Sounds of Berlin: 20 for 2020

A selection of the year's best releases, picked by industry heads and LOLA

Jake Kelly Main image: Ultraflex by Julia Lee Goodwin

This year has been a strange one for the music industry. The answer to the gaping hole left by the closure of clubs and music venues was only partially filled by the deluge of livestreams and virtual events that emerged. Musicians, producers, and industry heads had to adapt – and adapt fast.

The result? A pretty damn great line-up of new, inventive releases to make (some of) the stress from this past year melt away. We combined forces with some of the city’s most knowledgeable music geeks to find the 20 best Berlin-based releases of 2020.

We decided not to attempt to rank the list because 1) it would be too arbitrary, and 2) we are not Satanists. Instead, we’re presenting the list in ascending alphabetical form. Of course, if you want to rank it yourself feel free – we’ll see you in hell.

Beatrice DillonWorkaround (PAN)
Selection and words by Chris Breuer [Akasha Festival]

Released in February, 2020 on Berlin’s PAN, somewhat foreshadowing a year of global lockdowns, Beatrice Dillon has crafted a debut album that exists entirely within its very own, singular space.  Limiting herself to a 150 BPM framework to explore electronic dub and syncopated rhythms, the London artist reimagines minimal music on Workaround with the aid of a spectacular cast of collaborators. Among others, Laurel Halo adds vocals and Batu provides samples, while Lucy Railton plays the cello, Kuljit Bhamra the tabla, and Jonny Lam the pedal steel guitar. In Dillon’s hands, the disparate, organic sounds of this diverse set of musicians are locked inside the echoless, airtight vacuum she creates around them. Yet Workaround feels liberating rather than confined, as Beatrice Dillon’s architectural, high-definition vision of minimalism is excited and playful, full of surprises, deeply engaging, and absolutely of the now. Lock yourself in.

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The Bug & Dis Fig – In Blue (Hyperdub)
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

This is the kind of collaboration music fans dream about. Kevin Martin, a.k.a. The Bug, is the guy for industrial dancehall excursions, and has been for close to three decades now. Dis Fig, Berlin resident Felicia Chen, balanced equal parts menace and grace on her acclaimed debut album in 2019, Purge. In Blue began life as a collection of Martin’s stark and distorted riddims, but the introduction of Chen’s slippery and soporific vocals creates a new, narcotic mix. While at times the album touches on classic trip-hop, both artists capture a unique sense of dread that’s hard to shake, creating a signature atmosphere that reverbates like cracking concrete.

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Call SuperEvery Mouth Teeth Missing (incienso)
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

Joe Seaton’s third full length as Call Super, Every Mouth Teeth Missing furthers his journey into cerebral territory. Terse, eclectic rhythms run wild across the album, mixing in amongst trim melodies and washes of vaporus synths. Seaton expresses himself through precisely arranged dioramas of clattering sound design, and the effect is an extremely tactile one – at times you can almost feel the clack and thud between your fingertips. Mastering his own lane of knotty minimalism and dubwise experiments, Seaton has one foot firmly set in electronica, while the other tiptoes lightly through jazz and folk forms, and the album functions as a loose, casual companion to Beatrice Dillon’s Workaround. This year in particular, escaping into a fine-lined and detail-oriented journey through an album like this one is a great way to escape.

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© Linda FoxDance Like Nobody’s Watching (Street Pulse)
Selection and words by Kevin Halpin [Shameless/Limitless]

© Linda Fox: soothsayer (Dance Like Nobody’s Watching… Hello, partying alone at home), truth-teller (“It’s easy to believe in conspiracies / Your voice disappears when you’re near the breeze” – that’s a fact), and dreamer (“If it were up to me there’d be world peace / And a sky so blue we could never sleep” – preach). And that ain’t the half of it. Over the course of the prolific Vancouverite’s third record in four years, which was released smack dab in the middle of lockdown on Berlin labels Street Pulse and Shameless/Limitless, © LF consistently makes a case for being one of the most astute, intuitive, and compelling voices in the dys/utopian pop marketplace.

