2021 saw new stars rising and known faces hone their craft more than ever, with some obsessing over the details of their sound and others changing the game with legendary releases – these are the ten underground artists that impacted us the most this year.
French plugg rockstar Killisali has had a wicked year, dropping a run of electrified punkish singles. She’s pushed past ‘one to watch’ status with a triplet of excellent tunes, each placing her in a world of extravagance. “Lookwell” centres fantasies of escape on the validity of Killisali’s jewellery, and scored an international remix with Lil Gohan. “Zombieland”, her most recent track, fights critics; “pay attention to what’s behind you” she warns in heavily accented autotune, a sound emblematic of her personal creative flair. To have such a great year off of just a few releases bodes well for this artist’s future – she’s a signal of good things to come. – Jamie (@jadexhost)
Bronclair has had an amazing year in 2021, with his extraordinarily catchy songs and features alike making a massive impact in his endeavors as he traversed the digicore and pluggnB waves and crafted an incredible niche, marked by an uptick in releases near the end of this year with the helping hands of many of the producers he’d solidified bonds with over the past 12 months. Since my first write-up on Bronclair this year to the interview I completed with him earlier this month, his evolution has been nothing short of mind-boggling and the music continues to impress each and every time as more eyes are drawn to him. Steve (@xoxoarctic)
After two years of constant growth, Kiryano’s music has become more emotive than ever. The perfect example is “Nothing’s Fading”, a reflective morning-after following the glittery impact of tracks like “Venmo” and “distant” from years gone. Kir’s music this year has been less icy and more mature, there’s a stress-melting heat on “Feel It” and across the “02 Surround” EP. On “Up”, a collaboration with Braxton Knight from “02”, Kiryano is more centred than ever; “Don’t want nothing to regret now, wanna go up, never get down”. Compare this to the nihilism of 2020’s “give” and the evolution is obvious. – Jamie (@jadexhost)
Elusive emoplugg producer and vocalist Kiryano made the most of 2021, releasing a handful of impressive singles often in collaboration with artist/producer Pitfall. They later released EP “END OF SUMMER”, further solidifying their standing as an unconventional yet alluring vocalist. The sole collaboration on the EP was handed to Braxton Knight on “Up”. Fast-paced harmonization and erratic vocals perfectly capture the production reminiscent of the 2020 release “With Friends”. Standout single “Nothings Fading” showcases Kiryano’s noticeable evolution alongside hyperpop queen blackwinterwells. “02 Surround” was their most anticipated release of the year following the previous “01 Refine”. The six-track EP boasted features from emotionals3k, Kketamine, and 4am, hailing as a pleasant surprise for longtime fans. The long-awaited EP blends the blurry atmospheres of its predecessor with more polished, heavenly soundscapes and vocal styles. – Mars (@gayidiot49)
Blowing up in 2021 was seemingly natural to 8485, a popstar full of heartfelt character and flawless songwriting. Her EP “Plague Town” shook the scene with five songs of heartbreak and identity. More recently, her appearance on “Falling Up” by blackwinterwells capped the year off with tenderness and compassion. Emo-inspired teamups with fish narc such as “southview” and “Instant Sobriety” show Eighty’s range as much as poppier cuts with blackwinterwells. On top of the music, 8485’s career is rapidly expanding – she’s made multiple stage appearances, released music videos, and seen multiple songs pass a million streams. – Jamie (@jadexhost)
I’ve already gone into detail about my love for Mothgirl’s music, but I think it’s safe to say that she’s shown exponential growth as an artist and songwriter since my last appraisal of her discography at the midpoint of the year. As well as possessing a voice that would make the frontman of a new wave band jealous, moth is one of the sharpest creators in a fledgling scene that exists off the strength of its practitioners’ dedication to envelope-pushing sound. Her best songs this year (‘Body Carving’, ‘Solitude’) emanate a chilling finality thanks to arresting vocal performances and macabre lyricism, the gothic nature of these tracks offering a glimpse into what differentiates moth from many of her contemporaries. She understands how to stir emotion in her music in a way that very few seem to. Absolutely an artist to watch in 2022, their work rate has been nothing short of outstanding. – Chris (@malenchanted)
