The best underground dance music of 2019

Whether it was Conducta’s anti-nostalgic UK garage revival or the experimentalism of Shanghai’s SVBKVLT label, 2019 saw dancefloor boundaries staked out in exciting new territory

Tayyab Amin’s picks of 2019

Gabber Modus Operandi

The sky-high tempos, unrelenting physicality and frenetic euphoria of hardcore is back in a big way at this end of the decade – but Gabber Modus Operandi’s interpretation of the term stretches beyond dance music. Javan ritual music meets gabber, happy hardcore and fringe electronics in the Indonesian duo’s intrepid concoction, first tried and tested in Bali’s noise/punk scene and, as of 2019, across experimental music festivals worldwide. Chains rattle and bodies convulse as vocalist Ican Harem combines grindcore roars with typical MCing duties during the live shows, while Kasimyn cues up bangers on bangers on the decks. With an album out on breakout label SVBKVLT back in the summer, the mark they’ve left on fast music hints at an incredibly exciting future.


It’s been a year of many milestones for Manchester-based producer/DJ Aya (FKA Loft). She kicked things off strong with an edits pack including a wonderfully dynamic Jersey/breaks take on Ariana Grande, continued to deliver monthly gold on her NTS show and earned a spot on the station’s artist development programme. Her productions hit a new height on her EP for on-the-pulse imprint Tri Angle Records, featuring standout cut That Hyde Trakk, best described as six minutes of drum’n’bass gone Groundhog Day. Supporting Holly Herndon at the Barbican allowed Aya to show off her skills as a visual artist, while a slot at Unsound Kraków saw her take on the role of crowdsurfing standup act. That comedy streak continued in her mix for Fact, sampling the best of British YouTube: Tractor Boy and HMS Jawside.


One of the year’s most exciting artists is a veteran of the techno scene: Barker is most famous for his work co-founding the Leisure System club night and label, and as a producer for his collaborations with Andy Baumecker on Ostgut Ton. Apart from one release at the start of the decade, the world was deprived of Barker’s talents as a solo producer until just last year, when he dropped an EP of glistening, beat-less fringe techno. He continued the theme on 2019’s Utility – his debut solo album, released almost a decade into his career, which has dazzled its way to universal acclaim. With a thrilling 12in of pointillist jams and one of the best dance music podcasts in recent memory also under his belt, Barker’s resurgence hit an apex this year.

MoMa Ready

It’s hard to say what club music would look like in 2019 without MoMa Ready given that seemingly everyone and their dad have been dropping his tunes all year. With roots in skate and rave culture, the Brooklyn producer and DJ has played a key part in establishing the new NYC sound alongside frequent collaborator AceMo. You’ll already know about his bottomless well of energy as a DJ as well as the quality on show in his house music compilation The NYC Dance Project from our October column; he’s also pumped out everything from acid techno and broken jungle to Ha-sampling groovers and lo-fi crunch on his label Haus of Altr. As things stand, he isn’t set to slow down any time soon.


“It’s been a long time since I seen someone outside of Chicago that got energy like you,” footwork originator RP Boo told Sherelle recently. The London DJ has an affinity for all things 160bpm, combining the relentless energy of Stateside genres footwork and juke with an unmistakably UK take on high-octane jungle and drum’n’bass. An especially rowdy Boiler Room set kicked off what would become a very busy year: Sherelle’s juggled a packed gig and guest mix schedule alongside her regular slot on Reprazent as well as a BBC Radio 1 residency, and she’s co-founded a label, Hoover Sound, to boot. Her rapid ascendance in the UK underground is fitting for a speed freak so dedicated to pushing tempos and rattling bass bins.

Lauren Martin’s picks of 2019

Tash LC

Londoner Tash LC has had a busy 2019. She started a label, Club Yeke, which has released music from the British African and Latin diaspora, and is part of two crews: live stream platform Keep Hush and party Boko! Boko! As a radio host, she’s part of Worldwide FM, and became a BBC Radio 1Xtra resident this year, playing Ugandan polyrhythmic rave, Portuguese kuduro, South African gqom and Francophone African Auto-Tuned rap and training a focus on new UK labels, like More Time Records. She’s an effervescent host, quick and playful, and sure to become a more familiar voice on the airwaves in 2020.

Beatrice Dillon

Beatrice Dillon navigates overlapping artistic worlds. A tactile DJ with an unorthodox sense of arrangement, she found a kinship with techno headliner Ben UFO, who released some of her music on his label, Hessle Audio. Her sound pulls from percussive underground dance music and ambient and modern classical composition techniques. She’s collaborated with experimental British musicians such as Rupert Clervaux and cellist Lucy Railton, and in February she’ll release her debut solo album, Workaround, on Pan. Expect to see Dillon following a similar path to Oliver Coates and Mica Levi: composing for cinema and performance, as well as producing solo music.

Loraine James

Loraine James and London Ting: Dark as Fuck ft Le3 bLACK – video

Loraine James made her 2019 debut solo album, For You and I, in the bedroom of her high-rise flat in Enfield. She played piano in there, came out to her mum in there and looked out at the North London skyline from there – it’s a world within a world. Her sound is an astonishing achievement. It’s abrasive, drawing from footwork and breakneck IDM-esque polyrhythms, with the kind of bass that makes your eyes fizz. But it folds in stories of young black life and public displays of queer affection: melodies as moments of joy, splicing through the panicked hum. For You and I has won myriad end-of-year accolades; I can’t wait to see what she does next.


When Conducta started Kiwi Records in 2019, he knew that a song he made with West London rapper AJ Tracey was in the works. What he didn’t anticipate was its success: Ladbroke Grove, that bumping summer banger, spent dozens of weeks in the UK singles charts. Inspired by Elijah and Skilliam’s grime label and party, Butterz, Conducta wanted to bring garage back into the house and techno-dominated dance music conversation, and it’s working: with producers Murlo, Sharda and Mind of a Dragon, he sold out a UK club tour this year. Conducta’s style is achingly UK – woi-oi basslines with funky soundsystem percussion, R&B vocals and big lick grooves – but importantly, it distances itself from nostalgia for the paint-by-numbers sound of the early 00s. Expect to see Conducta producing more hits for rappers and pop stars in 2020.

DJ Plead

One of the most rewarding elements of dance music in 2019 was the explosion of hyper-specific sounds emerging through core labels (special mention goes to the aforementioned SVBKVLT in Shanghai, who are doing fascinating work) and the globally placed artists they release. Run by two Italians (Wallwork and TSVI) in London, Nervous Horizon has released some of the most exciting new club artists around, including DJ Plead, a Swiss-Lebanese producer and DJ born and based in Australia. He’s said that he reconnects with his Arab roots through music and his Pleats Plead EP shows this off in style: layered percussive club tracks that draw from Middle Eastern drumming and woodwind, the riotous younger sibling of UK funky.


Tayyab Amin and Lauren Martin

The GuardianTramp

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