Which artists have really impressed you this year? Who has constantly delivered exciting music and/or torn the dance apart live? Who has turned your head inside out with their constructions and production perspective?
Whether it’s continual A-class OG consistency, a turbo-charged rise to the top of the pile or a project so unique it makes everything seem dull in comparison – 2016 has given us a great spread of satisfaction sources from the return of out-and-out legends of the game to fresh young future headliners, the bass talent pool is in rude health across all genres.
Here are 15 examples of the rudeness levels we’re talking, as picked by our editorial team…
This year Agressor Bunx has taken what I thought I knew about drum & bass essentially driven an army tank over it and crushed it. 2016 has seen them churn out a consistent slew of releases that are simply out-of-this-world. The Ukrainian brothers of course epitomise that pure Eatbrain sound, producing a relentless amount of unique, innovative and futuristic sounds that I, nor anybody, can begin to fathom. Their breakdowns (if you can call them that), like Scream for example, are the most intense part of their production to me. It’s this uncompromising, continuous, could keep rolling for what feels like forever, feeling. They achieve the most experimental and unusual sounds. Some tracks have sounded like you’re stepping into an eerie haunted house (The Curse), some like cyborgs fighting to the death (Amnesia). And it’s never just a track with them – it’s always a story. Definitely not one to hear before bedtime for sure. What I personally love most about Agressor Bunx is that their sounds are not just dark, but it’s in the name… they are bloody aggressive. Release after release, it’s always a screw your face up in ‘disgust’ banger. So for me, they’ve killed it this year. (Candice Fernandez)
It started with another volume of his comprehensive Shelflife albums, it ended with his unique dubby, techno album Grow: 2016 has been another exceptional year for Calibre. Somewhere between these two waymarks came distinctive cuts such as the gritty head-rattler Iron Balls and the pneumatic pressure funk collaboration Christiansen with dBridge. Prolific yet still shrouded in clouds of mystery and enigma, the Belfast artist has never followed trend or tactics and continues to defy the less-is-more rule with premium proliferation and a creative scope that makes most artists scratch their heads unfathomably. Oh, and he finally got round to digitising his 15 years of Signature releases this year. In case his current output wasn’t quite enough. What a time to be a Calibre fan. (DJ)
In a year where dubstep seemed to somehow continue to split further down the petty divides of the deeper more “headsy” sound (I’m loathe to use the term dungeon or minimal) and its noisier more tearout younger sibling it was fair to say all either end of the 140bpm spectrum achieved was further levels of boredom and stagnation.
As genres like grime flourished with new talent and revitalised attitudes it felt like the majority of the dubstep heavy hitters were content to merely double down on well-worn signature sounds or submerge themselves gently into the financially warm but tepid waters of throwback nights and vinyl only oldschool sets.
Luckily Chestplate label boss and dubstep founding father Distance had no such plans for complacency. Taking more of a “destroy to rebuild” approach Distance went to ground for the majority of 2016 only to resurface in October with his third LP (and arguably best yest) Dynamis.
Sonically the release sounded like nothing else out there nor anything from Distance’ own extensive back catalogue: fusing the widescreen grandeur and detail of Hans Zimmer’s filmic output to the head nodding grooves of modern trap and hip-hop, all still unified by the weight and atmosphere of classic Distance.
It takes some balls to do a left turn such as this at any point in an artistic career, but to do it in a year when potential revenue streams are becoming increasingly nebulous, half the venues you can earn money DJing in are getting shut down by soulless property development and you could quite happily just trade on your legacy for the whole 12 months is a truly bold statement of intent. Pass GO, collect your two hundred bags and take yourself straight to the nearest pub DJ Distance. (Matt Bayfield)
With solid competition from various other names that I have to shout out, such as Richie Brains and Homemade Weapons, there was eventually only one clear answer here. For me, Felix Manuel is a pacemaker in electronic music, his versatile signature style is distinguishable in all genres he tackles, where often his releases form into beautiful ballad-type epics. With only one release, 2015 was quiet for Djrum. But thankfully all that was absent last year was present this in year, tenfold.
