A week has passed since NYE, the feverishly anticipated night that leaves as quickly as it arrives, and after milking the annual festivities for all they’re worth Bite the Belt have been reflecting on 2013 and what a strong musical year it was.
It’s been busy. In among graduations, finding jobs, moving houses and being abruptly welcomed to the real world, all of us still gladly set aside hours upon end which were devoted to our common labour of love, sweet music on every platform. Be it digital or wax, gig or festival, gathering or party, BTB fiend hard.
To pay homage to the artists young or old, home-grown or overseas, whose releases have stood out over thousands of others we have decided to elect just five tracks each and compile them into a post. Narrowing it down has been extremely difficult but the result is a treasure trove of music, from far and wide, of the highest order.
So in no particular order here they are. Season’s greetings from the Belt.
Digital & Spirit – Phantom Force (Fracture Edit) (Astrophonica)
One of those tracks that becomes etched in your mind from the first time you hear it, and don’t get me wrong I’ve heard it a thousand times since then, like at Outlook festival this summer it got dropped on average six times per set, but despite being rinsed it doesn’t take away from the weight of the track. It would be impossible to have compiled this list without tipping our hat to Fracture and Astrophonica, whose output this past few years has been undeniably brilliant, even if sometimes a little too few and far between.
Stray – Matchsticks (Exit Records)
The musical powerhouse that is Stray has continued to twist drum & bass into his own image this year, this time releasing the heavily footwork influenced Matchsticks EP. The titular track is particularly unique, sounding closer to something from Flying Lotus than anything else that currently occupies the 170bpm landscape.
Synkro – Look at Yourself (Djrum Remix) (Mindset Records)
The original of this track was the first Synkro track I ever heard, and it’s no secret that Djrum is one of my favourite producers putting music out at the moment so this remix was big news to me. No amount of anticipation could possibly have had me thinking that it would be as epic as it is though. It stretches over 11 minutes and takes the listener on an intense journey, layered with ancient sounding choirs and swooning strings, plus there is a nice switch up with the percussion that comes in the latter half of the track after the brooding ambient middle section.
Pedestrian – Ndizi (2nd Drop Records)
This track holds its place in the list as a way to represent both my growing love for a lot of the footwork and 160bpm music that is coming out, and also as I’ve been loving the African aesthetics that I am increasingly noticing in a lot of electronic music. Again, it’s another track that goes on a pretty deep journey, not quite sticking to the standard structure we are given with most tracks, the ominous intro, the stabbing drum breaks that interject through the whole middle section, and the chilled rolling outro. The flipside to this track, Kalakuta, got a lot of love from the likes of Giles Peterson upon its release as well, worth checking out the whole release if you’ve not already.
Chance the Rapper – Acid Rain (Self-released)
For me, the latter half of 2013 has been infused with lots of hip-hop but one of the artists who stuck in my mind the most has been Chance the Rapper, the young Chicago born MC whose hallucinogenic fuelled mixtape I’ve been loving since being recommended it by like three separate people. The titular track is a heart wrenching reminiscence of lost friends and drug induced apathy in a time of gang violence and mass commercialism. To really get an understanding of how in depth this guy goes lyrically check out Rap Genius, they annotate every line of the track and shed new light on to linguistic acrobatics I fear I would never have understood otherwise.
I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m no good at these lists. I find it so difficult to pinpoint the ‘best’ tracks as each track can evoke a wealth of emotions depending on an endless number of variables and for that reason this list could be completely different if I were to sit down and make it tomorrow. Regardless, here’s how I feel at this specific moment in time.
XYZ – Cherish (No release)
I’d be surprised if many people had heard this one. It’s from a young, little known London based producer who has somehow remained under the radar despite a goldmine of blissful beats. His impressive back catalogue (all given away for free, might I add) displays a spectrum of emotions ranging from melancholy to euphoric, while his diverse style showcases everything from ambient bass music to filthy garage cuts. I could have picked a few but this one really stands out for me.
