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The 10 Top Live Acts Of The Year 2021

Live sets can feel like some of the most organic and unpredictable ways to experience dance music

  • Words: PATRICK HINTON, MEGAN TOWNSEND, GEMMA ROSS, ANEESA AHMED, BECKY BUCKLE | ART DIRECTION: VASSILIS SKANDALIS
  • 17 December 2021

Being able to go out dancing again this year has helped us feel alive again. And while DJ sets still rule the roost at electronic events, live sets can feel like some of the most organic and unpredictable ways to experience dance music — which are welcome sensations following the insipdness of lockdown life. In the list below, we’ve compiled 10 of the leading artists keeping dancers on their toes as the events industry came back to live in 2021 (in alphabetical order).

Read this next: The 21 Top DJs Of The Year 2021

1
aya

aya has had a great year. She’s released an album and book through Hyperdub, has a monthly radio show on NTS, and has had her music played by none other than Mary Anne Hobbs. She’s played at festivals such as No Bounds, Lunchmeat and Unsound, and clubs such as London’s Space 289 and Manchester’s White Hotel. Her live show is a transfixing blend of beats, live vocals and visuals, with an AV show performed alongside filmmaker Sweatmother, who directed the incredible video for aya’s ‘Emley lights us moor (feat Iceboy Violet)’. In 2019, we named her one of our breakthrough DJs of the year and said she is a ‘legend in the making’ — 2021 has proven that prediction to be correct.

[Photo: Suleika Mueller]

2
DJ Seinfeld

After dropping his second album ‘Mirrors’ in September, DJ Seinfeld created a live show based around the monumental release and toured it around the world. Performing the album from front-to-back, the DJ and producer brought an amalgamation of equipment - including keys, mixers and synths - to perform the record in unusual spaces such as theatres and halls, atypical from your usual club night.

3
Elkka

Known for her hypnotic cross-genre live shows, Elkka began as a singer-songwriter and has now morphed into a multi-faceted producer, DJ and label boss. In November she released her EP ‘Harmonic Frequencies’ and the impressive single ‘Burnt Orange’ . The funky rhythm of her music is built for the dancefloor environment, and as she said in an interview with Mixmag last year, it’s: “a reflection on dance music and house music being the soundtrack to finding myself as a human being and finding my identity of a queer person.”

4
Fred again..

Fred again..’s live setup is simple: a laptop, keyboard, and a mic are all that grace the stage aside with the super producer, but it sure as hell is effective. In his debut year of performing, the South London producer and Mixmag cover star became one of the most essential live sets. HIs first-ever show at summertime festival All Points East saw Fred pull in a crowd of thousands, packing out one of the event’s largest tents. Though he’s new to live gigging, the classically trained producer shows off an impressive set of vocal samples atop homemade productions and piano prowess, all while backdropped with visuals that piece his story together one iPhone video at a time.

[Photo: Theo Batterham]

5
Kelly Lee Owens

Taking her live show throughout the UK in the later months of this year, Kelly Lee Owens employs every skill in her arsenal to move audiences. Despite only announcing her live run this summer, shows sold out instantly - with packed crowds filling venues such as Electric Brixton, EartH Hackney, O2 Ritz Manchester and the Belfast Empire Music Hall. The techno-pop maven has been employing her voice within sets, a trippy AV show, stomping between her two keyboards and even employing covers - with reports of Radiohead’s ‘Arpeggi’ being played during her performance. Alongside tender notes, visuals of her grandmother and a soft, folkish approach to her creations that give the essence of being in a congregation have made her live sets one of the most sought after tickets of this year.

[Photo: Kim Hiorthøy]

Read this next: The 21 Top Breakthrough DJs Of The Year 2021

6
KMRU

After his family moved from an inner city Nairobi neighbourhood to Rongai on the edge of one of Kenya’s vast national parks, Joseph Kamaru became obsessed with nature and the sounds it produces. He weaves field recordings taken from his surroundings into his transfixing live sets, which also explore live jamming, stuttering distortion and eerie ambience to hypnotic effect. A recent collab with motion designer MinimalicQuantum added a dazzling visual dimension to this naturalistic exploration. Having been based in Berlin all year, studying a Sound Studies and Sonic Arts degree, KMRU has found a new world to record and aurally explore. He’s since emerged as favourite on the European experimental scene, with sets he’s played this year including a live stream inside Berghain with Luke Slater and Speedy J, and festivals across France, Spain, Poland, Germany and Austria.

[Photo: Claudia Mock]

7
Loraine James

Loraine James released her second album ‘Reflection’ this year, which stands as one of the best electronics albums of 2021. Her live show takes her music even further, with added twists and turns. “I don't want to butcher it up too much,” she said of her studio production process this year, adding: “That's what I'd maybe do in a live performance.” This approach creates gnarly, chaotic sounds that are mind-bending to experience amid a heaving dancefloor that’s powered by a weighty soundsystem. Anyone who caught Loraine at events such as Warehouse Project, No Bounds, Big Dyke Energy and Adaptations will attest to that.

[Photo: Suleika Mueller]

8
LSDXOXO

LSDXOXO is undoubtedly one of the hottest names in dance music right now. The star appeared on the Mixmag cover earlier this year, released on XL Recordings, and then launched a live show with debut gigs at Poland’s Unsound festival and London club FOLD. Befitting of the music LSDXOXO makes, the show is hard and sexy, with frenetic beats, live vocals and striking costumes. A welcome antidote to po-faced techno DJs, making the club move with extroverted flair and confidence.

[Photo: Matt Lambert]

9
Overmono

It’s been a great year for sibling producers Overmono. The release of everybody’s favourite 2021 summer track ’So U Kno’, their fabric Presents mix and ‘Diamond Cut / Bby’, as well as last year’s ‘Everything U Need’ have all created a well-earned air of hype around their live shows. Since the reopening of live events in July Overmono have taken their live set to Warehouse Project, Field Day, We Out Here and GALA, all the while maintaining an authenticity and party atmosphere to what they do. Though their future may well be in sell-out tours and arenas, their live set always feels focused on the pair's underground/club origins.

10
RP Boo

It’s impossible to not get swept up in the euphoria exuding from an RP Boo set. This year he’s played live in venues such as London’s Café OTO alongside Paul Abott and Seymour Wright, aka XT, as well as sets at No Bounds, Pitchfork Festival, Strange Brew, and more. From the infectious grin on his face to the fast-paced sounds he produces, the Chicago native is like the joy and energy of footwork distilled into human form - which makes sense, given he’s the originator of the sound. When footwork dancers join him out on stage, it’s a whole vibe. If you’re lucky, you might even see Boo step out to the front of stage and show off his moves.

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