fka Twigs 'LP1' (Young Turks)
Having signed to Young Turks back in 2012, FKA twigs’ early releases were cool, meditative soul moments underpinned by savvy, heavy production twists courtesy of Tic on EP1 and in August 2013, Twigs released the video for her first single, ‘Water Me;. The video was directed by Jesse Kanda, who would later work with Arca and Björk: clearly, Twigs was starting to branch out into the right experimental circles. So by the time her debut dropped, she was surrounded by the most talented producers in the business, from Emile Haynie, Arca, Clams Casino, Paul Epworth, Sampha and returning again, Tic. ‘Two Weeks’ is the album’s big single but in truth, her sound, look and body movement made her a bona fide UK and global star for the electronic ages. Ralph Moore
DJ Spoko 'War God' (Lit City Trax)
There’s no way you went out in 2014 and didn’t hear 'War God'. I would be out at a UK funky night and hear the waviest blends or at a Ttchno party, it’s wildly versatile. There’s an insane amount of energy in the track. Heavy percussion, fast punchy synth chords and ‘uh’ repeated. If you’ve ever needed a good dance to blow off steam, this was it. South African sounds were beginning to gain popularity globally and house in particular for POC artists became more about utilising their traditional sounds but for club audiences.
When I think back to this album as a whole, I think of joy. A feeling of uniting together across the African diaspora, establishing non-Western Black artists as a force to be reckoned with. Producing 20 tracks, each with a different vibe, is by no means a small feat. I still get excited every time this album comes on shuffle. I mostly bop down the street to it, swishing my hair in the cold wind. ‘Civil War’ for example has an almost acid electro tinge to it, compared to 'Angels and Demons' which splices the best bits of traditional South African music with Detroit techno. Yewande Adeniran
Mr Mitch 'Parallel Memories' (Planet Mu)
Without wanting to sound like one of those "Pick Me"s on Twitter, you know, the ones who offer what they dub ‘unpopular opinions’ but are in fact stating, very common and very relatable points, some music is best devoured in the bleak of winter; your headphones acting as ear muffs and your fingers frozen as you make track selections while your sobs blend into your cold-induced sniffles. Radiohead, perhaps, would be an obvious choice, as would Burial.
But here on ‘Parallel Memories’ Londoner Mr. Mitch offered his take on sparse, melancholic electronica cast with nods to his innovations in grime while providing something sweeter, quieter and more ambient-leading (among other things), his knack for delicate melodies a clear link between prior outings and the newer sound he was exploring. It was instrumental in a multitude of ways over than the, you know, actual instrumentals. And its release in 2013 was refreshing, his quiet approach to anthemic productions heard on tracks like his ‘Sweet Boy Code’ ( a ‘Peace Edit’ of Dark0’s ‘Sweet Boy Pose’) – the antithesis of the war dub clashes evidenced at the time and a follow up of sorts to his ‘Peace Dubs’ series.
As I mentioned in 2017, Mr. Mitch’s presence this decade has been vital for a multitude of reasons. He’s one of the minds behind Boxed – “the celebrated London club night and radio show he co-helms alongside Logos, Oil Gang and Slackk, which has created a party space for experimental bass offerings – without the need for an MC”. And where my mate, fun fact, once saw King Krule nodding his way appreciatively through a Logos set at Bussey – something he still finds amusing today. Plus, Mr. Mitch’s own imprint Gobstopper Records, which has welcomed the likes of Bloom, Dark0, Tarquin and Loom, has grown to become a cultish label with innovation weaved into its very being in a quiet, unbothered by the trends kinda way. Just like its founder...Jasmine Kent-Smith
Lenzman 'Looking At The Stars' (Metalheadz)
Goldie told me that Lenzman had “fucking game” in 2014, just before the Dutch producer’s debut album ‘Looking At The Stars’ came out on Metalheadz. I didn’t need much persuading of Lenzman’s talents; ever since discovering him through his spine-tingling remix of Alicia Keys’ ‘Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)’, his tunes had became a staple for me, from ‘Bittersweet’ and ‘Open Page’ to ‘How Did I Let U Go’ and ‘Wordsworth’. Put simply, Lenzman was carving a reputation of making music at 170bpm oozing with soul, the type of liquid drum ‘n’ bass the likes of Fabio, High Contrast and Calibre had been championing and perfecting since the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.
