In a year that has been inescapably heralded by many as one of the worst on record, getting the most out of the pleasures in life becomes all the more significant. Here at XLR8R, we seem to get the greatest joy out of tracking new musical talents. Our pursuit brings in artists of all sorts of styles and backgrounds—selectors or studio heads alike. Whether we are being wowed by new music in clubs or in the office, it’s that freshness that keeps us so enamored. So, without further ado, we now celebrate those artists who were new to the game but made the biggest waves in 2016.
Zendid—for those who missed our lengthy feature earlier this summer—is the collaborative project of Adrien Doumenge and Lenny Mailleau, two Toulouse-based DJ-producers whose beautifully intricate studio output has become a staple in the record bags of many of the world's leading DJs. The roots of the project can actually be traced back to 2011 when Doumenge and Mailleau—solo artists at the time—established a musical connection having been introduced by a mutual friend at one of the parties in their home town. It wasn't until late 2014, however, that they released their first track; and it was only this year that they've been acknowledged as one of the most exciting artists in microhouse music.
Much of this success came on the back of a summer in Berlin, a move motivated by artistic progression that saw them collaborate with with some of the city's most talented producers while also being invited to play at Club der Visionäre and Hoppetosse on several occasions—an indicator, if nothing else, of their flourishing studio and DJ talents. In addition to this, they toured across Europe before joining Raresh—one of their biggest and high profile advocates—in New York, while also finding time to debut on London-based Infuse and return to Discobar. with the spectacular Pins Of Djadi EP.
A special, unreleased track is available for download here.
It's been a fine year for Nick Lapien (a.k.a. Lapien), the Dutch DJ-producer and acclaimed live act who sits right on the external perimeter of this "new" category of artists. After all, his first release dropped in 2012, followed in 2015 with a series of EPs on Fred P's Soul People and Finale Sessions; but it is only really this year that has "started to make music seriously" and established himself as one of house music's brightest talents—under this alias, at least.
He is, after all, an artist who dons many hats. As a producer—as Metropolis, Nepal, and Artefakt, his collaboration with fellow Dutch producer Robin Koek—he's released on some of house and techno's most esteemed and forward-thinking labels. 2016, however, has seen him come into his own as Lapien, performing for the first time at Panorama Bar before releasing two EPs on DVS1's Mistress Recordings and then an atmospheric three-tracker on Radio Slave’s Rekids. In addition to this, he performed one of his latest productions on a stripped-down setup in a photography studio as part of our Interpretations series.
Now touring more than ever, and with more releases scheduled soon, 2016 year was a breakthrough year for Lapien—even though his other side projects were already established.
It has been three years since Noname came up on our radars when her guest verse on fellow Chicagoan Chance The Rapper’s "Lost" introduced us to a beautiful and soulful voice. And then, after a long way, Noname’s debut mixtape Telefone arrived with many well thought-out features; and her collaboration with Raury on "Diddybop" appears to be channelling the same energy that the late great Guru managed to create with Erykah Badu during the early 2000s. Dreamy, synths and MPC-programmed beats to bring us her complex, whispered lyrics whilst nodding politely to those who have come before her.
Another one of the rising young French contingent is Vincent Lubelli—who also co-owns yoyaku, the Paris-based distributor, record shop and booking agency by which he and Zendid are both represented. And the similarities with Zendid do not end there: both, too, have featured in our pages through the summer months.
Varhat's 2016 started with his first ever EP, following on a one-track 2015 release on a VA compilation and a handful of DJ gigs in an around his hometown of Strasbourg, where he continues to base himself today. It is also widely believed that he also previously released as Hostom, an unidentified artist that appears frequently on the label of the same name—although this has not yet been confirmed by either him or one of his representatives.
Groovy and graced with a complex simplicity, January's VRHT777 was an instant success and a taste for the intricate, house-infused style that he continues to refine. Unknown Cut, VRHT222, and Quattro arrived soon thereafter, before he closed the year with the fine Suguri four-tracker on YoY.
As a DJ, he also debuted in Berlin, and played in various other international locations. He will start 2017 with by playing Mexico's Comunite event.
By many standards, 2016 has been a quiet year for Brooklyn-based experimental artist Eaves. After all, rarely did he perform and he only added to his sparse discography in December—just over a fortnight ago. However, that release came in the form of Verloren, his much-anticipated debut album and follow up to his 2015 GORILLA four-tracker. If nothing else, it confirmed the depth to Eaves' growing abilities that he has been working on since his early days fragmenting samples to make off-kilter "beats" for the course of his Los Angeles upbringing.
Just as with his earlier work, Verloren draws inspiration from the relationship between sound and physical structure—a result, perhaps, of Eaves' academic history in architecture and interest in the internet. But GORILLA, it would seem, served as a blueprint only, for this latest work builds on this impressive debut to build an array of apocalyptic and emotional soundscapes that become quite remarkable when you consider that Eaves only recently celebrated his 21st birthday. Exciting things are to come.
Grime and the UK rap scene are in a strange space this year, with instant fame and success in America having become increasingly achievable. A year ago it would have seemed impossible that Drake would remix new UK rappers like Dave. In this new musical landscape where many eyes are on this little scene, it is reassuring that we have artists who are cutting their teeth into the wider climate in the British fashion, through pirate and independent radio.
