20 of many incredible artists who’ve managed to keep us smiling and sane during the strangest year we’ve ever had, as picked by the UKF editorial team.
In terms of output, it certainly hasn’t been Alix Perez’s busiest year. But, as you can always imagine, the quality has really been of the highest order. An artist who truly understands creative process, his releases have captured the essence of 2020. Perhaps his most significant news has been his move from the UK to New Zealand, where if you follow his social media channels, you’d have seen him shelling down his selections to full, covid-free clubs. Our loss is certainly their gain!
With his label 1985 Music, it’s hard to say that it’s going from strength to strength when they’ve continually been at the forefront of the underground music scene since the label’s inception. But under Alix’s guidance, the quality of their release schedule has really been second to none.
Release-wise, he began the year with Ravana, his second heavyweight 140 offering. Raw, powerful and undiluted, when he jumps on a dubstep beat there are very few who do it better. A sprinkling of releases across 1985’s Various Artists compilations set the standard before his 8-track mini-LP Without End hit the shelves in September. His largest solo project since his second album back in 2013, it saw Alix return to the sound he became synonymous for early in his career; deep, soulful and explorative. Whether he’s tackling the chest-rattling depravity of dubstep or the gorgeously delicate rolling liquid, his creativity, range and talent ensures he continues to redefine multiple dance music scenes. (Paddy Edrich)
2020 is the year of drum and bass artists evolving and adapting to a new way of life. For that reason, it is hard to choose one or two favourites, as so many have impressed in their innovations and releases this year. Annix have been so consistent this year, not only releasing their latest album Tunnel Vision, but several other singles as well. This duo continue to make a mark on the drum and bass scene with their unique and revolutionary spin on jump up, incorporating tech and neuro vibes to create some of the darkest and grittiest tunes in the scene. Each of their tunes is equipped with some of the best intro and outros that I have ever heard.
As well as their fruitful releases, they also launched their own label Neksus alongside fellow artist Simula, meaning they have well and truly thrown themselves in at the deep end this year to make the best of a bad situation. Not only have they released some of their best work to date personally and collaboratively, but also expanded their CVs with a new label to house even more weird and wonderful drum and bass in the future. (Hannah Gowen)
It may seem an obvious choice, but Break’s brilliance cannot be understated. He continues to set the bar impossibly high – not just in his creative ingenuity, but he’s also a shining beacon in what it means to keep your head down, focus on your craft and just absolutely slay – churning out more bangers than we currently even know what to do with…
He set the tone for the year with Got A Feelin’ and Sesame Seeds on his Symmetry imprint back in February, and what followed was a superstar line-up of original productions and diabolical remixes that have soundtracked a truly bizarre and upsetting year. I last saw him play a gig in Sydney in January, and of course lost my voice so bad I had to result to writing voice notes to communicate with him. He smiled at me and said “lost it again, eh?”, and then I realised this was a recurring theme whenever we saw each other, as I’m often shouting obscenities and other such things in his general direction.
The rest of the year has been somewhat different. Instead of shouting in grimey clubs I’ve been on lovely nature walks all on my own, cursing him under my breath with every release (in the nicest way possible, of course), pulling funny faces as I pass families of unassuming geese and ducks at my local riverbeds and ponds. His remixes should be tested for illegal doping because he’s clearly got an unfair advantage. From his remix of Lightweight by Total Science (for the record, kids – THIS is an actual roller) to the punchy AF reworks of Workforce’s Overnight Express ft. SP:MC and Breakage’s As We Enter, not to mention those simply genius productions everyone’s been trying to get a hold of – this is a man who does what he wants, on his own terms.
If you – like me – were lucky enough to get your grubby little hands on his coveted dub-pack, you’ll know the genius productions I’m referring to here. 2020’s equivalent of “I’ve got that on vinyl”, is surely “I’ve got Break’s dub pack.” Try to drop it in to conversation next time you’re at a house party, or in your favourite Whatsapp group chat – chances are your street cred will go through the roof and you’ll be the talk of the town for being the absolute legend that you are. Cheers Break, I really needed a boost this year! (Maja Cicic)
Beats, bars, ballads and bangers from chimpan-a to chimpanzee, this Manny don has been on apeshit form throughout 2020.
The floodgates opened long before we even knew what a furlough was; from January onwards Chimpo was flinging out the goods on his Boxed N Lock label as singles such as the violent disco thrills of Hurt Someone (with DRS and Slay) and the sunny stepping Get So Mad built up to his debut album HIA in May.
Released at the point of lockdown when it started to take the piss and we began to regret our Tiger King tattoos, HIA was a hurricane laced with his trademark hooks and witty flows and a clear passion for classic 90s hip-hop. It deserves applause for Nob Ed alone, a finer contemporary love song would be hard to find.