That ice cold liquid vibe’s present on ‘Looking At The Stars’ with tracks like ‘Paper Faces’, featuring the gentle vocal tones of Martyna Baker, and ‘Through My Eyes’ providing the starriest moments, but it wouldn’t be a Metalheadz album without a dark and moody edge to replicate the label’s iconic cyber skull logo. The engine-like revving of ‘My Tearz’ and sinister basslines of ‘Move & Focus’ take care of that, contributing to an LP bringing together the brooding sonics of Commix’s ‘Call To Mind’, the funk of DJ Marky & XRS’ ‘In Rotation’ and the smoothness of Calibre’s ‘Second Sun’. The soulful liquid d’n’b sound flowed through dancefloors in the wake of ‘Looking At The Stars’, with Anile, Tokyo Prose, Submorphics, LSB and FD among those coming through with tunes and albums brimming with tenderness. Lenzman’s The North Quarter label is also a hub for this, and you’ll be able to hear plenty of it at his upcoming Phonox residency in London. Dave Turner
Theo Parrish 'American Intelligence' (Sound Signature)
One of the most anomalous entries in house legend Theo Parrish's discography is also a distillation of his idiosyncratic essence. Released subsequent to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, American Intelligence's state-of-the-nation commentary is unignorable, even when not front and centre - though when it is, it hits home. "What makes you think this country has changed?" Parrish spits raggedly on 'Thug Irony'.
There's something ornery about ‘American Intelligence’, in the best way: its two-hour sprawl is almost defiant, Parrish taking his own sweet time to let his grooves spool out fully (as well as an entire recreation of being pulled over by a cop on 'Welcome Back'). Those grooves are spikier and murkier than Parrish aficionados might have been used to, more free jazz than soulful house. Bass rumbles ominously, drums disquiet, arrangements shift beneath your feet. What seem to be straightforwardly anthemic synth fanfares on 'Life Spice' are mined for as much tension as possible as beats pile up underneath, rattling like gunfire. But Parrish's penchant for soul returns for two of the album's most dazzling highlights: reggae star Barrington Levy and singer Ideeyah both turn in powerful incantations of hope on 'Make No War' and 'Be In Yo Self'. A breathtaking work. Alex Macpherson
Todd Terje 'It's Album Time' (Olsen)
This album would do well livening up any elevator, cocktail lounge or even make great hold music. Data nerds reckon the average person is on hold for 43 days throughout their life and, you know what, I really wouldn’t mind listening to this album 1032 times over. With such attention to detail on the instrumentation from Todd Terje, you need multiple listens of this LP to feel satisfied that you haven’t missed anything.
The album draws from many inspirations across the musical spectrum, and each track takes you into a world of their own. It’s overwhelming at times with its jazzy, housey beats constantly developing, but standout track ‘Johnny and Mary’ unwinds your mind at the halfway point. The ambience is beautifully calming and gives the listener time to stop and be captivated by Bryan Ferry’s vocals. ‘Inspector Norse’ ends the album perfectly with a groovy, repetitive house beat, rounding off an album that has the ability to make even the most miserable people get up and dance. Lydia Webb
Nozinja 'Nozinja Lodge' (Warp)
This record reminds me of my mum. Apart from dubstep and her kindly listening to my radio shows, she’s not a big fan of the noise I blare out of my room angstily on a Tuesday night deep in my feels. But we managed to find a middle ground with Nozinja and Shaagaan Electro more broadly. Mostly because it’s an Afrofuturistic spin on a classic sound she’s familiar with growing up. We’re not South African but during the 1960s and 70s, it was part of the musical cultural exchange - we gave them Highlife and they gave us Mbaqanga.
The track that always reminds me of better days is ‘Baby Do U Feel Me’. It has an ever so melancholic but super upbeat and happy. For me, it points towards a future where life will be a little bit brighter and a little bit easier. The lyrics “God is in the trees”, at least I think this is what it says, were in my head for nearly three weeks, even now it will randomly pop into my mind. A bit disconcerting but what’s life without a bit of weirdness. If you’re wondering what her favourite track is on the album, it’s ‘Xihukwani’. Another bonding moment for mumsie and I was the ‘Tshetsha Boys Meets on Honest Jons. It was how I slowly tried to introduce her to MMM and Peverelist but to no avail, techno just isn’t her thing. Yewande Adeniran
Jlin 'Dark Energy' (Planet Mu)
There was footwork. And then there was Jlin. ‘Dark Energy’ arrived like an electrical storm, jolts of energy raining down, the sound of sheet metal ripping from rooftops and telegraph poles being zapped in half. “This album took my entire life to make. Every moment in my life lead up to this album,” she said upon its release. The catharsis is audible.
