The music industry absolutely fucking cratered this year. The coronavirus pandemic showed exactly what everyone knew for years; that it was all built with an incredibly shaky foundation. Obviously the whole capitalist system we live in caved in entirely foreseeable ways. Who knew that by relying on businesses to perform exactly as they are regardless of the situation was a mistake. A government that refuses to support individuals rather than businesses is entirely culpable.
Artists who have to rely on live events suddenly had their entire income disappear meaning they had to rely on song and album sales plus the paltry cents earned from streaming service providers. Virtual events have tried to step in, but those didn’t earn the same traffic, paychecks or occur at the same veracity that a touring schedule did. Bandcamp did its best and started giving artists 100% of the revenue from their album sales on the first Fridays of April, then May and then June. Even they eventually had to cave and extend that through the end of the year (the last one for the foreseeable future just occurred on December 4th). But in the age of steaming, record sales are an imperfect solution as the vast majority of listeners don’t purchase albums. Large streaming corporations on the other hand doubled down on their position that they owe artists nothing.
Artists still put in fucking work. The releases this year were absolutely incredible. I’ve stockpiled such a large amount of new and returning favorites that it’s been honestly hard to listen back through everything. And somewhat ironically, dance music has been top notch. The majority of my listening has all been dance tracks keeping me energized while I’ve been holed up in my apartment. So here are some of my favorite artists and releases from the year that are well worth your money and attention. And if you can, please support on Bandcamp; it may not change the world or the industry but it at least puts money in the artists pocket.
Haus of Altr & MoMa Ready
To say that MoMa Ready’s label occupied the most space in my brain and music library this year is an understatement. Both his music and wider releases were the tracks I reached for the most. The three compilations are fantastic front to back and occupy a similar genre space that his music does; finding the connecting through line from house to jungle, dnb, techno, and R&B. Smooth house would transition to rough and tumble techno and even hands in the air trance approximations. The compilations also introduced me to a ton of new favorites like DJ Swisha, Kush Jones, and Amal amongst heavy hitters like Bearcat and Akua. He put the icing on the cake with his last release of the year, Haus Psychology, and I haven’t stopped playing Saving Grace since.
There’s a lot of music on my list that I can’t believe came out this year because it felt like I’ve been listening to it forever. This applies to Hooversound, my new favorite label that puts out genres of music I never really listened to before them. The new label by Naina and Sherelle specializes in fast weapons, starting with the BS6 EP from Sinistarr & Hyroglifics. The EP is 5 tracks of footwork that doesn’t dip below 155 bpm. It’s energetic and catchy and absolutely effective at getting you to move. Releases like BS6 broadened my tastes to include faster tracks and when I felt weird being cooped up it was so cathartic to put these on and get lost in dance floor reveries. Hooversound put out 5 amazing EPs this year and much like Haus of Altr, they snuck out a banger one before the end of the year. “You” by Private Caller has quickly become my new pump up jungle track.
Speaking of jungle, it’s artists like Tim Reaper that have again gotten me further into a genre that I hadn’t listened to before. MoMa Ready and AceMo had primed for it and Tim Reaper’s take on the genre slotted right in. He’s able to find that similar intersection across genres like in Sequences 2 where a thumping bass line and jittery hi hats coalesce with flanger and lovely house vocals. It recalls some of my favorite house music moments, the euphoric feeling that comes from soulful vocals and upbeat music, only at double the speed. He can still create dark and deadly jungle tracks too. His Truants mix this year was one of my favorites and is definitely worth a listen (you can also support Truants on Patreon).
Unequivocally the biggest pump up techno EP of the year. It is 100% peak-time and absolutely slamming front to back. The music meshes pummeling bass with sporadic drums that make you want to jump along. Jump-up would be an accurate definition for the music, especially on the False Witness co-produced track Overheat. If it were any other year, the track’s whistles and chopped vocals would cause dance floor upheaval.
India Jordan’s tremendous 2019 continued over into 2020 with their For You EP. It’s title track and I’m Waiting (Just 4 U) are catchy filter house tracks that capture the best parts of the genre. Soulful vocals and a 4/4 bassline mesh together to make two emotive and hands-in-the-air songs. The rest of the EP is dedicated to similar throwback genres; Rave City, Westbourne Ave, and Dear Nan King recall some of the best emotive prog and trance from the early 2000s. The whole 6-track EP is brimming with emotion; these are all songs that’ll make you move and cry in the same instant.
LSDXOXO is my gateway into wider pop and club music. For as varied as my dance music consumption can be, other music genres I’m much more picky about (especially pop). LSDXOXO mixes pop songs with techno and ballroom, making bouncy and hyperactive dance tracks. His mixtape Waiting 2 Exhale glides across genres starting off with a bang before slowing down into R&B ballads. Also bonus points for releasing a pack of edits that includes a club edit for Die Another Day.
This one actually came from a Twitter post by LSDXOXO. Vladimir Dubyshkin released a couple of EPs on Nina Kraviz’s label Trip, so I was expecting more minimally focused big room techno. Instead his music is the bounciest techno you’ll ever hear. It’s joyful techno, most tracks based around a springy bassline looped to perfection. Caught me completely off guard and I couldn’t stop listening.
Eris Drew & Octa Octa
These two have never gone wrong. Every single EP, album or mix is always top notch fun house music in all its shapes and permutations. They’ve reached a legend status in my mind and I’m always incredibly excited when either of them release something new. Which makes their new collaborative Fabric mix something to celebrate. It meets the seal of approval, 69 minutes of positive energy filled with house, garage, NRG and everything in between. I almost forgot too that Eris Drew released her Fluids of Emotion EP this year. They are three slices of emotive house music, especially So Much Love to Give.
The queen of snaking rhythms is back. A new DJ mix from Avalon Emerson is always a cause for celebration and her DJ Kicks includes some great new originals as well. New tracks like Poodle Power and Rotting Hills are the kinds of music she’s known for, drum heavy slow builds with emotive synths, but her cover of Long Forgotten Fairytale by The Magnetic Fields is tremendous electro-pop. That’s not to mention a fun and varied mix with plenty of peak-time moments nestled next to pop breakdowns.
Obviously I would have loved the last year to not be in the midst of a global pandemic and be able to go to all sorts of concerts, but it’s an especially big shame that Amnesia Scanner wasn’t able to tour out in support of their new album. That’s not selling Tearless short; it’s another great ride through their grimy version of EDM (or Avant-EDM as it’s been dubbed). Just like Another Life, it’s full of trap-like beats with shredding, distorted guitars, high pitched vocals, and grinding samples. It’s sensory overload in the best possible way, which is their bread and butter. What I wouldn’t give to see them perform on a huge system again.
Kelly Lee Owens
Kelly Lee Owens music fits nicely into two categories; orchestral, vocal pop music and banging techno tracks. On her self-titled first album, she split the difference right down the middle with the front half being the former and the more club tracks in the back half. Her new album Inner Song does an even better job of walking that tightrope, nicely segueing back and forth between the two different styles. Her tracks do an even better job of that as well; Re-Wild mixes in trap beats and rising synths behind her vocals and calls to mind some of Purity Ring’s best songs. Opening track Arpeggi walks a balance between the two styles even without her vocals with steadily increasing synths and sparse drumming. My favorite track Night, starts with airy vocals and a driving drum beat before they disappear for a thumping acid bassline. It recalls some of the ideas that Daniel Avery was pulling from for his seminal Drone Logic, which Kelly Lee Owens collaborated on. Just a great album front to back.