Music, like any other art, is not about competition, or rankings. That’s why this year, at Xceed, we wanted to avoid a list with “the best” artists of the year. What criteria should be used? Artists who have released new music? DJs who have made the leap to fame? Big names who continue to move countless masses as they have done for more than a decade? What has more merit than all that? Most rankings in other publications are based on public votes, but we return to the case: does having more fans mean being a better artist? Or, to put it more simply: does having more active fans in social networks mean being a better artist?
This year, Xceed Night Mag proposes a review of 2019 based on a single criterion: 30 names that have made a name for themselves. 30 artists who can say that 2019 has not been just another year in their career, but the year to write in golden letters in their memory books, for whatever reason. They are 30 names -ordered alphabetically- that have consolidated themselves, that have made a leap in quality, that have released their best music to date or that have multiplied their presence and relevance on the scene.
What was originally a duo (and still is while DJing) has now become a trio with the almost permanent addition of Algerian keyboardist Kenzi Bourras. It was with him that the Mediterranean Acid Arab created Jdid -literally, “new” in Arabic-, an 11-track album that was born with the cities of Oran and Istanbul as base camps, but that adopts influences and sounds from all over the Mediterranean area, from north to south and east to west. The crossroads between the components of Acid Arab, the coexistence of the sand dunes with the concrete skyscrapers, the interculturality and the acoustic approaches made Jdid and his multiple live performances around the world one of the great memories of 2019. Jdid is possibly Acid Arab’s best work in their entire career.
Anetha‘s is one of the most striking emerging talents on the European rave scene. She perfectly represents the new batch of young French artists inspired by electro, EBM, trance and 90s techno. In 2019, Anetha has established herself as one of the great artists of this scene. She has become the resident DJ of the Parisian raves Possession along with others like VTSS or Hector Oaks, has released her own label Mama Told Ya, has performed in clubs like Concrete, Bassiani, De School or Berghain and has been invited by DVS1 to the night curated by the American at Fabric London. The facts speak for themselves.
It’s no secret that 2019 has been a year of great changes for Blond:ish. The duo broke up, with Vivie-Ann staying on under the name Blond:ish to perform solo, and with Anstascia using her real name from then on. These news surprised the whole scene, as Blond:ish came from a 2018 where they released their label ABRACADABRA, started their ABRA events, released music for the first time in Warung, shined in Burning Man and signed residencies in WooMoon and Black Coffee, both in Ibiza. Vivie-Ann and Anstascia insisted that their projects beyond music are more alive than ever. Blond:ish continues to be strongly committed to sustainability and ecology at all the parties she performs at. With the Bye Bye Plastic project, Blond:ish aims to eliminate single-use plastics in electronic music events. So far, more than 1,500 renowned international artists have signed up.
The German artist has exploded. The name Boris Brejcha had always been present in the chamber thanks to hymns like “Purple Noise” or his edit of Der Dritte Raum’s “Hale Bopp”. However, his presence on stages and clubs around the world was rather casual. At the end of 2018, Boris and his friends Ann Clue, Deniz Bul and Theydream presented their label Fckng Serious to the world with a tour that took them to clubs and festivals around the world. The success was resounding. One year later, Boris Brejcha has legions of fans on all 5 continents. He has been the headliner at large scale festivals and the presence of his mask and his label has spread to dancefloors all over the world. Boris Brejcha has been, without a doubt, one of the biggest phenomena (if not the biggest) of 2019 in the electronic scene, always with the “high-tech minimal” genre as a motto.
In fact, Caterina Barbieri‘s hype began to be noticed in 2018. This 2019 has been rather the year of her consecration as one of the most influential and notorious artists of the avant-garde scene and the ambient genres. She released an album in 2017, another in 2018 and, with Ecstatic Computation, completed the journey in 2019. At the same time, her appearances at the best electronic music festivals in the world, such as Unsound, Berlin Atonal, Mutek or Sónar, establish her as insurance for anyone who wants to make an open-minded public happy and willing to experiment and alter their sound perception. The modular-based synth-ambient music of the Berlin-based Italian artist has been one of the most interesting sounds of the year.
