The big bangers, the heart-twangers, the tracks you didn’t even know existed… From the thousands of essential bass-related productions released throughout 2020, we’ve asked our editorial team to pick just two each. Behold the gold!
Amoss & Fre4knc – Question Answer (Dispatch Recordings)
When these two artists link up, you already know there’ll be unquestionable quality on show. Their Watermark Volume 2 project hit the shelves half-way through the year, yet again demonstrating a heavyweight offering testament to the production styles of the London/Groningen link-up. Question Answer is set off by the explosive militancy of the crisp drum work, working in combination with a low sub rumble that rocks the very core of the track. Dark, sinister, techy, but undoubtedly underground, there isn’t a style of drum and bass that makes me yearn more to be in front of a system in a low-ceilinged, sweat-drenched room. God, get me back! (Paddy Edrich)
Bop – Fragile Moments (Night Owl Collective)
In a year of worldwide chaos and uncertainty, it’s natural that fans of electronic music have had 12 months of listening to music that is less dance floor orientated and more tailored to solo listening. Luckily, Bop’s Fragile Moments, narrated by an indulgent spoken word sample, has been a welcome injection of wholesome playfulness that could have been wrongly overshadowed by his album on Microfunk and EP on Hospital with Subwave this year. The dreamy pads, mischievous sub and synthetic drums form the core of the track, but it’s the deep, cheeky acid chords that tie together the atmosphere and makes this track fresh to the ears but undoubtedly a Bop production. (Purav Parmar)
Calibre – Pillow Dub (Signature)
Oh, Calibre… What a way to give 2020 that extra little bit of sparkle it so desperately needed. Pillow Dub has been a coveted dub for quite a long time – making welcome appearances in seminal sets of his over the years, like his widely celebrated XOYO residency last year – finally landing on the highly-anticipated Shelflife 6 in May. It’s one of those tunes that can pull you out of even the most horrid of moods – slapping you around playfully until you’re forced to crack a smile and get carried away with the groove.
So triumphant in its delivery, it’s yet another perfect example of Calibre taking a seemingly ‘simple’ arrangement and elevating it to pure brilliance. Throw in that deliciously playful piano that’s sprinkled throughout with that soulful vocal – this is classic Calibre in all his glory. There’s a reason everyone’s been waiting so long for this one. The dub-infused rhythm is infectious and has a real timeless quality to it, like most of his productions.
I’ve spent a good portion of the summer dancing in my room to this one. One of the greatest injustices of 2020 is letting tracks like this go by without honouring them with a little dance, and I, for one, just couldn’t let that happen. (Maja Cicic)
Camo & Krooked & Mefjus – No Tomorrow (Hospital Records)
Wow. What is there to say about this one? Austria’s three biggest production talents all under one roof, a ceiling which then proceeds to get blown into the sky by the sheer audacity of this track. Sophie Lindinger performs a veritable masterclass in vocal melancholia, her gentle tones juxtaposed with an instrumental of extra-terrestrial energy, pointed in shape, flowing in form and unbelievably crisp. This is another track which demonstrates the next generation of drum & bass, a model which may or may not be an improvement which undeniably represents an evolution. Completely and utterly unmissable. (Ben Hunter)
Coco Bryce – Flight Six Six Six (Lobster Theremin)
With the release of Coco Bryce’s Deep In The Jungle EP, it’s clear that London label Lobster Theremin is every bit as clever as its name. Flight Six Six Six is a busy track. A breakbeat kick drum, the occasional crescendo snare roll, and the multi-tiered polyrhythms that are so classic to jungle are tied together by a rolling arpeggio synth that sounds simultaneously like an old school acid house track and an airplane crashing to the ground. It’s fitting, then, that the sample heard at the beginning of the track is taken from a documentary about a plane losing its bearings in the Bermuda Triangle.
