The 10 Best Drum & Bass Acts You’ve (Probably)
Never Heard Of
Dilemma is arguably the most exciting producer to emerge in liquid drum & bass since GLXY, Pola & Bryson, Satl and others around the middle of the 2010s. Based in Brighton, Dilemma specialises in exquisitely crafted, stripped-back sounds that are light on complexity but heavy on vibes. It’s a production tradition in the spirit of liquid’s greats, and it’s one that’s easy to imitate but incredibly difficult to do well — a feat Dilemma’s output is well on the way to accomplishing.
Soulvent Records has been her main outlet thus far, and it was her 2019 single (featuring Robert Manos on a shiveringly soulful A-side), “Gone Too Soon,” that first cemented her position as a truly exciting prospect. Now, in 2020, she’s finally released her first full EP on Soulvent, Exit Stage Left, and it’s more sad yet hopeful music — drum & bass that moves in gentle peaks and troughs, softly spoken yet firm in direction and purpose. She is without a doubt one to watch for the coming decade and beyond.
A brand-new talent within the world of 174, Waeys moved over from his previous exploits in halftime and beats with a debut EP on the insurgent Overview Music last year. A gutsy three-tracker that put the Dutchman on the map, Waeys demonstrated his tendency to blend clinical minimality with drum & bass’ sinewy, tougher traditions. Nowhere was this more audible than on his recent Objection EP, a five-track hybrid of resurgent jump-up and techy depth, a dancefloor focused endeavor likely to please opposite ends of an occasionally disparate scene.
Most notable was “Mapper,” a part-liquid, part-roller, and part-jump up number with a disturbing ability to morph and mutate, its vocal sample dripping soul onto a bed of pointed, scratchy nails. Although Waeys has been releasing drum & bass for barely 12 months, he’s notched up singles and remixes on a variety of labels including Delta9 and DIVIDID. And his ability to seamlessly move across sub-genre boundaries makes for an extremely promising future.
In a list of producers who perhaps don’t receive the attention they should, Pyxis deserves a special mention as a producer about whom far more words need to be written. With her first release last year on Mitekiss and Mr. Porter’s Goldfat, Pyxis blends freshly grown melodies with gritty undertones to form a broadly liquid palette, one punctuated by earthy, organic sounds and a free-range, wildly roaming spirit.
A penchant for breakbeats, however, leaves a taste in your mouth more akin to liquid’s junglist heritage in the ilk of Good Looking or Soul:r rather than a Hospital or Soulvent, and it’s this ability to carve punchy crannies into a generally soulful construction that really shines through. Her relationship with Goldfat makes a lot of sense considering the musical history of the label’s two founders, and her Hourglass EP this year saw a steppy, off-kilter and remarkably fresh take on liquid that has us gagging for the next hit. Exciting times.
One of several producers to have been brought through by Addictive Behaviour, Felix Raymon is another crossover artist with serious talent. On a label specialising in sharper edges, Felix can both cushion the blow and dig the knife in with a production range reminiscent of Belgium’s Alix Perez. There are additional similarities too, as Felix has an inclination towards floating male vocals (usually via frequent singer and collaborator Jamal Dilmen) in a manner that builds upon the work of Perez, Ivy Lab, and others.
His recent single “Lonely Now” exemplifies this creative strand best, and Dilmen puts in another sensational performance across a bed of nonchalant instrumentation and rollicking low frequencies. His 2019 High EP on Delta9 shined a light on the other side of his repertoire, the corner in which Felix devises devilishly fluent minimal drum & bass that pokes the bear in all its forms. A producer with genuine breadth, and one firmly tapped into the currents of drum & bass.
Hailing from St Louis, Missouri, Winslow is unique in that he’s almost more known for his YouTube channel than his music. A video maker who aims to explain to viewers the why of production rather than just the how, Winslow has drawn upon the lessons learnt explaining drum & bass and used them in furthering his own production ability.
Another member of the Goldfat camp, Winslow’s debut single on the label this year was a performance in crafting a unique sound. The title track “Swing & Miss” is broken yet fluid, and B-side “Snap Out Of It” sees him rap for the first time in his life — just because. This “why not?” attitude imbues his sound and leads his music down surprisingly experimental routes, including some downtempo notes on his own WXYZ imprint. It’s this cross-pollination that makes his music such a breath of fresh air.
