Twentytwenty was a weird one, where do we start? By far the worst yet in terms of factors out of our control. From natural disasters to Brexit, Tory party f*ckery, and the pandemic leading to loss income for many creative industry professionals and almost a complete loss of the main thing people do to escape and be free, dance (at least legally).
There is no doubt 2020 will go down in history, whilst speculation into the recovery of the events industry is set to continue far deeper into ’21 than first expected. We can only hope that the underground venues survive and the crews, DJ’s/producers, labels who’ve been slogging it out get the chance to show the dancers the benefits of investing in the underground.
Although subjective, lots of positives have also come about, some may even look back on the year as defining. Cliché AF but something good will always come from something bad right? 2020 examples of this self-help spiel include the growth of community and support for one another across various pockets of the music scene, a fix up from the white privileged to educate themselves on systemic racism, improve and give back to the culture we owe so much and ongoing fundraising for various initiatives including Mental Health, the NHS, LGBTQIA+ and BAME communities, food banks and struggling venues.
With positivity in mind, here’s our attempt to share a few bits that stuck out for us. An end of year summary, the only way we know how, with minimal planning, a few delays, ultimate big ups and an ode to vinyl culture throughout. By the way, this is strictly about the music, no negative 2020 noise! Let us kick things off where we left 2019...
Last years’ round-up posed the question “2019: the year for UKG?”. Undoubtedly the answer is ‘no’ because 2020 has p*ssed all over it. There simply is no room on a T-Shirt for another UKG A-Z (still searching for the ‘X’ btw). Whilst many were well aware of the movement back then, this year has seen even more recognition. The big publications have all payed their dues too, which despite what the critics think, only stands to benefit those pushing the sound forward and increase the exposure onto the wider community. If you managed to put anything out independently this year, there’s a strong chance it may have lead to some financial fruition too, especially if it was any good!
Overall, vinyl sales are reported to be at a thirty year high and the output from the independent labels in particular, has continued to grow. Those established pre-2019 are on releases 003 and 004 or have started sub-labels and collab’ projects. Anyone doing the label thing before then have developed models enabling them to release one or even two records a month. Other projects have also taken a break to build something new, knowing that the hype they leave behind might provide that boost when they’re ready to bop.
For some, lockdown #1 provided inspiration to start a label. Presumably it meant more spare time, thus speeding up the behind the scene process. For those furloughed or lucky enough to receive any form of grant, it likely helped fund a project that might not have been in their immediate pre-pandemic plans. All vinyl enthusiasts (old and new) quickly became aware of the delays associated with the multiple lockdowns whilst more recently a no deal Brexit threatened to completely ruin the international market for UK labels. Thankfully the labels continued to push through and an EU trade deal was confirmed enabling the UK record labels to continue to trade with the EU plants as well distribute to overseas customers with minimal extra costs and the addition of a little extra shipping admin.
The delays certainly didn't stop the producers either; one theme we've noticed synonymous in all the end of year reviews is the amount of quality output that has come from the past 12 months, across the whole dance music spectrum. The creatives amongst you have been busy and despite not being able to play out in clubs, there’s no doubt it became the medium of peace, fulfilment and escapism in 2020.
Special shouts must go to Perception who’s gaining the recognition he deserves from the promoters and publications. His unique underground sound continues to light up releases on records from Vibesey and Practical Rhythms. Had it not been for the years’ plant delays, the forthcoming EP on new label Timehri might just have made it out the previous side of the NYE, in what is due to be the first full Perception EP since 2019. That one's just around the corner though and keep an eye out for the Moodswing documentary/film coming too, one for the heads.
Highrise is another who deserves a mention. Churning them out left, right and centre. One Friday in July saw more than five 12’s released on the same day including a self-release on his new 10” imprint Flat Trax. Some of the releases of the year came from that man so we are looking forward to the new one forthcoming on Disc World’s in house label as well as tracks on Puresa, Fresh Milk Records and no doubt a couple more (at least).
