She has already sung backing vocals for Chance the Rapper, guested on Sam Smith’s last album and steals the show on Mark Ronson’s forthcoming LP of “sad bangers” – all because of a truly remarkable voice that marks her out as the coming year’s Adele. Here’s hoping her superhuman vocal control will be put to service on equally strong songs.
Linn da Quebrada
You sense that Linn da Quebrada is the kind of Brazilian that Jair Bolsonaro would want repressed: a lasciviously sexual trans woman describing herself as a “Molotov faggot”. Her vogue-inviting baile funk, topped with her sinuously musical Portuguese raps, is explosive on a club soundsystem; new single mEnorme shows off a softer, spacier R&B side.
The singer-songwriter has been building a massive following in Scotland over the last three years, prompting festival singalongs and sold-out tours. Can he cross over south of the border? Given that his kitchen-sink portraits put him in a sweet spot between Ed Sheeran populists and the indie faithful, you wouldn’t bet against it.
A 2016 Instagram freestyle over Khia’s cult classic My Neck, My Back (Lick It) brought west coast rapper Saweetie to the internet’s attention, merging a nonchalant Lil’ Kim-style flow with Rapsody’s verbal intensity. That freestyle, reproduced as Icy Girl, has since reached more than 63m YouTube views, and with a debut LP in the works, 2019 is set to be her breakthrough year.
Having wowed crowds at festivals such as Dekmantel and Unsound this year, as well as at some of Europe’s most discerning club spaces, expect more visits to the western hemisphere from this Japanese DJ-producer. She has the long, immaculate blends necessary for truly transportive sets, smoothly traversing ambient, minimal techno and classic house with complete authority.
From 2005 to about 2014, Katie Harkin was chief songwriter for Leeds’ grungy, melodic Sky Larkin, one of their generation’s most underrated indie bands. Harkin is now probably better known as rock’s most in-demand side woman, as a touring member of Wild Beasts and Sleater-Kinney, Courtney Barnett and Waxahatchee’s bands. She has signed with Rough Trade for publishing: 2019 promises more of her fantastic, vaulting songwriting, finally.
The South Carolina rap producer is already one of the best in the scene – his utterly beautiful beats for the likes of Playboi Carti, Big Sean and (much to his own dismay) 6ix9ine are characterised by hazy, meandering melodies, distorted bass and crisp claps. 2019 will see a solo album that will also showcase his own soaring Lil Uzi Vert-ish flow.
One of 2018’s most staggeringly powerful releases was All Bitches Die by Lingua Ignota – AKA Kristin Hayter, a survivor of anorexia and domestic violence – who delivered grand liturgical songs in either crystal warbles or aggrieved shrieks, backed by calmly processional piano or violently disturbed noise. 2019 brings a new record and European touring.
Amos Pitch’s hardcore band, Tenement, is well established among punk fans. Lesser known is his country-punk five-piece, Dusk, whose 2018 debut had the puppyish charm and grizzled chops of the Peanuts kids forming a Lucinda Williams covers band. They seem the epitome of unhurried, choogling away in Appleton, Wisconsin, but worth keeping an eye on.
Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard
With guitars sets to absolutely maximum fuzz, this Welsh quartet are utterly in thrall to the scrappy, swaggering end of glam rock – think Thin Lizzy or T-Rex in the back room of a pub, riffs and tunes intact but with an endearing slacker attitude. Their song John Lennon Is My Jesus Christ sets out their stall, also offering up praise to their gods Bowie, Bolan and Bill Fay – but demonstrates their own songwriting omnipotence.
Like a strawpedoed alcopop made flesh, the Manor are a south-London rap trio so in thrall to “the sesh” that they named a track after it. Their tracks, delivered in lairy Lahndn accents while rooted in speed garage and Magaluf-friendly pop, sketch out the headrush highs and impoverished lows of living for the weekend. No masterpieces yet, but they feel tantalisingly on the verge of writing the biggest tune of the summer.
Lillie West’s second album, 2018’s The Lamb, demonstrated a newfound ambition and clarity. Her debut, Sleepyhead, was full of shaggy, sedated indie-pop; its successor, made during the England-born, Los Angeles-raised songwriter’s nascent sobriety, brings to mind Deerhunter’s cool and Wye Oak’s kaleidoscopic explosiveness: Destroyer climaxes in a chorus as dazzling as a shooting star display.