In a year that is starting to feel increasingly like being lost in the Bermuda Triangle, Coco Bryce is truly guiding us home with this release – a chunk of good old-fashioned jungle fun. (Martha Bolton)
Dimension & Culture Shock – Love To Give Ft Billy Lockett (Dimension)
This choice was really reaffirmed when I checked my Spotify wrapped and my most played song of 2020 was Love To Give by Dimension and Culture Shock. When I think of this song, I think of crowds full of ravers, a field full of festival goers, and happier times. Though we never got to hear this song in the height of summer at our favourite festival, Love To Give represents love, happiness and good times with our loved ones. It has picked me up on days where life has seemed really grey and hyped me up on the better days.
Billy Lockett’s vocals are so emotive and intertwine perfectly with Dimension and Culture Shock’s unsurprisingly brilliant melodies. We expect nothing less from these two dancefloor giants. Though it may be quite a simple track at base level, I just cannot deny how catchy and mood-lifting it has been for me this year.
The breakdown still gives me goosebumps. I truly cannot wait for clubs and festivals to reopen so I can hear this song booming from a massive rig, and just embrace the feeling of being alive while surrounded by people who feel the same. (Hannah Gowen)
DKN – The Peak (Subtitles)
There’s something bad about this track. It begins rather ominously, the tones predict perhaps a techy or deep flex. But what we get is a surprisingly stripped-back affair. Credit to DKN, this track shows how fantastic just a few well balanced elements can be. Rude hip hop samples guide the track and spit attitude either side of the drop. There’s a delicious moment of irony in the second build up when the track says “hey, I never wanna waste your time”, DKN my G, The Peak was one of the best five minutes I spent this year. DJs amongst us, this track is beyond sick on the double drop. (Liohness)
FD – The Feeling (The North Quarter)
Taken from FD’s Lanta Nights EP, The Feeling, featuring KinKai, is rolling hip-hop funk at its best. Stylistically it smacks of Lenzman’s work with Children of Zeus, as KinKai moves seamlessly between bouncing raps and effortlessly soulful songwriter flourishes. The snare is taut, the hi-hats are crisp and the whole vibe is one of nonchalant sophistication. It’s just a bloody cool track from one of drum & bass’ most versatile producers, and one which you can imagine playing perfectly in almost any setting: big stage gig, small room rave and late night bedroom listening. Big ups. (Ben Hunter)
GLXY & Degs – Young Hearts (GLXY & Degs)
For a track that came together in no more than five days, Young Hearts had perhaps the most replay value of any drum and bass tune in 2020 for me. Not only is it the stirring piano loop that provides the backdrop for Degs’ heartfelt poetry, nor is it purely the sleek drums and crisp production running through the track – the beauty of this song comes in its poignant message and its timing.
The direct conversation on institutionalised racism as raw as it is powerful, and the emotion in Degs’ voice can be felt more with each listen. Music and politics will always be deeply intertwined, and this is a perfect reminder of that. (Scott Claridge)
Halogenix – Independent (Critical Music)
Choosing your favourite tracks of the year is an impossible task. I have listened to more drum and bass this year than ever before, and the hundreds of tunes that have blessed my ears have all been uniquely brilliant in different ways. To decide on my favourites, I had to think of a couple of songs that immediately come to mind when I think of my soundtrack to 2020. Halogenix’s Independent dropped and everybody stopped and listened.