Other props must go to Dansu Discs, Ec2a, Eliza Rose and Ellen Murphy. Nick Howsley (Dansu) put out Bailey Ibbs' first full 12” and continued his eclectic remix projects with nods to other genres, always providing quality. Yanis of Ec2a has been putting out two lots of monthly 10' lathe cut dubs pushing through a variety of new producers whilst continuing to rep his affiliation with Curtain Road’s Plastic People. Their first full vinyl run is also due early this year on new project Original Pirate Material.
Whilst the sound still lacks a significant female presence, there has been wicked development which has been great to see! Eliza Rose and Ell Murphy are certainly flying the flag as the go-to vocalist/DJs, so far providing the new-gen adlibs for beat makers Peaky Beats and Medlar (Nitework). Eliza has a couple of exciting 2021 features with Codie Currie and Kylin Tyce forthcoming, whilst a Dansu Discs project between Perception, Lavonz, Ell & Ollie Rant is also just around the corner, not to mention a full Ell Murphy collab' EP. Other names to have tracks on wax this year include Anz (Hessle Audio), Angel D’lite (Banoffee Pies), Tailor Jae (GD4YA) and Monika Ross (One Records), whilst members of 6 Figure Gang, Beth Alana and Gina Kantner (U.K Hun?) have dabbled in the sound digitally and Bklava is headed for the mainstream.
Lastly, Gather Records brought together a bunch of brands for the ‘WE RAVE AS ONE’ raffle which fundraised just over £1300 for the Stephen Lawrence Foundation and provided the six lucky winners with a series of prizes, from records to merch and vinyl subscriptions. Out to ColdCuts//HotWax, Club of Jacks, Curated Wax, Dansu Discs, DNR, EC2A, Equal People Records, Fraise, Gather, Ghost Phone, Gunfinger Food, Hardline, Nuance De Nuit, Peaky Beats, Practical, Ruff Set, Shuffle 'N' Swing, Vibesey and Vitamin D for the donations.
Back in March, Bandcamp introduced their fee waiver Friday campaign, in order to increase their support for artists affected by the pandemic. The first Friday of each month up to December, saw the independent music community come together to support artists and labels by buying their music and merch. The first four alone saw over $20m put directly into the pockets of the creatives behind the tunes.
Avalon Emerson and company also introduced the Buy Music Club which further helped all corners of the community discover new music and support the creators by sharing bandcamp links of their personalised lists with other fans, DJs and publications.
Black Bandcamp launched and quickly became an extremely important source. A platform spearheaded by NIKS to showcase and directly support black artists and black owned labels. What started as a google sheet on the June Bandcamp Friday has since become a growing database with 2000+ producers and labels. Importantly it shines a light on the marginalised communities at the birth of the scene and is no doubt responsible for the ongoing drive to improve the representation of BIPOC working in the music industry.
A significant part of Bandcamp Day was, of course, the fundraising that came with it. Brands and labels from all over got involved in curating their own musical projects geared at raising money for a variety of causes from Mental Health and USA Bail funds, to the NHS and the contributing artists. Every month fans and followers would dig for their favourites, often receiving upwards of 20 tracks for as little as a tenner! Successful contributions include...
A collaborative effort between online UK Garage community & record label Shuffle ’N’ Swing, DimSum Records and ourselves resulted in 16 tracks from 18 contributors showcasing the full range of the sound at the peak of its resurgence. Money raised remains upwards of £3k split between the artists, the NHS and initiatives to support BAME communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Easing of the first lockdown also saw a sell out fundraiser event at The Cause featuring Jeremy Sylvester, Perception B2B Highrise, Tailor Jae and Ollie Rant grace the decks in what was a full day of community vibes.
K-Lone - Flutey Viberz
Dem 2 - Me, Only Me
Yosh - Rollin'
The NYC outfit released no less than three VA compilations during 2020 - genre bending at its best. Regular contributions from James Bangura, Kush Jones, Martin Bootyspoon and DJ SWISHA helped showcase the very best of black electronic expressionism that saw them raise $11k from their June release alone.
Such a year it was that AceMoMA also kicked off the 2021 BBC R1 Essential Mix.
