Here are all the DJ Mag Best Of British Awards 2019 winners
The votes have been counted and the winners in this year’s DJ Mag of British Awards have been announced
This year marked the 13th edition of DJ Mag's Best Of British awards, our annual celebration of UK talent. Positioned as a counter-balance to the global Top 100 DJs poll, our Best Of British awards are a chance to shine a spotlight on the homegrown talent that continues to place the UK scene at the forefront of electronic music.
It’s been a banner year for electronic music across the board in the UK, and it was both a joy and a challenge to narrow each category down to just five nominees. Thousands of votes came from across the country over the past month, and have been announced at London’s Steelyard on Wednesday 11th December at our Best of British Awards party. The night saw Denis Sulta, Sherelle, Solardo b2b Eli Brown, Special Request, Anz, Lone b2b Sally C playing.
For the Best of British Awards this year we partnered with music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins. As the UK's largest independent music therapy charity, they use music to enrich the lives of people with life-limiting illnesses, disabilities and feelings of isolation.
Congratulations to everyone nominated, and to this year’s winners, profiles of whom you’ll find below.
Denis Sulta is the flamboyant DJ who packs out enormous clubs around the world, famed for his subversive selections and style. Having previously won the Best Breakthrough Producer gong at the Best of British awards in 2016, he’s now taken home the title of Best DJ. A selector whose ever-changing hair colour mirrors his equally colourful sets, painted with a palette of sonic shades from hard house and trance to disco, warehouse techno and raucous hip-hop, his sets have taken him from Berghain to Beijing.
This year also saw Sulta’s debut release on Ninja Tune, ‘Aye Spoake Te Sumwuhn & They Listenhd’, and it feels like another new phase for him. Sonically, it has the fluidity and unpredictability of a current Denis Sulta DJ set, unafraid of using turntable effects — loops, delay, spin-backs — to launch off in new directions.
With track titles written in the phonetic pronunciation of his thick Scottish accent, the music is loaded with autobiographical detail: samples of Hector in conversation make his presence known among distorted drums and trademark synth melodies; sometimes plaintive, sometimes ecstatic and joyous. The cover image, shot by Haris Nukem, shows two versions of Sulta, one hiding his face — the depressive shying away from his potential, the other facing the camera with a fixed gaze, the confident young man looking to his future.
“I write music, that’s what I do, it’s my language,” he says, downplaying his eloquence and candour. “I learned how to be an entertainer afterwards.” The androgynous look was inspired by artists such as Steve Strange and Boy George, and is partly a counter to the pervasive laddishness in electronic music. “To me, it’s never been very exciting or attractive,” he says. “I love dressing up and making myself look fabulous, because why wouldn’t you want to look fabulous? It feels good.”
He also says that winning Best DJ at the DJ Mag Best of British Awards isn’t just an achievement for him. It’s a validation of support. “I can’t quite believe it to be honest. I’ve dreamt of winning this award ever since I knew of its existence and to be able to take home something to show my family is going to be a tearjerker. Thank you to everyone who voted and DJ Mag for the support. Basically, fucking yas!” Joe Roberts
London’s SHERELLE has rocketed to the top of the game this year, bringing 160bpm jungle madness to the masses and scooping the Breakthrough DJ award for her trouble. Even when it comes to breakthrough years, SHERELLE’s has been an absolute whopper. The London DJ has played across the world, been part of sold-out tours, and become a host on national radio. And all playing music at 160bpm — or faster!
It was in February that things started to go stratospheric. One of the year’s first proper dance music ‘moments’ came with SHERELLE’s Boiler Room. Dropping Fixate’s hammering ‘Ripgroove’ remix, that rewind, all the internet clamour that followed. However, it would be unjust to attribute the London DJ’s success to one little viral clip. SHERELLE had already been building her way up via South London’s Reprezent radio station, which she credits for her having a career in the first place — “I will always be proclaiming very proudly that I came from Reprezent” — earning gigs at the likes of Hyperdub’s Ø party, the Tate gallery, Lovebox and even warming up for The Prodigy. “The only thing I haven't dealt with is people recognising me,” says SHERELLE of her newfound fame. “I find that astounding. I will be doing something mad mundane and someone will come up to me and talk about a gig I have coming up or one that they already went to. I like talking to people. Its nice that people think so highly of me enough to have a cheeky convo.”
In September, SHERELLE was revealed as one of BBC Radio 1’s new residents — a station she’d hoped to work for since falling in love with it during GCSE revision sessions as a teen. “I literally froze over and then had a warm fuzzy feeling inside which then made my eyes tear up,” she tells DJ Mag, remembering the moment she received the news.
Another landmark achievement came in November, when she and fellow 6 Figure Gang members L U C Y, Yazzus, Jossy Mitsu, Dobby and Fauzia sold out the 1,600-capacity Electric Brixton. The group — whose name came about from “joking about being paid properly by promoters” — have gone from strength to strength this year. “We are constantly trying to better ourselves and the venues we play,” says SHERELLE. “Together we just want to showcase a sick range of music and support each other in these cold DJ streets.”
Next year is set to be even bigger, too. SHERELLE says she’s keen to bring her energetic jungle and footwork to places you might not expect — including Berghain. There’s also the not-so-small matter of the Hoover Sound label she’s launching with fellow Reprezent DJ, Naina. “Next year’s releases are all going to be club bangers,” she promises.
“It's very important that myself and Naina are starting a label as women, but also women of colour, because we offer a different perspective within dance music,” SHERELLE says. “It's happening way to often that women are feeling left out of the dance scene.”
A young, queer, black woman, SHERELLE is well aware of the extra challenges she faces in an industry dominated by white men. She thanks her mum and older sister for her unrelenting work ethic. “I think because of growing up in a single parent household, and my household being only females, has really helped me to be comfortable with myself. The work ethic comes from the constant reminder that you must work really hard as a black woman if you are to stand out. I still believe this to be true so I try my hardest with every set I do, and all other music related activities.”
She also looks up to people like Janelle Monae and Grace Jones. “I really appreciated what they did for music and fashion, how they both played with gender norms, and were both unapologetically black.” SHERELLE herself has now become something of an icon, and has worked with projects such as EQ50 to share her knowledge and experience with other young women in the industry.
