Dokkoisho ‘WaqWaq Kingdom’ (Phantom Limb)
WaqWaq Kingdom (Kiki Hitomi of King Midas Sound and Shigeru Ishihara aka DJ Scotch Egg) sum up the Japanese experience: innovative craftmanship, history combined with futurism, and overall a bit bonkers. Their ‘Dokkoisho’ EP weaves trademark Scotch Egg chiptune with traditional Japanese folk music, African polyrhythms, Jamaican dancehall, 8-bit techno, dub and baile funk. It's a heady mix that defies comparison with anything you’ve heard. We love Kiki <3 plus we came up with the idea for starting the label in Japan whilst drinking highballs listening to her album ‘Karma No Kusari’, so she gets our vote.
Highball Records is dedicated to releasing music from Japan. Check its Bandcamp here
Yewande Adeniran (Intervention)
City Girls 'City On Lock' (Quality Control Music)
The City Girls Discourse has guided us through what has been an unbelievably clapped year. For those who don't know, City Girls are a US duo - JT and Yung Miami - who basically wrote one of the best albums of the year on why capitalism sucks, how to deal with fuckboys and just generally believing in your own sauce after trauma. Before you get stuck in, there's a bit of background to acknowledge to fully appreciate the depths of the trauma they share on tracks. Yung Miami currently balances being a mother of two and a rap career and not long ago survived a shooting while 7 months pregnant, while JT's recently incarceration highlighted the Prison Industrial Complex disproportionate effect on Black Women - all of which are heard on 'Better' and 'Enough / Better'. With completely different energy, 'Friendly' is fighting music at its core. Fast paced and a big send for everyone who's wronged any City Girl, JT's lyrics describe a willingness to carry on despite everything - "want me in jail 'cause they don't want me to win shit. Now I'm back with a motherfuckin' vengeance". The State, softbois, the not-like-other-girls girls - no one is safe. The pair team up with Doja Cat later in the album for 'Pussy Talk' and 'That Old Man', two big Pipin Szn anthems, urging the girlies to accept nothing but the finest things in life. 'Winnin' and 'Broke Niggas' further illustrate this important point. It's 2020 and we're no longer dealing with the boys from the skatepark - "this nigga in my DM, I heard he with his BM. I'm 'bout to make him cop me a Birkin just for reachin". If I were you, I would invoice him for wasting your time. This album will have you saying CITY GIRL SHIT while you're getting ready to go to big ASDA for the 5th time this week.
Intervention is a DJ and production workshop series and record label based in England and founded by freelance journalist and regular contributor to Mixmag, Yewande Adeniran. Follow the crew on Twitter here
Various artists ‘Quarter To Quarter’ (North Quarter)
I still listen to a lot of drum ‘n’ bass and Lenzman’s North Quarter imprint is one of my favourites. I was looking forward to this 14-track compilation for some time and it didn’t disappoint, it’s simply blinding!
Junior Tomlin is a Digital Artist, Comic Colourist and one of the UK rave scene’s most important visual artists. He is based in London and his retrospective book is out now via Velocity Press
Ólafur Arnalds ‘some kind of peace’ (Mercury KX)
‘some kind of peace’ is an incredible album that balances between electronica and neo classical. I've been listening to it non-stop since it came out. I can’t really explain why, but it has really touched me inside.
Kölsch is a DJ and producer from Copenhagen. Follow him on SoundCloud here
Lemon & Herb
Caiiro ‘Agora’ (OwnIt Music)
Firstly, it’s a 30 track album! Only a producer will know the willpower it takes to complete such a feat. Most importantly, it doesn’t get wishy-washy given its length. It steadily builds tension kicking off with the laid-back ‘Entabeni’,which sparkles with nostalgic African rhythms. With the second track we get the swaggy afro-soul we know Caiiro for. ‘Tiki’ is certainly the favourite to drop in a club setting ...its high energy and incessant bass charge is a marvel to listen to through powerful speakers. Certainly a mighty contender for album of the year.
