The Quality Streets have been scoffed, the Baileys is on hand and us lot at DIY HQ are getting all misty-eyed and reflective looking back on the last twelve months. And what a twelve months it’s been for music! So, in true end-of-year fashion, we’re running through some of 2018’s biggest highlights, along with a handful of our own favourites.
After running through the first quarter of the year yesterday, it’s now time to look towards the start of summer. Not only did Kendrick Lamar become the first non-jazz or classical musician to win a Pulitzer Prize, but Childish Gambino also unleashed his iconic video for ‘This Is America’ on the world. Father John Misty dropped his second album in a year, and Dan from Bastille actually shaved his head in their ‘Quarter Past Midnight’ video.
Remind yourself of some of the other big moments from April, May and June - including the launch of All Points East, Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, and the ridiculous mystery surrounding The 1975 - now…
The month of defining gigs
As the year rolled on, April saw a handful of year-defining gigs that are still remembered vividly as 2018 draws to a close. From massive bands making their return to arena-dwellers entering new, unexpected territories and new British artists making vital, fantastic steps towards stardom, we were out at shows for most of April, and came back from most of them with mouths open wide.
George Ezra enters 2019 as a superstar. Sure, debut album ‘Wanted On Voyage’ was a massive success, but it was with March’s ‘Staying At Tamara’s’ that our Festival Guide cover star became a bona fide household name. He’s got two sold-out shows at London’s O2 Arena lined up for early next year, but a month after the album’s release he played Brixton Academy, showing more than a few glimpses of the superstardom he’s now fully realising. “any hint of surprise or unpredictability is cast aside in favour of a wonderful, warm sense of familiarity, something George Ezra absolutely masters,” we wrote at the time. “Wembley is up next at the end of the year, and the ease in which he completely commands Brixton Academy tonight indicates that that particular step-up is set to be made to look like a doddle, too.” Well, indeed.
April also saw Bastille bring their Reorchestrated tour to the UK, punctuated by a show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. “I’m just gonna be a fucking weeping mess at the front!” Dan Smith told us before the show. “We’ve been saying from the beginning that we want all the musicians on stage to have as many little moments as possible, and want it to be as much - if not more - about the other musicians on stage than about us.” The show is just as much of a moment as this would suggest; the arena-dwellers take their fist-pumping pop to weirder, grander places with stunning results.
Arcade Fire also returned to these shores in April, playing two shows at London’s Wembley Arena as part of a UK tour. The band’s fifth album ‘Everything Now’ was the most divisive of their career, but the shows were a blistering reminder of their continued status as one of the best live bands on the planet. “As huge-scale arena shows go, this will struggle to be topped,” we said in our review at the time. “While ‘Everything Now’ saw an Arcade Fire feeling disconnected from the world and from their audience, tonight shows them to have never been closer.”
Alongside returns from big guns, April also saw two year-defining shows from young, hungry British acts on their way to huge things. First up, Shame took to the Electric Ballroom to truly put their stamp down as one of the bands of the year. “This isn’t just buzz, this is the real fucking deal,” DIY’s Lisa Wright wrote at the time of the show, and that’s proven itself to be more than true across the rest of the year. Declan McKenna also showed himself to be a future superstar when he took to the capital’s Forum. Greeted by the kinds of screams usually reserved for Harry Styles, Our Dec showed that he has the potential to go the whole way, and when album two arrives, we could well see him in arenas.
Arctic Monkeys welcome us to their Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Now that we’ve had a full six months to sit with and fully digest the twinkling, loungey space cadet sixth album from Britain’s most beloved indie treasures, it’s almost hard to fully think back to just how much of an eyebrow-raiser ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ was upon first listen. But a curveball it certainly was, and one that divided opinion more than you imagined golden child Alex Turner’s perfect pen ever would.
After the near-flawless next step of 2013’s ‘AM’, it was understood that the Sheffield lot would need to pull something pretty special out of the bag to top it; understandably, instead of charging forwards, they veered left. At the time, however, the rapid swerve felt like getting your head around an entirely different band - “There’s little change in pace and few spikes within the general mood of dilated pupils and woozy, faded glamour,” we noted in a (definitely wrong – very, very sorry lads, we’re idiots) three-star review around album release.
Half a year on, and a summer of superlative, masterful festival headlines later, though, and ‘Tranquility Base…’ seems like the only thing they could have done. Littered throughout the album are little nuggets of joy – from “Mark speaking” to Alex’s lost train of thought to the genuinely gorgeous piano flourishes that dance across the whole thing. It’s smart and funny, with a twinkle in its eye – just like all the best Monkey moments. And, as per usual, it cements the singer as always being one step ahead. Turns out Alex knew what we wanted before we even did. The bastard. “Arctic Monkeys’ sixth is the kind of eyebrow-raising curveball that could still yet lead to brilliance,” we concluded back in May. And surprise, surprise, it most definitely did.
DIY heads to the seaside for The Great Escape
We all headed down to Brighton in May for The Great Escape for a long-weekend of buzz bands, venue hopping and a pint (or four), with DIY decamping to Horatio’s Bar on Brighton Pier alongside some of some of the best new bands around. The likes of Sports Team, Pale Waves, The Orielles, King Nun and Drahla took to the DIY stage for standout sets, whilst elsewhere at the festival we watched Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, Pip Blom, Nilüfer Yanya, Phoebe Bridgers, Bodega, Sorry, Demob Happy, The Magic Gang and lots, lots more. Future Class Of DIY stars Whenyoung, Lady Bird, Stella Donnelly and more also made their mark as future ones to watch and it’s safe to say we got the full fill of our new music fix.