Raegun had a brilliant run musically this year as she sharpened her fiery, explosive vocals and ability to effortlessly create in a variety of subgenres. She showed clear progression in her discography from the lovely “Cherry Blossom Blooms” to eccentric singles later in the year. “Cherry Blossom Blooms” featured three songs that explore the artist’s vocal capabilities and open lyricism. Later in the year, her release “zen” quickly became a fan favorite. The production wasn’t as heavy as her previous releases, the same can be said for the lighthearted “Fed up!” that dropped later in the year. These singles excellently captured her talent for creating honest, memorable works through an unconventional lens. – Mars (@gayidiot49)
Quinn came back stronger than ever this year, swinging a whole new kind of bat. Her 2021 Album “drive-by lullabies” was a testament to her skill, winning the hearts of many with its grim tone and catchy songwriting. In her single “Coping Mechanism” she creates a gorgeous and cold atmosphere with twisted samples and sparse bass notes. The song, alongside most of her vocal work this year, is carried by her iconic voice. Her confident yet strained tone is recognisable in an instant, and lends itself perfectly to the haunting music she creates. – Gray (@polygoncove)
A mysterious internet presence and man with many names, the artist currently known as XXJORN has had one hell of a run over the last twelve months. His output has been ludicrously consistent across the whole of 2021, providing us with much of the year’s most based music. XXJORN is a perfect choice for one of our artists of the year, as he’s been working towards his current place in the scene since 2018 and it’s really starting to pay off. His catalogue hasn’t always easy to track down, scattered as it is across various SoundCloud accounts, but it’s chock-full with gems. Tracks like ‘Nah FR’ and ‘justlikegucci’ saw a noticeable improvement in the presentation of his work, to this end he has frequently enlisted the help of super-producer sixtythree666. The three track SYCKDUP EP was the best example of their chemistry yet, an exemplary work from an artist whose creative vision remains unmarred by convention. – Chris (@malenchanted)
An artist like Phixel doesn’t come around very often, and when they do it is vital to celebrate them. Re-releasing 2020’s Shapes & Colors (which we named one of the best albums of that year) with a selection of bonus tracks and remixes was only the beginning of her musical ambitions in 2021, with the equally brilliant Misplaced Flora dropping mere months later. A maestro of texture, Phixel produced the vast majority of songs on both of these projects and in the process proved her worth as an independent artist who truly does it all. More recent singles such as ‘The Maggots Need to Eat Too’ and ‘Clearer Skies’ have only pushed the limits of her sound, resulting in two prog-pop masterpieces hinting that even greater things may be right around the corner. Her vocals have come on leaps and bounds since the start of her career, and at such a young age it’s hard to believe that they’ve already achieved so much. Their artist trajectory is one that continues to excite me greatly, and one that I will be continuing to examine closely. – Chris (@malenchanted)
1. Chloe Hotline
Chloe Hotline does not miss.
Across a massive number of releases, Chloe has rarely dropped anything short of inspiring in 2021. “Sicada” and “Chloe Hotline EP” form a pair of EPs and a selection of some of her strongest work, from the incredible bounce tune “Fantasy”, to the determined lanes of “Pathfinder”, to the empowered bridges of “Friction”.
Chloe’s voice is one of a kind, malleable but full of power. She’s constantly searching for some new creative life to lead, some new way to alter her voice, some new sound or effect to throw into the production. On “Sealab 2021”, a flat piano juts out as she raps “if you look under the sea, you should be checking for me”. Her incredible commitment keeps the most surreal mesh of parts together. It’s just as gripping as “Izudown”, her most precise work from “+NSTYNCT”, her full-length album, also from this year.
Quantity is one thing, but Chloe Hotline is a quality lyricist through and through. On “Madden 08” she sings in frustration “Why we move so slow? And all you say is that I want you”. “2700 Lifestyle” is mournful; “Riding through the city but I’m leaving, East Side I know they still bleeding”. “Michigan” showcases Chloe’s effective use of repetition, she runs through lines like “You’ll never find me”, casting them into something that looks like truth whilst retaining all the conflict within.
With a massive catalogue of quality creations and vast potential for the future, Chloe Hotline is undoubtedly our artist of the year. – Jamie (@jadexhost)