2020 was the year that concerts, shows, clubs, and venues were brought to a standstill by a global pandemic that is unfortunately still ravaging. If the live setting is taken out of the equation of electronic music, what is left? Despite losing the ability to congregate and dance together, the music of 2020 meant a whole lot to many of you. If anything, we all found that our need for music was even greater than before.
Really, if the train wreck that was 2020 gave us anything, it was more time to spend inside in our studios doing what we love the most. The forced quarantine of the global pandemic meant that producers of all stripes had time to finally buckle down and finish up projects that have been lingering on their hard drives for years.
With that release of frantic energy came some of the most interesting and divisive music of the past decade. Here’s a look at the top 10 producers of 2020, as voted by you, the readers of MusicRadar.
2020 saw the release of ENERGY, the third full-length album by English brother duo Disclosure, pushed ahead of its initial release in order to provide a soothing balm to the legions of listeners for this popular house duo during the pandemic. Disclosure worked quickly on the tracks for the album, cherry-picking through over 200 ideas written in 2019. The resulting album moves through ‘90s R&B and smooth house constructions and sees the band finding renewed energy indeed.
Autechre put out not one but two full-lengths in 2020, both arriving on long-time home Warp Records. The first, SIGN, was a slight departure from the angular shards of sonics the veteran duo is known for, instead choosing to show another side of their musical vocabulary. Then, a second album, PLUS, followed less than two weeks later, showing Autechre still had some tricks up their sleeve. Unlike some of the softer sounds on SIGN, PLUS featured a bevy of the kind of glitch and IDM Rob Brown and Sean Booth have been kicking out for over thirty years now, and another hour of new music sure made Autechre fans quite content.
3. Ólafur Arnalds
Icelandic producer and studio wizard Ólafur Arnalds has long been a favourite of many, and 2020 saw him releasing the follow-up to 2018’s re:member with some kind of peace, a record whose dulcet and soaring tones are prime to resonate in the present. The album features singles with Bonobo, JFDR, and Josin and is a captivating listen from front to back. Arnalds began the album before the lockdown began and then finished it in in solitude in his studio in downtown Reykjavik, creating what might be his most personal statement yet.
4. Richard Devine
Sound designer and computer obsessive Richard Devine surprised many this year with the release of his album Systik, the most dance floor-oriented and genre-specific album the Atlanta-based producer has put out in years. Systik finds Devine turning his modular synthesizer into a squelch and acid machine while maintaining his unique ability to create a sonic world within a track.
5. Robert Hood
Veteran techno producer Robert Hood stayed busy in 2020 with the release of an EP on his own M-Plant label and another EP and full length on Berlin-based Rekids. Though each had its high moments of dark, driving tracks, the highlight was undoubtedly “The Struggle”, which features an empowering speech from Black Lives Matter activist Tamika Mallory. Hood frames her words with echo and a booming kick drum that resonates long after the track runtime.
Caribou’s Dan Snaith had a world tour planned for 2020 following the release of Suddenly, a new album chock-full of ideas from the polymath producer and multi-instrumentalist. Like all tours, those plans were inevitably rescheduled but that didn’t stop Snaith from following up the album with three more EPs full of remixes from heavy hitters like Shanti Celeste, Four Tet, and Floating Points. While we weren’t able to see the Caribou live band this year, Snaith proved once again he’s someone worth paying attention to, even when we are all at home.
Another hardware enthusiast who was forced to cancel or postpone a plethora of live shows due to the pandemic, Bulgaria-based house head Kink nevertheless entranced fans with a non-stop flow of live jams and gear demos via his Instagram channel. Those off the cuff live sessions, coupled with a steady release of new tracks on his own Sofia label, kept Kink-heads satisfied till stages open up in the months ahead and he’ll be able to return to doing what he does best—rocking an incredible live set for a packed crowd.
8. Nicolas Jaar
Another producer not content to sit still and rest on his laurels, Nicolas Jaar surprised fans in 2020 with the release of two albums that saw the New York-based musician greatly expand his sonic palette. Both Cenizas and Telas feature delicate piano and voice compositions, with nary a kick drum to be found anywhere. Each shows Jaar’s delicate touch with both arrangement and sound design; its easy to see why fans keep coming back to what Jaar cooks up.
9. Daniel Avery
Despite being critically acclaimed for his skills behind the decks, UK-based producer Daniel Avery stayed busier in the studio than most on this list, as his 2020 was filled with a whopping seven releases! Among those were Illusion of Time, his beguiling collaboration with Allesandro Cortini, and Love and Light, produced entirely during lockdown and released with no advance warning in June. But the highlight of Avery’s output in 2020 was undoubtedly his track “Lone Swordsman”, commemorating his late mentor Andrew Weatherall, who passed away unexpectedly in early 2020. “Lone Swordsman” balances placid acid lines with a head-nodding drum groove that you never want to end.
Venezualan-born and now London-based, Arca continues to keep listeners on their toes and 2020 was no different for the sonic chameleon, as her range of releases show. These spanned a 62-minute single/mixtape entitled @@@@@, a release of 100 different versions of her single “Riquiqui”, created with the assistance of AI, and Kick i, an enchanting full-length album for XL Recordings which featured guests like previous collaborators Bjork and Sophie. Calling Arca one to continue to pay attention could be the understatement of the year, as she enjoys throwing curve balls at every chance she gets.