Normally, my analysis on the jazz records of the year comes from my experience of them in the physical flesh since that is when one can truly digest the sounds and feelings. 2020 has made that difficult but I've been lucky enough to see the likes of Alabaster DePlume, Yussef Dayes and Sarathy Korwar in the last year, all of whom feature in this list. Despite the lack of live performance, this year has seen the dimensions of the UK jazz sound stretch to new frontiers: Tenderlonious' 'Ragas from Lahore' taking the jazz scene's sound to Pakistan has been a key milestone for me, combining the traditional sound of ragas alongside his spiritual jazz knowledge to create something deep and emotive. SAULT's versatility and consistency has been nothing short of ground-breaking, while the recent, spontaneous release from the Yussef Dayes Trio may well go on to challenge the legacy of Black Focus in years to come. A big statement, I know. We have been treated to an array of sounds throughout this challenging year and I think we can all agree that music has been the backbone to us surviving and persevering through the madness. As things start to look up, we can certainly look forward to seeing the physical manifestation of these sounds come to life when gigs return - we are certainly in for a treat. The longer the pilgrimage, the sweeter the arrival
Haseeb Iqbal is a writer, poet, DJ and broadcaster from London. His new book Noting Voices: Contemplating London’s Culture is out now via Rough Trade Books
I appreciate all the releases in this tough year, and found it difficult to choose my top 10. So I chose 10 releases that were important or left a mark on me. Hearing Kode9’s remix of ‘Barnacles’ for the first time was a big moment for me. Eartheater and Lorenzo Senni’s work made an impact with their beauty, and there were a lot of other albums and compilations with great production this year too.
Hyph11E is a DJ and producer from Shanghai. Follow her on SoundCloud here
As domestic spaces are being drastically transformed into emergency sites of production and dispossession, Lara Sarkissian re-instills life back to my home. Composed in multi-channel audio with field recordings of choirs in Armenia and released in ‘Grief Into Rage: A Compilation for Beirut’, this enlivening track so poignantly reminds us that the multiple experiences of injustice and displacement that our communities have passed through in 2020 are more-than-urgent universal concerns. Similarly, Beirut-based Aya Metwalli and Lisbon-based Swan Palace transcend fear while conversing with it, through a remedial multiplicity of voices. In his spectral collaboration with Simina Oprescu, Öspiel convinces me, once more, that he’s, well… a neoteric techno thaumaturge. With ‘Deserted 2’, producer, programmer and live-coder Kindohm equally reminds me of an emergent sorcery that could potentially redefine the sonicscapes of algorave. Znzl brings truth and techno to his name – meaning in Arabic; to make the earth quake – with NN’s remix of ‘Subrays of Density’ while Duma’s ‘Sin Nature’ abrades all systems of classification. Kilbourne’s remix of Estoc’s ‘ACAB Tool 2020’, Hyph11e’s ‘Get Out From Under’ and INSECT’s ‘Uprising’ concurrently transport me back to protests, raves and a collective future to fight for, beyond hope.
Jessika Khazrik is a DJ and sound artist from Beirut. Follow her on SoundCloud here
Without a formally recognised sound of its own, the uniqueness of Australian dance music materialises through the diverse connections between artists, sounds and communities. Live acts follow DJs; there’s industrial techno one minute, Aussie grime the next; punters just as excited by a long-standing local hero as they are a friend of a friend of a friend’s first set; and all on one night. Though we’re distanced from the sounds that influence us, it’s the connections within our local music communities that manifest the most inspiration. The following list of artists showcases this sonic complexity, all of which crafts sounds that intersect along local/global lines, weaving in and out of formalised genres to test the capacities of underground electronic music.
daine is my favourite zoomer! The Melbourne-based emo pop goddess has released an impressive roster of tracks this year, with the’ Ascension/Angel Numbers' 12” concretising her signature sound. Entering an ethereal sonic realm of moody one-earpod-in-the-classroom guitar riffs, heavy drums and sentimental emo-laden vocals, daine navigates the love/pain/destiny of it all through her melodic miseries – but not the kind that leaves you completely undone, the kind that’s wrapped in Maroske Peech! At only 18, she is definitely one to watch.
‘Ting’ haunts me! Released on the newly established Sydney label Trackwork, the track is one of five moody makes from Sevy and Bayang’s collaborative EP ‘notfromhere’. Produced by Utility, the track is a truly disturbed rendering of Australian hip hop; as venomous as it is poetic. The emotional depth to Sevy’s bars navigates reflections of the self through his own memories, potentialities and present state-ness. Drawing on Sydney hip hop, alternative trap, drill and grime influences, the EP is just a taste of the overwhelming talent of Sydney’s left-of-field rap community.
