One of the only vessels of solace in this year of desolation and torrent was music. Artists laid themselves bare despite a pandemic raging around us and against all odds, creativity not only prevailed, but thrived. Here at The Mic, we felt it more important than ever to shine a light on the artists that have kept the scene alive and kicking this year, along with those set to become the blazing voices of the future.
With the last day of this chaotic year finally upon us, we are thrilled to share the results of the annual Mic Awards. Over the past month, our marvellous members and readers have been voting on a variety of categories from across the music continuum. With new awards courtesy of the pandemic-induced live music lull and the return of beloved favourites, including our ode to the ever-resilient Nottingham local scene, we are proud to present a sprawling list of sonic gems to see you out of the year in style.
Best Breakthrough Artist: Arlo Parks
Arlo Parks has had an amazingly accomplished 2020, especially considering this year’s events. As stated in a tweet by the artist, Arlo has worked on a poetry collection, sang with Phoebe Bridgers, did an infamous coloursxsession, and even written an album. It seems as though Parks has taken to the creativity drives that inspired many during Britain’s national lockdown, and 2021 is set to be another fantastic year with her debut album – collapsed in sunbeams – out on the January 29th. Nieve O'Donnell
2021 Artist To Watch: Inhaler
Since not knowing what else to do for work experience and recording a couple of tracks together for a laugh, Inhaler have come an exceedingly long way. But with a rock‘n’roll streak inherited from Bono, and an unbridled sense of tenacity and infatuation that saw the Dublin mob devote their teenage years to guitar music, was there really another likely outcome. Taking liberal influence from the likes of Velvet Underground and The La’s however, Inhaler’s modern, synth-swathed melodies and hefty breakdowns make them far from a U2.0. Unkempt mullets, vintage glad rags, and a swagger akin to a young Paul Ryder provide the Irish rabble with a certain probity in a TikTok era – 1990’s nostalgia repackaged for a new generation. Now, caught in a state of flux between selling out US venues and keeping their sisters from moving into their rooms at home, the Dubliners were set for their biggest year yet, with bill spots alongside industry kingpins Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Kasabian. Though, like a coiled spring, it seems a case of postponing the inevitable for Inhaler; a forthcoming debut record melding signature rollicking psych-rock riffs with a wry commentary on a contemporary generational dependence on smartphones and social media, looking to secure their ticket to the big time – and the Mic are more than excited to come along for the ride. Olivia Stock
EP of the Year: ‘Junk Food’ – Easy Life
Junk Food explores a number of sounds and angles, including the soulful voice of Arlo Parks on the second track, Sangria, which compliments lead vocalist Murray Mutravers’ compelling lyricism to create a mesmerising and fascinating song. Conversely, the mixtape also ventures into exciting pop sounds with the catchy Nice Guys and the single Earth, aimed at the naysayers against the back drop of a groovy earworm on which Mutravers says: ‘I’ve got some issues I need to iron out/ People throwing stones but I’m building castles.’ A personal favourite from the mixtape is the closing track Spiders, where Mutravers delves into the post break-up feeling of emptiness, summed up by the lyric ‘Who’s gonna pick up the spiders?’ Setting off with layered vocals and slow guitar but merging into slow piano with Murray’s stripped back voice, the song is a real ode to the band’s flexibility and talent. We can expect to see huge things from Easy Life in upcoming years and I will be patiently waiting for the debut album.
Artist of the Year: Harry Styles
From being in the world’s biggest boyband to gaining astronomical success as a solo singer, Harry Styles is of the most famous singers on the globe for a good reason. With a vocal ability able to break the limits of pop as we know it, Styles has crafted his musical persona and captured the hearts of millions of listeners whilst promoting good morals and instructing fans to ‘treat people with kindness.’ His 2017 self-titled album showcased his spectacular and diverse song-writing ability, with gentle love songs such as Sweet Creature and heavier, guitar-led rock-sounding tracks such as Kiwi. With Styles nominated for three Grammys associated with the intricately crafted 2019 release, Fine Line, the former boyband heartthrob has clearly made his solo mark in the industry, with there no doubt being much more success to come from the One Direction star. Amrit Virdi
Debut Album of the Year: ‘Deep Down Happy’ – Sports Team
“Oh, you’ve been waiting for a while” is the first thing you hear when you press play on Sports Team’s debut album, 'Deep Down Happy'. They’re not wrong - they were always going to pull the album off, even if it is by the skin of their teeth. It was an explosive entrance to what was one of the most hotly anticipated album this year, especially within indie circles, and it certainly delivered - Deep Down Happy sounds exactly how you would want a Sports Team album to sound. Post-Pavement guitars, frontman Alex Rice’s distorted yelping, lyrics littered with references to English suburbia are so far, so Sports Team, whilst they still manage to venture beyond their oh-so-nineties sound on tracks including Feels Like Fun and Stations of the Cross. But the interesting thing has always been how they take creative decisions which would be kryptonite to any other band: the emotional conclusion to the album centres around moving to London and getting a job. Never has the mundane been so essential – no-one has interrogated the English psyche quite like this since Jarvis Cocker. With albums like this, where the buzz around the record is as loud as the tracks themselves, it’s often difficult to separate the music from the narrative. But Sports Team have pushed enough boundaries, been just caustic enough in places, and at the end of the day have enough bangers to satisfy anyone. Louis Griffin (Full review can be read here.)
Best Livestream: Blossoms ‘Back to Stockport’ @ Edgeley Park
Documenting the monumental gig that showed people just how far the band have come, Blossoms’ intimate documentary ‘Back to Stockport’ follows the band’s journey from studio to stage in preparation for their performance at Stockport’s own Edgeley Park. With the documentary premiering via livestream, it showcased the band’s performance in its entirety, with the context of an autobiography threaded in between. The livestream acted as a reminder of happier times where fans could mingle freely with other like-minded individuals, and it is no wonder that with their enchanting new wave synth pop, Blossoms have claimed the top spot. Despite it juxtaposing the typical livestreams found post-covid, it is undeniably a must watch for music fans of newer generations that long for a souvenir of better times. Lucy Gray
Nottingham Artist of the Year: Good Hustles
2020 has seen a series of remarkable challenges for musicians, most notably perhaps the ongoing lockdown and the associated absence of live music, the prohibition of in-person liaison (and therefore the majority of traditional music production), and even the Sunak-orated advocacy for artists and musicians to commit to the day job. Good Hustles, leaders of the Nottingham alt-rock scene, are unique in their positive response to such difficulty. After a significant re-structuring in the Spring, the intransigent four-piece returned (via Zoom) with a new direction accompanied by the release of two colossal singles with titles far sweeter than their grungy, cavernous sound – Smile and Coffee. These particular tracks, having been worked on by the band’s now go-to producer, Callum Benson, are stadium-ready. Though it may be out of habit to do so, expect to hear these huge, electric tracks all over Nottingham as the local live scene climbs back to its feet and Good Hustles continue to establish themselves as the best around. Matt Andrews
Edited by: Alex Duke, Dominic Allum and Louise Dugan
Designs by: Lara Gelmetti and Olivia Stock