Faber Social’s Cultural Highlights for 2017
December 18, 2017 | by Hannah Marshall
As another year draws to a close, we’ve asked Faber Social authors, friends and staff to remind us of the good, and the great, from the past twelve months of music, literature, art, film, TV and live events. Here are the Faber Social cultural highlights of 2017.
Benjamin Clementine at Birmingham Town Hall on 1 December (a surprise birthday treat from my eighteen-year-old daughter). It’s so rare to see an artist who bares her/himself like Clementine does. The evening was almost painful to experience, but also uplifting and thought-provoking. What more can you ask from art? I had tears in my eyes during the concert.
I devoured Sara Gran’s two Claire DeWitt detective novels (City of the Dead and Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway). They’re philosophical. I think a female detective has the same problems in life that a female artist does.
The memorial for the music journalist Sue Steward at the Ladbroke Grove Tabernacle this November was very moving. The evening was organised by Paul Bradshaw of the legendary Straight No Chaser music magazine. Sue wrote for the magazine, but I met her when she worked at Malcolm McLaren’s company Glitterbest; she was the only person there who was approachable.
Chris Kraus’ meticulous book on Kathy Acker, reminded me again how hellish it was as a woman to try and be any kind of artist in the ’70s and ’80s. I also loved the TV series of Kraus’ book I Love Dick. All the characters are horrible, especially the female lead, and yet so truthful and watchable. It’s difficult to write unsympathetic characters (especially women) and keep an audience/reader engaged.
I have started re-reading Henry James (The Europeans and What Maisie Knew, so far). He writes women so well. His characters are real and complicated and therefore quite unlikeable; he leaves a lot of their motives unsaid.
Earlier this year, I went to see the graphic designer Tom Strong’s collection of Braun electrical products designed by Dieter Rams (head of design at Braun, 1961–1995) at Vitsoe’s London shop. I love beautiful and functional objects – more than art. There were radios, toothbrushes, record-players, shavers, TVs, a lot of things I recognised from childhood. I’m moving in a few weeks’ time and am determined to buy the Vitsoe shelving system for my new place.
My two favourite works of art from 2017 are Queens of the Stone Age’s album, Villains, and Jennifer Egan’s novel Manhattan Beach.
There was tons of other amazing stuff to see and hear and read and do this year – from the apocalyptic party vibe of LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream, to the surprisingly anguished, brave introspection of Jay-Z’s 4:44, to the magic of seeing Wonder Woman – a massive, mainstream blockbuster hit movie made by a woman, mostly about women, that wasn’t about ‘being a woman’ – to the glut of binge–able TV; Insecure’s second season stole my heart, with Issa Rae’s particularly self-aware brand of self-mockery. I worship her.
But, QOTSA and Jenny Egan win the year for me. And, though they might seem like incongruous artists, I think they have something in common. What I love about both works (Villains and Manhattan Beach) is the way they are both really fun and really heavy, in a world that often insists you can be entertaining or substantive but not both.
Villains is a fucking rollicking nine-song torrent of aggression and wistfulness and beautiful grittiness that manages to be both loud and dirty and thoughtful, introspective, melancholic and vulnerable.
Manhattan Beach is an almost noir-ish page-turner of a historical novel that unfolds like a great mystery. (I barely slept while reading it). But what’s being revealed – alongside a series of bonkers plot twists – is the delicacy and frailty of life, and of love, and the way our choices both totally matter and also exist against a backdrop of life’s mysterious inertia, a thing we can’t understand or hope to control.
As humans, we want to be entertained. And we also need to be inspired to ponder the big questions, moved to feel the big feelings. Great artists find ways to do both at the same time.
Lee Brackstone (Faber Social, Publisher)
At the risk of shameless self-promotion, the events I most enjoyed were Irmin Schmidt’s CAN concert at The Barbican and the publication of 2023 by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, one of the most thrilling books I will ever publish.
LCD Soundsystem at Alexandra Palace was definitely the stand-out gig, and the most mind-expanding experience was the exhibition Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia at BAMPFA in Berkeley.
Favourite albums included Jane Weaver’s Modern Kosmology and a discovery that I missed first time around in the eighties, Dexy’s third album and their masterpiece Don’t Stand Me Down.
Finally our Faber Social night in support of Palfest was the best literary night of the year, featuring Hisham Matar, Viv Albertine, Eimear McBride and Edna O’Brien. Quite a line-up.
