2020 was a historically bad year, but without the welcome distraction of music, it might’ve been even worse. Now it’d be foolish pretending the restorative power of music did anything to vanquish infection rates, racial unrest or class inequality. In fact, illegal parties and so-called plague raves only helped exacerbate these issues, in dance music and wider society. People tend to moralise the events on a supremely biased scale, ranging from justifiable counterculture necessity to cynical commercial exploitation. But really and truly it’s all the same shit. So with all that said, what’s the upshot?
Well, in a year where people were willing to pay a premium for escapism, convenience, and convenient escapism, music did most of its entertainment free of charge. Lockdown was infinitely less boring thanks to the amount of glowing livestreams lining the top of Instagram’s display like slot machine buttons primed for payout. Whether on Instagram, Twitch or Facebook, big name and bedroom DJs alike leapt at the chance to play tunes for a captive audience, with legends like DJ EZ and Fabio & Grooverider playing herculean 24 hour sets, engaging their substantial followings to raise money for charity. Wireless, Reading & Leeds, Refraction, Unsound and Tomorrowland to name a few festivals went virtual. Some more successfully than others, but all providing a welcome alternative to the aforementioned predicament. Meanwhile Spotify continued bumping artists to oblivion, but Bandcamp day gave creators a much needed chance to reap some well deserved financial rewards amidst all the freeness.
On a more personal level, whether going for a walk with your headphones on or plotting in the park with members of your household and a bluetooth speaker. Meditating to your favourite artists back catalogue for days at a time or getting some strobelights and substances for a rave in your living room. Music played it’s part in making the loneliness and monotony less mind numbing and soul destroying. 2021 is shaping up to be more of the same so I’ll be hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. In the meantime remember; misery loves company, and craves a soundtrack.
AceMoma - Essential Mix
New York producer/DJs Moma Ready and AceMo have a style rooted in spirit rather than any particular sound. Their intoxicating blend of jungle, techno, rave and house is a potent club music cocktail that pummels the gut and sledgehammers the head; like a stalking boxer pinning their foe to the ropes and exacting a pound of flesh. It’s the sweet science at 160bpm or thereabouts, both visceral and cerebral, violent but beautiful. The duo’s rise in profile over the past two years belies the work put in when the dance music media machine was looking elsewhere. This isn’t overnight underground superstardom, but a by-product of making shit happen and trusting the process. Building infrastructure via local club nights at Bossa Nova Civic Club and radio shows on The Lot. Working with and putting on your peers, and, eventually, gatecrashing the gatekeepers. BBC’s Essential Mix has a woeful track record when it comes to representing anything other than white male DJs, so its first entry of 2021 kicking off with dancefloor fireworks from those who “assume the role of vanguard in the war against white supremacy in electronic music” is another well deserved scalp for HAUS of ALTR and the black voices they amplify. A New Dawn if you will.
Apple - The Sound of UK Funky
North London’s Apple played a pivotal role in the mid-noughties, when funky was poised to knock garage from its perch in the nation’s summertime playlist. Fast forward a decade (and some change) later and the enigmatic producer who pioneered the sound has that 2006 feeling again. His recent ‘Inna Ya Bongoclart’ EP is a technicolour version of the pitch black percussion radiating from labels like Even The Strong and Nervous Horizon. Part afrohouse, part amapiano and part funky 2.0, it’s arrival on Housupa; the label founded by funkys original curator in chief Supa D, is a promising sign of things to come. In his latest mix for Mixmag, Apple gives us a funky history lesson full of jagged homegrown grooves and imported soulful house staples. The sequence of Tadow’s “Horns”, Sinbad’s “Soul Fever”, Geeneus’s “Emotions” and Omar’s “It’s So” demonstrates the shear wealth and depth of styles the genre synthesised. By combining something old, something borrowed and something new, producers like Apple created a sound that stimulates the senses, stirs the shoulders and stalks the streets whenever the sun shines bright.
Bluetoof ESO / Observa Mix 025
Imagine a doctor pronouncing your mate clinically dead, only to see said mate walking down the street a few weeks later. Now replace “your mate” with garage (or grime, jungle, acid), and swap out “a doctor” for a narrative. Since its commercial apex and apparent demise in the early noughties, UKG has been through a number of press-led “revivals''. But momentum is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s context, not critics, we should pay the most attention to. For the Glasgow-born, London-based Bluetoof and the cluster of crews (BBS, ATW), artists (Ollie Rant, Izco) and labels (Gather, Dim Sum) he works with, the aforementioned genres have been alive and kicking for quite some time. I first came across Bluetoof and his sub-heavy blend of reanimated rave, garage and electro through a lively b2b with Interplanetary Criminal on Oneman’s online takeover of FOLD nightclub in East London. These two mixes, hosted on Observa and Bristol party/collective ESO’s mix series respectively, share some of the same unreleased, self produced tracks, plus more exciting and unidentifiable bits of bassy breakcore. Plug in.
