It is fair to say, 2020 was a tough year for the music industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut venue doors firmly and drove a stake through the heart of the 2020 festival season. Organisers, promoters and artists alike have tried to adapt to the new situation but still face a monumental challenge to their way of life. For the hibernating fans, the lifeblood of the music scene remains tantalizingly dormant, and live streams just aren't the same.
It's not all gloom for the casual music consumer, however. As you might expect, if you put an artist into quarantine, new music is inevitable. Releases have come thick and fast. Bandcamp introduced one-day waivers of artist fees, encouraging musicians and producers to get their new stuff out.
Its been a silver lining in the mushroom cloud that has been COVID-19, but one that has thrilled and inspired us through last year. We thought we'd share some of our favourite releases from 2020. It's in no particular order and only our opinions. We'd love to hear your views and your own suggestions!
Check out "Street Panda Clothing's top 2020 tunes" Spotify playlist to hear many of these and more or even add your own! (Playlist to be seen at the bottom of this page)
Four Owls: 100% Feat. DJ Premier
UK Hip-hop group Four owls dropped another massive collaboration with legendary hip-hop producer, DJ Premier. It features on their new album on High Focus Records; Nocturnal Instinct, released on April the 17th.
Arguably the king of Boom-Bap, Premier's class oozes through the production. The snappy percussion and rolling bassline give the beat its old school vibe, whilst the exquisitely placed orchestral stabs emanate the finesse that a Premo track is known for. The unmistakable sound of Leaf Dog, Fliptrix, Verb T and BVA garnish the beat with the gritty, raw sound that is characteristic of UK rap and provides a fantastic contrast to the classic New York sound of the beat.
Biig Piig: Switch
Following up from a breakthrough 2019, Biig Piig’s album Switch (released April 1st on RCA) kicked off another biig year for this budding star. Infectious and raw, the track received widespread traction and praise immediately when it premiered as Annie Mac’s hottest record in the world on Radio 1.
The track is short, perfectly constructed for the radio, yet manages to pack in comprehensive song writing with a variety of influences. From punk to drum and bass, this tune encapsulates the vibrancy in the UK music scene right now. The lyrical content reflect on society; as the artist states: ‘about the tension, helplessness and pressure that the world is under right now.'
Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes: What Kind of Music
A classic case of something being exactly what it says on the tin, What Kinda Music delivers the genre-spanning piece the title pertains to. The title track on Tom Misch’s 2020 album, released on the 24th of April on imprint Beyond the Groove, the track seamlessly glides between soul, jazz, easy listening with hints of hip hop and electronica sowed throughout.
The collaboration between singer/songwriter Tom Misch and percussionist Yussef Dayes shows the two were not content to sit within anyone’s genre-brackets. Many musicians and artist have tried to occupy the no man’s land within commercial music’s creative bracket, and time again have proven that it’s an extremely difficult art to master. What Kinda Music is an example of when this is done with aplomb.
Lead single on May the 8th release Dragonforce; Independent demonstrates genre stalwart Halogenix’s versatility within the genre. Released on Critical Music, the release lives up to the artist’s reputation for flawless production. The track is driven by a crisp minimal beat, undulating bass, erratic melodic elements and an infectious vocal sample. A more hooky proposition than a lot of Halogenix tunes, his usual techy intricacy have thankfully not been sacrificed.
This grin-inducing track perfectly balances poppy, fun elements with rave credibility and would surely have been heard on many dancefloors if circumstances had been different in 2020!
Dogger & Mindstate (Liam Bailey) Time is yours
Released on drum and bass legend Alix Perez’ label 1985 on the 17th ofth July, this tune is a departure from the usual low-end dark minimal vibes produced by the imprint. Soporific, tranquil jazz elements ebb their way from the extended instrumental intro into the crooning tones of Liam Bailey, before the piece erupts into life with the introduction of the break. Littered with nostalgic brass passages that weave their way in and out, this tune is truly a classy incarnation of liquid.
A collaboration with Liam Bailey (of Chase and Status Blind Faith fame), the title track on the debut release from duo Dogger & Mindstate sets the tone for the rest of the four track release. It presents a more commercially driven sound that sits in nice contrast with the darker elements of 1985’s back catalogue.
Commodo: Loan Shark
One of dubstep's finest ever producers, Commodo certainly didn't disappoint with his latest offering on Black Acre, released May 22nd. The whole EP displays Commodo's penchant for pushing boundaries. Listening carefully gives the impression of jazz and movie-soundtrack influences.
The title track Loan Shark is a lazy, jaunty, atmospheric journey. A surreal, uneasy vibe emanates from the sparse percussion and natural-sounding bass, and ephemeral elements really transport you into the middle of a hazy soundscape. Another masterpiece from one of the most distinctive producers in the scene.
A producer very much of the ilk of his predecessor in this list, Headland utilises echoes and delays on his high hats and other percussive elements to give a disjointed, monolithic feel to his music. One of the most exciting new producers to come on the scene in recent years, this release on V.I.V.E.K’s SYSTEM Music is big.
Garbo, the A-side on the two-part release, features a dissonant, jaunty, acoustic sounding lead bass over a lethargic 140 drum track. The syncopated nature of the track creates an auditory sensation akin to intoxication. Variation gives the track life, giving the impression of an angry, snarling beast.
EVA808: It's Me Bitch.