Imagine each release on 2ND Drop’s three EP campaign, like a chapter in a thrilling, emotive Djrum audio book. The Forgetting EP, LA EP, and Space Race EP all showcased a variety of different genres, which he executes in his own textbook style. Hints towards techno, speed-garage, drum and bass and somehow even more, are woven together with the use of jungle and break beat cuts. Like composing an orchestral ensemble with one hand and running it all through hardware with the other, Djrum balanced it all perfectly this year, the best of which I will discuss later on on this page…
Not to mention his majestic release on Illian Tape as himself and his rumoured Struction moniker, as well as a remix of War on Methlab. Suprême. (Reuben)
Fred V & Grafix
After having a relatively quiet 2015 by their standards, Fred V & Grafix excelled themselves in 2016, kicking of the year with the incredible Ultraviolet single, followed by a variety of remixes and their highly anticipated second studio album – Oxygen. Through venturing into other genres and focusing on upbeat basslines and euphoric vocals, this year Fred V & Grafix showcased the strength and variety of their meticulous productions. They’ve always been known for their powerful synths and hard-hitting snares, but this year we have seen a new side to the duo – the sublime genre-blending capabilities of their productions. It’s a new direction for Fred V & Grafix, but one that is showing much promise. (Jake Hirst)
Jauz is operating on a major scale here: Chomping into every genre and mainstage possible with his bass house killer instinct, he’s given the EDM cognoscenti an opportunity to try something a little to the left of the genre’s cookie-cutter anthems. Tiesto even looked cool for a minute with their Infected collaboration. In fact collaborations have been a key theme to his year with notably tag-team tear-ups with Netsky on the 4×4 thriller Higher, the broken-beat stab session OK with San Holo and the red sea savagery of Shark Attacks with the Megalodon collaboration that was on the cards before the two sea dogs were even born. Further evidence of his dominance closer to home was his sold out shows over here in the UK. A far cry from the stadiums he’s been tearing down in the US, this was a chance for him to get back to his club roots… Naturally he tore us all a new one. (DJ)
Joyryde killed it this year. From starting the year off with a Rick Ross collab to being Skrillex’s choice for opening tune on Boiler Room, Joyryde’s gone from strength to strength all year without showing any signs of slowing down and adhering to any speed limits. (Sampo Kaskia)
Has LSB produced a bad tune yet? I don’t think so. He’s the man behind some of my favourite releases from the past few years (Leave, The View etc) but this year he truly cemented himself as one of the best in the business. The late bloomer’s debut album, Content, is every bit as good as everyone predicted; it’s a shining example of how liquid drum & bass should be done and features arguably his finest track to date in Missing You.
On top of treating us to Content he also smashed Mixmag’s live lab to bits. It’s rare to see drum & bass DJs feature in the magazine’s weekly office bash but surely after this masterclass the editors will be eager to get more of them in (we can only hope). In 2016 he’s asserted himself as both one of the most astute selectors and most talented producers around. After grafting away under the radar since 2000, Luke Beavon is proof that hard work and dedication pays off. (Robin Murray)
We don’t need to list every reason why Noisia have flat-out dominated this year. You already know why. For any doubters, see the video of their Outer Edges concept show, listen to the Outer Edges album, watch their powerful Mantra video or go and eat a hairy donut. Your choice.
If you ever meet Sam Reeves, do yourself a favour and have a sit-down chat. This guy has the most incredible story of adventure, risk, and basically telling the conventional world to kick rocks while he creates his own path. Sam knew he wanted to work with Hospital from the get-go, and that was the motivation for every decision in his young adult life. After moving himself to LA as a teenager, and then to London shortly after, all while perfecting his craft and somehow staying a sane teenager, while even homeless at times. Clearly, this life experience has translated well into writing. Ownglow’s debut EP A Walk To Remember is a collection of personality, creativity and a splash of nostalgia that creates a daydream-esque experience… It even enjoyed a cheeky vinyl press – something not all new artists can say for their debut EP. This year was massive for Ownglow. I have no doubt 2017 is looking even brighter. (Tabitha Neudorf)
Pola & Bryson
Every decade or so an artist, or artist(s) in a group will come together and give everything a good kick up the ass. In my personal opinion, Pola & Bryson are that group. With only a few years in the public scene (but countless years under the hood perfecting their craft,) Pola & Bryson, self-released an entire album, landed world-wide support including a Friction guest mix, and been nominated at the Drum&BassArena Awards. With their album entitled This Time Last Year, they not only landed their foot in the door, but they pried it open and shared with the world what they’re truly made of. Over the next few years, I’m quite certain that they will be recognized as one of drum and bass’s most exciting acts. (Shane Consouls)