Cosey Fanni Tutti
I’m not one to think in terms of cultural highlights so much as work or events that leave me with a lingering sense of awe evoked by their beauty, audacity or innovation.
That said, the whole of 2017 has been full of cultural highlights but two stand out most of all. The first being Hull City of Culture. Not because I was born there and was part of it but because it encapsulates what I consider culture should be about.
It has to speak to everyone and the Hull 2017 programming did just that – from past to present radical / fringe artists, musicians, poets, writers, filmmakers, historical events, the everyday life of generations of Hull people to The Royal Ballet, The Royal Shakespeare company and the first ever UK Pride. And it did it on a phenomenal scale not just in the vast number of events but in the scope of its adventurous, ambitious and inclusive approach. Its success could be measured not by regular press coverage but by it being embraced by the people of Hull – which is no mean feat.
The second highlight for me was the return of Twin Peaks, the new TV series by David Lynch. I wanted it to be as good as the first but it surpassed all expectation. Each exceptional episode could stand as a feature film in its own right, the concept seeming almost too big for television. He’s so masterful in his use of visuals and sound; the surreal and playful scenarios at times made the narrative seem superfluous, challenging the notion of what a ‘film’ should be and breaking into new territory. I found it totally mesmerising, inspirational and mind-blowing.
Walker Evans at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, was the most expansive and imaginative Evans exhibition I’ve ever seen, with as much or more conceptual space devoted to the 1938–41 hidden-camera New York subway photos as the iconic but cliché-resistant 1936 FSA work on Alabama tenant farmers.
‘I would photograph anything that attracted me,’ Evans says in a 1969 interview film by Sedat Parkay. He was against beauty, a kind of permanent happy ending: ‘Out of anger, I did the opposite.’
‘To a rather rebellious individual,’ he went on, with the Show-Me poker face of his native Missouri, there ‘was outright communism, which was a trap. I didn’t want to be told what to do by the Communist Party any more than I wanted to be told what to do by an advertising executive making propaganda for soap.’
For all that, one day in Alabama, when the destitute family he was living with was gone, he rearranged everything in their house – furniture, decorations, plates – to get the pictures he wanted, to find the source of the attraction.
In art, Wangechi Mutu’s Banana Stroke was a shamanic and deeply moving contribution to this year’s Performa Biennial in New York City. I loved seeing Arthur Jafa’s essential and coruscating seven-minute montage-report on black American life, Love is the Message, the Message is Death, again, this time at the Hessel Museum at Bard College. It is an essential work of American art.
In books, I was fortified by the moral complexity of Toni Morrison’s Norton Lectures, The Origin of Others. Both Édouard Louis’s The End of Eddy and Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 were filled with things I wish I’d written; not mere cleverness, but cool and capacious intelligence.
In films, Rebecca Hall’s star turn in Christine stayed with me–she must be one of the best actors of the moment. I also liked the Joan Didion documentary, The Center Will Not Hold: the fierceness of her mind, the fragility of her body. It was almost unwatchable, in the best sense.
And in albums, the standout for me was the Vijay Iyer Sextet’s Far From Over. My delight in Nigerian pop is unabated, with Skales’s Temper and Wande Coal’s Iskaba taking the honours as my club bangers of the year. And it’s surely great news that ECM Records finally made their catalogue available on Spotify.
Ruth O’Loughlin (Faber Social, Paperbacks)
Bill Callahan, Hoxton Hall – a perfect gig.
Richard Dawson, St Johns Bethnal Green – on one of the hottest days of the year, drinking warm beer and fanning ourselves with our tickets, he was mesmerising.
Laurel Halo, St Johns Hackney – incredible electronic musician, her album Dust is one of my highlights of the year.
The Magic Band, The Garage, Highbury – the farewell tour as Drumbo is packing it in. So good to hear these distinctive songs played live, one last time.
My most played records this year were Lust for Life by Lana Del Ray; Sex Tape by Brötzmann/Leigh; Let the Record Show by Dexys; Bill Orcutt by Bill Orcutt; and Qualia by Andrew Weatherall. Blasting a lot of reissues, too: Heart of the Congo by The Congos; Two Sevens Clash by Culture; The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane; Keiji Haino’s Watashi Dake?; and Trouble No More by Bob Dylan.
Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti was a revelation. As was 2023. Another great rock read was Osato Toshiharu’s Salinger-meets-Celine styled account of Japanese post-punk, Gaseneta Wasteland.