Belgian Charlotte de Witte began to build a name between late 2016 and early 2017. Previously, she was known, especially in rave environments, as Raving George, the aka she had been using since its inception. She decided to recover her real name and bet on sounds slightly closer to the big-room spirit, which, especially in those early years as Charlotte de Witte, catapulted her to fame. In 2018, she continued to grow, but 2019 has been the year of her establishment as one of the most demanded producers and DJs of the techno scene. So much so, that Charlotte has allowed herself to recover old weapons of acid techno and ravy trance that characterized her in her early days. In a way, we could say that Charlotte de Witte is a star of mass techno and a trully headliner wherever she performs, and that she has taken advantage of this situation to bring to the big-room scene sounds from more underground environments.
David August is not even 25 years old, but he’s already a reference of the most sophisticated electronica. A pianist since he was forced to do so at the age of 5, David is known for having found a musical proposal that can be used on the dancefloor or in your living-room. He surprised us by closing 2018 with several high-volume releases, which augured well for a busy 2019 for the Berlin-based artist. And so it has been: David August has performed in 2019 for DGTL, ADE, Lost Village, Primavera Sound, Sziget and Melt, among others. Prestigious artists such as Ron Trent or Rafael Anton Irisarri have deconstructed his music in this 2019. Their live show is one of the most beautiful and precious in the electronic dance scene and this year has confirmed it… probably for life.
They debuted in 2010 and didn’t stop releasing music for seven years. Understandably, in 2017, brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, known as Disclosure, took a break both in the studio and on stage. However, at the end of 2018, the Brits started to degrease machines and 2019 has been the magical year of their return, both as producers and DJs. The Croydon couple are cooking up a third album that will see the light sooner than later. The best sounds of this album, always related to Detroit house’s and UK garage’s aroma, have already been played during this last year in big festivals like DGTL, Sónar, Estéreo Picnic, Space Invader or Movement.
DJ Tennis has always been there. As a child, he looked like he was going to be a tennis star – hence his name – but ended up opting for the kitchen (yes, he’s a very renowned chef) and, of course, for dance music. Funk, disco, house, techno… DJ Tennis covers many genres, both in his DJ sets and in the releases on the cult label he founded: Life And Death. In fact, LAD comes from closing one of his best years in terms of music released. Likewise, DJ Tennis has just lived through a frenetic 2019, with almost 150 dates spread over the five continents. After a couple of years in which we saw a slightly more blurred DJ Tennis, 2019 has once again placed the Italian among the best on the scene. Manfredi has opted for a sophisticated, advanced and, for some, even futuristic proposal. He has been able to cause constant and unbridled dancing by releasing experimental music. 2019 has been the year of the reappearance of DJ Tennis as one of the best DJs of all time.
How could he not be among the highlights of 2019? Sam Shepherd announced the release of his latest album in October 2018. It is the first one he produced in four years. The 12 tracks that make up Crush attracted the attention of all the international critics. Sound experimentalism is present, but also the UK basses and the melancholic harmonies. Crush is an artwork as contemplative as it is danceable. Floating Points has shown it to the world by performing live at events of all kinds and being accompanied – on many occasions – by his faithful friends from Hamill Industries, who are in charge of creating a constant dialogue between Floating Points’s music and the images he holds in his mind.