It’s what followed his album that really scores his place on this list, though. Since the summer we’ve been bombarded with every possible style you can imagine from the smoothest jams to the fugliest f*ckabouts this side of Brexit. Bandcamp releases like the grimey bashers on the Another Chapter EP, or the odyssey that is Now That’s What I Call Boxed N Locked Vol 2, are crammed with Chimpo killers that literally cover the board. One minute he’s busting out old jungle vibes with Sl8r, the next he’s winding us down with Wendy Carlos style ambient synths. In between you’ll find every other type of beat, bar, ballad or banger you can swing from a tree. Go bananas. (Dave Jenkins)
The last 12 months has seen Coco Bryce make an impact across the world of electronic music. With releases on Critical Music, Lobster Theremin and Rupture, it’s clear that word of his production has deservedly spread.
The balance between nostalgia and originality in his music is as admirable for listeners as it is baffling for budding producers. Not only have his releases been consistent in quality, but the sheer volume of music that he has put out over the course of 2020 is almost daunting to think about. Additionally, we’ve been treated to plenty of his mixes over the last year which has kept many going in these hard times. Not just being bound to jungle, it’s been a treat to get an insight into how far his musical identity spreads as his Chavinski alias provided the first release on Lobster Theremin’s sub-label Distant Horizons with UKG, house and two-step flavours. Beyond all of this, 2020 has seen his imprints – Myor Massiv and Ill Behaviour – excel with their releases (some from the man himself) and eye-catching aesthetics. To top it all off, we’ve been treated to three Christmas-themed tracks for free on his Bandcamp which sees Charlie Brown and Christmas carol samples getting the signature Bryce flip. Well worth a snoop. (Purav Parmar)
Despite only releasing three EPs this year, with one dropping on the final Bandcamp Friday of 2020, Commodo’s output has been hard to ignore. In his Loan Shark and Stakeout EPs on Black Acre earlier this year, his distinctive fusion of the Wild West with bottom-heavy beats has proven to be exactly what was needed in these times. In a similar style to most of his output, the tracks are equally fit for home listening as they are for the now empty dance floors, with his intricate but easy on the ears production. Somehow his experimental take on bass music consistently sounds effortless and almost lazy with its swing and off-beat percussion. Early December saw him drop an EP on the mighty Deep Medi, with spooky and lo-fi but high quality production spanning across three tracks to round off another year which has seen Commodo’s sound become increasingly intriguing and unique. (Purav Parmar)
Glume & Phossa
There are countless artists from the flourishing underground 140 scene that could have been included here, so narrowing down to one act was difficult. Not to discredit their impressive individual outputs, Glume & Phossa are a combined force that have helped button down a new, hard-to-pin-point sound in 140 over the last few years – fusing the deep underground UK sound with a sleek melodic edge.
Since witnessing their packed-out set at the dingy Sub Lab stage at last year’s Boomtown, the duo have been hot on my radar, and their 2020 output has not disappointed. Both their self-released Silkworm EP and Encrypted Audio releases have been distinct, yet consistent pieces of work that delicately balance that line between music for the club and music for home listening. Don’t forget to check out their dreamy track Lanterns from Samba’s multi-genre VA compilation In Bloom from earlier this year. (Scott Claridge)
Admittedly, I was a bit late to hop on the Gyrofield express, first hearing her take on drum and bass with the mind-bending Tech Flex EP on Overview. With Mel’s Teapot giving me flashbacks to early Ivy Lab liquid days and Falling In Deep pretty much re-writing genre expectations, I was hooked from the get-go. Traversing labels like DIVIDID, Pilot Records and even the mighty mau5trap, her exploration of electronic music gets deeper with each release.
The integrity of the Gyrofield brand is equally strong, with the self-described ‘e-girl’ aesthetic and often enigmatic online presence just adding to the intrigue of an artist that has been increasing in notoriety by the day. A true artist in every sense.
Make sure to check out her remix of Kumarion’s Want It on Jadu Dala for some serious aural sound design warfare. (Scott Claridge)
Another young producer who has thrived despite this year’s tumult is HØST, a multi-genre storm of a talent whose work across Hooversound, Plasma Audio and his own Ø Recordings has been nothing short of astounding. With a work rate akin to that of a large 19th-century horse, HØST produces a seamless blend of ferocious technoid rollers, earth-shattering halftime and other-worldly, genre-defying experimentation. His superb SURVIVE EP for Hooversound hovered menacingly around the 140 mark, whilst his free download Raisins demonstrated an uncanny ability to blend eerie high-end mutation with futuristic low frequencies. His talent is palpable, and we can’t wait to hear more in 2021. (Ben Hunter)
Halogenix provided me with my favourite EP of the year, as well as a whole host of other impressive releases and remixes both under his main alias and his Lordel guise. Whether he’s crafting a soulful gem or a dark, halftime workout, in terms of consistency and pure talent, he’s is at the top of the pile and simply doesn’t know how to make a bad tune.
