Fans of any sort of music in 2015 were greeted to one of the best years for music genres to date. Hip-hop enthusiasts were spoiled if they couldn’t recognize how fortunate we were to have Kendrick Lamar bestow a historical achievement in his first and second album. Those that wanted party rap were bestowed Atlanta trap music’s banner year, with a rainfall of mixtapes from the peach state. Rock fans in 2015 got tastes of several niche genres entering the spotlight with releases from bedroom pop superstars Girlpool and Alex G. Overall, it was a year for highly localized artists to make their voices known globally, through viral sharing or otherwise.
While possible, it’s highly unlikely that all of these artists will carry on to have equally exciting 2016’s. In their place will rise a new breed of trendsetters, called forth by our society’s ravenous eyes for new content. While somewhat cynical, doing a pre-mortem autopsy of those struggling in 2015 is my way of making sense of the vicious cycle of hype which so many artists and consumers find themselves sucked into after it’s too late to escape.
Atlanta trap isn’t going to necessarily fall off, it just might shake off some loose members. Future and Young Thug have already declared the city their kingdom, and others trying to jump-start their trap music careers in 2016 will have to wait in line behind hundreds of lackadaisically turnt MC’s. But when watching a video of Hillary Clinton dabbing and nae-naeing on Ellen, I can’t help but fear that the once-niche subset of rap will be mangled by white mainstream media on its rugged road to success. One exception to this prediction is Awful Records, who seems to have swerved past the potential potholes of the bandwagon by finding their own path through Atlanta. The label is no longer comprised of only American producer and recording artist Father and friends as it appeared in 2015; Abra is fully coming into her own, her album Rose being one of the sleeper hits of last year, while Richposlim ditched the in-house awful beats for an album produced entirely by the prodigious Dexter. In 2016, the label might be capable of seeing a frontier for trap music beyond the throne of the established greats.
While the hip-hop community seems to have purged itself of offending appropriators such as Riff Raff and Lil Debbie, 2016 seems to be the year that dance communities around the world fight against profit-driven club music. Last year was filled with not-so-surprising revelations about the overall seediness of the EDM industry, and 2016 might be the year we see the more offending stereotypes tossed from their thrones. Producers that are codependent on the EDM festival circuit, such as heavyweights Tiësto and Calvin Harris, are sure to see their listeners dwindle alongside the popularity of their haphazard and expensive venues. Last year’s horror story of stranded festival-goers sleeping in mud and under cars at TomorrowWorld festival foreshadows what could be the downfall of EDM as an industry over a genre.
As raver-heads mature and wipe the ecstasy-laced glitter from their faces in 2015, we may see a more conscious consumption of electronic music in the year ahead. The increasingly tight-knit DIY network that is starting to span the globe will ensure that producers with nuanced localized sounds can push their music through labels with the savvy business mind of EDM giants and none of the questionable moral values. Labels like New York’s Purple Tape Pedigree and Chicago’s Teklife have been making plays out of the limelight for years, and 2016 might be the year for them to push their sound to new global audiences. While EDM was under the bigger-equals-better mentality, these labels prefer to play in intimate DIY clubs and spaces at home and abroad, making meaningful connections with like-minded enthusiasts which will serve them incredibly well in 2016.
I presume that Vaporwave will step into a musical world beyond forums and memes. 2015 saw some of the best releases of the genre to date, including albums by 2814 and Death’s Dynamic Shroud.wmv. The viral nature of the genre ensures that low-effort works end up being memes for the peanut crowd, but these albums combined the genre’s future-nostalgia aesthetic with beautifully composed music that would impress even the most skeptical of observers. Established artists like Oneohtrix Point Never and Arca carve out a place in history for artists that can tastefully implement themes of transhumanism and apocalyptic visions of digital wastelands into their work.
But the real winners of 2016 will be the artists that avoid the addictive hype of the industry, hacking away at instruments and computers in blissful solitude while perfecting their sound. Their forward-looking eyes are void of dollar signs and screaming fans, instead carrying a gleam that will keep them content with themselves while the rest of the world flips every stone looking for the next big thing. In writing this column, I realize I am a human manifestation of this hype-addled society, desperately scouring the internet for my next fix. And so to the artists that I just described, please pay no attention to these words.