Featuring tracks from Australian powerhouses Corin, Emily Glass, Atro and DJ Plead, Decisions’ 15-track compilation marks 5 years of Air Max 97’s boundary-breaking label. Alongside international artists Bby Eco, Avbvrn and Isomov, the release charts aural excursions in dance-oriented beats and unruly sound design. What is most special of this release is its defiance of genre; trading in a curation based on rhythm, tempo or locality, ‘Consequences’ unites these artists through their artistic deviousness. At times unnerving, always eccentric, there is something in here for everyone!
Sydney’s Atro and Hence Therefore wrote the ultimate love letter of 2020; a UK garage hit filled with dreamy mallets, emotional cello stabs and pitched vocal samples. Atro’s experience as one of Sydney’s most skilled DJs has granted him the tactical production knowledge to craft dancefloor hits with the melodic integrity to exist outside of the mix. A summer anthem at its core, Atro’s take on UK sounds highlights the dynamic connection between Australian artists and their international peers.
Melbourne-based label Anterograde is still in its infancy, but with releases from Female Wizard, Ahm, friendships and Hextape, they’ve spent the year establishing themselves as a platform dedicated to stretching the limits of left-field dance music. Enderie’s ‘3’ is the most functional of the lot, a twisted amalgamation of breakbeat, bassline, techno and dubstep ripe with the gritty textures of a warehouse aesthetic. It’s hard to keep track of the Sydney-via-Brisbane artist, who seemingly has a new moniker every other day, but the raw palette of the Enderie project is a staple for DIY parties on the east coast.
Jesswar serves merciless pasifika-excellence in Venom, a barrage on haters, a self-professed war-cry and an obstruction to Australia’s commercial hip hop industry. The Brisbane-based Fijian rapper channels anger and pain into nasty rhymes, with the brazenness of her delivery spawning a staunch declaration of autonomy that annihilates any chance of underestimation. This isn’t just a single, it’s a fucking anthem!
Ju Ca made the ambient release of the year! Choral vocals, flutes and soft piano melodies flutter through crystalised synths to ritual a celestial dreamscape. Featuring remixes by Ptwiggs, Nico Niquo and Flora Yin-Wong, the 11-track album is far more abstract than material, with the absence of percussive elements shaping weightless forms that sink and spin in and out of the fore. It’s a release that produces affective introspection, equally as graceful as it is tranquil. There isn’t much to say about Ju Ca personally, as there’s next to nothing about them online, but the anonymity is a part of the charm!
Rave meets ABC Kids nostalgia trip meets Kim Richards: what more could you ask for? Tommy Pickles — the union of Sydney’s SCAM and DJ MacKeeper — bestowed upon 2020 a generational whirlwind of six heavily-sampled dance tracks ‘Tommy Pack’, making use of Pokémon, Round the Twist and Real Housewives bites. It’s cheesy, but that’s the point. Tommy Pickles is not trying to be taken too seriously. It’s a project based around collective giggles, in a “wow, they really went there!” kind of way. With that being said, it still hits hard, signalling the energy of the dancefloor during a year without it.
Sydney-based saxophonist Kirsty Tickle and percussionist Jonathan Boulet harness pure chaos in their second LP, with 36 minutes of frenzied instrumentation that blends noise, punk and metal subgenres with industrial synth basslines. Bleeding from the ears was clearly their intention with this release, with songs ‘Party Dozen’, ‘Play the Truth’ and ‘Gun Control’ deploying belligerent guitar riffs and thrashing drums. ‘Auto Loser’ is a personal favourite, and one of the slowest on the album - the repetitive, rolling bassline and improvised sax flourishes feels like the score to some dystopic heist movie. I’m not usually one to headbang but if I’m going to, it’s to this.
Self-released 12” ‘Perfume/Blossom' offers a taste of what’s to come for Sydney-born, Berlin-based producer/DJ Logic1000. Moody dancefloor house trax mobilise 90s R&B vocals, crispy drums and barely-there synth leads. Her next EP ‘You’ve Got the Whole Night to Go’ will be released via Therapy label on January 22, 2021.
Jody Simms (PU$$YRAP)
I like to think of myself as a lover of all things made, produced, and performed by Black women. As a Black woman and a graduate of a women’s university, it is truly my life’s mission to make it known that women are forever elite and never backing down. My top 10 tracks of 2020 feature songs performed and made by Black women that have kept me encouraged through the rather unpredictable and far-fetched year that we call “2020.” This kind of music, which I like to call “PU$$YRAP”, has kept me afloat through the lows of this year while uplifting my confidence and self-esteem. Currently, I am the host of the one and only PU$$YRAP on NTS Radio, and with each show, I make it a mission to make it known that Women are front runners in the hip-hop/rap game. Pu$$yrap is instrumental in the reclamation of my sexuality, makes me feel that I am the baddest thing walking and that I deserve the best. My top 10 range from underground heroes and newcomers on the scene to those that we all know and love. While you listen to these 10 tracks put on a cute outfit, light a blunt, look in the mirror, and tell yourself that you are the baddest bitch! PERIOD.