Murat Tepeli – Forever (Prosumer Remix) (Phonica Records)
Greymatter & KRL – Straight Billin’ (Medlar Remix) (Wolf Music)
Medlar has also had an incredible year, having recently released his debut LP on Wolf Music, a label he has played a huge role in over the last couple of years. This particular track is yet another remix released on Wolf and features everything you’d expect from a Medlar track. The strings, vocals and jazzy chords make for a delightful late night roller that shouldn’t be forgotten as we move into the New Year.
Cuthead – Minerals (Uncanny Valley)
This artist is one of my all time favourites. I discovered him a couple of years back when he released ‘Sinner’ and have loved everything he’s done since. Cuthead was initially a hip-hop producer and DJ, which really shines through in his house productions and I think that’s what I like so much about him. The way this guy can flip a sample is incredible and this track is a great example of that.
Maribou State – Larks Rise (Southern Fried Records)
These boys have really taken off in the last couple of years, creating music that bodes as well on the dancefloor as it does in the living room or on the bus home from town. Their unique style transcends genre and their music is instantly recognisable as their own without being anything close to repetitive. There is just something about that irresistible yet strangely haunting main synth line in Larks Rise that struck me hard and I feel it will stick with me for a long time.
Compiling this list made me feel like a horrible, horrible man was forcing me to cut off five of my ten fingers.
Without further ado…
Fracture & Neptune – Clissold (Machinedrum VIP) (Astrophonica)
Machinedrum was on a bit of a musical conquest in 2013. As if producing Vapor City wasn’t enough, the American released a string of other music but it was the marrying of Machinedrum and the wonderful Astrophonica that gave birth to this tune which is the pick of the litter for me. Like the solution to a complicated maths equation, the formula used to create music which stirs feelings of joy and madness simultaneously is known only by the most intelligent among us. Beginning with a whimsical melody, Machindrum then works in layer upon layer of glitchy drums like only he can to achieve just this effect in a track which continuously evolves. Last time I listened to this my mother entered my bedroom and asked me to ‘turn down that noise’. What an ill-informed judgement, I proclaimed, as I leaned back in my chair with my hands on my head and waited for the second drop.
DJ Hazard – Time Tripping (Playaz)
This one is a perfect example of a producer using an interesting sample and building the rest of the track around it, something which Hazard has mastered. I first listened to this while having an after-hours music session alone in early August and immediately couldn’t wait to hear it played at Outlook Festival later that month. It’s hard to describe how it felt to hear the spine-chilling sample carve through the atmosphere at the legendary Moat stage and bring most people to a temporary standstill in anticipation of what was to follow. If I wasn’t so preoccupied double gun-fingering the Croatian air I might have pinched myself. Aside from the sample, which becomes even creepier when you watch the 1972 Slaughterhouse-Five film clip from which it was taken, Hazard uses percussion thoughtfully with lazy hits of the snare and hi-hat complementing the rolling bassline which completes this weighty track.
Chance the Rapper – Acid Rain (Self-released)
This is one of the most intelligent tunes I listened to last year after it was recommended to me by Peter who sent me Chance the Rapper’s album and told me that he suspected a bit of a hip-hop renaissance. I would have to agree and Chance is at the forefront of the rap upheaval as one of the breakthrough artists of 2013. The poignant tale of the 20-year-old from Chicago’s chemically fuelled upbringing as a result of ghetto culture and demonic memories that continue to haunt him is narrated in Acid Rain. Themes about tripping and falling which act as emotional signposts have not only been threaded through each verse of this track but the rapper’s entire album. There’s also a real pain to Chance’s voice that I can’t get enough of and with the help of a saddening violin melody and some subtle backing vocals as a listener you become transfixed. I have to agree with Peter again here, reading through the Rap Genius page is a must and will help you to appreciate the awe-inspiring brilliance of this piece of music. The proverbial cherry on the top? Chance’s LP is up for free download.
dBridge & Instra:mental – White Snares (Nonplus Records)
Atmospheric D&B, autonomic, call it whatever you like, but clocking 85bpm, in my iTunes White Snares can be found under the category ‘half-paced’, so much of which I’ve discovered in 2013. Despite being produced some time ago sadly it looked like this track wouldn’t see the light of day until last year when Boddika, who makes up half of Instra:mental, gave it a release on his label Nonplus. The warmth that this song resonates makes me thankful he did, since listening to Stray’s Follow You Around in 2012, rarely have I come across a piece of music in this genre that leaves me feeling so soothed. Perhaps it’s the glowing and progressive melody, or it could be the sparse but ambient guitar plucks that I crave. Maybe the chopped and filtered male and female voices which utter ‘I love you’ are what draw me in. Who cares, I love you back.
