XLR8R's Best of 2012: New Artists

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Electronic music has always been a lightning-fast genre, and the pace certainly didn't slow down in 2012. Throughout the year, there was a constant barrage of new—new songs, new sounds, new labels, new scenes, and, of course, new artists. Supporting new acts is a bit of a tricky business, as the annals of electronic-music history are filled with producers who suddenly emerged with an exciting tune or two, only to fizzle out and disappear just as quickly. Nevertheless, we pride ourselves on being able to spot the quality newcomers, and now that the year is coming to a close, we've put together a list of 10 new artists who were not only impressive in 2012, but seem poised to continue making an impact in the years ahead.

10. J. Alvarez/214
Seattle producer Chris Roman is by no means a new face. Roman debuted in 2002, and has since built a substantial discography under the alias 214, releasing on labels like Harbour City Sorrow, Car Crash Set, and Fortified Audio. Originally from Miami, many of the artist's tracks are accordingly laced with tinges of the city's famed Bass sound, but his take on electro is very much his own. His signature has matured into a supple hybrid of dancefloor bounce and dystopian grit, a progression which culminated in his 2012 output, the finest of his career. As 214, Roman put his name to Fuzzy Leash for Yellow Machines, Plastic Spokes for Fortified Audio, and Submanouvers for Frustrated Funk, and all three of these EPs showed him incorporating a fresh dynamism. Plastic Spokes, for example, took in R&B and deep house elements, and he perfected these infusions on Overseas Highway, his first release as J. Alvarez, for Hypercolour's LTD series. The EP's pop appeal was a refreshing take on electro's robotic rigidity, and declared Roman as not just an adept producer, but one capable of pushing the entire genre in new directions. Steve Kerr


9. Champion
London's Champion doesn't just make tracks, he drops riddims, in the purest Jamaican sense of the word. His tracks melt down the best parts of grime, bassline, UK funky, and drum & bass, remolding them into golden morsels of 4/4 house rich with a million nuances of low-end-frequency flavor. At just 22 years old, Champion has already figured out the formula for making the whole dancefloor skank out—a minimal graft of tropical drum hits cavorting over inventive levels of bass and subs. Though dropped in fall 2011, his Rainforest EP (on Roska's Kicks & Snares label) and his Lighter EP (for his own imprint, Formula) continued ripping up DJ sets throughout the first part of 2012, with wildly energetic bass and classic jungle samples having a crack-like effect on random clubbers and music snobs alike. By June 2012, Champion unleashed the massive metallic graft of "Crystal Meth" backed with the tribalist brock-out "Speed," a snort-if-you-dare proposition for all lovers of underground UK bass. What he doesn't deliver in quantity, Champs makes up for in quality—and with connects to Elijah & Skilliam's Butterz label and Terror Danjah's Hardrive camp, Champion is in good company to keep the next-gen soundsystem vibes alive. Vivian Host


8. Helix
Every year, it seems like there are a handful of artists who come of out nowhere, and it's safe to say that Helix's 2012 ascent falls into that category. Although he did release a single tune back in 2010, this was the year that people really took notice of the Georgia youngster, primarily off the strength of his "Drum Track" single for Night Slugs' white label series. On its surface, there wasn't much to the song, but its combination of snappy, rapid-fire drum sounds and ravey synth stabs somehow coalesced into an unusually compelling creation. Similarly potent was "Stacks Riddim," an even more dizzying number which dropped on Glasgow's All Caps label. Yet while those tracks' hip-hop-informed, grime-flavored sound certainly charmed people—as did Helix's overtly brash online persona—he's already thrown up signals that he's ready to move on stylistically. Granted, he still worships at the altar of Southern rap, but he's also taken to publicly adoring techno legends like Basic Channel and Jeff Mills while openly longing for more involvement with a Berlin-style club culture. In the meantime, he's also increasingly shifted his sound toward dark and driving techno, an evolution he hinted at on "Honig" (the b-side of the All Caps release) and continues to explore via his still-developing live set. At this point, no one really seems sure exactly where Helix will end up, but we're certainly fascinated by the process. Shawn Reynaldo


