t even remember what MTV used to be, artists are now approaching the medium with a new creative fervor. As you’ll note from this list, by and large we’re seeing women and people of color taking advantage of visuals set to their work as a means of bridging cultural gaps, making grand political statements, and finding more immediate ways to relate to their audiences. The following picks re-examine everything from female sexuality to black identity to gun violence, and while many of these songs stand on their own, it is the videos that take their messages to the next level, adding new layers of meaning and, in a time when we are seemingly inundated with media to consume, forcing viewers to truly pay attention.
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
In an intense four minutes and a single long take, this eerie, graphic video sums up the atrocities of systemic racism and gun violence in American society. Donald Glover – who has made a name for himself as an actor as well as via his rap moniker Childish Gambino – weaves a narrative that’s hard to ignore, using traditional African dances and minstrel expressions meant to entertain and critique the viewer’s gaze all at once. This may have been the most important video of the year, forcing people to have hard-to-stomach conversations and analyze the subtext of the clip, all over a catchy trap-influenced song that hit the Billboard charts despite its radical content.
Tierra Whack – Whack World
Whack World is surely the best depiction of the millennial mind in motion. Tierra Whack was first recognized for her “Mumbo Jumbo” video, and immediately doubled down to create this fifteen-minute “visual album.” Her quirky aesthetic is set to an eclectic flow, and poignant lyrics make her a singular force in the hip-hop sphere and put her on the map. The video follows Whack through a variety of different worlds, each one surreal and bizarre, but simultaneously illuminating a feeling and emotional landscape the lyrics work to connect with. Mimicking the lightning pace of our scrolling, tumbling, social media comsumption, Whack World managed to get everyone’s attention, even in a time when attention spans seem to be growing smaller.
Janelle Monáe – “Django Jane”
Janelle Monáe had a phenomenal 2018. Coming out to her fans and community, releasing a major hit album, going on a global tour, and sharing vulnerable, introspective work that was followed by critical praise, Monáe has pretty much been living the dream. While all the videos from this year’s Dirty Computer album cycle are praiseworthy in their own right – we’ll never get the vagina pants from “PYNK” out of our minds – “Django Jane” is a nod to her hip-hop predecessors. Hearkening back to the heyday of Biggie Smalls and Lil’ Kim, the video has the feel of a ’90s-era rap video. This time around, it’s Monáe who sits squarely on the throne of her Queendom.
Blood Orange – “Charcoal Baby”
Five of the tracks on Blood Orange’s new album Negro Swan start off with the voice of writer and activist Janet Mock. Her voice weaves a line through the album that carries small doses of wisdom into the songs themselves, seeming spontaneous, but too polished to not have been chosen on purpose. “Charcoal Baby,” one of the first videos released from Dev Hynes’ phenomenal concept album, starts with Mock talking about the concept of family: “I think of family as community. Just show up as you are without judgement, without ridicule, without fear or violence… We get to choose our families, we are not limited by biology.” The words are a perfect segue into the video, a split-screen depiction of two different families mirroring very similar lives. It’s a thoughtful, positive meditation on black identity, and what it feels like to be at home and at peace with those you choose to surround yourself with.
Kendrick Lamar feat. SZA – “All The Stars”
Linked to one of this year’s most enthralling and groundbreaking films, Black Panther, the video for “All The Stars” creates an equally beautiful backdrop for the soundtrack’s lead single. Both Kendrick Lamar and SZA have proven to be unstoppable forces in the musical world, capping off a very successful 2017 with this early 2018 release. Cinematic in its own right, this video plays almost like a short film, its rich visual cues a nod to diasporic African culture, through a lens of cosmic chaos. The video was not released without controversy, though – British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor accused the Black Panther team of copyright infringement, claiming that the gold patternwork that appears roughly three minutes into the clip looks suspiciously like her Constellations paintings; the official lawsuit was settled just last week.
King Princess – “Pussy Is God”
King Princess is the queer idol we’ve all been waiting for, and if “Pussy is God,” then we can all thank pussy that she’s finally arrived. Though she released her five-song EP Make My Bed before she had even turned 20, Mikaela Straus has a top-notch team behind her insuring her success, including producer Mark Ronson, who signed her his Zelig Records imprint, and her creative director, Clare Gillen, who has consistently done a fantastic job styling the up-and-coming artist’s cheeky, ironic, and stylistically iconic videos. “Pussy Is God” is a fun ’90s throwback to what any of us might have done in our bedrooms as adolescents had we been given green screen technology, but it is Straus’s dreamy stare and unabashed celebration of her queerness that makes it so essential.
Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”
Watching a Sudan Archives video is often times like falling into another world – and make no mistake, that world that belongs to the Los Angeles-based violinist/vocalist at the helm of this project, Brittney Parks. Self-directed with help from Ross Harris, Parks put out Sink, her second EP for Stones Throw, this year, and its lead single is an ode to unapologetic existence: “This is my light, don’t block the sun/This is my seat, can’t you tell?/This is my time don’t waste it up/This is my land, not for sale.” Still, the video is a welcoming melange of vivid hues and surrealistic impressions of Black culture, always portrayed with parks at the center of the narrative – just where she wants to be. Luckily, she’s invited us along for the ride.
Nao – “Make It Out Alive”
Nao’s latest album Saturn is all about the Saturn return – that period in a person’s late twenties that signifies astrologically-driven upheaval. “Make It Out Alive” is a song geared towards the strength and conviction it takes to steer through this tumultuous time and find yourself on the other side, for better or worse, and begin to rebuild everything from the rubble. That bleakness is reflected in the song’s video, with its desolate landscapes, dilapidated lots, and the anxiety and anticipation of being stuck in a nondescript waiting room. But the song’s lyrics – and Nao’s lilting falsetto – are bracing. The singer takes stock of her preparedness for the fight, and her resolve is her best weapon. If there’s ever a time we needed a song that helps us keep going when the going is tough, 2018 was it.
Okay Kaya – “IUD”
Singer-songwriter Kaya Wilkins created an ongoing narrative in a series of videos she released earlier this year with filmmaker Adinah Dancyger. Both “IUD” and “Dance Like U” tell the story of a woman who has created an alter ego out of her trauma. While the latter sees her come to a resolution with the doppelgänger, “IUD” hinges on tensions – Kaya either ignores the alter ego or engages with it in a kind of defenseless way – watching it from a distance, dragging it around in her wake. These videos were a perfect introduction to the Norwegian-born artists, whose brand of pop favors both minimalism and biting wit on her debut album Both.
Alice Phoebe Lou – “Something Holy”
Berlin street musician turned independent European musical sensation recently released her first single “Something Holy” from her upcoming album, Paper Castles. The frayed edges of her busker’s past have been cleaned up as she polishes her sound, and allows her lyrics to shine through like never before. “Something Holy” is a song about feminine sexuality, and being treated like a holy being – a theme we saw cropping up this year in the mainstream thanks to artists like Ariana Grande. But these lyrics speak to her desire to be held, not lusted over, the sumptuous visuals bursting with random blips of animation, pastoral vignettes, romantic candlelight and often Phoebe Alice Lou’s challenging gaze, daring us to follow her on her sensual journey.
