We’ve decided to take a different approach for our best of the year rundown series in 2020, influenced by a year of upheaval in dance music and the world at large.
With a pandemic closing borders and forcing people into isolation, there’s been little opportunity for travel, coming together and sharing music IRL. Taking that into account, we decided to reach out to a global spread of artists to share their 2020 favourites and some insight into what’s been going on in their respective corners of the world.
We hope this approach will give a more representative account of the international tapestry of dance music than the lists we've published in previous years as well as provide an outline of the global network that we're part of despite the enforced lockdown and self-isolation of 2020.
In this time of anxiety and seclusion, and in light of the movement for racial justice putting hierarchical issues into increased focus, a competitively ranked list also feels more trivial than aiming for celebratory inclusion. In total, we have 47 artists hailing from across six continents involved in this list. Our albums and mixes of the year approach is also changing, so look out for more perspectives and countries covered when they drop across the next few days.
We’re grateful to all of the artists who have lovingly put together snapshots of the music that’s helped them get through 2020. The result is a lot of incredible music to explore (upwards of 500 tracks in total!) and some truly moving words as an accompaniment. Most of the playlists are hosted on Bandcamp via the excellent Buy Music Club, so you can listen and purchase to your heart's desire.
Some artists have snuck in not-strictly-tracks or from not-strictly-this-year - call them an added bonus. We’re delighted to present all of it to you and hope you enjoy the discoveries as much as we did. We will continue to make our vision of dance music as broad and far reaching as possible into 2021 and beyond...
I decided on this alphabetical list of releases based on their proximity and effect on my life this tumultuous, isolating year. All of these have imbued me with some kind of solace or wonder in a time that has tested me as a Black, non-binary, trans person in the United States…
Producer/DJ Ali Berger has managed to release an astounding amount of great music this year on his Trackland imprint (all of which you should check out) and without a doubt a personal favorite has to be ‘The Stew’. It's a four-track EP with the initial three cuts consisting of different versions of the title-track followed by a watery, delayed, and filtered-out ‘Salami Dub’. Every mixdown of ‘The Stew’ is its own particular house-driven flavor, lending versatility DJ wise by adding or subtracting elements subtly to great effect. I'm also lucky enough to have Ali Berger as a roommate, so hearing and watching the development process of this EP and the plethora of other releases has been inspiring musically in a time where it's hard to maintain that musical spark.
The first part of Azu Tiwaline's sonic diptych ‘Draw Me A Silence’ came out March 13, 2020, three days after my 30th right as things were shutting down Stateside with COVID-19. I, like many, entered an extremely unsure period of life watching work and gigs come to a halt but both sections of ‘Draw Me…’ and her hypnotic ‘Magnetic Service’ EP on Livity Sound that followed create some genuine spiritual guideposts. Azu seeks sonically, in a mystic and ecstatic way that resonates deeply with my personal journey with adab (and ultimately the Motherbeat). One that I am infinitely grateful existed this year.
Jeff Mills, Eddie Fowlkes and poet Jessica Care Moore each brought their individual creative expertise into The Beneficiaries with this amazing debut piece of Detroit Afrofuturism. Their name is an active ethos, with the sleeve notes describing the trio as “beneficiaries of Black Detroit’s multidimensional legacies of self-sufficiency and sonic futurism”. It's a project about Black forward motion and pulling from the energy of one's ancestry despite the active limitations of American capitalism and white supremacy. Aptly timed too as protests were actively erupting around the world in July in support of Black Lives due to police brutality as we also suffered at a disproportionate rate from Covid via systemic racism. It continues to be rough for us as a people too,which is why ‘The Crystal City Is Alive’ is a needed proclamation promising light in the darkness.
Absolutely had to make sure to include the 2020 Haus of Altr compilations as a whole. The label's inherent eclecticism within the newer wave of Black dance music highlights a crucial year for us that I think some are already keen to forget. 2020 saw a lot of us as Black people, many of whom were involved with this project, having open dialogues about the divisions in our representation and treatment within dance music infrastructure. Iterations of this compilation emerged as a very clear address to these issues stating essentially that BLACK EXPRESSION IN DANCE MUSIC WILL ALWAYS BE THE FUTURE! One easily perceived in the overall work of contributors like Loraine James, Russell E.L. Butler, Galcher Lustwerk, James Bangura, Kush Jones, AceMo, Fauzia, Martyn Bootyspoon, BEARCAT, Bookworms, AKUA, DJ SWISHA, founder MoMa Ready, D. Strange, Huey Mnemonic, Quavius and literally every other amazing artist on this comp/label.
