From the electronic songcraft of Joel Compass and FKA twigs to the feral punk-blues of Fat White Family, our writers give their tips for the top this year
At just 20, London-based singer-producer Joel Compass has form. He’s written music with Rita Ora and Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts, produced for John Legend and clocked up hundreds of thousands of plays of his own tracks on YouTube. His music mixes edgy electronica with mainstream-friendly choruses, while the haunting emotional undercurrents will connect with many. Astronaut is as eerie and weightless as being lost in space. Run brings rapper Pusha T to a song about loving someone who wants to flee. Compass may raise most eyebrows in 2014 with Fucked Up, an eerie electro-symphonic melodrama with a killer hook: “I’m so fucked up and this girl won’t wake up.” Whatever is going on in the lyrics, if the expletives can be toned down for the radio, this song could be absolutely huge. Dave Simpson
Born at the foot of Kilimanjaro and raised by the River Tyne, Lulu James has a better-than-average backstory. Fortunately, she makes music just as intriguing as her heritage. Along with co-writer and co-producer Domzilla, James blends soul and nocturnal electronica into a weird and wonky funk. It’s the type of music that could fit into the current trend for ice-cool R&B if it wasn’t so theatrical and flamboyant – James likes leotards and feathers, and her voice often has the tone of a dumped diva slamming the door behind her. Snapped up by Black Butter in 2012 and now signed to RCA for her spring debut, there’s an industrial grind to her work that recalls Hercules and Love Affair. Harriet Gibsone
FKA twigs is more than just a musician. I’m not talking about her work as an actor and dancer, rather the auteur-like way in which her music, videos and even press shots share an aesthetic. Tahliah Barnett, known as twigs because her bones tend to pop and crack, lives in London but grew up in Gloucestershire. This West Country connection may explain the trip-hop elements that lace her particular brand of R&B. Like the xx, her recent EP2 explores spaces and silence, thanks in no small part to the haunting soundscapes of Arca, the Venezuelan producer who worked on Kanye West’s Yeezus. His beats could feel stark but are offset by Barnett’s lyrical openness (“He won’t make love to me now”) and pillow-soft sighs that often feel too intimate for comfort. Inevitably, Barnett has been grouped with other women putting inventive twists on R&B, but her compelling videos have already proved that she can stand out in a crowd. Tim Jonze
East India Youth
Something about East India Youth‘s debut album Total Strife Forever doesn’t square with the story of the man who made it. To hear William Doyle tell it, he turned to making electronic music for largely pragmatic reasons: the indie band he was in broke up messily and he realised that electronica was a genre that lent itself to a solo artist working from home. He says he recorded the album almost as an afterthought, over three years, while focusing on other projects. It’s not that you don’t believe him, so much as that’s not how the album sounds. It comes across as a hugely self-assured debut, from an artist who knows exactly what he’s doing: he’s confident enough to leap from out-and-out pop to icy ambience to pounding acid house to unsettling experimentation. Whatever the circumstances in which he made it, the fact that he did so marks Doyle out as a rare, idiosyncratic talent. Alexis Petridis
Aquacrunk, purple sound, neon; those are just a few of the monikers for the various DayGlo iterations of UK dance music’s recent history. From Joker and Gemmy’s Bristolian experiments to Rustie and Hudson Mohawke’s Glaswegian maximalism, a slew of likeminded producers have added colour to the post-dubstep landscape. The anonymous SOPHIE is one of the latest. His track Bipp came out on tastemaking Glasgow label Numbers last year, mixing happy hardcore-style high-pitched vocals, infectious synths and driving bass. Then followed Nothing More To Say: a brazenly poppy track that made a lot of other dance music sound staid. Long may he continue. Lanre Bakare
Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher come from the great tradition of rock duos who can dredge up the rawest primal racket out of just two instruments. Royal Blood have only released three singles so far but their sludgy-yet-muscular riffage is seductive enough to have scored them a major label deal. At a time of piano-house and dubstep drops, the odds are stacked against them, but the Brighton pair have the chops to smash it where no synth can. Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders put their name on national telly when he wore a Royal Blood T-shirt during his band’s Glastonbury performance last summer. And a tattoo artist has drawn up a range of Royal Blood designs to ink on your arm/ankle/face. You can’t get more destined for greatness than that. Kate Hutchinson
The route from dance music guest vocalist to pop star is a grand UK tradition (ask John Newman, Jessie Ware or even Lisa Stansfield). Sampha Sisay looks set to follow this path. Like Ware he featured heavily on SBTRKT’s 2011 album, but at that time his performances conformed to the genre he was working within. Now, those constraints are gone, and revealed is a soul voice of remarkable range and depth. Nowhere is this exhibited more clearly than on 2013’s Too Much. Plaintive and poignant, Sampha’s voice is at its strongest in the most tender parts of the song, with a falsetto that holds you stock still. With luck, more such moments await in 2014. Paul MacInnes
Pop princess Katy Perry may be among her fans, but 25-year-old Jillian Banks prides herself on making boundary-pushing R&B. This artist’s rise began with a support slot on the Weeknd’s tour and the release of the exquisite This Is What It Feels Like in February. Then came the London EP in September. By the time she played in the UK capital in November, her show sold out in just two hours. Joining the dots between Miguel and Jamie XX, her work fuses futuristic electronica with heavy doses of pain and passion. This puts her firmly on the radar for this year. Kieran Yates
The dominant sound in techno today is one that goes back to the genre’s grubbiest roots: the clank of 80s industrial and the sooty, angry Birmingham sound of Surgeon and friends. The tracks made by 30-year-old Londoner Oscar Powell sweat with the effort of trudging labour rather than the abandon of dance – but there is still a seam of funk running through the coalface, on cuts such as A Band or Body Music. Like Factory Floor, he also nods towards post-punk bands including Mars and Ike Yard, recreating their clatter and space with looped samples of live instrumentation. The coming year will see new tracks made with Birmingham legend Regis and electronic aggressor Russell Haswell get a release on Powell’s own label Diagonal, all around his day job as an ad man; a little like PiL-era John Lydon, he’s groomed yet subversive. Ben Beaumont-Thomas
Fat White Family
I spent part of Christmas listening to some of the bands who have been touted as the hot new hopes of guitar music. They were, almost without exception, grimly competent. None of them intrigued me or thrilled me like Fat White Family. They are not a new band, per se – their debut album Champagne Holocaust was released on to the web last spring, before gaining a physical release at the end of 2013 – but they are the only truly exciting guitar band I’ve heard in an age. Their sound is hardly original, the feral punk-blues of the Gun Club and the Birthday Party drips from them, and a band so skilled in provocation can hardly be uncalculating themselves. But their calculations haven’t resulted in gimlet-eyed careerism: on their best songs, they sound like the various members have started and stopped playing when they had nothing left to say. Truth be told, I’m not expecting great commercial things: they sound as much like a great idea as a great band. But what a joy to have a guitar band again who actually have an idea. Michael Hann
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