7. Citizen
It's easy to understand why the familiar sounds of classic house and garage are still relevant to today's club music—the juicy chords, smooth basslines, and familiar vocals ooze soul, and, when used correctly, can strike the crucial balance between fun and sophistication on a dancefloor. London's Citizen is not shy about his love for a number of house music's past eras, yet these familiar sounds do not dominate his tracks. Instead, the array of garage shuffles, Midwestern funk, and disco touches heard in his tunes are seamlessly sewn into a more modern fabric, one where silky textures and fortified low-end come together to form what Citizen himself has described as "emotional house music." Not to be confused with a somber gloom by any means, the man's tracks are inviting, at times even sensuous, making the usual emotional response a combination of joy, elation, and body movement. While his Deep End EP for Kerri Chandler's MadTech label and the limited Diva 12" of R&B edits were certainly strong releases for the Londoner this year, Citizen's Room Service EP—in particular, its title track—solidified his place amongst 2012's most noteworthy new artists. Glenn Jackson


6. Nautiluss
Toronto doesn't get a ton of shine, despite being home to hotly tipped acts like The Weeknd, Azari & III, and Egyptrixx. Following his 2012 campaign, it's safe to say that Nautiluss should be added to this cadre of Torontonians brewing brooding electronic magic, as his thoughtful techno and house cuts nonchalantly sashayed onto the scene wearing dark sunglasses and a mysterious smile. This is hardly Graham Bertie's first foray into production—over the last few years, Bertie (formerly known as Grahmzilla) has quietly segued out of making club rap and bashy house as half of Thunderheist and Bassanovva and into Nautiluss' deeper, blue-grey palette, joining the likes of Randomer and Trevino in fusing classic Detroit and Berlin sounds with touches of the UK bass underground. April's carefully machined ?lpha EP and the mystical warehouse vibes of November's epic Habitat were highlights of Turbo's 2012 season, paired with the muffled jacking and mind-twisting vocals of "Troubleman" and a perfectly loping acid rub of ZZT's "Work." On the flip side, the housey blanket offered by his remix of Untold's "Breathe" makes for the perfect chillout; following last year's "Bleu Monday" (also for Hemlock), it's all early-morning light rising over an afterparty of warm melodies and shuffling snares. Like the mighty nautilus, one never knows exactly what's inside this shell. Vivian Host


5. Locked Groove
The highlight of Scuba's recent FACT mix came at the moment the euphoric arpeggios of forthcoming Locked Groove cut "Dream Within A Dream" revealed themselves from amongst the dark atmospheres of Sigha's "Puritan." It was a moment that succinctly sums up what's so infectious about Locked Groove's work—like so many artists in 2012, the Belgian producer (real name Tim Van de Meutter) deftly spans the gap between techno and classic house, but it's his knack for crafting rich, subtly joyous melodies out of spartan synth lines and simplistic bass that makes his production stand out from the crowd. With his Rooted 12" on Hotflush, Van de Meutter delivered one of the most exciting debut EPs of recent years, offering three tracks that combined the most anthemic touches of vintage Detroit with the pristine power of modern Berlin. He's continued to impress throughout 2012, turning his hand to raw techno with the Different Paths EP and exploring the history of house on the Keep It Simple EP. However, it's his masterful remix of Duke Dumont's "The Giver" that sealed him as one of the year's standout artists, as it accomplished the impossible by taking one of the summer's most overplayed tunes, breathing life back into it, and making it feel more exhilarating than ever. Si Truss


4. South London Ordnance
There's no lack of reasons to name South London Ordnance one of 2012's best new artists. Despite being a post-graduate student in his early 20s, the London producer managed to drop a hefty number of enticing releases throughout the year (no less than four, by our count)—including records for respectable outposts like Well Rounded and Audio Culture, as well as remixes for Warp and MadTech. Each 12" explored its own unique strain of bass-focused house and techno, but whether it was the deep sounds of "Witch Hunt" b/w "Chase Scene" or heavily percussive tunes like "Big Boss Theme" and "Pacific," South London Ordnance imbued each production with his distinct taste for oversized low-end, unstoppable dancefloor rhythms, and a downright raw vibe. We profiled the artist as part of our Bubblin' Up series back in September, and couldn't help noticing that he was seemingly popping up just about everywhere else throughout 2012, too. And with some hotly tipped releases already on the docket for 2013, the young South Londoner seems to be well on his way to a promising sophomore year. Patric Fallon


