Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 2)

[THE SOUND OF THE DELTA VARIANT CHEERFULLY HOPPING BETWEEN BEAN BAGS]In previous Manchester International Festivals – look, just go back to part one of this piece and follow the links in there, I can’t be bothered typing them again – anyway, back then the hub of the event was Festival Square. For the other 102 weeks of the bi-year it was Albert Square, the big public space in front of the town hall. But at MIF time, it became a riot of food stalls, bars and tented stages offering mostly free entertainment.

This year was always going to be different, and not just for the obvious reason. Manchester Town Hall is in the middle of a massive refurbishment programme, meaning that Albert Square is closed off. So for 2021 (and probably 2023), Festival Square has relocated to the space outside Manchester Cathedral. It’s still offering booze, food and entertainment, but this time round entry has to be carefully controlled, with all visitors carefully spaced out into meticulously organised bubbles.

They would have managed it, too, if it hadn’t been for the inhabitants of Twat Island.

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Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 1)

[THE SOUND OF TRYING TO FIND SOME DECENT PICTURE CAPTIONS]As we walk out of our central Manchester hotel on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, we see a plane flying overhead. It’s pulling a banner behind it. Because of the sun and the altitude, we can’t see what it says. This is a much bigger problem for us than you might think.

Less than an hour earlier, The Belated Birthday Girl and I had arrived in the city, all set for an extended run of the 2021 Manchester International Festival. Regular readers will recall our coverage of previous festivals – we paid a flying visit to the first one in 2007, had a good excuse for missing the second in 2009, then covered the next four for Europe’s Best Website (see 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017) before bringing it back in-house for 2019. All six of those visits had one thing in common – they only lasted a weekend, with us arriving late on Friday or early on Saturday, and on the train back to London by Sunday evening.

That’s how it usually works. This isn’t a usual year, though. With our planned foreign holiday kicked down the line for another year, we’re replacing it with a collection of short city breaks that don’t require us to leave the country. So this time around, we’ve spending a full five days (Wednesday to Sunday) at the Festival, although taking things at a slightly less manic pace than usual. The festival itself is an appreciably different shape to what it is normally – new outdoor and indoor venues to cope with social distancing requirements, a high proportion of online and hybrid content, a bit more public art than before – and so we’re going to be an appreciably different shape too. (Literally so, given some of the meals we’ve got lined up in the extended gaps between events.)

That plane I mentioned three paragraphs back is part of one of those public art projects I mentioned one paragraph back. It’ll all make sense in the end, probably – though bear in mind that this is a big enough festival to justify a two-part review, so scrolling to the end of the page won’t entirely help you.

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Picks Of The Year 1982 - 2020: The Video Playlists

Picks Of The Year 1993 - 2008 inclusive. There isn't enough image space on the page to include them all, sorry.[Updated 21/01/2021 to include the playlist for 2020.]

At least one of the links below tells you the full story, so I won't go through it all again. But in brief: since 1982, I've been producing an annual series of Pick Of The Year compilations, collating my favourite tracks from that year's music releases. From 1982 to 1989, they were gargantuan twin-tape affairs: between 1993 and 1997, they were single 90 minute cassettes: and since 1998, I've been burning them onto CDs. (I didn't make compilations at the time for 1990-1992, but two decades later I created some CD-length ones as a best-guess approximation with the benefit/hindrance of hindsight.)

1998 was the year that I started writing about these compilations on the interwub, as they were being produced. The years before then have been subsequently been documented on this site, with a lot of ironic pointing and laughing at the sort of junk I used to listen to. Put all that together, and you've got a hefty collection of tracks covering my musical interests from 1982 to the present day.

And thanks to YouTube, you can hear most of them right now. The playlists below aren't complete, inevitably: some artists are less happy than others about letting their product be heard for free. But the vast majority of the songs I've chosen are there in some form or other - from official record company videos, to slapdash fan-made tributes consisting of a single still image with the song playing over the top. (I guess my own Felix Project videos fall somewhere in between those two stools.)

Anyway, you've got a couple of days' worth of music here that I've liked at one time or another. And I'll be updating this page each time I produce a new POTY compilation. Enjoy.

For those of you who don't want to look at videos, there are also Spotify playlists available for each year, although many of them have at least one track missing. See the relevant pages covering the years 1982-1989, 1990-1999, 2000-2009 and 2010-2019. And if you make it all the way to the bottom of this page, you'll be rewarded with a single 739-song, 59.5 hour playlist of the whole damn lot (though the widget only displays the first hundred tracks, the coward).

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The Devil Set My Takkies On Fire: Pick Of The Year 2020

#BLMtackie
/ˈtaki/
noun, informal, South African
plural noun: takkies
1. a rubber-soled canvas sports shoe.
2. a tyre.

Hopefully that clears that one up. (Although it's possible it might be trackies - I tried asking one of the songwriters on Twitter, but never heard back. Still, the newly topical cover photo works either way.)