Keeping things in NYC, Towhead Recordings put out four compilations of their own last year. Contributions came from many of the impressive HAUS of Alter roster and all proceeds on this one went directly to the artists involved.
MoMa Ready - Booty Ass-O-Matic
SUCIA! - When The Lights Go Out
The Nativist - Netwerxxx
James Bangura - Finesse The Oppressor
UK electronic music stalwarts Loose Lips came through with two impressive VA’s. Released together, one showcased the dance music eclecticism the brand is synonymous with, whilst the second came with more experimental, RnB, ambient and chill out vibes. Donations from this particular fundraiser went towards the Ruff Sqwad Arts Foundation, a Tower Hamlets musical hub founded by UK Grime legends Rapid & Slix that offers access to mainstream music resources, opportunities, and progression pathways to young people from a less privileged background.
Tee - Panic
Paxman - Too Little Too Soon
Bonasforsa - Retro Dom
Jade Parker - Ina
The Leeds based outfit put out their We Are Viable compilation in November last year, keeping it local and raising money for local charity MAP who provide alternative music education to young people who cannot access mainstream schooling. Nineteen tracks from 15 producers in the local scene, this ones for the cheeky bootlegs and edits gang!
Papa Nugs - Tokyo Drift (Whoops! Someone Gave The Drift King Acid Again)
Van Roy - My Boo
Fakya - Sensual (Ghetto Restyle)
THE YEAR OF THE LIVESTREAM
It seems an age ago that people were experimenting with every platform and its dog trying to work out which one provided optimum stream quality, interaction and organic reach for their DJ sets. It was a topic that divided opinion for all involved initially. Whiny statuses and memes galore centred around the clutter on peoples social media feeds. For most it became the only way to express themselves, share new music and play to some form of audience. It also provided party crews with a way of showcasing new DJs, bringing together communities and an effective way of raising money for causes close to their hearts.
One that particularly sticks out was from Non-profit crew Heels & Souls who hosted five days of streams from Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and London for their late friend Alex T. The Tribe Records head and hugely significant figure at the heart of the UK dance music community sadly passed away from meningitis in January.
A Tribute to Alex T raised almost £12k and featured a whole host of DJ talent from all over the UK, from Bruce, Peach and Hamish Cole to Moxie & Shante Celeste.
PANEL TALKS & PODCASTS
Naturally, with livestreams came opportunity for community platforms to host talks online and broadcast topics to the masses. As expected, they provided open discussion between industry heads on pressing matters as well as share lockdown tips and advice. Obviously, 2020 didn’t disappoint, we're pretty sure there has never been a year with as many pressing topics to discuss. The effect of Brexit on touring DJs. Racism in the music industry and the mediocre support for the night life industry through the pandemic despite its contribution to the UK economy. Here are a few that caught our eye…
Identification of Music
Long time servers of the scene IOM kicked off their online pandemic content during the spring/summer lockdown, providing weekly 121 chats aiming to create positivity by addressing areas fit for innovation in electronic music. Very often a sociable conversation between host and guest from their remote settings around the world, natural themes to air included production tips & tricks, advice on how to stay motivated and current listening material, amongst other miscellaneous talk. Guests included Plastician, Resident Advisor, TSHA, She Said So, Bklava, Dread MC, Jaguar and Umfang.
As a brand created with the intention of helping address a myriad of social issues, from mental health to climate change, through fundraising, workshops, talks/panels and events. The first Voices of the year (pre-lockdown) was delivered as a panel turn club night at Leeds' Sheaf Street on mental health and addiction. DJs included Bruce and Katiusha, who also topped the night time bill. Another one on the topic came in February, this time in London, with panelists from across industry disciplines. This was sandwiched in between hosting the UK Garage room at The Cause for the venue's Australia bush fire fundraiser.