Formerly an employee of one of the steel mills in her hometown of Gary, a 30-minute drive from Chicago, Jlin was an outside presence on the footwork scene for the first half of the decade, having made an impact with her contribution to ‘Bangz & Works Vol. 2’. ‘Dark Energy’ put her on the map proper, as one of the most forward-thinking footwork producers and an avant garde dance music pioneer in her own right. Footwork has always been experimental but ‘Dark Energy’ acts a full-blown manifesto. Seb Wheeler
Holly Herndon 'Platform' (4AD)
Holly Herndon's music tends to be talked about in cerebral terms, which is understandable: for the Tennessee-born producer, her compositional methods and overarching political and artistic philosophies are integral to the sounds she makes (and vice versa), and she is fond of giving thought-provoking, intelligent interviews which elucidate this at length. And unlike all too many electronic producers happy to slap a "conceptual" label on any vaguely murky atmospherics, Herndon's ideas when it comes to forging a brave new community out of increasingly alienating technology seem particularly necessary this decade, and building beautiful noise from self-generative digital glitches and elements of ASMR an elegant means of blending form and function.
At the same time, the ideas would mean little if Herndon wasn't also so adept at making music which sounds like little else - but which also hits a sweet spot for listeners. The descending bass pulse that runs through 'Interference' is a first sign that she is as interested in pleasure and emotion as anything else - and, crystalline in its design, 'Platform' is generous with those throughout. On 'Chorus', cut-up chorales mimic trance stabs; 'Morning Sun' revolves around a hypnotic mantra that also reveals how much, despite centring her narratives around technology, Herndon retains a somewhat hippyish connection to nature. 'Platform' - her second full-length album - also proved true to its title in terms of Herndon's career: this year, she followed it up by pushing ever further outwards on the phenomenal 'Proto'. Alex Macpherson
Ata Kak 'Obaa Sima' (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
We’re breaking the rules here a little considering this was actually recorded way back in the early 90s, but considering the unbridled joy this record brought to people this decade, and the fact that barely anyone heard it until 2015, we think it's worth a little rule-bending for. Reissued on Awesome Tapes in Africa in 2015, the album had originally been found by label founder Brian Shimkowitz at a street market in Ghana in 2002. A delicious lo-fi blend of highlife, dancehall and embryonic hip hop, the end product sounds like almost nothing else you’ve heard before and radiates pure sunshine. Shimkowitz spent years trying to track down the man behind the tape and after eventually discovering him down in Canada, he’s reissued the album to amazing success and helped Ata Kak assemble a live band and become a genuine live phenomenon at festivals around the globe. Sean Griffths
Ivy Lab '20/20 Volume One' (20/20 LDN)
From 2014 to 2016, the dates of Ivy Lab’s midweek 20/20 parties were the ones marked on every wonky bass-loving raver’s calendar. The then-trio of Stray, Sabre and Halogenix (the latter departed in 2018) created something that had to be hit up if you wanted a night of choppy halftime drum ‘n’ bass, footwork, glitchy hip hop instrumentals or any other peculiar bass-leaning sounds. The parties - which welcomed the likes of Alix Perez, Sam Binga, dBridge, Om Unit and more - became a place for the group to test new material which veered away from the more conventional d’n’b sound they’d made a name for themselves with. 2014’s bleepy ‘Sunday Crunk’ was the blueprint for their transition, setting them up to release a whole album’s worth of click-clack halftime in 2015. If you’re gonna do the robot in the dance, the tunes from ‘20/20 Volume One’ are the ones to make you do it.