Lemon & Herb are a DJ and producers from Johannesburg, South Africa. Their second album ‘Aura’ is inspired by global travels and the energies of different places and people encountered in clubs on tour. Watch them play The Lab Johannesburg here and follow them on Instagram here
Lizzy Ellis aka DJ Proverb (Saffron/Mix Nights)
For me, 2020 has been the year of the Bandcamp compilation. The format is such a great way to showcase emerging producers, deliver snapshots of particular music scenes from around the world and allow curators the freedom to push some really experimental sounds. A few compilations I’ve been enjoying include:
New York Dance Music I, II, III, IV (Towhead Recordings)
‘Physically Sick 3’ (Allergy Season x Discwoman)
‘Ghettolympics Vol 1’ (Pace Playaz Society)
‘Worst Behaviour 3’ (Worst Behaviour)
‘HeForShe Vol. 3’ (Femme Culture)
Also this year, producers have unleashed hard drives full of old dubs and had time to finish up projects, so big collections of dubs and rarities from the likes of Ikonika, Yazzus and LSDXOXO have been a real treat.
Nídia’s ‘Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes’ (Príncipe)
Duval Timothy’s ‘Help’ (Carrying Colour)
If I had to choose a full “official” artist album as my top pick for 2020, then it would be a toss up between two very different kinds of releases. Firstly, Nídia’s ‘Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes’ on Príncipe, which is a percussive and experimental piece of work to move your body and your mind. I’m really excited to follow what she does next. Secondly, Duval Timothy’s ‘Help’ on Carrying Colour. This is an album to let yourself melt into. I am a huge fan of Duval and his music has soothed me through a really tough year.
Saffron is a music tech initiative taking an intersectional approach to redressing the gender imbalance in the industry. Founded in Bristol in 2015 by Laura Lewis-Paul, the organisation offers training in music production and sound engineering, as well as encompassing the hugely popular Mix Nights DJ course. More info: saffronmusic.co.uk
Lizzy is Head of Development at Saffron and Mix Nights and also DJs under the name Proverb as a resident on Noods Radio
Novelist ‘Inferno’ EP
Nov has the ability to traverse whatever expectations people have for him. He has completely cut his own lane this year and this EP was the one to start it all. ‘Major Player’ is the smoothest shit I’ve heard in a while and has the ability to make anyone feel like a don.
Duval Timothy ‘Help’ (Carrying Colour)
I may be a bit biased here as I collaborated on one of the tracks from this album but Timothy Duval has the ability to create such beautiful melodies and environments that I could live in forever. This is probably his broadest and most ambitious album yet. He has that strange ability to appeal to my experimental, hip hop, ambient and pop sides all at the same time.
Mr. Mitch is a DJ, producer, founder of Gobstopper Records, co-founder of Boxed and has a show on Rinse FM. He’s based in London, follow him on SoundCloud here
Nina Las Vegas
Aluna ‘Renaissance’ (Mad Decent)
Given the weirdness of 2020, there has been no shortage of great music released. Although I could go on for days about singles and EPs that I've adored this year, I really want to make mention of Aluna’s debut solo record ‘Renaissance’. For the better part of a decade we've got to know Aluna's talent through her ongoing collaboration with George as AlunaGeorge and an impressive amount of features. As a female artist in the dance world myself, it was so nice to finally see a body of work that was 100 per cent her.
Meticulously put together, the production on every song truly compliments her voice. Every decision made throughout the songwriting feels so considered and uniquely Aluna. From the bold delivery of ‘Envious’ to the laid back flow of ‘Get Paid’, she knows how to not only creatively explore a range of genres, she knows how to choose incredible features and collaborators including Princess Nokia, SG Lewis and Kaytranda.
For a record that can make me dance so much, I put it on to calm down and just enjoy a powerful woman’s work. And the Kiwi Records remix EP? Another classy call. Love it all! Give this woman a Grammy nod already.
Nina Las Vegas is a DJ, producer, broadcaster and the boss of NLV records. She’s based in Sydney and you can check out her website here
PZG and Dubsknit 'WE ROB RAVE 5'
Polish duo PZG and Dubsknit have been releasing albums as 'WE ROB RAVE' for some time and they always deliver the heaviest rave weapons. Mixing jungle, happy hardcore and sometimes elements of dubstep they once again prove that Polish artists represent an extremely wide range of talent. You will recognise a lot of familiar rave samples here that will take you to the happier times that we all missed out on in 2020. Monster
Various Artists 'EXILES'
A compilation by Hungarian experimental electronic label EXILES supporting an NGO working with homeless people in Hungary. I have been listening to it on repeat this year. The collection of tracks is so diverse, fresh, and captivating. I feel a sense of connection with the Hungarian scene since they are experiencing a very similar state collapse and extremist right-wing shift to what we have to deal with in Poland, and they keep on building a fascinating scene built on solidarity. Mala Herba
Satoshi & Makoto 'CZ-5000 Sounds & Sequences Vol. II' (Safe Trip)
Even though it is pandemic time, a lot of great records have been released this year. It was difficult for me to choose just one album, but after a long time thinking I just realised that I should choose something that I listen to the most. Like everyone I spend a lot of my time just at home and this album was perfect for me, it was everything that I needed to listen during previous months. This album is very calm, minimalistic and delicate.