With the pandemic came, 'Covid-19 and the Creative Industries' with representatives from Resident Advisor, Brainchild Festival and Melodic Distraction, as well as Auntie Flo and Stuart Glen, the owner of The Cause, who together explored the effects of the global pandemic on the music and nightlife industries. This topic was also touched upon later on in the year as voices hosted a 'Life After Lockdown' panel on Lockdown Live, a daily project that took place during lockdown #2 at Brixton Jamm. Despite airing just 2 days before the end of that particular lockdown, unfortunately we are no closer to seeing how the industry develops post pandemic. Here's to a brighter more positive outcome out of Lockdown #3.
Another wicked panel came from Timerhi, a new independent black-owned vinyl label and discussion platform headed up by Mixcloud employee T-Dunn. "The Impact of Windrush on UK Music" came fresh off the back of a Notting Hill Carnival centred remote panel that took place on the historical Bank Holiday weekend in August. It was in October however that the soon to be a West London Mecca, Next Door Records hosted a bunch of guests legendary in their respective games; DJ Ron, Heny G and Tash LC. It made for gripping discussion and included lots of reference to the history of UK genres such as Jungle, Garage and Dubstep as well as raving stories and venue closures.
A proper entertaining podcast dedicated to all things Dubstep and 140. The sound is definitely re-emerging, especially at underground level. Back to its best; deep, dark and wobbly, reminiscent of the Dubstep Warz era of the mid naughties. Expect more of the same in 2021 and if you're new to the sound, this is a great place to start! The Roving Dread and Cuttah, present 2-3 hours of the best forthcoming sounds, bi-monthly via their youtube page and the various other podcast platforms. Launched in 2019, the lads provided much needed pick me ups throughout 2020 with their charisma, knowledge and dubs upon dubs.
Check out their final show of 2020 (below) for an insight into the Deep Tempo world.
THE CAUSE/COSTA DEL TOTTENHAM
Already a well reputable North London institution for underground club culture and fundraising, The Cause started off the year with reasonable optimism, bringing in the new year with a multi-venue rave and showcasing the additional space that often pop's up out of nowhere around their Tottenham Hale location. Ongoing doubts over licensing continued, alongside investment on a brand new space within the existing complex, as well as raising over £25K for the Aussie bush fire campaign. All this leading up to the first lockdown!
If 2020 has shown us anything it's the importance of learning, adapting quickly and cracking on. Like many others, Covid brought extreme financial pressure to the 100% DIY club space. A 'Save The Cause' fundraiser launched with a target of £25k, a cash injection which enabled them to continue their mission and reduce the impact of internal investment made earlier in the year, pre-pandemic. With help from all corners, the figure was reached and August saw the opening of Costa Del Tottenham, a brand new multi-venue outdoor space fit for pandemic purpose and quickly becoming London's go to.
Despite the continued lack of government support for the sector and ongoing tier restrictions lacking scientific backing, The Cause team managed to turn over upwards of 5 separate parties across the space every Friday and Saturday. Venue development continued right up to the latest December lockdown announcement in the form of a bootleg Dekmantel-esque, 200 cap greenhouse space, forecast to see NYE in under the stars. Save it for the summer ey!
Hopefully, the unique setting at The Cause will allow for continued adaptation to whatever is thrown at them in what has arguably become the biggest and best socially distanced venue in the country. Time will tell, but be sure to get behind any prospective venue fundraiser. As the home of our three socially distanced events, their efforts alone deserve to defy the f*ckery and when it comes out the other end it will be even better than before!
LEEDS LEEDS LEEDS
The city of Leeds has always been a hot bed for underground creativity, crews and community in electronic music. From Back2Basics in the 90's, Hessle Audio in the 00's and more recent staples like Butter Side Up and On Rotation. Whilst many established promotors have had to adapt their format in line with government Covid guidelines up and down the country, some also took a step back. What this did was arguably reduce the heavy competition for space, allowing opportunity for new projects to form and ultimately take advantage of eager local crowds keen to experience bass heavy music again, albeit under restricted conditions. This theme was somewhat mirrored in a venue sense too. Your big week-in week-out clubs were closed, thus providing opportunity for smaller spaces to host these up 'n' coming promoters, predominantly at a cut price and capacity. It suddenly became attractive for you and your crew to link up and put on a party knowing that the locals hadn't already spent £25 for the ridiculous line-up down the road and you didn't have to shell out on the big names because the custom were ready and waiting, for anything! This is almost a total reset of the events industry which we believe will be a great thing for the underground.
