New year, same lockdown. It’s been almost 12 months since the world — and with it, the music and live events industry — was put on pause, and while the outlook is looking hopeful with the vaccine rollout, the early cancellations of Coachella this spring and Movement Detroit this summer point to another long, non-existent festival season here in the U.S.
When you’re URL however, every day (and night) can be festival season. While some artists are using this downtime to regroup, others are starting 2021 strong with new releases. Below are four emerging dance acts filling out our imaginary lineups with their banging club music, dreamy dance-pop and more. We imagine they’ll be filling out IRL stages soon enough.
Ain’t nothing shy about this British badass. At 27 years old, the artist born Blane Muise already quit a lucrative day job to pursue music, dropped tracks with some of the most innovative artists in music, and carved a niche for herself in the club world dripping sex-confident lyrics over dark, club-sweat beats.
Not super new to the party, Shygirl released her first track “Want More” alongside her friend and frequent producer Sega Bodega in 2016. (His industrial pop bounced in metallic shadow as Shygirl encouraged her partners to “play rough” and “f*ck fast.”) She hasn’t slowed or let people off easy ever since, with her music included in the soundtrack to Rihanna’s 2017 Fenty X Puma runway show and then coming in hot and haunting on 2018’s five-track Cruel Practice EP. That project is a nightmare techno explosion from start to finish, while Shygirl’s devious, monotone melts humid come-ons between squirming synths and rubbery textures.
Her 2020 was massive, kicking off with an X-rated ode to carnal pleasure on Zebra Katz’ bouncy “Lick It N Split” in March, followed by a mean, shady whisper on the horror show of a beat that is Arca’s “Watch.” In November, she dropped her sophomore EP, Alias, featuring “Slime,” a futuristic doom club bop co-produced by Kai Whiston and the late great Sophie. Earlier this month, we got a nice remix package for Alias single “Tasty” featuring a brooding techno take and extended mix from Boys Noize as well as a wicked fun rinse from LSDXOXO.
We honestly haven’t heard club music this perfectly on point in a minute, and we haven’t missed sticky dance floors so much since quarantine began. Here’s to more Shygirl in 2021, a rising star we’re sure is primed to take over the globe. — KAT BEIN
“Who would’ve guessed this weird music would take me somewhere?” mused Steve Darko near the end of his set at the virtual release party (Feb. 7) for his debut album, Midnight Swim, on Dirtybird Records. More than just an artistic milestone, the LP also represents a full-circle moment in Darko’s young career. In a recent Reddit AMA the Bostonian, who also works as a software developer, shared that he sent demos to Dirtybird for three years before successfully signing a record, his Fried or Fertilized EP, to the label in 2018. Impressed by Darko’s skills, label head Claude VonStroke took him out on tour later that year as a supporting act, and it’s only been up from there.
Thus far, Darko has amassed a release résumé full of cool-kid labels including Perfect Driver, Psycho Disco!, Box of Cats, Hotboi Records, Sink or Swim and Insomniac’s In/Rotation. With each track, he has honed his sound into something that’s at times dark and often rumbling with bass, yet always whimsically and captivatingly off-kilter, like an episode of The Twilight Zone distilled into a tech house soundtrack. Midnight Swim is a further evolution, with 14 tracks that would absolutely rock an afterhours, from the heft of “Smooth Like Butter” and brain-unraveling “Descending” to aquatic odyssey “Dominical,” the CVS collab “How Many Times” and the synth oddities (“Euclidean Dreams”) in between.
Dive in, feel the groove — and if you like what you hear, check out his weekly live-stream Darko’s Dungeon each Tuesday on Dirtybird’s Twitch channel. — KRYSTAL RODRIGUEZ
In a time when DJ/producers are encouraged to work on being a brand that moves merchandise more than they work on making music, being an artist with multiple aliases and releases in a range of genres might be a liability. But while the merch squad for Laura Bettinson — the English artist formerly known as Femme and currently recording as lau.ra — might not know what to print on the t-shirts, the artist herself knows how to make magic in the studio. Her vocals on Bronson’s 2020 track, “Heart Attack,” were a sonorous dream, and while her latest track, “Don’t Waste My Time” (released February 12) is a glitchy, techy heater, it stays mercifully away from business techno territory. No matter what she does next, lau.ra is an artist worth watching. — ZEL MCCARTHY
If the lightness and relaxation you feel during a much-needed vacation could be converted into music, it would sound like Brijean. The duo of Brijean Murphy (a vocalist and percussionist who’s worked with Toro y Moi and Poolside) and producer Doug Stuart create music residing at the dreamiest intersection of dance, indie and pop, with feel-good grooves feel made for laying out at the beach or boutique hotel pool, cold drink in hand and all worries about work or school floating away on the breeze.
After releasing a mini-album, Walkie Talkie, in 2019, Brijean are releasing their first proper full-length, Feelings, on Ghostly International this Friday, Feb. 26. Already released singles such as “Daydreaming,” “Hey Boy” and “Moody” keep the spotlight on Murphy’s soft yet vast vocals, which possess an ocean-like serenity, against a funky, tropical backdrop of congas and sun-kissed melodies. The singles’ disco and ‘90s house influences feel simultaneously of-the-moment and retro, and just so damn vibey — the kind of music you’d feel compelled to Shazam if you heard it while shopping inside a bougie department store. If you’re scrolling Insta and getting too deep in your feelings at all the #tbt jet-setting posts, simply put Brijean on the speakers and let the pseudo-vacay bliss commence. — K.R.