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Discovery Zone – Remote Control (Mansions and Millions)
Selection and words by Norman Fleischer [
Nothing But Hope & Passion]

On her first solo album, longtime Fenster member JJ Weihl focuses on the future, artificial intelligence, and imagines the kind of world we want to live in. Although Discovery Zone might not be as progressive as Grimes or Arca, she has found a nice way to answer the questions posed by art and present and future technological representation through invoking musical set-ups of the past. She’s asking the same questions Blade Runner asked in 1982, using a similar sound but new understanding. The result of Weihl’s use of a retro-futuristic musical backdrop is the creation of an almost nostalgic approach towards the themes she’s addressing. Dreamy analogue synth-patterns, drum computer love, claps, chimes, and reverbed vocals dominate this charming pop gem. JJ Weihl doesn’t overthink the themes of the album, rather heads in a more open and emotional direction. It’s less about skilled use of a machine and more about the human potential we can unfold through using them. In the middle of all the dystopian despair that’s circulating, it’s not a bad idea to come up with a more hopeful concept of this vague thing we call ‘the future’.

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Eartheater –  Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin (PAN)
Selection and words by Mariana Berezovska [
BORSCH Magazine]

Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin, Eartheater’s fifth album, came out in October this year. For the third time, the New York-based muse of underground freaks and club kids, Alexandra Drewchin is releasing with Berlin-based PAN records. Sonically and technically, Phoenix is widely seen to be her most complete work so far – electronic and guitar arrangements, harp, piano, and Eartheater’s velvet voice all work perfectly together. At the same time, emotionally the songs feel like a soul has blossomed and let the body be hot, sensual, sexual, and radiant. Like the mythological creature that burns in flames and resurrects cyclically, Phoenix celebrates the rebirth of creative power fueled by the force of nature and long-lived spirit. Phoenix still feels very much like Eartheater, even though this time she let her inner Lana Del Ray sing out loud. Alex even said Lana was playing a lot when she was working on the album in Zaragoza, where ancient volcanoes and hot sand laid the foundation to this epic album. It’s like you’re sixteen again, confident and free, but without the hormonal disbalance, filled with life, lava, and self-love.

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EvvolThe Power (Mad Dog and Love)
Selection and words by Martin Hossbach [Label owner and Music Supervisor]

The Power, released in May, 2020 is the second album released after Kool Thing transitioned into Evvol. The album’s sound is quite rave-y, but often in a subdued kind of way, especially on tracks like ‘It’s OK’ and ‘Speedboat’. There is a lot of sadness in the duo’s music, and so many brilliant tunes. Jane is a terrific sound engineer, so the record sounds grand and precise, spacious and detailed. She also plays the bass and co-produced the album with Julie, who is an incredible singer with a unique voice. Evvol’s videos, which you need to check out, are also directed by Julie.

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Eilis FrawleyAdult Life (Reckless Yes)
Selection and words by Dan Cole [Music Journalist]

Australian drummer Eilis Frawley knows how to hit the important topics with a visceral, yet poignant take on the modern age, all painted in a highly-energetic and effervescent demeanor. Frawley should be familiar to anyone who’s been to a concert over the past two years, having played drums for basically everyone in the likes of Laura Lee and the Jettes, Party Fears, and I Drew Blank. On her debut, Frawley doesn’t shy away from strong topics, and why should she? Across Adult Life, Frawley beats the drum on issues such as sexism, climate change, and every-day hardship. Her brutally honest narrative is befitting for our time, keeping themes more than relatable, made all the more palpable with added kraut-rock energy, fierce playing, and bright melodics. All of which goes to show that Frawley is more than just background music for adult life, which can be intense and often sentimental.

