WORDS: NICK GORDON BROWN
Artistic control, exhilarating songwriting, inspired collaborations, political activism, genre trashing – we highlight ten of the adventurous artists leading dance music into the new decade...
As we move inexorably not only to the end of a year, but also of a decade, instinctively we both reflect and look ahead. For music obsessives, it’s a time to pore through that ever-increasing number of end of year / decade ‘best of’ checklists; and also the ‘ones to watch’ recommendations for the months to come. We live in an age where more music than ever is being made, it can be sought out in more places, and consumed in more formats. This is especially true of dance and electronic music. On the one hand this can make us feel like clubbing kids in a DJ-curated candy store. On the other, there is that crushing feeling that you are inevitably missing out on so many treats, the chances of finding them all akin to looking for that rogue contact lens on a crowded dancefloor. Filters are required. Let’s start with originality.
Fiorious has bookended 2019 with two momentous singles that have whetted collective appetites for the Revisionary album, set for release in 2020. Of his Glitterbox debut I’m Not Defeated, he told us, “in that moment of feeling very defeated, both personally and politically, I wrote a song to make me feel the exact opposite, to feel completely empowered.” The track is an unashamedly political call to arms, the incendiary video the perfect complement to the music. Watch this clip to learn more about one of the house scene’s most fascinating characters.
Soon come new single, the magnificently moody and out there Future Romance, is currently being teased on social media with another eye-catching video which once again exhibits an artist for whom the audio and visual are inextricably linked.
View this post on Instagram
Dave + Sam are also artists for whom filling a dancefloor is just part of what they aim to do. This, too, is house music with a message – the EP which first introduced their signature 2019 cut Til The World Blow Up was entitled The Middle Passage, with Dave explaining, “The Middle Passage was the triangular sailing route from English ports, to capture Africans from the continent’s west coast, and sell them into slavery throughout the United States and Caribbean islands. This labour of greed resulted in over a million deaths.” Of the song title, he adds, “Growing up on the south side of Chicago, it was common to see some form of the growth and development organization’s mantra ‘til the world blow up’ scrawled on the city’s walls. An acknowledgment of the finite and to live accordingly; unapologetically. As an adult, the fear of mass destruction has gone from a metaphor of a past nuclear era, to the tangible threat of hatred and terror. Yet, the call remains the same: do you, til the world blow up.”
Four Tet is an artist who has long ploughed his own furrow. Kieran Hebden’s music is eclecticism personified, promoted with ever more visually spectacular live shows, and he remains defiantly independent in everything he does. He releases what he wants when he wants, DJing to devoted fans when it suits, and rarely giving interviews. He recently released the three track Anna Painting EP, a collaboration with painter Anna Liber Lewis, explaining on his Bandcamp page, “Anna and I have known each other almost all our lives. We grew up in London with overlapping social circles and shared early music experiences as teenagers. The collaboration unfolded over several months. We worked in tandem from conversation and correspondence. I made music and Anna responded to it with drawings and paintings, apart from the last track, which I made after having seen her work. It was performed and exhibited at a show called Muscle Memory at the Elephant West gallery in London in early 2019.”
If Four Tet has abandoned the music industry treadmill in order to better control his artistic destiny, one of 2019’s most talked about new acts, Sault, have arguably taken things even further. They are responsible for two of the year’s most talked about albums, 5 and 7 respectively having been released within months of each other – and still no one seems to know anything about them. Words like ‘elusive’ and ‘mysterious’ pepper reviews of both, and Google searching reveals no online conspiracy theories. Spotify identifies Dean Josiah (a Michal Kiwanuka / Jungle / Little Simz collaborator) as producer and writer; and Cleo Soul, another Little Simz collaborator, as some time co-writer. Stylistically, Sault are impossible to pigeonhole, but the sound they make is mighty fine.
The Vision (the collaboration between Ben Westbeech and Kon) have made quite an impact in 2019, and as with Fiorious, anticipation is high for their 2020 debut album. “Expect honest, soulful music with depth and more passion than fashion,” Kon told us this summer, with Ben adding, “a lot of emotion’s gone into it and it’s been a hell of a ride”. (click here for the full feature). As with Sault, pity those poor souls whose job is to nominate which genre The Vision should be placed into for sales and promotion purposes (as Kon told us, “genres don’t mean a thing to me”). None of this has prevented Heaven becoming one of the tunes of the year. It delivers on Ben and Kon’s promise for the album (“a mix of soul, funk and disco, with a focus on live instrumentation, obscure sampling and a collective of featured vocalists”), yet has struck a chord with househeads everywhere – the balance struck perfectly between classic and contemporary. We present it here in its fresh new Danny Krivit ‘Mr K’ edit; alongside the sumptuous Home (“Whenever I’m alone / I find as place to call my home / A place where I feel strong”).
