Our scene is never dormant, but there’s certainly a tranquil atmosphere filling each of its corners. With the paralysing heat of summer, ideas are metamorphosing into fuel, into drive, into creative energy.
In response this year’s most striking work so far has been more focused on energy than the substance it surrounds, a usually risky trade made more approachable due to the underground approaching change as an expected trait. As with last year, this isn’t a best-of section, these are the artists that blend different creative senses to elevate their music, the ones that inspire listeners to alter their ear with the sounds that enter. These are also artists that present a lot of voltage, a lot of potential energy; ones to be inspired by.
8485 is having the best run of any artist in 2021 – seriously, she’s kind of unstoppable. Every second there seems to be a new song, or feature, or listing, or cover art, or any kind of new tangible creative thing under the 8485 name. Plague Town, her debut EP, is my record of the year so far – it’s sublimely executed and lovingly exec. produced by blackwinterwells. 8485’s pen is wickedly sharp yet refined in its restraint – each word is layered with meaning. The timbres of each 8485 song become both a foreground and a collection of personal backgrounds.
Chloe Hotline is another new find this year. She’s a multi-creative out of Ohio, working like most young artists do; in as many fields as possible Chloe’s trying to grow, to set roots down in a multitude of worlds. The most successful thus far has been her music, which is staggeringly raw and subtly catchy. “Michigan”, off of this year’s “+NSTYNCT”, never holds the listener too close; there’s an erratic emotionality that might suddenly require a quickstep reaction to process. “Fantasy” is her latest, a scorching bounce track full of hazy realism.
Even when he’s warring with drugs, love, life, and death, Arcuti is an absolute joy to listen to. The New Jersey musician works from his basement, surrounded by instruments, computers, and video games. The resulting songs have a slacker’s aesthetics with a professional’s shine – Arcuti bends around crystal guitar loops on “goodbye”, works through the slow build of “there are dead bodies in that river”, and drops his shield on “average”. He is unfailingly energetic – it would be a surprise to not see more from him by the end of the year.
Killisali is a wonder: her music feels immediate, yet consciously free of expectation. She often lets bars run over or out of their holdings, whether that be in terms of timing or vocabulary. “wings” is a great example; “Ice watch, diamonds on my back, and I switch the light, that changed my life” is the type of gemstone-ridden rap that might come out of a Migos tune, but Killi emanates both humour and humility, valuable in such a genre. Her flow is so endearingly matter-of-fact that even the most audacious flexes feel natural. If it all seems too much, remind yourself that there’s no ego about it, you just haven’t adjusted to her world yet.
John Alone continues to impress. I could cut this paragraph here, but there is a lot more to say about this artist’s work ethic. In 2021 he’s dropped two singles; “On the Run” is a psychedelic trip with a luxuriously propulsive beat (the bass especially will not quit pushing forward – it’s like tense velvet), whereas “september lightning” is a drum-focused daydream. Two songs might seem a little scarce, but each makes up for it with a focus on bright and generous production, not to mention John’s precise, oscillating vocals.
…and Sail Out LDN
An even better feeling is knowing live music is returning, and John’s part of a large team making that happen. Sail Out LDN is looking promising, a full night of performances from John himself alongside artists ckbreeze, Ayeisha Raquel, Bukky, and Zoka the Author, themselves accomplished in their own way. Bukky’s “Come WE GOT Diamonds” is an especially irreverent hit, and ckbreeze shows up on 108MICS’ own “Eurochild Redux” project – these are fairly established names, but still dedicated to the intimacy and humility of the underground space. Live music makes being alive feel worth it. To know it’s coming back for the smaller artists as well as those who can afford the large secure venues and all the extras that come with that – it’s such a blessing.
Quickfire round! Some artists absolutely worth exploring:
GENDERGRIND – Group known for fearsome beats and melting the lines between art and identity, a fascinating project.
Amir Bilal and JayPluss – Two unlinked rappers; I’ve put them together because they share the same excellence, rap for rap’s sake, bars that hook to the brain like velcro hooks to sheer fabric. Two of my favourite up and coming lyricists.
d0llywood1 – An unending fountain of new sound, d0lly is my go-to soundcloud search for invention and modernity.