SHERELLE’s Breakthough DJ win caps off an incredible year. So does she have a message for all those people who’ve supported her? “To the older fans, I would like to say: Thank you for being so supportive and so patient. It's been a long journey. And trusting in me from the jump. To my new fans... Big up yourself for coming out and listening to new sounds that you may not have heard before. And also big up to everyone for watching the boiler room!” she laughs. Ben Hindle
Now in its fifth year, XOYO’s residency series continues to add a fresh energy to London’s crowded, competitive, but sometimes dangerously samey club terrain. This year has seen the return of Andy C, Dekmantel Soundsystem, Bradley Zero and, for 10 beautiful weeks this summer, Calibre.
“It’s obviously great to win an award, thanks very much for everyone who supported it,” states the Belfast artist, who made his name in drum & bass but has a remarkable repertoire that spans techno, house, dub, ambient and yonder. “I don't think it’s about me, it’s about all the wonderful people involved in the residency: the polite door staff to the wonderful people that attended the nights, and of course the DJs, MCs who got involved with the residency that made it so special.”
The 10 week residency allowed Calibre — real name Dominick Martin — to paint a much more vivid picture of what makes him tick; the flyers featured his illustrations while the line-up flexed across his broadest reference points, from Fabio to Mad Professor to Joy Orbison. For each night the famously prolific artist would shed light on a different side to his own style to accommodate his guests, almost always playing his own unreleased material.
“I’ve always tried to teach myself to love and respect all things musical,” he explains. “By extension of that, doing a DJ residency was a chance to play a more diverse range of music, and involve more artists from different scenes, a melting of the boundaries for a moment.” Having already appeared at the club since his residence as part of Dekmantel’s curated line-up, here’s hoping XOYO and Calibre have more boundary-melting moments in the future. Dave Jenkins
The sensory overload, vast scale and sheer intensity of the Chemical Brothers’ current live show make them this year's well-deserved winners of the DJ Mag Best of British Awards Best Live Act. Applying the very latest in audiovisual technology they combine their psychedelic-electronic-breaks hybrid sound with a stage show that is huge, mesmerising and which matches the potency of their music.
“The show direction is by Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall who are incredible,” Tom Chemical tells DJ Mag. “We’ve worked with Adam since the very first concerts we’ve played — he was doing projections at Andy Weatherall’s Sabresonic club when we played there (early 1994) and he’s been on the visual side ever since then. They understand our music and what we are trying to achieve in a concert, and I love that we’re still collaborating after all these years and are still able to surprise each other.”
Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons met in 1989 whilst studying history at Manchester University and their journey from clubbers to studio geeks to main stage mega-stars has been a long one, with nine artist albums, a collection of genre-busting singles that any act would be rightfully proud of, and a handful of Grammy and Brit awards along the way. The Chemical Brothers’ live shows have always had a reputation as being particularly eye-popping, but then they’ve always put themselves at the centre of arresting visual imagery in their work — look at their iconic dancing skeleton video for ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’ from 1999.
Now that technology has caught up a little, a Chemical Brothers live performance creates an all-enveloping hi-tech synergy between the audio and the visual, changing the very feel of where they’re playing. “This year has been great,” says Tom. “The UK tour we just finished was incredible. To see all those huge venues turned into some kind of out of body/mind/zone freak out was emotional.”
This year, the Chems’ audiences have been treated to a full-spectrum explosion of morphing light sculptures, huge animated, neon characters, giant robots, strobing black and white film images, a stream of glowing, pulsating surreal and abstract visual imagery and a light show worthy of judgement day, all perfectly in tune with with old favourites from their back-catalogue and new material from their Grammy-nominated ‘No Geography’ album.
The awesome power of a fully-operational Chemical Brothers gig was brought to a wider audience this year, with their televised Glastonbury headline appearance demonstrating that live electronic music can now match any rock or pop show for excitement and spectacle. “It was amazing,” says Tom. “It’s always been such a special place for us to play — the crowd is so receptive, people just want to let go and experience something intense and we are there to try and make that happen. It’s the world’s greatest festival and to be able to be a small part of it is such a privilege.”
And to win an award for such things? “It’s beautiful! we’re so happy that something we put a lot of work into has connected with so many people!” Harold Heath
“I’ve always felt like I have to go over and above to get the credit,” says Paul Woolford, who had been producing under his own name for more than a decade before he started to get real attention with his Special Request alias. This year in particular, it has never been more deserved: come Christmas, he will have put out four full-length albums in under 12 months. Citing “rest and sleep, inner peace” and “being clear-headed” as a key factor in getting so much work done, he also reckons a holiday to Bodrum in May gave him the time and space he needed to lay out an “ideal scenario” for the year.
“I try to bring all my ideas to fruition in some way — leave nothing as idle talk. So it ended up becoming reality within days, weeks and months,” says the Leeds man while on a train to this weekend’s gigs. “Once I returned to the studio, I had so many ideas.” The first three albums came on Houndstooth. ‘Bedroom Tapes’ reworked some unearthed DAT tapes recorded in his youth, ‘Offworld’ answered the hypothetical question, “what if Jam & Lewis signed to Metroplex?”, ‘Vortex’ was a 40-minute jungle assault, and the final record, ‘Zero Fucks’, is “atom-smashing jungle” that will come only on dubplates.
“I’ve been a super-fan and almost a student of the music in this way for most of my life,” explains Woolford of his tireless work ethic and endless inspiration. He also admits to being “compulsively nosy” about other people’s journeys and takes fuel from that, as well as “the most mundane things. I go out and walk down the street and it comes to me.”
Saying more than once during the interview that he is in a place of “sheer enjoyment”, it’s certainly true that Woolford’s music is also all about enjoyment. These albums, more than most of his work, packed some serious emotion, but also plenty of brain frying synths, “bowel evacuating” basslines and dizzying drums that manage to be fun as well as forward thinking.