As named in my previous entry for Haus of Altr, Kush Jones is one of many ensuring forward motion in Black dance music. This Future Times release, his first time on wax, is a stellar example of why that's fact as he merges footwork, techno, and house sensibilities in a way that lends a fresh perspective at all angles. Since FT055 has dropped I've had it on rotation in my own home constantly. I've danced a lot of bullshit off to this record and a personal cherry on top is that it's pressed at 45 rpm, so if I really need to get slow and low to the earth with it I can. There's zero doubt in my mind that this is going to be an undisputed highlight of the year in dance music in general, and rightfully so. And it doesn't stop at this EP either given in 2020 he's released a lethal amount of gems over multiple tapes like the Strictly 4 My CDJZ series via his Bandcamp with the same excellence.
Cleveland's Mourning [A] BLKstar is the essence of dream's realized despite. The project, formed in 2015 by Ra Washington out of mourning for a friend who was killed has been a pillar for embodying in me a strong will to keep on (an important sentiment right now and always). Having spent a bulk of my life in Cleveland until a very recent move to Pittsburgh, M[A]B and the creative forces surrounding it literally represent my own soul searching. I have so many fond memories of feeling my soul vibrating watching live as Latoya Kent, Kyle Kidd, and James Longs gave verse to my deepest feelings as a Black person. ‘The Cycle’ is no different for me, having been created at the now defunct Guide to Kulchur only a block from our old DJ studio space. Where I watched the same “flicker of street lamps against damp streets” described in the album's liner notes. I have so much love for them and my life has been immensely changed by their constant encouragement that's only bolstered with each album. Quite frankly adab just doesn't exist as the same force I attempt to conjure now without having had them and their music in my life. Please do your soul a favor and get hip if you aren't already.
One of the more pleasant surprises of 2020 personally was seeing the reemergence of music from Detroit's Rawaat with a tape on Nostilevo in April. After a long hiatus post his 2014 ‘Day Laborer’ EP the Crisis Urbana founder released 99 copies along with a digital version of blow out, percussive bangers that felt indicative of a new chapter for his moniker. One that I love to see as a friend and colleague. Strongly suggest checking this one out and his most recent, ‘S.S.S.’ on Crisis Urbana.
There's a few things that have me looking forward to 2021 despite the current state of things and one is the inevitable rise of the Slink NYC label. The super skilled collective made up of rrao, Simisea, K Wata, and Enayet burst out the gate with this debut of four unique gems from the periphery of club music, reggaeton, and electro. With forward-thinking tracks like this being presented at Slink's onset I can't help but be excited to see what these lovely souls plan to curate in the near future. And quite frankly anything that can help me positively look forward right now is immensely welcomed.
Ever since being introduced to eXquisite CORpsE (Robbert Heijnen and Debbie Jones) their music has become essential history for me. Much like Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia, which Robbert was a part of, their catalogue represents so much of the trance inducing sonic palette I'm partly inspired by. XqST, also Robbert and Debbie, followed suite in these eight selections from improvisational sessions the couple made to relax together at home post putting their children to bed. Each piece is its own warm hypnotic polyrhythm amalgamation and the intended relaxation they were seeking is tangible. I've listened to it so many times this year just to ease my anxiety about the world and I think it's magical that such a positive personal intent can be shared with others. A very big shout out to Vancouver's Isla for getting this out there at a very necessary time.
Much like Slink NYC, Montreal label Causal Chain (ran by laced) and artist Xozgk have me super excited for the sounds to be curated by their hands in 2021. Xozgk first caught my attention with a snappy, bleepy cut on the label's launch compilation in April and where that one was the a bit more straightforward ‘skllpt’ as an EP diverges as Xozgk layers the entirety of it with undulating, slippery rhythms. It's the type of tape that has made me cut the decks on just to mix and toy with it frequently through part of the year. Which is important when it can be so repetitive feeling being isolated indoors a majority of the time.