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Habibi Funk – Solidarity with Beirut (Habibi Funk)
Selection and words by Damien Cummings [Exberliner Music Editor]

Habibi Funk is a digger’s delight. For years, Jannis Stürtz has been the man seeking out the finest in Arabic funk and jazz and from the 1970s and 1980s. His frankly astonishing network of hole-in-the-wall record shops across North Africa and the Middle-East is a testament to his commitment to a genre defined by its people, rather than its stars. Teasing Q-Tips into Beirut’s wilting cassettes or brushing ancient dust from Algiers vinyl, it’s all in a day’s work for Stürtz, whose mission is, at least in part, to shoo away the stubborn fog that lingers over western perceptions of the diverse sounds of the vast region. On Solidarity with Beirut the Berlin-based collector mines familiar Lebanese names like Rogér Fakhr, while giving Ferkat Al Ard the kind of radio-friendly breakout appeal they deserve. With 100% of proceeds going to the Beirut Red Cross, this record is more than just a lament for a tragic explosion, it’s a flicker of the grit that emboldens those bound to the silence of mourning to open their mouths and sing.

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Lamin FofanaBlues (self-released)
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

Blues is Lamin Fofana’s third and final release in a trilogy of stunning ambient explorations of the works of radical black writers and thinkers. The subject of this release is Amiri Baraka’s Blues People, a text that explores the evolution of black music and its foundational influence on American culture. Fofana’s response takes the form of engrossing sound collages, composed of deep bass tones, nebulous synths, serene piano and warped field recordings – particularly striking are the other-worldly chimes of birds. Moving confidently between passages of striking noise and mesmerizing echoes, Fofana’s soundscapes begin to take physical form, corporal spaces constantly in motion, catching rippling currents.

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LSDXOXO Waiting 2 Exhale
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

Rashaad Glasgow returns as LSDXOXO after a three-year hiatus, with Waiting 2 Exhale – a fierce psychedelic mixtape bursting with creativity. The tape kicks off with a surge of frenetic vocals powered by blistering Detroit techno machinations, and the pace is set from there. Glasgow skips from each short track to the next, collaging his own vocals with snatches of sampled voices, rolling through techno, R&B, and house seamlessly. Pounding rhythms sit hand-in-hand with lush melodies as Glasgow explores the literal highs and lows of debauchery. The mixtape’s greatest quality is that it’s absurdly addictive – once you’ve hit play, you’re locked in for at least three listens all the way through.

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Lyra PramukFountain (Bedroom Community)
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

Lyra Pramuk’s debut album features a single instrument: her own voice, manipulated into fantastic new shapes. Fountain is seductively hypnotic, each track taking Pramuk’s nonverbal building blocks and spinning them into sky-scraping spires and impossible structures, rich with melody and rhythm. Pramuk’s songwriting is experimental by nature, but always timeless and welcoming, inviting you in with close-breathed intimacy before inverting into cosmic symphonies. The songs are subtly complex and glide with spontaneous grace. The album has the intangible feel of something primordial, invoking John Hassel’s Fourth World trumpet, mysterious and mystical.

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Martha RoseUndress & Dive After (Treibender Teppich Records)
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

The follow up her 2016 debut, Undress & Dive After is Martha Rose’s delicate collection of songs, folding a wide range of influences and sounds into a gorgeous and cohesive whole that sits snuggly between baroque, medieval folk and funk-driven dream pop. Rose’s clean, clear vocals levitate towards snow-filled clouds, while a satisfyingly sturdy low end glides forward on relaxed grooves. Despite an icy glaze, the tone of the album is warm, welcoming, and open. Rose searches for a poetic vision of love, looking in the minutiae and the trival, domestic day-to-day.

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Moscoman – Time Slips Away (Moshi Moshi)
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

Moscoman hit new heights on his latest full-length after a series of strong and assured releases. Time Slips Away rushes into a retrofuture with neon dripping beats and satiny vocals – a difficult place to leave once you’re in it. Moscoman taps into timeless, classic songwriting and summons the boundless feelings of youth – think late summer evenings, sandy concrete, cheap wine in paper cups. The atmosphere is skillfully curated throughout, touching on the bright future sounds of Goergio Morodor and the radiant colours of HI-NRG, supported by a cast of perfectly matched features and ending with a stirring cover of Brian Eno’s ‘Golden Hours’.

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Novaa – The Futurist (Novelty)
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

Novaa is here to tackle big ideas and unwrap big questions on her sophomore album. Hospitable and welcoming, she ponders the modern world in shiny, electric pop songs that are equal parts brainy and heartfelt. Her conversational lyrics dissect how technology transforms our relationships and explore the liquid state of our world, bringing these heady topics down to ground level. The album feels like a late night chat with a new friend, swapping opinions and learning. Her forays into global warming, online harassment, and the eternal question of Elon Musk are funny, enlightening, and refreshing, only enhanced by her bright, clean beats.

