FKA twigs Crack Magazine | Issue 107
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- ACROSS THE CITY OF COPENHAGEN FEBRUARY 2020
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FKA twigs 26 34
The Top 50 Albums of the Year 54
The Top 25 Tracks of the Year 64
Editor's Letter – p.23
Recommended – p.24
What does it mean to be an Extremely Online musician? – p.52 The Class of 2019 – p.71
Downtime: Midland – p.96
20 Questions: Galcher Lustwerk – p.97
2019 THROWING SNOW RHEGED ABUL MOGARD AND WE ARE PASSING THROUGH SILENTLY SNOW GHOSTS A QUIET RITUAL SPECIAL REQUEST VORTEX PENELOPE TRAPPES PENELOPE REDEUX SPECIAL REQUEST BEDROOM TAPES AÏSHA DEVI S.L.F. SPECIAL REQUEST SR & FWENDS SPECIAL REQUEST OFFWORLD AQXDM INFRARED THROWING SNOW THE DEATH OF PRAGMATISM AÏSHA DEVI S.L.F. VERSIONS ANASTASIA KRISTENSEN M A X I M A THE KEEP PRIMER
Crack Magazine Was Made Using
We’ve always been intrigued by artists who possess a complete vision. The auteurs who put us all to shame with their artistic certitude and clarity of expression, and who reveal the scale and dimensions of their ideas over time.
100 gecs 745 sticky (Injury Reserve Remix) Iglooghost Lux 2 PlayThatBoiZay POISON KLAN Erika De Casier What U Wanna Do? La Goony Chonga Duro 2005 Galcher Lustwerk I See A Dime Amnesia Scanner ft. Lalita AS Acá Rina Sawayama STFU! Hot Snakes Checkmate Joy Orbison, Overmono Hellraiser XXX MFnMelo, Saba What a Life Raime Passed Over Trail Daisy Moon Geometry of Curves 33EMYBW Tentacle Centre Salac Euphoria Andy Stott Promises
FKA twigs fits that description with ease. Her latest album MAGDALENE feels like a culmination of something that began in 2014 with EP1, but also something far older than that. Her art, paradoxical and liminal, plays with – and resists – gendered assumptions and limiting narratives. “I've been the witch – when I first came out and everyone was being really normal,” she reveals in her cover story, her second for us. FKA twigs has proven a bellwether for new developments within music, turning collaboration into an artform and normalising the idea of the multidisciplinary pop star. For this, she is our icon of the decade. As befits our final issue of the year, the rest of this magazine is dedicated to making some kind of sense of the past 12 months – tracking patterns and giving dues. From the wave of Extremely Online artists upending genre as we know it, to the community leaders battling apathy and austerity to create spaces in which young people can thrive. We also examine the current state of underground club music and scrutinise the role design has played in the rise of one of the most dominant forces to surface this year: Extinction Rebellion. In other words: icons, iconoclasts, pushbacks, interventions, vision, hope.
TNGHT First Body
And on that note, to our readers from the UK: don’t forget to vote. See you on the other side.
FKA twigs shot exclusively for Crack Magazine by Justin French in New York, October 2019
Louise Brailey, Editor
Rosalía O2 Academy Brixton 5 December
O ur g ui d e to wh at's goi n g on i n y ou r c i ty
Blue Hawaii Corsica Studios 12 December
Denzel Curry Roundhouse 3 December
Khruangbin O2 Academy Brixton 3 December
Shellac Electric Ballroom 16 December
Canadian duo Blue Hawaii drop by Corsica Studios for an evening of lilting, dreamy dance pop of the highest order. Their latest album, the barely-twomonths old Open Reduction Internal Fixation draws on everything from Grimes’ weirdo power pop to the skip of 2-step and trance’s heart-on-sleeve emotional innocence, all held together by Ra’s soaring postdiva vocals. Sounds good huh? Trust us, it is.
As a prolific producer, noted alt-rock sage and low-key underground legend, you could forgive Steve Albini for eschewing life on the road altogether. Not so. Occassionaly he rounds up his Shellac bandmates for a run of dates, as this short UK tour attests. A very good thing, too – the minimal noise rock three-piece has lost none of the astringent power that marked them out as cult heros. And with tours occurring less and less frequently, well, you know where you need to be.
Bakar Electric Brixton 5 December
Dave East Electric Brixton 3 December
Joy O + Eclair Fifi Patterns 31 December
Ghetts O2 Kentish Town Forum 21 December
Trying to decide what to do on New Year’s Eve can be tricky, especially in a city like London where you’re spoilt for choice. But forget competing friendship groups and choice paralysis – when line-ups like this come along, the path is clear. The UK has produced few better party-starters than Joy O and Eclair Fifi, so, honestly, if your journey into 2020 isn’t an absolute belter you’ve probably only got yourself to blame.
Ghetts might just be one of the most influential British MCs around. The east London rapper came up through pioneering grime crew N.A.S.T.Y, where he and longstanding coconspirators Kano and D Double E helped bring grime to the mainstream through their pirate radio show on Deja Vu FM in the early aughts. Ghetts has remained an imitable fixture in the scene since. Always bursting with energy – you only have to look at his performance on year-defining track Class of Deja for proof – this hometown show will teach you a thing or two about how legends do it.
Crumb The Dome, Tuffnell Park 4 December
Underground Resistance XOYO 6 December
Metz MOTH 8 December
Amyl & the Sniffers Studio 9294 6-7 December Beyond, possibly, the unstoppable juggernaut of UK-derived spirit and optimism that is IDLES, few punk bands have kicked up a fuss quite like Amyl & the Sniffers. It’s their fresh, Aussie take on a sound that sits in a Venn diagram somewhere between The Ramones, Courtney Barnett and The Stooges that’s got everyone moshing all over the shop. This two-night takeover at the still relatively fresh Studio 9294 over in Hackney Wick has all the hallmarks of a future classic. Just be careful not to crowdsurf into the canal, eh?
Ari Lennox Electric Ballroom 18 December
The Japanese House Electric Ballroom 17 December
Jane Fitz Pickle Factory 20 December
Rockaway Beach The Jesus and Mary Chain, Fontaines D.C., Heavy Lungs Butlins Bognor Regis 10-12 January
Jane Fitz isn’t afraid to get stuck in. Her Night Moves parties became a word of mouth favourite for their low-key yet raucous atmosphere; a party thrown by people who love to, well, party. A much-respected veteran of the scene, Fitz’s deep, sprawling sets are a masterclass in classy club excursions – just great fun, really. What more could you want at the peak of the festive season?
Marcel Dettmann b2b DJ Stingray Printworks 21 December
Taking place across three days in the charming seaside haunt that is Bognor Regis Butlins, Rockaway Beach is a boutique indoor festival that brings together buzzy and established rock bands under one roof. Headed up by Scottish alt legends The Jesus and Mary Chain, the true spirit of the festival can be found in its smaller acts – Fontaines D.C.’s brutalist brand of punk from Dublin, Heavy Lungs' sneering guitar swathes, and Black Country, New Road’s even moodier take on post-punk. Crowd surfing by the seaside? Always a yes.
Overmono XOYO 13 December
Joy Orbison E1 London 31 December
‘Tis the season for the preChristmas rave. Before you permanently retreat to the couch at your parents’ place over the holidays, Printworks is tempting us into one final hurrah – and it’s a huge one. They’ve invited genredefining producers Marcel Dettmann and DJ Stingray for a storming b2b, while the likes of Skee Mask, Alienata and Afrodeutsche will demonstrate the rude health of boundarypushing electronic music. If robust electro, angular techno and skittering breakbeats are your bag, then this is a no brainer.
Eris Drew E1 London 31 December
Little Simz O2 Forum Kentish Town 15 December
Roger Sanchez The Cause 14 December
Make Me Corsica Studios 13 December
The Comet is Coming O2 Shepherds Bush Empire 5 December
SXM Ricardo Villalobos, Cassy, DJ Tennis St. Martin, Caribbean 11-15 March St. Martin’s tropical surroundings might be a world away from the unrestrained rave dungeons we’re used to frequenting, but a party in the sun sounds every bit as cathartic. With world-class production, a global pack of devoted festival-goers and an elite house and techno programme that runs all night long, SXM Festival has earned a reputation for being one of the world’s most revered – and idyllic – electronic music festivals. There aren’t many places where you can watch the likes of Ricardo Villalobos, Cassy and DJ Tennis while the Caribbean sun glistens on your skin. Here’s your chance.
Boris Oval Space 13 December No! Not Boris of Berghain fame, but Boris of sludgy doom rock fame! While just as capable of dishing out the dark stuff, this Boris have adopted a lighter sound on their most recent record, LOVE & EVOL. Don’t get us wrong, there’s still a lot on this record that feels like a sleeping elephant sitting on your chest, but it’s strung through with a lightness that neatly complements all the weightiness (that and the skyscraping guitar solo at the end of EVOL that sounds like something off the Top Gun soundtrack). Prepare to lift your skinny fists as they're joined by fellow riff-merchants envy, Årabrot and Svalbard at Hackney’s excellent Oval Space.
Clairo Electric Ballroom 3 December
Motor City Drum Ensemble Phonox 27 December Sherelle The Steelyard 11 December
To the humble railway arches of Corsica Studios arrives Make Me, the London-based bimonthly party and DJ collective responsible for supplying some of the most exciting DJ line-ups the capital has seen over the last few years. As expected, they’re pulling out all the stops for their final party of 2019. Catch legendary d’n’b producer dBridge whip the decks into shape, Bambounou’s percussive selections, FAUZIA’s playful footwork grooves or Dr. Rubinstein’s acid techno explorations across all rooms. Whatever you choose, just make sure you’ve got your dancing shoes at the ready – the party’s on ‘til 8am.
A Divine Invention
Words: Leah Mandel Photography: Justin French Styling: Matthew Josephs Makeup: Kabuki Hair: Lacy Redway at The Wall Group Photography Assistant: Ethan Miller
FKA twigs has always had faith in her vision. MAGDALENE, her anticipated second album, blurs strength and fragility, pleasure and pain – and anoints her as the decade’s most impactful artist
Braids, baby hair, septum piercing. A dancer-esque pose, a Modigliani neck. In a hundred years, were some future Caravaggio to paint FKA twigs, they would use these motifs; if twigs is an icon, this is her iconography. FKA twigs was born Tahliah Barnett – a Capricorn with a Sagittarius moon – in Tewkesbury, in the English county of Gloucestershire, a town she regularly refers to as “kind of in the middle of nowhere.” She was raised mostly by her mother, a former dancer and gymnast, who, she tells me, was “the witch of the playground,” (her father, a jazz dancer, was largely out of the picture). The multiracial daughter of a single mother, twigs was aware from a young age of the many ways in which women are stigmatised. “I don't remember a woman more beautiful than my mum,” she tells me. Green eyes, olive skin, jet-black hair, “walking around with a baby that is Jamaican and Egyptian in a village as a single parent.” She remembers wondering, “Why does everyone always stare at my mum? Because she's amazing and it's intimidating? Why does she need to be othered?” We’re a long way from Tewkesbury now, in a hotel room in Chicago’s River North. It’s mid-November, a couple of hours before she plays The Riviera, and twigs is getting her nails done for the second time today. Though she spent a significant while at a salon earlier, the nail polish colour, a pink-tinted white, just wasn’t right for her skin tone. “I feel like I’m on QVC right now,” she jokes, once she finally decides on a version of the tiger’s eye design on her nail tech Angela’s fingers. Angela had, upon entering the room, trilled at how petite twigs is. “No wonder you can throw yourself around like that!” she exclaimed of twigs’ slim 5’2” frame, referring to the myriad styles she employs in her performance, most recently pole dancing and wushu, a strain of Chinese kung fu practice (she’s named her sword Lillith). FKA twigs is known for her complete vision. She has tied music to visuals and performance from her very first release
in 2012, the breathy three-song EP1. In 2013 we were introduced to the twigs we know today with the mesmerising Water Me, from EP2, whose cerulean, Jesse Kanda-directed video sees a bugeyed twigs nourished by her own tears as her head tocks like a metronome. Then there was Papi Pacify, a haunting love song co-produced by fellow future music vanguard Arca, made so much
wave of artists experimenting with deconstructing pop and club music – her longtime collaborator Arca, as well as Holly Herndon, Lotic, Rabit, and the PC Music crew all came up around that time. Her output pre-MAGDALENE was characterised by aching, lusty R&B with an industrial exoskeleton, a precise, forward-pointing vision both welcoming and jarring. Art of in-betweens. It not
think it shows bravery and confidence. I see albums as very precious vignettes.” She references Bowie and Prince, she scoffs at the idea of vying for streams, she shrugs at background music. She has written hundreds of songs but only nine of them wound up on MAGDALENE. “I've broken loads of songs,” she says. “Done too much to them. Working on it too hard and then the essence of it falls out and you can't remember what the essence was and you're like, ‘This isn't the shiny one. Next!’” In the studio, she prefers to let her producers and collaborators to work in their best environments. “I like there to be a flow,” she says. “I learn people and figure out the best way to navigate so everyone feels comfortable. I want everyone to feel like they can express themselves and try wild ideas that I can then pick up and choose the best ones to weave myself into.” And she’s always ordering food and encouraging people to eat. “I'm a pudding queen,” she says, with a laugh. “Matthew Josephs, who I work with on all my creative stuff, says the reason I always look like a grumpy cherub is because I want to be a salad goddess but secretly I'm a pudding queen.” When I ask her what she eats on tour (she’s vegan, to which she attributes all the fruit imagery on the album), she laughs again and says, “cakes.”
more by its video: twigs powerfully submissive, her mouth full of a man’s thick fingers, his hands holding her throat as she sings. It’s interesting to consider twigs as we reflect on the past decade in culture. A key figure during an era when lines between indie and pop were blurred, twigs arrived on the scene amidst a
only inspired Rihanna (“I met her once and she told me I influenced her,” she says, matter-of-factly), but helped pave the way for a refreshing artistry in pop music, and a slew of young auteurs like SPELLLING, Kelsey Lu and Sevdaliza. It is crazy to know that MAGDALENE is only FKA twigs’ sophomore record. “I like conciseness,” she tells me. “I
twigs tells me that in the past she’s worked with people who crowded her space with ego, who made her feel bad. “But we were doing good work so it was just, like, whatever, let's get it done. Stay graceful and just keep it moving.” For MAGDALENE, coming out of a “curious and quiet place,” post-heartbreak and illness, she chose her collaborators – who happen to be mainly men: Nicolas Jaar, Oneohtrix Point Never, Koreless, Jack Antonoff, Michael Uzowuru, Benny Blanco, Skrillex, among others – carefully. “I only wanted to work with people that made me feel really good. I didn't have the energy for ego this time.”