It’s been a banner year for Cincinnati hip-hop artist Audley, who kicked off 2018 with the release of his debut studio album Pink in January and just finished up a month-long residency at Cincinnati’s The Comet. The weekly shows were named The Love and Light Series, which he says was inspired by the musicians he’s met and lessons he’s learned this year. Though he reps impressive rap skills with an energetic flow, what really shines on Pink are his buttery smooth R&B vocals—it’s no surprise that he names Childish Gambino as a musical influence. Here, Audley reflects on The Love and Light Series, how he manifests success through positivity and uplifting others around him, and gives us a sneak peek of what he’s bringing to 2019.
AF: How did your Love and Light Series go?
A: I honestly don’t even know where to begin! It was probably the biggest accomplishment I’ve ever done in my life. There was a lot of talent in one room every Thursday, just really good music bringing the community together. It felt like the perfect way to tip our hat to 2018, just one big celebration, and then MOTR Pub was absolutely nuts. TRIIIBE came up and did a guest performance out of nowhere and just slammed it down. It was everything I hoped for. I almost didn’t even do it.
AF: Really? Why not?
A: It’s just a huge commitment. If I wanted to do it, I wanted to do it right. So I told everyone I had too much going on at work, I had too much going on in my personal life, I just didn’t have time to do this and they’re like, ‘If there’s any time for you to do this, it’s right now.’ So I literally booked the whole series in four days and made it happen.
AF: What drew you to the Love and Light theme?
A: This year has been positivity-driven. I met Jess Lamb and The Factory last year at the CEAs [Cincinnati Entertainment Awards] and their message is very self-empowering, very spiritual. They’re just very much a beacon of light to tell you everything is gonna be okay. Their mantra is you’re beautiful, you’re powerful, you can make it. I was in a really rough spot when I met Jess and it really got me through the year, so the mantra has always been be a light, spread light, spread love.
AF: So based on the experience, would you do a residency like that again?
A: Something like it. I like the idea of a recurring event, just because it builds an audience and garners excitement. Would I do it every Tuesday for a month? Probably not. Would I pick a bigger venue and do it quarterly and do blow outs? Potentially. I’m looking into what that could be. Each venue has its pros, but it has its huge cons also.
AF: Your album Pinkcame out in January. Do you have a favorite song off the record?
A: I’d have to say my favorite song is “Sleep Alone.” That is like the best songwriting I’ve ever done. The melody, the progression from small to big from verse one to verse three, the beat is a banger—Devin Burgess produced it, he’s super talented. That song is just really pretty and I wrote it right before “Awaken, My Love!”came out, [Childish] Gambino’s record, and it just reaffirmed Pink for me. It was like, if he’s gonna dive into this beautiful funkadelic vibe, I can do the same. So I’d say “Sleep Alone” is probably my favorite. Obviously the bop of the record is “Game Over;” everyone loves that song. Honestly when I wrote it I didn’t know it was gonna be the song and then out of nowhere it had four times the streams as the other tracks, so it was like this one’s it, I guess.
AF: I love the R&B feels. Would you say Childish Gambino is a big influence on you?
A: Oh yeah, later Gambino. Because The Internetand on really spoke to me. I love his writing, [on] 30 Rock, and Community. He’s so funny and even his stand up is great, to the point where when I saw he was trying to make music I was like, dude, stay in your lane, because to me his music wasn’t as good as his writing. Now that I think of it, that’s such an ignorant perspective. He did a freestyle over Drake’s “Pound Cake” and it was amazing and I fell in love with him watching that.
808s & Heartbreakby Kanye West is my favorite album of all time. It’s the most vulnerable he’s ever been on a record, the best melodies he’s ever written, and I love 808 drums. André 3000 was the first rapper to show me that you can flex with class. He literally would be in a suit, but you’d still be intimidated. There’s such an elegance and fluidity to his flow, but that was his flex, and that was during the time of G-Unit and The Game. It was like these people that were really stunting on people, and I was like I wanna be like that guy.
AF: Looking into next year, what can fans expect?
A: Next year fans can expect definitely a new record. I think I’ll be able to make one relatively quickly. I can’t promise that it’s going to be [themed around] a color, which likes breaks my heart to even say, but I’ve learned and grown and have shifted my perspective so much this year that “colors” is such a single-faceted through-line. There’s textures, there’s emotions, there’s literal artifacts that symbolize things. I love the idea of owning a color because you get to own a world through a hue, but I think I’m ready to do something bigger. I’m ready to make a bigger world.
AF: You said you’re looking to collaborate more. Does the collectivity and openness of the Cincinnati hip-hop scene make that a little easier?
A: I would say a year and a half ago, it wasn’t like this. Everyone was so worried about putting themselves on that people didn’t understand that when you help someone else out, you get to elevate together. They thought that there was this finite amount of energy in a box and they thought people were taking their shovels and they were like, well, if I give him some then I don’t get some. Energy is infinite and the more that people have the more that people can grow off of each other’s energy. We’re all playing the same game. We’re all in the same scene; we all have the same obstacles. If you are trying to pull someone down to your level, that’s the same amount of time you could’ve used to elevate yourself to theirs. That’s why Love and Light was so important because we drove home every single Tuesday [that] you have to spread love, you have to be a light, even in your darkest of times. That’s when you need to shine your brightest because other people may need that light, too.
AF: That’s beautiful. Anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
A: I can promise that I will be doing a lot more shows out of town next year, and as of right now I’m working on the 2019 game plan. But I know that whatever I do, I’m going to curate something really special for this city, whether that’s a monthly or quarterly something—it’s gonna be Love and Light on steroids.
Below is our list of the Hardest Working DIY Touring bands of 2018 keeping the DIY dream alive! We asked each band about their favorite moments, what they have learned, and/or are most proud of from this past year.
North By North (Chicago, IL)
I caught North By North at a Women that Rock showcase at Knitting Factory and couldn’t believe that they have been on the road for the past 10 months and have played 446 shows in total since January 2017. They snuck under my radar for last year’s list, so I’m happy to have them kick off this year’s Hardest Working DIY Touring Bands list!
“The main thing we’ve learned is that waiting around for a big opportunity generally isn’t worth it. It seems that it’s better to take charge of the shows that you’re booking – by seeking out other talented bands both in your hometown and in other markets, and by putting together and curating the best events you possibly can. Basically, no one else is going to make it happen for you – you have to create your own opportunities, otherwise you’ll be stuck waiting around for a long time.
