While it’s fair to say that 2020 has been lacking on the gig front, it’s genuinely been a brilliant year for music, with so many great releases dropping each month. Although it’s been hard to whittle down to a top 10, we’ve given it a go and outlined our favourite music from this surreal year.
Kenny’s top 5 (in no particular order)
Literally anything from Kampala’s Nyege Nyege Tapes could have made this list – the label is releasing the most exciting underground music at the moment, showcasing the talents of East Africa to the world. However, it’s the debut release of Kenyan duo Duma on the label that’s blown me away the most this year.
Traversing the harsher ends of both the electronic and metal spectrum, it’s one of the most uncompromising records I’ve heard in the past few years – a pulverising mix of thumping electronic drums, harsh synths and banshee wails. It’s most definitely not for the faint-hearted, but that’s exactly why I love it – it’s so refreshing to hear something so unapologetically brutal. More of this please!
While jungle has never gone away since its inception in the early nineties, the past few years have definitely seen somewhat of a resurgence for the genre, with a wealth of producers pushing the sound forward. One man at the forefront of all this is Sully – the UK producer has been blowing minds the past few years but it’s his Swandive EP that came out on Fracture’s Astrophonica label back in September that sees him reach new heights.
While his production is always on point, it’s on the title track where his skills really shine through, taking the most sampled breakbeat in history – the Amen – and turning it on its head by creating an actual melody out of it – literally blows me away every time I hear it. All four tracks show his scope as a producer however – from the rolling juggernauts of Werk to the emotive Memories and the harder sounds of Poison, there’s not a bad second on it. A masterpiece from one of the most exciting producers at the moment.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Skirmish was started through discovering weird and wonky techno. Hearing tunes by the likes of Ben Pest, Lukes Anger, Jerome Hill, Michael Forshaw etc.. made us genuinely excited about techno, and electronic music in general, and we needed a place to share our enthusiasm for it.
Since that time over a decade ago, Ben Pest has still been consistently delivering some of our favourite tunes and it’s his Overworx moniker where he’s releasing some of his best work. April saw him drop Overworx 003, featuring 4 tracks of the trademark techno funk he’s known for, and I can’t get enough of it – it’s slamming four to the floor from start to finish, with some breaks thrown in for good measure. All my favourites really. While there was loads of other quality techno released in 2020, nothing grooves as hard as this in my opinion.
To say Luke Vibert is prolific is an understatement – the dude has an extensive back catalogue of literally hundreds of tunes over the past 25 years, across almost 10 different aliases. In 2020 alone he released 3 new albums on Hypercolor – all spanning different edges of the rave landscape but it’s his Amen Andrews album that stands above the rest for me.
While a lot of jungle has a penchant to get fairly moody, the Amen Andrews stuff very much goes in the other direction and sees Vibert dig through his vast catalogue of samples, from old school vocals, piano riffs and classic FX, to deliver 14 tracks of uptempo ‘positive jungle’, all underpinned by the wonderful sound of the Amen break. It’s my most listened to album on Spotify in 2020, and will undoubtedly have that place for a long time to come.
There have been loads of amazing Irish releases this year (Denise Chaila, Post Punk Podge and Ten Past Seven to name a few) but it’s the debut Rave Gravely EP by Dublin based Party-Drone duo The Disco Participation Matrix that I’ve loved and listened to the most.
The 4 tracks on it take influence from post-punk, drone and techno to deliver one of the most original releases of 2020, that’s soaking in catchy synth lines and melodies. Every time I listen to it I hear something new and constantly find myself singing one of the many brilliant lyrics scattered throughout courtesy of vocalist and guitarist Maca, including ”Everybody keeps telling me I should get a vasectomy, but I keep telling them that vasectomies don’t grow on fucking trees”.
It’s just a brilliant release that gets better every time I hear it. Really can’t wait to hear more from these guys in 2021.
- Did you mean: Irish? – A 10-track overview of cutting edge electronic music from the Cairo underground assembled by Egyptian producer ZULI and DJ Rama.
- Ten Past Seven – Long Live the Bogwalrus – One of Ireland’s best bands release their long-awaited second album and as expected, it’s unbelievable. 8 tracks of post-rock brilliance!
