Do you believe in the future of music?

We’ve always kept the faith. Since day one, Crack Magazine has been shaped by our confidence in the power of artists to take us to undiscovered places. Arguably, there’s never been a better time for daring music. From the mainstream to the margins, there are fearless experimentalists making their voices heard, redistributing power structures and building refuge for the outsiders.

So where is music heading in the near-future and beyond? For our latest list designed to offer a pin-drop in contemporary culture, we asked artists and industry insiders to reveal their big tips. What follows is an expert-curated guide to the 25 acts reshaping music – sonically and ideologically – for generations to come. Take notes.

Northampton’s rule-breaking rapper

slowthai is from Northampton, in the East Midlands area of England. A lot of people put him in a grime box, but he’s not really grime – he’s experimental. The sound of his music always changes, it’s his voice and style that stays the same. He sounds good on anything. Even though he’s got a don’t- give-a-fuck attitude, I don’t think he does things by accident. When I saw him play live he came onto the stage in a coffin. You can just tell this guy isn’t okay with recreating the past.

You know, we don’t accept things we used to when we were younger, and one of those things is the status quo about what masculinity is. Whether he’s lying naked in a music video or standing on stage in his boxers and his socks, you can see that slowthai is comfortable with being exactly who he is.

Julie Adenuga presents on Beats 1 on Apple Music

A computer-generated influencer and musician championing woke politics

Imagine being 19 forever. Would it be your idea of heaven or hell? For Lil Miquela, the influential fashion influencer and aspiring musician, the prospect of eternal youth has been playing on her mind a lot recently. For the last three years actually. In a recent diary post for Opening Ceremony, she wrote, “Being young forever is a fun thought, but it REALLY freaks me out.”

This isn’t just the existential outpourings of a young girl questioning her mortality and the loss of youth as she approaches her twenties. It’s much more complex than that. You see, Lil Miquela isn’t real, in the flesh and bone sense. She’s a computer-generated avatar created and run by Brud, a company founded by digital artists Sara Decou and Trevor McFedries (aka DJ Skeet Skeet).

She was actually ‘born’ in April 2016, when her Instagram account went live. In the years since, Lil Miquela has amassed more than 1.3 million followers, appeared on the cover of Highsnobiety, and modelled for Prada.

But Lil Miquela is more than a Sim or a Second Life spin off. She has not been created for gamers, or as a piece of digital art, but as an intellectual entity in her own right. In many ways, she is the archetypal Gen Z role model: aspirational, multicultural and woke, she models cutting-edge streetwear, releases auto-tuned slow jams on Spotify, and supports movements that encourage female empowerment.

She and her trans-media Brud Gang members @Blawko22 and @BermudaIsBae are just the beginning. In the years to come, as the line between IRL and the “uncanny valley” becomes irreversibly blurred with the evolution of Mixed Reality and machine-learning technology, we’ll all have our own AI proxies which will evolve autonomously on our behalf. If you’re addicted to your phone now, just imagine what life will be like when everyone has their own Lil Miquelas. Soon, you too could be 19 forever… if only as an algorithm.

Former Dazed Editor-in-Chief Tim Noakes is editorial director of The Future Laboratory

UK rap's new leading light

Octavian is easily one of the most exciting new artists coming out of the UK right now. The Drake-endorsed south London rapper, homeless five years ago, is a breath of fresh air. He is willing to take musical risks at every turn, bending tracks at will with his half-rapped, half-sung delivery and non-traditional flows. Treading lines between rap, house and drill, Octavian occupies a space unlike his peers. While new artists attempt to establish their own style and sound, Octavian has already succeeded in finding forward thinking ways to inject club bangers with a message. As he says on Party Here; “You’re gonna blow, its just timing” – and blowing up is well within his reach.

Yemi Abiade is contributing editor at TRENCH

Steel Banglez is the creator of a new UK sound

When he hit me up and came to see me in Birmingham, straight away we made a hit. What makes him stand out is his eagerness to create a sound that’s unique to this moment in this era. He makes a sound and gets the whole industry on it. Then when everyone feels comfortable, he suddenly changes it. Because he’s got everyone’s attention they then have to move with him. He is a leader.