Yuri Online – Crystalline electronic rapper, wielding both French and English to create stunning divisions.
No Agreements – Consistently fantastic American label, a reliable source of innovation home to a global roster.
Here’s my top 5 albums of the year so far, in no particular order. I’ve written more in depth analysis for projects that I haven’t covered on the blog so far. NOTE: my list excludes anything I didn’t hear before 30/06/21.
Phixel – Misplaced Flora
I didn’t write about Misplaced Flora at all when it dropped. This did the project, as well as its creator Phixel, a massive disservice. They put their all into the creation of this album, working on it for over 9 months before blessing us with the finished product. Originally released with 13 tracks (now 14), the album builds upon the deeply personal songwriting found on Shapes and Colours with even crazier song structure, production and guest selection. There’s less heartstring-tuggers here, but maybe that’s for the best as Phixel moves on to making more dynamic, textured music unrestricted by past sounds and collaborators. This album is loaded with incredibly catchy music, from the erratic ‘Headspace’ to the guitar-propelled ‘Lemonade’. The featured producers and vocalists are all tasteful and occasionally very surprising (pulling both cmten and Left At London for ‘Portraits’ and ‘Childish’ respectively is a huge win), but everything eventually comes back to incredible artistic vision. Who else would end such a crazy experimental pop album with an ambient piece as devastating as ‘Wound’?
Popstarbills – Hyperdrill 2
Another feature loaded project, Hyperdrill 2 continues Bills’ domination of two genres that on paper are an unlikely combination of sounds. Just as he’s done many times in the past, the New York rapper carves his ‘Own Lane’ and in doing so popularises a musical trend that is destined to catch on. The beats are mostly pure UK drill with the necessary bleeps and bloops added to make this a hyperpop album, but occasionally you get a genuine crossover banger like ‘Jock Walk’. Whether the beats lean too heavily to one side of the equation or not, this album is brilliantly produced by some of the hardest workers in the scene (Snake, Curtains, Redluke, Bills himself). The features are too many to name, but the best performers here (Kid Trash, Jackie Platinum, Josen, Blackwinterwells, Rosesleeves) more than match Bills’ energy here. The hooks here are typically on point (the much shorter Hyperdrill EP from January had the same major strengths), and the verses are no less entertaining. A really good time overall, definitely one of the most exciting projects to touch the scene in 2021 so far.
GenderGrind – Binary Killer
This album is still a brilliant piece of experimental music. Phixel’s vocal and production presence on this album gives it the same feeling as her solo music in places, but Binary Killer is so much more than that beneath the surface. Single ‘Run It Back’ is cute but hardly representative of the album at all, especially when you dig deeper into bizarre tracks like ‘GlitterGlue’. There’s not a weak performance to be found here, everything from the various vocalists (there are 9 in total) to the cavernous production that encompasses much of the last 6 tracks is absolutely essential to the project’s success. Read my full review here.
Kid Trash – Scissorhands
Easily the UK’s brightest star, Kid Trash is one of the few musical artists that truly makes me proud to call this island my home. An epic album that fuses electronic music of all kinds with UK Drill, pop rap and even the odd cyberpunk-esque number, Scissorhands is the album I’ve put the most time into this year so far and it absolutely deserves your attention. I wrote more in depth about the album here.
Lil Disceased – The Path of Hope
A longtime friend of the blog, Deceased continues to keep the golden age of SoundCloud alive with his dark, cloudy mixtapes. The familiar faces are all here (ICXXY, GYPTXVN, Stevie Durag, Zerosuit), and the music just keeps getting better as the SGM levels up his rapping game on each release. I wrote about this album earlier in the year, check that out here.
Here is a handful of EP’s and singles that I’ve particularly enjoyed so far this year.
8485 – Plague Town (Jamie’s review here)
Big Dimp & Boxkitty – DimpKitty (my review here)
Button Maker – Button Maker (my review here)
Nari – Do U Hear Me? (feat. 8485) (my review here)
Wave Noir – Bonnie & Clyde (feat. John Alone) (my review here)
Here’s to the rest of the year, let’s hope it continues to provide the same level of musical quality. We hope to bring new contributors to the site very soon, so keep an eye out for that!