Most dance music fans have their ear to the ground on what's going on but it didn't take much to realise Leeds was bubbling throughout 2020. If it wasn't events it was DJs, Producers and labels. Dubrunner, Breaka, Bakey, Krotone, Ansza, Peaky Beats & the Northern Division crew, all had great years release wise whilst Spin City, Curbside, Bump, Prescribe The Vibe, Stretchy Dance Supply and 23 Degrees have been active with events and mix series. Gimme A Break and Baby Steps Magazine lead on a fundraiser and blog front.
Be sure to keep updated on all things Equaliser too, who despite denouncing the Leeds arm of the collective last year, will continue to nurture and promote women, trans women, non-binary and trans people in music, from their Beijing base via founder Slowcook.
MIX QUEENZ 2020
The pandemic effect on DJs has been a mixed bag. Nothing worse for those already established and making a living from it. Just as rubbish for those who were developing hype around them pre-pandemic. DJ or not, all of us have suffered from relatively un-inspiring periods and all of us have lacked motivation. That being said, coupled with the zero neg chat rule from the off, we're gonna shine a light on a few of the grafters. "Here come the girls..." a solid crew who have no doubt increased their value during tough times, through sheer graft and willing to share their skills, hone their craft and support the brands who've recognised them as ones to watch!
Coincidently this lot have gone through exactly 100 mixes between them, not including livestreams or their own radio residencies, from Rinse FM to the BBC, NTS and Lobster Theremin. Maximum respect!
Despite holding down residencies on both Balamii and Threads Radio, the Borne Fruits lead lady managed FIFTEEN guest mixes in 2020, including a couple on the FM waves with Rinse FM and Reprezent. Further mixes came for Peaky Beats Records and Run-up Radio as well as our own EARFUL OF series. Lockdown #2 prevented an exciting booking alongside Or:la for Percolate at their socially distanced Brixton Courtyard as well as a Borne Fruits party at NT's. We've no doubt that she'll be in demand once again when things get going.
"My favourite guest mix from 2020 was probably when I appeared on the lovely Giovanna’s NTS show in September. It felt like a little milestone, as well as a turning point on how I’d developed with DJ'ing and crafting my sound. Definitely one to remember and a high point for the year for sure."
DJ Tess is an extremely exciting up and coming DJ & Producer from Italy and 2020 was a busy year for her in both formats. Releases came near enough every month, be it tracks on charity V/A's from Portugal's XXIII, London's Co-Select or the monster R&S NHS fundraiser. A mini EP on Jamz Supernova's Future Bounce has since followed and there was also time for contributions under her more experimental Mala Femmina alias. For those new to her sound, expect to hear percussive club music with many UK influences from UK techno to Grime and Funky, all evident when trawling through the impressive compilations her name was commonly synonymous with in 2020. As a Threads Radio resident, one particular highlight was welcoming Deena Abdelwahed onto her show, whilst there were FOURTEEN guest mixes put together for the likes of Brighton's Accidental Meetings, BBC introducing, NTS and Magnetic North. We're really excited to see what 2021 brings for the London based talent who's certainly building a name for herself within the UK's underground music community.
DJ Tess - Vault (Accidental Meetings Friends & Family Vol.1
AM-007 - DJ Tess
South London based FAE continued her 2019 breakout with a busy 2020, laying down FOURTEEN mixes of her own for series including Jerk It, Peachy, Unbound Events and Patchbay. The pandemic also brought on the launch of her design project faedraws which has since seen commissioned work for Dansu Discs and the launch of her own web shop featuring made-to-order prints and T-shirts.
"My Local Knowledge mix was my favourite as it’s a platform and label I’ve always been a fan of so was great to be a part of. The response to the mix was also really nice"
Reppin' Leeds hard is Norfn Gyal, one half of the multi-genre collective Prescribe The Vibe. It was FOURTEEN more for her in 2020, a year that came with a Rinse FM guest appearance on Marcus Nasty's show amongst other contributions for UKG Vibesey and many of the local LS crews including Gimme A Break, Bump Leeds and her personal favourite Choccy Biccy.
