Who smashed it this year for you?
Who went beyond the extra mile and blessed your ears with music so beautiful, so provocative, challenging or physical that you can’t imagine your life without it any more?
Every single one of us will have a different answer for this. Of course there are particular artists we can all agree on, but these are the 18 acts who our writers believed set new benchmarks in 2018. How many of your favourites are in this list?
Belgian maestro Alix Perez has long been considered one of the more talented producers ever to come out of the D&B community. But his ability to seamlessly produce gentle liquid, biting darker cuts and stepping halftime destruction under both Alix Perez and his SHADES alias has elevated him to new heights this year. What’s more, his stewarding of 1985 Music has led to fresh productions from fresh talent such as Monty and Submarine. His Enchiridion EP showed that he’s still the king of the 1985 sound, however, the depth of Slink mirrored in the carnivorous aggression of BXL and Live With It. Arguably the best halftime release of the year also came from Perez, as he teamed up with Eprom in a full-length LP of hellish artwork and satanic beats that’ll scare you and please you in equal measure. At the end of the day, Perez is simply a magician, a wizard whose music is as cutting-edge as it gets. (Ben Hunter)
It’s no surprise Benny L has been a hot topic of conversation within the D&B community seemingly nonstop. With a slew of huge releases, recognition from the biggest names in the game, support from Metalheadz, and perhaps some of the most sought after dubs of the year, 2018 has been a huge year for the London-based producer. His menacing basslines take no prisoners; he has successfully managed to forge a distinct sound that is instantly recognizable, causing crowds all across the world to shout “oii fuck off” in unison – arguably on of drum & bass’ finest compliments. (Rhiannon McCarter)
These days music production software is available to literally anyone with a computer, so the world is now inundated with over 300 drum & bass releases a week alone…. This means we’re often forced to rummage through the fast food of the music industry to find those gourmet delights that will keep us satiated for longer, and have us asking who’s behind the recipe.
Enter Breakage. He’s been a certified breakbeat scientist for almost 20 years now, and is one of a handful of OGs who seemed to look at the state of the scene and said “hold my beer”, subsequently unleashing the instant future classic that is At The Controls.
Six tracks of pure modern jungle genius – stripped back, with drums and vibes that roll out effortlessly – it’s vintage Breakage with a modern twist. Each track did the rounds as a coveted dubplate throughout the summer, and slowly but surely all those tunes that had you shrieking “WHAT’S THIS???!” to the person next to you in the dance, were revealed to be the new Breakage.
We noticed a real shift in D&B this year, primarily from established artists taking it back to the melting pot vibe, with underground dubplate culture bubbling away with a renewed sense of passion and vigour, and Breakage played a huge part in this. The EP set a true precedent, reminding producers all over it was time to get back to basics and back to the roots, bringing the sounds of the past into the future in serious style.
At a time where everyone is screaming into the void to be heard, Breakage has an original voice that can easily cut through all the noise. Salute! (Maja Cicic)
With the dubstep scene growing increasingly tired of the brostep and riddim crazes of yesteryear, 2018 presented a fertile battleground for Chime to mount his offensive. Not only did this producer consistently make his presence felt with new EP’s on Circus Records, Firepower Records, and Rushdown (his own imprint), but he was simultaneously transforming himself into a touring machine. If you haven’t had the opportunity to catch a live set of his yet, perhaps that opportunity will present itself sooner than expected.