Dweezy D - In My Feelings on Jupiter At 5am
“We don’t battle, we inspire” is the motto of Housewarmers, a dance troupe-cum-DJ collective who’ve spent the past seven years bringing people together for the love of house. The dance class founded by Everton “Evo-Lution” Bell-Chambers welcomes all age groups into various studios across South London, charging attendees a meagre sum for an invaluable safe space. Housewarmers heavy emphasis on good vibes, inclusivity and self-expression has fostered a strong sense of community across a generation of ravers. It resulted in noble enterprises such as raising over £5000 for the Dancing for Diabetes charity, and more dancefloor-driven objectives like throwing parties, livening up music videos with their intricate brand of cutting shapes choreography, and incubating the underground sounds of deeptech. Dweezy D is one of their resident DJs (alongside Instagram live favourite JAYDA), a true believer in the London house scene and has some of the tightest blends around. His latest offering is a frantically mixed goody bag of glitched out bangers like Leon Dale’s “The Box (edit)” and haywire rhythms from Studio 37, Carnao Beats and more. Kitchen crew assemble.
KG - 1xtra
The cover art for the riotous 'Sensei' EP is the perfect visual representation of KG's bold and striking music. Her globetrotting fusion of funky, afrohouse and gqom is evocative to the point of immersion, full of colourful movements intersecting at razor-sharp angles. She's been on a killstreak since returning from hiatus in 2018, putting out Vesuvius-level heat on Hyperdub, Goon Club Allstars, Kicks and Snares and most recently Future Bounce. The self-styled Rhythm Goddess is a master of interplay, and her ear for interlocking elements shines through on this mix for DJ Mag’s Radio 1 Dance Residency. Sultry plucked strings wrap around galloping rhythms, which chase down pulsating tribal basslines, who do battle with marching percussion. With KG’s precise mixing, the polyrhythms keep on pollying, and it’s hard not to lose yourself in its ascendancy or get sent spiralling by the overwhelming musicality of the whole thing. There’s something in here for everyone, from the soulful vibes of Citizen Boy and Ralf Gum, to Renato Xtrova and DJ Lag’s gritty gqom bangers and LR Groove, Hagan and NKC’s house hybrids. KG’s curation reveals the cross-genre pollination behind what some might call a continental sound. But make no mistake. This is township music to turn up to. Mutated in London, Bristol and beyond, but mastered to absolute perfection in South Africa.
Riz La Teef - Sub Work Out Vol 9
Riz La Teef’s love for cutting oneaway dubs and mixing tunes till the electric cuts off is long established by now. The uber-prolific DJ has been a mainstay in the capital’s club scene and radio circuit for what seems like a small lifetime, and with a glut of guest mixes and loosies regularly uploaded to SoundCloud, Riz has an outsized presence in bass-centric dance music circles. The 9th volume of his Sub Work Out mix series arrived via a guest slot for Epoch on RDU FM in New Zealand, and starts with the classic dread meditation of Conquest's uplifting “Forever” before tunnelling deeper. Riz navigates his way through lighter shades of garage-inflected dubstep to weightier, more ominous strains with a magician's sleight of hand. Over time the washes of starlit-synths and skippy snares give way to a torrential downpour of spooky melodies, and cavernous bass leads lurching and plodding like the undead. There’s a few tunes in the tracklist covered in question marks like hidden characters in a video game, but with the advent of his label South London Pressings, Riz La Teef’s mission of a self-contained vinyl operation is near completion. Here’s hoping ??????? by ??????? becomes fully playable for the public soon.
Skream - Balamii January Show
If Mary Anne Hobb’s ‘Dubstep Warz was the summer blockbuster that pushed dubstep into public consciousness, then Skream’s iconic Stella Sessions on RinseFM was the successful spin off show. The boozy, bassweight exhibitions spawned a legion of inside jokes, incomplete tracklists and insatiable fans; hungry for Skream's treasure trove of upfront dubplates, some of which are only coming to light 15 years later. In November he joined Peckham’s Balamii radio station, and last month he delighted listeners with a certified hardcore continuum collectors item; a 2 hour special zeroing in on the fertile ground shared by grime, garage and dubstep in the early noughties. It’s a pulverising medley of alien melodies ricocheting over a low end that’s practically bottomless thanks to deep bass explorers like Oris Jay, Geeneus, Conquest, Mark One and Macabre Unit. The quality of tunes never lets up and neither does the commentary, as the Croydon-based DJ is all too happy to share track I.D.s. Good luck finding them though.