XLR8R’s Best of 2017: New Artists
We salute this year's breakthrough artists.
XLR8R’s Best of 2017: New Artists
We salute this year's breakthrough artists.
Collating the New Artists list is an unenviable task. How do you determine “new? It’s always a hard one using the word “best.” It’s never easy. But let it be said that 2017 was challenging in a different sense. Instead of deliberating over the parameters of said list, attempting to determine who falls on which side of the lines, the difficulty came in limiting those included to a reasonable and acceptable number. It feels like 2017 saw a wealth of talent born, all clearly new, and all worthy of being labeled among the “best.” This list could have been a lot longer than it is. Nonetheless, a list has been compiled, reduced, and then presented below — in no particular order.
Umfang is Emma Olsen, a techno artist whose “trajectory as a producer and DJ has soared this past year,” writes Aurora Mitchell in her feature for Resident Advisor. She was born in the Bronx, grew up in Kansas, and has been living in Brooklyn since 2010—where she co-founded Disc Woman, a New York-based collective, booking agency, and event platform that represents female-identified talent in the electronic music community. She’s been touring heavily throughout 2017, including a tremendous back-to-back session with Volvox at Dekmantel. On a production front, she debuted on Ninja Tune‘s Technicolour imprint with her second LP—a release preceded only by a handful of others on 1080p, videogamemusic, and Phinery. Her year is made all the more remarkable given that you could have found her managing a thrift store until not so long ago.
A lot has been written on Yaeji, the NYC-based Korean producer. In March, she dropped her self-titled EP via Godmode, featuring a handful lo-fi house music cuts, and followed this up in November with EP 2. There’s an appealing simplicity to her work; most tracks consist of a deep bassline with some intimate and simple vocals—”like having someone whisper in your ear in the middle of a crowded club,” wrote Alexandra Pollard for The Guardian newspaper. It just works, as her recent nomination for BBC Sound of 2018 poll reflects.
Sampa the Great
Some would argue that Sampa Tempo (a.k.a. Sampa The Great) is hardly a “new” artist, but 2017 definitely saw her work reach a far wider audience — after an initial breakthrough in 2015. For those who missed this early work, Sampa is a singer, poet, lyricist, and songwriter born in Zambia, raised in Botswana, and based currently in Melbourne. She makes deeply political and personal rap music, the most recent release being a new mixtape via Big Dada in November. Birds And The BEE9 arrived after an early mixtape and a series of EPs and singles which had attracted a swell of support in Australia and beyond. 2018 will surely see her profile grow further.
If Pitchfork‘s Philip Sherburne singles out your mix for his regular monthly column, you know you’re onto a winner. London-based Canadian Serena Pasion (a.k.a. Peach) is far from being a household name — unless you listen to Radar Radio. A creative DJ, she’s entrepreneurial and intelligent at building sets through her wave, bass, and house selections, and has been a regular at Phonox, Corsica Studios, and ://about blank, all jaunts you can find her at, peering over and bouncing behind the decks.
Why Peach more than anyone else? This certain Canadian has impeccable skills at building and layering sets, and is also proving to be extremely informed (which is especially surprising for someone so young). Whether it’s her Lobster Theremin podcast, Radar Radio sets, or after-hours/warm-up shows, this is one selector with a true talent in narrating, and constructing elevating mixes, with dynamism and passion. She also has a true knack for the radio. Peachy.
New Yorker Evan Shornstein’s third album, Onism, released this year on Astro Nautico, has made it to many best-of-year lists with its fun, creative, and organic feeling electro-soul. He’s been touring with Bonobo, played across the world, and had acclaim shined upon from the likes of Gilles Peterson and more. He embodies plenty of natural sounds in his music through the use of field recordings, while employing the fun, and experimental creativity of influences such as Aphex Twin in his work.
Speaking to XLR8R earlier this year, Shornstein shares how the likes of Orbital and Autechre got him into music, while his focus on the natural elements—a passion drawn from his upbringing—really set the tone for his music. “It goes back to my base influence, Aphex Twin. Some of his music’s really scary, even the drum sounds are really menacing, but there are these fluffy little melodies on top. That juxtaposition really stuck with me.” Having also had a remix out on Ninja Tune, with more international dates to follow in 2018, with a sound that appease both new-wave, soft-palleted electronic music fans, and jazz-types alike, Photay’s creativity is one to watch for 2018.
There’s not much to write about Milán Zaks, the artist better known as DJ Sports. The Danish DJ-producer keeps a low profile, known best for his work with Regelbau, the 11-strong Århus-based collective turned label—which we featured last year. This year saw him drop Modern Species, a tremendous eight-track LP that touched on jungle, house, and ambient. It’s likely to come up in any informed discussion of the best releases of the year, and rightly so. In the booth, he’s proven himself as a smooth, skilled selector whose profile will only continue to blossom.