Years & Years invite us to explore Palo Santo
With ‘Palo Santo’, Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander put himself - and his experiences - centre stage. Literally, too, as while he’d favoured a boogie or three during the band’s live performances in the run-up to, and throughout promotion of debut album ‘Communion’, the video for lead single ‘Sanctify’ saw Olly take on some top-notch choreography.
And while he set ‘Palo Santo’ in a fictional high-concept futuristic universe (“I thought a lot about where I could make a place where we take out all the rules surrounding gender identity and sexuality. I thought, well, why don’t we just have everybody be androids?”) lyrically, it was raw and open about his relationships (““I really had to get past the levels of pettiness…. sometimes it made me laugh. I’d be writing a song when I was so angry at my ex boyfriend. I would never want to present this to the world, where I’m just this bitter ex who’s still hung up on him!’”).
It All Points East for one of summer’s biggest festivals
The last weekend of May saw the first ever All Points East Festival head to London’s Victoria Park. With a line-up that read something like the British equivalent to Barcelona’s lauded Primavera Sound, the fest saw two weekends of left-of-centre gems, which kicked off with the UK return of Yeah Yeah Yeahs after half a decade. Also featuring stunning sets from Lorde, The National, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and loads more, it immediately established itself as a vital new fixture in the UK’s summer festival programme.
1st June, The 1975
90% of the time, making a magazine relies on logistics, thinking on your feet and being prepared to jump on a train or on the phone at a moment’s notice. Sometimes, however, the universe just throws you a bone. Such was the case with our June cover – which just so happened to be scheduled for the day The 1975 were due to explode back onto the scene with the first track from the most anticipated album of the year.
And so, we met up with Matty Healy for a secret summit to learn about his plans for what would eventually become the chart-conquering ‘A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships’ in a world exclusive interview to kick off the campaign. Back then, the album wasn’t finished, and their leader was very much still deep in the middle of creating its state-of-the-nation modern opus, but he was as effervescent, articulate and candid as ever. He spoke for the first time about his former stint in rehab, expressed his worries about being a naturally effusive and tactile person in a post #metoo world and his desires to make this generation’s ‘OK Computer’. Arguably, against all odds, he even succeeded. It was the first kick down of the door into the most exciting, detailed campaign of the year and the first sign that The 1975 were about to become a very, very special band indeed.
Arctic Monkeys shake the foundations of the Royal Albert Hall
Sometimes, the simplest things can be the most iconic, and nothing typified that more on a UK stage this year than the one glowing word adorning the back of the Royal Albert Hall’s red curtains on 7th June: MONKEYS. Four years since they’d last played on home turf, their low-key (for them) comeback ahead of a run of summer festivals felt nothing short of electric; if London crowds are known for being somewhat reserved, then that night the entire belly of the ornate theatre was literally fizzing.
With a stage set built to mirror new album ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”s cover art, it was their home country’s first window into the band’s dramatic, decadent new world (and the first outing of Alex Turner’s infamous lost train of thought). A flawless set that somehow seamlessly combined the indie disco bangers of old with the sprawling piano twinkles of new, it was a show that immediately nixed any fears as to how the record would translate and instead confirmed them as geniuses of the highest order
We took things literally with the launch of Do It Yourself
Here at DIY, we’re well aware that while a career in music is a lot of fun, it’s also a lot of work and for anyone trying to break in, it can be a bit of a minefield trying to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to do. That’s why in June, we launched our ‘Do It Yourself’ guide, featuring forty-five interviews with music industry pros, featuring everyone from artists and artist managers to booking agents, sound technicians, publicists, producers, journalists and more, explaining how they got their jobs and how you can do the same.
Some of the industry insiders include YALA! Records’ Felix White and Morad Khokar, Glass Animals’ manager and Beggars Music head Amy Morgan, A&R Mike Ajayi from AMF Records who signed alt-J and Loyle Carner, manager Louise Latimer of Golden Arm who looks after The Big Moon and Goat Girl and booking agent Anna Bewers, who work for United Talent Agency and books the likes of Nothing But Thieves and Architects.
If you missed out, you can still grab yourself a copy of the guide now - just head to the DIY shop.
Return of The Macca
“Would you like to go down to Paul McCartney’s studio for an exclusive chat about his new record?” they asked. We considered it for 0.00000000001 of a second and then decided that yes, yes we probably would like to interview one of the actual motherfucking Beatles. So, heading down to Macca’s countryside studio, we found ourselves in the very, very surreal indeed situation of shooting the shit with one of the men who essentially invented modern music. More welcoming and genuinely lovely than we could possibly have hoped, Macca gave us a tour, playing a few off-the-cuff snippets of instruments as he went (we’re not crying, it’s just something in our eye), and then proceeded to regale us with the kind of anecdotes that only one of the most legendary musicians of all time would have. His summary? The Beatles were “a pretty good little band”. Yeah, we probably wouldn’t disagree with that one…
Stay tuned for the rest of our 12 Months of ‘18 features, later this week.