A.Fruit is part of the drum & bass maelstrom currently brewing over in Russia and Eastern Europe; an emergent force that looks set to become even more dominant in the years to come. She doesn’t adhere by neat categorisations, however, as her production wings spread widely over a pallet of 160 BPM jungle, stepping halftime beats and experimental sonics — a breadth of sound which lends itself well to the freshness and creativity of scenes outside the UK mainstream. Having said that, her label history encompasses classic British imprints like the now-deceased Med School and Om Unit’s Cosmic Bridge, and it was her 2019 Nocturnal EP on the latter which really elevated her reputation.
Excelling in its own simplicity, Nocturnal effortlessly bridges the divide between art and dance music, both tasteful and remorseless, engineered for the dancefloor but equally at home in a gallery. She touches upon intangible feelings of coolness — an undefined quantity, but one that’s palpable in her raw industrial textures and licks of soulful sampling. It’s a mark of meaning, and a harbinger of things to come.
Homemade Weapons is a producer who may scare you a little, an unavoidable risk given his penchant for embedding fractious jungle rhythms into sweeping, apocalyptic soundscapes. His approach is bleak, medieval, and packed to the rafters with the stench of humanity’s last gasping breaths. Not a single glimmer of light shines through his blackish skies and in many ways that’s part of the magic, that music can sound can be so cataclysmic, and yet so resonant on a personal, human level.
To listen to Homemade Weapons is to forget where you are and what you were doing, to be totally lost in the rhythmic hypnotism in a manner almost more akin to techno than drum & bass. He weaves patterns of insanity so complete it’s a wonder if he’s still fully present himself, and it’s across his two albums that the Homemade Weapons manifesto has really been written. Gravity, released last year on Samurai Music, is a hellish rainbow of black and grey, a journey to the centre of the earth where the destination is our planet’s hot, lifeless core. Unlike compatriot producers seduced by experimentalism for the sake of it, Homemade Weapons remains tightly bound to the core of jungle music and what makes it tick on a fundamental level, even if he does push the boundaries further than almost any in the game.
Constrict‘s most obvious production quality is a commitment to the ethic of DIY. He recently launched Incidental Sonics as a platform for his own music, and it’s clear that he craves the creative freedom allowed by an unfiltered platform. That lack of filter has helped birth two raucous jungle singles, which have drawn praise from Mixmag and beyond. And his tendency to draw out roughshod, ‘90s influenced textures is winning him music fans in all the right places.
Whilst he seems most at home producing breakbeats, a string of EPs on Lifestyle Music and Context Audio demonstrated his equally adept touch at crafting bouncy liquid rhythms and penetrating dancefloor minimalism. Constrict is firmly tapped into drum & bass’ new wave, having featured on records with Koherent, Ill Truth, Eusebeia, and others that serve as a glimpse into his place within a community of youngsters committed to turning over the scene’s old guard. This seems an inevitability at some point, and Constrict looks likely to be smack bang in the middle of it.
Splitting his time between London and Manchester, Dubshun is a producer firmly committed to producing art covered in a sheen of slick professionalism. It’s a palpable feeling when you browse his ventures — be it as a solo producer or the founder of Mask Music — that his creativity is driven by a less-is-more approach of stripping things back and allowing them to breathe. Embodied through startlingly barebones rollers, cold halftime, and even some techno ventures, Dubshun is a true multi-hyphenate and a producer with a clear but malleable message.
Last year’s single on Portuguese imprint Counterpoint is a clear example of this ethos, as layers of pinpoint percussion tumble imperfectly over luxurious sub-bass and spasms of synthetic substances. His track “Silent Kill” on Overview’s Zone 1 VA brought his music to greater attention, but his undeniably cutting-edge take still deserves a lot more acclaim, as does his label management via Mask Music and DBSHN. One to watch.
Javano is one of the most mysterious producers in drum & bass. He pops up every now and then with barely any aplomb, drops a new release then disappears again. With barely 20 posts on Instagram and a minimal presence on socials, Javano lets his music do the talking — a refreshing change in our age of superficiality, and one understandable given the undeniable quality that drips through all of his music.
With a production history stretching back to 2014, Javano isn’t brand new, and has a maturity in his sound; a contemplative touch that escapes younger, rasher artists. Melancholia is an audible trend throughout Javano’s history, which started on labels like Plush and Deconstructed before moving more recently onto Peer Pressure and his own Brackwood Audio imprint. His DIY streak alludes to a broader individualism in his style, a substance-heavy and pretension-light approach that merges industrial sweeps, microcosmic liquid evolutions, and biting dance floor energy.
His most recent EP, a three-tracker on Brackwood, leads in with an ambient tune, flips into hypnotic future jungle on the second track before finishing the third on technoid rhythms. It’s an exemplification of his talent and why he deserves a far brighter spotlight.
Ben Hunter is a freelance journalist living in London. Find him on Twitter.