This autumn I had the pleasure of curating 18 other artists from diverse backgrounds and scenes in order to support Equality Now. The charity does fantastic work across the world to achieve equality and end harmful practices towards women. I am very proud of the project and of each track and it has been overwhelming to see such an enthusiastic response both from artists and listeners.
‘Rewire & Acquire’ the first release of our beloved club Ved Siden Af in Copenhagen; and HLLW’s track is particularly driving, hypnotic and full of power and energy. HLLW is a skillful producer, originally hailing from Norway, but has called Copenhagen his home for many years now. Our city is full of talent and has a very special affection for tasteful chords and fast paced rhythms. DJ Wawa is a mainstay of New York’s vibrant nightlife. I simply love the vintage vibe but yet, fast and assertive mood in this track. Telfort's always lush and deep cuts never cease to amaze, and this year was no exception. I particularly like ‘MSR Dub’ for its playful and light tone. Fauzia hasn’t been producing music for that long but her output has been truly creative and quality-sounding with loads of drive. I am looking forward to listening to more from Fauzia.
Pseudonym Records’ compilation has amazed me with dark, shifting rhythms and incredible layering of soundscapes in each track. It's a sophisticated take on the modern experimental music and the release showcases fantastic less-known, but very skilful producers here.
The selection from quest?nmarc isn’t a track or release, but a mix series. I recommend looking through quest?nmarc’s radio shows on Rinse France and The Lot; always loads of captivating experimental tunes and adventurous mixing.
SØS Gunver Ryberg is another Copenhagen-based producer. The track name (‘Doing Our Best Is No Longer Good Enough’) and the track itself, released on AD 93, have really resonated with me from the minute it was released. It has this apocalypse vibe to it, and if you think - in our ever growing capitalist society - it is indeed not enough to be doing your best any longer. Other than having my own remix included, I really admire S Ruston’s relentless remix on Zebra Katz’s ‘LESS IS MOOR (Remixed)’ - full of dark hoovers and pulsating breaks here. An excellent package throughout the year and big thanks to Zebra Katz for the inclusion. Finally I’d like to close off the list highlighting FOLD Records. This iconic venue FOLD in East London launched the label this year and featured one of their residents Gareth Wild. The club has been consistent with excellent streams such as UNSTREAM and LIFT and other streaming initiatives throughout this weird year, which I enjoyed watching and was lucky to participate in in July as well.
I like this 'Hellraiser XXX' because it reminds me of sound collage and how we can alter sounds to create cool sonics. I'm also fond of Lyzza's voice; 'Stay High' is the 8-bit arcade game version and I want to hear Brittany's sweet voice on it, it's an inner feeling of joy that I get when I hear this song; This Vanilla track is a really chilled blend of hip hop and jazz soul all together and one of my favorites right now; I love Lotic's delivery and choices in the instrumental percussive melody; I love mcconville, an artist from Ireland, with beautifully blended vocals who sounds like the future of Neo-Pop, reminiscent of PC Music in the best way; 'Diva' was a return to production for myself and making something by myself from the beginning to end off the year; Swak Catalog is raising funds in Cape Town, South Africa for Sex Workers Rights Organization so it's good music and philanthropy; Rose Bonica's album is a joy to the ear, techno minimal and defined; Miss Jones has taken us on a journey into her world and we are here for it!; This is a nice introduction to Shygirl, the more you come across the better it gets.
Angel-Ho is a musician, vocalist, songwriter, DJ, producer and creative director from Cape Town. Follow her on SoundCloud here
My top 20 songs that I’ve selected in this list are solely UK tracks I wish I was able to play in the clubs and at festivals. Obviously due to COVID the world has been put on pause but the music hasn’t stopped flowing with brand new artists emerging! Also our household names coming through to make sure they aren’t forgotten, delivering solid bodies of work. 2020 hasn’t been all doom and gloom, but more so a party in our bedrooms.
Bempah is a DJ and broadcaster from London. Check out his residency on NTS here
This list is compiled of my favorite tracks this year from friends and peers. A lot of these artists I've known (or known of) for years and it's been really beautiful to see them grow and produce music I truly love. Thematically, most of them emote a feeling of apprehension, release, or calm. I think throughout 2020, while raving is more science fiction than everyday life, the tracks I came back to the most really challenged me. Most of these folks I met in California and majority are other trans musicians I admire. Love yall <3
A lot of the songs we loved from this year came from artists who belong to the Club Quarantine community. These songs come from a variety of musical and cultural backgrounds but are united in their stunning moments of creativity, and their experimental and evocative nature. These are songs and artists that inspire us to carry on and keep trying new things.