030 Dress: Ed Marler Shoes: Manolo Blahnik
“This is my most honest work because I was able to be myself ”
The idea of control – power, narrative,
Its songs – including Glass & Patron, where she’s pregnant and voguing, and I’m Your Doll, where she is a blow-up doll, singing, “Dress me up… love me rough” – act as chapters, exploring all the sides of twigs, the shapes of a woman. On MAGDALENE this idea is at its strongest. Sometimes it is as simple as grace through pain: “No, no, Novocaine/ Still maintain my grace,” she chants through static in a pitcheddown rasp, on highlight Home With You. The record is somehow both poppier and more experimental. It
feels android-esque, mystical and deeply physical. The beginning of mary magdalene sounds like it is introducing some otherworldly metallic creature; she goes on to sing about “a woman’s touch, a sacred geometry,” about desire, war, true nature, blood running deep and cold. Her arrangements remind me of records released this year by Cate Le Bon and Lingua Ignota: deliberate designs that are commodious one moment and cacophonous the next, the voice prevailing above all. It was purposeful. In the mixing, twigs worked to showcase her voice among the alienlike sounds so, instead of clouding her vocals as they can on previous releases, they serve to uplift them. There is so much less breathiness here – rather, clear and strong vocals, stretched in every which way.
agency – has been a central theme to the music of FKA twigs. In the video for Two Weeks, from her debut full-length LP1, twigs appears massive, crowned, golden, reigning over smaller, serf-like versions of herself. An image flipped by Pendulum, where twigs is tied up and suspended in a Kinbaku of her own braids. Twisted again by Video Girl, in which she dances through a man’s operating room, singing ambiguously about her past as a back-up dancer for the likes of Jessie J and Kylie Minogue. The last full release from twigs was 2015’s M3LL155X, an EP that arrived packaged as a short film.
“I really wanted my voice to be heard,” twigs states, after showing me the progress on her nails. “And if it is muffled, that's a choice. If something is inaudible or if I am being swallowed up by something, that's part of the meaning of the song.” Like on fallen alien, the back-ups get distorted and the dissonant sounds start clashing – “that’s all of the thoughts conflicting with each other and getting aggressive.” She periodically touches her fingers to her forehead as she finishes a thought. She is very softly spoken. We don’t talk about her ex, but I know that after three years as one half of a much-discussed, high-profile celebrity couple – a period in which she released just one song and video, Good to Love – and then a very public break-up, she wanted to be sure what she said was loud and clear. Sick of the media and Twilight heads poking and prodding, trying to define her, pick her apart (which she addresses on MAGDALENE opener, thousand eyes), and following the removal of “excruciating” fibroid tumours which she has described as a “fruit bowl of pain”, she turned to a figure she was fascinated by as a young Catholic school girl: Mary Magdalene. The story of Mary Magdalene is that she was Jesus’ confidante, his best friend, maybe his lover. There isn’t much known for sure about her, but she was probably some kind of healer, who worked with herbs and oils. As twigs puts it: “She funded Jesus' missions. She was kind of the backbone of the operation.” But in Rome, in the year 591, a highly influential pope called Gregory the Great, an aristocrat-turned-monk, gave a series of sermons conflating all the different Marys in the bible, and calling Magdalene a prostitute. A once powerful woman became, as scholar Susan Haskins writes, “a manageable, controllable figure, and effective weapon and instrument of propaganda against her own sex.” She was disgraced for 1,400 years in the eyes of Western history.
Because of the lack of ego in the studio, because of her ability to “keep the temperature”, you hear more of twigs on MAGDALENE than ever before. “I'm not overpowered by sounds or a vibe,” she explains. “This is my most honest work because I was able to be myself and I was able to lead the sessions. That allowed me to shine through – the inside of me. That's the most you've heard my voice. I was able to sit sometimes with my notebook and just really think about what I was trying to say. I had space.”
“I like conciseness. I see albums as very precious vignettes”
This is not the first time twigs has tapped into the religious in her music, exploiting the possibilities for subversion of the thing with a chokehold on the Western world and the conservatism of her youth. On LP1’s hymnic Preface she repeats the line “I love another/ and thus I hate myself,” from the Renaissance poet Thomas Wyatt’s sonnet I Find No
Peace, and Closer sounds like sacred music from Gregorian England, only clubby. twigs’ music has always existed in a liminal space, between genre and gender, pleasure and pain, hinged on paradoxes of sound and sexuality and image. But on MAGDALENE, galvanised by the story of Mary, by her own story, that space is an even deeper chasm, a wider, jagged plane. It is transcendent. When I watch the cellophane video for the first time, I am overwhelmed. twigs struts onto a stage in Xena-like copper lingerie and spiked platforms, to an unseen, clapping audience, and begins to dance on the pole. At times you can hear her heels scraping the floor. The ceiling opens up and it looks like heaven; she begins to climb. There is a winged creature with her face, who she kicks straight in the mouth. She falls. She is Barbarella, she’s Alice down the rabbit hole. She’s Icarus. She falls down the pole, laughing, singing. There is a cave, and she lands in mud. Masked women emerge and crawl toward her, they cover her in the mud. It’s a triumphant fall from grace. She’s the angel, the devil, the human, the alien, the virgin, the whore. She is, in the words of Whitney Houston, every woman. All women, and no woman, and… just twigs. MAGDALENE is out now via Young Turks
The story of Mary Magdalene is the story of all powerful women. It is about the control that men seize over women’s narratives, how they shape history by diminishment and erasure and violence. “Look at burning witches at the stake,” twigs storms. “What about a woman that's too seductive? Or a woman that heals people? Or a woman that is too outspoken? [In the not-so-far-gone past] it wouldn't be uncommon for a woman to be lobotomised if she were just a bit sassy to her husband. She can't be a real person. She can't have her own ideas or thoughts or rebel against something.” Mary Magdalene was the witch, twigs says, like her mum. So is twigs. “I've been the witch – when I first came out and everyone was being really normal, I was the witch, not in a good way. ‘Oh, god, she's so weird. Why is she so weird?’ I had that. I remember when I became a little more mainstream, through no doing of my own, the absolute onslaught of racism… Mary Magdalene was the first person that I was like, ‘Something is going on here.’ She was the first woman I learned about whose narrative was changed for the worse because people clearly felt intimidated.”
Words: Christine Kakaire Photography: Kurt Heiter Studio: Kuboraum
Four of club music’s most singular voices trace what dance music did next
036 Moor Mother
realities, reckoning with the politics of identity, and the potential to exploit the machine while remaining a part of it. We're here to talk about the present and future of electronic music. Does anybody have strong feelings about where we could be heading? Moor Mother: I think the one thing in favour of dance music is that people are never going to stop dancing. I feel like it has infinite possibilities. But I think the question goes into what is called ‘deconstructed club music’. It's just about opening up the conversation. I'm not a DJ, but I think a lot of DJs want more than just having you dance. Whenever they try to do something that's outside of having people dance, someone comes up with a new genre for it and it's just artists wanting to experiment. That conversation [is] outside of whoever is the maker these days.
It’s been a discourse-heavy decade. Sociopolitical upheaval, DIY collectivity, #MeToo, acts of dissent, social media meltdowns and the examination of privilege are just some of the topics that helped shape the contours of the 2010s, both within music and outside of it. As this year, and this particularly tumultuous decade, draws to a close, a reflective mood is naturally setting in. Centring the voices of those with lived experience in the industry, we invited a handful of artists to lend their bleedingedge perspectives to examine the past year and prognose an uncertain musical future. On the eve of the release party for her sophomore album ATØ, Berlinbased producer Ziúr met with Halcyon Veil founder Rabit, and two of the label’s associated artists, LEDEF and Moor Mother. Rather than dissect 2019’s aesthetics and trends, this gathered group dove deep into the hidden structures and murky systems which affect all sectors of the scene: negotiating physical and artistic territory in the face of consumer-driven
Rabit: Simon Reynolds wrote this ‘Conceptronica’ piece in Pitchfork recently which I thought was really funny, to give a name to it. I always felt like me and my friends would put different things into a sound just as a way to have a character and identity beyond just dropping a track. The idea seems weird to me that if you have something to say then you're put in this other box. That's kind of odd. Is that something that you feel is happening more frequently? An over-intellectualisation, or overcategorisation of music? LEDEF: People always want to fit something into a box, and have something to label it because it's easily digestible that way. But it doesn't have to be. The exploration of [an idea] doesn't necessarily make something more experimental. Rabit: Companies feel like they need to come up with these terms. I understand that can be a necessary evil, although it's very fleeting, since you're talking about being a type of artist that actually doesn't exist. There's no mainframe.
“Instead of chasing empty concepts and ideas just listen to artists, believe in them, give them platforms to curate”
it's a great thing. A beautiful thing. But when corporations are trying to make it clouty, they're just worried about the optics of it, using buzzwords. It doesn't really mean anything if you're not helping the artists. Ziúr: Even though I am absolutely for exploiting the system, like, just get the money where we can get it, some things just don't feel real. I've seen bloodsucker moves like, 'I want to do this queer festival for trans and nonbinary people and people of colour, but I actually have no idea what or who I'm going to book, so I paid two token people that are actually terrible artists.’ We’ve had meetings where [people] are trying to suck up information about me. Just pay me to curate something, not just steal information because you're clueless. Moor Mother: I think this is allowed because we're not listening to artists. In my case, I'm somebody that has a lot of language, but it's just taken and misinterpreted because you can use these buzzwords if you haven't studied or lived the life. So instead of chasing empty concepts and ideas just listen to artists, believe in them, give them platforms to curate. Ziúr: I think the concept of inclusivity is missing. I am consciously trying to think about the approach to be inclusive in what to do. And, yeah, we will profit from each other. I know this, but we all have to work together. Are any of you detecting a shift from tokenistic diversity towards true inclusivity? LEDEF: I don’t think so. In a lot of spaces, the idea of being more inclusive has made it more exclusive. I think it's important to just have space for good music and dancing and being able to have everyone in the building on equal level, as opposed to sectioning everybody off by identity and compartmentalising in a way.
I’d also like to ask about your thoughts on the interactions between art and brands, something which seems to be happening more frequently in underground scenes.
Ziúr: Just being able to try to understand other people and also learn from each other's experiences takes more work. Obviously we can't do it all, but we can pinpoint what we think community is about. It doesn't have to be just a model of identification or music or whatever colour of t-shirt.
LEDEF: When it’s authentic, of course
Moor Mother: I feel like we depend
even just other people that do music. LEDEF: Texas is like its own country at this point. The creative scene grew super intimately, there's a huge network throughout the cities in Texas. So there's a huge thing going on, but, at the same time, it's closed off. People put so much pressure on the politics of nightlife. It would be incredible if everyone could breathe and let people be artists for the sake of art. Moor Mother: I'd already done the groundwork in my city for way over a decade, before anyone caught on or wrote anything about it. So I'm always like a DIY spirit. I don't wait for anyone to give me an opportunity. But since this is recorded, I would love to perform at House of Kenzo! on other people's work. I think a lot of curators, for instance, will depend on [Rabit] as a label head to have a diverse line-up. But I feel it's still very basic to just think about where we are as humanity – and think that we're still trying to make inclusive nights for gay people! Like, how is this still a hard thing? And if it's hard, why? I don't really understand. Just because you have a platform doesn't mean you’ve got to answer all the questions. It's okay for people to say that they need help, because clearly, we all need help. This idea of a ‘professional’ has to be dismantled, destroyed, or whatever, because we wouldn't even have this question if people were actually professionals. We’re in Berlin, a vital hub for electronic music, and none of us here are native to this city. Could a strategy for inclusiveness include decentralising dance music as a whole from these larger cities? Rabit: [Myself and LEDEF] basically live in a geographic void in Texas, so it's a whole different set of circumstances. We have to do so much online. I love that because it's multidimensional, but it is also nice to actually be in a space with someone, like a collaborator, or
We touched on the issue of artist-led curation of events and spaces earlier, I’d like to return to that. What do you think is preventing opportunities for artists to be empowered in this type of work? Ziúr: I was sitting on a panel once with this music board that is funding artists, and at some point, they started implementing a 50 percent quota of women. The first thing I said was, “I think quotas suck.” There's no substance to it. Maybe I don't have a cis woman on my line-up, [but] I think that's not anti-feminist by default. [Saying] we need to have 50 percent women is an empty shell of nothingness that doesn't really push change. We need to start pushing the narrative. Moor Mother: The thing with corporate structures is they usually have a board. And there are people that have been working on the board for 30 years. As basic as it sounds, they need some sort of policy to cut out the archaic arguments. Ziúr: Generally, I don't talk about identity politics in press because I don't want to be reduced to a certain topic. But my ideal version of it is the
most radical: we don't even have to have that conversation. I don't want to be reduced to identity and then all of a sudden my art fades into the background. I got booked at a queer festival, I hit the cue button, on the first track everybody cleared out. The other half didn't come in, because they couldn't handle the music. They booked me for issues of identity, and I think that's super problematic. Where do you see the future of music making going? Moor Mother: I'd rather say what I hope it's going towards, versus what I think. I hope that artists can find space to link up more. Sometimes you have a good year, sometimes you don't, but the folks who are having a good year, instead of waiting for the magazine to be like, ‘These are the top people from the year,’ let's try to get an apartment for a month or something. For whoever's travelling that year, so they have a space to stop by. I'm trying to think of how we could use our money to buy things collectively. I want to come together with so many artists, fuck some shit up, and then get curators to come in and connect a little bit more. Ziúr: It feels like Trauma Bar und Kino in Berlin is that place for us right now. It's people from the scene that are capable. I worked as a stage manager at this festival and we were five people pulling a lot of weight, including a production assistant that wasn't going to be paid. A young kid. You know how the music business exploits people coming up? I walked into Trauma and she's the night manager, somebody gave her a responsible job and trusted a young person. I thought that was beautiful. I feel like it’s a special time and place for music in Berlin right now. I really wanted to have my party there for that particular reason. Moor Mother: We need more clubs doing that, really sticking their heads out. Ziúr: Elbowing their way through and reaching out, trying to grab somebody's hand to pull people up and go together. Reach out and we can all grow together. There is space for all of us, because there needs to be.
“People put so much pressure on the politics of nightlife. It would be incredible if everyone could breathe and let people be artists for the sake of art”
We meet the people fighting political indifference, industry apathy and public funding cuts to secure a brighter future for young people in the capital
Jamal Edwards, JEDelve
“People don't realise that there's always two sides to the coin and the minority they see in the news are used to misrepresent what's actually going on”
Anthony Larbi is rifling through the kitchen cupboard looking for a teabag – anything but rooibos. His music management outfit, On Da Beat, has just moved into new premises in Wandsworth, south London, and he’s still getting used to the place. The studios were previously located around eight miles north-west of here, in Park Royal, sharing space with fine art studios and a clientele who were, let’s say, bemused by their new neighbours. “There was a lot of… friction,” Larbi says, diplomatically. As well as the noise, the all-hours coming and going of young producers, MCs, and their tagalong friends proved too much for the genteel cabal of painters and potters. Complaints eventually became confrontations, and Larbi’s landlord would soon serve his notice. It was a bittersweet moment: On Da Beat was effectively homeless, but in part because the space had proved so popular with the young people who would visit to record there. The Park Royal studio had become a hub for a loose group of producers known as The Brigade who have proven pivotal to the UK’s burgeoning drill scene. And in some ways, the story of the studio’s forced relocation represents a microcosm of how drill has been scapegoated by politicians, the media and a mainstream audience that fails to understand the way its bleak social commentary holds a mirror to more deep-rooted socio-economic issues. Anthony Larbi
“I think people don't realise that there's always two sides to the coin,” argues Larbi, “and the minority that they see in the news or on TV are used to misrepresent what's actually going on on the positive side of things.”