M. F. K. Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me was one of the most beautiful, poignant and affirmative books I read the whole year. Also loved Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed.
But in 2017 my reading was really all over the place. Enjoyed de Baecque and Herpe’s biography of Eric Rohmer, novels by Santiago Gamboa, Venedikt Yerofeev, Jeet Thayil, Robert Walser, Emmanuel Carrère’s My Life as a Russian Novel and Limonov, Joseph Campbell’s Pathways to Bliss, Cortazar’s Save Twilight, Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City. Kenneth Rexroth’s In the Sierra: Mountain Writings might be my favourite poetry collection; Mircea Cărtărescu’s Why We Love Women and Blinding were both incredible. Hetty Saunders’ J. A. Baker biography, My House of Sky, was beautifully conceived. Daniel Swift’s Ezra Pound study, The Bughouse, was great. Benjamin Moser’s Why This World, his biography of Clarice Lispector, was fascinating.
Hands-down gig of the year was the Heavenly Jukebox set at Port Eliot from James Endeacott and Danny Mitchell (and Jeff Barrett). St Etienne were great there, too. Party of the year was the Saturday night dance party at Festival No. 6. Unforgettable.
Twin Peaks: The Return was the only TV show I saw this year and it was amazing.
But most of all my personal cultural highlight was publishing my first novel, This Is Memorial Device, with Faber & Faber, working with my editor, Lee Brackstone, getting shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize, and getting out on the road and sharing it with people, culminating in a special night at Airdrie Library. What a year.
Lamont ‘U-God’ Hawkins
I spent 2015 and 2016 in a bunker writing both my memoir RAW: My Journey into Wu-Tang (published March 2018) and my sixth solo album Venom. When I finally came up for air, I looked up and it was 2017! Barack finished out both his terms and packed his bags. Trump got elected and fired everyone. Sweet Jeezus Feet! For inspiration I turn to books to remind me of how others before us navigated thru adversity and rose above it all. . .
March: Book Three by John Lewis
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates
GOAT by Jeff Koons
World Piece Book by Sacha Jenkins & Villorente
Inspiration also comes in the form of music. I often like to hear young artist who finds ways to successfully create there own lane and niche. . . like Wu-Tang, be a leader not a follower!
Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight by Travis Scott
More Life by Drake
CTRL by SZA
No Shame by Hopsin
Beach House 3 by Ty Dolla $ign
Lastly, films serve as an inspiration and get my creative juices going. The Wu always loves them some superheroes and great story lines!
War for the Planet of the Apes
Dan Papps (Faber Social, Manager)
A good year for music. This is being written under extreme pressure by a colleague so excuse the dryness. My most played song of the year was ‘Marilyn’ by Mount Kimbie feat. Micachu. I could listen to it on repeat forever. New records by Lee Gamble, Mount Eerie, Laurel Halo, Kelela, Kendrick Lamar, Part Chimp, Four Tet and Zimpel/Ziolek (a late entry thanks to the Quietus). My favourite reissues/rediscoveries were The Ecstatic Music of Turiyasangitananda by Alice Coltrane, Savage Young Dü by Hüsker Dü and Event Horizon by The Necessaries. Special mention goes to ECM for uploading their extensive catalogue to Spotify.
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
Sophie Fiennes’ film destroys the usual male rock doc format.
I didn’t think I could love GJ more but I did after seeing this.
Hannah Marshall (Faber Social, Marketing)
The return of LCD Soundsystem and St Vincent, who between them released two of my albums of 2017 (with American Dream and Masseduction respectively). Their live shows (LCD at Alexandra Palace and St Vincent at Brixton Academy) were the most fun I had all year.
I love Seamus Fogarty’s The Curious Hand, an album of wonderful unexpected moments and sounds.
The Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun show at the National Portrait Gallery was strange and fascinating and made me think of things I’d thought about many times before in new and different ways.
A number of my cultural highlights this year came in the form of TV shows – Twin Peaks: The Return, Big Little Lies, The Handmaid’s Tale and Line of Duty, to name but a few. In particular, I was totally enthralled by David Simon’s The Deuce – for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance, and the storytelling and those opening credits to Curtis Mayfield’s ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go’.
And Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold was a reminder of Didion’s extraordinary talent and her importance as a chronicler of (relatively) recent times, and of the human condition in general. She is a hero. I will end 2017 reading, and rereading, her work.