On the dancefloor, where it matters, Special Request music unites the hardcore heads and more casual fans alike. “It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, so I broke outside of that completely by working in other studios,” says Woolford, who reckons his “mentality” and working methods have also clicked this year. Some projects took him to recording studios in Castleford, others legendary hip-hop studios in Atlanta, and forthcoming collaborations with Diplo and Second City were made at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio complex in Bath.
“I started to write in some of these environments, which emboldened me completely,” he beams. “I’m aspiring to be the best version of myself all the time, so I need to test myself. Can I get better results? Can I improve? If so, how? I have to stretch out and see where the edges are.” At this point he’s already proved stretchier than a master yogi, so heaven knows what comes next. Kristan J Caryl
Releasing one of the year’s best dance records is no small achievement, but John Randall, the English producer efficiently known as Yak, was behind three of 2019’s finest 12”s. Since making a splash in 2017 with his debut 'Mido', a zany whirlwind of bongo breaks, bird calls and rattlesnake shakers, he’s put out a sizeable amount of club belters. But with his 2019 trilogy — on Version, Phonica Records and the still-mighty R&S — Randall confirmed himself as the breakthrough producer of the year.
“It just happened by luck that all three came out in the same year,” he laughs, explaining that the familiar faff of pressing to vinyl had caused a bottleneck in his release schedule. The records make for a striking trio regardless, each exploring a different aspects of the current vogue for tactile, live-sounding drums — in particular, Middle Eastern hand drums. It’s a sound he’s drawn to no matter what the genre. “I listen to drum & bass, techno, footwork, house — and anything with a live percussion edge appeals to me. It’s got more of a human feel to it,” he says.
That hard and heavy percussion has been a massive sound in 2019, as heard on records by Melbourne’s DJ Plead and Nervous Horizon boss TSVI. “Maybe we’re listening to the same influences,” he continues, “but my main influences have always been Hessle Audio, Swamp81 and Hemlock.” The balance of system-rattling bass against crisp percussion that’s the signature of those labels is easily detected in Randall’s choppy, agile rhythms. Less obviously, he also cites hypnotic rhythm specialists Blip Discs as an influence, and the heat-baked clatter of artist like O’Flynn.
“But,” he adds, “with these EPs I was trying to focus on tracks that would bang in the club but also have more subtlety with the synths.” On ‘Wide Eye’, from his Termina EP for R&S, he cements his wild percussion to a more melodic core, channelling the bug-eyed euphoria of early rave, while ‘Zip’, on the Phonica EP, is freaky and stripped-back, nodding to UK bass and Balearic breeze in one motion.
Prior to this purple patch, Randall had been tying himself in knots trying to pre-empt what his favourite DJs wanted to hear. A creative breakthrough came when he stopped writing what he thought Loefah might play on Rinse and started “just writing tracks for myself.” A few months later he got the call from R&S — “my favourite label ever,” he beams. “I was sprinting around my room when they sent me the email!” His music production career had begun in Sheffield, where he was also resident DJ at Pretty Pretty Good, the party he co-founded in 2015; over the years he’s also bagged regular slots at the city’s Hope Works venue.
More recently, though, he’s moved back to his old manor, staying with his parents in Surrey while he focuses on music, all made on his bare-bones setup: laptop, monitors, and a MIDI keyboard. It’s not flashy, but he’s “got mates with nice studios,” he laughs. “I know if I start buying hardware that’s the end of my bank account, so I go to their studios, record bits on their synths and bring it all back to mine!”
Several new Yak releases are already lined up for 2020, including one on a label that’s a perfect fit for his percussion-heavy, dub-wise productions — though he can’t reveal it yet. In the meantime, he’s locked away in his home studio and absorbing new inspirations — most recently, the meticulous mania of fellow R&S signee Djrum. “Those tracks bang but they’re really emotional,” he explains. “It’s hard to juxtapose something that’s heavy and danceable in the club but also has emotions, synths, pads… so that’s what I’ve been trying to incorporate: more emotions and feelings.” Chal Ravens
There are no two ways about it, Defected has celebrated two decades in the business of dance music with a vintage year. Jamie Jones and Darius Syrossian re-imagined Sir James' Strictly Rhythm classic 'Special' with their after-hours anthem 'Rushing' (Syrossian also unleashed ‘Come On Come On’ through Defected's DFTD diffusion imprint), garage legend Todd Edwards and Sinden coupled up on 'Deeper', while Ben Westbeech and Christian Taylor — aka KON — debuted their new band project The Vision.
“Being 20 years old, you want to continue to be forward thinking,” says Wez Saunders, Defected's managing director, and the man who signed tracks like CamelPhat's all-conquering ‘Cola’. “So we've been working quite a lot this year on artist projects, like The Vision. Their record ‘Heaven’ feels like it's becoming this generation's ‘Finally’ to some degree. This has been three years in the making to get this project where it is today. The guys wanted to make sure that the body of work was complete, so they've been working with a lot of people like Andreya Triana, and they've had Roy Ayers in the studio, a lot of different people. It's been great to see.”
It's far from the only success this year. Endor's sturdy 'Pump It Up' hit the top 20 singles chart, while Roberto Surace's track 'Joys', picking up the lyrics from the S.O.S. Band's classic 'The Finest', made the Radio 1 A-list, as well as being crowned an Essential New Tune by Pete Tong and a Hottest Record In The World by Annie Mac.
All these successes have meant that now, when a record that they know has the potential to be big arrives at their door, they can handle it without feeling the need to bring in a major label to help out with the heavy lifting of marketing and distribution. The label's social media channels are now a force to be reckoned with — over 4 million across all platforms — so when a track like ‘Cola’ turns up, they can hit the ground running.
“We've become an interesting proposition,” he says. “And that's really helped our business model, that we have the belief and confidence that we can work those records ourselves. And we can use that to help continue to grow other areas of the business. We're not looking to license anything on to anyone else now. And in some cases we've beaten major labels to big records this year. Which is a situation that none of us could have anticipated three years ago.”
Saunders didn't start out in the music business, not in the same way that Defected boss Simon Dunmore did. He was a keen hobbyist DJ working in investment banking when a personal tragedy caused him to reassess his life, convincing him to pursue what he loved. He worked his way up from the label's club promotions manager in 2014 to managing director in the space of three years. It's passion and hard work like this that's made Defected what it is today.