It would be very surprising if Four Tet forgets one day this 2019. In March, he released under his original initials KH his track “Only Human”, a piece based on the vocals of Nelly Furtado’s “Afraid”, and which has been, without a doubt, one of the best tracks of 2019. In July, that work and many others – such as his remix of Bicep’s “Opal” – sounded in the dark at Sónar. For the occasion, Four Tet performed live and totally in the dark. He wanted the audience to be, for 90 minutes, focused solely on the music. Curiously, the experiment contrasts with the immersive 3D shows that have continued to take place, especially at the end of the year, in London. Specifically, the Alexandra Palace in the British capital brought together more than 10,000 people who packed into a space where Kieran Hebden was barely seen by the 100 people in the front rows. The rest couldn’t see him, but listened and danced to him, while 40,000 blinkers slapped their senses and took them to another dimension. For some British media, Four Tet’s 3D show is the best visual show of the moment. For that reason, and for everything else, we dare say that Four Tet is at the best moment of its successful and brilliant career.
When HAAi won the BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix of the Year award in 2018, many of us in Europe wondered where she came from. Overnight, the Australian artist had gone from being the resident DJ at London’s Phonox club to becoming an international star. The award served as an intro to the rest of Europe, to the rest of the world. Flirting with new acid, downtempo, nu-disco, house and techno, HAAi caught everyone’s attention and, only in 2019, she had over 100 dates worldwide. Glastonbury, Sónar, Kappa Futur Festival, Love International, Dour, Montreux Jazz Festival, Pulsar, Draaimolen, FORT Festival, Magnetic Fields and parties like Innervisions (by Dixon), Circoloco (at Ibiza’s DC-10), DGTL x Outlier (by Bonobo) or The Pleasure Gardens (by Peggy Gou) are just some of the highlights of her route.
Through melancholy and violence, the young Guillaume Labadie has become one of the fittest – if not the fittest – artists in European rave culture. Young, energetic, with his mouth zone always hidden under a handkerchief and with a stressfully hyperactive technique in the DJ booth, I Hate Models -that’s what he calls himself- has exploded on club and festival stages on all five continents, revolutionizing the scene up to 150 bpm without caring about consequences. Breaks, acid, electro from the 2000s, trance, of course techno and two releases -plus a repress- have made 2019 the year of I Hate Models. For a better understanding, listen to Intergalactic Emotional Breakdown (published in A R T S) and the historical L’Âge Des Métamorphoses, an album of 93 demented minutes, released on Perc Trax.
Philipp Lauer is one of the most prolific and active producers of electronic dance music in recent times. The labels which are closer to him claim that he has already signed over 250 releases, including original tracks and various remixes. Only in 2019, he released remixes on up to five different labels, while his original tracks have seen the light on Permanent Vacation -where he collaborated with singer Jasnau-, Scatcity Records and DGTL. In this last EP for the Dutch festival’s label, you can find “Inkel Jet 880”, one of the 40 best tracks of the year.
“Since I was a promoter, I used to observe in detail every DJ I was working with to understand what goes on in his or her mind and Lena is definitely one of the most interesting DJs I’ve ever seen.” This was said by DJ Tennis -who knows about this for a while- after the night in which they both coincided at Circoloco’s party in DC-10 (Ibiza). That night, Lena Willikens decided that the island, accused in recent times of surrendering to the most commercial dance music, had to dance to sophisticated, experimental, futuristic and dark rhythms, usually difficult to find in those latitudes. As the head of Life And Death said, Lena Willikens is one of the most interesting names in the current DJing scene. Her presence in Berlin Atonal last year and in events such as Dekmantel, Flow or MIRA in 2019 corroborate it.
The transformation of Mall Grab was one of the greatest phenomena of the year. We only have to rewind to mid 2018 to meet again with the Mall Grab that managed to revolutionize UK house music. That Mall Grab was set aside to make way for a new one. The new Mall Grab is trancy, he goes up to 140 (and more) bpms and he is capable of turning any of its gigs into a rave. His latest releases, such as Don’t Keep The Fire Burning (Looking For Trouble) or Strangers (collaboration with Skin On Skin), his recent Boiler Room at Glitch Festival or his DJ sets at Sónar and Lente Kabinet (Dekmantel’s younger brother) are possibly his best memories of this 2019. The big question is: will Mall Grab continue to immerse himself in the most ravy genres of techno and, above all, trance, or will we see one of the most promising house artists come back? Considering that Australian Jordan Alexander is only 25 years old, absolutely everything is possible.
