BEST OF 2022: Each year, the task of putting together a fair-minded selection of the best producers of the year becomes more difficult: there’s more talented electronic artists out there than we can shake a synth at - and the numbers are growing by the day.
However, we’ve certainly done our best. As well as being a representation of the diversity of talent that makes up the contemporary electronic music world, this year’s list is a reminder of the continued assimilation of electronic sounds into the pop mainstream, a decade-long trend that's showed no sign of flagging in 2022.
Electronic artists have continued to influence the broader musical landscape this year, while outside of the pop sphere, boundary-pushing producers, synth savants and avant-garde knob-twiddlers relentlessly fly the flag for sonic experimentation. Without further ado, let's reveal who you voted as 2022's best artist in electronic music.
1. Fred Again
If you haven't seen this year's winner, Fred Again, pop up on your timeline at least a hundred times since January, we'd venture to ask what kind of rock you're living under. This perpetually cheery Maschine-wielding producer has absolutely dominated the conversation in 2022.
For good reason, too: Fred's fresh, sample-centred approach to dance music has earned him legions of fans this year, after a viral Boiler Room set, a sold-out international tour and collaborations with Swedish House Mafia, Four Tet and Skrillex generated unprecedented levels of hype surrounding the artist on social media, leading up to the release of the third instalment in his album trilogy Actual Life.
To many, he might seem like he's appeared out of nowhere, but the reality is that Fred's been working away behind the scenes on some of pop music's biggest hits over the past five years. Among his staggeringly star-studded list of collaborators is Brian Eno - Fred's mentor and close friend - along with Stormzy, BTS, Ed Sheeran, Halsey, Eminem, Headie One, The xx, Rita Ora and George Ezra.
At this rate, the sky's the limit for Fred, and we don't doubt he'll be making an appearance in this list... again.
2. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Coming in at number two this year we've got one of the most exciting names in synthesis, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. This Californian synth savant released her ninth (!) album this year, digging ever-deeper into the creative potential of her Buchla-based set-up and its expressive capabilities.
Speaking with MusicRadar earlier this year, Kaitlyn gave us an insight into the fascinating relationship she's developed with her instrument of choice: "I’ve played with Buchla instruments so long that the language of them is so easy for me to work with... it’s become an extension of my brain."
It sounds like it, too, as Kaitlyn channels her voice through the Buchla's circuits to produce a psychedelic sonic hybrid of woman and machine that speaks to her unqualified genius behind the dials.
Purveyor of organic electronica Bonobo has quietly become one of the world's most beloved producers since his debut over two decades ago. Pairing live instrumentation with samples, synths and vibes by the bucketload, his music's hard not to like, possessed of the kind of congenially ear-pleasing universality that's made it a favourite of festival crowds, radio DJs and Grammy judges alike.
This year, Bonobo was clearly feeling collaborative, as he roped in Jamila Woods, Joji, Kadhja Bonet and Jordan Rakei for a richly rewarding seventh album inspired by generative experiments in modular synthesis, as he explained to MusicRadar earlier this year: "I was doing deep dives on YouTube and watching people who weren’t necessarily releasing music but doing inspiring things with modular. They helped me to discover sound capabilities that I didn’t realise existed."
4. Oneohtrix Point Never
Perhaps the only artist in our top ten who hasn't actually released any solo music this year, Daniel Lopatin - the producer better known as Oneohtrix Point Never - gets a pass, thanks to his work on The Weeknd's career-defining synth-pop opus, Dawn FM.
Acting as the album's executive producer, Lopatin contributed his warped, retro-tinged vision to almost every track on this chart-dominating release, proving that in 2022, old-fashioned distinctions between the popular and the experimental are dissolving faster than ever.
After the 2020/2021 lockdowns forced British producer Tourist to abandon his studio, he refocused his approach. “Before the pandemic hit, I was like, I'm gonna get 10 artists I want to work with, I'm gonna get a lovely studio, I'm going to record everything, everything's going to be analogue, I'm going to use beautiful synths, I'm going to use this and that - and none of that happened," the producer told us earlier this year. "It was really liberating. I thought: 'Okay, well, if that's not how I can do this, I have to work with what I have.'"