Statistics published by the ONS in October confirmed that knife crime had reached unprecedented highs in 2019. While such offences are not unique to the capital, 16 of the 20 most blighted places in England and Wales are in London; almost two thirds of the 110 murder investigations launched in
the city this year concern stabbings. According to statistics from the office of the Mayor of London, young men from black and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected as both victims and perpetrators. A Home Affairs Committee report published in July declared the continued rise in serious youth violence “a social emergency” and quoted youth workers and community consultants who highlighted the contribution of youth services cuts to the increase in violence. As many as 104 of London’s youth clubs have been shuttered since 2011. In the mainstream press, however, drill music – typified by its nihilistic street tales and knife crime glossaries – provided a more accessible scapegoat. The Metropolitan Police pursued music video takedowns and invoked anti-terror laws to prevent certain artists from recording or performing: actions taken without consideration for the unseen impact they have, says Larbi. “There are people that are doing this professionally, that are doing it to put food on their table, to look after their families to put a roof over their head,” he explains. “And for those people that are genuinely doing it to get out of a certain lifestyle, they have basically had their careers and their livelihoods taken away.” In this context, Larbi’s studio space has taken on a greater significance than he might have anticipated when hanging the first panels of acoustic foam in Park Royal. On Da Beat quickly became a place where young people from all over London could come to just be themselves, free of the pressures of life at home, school or on the street. And it’s not unique in this regard either. “I have to shout out Trident for the nickname,” says Digital Holdings studio founder, UK music industry veteran, and proud south Londoner, Corey Johnson, with a wry laugh. The nickname he refers to is ‘Switzerland’: a sobriquet given by the Metropolitan Police’s specialised gun crime unit to Johnson’s complex of studios and classrooms squeezed between garages and a massive
DHL depot on an industrial state in Bermondsey. “It's a safe space for everybody,” Johnson explains. “They come in from north, south, east and west. They might be in different gangs and crews that maybe don't get along with each other out in the rest of the world. But this has been a place where nobody wants to spoil it.” After founding the Digital Holdings studio in 2006, Johnson set up an independent youth charity on the same premises. Called Community Youth London, it’s since run programmes across 10 boroughs in London. Each Friday evening, he hosts a workshop at the centre aimed at passing on the industry knowledge he’s accrued over his years in the music business. A platinum disc for Drake’s One Dance hangs on the wall, inscribed with his name, in case anyone feels like questioning his credentials. In Croydon, the Finesse Foreva studios have taken on a similar function. Helmed by TK and SK, two 27-yearolds who grew up in the area, ‘FF’ has grown from offering studio time and music management to incorporate mentoring, industry training and even an investment arm. “A lot of people come to us for advice that’s nothing to do with music, and we’re proud of that,” says SK. “We’ve become a home for young people, to encourage the positives – turn the negatives into positives, so to speak,” he continues, before TK chimes in rhetorically: “Our thing is, who’s going to do it if we don’t?” With TK and SK’s guidance, Finesse Foreva alumni have gone on to set up separate ‘sister studios’ around the capital, such as producer/engineer Tweeko’s space in New Cross and Scratch’s in Woolwich. “One of our A&Rs was homeless last year. He didn’t have a passport, didn’t have a birth certificate. His parents left him,” recalls SK. “He got two record deals in the space of a year. We put him in a home.” The pair recently inked a partnership deal with Warner, which they hope will bring bigger opportunities for the youngsters
Corey Johnson, Defenders
Words: Will Pritchard Photography: Ivor Alice & Michelle Helena Janssen
“We’ve become a home for young people, to encourage the positives”
TK & SK, Finesse Foreva
“I mean, as much as we'd like to run like a charity, we wouldn't survive for more than a couple of months if we did that,” says Larbi, explaining instead that by pursuing profitability he’s able to divert a portion of the studio’s earnings into social investments that are less easily measured on a balance sheet. Finesse Foreva and Digital Holdings take a similar approach. This summer, youth worker and writer – and former Crack Magazine contributor – Ciaran Thapar ran a pilot programme called Roadworks that used rap and drill music to engage a group of 10 young people in social science and career skills workshops. It cost £2,000 to deliver and was funded by Sound Connections, a youth music charity based in east London. For Thapar it proved that, with smarts and the right connections, programmes like these can be delivered on a tight budget. However, he also recognises that accessing even small portions of funding like this isn’t always straightforward.
Is it fair that these individual studio owners, music entrepreneurs and community leaders should be expected – apparently by proxy – to shoulder all of this responsibility? And, perhaps more importantly, is it even sustainable to continue in this vein? Thapar, for one, doesn’t think so. “I personally think that business and private money has a lot to answer for, but if you’re going to have a social fabric in a society that is sustainable and binding – which we don’t have right now, and it’s getting worse – you have to have some sort of central set of principles, you have to have a state that is functioning well. You can’t just rely on, ultimately, the profiteering mindsets of people, to generate ethically good things,” he says, with audible frustration. “Are we just accepting now that all good things are going to come from private money, rather than us all binding together and voting for a system that pays for those things? Whether it be youth services or whatever, there has to be an investment in it. Everyone pays their taxes and then everyone realises that a certain level of education or youth work is being done for young people when they need it.”
Successful public and charity funding systems rest on a balance between accessibility and accountability. But often, it seems, the fulcrum is offset. Corey Johnson sums up the conundrum more bluntly: “Do I spend 70 percent of my time chasing funding and going through red tape, or do I spend 70 percent of my time dealing with young people and their actual problems?”
As well as wanting more government funding made available, Digital Holdings’ Corey Johnson and Larbi of
When SB.TV founder Jamal Edwards decided he wanted to reinvigorate the neglected community centre in the Acton neighbourhood he grew up in, he says he faced endless bureaucracy. He fired off emails to the local housing association, councillors, and Rupa Huq, the area’s incumbent MP, about his plans to establish his new JEDelve initiative as a network of career-focused youth centres. “It was just me trying to break down the doors like, ‘Look, I’m just trying to do something good for the young people – do you not want us?’” he explains. “It was proper frustrating at times. But I just had to keep going and show them that this is for the good of these young people.”
But the sad truth of our current moment is that the myriad difficulties young people face – including a stretched education service, lack of employment opportunities, as well as the violence that makes headlines, and the knockon effect all of this has on mental health – are too easily sidelined. “No one cares, and no one’s trying to change that, because it doesn’t affect them,” says TK, puncturing the air with his finger. He and SK recall media tours and Parliamentary visits that have seemingly resulted in no real change to policy or funding that could support grassroots initiatives. When I try to make contact with Sarah Jones, founder and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on knife crime, to get her take on the issues raised, I get an automated response explaining that Parliament has been dissolved in the run up to the election. Another election that revolves around the interminable swirl of chuntering and malfeasance that is Brexit.
the meeting is taken up by alarms to do with emergency Brexit votes.” For him and others, it’s difficult to imagine any practicable solutions being conceived while Brexit continues to suffocate every discussion. All of which is extremely frustrating for those involved in the kind of grassroots community initiatives these music studios, and the safe space they offer, have come to represent. The response to news of yet another round of Parliamentary peacocking ranges from apathy to anger to exhaustion. Spaces like On Da Beat, Finesse Foreva, Digital Holdings, JEDelve, and others dotted around the capital represent what’s possible on one scale; but for community-minded solutions like these to extend their impact, there’s a chasmic need for broader systemic change. Whether this change will arrive on 13 December, or whether we’ll be having the same discussions again this time next year, will become clear soon enough. One thing is certain: these problems won’t disappear of their own accord. And it’s that simple fact that continues to motivate Larbi, Johnson, TK, SK, Thapar, Edwards and others working to offer the capital’s next generation a brighter future than the one currently laid before them.
“I’ve been in meetings in Parliament about youth violence, where the highest level decision-makers are in the room trying to grapple with some of these things that they’ve only got an hour to grapple with for that two weeks,” says Thapar. “And then half of Jamal Edwards, JEDelve
“There is funding out there,” he explains, “but I think that the landscape and the way that it functions is problematic, in that people are competing the whole time. Treating it like a marketplace is difficult. You’ve got funding given out on certain conditions: that if you can do XYZ and you can prove XYZ before you’ve even done it, then we’ll give you the money – otherwise we’re not interested.”
On Da Beat argue that those creaming off the top of the music industry should be investing more into grassroots development. Finesse Foreva’s TK and SK suggest a devolved, community-led approach to allocating funds, including public money. This would include surveying the young people who could ultimately benefit from the services the money funds.
While Edwards believes the best way to approach these challenges is to work collaboratively with government and public bodies, he admits that many of his project’s early successes have stemmed from the favours he’s able to pull from his star-studded phonebook or the fact he has an MBE suffixing his surname.
passing through their premises. But having this kind of impact costs money.
How Extinction Rebellion’s graphic design amplified their year of radical activism
Photograph: Lauren Marina
The group dominated headlines (and high streets), but it was their instantly recognisable visuals that cemented them in the collective consciousness
When designer Clive Russell first met Roger Hallam, one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion, he was blocking traffic on Marylebone Road, protesting poor air quality in London. Hallam mentioned a then-unnamed, decentralised movement, that would make the urgent message of climate crisis unavoidable. “I told him, ‘If we’re going to do this properly, give us more time to get a design,’” Russell says. “And he did.”
direct warnings about the climate crisis, which refuse to sugarcoat the level of threat that the planet is under.
A little over a year after Hallam and Russell’s conversation, the newlynamed Extinction Rebellion was making headlines for shutting down central London, blocking five bridges in the capital. Suddenly, somehow, this collaborative and grassroots movement had captured the sense of urgency that had previously been missing from discussion of our rapidly warming earth. And everywhere these protests went, its visual language went too: a bright, closely defined palette of colours, a punchy font and woodcut illustrations of skulls and nature made by collaborator Miles Flynn.
The first thing you notice is the colours: bright, verdant green; a royal, bluey purple (both of which are uncannily similar to Pantone’s 2017 and 2018 “Colour of the Year”) and a bubblegum, millennial pink. The font, based on an old wood type, was designed by Russell himself to look a little crooked (he named his creation “Fucxed”). The stylised hourglass logo, however, was designed before XR was even a twinkle in a roadblock’s eye. “It was created by a street artist called ESP in 2011,” Russell said, explaining that the group has the artist’s permission, as long as the symbol is never used commercially.
In 2019, these design elements have become an ever-more familiar sight in major cities and beyond, on posters and flyers. With further protests occupying crucial spots in central London, the group (whose name is often shortened to XR) have made headlines for their unabashed and
Russell, for his own part, had worked in design his whole life, but had always found the industry’s commercial side hard to stomach. “I found it a bit coercive, and very unprincipled,” he says. “So I've always been sort of slightly to one side of things,” he says. His agency, This Ain’t Rock N Roll,
“Its consistency makes it very effective,” explained Lucienne Roberts, whose studio GraphicDesign& was behind the recent exhibition on graphics and politics at the Design Museum. “Often with political movements, they can err on the side of being too passive – XR are not passive.”
RED HANDED 1 LEAVE YOUR MARK
2 SEND A MESSAGE
3 OWN YOUR ACTION
PEACEFULLY HAND YOURSELF IN
THIS IS AN EMERGENCY Poster left: Anthony Burrill Poster right: Izzy Way
works with charities and causes, and is able to donate 50 percent of its time for free. “Of which a great deal, currently, is being spent with Extinction Rebellion,” he adds. Russell had big plans for Extinction Rebellion’s image from the beginning, even helping to name the project. “It was really important to us that we didn’t look like any of the other eco movements,” he says. “Largely because a lot of them talk to a very internalised audience. It was important that Extinction Rebellion felt really open, fresh and easy for people to join.” Despite these aims, the movement has been criticised for exactly the things Russell says it was trying to avoid, and, in particular, for speaking to a white, middle-class audience. Many feel that the group’s emphasis on civil disobedience, with tactics asking protesters to allow themselves to be arrested, excludes the groups that are more likely to be mistreated by police, in particular, people of colour. And unlike many radical political groups, the movement has a policy of actively liaising with police, at least in the UK.
to work under the banner of an image. Russell cites the purple, green and white of the Suffragettes, and the Atelier Populaire silk-screened posters in the 1968 student protests in Paris as examples of other groups that have succeeded in this respect. Dr Aidan McGarry, a researcher at Loughborough University who works on protest movements and visual culture, also noted the analogy with the CND logo, or peace sign. “There’s something interesting about people uniting under a symbol. The most prevalent identity is nation states, which unite under a flag. When people protest together under this symbol, they are disrupting this notion that the state is the primary organising principle in our society.”
Russell explains that the cohesiveness of the message, as well as its methods of production were set up in part to enable people to unite while making their own statements. “If we're relying too much on an individual, that's massively problematic,” he says, pointing to the availability of XR’s materials online. “That's given out to all the art groups all over the world and the local art groups in the UK.” These kits come with guidelines and advice, but are open to interpretation. “Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the variety in flags, fluttering at protests all with the symbol on them. I think there's something wonderful about that – we’re all together. But also, all different.” He’s particularly excited to see more from the newly-inaugurated XR art group in Mexico, noting that the number of burgeoning groups across the world means he can take more of a backseat in the future. For Russell, what is most important about XR’s branding is that it is eyecatching, and creates memorable moments that stick in the public consciousness. “That pink boat on Oxford Street – that’s a potentially iconic moment, and it wouldn’t have happened without our work.” He thinks that raising the alarm about the climate crisis means making a big visual imprint: “These moments have to be staged, you have to think about them,” he says. Lucienne Roberts agreed with this assessment, noting. “We don’t have the luxury of time. Making that apparent through the visuals is important.”
Photograph: Charlie Waterhouse
Words: Josie Thaddeus-Johns
From the outside, the rigour with which XR apply their imagery can seem cynical. Is it suspicious to overdetermine and coordinate visuals in advance, in the same way that brands do? While these are the tools of capitalism, it’s important to note that this is not the first political movement
“I think that's a really valid point,” says Russell. “People have to understand that when they are getting arrested, it’s from a point of privilege. Sometimes, we should as a movement should push that message more.”
Produced exclusively for Crack Magazine by Baptiste Kucharski - @baptistekucharski
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN EXTREMELY
MUSICIAN IN 2019?