Djrum – Honey (2nd Drop Records)
Crisp and distinctive production is something that we have come to associate with Djrum who quickly grew his reputation last year and if anybody was going to be capable of infusing an electronic album with hip-hop, jazz and classical elements it would undoubtedly be the Londoner. Seven Lies is musically outstanding from start to finish but this sample-driven track gleams like a penny in the sunlight. There’s a definite art involved when it comes to producing in this way, songs can become cluttered when so many noises are used, but to Djrum it’s second nature. The sound of a distant reggae horn is hypnotic as it drifts in and out along with thick globs of trademark sub-bass and harp strings are teased which leaves you feeling immersed. The small details make a big difference and each beat has been romantically crafted by the Londoner who leaves you to revel in Honey’s stoned ambience. I’ve read plenty of reviews criticising Seven Lies for being overly abstract but to me the LP feels organic. Definitely worth checking the whole album out.
Rhye – Open (Innovative Leisure)
First up for me comes from a mysterious duet known as Rhye. I actually heard this soul touching role under the covers in the summer of 2012 but it came back around for me after the band started releasing remixes of their works as it was Ryan Hemsworth’s re-work of Open that ended up in my lists and consequently had me falling in love with the original yet again. Both band members have remained anonymous but there be many rumours that would suggest that both vocalist (Male by the way… I know right!?) and… other, are from highly credited bands and or musical backgrounds, which doesn’t surprise me considering the depth of this track. A sweeping of strings would have the listener deceived but for the first few moments of the tracks beginning but after the lusty low call of what I can only guess is an oboe all is dropped into the warm groove of Open and those soft and tender vocals ease their way into your very loving essence. The video, the song and the band on the whole capture love in a raw and ‘Open’ sense rarely heard anywhere else. It’s that first kiss, first love and complete indulgence in the one person you adore most in the world. And if you feel the love there’s even an alternative video lurking about that came out at a later date; well worth a watch if you love the track and crooning over the fantasy of love.
Mahalia Simpson – Coo Coo Lady feat. Spycc (No release)
Actually posted this tune up in Vol. 2 of Guitars & Stuff and for good reason, being that it’s amazing. I discovered Mahalia at the start of this year and my love for her music has progressed and grown alongside the growth of her fame and popularity; starting out as a runner up for an ‘X-Factor’ style competition over in New Zealand and within a year growing from few hundred to tens of thousands of adoring listeners. Stepping aside from her normally more stripped back and raw acoustic soul session tracks, stuff that sounds more Corinne Bailey Rae, this tune combines all the elements of the new Electronic RnB/Hip-Hop scene that’s slowly been developing since the introduction of Parisian Bass Music and explosion of Dance Floor Trap. Slow wired synths and down-pitched vocals coupled with lazy rolling percussion has you stuck in a hazy, hazy and sometimes crazy daze and with Hali on the mic, Hali sexing her voice in such sultry, feminine style, all you can see in your crazy haze is that Coo Coo Lady getting love sex coo coo with you; watching a plume of smoke rise from her lips and sipping red from a glass. But it’s not just a lacey tangled love affair with a Jazz/Soul inspired beauty from NZ as you gladly open the doors of the Haze to Spycc who steps amidst the smoke and love in a fresh suit with his own mic in hand bringing the true male element of any Hip-Hop beat; a spread of tightly rapped lyrics that riddle their own description of the love scene and when it’s all over, someone presses repeat and you’re in it all over again.