3. Karenn
Likely by design, the exact trajectory of Blawan's and Pariah's collaborative Karenn project has always been hard to follow. What we do know is that the duo officially formed back in 2011, founded a vinyl-only label to release its work (as well as that of some of their friends) under the intriguing name She Works the Long Nights, and—after releasing its first EP towards the end of 2011—issued a second proper record in the form of a six-track, vinyl double-pack full of hard-edged, hardware-based techno. But even for those who couldn't manage to get their hands on a piece of Karenn wax this year, the pair's charged Boiler Room session did as much to bolster the outfit's reputation as any release to date. Behind a mass of electronics spread across every inch of one table, Blawan and Pariah navigated the glowing abundance of knobs, buttons, and LEDs, in the process proving just how immersive and rewarding 45 minutes' worth of thumping, overdriven analog techno can be when Karenn is at the helm. Glenn Jackson


2. Disclosure
No emerging outfit had a more succesful rise in 2012 than Disclosure (seriously, the group's XLR8R podcast momentarily shut our site down when it first appeared). Over the past 12 months, the brotherly duo went from being an impossibly young pair of promising London producers to becoming a full-on sensation, beginning with the somewhat overlooked "Tenderly" b/w "Flow" single and capping the year off with the vocal-driven pop/bass hybrid "Latch," which—perhaps not so unexpectedly—gained the group loads of crossover success, radio play, and a place high up on the UK singles chart. Still, setting aside Disclosure's commercial achievements, 2012 did triumphantly see the pair solidify its sound: a sumptuous mix of garage, vintage-tinged house, and the more accessible veins of bass music. To our ears, this mixture was most strongly displayed on the four-track Face EP and Disclosure's irresistible rework of Jessie Ware's "Running," releases which fused dancefloor prowess and pop sensibilities together with an expert touch. Whether they intended to be there or not, Guy and Howard Lawrence are now caught in a balancing act between their club-music roots and the continually growing mainstream attention they've garnered, and while we aren't likely to see which way the scales will be tipped until the duo's debut LP drops sometime next year, we're glad Disclosure's 2012 run yielded such a fruitful collection of tunes. Glenn Jackson


1. Vessel
The brilliantly peculiar thing about the warped interpretation of dance music that Vessel (a.k.a. Seb Gainsborough) presented on his debut album, Order Of Noise, was that the more one listened to it, the harder it became to define. On the surface, it was a record tied together by an affection for the same strains of dark soundsystem dub that featured heavily throughout the radio shows and DJ sets of Young Echo—the collective of Bristol-based producers which counts Gainsborough amongst its core members. But beneath the layers of cavernous reverb was an album that touched upon everything from glitchy, minimal techno and dark house grooves to industrial soundscapes and thick, evolving drones. More than anything though, it was a record that saw Gainsborough step past his influences and out into a league of his own; incorporating the garage experiments of his debut EP, Nylon Sunset, and the lo-fi techno of January's Standard EP, the album amalgamated them under the umbrella of Vessel's distorted, haunting vision of dance music. The resulting sound was more than just sprawling eclecticism though; it was unique, imaginative, and light years ahead of most things we heard in 2012. Si Truss


XLR8R's Best of 2012 coverage will continue through the end of this week and all of next week, so check back each day for additional year-end round-ups. In the meantime, don't forget to vote in our Readers Poll, and take a look at the other Best of 2012 pieces we've posted already:

XLR8R's Best of 2012: Top Downloads
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Podcasts
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Features
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Videos
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Labels
XLR8R's Best of 2012: Hi, Doctor Nick!