A wave of breakthrough music projects suggest we’ve entered a new era of internet-adjacent music – just don’t call it ‘internet-core’
The recent tide in music culture might be characterised by the industry’s seismic shift towards being fully online. From the radical, Marxist notion of artists seizing the means of production and crafting entire sonic worlds from their laptop to record labels’ frantic scramble to adapt to streaming. If that is the case, then 2019, the last gasp of this turbulent era, may prove to be a tipping point of sorts – the event horizon where music once encapsulating digital elements has become digitisation encapsulating musical elements. We have stepped through the black mirror-looking glass into the glorious computer world Kraftwerk first prophesied long ago. The sound of the internet is the defining sound of our times, and more artists than ever before seem to convey this borderless, boundary-less paean to the virtual through their work itself. The thing is, you better not tell them that. 2019 has been littered with releases from artists who have an intangible 'something' in common, be it genrecontortions encroaching on obliteration, maniacally abrasive or impenetrable soundscapes, or a persona that is purposefully layered through the lens of the world online. A trait they have in common that is far more tangible is their marked distaste for being pinned down or labelled as such. “Internet-core”, a seemingly innocuous moniker tossed around by music journalists attempting to position these artists into a broader cultural narrative, is a downright slur.
selection of artists whose 2019 projects could not be more representative of the digital realm. An inversion or homogenisation of genre tropes seems a natural outcome of music’s step into the ultra-accessible virtual world, and the number of musicians capitalising on this is unquantifiable. Even so, there is no one making music quite as obstinately genre-less as 100 gecs. The duo of Dylan Brady and Laura Les approach sounds the way the masters of Abstract Expressionism approached the canvas; a bricolage of influences that collate into a sum wholly greater than any of its parts. On this year’s debut album 1000 gecs, opening track 745 sticky manages to incorporate elements of trap, Italo disco, EDM, and PC Music-esque saccharine electronica within a pop structure lasting barely more than two minutes. That they released the album’s acapella vocals, instrumentals and production stems for free download a few months later accentuates the patchwork-quilt quality of their aesthetic. “I don’t think about that when writing music at all,” Brady says regarding their extreme level of genre experimentation. “We just write what we want to hear,” adds Les. Both cite the internet as being crucial to their artistic practice (“We do love the internet,” says Les. “No one would hear our music without the internet… when I’m online that’s the real me,” says Brady), and with its radical potential to tear down the borders of sonic signifiers, they fail to see the future of genre as
families, blood, sweat, death, time. To completely ignore genres, we dismiss the gatekeepers before us. I think there is a healthy way to be conscious and pay our respects to genres while also not allowing them to box people in.” But neither Ritchie nor Parker condone their approach as representative of any scene or trend. “The idea of being a placeholder artist or a part of some type of scene scares me,” says Ritchie. “In terms of our own work, I think the web is a big part of it, but the label ‘internet-core’ would be reductive at best,” adds Parker. Regardless of their relationship to the virtual world, 2019’s crop of new artists innately understand the possibilities of the virtual, genre-free world and express it in their work to an unprecedented extent. As to why they reject an easy catch-all for this artistic approach or elude a diagnostic analysis, there is no simple answer. Perhaps it is rooted in the idea that labels and distinctions in music have become archaic, subsequently limiting the ability of these new hybridised creations to thrive. “We are looking forward to the future of music, where people will redefine the instruments that they play, and redefine sounds for new physical and virtual spaces,” says experimental production outfit King Tusk. They also insightfully noted that “music can travel the world without the internet, and it makes sense that it would only intensify its influence with it… Music seems to fracture that way.” Ergo, music may be ‘the’
“Music can travel the world without the internet, and it makes sense that it would only intensify its influence with it” – King Tusk
Indeed, what does that mean? What is ‘too online’ in 2019 and what is music that qualifies for this distinction? What music isn’t online and why is a hierarchy even in place? Is this just a lazy attempt to assign a genre to a movement that, in many ways, is post-genre? As JPEGMAFIA’s now-infamous Twitter thread demonstrates, the artists most likely to be categorised as such are the most likely to firmly distance themselves from it. With this in mind, we discussed whether this notion holds any merit with a
anything more than how “it’s cool for people to have words for things that they want to find.” On a structural level, hip-hop may be the forerunner of this playfully style-hopping approach, and in 2019 rap-adjacent projects twisted the genre even further. Injury Reserve, a trio from Arizona whose sense of irreverence may be unmatched in any of their rising hip-hop peers, displayed a mastery of self-aware playfulness on their self-titled debut, best expressed on the track Rap Song Tutorial, a hilariously meta moment that guides the listener on a literal journey through the studio mechanics of its creation. “They definitely come up but more as reference points than any specific goal,” says member Parker Corey on the group’s subversion of genre tropes. “People just need to see them more as adjectives that can help describe a song rather than an end all, be all classification of it.” On the other hand, group member Ritchie With a T makes a case for the relevance of genre in the internet age. “It is extremely important to classify music in separate genres,” he says, “because genres are labels of history, heritage, culture, people,
medium of the internet age; no other art form lends itself to such immediate virality or can be executed with such widespread accessibility. With that in mind, it’s all the more obvious that it’s the new generation, the youngest of today’s rising artists, that understand and practice this with the most clarity. And while it seems unlikely that this shift will eliminate genre entirely, there is something undeniably futuristic about a homogenised sound transcending our previously conceived notions of music.
Words: Jake Indiana Illustration: VOJD
Nowhere is this better exemplified than the reaction of JPEGMAFIA to a Pitchfork review of his track Beta Male Strategies, a fuzzy freakout that is among the highlights of his excellent third album All My Heroes Are Cornballs. The 30-year-old rapper from Brooklyn is among the most captivating artists working in hip-hop today, marrying blistering, insightful raps to jaw-droppingly experimental beats. And while the review in question acknowledges these accomplishments, it also dismisses his aesthetic as “extremely online – jokes for the deepest corners of Reddit.” Unsurprisingly, Peggy was less than thrilled, venting his frustration on Twitter at what such a criticism even means: “step into REALITY”, he wrote.
THE TOP 50
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Tom of England Sex Monk Blues L.I.E.S
Bat for Lashes Lost Girls AWAL Recordings
Headie One Music x Road Relentless Records
Weyes Blood Titanic Rising Sub Pop
Thomas Bullock has been a fixture of the underground for years, starting out with the Cambridge crew Tonka Sound System alongside one DJ Harvey, before heading to San Francisco and New York. A lifer, then, and make no mistake, the ghost of every one of those lost nights and early mornings stalks the rugged contours of his first album as Tom of England. Across the brief half-hour runtime, Sex Monk Blues coalesces into downtown skronk and lysergic disco, aggro post-punk and trippy krautrock, moments of lucidity and crushing claustrophobia. When the fog clears, the lights come on, and the drugs wear off, you realise what you should’ve known all along: Bullock is part of rarefied and cherished line of true dancefloor weirdos.
With every album Natasha Khan releases as Bat for Lashes, she undergoes a fantastical transformation. Her previous output as indie-pop’s wistful theatric has seen her experiment with many musical alter-egos, all shot through a prism of elegant dream pop. On fifth album Lost Girls, Khan changes form once more. Inspired by a relocation to Los Angeles in 2017, she leans into the clichéd romantic aesthetics of her new surroundings without ever feeling kitschy. Lost Girls traces the story of a biker girl gang’s mischievous antics with a knowing wink; she sings of expansive desert landscapes, making out in the car and strange forces in the night, underpinned by flashes of darkwave synths, gated reverb drums and soaring melodies in her opulent contralto. It’s a coming-of-age work, and Natasha Khan has never felt freer.
An already blistering year for UK rap was further distinguished by the arrival of Headie One into the mainstream. January’s Top 10 single, 18HUNNA, featuring fellow emergent powerhouse Dave, not only served to ramp up interest in Music x Road, but set the album’s tone. With Skepta and Krept and Konan among the guests, it felt like Headie was seeing how his powers stack up next to some of the UK’s biggest stars. It was a methodology that paid out handsomely – there’s no doubt that Headie is an effective trap slinger, his jagged voice proving a cutting instrument on the murky Ball in Peace and Young Thug pastiche Rubbery Bands. Never mind the album artwork – which features the rapper’s face disguised behind a mask – Headie One won’t be lost in the crowd.
The radically soft edges of Titanic Rising were, on the surface, a balm in a year of tumult. Natalie Mering’s supple, warm soprano when coupled with the serene steel guitar of A Lot’s Gonna Change, the velveteen melancholy of Movies, or the string-adorned classicism of Andromeda, make the fourth Weyes Blood album a mesmetic, almost tender listening experience shorn of friction and surprise. But, sublimated within these torch songs and heartsore ballads is an undercurrent of existential fear: “A lot’s gonna change in your lifetime,” Mering sings on A Lot’s Gonna Change, while, on Wild Time, she offers, “Everyone’s broken now”. The clue was in the cover art – an image of a child’s bedroom submerged underwater – this is a record where still waters run deep.
Dean Van Nguyen
Rachel Grace Almeida
PTU Am I Who I Am Трип
Jessica Pratt Quiet Signs City Slang
Caroline Polachek Pang Perpetual Novice
Barker Utility Ostgut Ton
Alina Izolenta and Kamil Ea are well-versed in the fundamentals of high-impact rave music – the mentasm riffs, sine waves, eerie found-sounds and processed vocals. Yet, in the hands of the Russian duo, who clearly prize intuition above overthought, these well-worn tropes are made fresh again. Constructed from excerpts of live shows, Am I Who I Am feels almost organic in its unpredictability. Tracks like the warehouse stomperturned-inside-out Over evolve and shapeshift, fixating on granular details or spinning off on sonic detours that leave you reeling. It would be too genteel to say that PTU are side-stepping genre, they seem to want nothing less than to weaponise techno against itself, in order to move it on to a higher, better plane.
With the release of her 2015 breakthrough album Own Your Own Love Again, Jessica Pratt emerged as if from an untraceable era. Her gentle alien folk feels suspended in time and place: too majestic for our messy 2019 reality; too radiant to feel like an attempt to cling to the past. And as the ambient anxiety of our generation went into overdrive this year, Pratt brought out another softly ornate record to lull us into a fantasy. With intricate, wandering melodies and psychedelic vocal acrobatics, Quiet Signs is obscure and mystifying, unspooling like a daydream.
Pang, the third solo record by Charlift’s Caroline Polachek, is the sort of album that feels as though it’s best heard on an autumn walk, while the listener is kicking leaves about and pretending they’re in the film of their own life. That’s because it’s a highly pensive, reflective record, with Polachek’s careful observations of herself, her past, and her relationships curving like ivy around towering, tightly structured castles of pop. The necessary drama comes via violin strings and looming synths (no doubt courtesy of the album’s co-executive producer, the baroque rave lord himself Danny L Harle), and of course Polachek’s evocative lyrics.
Utility might be entirely beatless, but boring ambient music this is not. Despite shunning drums entirely, Utility is one of the year’s most rhythmically arresting records – the whole thing pulsing and writhing in a state of perpetual motion. Melodic textures are brought vividly to life through complex processing and resonant filter work. An easy comparison to make would be Basic Channel, who pushed the rhythmic and spatial potentials of techno to their most abstract conclusions. However this time the building blocks are not grayscale dub techno, but colourful trance synths and euphoric rave hooks. Because who needs a 4/4 beat to have a good time?
Anna Tehabsim Lauren O’Neill
Oscar Henson Louise Brailey
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Burna Boy African Giant Atlantic Records
Leif Loom Dream Whities
Fontaines D.C. Dogrel Partisan Records
Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats Anger Management Sugar Trap
Like so many of Africa’s riches, much of its popular music has gone ignored by the European public. Except for a now-sort-of-dubious Afropop explosion in the 80s, a lot of the excellent music coming from the continent remains obscure. Nigeria’s Burna Boy could very well change all that, and his fourth studio album, African Giant, is his most immediately gripping yet. Blending warm saxophones, thumbing jazz basslines, vocoder pop, American R&B and traditional West African polyrhythms, Burna’s sound samples from the entire African diaspora to create something completely fresh. Without a doubt, African Giant represents not only one of the most eclectic records of the year, but a rich and textured portrait of the future of pop music – defiant, inclusive and borderless.
Although rooted in minimal house and techno, Leif’s music has always been defined by a distinctly pastoral feel – a quality that has grown increasingly prominent in his work over the years. His last album, Taraxacum, sounded like a Livity Sound record built from twigs. On Loom Dream he invites us more explicitly than ever to reconnect with the natural world. Field recordings are coloured with broad melodic strokes, underpinned by rhythms that sound like rustling leaves or falling water. And amongst the tranquility, moments of turbulence and unease remind us that the natural world is not always the pure idyll that we might wish it to be.
Fontaines D.C.’s Dogrel could easily have been a flat concoction. (Men writing poems over guitars? Groundbreaking.) Instead, it ended up being one of the best ways to connect with a Dublin at risk of being eradicated by cold-hearted property developers. Grian Chattan’s notepad-and-a-pint-of-stout songwriting mixed with burly vocals pitched him as a romantic urbanite. Dig Dublin City Sky and its wistful remembrance of a drunken dance on a rainy night. Dig the almost derisory simplicity of Sha Sha Sha, ostensibly forged for the sole purpose for groups to chant around town. As Dogrel travelled as far as Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show, it reminded the world that Irish indie can be as fiery as ever, led by a band that said they were going to be big and then willed it into reality.
While Kenny Beats and Rico Nasty have both had banner years, their work together always shines the brightest. Ever since the pair first got in the studio and made Smack a Bitch, it’s been clear they bring out the most aggressive, confrontational parts of one another’s music; Rico’s sugary “Kennyyyy” tag prefixing hit after hit of crushing bass and toxic 808s. Anger Management is that aggression boiled down into 18 minutes that include a Jay-Z flip and features from Earth Gang and Baauer (yes, he of Harlem Shake infamy). Calmer heads prevail as the tape comes to a close, but Anger Management’s best moments come when Kenny’s blownout, heavy metal-inspired beats collide with Rico’s raspy braggadocio on cuts like Cheat Code and Big Titties and chaos is unleashed.
Dean Van Nguyen
black midi Schlagenheim Rough Trade
Oli XL Rogue Intruder/Soul Enhancer Bloom
Holly Herndon PROTO 4AD
rRoxymore Face to Phase Don’t Be Afraid
This time last year, black midi were navigating a wave of hype that might’ve consumed a lesser band. Instead, these four precocious Brit School graduates ignored the best new band hysteria, delivering a debut album that doubled down on their strain of virtuosic rock music. Spasming between krautrock-style freakouts and exploratory jam tracks, taut post-punk and Swanslike noise, Schlagenheim is elevated by the band’s two singular assets – Morgan Simpson’s free jazz drumming and the stylised and gnomic vocals of lead singer Geordie Greep. The result is unhinged and utterly unique – well, what else do you expect from a band whose guitarist poleaxed himself on a piano at the Mercurys. Maybe, just maybe, the hype was deserved.
Following a standout contribution to PAN’s Mono No Aware compilation, keen eyes were on the relative unknown Oli XL for the release of his debut album. In many ways, the record shares hallmarks with his clubdeconstructing label mates – most notably a hyperreal digital sheen – but it is set apart by a tenderness and lightheartedness that many of his contemporaries eschew. The beats bounce like mangled UK garage, as if an MJ Cole track had been cut up and reconstructed on a faulty MPC. Its stop-start rhythms, vinyl scratches and chattering vocals recall Dizzee’s Boy In Da Corner or Basement Jaxx, creating a fascinating record at the intersection between pop and experimental.