George Maple – OPST (No release)
George Maple; Australian born, London living. Good mix if you ask me. Though it’s only taken me until right now to realize but this gorgeous, gorgeous lady was the woman behind the original of a Maribou State remix that I absolutely adored at the start of this year. She’s worked with the likes of Flume & Snakehips and after having a scroll through her SoundCloud, which is primarily reposts, she is on some absolute peng. Giving credit out to Djrum, Ta-Ku, Bondax and even more madly, considering the low-key essence of the band and the stonking similarities in vocal sound; Rhye. This woman is a new favorite artist of mine and this single has been a favorite track all year round. It takes me right back to my childhood chillout routes. It’s like waking up on a summers morning with sun glittering in through the shutters of your blinds, playing off of the hair of the golden girl by your side and lyrically it’s like staying under that duvet and having some of that sweet Rhye , Mahlia, Maple love with that someone who you would define as the pinnacle of your hearts desire. Warm, floating, soft and tender. Peng.
Lee Bannon – ‘216’ (Ninja Tune)
Again, Bannon’s had his praise from me as of late and the same for this track, being a new artist in my books and definitely one of my favorite producers possibly ever. Any US hip-hop producer that has time for jungle gets a high-five from me. Bannon deserves a high-1000. Especially on the 216. This tune is as bizarre and progressive and interesting as they come; experimental breakbeats (I won’t even put the D&B… even jungle, label on it) at their very finest. It’s not that early 90’s Jungle, a London sound, when it was new and something obscenely wild and experimental, but it was inspired by such and even more distantly mad; born in the state of California. When I hear this tune, I imagine Bannon, do-rag on, cruising down the LA strip, soft top down, blaring monstrously bizarre but powerfully exciting music at passers by who may not have even heard of Drum & Bass, let alone a US hybrid moulded by one of the key players in the Pro-Era crew.
EPROM – Regis Chillbin (Machinedrum Remix) (Rwin Records)
Possibly released in 2012… definitely released in 2012 but only finding it’s way to me at some point during the summer of 2013 with thanks to both Stray and Machinedrum giving it the regular drop in some of the best electronic sets I’ve heard this year. Though sadly not having witnessed any of these monumental powerhouses live, both, however, have worked their way right to the top of my ‘best producers this year list’ just through being absolute production badmans. But setting Stray aside, I know that Eprom and Machinedrum have done a fair few collab tracks together and remixed each other here and there but this stands out, to me, as not just their best piece together by far, but one of the most mental beats in the realm of 160 bangers ever. It’s got kicks leaping about all over the place driving a severe funk like no other. The speed of the track and furious changes it undergoes on a constant, every sound that rears its disgustingly delicious head changes for every four bars that play out. There’s noises in there that sound like the synths that would play out in a late 90s rave and that’s another key figure in my new love for Juke & Footwork, being built off of the back end of Jungle, there’s some real historic rave revival in these riddims and regardless of what genre this remix falls under (As I know it’s neither Jenny’s Juke or Franko’s Footwork, but it’s been inspired by their colossal growth and bass music on the whole.) it’s a real fist bump to the past and present and that’s what life’s all about.
Anyway, that’s my rough five of the year, though, like the other lads, I couldn’t possibly condense all of my favorites from the year to just five, so I’ll list a few more in a week or so without descript. Though we could only cover a very small segment of gemini gemstones in music I know that we delivered a proud, proud selection and I hope that you enjoyed what we had to offer and if not reminisced over music that you too have adored, learned of some new liquid gold to fill your headphones with in preparation to trek into the musical wilds of 2014.
Big love to all the Bite the Belt team for their contribution this year and all of the labels, artists and promo companies who’ve been helping us to put out the peng for all of our readers, who also get supreme love as well. Stay Breezy.
Shouts to all the D&B heads: Dev Paradox, Tom & Geoff Presha @ Samurai, Matt Foreign Concept and Tony Justice & Scott Metro @ Modern Urban Jazz for supporting us and helping us out this year majorly with interviews and content for the blog. And more love to all the guys we’ve worked with for Guest Mixes & Interviews, BIG HUGZ & KIZZEZ.