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nunofyrbeeswaxStratotoaster
Selection and words by Peppi [GRRL-NOISY]

nunofyrbeeswax is a Berlin-based punk trio that plays “pop songs as raw as their hearts.” A lot of time has passed since the release of their first album, ‘On Everything’, in 2016. Since then they have grown without losing one bit of their originality. In their latest release, Stratotoaster, singer Angela shows us once again that, not only does she have a distinctive voice that she knows how to use, but she also has a special way of mixing spoken and sung words into one cohesive whole. Her unique vocals are usually accompanied by backup singers and musicians, Davide and Juan, and sometimes by a trombone or synthesizer. Subtle classic punk influences are definitely part of what makes their sound so special, but in the song ‘Rock & Roll Specimen’ they also make a move towards early rock music. nunofyrbeeswax’s catchy riffs and groovy bass make lo-fi garage seem refreshingly mellow, although the group is not afraid to slip in some weird sounds and noises. Stratotoaster is a declaration of love for music and unpretentious garage rock that makes you want to get up and dance – just turn the volume up at home and get started!

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Sean Nicholas SavageLife Is Crazy
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

Sean Nicholas Savage leaves behind his signature casio tones and machine beats to venture forth into more classical pastures. Life is Crazy is Savage’s long awaited return to the LP format, taking influence from his ongoing exploits in musical theater after starring in Sophie Cadieux’s musical, Please Thrill Me, early this year. Embracing the melodrama of the stage, Savage is accompanied by the delicate piano of Marcin Masecki and lush, sweeping strings from Owen Pallet. The album gives us Savage balancing raw individual emotions with the grandiose heights of show tunes and theater.

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Thoom – Pork (Career Whore Records)
Selection and words by Lauren Sohikian [Modern Matters]

The best thing about this album is how Thoom manages to combine so many moods on one record while still delivering a cohesive body of work and a beautiful listening experience. It’s melancholic, it’s vexed, it’s sassy… all very relatable moods. The tone of her voice sets in as the most powerful instrument on the album, mixing together with harsh sounds and soft melodies that send you on a roller coaster ride that comes together perfectly in the end. The record also highlights Thoom’s musical journey – from her Lebanese heritage to her influence from the noise scene in the USA, it’s full of risk-taking. Listening to Pork you can’t help but imagine the energy of what the album would sound like live, and the intense energy she would bring to performing it.

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Tornado Wallace – Midnight Mania (Optimo Music)
LOLA selection. Words by Jake Kelly

Tornado Wallace’s mini-LP is music made for dancing in the dirt. The five tracks are geared towards the club but aimed directly at the earth – its organisms, its nature and its superabundant, life-giving dirt. Machine tunes for the organic world, Wallace sends corkscrewing percussion winding through buzzing synths and samples, reaching back to recapture the starry-eyed possibilities of New-Age-inflected trance. A deep, natural world is conjured, and it comes with an open invitation to lose yourself in the trees. While just as mystical at home, these tracks are desperate to be set free in the mud of a post-COVID world.

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Ultraflex Visions of Ultraflex (Street Pulse)
Selection and words by Francisco Gonçalves Silva [
Berlin In Stereo]

Leaving the brooding sounds and tales that made them famous, Norwegian producer Farao and Icelandic musician and visual artist Special-K found in each other a creative catalyst, which has since developed into a colourful fantasy now called Ultraflex. After working together on a piece commissioned by two Scandinavian festivals, the duo have since perfected their contagious pop formula, combining soviet disco and synthpop with fearless fashion and cheeky songwriting. Visions of Ultraflex, out via Berlin’s Street Pulse, is an exciting ode to being over the top and being okay with it. They take us on a joyous adventure through glittery delirium, suggestive imagery, and lewd metaphors. It’s important to say, though, that this is a record with heartfulness at its core, guaranteeing both a smile and an endless return to the repeat button.