Perhaps the most technically impressive new rapper in the US, JID’s voice is somewhat reminiscent of the crumpled-larynx timbre of Lil Wayne, all wizened and fretting. His recent album, DiCaprio 2, sees him hop between contemporary trap, headnodding old-school joints and outsider beats with admirable skill.
The spirits of Lucinda Williams and Courtney Barnett run through this estimably confident 21-year-old London songwriter. She broke in the US with her bittersweet Americana EP, Something American, but has since won over home fans by pushing her sound closer to raw-throated punk on Love Has All Been Done Before. Her self-titled debut, due in the spring, mingles the spikier and softer sides of her catalogue. Read a full interview here.
Like Jade Bird, Yola is a British artist (hailing from Bristol) who first found acclaim in the US. But her debut album, Walk Through Fire – produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach – should make her unavoidable back home in 2019. There is an irresistible festive magnetism to her vintage soul and gospel-tinged Americana, and songs that feel as if they have been around forever in Ride Out In The Country and Rock Me Gently.
Skengdo x AM
The scapegoating in the right-wing press probably doesn’t help its chances, but UK drill is ultimately just too harsh a sound to ever cross over into the charts. And yet MCs Skengdo x AM – one earnest and high-pitched, the other deep and exacting – have such a way with bobbing, catchily precise flows that you could imagine them perhaps creating a pop smash in the style of Krept & Konan.
2019 will finally see the debut album from west-London songwriter Westerman, who has been soundtracking hipster romance with a sprinkling of singles in the past couple of years. It’s the kind of thing championed in Spotify’s “acoustic chill”-type playlists, but actually good, while his vocals are reminiscent of Arthur Russell’s naive melodies, as he steps around soft-rock grooves.
Building up a head of steam off a hearty co-sign from Shame and some very bracing live shows, Black Midi are quite odd fodder for the hype machine. But their talky post-punk, currently being recorded by Dan Carey (Bat For Lashes, Kate Tempest) is absolutely riveting – and delivered in a completely unplaceable accent by vocalist Geordie Greep, like Mark E Smith via Tennessee.
His voice itself is already one of the most distinctive in British rap: deep vowels are kneaded and stretched out like dough, then condensed into neat, exact bars. There may only be a few freestyles and one giant street hit to his name, but the Homerton man behind Homerton B is already hugely exciting. Read a full interview here.
Bangladeshi-born and Queens-raised rapper Khan is a polymath. Combining samples of Bollywood vocal legends such as Lata Mangeshkar with early 2000s R&B one-hit-wonder Lumidee, his 2018 debut EP Kites established him as a new, socially conscious voice in hip-hop. With influences that span Jay-Z and Craig David, his brand of radio-friendly rap is widening the genre to America’s diaspora.
London’s jazz scene has been blooming in 2018, and trombonist Rosie Turton is one to carry the momentum forward. Following her Nerija bandmate Nubya Garcia, Turton will release her debut EP in January on the formative Jazz Re:Freshed label. Combining classical Indian violin with folk rhythms and straight-ahead jazz, Turton is a pensive flip to the maximalist sound of her contemporaries.
With just drums, guitar and glottis-assaulting vocals fired through a haze of hair, this Oxford hardcore trio can upend a moshpit in seconds flat. Chugging rhythms stumble through choppy breakdowns before exploding back into clear-eyed anger from vocalist Kial Churcher – if they keep making anthems like these, some big stages await.
This Brighton four-piece have been talked about in gothy tones: their name means “the dead of night” in Japanese and whispers of heavy metal abound. But really, they’re a pop band – an excellent one, who, like Paramore and Lorde, have a knack for operatic brattiness and widescreen ambition. Following the Creature EP, their debut, produced by Rodaidh McDonald (the xx, Savages) is imminent.
Ersatz soul gives itself away at 20 paces: too much vintage window dressing, too many post-Winehouse affectations. West Londoner Yanya has the real thing, a yelped cry that blossoms like a bruise spreading before your eyes, coupled with aggressively spare guitar that underpins her intensity and desolation. Her debut album is out in early spring.