It’s just the two of us, and we each put in over 60 hours/week between booking, writing, rehearsing, performing, and marketing, so it’s definitely a lot of work. But we’re constantly seeing the benefits of this as we continue growing our fanbase and name recognition around the country, and it feels really good knowing that it’s because of the hard work that we’ve put in. That being said, we have made solid friends and connections over the past two years who have helped us out and who continue to help us out, but it generally takes a couple times coming through each city before that can happen. People need to see that you’re putting in the work – assembling good lineups, getting good venues attached, and inserting yourselves into the local scene – before they’re really willing to go out on a limb for you.
Basically, DIY is a lot of work, but we’ve found that it’s more than worth it. See you all in 2019!”
Stuyedeyed (Brooklyn, NY) 107 shows
This year I’ve been lucky enough to share bills with New York’s loudest psych/garage band Stuyedeyed in Nashville, Austin, Saratoga Springs and Brooklyn. At our show in Rockaway Beach they had to leave right after their set to play another show at a brewery down the street (and we moved the whole party there). Even after all that, I still can’t confidently spell their band name, but it looks like they are quickly teaching the rest of America how to pronounce it.
“Favorite show had to have been Chicago at Empty Bottle. Playing on the floor, in the round, was something so special to us. We set up as if we were in a rehearsal with everyone surrounding us, as if they were listening in on a conversation. It made it that much more personal. Because that’s what it’s all about, connectivity. Breaking that wall and having everyone be a part of the show is empowering not only for us or the audience, but for the songs themselves. Break that wall. Destroy the idea of putting the artist on a pedestal with your other idols. With this show, and tour, it felt like complete vulnerability. No one is cooler than the other, no one is more important than the next. We’re right there on the floor with you watching you as much as you are watching us. It took us a few years of shows to figure out that this is our most efficient way to exist in the world we are creating and continuously redefining.”
Glove (Tampa, FL)
Glove have only been a band for one year and already have seven tours under their belt. They played New York so many times that I thought they were a Brooklyn band at first. You can catch their new wave garage jam sound in Brooklyn again at Baby’s All Right on February 3rd!
“Jeez, ridiculous things happen to us constantly but we definitely had every band’s worst nightmare happen to us this year… On our way to LA from San Antonio we broke down in the middle of nowhere Texas off I-10. From a 45 minute tow-truck ride to a mechanic shop in Iran, Texas, where we thought Rod got abducted by one of the mechanics there (they went missing for an hour), to breaking down again and sleeping on the side of the road that night. We did end up getting a brand new radiator from really nice folks at a mechanic shop that had miniature donkeys to hang out with and Bud Light to drink. Made it to LA just in the nick of time for our show. Throughout all the shenanigans we laughed everything off and stayed determined to make it to the show and not let the series of mishaps get us down.”
Thelma and The Sleaze (Nashville, TN)
My first experience seeing TATS was at Hotel Vegas at SXSW 2016 and I fell in love with LG’s stage presence. After the set I got a taco and nervously gave her my band’s sticker while fawning over her authentic, hilarious and sexy rock ‘n’ roll attitude. You can experience it for yourself on her new podcast, Queen of Shit Mountain.
“Thanks to our fans for making this year another success. Kansas City is a hard nut to crack and keep cracked. The best breakfast in America is at Lucky’s Cafe in Cleveland Ohio.”
Mouton (Arkansas) 80-ish shows
Pete Mouton has been touring his jangly alternative tunes around the U.S. all year. He has a wonderful sense of humor despite the year’s rough rides and will be able to turn the ups and downs into more great feeling lo-fi tracks. Hopefully he will make it back to NYC soon!
“My friend Sharp, who I wrote “Real Boy” for, lent me Great Jones Street by Don Delillo and there’s a line that goes, “There’s nothing more boring than a well traveled person.” I’ll give the quick and dirty.
2018 was a long year. I played 80 something shows, most of them with somebody else’s guitar because mine was stolen at a house show in February. That same month in Carbondale, IL, we woke up in house that was on fire. In April, Parquet Courts offered me molly in Oklahoma. Later that night, I stayed in, like, one of the five motel rooms I would stay in all year. In May, we found our dear friends Hayden and Dylan on a farm in Ragtown, Arkansas, but we had a show in Memphis that night, so after deliberating on whether or not to actually cancel our show, we decided to book it to Memphis. We weren’t five minutes down this dirt road when the venue calls saying that the show’s canceled. So we whipped one back for Ragtown and had a day off on a farm in East Arkansas with our buds. Let it be known that I put Dylan Earl on on his back, not once, but twice that night. Like a week later we were in Brooklyn for Northside, which was my first time New York. I can’t afford to look at that shit on a map.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have spent almost a quarter of my year in and out of a Toyota minivan with some of the funniest and most brilliant musicians I know. It wouldn’t have been possible or half as fun without my incredibly talented band: Daniel Orndorff, Cole Simmons, Matt Jemes, and also Bennett Jones, who recently passed. His relentless humor and knack for making his friends and strangers laugh left a tremendous impact on me; especially in the short time that we spent waking up on each other in deflating air mattresses and making each other laugh to tears in cities and on highways across the country. Tell your friends you love them.”
Lola Tried (Austin, TX)
Singer/Songwriter Lauren Burton started Lola Tried in Austin in 2015 and have toured nationally in support of their EP Popscicle Queen, opening for bands like Speedy Ortiz, A Giant Dog, and Tera Melos.
“Our favorite show on our most recent [tour] definitely had to be Baton Rouge, as we played a beautiful venue called the Spanish Moon with some very good friends of ours, Particle Devotion. The crowd was fantastic and all of the bands on the bill were so great.
Things we’ve learned on tour/as a band this year: I think the most valuable thing that tour teaches you is learning to play to any kind of room. Tour is incredibly humbling, because you go into it with expectations that definitely get swept away when you leave your hometown. You never know what you’re walking into when you get to a venue in a different city, so just constantly reminding yourself that this is a learning experience, and teaching yourself how to work a room and play the best show you’ve ever played – even if it was in front of five people, even if you didn’t sleep the night before, even if someone ate the burrito you’d been saving to eat at the venue. You learn to toss away whatever happened that day, and you learn how to perform as a team in any kind of space. I also really enjoy exploring how other bands, bookers, and promoters function in their respective scenes in different cities as it brings a completely different perspective to the table. Tour is work, tour is smelly, tour is exhausting, but it’s the most fulfilling thing in the world.
Also, another tidbit of advice: Don’t eat hot fried chicken in Nashville an hour before you play.”
Top Nachos (New Paltz, NY)
Top Nachos are embarking on a west coast tour this upcoming year with our previous hard touring band Lola Tried. They played about 70 shows this year despite both their members playing in four other very active bands: Teenage Halloween, Schmave, Winnebago Vacation, and Dolly Spartans!