“But it's really all about our community, and building that fanbase that are going to continue to invest in what you're doing,” says Saunders. “Stick with your sound, be true to what you believe and your time will come.” Ben Arnold
When London producer and DJ, Conducta, launched Kiwi records at the beginning of 2019 he did so as a “call to arms” for the burgeoning new wave of UK garage. The accompanying debut release, ‘The Kiwi Manifesto’, featured the likes of Sharda, Mind of a Dragon and Sammy Virji across 30 tracks.
“The whole plan of the label was to mobilise a scene,” he says. Almost 12 months later, with several more releases — including the ‘Kiwi Krush’ mixtape — and Klub Kiwi tours behind him, things have mobilised sooner than anticipated. “I envisioned all this happening but I didn't think it would happen so quickly,” he says. “When I had a plan for Kiwi, and I knew ‘Ladbroke Grove’ was going to come out, I thought it would pique a little bit of interest in garage. I thought there would be more of a slow-building sense of energy from ‘Ladbroke Grove’ and then people would slowly jump onto my label, but to sell out all the tour shows has been incredible.”
It’s been such a whirlwind year that Conducta even caught himself having a moment at one night in Leeds. “I was at the back of the club and it was so rammed and sweaty,” he recalls. “Sharda was playing and he dropped one of his tunes and I just looked ahead of me and thought, 'Wow'. There were 400-or-so people dancing to new garage. It was an amazing feeling and it reminded me of when I first came to London and I went to a Butterz night because, for me, [Elijah and Skilliam’s] parties have always been the blueprint. I thought if I ever throw parties then I want it to be this kind of vibe. That moment in Leeds felt like I'd encapsulated that.”
Whilst the label has acted as both a home and a platform for a variety of producers and DJs that Conducta considers family, he’s also seeing the kind of interest it’s pulling from the potential next wave too. “When you've got 17 year olds pestering you and slinging you demos, that's a sign of how promising things are,” he says. “People are hearing the tracks and going to the tours and thinking, ‘I want to be on Kiwi, I want to be a part of this’. It's been quite overwhelming.”
Although he says that this is exactly the kind of momentum he was hoping for. “If just one 18-year-old comes to a Kiwi night and loves it and wants to start their own thing then the job is done.” Daniel Dylan Wray
‘Vortex’ is the first of four albums Paul Woolford has put out as Special Request in 2019, and it is the most brilliantly unhinged and unhindered. The Leeds producer himself describes it as “a slap in the face” and he couldn’t be more right. It’s just 40 minutes long and is hugely playful, but packs more punch than a gym full of heavyweight boxers. “I’m trying to buzz my tits off. If I find myself laughing out loud while I’m doing it, then I know I’m on to something,” he says of the creative process behind the album. “It really is as simple as that.”
Track titles like ‘SP4NN3R3D’ convey the vibe of the music, which chews up and spits out razor-sharp jungle, hardcore, breakbeat, techno and rave fusions that race to tempos upwards of 170BPM. There are hyper-speed techno ballets like ‘Memory Lake’ next to euphoric, inter-dimensional rave ups like ‘Ardkore Dolphin’ and bass contortions like ‘Fahrenheit 451’ that are masterfully pithy and concise, but utterly devastating. “You know those moments where you are in the eye of the storm in the rave, something mad emerges from the system and you hear people saying, ‘fuck off’?” asks Woolford. “It’s THAT. Blatant fuck offery. That’s the genre.”
‘Vortex’ has a distinctive sonic personality: shiny metal surfaces, static electric synths and crisp drum programming that comes from the fact Woolford had some kit purpose-built just for the project. He will use it again when he takes Special Request live in 2020, “so you’ll be hearing some real extremities there”. He continues, “there’s a lot of heavy conceptual stuff around these days, and I love conceptual stuff, but the world is in meltdown, life is hard enough and people need real fun like never before. ‘Vortex’ is the most direct version of the idea. It sounds like it looks: loud, obnoxious, but also really playful. I could feel I was on to something while it was unfolding, so I was egging myself on. Taking the piss basically.”
Despite all his talk of “having the time of my life doing [‘Vortex’]” and “not taking yourself so seriously”, there are no gimmicks on this album. It’s fun, but expert fun that draws on a deep understanding of the genres being torn apart, and a real appreciation for dancefloor destruction, as well as a serious amount of studio skill. There is not a bit of fat on any of the tracks on ‘Vortex’, and no time at all to think, just a constant compulsion to move in ways you yourself can’t even fathom. For that reason it is a work of pure and inescapable joy. Kristan J Caryl
If you know anything about Floating Points, you will know that he is the perfect person to make an entry into the quietly revered ‘Late Night Tales’ mix series. Despite that, he still managed to exceed his own high standards in what is the best instalment in years. "I've learnt about a lot of incredible music from listening to the ‘Late Night Tales’ compilations over the years, so I jumped at the opportunity to compile one myself,” says Sam Shepherd, the man behind the moniker. “The music is a selection of the kind of records I play to set the tone when DJing all night long. Thank you to DJ Mag for the award."
Of course, Shepherd draws on the more intimate sections of his vast record collection here: rare gospel, elegant prog, jazz, folk and neo-classical minimalism are all cleverly sequenced and seamlessly blended even when, on paper, the styles themselves are miles apart. At first, that might sound like a mix to drift off to sleep to, or have on in the background, but dial into the details and you'll find subtle but moving mentions of war, poverty and mental health that add an extra layer of depth.