Club Quarantine is the original queer online dance party. Follow them on Instagram here
I featured this Jared Jackson track in my RA mix & I’m so glad it’s seen the light of day. Jared is one of my favourite producers who is also doing god’s work pushing the garage sound Stateside. This one’s an essential cop; This MoreNight track is a shining light at the end of the year. Have been a fan of MoreNight for a minute now and I’m glad that this track has seen light of day. ‘Give Ya’ is super uplifting and bouncy, essential listening to keep up any energy into 2021; Shall Not Fade’s output this year has been top tier and Interplanetary Criminal has been one of my greatest discoveries at the beginning of the year. His Bandcamp is full of gems but ‘Supreme Level’ is pick of bunch for me and one of the standout tracks of 2020; OG don Para who some may know as one of the heads behind the DEA project has been relentless this year in his output and this track ‘Free’ has featured in my last few mixes. The groove on this one is soooo clean!; Heard this DJ Backspin track at the beginning of the pandemic and haven’t stopped listening since. Track does everything it says on the tin. It is an absolute weapon and it’s very rare that a VIP beats the original; I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this Prozak. This track is so uplifting and feel-good. I fell in love with it in December when I played at wigwam in Dublin and have played it non-stop since; A stomper from Wen. This tune contains my favourite snare of year. Don’t ask me why just listen; This one by Yemi is a roller. Had this promo sent to me about a year or so ago and became obsessed with the pluck bass. Drums compliment the melody and groove while a solid Missy Elliot sample gives the tune undeniable energy; Last but not least Smasher x Prescribe Da Vibe, off Smasher’s project ‘Locked In Locked On’ and I think it’s one of the best garage vocal tracks of the year. Everything from the drums to the vocals are so clean and crisp.
Conducta is a DJ, producer and founder of Kiwi Rekords from Bristol. Follow him on SoundCloud here
Soa Mattrix & Soulful G ft. Shaun 101’s ‘Uthando’ is probably one of the only songs I've heard in recent times that doesn't represent any genre or sound but embodies emotion and the feelings that were penned when it was made, and no wonder it's translated well amongst music tastemakers, DJs and party people. This piece of music is a clear indication that all dance music genres can cross pollinate if fused perfectly and when the writing process is as intimate as the music it's laced onto, which makes Uthando my biggest and favourite song of the year 2020.
What Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa have built in the past couple of years is testament that everything in life is possible if you stay true to who you are and put in the work. They've broken Apple Music, Tik Tok and many other radio records and undoubtedly have taken the phrase Amapiano to the world with the boundaries they've broken, so that the sound is recognised not just in South Africa but a crowd favourite in many neighbouring countries to South Africa and foreign regions such as North America and Europe.
Reece Madlisa & Zuma are slowly becoming crowd favourites not just amongst Amapiano lovers but South African dance enthusiasts at large. The way they've been able to blend current Amapiano vibes and nostalgic Kwaito is unmatched, that’s why they've garnered a fan base that isn’t just about the current but have also touched many old souls and 90s Kwaito fans.
SculpturedMusic is another maverick in his own right. After watching him from afar quietly building his brand and style of music, it makes my heart smile when the next frontier of deep house music and all round groove is reaching a peak that elevates the deep house space and scene organically. His album titled ‘Tell The Grooves’ is a definite must-have and is a solid full body of work.
When your favourite producer’s favourite producer and your favourite songwriter’s favourite songwriter collaborate you listen attentively. Sun-EL Musician ft. Msaki ‘Ubomi Abumanga’ is a collaboration from the heavens and encapsulates all the hope that people needed in the turbulent and uncertain year 2020. “Ubomi Abumanga" is Xhosa phrase that means "Life Hasn't Stopped" and with all that happened in 2020 this is what I wanted to hear when I turned to music for hope.
The popularity of the Amapiano sound in 2019/20 did not just throw off the South African music industry but also made me the role of A&R in global music at large. How can a sound just take off from nowhere leave big music institutions thumb sucking? De Mthuda’s remix of Tiwa Savage shows the staying power of the genre and that it has a place in global music because when listening to the song it can easily sit in an Afrobeats playlist or could easily be something out of a Defected - Glitterbox offering.