During the course of the past year, Chime definitely made it a point to combine his trademark style with some of the traits from the heavier side of the genre, and it’s fairly obvious that his decision to do so left quite a lasting impact on his listeners. Please don’t hesitate to immerse yourself in the audio elegance that is Chime. (Barrett Nelson)
One of the amazing stories to unfold in 2018. Going from posting sprayout videos on Facebook in 2017, to signing with Hospital and releasing a multitrack mixtape featuring those exact songs, what Degs has achieved in the space of a year is incredible. I can still remember seeing him walk out on stage at Hospitality Bristol last year and not knowing who the person performing with London Elektricity was, but now the whole scene is aware of this exciting prospect. Degs has brought such a refreshing style to the genre through his ability to sing and spit lyrics so interchangeably, and the way he is able to entertain the crowds and connect with everyone on such a personal level is special. Whether it’s the humble attitude, infectious personality, or the simple matter of being unbelievably talented, big things lie ahead for Degs. (Jake Hirst)
Emperor / Monuman
Conor Corrigan has been on absolute fire in all directions this year; both as Emperor and as Monuman, his alias for his more off-piste explorations. D&B wise we’ve been exposed to some of the darkest, swampiest, groaniest rollers he’s ever made on both his Bloodsport and more recent Boxcutter EPs, especially when Mantmast is on the mic. But it’s his Monuman material that really showcases how important Conor is to bass music; sometimes gully, sometimes incredibly delicate and touching, Monuman music an intergalactic gloop of every style you can imagine, all brought together around the 130 mark. Essentially it’s the sound of Conor freeing himself from the trappings of D&B rigidity and doing what the hell he likes. “That’s the whole point for me,” he told us in an interview earlier this year. “Although I love drum & bass, I feel like I have so much more to give creatively than to sit in one bracket. Some of the new music I’ve been making takes influences from lots of different artists, techno, hip hop, ambient, metal… It’s a bit of a mixed bag.”
He said mixed bag, we say magic sack. And it’s clearly had a positively influential effect on his D&B, as well… Boxcutter is, without doubt, his best Emperor release so far. We can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next. Big love Conor. (Dave Jenkins)
In many ways, 2018 has been the year of InsideInfo. Him and Kasra have pumped gaspingly good techy bangers under their new alias Circuits, he’s collaborated with Hybrid Minds for an astonishingly good single and, aside from all of that, he’s pushed out music on the solo front whilst starting his own label. After a long-term period of being signed to Viper Recordings, it’s clear that InsideInfo is taking advantage of his ability to do as much as possible, with as many different people, in as many different musical styles as he can. He said on Twitter recently that producing is more fun than ever before and you can hear it, the passion and energy drip from every bar and every phrase. His remix of Brookes Brothers’ Every Minute was a highlight of this year and displays fully just how sensational InsideInfo has been in 2018. (Ben Hunter)
In terms of releases, US bass OG gunslinger Liquid Stranger dropped just one serious piece of bass weight this year. But what a piece of bass weight it was… His immense Polarity EP shook us by the short and curlies with its trippy unique fusions, far out sound design and collaborations with the likes of Bleep Bloop, Shlump and Freddy Todd. But it’s what he’s been doing with his label Wakaan that truly cements his place on this list of prominent players for 2018. Wakaan has been an endless source for innovative low end designs that defy categorisation (besides, perhaps, ‘wook bass’ if you’re lazy) this year. And it’s being packed by a whole new class of new generation talents; Eazybaked, Peakaboo, LSDream, G-Rex are just a smattering of talents who have flourished on Liquid Stranger’s platform. Add to that the fact he never seems to be off the road, tours with the likes of Excision and Snails and his remix of Truth’s Monster Strikez is an absolute beast and you’ve got a worthy addition to this list. (Dave Jenkins)
It’s official: Luke Beavon doesn’t make bad tunes. Quality over quantity is his approach and he only releases music when the time’s right. That shone through once again this year with two EPs of the very highest order, a stunning new mix series with DRS and an equally-brilliant collab with Spectrasoul on Silence. The two EPs mainly showcased LSB’s soulful liquid trademark sound but he also demonstrated that he’s more than capable at switching things up, giving us two of the year’s biggest bangers in Tripped and Potshot, which were both used as weapons by virtually every DJ. But what made LSB’s year even more impressive was the way he bounced back from the tragic loss of good friend and mentor Marcus Intalex. Feeling it wouldn’t have been right to carry on the Soul:r flag after his death, he created his own label, Footnotes, which will no doubt serve up some more gold next year. (Robin Murray)
