After a tragic and turbulent year for race relations in the US, it’s more important than ever to recognize the oft under-appreciated black creators who have been pushing our music and scene forward in all kinds of innovative directions. Along with superlative comeback records from iconic artists such as Tricky, Inner City and DJ Krust, there has been a raft of cutting-edge underground electronic albums from both veteran and up and coming black artists this year. Here are ten of them, each visionary in their own way:
1) dumama + kechou ‘buffering juju’
The South African duo overlays traditional folk stylings with jazzy IDM, seamlessly blending organic and electronic elements, creating a woozy new kind of trip hop.
2) Lorraine James ‘Hmm’
More playful, inventive and surprising than her acclaimed album on Hyperdub last year, ‘Hmm’ is a 20 minute mini-masterpiece that finds James indulging in wonderfully bleepy sounds that recall 90s IDM and 8-bit video game music with a soulful London twist.
3) AceMoMa, AceMo, MoMa Ready ‘A New Dawn (HOA007)’
The multifaceted, mysterious and many-monikered New York producer Wyatt Stevens is the greatest lo-fi house artist you’ve never heard of, probably because his sound is so hard to pindown, ranging from soulful techno to skittering drum and bass, sometimes within the same track. Wildly prolific, Stevens released a blizzard of quality releases in 2020 on his Haus Of Altar label. ‘A New Dawn’ is one of his best yet, a dancefloor-focused long night’s journey into the heart of the underground.
4) Nidia ’Nao Fales Nela Que A Mentes’
At the forefront of Lisbon’s vibrant electronic music scene, bedroom producer Nidia turns melodies and riddims upside down and inside out on her spacious and crisp second album, out on the uber-hip Principe Discos label.
5) Mfr Souls ‘Musical Kings’
After surviving a near-fatal car accident earlier this year, Mfr Souls return triumphant, with an album that conveys everything beautiful about South Africa’s burgeoning AmaPiano scene. On ‘Musical Kings’ the duo weave dreamy atmospheres at a butter smooth 113 bpm pace, crammed with 80s-style quiet storm keyboard washes and a blissful hypnotic vibe perfect for both dancing and baby-making.
6) Terence Dixon ‘From The Far Future, Part 3’
Uneasy listening for our uneasy times, Detroit mainstay Terence Dixon’s latest album rotates between spectral ambient intimacy and cavernous minimal techno, with narcoleptic doses of dissonance and disorientation, creating a dystopian soundtrack for for late nights of the soul.
7) Ase Manual ‘Black Liquid Electronics’
The Jersey Club hero with Yoruba roots returns with an endlessly inventive vortex of an album, oozing acres of afterparty atmosphere and attitude to spare.
8) Gaika ‘Seguridad’
Growing out of a trans-continental cultural exchange between Brixton’s favorite musical adventurist Gaika and Mexico City’s celebrated NAAFI DJ crew, ‘Seguridad’ is at once darkly romantic and eminently danceable, fusing Gaika’s smokey heavily-processed delivery with scintillating experimental grooves.
9) Tygapaw ‘GET FREE’
This Brooklynite’s debut trades in hard and fast functionalist techno leavened with spoken word passages, alternately evoking sweaty single strobe Bushwick warehouse parties and slam poetry jams in an ever-insinuating combination.
10) Griffit Vigo ‘I Am Gqom’
A statement of purpose from one of the pioneers of South Africa’s Gqom genre, ‘I Am Gqom’ is an uncompromising masterclass of skeletal grooves, snapping township snares, mesmerizing repetition and ghostly vocal chops.