"I was able to work in all of the different sounds and styles that influence me. From Detroit techno to acid and breaks. I feel like I've really found my craft now and this mix represents that"
Keep an eye out for Amber's more eclectic mixes she often shares on her personal Soundcloud, including a recent MF Doom tribute and a 'Gyalentines' special. Regular socially distanced gigs in her home town are bound to evolve into other cities with this continued effort. We looking forward to it, so you should too!
One name making particularly exciting waves in the scene over the past year has been ohmydais. The HI-NRG selecta got through no fewer than NINETEEN guest mixes in 2020, some feat! Sound Transitions, Crazed Behaviour, Shuffle 'N' Swing, Lowlife Cartel, Peaky Beats, Das Booty and Face2Face were just a selection of the crews to invite her on, whilst appearances on Rinse FM (via Lobster Theremin), Vandelay, Aaja Deptford and Balamii Radio also came her way. Socially distanced gigs for Das Booty and Threads Radio gave her brief opportunities to showcase her gung-ho 140-160 style that we're now used to and very much looking forward to witnessing in a low ceilinged, loud room as soon as possible!
"The Unbound guest mix is my favourite mix of 2020 as it includes tracks that I (initially) thought wouldn't go together in one mix. I took chances with some of the blends as I was determined to include all of the tracks that I had in mind and it ended up just working! I also tried hard to keep the audience engaged for almost two hours which is f*cking hard lol"
The final act on our list is another northern based talent in Tañ of Spin City Leeds. She's torn twentytwenty a new one and ended up with a total of TWENTY FOUR guest mixes! Notable contributions include one for the infamous Rinse FM Garage Hour, the Lobster Theremin Podcast, Rhythm Sister, Glasgow's Sub Club and Ransom Note's "Shine a Light On" series. There were socially distanced gigs locally for 23 Degrees, a Spin City collab with Northern Division at the Old Red Bus Station and a weighty line-up at Headrow House with TSHA & Bakey. Rinse FM also invited her down to support Eliza Rose & Oneman at South London's Tola.
"My mix for Lobster Theremin is definitely one of my favourites. I thought it was mad that I was asked to do one, so I wanted to use the opportunity to showcase some of the amazing music my mates are making. It’s also a mix that probably best represents the genres of music I listen to"
As we near the end of the round-up, further props must go out to the online communities that have played a big part in keeping things going for many of us. From sharing tracks to online polls and label advice they also provide a way for fans and followers to connect with the DJs, producers and promoters (and visa versa). Even some harmless beef here and there has kept things interesting.
Yes, this year has further reinforced the detriment of too much screen time, however, you can bet your life that on those occasions that you re-downloaded the apps, one or all of the below private groups either had your attention and was the focus of any track ID or shameless self promo post.
Your go-to for all things underground UK Garage. From holy grails to themed posts and honest discussion on industry topics within the current scene. The moderators do a great job keeping things in check whilst also running a wicked record label. Just be careful when uploading a certified banger that you haven't actually copped yet, it will soon be out of touch...
A tight-knit group with barely 800 members, dedicated to all things... You get the gist! From Ghetto Electro to Jungle, Breaks and Footwork, arguably the go-to for all things within the '160' realm which has no doubt witnessed somewhat of a resurgence over the past 12 months. Another sound that everyone is itching to witness in the dance one day soon!
As leaders of the 130 sound, spanning a myriad of UK Bass forms, a scroll though the More Cowbell feed could have you listening to Leftfield Techno, Breaks or Drill. A style with minimal sonic limitations other than the speed of which they are created and another group used as a medium to connect with likeminded creatives, labels, DJ's and producers. Head honcho Eich also launched the label arm of their project in 2020. Already two releases down, MC is well on its way to sitting alongside Swamp 81 and Keysound for purveyors of this unique style, if not already.
Check out our interview with Harriet from back in June ahead of their debut release, 'Collusion EP' by Monir.