“We played a bunch of amazing shows! The highlights have to be our newpalspalooza show (a fest we put on in New Paltz) with Bethlehem Steel and Yazan, Punk Island, our LP release show at Snug’s in New Paltz, and most recently nachofest, which was the final show at our house venue NACHOHOUSE.
The funniest/strangest thing that happened to us this year was witnessing a Bud Light Lime butt chug after our show at the house we played at in Charlotte, NC. Weirdest place we played was a kitchen in Savannah, GA. People were standing on the cabinets, the fridge, any available surface.
This was our most active year as a band for sure! We went on several tours, a wild amount of weekenders, played with some amazing bands like Speedy Ortiz and Rozwell Kid, released music on vinyl for the first time ever (in any project we’ve been in) and released our first full length albums DANK SIDE OF THE MOON. Learned a lot, laughed a lot, smoked a lot.”
The RocknRoll HiFives (New Jersey)
Can you imagine growing up and your family vacations double as rock ‘n’ roll tours? That’s the life of New Jersey’s RocknRoll HiFives, who released a vinyl on Little Dickman Records this year and toured Japan for the first time. They brought CoolDad along with them, who was nicknamed Grandpa while they were in Japan.
“This entire RocknRoll HiFives experience has not followed the normal band dynamics because we are a family (mom, dad, daughter, son) that tours, records and writes while managing all that comes with family life. Our rock ‘n’ roll story is different than most. We had so many stand out performances this year it’s really hard to pick one. Every show in Japan was amazing, playing on the Todd-o-Phonic Todd radio show WFMU was legendary, opening for Rye Coalition at the White Eagle Hall 1st Anniversary show was an honor, a last minute invite to open for a sold-out Snail Mail show was tons of fun and how could we not mention our very first television appearance on the super funny The Special Without Brett Davis show!
If we were forced to pick one show though, it would have to be opening for the legendary band the Tweezers in Tokyo, Japan. The show was incredible, and even more incredible was having them at the front of the stage with fists flying while we rocked and then having them greet us with an after party at the Poor Cow with a standing ovation in our honor. 2018 is going to be a hard one to beat!
We learned that what works best for us as a touring family is to turn our tours into Tourcations. When we are on tour we try to play 3-4 days in a row and then have a few days off to enjoy the road (national parks, traipsing through cities, visiting friends). We found that this keeps us balanced in that we have equal amounts of rock and fun while making the most of being a family on tour. (By the way, we learned that too many days off isn’t good either. Balance here is key to our happiness!)”
Toward Space (Richmond, VA)
David Patton and Seyla Hossaini, the founding members of bluesy power pop band Toward Space, met when they were 11 years old and have been living the rock ‘n’ roll dream ever since. This past September they released their full length Gently With A Chainsaw, met God, and traveled the country with their newfound voodoo magic.
“We met God in Tuscon, AZ. He owns a bar with a built-in sex dungeon, and we watched him eat a raw egg. We stayed in a hippy house in San Francisco where David tripped on shrooms in a tiny basement full of candles and Santa Muerte statues, and in New Orleans we hung out with voodoo practitioners who warned us about the smell of blood in the streets before we went out to the strip club. On tour we learned that I could easily become addicted to gambling, that Ben isn’t going to leave the band no matter how much David and I fight, and that it’s extremely important to keep in mind that you will be constipated for days if you eat a pizza every night.” – Seyla Hossaini
Lunch Duchess (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Lunch Duchess have been using their time on tour in 2018 to refine their grunge-pop songs for their debut full length, which will be out in the summer of 2019! They also released a single called “Ride or Die” this past summer.
“What I learned on tour in 2018 – if you and your bandmates are fun people who love each other, you can pretty much get through anything together.”
Honorable Mention: The following bands also appeared on 2017’s Hardest Working DIY Touring Bands List, and while we wanted to shout out some fresh faces, we gotta hand it to bands that would’ve made the list this year based on sheer numbers alone.
A Deer A Horse (Brooklyn, NY)
“Our favorite tour moment of 2018 was probably playing Berserker V in Michigan. This was our first time ever playing a metal festival, and since we’re a band that slides between genres, we were kind of anxious about playing on the same lineup as the dude from Pantera. It went over better than we could have hoped for, and it felt amazing to be accepted by all these metal fanatics. Plus we got to see mindblowing performances by Negative Approach, Child Bite, and Bloodiest, which was just so much fun.”
Vanessa Silberman (Los Angeles, CA) 79 shows
“My favorite moment (which I feel lucky I have had a few) has probably been when I have played some very small towns / markets around the U.S. and had a couple fans come out who follow me who I hadn’t met before. A lot of them have said that what I have been doing has been inspiring them to do their music or go for their dream. I think that is so unbelievably cool. It means so much to hear that from fans and people – like I’m fulfilling my purpose, getting them to say to themselves ‘hey, she’s doing it, I can do that too’ when they see me out there doing it. I truly want to change peoples lives in a positive way – so that’s cool.”
After 121 shows touring and at home this year with my five projects – Sharkmuffin, Gustaf, Gesserit, Kino Kimino, and Ex-Girlfriends (RIP) – here are my picks for the best DIY promoters, collectives and venues of 2018! We chatted with everyone about their favorite shows, stories, and overall reflections on what they’ve accomplished and are most proud of from 2018.
“I’ve been super lucky to work with too many bands to pick a favorite, but the Queen of the Scene Northside Festival showcase was insane this summer. I was fortunate enough to do three cross-country tours in 2018. I was able check out a lot of places that I have never been and also a lot of places that I have been. For that I am super grateful.
My favorite part about booking is curating shows. It’s easy to just throw shows together but they work better when you put some thought into it. The most challenging part is finding the time to put some thought into it.” – Tom Lescovich, Cindy Cane Productions
“With a lack of venues in Downtown Jersey City, I first started booking shows at 58 Gallery from 2008 to 2013. The space was a former glass workshop with a garage, a front room gallery and back room that we outfitted with an insanely heavy ‘portable’ stage, intermittent heating and a sometimes fickle bathroom. Things expanded for me by booking outdoor festival and events in Jersey City. Most notably for me has been the annual Ghost of Uncle Joe’s Halloween fundraiser in a Historic Cemetery. Finally, in 2018, FM – a 70’s themed restaurant – was transformed, and for the first time in my JC booking career, I was working at a legitimate venue. The upside is not having to pack everything into a Toyota Prius; the downside is telling someone to not get too crazy.” – Anthony “Dancing Tony” Susco
“We started the Electric Church in 2014 in East Austin. Our greatest achievement so far has been creating a space where an up-and-coming music scene in Austin can develop. Over time we have seen a revival in a DIY culture that has resurfaced and brought with it new music and given bands opportunities to flourish that traditional venues would not have. We also curate open jams with different themes and leave it open to all to come and experiment musically and meet other like-minded types. From this we have seen bands form and people come together. We also have created a music festival we co-host with Sahara Lounge (another Eastside venue) called Saturnalia Music Festival. 2018 was our second year with the fest so watching it all come together has been pretty awesome for us. Same goes for our light shows and artists. [Our resident artist] Fez [Moreno] has been able to find other light show artists and has created a small community around it.” – Electric Church’s founders
King Pizza Records
“2018 was totally bonkers – between Pizzafest 5 and The Psychic Luau 3, we kept ourselves busy with festivals but there was so much community, killer riffs, and dancing it’s kind of tough to take it all in. At the Glass Slipper release show, a bunch of his buds picked up Dave (the frontman) and crowdsurfed him. The look on his face of both horror and excitement is definitely burned into my mind.
