19 shades of bass from every corner of the low end musical universe; our team of writers look back over 2019 and highlight some of the many innovative artists who’ve characterised the year with their unique designs. From glitchy funkmongers to in-demand singers via some of the most exciting and universally supported new-generation D&B artists the genre has seen in years, this list paints a vivid picture of a vintage year…
On the tenth anniversary of his incredible debut album 1984, it seems poignant to reflect on just how much Alix Perez has done in this game. His creativity, range and work rate have increased exponentially over the course of the decade, yet he’s always remained rooted in those early dark/light manoeuvres he first caught our attention with years ago.
For example, there are echoes of the liquid funk sound his classic Foresaken in the gorgeous, delicate SWRV this year, whereas Deep Six was a straight up curveball, recalling the best of classic, chest-rattling dubstep. Last Rites, from the same EP, is another weighty slab of sonic aggression which has been doing major damage in his sets this year, among many other creations of his.
Alongside his solo output has also been some SHADES material with Eprom in the form of the Black Heart Communion EP. Featuring Two One Six, it goes toe-to-toe with Last Rites as one of the hardest tunes of the year. But whether it’s with Eprom or solo, throughout all these productions this year – from mellow liquid D&B to the dankest half-time beats – there is depth, warmth, and intense sound design that put Alix Perez at the top of his game. (Craig Haynes)
Following a departure from Med School and a hiatus of several years, 2019 saw Anile return to the fold with two EPs on two new labels, The North Quarter and Footnotes. And he makes this list on the basis of the pure, sheer, unadulterated quality of those two releases alone.
Sheets of Empty Canvas is Detroit techno with a splash of Calibre and a dash of Skeptical; a cavernous stretch of music that’s penetrating in its emptiness yet full of character and emotions. His Coded EP over on Footnotes is a similarly stirring affair, his handwriting is etched from the jagged distortion of Rigged to the vocal veneer of Constant Reminder, each tune displaying his clear predilection for statements of minimalist intent. Anile has managed to be soulful, scary, dystopic and heart-warming all at once, a palette of accomplishment which reflects the best part of the genre he so clearly loves. (Ben Hunter)
What a year it’s been for the Mancunian wunderkind. His meteoric rise this past couple of years has been nothing short of remarkable. 2019 has seen him level up well beyond the heights of a supposed ‘newcomer’, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him push forward with a fresh sound, drive, determination and work ethic beyond his young years. This guy ain’t no newbie anymore, and boy has he got some skills.
Kicking the year off with a collab with Unglued on Hospital set the tone for the rest of his year, seeing him return to Critical with his first full EP on the imprint, along with outings on the likes of Drum&BassArena with Simula & Sydney, exposing yet another layer to his musical psyche, as well as releases on V Recordings with the widely-acclaimed Envy, along with multiple releases on Serum’s Souped Up, delivering one of this year’s biggest anthems – Veteran ft. Trigga.
Let’s not forget a packed-out events schedule, and seemingly collaborating with every man and his nan along the way. If you’ve seen Bou play a set recently, you’ll know to expect the unexpected, and to bring an extra pair of shoes as you’re likely to surprise yourself with just how far you can launch a pair in reaction to some of his ridiculous blends.
Like many of his peers, he comes from a generation of newcomers that have provided a new and exciting sound to the scene, with a seriously impressive approach to their careers – one that reeks of professionalism and an unstoppable drive. 2020 is set to be even bigger for the cous-cous-wielding badman. Watch this space… (Maja Cicic)
Camo & Krooked
“We’re on the attack!” they told us at the start of the year with just a little Schwarzenegger schnitzel swagger. They weren’t lying. Every track Camo & Krooked have dropped this year has hit the spot in a completely different and inventive way.
The inaugural UKF10 track Atlas set the scene with such widescreen prowess you could imagine it soundtracking every poignant yet ultimately triumphant montage ever made in a movie. Loa followed, flipping the voodoo switch with a deep tribal twist and some refreshingly different drum work and Haitian vocals and instrumentation. Then came two collaborations with fellow outstanding maverick Mefjus. First the rushy dark euphoria of the fast lane vibe hurricane Kallisto, then the genuinely unique funk attack Sidewinder a track that takes influence from filtered house of the early 2000s but takes it to places no one could have dreamt of 20 years ago.