Anastasia Vtorova has been emitting strange yet compelling sounds since 2014. Her first available tracks were on underground cassette releases, and, more recently, she’s appeared on the label Peder Mannerfelt and subterranean noise bastion Where To Now? Her For Sweden EP contained the creepy 4/4 of “Very Kind Human Being”: all scrapes, hisses and eerie tones, like feeling your way down a dimly-lit tunnel pursued by someone or something. The same release contained the sound art/IDM breaths and clipped field recordings of “Liquid Metal.” Another release, the superb Genau House, imported her weird energies and crackly percussive originality into lush dub techno. She’s hardly new to music production.
But it was only really this year that her “reverberations” have been felt “more widely,” writes Ben Murphy in our feature. Much of this is down to Technicolour, who invited Vtorova into their ranks with a three-track 12″ titled When Lobster Comes Home. The lead cut, “Camile From OHM Makes Me Feel Loved,” with its blissful chords and crunching beats, has been praised—and played—by Ben UFO, among others. Hold fire for more.
An XLR8R favorite, for reasons that become obvious in her rich and eclectic contribution to our podcast series earlier this year. Melina Serser is a rising DJ based in Montevideo, Uruguay—and a graduate of DJ Koolt’s DJ school. “He taught me a lot; he is my mentor,” she says laughing over a beer during her recent visit to Berlin where she played alongside Vera, Z@P, and more at one of the summer’s Melliflow parties. Her influences comes from her Afro-American roots, but she has spent much of the last five years refining her style into one that blends downtempo, trip-hop, and breakbeat with funk, jazz, and ethnic rhythms — the result of which is a rich and varied sonic tapestry as she uncovers unknown jewels to exhibit an exploration of melodies from around the world. 2017 has seen her reputation grow both on home turf and around Europe through her versatile selections and eclectic taste in vinyl.
Like off-kilter electro? Check out Australian DJ and producer Hymns, real name Jacob Cusumano. The Melbourne-based artist has released on Salt Mines, LKR Records, Momentary Records, and Play !t Loud; while he also co-runs Melbourne parties Cool Room. His sets, like his productions, are often high-energy affairs; check out his Lobster Theremin podcast for a case in point. “Water Acid” is a particularly memorable track.
Pessimist is the alias of Kristian Jabs, a Bristol-based drum & bass producer who first set tongues wagging with a beautifully dark 2016 Balaklava 12” on Blackest Ever Black‘s A14 sub-label. It was a release that followed various others for Samurai Music and Ingredients Records, among others, yet it was only a sign of things to come. July 21 saw his debut LP and his first appearance on Blackest Ever Black itself, instantly drawing him widespread attention for his dramatic, dark, and thoroughly captivating soundscapes. The label describes the release as a “noir, smoked-out dub scape” full of “jungle tear-outs,” “acidic rave,” “downtempo breakbeat” and “bombed-out industrial ambiance”— and you can imagine it in the club as much as you can in sci-fi soundtracks. His Facebook page assures us that new music is “coming soon,” and we can’t wait.
A late addition to this list, New York’s Onyx Collective are perhaps really on the cusp of breaking through—but we’ll include them nonetheless. In September of 2016, the jazz ensemble—who had been performing throughout New York for years in both rugged DIY spaces and esteemed clubs—quietly released their debut album 2nd Ave Rundown on vinyl via Supreme. In the ensuing year, they continued to build an underground profile in the city, in spite of the fact that none of their recordings existed online. Now, only recently, they released their proper debut through the release of three projects (two EPs and an LP) via Big Dada. Lower East Suite Part One is the first installment of three and captures their measured and soulful track musical styles. Two more releases will land next year.
Forest Drive West
Forest Drive West “broke out” last year with his release on dnuoS ytiviL, the sister label of Livity Sound. But 2017 saw him take further strides with debuts on Hidden Hawaii and Livity Sound proper. Jinx / Scanners features two long-form minimal techno tracks with a distinct resemblance to the work of Batu, Hodge, Bruce, and Simo Cell, and he followed it up in November with Static / Escape. It’s no surprise that there lies much expectation around the mysterious London producer.
Calum MacRae’s music under the Lanark Artefax moniker is icy, intricate, and utterly absorbing. The Glaswegian artist has only released a handful of singles and EPs, yet the tracks contained reveal the English literature graduate to be a true master of storytelling. His earlier offerings, such as 2015’s acidic two-step cut “Tonal Plexus” on the Cong Burn Waves label, aimed at left-of-center dancefloors. MacRae’s later material, by contrast, is loaded with abstract details and avant-garde beats. “Glasz” on Lee Gamble’s UIQ imprint, with its brutal subs and creeping rhythm, enters a parallel, dub-damaged dimension.