You know that term ‘a DJ’s DJ’? Your Randalls, your Doc Scotts, your Kentraos. You can add Mantra to that list. If she’s on the bill, you can guarantee you’re going to have your face absolutely torn off. Mantra goes IN. And she does so with tracks you or I won’t get our mitts on for months perhaps years to come. Co-founder of Rupture, one of London’s most vital and longstanding underground jungle nights (alongside her equally sick partner Double O) Mantra has honed her brutal ‘sleeves up’ style to one of the most clued up and riotous crowds in the country and you can really feel that from her at any gig she plays. From festival arenas (alongside Djinn she turned the We Love Jungle tent at Hospitality In The Park into full on mud/blood bath) to compact gazebos in the heart of Sardinia (just listen to that mix from Sun And Bass above and tell us she’s not smashing it), Mantra’s energy, style and dub armoury are exemplary to the craft. Easily one of the sharpest DJ’s DJs out there right now. (Dave Jenkins)
Okay, we’ve got a joke for you. In 2018, a teenager from Australia concocted a tune so ridiculously massive that it appeared in almost every live dubstep set across the map. Oh wait, that’s not a joke. That legitimately happened. Mastadon – and no, not that Mastodon – is most likely a minion sent here from the underworld to destroy mankind via death by soundwaves. At least we can only assume that’s his primary objective given the wake of destruction perpetually left in his path.
On a more serious note, the aforementioned track is the one, the only, the highly-infamous Casket. Unfortunately, live performances are quite the rarity for this youngster, but he’s already managed to compile a thick catalogue of music consisting of incomprehensible banger after banger. Some of his other notable works include the life-threatening Decimate EP and his seemingly unsurpassable remix of Herobust’s WTF. Mastadon is no mere mortal, he’s destined for much, much more. (Barrett Nelson)
Martin Mefjus deserves a shout for his “stop bitching on Twitter and make some better snares” comment at the Drum&BassArena Awards earlier this month alone. But let’s face it, he’s done way more than make a pithy comment this year… His sophomore album Manifest was everything we’d all hoped it would be. Wild, energetic and loaded with surprises, it was the result of over two years of totally rethinking his approach and his understanding of composition and arrangement. It also contained humungous bangers like The Siren and the castanet clapping, slap bass popping Pivot with fellow Schnitzelbrothers Camo & Krooked. Beyond his album Mefjus continued to slay crowds (including his legendary closing set at Let It Roll) and developed his own A/V show. No wonder he picked up two trophies at the Drum&BassArena Awards, this year was a total levelling up exercise for Mefjus when none of us thought he even needed to level up in the first place. Schnitzel power! (Dave Jenkins)
From a relatively young age, Ownglow has been a shining example of the quality drum & bass coming out of America. Since relocating to the genre’s capital, the young producer has only continued to push boundaries with a slew of diverse yet consistently brilliant releases. While last year saw him develop his liquid side with the stunning Inside the Silence EP, 2018 has seen the release of several striking singles ranging from the filthy yet funky LA to the enchanting and comforting Eyes Wide Open, the murky, mechanical Strip It Down, and one seriously catchy collaboration with Danny Byrd, Just A Step Away, to name a few. Throughout the year, Ownglow has demonstrated an impressively masterful diversity, yet across all the different takes on drum & bass, the one thing they all have in common is an authentic, emotive, and captivating atmosphere – Ownglow is king of the vibes. (Rhiannon McCarter)
Some artists move gradually into the game, steadily honing their sound and building a following over time. Other artists slam into the scene like a joyrider on a jolly ram raid. Artists like Peekaboo who’s either studied their sound for years before breaking into the game, is a natural genius or is a very well kept secret alias. Who cares what his background is when he’s shotting out pure uncut groaners like Arrival, B.T.F.U and his recent remix of Caspa’s Tech Foul? Deep, sludgy and trippy, his refreshing sound and style has caught the attention and imagination of 140 crowds on both sides of the pond. He’s a blates a badboy DJ, too, check his Hide & Seek mix from October. Boo selecta. (Dave Jenkins)
It’s been just over a year since QBIG & Zenith B shed their respective aliases and joined forces as QZB, and since then they’ve built an impressively diverse repertoire of beats across Kasra’s Critical imprint, as well as brief excursions on the forward-thinking Flexout Audio.