She announced it herself on her social networks on the morning of August 27th: Marie Davidson is abandoning the club scene. The Canadian producer did it in grand style. As a producer, she reinforced her influence on the clubbing movement with the LP Working Class Woman, an album released on Ninja Tune that would include the famous remix of Soulwax which, in the end, would end up being one of the best tracks of 2019. As a performer, she said goodbye in September in her hometown Montreal, during a Red Bull Music Festival party. That was officially her “”last party playing live hardware club music”. Marie Davidson had previously dithered with all the negative stuff surrounding nightclubs, and now she has decided it is time to move away and look for new horizons. We are sure that Marie Davidson still has a lot to offer us, even if it is in other environments, so we will follow her very closely.
The Giovanelli brothers couldn’t have debuted in Afterlife with a better production than “Nothing Around Us”. Or so we thought. We were barely digesting their release when the bosses of the label, Tale Of Us, started using another one of those tracks whose IDs are priced higher. By the end of February 2019, we were celebrating one of the best tracks of the year, “Skywalking”. The Italian melodic techno duo Mathame had returned to make magic in the studio and, at the same time, Afterlife began to bet on them in a DJ set format for their events. Months later, Mathame are already an established name. Their value in the techno scene has been multiplied, as has their relevance in the line-ups in which they have appeared. Mathame are no longer a promise, but a reality.
The Northern Irish producer has been busy in the last 12 months. After his first two albums, released in 2014 and 2016, Max Cooper returned in 2018 with One Hundred Billion Sparks, a work that came out via his own label Mesh. In addition, Max has also collaborated with musicians such as pianist Bruce Brubaker -in the Glassforms project-, Michael Nyman or Nils Frahm. All his hours in the studio bore fruit in 2019, the year in which Max Cooper has been able to show his peculiar and personal conception of techno music -with a complex and futuristic air- and his visual accompaniment work in events of the magnitude of Mutek, Nextech, Grape, DGTL or Sónar.
Whether it’s because he’s the founder of Solid Grooves or because the number of fans who follow him around the world is multiplying month after month, it’s undeniable that Michael Bibi is one of the DJs of the moment. His label has already become a reference. His party of the same name is now consolidated in Ibiza’s summer season – on Sundays at Privilege’s Vista Club – and his name is a headliner at any festival he attends. His passion for partying, his obsession with mashuping, editing and adapting classics to the UK house field -as he has done with “Que Calor” by J Balvin and El Alfa- and his charisma in the booth make Michael Bibi -and many of the names that usually accompany him, such as Pawsa, Reelow or Dennis Cruz- a new reference for groove lovers.
Since Prender El Alma got us in love in 2015, Nicola Cruz had not released another LP. After multiple singles, edits and collaborations, the Ecuadorian’s second album arrived in January 2019. Siku consists of 11 tracks in which percussion plays a much greater role than what it has done to date in the music of what is possibly the most influential artist of modern downtempo. With his latest work, Nicola Cruz has allowed us to travel with him through the musics of the world. And, in fact, that’s what he did. First, to collaborate with different artists in the creation of the 11 tracks. Then, already in 2019, to present Siku live in clubs and festivals around the world. Morocco’s Oasis, Montreal’s Mutek, Fuji’s Rock Fest, Barcelona’s Sónar, Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz, Istanbul’s Chill-Out, Madrid’s Paraíso, Bogotá’s Estéreo, Santiago de Chile’s Lollapalooza and Tulum’s WooMoon party are his main highlights.
