XLR8R's Best of 2011: New Artists
Make no mistake—here at XLR8R, we revere the work of veteran producers and definitely have a soft spot for classic tunes. That said, we'd be lying if we didn't admit that our love of new music is the driving force behind this publication. Our official tagline is "Accelerating music and culture" after all, and if that doesn't clearly convey our passion for the new, allow us to reassert it here. By design, new music and, specifically, new artists are the lifeblood of XLR8R, which is probably why aspiring producers, DJs, and musicians from around the globe submit their music to us on a daily basis. Granted, only a select few are up to snuff, but when quality material does come down the pipeline, we're more than happy to get behind it. 2011 was no different, and the following 10 artists not only made a big impressions on us—along with the electronic-music world at large—but are also the fresh faces we'll most likely continue to champion in the years ahead.
A rising current within the latest tide of bedroom dance music producers is an overall looseness in their experimentations with house and techno formats, and few created such exciting music with that approach as Brooklyn transplant Daniel Martin-McCormick (a.k.a. Ital). We were so interested in the evolving work of this storied artist (you may remember Martin-McCormick from his time spent with Mi Ami, Sex Worker, or even Black Eyes) that we asked him to have a chat about it with his band mate and fellow 100% Silk signee Magic Touch, and eventually named his "Only For Tonight (Saviour's Love Megamix)" tune our #39 favorite track from 2011. The prolific artist finished four separate releases over the course of the year, and already has his official debut album, Hive Mind, scheduled to drop in February via Planet Mu. At this rate, we can practically guarantee you'll be seeing Ital's name a lot more on XLR8R during 2012. Patric Fallon
9. Gerry Read
Gerry Read seemed to come out of nowhere this year. Quietly releasing the impressive Patterns EP on Dark Arx in the vague period between the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011, he eventually shed his post-dubstep leanings and emerged with a brilliant trilogy of singles for Ramp's Fourth Wave arm. Fixated on deep, undulating movements, Read's 12"s pushed the UK's embrace of house music into strange corners of sample-based abstraction. Tracks like "Untitled" and "We Are" appeared as soulful Midwest-style grooves cloaked in gritty textures and distorted percussion, while the final installment of his trio of releases, "All By Myself" b/w "What a Mess," reached into the past and pulled out two dusty slices of raw, collaged house sounds. Considering that for most of 2011, Read was just 19 years of age, it's a safe bet to say we'll be hearing plenty more from the young Brit. Glenn Jackson
Over the course of the year, BNJMN stepped out from a world all his own with two brilliant LPs of melodic, coastal house—dropping both Plastic World and Black Square on Amsterdam's ace Rush Hour imprint only added to his prestige. Splitting atoms from the zone between records like Lone's Emerald Fantasy Tracks and Actress' Splazsh, BNJMN crafted a jaw-dropping array of dreamy tracks in 2011, songs whose dazzling movements and patterns came washed in baths of celestial ooze and breathed with an air of tempered emotion. "Blocks," perhaps the most recognizable tune to come from these efforts, seems to meet at the middle of all things BNJMN. It features an unobtrusive arpeggio and sparse (but somehow still driving) drums and bass together with glistening chords and whirling FX that unobtrusively spin around in the background with the ease of a bobbing buoy. If his quiet ascent into the consciousness of the XLR8R faithful was due to anything, it was that BNJMN seems not to ask for anyone's attention with his productions, but rather simply opens doors to new worlds with each release. We found ourselves stepping through those doors over and over again this year. Glenn Jackson
MikeQ was relatively unknown at the beginning of the year, at least outside of the insular world of vogue house. But as 2011 comes to a close, the New jersey-based producer has essentially become the face of a movement, as ballroom has entered the larger dance-music lexicon. A myriad of producers, most of whom have nothing to do with the music's predominantly gay origins, have begun to experiment with the genre's distinctive elements—most notably the ubiquitous samples from Masters at Work's classic "The Ha Dance"—and nearly all of them cite MikeQ as a major inspiration. For his own part, MikeQ spent much of the year honing his sound, eventually moving beyond the lo-fi sonics and hip-hop reworks that dominate much of the ballroom world. He remixed Egyptrixx for Night Slugs, joined forces with Kingdom as part of the Fade to Mind posse, and eventually dropped the Let It All Out EP, the young label's second release and a record that saw MikeQ taking a giant leap forward, both in quality and style. We look forward to charting his continued evolution in the years to come. Shawn Reynaldo