Anyhoo, merry Christmas, such as it is. It looks like we've got ourselves a tradition now, as 2020 is the third year in a row that my Pick Of The Year compilation has dropped on Christmas Day. But what does my 39th POTY look like at the end of the most messed up year in living memory? Well, it's a lot more insular - no travelling means no foreign language songs, and the only nations represented are the British Isles and America (I'm choosing to assume Nick Cave is ours now). Emotionally, it's even more of a see-saw than usual, with a mixture of the happy, the sad, the angry and the topical (with those last two categories overlapping somewhat).

As ever, it's all yours to hear right now in both video and Spotify formats. And also as ever, at the end of this piece we have a competition (closing date January 31st 2021) to win a CD of The Devil Set My Takkies On Fire for yourself. Will it be Dave, or will it be not Dave? The answer is in your hands. (Particularly if you're Dave.) Anyway, here we go.

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Spotify Picks Of The Year: The Tenties

A big hello to those of you who've been waiting for three years to see the finished version of this image.A version of this article was originally posted on this site on January 9th, 2018. Although I've been tweaking and updating the text at various points in this four-part series of reposts, I'm going to quote the opening of this final part exactly as it stood nearly three years ago.

When historians look back at the deeply troubled period between 2010 and 2019, I suspect they'll say that one of its major problems was that we never really agreed what to call it.

Look at the decades we've covered in the rest of this series. The Eighties? The Nineties? Spectacularly uncontroversial: everybody calls them that. Things got a bit more uncertain at the turn of the millennium, but there was eventually an unspoken agreement that the cheeky double entendre of the Noughties would have to do. But what about now? We're four-fifths of the way through this garbage fire of a decade, and still nobody can come up with a name for it, other than the basic facepalm gesture. So I'm proposing the Tenties as the logical choice, even though it sounds bloody daft. Roll on 2020, when at least we're back into a pre-existing naming convention.

Just to recap: the Tenties was a garbage fire, and it will be a relief when 2020 comes around. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Anyway, the fourth and final part of this feature is structured in the same way as the other three, and this time round it includes details for 2018 and 2019, which I couldn't do on the previous occasion because of the linear nature of time. Once again, I've taken the Pick Of The Year CD compilations I've been creating every year, and attempted to recreate them as Spotify playlists. You'd assume that as Spotify's been running since 2008, pretty much every record released this decade would be on there, but you'd be wrong. The gaps on these last few playlists tend to fall into three categories: limited web-only releases via sites like Bandcamp, music from foreign parts (though Japan seems to have embraced international releasing for its bigger artists), and acts who've simply decided that streaming isn't something they want to do.

As always, I've noted the omissions for each year (including a few that have dropped off Spotify since January 2018), and included links to the original discussions of the tracks. The more alert of you may have realised that the playlists for 2014-2016 have been around for a while, and were set up specifically for MostlyFilm's end-of-year roundups (though the embedded players are all buggered now, as they were updated some time ago). The others, though, have been set up specifically for this page. Happy streaming, or whatever it is that the kids would say.

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Spotify Picks Of The Year: The Noughties

Hard to believe, I know, but none of these covers was made using Photoshop.We're now at the halfway mark in this project to recreate all of my Pick Of The Year compilation CDs and cassettes as Spotify playlists - see also 1982-1989 and 1990-1999. And if there's one thing this exercise has taught me so far, it's that anyone who says streaming will eventually completely replace the physical ownership of music deserves a good slap. As you've probably noticed in the previous two articles (as well as the one that's due to follow shortly), most of these playlists are missing at least one song, if not more.

It's particularly noticeable here in the early years of the 21st century, largely thanks to my discovery of J-Pop in 2001. With a lot of Japanese music, it seems like nobody cares about granting the rights to stream it internationally. Things began to loosen up a few years ago, it's true - Ringo Shiina eventually made all of her records globally available, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has released everything worldwide from the moment Pon Pon Pon went viral. But all too often, you end up with bizarre situations like the Vanilla Beans collection, VaniBest II, where the iTunes export version was been stripped back from 18 tracks to five, and the Spotify version restricted even further to two.

So there are a few Japanese songs on these compilations that I can't track down on Spotify. In addition to that, this was a decade when I picked up a lot of music in all sorts of contexts outside regular albums - downloads of mashups that were too copyright-infringing to go on regular sale, CDs only available at gigs, even one track given away with a book. None of those are available for streaming, as you can imagine. And most frustrating of all, it's impossible to predict when songs will be removed from Spotify, or indeed added to it. There's at least one track here that wasn't available when I first started assembling these playlists back in 2017, but subsequently showed up a month later because the album it came from had just got a tenth anniversary rerelease. (It's Glamur by Amiina, from 2007.) And that's happened a few times over in the three years since I last wrote about these playlists, either because of changes in rights ownership or because the rival streaming service set up by one particular artist died on its arse.

So, in short: these playlists may have gaps in them, but I'll try to warn you here what's missing, and link to my original track-by-track discussions of the compilations as well.

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Spotify Picks Of The Year: The Nineties

New feature for this decade: sleeve art! Well, sleeve design. Okay, pictures on the sleeves.In the second of a four-part series - and it pulled me up short when I realised that before too long, this could become a five-part series - anyway, I'm continuing my decade-by-decade run through my Pick Of The Year compilations, this time presenting the ones from the 1990s as almost completeish Spotify playlists.