For old-school lovers, this has been a special year. It’s not every year that you live the return to the stage of classic bands like Nitzer Ebb. Essex’s trio, formed by the British Douglas McCarthy, Bon Harris and David Gooday, broke away from techno in their days to play around with the post-punk scene. Maybe that’s why their sound, dry, industrial and fun, has lasted, being able to return to the scene in 2019 to pay tribute to the effervescence of EBM (Electronic Body Music) of almost 30 years ago. In 2019, Nitzer Ebb has toured all over the world, visiting festivals that are leaders in contemporary electronic music, such as Dekmantel, Primavera Sound, Flow and Nuits Sonores. And they have always, always, always burn the dancefloor.
What to expect from an electronic engineer born in Japan, raised between Belgium and the UK and living in Berlin? Yes, electronic music, but of all colours and flavours. Indeed, this has been a year of revolution for TJ Herzes. His constant approaches to techno, trance and electro were broadened in late 2018 with Cocoon Crush, an album in which Objekt welcomed ambient and IDM, as well as visual immersion thanks to the talent of visual artist Ezra Miller. With him, the Japanese / Belgian / British / German of American-Philippine descent (here you have!) has shone at Unsound, Primavera Sound or Dimensions, while his DJ sets have also served as a platform to continue showing his riskiest sounds to the world. After closing Berlin Atonal in 2018, it seemed that Objekt had already got to the top. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the great matches of 2019. Octo Octa and Eris Drew represent many things. They represent the LGTBi collective, they represent the love for music, they represent the love of a couple (they actually are lovers) and they represent one of the greatest successes when it comes to joining in a DJ booth. Octo Octa already called the attention of the scene in 2018 with a hypnotic live of horizontal tendency and constant bases. In 2019, we have discovered that, well attuned to her partner Eris Drew, her DJ side can rise to the occasion. Octo Octa and Eris Drew performed together at Dekmantel, Unsound and Primavera Sound, always being one of the most outstanding performances of the festival, and they also went to renowned clubs such as Bassiani. Separately, both have also had a year to frame. Octo Octa has been in DGTL, Bilbao BBK Live, Circoloco, Ladyland, Melt, Nuits Sonores and Drift, while Eris Drew has been in Draaimolen, Lost Village, Polifonic or Love International.
That techno rave has regained its good name in recent times is no secret. More and more clubs in all kinds of cities are betting on (very) accelerated musical proposals, loaded with acidic pinches, trance harmonies and bases that sometimes even remind us of hardcore. And one who has been doing this for years is the British Paula Temple. A classic artist of the European rave movement, Temple has always remained faithful to the sound that has filled her most, and now we can say that, with it, she has reached the top. Paula Temple already warned that she was at her best when, in April, she released a first EP on Noise Manifesto. Just a month later, Edge Of Everything would arrive, a 12-track album in which dark ambient, noise and industrial techno coexist in total harmony. Paula Temple has displayed this sound at Malta’s Glitch, Asturias’ Aquasella, Rotterdam Rave Festival, Portugal’s Forte, Barcelona’s DGTL (where she was the best of the festival), Croatia’s Dimensions, Lisbon’s LXM or Zurich’s Uhrwerk, as well as having played in Fabric London, Industrial Copera or Fabrik Madrid. His union with the also British Rebekah in many of these dates has helped, no doubt, to place both, but especially Paula Temple, at the top of the rave scene.
This is what we call irrupting in the scene with all the force. Dane Schacke hadn’t produced much before, but his background as a DJ who was starting to be on everybody’s mouth in Copenhagen’s techno scene and his experience as a resident DJ at Клуб, a club in St. Petersburg now closed down and reconverted into a label, led him to be asked to remix a series of famous Russian pop songs. The results include “Kisloty People”, 2019’s track of the year for many and a real demonstration that techno and trance at 145 bpm can be very fun and colourful. After that, clubs and organizers from all over Europe called him. Schacke has already performed in Madrid, Dublin, Medellin and many other cities. And, above all, Berlin – at the Berghain’s Säule -, Paris – at the last Possession in 2019 – and, of course, Krakow’s Unsound, his most important gig to date. But Schacke’s story has only just begun.