6. Dark Sky
2011 will likely be remembered as the year that bass music came into its own. Some might even say that the scene became oversaturated, as producers around the globe pieced together various permutations of house, grime, dubstep, UK funky, garage, R&B, and more, all in hopes of joining the rapidly evolving fray. As the number of contributing artists multiplied and the number of original ideas dwindled, it became increasingly hard to stand out from the pack, which makes the rise of UK trio Dark Sky all the more impressive. The trio first made waves in 2010 with the release of "Something to Lose," the Frames EP, and a high-profile remix for The xx, but the production crew really came into its own in 2011, dropping the "High Rise" b/w "Armour" single on Blunted Robots and following it up with the potent Radius EP on Modeselektor's 50Weapons imprint. Steering clear of gimmicky synths and random R&B vocal samples, the group's work shows a real knack for combining serene melodies with bouncy basslines and thunderous organic drum sounds. The music is stripped down and just a bit raw, but never feels under-produced or amateurish. Even if all notions of bass music eventually go by the wayside, it appears that Dark Sky has the chops to keep the quality tunes coming. Shawn Reynaldo
Although he first popped on the scene back in 2010 with the "Fram" b/w "Iddy" single for Hessle Audio, Blawan really cemented his place within the top tier of London's ever-morphing bass scene this year. The young producer has no doubt kept busy in 2011. He's dropped two 12"s for the unparalleled R&S label (the acid-drenched Bohla EP and, later, the two monstrous, techno-infused bass rollers on the "What You Do With What You Have" single), debuted a collaborative project with fellow Londoner Pariah under the name Karenn, and squeezed in one final release, Peaches, an EP of four quasi-industrial, part-techno, part-house excursions for the renowned Clone imprint. As if that wasn't enough, he also managed to produce one of 2011's most essential dancefloor burners, "Getting Me Down," a thumping, white-label Brandy edit that we deemed #43 in our top 50 tracks of the year. Armed with larger-than-life, percussive club jams and adventurous, otherworldly techno, Blawan has used 2011 to prove he can—and will—do just about whatever he wants. The best part is, we're bound to enjoy it. Glenn Jackson
In all fairness, Boddika (a.k.a. Alex Green) isn't exactly a new artist. Prior to this year, he was best known as Al Bleek, one half of leftfield drum & bass duo Instra:mental. Much has changed throughout 2011; Instra:mental adopted an entirely new sound palette for its Resolution 653 album, and Green began dropping solo singles as Boddika. Surprisingly, these solo singles—which arrived via top-shelf labels such as Naked Lunch, SWAMP81, and Instra:mental's own Nonplus—proved to have an even greater impact than Resolution 653, as songs like "2727" and "Electron" showcased a raw, stripped-down aesthetic that sounded like a hard-edged update of '80s electro. As the months went by and the number of tunes featuring vintage synths, b-boy breakbeats, and 808 drum sounds exploded, it quickly became clear what producer people were mimicking. Almost instantly, Boddika had become one of the most namechecked artists in the bass-music community. His tunes not only resonated on dancefloors, but also offered a production path that had little to do—at least sonically—with garage, dubstep, or any strain of the so-called "hardcore continuum." While that sort of impact will be difficult to maintain, there's no question that Boddika came up with a sound that was not only fresh and innovative, but also helped to shape dance music as a whole in 2011. Shawn Reynaldo
3. Clams Casino
Aside from, maybe, Lex Luger, no up-and-coming hip-hop producer had a bigger year than Clams Casino, and yet, his work for Lil B, Main Attrakionz, and A$AP Rocky isn't what really established him as an artist to watch. It was his own self-released mixtape of instrumentals—which was eventually re-released by Type—and his debut EP for Tri Angle that truly made a name for New Jersey native Michael Volpe. His production style on those records is both alien and familiar (not to mention absolutely brilliant), and certainly strong enough in both respects to allow his beats to confidently stand alone.