Stay tuned in 2019 for the new Daddies tape release show on 1/12.” – Greg Hanson of King Pizza
“I recently graduated from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS with a degree in African American Studies. I was raised by KU’s college radio station KJHK, our local record store Love Garden, and our beloved Replay Lounge. All of which I worked at for multiple years throughout college. Inspired and motivated by Lawrence’s already thriving music scene I wanted to grow something that was my own. With a few trials and errors I began my own booking and production company, Petri Productions. I booked under Sheridan James, Replay Lounge, for my first year as well as booking house shows and acoustic sets in coffee shops. I quickly learned all-ages, accessible venues weren’t much of an option in our community. I’ve booked over 90 shows since moving to Lawrence and continue to book in multiple venues though I am the primary talent buyer and booking agent at the Schoolhouse, a DIY all-ages venue as far North of town as one can go.
This year Petri’s events were included in 33 Reasons Why Kansas City is a Great Place to Be Right Now in KC’s The Pitch, ‘Best of 2018′ magazine with an article [that called us an’ ‘all ages paradise‘.
All of the shows hold their own beauty and individuality but a show that I think shifted our community into a new phase in our scene was the Diet Cig, Spook School, Great Grandpa, and LK Ultra show February of this year. It was Petri Productions’ first-ever sold out show and excitingly enough it sold out in advance. LK Ultra is a queer indigenous fronted group formed from Lawrence’s Girl’s Rock chapter. To experience this new, fresh, inclusive energy was something our community was longing for.
The Schoolhouse’s capacity is 150 when inside and 250 when the shows are outside. The small space and its location create an intimate environment for both the artists and the audience. The venue is a little oasis that takes everyone away from it all for a moment. It’s on the outskirts of town, secluding it from the rest of the Lawrence. There’s a huge yard with a fire pit, you can hear the trains go by, and see so many stars. The space really does create dreamlike experiences.
Because of the DIY nature of the project we bring our own PA and tear it down before and after every show. We’ve recently been raising money for an in-house PA that will help harvest more stability for our venue. We’ve recently acquired a group a volunteers and our goal is to become a non-profit in 2019. The Schoolhouse is beginning to host Queer DJ nights and Drag Shows, with the help of Mylan Jones and Riley Corcoran. It’s really amazing to see how the space is evolving as more community members get involved. Lawrence is a college town in Kansas so it’s really important to have a space people feel safe to be themselves as well as see a varieties representation being celebrated. Having a stage and a setting for those who are disenfranchised is very valuable to a supportive and thriving community.
The momentum that’s been created is electrifying. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for or where I was going so it’s pretty wild to be here. To me putting on a show feels like cooking a meal. It takes so much time, energy, and a kitchen of hands. Petri’s kitchen is: Jennifer Roth, owner of the Schoolhouse; Paul DeGeorge, sound and inspiration; Kelly Corcoran, support and logistics; Louis Wigen-Toccalino, Decade pop up bar and hospitality; Katie Harpstrite, event hand and Vast Yoga; Grace Chin, flyer art; and Shelby Bettles, event hand and hospitality. It takes months and tons of energy to grow the garden, plan the ‘meal,’ invite the guests, and host the party. It can take roughly six months to plan a three to four hour experience, just like it can take hours to prep a meal and ten minutes to devour it. Together our team creates a moment we hope people will cherish and hold onto for the rest of their lives.
I’m extremely lucky and privileged to live where I do at the time that I do. Without the team Lawrence has brought together these events wouldn’t be happening. Lawrence is magical place that harvests a supportive and daring community. I couldn’t wish for a better environment to raise this project in. I’m so grateful and thankful for the opportunities I have been presented.
I hope the Schoolhouse is still hosting all-ages shows 20 years from now, that’s the real dream.” – Paige Batson
Paper Scissors Media Philadelphia, PA
“2018 was a truly incredible year for Paper Scissors Media. Most importantly, it was the year at that our record label goodhowareyou records truly came to life. We have 14 artists in our family (Secret Nudist Friends, Blushed, Trash Boy, Overwinter, Kelsey Cork and the Swigs, Puppy Angst, Broke Body, yeenar, Madam West, Busy Bee Project, Rebecca Zimmerman, Honeytiger, and too dogs) and we couldn’t be more proud of everyone’s teamwork and collective effort. We are so proud to have a record label dedicated to a diverse array of artists largely composed of non cis-males, and with a strong connection to the Philly queer community.
Our home-base venue Tralfamadore hosted over 70 shows, and in total we booked over 100 shows in Philadelphia alone this year as well as many in other cities. This year was the year of teamwork. I can’t say enough about the efforts of Deb Gilmore, Dan Baggarly, and Missy Pidgeon, and it would be truly impossible to individually think all of the dedicated artists, spaces, and supporters who keep our DIY family alive.
I’m so proud of the fact that we have now hosted four music festivals, two this year: a reoccurring festival called Good How Are You Fest in the Spring, and Great How’ve You Been Fest in the Fall. I am so proud and honored to be able to make music in the city of Philadelphia and to know so many wonderful people around the country who go out of their way to make shows happen and to accommodate artists and treat them with love and respect. I hope people continue to support Paper Scissors Media and I encourage everyone to check out goodhowareyou records!!” – Matty Klauser of Paper Scissors Media
“The highlight of 2018 for PLAG was expanding on our workshops. In 2017, we noticed a lack of accessible education for artists, particularly independent artists, and started presenting free artist-facing educational workshops featuring womxn, femme, and nonbinary speakers. This year, we’ve really built on that foundation. While we continued having more ‘traditional’ moderated panels on various aspects of the music business, we also hosted our first hands-on, interactive workshops. These have included topics like producing with Ableton, an introduction to modular synths, how to build your pedal board, producing with Native Instruments Maschines, and a bunch of others, and partnerships with Ableton, Make Noise, Earthquaker Devices, Native Instruments, Lil Miquela, and IO Music Academy. It’s been a rewarding year watching developing artists learn how to take the reins of their own careers and we can’t wait to keep building on that throughout 2019. We have some really fun things in the works.” – Katrina Bleckley of PLAG
“At the time of writing this, our YouTube channel has uploaded 3,728 videos of (mostly local) bands playing throughout Minneapolis and St Paul from 2011 until now. Each year we have steadily increased our coverage and output. We’ve been going through a lot of changes in the past few years here in Minneapolis. As the city has grown and become more gentrified, we’ve lost numerous important venues along the way – the Triple Rock, Grumpy’s downtown, Reverie, Secret Service, Licorice Beach, various house show spaces. We’ve had many notable bands part ways over the last handful of years, such as Burn Fetish, Tony Peachka, Animal Lover, Wretch, Naïve Sense, Karate Break, Mrs., Murder Shoes, Disasteratti, Brain Tumors… and so many more. We’ve also tragically had some beloved local musicians passing away before their time.