Rewind 10 months: Before Brexit. Before Trump. Before all sorts of horrible, hateful headlines and even more dead musicians than we could have possibly imagined, there were six words on everyone’s lips… who the fuck is Richie Brains? IDs littering the playlists of key DJs, pictures on social media pages, stickers on lampposts everywhere from Dusseldorf to Dulwich… The imagery, mystery and planning behind this project had us all hooked. The antithesis of throw away bangers, there was substance, a story and some type of soul (albeit a googly eyed, freaky soul)
Then boom: in May Richie’s true identity was revealed the same night the album landed. A gully Voltron comprising Alix Perez, Chimpo, Fixate, Fracture, Om Unit, Sam Binga and Stray (plus the master puppeteer role of dBridge who brought them together and facilitated the three-studio filled sessions that most of their album was written in) their Who Is Richie Brains album confidently romps through the spectrum from deep atmospherics (SK8 M8) to necksnap juke jungle (Heartbreaker) by way of hoodlum acid house (The Nine Two Three)
Seven for the price of one – all players involved have delivered some incredible sounds this year as solo artists but together they form something that’s larger than life. Easily one of the best stories in bass music this year. (DJ)
The calibre of production within D&B has been seriously raised this year, with more artists impressing me with their unconventional, forward-thinking style. One of the most outstanding examples of this has been man like Skeppy. If you’ve ever met the guy in person you’d never know the warm-hearted, endlessly polite individual standing before you was responsible for some of the most disgustingly menacing basslines you’ve ever heard.
Few artists leave me standing there thinking “what the actual f%$# am I hearing??” – in the best possible way of course – and yet Skeptical manages to do that with every new release, every remix, every set, and every mix he seamlessly weaves together. While many are into ‘bangers’ and focus their attention around the drop, artists like Skeptical bring a whole new level of production to the fore, focusing instead on the subtleties of bass – manipulating it, twisting it, and straight up bending it to create the most unnatural, and yet intriguing patterns and arrangements known to man.
From his Outset EP on Exit late last year, to his impeccable work with Alix Perez, dBridge and more, not to mention his sets at Outlook and fabric among others, Skeptical is truly an enigma who consistently keeps you guessing. With a new EP with Alix Perez due on Exit early next year, I can’t wait to see what else he’s got in store for 2017. (Maja Cicic)
I’m admittedly quite new to the whole bass house movement, but when Royal T, DJ Q and Flava D joined forces to become TQD I knew enough to know this was big news. I managed to catch each of them separately at various events before experiencing them as a unified ensemble, and this worked out to be the perfect lead up to my first immersive TQD experience.
I saw Royal T at an intimate gig with P Money in Sydney, DJ Q bringing the vibes at Outlook Festival, and Flava D rinsing at various spots across London before I caught all 3 of them at an ADE after party this year. They had the seemingly impossible task of following DJ EZ, and what I witnessed that evening was a sheer display of wizardry ‘pon the decks, eliciting energy from the crowd I hadn’t experienced outside of D&B before. The room was straight up rowdy from start to finish, me included. The best thing about them is that they’re having as much fun together as the crowd are watching them, and that energy is straight up infectious. These guys are definitely ones to watch in 2017 – if you get the chance to see them live then do yourself a favour and get in the front row. (Maja Cicic)
During the span of the past few years, Virtual Riot has gone from zero to hero. Okay, maybe Valentin Brunn was never considered a zero, but most of us can remember a time not so long ago when the fanfare surrounding this musician could barely hold a candle to the amount of support he receives nowadays.
Oddly enough, I can actually pinpoint the exact moment when I became 100% certain that Mr. Riot was destined for bigger and better things in this dog-eat-dog world of dubstep. It all started with my favorite song from 2015, We’re Not Alone. While I had previously spent a considerable bit of time combing through this artist’s decorated catalog, it was this particular release that essentially solidified everything I had come to believe about this German gentlemen.
Then VR’s 2016 hit the bass music faithful like a category five hurricane! Between his numerous releases (mostly on Disciple Records), requests for live bookings from every corner of the globe, and a dubstep anthem that absolutely dominated the airwaves (see: “Borg”), the man commonly referred to as the preset pacesetter really made hay while the sun was up. Very few producers display more promise than Virtual Riot. (Barrett Nelson)