Their final expedition of the year was Set It Off. A cosmic drum & bass / hip-hop fusion with sharp-tongued bars from Jeru The Damaja and brisk harmonic chords it burns all bridges with the decade Camo & Krooked have made their own… And sets them up in front row seat for the future. Very few artists are operating on this level, Camo & Krooked have slapped this year silly. And we even mentioned their equally energetic and inventive DJ sets. (Dave)
Charli Brix had a hand in more fantastic music this year than almost any producer, an impressive rap sheet that includes collaborations with a whole litany of drum & bass talent.
Her penchant for softly floating above murderous, techy beats was best expressed in her debut EP for Flexout, featuring QZB, Data 3, Visages and Phaction on production credits. Kintsugi was a debut to remember and all four tracks echo her melancholic vocal quality and the way her undulation whispers you into the next phrase is equal parts warming and chilling, a duality which is reflected across her back catalogue this year. Seeing vocalists take such a prominent role in their own releases is fantastic and it provides another focal point, another modality around which to organise and focus the production and release of music. Charli is taking full advantage of this and luckily for us, we’re the beneficiaries. (Ben Hunter)
This dubstep and leftfield bass producer from Edmonton in western Canada came seemingly out of nowhere in 2019 to dominate the bass music landscape. Starting off with one-off tracks on Thaz Dope and Gravitas, Chriz was picked up by Vale for its Axon vol. 1 compilation and he soon had his own EP with the imprint, Retrieving Light. It blew the bassheads away but before anyone could come up with any solid notions of style, Chriz released his Unstable EP with MethLab and blew the scene apart for the second time in as many months. Raw, gritty and somehow still highly danceable, if Unstable is a portends of things to come for Chrizpy Chriz, bass music is in for a wild ride in 2020 and beyond. (Layla Marino)
I can actually pin-point the minute I knew Tim Eliot was going to be in this end-of-year list of artists who’ve given the world exceptional music: 2am CET, August 3, somewhere in the middle of a Czech airfield. His CVAV 2.0 show had turned Let It Roll’s Portal stage into a dizzying playground the senses, he’d just dropped Contemplate and the whole crowd turned their rowdiness levels up to 11 and began hurling themselves into each other like they’d never heard drum & bass before. A highly vibed Benny L was fizzing around right in front, pushing his label mates Shimon and Trimer around. Serum was nearby nodding like a doggo who’s found his owners stash of Bonios. Thousands more shared the intense moment with us as Current Value launched his new performance concept and reminded us why he’s in a league of his own.
Another reminder of his unique prominence and voice in this music is, of course, the fact that he’s just dropped two albums… And done so on two labels you’d previously not consider pairing: Methlab and Souped Up. His 11th and 12th albums respectively, PUER and SENEX dissected Current Value’s ever sprawling sonic palette and presented them in two very clear frameworks; his experimental, mathematical, technical side and his raw, have-some-of-this-mate vibe. The result has been a consistent flow of innovative productions that join the dots between two styles that, only a few years ago, would seldom be heard on the same line-up, let alone in the same set or production.
“I like to get inspired when time, circumstances and mood are right,” Tim told us when we announced the dual album project. “A bit like a “multi”-interface likely resonating with different compatible programs. Both directions are well worth exploring for me as each bring different challenges and demands to the table.”
It makes you wonder which direction he’ll explore next… (Dave)
As one half of deep bass power duo Shades with Alix Perez, Eprom got a suitably heavy start to 2019, releasing the Black Heart Communion EP in March with the afore-mentioned power duo. That sonic kick to the chest already doing plenty of damage, Eprom didn’t slow down with the slow beats this year. He released a number of trippy tracks on Deadbeats, including one with G Jones called Daemon Veil packed full of so many amens fans must have thought they were in a snare firing range.