Mist is a rapper from Birmingham

The Australian duo bringing inclusivity politics to doom metal

Divide & Dissolve are a duo of women from Melbourne. They make a style of doom metal all their own – kind of like a horror movie soundtrack but the horror movie is the history of white supremacy. It’s very heavy when you say it like that, but it’s not self-serious or anything. They have something a lot of people didn’t even realise they needed to hear. Two women making intense, atmospheric and cinematic doom metal with a new inclusive kind of politics behind it. When I think of it, it’s hard to imagine what isn’t futuristic about it.

Ruban Nielson fronts New Zealand lo-fi psych quartet Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Moscow DJ and sound artist threading together a progressive scene

Philipp Ilinskiy is one of the few local artists in Moscow who is really educating the local crowd through sharing very fresh and forward-thinking productions. Ilinskiy also organises events bringing avant-garde musicians like Mark Fell here, which is kind of heroic, because it’s really impossible to earn any money from these events. This scene is quite small, composed of several enthusiasts trying to push the scene forward. Why is Philipp Ilinskiy a unique prospect? It’s always about the context and story behind his sets – the sound he provides is, every time, very fresh and interesting, whether he plays some old classic tunes or new ones. Perhaps it’s obvious, but we lack these kinds of artists here, and I’m glad I know one.

Moscow-based DJ Buttechno founded Johns Kingdom, a community of electronic artists from the suburbs of Russia

The Catalan singer propelling flamenco to the global mainstream

She’s just so on her own wavelength. I love her voice and her videos and the fact that you really can’t compare her to anyone else. The softness and ethereal nature of her voice contrasted with how hard and, at points, aggressive her videos are is a really interesting combination. It feels very progressive to me. She’s confidently doing her. And that’s unique in itself.

British pop antagonist Charli XCX is this month’s cover star

Leading saxophonist in the UK’s contemporary jazz scene

Jazz is a conundrum. It means so many different things to different people. But to me it is vital that to be able to create new horizons as a musician you need to have mastered the basics, which is why most jazz musicians of note tend to be in their late twenties before they can really achieve their goals. Shabaka has done years in the jazz kitchen. He’s read the books and lived the life. Each one of his projects presents more than just music. Shabaka is about concepts and thought and philosophy based on a unique sound and technique, just like Jack DeJohnette or Charles Mingus or Herbie Hancock. His story is turning into a fascinating unravelling.

Gilles Peterson is the London-based jazz expert behind Brownswood Recordings and Worldwide FM

Genre-defying dance music from Tunisia

The electronic club underground, a “scene” defined by nebulous borders and propped up by broadband network connections, has never been slow to parse non-western modes of music
for its post-genre dancefloors. The rhythmically complex, experimental productions of Deena Abdelwahed – herself Tunisian, with a childhood spent in Doha, now based in Toulouse – are, on the surface, incredibly realised expressions of an artist inspired into experimental new forms by splicing footwork, UK bass, searing techno and traditional Arabic music.

But it’s in the very application of these styles that a deeper, political meaning becomes apparent: Abdelwahed, who is also queer (further compounding her unique perspective), sees her music as a vessel for powerful social critique of Arab society. The Klabb EP saw
her sampling Tunisian activist Jalel Brick, or else addressing Tunisia’s deep-rooted homophobia, using words and lyrics whose power and potency was heightened through expressive, discomfiting production. It’s no wonder that Fever Ray tapped her for production on Plunge; Abdelwahed’s identity and activism is codified in a music that sounds like the future, but rooted squarely in the present.

Louise Brailey is Crack Magazine’s Head of Digital

The bubbling sounds of Tanzania

Bamba Pana is one of the main producers from the Sisso studio in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, putting a computerised, futuristic twist on Singeli – traditional local music usually made with acoustic instruments, which here becomes super accelerated, hard dance music. Live, MC Makaveli raps, and also adds a vocal counterpart to tracks on Bamba’s new album. Listening to this music sparks the feeling I had when hearing footwork for the first time, or the artists around the Príncipe label. There’s a thrilling sense that this sound is different.

In choosing Bamba Pana I also want to make the point that if we’re looking for the sound of the future, we should be casting our gaze to countries like Tanzania, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil. All have scenes that I hope will influence the way electronic music heads, and artists I hope get heard widely – because a future that’s an endless rehashing of music genres we’ve heard before would be rather dull, to say the least!