Mixing the high-register melodies of Foals with Mike Skinner’s flat vocal delivery and the jittery punk of early Horrors releases, Bakar has imbibed London’s recent sonic history to create a fresh take on rock. With his mixtape BADlands released to acclaim from Skepta, Virgin Abloh and Elton John, the Camden native is bringing back the capital’s skinny jean credentials.
Selector supreme Ben UFO picked out London DJ Peach to play alongside him during his XOYO residency earlier this year, and for good reason. Making a name for herself with a sound that straddles buoyant house, synth-based ambience and thudding techno, Peach’s sets are joyously unpredictable. Hopefully 2019 brings more of her own productions, such as the intricate, shivering tech house of Silky.
King Princess, AKA Mikaela Strauss, has strong rock pedigree. Her dad is a noted New York engineer and she is the first signing to Mark Ronson’s new label, Zelig. But her music is without precedent: sultry, queer love songs that shift from cheeky (the voracious Your Pussy Is God) to utterly classic (1950, a pin-drop beautiful ballad inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt).
Already armed with her unmistakable “ee-ah!” ad-lib, this South African MC becomes even less imitable when she starts up her flow: lipsmacking bars in the Xitsongan language that drip with confidence and disdain. She scored a massive local club hit in 2017 with Huku, using the syncopated house style of gqom to tell the tale of a timid lover.
Super-fast techno may sound like a sonic torture method, but it is one of the most vibrant club scenes to take hold recently in Copenhagen. Led by DJ and producer Courtesy’s Kulør label, their first compilation this year featured a particularly hard-hitting selection from producer Sugar. Don’t be fooled by the name – his productions feel subaqueous yet abrasive, and relentlessly innovative.
Inflamed by anger at poverty, racism and Donald Trump, this bi-racial rap-rock band are bracingly pissed off at the state of the world – and in frontman Jason Aalon Butler have a natural successor to Zach de la Rocha and his fast, furious articulacy. On tracks such as Burn It, meanwhile, they mix the bile with sugar for choruses ready to be chanted by arenas. Read a full interview here.
This ultra-charismatic British-Tunisian rapper may only have one track out thus far, but it’s a great one. Ruler is a wavy announcement of her abilities with a bobbing, feinting stance; its lyrics become truly defiant knowing that she wrote them while homeless. Look out for her debut EP in the first weeks of the new year.
Charlotte de Witte
Perhaps following in the footsteps of George Eliot, De Witte originally took the name of a posh white man to get herself noticed: Raving George. But it was reclaiming her birth name that has seen her star ascend, moving away from electro to coruscating sets of acid, techno and dark trance at major venues such as Belgium’s Tomorrowland and London’s Printworks.
Ese and the Vooduu People
Playing like a combination of distorted Jimi Hendrix guitars with a husky Otis Redding voice, former busker Ese Okorodudu’s five-piece band has the potential to bring London’s soul scene from its half-empty basement bars into packed venues and festival stages. Their maximal sound can be heard on a debut EP, Dynamite, released in January, with a full-length almost finished.
Black Country New Road
Already incredibly tight and accomplished, this south-London six-piece arrive fully formed as one of the UK’s best new live acts. Saxophone and violin add a kind of rootsy Balkan energy to classic British post-punk, with a dynamo rhythm section and ranting lyrics about Kendall Jenner.
The most likely to “do a BTS” and break out of K-pop’s Asian fanbase to go global, NCT 127 are a 10-piece sub-group of the 18-strong NCT. Their style is core K-pop – braggadocious rap choruses linked with sweetly crooned bridges – and their English lyrics are generic to a fault, but their styling, pulchritude and insouciance are already securing them millions of streams.
An electrifying live act, ranting about the DLR alongside wailing saxophone and dark trip-hop backings, Coby Sey sits in a lineage of ultra-creative south-London sometime-MCs such as Roots Manuva and Gaika. This year, he cropped up on Tirzah’s excellent Devotion; 2019 will see him work with Curl, a collective featuring Mica Levi and Brother May.
The cheeky, babyfaced demeanour of this MC, rapping in a broad Mancunian accent, is magnetic – even more so when combined with his perfectly calibrated bars. With millions of YouTube views already, his tracks may cleave to announcements of his own greatness with a sprinkling of crass come-ons, but with dexterity like his, you can get away with not saying anything of serious substance.