While plenty of the records reached for are many years old and almost impossible to find, there is also a showcasing of plenty of modern synth music from the likes of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Kara-Lis Coverdale. They make for particularly meditative, beautiful moments of calming serenity while tracks like Abu Talib's ‘Blood Of An American’ and Sweet & Innocents ‘Express Your Love’ are the sort that could well bring you to tears, such is their crushingly melancholic mood. They are tracks that draw you in so closely it feels like you're the only person in the world listening in. As Lauren Laverne so rightly says in the traditional spoken-word closer, "this is music worth staying up for." Kristan J Caryl
“Oh yes, oh yes, that’s quality,” says Mark Richards, one-half of Solardo along with James Elliot, when we tell him that the tech-house troubadours have scooped the award for Best Track for ‘XTC’. A staple of the Manchester duo’s sets for the first part of 2019, the old skool-sounding ‘XTC’ went stratospheric on release in the summer. It hit Beatport No.1, made the BBC Radio 1 daytime playlist, and crashed into the UK charts too. It was further validation for the guys, whose meteoric rise to international acclaim has been phenomenal since their DJ Mag cover a couple of years ago.
“I remember when we first started out, all we wanted was to get a Beatport No.1,“ recalls Mark. “We actually sat in the studio staring at the Beatport top 10 and said to each other, ‘If we can get a tune in there, or even better to that No.1 spot, our lives will change’. Which they did with our first No.1, ‘Tribesmen’! The feeling’s still the same now, it’s quality.”
Mark starts talking about how a lot of their family members and old school pals only started taking their career choice seriously when they started hearing Solardo tracks on the radio. “I think most of our family thought we were mobile disc jockeys travelling around all the local bars and social clubs up until that point,” he laughs. “I was actually in my local chippy and ‘XTC’ came on the radio while I was ordering a chip barm [butty] with curry sauce. The woman serving me turned to the man on the fryer and said, ‘This is that song our Jack likes’. I wanted to say it was me but I probably would have looked like a twat.”
Eli Brown, who grew up on drum & bass in Bristol, had become a good friend of the guys after playing some shows together and releasing a few house tunes on their label, Sola. “When he sent over an idea which he’d done with the ‘XTC' synth riff I immediately got on the phone to him and told him I thought it was quality, and the ‘shining in the ecstasy’ vocal worked really well,” Mark says about the genesis of the track. “I then asked if he would be down for working on the track together, to which he said yes. He then sent me the parts and I got onto it straight away. About six hours later it was done.
“We were playing it for a while and I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if there was more vocal?’ So I called Gav [Eli Brown] and asked where the original ‘XTC’ vocal was from,” Mark continues. “I then looked it up and tried using another segment of it, which sounded great. We then had the track!”
The original vocal was by Martha Wash, who sang Black Box’s ‘Ride On Time’ back in the day and was also part of ’80s vocal duo the Weather Girls of ‘It’s Raining Men’ fame. “The sound quality wasn’t the best, so we got it re-sung,” says Mark. “She’s singing about being extremely happy and euphoric, high on love, and with great sunny weather shining down on her. It was really hard to get it sounding right, but eventually we found the right person for the job and got it sounding great.”
Solardo rounded off a hugely successful year with another Beatport No.1 — ‘Move Your Body’ with house legend Marshall Jefferson. Is there anything else they want to tell DJ Mag readers? “Just thanks for all the support we’ve had over the years,” concludes Mark. “Both you guys at DJ Mag and all of your readers have been amazing and have all played a huge part in our career. So thanks to everyone.” Carl Loben
“I decided that if ‘Ladbroke Grove’ went top 40 then I’d get a tattoo,” says Conducta, the producer (and remixer) behind the AJ Tracey smash hit. “It came in at 43, hovered around 75, then it just started getting bigger. If it was any other song I think I would be fed up with it by now.” Whilst the original climbed the charts, peaking at number three, and eventually going platinum, an equally beloved remix was tearing up dancefloors. “Whenever I play this remix out, because the main version gets so much love, it's almost like people forget how amazing Novelist and General Levy are here,” he says.
It also marks a symmetrical collaboration for Conducta, who has long been a fan of the grime MC. “When I was 15 or 16 I used to send Novelist beats all the time, so for that to come full circle and have him on this tune is mad.” General Levy’s wild freestyling on MistaJam’s 1Xtra show was enough to realise Conducta needed him on the track too.
Whilst there’s been some pressure to try and repeat the success, Conducta has resisted. “The amount of people that have been going, ‘Oh just do another one, repeat the pattern’,” he says. “But, for me, it's about longevity and not compromising the art just to have short term happiness. I feel really fulfilled musically — and this time last year I really didn’t — and I want to maintain that. The real thing this track has taught me is not to go chasing that kind of moment again because it came from such an organic place.” Daniel Dylan Wray
When London mega-venue Printworks opened its doors back in 2017, the capital was left wondering if it had finally had its Berghain moment. The 5,000-capacity main room and 3,500-capacity live space, the latter of which launched in 2018, have been host to some of the UKs biggest and most exclusive shows in the last three years. “2019 especially has been an exciting year for Broadwick Live and Printworks London,” Bradley Thompson, Managing Director of Broadwick Live, the team behind Printworks, says. “We’ve worked across more shows than any year to date, and had the pleasure of working with some of the industry’s most respected brands.
"We debuted upgraded production in September, too," he continues. “A new, floor-to-ceiling, semi-transparent LED screen behind the DJ booth — which has had an incredible response.”
As well as opening sister venues The Drumsheds in Meridian Water and Magazine London in Greenwich, Printworks’ cavernous main room, Press Halls, has seen performances from the likes of Amelie Lens, Aphex Twin, Derrick Carter, Peggy Gou, and Green Velvet, to full-day takeovers courtesy of Afterlife, Anjunadeep and Metalheadz. “There have been so many amazing events this year, it’s hard to narrow it down,” Thompson says of stand-out moments in the 2019 season. “But having Bonobo bring his Outlier show here was definitely a highlight, especially when Skrillex jumped on the decks for a surprise b2b with Bonobo — not something you see every day!
"The Hydra’s August Weekend series needs a mention, too. How often [do you] see the likes of Jeff Mills, Moodymann, Larry Heard, Theo Parrish, Model 500, Carl Craig, Ben Klock, Helena Hauff and Move D playing across the same club event? We’re so proud of our team here, who work so hard behind the scenes to make this all happen.