Everything from the silky-smooth vocals to the groovy bass blends together to make a tune that I can only describe as immaculate. Each section seems to be chiselled to perfection, with the various synths and details proving that this track was crafted with such care and affection. The outro by itself is art, as Halogenix uses raw piano to conclude a musically intricate track, full of interesting sounds and textures that make it such brilliant D&B. Once again, a great example of soulful and deep bass. (Hannah Gowen)
Harriet Jaxxon – The Sound (Drum&BassArena)
The massive dancefloor debut of renowned DJ Harriet Jaxxon came smashing into the beatport drum & bass charts this year. Harriet is known for her mad energetic sets, which flip all over the spectrum from RAM Records to scatty jungle selections. Always upbeat, and always explosive, her track The Sound embodies everything wicked about dancefloor d&b. It’s got that chugging trance like energy fit to fill up a stadium, when you hear it you can imagine the strobes, the sweat, and reaching for lasers! Harriet Jaxxon seriously deserves the headline status she’s achieved amongst so many male peers. Buzzing to see what she comes up with next! (Liohness)
Heron Flow – Rolex Groove (CNVX)
As weird and challenging as 2020 has been, artists have been rolling music out steady and fast, and for me it really takes something special to get me coming back to a tune… When Rolex Groove landed on Kid Drama’s CNVX imprint it didn’t just grab my attention, it commanded it and downright distracted me with its intriguing ingenuity. From its nostalgic and powerfully ethereal intro, to the way it steps into the rhythm, there’s something so fresh and unique about the arrangement that it’s become one of my most-played tracks of 2020, and I’ve only had it for two months…
Brought to us by mysterious new act Heron Flow – it has all the markings of an established artist launching a new alias to experiment with new sounds and let the music do the talking, and boy, does it have a lot to say.
Three simple, yet powerful words are sprinkled throughout, and they’re so beautifully processed that every time I hear them it feels like the first time – Take Your Time. Emotive, nostalgic and futuristic all in one – it’s an absolute masterpiece of a tune, and I can’t wait to hear what else they’ve got cooking. (Maja Cicic)
Ivy Lab – Teacup (2020 LDN)
2020 will live on in our minds as the year that shafted dance music. With the closure of clubs in both lockdowns, the meagre government funding and the ban on dancing that left venues reluctant to host anything above 130bpm, many of us have struggled to fill the bass-shaped hole in our lives. Where would we all be without the sheer resilience of artists like Ivy Lab?
In October, the duo announced they would be releasing 15 tracks before the end of the year, and last month, Teacup exploded into existence. The track’s rolling melody – sometimes tech-y, sometimes glitchy, always industrial – intuitively weaves its way between a heavy and distorted bassline. Soaked in paranoia from start to finish, the first 30 seconds combine heavily filtered strings and warped, radio static vocals, creating an effect that is how one might imagine it would sound if the cassette melted halfway through a Hitchock film. At the halfway mark, after some mega bass and a monumental drop, the track’s fever seems to break, and a buttery melody carries us through to it’s trance-like end. To put it simply, the power behind this track makes me cry – and is certainly justification for Ivy Lab’s recent resilient commitment to halftime and beats. (Martha Bolton)
Klinical – Blind Mosaics (Overview Music)
Klinical has been high up my list of drum and bass producers since hearing his Africa EP on Lifestyle Music in 2018, however the maturation in sound over the last year has pushed him up the list exponentially. His second outing on Overview Music, the Violet EP not only rewrote the Klinical rulebook, but also stands (in my opinion) as one of the most forward-thinking releases of the year in drum and bass.
Haunting keys, granular textures and arpeggiated synth lines delicately combine to create the haunting intro to Blind Mosaics, acting as a welcome introduction to this shift in sonics. The track is simultaneously beautiful and hard hitting, with enough elements of both the Klinical and Overview sounds palettes that we are familiar with by now to keep us in check. (Scott Claridge)
Peshay – Dreamer (Peshay Music)
Peshay is one of those artists who has done so much throughout his illustrious career, but he doesn’t necessarily get the credit for it. Maybe this is because he doesn’t like to focus on the past, but instead wants to look ahead to what is next. That’s the sense I get from his music – a drive to take all of his influences and create something fresh. Throughout 2020 Peshay has been one of the most consistent producers in drum and bass, but his tracks have not got the exposure they deserve. Dreamer is one of them. Coming in at over 7 minutes long, this tune is an incredibly soulful explosion of feel good energy. Whether it’s Peshay showing his appreciation for a well-crafted intro, the jazzy instrumentation, or Abbie Adi’s stunning vocals, there’s just something about this track that fills you with joy. If anyone is ever feeling down, then this track will give you the lift you need to help you keep pushing. (Jake Hirst)
Subp Yao – Reelwitu (YUKU)
If you’ve not had the full immersive pleasure of Subp Yao’s album Infra Aqual yet, a deep dive is highly advisable. As the Dutch beatmaker explained in an interview with us last month, his third album is a concept LP based around themes of deep sea; its creatures, its vast unexplored terrains and the fact that we, as humans, have been battering it for years and now we’re almost past the point of non sustainable return.