The record that he ended up making, Inside Out, is one of 2022's best releases, exploring big themes and big emotions through a modest set-up made up of a laptop, an OP-1, a phone and an audio interface. We love to see it.
6. Rival Consoles
London-based musician and producer Ryan Lee West, AKA Rival Consoles, creates propulsive electronica that's cloaked in atmosphere, ambience and mystery. On his latest release, the inscrutably titled Now Is, the producer perfected this formula, recording a career-best album using an extensive array of analogue synths, instruments and effects.
We caught up with West at the tail end of last year, and he illuminated his creative process for us, explaining his preference for analogue instruments. "There isn’t an analogue synth that can do what software like Massive does, and that’s an old digital synth now," he observed. "The problem is that there’s such an abundance of new software and so many variables that you might not necessarily know what to do or how to engage with them.
"Whereas the limitation of analogue has always been appealing to composers because you can actually think more about the composition rather than being constantly flooded with ideas. Digital is too powerful, really, and you have to be very smart and have good judgment just to deal with that.”
7. Nia Archives
Jungle and DnB has bounced back in a big way this year, and there's a handful of producers that are really pushing that resurgence forward. Nia Archives is one of them, and 2022 was without a doubt the year she broke through in a big way.
Earlier this year, Nia rightly called on the MOBO Awards to introduce an awards category for electronic musicians. They took note, and she won the first ever MOBO award for Best Electronic/Dance Act earlier this month. An achievement made all the more impressive considering it comes only a month after she was named BBC Introducing's Artist of the Year - the first electronic act to receive the award.
The Bradford-born producer made a mark in March with the release of Forbidden Feelingz, a fast-paced six-tracker that channels the influence of her junglist forebears into magnetic bedroom pop music fuelled by the amen break. Her latest single, "So Tell Me...", takes this formula further, using the genre as a vehicle to explore tender, confessional songwriting that's laced with raw emotion.
8. Two Shell
Nothing gets people more excited than an anonymous producer, but an anonymous duo? That's a recipe for intrigue. The mysterious pair behind Two Shell have yet to reveal their true identity, but there's a few things we do know for sure.
Their genre-bending sound blends the bass-heavy pulse of techno with the rhythmic dexterity of post-dubstep, throwing in fizzy synths and sped-up vocals straight out of the hyperpop playbook. After the much-hyped "home", released earlier this year, acted as a sonic mission statement of sorts, their Icons EP drew us deeper into the duo's oddball universe.
We're also fairly certain that they sent two decoy performers, clad in goat horns and a clown wig, to press play on a pre-recorded mix and pretend to DJ their Boiler Room set earlier this year. Trolling of the highest order.
9. Kelly Lee Owens
Since releasing her debut EP in 2016 Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens has swiftly become one of the most unique voices in contemporary electronic music.
Though she's collaborated with Bjork, John Cale and St. Vincent, it's her solo work that shines, fusing brutal electronic textures and deft drum programming with soaring vocals and haunting spoken word to create dreamlike worlds that quiver with emotion.
We caught up with Owens earlier this year, as she told us more about the creative process behind her 2022 album LP.8. "A lot of time in the studio seems to be spent reintroducing variation and accident," she told us. "I suppose you might call it humanness. Nudging things forward, nudging them back, dipping the volumes, trying to keep the listener engaged.
“If the music goes nowhere, people will switch off. OK, I know what this song is doing, I don’t need to listen anymore. Analogue keeps things interesting. It rebels against stability.”
London-based, Bristol-born producer Otik follows in the tradition of his hometown by producing inventive, cerebral club music that threads echoes of jungle, dub and bass music through the prism of UK techno's. A prolific artist from the off, he's doubled his momentum in 2022, releasing four EPs that stand out as some of the year's finest.
After previous releases have landed on a who's-who of bass music imprints - Martyn's 3024, Shall Not Fade and Graded Records, to name a few - Otik set up his own this year. Solar Body, a label home for Otik's work, is an attempt to "connect the dots between deep ethereal atmospheres and high octane jungle, footwork, dark low slung garage, moments of ambient techno and more.”