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8 Twin Cities musicians tell us why 2016 wasn't the fucking worst

Devata Daun; TEK; DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip (Photos credits: Isiah Allen; David Ziemer; Star Tribune)

Devata Daun; TEK; DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip (Photos credits: Isiah Allen; David Ziemer; Star Tribune)

The year 2016 has been dark.

Not only did music legends pass at a depressing rate, but the socio-political climate offered no respite. It was not only the year that claimed a Mount Rushmore of musicians, but also the year that fragmented families. The year that truth became subjective. The year that “cuck” became a political pejorative. The year that Americans stopped agreeing that cops killing unarmed citizens is a crime worth punishing.

It didn’t seem like a time to indulge in creative pursuits, but Twin Cities artists persevered. We asked a handful of local music-makers to highlight some bright spots of 2016 and give us hope for next year. 

DJ TIIIIIIIIIIP
Modish nostalgia wellspring; DJ, theStand4rd

“We all work really hard, and we’ve been working hard for all of our lives. Everyone that I’m involved with. I’m glad that this year was the year we started getting recognized for what we’ve been doing. I think it’s beautiful.

“[Bobby Raps] and Psymun getting on the Weeknd’s album [November’s Starboy] was a good culmination of the year. It took a long time to materialize the relationships that went into that, and the timing is really good. Also, the Hamburger Helper [mixtape] in March was really, really poppin’ for a second and changed our careers. It also wasn’t defining, which I’m very thankful for, because I don’t want Bobby and I to be those dudes for the rest of our lives. It’d be really sad if that was the one thing we ever did.”

DEVATA DAUN
Electro-darkwave spellbinder; co-owner, Pytch Records

“I got a lot of love from all different sides of the scene. I played with the punk kids for a while, and I did some hip-hop shows, and some goth ones, too, and everyone was really warm and welcoming. It’s helped me maintain focus. Testing out things has helped me define and shape everything.

“And all these really negative times have brought us together as a scene. We all have more or less similar ethics, and we all want peace and love, and everyone really came together and supported each other. I felt so much love, even as a new kid in the scene. There have been so many tragedies, but you have to keep going, and the support helps. There’s always the good and the bad, but if you’re working, there’s always some positive result.”

WHY KHALIQ
Diffident hip-hop collectivist

“My positivity this year has been my daughter. I had a daughter in October [of 2015], and this whole year’s been about growth and teaching her about this world. Ever since I’ve had her, I’ve had a lot of success, thankfully, through the grace of God. Ever since the beginning of the year, a lot of opportunities have opened up for me. From being on the radio a few times to Pitchfork to Pigeons and Planes, different things like that, small accomplishments, kept me going.

“We’re starting to get a lot of shine in Minnesota. A lot of artists here have grown and developed their own styles. We’re like a boiling pot of different artists and different genres. I’m very excited for 2017. A lot of Minnesota artists are gonna get the shine that they really deserve.”

JO KELLEN
Effervescent punk rocker; singer, the Florists

“This year was our first as a band, and we really tightened our sound, but I think the thing we all look back on fondly was our release show back in July. We almost sold out the 7th St. [Entry] on a Monday night, which totally surprised us. I got a bunch of people to lay down on the ground and then pick me up and crowd surf me across the venue, which is something I never thought I’d do, much less to a song I wrote with my own band. It’s been a really awesome first full year.

“We’re really interested in expressing our personalities to the fullest. That release show was a crazy day because, just before getting on stage, I’d come out to my parents. It was the first day that I’d gone out in full femme presentation in public, which was a big step for me emotionally. Getting the opportunity to take that emotional moment and being able to express that through the vector of the Florists was a very, very exciting thing, and folks have responded in kind.”

CHARLIE BRUBER
Bohemian rhythm diviner; bassist, TABAH

“We’ve been working so hard. We just kept pushing for momentum, and we just decided we wanted to record an album in the year, and we recorded one in June at this analog studio in Nashville. For the first half of 2016, we just kept working and playing. There were hard days, but we learned so much about each other, and by the time we got to the recording session, we did it in 10 days of studio time, mixing included. We’ve gained such a bond from that.

“With Prince dying and all this political crap, it’s been a very stressful year, but all this good stuff has come from our drive to persevere. It’s always hard as an artist to have a vision that no one else understands, and getting over that insecurity — it’s a bunch of blind faith, but it’s been great. We’re a family, now.”

DAN ISRAEL
Working dad, folk storyteller

“We lost all these amazing people, and then the election was a freakin’ disaster, but what I think is happening now is people are dedicating themselves. In the absence of hope, I feel myself turning inward and figuring out what I can do to make it better. My kids are 11 and 8, and I don’t wanna tell them that there’s no future in this world. A lot of people are trying to find their way, and I think that makes music more necessary than ever. To have something that you feel is true when everything else feels completely false.

“I had a busy year musically. I put out [Dan] earlier this year, and I got some cool gigs, I opened for Steve Miller Band, but more than ever, the reason I’m making music has crystallized. If it’s not to express how you feel about a thing, what’s the point? I’m trying to dig into my feelings, and I look around me, and I see people thirsting for music, thirsting for something that’s real and true. It sounds naive, but I still think a good song can change the world.”

TEK
Wayward hustler, prodigious rapper/producer

“I was locked up at the beginning of the year. I lost so much being away. When I got out, I was like, ‘I’m not gonna miss opportunities like that anymore.’ Now I have my freedom, and I’m able to create when I want to. I’m off parole now, and I don’t have that weight on me anymore, and that’s been the biggest blessing.

“I was involved in a lot of projects this year that were amazing. [Metasota]’s project. Being on records with [Muja Messiah] and R.P. Hooks and feeling like the buzz is back. It’s such a good feeling. People received it so well. The love was huge. My local release show was sold out. The energy was so great in there, and that’s really what I’m about, getting that good energy out there. I’m such a part of this city, and I just want to make sure we’re all sending out the right energy.”

SARAH WHITE
Peregrine afro-punk spiritualist

“For a lot of us, this was a year of reinvention. Because of the heavy weight of the things going on in our social and political systems, I was forced to be really present and to really dive into my work, myself, and my spirit more intensively. I think that’s reflected in a lot of music that’s put out now — ZULUZULUU, for instance, have really evolved their sound and their message.

“You get pushed up against the wall, and there’s nothing you feel like you can do. Sometimes the darkness was so much that it was hard to keep going, but once I dug into music and creating, I felt more power. I was more inspired than ever, because we need [music] to survive. It really heals people. I watched a lot of people who were activists come out to our shows and smile and dance and laugh and hug, and that was an instant reminder to me how important it is to do this work. It’s a coping mechanism for all of us.”

Counterpoint: To see why 2016 was, in fact, the fucking worst, click here. And to see all the good, bad, and in-between, click here for our timeline of the year in Minnesota music.