2020 was also the year of the underdog and I'm super stoked that we were able to listen attentively to music releases and had time to dig deeper than our over-hyped and over-popularized acts. Frigid Armadillo are case and point. This dynamic duo from South Africa blew many away with their ‘ADAMS CALENDAR’ EP and it's always a cherry on top when a reputable Afro-house label such Aluku Records amplifies the music for it to be heard by many other ears in widespread regions.
FKA Mash is one of South Africa's electronic music hidden gems and will become a force to be reckoned with when the world finally acknowledges that he isn't just making music for the sake of trends but creates a sound and texture that he and he alone can maintain and develop. His collaborations with Tahir Jones are always to look out for, and I hope one day they'll actually consider dropping a joint project.
It's safe to say the whole world has been waiting for Black Coffee music, more especially through the year we've all had. I'm also an avid fan of RY X's music and glad that this meeting of great musical minds gave us such a beautiful song.
I was writing a really big album this year, where I only used sounds from the oldest archive of instruments from the Mayan period. This was part of my masters thesis where I also studied other types of electronic music that is based on pre-Hispanic instruments and sounds, and was trying hard not to listen to music outside this scope to prevent influence. I produced very intensely every morning so i would experience sound fatigue and needed really exquisite, elevated music that switched me on. I listened to these constantly; these 10 tracks were my best vibes of 2020.
DEBIT is an artist from Mexico. She's a crew member of NAAFI, follow her on SoundCloud here
Gabber Modus Operandi
2020 wasn't bad for music, but really awful for the industry. Our personal music list at least shows how much amazing music can be discovered without really reading the media, charts or any algorithm that was around before (one of us was busy gardening and the other learning how to sew among other things). But we’re still on the right path to being productive, surviving via online gigs, like at the end of this year we finished Animation in collaboration with our buddy Rimbawan Gerilya that will be presented in January 2021 at the online edition of CTM Festival. We also released remixes for our friends Pisitakun, Hextape & Shaeb Ahmed and also contributed tracks for Parkingstone, SVBKULT’s ‘Cache 02’ and Nyege Nyege Tapes’ ‘L'Esprit de Nyege 2020’. We will also be continuing our postponed mid year collaboration with Wahono & Nakibembe Xylophone troupe, and get ready for a currently secret project with two digital metalheads from Kenya.
Most of our selection comes from idols and friends. Note for Bali, we got the most anticipated album in decade or maybe century lol by Dewa Alit Salukat ‘Genetic’, the futurist brain-melting Gamelan that he retuned to weirdly 10 notes parallel scales, outputting minimalist, spaced-out yet complex sounds that was surprisingly released by seminal experimental label Black Truffle. This is followed by Rollfast, a young group that hits the boredoms in psychedelic/stoner rock then digs and pushes the old scales of Bali Gamelan. This is great news for the paradise land full of tech-house tourism that we have: traditional but futurist, the younger generation reinterpreting tradition. Hyph11E album is just a BANGER, it's literally how beautiful her sets are - we gig together a lot and they’re never boring. She flawlessly juggles footwork, hardcore, jungle to whatever teritory without using terms like classic and proper to just hit the idea that she’s on the game, and this extends to SVBKVLT ‘Cache 02’ as a whole. A hint for the future. DUMA are kings: come on, Nyege Nyege Tapes doesn’t need introduction, they’ve taken over the world now.
Our highlight for this year is Asep Nayak (it’s not on Bandcamp so check out the music on YouTube). Among other Wisisi Electro musician, Asep is our gateway to this world where the scene grows exclusively in East Papua, between DIY production, no labels, no clubs, no anything except flash drive data exchange in partes and YouTube links.
Gabber Modus Operandi are a duo from Bali, Indonesia. Follow them on SoundCloud here
Gavsborg (Equiknoxx / Equiknoxx Music)
It’s a joy to create this listing of some of the tunes that have kept me moving this year. To me the special thing about this grouping of tunes is, it is composed of peeps within our community (friends and friends of friends), locally In Jamaica and globally ‘To di worl’, and on this December morning it reminds me of my position of being around amazing people making amazing music. Please check out these amazing acts and if you have the means to, please support them.