Women’s sexuality has been suppressed and controlled by men for way too long. In '1-800-IM-HORNY' Kamaiyah keeps it 100 and delivers impeccable flow, all while exuding the exact kind of confidence that I aspire for. I love this track because it reminds me that in 2020 and beyond we out here reclaiming our sexuality and telling these men what’s really good.
Bree Runway is a star. She is THAT girl. This track speaks from my soul because a lot of times these men are really just bad for press, they are liars, and I am really not trying to pick up the phone.
Underground icon, XAIOLAN, is coming straight outta Atlanta and she delivers. 'Coupe All Red' makes me wanna link all my homegirls, hop in the whip, smoke somebody else’s weed, and have a great night out. Fly to death is the motto…..duh.
Coming out of my hometown, Houston, Texas Mazi aka Mazirati’s flow is impeccable. She talks that talk and she walks the walk. 'Outta Ur League' is one of my favorite tracks because her lyrics are so delicately crafted and she rides the beat effortlessly.
When I first heard 'OHFR?', I almost crashed my car. No cap. That’s how hard this track is. Rico Nasty has always been one of my favorite rappers and honestly 'OHFR?' just says it all. The beat is insane and Rico’s voice over it makes me wanna mosh or smash something. On this side, we movin’ how we want – fuck everyone else.
I can defiantly say that I have fallen victim to false rumors spread about me at the mouths of men. In this track, Ivorian Doll addresses the bullshit, speaks her truth, and then tells those talking shit what they can do with themselves. From the first time I heard this track, I knew it would be one of my favorites of all time.
Listen, I rep Houston hard. When it comes to my girl Megan Thee Stallion: HOTTIES STAND UP!!!! 'Captain Hook' is another track that I have had on repeat since its release. In this track, Megan delivers the holy scripture, women empowerment is the main topic, and I’m ready to turn up.
“BITCH I AM A JOB!!!!!!” I scream this at the top of my lungs every chance I get. I mean isn’t that the truth? It truly IS a job to be me. This track is the epitome of self confidence, independence, and will be well heard past 2020. JT and Caresha really did something with this one.
Drikka is the DMV’s queen. 'Thickums' is one of my favorite tracks of 2020 because of Drikka’s emphasis on body positivity and bad bitch attitude. My sis is really spittin’ and saying everything that we need to hear, what’s not to love about this.
Song of the year. Period. 'Like That Bitch' is the track that needs to be played every morning before you start your day, mid-day when somebody starts irking your nerves, and as a bedtime lullaby. Flo Milli speaks nothing but the truth. When I first heard this track, I had to pause and sit down. Like damn, the truth is I AM THAT BITCH!
Jody Simms is a DJ and broadcaster from Texas. Check her show PU$$YRAP on NTS here
2020 was the year Bandcamp fully justified my love for them. With so much seemingly falling apart around us it felt even better than usual to put a few coins in the pockets of my favourite artists. Making this list made me realise how long this year has really been even though it seems like we blinked in March and next thing we knew it was December. Incredible output from producers and artists and so many good releases this year it was hard to pick just 10, but I had to include the explosive mixtape by DJ Chengz for Nyege Nyege Tapes, full of the best of St Lucian Soca/Kuduro/Dennery Segment. Other stand outs for me were the South African compilation Keleketla!, featuring earworms from Yugen Blakrok and the Free Papua movement that have stuck with me all year. Also South African, the Swak Catalog label deserves MVP status, as does Mr Lu* for the wonderful ‘Nairobi Lost Tapes Vol. 1 EP’, which really hits that Lo-Fi/Soul/African oldies sweet spot in my heart.
I love Hagan specifically for his ability to craft the dirtiest percussive drum patterns - mad detail. The low ends on all tracks are insane! Sub-bass energy! This EP is one of many production moods from him, he is multi-dimensional, a BEAST; Keep a lookout for Aymos who has been coined the 'Prince of Amapiano' - I have an affinity towards South African House and all of its hybrids - this track is beautiful and a must-buy; FAUZIA’s EP is a whole entire vibe - she blew my mind with this one. Ambient jungle-esque tracks with vocals from Kelela?! A winning combination from start to finish; Jackie Queens ‘Love Will Wait’ is euphoric and deep South African house at its finest, Jackie's voice always gives me chills. This whole project is mind-blowing; Loving BAE's experimentation with seductive r’n’b and club sounds, the synergy between the two makes for a great listen. The ultimate eargasm. Light some candles when you listen to this!; Christmas came early with Lil Silva’s ‘DONT ASK ME FOR 320s’, he hit us with this dangerous pack! Need I say more? You know what time it is when it comes to Lil Silva! One of my many influences in music; Gina is a G! An absolute groove this project, the bounce, the soul!; My fave Bamz comes with the two-step UKG bounces and a much darker UK funky cut! You need this on your hard drives!; Scratcha's dramatic, futuristic presentation of Durban's Gqom - his own take, UK Gqom, very intense, I love it! Very weighty from start to finish, the way he designs sound is incredible. Looking forward to hearing this project at full capacity in the club hopefully soon!; And myself and the queen UNIIQU3 on Future Bounce. Two sensual club jams to get you vibing out!