For me, his Dragonforce EP on Critical Music showcased his very best work. Four tunes bursting with his signature deep and dark minimalism and musicianship, I wasn’t surprise it was nominated so many times in the Drum&BassArena Awards earlier this year. The only downside is I haven’t been able to hear any of it live this year! (Hannah Gowen)
You want an artist who’s delivered something genuinely different, fresh and unusual to bass music this year? You want Hannibal Rex.
Meddling with a pungent sludge of thick swampy bass, distorted beats, sleazy psychedelic rock and his own processed vocals, Rex’s sound is one that could nestle up just as nicely against a NiN, Massive Attack or Last Shadow Puppets record as it could against something by Moody Good or anything on Hyperdub.
Electronic in form, organic in spirt, greasy and slightly disarming in nature; it’s music born miles away from the dancefloor (yet would thoroughly hit you through a rig) making it a fitting soundtrack to an off-kilter year. It even caught the ears of dBridge who has said he wished he’d heard Hannibal’s EP debut before the label Kikuji did so he could have released it on Exit. Listen to the Salvador Dali-like melting guitar twangs on Responsible Liability or his bluesy desert drones and cosmic tones on The Good Times and it’s not hard to hear why.
The man behind the sounds is just as intriguing. Label legend foretells he’s an old 60s session musician who was eaten by wolves in 1998, reincarnated in a service station carpark and now lives in a dilapidated castle. Compared to the myriad of conspiracies we’ve been pummelled with earlier this year it seems pretty believable. Besides, it’s not entirely inaccurate… He’s definitely a musician. A really intriguing, currently criminally overlooked one who deals strictly in the different, fresh and unusual. (Dave Jenkins)
IMANU’s had a whole ton of tunes out during 2020; a ton of genre-bending, amazing productions. Previously known as revered producer Signal, Jonathan Kievet spins 170 on it’s already unpredictable head.
Renowned with pushing the boundaries since he emerged four years ago, this year has been especially interesting with his experiments and has been particularly handy utilising the four on the floor beat. Think chaos on a Current Value meets D.A.V.E The Drummer flex, IMANU’s output has been a frenetic futuristic sound that’s caught a lot of attention… And comes from inspired places: According to his social media, one of his most recent tunes was “inspired by a friend eating an apple on our Discord call”. Snappy. Let’s hope he comes forward with more exciting techno amalgamations in 2021. (Liohness)
Mystic State continued to deliver the vibes this year. The duo mix it up over dubstep and drum & bass, but whether it’s 140 or 170 sonics you’re into there’s literally something for everyone. Driving the deep atmospherics across different tempos, their tracks are both emotive and vast. They’re been pushing their own imprint The Chikara Project this year with their debut solo album arriving in 2020. Nearly four years in the making, My Own Private Island is a gorgeous accomplishment. Dancing between rollers, broody tech, and emotive liquid offerings; Mystic State continue to transcend and transmit quality, sometimes ethereal, electronic music. (Liohness)
You’ll struggle to find an artist who has worked harder than Rohaan this year. From the intensity of Bleach, his debut album released on Mat Zo’s label MAD ZOO, to the hours dedicated to Minecraft DJ sets with Ajunabeats, the release of his first splice pack and finally the massive £3000 raised through his music for various different charities, its clear that his head has never been more in the game. With the keys to his first studio firmly in hand, and an electronic sound that’s right on the forefront of the new sound of D&B, 2021 can only be bigger for Rohaan. (Martha Bolton)
It’s been a busy year for T>I. In March, his debut album Blank Canvas was released on Critical Music – just a month after absolutely shelling it down and leaving the label’s Studio 338 show in smoke. For many people, his set makes up their last memory of a properly big rave before COVID closed our clubs. 2020 also saw the release of several EPs and many strong collaborations from the Norwich artist, including tracks with Kasra, Kyrist and Turno – not to mention Flick The Switch, his collaboration with Inja that was bubbling on dubplate for a good year ahead of the release.
Finally, of course, a special mention goes out to the T>I b2b Upgrade livestreams for keeping so many of us sane over the past nine months, and for teaching us so much about houseplants. (Martha Bolton)
In amongst a year oozing with drum and bass talent, I don’t feel like The Sauce have fully got the recognition they deserve. They’ve downright destroyed the D&B scene this year with an assault of killer productions. 100, 3 Dots, Down Like This, Spooked, their Roll The Dice remix – all certified bangers.