Opener ‘Rorschach’ comes loaded with wounding bass kicks, ‘Ubane’ is littered with synth growls and grunts, while ‘Gettysburg’ provides a serene instrumental hip hop moment and ‘Slipped’ brings together slick vocal samples and a joyful melodies. It’s a whomp-heavy experimental playground that combines drum ‘n’ bass with the cool of hip hop and rowdiness of late ‘00s dubstep. That’s a formula prime for North America where their career’s blossommed, taking their 20/20 sound to festivals like Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird Campout and Bass Coast in Canada. Dave Turner
DJ Richard 'Grind' (Dial)
The trio of producers associated with US label White Material caused a significant stir in the early part of this decade: Galcher Lustwerk won hearts with his hedonistic house jams, Young Male shook club foundations with his tough techno, and DJ Richard intrigued with his low-slung and stomping outsider take landing somewhere between the two genres. His success sparked a predictable move to Berlin, after which his debut album ‘Grind’ arrived via Dial in 2015. Written in a new landlocked home away from the coastline of his hometown Providence, the album’s brooding atmospherics and track titles like ‘Savage Coast’ carried signs of a yearning homesickness, reflected in the artwork depicting a Rhode Island bridge closed off by an impentrable black border. But there’s also optimism and vigour coursing through the record. A 10-12 track version of the album had been ready for release the year prior, before a burglary meant DJ Richard lost all but 1.5 of the project files. He dealt with the theft admirably, knuckling down on crafting new productions with a renewed sense of urgency. From the vast, grinding textures of opener ‘No Balance’ to the exquisite, advancing arpeggios of standout track ‘Bane’, the album marries dark and light tones in a distinctively evocative way. Patrick Hinton
Kaytranada '99.9%' (XL)
Another signing to the XL Recordings camp, stylized as KAYTRANADA but shortened as KAYTRA, Canada’s Louis Kevin Celestin brought such a fresh and strong soul sound to the room that it was hard to imagine what life was like before he came along. Taking his cues from classic hip hop, Jam and Lewis/Janet Jackson and newcomers like Anderson .Paak alike, it was a hybrid that never sounded better than on ‘Glowed Up’ or on his myriad Soundcloud jams (his Janet Jackson ‘If’ is still a classic of the genre). On this album, he amassed an excellent support cast, including Little Dragon, Vic Mensa and an actually never-better Craig David on the lovelorn Swedish soul-infused ‘Got It Good.’ He also loves the 80s as much as I do: no mean feat. Ralph Moore
Skepta 'Konnichiwa' (Boy Better Know)
Initially announced in early-2013, Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ was finally released in 2016; during this period, the artist instigated an explosion of grime’s domestic popularity (and general visibility abroad) by stripping back his sound and image without sacrificing any of his sheen, upping the ante to stunning effect.
If his 2012 mixtape ‘Blacklisted’ was an attempt at artistically reconnecting by delving deeper underground (following the release of his commercial-minded third studio album, ‘Doin’ It Again’) then 2016’s ‘Konnichiwa’ marked his re-entry to the mainstream, albeit on his own tracksuit-clad terms, headed up by two uncompromisingly grimey singles: 'That's Not Me' and 'Shutdown'.
‘Konnichiwa’-era Skepta not only influenced what people listened to, but what people started to wear, which explains why I ended up buying the Supreme jacket Skepta wears in the ‘It’s Not Safe’ single artwork (see: this quite hackneyed, sepia-tinged shot).
The album marked the first moment a grime artist blew up without chasing pop clout. It would be hard to imagine Stormzy’s rapid ascent without Skepta’s bold artistic approach on ‘Konnichiwa’ — Stormzy acknowledged as much during his headline Glastonbury set, when he namechecked Skepta as a pivotal figure that paved the way for his own career. James Ball
Anohni 'Hopelessness' (Rough Trade)
While hardly a new phenomenon, the 2010s was characterised by big-name artists co-opting talent from the electronic underground. Björk had Arca and Haxan Cloak, FKA twigs turned to Nicolas Jaar for her most recent album and Kanye brought in the likes of Evian Christ, Brodinski and Gesaffelstein among others on ‘Yeezus’. But maybe the most unexpected (yet arguably most cohesive) of these link ups, was ANOHNI’s 2016 album ‘Hopelessness’ produced by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. Previously operating under the name Anthony and the Johnson’s, the singer/songwriter had found success pairing her otherworldly tremolo voice with minor key piano compositions. But with a new moniker came a new sound. Despite coming from seemingly opposite ends of the musical spectrum, ANOHNI’s singular vocals paired with the gargantuan bombast of Hudson Mohawke’s productions seemed to create an almost perfect equilibrium on tracks like ‘Drone Bomb Me’ and ‘4 Degrees’. With subjects like climate change, state surveillance and the death penalty broached, ANOHNI harnessed her anger at the state of the world into an album of urgency and desperation. The approaching of the apocalypse never sounded so good. Sean Griffths