The initial purpose of UnderCurrentMPLS’s genesis – to capture, document, and promote local underground music – has felt especially valuable considering all of this loss and change the local music scene has experienced. There are plenty of bands who never even had a chance to record anything officially, outside of our live videos, and it feels good to offer bands those memories while doing what we enjoy.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom! Some really great new venues have been opening up: Mortimers, Moon Palace Books etc… and collectively, Minneapolis bands are like a Hydra – when you cut off one head, multiple heads grow back in its place. Excellent new bands are always forming out of the ashes of the old bands. New Primals, Tongue Party, Witch Watch, Citric Dummies, Scrunchies, IV, Death of a Ladies’ Man, Tulip, Conscripts… all feature members of the above listed bands that had dismantled. So, on the flip side of the coin, along with helping preserve the memory of what has come and gone, it also feels really special to be able to be there, documenting those newly formed venues and bands all from the beginning.” – UnderCurrentMPLS
Women That Rock
“We’ve seen an incredible community of badass femmes building around Women That Rock this year. Our debut ‘Women That Rock Presents’ concert event in April 2018 at Knitting Factory Brooklyn was a major highlight – we brought four amazing femme-fronted bands and a female DJ together on one bill for a special night of music. We also had an amazing summer showcase at Brooklyn Bazaar with a stacked lineup: GYMSHORTS, Sharkmuffin, MONTE, Sister Munch, Lady Bits and Strange Parts. The night also featured almost 20 Brooklyn-based femme vendors. We threw an awesome PRIDE party in June at Coney Island Baby, which featured a bill of four queer femme-fronted acts and a queer lady DJ. Most recently, we celebrated again at The Knit with a special concert event featuring headliners Starbenders alongside Scarlet Sails, Astra the 22s and Natalie Claro.
It’s been an incredible experience creating this platform to spotlight womxn in music – creating a safe, celebratory, inclusive space for womxn to perform, be heard and be recognized for their art without the obstacles that misogyny and gender roles present for womxn in the music world. It’s been amazing watching the platform come to life and seeing how people respond to what Women That Rock is doing – artists & music fans alike seem to have a real hunger for this femme-focused initiative.
We’ve heard so many incredible stories from femme musicians we’ve worked with over the last year about how appreciated Women That Rock is and how necessary the space is that we’re creating. We’ve heard stories from womxn about the discomfort of being the only woman on most show lineups, being spoken down to or dismissed by venue staff, sound guys and dude-bands. Stories about the struggle to have their art be appreciated without feeling judged based on appearance. A great example of this was a story told by Brooklyn rock band MONTE’s front woman Caitlin Montclare, who described many instances of showing up at a venue with her guitar on her back and being immediately assumed to be the ‘merch girl’ or a girlfriend of one of the band members, rather than the musician herself. As if just because she’s female, she must be the merch girl – as if the guitar she’s carrying must be someone else’s. As if because she’s female, she must be just a ‘girl helping the band’.
We’re working hard to create a celebratory and safe space that will hopefully help combat those types of negative experiences, help break down some of the negative gender stereotypes, and make women feel more secure, confident & appreciated. We have a lot of exciting initiatives in the works for 2019 and we can’t wait to see what the new year brings!” – Andie of Women That Rock
“I’ve handled a portion (some years a large portion) of an all ages triplex of music venues called The Outland Complex here in Springfield, Missouri. Sometimes I set up house shows too though haven’t lived at a house that did shows in about four years. Since I work directly for the business what I book is a wide swath, some of which I don’t enjoy but know other folks in the community will enjoy! My primary goal has been to both offer Springfield as a well-paying and friendly spot to book when touring down south or up north through the Midwest. It’s a strategic stop on any tour but has not always been hospitable to smaller touring acts (especially ones that fall under niche/more challenging genre types) which is mostly what I focus on.
This year there were many shows I loved but there really isn’t a singular show that takes the cake or a moment that overshadows the others any of the years I’ve been doing this. My favorite thing is seeing people of all ages attending shows at a bar that wouldn’t have likely hosted them before (large in part to the ownership). Compared to previous years I really scaled back for health reasons. Up until this year I was booking on average 10 to 20 shows a month, some months much more. I’d like to let anyone else know that has been doing this for a hot minute that it’s okay to take a breather and focus on your mental and physical health. In the coming year I already have some shows I’m really excited to put on and hope to build up a team of folks that hopefully take on the torch once I move elsewhere or get too tired to do this all the time. That’s how college towns work right?” – Seth Goodwin
Drunk on $2 strawberry margaritas during my very first visit to Cubbyhole, my 19-year-old self and a friend struck up a conversation with two women who led with, “Aww, how cute, two straight girls at the gay bar!” We looked at each other, confused. She was quick to correct them about her sexuality, while I, on the other hand, kept quiet, thinking they were right. Who was I trying to fool by being here? I’ve been “mistaken” for straight just about every time I’ve been there, for that matter. And what right did I have to be upset? To those who saw me everyday, I was straight, and was too scared to convince them otherwise.
Fast forward to sometime in early September of this year. After getting “mistaken” for straight in a casual conversation by a gay friend, I couldn’t let it go. At 2am, in an act of subconscious (and delusionally tired) defiance, I chopped my hair below my shoulders – as if a drastic change in my appearance would make people finally believe me when I say I’m queer. I thought back to an interview I’d read in which Héloïse Letissier, who fronts Christine and the Queens, described the epiphany she had upon cutting her hair: “I felt like, ‘This is how I want to exist.’” My drunk ass almost cried when someone in the bathroom at a Rina Sawayama show complimented my new ‘do for the first time; knowing that a large part of Sawayama’s fan base is queer, I found comfort in being seen.
Rarely did I consciously think about openly queer women in entertainment in the past. When I recall queer artists that I listened to growing up, I admit that David Bowie or Freddie Mercury – not women – come to mind first. Whether it’s the media at fault or my own ignorance, I was somehow never consciously aware of women’s queerness. From Fergie and Lady Gaga in my youth, and then, as I got older, The xx, Tegan and Sara, and Sleater-Kinney, I often didn’t know some of my most beloved female artists were queer until after the fact. I later clocked many hours over the years Googling “[insert artist] queer,” intrigued by female androgyny by way of Annie Lennox, and for selfish reasons, hoping to find that Debbie Harry might be into women. This was all prior to the realization that my “girl crushes” were born of genuine attraction. Maybe it took so long because I had few truly visible artists to help me understand that loving another woman was real and valid.