Mix of the year:
2020 has actually been an extremely good year for decent mixes, no doubt due to the fact of lockdown forcing DJ’s out of the clubs and into their homes to spend more time and effort honing their craft. The likes of Bleaching Agent, Tim Reaper and Nicolás Jarr all dropped incredible mixes, but it’s Sherlle’s BBC Essential Mix that is the standout for me.
Having steadily built up her reputation since that infamous Boiler Room set she was always going to pull out the big guns for the legendary Essential Mix and it did not disappoint – yet again full of her high energy selections and impeccable mixing from the get-go, with a tracklist that includes Objekt, Coco Bryce, Traxman, DJ Stretch and Chrissy Murderbot to name a few. I’ve had it on repeat weekly since it dropped and cannot wait until I get to see her in a club again (whenever that may be). Most exciting DJ right now. Grab a drink and turn this up to 11!
Shiv’s top 5
As I’m sure we all remember well, the Karenn Boiler Room live set in 2014 left a serious impression on us, and a thirst for hardware jams. The Karenn project between Blawan and Pariah has kept up the drive (literally) in their releases, with the opening track ‘On Request’ taken from the closing track of the above set.
Satisfyingly gritty, with a wash of melody and build ups that only this duo can truly emulate, the juxtaposition between synth lines, and gnarled, nearing distortion levels of sub-bass, holds your attention like nothing else.
For fans of electro, acid and lush breaks, this release is a must. A self-professed Juno 60 lover, Cignol is an expert in all things electro. A powerful combination of ethereal pads and evolving 303s paint a picture that brings you to another place entirely. Each track is expertly crafted, but ‘Modularity‘ takes prime place for me as it combines an italo-like bass alongside an other-worldly hook. If you need a break from reality, this is the one for total escapism.
More and more, we’re seeing ‘genre purism’ as a thing of the past, and to be honest, it’s something we greatly welcome here at Skirmish. As much as we love various genres for the obvious reasons, we also love the emergence of styles and to see EPs featuring this variety. To me, the latest Sansibar release illustrates this massively. With the opening track ‘Game Over’ it seamlessly blends breaks and electro, which is a massive winner for me.
Tracks ‘S1 Type Beat’ and ‘Sissi’ are techno grooves, giving new life to classic techno styles, featuring build up moments and hooky vocal overlays. Moments of trance come through the entire EP, but not enough to put you off, instead taking elements before bringing it back to the unique Sansibar mold he’s carved out.
This release is in a league of its own. For Those I Love is a dedication to a lost friend, and in a way, a tribute to all those lost. Lyrical genius expertly set alongside various soundscapes, including samples from snippets of conversation and experiences. Immersed in a deft and terrific sound palette, the production takes on various elements of electronica, house and ambient backdrops, moulding them into something truly unique. The Overmono release makes for an honourable re-work that truly keeps the passion and velocity of the original – a must listen.
If you were to play this to me and ask what year it was made, there’s no way I would have guessed 2020. As a homage to the early days of uplifting rave music, it’s unquestionably a banging release to add to your 2020 playlists. The fact the producers are unknown only adds to the mystique, and if possible makes it even more surreal that this is a new release. With plenty of rave piano, breakbeats and trance-y elements, it closes with a remix from Sansibar who makes an excellent match for the release.
This mammoth album from R&S was released during the start of Covid to raise much needed funds for the NHS. The release truly is a snapshot of some of the best in electronic music at the moment, and also showcases the various styles, iterations and interpretations of what electronic music means to so many people.
Coming in at 43 tracks it’s an excellent way to spend an evening and, and will no doubt unearth some gems for you along the way. Standout tracks are Forest Drive West’s jungle cuts ‘Isolation’, R.Kitt’s uplifting but bass heavy ‘This Won’t Last’, Shanti Celeste’s slow-burner but equally refreshing, ‘Amiga’ and Special Request’s ‘Polymorphic’ which is sci-fi breaks at their best. Get stuck in for essential listening.
Mix of the year:
Cáit is an incredible DJ both technically and with an always on-point selection. This mix features all of what I love in tunes – breaks, atmosphere and simply wall-to-wall bangers. Make sure to keep an eye on her.
Thanks for reading, sharing and enjoying these tunes as much as we do! Tunes have really kept us sane this year and Skirmish is a place for us to share what we love with you – hopefully you’ll get the same motivation and inspiration from them as we do. As always, please ensure to buy the tunes and support the artists as this really does go a long way for all involved.
Stay well and stay safe.