The cover of PROTO is a disorientating, uncanny valleyesque meld of all its collaborators’ faces – that is, nearly all of them, because one of them doesn’t have a face. Spawn is the AI processor Holly Herndon created with partner Mat Dryhurst and developer Jules LaPlace, which was able to listen in on what human composers were playing during the album’s production and add musical ideas of its own. She named it 'Spawn' because its curiosity and receptivity to learning reminded her of a child – albeit a metallic bleeping one. The artificial intelligence-entwined results are a dizzying, futuristic blast of bouncy electronic breaks, filtered choral vocals, and robotic jitters and whispers. By breathing humanity into the synthetic, Herndon considers how we can coexist best with our new, fully-automated family.
rRoxymore’s work on the outer reaches of club music always hinted at introspection, and her debut album saw rRoxymore hunker down even further, retreating into the studio during the winter months to produce it. The record sees the French-born producer strip back her sound, opting for something freer, more explorative and spatial than her previous releases. The beatless Home Is Where the Music Is contains a meditative mood and sets the album’s deep listening tone, while lead single Passages is at once sumptuous, sparse and eerie, incorporating futuristic dub with a dazzling sci-fi quality. With little room for retro aesthetics or a backward gaze, Face to Phase could soundtrack a journey into an alternate dimension, far-flung into the future. Importantly, it marks rRoxymore as one of the most engaging voices in electronic music today.
Oscar Henson Louise Brailey
Sammy Jones Vivian Yeung
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
DaBaby Baby on Baby Interscope Records
Julia Jacklin Crushing Polyvinyl
Giant Swan Giant Swan Keck
Carla dal Forno Look Up Sharp Kallista
The buoyant flow, winning charisma and irresistible online personality of Charlotte MC DaBaby made him one of the year’s most undeniable breakthrough stars. Through blockbuster features and his own material, he’s firmly established himself as the golden boy of the new generation. What’s most impressive about his meteoric rise is his technical ability. While keeping the youthful energy of radio-friendly trap, DaBaby comes with a sculpted, crystal-clear delivery which accentuates his punchlines. At risk of sounding like washed-out traditionalists, DaBaby can really rap. This shines brightest on his debut studio album Baby on Baby. DaBaby 2020!
When Lana Del Rey brought Julia Jacklin onstage for a duet on her NFR! tour, it brought to wider attention what Jacklin’s fans knew already – her 2019 album Crushing really was something special. Together the two performed Jacklin’s Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You, a track so beautifully devastating it feels like she’s reaching under your ribcage and giving your heart a tight squeeze. Crushing is a heavy listen indeed, Jacklin’s detached vocals dissecting intimate details of body politics, time stretching, and falling in and out of love. But the album’s grungy folk offers release too. Just like Jacklin in the cover art, who is pictured draped in flowers with an expression of soft ecstasy, Crushing will make you melt.
Giant Swan have built up a reputation for their uncompromising live shows, and it’s satisfying to get an album-length take on the duo’s aesthetic, which welds the dark, glassy-eyed anti-glamour of subterranean raves to the skittery sonics of experimental electronica. Building on a string of singles and EPs on adventurous electronic labels like Whities and Timedance, Giant Swan veers from thudding techno to grinding ambient and back again. Not a Crossing is a highlight, producing a certain unnervingly hypnotic effect, while Peace Fort 9 is plain spooky, with flashes of distorted noise periodically flaring from a gloomy melodic mist. Restless and spectral, Giant Swan are a welcome, noisy part of the electronic avant-garde.
Few artists create a mood like Carla dal Forno. Since the Australian-born, London-based multi-instrumentalist emerged with 2016 debut You Know What It’s Like, her output has been aligned with a hazy, 80s-indebted portrait of post-punk. Look Up Sharp, her best record to date, looks to her influences but expands on her sound with a clearer vision. Here, the songs are slow and foreboding, with bass-heavy guitars, feather-light synths and textured production evoking the ambient anxiety that comes with the chaos of modern life, or a particularly draining relationship – two subjects at the centre of Look Up Sharp. Dal Forno whips up a quiet oblivion that swells with glowering animosity (you only have to look as far as the sharp-tongued So Much Better) but settles in and ultimately becomes a source of solace.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Maxo Kream Brandon Banks RCA Records
Eartheater Trinity Chemical X
billy woods & Kenny Segal Hiding Places Backwoodz Studioz
Is the child doomed to become like the parent? The cover of Brandon Banks juxtaposes Maxo Kream’s face with that of his father, setting the tone for a wounding depiction of the blood bonds that partially define one man. Here, the Houston rapper continues to refine and develop his style, finding more experimental beats without ever sacrificing the grittiness of his approach. Kream’s husky voice and precise writing lay out the messy reality of family ties. And on Pray 2 the Dope, the Texan serves up a drug rap classic, asserting the harsh reality that the hustle must be prioritised before prayer. It’s worth 1,000 Chance the Rapper religious joints – the reality that faith can’t cure the earthly woes of the dayto-day grind.
Up to now, Alexandra Drewchin has always felt at home in the subversive margins of experimental music. Trinity feels different. On her liquid-themed album, the Queens-based artist embraces the fluid structures of club music, enlisting a roster of New York producers for the ride (AceMo, Tony Seltzer, Kwes Darko, Color Plus, denzxl, Dadras and Hara Kiri). Whereas 2018’s IRISIRI opens with flourishes of harps and marries a sense of romanticism with surrealism, Trinity sees Drewchin layer “gushy wet love” anthems (namely, Fontanel) with washes of choral vocals throughout; at the end, the album culminates with the delirious joy of trance music in Solid Liquid Gas. Like much of Drewchin’s work, the album is heavily draped in ecstasy and catharsis but here, these qualities find expression in the dopaminehigh transcendence of the dancefloor.
Arguably the underground rap release of the year, Hiding Places saw woods and Segal both on careerbest form. Over guitar-heavy, loosely constructed instrumentals and loops, woods crafts intricate monologues that balance social commentary and humour with a deft touch. Whether it’s the hook of Spider Hole – “I don't wanna go see Nas with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall/ No man of the people, I wouldn't be caught dead with most of y'all” – or the concluding lines of Speak Gently – “I’m getting your mail/ I’m reading it/ It says you’re broke” – woods delivers some of the best bars on record this year. Throw in a Succession sample and there’s no way Hiding Places wasn’t going to end up on this list.
Dean Van Nguyen
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ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Girl Band The Talkies Rough Trade
Efdemin New Atlantis Osgut Ton
100 gecs 1000 gecs Dog Show Records
Loraine James For You And I Hyperdub
Girl Band’s combination of post-punk ferocity and techno-indebted grooves has always been a winning formula but on The Talkies they perfected the recipe. Lead singer Dara Kiley sounds like Frank Black on pingers, circling the dancefloor as industrial grooves throb beneath his frantic yelps. While in places the album’s hardcore influences break through, the majority of tracks are mixed not for heaviness or brutality but to disorientate and disturb, distorted bass and guitar folded into a whirlpool of noise on tracks like Aibphobia and Laggard. With questions hanging over the group’s return before its release, The Talkies was a triumphant comeback from the Dublin four-piece.
Berlin-based producer Phillip Sollmann – also known as Efdemin – seems to exist on the fringes of the Ostgut Ton roster despite being one of Berghain’s longestserving club residents. Sollmann’s latest studio album cements him as a techno mainstay with ease, but it’s the boldness of this release that makes it stand out. At eight tracks long, New Atlantis could have worked as one long intertwined composition. The album, bookended by two otherworldly vocal tracks, is a homage to Francis Bacon’s unfinished novel of the same name. Despite the lofty ambition, it’s an incredibly mature record. From ambient drone to guitar to whirring, hypnotic techno, Sollmann captures Bacon’s dream world to stunning effect, with every listen demanding more of your attention, revealing something new each time.
As 100 gecs, Laura Les and Dylan Brady have found themselves appointed the rulers of the post-internet musical world. As proficient in memes as they are in music, the pair walk a tightrope between irony and experimentalism on their debut album 1000 gecs, applying a shitposter’s approach to both lyrics and genre. The result is a chaotic, brash, hyperactive and utterly glorious collection of songs that refuse to sit still and draw on everything from happy hardcore to screamo for influence. And with AG Cook and the PC Music cohort lending their backing, the duo look set to further takeover alt-pop circles in the 2020s. You may well hate this record the first time you hear it, but stay the course, and soon enough you’ll know every word, wub and car crash sound effect by heart.
With her first record for Hyperdub (having selfreleased several projects since 2015) Loraine James has produced one of the most rewarding records of the year. Exploring themes of love, home, queerness and blackness, a mirage of IDM-indebted lushness is punctuated with compressed, serrated percussion, and bursts of aggression (London Ting // Dark As Fuck) are as fully realised as those of devastating tenderness (Sensual). With a powerful softness reminiscent of Tirzah’s Devotion, For You And I manages to disorientate with its swirling electronics, yet still leaves you feeling as though James’ soul is laid bare.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib Bandana RCA Records
Big Thief U.F.O.F. 4AD
Murlo Dolos Coil Records
Summer Walker Over It LVRN/Interscope Records
Some flicks demand a sequel. Five years after Madlib and Freddie Gibbs crafted their classic blaxploitation joint on wax Piñata, the beatnik producer and tough-asold-boots rapper serve up another gripping set soaked in cinematic gangster lore. Like before, Lib traps his partner in crime in the 1970s, using his great instinct for cutting up dusty samples to surround Gibbs’ gruff voice with thick slabs of buttery soul and red-hot funk. With the scene set, Freddie Kane’s candid drug narratives come to life – his writing loaded with fine detail and emotional resonance, his delivery dazzling in its technical trickery. This is a pair at the height of their powers.
New Yorkers Big Thief have maintained a pretty damn consistent hit rate since their 2016 debut, but with their alien third album, they placed themselves on a trajectory entirely of their own. While their earlier works were rooted down with a poppy immediacy, U.F.O.F’s world is one of overwhelming subtlety. This is an album populated by small moments of wonder: microcrescendos that lead, not to moments of release, but to points of collapse, dead ends and devastating hush. The instrumentation is so impossibly loose that harmonies seem to pool together like water, and Adrianne Lenker’s whispered vocals feel disembodied, as if communicated through the ether.
Murlo’s debut album is a lesson in how to build narrative in dance music without losing sight of the groove. Accompanied by a comic written and illustrated by the producer, Dolos builds a sense of story through organic sounding synths, dynamic shifts in pace and moments of pupil-dilating euphoria. Through the record Murlo commands his arsenal of horn samples and synths like a conductor, creating a sense of classicism that’s bolstered by the folkloric imagery of the Manchester producer’s live show. Thanks to its foundations in the sprawling world of UK bass – with grime, garage and LuckyMeesque hyperactivity all finding their way into the mix – it can still draw gunfingers as well, with tracks like Ascension holding their own on the dancefloor just as well as on headphones.
Some artists live up to their name. It seems barely a coincidence that Summer Walker’s music sounds like a heady evening in late August, fireflies whizzing around East Atlanta, the night air dappled with trap beats and a gingerly plucked guitar. Over It, Walker’s debut studio album, not only excels in maintaining this dreamy ambience but also stands firmly in the middle ground between the old and new schools of R&B. While its staccato beats and syrupy harmonies are firmly anchored in the now, tracks like the sultry standout Playing Games and Come Thru (which contain elements of Destiny Child’s Say My Name and Usher’s You Make Me Wanna… respectively) use 90s nostalgia to their advantage, flawlessly marrying all the ingredients that have made Walker the breakout R&B artist of 2019.
Dean Van Nguyen
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Erika De Casier Essentials Independent Jeep Music
Solange When I Get Home Columbia Records
Kedr Livanskiy Your Need 2MR
Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? Dark Room / Interscope
Listening to Essentials feels like reading Erika De Casier’s diary; a document of intimacy so candid and assured that it’s hard to believe it’s her debut album. As a Regelbau affiliate and DJ Sports’ go-to vocal collaborator, the Danish artist cut her teeth with the experimental electronic scene. But on Essentials, her voice sits at the centre. De Casier sings with the quiet wisdom of Sade and Aaliyah; a voice so soothing and aqueous it could be bottled up and sold as a healer. From the harpsichord funk of Do My Thing – a direct warning signal to an overbearing partner – to the R&B drama of What U Wanna Do? and the airy bliss of a new relationship on Puppy Love, it’s an album that’s as idealistic as it is rooted in reality; a celestial hymn for millennials in love with everything.
Solange’s critically esteemed A Seat at the Table was always going to be a tough act to follow, but her fourth studio album When I Get Home felt like a departure from its predecessor, making them impossible to compare. It was definitely weirder, bounding from one bold idea to the next. Tracks like the jazz-tinged Almeda draw on her black Southern heritage, and, like so much of this record, are an ode to African American culture. Notably, Solange demonstrates her considerable curatorial prowess, collaborating with the likes of Gucci Mane, Sampha, Playboi Carti and Pharell. All are harnessed to help build out her considerable vision and nudge her aesthetic into unexpected directions. And that’s the beauty of Solange.
Speaking to Crack Magazine back in August, Kedr Livanskiy described how Your Need was born from a frenzy of creativity that originated when Livanskiy teamed up with St. Petersburg producer Flaty to record a single. Both accomplished DJs in their own right, before long the duo were swapping inspirations and producing tracks at a frenetic pace, accumulating an album's worth of material in just 10 days. Productionwise, Your Need is rife with club influences, from the uptempo kicks of Bounce 2 to the dub echoes of Lugovy (November Dub), each one warped deftly into a foil of Livanskiy's airy vocals. Pop records that riff on the dancefloor are nothing new, but the fizzing, aux cordgrabbing eclecticism of Your Need sounds more like all the best afters you've ever been to, distilled into one.
Largely depending on how close to the millenium you were born and how you feel about emo, Billie Eilish is either the voice of her generation or some kind of evil Spotify-created pop destroyer. Regardless of what you think, with the voice and songwriting poise of a 50s jazz singer and the aesthetic sensibility of a gothic hypebeast (so glad this decade is ending), Eilish marked herself out early as Gen Z’s first true superstar. From the charttopping groove of Bad Guy to the swooning Wish You Were Gay through to the tender balladry of When the Party’s Over, Eilish displayed a depth few pop stars, let alone teenage ones, possess.
Rachel Grace Almeida
The Comet is Coming Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery Impulse!
Octo Octa Resonant Body T4T LUV NRG
Quelle Chris Guns Mello Music Group
Coltrane in space! Sun Ra at SubClub! Blade Runner but with saxophones and in London! None of these would be a ridiculous way to describe The Comet is Coming’s second album. Combining the world of British bass, jazz and more than a few hints of prog, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery weaves together an occasionally dystopian sounding alternate universe. Towering moments like opener Because the End is Really the Beginning display Shabaka and co’s cinematic tendencies while sitting alongside groovier, almost club-ready tracks like Timewave Zero, which bristles ominously with horns before breaking down into euphoric house piano and shuffling, half-Afrobeat-halffootwork-drum-patterns. A landmark album in another banner year for Shabaka Hutchings.