He then closed out the year with his own Aikon EP which included some of the tracks he released earlier in the year and which also showcased his diversity of style. From rave to deep bass to synths and sound design glitched out to filth and back again, Eprom’s catalog this year not only carried but helped define the wider bass music scene. (Layla Marino)
Astrophonica bossman Charlie Fracture has been flirting and subverting the core fundamentals of rave in some remarkably interesting and game-changing ways this year. 2019 kicked off with the rave-addled Big Up The Ladies EP before he landed on 1985 in the summer with the equally explorative Unite EP which featured the stunning Fox-fronted summer blow-out Give Some Love and the crucial Perez collab Realise (to name but two tracks) But it’s what came next that really cements his place in this list of extraordinary artists: Turbo.
A fast-paced 4×4 sound he discussed in an interview with us late 2018, the turbo concept is rooted in the pounding traditions of hardcore, jungle techno and the original rave primordial soup. More techno in its spirit than the drum & bass / jungle Fracture is best associated with, not only did he explore this sound himself with tracks such as Turbo Toms and Percussion Sweet but also corralled many of his peers to contribute their own 4×4 ideas such as Sam Binga, Lewis James, Hyroglifics, Addison Groove, Philip D Kick and Moresounds. The result adds an exciting new fusion and approach to the music that wasn’t on the conventional D&B landscape at all 18 months ago… But is now ripping up clubs on the weekly and is evident across a wide cross section of the genre from Enei’s Sinking to Buunshin’s Acolyte. We’re interested to see how this techno twist develops in 2020. (Dave)
I’ve got to admit, the day Fred V & Grafix broke up was one of the hardest announcements to take. They were the soundtrack of university for me and to hear they were splitting up left me feeling pretty gutted. But then Grafix started releasing his new solo work… And I think I speak for the majority of the D&B community when I say we were not expecting that. This new darker sound he appears to be moving towards is absolutely incredible.
Every release since has shown just how talented of a producer Grafix is. But it’s not just his productions, his DJ sets have also been some of the most varied and full impact I have seen. His set at Steelyard in London earlier this year was particularly remarkable; to hear him freely dropping neuro and mixing it with the vocal dancefloor sound that’s defined his journey so far was phenomenal. That was the moment I realised Fred V & Grafix splitting up wasn’t the end of the world, it was the beginning of something special. (Jake Hirst)
Whether it’s his previous work as Signal or his recent work as IMANU, Jonathan Kievit is on some next level operations. He has been for several years, but this year he seems to have brought everything together and boosted it all up to a new level.
One of the best examples that comprehensively showcases how he’s done this is actually in his recent UKF Podcast. An hour of genre-melting vivacity, it’s the most remarkable blend we’ve had in years. At one moment we’re stomping to snowplough 4x4s, the next we’re shaking our souls to ADHD ghetto beats; there’s neuro, trance, techno and big unapologetic vocals all in the mix but it all works so cohesively and cleverly.
While his exemplary production skills have always turned heads – it’s why he was working with the likes of Critical before he was 17 – it’s his travels as a DJ that have really brought things together and given him a musical maturity and depth that’s evident in everything he’s dropped. From his releases on Vision to his recent forays on Mau5trap, Kievit’s created a sonic space where he can join the dots between hard-as-nails grooves and delicate noir soul at ease and make everything work within his own sound. And it’s a space that’s only set to grow and develop as he settles deeper into his new IMANU alias. (Dave)
The first time Kanine properly smashed into my radar was Boomtown 2018 when every single set seemed to drop The Shadows. One of his early breakthrough tracks, it resulted in raucous cheering every play, along with people in the crowd putting their middle fingers up to whichever DJ was playing. Fast forward 18 months and Kanine has transcended into an artist with a whole stack of anthems to his name. It’s got to the point where if you don’t put your middle finger up to his music in the rave then you’ll be looked at like the weird one…
Release-wise Kanine has been relentless this year. Every time new music Friday comes around it seems like his name crops up. What’s more, he’s started to really explore the full terrain. From his jump up roots, Kanine’s delved into liquid (What I Said), full-throttle dancefloor (Deal Wit Dem) heavy bass rollers (Dubplate Soldier)… You name it, he’s explored it with a versatility that sets him up for a very exciting future. That’s exactly the reason why he won best newcomer producer in the Drum&BassArena Awards this year. (Jake Hirst)
Kings Of The Rollers
Credit due; Serum, Voltage, Bladerunner and Inja have consistently done the business this year…
Look at their debut headline tour, the Royal Rumble: Rather than just flexing off their own name and recruiting a few hot names for support, they’ve made the show about the other DJs with obscene b2b2bs that ranged from Dillinja b2b Bryan Gee b2b Jumping to Limited b2b Bou b2b Stompz. It wasn’t just about Kings Of The Rollers, it was about the scope of the scene – both in terms of subgenres and generations. Just like their own DJ sets, which are always performed with all members present.