KG is a DJ and producer from London. Follow her on SoundCloud
2020 started with so much promise and the energy in the early tracks of 2020 have proven that, but what I love about the music produced and released during this pandemic is the resilience the producers put into all these tracks! The need for dancing and being together through music was / is stronger than ever and personally I really miss the smell of cold cigarettes backstage and the smile of clubbers when you drop the hottest track of the moment ... but i keep faith that these days are not so far ahead and soon we will be reunited to sweat again all together.
With the turbulent year the world has had, music has been my lifeline. From ignoring calendar notifications of all the (cancelled) gigs/festivals I was meant to perform at, going for morning runs, midday walks, taking part in evening zoom quizzes, to performing for live streams and producing music, these tracks have resonated substantially. Many producers/artists have demonstrated the true essence of the Afro and deep house sound and created absolute gems. As featured on my monthly 'Sounds of the Motherland' Spotify playlist over the year, this is my top 10 for 2020.
Kitty Amor is a DJ and co-founder and resident of Motherland and founder and resident of Sessions. She’s from London, follow her on Instagram here
2020 has been quite spontaneous and improvised. I wonder how the year would sound in one piece. Nonetheless, these are the 10 tracks/albums/artists that resonated with me this year. All the tracks are a selection from albums that have been important to me, both inspiring and fully expressed records by the artist! There is a deep pour of emotion in every track, a deep feeling that the artists expressed to the world despite these unrest times. I highly recommend to listening to the full records!
KMRU is a sound artist from Nairobi. Listen to his music on Bandcamp
I’ve seen a lot of articles on footwork music but none on DJ Corey which is why I mention him here now. He is part of a young generation of Chicago footwork track makers and dancers and if we are going to discuss where music is headed him and others in his age group need to be considered. This release is his most recent and gives you classic-sounding Chicago footwork and juke tracks; Max Watts is a young techno legend. We were booked on the same line-up (pre COVID) in Tennessee and he came in and laid down one of the sickest techno vinyl sets. ‘Aftergl0w’ is my favorite on here because of the melody in it. Takes a minute to come in but once it does it’s just pretty sounding; Never in my life have I heard DJ Delish miss. Everything she makes is an absolute banger and it always has the swing. I actually went ahead and bought her discography because it’s that good to me. The ‘Khadijah’ series is a prominent work and volume 6 is the most recent however there are tons of other tracks you can purchase on Bandcamp; KG is a real one. This ‘Sensei’ EP is a heater from start to finish. When people ask me for a record I want to hear when clubs open again this is one of them. It’s timeless like that. There is also a Quest?onmarc remix which makes the purchase that much more necessary. These are anthems; DJ Manny is a hero in so many ways. Very grateful that he is releasing music regularly because there was a point where Manny tracks were some of the hardest music to obtain. Consistent output that is unique every time. He has the formula and he is in the lab. ‘Let The Music Talk 3’ is one of my favs, however he has put out a few releases in 2020 that are all fire; Have to say thank you to Fauzia for releasing tracks from her production mix for Discwoman. Bass music that settles nicely with the classics while keeping a fresh and unique sound always wins. Good stuff; HAUS of ALTR managed to bring together 26 tracks from Black DJs, artists and musicians for one of the most impactful dance music compilations this year and possibly ever. After that they did it two more times. This is a must-have for any DJ library and it was definitely a forward move for Black dance music culture; INVT has consistently put out some of the best music in 2020. They’re an interesting duo musically. I love this release particularly because it came with a photobook of pics that are gathered of different spots in Miami. They have a lot of side collaborative projects that are fire as well; El Blanco Nino is one of NYC’s most talented and prolific producers and I am grateful to say he is from the Bronx as well. This ‘Drill Bit’ EP is definitely necessary if you need instrumentals. The production and quality is so good and it sounds studio ready for any rapper than can handle a drill beat. Definite cop if you enjoy that sound.
Kush Jones is a DJ and producer from New York. Follow him on Bandcamp