Cosigned by fellow Northern Irish dance darlings Bicep, Holly Lester shares their enthusiasm for warm analogue jams over tinny digital tech. Her DJ sets are full of vintage or neo-classical house, either jacking tracks with vogue-worthy claps or deep explorations with sad, watery chords.
An international crossover beckons for this superb South African dance producer who, like his compatriot Black Coffee before him, creates a heartrending dissonance on the dancefloor: elegantly propulsive drums are paired with deeply mournful minor chords and keening vocals.
Satanism and doo-wop might not go together at a first glance – or a second, or third. In fact, the combination of Amy Winehouse-style vocals with black lace and fake blood seems a match made in, well, hell. But seven-piece group Twin Temple make it work. They have been captivating audiences with their devilish live shows and will surely become a 2019 festival favourite.
With his rough-diamond looks, heavy east Midlands accent and withering disdain for the socio-political reality of the UK, rapper Slowthai has already surfed to acclaim off sweaty live shows and a string of 2018 singles. He’s got straightforward trap, but also laid-back, hotbox-friendly hip-hop and even Sleaford Mods-style punk chuggers.
This 18-year-old Jamaican singer started out with poppy roots reggae, outdoing the likes of Busy Signal with her definitive version of the Ouji riddim in 2017, called Burning. Now she is on a major label and working with Major Lazer among others, broadening out into the poignant dancehall of her debut single Toast.
Make that two entries on this list for Taylor Skye, who also plays in Black Country New Road. As Jockstrap, he and London Guildhall School of Music and Drama classmate Georgia Ellery turn their hands to hypnotic exotica – just in time for Stereolab’s comeback – made eerier still by Ellery’s idle, ruminative singing and synths that sound like they have been out in the sun too long.
This Chicago indie duo have their roots in garage rockers Twin Peaks, but their just-released debut album grows way beyond. There’s plenty of peppy synthpop and new wave, but also laid back lounge-rock, twanging alt-country and, on the party-starting Blood, the hipster reincarnation of the KLF.
The Tunisian producer made her name in the underground club scene of her home country, playing DJ sets that combined traditional Malouf folk with techno. Since relocating to France, Abdelwahed released her debut album, Khonnar, in November – an experimental collection of fractal electronics and disembodied voices that will surely earn bookings across the UK’s underground club scene.
Made up of three journeymen from the Norwegian indie rock scene, Spielbergs connect their collective years of yearning, fuzz-friendly songwriting into anthems. They have the same ragged, hell-for-leather, emo-leaning attitude as Cloud Nothings, but there are moments of tenderness between the pop-punk power chords, such as the post-rock ballad called McDonalds (Please Don’t Fuck Up My Order).
Not content with being a member of two bands from London’s flourishing young jazz scene, Nérija and Maisha, guitarist Shirley Tetteh is also launching her solo project Nardeydey. This wonky, chatty post-punk pop, full of romance and beautiful soaring vocals, is as fresh as sheets straight from a sunny washing line. Read a full interview here.
This Japanese four-piece formed as a riposte to the kawaii (cute) culture that they found repressive as young women growing up in Nagoya. Although there is a sweetness to their sound, it is steered by manic intensity – pummelling drums, chattering vocals, a touch of Go-Gos cool – as much as a sharp awareness of big-tent pop dynamics.
There’s a hymnal quality to Kijà, the latest release by two-spirit Algonquin artist Mich Cota, that recalls the more transcendent moments of Arthur Russell and Aphex Twin’s catalogues, and a visceral tactility that evokes Sophie’s hyper-real productions. In her lyrics, sung in Algonquin and English, she takes a stand for environmental and indigenous rights, and against dysphoria. One of the most exciting electronic artists to come out of Canada since the Arbutus scene at the turn of the 2010s.
Joy Crookes’s coy, bluesy vocal croak and the shuffle of her guitar betray the undeniable influence of Winehouse. Still, in Mother May I Sleep With Danger and Don’t Let Me Down, the Bangladeshi-Irish Londoner shows off an effortlessly nuanced and individual melodic sensibility, and heaps more personality than most focus-grouped soul singers.