Even if we've heard some of Clams Casino's tricks before—you could hardly walk down the street in 2011 without catching a pitched vocal sample as it blasted from some nearby stereo—there is a genuine artistry in Volpe's tracks that helps set his work apart from his peers, a sense that maybe those similarities we hear are actually coming from a whole other musical background than the likes of Burial or Zomby. Because, really, who would put that much distorted white noise and use that many low-bit-rate MP3 clips in a hip-hop beat? Clams Casino's work is a bit risky and surely didn't resonate with everyone in 2011, but, for our money, we expect he'll continue to rise to higher levels of notoriety in due time. Patric Fallon
2. Holy Other
Electronic music has always been plagued by dubious, borderline-meaningless genre descriptors, but it's no exaggeration to say that 2011 might have reached an all-time low in that department. Think about it: post-dubstep, chillwave, tropical bass, bass music, beat music, and, of course, witch house. These were some of the year's defining sounds, yet people are still struggling to codify what any of them actually mean. It certainly doesn't make things any easier for artists like Holy Other, a painfully shy and purposefully shadowy UK artist who unwittingly became one of the poster children for witch house. That's due in part to his affiliation with the Tri Angle label, but is more directly linked to the foreboding soundscapes on his stellar With U EP, not to mention his remixes for the likes of How to Dress Well, Walls, Magic Mountain, Asobi Seksu, and others.
That said, even as the months passed and the inevitable backlash against witch house swelled exponentially, very little vitriol was directed at Holy Other. The reasoning is simple: More than anything, witch house pissed people off because of its seemingly contrived nature. The notion of naive kids and calculating hipsters screwing down hip-hop and R&B tunes from their junior high days, haphazardly pasting the results into "gothy," one-note creations, and immediately posting their "songs" online runs counter to all kinds of established ideas of artistry and authenticity. Granted, people can argue until they're blue in the face about whether or not these ideas even matter any longer, but when discussing the music of Holy Other, it's not even necessary. Simply put, there's nothing inauthentic about his music. Sure, there are elements of R&B, hip-hop, and classic house. Yes, it all sounds dark and a bit ominous. But it never feels forced, or, more importantly, fake. The emotions on display are potent and very real, and that makes all the difference. Shawn Reynaldo
1. Nicolas Jaar
Who could've guessed that a 21-year-old New York native would be 2011's best new artist? Even though we profiled Nicolas Jaar roughly a year ago, we had no idea he would blow up exponentially following the release of his utterly unique Space is Only Noise LP in 2011. However, once his XLR8R podcast from back in February became one of our most popular mixes to date, it was more than apparent to us that the world of forward-thinking electronic music had found a new poster boy.
With the success of his debut album, a solid run of remixes (both for and by the artist), the rise of his own Clown and Sunset imprint, a free EP offered online, and even a promising side project topping it all off, you would have been hard pressed to miss a move that Jaar made in 2011. But why was it that we paid so close attention to the producer all year long? Sure, he made a cool, patently reserved kind of music that surprisingly spoke to a very large number of people and he obviously kept himself busy, but it would be a bit disingenuous if we didn't all admit that we were absolutely mystified by how young Jaar is. While much of the youth around the world spent 2011 following the painfully bombastic sounds of jockish 'dubstep' and overblown electro-house, Jaar was channeling the soundtracks of vintage James Bond flicks and French new wave cinema, sampling obscure source material, and infusing those sounds with a bit of classic house's dancefloor bounce. Suffice it to say, his work belied his tender age, and in turn, maybe it gave listeners hope for the generations of artists yet to come. Patric Fallon
Check out the rest of XLR8R's Best of 2011 coverage here.
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