As a result, the album has spacious yet tense sense of tumult running throughout it as a result of its influences… Until you hit this little puppy towards the end. Sitting somewhere around the UKG / breaks / beats axis, Reelwitu is a startling moment in the LP’s story arc. A beam of sunlight piercing through dark cloud of crude oil basslines, it’s the type of track that makes you stop in your tracks and re-check what you’re listening to.
Take away the context of the album and it’s still an absolute dreamboat. With its gently insistent breaks and pitched up vocal sample, it’s a real prowler of a track that stirs unhurriedly into a sugar-sweet bomb. Growing in euphoric mass like a wave building up and crashing down on every 32, this is a moment of electronic beauty that – fittingly for a unique year like 2020 – sounds just as powerful on headphones or any domestic speakers as it would in a club. Reel talk. (Dave Jenkins)
Sully – Werk (Astrophonica)
Floating around as a dub for too long for jungle enthusiasts, Sully’s headbanging Werk is a track that has been turning heads for what feels like years with its wild and choppy drumwork. The distinctively pitched and musical drums, weighty sub and playful yet deadly serious kung-fu samples all take turns hypnotically keeping you on your toes. Sully’s ability to find groove and space in and amongst utter chaos within an arrangement that is far from lazy is what makes Werk stand out from all other tracks released this year and demonstrates that his creativity has grown along with his confidence in the studio. (Purav Parmar)
Workforce – Heart crossed (Must Make)
It’s fair to say all of us were pretty gutted when Spectrasoul announced they were parting ways, but when you see the life that Workforce has taken on since the departure, it makes the split a bit easier to take. Heart Crossed is a production typifying this. There’s something so eerily beautiful about the melody and the way it gently builds up such a dreamy soundscape before bursting into life with those delicate vocals and grungy bass notes. It’s an absolutely stupendous tune that deserves to be played all the way through. So many people have been hammering this in their sets and it is no surprise as to why. I’m expecting big things from Workforce in 2021! (Jake Hirst)
Woven Thorns- From Grace (Locus Sound)
Formerly known as Kālī, Denver-based Woven Thorns continued her rebirth with a three-track helping of sonic experimentation on Locus Sound. The title track From Grace is an exploration into the darker roots of dubstep music, juxtaposing a depravity with an ordered beauty like nothing else heard this year. Packed full of space and depth, she encourages the listener to delve into the shadowy corners with uncompromising ease, as the cinematic composition engulfs the track in a haze of creeping eeriness. I remember hearing it for the first time after being sent it by a friend and being transfixed by the introductory piano and reverberating mid stab that fills the track. The result is an absolutely stellar example of what good dubstep should be! (Paddy Edrich)
Zero T – Jazz Tone (Sofa Sound)
Here’s the 411; Zero T is one of the most consistent, versatile and talented producers in action. He can batter you senseless with sheet metal breakbeats and outer-planetary jazz stabs, just like he did with Beta 2 on Exiles. Or he can bring calm at the brush of a snare as he has here with Jazz Tone on Sofa Sound. He can deliver any type of subtle or slamming flavour in between, and has done so this year with a pretty generous selection of releases from his Former Self EP on The North Quarter to a really interesting release on The Outlaw Ocean Music inspired by the repotting of journalist Ian Urbina (it’s well worth checking) But there’s something about Jazz Tone that shines the most for me. The pianos, the jazzy chords, the spacey sci-fi FX and details, that velvet subby groove that just bubbles and purrs and the gentle ebb and flow of the track capture the essence of true soulful drum & bass. Nobody’s dissing your fly girl when you’re playing beats like these. (Dave Jenkins)