2021 was a year that took a lot out of me. When I reflected last year on an era of collective stasis, closing my piece out with hopeful optimism, I concluded that a lot of achievements and positives blossomed throughout the grey lockdown. But not only have the conflicts of the previous year not diminished, they’ve become magnified in an environment which accepted it can’t be the same as before, yet sees the powers that be flail to uphold a broken status quo. So just to give a quick roundup – Corona is still around and apparently more threatening, Joe Biden is tanking to Trump level lows in popularity polls and global power conflicts seem to head towards inevitable climaxes. It feels like the eruption of a new cold war is on the brink of materialization, both in politics and people’s minds.
To be transparent: I can’t recall a year where so many people in my circle struggled so severely and dramatically. Thinking back of the summer, it now feels like gazing into a black void that sucked up everything into a grim parallel universe, where the rules of nightmare logic applied and I followed my fears all the way down. I sound dramatic, but let me point at my review of Lingua Ignota’s Sinner Get Ready, a stream of consciousness text, assembled via cut-up technique, embracing an art piece that still reveals disturbing layers to its abusive genesis – just like life does, sometimes. Its artistic intentions seem to parallel that of many other releases this year: the desperate Valentine had Snail Mail open her psyche to a degree usually reserved for the Gen X songwriter league, King Woman’s Celestial Blues grappled with the luciferian urges inherent to womanhood, Circuit des Yeux’s dark transmission of suicide elegies –io devised celestial metaphors for an individual’s disintegration and Injury Reserve’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix imagined a dystopian hellscape that uncomfortably resembles our daily news, while also giving a voice to the band’s deceased collaborator. All of this feels as much a product of the lockdown era as it seemingly articulates the strange drift in the mental health struggles of the year that followed, with revelations leaving some music that initially provided comfort to painfully fade into fog – it just doesn’t feel good anymore.
Simultaneously, it’s not surprising that this sense of instability also notably brought back Punk. Black Midi, Dry Cleaning, Shame, Squid, Maximo Park, Turnstile, Geese, Yung, Horsey, Iceage, Black Country New Road and Mandy Indiana all positioned themselves as harbringers of a new musical era, while many other records (some I mentioned above) adapted the subversive aesthetics of Punk to confront misery.
So what is there to be learned, what gained of a year that took so much out of me I sometimes felt like we witness the beginning of an apocalyptic end? If we look at the cinematic highlights of the year, we are mostly left with the body-reconfiguration of Titane and the hopeful and defiant stance of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The latter was a darkly shimmering kaleidoscope of mythical imagery confronting apocalyptic nihilism, it was mostly a metaphor for the broken era of the Trump presidency’s impotent discourses, with Snyder looking back at a time of great distrust and dissent, inserting a hideous Joker as brilliant amalgamation of self-destructive urges of the present. The former positioned female body-metamorphosis as transgressive act in a society upholding impotent power structures and proposed trauma can be overcome by destruction, urging us to embrace David Cronenberg’s ideas of a new flesh to reconfigure our past.
Those are hopeful and optimistic perspectives, but they also tell us that a past now lost must be buried. Yet it feels like the world around us, constantly, tries to hold on to its failed self that we all thought was to be sweeped away in the waves of revolutionary upheaval. And what is left?