I remember when I first started telling my best friends that there was a slight chance that I could maybe be bisexual, and being met with the classic “it’s probably just a phase.” It made me curl in on myself, backtrack, and call myself “fluid” instead. “Fluid” was my safety net to go back to living as a straight cis female, since I wasn’t committed to a label.
But “fluid” was never the whole truth.
I’ve known for a long time that I’m bisexual, but 2018 marks my first year of unapologetic out-ness. Sexuality is a journey, and labeling oneself isn’t pertinent to having a queer identity. Fluidity perfectly encapsulates how many other people define their own sexuality. For me, though, calling myself “bisexual” out loud lifts a weight off my shoulders. I owe this newfound confidence to queer female artists, from SOPHIE to Janelle Monáe, who are unapologetically themselves.
2017 and 2018 saw a jump for queer females in the mainstream beyond “I Kissed a Girl” or “Cool for the Summer,” where being queer is synonymous with experimental sexual deviance (not to discredit Demi Lovato’s own bisexuality). Kissing girls was once taboo, “just something that we wanna try.” Songs like Sawayama’s “Cherry” operate in the same realm of queerness being new and different. However, rather than eroticizing it, Sawayama crafts a sweet, sparkling anthem that illustrates an awakening; it’s less about the missed connection and more about what it taught her about herself. “Now I wanna love myself/It’s not that us is guaranteed/’Cause inside I’m still the same me with no ID” reminds me of being 19 and becoming infatuated with a stranger at a party as we talked and smoked cigarettes and got dollar slice pizza, though I never got her name. Still, I can’t will myself to forget the moment she told me she likes girls and with ease, I told her I do too. It had nothing to do with my attraction to her. It was the first time I had ever come out, and she has no idea how significant that moment was for me. She was the first person with whom I was living my truth.
Today, there’s Kehlani in the mainstream crooning, “I like my girls just like I like my honey/Sweet/A little selfish.” These lyrics effectively normalize women loving women in a way I’d never understood before. By way of Kehlani, I also discovered Disney-girl-turned-“Lesbian Jesus” Hayley Kiyoko this year when Kehlani appeared on “What I Need.” Kiyoko candidly sings, “I only want a girl who ain’t afraid to love me.” I could never imagine hearing that on the radio growing up. Kiyoko was recently awarded the Rising Star Award at Billboard Women in Music, presented to her by bisexual pop singer Lauren Jauregui. “Nobody wants to be brave,” Kiyoko confesses in her acceptance speech, through tears. “We’re all terrified. I’m very grateful for my fans…I found my purpose in life, and the ability to embrace my truth.”
Women have shown me what it’s like to go from grappling with your truth to embracing it. Asserting herself beyond myriad production credits, SOPHIE’s debut album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is a disarming nine tracks of simultaneous chaos and vulnerability. There’s a challenge from SOPHIE to listen to this record without the preconceived notion of what pop music – and furthermore, people – should be. “Without my genes or my blood/With no name and with no type of story/Where do I live?” she asks on “Immaterial,” giving herself the answer: “I could be anything I want.”
The album is powerful enough to have turned the heads of traditionally closed-minded Grammy committee. She and singer-songwriter Teddy Geiger (who co-wrote the Shawn Mendes single “In My Blood”) have become the first Grammy-nominated transgender women for Best Dance/Electronic Album and Song of the Year, respectively.
They, and artists like the genderqueer and pansexual Letissier, haven’t been blurring the lines of gender in music so much as beginning the process of erasing them. The first time I saw Christine and the Queens live in 2016, I had given little to no thought to the nuance and fluidity of gender expression. When she returned this past year, it appeared that she had invented a masculine persona along with her new record, Chris. The more I indulged in the record, it became apparent that rather than stripping herself of femininity, she had adapted traditionally masculine themes – eroticism, power, dominance – to dispel the pre-existing notion of softness that womanhood was supposed to be.
I came across King Princess through Mark Ronson, when she became the first official signed artist on his label, Zelig Records, releasing her first single “1950” earlier this year. In addition to paying tribute to a decade when women could exclusively be queer in private, she plays with religion and divinity in a way that calls out to the once-ardent Catholic still living inside me. “Tell me why my gods look like you,” she whines, “and tell me why it’s wrong.” The idea is not lost on songs like “Holy” and “Pussy Is God,” which not only put women, but queer women, at the center of worship. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, King Princess calls it “extremely fucked up and fun…being the antithesis of a belief system.”
“Fun” never would’ve been the word I’d use to describe the intersection of being a self-proclaimed Jesus lover while attempting to repress this sinful secret the way I repress Catholicism now. While I’ve never been homophobic and I’ve tried to be an ally to others, I was adamant that homosexuality wasn’t a possibility for me. But now I find the layers of irony so absurd it’s funny. For me, queerness was directly associated with eroticism, in turn lacing this part of my identity with sin. Coupled with my warped notions of feminism (in my teenage years, I called myself anti-feminist), it’s all rooted in self-hatred.
Then I heard this verse:
“Searching for someone to fix my drive
Text message, God up in the sky
Oh, if you love me, won’t you please reply?
Oh, can’t you see that it’s only me, your dirty computer?”
It made me wonder if Janelle Monáe had somehow gotten inside my head and heard these conversations I was having with God to fix whatever the hell was going on inside me. Her music has been lush with futuristic and science fiction imagery via Cindi Mayweather, her android alter ego. The juxtaposition of real life with a surreal world allows raw emotion to take the forefront. It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself this whole time that I’ve been fighting the truth: what is wrong with my programming as a human that I’m so inherently broken and flawed?
Janelle Monáe intended “to really celebrate those that I felt needed to be celebrated most, those in marginalized communities” with Dirty Computer. Those communities include not only the LGBTQIA community, but women and people of color as well – and these are all intersections I identify with. It’s the things about myself that I’ve been conditioned to believe are defects, dirty. Deconstructing the android on Dirty Computer gives insight to our very coding as people, the root of this “other” that terrifies people in 2018 as much as ever.
What a weird time, in 2018, to have finally found relief through leaning into that exact fear. This whole time, I’ve been internalizing it, using it against myself, so much that even when I first began exploring the possibility of being queer, I accepted without argument that I wasn’t queer enough to be valid. Compared to the first time I called myself “bisexual” out loud circa 2014, when I say it today, it no longer leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There’s still an adrenaline rush, but it comes from excitement. Because for the first 23 years of my life, I was never being my honest self.
But now, I finally believe that I deserve to live my truth. And so do you.
Check out Ysabella’s ever-growing CHEERS QUEERS playlist on Spotify, as well as the rest of our year-end coverage.