Mat Schulz is artistic director at the experimental festival Unsound

The Japanese-American artist writing indie rock’s inspiring new chapter

Mitski is an incredible musician. Her focus and drive makes her music like a spaceship with an open door for you. She is the true flower that gets both more powerful and softer as the fire nears. She doesn’t seem to get pressured into forcing anything. She has this control over her music, herself, and I think she is the future because she is five steps ahead of where many musicians and artists fall down because we lose ourselves. Her brain’s elasticity makes her music so fucking in touch. This scream of realness is a movement in music.

Victoria Ruiz fronts Providence punk band Downtown Boys

Amsterdam’s ascendant DJ represents the radical side to its clubbing scene

LYZZA! I was so happy listening to her Powerplay EP after meeting her beaming light a few times in person and popping off together. This damn EP shows such elegance and range and it’s full of bops. I can’t wait for an album! I just hope she takes me with her as her star ascends.

Lotic is an experimental producer based in Berlin

Embellishing Copenhagen’s fast techno scene with melody

Sugar’s real name is Nikolaj Jacobsen. He’s a Danish producer, DJ, promoter and a really important figure in Copenhagen’s 140 BPM techno scene, pushing it in a really positive way with his Fast Forward Productions parties and booking agency. You might think of trance when you first hear his epic melodies, but one of the things that really makes Sugar’s music stand out is that there is nothing retro about it – except maybe the fact that it has been almost 20 years since techno was this fast. His drums are super tight and effective on a dance floor, and really stand out because of his choice of patterns and sounds. A lot of contemporary techno either sounds quite similar or draws heavily on 90s rave aesthetics, but Sugar’s music is fiercely modern. He’s brilliant at writing big, touching melodies, which is something that left-field techno really needs right now.

Courtesy is a DJ and label owner from Denmark

A hard-hitting MC with an ear for challenging beats

Flohio is a rapper from south London who delivers nothing but fiercely hard bars. For me, she’s almost a direct amalgamation of everything I felt when I discovered grime and rap around the Boy In Da Corner era. When you listen to her energy, effortless fuck-you attitude and representation of her background – both Lagos and south London – she’s a step forward into the futurism of black British music. I believe the greatest artists who change culture and music are always years ahead of the entire scene. She is that. She is the sound of 2020 in 2018; everyone will have to catch up with her in a couple of years. It’s definitely FLOFLO SZN!

Parris OH is the Senior Urban Artist Manager at Sony

François Pachet and Benoît Carré’s AI-generated music project

Today’s mainstream pop music is more formulaic that ever, its hooks, chord progressions and BPMs recycled relentlessly from one hit single to the next. What happens when we embed these formulas into algorithms, and give machines the songwriting reins? Will they only make pop even more homogenous – or will they amplify human artistry by breaking new creative ground that we never foresaw?

These are the driving questions behind SKYGGE, a French music collective giving AI an unprecedented role, and official credit, in the creative process. The brainchild of songwriter Benoît Carré and machine-learning researcher turned Spotify exec François Pachet, SKYGGE has brought the likes of Kiesza and Stromae into the studio to “collaborate” with Flow Machines, a music composition AI that Pachet developed at Sony’s Computer Science Laboratories in Paris. SKYGGE released its aptly-named debut album Hello World in January 2018 and received placement on several local New Music Friday playlists on Spotify, proving that AI-generated music is now a commercial reality, not just an abstract myth.

The worst-case scenario of creative AI is akin to Spotify’s “fake artists” controversy from last summer, when the service was accused of placing fictitious artists on its mood playlists to cut licensing costs, stripping “real” artists of meaningful promotional real estate. Yet SKYGGE’s vision for the future seems more humanistic: viewing the machine as a partner rather than a competitor, and giving artists full control over creative technology, rather than the other
way around.

Cherie Hu is a music-tech journalist living in New York

The seven-member boy band breaking out of K-pop’s confines

The world’s biggest pop groups are no longer western but via South Korea’s K-pop industry, and BTS (rappers RM, Suga and J-Hope, and vocalists V, Jungkook, Jin and Jimin), who have achieved multi-million selling albums and mainstream US success, are the reigning kings. Since debuting in 2013, BTS bucked the general K-pop methodology of restricting idols to being merely performers, making their rappers involved in BTS’ lyrics and music. Unusually, between the snapshots of yearning and heartbreak, they penned sharp observations about classism and the pressurised environment of Korean schooling and society. They even turned to YouTube to document their daily lives, breaking down long-built walls, while their music twists up genres – from moombahton to Latin and emo-trap – to fit their own framework.