No one in dance music bottles joy like Octo Octa. So far, her albums have traced a cathartic emotional journey, from 2013’s Between Two Selves, which marked a period prior to coming out as a trans woman, to 2016’s Where Are We Going?, which mapped uncertainty, movement and “Fleeting Moments of Freedom”. There’s very little to be uncertain about in this year’s Resonant Body. Its buoyant breakbeat and divine 90s-indebted house marks a moment of emotional clarity – and its overriding emotion is one of pure joy. A paean to the collective bliss of a dancefloor packed with sticky bodies, feelings are felt wholly and delivered with a gut punch in a celebration of vulnerability, intimacy, and pure rave euphoria. The most radiant release of 2019.
Using firearms, and America’s relationship with them, as a thematic core, prolific Detroit rapper Quelle Chris delivered one of his most intriguing and rewarding projects in 2019. Despite often being billed as a conscious rapper, Guns carries with it an immediacy and clarity in production that side-steps any preachiness. As the cover art suggests, there’s an absurdist, avant-rap quality to the record which gives it an addictive vibrancy – pairing the oddball impulses of Danny Brown with the nuanced perspective of artists like Kendrick. Increasingly, headlines about shootings have begun to blur into one. By interrogating the reality of the stories and finding new sonic ground through his own productions, Chris zeroed-in and found a startling urgency.
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ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Little Simz GREY Area AGE 101 MUSIC
Carter Tutti Void Triumvirate Conspiracy International
Jenny Hval The Practice of Love Sacred Bones
On Little Simz’s third album, GREY Area, the deep-thinking rapper matches her indomitable strengths with a richer set of instrumentals and more adroit songcraft. Simz, in her familiar north London tone, raps over the kind of heavy, percussion-driven beats that Nas was leaning on a decade ago. The battering drums of Boss sees Simz at her most dissonant, while the fuzzy bassline and dramatic strings of Offence sound like they were captured from the grubbiest corner of the 70s soul canon. On the other end of the stylistic spectrum, the sweet hook of Selfish forms a fresh slice of laid-back lounge rap. This is Simz at her most enjoyable, delivering everything that makes her distinct, but with a welcome layer of polish.
This is the third and final album from Carter Tutti Void, the collaborative project of Throbbing Gristle alumni Chris Carter and Cosey Fanny Tutti, and Factory Floor’s Nik Void. Much like 2012’s Transverse and 2015’s f(x), Triumvirate’s largely improvised approach unearths a dark and alluring energy that fogs the mind. Its six tracks are thick with the primitive sensuality at the heart of all good industrial and EBM: pulsating synths throb beneath Carter’s propulsive, rudimentary beats. The burning air of ceremony hangs heavy throughout. At many points, there is space for a listener to crawl inside the sound, allowing for hypnotic, hallucinatory moments. Very appropriate for such a rich and intoxicating parting gift from what’s proven a fiercely creative venture – it’s sad to see them go.
After the decadent textures of 2016’s Blood Bitch, where Jenny Hval would go next was anyone’s guess. The answer, it seems, is an all-encompassing dissertation on intimacy and desire expressed through the prism of 90s trance music. The Practice of Love is, in a word, spellbinding. The record’s chasm of hard dance rhythms and arpeggiated synths runs parallel with its lyrical dichotomy; concerns over women’s abilities to pursue nonheteronormative trajectories in their relationships are validated even as Hval exalts the transcendent, almost clichéd bliss of “giving into the ordinary.” It’s an apt analogy for the album itself – The Practice of Love takes on a subject matter exhausted beyond belief and emerges with a work of radiant profundity.
Dean Van Nguyen Jake Indiana
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Ghosteen Ghosteen Ltd
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell! Polydor / Interscope
Lingua Ignota Caligula Profound Lore
Earlier this year, when a fan asked if he feels his late son Arthur is communicating with him on his Red Hand Files site, Nick Cave wrote that he feels a presence all around him; the soothing power of the idea of an afterlife. Ghosteen is a transcendental album that attempts to make sense of this life-altering loss. It fits all the despair and love he can carry into the smudged shapes of songs. There’s aching pain, of course, but there’s also joy in the memories and their unbreakable bond. It’s a reminder that there are no simple answers. Here, Cave seems more vital than ever, a master of his craft who has channelled immense grief into something that burns with beauty.
When Lana Del Rey announced she’d teamed up with pop producer Jack Antonoff for her sixth album, it raised some eyebrows. But far from adopting his signature bombastic production, Norman Fucking Rockwell! stakes out more minimalist territory. Often accompanied by little more than a piano, Del Rey demonstrates some of her most perceptive writing to date – cutting through the myth of male genius, most notably on the title track, which addresses a flawed “man-child” who blames the news for his bad poetry. What’s more, in a continuation from Lust for Life, her universe is now more aligned with present-day America and its many ills. Despite the unflinching gaze, what glimmers through the sprawling odes to California is hope – and a fear of hoping. That’s a perfect encapsulation of 2019.
Kristin Hayter’s steel cage of layered chants, croaks and screamed lyrical barbs aims straight for the blackened heart of the misogyny surrounding heavy music on the hulking, hugely moving CALIGULA. By reclaiming violent, abrasive sounds – one of her abusers was “a very powerful noise musician in the Providence community" – she sets about cauterising her own wounds with metal and noise. “Throw your body in the fucking river,” she intones with shifting mercilessness and fragility on DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR, a song she recorded the vocals for in one take from the floor of her closet, when she was, in her words, “truly ruined.” CALIGULA is female retribution distilled; it's something fucked-up and freeing growing in the void.
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Angel Olsen All Mirrors Jagjaguwar
Anthony Naples Fog FM ANS
Tyler, the Creator IGOR A Boy is a Gun / Columbia
Angel Olsen embraced high drama on her fourth album, underscored by a new film noir-indebted aesthetic and a music video for All Mirrors that took cues from Sunset Boulevard. Funny then, that the album was originally conceived as a stripped-back work, an idea junked after Olsen made alternative recordings of the tracks adorned by string and synth arrangements from Ben Babbitt and Jherek Bischoff. The best songs on the record, such as the cinematic Lark, attain a quasi-operatic quality, if not in sound, then in emotion. Indeed, far from obscuring Olsen’s songwriting, the set dressing serves to heighten her disarming directness; the maelstrom of strings and synths framing that elemental voice. All Mirrors is extra, and guess what, it is just right.
Anthony Naples has forged a curious path for himself. Hot off the hype of his breakthrough outsider house anthem Mad Disrespect, Naples relocated to Berlin from his native Florida, and subsequently retreated from the spotlight after it didn’t go to plan. A move to New York City later, and Naples found community and purpose again. Enter Fog FM, his fourth solo album and most complete work to date. Expanding on his quick-witted house-slash-techno ruminations, Fog FM has a classic feel to it – a stylish and thoughtfully crafted sound that never falls victim to the rooftop house cosmopolitanism that New York often surrounds him with. It’s a defining moment in Naples’ low-key but colourful career.
Having previously demanded the most attention of anyone in the room, on IGOR Tyler seemed content to work in the shadows. Inviting the likes of Solange, slowthai, Frank Ocean, Kanye and many more into the studio, guests pop up exactly where you’d least expect; a Playboi Carti verse over some lavish piano chords, Lil Uzi lending vocals on Igor’s Theme, Jack White somewhere in the mix as well. Hell, even La Roux makes an appearance on Gone Gone / Thank You. Through those intricately layered contributions, Tyler dissolved genre entirely, distinguishing himself yet again from his contemporaries and elevating himself into the pantheon of artists – Prince, Pharrell, Kanye in the good old days – whose sound serves a category all of its own.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Sun Runners Lust for Life Apron
Kano Hoodies All Summer Parlophone Records
Lord Tusk may not have the same name recognition as his previous collaborators and associates Klein and Dean Blunt, but his distinctive, heavy-lidded approach is becoming harder and harder to ignore. With Lust for Life, Tusk’s second LP under the name Sun Runners, he comes close to a breakout moment. While melancholy and nostalgia are coded into every gated drum, 90s R&B sample and retro synth chord on here, but there’s something discomfiting about the repetitious, unchanging nature of these tracks – influenced, surely, by Daniel Lopatin’s late aughts Eccojams project. These aren’t songs as much as incantations and, in the hands of such a deft pop culture obsessive, they are capable of unlocking something approaching the sublime.
In one hell of a year for British hip-hop, London veteran Kano did what he’s always done – proved himself a man apart. Full of soft piano chords and tweaked vocal samples via producers Jodi Milliner and Blue May, Hoodies All Summer artfully absorbs gospel and soul into the rapper’s murky sound as he laments the human cost of a society broken. The ultralight beam sounds of Trouble takes his audience to church as Kano calls out the politicians complicit in the oppression of his community. But on Class of Deja, he re-rewinds the clock back to 2001 and the pirate radio station grooves that once shook London’s tower blocks to their foundations.
Dean Van Nguyen
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
In 2019, FKA twigs crept out of the shadows whispering seven syllables of self-flagellation. On cellophane – a new era’s glistening strings and glum keys replacing the thundering, carnal synth-hop that had shaped her prior work – she repeated a lyric that crystallised the influence of her sophomore record: “Didn’t I do it for you?”
MAGDALENE is a mountain built from the remnants of twigs’ tumultuous past half decade. In that time period, there were relationships that have been dissected by tabloids. Then came a medical diagnosis: a “fruit bowl” of fibroid tumours that put her body through hell. For the first time in her life, she was halted.
FKA twigs MAGDALENE Young Turks In music, there is the familiar, the alien and an in-between space that would be vacant, if not for the existence of FKA twigs. Since the British artist started making music, panting messages of infatuation over spectral R&B beats on 2012’s EP1, the dancer, singer, producer and performance artist has constantly swerved easy definition. She is, after all, a polymath: the kind of artist who would sooner spin all of her plates than exclude part of her persona from her work. That sentiment has trickled through her catalogue to date. Both her breathless debut LP1 and the crushing, maximalist gem that followed it, the M3LL155X EP, capture an artist whose attitude towards creating abstract work, while remaining firmly in touch with reality, is tightly intertwined. Her humanism is as potent as her desire to make something different. Toeing that line and maintaining control has played a key part in helping twigs grow greater than her contemporaries. Her music is scarce but precise, every violent and unearthly beat considered. But sometimes, it’s best to stretch out and feel everything, and let pain shape you in ways it hasn’t before. Enter twigs’ cataclysmic, melancholic masterpiece MAGDALENE.
And so, twigs made a record that mulled over that pain. MAGDALENE wallows in its sore heart; what it feels like to be betrayed by your own body and let down by those you love. The opening few songs feel like the first dizzying hit of confusion when a lover leaves you. Hymnal opener thousand eyes and the melancholy of home with you precede sad day. It's the record’s strongest meeting of emotional lyricism and skewed pop production. The simmering, shaky piano chords and twigs’ perfect enunciation at the start making way for a song that is soaring then, all of a sudden, sad and apocalyptic. The production that wallpapers twigs’ work – predominantly from Arca, Clams Casino, Dev Hynes – has long been one of the most alluring components of it, perhaps even more so than her lyrics. When it comes to those words, she is direct and unambiguous in a way that balances out the proudly cacophonic instrumental. But on MAGDALENE she takes the reins. twigs’ role as a producer focuses less on polished precision and more on capturing emotion in its most aggressive, narcotising form here. Her part in it is so prominent that Nicolas
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Jaar – the most present force on the record beside herself – suggested removing his name from the credits entirely.
MAGDALENE’s core is angered and chaotic. Bulgarian folk choirs battle trap snares on holy terrain, a song that’s been described by some as pandering to the streaming ecosystem, yet still contains 200 coexisting elements. Above the guttural army cries and tingling percussion of fallen alien, twigs delivers the majority of her lines in a piercing falsetto. “In the blazing sun, I saw you/ In the shadows hiding from yourself,” she growls as strobing synths, white noise and melancholic piano chords merge. twigs has always understood and battled with subservience. In her hands, the desire she gives and receives is dangerous, incendiary and a great source of power. On LP1’s Two Weeks, she insistently told a lover "get your mouth open, you know you're mine", before becoming "your sweet little love maker" on Pendulum. M3LL155X contrasts commandeering behaviour (“Now hold that pose for me”) with an offering of herself (“Wind me up/ I’m your doll”). Here, in a sea of songwriting that ponders her emotional state far more bravely and deeper than she has before, that ability to coerce those around her still seeps through. Who are we when the person we love leaves us? What do we become when the body we trust turns against us? Over 39 immaculate minutes, MAGDALENE articulates those feelings in a way that feels, like all of her work, familiar and yet alien. Through grand expressions of weakness, fury and conflict that constantly collide with each other, she has created a blistering soundscape of biblical scale. MAGDALENE is FKA twigs’ very first masterpiece. Douglas Greenwood
23 JANUARY – 1 FEBRUARY 2020
THE TOP 25
OF THE YEAR
Normani Motivation RCA Records
Joe Get Centred Cómeme
Clairo Bags FADER Label
Ms Nina Coqueta Mad Decent
The story of Normani, pop’s heir apparent, is one of resilience. She was brought up on the tough vocal demands of gospel music and from a young age trained in dance and gymnastics. She spent her childhood in New Orleans before her family were displaced following hurricane Katrina. Eventually, she wound up entering the US X Factor and was put into girl group Fifth Harmony where, in 2016, she was targeted by racist trolls. After the group disbanded, Normani began to carve out her own path. Then in August we got Motivation, a pop anthem for the ages with an athletic dance-routine video that rivals Beyonce’s Crazy in Love. Years of work had built to that moment – now the world waits for the next chapter.
For Joe to release a track called Get Centred is pretty rich – his productions hinge on a deliciously off kilter DNA. And Get Centred is so off kilter it’s almost nauseating. The standout track from the EP of the same name, which was his first for Matias Aguayo’s Cómeme imprint, tiptoed around club track conventions. It’s succinctly slinky, with a sophisticated 7/8 time signature essentially jolting you off balance on the dancefloor and whisking you up in a perpetual sense of forward motion. It's a trick that’s not easy for producers to pull off, and with it Joe flew the flag for the great Hessle tradition of alien-sounding bangers in 2019.
As the first single from her debut album Immunity, Bags is the crowning centrepiece – and here, Clairo doubles down on the inward gaze. With a narrative weaved around the development of feelings for a friend, throughout, Clairo’s voice retains a passive tone, giving the appearance of seeming coolly detached. The rest of the single, however, is painted in shades of emotional intensities that swell and spill over during the chorus. The scrapes of skin on the guitar, combined with the track’s lo-fi quality, heightens a sense of physical closeness, while keys on the piano sound as though they’re being played heavily, clumsily. We’re now well into cuffing season but even if you’ve got it locked down, Bags has the immense power of transporting you back to those tangled emotions at the beginning.