Originality is a quality that new artists strive for; it is also a crucial factor in the longevity of more established acts. For Horse Meat Disco, on making the move from DJing and party throwing to recording, it was essential their studio exploits reflected their DJ sets. With those sets chock full of great songs, the Horse Meat team determined to create their own contemporary originals that could sit side by side with established classics. As we discovered recently in discussion with Luke Howard and Severino, there is a wealth of dancefloor knowledge in the collective, all of which can be utilised in the studio environment. As with The Vision, the focus has been very much on having musicians in the studio to create authentic sounds, with live percussion, bass, horns and keys all to the fore. With Falling Deep In Love (featuring the inimitable Kathy Sledge) repeating the success of its predecessor, the Amy Douglas-fronted Let’s Go Dancing, everything points to 2020’s album being a raucous celebration of 21st century disco (and all without a sample in sight).
Pursuing a similar path have been The Shapeshifters. Like many a dance act both before and since, they first came to the attention of the global dancefloor through a sampladelic masterpiece. However, rather than try to repeat the formula / success of the evergreen Lola’s Theme with slowly dwindling returns, instead they chose to use it as a springboard. They curated cult label Nocturnal Grooves (which saw them enter the studio with none other than Frankie Knuckles), found natural soul mates at Defected, and were then perfectly positioned to be ambassadors for Glitterbox, both behind the decks and in the studio. As with Horse Meat Disco, the aim is to create wholly original new material that stands the test of time, and to this end collaborators have been chosen with great care. Vocalists Kimberley Davis (part of the original Chic line up) and Teni Tinks (who has the likes of The Jacksons and Quincy Jones on her resume) bring experience as well as class; whilst arranger and multi-instrumentalist Colin Smith oversees a bevy of seasoned session musicians. It is an ambitious challenge which Simon Marlin has successfully taken on with gusto, as these contemporary classics demonstrate.
Roisin Murphy has been one of 21st century music’s true adventurers. After her initial breakthrough with Moloko (most notably with the Boris Dlugosch remixed Sing It Back and the favour returning guest vocal on Dlugosch’s own Never Enough), her solo career has charmed and challenged her loyal fanbase in equal measure. A who’s who of electronic music talent has queued up to work with her (Herbert, Maurice Fulton, Seiji from Bugz in the Attic, Groove Armada’s Andy Cato and many more). Like many of our other featured artists, Murphy always focuses on every aspect of a release, with artwork, videos, formatting, image and live representations all forming part of a whole which is cohesive whilst clearly still being the product of instinct. 2019 has seen Roisin back on the dancefloor with one of the year’s most cherished tracks, Incapable, produced by long time friend and Sheffield legend DJ Parrot.
Peggy Gou is a force of nature, born in Korea, now based in Berlin after an instructive few years in London, but DJ-wise very much a global star. Gou is another artist who is very much in control of every aspect of her career, and makes no attempt to hide her ambition. However, as a committed raver herself only a few short years ago, she has an undoubted synergy with her fans which is reflected in her huge Instagram following. This, allied with an entrepreneurial spirit which has led to her helming both a record label and fashion brand, makes her very much a DJ for her age. She has overcome many challenges in her relatively brief time in the limelight, a winner thanks not only to her clear ability as a DJ, but also an ever-growing production CV, which reached new heights this year with Starry Night, dancefloor dynamite in tandem with one of the year’s most intriguing videos.
‘Fils d'immigrés, noir et pédé’. In English, ‘son of immigrants, black and a fag’. This was the slogan Kiddy Smile had emblazoned on his t shirt when he was invited to perform at the Elysee Palace in front of President Macron last year. It was a characteristically pointed reply to those who questioned whether he should have accepted the invitation in the first place. He wants his music to make people feel empowered to move out of the shadows, and this was his opportunity to show how far you can take your message. House music is rooted in black, gay culture, and in Kiddy Smile has an artist only too keen to shout about it. Ever since he dropped the modern jackin’ classic Let A B!tch Know in 2016, complete with its stunning video showcasing Kiddy and friends from the Paris ballroom scene trashing cars and vogueing in the heart of the city’s banlieues, the excitement has been palpable for his every next move. New music (and visuals) in 2020 can’t come soon enough.