BTS have altered the parameters of what a K-pop group looks and sounds like to the point of inducing industry- wide change, even as they themselves step beyond those still limited confines. They now teeter on the precipice of an entirely fresh chapter and wherever BTS lay their feet next, many – Korean or otherwise – will look to emulate their footsteps.

London-based Taylor Glasby is a music journalist and K-pop aficionado

London’s fresh-faced math-noise band

It’s fair to say that singular groups in the traditional vox/guitar/drums/bass combo are thin on the ground at the moment. This, I think, is more to do with fashion rather than those naysayers who say that that format has been wrung dry, and Black Midi rather prove this point. They’re one of the weirdest bands I’ve encountered in years. They take sonics from all over the shop; dry American indie, jazzy math rock, and whip this huge, really sexy groove through it before dropping a load of glorious racket over the top. Best of all, though, is their onstage presence, with the main singer and guitarist resembling some weird dropout from a Steinbeck novel genetically spliced with Kenneth Williams. The first single bmbmbm is just killer; one of those infuriating songs that is catchy as hell while you have no idea what he’s on about. He’s looking for purpose with a platypus? What the fuck? Amazing stuff.

Luke Turner is co-founder of the Quietus

Music for Instagram stories

Social media has long revolutionised the way we share and engage with music. But for Tierra Whack, it provided a blueprint for her debut visual album Whack World. Through 15 songs running exactly one minute each – or the space of a single Instagram video upload – the Philly rapper introduced us to her whimsical universe. It’s a place where an order at the takeout can evoke the grief of fallen friends and Dr. Seuss’ outsized imagination can speak to her infinite possibilities. Each track revealed a feature of her creative arsenal: clever wordplay coupled with a sharp eye for captivating visuals. It was the ultimate snapshot of an artist who injects her music with a sense of freedom and unabashed fun that owes as much to André 3000 as it does Missy Elliot. Though Whack is only getting started in a career brimming with promise, she’s already practicing the cardinal rule of showbiz: always leave them wanting more.

Briana Younger is a music and culture journalist living in New York

A flagbearer for a new Spanish sound

Already a household name in Spain, this next year will see Yung Beef, and the diverse collective of artists on his label La Vendicion Records, make big steps into the English-speaking world. Alongside artists like Khaled and Kaidy Cain, Beef kicked down the doors for
a flood of creativity coming from the rougher sides of Barcelona, Madrid, Granada and more. Their sound throws up a middle finger at the golden-era US hip-hop sounds that traditionally ruled in Spain, and instead draws influence from flamenco, reggaeton and the new wave of Atlanta and internet-based rap. Set on doing things his way, Yung Beef’s disdain for the mainstream music industry has served him well. Pulling his biggest tunes off YouTube, deleting releases and dropping projects by surprise have all fed into the cult status around him, while the music sounds equally unpolished, unpredictable and sporadic.

Joe Howard runs Cotch International and works at London’s Rye Wax record store

Brave, borderless electronics from Brooklyn

NK Badtz Maru (actual name Nicole Kim) is a real gem in the Brooklyn dance music community. She’s the same goober since I first met her and is like a sister to me. Her DJ sets take place in raves and venues where you would normally expect techno (and she loves techno) but the way she mixes in an Air Max 97 edit of t.A.T.u. or drops a rap banger is unlike anything you’d expect. But that’s just a part of what makes NK someone special. She also co-founded a night in Brooklyn with KA WAI called HOT ’N SPICY which showcases people of colour in the scene. They enforce a strict party guideline at the door: POCs to the front, no anti-blackness, no toxic masculinity, and no physical, sexual, or verbal harassment. Creating a safe dancefloor for marginalized bodies is one of the most important changes in the music scene. NK is helping facilitate that as well as providing new and talented artists a platform to DJ to a peak time dancefloor.