A large, loud, and aggressive spitter, Big Zuu's lyrics remind one of early grime artists like Crazy Titch or Durrty Goodz. His debut EP Big Who also shows a conscious contrasting side to his craft with the positive message of tracks like "This One" and the violent message of "Kaleidoscope."
Fernando Zapico is the latest in a line of emergent talents hailing from Uruguay; along with the likes of Nicolas Lutz, DJ Koolt and Omar, he’s left a substantial impression on the international scene this past year. Though all very unique in their own ways, the South American exports all seem to share a common creed—an appreciation for all types of electronic music that puts substance over style.
Having been active for years already, Z@p came to our attention with his recent EP on Vera and Alexandra’s Melliflow imprint (his first new material since 2009)—a record with something for every occasion, that shows a focused, refreshed producer. With the promise of more material on the way and gigs coming in from Seoul to Kiev, it seems that big things are in store.
Ross From Friends
If Ross From Friends’ name isn’t enough to reel you in, then his productions should do the trick. The Londoner’s debut release dropped last year on Breaker Breaker Recordings and many heads were swiftly turned. This year he’s truly cemented himself as one to watch—a champion of the lo-fi sound, his sample-heavy, hazed-out house is a cut above the rest. With the arrival of his hotly anticipated You’ll Understand EP on Lobster Theremin sub-label Distant Hawaii, Ross From Friends truly won us over.
Part of a modest-yet-thriving scene that is often overlooked by the music world at large, cousins Chloe Kaul and Simon Lam (a.k.a. Kllo) broke onto the scene in 2014 with their debut EP, Cusp, on Australian label Dot Dash Recordings. That EP—a five-tracker that paired Lam's head-nodding engineering and production with Kaul's enchanting vocals—made quite the splash; not just in the duo's home city of Melbourne, but all the way over the Pacific Ocean to Ghostly International, the label that would release Kllo's sophomore EP, Well Worn.
In the wake of Well Worn, Kaul and Lam embarked on a world tour with RÜFÜS DU SOL and NAO that included performances in Hamburg, Berlin, Vancouver, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, and New York—a feat hard to imagine many acts achieving with just two EPs under their belt. Now that a good chunk of the world has had the pleasure of being serenaded by Kaul and Lam's achingly smooth sounds, 2016—undoubtedly Kllo's breakout year—may just be the quietest year they will experience.
Andrew James Gustav
Andrew James Gustav's story is a unique one. Having never attempted any self-promotion, nor run any social media accounts, the London-based selector built his reputation purely through his head-turning, deep-digging sets. Though his impressive record collection was years in the making, he's only been spinning in public for the past few. 2016 was the year of his definitive breakthrough, as gigs rolled in across the globe; and no wonder, when he can make it sound this good.
Dutchman Danny Jeroense had been making electro tracks for years before his 2016 debut vinyl release. Confined to the obscurity of some fringe digital only labels, his Canvax project was uncovered by the team behind Italian imprint YAY Recordings. The result—Cosmophilia.
The album was a work put together entirely by Jeroense, a complete package that included artwork designed by him too. It’s the kind of thoughtfully produced electro that is rare to find, which we praised for “its diversity—a confidently executed balancing act between all shades of the genre.” Now, we can only anticipate his next move.
Bodin & Jacob
Traffic Records is at the forefront of the reincarnation of the Frankfurt scene. The German city’s techno heritage runs deep, though has been stagnant for some years. With label partners Martyné and Patrick Klein, Bodin&Jacob have helped to breathe some life back into the scene.
The duo have been actively putting out records since 2013, though this was the year that both they and the label started to really gain traction. The sound they push is a hybrid of minimal, techno and electro influences—take their recent Mahoney EP, a four-tracker that highlights their current leaning. With semi-regular Traffic parties rocking local institution Robert Johnson, it seems the duo are going to be about for some time to come.
SØS Gunver Ryberg
Not much was known of SØS Gunver Ryberg’s production at the turn of 2016. But then her debut EP, Afteryk, appeared on Samuel Kerridge’s Contort label, heavily laced with distortion and aggression—and things changed.
Seldom do you see an artist’s influences run much deeper than the usual Underground Resistance and Aphex Twin records; however Ryberg’ credits her love for acoustics to be drawn from the soundscapes and mountains of her homeland, Denmark. Her ties to the performing arts and experimentalism permeate through her exhilarating live sets and production—both of which are rich in texture and speedy percussion. She finished the year in style, performing an ambient set for Berghain’s birthday.
I Hate Models
Barely in his twenties, I Hate Models first found the limelight when Emmanuel picked him up for a solo EP on his label ARTS. The Warehouse Memories EP allowed the young producer to flaunt his skills as a serious artist, and not a one-trick-pony, before he followed this with an equally brutal one for Toxic Waste Buried. 2017 is shaping up to be a big one.
Hailing from Atlanta Georgia, 24-year-old rapper/singer 6lack (pronounced ‘Black’) is one of this year’s most talked about breakthrough artists in hip-hop, having gained attention following the releases of debut single "PRBLMS," and album FREE6LACK this year.
With rich bass driven ballads that cover topics of love/breakup/success, debut release FREE6LACK draws obvious comparison with Drake’s VIEWS. However, lyrical subject matter is where the comparisons end, for the body of work feels more conservative, lean, and for the most part less arrogant than that of any of his peers.