His most recent EP, Whities 011, encompasses everything from bittersweet synth soundtracks to the electro/IDM masterpiece “Touch Absence”: a combination of junkyard metallic drums, bass judders, and ethereal vocal samples. MacRae has ambitions as a film composer, and tunes such as “Voices Near the Hypocentre” are immensely atmospheric. A recent art installation at Glasgow’s Glue Factory, meanwhile, The Absent Material Gateway, uncovered another side of MacRae’s talents that expanded upon his recent academic studies in metamodernism. Judging by the surreal and hypnotic creations he’s unveiled so far, 2018 will offer more revelatory works from Lanark Artefax.
Brian Piñeyr (a.k.a DJ Python) has devised something thrilling and original with his album Dulce Compañia for Anthony Naples’ Incensio label. The New Yorker, who also creates under the names DJ Wey, DJ Xanax, and Luis, makes psychotropic new age electronics, buoyed by rhythms cribbed from the Puerto Rican dance sound, reggaeton.
DJ Python first hit upon his new style with the 2016 EP ¡Estéreo Bomba! Vol. 1: a development from earlier, more conventional house, techno, and breakbeat EPs as Luis and DJ Wey. It may not be the first time an artist has merged reggaeton’s distinctive “dembow” percussion loop with a more overtly electronic sound, but Piñeyro’s ambient, hypnotic combination is unmatched. On Dulce Compañia’s “Todo Era Azul (Versiòn Afuera)”, he folds breakbeats into the swaying Caribbean beat and decorates it all with twinkling synth chords beamed directly from the stars. Those with a taste for his mesmeric mixture can expect a new DJ Python cassette in the early part of 2018, slated for release on the on-point Trilogy Tapes label.
In February of this year, XLR8RprofiledMor Elian for our Bubblin’ Up series. At the time, Elian had releases under her belt on Prime Numbers and Hypercolour, with an EP on the way via Finale Sessions. She had also just launched a new party series in Los Angeles with Jimmy Maheras called Into The Woods, which this year has gone on to host artists such as Legowelt, Mathew Jonson, Derek Plaslaiko, Mike Huckaby, Kai Alce, and, of course, Elian herself. Since then, Elian has co-founded the Fever AM label alongside Cassegrain‘s Rhyw with her stripped-back Cymatic Ring EP and followed that up with a standout EP on Kevin McHugh (LA-4A/Ambivalent)‘s Delft label, fusing electro, dub, acid, ambient, and techno with impeccable style. 2017 was the year Elian pulled together all of her talents and presented them in stunning fashion.
One could argue that Manchester-born Sam Coates’ break came last year when he debuted on Len Faki‘s Figure imprint, but 2017 has seen him really establish himself as a rising techno DJ-producer. Not only has he returned to the label, this time with a four-track collaboration with Matrixxman, he has also toured across Europe and completed his first tour of North America.
Marta Daneva (a.k.a Laylla Dane) is one of Bulgaria’s rising talents. Hailing from Sofia, Bulgaria, Marta credits her eclectic, groove-ridden sound to the influence of fellow Bulgarians. Equally, the proximity of neighboring Romania and the ability to travel to Bucharest for parties meant that the minimal sounds so prevalent in the capital played a large part in her shaping her work. Marta is a rare breed in that she is one of very few artists making their way based on their DJing skills alone; she is yet to try her hand at production. In fact, it was none other than Thomas Franzmann (a.k.a Zip) who provided her first major international break, inviting her to play at the legendary once-a-year New Kids on Acid party at Watergate in 2014 alongside him and Ricardo Villalobos after happening upon her playing a set at an after-hours at the old Guesthouse in Bucharest.
Kelly Lee Owens
Until this year, Welsh artist Kelly Lee Owens had operated on the fringes of the electronic music scene, providing vocals for Daniel Avery‘s Drone Logic, reworking artists such as Ghost Culture and Jenny Hval, and self-releasing singles and EPs. This year, however, that all changed with the release of her self-titled debut album, a mesmerizing collection of cuts that connected the dots from dream pop to hypnotic techno, with stops at most styles in between—it also landed a spot in XLR8R‘s top releases of 2017. Last month, Owens continued the stellar run with the release of a 12″ featuring an elegant, acid-drenched rework of Aaliyah’s classic “More Than A Woman,” putting a ribbon on a breakout year for one of the most exciting new artists in the game.
Words from Ben Murphy, Dan Cole, Anton Lang, Bruce Tantum, Vince Morris, and XLR8R Staff.