"Printworks are already working on some new surprises for 2020, and we can’t wait to let the cat out the bag." Amy Fielding
Since becoming a permanent fixture under the railway arches of Elephant & Castle in 2002, Corsica Studios has proved to be an essential part of London’s club scene through consistency and on-point programming. “We’ve worked really hard to build up a solid mix of external and in-house events and we are fortunate to work with some of the best promoters, programmers and artists in the business,” explains Adrian Jones, director and co-founder of Corsica Studios. Longstanding parties like Make Me have brought the likes of Radioactive Man, Ben UFO, DMX Crew, DJ Sprinkles, and Aurora Halal to the club, and that’s just in 2019.
Trouble Vision brought Lena Willikens and Vladimir Ivkovic b2b for their 11th Birthday in October, while jungle party Rupture hosted an International Women’s Day special in March, and its monthly happenings like Ø, an experimental club-night curated by Hyperdub's Shannen SP and Kode9, that have provided something truly unique mid-week. Sunday afterparty Jaded has become synonymous with the club after relocating to Corsica six years ago, and newer concepts like Find Me In The Dark and NAFF have provided an abundance of forward-thinking line-ups.
“Moving onwards we’ll be making more and more efforts to diversify our programming and bookings to reflect the whole spectrum of amazing talent that is around, and we’re also working hard to set up some training and workshop programmes that we’ll hopefully start a bit later in the year. It’s difficult to believe but in 2020 Corsica Studios will be 18 years old, so I imagine there will be some extended celebrations once we arrive at this particular milestone,” Jones says about the year ahead. Within the ever-changing landscape of South London, it’s clear that Corsica Studios is stronger than ever. Anna Wall
Josh Doherty is somewhat lost for words when DJ Mag tells him of I Love Acid’s Best Of British win. It’s not a state the outspoken DJ/producer, who forms one half of Posthuman, often finds himself in (as anyone who follows his Twitter account can attest to). Perhaps it’s because he’s a tad hungover following a successful party in Lille, but it’s more likely due to the fact I Love Acid was only supposed to be a one-off when it first took place in London’s Corsica Studios back in 2007.
“I was chatting with Luke [Vibert]... and was like, ‘How about we do a party based on your track? And we’ll just invite all of our mates, all the people that do acid that we really like that no one’s paying attention to.” The party was a massive success, and if it hadn’t been for some numpty spilling a drink on the mixer would have even turned a tidy profit.
The night soon found a monthly home at Shepherd’s Bush club Ginglik, with legendary vinyl fanatic Placid coming on as a resident, before later moving to Bloc and expanding to other cities and countries too. It now touches down regularly at London’s The Pickle Factory and in Manchester, where Haçienda/all-round acid house legend Jon Dasilva is the party’s local resident.
“He’s just bang into the whole thing, he loves it, says it’s just like it was 30 years ago — except it’s not a retrospective night,” says Doherty. Instead, bookings mix the iconic heads with rising stars, meaning everyone from DJ Pierre to Lauren Flax, Ceephax Acid Crew to Object Blue, with a special focus on full live sets. There’s a cracking vinyl label attached too, which sells out quickly — all testament to the hard work and passion behind the project, and the timeless appeal of the sound. We love acid. Ben Hindle
Is there another British festival out there as ambitious as Junction 2? If there is, we’re yet to hear about it, as the LWE-backed gathering continues to gain momentum. Having won the hearts of notoriously hard-to-please Londoners — and many a festival goer from further afield — over the past couple of years, Junction 2 has now beaten off fierce competition from the rest of the UK’s vibrant festival scene to scoop Best Festival at this year’s Best of British Awards.
"We are absolutely blown away to have been awarded Best Festival for Junction 2,” delighted festival founder Paul Jack tells us. “The LWE and J2 team work tirelessly year-round to keep the festival true to what it's always been about, which is its unique site and stages, the incredible talent we have play each year, and most importantly, the vibe that the people bring, which feels like no other festival audience I've ever known.
“We began Junction 2 with no idea how it would go down,” he continues, “but we just stuck to what we at LWE know best: putting on parties in special locations.  will be the fifth year of Junction 2 now, and it's going to be as great as ever. The capacity will remain the same — a deliberate decision on our part to keep the atmosphere as intimate and vibrant as it's always been. We’re working to establish another amazing line-up with the likes of Jon Hopkins Dixon, Maceo Plex and Honey Dijon already slated to return, and Avalon Emerson set to amaze as our resident over the weekend.” Sounds good to us! Reiss De Bruin
Throwing a festival is never easy, but it’s far harder when you reject headliner culture and focus on the unexpected. Just ask the man behind Sheffield institution Hope Works, and its experimental sister weekender, now in its third year. “I spent half the year thinking ‘I’m going down’. But that just made me work harder. I don’t really have backers, so if I get it wrong I’m fucked,” Liam O’Shea says, explaining how 2019 saw multi-venue fest, No Bounds, step up several gears visually and sonically, compounding challenges from logistics to finances. “It’s become more of the vision I wanted in the first place. Music and art, but not just saying it’s art when realistically that’s just tacked-on.”
Bookings ranged from revered heavyweights such as The Black Madonna, Juan Atkins and dBridge, to emergents like LSDXOXO, Solid Blake, and Hope Works’ affiliates 96 Back and Ifeoluwa. Meanwhile, attendees could catch live vocalists in pitch-black tunnels, performance artists and steam engines ‘becoming one’, and drumming showcases set within dye workshops.
Uncompromising music and innovative site-specific commissions betray a progressive attitude towards creativity Sheffield has long been renowned for. In turn, this explains why No Bounds — where avant-garde ideas sit next to bassline house — has emerged victorious at this year’s awards. “Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it,” O’Shea says of this accolade. “What a lovely surprise and what lovely end to a year for us. An absolutely wonderful surprise.” Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
With 2019 drawing to a close, it’s hard to think of another British artist, let alone MC, whose year could be considered to have genuinely rivalled that of Dave. Emerging from the shadows to showcase his talents to the public at large, the Streatham spitter has achieved more in the last 12 months than even some of his most talented contemporaries will over the course of their careers.
Having had his first No.1 single ‘Funky Friday’ set the tone towards the tail end of 2018, Dave went on to drop no less than five Top 40 singles and a record breaking album on us this year, while still finding time to make the most auspicious of starts to his acting career with a remarkably assured appearance in the third season of hit Netflix series Top Boy.