Their self-titled debut album reflected that scope, too. Having only put out a handful of releases beforehand, the album was a statement that touched on all the styles they’ve been inspired by and have brought them together as an act. From those dramatic piano arpeggios and Lydia Plain’s soaring vocals on the stunning The Sky Is Falling to the bouncy dubby funk of Rockers (with Bassman) to the insane jet powered bassline and classic Dillinja vibes on You Got Me and those feelgood vocals and synths on Tisno, the album exceeded all expectations, crossed a lot of ground and reflected the decades of drum & bass these men have come from.
It will be interesting to see which direction they take the Kings Of The Rollers sound in next. After such a busy year together we may see them pursue more solo missions for a while but either way, they’ve placed themselves in that sweet melting pot spot where their sound could go in any direction. 2019: the year of the roller… And its reigning kings. (Dave)
He kicked off the year with an EP on Critical, he ended it with an EP on Vision. In between he dished out an equally stinking EP on Souped Up. Levela hasn’t just smashed this year, he’s gone and passed his steam roller operating licence with honours and flattened 2019 into a mushy pulp.
Developing from a very pure form of jump-up to the heavier, darker, more techy designs we’ve been hearing over the last 18 months, the Brighton producer has completely renewed and rebooted his whole sound, mindset and workflow, as he explains in this interview earlier this year.
Less a departure and more of a whole new tower block on some seriously strong foundations, this year’s accomplishments follow 10 years of Callum Smart smashing up a different side of drum & bass. Prior to this year’s sonic twist, his jump-up productions were often Skrillex’s go-to tracks when his sets went into D&B overdrive and his label Multi Function has supported many exciting current protagonists such as Agro, Hizzleguy, K-Motionz and DJ Hybrid. The crossroads he finds himself at now offers every possible direction with weight, respect and stripes on two different sides of the genre. It’s an exciting time for Levela. Hell, Hybrid Minds go as far as comparing him to Hazard in this recent interview. (Dave)
Some of us in the music scene foolishly convinced ourselves that MUST DIE! had peaked sometime between 2014-2016. Mercifully we couldn’t have been more wrong. Part of me can’t help but feel like this producer locked himself in an underground lair for the duration of 2017-2018 in an attempt to assemble the most dangerous dubstep creations to ever be dreamt up. And if that was in fact the case, I’m glad my assumptions were precisely on point.
During the course of 2019, MUST DIE! went on an absolute rampage, slaughtering live crowds left and right with clearly no concern for his own well-being. Pick a tune, literally any tune that he touched in 2019. Let’s start with the obvious, CHAOS. Oh, you mean that song that literally every producer and their grandmother unleashed on fully-packed festival stages around the globe all summer? Yep, that one! Ok, onto the next one. How about Epiphany Rush? I think that tune probably smacked my subwoofer so damn hard that it’s still shaking off the effects months later. Then there’s MISERY, the kind of stuff that nightmares are made of, freakishly good and freakishly scary all rolled into one. And don’t even get me started on Funeral Zone. Seriously, don’t… Just for the love of god go listen to it right now. The genre of dubstep is in safe and secure hands with MUST DIE! at the helm. (Barrett Nelson)
2019 has been a phenomenal year for Georgian-in-Brooklyn Nitepunk. We told his story recently as part of our UKF10 interview series; dubstep changed this young fusionist’s life and made him move across the world and do everything it takes to be part of it.