We really struggled to decide with this one. Released by Innamind recordings on January the 28th, any of the three tracks on EVA808's IMX 005 would have easily warranted their place in this list. The soulful, sensual but gritty sounds of Exchange and Too Late deserve just as much credit, but we have gone with the B-side track It's Me Bitch.
Rolling percussive patterns laid over a lazy but powerful 808 kick gives the beat its galvanizing energy, whilst the infectious lead flute sample lingers in the ears long after the track has finished playing. The playful sampling is characteristic of EVA808, referencing pop culture and commercial music in a gritty, bass-driven, more underground format.
Phillip D Kick: Drips
Released as the single before album As We Continue, on Fracture’s venerated drum and bass label, Astrophonica, Drips is another masterpiece courtesy of Philip D Kick (drum and bass stalwart Om Unit’s jungle/footwork side project). Aptly named, a deep sonorous boom undulates and meanders fluidly over an intricate, chaotic-yet-clinical break
Trance leads and subtle pads are masterfully embroidered into this track in a way that Om Unit does just about better than anyone. The contrast between them and the barrage of artillery that is the beat is executed to perfection without the hint of a clash. It sets the scene for another typically varied release from the established producer.
Bengal Sound: Move Like Ghosts
One of the leaders of the new school in the dubstep scene, Bengal Sound brings a sense of drama to his music. Move Like Ghosts on Culture Clash pt.2 is typical output from this artist. The syncopated moody percussion and rumbling bass are blended to perfection with orchestral stabs and sweeps. The arrangement builds into an extravagant crescendo not unlike a classical symphonic composition.
The sound design is masterful on this track. It's the kind of tune that demands headphones and closed eyes. In return it promises to entrance the listener and transport them to another world.
Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist: Something to Rap About (Feat. Tyler the Creator)
Arguably the king of colabs in Hip-Hop, Freddie Gibbs teamed up with The Alchemist to release Alfredo on May the 29th. This follows his second album with legendary producer Madlib; Bandana, released 2019. Once again Gibbs demonstrates his penchant of laying hardcore-Tupac/DMX-eqsue flows to tranquil, benevolent beats. This time the tracks are served up by another master of jazz inspired Hip-Hop, The Alchemist.
The album is full of great tracks. Something to Rap About jumps out with its lazy, summers-day feel. Featuring on the last verse of the track is Hip-Hop supremo, Tyler the Creator is exactly the calibre of artist you usually see featuring with Gibbs, showing his extraordinary taste when selecting artists to work with.
Versa: Temple Song
A second addition from System music, Versa's lucid trip through dub-techno is perfect for those who just want to get lost for a while. The expansive percussion gives a dizzying perception of space, whilst the colossal sub bass croons and reverberates through the body.
Released on the 2nd of March, this dreamy dub-wise EP is part of an impressive and varied slew of releases from System music in 2020.
K-lone: Barbarossa VIP
Releases on March the 20thh, K-lone’s Barbarossa VIP comes out two years after the original on a split release with fellow Wisdom Teeth label head, Facta. Where the original had an eerie feel, the VIP switches to a more fun, playful vibe. Littered with 8 bit noises and video game samples, this track is experimental, unique and really catchy
The giddy, infectious positivity of Barbarossa VIP is in keeping with the style of a lot of K-Lone’s latest releases and duly reflects him as one of bass music’s most vibrant characters.
Another masterpiece from the king of breaksy halftime, Glare EP is packed with the syncopated rhythms and exquisite sampling that is synonymous with Fixates production. Released on the 30th of April on Exit Records, EXITDIGI008 is everything you want from a drum and bass release.
The title track Glare is bound to tear up raves and dances when they are back. Comprised of blistering breaks and energetic bass, this track begs for flashing lights and euphoric audiences. An adrenaline-inducing old school rave synth lead completes this tune. The problem is, home listening doesn’t do it justice.
Khruangbin - Time (You and I)
Featured by Annie Mac’s Hottest Record in the World on Radio 1, Time (You & I) has risen Khruanghbin out of relative obscurity. The new-age genre-defying instrumental trio released the track as the lead single of June 26th album Mordechai to critical acclaim. Featuring all the signs of a true hit, the beat is jive-inducing, infectious and catchy, whilst the vocals help to wrap up a 70’s disco vibe tidily.
Released with a music video that would break a smile from the most stoic faces (featuring comedian Stephen K Amos), this track was the perfect summer soundtrack and rightly saw the band receiving their long deserved attention.
Ocean Alley - Infinity
Featuring in a wave of psychedelic rock/pop bands from Australia, Ocean Alley’s 2019 single Infinity qualifies on this list due to its inclusion on their 2020 album, Lonely Diamond. Easy listening, strangely uplifting (despite its melancholic chord sequences) and spacy, Infinity is inoffensive whilst being easy to get lost into.
The melodic elements of the song intertwine elegantly, and the lead guitar really takes centre stage. Driven by its crunchy, mournful tones, with the calming vocals of Baden Donegal, this tune manages to achieve a perfect balance.
Onward to 2021...
The tide of fantastic new music is what has kept us afloat this year at Street Panda. Right across the genres, 2020 was a fantastic year for original music. in 2021 we hope to see this continue whilst we sit cross-fingered waiting for the live scene to re-emerge.
All of these tunes and more can be found on the Street Panda Spotify playlist. Just to be clear, this list is simply a compilation of our favourites. There are sure to be those amongst you out there who will disagree and have entirely different lists. We would love to hear these! Why not leave your favourite tunes in the comments, or add them to our playlist!
[Ed. Bryn Jones]