A Year in Music – 2020 – Niall McCann (Film Director)

A Year in Music – 2020 – Niall McCann (Film Director)
by Killian Laher

We asked some of our favourite artists to tell us about their year. You can see the results below.

An extraordinary year in many ways.  How did it affect you specifically?

Lots of time spent at home.  Just before last Christmas we had a baby boy so the year was always going to be a blur and the Covid thing has just exacerbated that.  It really does seem like a week and 10 years have passed all at once, time is out of joint, it has almost lost all meaning.  It’s been tough being isolated from family and friends obviously but music, films, books and parenthood has kept us sane(ish).

Where did music fit in during 2020?  Does it seem important?

This year has been marked by the absence of music as much as its presence.  I’ve gone for long periods this year unable to engage with it as I usually do and also by the actual absence of live music.  Firstly, to answer your question anything that helps people get through this shit show is important.  Music can and does change people’s lives; it gives them comfort, joy, hope.  These are clichés because they are true, which is a cliché in itself.  This year I have mostly dealt in clichés, Zoom meetings and severe anxiety.  Send help!

We have lost the communal aspect of music due to no gigs, I have really missed that.  It was going to gigs that led me to discover new music.  Losing them has dented my enjoyment of music somewhat; I’ve missed that and the cinema most of all this last year.

Musicians having no gigs to play has obviously laid bare the inequities at the heart of the music industry and just how backwards the whole economics are for the people who make music.  In no way should the people who own Spotify be Gazillionaires while the musicians who have made them rich eke by.  Spotify is obscene, it’s a parasite.  The Bandcamp Friday no fee idea is a really good thing and shows there is a space for more ethical music platforms and that music fans want to support musicians through those platforms, not the CEOs who run them.  The problems endemic here are of course the same ones we see right across our societies now.  We need to try and correct the inequalities and reimagine how we value art, how we access it and the people who make it.  Maybe all this will give us a chance to reset.

As Mark Fisher said, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, which sums up the ludicrous situation we have arrived at.  When we have an economic system that works for the very few and is unable to deal with a crisis like the one we are living through.  Always mistrust people who think the way things are is as good as it can get.  Hopefully we can reclaim the future and radical art will be at the centre of positive change.

What albums resonated this year?  Can be old or new.

I don’t like lists that rate or compare art because that’s silly and impossible but I do like a good list.  I’ve been listening to a lot of Jim O’Rourke both the Drag City stuff and his more esoteric releases.  I read an interview with him and he kept saying that he wasn’t a musician, more of a theorist, which is brilliant.  He is an endlessly fascinating and surprising artist.  My friend Greg Dunn recently introduced me to the work of his partner, EIKO ISHIBASHI and it is out of this world.  Often times this year I have felt gripped by a stasis which left me unable to do or decide to do anything, making the fug of this lost year even fuggier.  I’ve found that music like Eiko and Jim make would be the only thing that would lift me out of it.  His series of releases alongside Keiji Haino and Oren Ambarchi show this is someone several decades into a unique music journey.

I loved the Sonic Boom album All Things Being Equal.  Einsturzende Neubaten’s latest Alles in Allem is a beautiful record.  Destroyer’s Have We Met is up there with his best work.  The new Shirley Collins is as good as anything she has released.  Constellation Records output continues to dazzle.  Gold Record by Bill Callahan is stunning and moving, unsurprisingly.  On an Irish front the debut album from Aoife Nessa Frances, Land of No Junction. Paddy Hanna’s The Hill. Brigid Mae Power Head Above Water.

If you had to pick one album to sum up this year, what would it be?

2020 by Richard Dawson is an obvious choice for its title but it’s a record that reminds the listeners of the need for basic human decency.  One of the things this year has shown us the majority of people care and will work together for the greater good.  It’s easy to forget that we can make things better for everyone if that’s what we want.  Musically and lyrically he is on a different level.  I think his gig in Whelan’s earlier in the year was one of my last gigs before lockdown, if not the last one*.  If this year (should) have taught us anything it is to be kinder, more emphatic and to look after one another.

The Master (2015) by The Jimmy Cake has been played a lot.  The track Death Can Fuck Off (Part 1 + Part 2) would be a good theme tune for the year.

How have you got through the last 7 or 8 months?

The streaming site Mubi, certainly for the first seven or so months was a huge thing that really helped me; the format of a new film every day while one leaves is a great way to experience new cinema, they show anything from the some might say arthouse end of cinema but it’s a broad enough church to give a broad choice while also having celebrations of people like the Dardennes, Kaurismaki or Kelly Reichardt.  They’ve made their library available now too.  Obviously, there is some shite on it but the ratio of good to shite is high.  I’m going to watch Satantango in full this Christmas, which I said last Christmas, but this year I will.  I also enjoyed the two graphic novels by Nick Drnaso, Beverly and Sabrina.

Are you working on any interesting projects?

I am just about finished a music video for an Adrian Crowley song, Northbound Stowaway.  His new album is coming next year and is a special piece of work.  Our ability to shoot footage or meet up was obviously curtailed, but constraints can be your friend.  So Adrian shot stuff and sent it over to me to work on.  The video is kind of like how you might feel after four Zoom calls in a row, a pot of coffee and a smidgen of LSD.  I’ve had a lot of Zoom/ Webex calls this past year and it introduces a new type of anxiety into the day, it’s not enough to be heard, you have to be seen too.  The video reflects that anxiety, the sense of displacement and disorder that it brings, constantly looked at yourself – looking at yourself.

Earlier in the year Matt Boyd, Greg Smith and I made a video for the song North Louth by Jinx Lennon, which was a pleasure.  Jinx’s last record, Border Schizo Fffolk Songs for the Fucked, (like all his work) is wonderful.

Any hopes for next year?

Only hope will kill you in the end.  That said, it would be nice to have a pint in an actual pub and see friends, maybe go to a gig again.  This won’t be forever and we will find a way to keep on.

*Actual last gig was John Murry in the Wild Duck in October, the day before another lockdown. John has a new record coming next year.

Categories: Header, interview, Movies, Music

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