This year he’s made that dream a reality. Kicking off with a respectful and accomplished remix of the Emalkay classic Fabrication, he’s proceeded to drop a slew of high voltage disruptions on the likes of Circus (Nightfall), Never Say Die (Deadman), his own Nitepunk imprint (We Go Back) and of course our own label with the virulent homage to The Prodigy, Moonlight Crime.
Across these releases he’s covered some vast ground from metal to electro, with each construction adding more weight to his refreshingly energetic and rule-free sound. Using dubstep as a canvas to paint vivid rave collages that transcend standard genre formalities, Nitepunk’s music is an intense glitchy/switchy odyssey of swaggering beats, alien bass textures and sudden twists and turns… And it’s made all the more exciting by the fact he’s only just warming up. 2020 has potential to be another phenomenal year for Nitepunk, too. (Dave)
A name that needs no introduction, Space Laces smashed into 2019 with Phone Tap on home label Never Say Die. Still heavily drawn for to this day, it set the scene for one of his biggest years so far.
One of the most innovative names in the dubstep game, Space Laces flexes his otherworldly sound design and zany arrangements with every release. And despite being few and far between, they are always worth the wait. Case in point: Vaultage 002, which is basically 15 minutes of unreleased god-tier material that simultaneously increases your appreciation for the producer while getting your excited for what’s to come.
Between releases, these Vaultage mixes have been enough to keep fans going and offer an incredible insight into the wealth of unreleased material that we can only hope will see the light of day. One track that did make it out of the vault this year, however, was October’s D.A.W. Naturally it’s a certified bop and more than enough to tide us over until the next release from the king of wonky bass. (Rhiannon McCarter)
Light-hearted aesthetic – serious beats… When DLR, Total Science & Hydro announced their saucy new alias, you just knew it was going to be special. It all began with an infectiously bouncy remix of Total Science’s own Nosher – and since then we’ve been blessed with an EP on DLR’s Sofa Sound imprint with two impeccable cuts, and an EP on their newly launched The Sauce Recordings imprint.
Marinated with all the experience of their established careers, the trio are bringing a fresh new Bristol vibe to the fore, one that doesn’t take themselves too seriously, and lets the beats do all the talking. This ethos permeates their entire aesthetic, offering a welcome, light-hearted break from the moody images of DJs we’re so accustomed to seeing.
It’s been a great year for collaborations and it’s wicked to see these guys not only inspiring the absolute best out of each other musically, but having a blast in the meantime and bringing us one of the best fusion of styles the scene has seen in recent times.
It’s clear the best is yet to come for the saucerific trio, especially considering the amount of dubs they’re sitting on… So next time somebody asks “would you like any sauce?”, make sure the answer is a resounding yes. (Maja Cicic)
No one is making music quite like Vorso right now. Totally unclassifiable and full of surprises; everything he’s sent our way this year has been a keeper. He kicked off 2019 in true style too as he collaborated with Millbrook & Mad Hed City on The Rise; a sinister, cinematic masterpiece that we never knew we needed (and totally don’t deserve)
It was followed by a sporadic flow of singular bass brilliance kicking off with the uptempo harmonics of Strange Attractor on Inspected ahead of the whopping six-track Metamaterial EP. His biggest release of the year, it comprised six of the most heinous tracks Inspected have ever released ranging from jovial halftime (Wannabe) to futuristic, left-minded house (Reaching For The Surface) to an absurdly funky collabo with fellow maverick Opiuo (Photonics) which could be one of Vorso’s finest moments to date.
Wrapping the year with a collaboration on Billain’s album, an evangelically funky remix of Haywyre and a reunion with Clockvice for a remix of Minnesota, the young UK artist’s output remains in a world of its own. And we know for fact he’s got some next level jams to drop next year. Vorso you hero. (Rhiannon McCarter)