If that wasn’t extraordinary enough, he also went on to scoop the Mercury Prize for his ‘Psychodrama’ album, seeing off a strong field of competitors, and stole the spotlight at Glastonbury with a turn so ferociously impressive, that even a member of the crowd Dave graciously let join him on stage to provide a few bars of his track ‘Thiago Silva’ ended up with a record deal by the end of his performance.
Establishing himself on ‘Psychodrama’ as one of this generation’s great storytellers, Dave’s debut album was further evidence of the futility of trying to pigeonhole the 21-year-old, with the genre-straddling effort seeing the South Londoner equally at home in spraying his thoughts over UK hip-hop as drill or grime. His singular vision provided the necessary cohesion to form such a thought-provoking and simultaneously personal narrative into one compelling package.
Detailing the impact of his elder brothers' prison convictions, the toll that success can take on mental health, and relationships amidst the backdrop of Boris’ broken Britain, while highlighting the many challenges that black working class men struggling to find their way in our society still face today, ‘Psychodrama’ and its uniquely personalised political candour became an instant classic, and immediately cemented itself as one of the most important albums of the last decade.
Thus it came as little surprise when our readers similarly recognised the gravity of the year Dave has had, voting him as our MC of the year despite the seismic efforts of his fellow nominees.
So what’s next for the man for the man born David Orobosa Omoregie? Well, the mononymous rapper appears to be staying tight-lipped on his plans for the future at the minute, and given the breakneck speed he’s been operating at of late, we wouldn’t blame him if he decided to take a well-deserved rest. But, given his reputation as one of the hardest workers in the game today, something tells us we’ll be seeing plenty more of our man Dave in 2020. Reiss De Bruin
When slowthai first appeared in 2016 with his stand-alone single ‘Jiggle’, not many could have predicted the success and meteoric rise to stardom the young rapper was on the path towards. Bubbling in the UK’s thriving underground grime circuit, performing in sweaty basements and warming up for megastars, the rapper released an EP via Bone Soda and a slew of singles, including ‘Polaroid’ and ‘Ladies’, and at just 24 years old, slowthai received his first Mercury Music Prize nomination.
‘Nothing Great About Britain’ is Frampton’s full-length debut; a grim ode to the place he hates and loves the most, and it peaked at No.9 in the Official UK Album Charts. He revealed in an interview with The Guardian earlier this year that watching a VHS of Eminem’s 8 Mile instilled in him a love for hip-hop, which has now become the rapper’s own style of punky, garage-tinged grime.
Collaborating with the likes of Mura Masa and Skepta, the album showcased slowthai’s talents as both a raw, unfiltered MC, but also as a clever, quick-witted connoisseur of wordplay and double-entendres. He speaks about nationalism, rejecting imperialism, poverty and Brexit, as well as revisiting childhood memories and spitting anecdotes about his youth, and hometown of Northampton.
Frampton’s politically-charged debut was nominated for a Mercury prize, and though South London MC Dave, and his acclaimed album ‘Psychodrama’, won the award, the Northampton native still managed to make waves at the ceremony. Performing the Mura Masa-produced track ‘Doorman’, and holding a model of Conservative party leader Boris Johnson’s decapitated head, Frampton once again reinforced his belief that the people of Britain have been failed by a government and their system. His merchandise pushes the same message too, with plenty of it bearing what has become his trademark phrase: Fuck Boris.
It’s also been a huge year of performances for Frampton, who embarked on his Bet Ya A 5’er tour this year, where the tickets were, you guessed it, £5. It was another nod to the working class, ensuring everyone had a chance to attend, and for those who didn’t grab a ticket, the rapper took to social media to seek out those looking for a guestlist spot and invite them down. In just two years, Frampton has gone from performing at the 150-capacity Seabright Arms in East London, to a sold-out final tour date at London’s O2 Brixton Academy.
The rapper is currently supporting Brockhampton in the US, and moving into 2020, he’s already confirmed for slots at Annie Mac’s AMP Lost & Found in Malta, as well as a performance at Bilbao BBK Live 2020, alongside Kendrick Lamar, Pet Shop Boys, and Four Tet. slowthai is on a steep ascent, with no signs of slowing down. Amy Fielding
It's worth noting out of the gate that Classic Music Company founder Luke Solomon, who is now Defected's A&R man, won DJ Mag's Soldier of the Scene in 2017. “I've always promoted people way, way, way before myself,” Defected boss Simon Dunmore laughs. But of any time to be named Soldier of the Scene, right now feels particularly appropriate.
This year, Defected, the label Dunmore founded back in 1999, turned 20. More than 500 releases later, it's weathered more storms than a cross-channel ferry, and it's thanks to Dunmore and his team's deep love of house music and dogged determination that it's still out there and still making future classics.
How he's done it is pretty simple, on the face of it; wherever possible, just try to do the right thing. “We've always kept our eyes on current trends, on how people consume music, and the challenges they bring when changes are about to happen,” he says.
“We've almost gone out of business three or four times, and just when we've needed a bit of luck, something to take the pressure off, we've been fortunate that something's come along. But I believe that working hard and treating people in the right way, and trying to do the right thing goes a long way in life, let alone the music industry. Karma has played us a good hand.”
Dunmore came up through the grass roots, through record shops and then club promotions and then A&R for the major label dance music spin-off imprints in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Realising he could probably go it alone and make his own mark, Defected was born, and thanks to relationships he'd already formed with the likes of Roger Sanchez and Masters at Work, the label immediately took off. Fast-forward 20 years, a UK number one single and hundreds of thousands of sales later, and it was time to mark this auspicious milestone.
“We were pretty bold in a lot of our plans,” he says, understating matters somewhat. Defected held their FSTVL event outside London, where 10,000 people were blessed with a line-up of Defected all-stars (from Masters at Work to Todd Terry) and scorching late summer weather (“It was way more work than any of us anticipated,” Dunmore says). This year's annual Defected Croatia festival was an emotional one too, six days of madness on the Adriatic, which this year snared a rare set from the legendary Jellybean Benitez, as well as Armand Van Helden, Dimitri from Paris and Horse Meat Disco.