During listening I calmed my mind, I could read books, cook and just rest while listening to it. I also love the first part of this album from 2017: 'CZ-5000 Sounds & Sequences Vol. I' and I recommend you to listen to both albums to spend a nice evening. Olivia
Osheyack 'Memory Hierarchy' (SVBKVLT)
I’ve been following Osheyack, a Shanghai-based musician for a while already and he's definitely become one of my favourite artists. And my favourite album of the year was also released on one of my favourite labels SVBKVLT, so it makes it double nice. The emerging Chinese scene is one of the most interesting and eye-opening things recently happening in electronic music and 'Memory Hierarchy' has its place there as well. dogheadsurigeri
Nene H / Poly Chain 'Standard Deviation' (Standard Deviation)
This year, my attention was drawn to the new multidisciplinary label platform Standard Deviation and the first release made by Nene H and Poly Chain.
Standard Deviation is a newly formed, multidisciplinary label platform for music, art and publishing, cultivating creative exchange between an aspiring Ukrainian scene and the global community. ISNT
cadeu 'hy' (Hyperboloid Records)
Over the last couple of years the Russian scene has been filling up with unique electronic gems slowly but surely. One of the centres of this activity is Hyperboloid Records, a label from Moscow.
Named after the label, 'hy' by cadeu is a playful cornucopia of little sonic climaxes, a completely free mixture of genres and textures that sparkles with so much sonic proficiency that it could have well been produced by an electronic supergroup. Picking up on trails spearheaded by the likes of Sd Laika or Tim Exile it feels like a perfect reflection of the life in 2020 - restless, suffering from horror vacui and ADD, but still deeply human. Avtomat
Oramics was created in 2017 as a platform to empower women, non-binary and queer people in the electronic music scene, then it evolved into an independent booking agency. The crew is based in Poland, follow them on SoundCloud here
SAULT 'Untitled (Rise)' (Forever Living Originals)
First one up is SAULT ‘Untitled (Rise)’ which came out in September and seemed to feel like the most appropriate reflection and comment on what a year 2020 has been. The craft in the production enabled certain songs to rapidly and seamlessly oscillate between influences without it feeling like the artist was winking conspiratorially at you while doing so. I played the songs ‘Rise’ and ‘Son Shine’ when I filled in for Benji B in September on Radio 1 and the refrain “you know that one day things have to change” sums it all up perfectly.
The Weeknd 'After Hours' (XO/Republic)
My second album of the year is The Weeknd ‘After Hours’. Abel Tesfaye managed to seamlessly blend his sound with new wave and 80s pop influences while collaborating with Oneohtrix Point Never on sound design, which is a leftfield choice for an artist operating at that level. The opening song immediately reminds me of AFX and the textures, rhythm and harmonic structures beyond that reflect a rich lineage of electronic music among the soulful edges that envelope the artist. Plus ‘Blinding Lights’ is easily the song of the year, at least for me.
Paul Woolford is a DJ, producer and broadcaster. Follow him on SoundCloud here
Pelvis has been spread thin all over the globe since the beginning of 2020, and there has been barely any opportunity to play music together or even be in the same city. This made it difficult to come together on an album we all thought was best of the year, but Amnesia Scanner’s ‘Tearless’ was one of few on everyone’s list, a grotesque and aggressive album of texture and melodies that really cut through. The art direction from PWR Studio was also really tweaked and amazing, and everything all together felt extremely 2020. Chaos for chaos.
Pelvis is a label and collective based in Australia. Follow them on SoundCloud and Instagram
Tropa Macaca ‘Colonia’
Inspired by the land of Atlântida ecosystem, ‘Colonia’ is a fascinating dive under the sub aquatic music. Nelson Gomes
Han Sotofett & Jaakko Eino Kalevi with Andres Lõo ‘Jazzsomdub’ (Sex Tags Amfibia)
A regular on my DJ sets since late 2019, an integrated vision of what it means to work with a groove but without the constraints of a dancefloor. Sends shouts to the Cosmic creators, master improvisers and intuitive users of electronic gear. Expressive drums. Top material for mixing but also for intimate listening. José Moura
Príncipe is a record label from Portugal. Follow them on Bandcamp here