Not only that, but all of these productions are so cohesive in their sound, too. From the tight drum mixdowns to the unforgettable samples, you know that this sauce is as fresh as it comes. I still find it crazy to think it’s only in the past year that DLR, Hydro and Spinback have been cooking up a storm with this joint alias. But when you look at the talent of the individuals, it’s pretty clear why their sauce is so premium… (Jake Hirst)
Undoubtedly one of the most underrated producers in the game, Tim Reaper has been pushing out modern jungle interpretations for over a decade now. Consistently churning out a string of incredibly good releases across a host of labels, his productions that fuse elements of hardcore and techno have drawn support from both the old and new school scenes.
It’s hard to imagine a music artist having a ‘good’ year in the bombshell of a year that is 2020, but Tim Reaper has adjusted to the adversity so well. After the pandemic blocked the chance of him running his new London-based club night, he realised he already had the platform to flip it around and turn it into a label. Future Retro was born. Over the past few months he’s been curating an exciting release schedule, seeing him collaborate with some of the finest underground producers from around the world on the Meeting Of The Minds project.
Elsewhere we’ve seen him return to Repertoire for his much-anticipated More Lanterns EP, featuring his electrifying VIP of Lanterns, as well as head to the leftfield techno label Lobster Theremin with Cityscapes. With an unrivalled work-rate, he’s also released on Disc World, Dalston Chillies Records and Green Bay Wax’s The Magic 3. When he’s not producing, you’re likely to find him delving deep into the archives and demonstrating his wealth of jungle knowledge on his radio show. Rooted in the culture, but with an eye for the invention, there’s no better representation of the modern jungle scene than Tim Reaper. (Paddy Edrich)
Trex is one of those artists a lot of folk mistake for being a newcomer, when in fact he’s been grafting for over 10 years and is finally getting the recognition he absolutely deserves. I’d say he’s one of the underrated, unsung heroes of the scene, but I’m unsure ‘underrated’ and ‘unsung” are accurate anymore, so perhaps it’s best to begin this by describing Trex as one of the true heroes of our scene. He’s been a tour de force these past few years and the hard work is culminating in superbly-produced productions across labels such as Randall’s Mac 2 Recordings, Sofa Sound, Dispatch, Delta9 Recordings,Bingo Bass, Four Corners Music and his own Trust Audio, which is steadily growing a seriously impressive repertoire.
The London-based beatsmith has been under Randall’s wing since about 2013, unleashing his debut album on his Mac 2 imprint in 2018, following it up with an incredible sophomore LP earlier this month entitled Fifteen Doors, and showed just how far his own journey as an artist had progressed. Bringing the old school into the new school in proper style and launching it into the future, the album showcases the many layers of Trex’s musical psyche, a psyche that crosses over into various realms of the bass spectrum. This is where his brilliance truly lies – his ability to surprise you with every production, all the while retaining that certain signature ‘oomph’.
He kicked the year off with a weapons-grade release on Delta9 Recordings (Shut Down / Rock Paper Scissors), followed by a hefty 2-tracker on his own Trust Audio imprint (Too Far / God Damn Sound) and ever since it’s been an impressive slew of releases, from his huge remix of DJ Zinc’s Bubble to the heavyweight Do Nothing EP on Sofa Sound – not to mention his Stay Calm project during lockdown, along with his 1-1 tuition – there’s been a clear evolution of his sound and journey as an artist – one that’s set him up for an even bigger 2021, and I’m all ears. (Maja Cicic)
There’s no way this artist list could be complete without mentioning Waeys, who has had a superb 2020. From beginning this decade with only single drum & bass EP under his belt, the Dutch producer has since added another spectacular EP on Overview, a debut EP on Critical and singles on Delta9, Skankandbass and DIVIDID. He blends ferocious tech with jump up textures in manner unlike any other producer around right now and the result has been a stratospheric rise, thanks in part to the excellent work done by and others at Overview Music. Mapper, from his Objection EP on the label, is a contender for track of the year, as foreboding bassline touches coalesce around fearsome jump-up inflected stabs. It’s therefore no surprise he took Best Newcomer at this year’s awards – big ups. (Ben Hunter)
Winslow is an artist that has been on my radar for a while now, and it’s pretty epic to see how much progress he has made in a short space of time. There’s just something really special about his productions. From his ability to craft unbelievably soulful cuts on Goldfat, to writing a tune about a kettle (with a solid picture showing his off), Winslow not only has the ability, but he also has the personality to match. I was pretty blown away by the production on his Home Alone EP. The chorus switch ups took me on a real journey and I wanted to listen to every second of the EP. To be able to craft the kind of progression in a tune that keeps you feeling surprised is a real skill, and Winslow has it. As a US-based artist who is still relatively new in the scene, I’m very excited to see what he conjures up next… (Jake Hirst)