Here we are again! As the new year approaches, it’s time to look back and take stock of the albums and singles that defined this moment in music history. 2018 was an eclectic year, to say the least, and there are a lot of new names on the list: Tirzah, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Noname, King Princess, and Kali Uchis all had phenomenal debuts this year, not to mention the inimitable Cardi B, who made good on the promise of last year’s smash hit “Bodak Yellow” with Invasion of Privacy in April. There were established artists who still managed to surprise us, whether in the form of unearthed Prince demos, The Arctic Monkeys’ loungey sci-fi concept album, Tim Hecker introducing us to ancient Japanese court music, Dev Hynes making his most personal Blood Orange record yet, or Lil Wayne finally dropping Tha Carter V. And then there are those artists who fall somewhere in between, their ascendant careers a thrill to watch as 2018 saw them finally hit their stride. US Girls. Yves Tumor. serpentwithfeet. And perhaps most spectacularly, Mitski and Janelle Monáe.
As each of our writers (and editors, too) created their own mini-lists, those were two names that kept cropping up, and there’s no doubt you’ve seen them on just about every year-end list on the interwebs. If there’s any chance you haven’t heard Be The Cowboy or Dirty Computer, by all means, fire up that Spotify Premium post haste. But the recommendations here are as diverse as our writers themselves, so we hope you’ll take time to explore some of the lesser-known, hardly hyped artists we’ve highlighted, too – and keep your eyes peeled for more year-end coverage as we cruise in to 2019.
Marianne White (Executive Director)
Top 10 Albums:
1) boygenuis – boygenius
2) Soccer Mommy – Clean
3) Nenah Cherry – Broken Politics
4) Mitski – Be the Cowboy
5) serpentwithfeet – soil
6) CupcakKE – Ephorize
7) Blood Orange – Negro Swan
8) Autechre – NTS Sessions 1-4
9) Snail Mail – Lush
10) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy Top 5 Singles:
1) Let’s Eat Grandma – “Hot Pink”
2) Jon Hopkins – “Emerald Rush”
3) The Internet – “Look What You Started”
4) Cardi B, Bad Bunny, J Balvin – “I Like It”
5) boygenius – “Bite The Hand”
Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
Top 10 Albums:
1) Low – Double Negative
2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
3) Madeline Kenney – Perfect Shapes
4) Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands of Love
5) DJ Koze – Knock Knock
6) Caroline Rose – Loner
7) Tim Hecker – Konoyo
8) Virginia Wing – Ecstatic Arrow
9) Frigs – Basic Behaviour
10) bedbug – i’ll count to heaven in years without seasons Top 10 Singles:
1) Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
2) Loma – “Black Willow”
3) The Breeders – “All Nerve”
4) SOPHIE – “Is It Cold In The Water?”
5) Jonathan Wilson – “Loving You”
6) Empath – “The Eye”
7) Sibile Attar – “Paloma”
8) Jono Ma & Dreems – “Can’t Stop My Dreaming (Of You)”
9) Shopping – “Discover”
10) Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – “Dunce”
Mandy Brownholtz (Social Media)
Top 5 Albums:
1) Miserable – Lover Boy/Dog Days
2) Snail Mail – Lush
3) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
4) Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
5) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer Top 3 Singles:
1) Nothing – “Blue Line Baby”
2) Hinds – “The Club”
3) Mitski – “Nobody”
Lauren Zambri (Events)
Top 5 Albums:
1) Amen Dunes – Freedom
2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
3) Beach House – 7
4) Iceage – Beyondless
5) Tirzah – Devotion Top 5 Singles:
1) Jenny Hval – “Spells”
2) US Girls – “Velvet 4 Sale”
3) Yves Tumor – “Licking An Orchid”
4) Amen Dunes – “Believe”
5) Low – “Always Trying to Work it Out”
Top 5 Albums:
1) Alice Ivy – I’m Dreaming
2) Sudan Archives – Sink
3) Marlon Williams – Make Way For Love
4) Earth Girl Helen Brown – Venus
5) Rüfüs Du Sol – Solace Top 3 Singles:
1) Rhye – “Taste”
2) Alice Ivy – “Chasing Stars”
3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”
Top 5 Albums:
1) DRINKS – Hippo Lite
2) Shannon & the Clams – Onion
3) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction
4) Prince – Piano & a Microphone 1983
5) Sloppy Jane – Willow Top 3 Singles:
1) Public Practice – “Fate/Glory”
2) The Nude Party – “Chevrolet Van”
3) Big Bliss – “Surface”
Top 10 Releases Out of the Brooklyn DIY Scene (in Chronological Order):
1) THICK — Would You Rather? (Self-Released)
2) BODEGA — Endless Scroll (What’s Your Rupture?)
3) Baked — II (Exploding In Sound)
4) Pecas — After Dark (Broken Circles)
5) Big Bliss – At Middle Distance (Exit Stencil Recordings)
6) Kevin Hairs — Freak In The Streets (GP Stripes)
7) PILL – Soft Hell (Mexican Summer)
8) Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend (Exploding In Sound)
9) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction (Little Dickman Records/ Rich Moms)
10) Janet LaBelle – I Only See You (Loantaka Records)
Top 5 Albums:
1) The Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
2) The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
3) Charles Bradley – Black Velvet
4) Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
5) Jack White – Boarding House Reach Top 3 Singles:
1) The Raconteurs – “Now That You’re Gone”
2) Mac Miller – “2009”
3) Dead Naked Hippies – “Rare”
Top 5 Albums:
1) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
2) Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V
3) J. Cole – KOD
4) Preme – Light of Day
5) Jazz Cartier – Fleurever Top 3 Singles:
1) Lil Wayne feat. Reginae Carter – “Famous”
2) Cardi B – “Thru Your Phone”
3) J. Cole – “Brackets”
Top 5 Albums:
1) Noname – Room 25
2) Flatbush Zombies – Vacation In Hell
3) Mountain Man – Magic Ship
4) Lucy Dacus – Historian
5) Nao – Saturn Top 3 Singles:
1) Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
2) Twin Shadow – “Saturdays”
3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”
Erin Rose O’Brien
Top 5 Albums:
1) Mitski — Be The Cowboy
2) Antarctigo Vespucci — Love in the Time of E-mail
3) Car Seat Headrest — Twin Fantasy
4) Soccer Mommy — Clean
5) Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer Top 3 Singles:
1) Bad Moves — “Cool Generator”
2) The Beths — “Future Me Hates Me”
3) Miya Folick — “Stop Talking”
Top 5 Albums:
1) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
2) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
3) Brockhampton – Iridescence
4) Soccer Mommy – Clean
5) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy Top 3 Singles:
1) King Princess – “1950”
2) Childish Gambino – “This is America”
3) Pusha T – “If You Know You Know”
Each week Audiofemme gives away a set of tickets to our featured shows in NYC! Scroll down to enter for the following shindigs.