The irruption of Circle Of Live in the avant-garde electronic scene at the end of 2018 was already promising. In 2019, the collective has consolidated itself as one of the unmissable performances of the end of the decade. With a jam session spirit, Circle Of Live always places four of its members facing each other in a circle, improvising live. Some of these members are Frank Wiedemann (the live version of Âme), Leafar Legov, Dorisburg, Mathew Jonson, The Mole, Vril, Steffi and, above all, Sebastian Mullaert, who created the concept and who leads it. Only in 2019, Circle Of Live has already shone at festivals such as the Detroit Movement, Stockholm’s Red Bull Music Festival and Mutek Mexico and Montreal, as well as in clubs of the stature of Fuse Brussels, Nitsa in Barcelona, Radion in Amsterdam and Griessmühle in Berlin.
It’s not a promise anymore, either a bet. Slikback is now a proven reality. In 2018, the Kenyan producer caught the attention of the people in charge of Nyege Nyege, the Ugandan collective responsible for the festival of the same name, undoubtedly the most important and influential in the whole African continent. Nyege Nyege saw in Slikback a diamond in the rough, a talent never seen before in the area. With bass music as his base, Slikback deconstructs trap, footwork, grime, dembow, gqom and DnB music, demonstrating a hyperactivity in the booth as amazing as the one he must experience in his studio (producing 400 tracks in two years is not within anyone’s reach). Nyege Nyege introduced him to the world. Berlin’s CTM was the first one to call him in Europe. After it, came Dutch Sonic Acts, Austrian Elevate, Mutek Barcelona, the Belgian La Nature, Sónar Barcelona, the Dutch Dekmantel, Krakow’s Unsound and Turin’s Club To Club. Slikback has become a must-have for 2019. And that’s without counting his debuts in clubs like Concrete, Corsica Studios, Berghain or Nitsa, or his tours through China and Japan. Imagine how he was received in the same Ugandan Nyege Nyege one year later. What a year, Slikback!
It all started at Hotflush in 2017, but other labels such as Permanent Vacation and Bordello A Parigi joined soon. Correspondant was the last to join the chart, while she created her own Clash Lion imprint. All of them had already released, in one way or another, music by the Brazilian Terr. And 2019 kicked off. By far, her busiest year. From her base in Barcelona, Terr has continued to create music, also – and especially – for Phantasy Sound. Terr has been remixed by Prins Thomas and, with Energy Sync, has confirmed herself as the most in-form producer of indie-dance and nu-disco genres today. As a DJ and selector, Terr has accompanied Âme at Lisbon’s Lux and at Berlin’s Watergate, has been invited to London’s Labyrinth, has gone to Berlin’s Else with Tom Trago and Paranoid London, has made her debut at Lost Festival in Poland, has gone with Innervisions to Munich and to the OFF Week in Barcelona, has performed in Panorama Bar with Correspondant, has discovered the charms of FORT Festival, and has said goodbye to the best year of her career in Glasgow with the Permanent Vacation family. But that’s not all: Terr starts 2020 ready to debut in live format. This is another high-voltage artist whose flight has just taken off.
Born and raised musically in Seville and in the clubs of the south of Spain, Wade had to make a living as an artist in countries such as Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. His visits to Spain were rather few until, on January 1st 2019, at the elrow New Year’s party in Fabrik Madrid, Wade dared to show to the world his track “Por Ejemplo”, in which he uses the voices of a monologue by the Spanish comedian Dani Rovira. Since then, Wade and his “Por Ejemplo” have revolutionized tech-house music, of course in Spain, but also in many other parts of the world. Praised and criticized alike, like everything else surrounding this genre, Wade has this past year been to Germany, Italy, France, Brazil, Peru and Japan, and has become a regular headliner on Ibiza nights. His sessions are flooded with mash-ups, studio edits and remixes of house classics. And his characteristic groove has made him one of the biggest stars on the tech scene.
(Cover Image: © Xceed)