There are few things more liberating than getting down to a perreo intenso – or, intense grinding – at the club, and Ms Nina knows it. The Argentina-born, Madridbased rising reggaeton star’s musical manifesto is centered almost entirely around booty dancing, so as long as it’s consensual. This is the doctrine at the heart of the neo-perreo movement in which she operates in; the feminist, internet-inspired reggaeton offshoot championing the progressive politics that the genre’s traditional roots often sideline. With Coqueta, she keeps this same energy. Carried by a pounding dembow beat, alluringly auto-tuned vocals and a half-time break that you can’t help but drop down to the floor to, her vision of a consensual sweat-drenched perreo comes to life. Reggaeton is famously an insatiably horny genre, and Ms Nina’s version of it is unrestrained, empowering, and downright electrifying.
Duncan Harrison Vivian Yeung
Rachel Grace Almeida
Girl Unit Pure Gold Night Slugs
Caroline Polachek Parachute Manimal
K-LONE Sine Language Wisdom Teeth
Megan Thee Stallion ft. Juicy J Simon Says 300 Entertainment
If Girl Unit ever put a foot wrong, it was writing a breakthrough hit too big for its own good. Arriving on the scene in 2010 with the decade-defining anthem Wut, he set himself a precedent that was near impossible to follow – and indeed it took nine years for his excellent debut album to finally arrive. The record’s highlight, Pure Gold deploys the same key elements that made Wut a hit: euphoric pads, perfectly engineered 808s, and a moreishly simple earworming melody. But where Wut felt raw and adolescent, Pure Gold flows with a smooth self-assuredness – the sound of a grown artist who has matured without losing his golden touch.
Caroline Polachek drifted back onto the scene this year with Parachute. The first track recorded for her album Pang, it enlisted PC Music man Danny L Harle – a change in direction for the artist, formerly one half of twee mid-aughts duo Chairlift. Inspired by a stirring dream Polachek had about defense mechanisms in the face of emergency, Polachek’s vocals figure skate through through lofty, ice-cold ambience. The track’s stretched metaphor speaks to the emotional intensity of those messy in between spaces in life, the elusive stability we crave when we’re drifting, and holding onto the faith that we’re headed, as Polachek says, to “the soft ground”. An elegant pivot from indie darling to avant-pop queen.
K-Lone’s run of releases in the last couple of years have been as exciting and as they have consistently brilliant since his debut in 2016. Follow the London producer’s output and you’ll find experimentation in dubstep, techno and the murky leanings of UK bass. These sensibilities come together for his most accomplished EP to date, Sine Language. But the title track is K-Lone’s crowning moment. As it funnells a body-moving dose of Miami bass through washes of ambient hush, Sine Language is carried by echoed rap vocals and K-Lone’s intoxicating use of sped-up hi hat rolls – prompting the kind of deep, focused moments of dancing that swirl around the club when a track of this calibre gets dropped.
Few musicians have had a better year than Texas’ Megan Thee Stallion. Between coining the Hot Girl Summer meme (and later making a single of the same title with Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign), and the release of her Fever mixtape, Hot Girl Meg has been one of the most culturally dominant rappers of 2019. All the reasons for this are summed up on the earworm mixtape track Simon Says, on which Megan’s inherently listenable voice, grinning purple-devil-emoji sense of humour, and proclivity for a well placed sample are all on full display. It’s a standout moment for a woman with the world at the tip of her enviable knee-high boots.
Anna Tehabsim Theo Kotz
TRACKS OF THE YEAR
Caterina Barbieri Fantas Editions Mego
Squid The Cleaner Speedy Wunderground
KH Only Human Text Records
Billie Eilish Bad Guy Interscope Records
Italian composer Caterina Barbieri is part of a new generation of modular synthesists exploring the transformative power of minimalism and repetition. Fantas, the ecstatic and flag-planting opener to her debut for Editions Mego, shrinks her work to a more human scale without losing any of the universe-scraping profundity. Embedding barely perceptible developments in patterns within drifting, macro shifts, the first half of Fantas is spent painstakingly building a spikey melodic motif to a climax, only for it to burn away to reveal a second, more meditative movement. By the third evolution, the listener’s sense of perception is so bonded with the track’s cyclical mechanics that the 10 minutes running length could be two, or 200.
Squid’s ascent seemingly appeared out of nowhere. The five-piece first sparked a quiet commotion with their atmospheric Lino EP in 2017, but it’s The Cleaner that catapulted them to new heights. With all the makings of a stylish post-punk track, The Cleaner invokes the same eccentric flair invoked by Talking Heads or DEVO, its deliciously prominent bassline and lopsided vocals sitting at the centre of the whole thing. The single’s artwork is similarly whimsical, with an unadorned illustration of a suburban street that feels as wry and tongue-in-cheek as the song itself. The Cleaner presents a promising, if remarkably self-assured, snapshot of what’s in store from Squid – a musical force that is frenetic, at times nonsensical, and everything that’s missing from music right now.
There’s something refreshingly carefree in the way that Kieren Hebden (aka Four Tet) approaches his career. It can be seen in the way he releases his music: without fanfare, often uploaded on a whim to Bandcamp. It is evidenced by the range of artists he chooses to work with, from Burial to controversial EDM star Skrillex. And it can be heard on Only Human: a deep, progressive techno track, made exhilaratingly silly with a looping Nelly Furtado vocal. A more self-serious artist might shy away from risking such bright, poppy elements in the dour context of big-room techno. Luckily, Hebden doesn’t seem to care in the slightest.
Great pop songs get inside your head. The textural production of Bad Guy makes it feel as if it’s doing that literally. Like all of Eilish’s revolutionary ASMR-pop, the song crawls under your skin and lingers with an offbeat intrigue. A whispered vocal, a throbbing pulse, an airy top-end hook all paired with taunting lyrics that challenge the very notions of what it means to be a pop star in 2019. Of all her earworms, this one stuck around longest and best encapsulates her singular vision. As one bewildering decade draws to a close, it’s clear who’s taking control of the next one. Duncan Harrison
Louise Brailey Rachel Grace Almeida
21 Savage A Lot Slaughter Gang/Epic
The Comet is Coming Summon the Fire UMG Recordings
Perfume Genius Eye in the Wall Matador Records
Floating Points LesAlpx Ninja Tune
Though it was technically released at the tail end of 2018, A Lot’s impact undoubtedly hit this year off the back of his Tonight Show performance. The song that may or may not have landed him in ICE custody, A Lot isn’t the best track in 21 Savage’s discography but it is a pure distillation of his icy take on Atlanta’s flagship sound. While Savage is stoney-faced at the best of times, his monotone delivery on this song masked a growing lyrically vulnerability, his flexes on the hook counterbalanced by honest verses. NB: This is absolutely not the J Cole version.
Shabaka and co probably didn’t set out to write a jazz track you could drop at Bang Face when they wrote Summon the Fire, but intentional or not, they did. While the entirety of Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery is astounding, it’s safe to say that this track has played a vital role in propelling the group to new heights of international, if not yet intergalactic, fame. As celestially-minded as you’d expect from the Comet trio, this song pays equal homage to British rave (that honking, staccato, almost football terrace-worth mid section) and Sun Ra (you know, space), pushing the UK’s jazz revival further into unexplored territory.
Described by Mike Hadreas as a “cosmic peep show”, Eye in the Wall was the first piece of music from to be taken from Hadreas’ and Kate Wallich’s collaborative dance performance piece The Sun Still Burns Here. Certainly, the sense of the body, of movement through space, is mapped onto the contours of the track, its libidinous analogue undulations and nocturnal atmospherics, keently expressed in a ur-language of moans recorded low in the mix. Every bit as epic as its nine-minute length would suggest, Eye in the Wall felt less like a stylistic departure than a natural development for an artist well acclimated to exploring the intersections of desire and pain.
A step back from the jazzier reaches of his recent sound, Sam Shepherd got back to business with this surprisingly straightforward banger. Still, LesAlpx keeps you on your toes. Floating Points wastes no time, with fidgeting, restless percussion and weeping chords cranking up the intensity from the offset, starting taut and elastic before shifting to prog and then – in true FloPo fashion – unravelling and reforming into unexpected, satisfying configurations. For those itching for Shepherd to return his gaze to the dancefloor, LesAlpx was a salve.
Mike Vinti Mike Vinti
TRACKS OF THE YEAR
Pop Smoke Welcome to the Party Republic Records
Charli XCX ft. Christine and the Queens Gone Asylum Records
Tyler, the Creator Earfquake Columbia Records
Thom Yorke Dawn Chorus XL Recordings
In case you needed further evidence of UK drill’s banner year, even the best American drill tunes are being made in the UK now. Produced by Ilford’s 808Melo, Welcome to the Party has been the breakout anthem for a growing contingent of Brooklyn drill MCs who have picked up the baton from London and Chicago of late and offered their own mutant take on the genre. Pop Smoke’s grizzly, lopsided flow is the perfect compliment to the dubsteptinged throbs of the beat; grime might not have fully found its feet in the US but it looks like UK drill just might.
In 2019, Charli XCX finally geared up into album mode, and for her first trick, she released Gone. A flashy, hooky track with a big name feature in the form of Chris of Christine and the Queens, it showcases Charli railing against her insecurities with her weapon of choice: massive synths and a chorus so walloping it should be a health and safety concern. Though Charli has consistently shown that she doesn’t need to take the traditional pop route, Gone’s gesture towards it demonstrated that, like most things she turns her hand to, she could if she wanted to.
There aren’t many Tyler, the Creator songs you could get away with singing at karaoke but if the sweeping melodies on Earfquake don’t make you want to neck your fifth pint and leap on stage with the mic then we’re sorry but you don’t have a soul. Hopelessly in love, the track balances layers of vocal harmony, 80s synths and a Playboi Carti verse like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Fold in some needle-sharp countermelodies, one of the catchiest hooks of the year and the fact it was originally written for Justin Bieber and there’s little doubt that this is the standout track from IGOR.
Sitting as a relative anomaly on Thom Yorke’s recent record Anima, Dawn Chorus sits alone amongst the album’s dystopian themes as a stunning lament to absence. A sonically uncomplicated ode to someone missing, the track is layered in fuzz and driven by a repetitive monochrome pulse. This stripped-back simplicity makes Yorke’s lyricism all the more poignant, allowing lines like, “In the middle of the vortex/ The wind picked up/ Shook up the soot/ From the chimney pot/Into spiral patterns/ Of you, my love” to land with devastating clarity. As Yorke grapples with memory, loss and reminiscence, it falls to the rising, thrumming synths to offer a vital glimpse of hope.
Headie One ft. Dave 18HUNNA Relentless Records
Sharon Van Etten Seventeen Jagjaguwar
Hiro Kone Feed My Ancestors Dais Records
Lana del Rey hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have, but I have it Polydor
Two of the year’s brightest UK rap talents unite for the kind of banger that only comes around every so often. Both Headie One and Dave have a certain carelessness that can’t be taught. They freewheel across producer 169’s icy instrumental with ease, Dave’s supple flow counterpoint Headie’s stoic delivery. The video opens with Headie pacing leisurely, dead-staring the camera, before passing Dave who’s doing the same. It’s a good illustration of the track’s energy – cold, unflinching, unignorable.
Seventeen is a throwback. A strapping rock song dressed in the frayed denim of nostalgia. Even its conceit – the care-worn adult mythologising a gilded, prelapsarian youth – is a staple of pop culture. What tips this clear standout from Sharon Van Etten’s fifth album into something more than the sum of its well-oiled parts is the profound undertow of loss and sadness: “I used to feel free” Van Etten sings to her younger self, her voice cracking with the weight of a life’s accumulated bullshit. “or was it just a dream?” It isn’t the song’s surging momentum that sweeps you up, nor the rising synths – it's the universalism. So yes, Seventeen is a throwback. It’s also a classic.
Hiro Kone’s music at times sounds abstract, but her ideas rarely are. A strong conceptual framework is at the heart of everything the New York artist does. 2018 album Pure Expenditure examined releases of energy, inspired by texts on capitalism by French philosopher Georges Bataille. Feed My Ancestors further builds on her cerebral universe. Inspired by her ancestral roots, Mao considers the power of absence – in her life, in the lives of others, in history. The song’s galloping kick, with a static sample that crackles like the song’s fractured artwork, is menacing and cinematic, capturing the high-stakes drama of its influences. When a watery synth line breaks the tight-rope tension, and you’re left suspended in a moment of unexpected introspection? A genius at work.
Just over a week into 2019, Lana del Rey dropped hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have, but I have it. Its artwork was a black-and-white selfie, and it followed in the same, strongly piano-led vein as its 2018 predecessor, Venice Bitch. It began the dominance that del Rey would continue with her career-best record Norman Fucking Rockwell! and has endured as one of the best tracks of the year arguably for its simplicity, as her voice bristles against sparse chords, surveying the state of her inner life versus the one projected onto her. Lauren O’Neill
Rachel Grace Almeida
TRACKS OF THE YEAR
rivalry which exists only when you know your opponent inside out, and they know you know. It’s a game of second-guessing, ducking and diving; finding pockets of instrumental that your adversary may have missed; pulling off metaphors and lyrical tricks that will catch your rival (and the audience) off-guard.
Kano Class of Deja Parlophone Records
Class of Deja wasn’t always part of the plan. In interviews surrounding the release of Hoodies All Summer, Kano revealed that he originally planned to build the album around a set of themes – home, hope and humanity. The alien instrumentals and electrifying energy of grime in its purest form might have jarred with such a sensitive analysis of turbulent times. Or so he thought. It wasn’t until a studio session with Ghetts that an old but familiar feeling began to reemerge. Sat side-by-side, the pair wrote bars for a windy instrumental produced by Blue May and Jodie Milliner. When they were finished, they recorded them using the same microphone. It materialised into Class of Deja. Kano and Ghetts came up together in N.A.S.T.Y Crew, an east London grime collective whose show on pirate radio station Deja Vu FM became the stuff of legend. It was on these broadcasts that Kano and Ghetts honed their acrobatic technique. As a pair they exhibit the kind of productive
It’s an energy that’s existed at the core of grime from the very beginning. Whether on Deja Vu broadcasts, Lord of the Mics DVDs, Butterz parties or freestyles in parks, oneupmanship was paramount. It’s a competitiveness that feels distant, in many ways, to the grime of today. Since its rebirth some five years ago, artists have been more concerned with supporting and celebrating each other than sparring. The magic in Class of Deja, is how it returns to this timehonoured tradition without collapsing into nostalgia – recalling a legacy which says more about today than yesterday. In the second chapter of Kano’s double video for this and Trouble, Class of Deja is performed at a wake. Captured in one shot by Aneil Karia (who also directed the final three episodes of Top Boy) Kano performs the track with Ghetts and D Double E in a modest London living room, sharing one wired mic between them. It’s this video that gave the track a biblical heft on first listen, showing the full-body rapture of the music and illustrating the deep cultural significance it bears within communities. And all of this without softening the sheer impact of the music.