Yaeji is a Korean-American musician living in Brooklyn

The DJ/producer channels ancestral Zulu music through innovative club tracks

Griffit Vigo is from Durban, South Africa and one of the originators of Gqom, a new South African Zulu music genre. Griffit has always been a sort of legendary figure. His production connects the ancestral Zulu music to the contemporary urban electronic South African sound with a kind of futuristic, gloomy vibe. With his ability to connect ancestrality to futurism, for the first time we’re getting a sound from the mother continent that is atavistic but with a tech feel. Griffit Vigo’s sound is enough to make you feel like you are alive in the future.

Nan Kolè runs the label Gqom Oh!

The Jamaican dancehall artist inspired by the other side of the Atlantic

Blvk H3ro is a forerunner of a fresh musical shift and movement on the island. H3ro’s wavy, youthful peers connect Jamaican music past to present and future with soul, ethereal R&B, contemporary rap and miscellaneous electronic influences gleaned from the world wide web. A scene to watch.

Balraj Samrai runs Manchester-based label Swing Ting

Bristol's techno-punk rascals

For at least five years, Bristol’s underground music scene has been particularly fertile ground for genre mutation. The crammed cultural landscape lets sounds spill into each other and audiences rooted in guitar-orientated genres have been increasingly merging with the fringes of the city’s club scene. Giant Swan, a duo spawned from noise-rock band The Naturals, have grown in these conditions.

Giant Swan’s playful disregard of the rules is a good-natured laugh in the face of techno’s intimidating image. That’s not to say they’re a fluke – recent releases with labels like Timedance and Whities and gigs at institutions such as Unsound festival and Berghain are confirmation, if any was needed, that they’re providing proper club material. But audacity is key to Giant Swan’s appeal, whether it’s in their punk approach to production or their notoriously unhinged live show. The current buzz around Giant Swan’s proves that people want a dance music scene with no gatekeepers and less ego, where encyclopedic knowledge of track IDs counts for little and we’re all welcome to get weird together.

Davy Reed is Crack Magazine’s Associate Editor

The Brockhampton affiliate with the weight of the pop world on his shoulders

The parameters of pop used to stop short of letting artists properly express who they were; that’s something 22-year-old singer Ryan Beatty knows all too well. When he first started in the music industry back in 2012, the California native was being framed as a successor to Justin Bieber and was being carted off around the malls of America to perform affable guitar pop to seas of screaming girls. Then he stopped the teeny-bopper bullshit and delivered a revelation that would bring his promising if performative career to a halt: he was gay.

In 2017, mere moments after facing the prospect of giving up his dreams while stuck on an LA freeway, Ryan ran into producer Calvin Valentine and spent a year crafting one of the most liberating and alluring pop debuts of the decade, Boy in Jeans. Songs like Haircut see Ryan shed his straight caricature to embrace his queer identity for the first time. While the sombre Bruise – a track about how he slipped away from his high school prom date to kiss the boy he liked in the bathrooms – is proof that pop’s rigid, hetero-favouring barriers are in the process of being battered down. Already embraced by his LA brothers BROCKHAMPTON (who enlisted him to sing the hook on BLEACH), the future of pop is in this proudly queer kid’s hands, and we have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Douglas Greenwood is a journalist and pop columnist living in London

Soaring compassion on the brink of greatness

IDLES’ slow grind to greatness over the few years has been a joy to behold. After touring and recording with middling success for most of their lifespan, the five- piece from Bristol finally unleashed their potential with their urgent debut album Brutalism, released in 2017.

Since then their relevance and quality have grown exponentially. We’ve spent so long pontificating as to the future of guitar music from a sonic standpoint, it’s taken IDLES to remind us that the innovation can be spiritual. Rather than relying on the half-baked anti-mainstream sentiments that have dogged modern punk, they concern themselves with masculinity, death, suburban claustrophobia and racist Little England. Theirs is a nuanced and sensitive anger; one that accepts its own fallibility and understands that human emotions are capable of being many things at once. As the title of their latest record, Joy as an Act of Resistance, they have no problem being political, but it’s their embrace of love as a violent energy that feels most revolutionary.

Not that they will see it that way. IDLES emit the pheromones of a band following their most deeply held instincts. And while it would be trite to bridge gaps between the truth in their music and the age of paranoia we find ourselves in, their brutal integrity feels necessary in these uncompromising times.

Angus Harrison is a writer living in London