“To be able to drag people from all over the world, from Colombia, Japan, Australia, to one place is just mind-blowing,” he says. “I would never have imagined that to be possible when I started Defected 20 years ago.” The YouTube footage of Dunmore closing out the final set with Harold Melvin's ‘Don't Leave Me This Way’ is truly heart-warming.
As for how to become a soldier of the scene yourself one day, you could do considerably worse than heed Dunmore's advice. “Be honest with people,” he says. “Sometimes you have to deliver messages people don't want to hear. Be able to make tough decisions. And be there for people. Don't just be a fair-weather friend. Be consistent. People need to know where they stand with you. And that works with the label too. We're aware of scenes changing, and sounds evolving, and we acknowledge that and we reference it. But we always stay true to our house roots.” Ben Arnold
When NTS radio launched in April 2011, there were very few other stations in London representing such varied programming, shining a spotlight on an abundance of different scenes and sub-genres, as well as providing a platform for emerging artists to flourish. Over the years the station has carved a strong identity within London, at its home of Gillett Square in Dalston, but its outreach is far beyond just the local community. The station continues to grow in listeners and territories, now operating live stations out of Manchester, Los Angeles and Shanghai. “We were only magpies with all of the best bits of other radio we loved. We didn't expect it to end up here, but it just about glued together and floats,” explains Samuel Strang, who handles programming at NTS.
Ever since its inception, station founder Femi Adeyemi put a strong focus on variety, an attitude that remains present within the programming today. “We think it’s wild that NTS has become a sprawling network you can rely on for kicking music; we just want more of the same,” Strang tells DJ Mag, when discussing what they look for when bringing new shows or artists into the fold. Many shows remain long-standing, such as Charlie Bone’s flagship ‘The Do!! You!! Breakfast Show’, synonymous with eclectic selections and comedy skits, or The Pentagon Faceslap — renowned for their collection of rare British jazz and forgotten hip-hop. The station has also helped establish the early rise of talents such as Moxie, DEBONAIR, and Donna Leake.
From further afield, NTS Radio in Los Angeles has provided a springboard for artists such as Silent Servant, and a mouthpiece for essential experimental labels such as The Astral Plane and Kranky. “It's refreshing when we travel and you find people who identify as part of the NTS community, even if they're from a city we've never set foot (in). That is incredible and drives why we want to keep growing. But comes with trying not to lose a sense of what made us stand out in the first place,” says Strang.
Remaining independent has perhaps also been an important factor to the station’s longstanding success. Rather than pandering to the rules of commercial radio, it’s allowed NTS to continue to take risks without compromise. Their tagline “Don’t Assume” speaks volumes of their advocacy for being different. Moving forward, they’re working on a new initiative — called NTS Friends — “to keep NTS ad-free, innovative and doing more of everything we do,” explains Strang.
While they continue to build their worldwide community, NTS has cemented itself as a breeding ground for new talent, a mouthpiece for an incredibly varied range of scenes and a beacon of diversity. Anna Wall
At some point around the beginning of last year, two friends — 39-year-old Stuart Glen and 28-year-old Eugene Wild — discussed a vision for a small club that would not only be a decent party spot, but a place that could benefit society. Now, around 19 months later, they’ve become the owners of one of the most respected underground clubs in the country and raised £100k for the mental health charities they support in the process. So, it’s been a bit of a success you could say.
It was always intended to be temporary, but the original eight-month licence turned into a year, which turned into 18-months, which turned into a new space in association with renowned party Freerotation. Meanwhile redevelopment ravished the surroundings: Another small venue, Styx, adjacent to The Cause’s entrance was knocked down. The BP garage next to the club, flattened. But the people at The Cause danced on and, for now at least, they will continue.
Last month they announced that they had been granted a “surprise, last minute extension” by Haringey Council after news that developers working on the area had suffered from delays in their project. The venue will now stay open until at least next summer and they have even bagged a later licence at the weekend, a chance to have weekday parties and on bank holidays some 24-hour events. Plus, there’s the new venue. But the new developments have spawned fresh challenges.
“It’ll be fine but it’s going to take a lot of work,” Glen tells DJ Mag, sat on a sofa in the empty (and very cold when it’s not open) main room on a Monday night. “Even though we’ve got an extension now we’re trying to work out the next thing we do after here. We’ve been thrown a bit as we’re now paying rent on another building. Plus, we’ve got nothing in the diary because we thought it was going to close,” he says, laughing in a half-amused-half-nervous manner.
By his own admission, Glen has always been an ‘all or nothing’ type of guy, and he might well end up with a big personal debt after all this. But what has he learned from the project? “Just go with your gut, if you have an idea just go for it; make a hole for yourself and find a way to crawl out, basically. When we got the keys in January I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ I’d spent about 20 grand on building materials, as soon as that arrived I was like, ‘Shit, there’s no way back. I’m going to go for it'.
“It’s nice to be recognised, we’ve had a lot of good feedback,” he says. “But I just want to thank the whole team, man.” Glen is a modest fella who turns up to interviews on a bike and is incredibly down to earth, but let’s have a look at The Cause’s catalogue of achievements in such a short period of time: Musically, they consistently bring the optimum cocktail of emerging local talent and big names to the main room’s cage. Culturally, they managed to conjure up a welcoming, diverse and underground environment.
Politically, they showcased clubbing culture as an effective tool for enacting positive social change to important stakeholders such as the council, police and developers. Socially, they built a small club not just with the aim of creating a space for good parties, but also as a vehicle for raising money for (and awareness of) mental health issues. And, crucially in these testing times, one that can be uprooted and relocated when the bulldozer inevitably storms through the scene.
That’s the innovation that wins you awards, so The Cause is getting added to the prestigious alumni of the Best of British Innovation & Excellence Award, along with the likes of clubbing culture royalty Block9 and The Loop. It’s quite simply down to their pioneering, unique and innovative model that has allowed them to adapt well to the challenging clubbing landscape. Simon Doherty