Shaolin monk when I step in his temple/ Tag team, man see legends assemble”), all the poetic dexterity of golden-era Jay-Z at twice the speed and with none of the conversational breeze. There’s Kano’s masterful lyrical honouring of scene forefathers like Bushkin and MC Esco, his limber flow darting across the production. Then there’s the almost transcendent sensei presence of D Double E who, like any good teacher, counterpoints the hyperactive energy of his students with a serene authority. Class of Deja is essential to the story Kano told with this album. Not just because no celebration of his home could be complete without a grime track, but because Class of Deja can only exist in 2019. Grime now has the breathing space to be understood in different contexts – a liberty deservedly afforded to a British cultural revolution. These are artists who, while maintaining a youthful exuberance and hunger, no longer need to prove themselves. These sounds, once futuristic and strange, are now rightfully celebrated, a prominent thread in the tapestry of 21st century British music. The tower block that Deja Vu FM used to broadcast from in Stratford no longer exists. It was demolished to make way for redevelopment before the 2012 Olympic Games. It’s one of many on a long list of landmarks lost to a comprehensive attempt to rewrite an entire landscape. Culture, thankfully, is made of tougher stuff. Duncan Harrison
There’s Ghetts’ mind-bending assonance (“They ain't been to the mountain once/
TRACKS OF THE YEAR
THE CLASS OF
2019 THE CLASS OF 2019
OBJECT BLUE LONDON-BASED PRODUCER REARRANGING CLUB MUSIC
REGGAETON’S UNDERGROUND INNOVATOR
A personal highlight of 2019: MY FIGURE BESIDE ME audiovisual show at Goldsmiths, London – my first audiovisual work and first collaboration with Natalia Podgórska, whom I'd married two weeks before the show’s premiere. Months of work finally completed; we were euphoric.
The best and worst things about music culture in 2019: Appropriation was both the best and the worst in all positive and negative ways possible.
The best and worst things about music culture in 2019: Best: Accessibility to music making technology. So much talent is flourishing, I'm always excited by what lands in my inbox from around the world.
Something that surprised me this year: CBD oil actually does shit? A godsend for my insomnia. The album I had on repeat this year: PYUR – Oratorio for the Underworld. What’s the year’s best kept secret? How does everyone bounce back from benders so quickly? People seem to party way longer than me and recover way faster.
Hero of 2019: Omega el Fuerte.
Wishes for 2020: Recognition and support for the people who really contribute to music culture. Survival tips for 2020: Learn how to receive punches… because this business is about how much you can take.
Villain of 2019: Trump.
One prediction for the next decade: More pop artists stealing ideas from underground culture.
The most important thing I’ve learned in 2019: Love prevails!
Something that surprised me this year: The fact that “corridos” are becoming part of pop culture.
Things that need to stay in 2019: The “likes”. It should be about quality not quantity.
Worst: Independent promoters with small budgets and a whole lot of passion don't get enough love or respect.
Wishes for 2020: More nuance, less buzzwords.
The album I had on repeat this year: The Green Trip by T3R Elemento
Hero of 2019: Chelsea Manning.
One prediction for the next decade: I'm hoping Prince Philip will finally die?
The most important thing I’ve learned in 2019: Take it easy with the job and money is not everything.
Villain of 2019: Epstein and his lot take the cake.
THE CLASS OF 2019
OLI XL STOCKHOLM-BASED EXPERIMENTALIST
NETFLIX-FAMOUS FOUR-PIECE CREATED BY CHARLI XCX
The year’s best clubbing experience: I trainwrecked for the first time after seven years of DJing. I was on at peak hour at this festival Creepy Teepee and they didn’t have any booth monitors so I kept my headphones on. I mixed in the new track but accidentally brought up the wrong fader, and first realised after a minute of complete silence in the club, while I was head bobbing hard to the cued music in my headphones. Anyway it was a sick experience.
The least important thing we’ve learnt in 2019: That Liza Minnelli is Judy Garland’s daughter (though it still blew our mind).
The 2019 releases which never left my record bag: I don’t have a record bag but regarding my USB I want to shout out Emiranda, Lurka, Loraine James, BFTT, Lockbox and Shadowax. Villain of 2019: My hometown Stockholm, a truly depressing place that keeps getting worse. I’m writing this at 3pm and the sun is already down.
The album I had on repeat this year: The past month it’s been two amazing debuts from my friends Ecco2k and Malibu, but prior to that I’ve barely been listening to any 2019 music. I’ve mostly been listening to Massive Attack’s Mezzanine and Laurel Halo’s Dust. Wishes for 2020: I want to become rich and famous. Also wishing for a new Laurel Halo album! Survival tips for 2020: Surround yourself with more flowers.
Hero of 2019: Kacey Musgraves and our hair stylist Starlina. The best and worst thing about music culture in 2019: Genre being dead is the best thing. Pop music feels very diverse. 2019 releases that never left our record bag: All the Nasty Cherry singles, Charli, Pang, Norman Fucking Rockwell! and Pony. Underrated in 2019: Matzo ball soup and Debbie’s custom pink drumsticks.
THE CLASS OF 2019
The year’s best clubbing experience: DJing for playboy in New York. We drank a lot of champagne and not much else Villain of 2019: The power cable to Chloe’s pedal board. A highlight from the comment section: “Wass up. I’m into u. Are u a married woman?” Things that need to stay in 2019: Nothing. Let’s take all our bullshit to therapy in 2020 and work through things. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in 2019? You can never pack too many pairs of leather pants.
100 GECS NILÜFER YANYA GUITAR-WIELDING BREAKOUT SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR
DIVISIVE DIGITAL NATIVES MAKING MEMEWORTHY MUSIC
The album I had on repeat this year: My friend, M. T. Hadley – Empty. It only came out the other week but I was listening to the private link a lot prior.
The 2019 releases which never left my record bag: Laura: Black Dresses, six impala, Slayyyter, Deb Never, BLNTSMK, Billie Eilish. Dylan: BLNTSMK, Ravenna Golden, Aaron Cartier.
Things that need to stay in 2019: Hinge. The year’s best kept secret: This band called Chartreuse. Wishes for 2020: To spend a few days without my phone. Survival tips for 2020: Go to the dentist more often. One prediction for the next decade: I feel like we’re going to lose some of our luxuries. The best and worst things about music culture in 2019: A lot of people keep talking about the “death”
of albums which I don’t think is the case or should be, but the bright side is everyone wants to talk about albums. Underrated in 2019: Grapefruits. Also Lime scooters. Overrated in 2019: People saying they hate adults on scooters. Hero of 2019: My mom.
Underrated in 2019: Laura: Wind chimes. Dylan: Hearing protection. Overrated in 2019: Laura: Government endorsed death. Dylan: Fossil fuels.
Villain of 2019: Boris Johnson. A highlight from the comment section: “And thus is the birth of mumble rock.”
Hero of 2019: Laura: Estradiol 2mg tablets. Dylan: Love. Villain of 2019: Laura: Billie Eilish, duh. Dylan: Ketchup.
THE CLASS OF 2019
Something that surprised me this year: Laura: Dylan is just two Metallica snares in a trench coat. Dylan: Fortnite Laura. Things that need to stay in 2019: Laura: The death penalty. Dylan: Ketchup. Survival tips for 2020: Laura: Dylan is wearing a wire. The venue is bugged. Dylan: drINk wATterr !! yoo. One prediction for the next decade: Laura: 100 gecs EGOT.
SHERELLE MANCHESTER’S NEW RAP STAR
THE UK’S FINEST PURVEYOR OF ALL THINGS FAST
The best and worst things about music culture in 2019: The best thing is the fact that everyone’s got their own kind of style and flavour and there’s a mad variety of music in the scene. The worst thing is certain events getting shut down, stopping people from earning a living.
A personal highlight of 2019: Boiler Room.
The year’s best clubbing experience: Probably in Manchester, the night after my show on the Aitch 2 0 tour. I would explain more but I can’t remember most of it. Underrated in 2019: Most of the Manchester music scene! Overrated in 2019: Amiri jeans. A highlight from the comment section: “Aitch or John Shelby.”
Something that surprised me this year: The whole year was crazy. Taste going to No. 2, Buss Down at No. 8, Strike a Pose at No. 8. Everything was mad. The most important thing I’ve learned in 2019: To keep working hard and good things will come. There is always room for improvement.
The best and worst things about music culture in 2019: The best? All the amazing women of colour and LGBTQI people coming through, reclaiming the dance scene again. The worst? Techno Twitter.
One prediction for the next decade: Aitch will be the biggest rapper from the UK.
Underrated in 2019: FlyLo's new album. Overrated in 2019: The gentrified parts of east London. Still, to this day, full of pricks. Especially around the Old Street area. Hero of 2019: DJ Flight & L U C Y.
A highlight from the comment section: "If Sherelle would have legally been allowed to slap everyone who was touching the decks and getting in the way during this set I think she probably would've done it yknow." Big up. The album I had on repeat this year: IGOR by Tyler, the Creator. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in 2019? Money management. Wishes for 2020: All white supremacists disappear. Survival tips for 2020: Stay cute. And support your squad at all costs.
Villain of 2019: Jacob Rees Mogg.
THE CLASS OF 2019
midland Welcome to Downtime: a regular series in which we ask our favourite artists for their cultural recommendations. This month, we catch up with Midland. For the past decade, Harry Agius – aka Midland – has distinguished himself as one of UK club music’s best loved figures. As a producer, DJ and label head, he hard codes a sense of fun and intelligence into everything he does, whether it’s a pumping house and soul set, his own layered, upbeat techno productions or the music he releases through his consistently excellent Graded imprint. We had high expectations for his cultural picks – we weren’t disappointed.
In the Shadow of the American Dream / The Waterfront Journals By David Wojnarowicz Over the last few years, I have started making my way through all of David Wojnarowicz’s work left behind after his death in 1992. These two books seem to occupy a very similar space in my mind; part diary, part monologues, part fiction. In the Shadow of the American Dream is an overview of the diaries he kept from his early teens to his death, as he explored his sexuality and became acknowledged for his work, as well as coming to terms with his HIV status and the deaths of many of his peers. The Waterfront Journals presents monologues from his journeys across America, his encounters both sexual and conversational with hustlers, addicts, runaways and everyone in between. He has given me insight into a generation I was never able to learn from in person.
Another Kind of Life exhibition at the Barbican By Alona Pardo This exhibition at London’s Barbican managed to chart a line across generations without it ever feeling forced. Dianne Arbus’ photos of drag queens and crossdressers felt poignant given their proximity to the Stonewall Riots and her suicide in 1971. Perhaps most powerful was the Casa Susanna section. Casa Susanna was a holiday camp for crossdressers and trans people run by Susanna and Marie Valenti outside New York in the 50s and 60s. The photos were discovered by chance in a New York flea market by Robert Swope. It was a time before there were any guidebooks or protection for people exploring their gender identity.
La Vie En Rose By Malick Sidibé Malick Sidibé was a photographer from Mali – he’s one of the most famous photographers to emerge from the country and, in fact, Africa.This book is a collection of portraits he shot in his studio in Bamako that covers everyone from children to teenagers to adult couples. With every photo, he tells such a unique story. This was a time when you had few chances to take get the photo right, and as such, a lot of the people he photographs have an intensity that you don’t see in the age of digital photography. Cindy Sherman exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery By Cindy Sherman This exhibition was a revelation. I am always in awe of artists who stick to such a specific concept throughout their artistic career. Cindy Sherman only shoots self-portraits. This may sound limited, but in reality the range of the photos on display is mind-blowing. She uses her body and her face as a canvas, exploring prosthetics, elaborate costumes, bizarre makeup and post-production to manipulate and disguise herself. One moment, she’ll be a soccer mom, and then suddenly a presidential candidate. Given today’s social media climate, it feels quite prophetic. The Alchemy of Circumstance is out now via Graded
k r e w t s u Galcher L
Galcher Lustwerk might just be the most low-key artist working in electronic music today. Moody and hypnotising, Lustwerk’s productions have inhabited a distinctive corner of house music since his 2015 debut. Galloping, repetitive beat loops swirl around his subtle stream-ofconsciousness raps, creating a stylish sonic landscape that you can get lost in for hours on end. But it’s not just his music that possesses this subdued after-hours candour. Lustwerk himself is unflappable, speaking with a charming nonchalance that puts you at ease. When we caught up with him for 20 Questions, he was characteristically chill.
information is out now via Ghostly International
1. So, how would your friends describe you in three words?
Comfortable, nerdy, thoughtful.
2. What really gets on your nerves?
Hearing others coughing and sneezing. I’m a hypochondriac.
3. What’s inspiring you right now?
Gamers who stream on Twitch. They'll sit and play a game for 10 hours straight and just be totally immersed. I’m easily distracted so it's inspiring to see someone so dedicated to one activity, even if it's a hobby like video games.
4. Are you easily distracted when you
11. What instantly cheers you up? J-pop.
12. If you could give young Galcher one piece of advice, what would it be?
"Don't delete your social media profiles every six months."
13. What makes you delete them?
Just pure anxiety, but I got a business and that's just the way it is.
14. Have you ever had any weird DMs?
What would you want written on your
15. What makes you laugh the hardest?
5. tombstone? "I play alone."
6. Best survival tip for 2019? White noise machine.
7. What's the weirdest thing you've seen happen at the club?
I remember being at a loft party in Providence [Rhode Island] and everyone picked up the plants and was tossing them around like inflatable beach balls.
8. Most embarrassing moment? I peed my pants at De School.
9. Set too long?
Words: Rachel Grace Almeida
BASS TON E
‘A rev olutio - COKn of synth EOAK esis’
Yeah, sometimes I start a track, work on it for 15 minutes, then start doing something else in my room while the track loops forever in the background.
SUPE RIO SOUN D QU R ALIT Y
It was before my set. I was peeing and was too deep in thought and forgot what I was doing, so accidentally went on myself. Doh. What were you thinking about?
If I had forgotten my headphones or not – which I had. I ran to the hotel grabbed my headphones, changed my drawers and ran back just in time for my set.
I had a stalker for a moment and it was very scary. It was messages, emails and DMs for five straight months and then she eventually gave up.
Hearing other people laugh hard makes me laugh hard, especially if they have a ridiculous laugh.
16. What's your laugh like?
A dorky hyucking stoner laugh.
17. What was your favourite cartoon when you were a kid?
18. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
Exercise in school with asthma.
19. What’s the furthest you’ll go for love? Pretty far, but I don't want to kill anyone.
2O. Have you seen that Burger King meme about you?
It’s spot on. Just perfect.
I get on great with silence. I don’t have a problem with it. If you’re going to break into it, try to have a reason for doing it.
Mark Hollis (1955-2019)
Partisan Records Tender Fear of Falling Asleep
Fontaines D.C. Dogrel
Craig Finn I Need a New War
Spike Fuck The Smackwave EP
Fela Kuti & Roy Ayers Music of Many Colours
Cigarettes After Sex Cry
IDLES A Beautiful Thing: IDLES Live at le Bataclan
Molly Sarlé Karaoke Angel
Body Type EP 2
Goon Heaven is Humming
Emel Mathlouthi Everywhere We Looked Was Burning