From the crisp, growling sounds of Indigo Heart with Phentix, to the mesmerising rhythm of their Jordan Rakei bootleg, the ambient masterpiece that is Unity, to the straight up industrial funk of Artificial, the burgeoning duo have established themselves as two of the most original producers in the game, and have succeeded in developing a unique fingerprint of their own.
I could go on and on really, but the best way to get to know these guys is to get their music in your ears, and go see them at an event. I spent a good portion of their set at Let It Roll on my own, bearing a striking resemblance to the ‘mind-blown’ emoji, lapping up their twisted basslines and naughty dubplates, not giving a single f&*k about the fact I had seemingly lost all my friends. If that’s not a good indicator that you’re dealing with some serious craftsmen, then I don’t know what is. Long live QZB! (Maja Cicic)
Shy FX is the boss every damn year, but in 2018 he properly re-engaged with his own persy original nuttah. After years of successfully dabbling with other genres, fusing up hybrids from reggae to funky house, this year he laid down three massive D&B slates: the warm soul rolls of Call Me (with Maverick Sabre) hit with Gaye levels of warmth and yearning, Bad Boy Business hoisted us over the fence into Rudeboyville with no means of return while Roll The Dice (with Lily Allen and Stamina MC) is one part western gunslinger, two parts dancehall skanker and all parts sultry anthem. Tunes that stand the test of time, each one reinforces Shy’s role in the jungle continuum, and they’re all backed up with more evidence that he’s enjoying the music such as two killer runs of secret Cult.ure parties and the return of UK Apache at his now legendary Boomtown set. With Original Nuttah clocking 25 years next year, we suspect Shy has plenty more up his sleeve for 2019. (Dave Jenkins)
Is there a hotter ticket in dubstep right now? Because we genuinely don’t think so. Transitioning from Sudden Death, to Svdden Death, to now SVDDEN DEATH, the slew of name changes were likely brought on by this producer’s rapid rise into the spotlight. Booking live performances left and right, the trajectory that he has been on is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory.
After kicking off 2018 with a big time Borgore collaboration, he went on to unveil his jaw-dropping Junkworld EP. Once we got a taste of the title track from that release, we were convinced SVDDEN DEATH was a phenom in the making. Later in the year, he introduced dubstep diehards to VOYD VOL. I. Headlined by the unmistakable “Behemoth,” the 5-track masterpiece helped solidify this musician’s standing among some of the premier names in the business. SVDDEN DEATH is an absolute game changer. That’s just a simple fact. (Barrett Nelson)
What an absolute vintage it’s been for London based roller craftsman Trex. After years of stirring his deep, Bristol-bristled melting pot on labels such as Ingredients, Lockdown, Directors Cut and his own Trust Audio, 2018 saw him level up in a whole new way thanks to a seismic slew of wounders on some seriously respected labels. Labels such as Randall’s Mac2 who blessed us with Trex’s debut album High Time this summer. Showcasing his true depths and breadth from the dark shreds of Dirty Greens to the deeply personal and emotive stepper Father, the album galvanised everything he achieved so far and led to a seemingly unstoppable string of killer releases on the likes of Dispatch and Dreamers. It also featured one of my own personal favourite tunes of the year full stop; What I Say featuring the mighty Fox.
We spoke to him when High Time was released and found out just how personal his album is and how, when he started it, he was unsure if he would continue making music after it was released! Don’t worry, he’s changed his mind now… And we suspect 2019 is going to be loaded with more vintage roller craft. Trustworthy. (Dave Jenkins)