There's a major difference between these ten compilations and the previous set from the 1980s. Those earlier ones were purely made for my own benefit. The ones in the nineties, however, fall into three groups. The cassettes I made from 1993 to 1997 were specifically targeted at my mate Lou, following a session in a pub once where he grumbled that he couldn't find any decent new music any more. The CDs burned in 1998 and 1999 were also primarily made for him, but I now also had a website where I could tell the world about these favourite songs, so I was aware that I had an even wider audience. That also applies to the CDs for 1990-1992, the three years when I didn't make compilations at the time, eventually bashing them out nearly two decades after the fact to fill in the gap.

These selections may be a little more self-conscious as a result - not deliberately so, I think, but I'm sure there was some influence in my track selections because of that. There's still plenty of stuff on these lists that I can be embarrassed about now, though, so don't you worry about that. As before, some of the tracks aren't available on Spotify (and some have dropped off it again since I last wrote a version of this page back in 2017), so I've indicated that where appropriate and included links to the original pages discussing the compilations in full. In short: not so much the nineties, more the ja danketies! (One of my favourite Chris Morris gags of the period, there.)

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Spotify Picks Of The Year: The Eighties

Just think, you could write this lot off completely with one big magnet.Some days, it terrifies me to realise just how anal I was as a teenager. But not today. Because it means I can tell you with absolute certainty that I spent December 14th-15th 1982 recording my first ever Pick Of The Year compilation. (It's written in biro on the cassette sleeves, along with the detail that it was recorded on an Amstrad 7090, the ghetto blaster that I'd bought earlier that year.)

Did I imagine at the time that NEARLY FORTY YEARS LATER, I'd still be making these compilations? Probably not. Still, here we are. Long-time readers may remember that around the 35th anniversary of those first tapes, I copied all of my Picks Of The Year to date onto a new medium: streaming Spotify playlists. Over the next few weeks, I'll be reposting those lists up here, decade by decade.

Why am I reposting a series of pages I first published here in 2017? Well, three reasons. First of all, Spotify have completely changed the HTML embed code for their playlists, so the pages needed updating to include that anyway. Secondly, I can finally complete the page dedicated to playlists for the Tenties, to include the lists for 2018 and 2019. And thirdly, the world of streaming is a ridiculously fluid one, if you’ll pardon the pun. Tracks that were missing from the playlists three years ago are now available: but also, tracks that were available three years ago have now been withdrawn by the artists and/or record companies. The latter is a particular bugbear of mine, and is why I keep yelling at young people in the street that physical media will never die.

So these pages will never be definitively completed: much the same as their YouTube equivalents, the Spotify playlists are always going to have holes in them, and those holes will change every so often. But I'll highlight what the missing tracks are currently for each year, and there'll be links to the full track listing and description as well. So with that caveat in mind, welcome to my favourite songs of the Eighties, with the other decades to follow shortly. Don't judge me.

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Fearless. Ruthless. Cheerless. Clueless.: Pick Of The Year 2019

Don't worry, *nobody* recognises the second one.There used to be a tradition here on Christmas Day. I'd post up a video of a newish Christmas song - this year, for example, it probably would have been this not-safe-for-work-or-family-gatherings romp - wish you season's greetings from myself and The Belated Birthday Girl, and we'd be all done in time for lunch.

Some of you will remember that I didn't do that last year. And I rather enjoyed what I did instead, to be honest. So, in what the young people today will not be calling a 'surprise drop', here's a CD-R's worth of my favourite songs of 2019, along with the usual competition to win a copy of the CD for yourself. Assuming your name's Dave, obviously. Merry Christmas!

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Mostly MIF 2019, and Partly BrewDogging #65: Outpost Manchester

I was originally going to say 10 PRINT HELLO 20 GOTO 10, but that seemed a little too meta.Friday July 12th

2310: Manchester Piccadilly station
We've arrived back in my home town once more for a weekend at the 2019 Manchester International Festival, bringing my coverage back in-house after four consecutive Festivals elsewhere. (It's running till July 21st, so at the time of writing you still may be able to catch some of it for yourself.) Over the next 48 hours or so, we'll be revelling in MIF's commitment to bringing us artistic experiences that haven't been seen before. A journey that along the way will bring to us new colour, new dimension, new value. New new new.

2350: BrewDog Manchester
Okay, so not everything here's going to be new. But as we pop in for our nightcap beers, we're immediately confronted by a DJ playing Billie Jean at top volume: it's funny how quickly that became socially acceptable again, isn't it? And as we sip on our #Mashtag2015 and Jackie O's Oil Of Aphrodite, I can't help but notice that over its seven years in the city centre, BrewDog Manchester has gradually become just another place in town where the kids come to get bladdered on a Friday night. A group of merry girls asks me to take a photo of them holding their cocktails: another group gets told off by bar staff for standing on the seats in their booth: a bloke takes his shirt off to mark something on the stroke of midnight, and is discreetly escorted from the premises shortly after. There's no trouble as such, but something essentially BrewDoggy seems missing. It makes you wonder what the new place is going to be like.

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