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The Electronic Beats Highlight Reel of 2020

Our interests separate from clubbing finally received their overdue attention this year. Personal favorites, pop culture highlights, and book recommendations—it's all in this yearly roundup.

What a year it’s been. Without a doubt, 2020 has challenged our perception of time, notions of solidarity, accountability, interdependence, how we consume music, the relationships we have with our respective governments, and with one another.

Much like the 3D avatars that accompany this piece, the virtual world has entered our collective psyche in ways we sometimes can’t even comprehend yet, rendering us into digital versions of ourselves. For this reason, time spent on activities outdoors and offline has become a vital antidote to the paradox of our hyper-plugged-in yet disconnected lives. In the list below, you’ll find a varied selection of pop culture gems, top food items, and key personal experiences that have resonated with the Electronic Beats staff this year.

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Whitney Wei, Editor-in-Chief

STRONG by Sharon Eyal at the Staatballett Berlin

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Labeling STRONG by Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal as the “Berghain of Ballets” might be a loaded claim, but it’s accurate nonetheless. The dancers within the performance, clad in black mesh, look like a murder of crows, and twitch like arthropods limb in unison—eye bulged and tongues lolling out—in true Kafkaesque fashion. Eyal, who has worked alongside Dior and Young Turks, leaves music duties to her frequent collaborator Ori Lichtik, self-described as one of Tel Aviv’s techno founding fathers. His churning electronic score sounds like what mechanical stamina feels like after one too many hours on the dancefloor. As one of the few live performances I caught at the Komische Oper Berlin before the March lockdown, STRONG left an indelible impression.

Saint Laurent AW 2020 by Anthony Vaccarello

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A perfect dancefloor, for me, comprises of half propulsive rhythms and half unorthodox fashion. It’s possible to achieve an ersatz version of the former on a pair of studio monitors in a dark bedroom, but in the case of the latter, where’s the fun in sporting a full drip with nowhere to go?  A trip to the grocery store is simply not worthy. This collection acquaints the power-suited CEO with her appropriate BDSM edge by dipping her into glossy, skin-tight latex. Anthony Vaccarello’s looks for Saint Laurent may not have received its well-deserved slink around the after-hours this season as intended, but I’ve dutifully bookmarked the runway styling to emulate for next.

Personal Essay How My Mother and I Became Chinese Propaganda by Jianyang Fan

In her New Yorker personal essay, staff writer Jianyang Fan suddenly finds herself helplessly entangled in a nexus of Chinese viral vitriol as she takes to Twitter in a last effort to save her incapacitated mother, who suffers from A.L.S., from an untimely death due to the lockdown demands of NYC Health and Hospitals. At a time when the deep fissures of broken societal systems and tenuous intimate relationships are laid bare all around the world, Fan’s searingly honest portrayal of the complex dynamics between immigrant Asian mothers and their first-generation American daughters reveals that sometimes it takes a complete catastrophe to see a familiar figure for who they really are.

Romare Bearden: Abstraction at the DC Moore Gallery 

My domestic, wholesome, and often neglected interests separate from clubbing finally received their overdue attention this year, as I’m sure was the case with most. The Harlem Renaissance-era American modernist painter Romare Bearden, best known for his figurative works, inspired my lockdown tangent from self-soothing tarot card readings on YouTube to therapy painting when “River Mist” 1962 popped up on my timeline during an evening scroll. Critics say nothing that can replicate the visceral wonder of viewing art in person, but in the absence of possibility, Bearden’s little-known abstract side, particularly in this piece with its coral flecks and silvery whisps within deep blue marbling, made a striking impression, even on a phone screen. My quarantine scribbles are not nearly as regal as Bearden’s, but they’re explorative and curious all the same.

“Tracksuit Dub” from The Passenger EP by Om Unit and Martyn

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The track name itself might hit square on the nose, but tallying the amount of athleisure I’ve purchased in this pandemic mayhem (most notably some key pieces from the collaboration between Paulina Russo, the Central Saint Martins knitwear designer, and Adidas), there is likely no better choice as a theme song. A very insular 2020 made for an introspective and often nostalgic choice in personal music selection, and this particular 140 bpm heater by dubstep heroes Om Unit and Martyn, although released in early November, has both a shuffling, tech-woven riddim that is by its nature remarkably contemporary, all the while managing to evoke my bass-y, halcyon entry into dance music—gun fingers and all.

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Caroline Whiteley, Editor

Mika Oki b2b Maoupa Mazzocchetti

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Though most of us spent the majority of this year indoors, let’s pay a quick tribute to mind-altering moments on the dancefloor experienced at the beginning of 2020. Although it feels like a lifetime ago, I kicked off 2020 by witnessing one of the best back-to-backs I’ve ever seen, a session between Mika Oki and Maoupa Mazzocchetti at Berlin’s beloved secret “rave den” on Ziegrastraße. Oki and Mazzocchetti are both legends in their own right, with Oki having co-founded LYL Brussels and performed at festivals like Atonal and Nyege Nyege, and with Mazzochetti’s contributions to labels like Editions Gravats, Knekelhuis and his experimental reggaeton project with Clara!, but behind the decks, they turned into rockstars, constantly keeping dancers on their toes with unexpected drops in tempo and frequent usage of bizarro sound effects. The memory of that night has lived rent-free in my head ever since, but you can peep their session from HÖR, recorded a few days after the show, to get a sense of what the musical atmosphere was like.

I May Destroy You by Michaela Cole

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I May Destroy You is a British TV show created, written, co-directed, and executive produced by Michaela Cole. Almost ten years after Lena Dunham uttered the now-iconic line “I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or, at least, voice of a generation,” as her character Hannah Horvath on Girls, Cole’s main character Arabella (as played brilliantly by the creator herself) is hailed by her publishers and loyal followers on Twitter as the voice of frustrated Millennials in London, where the show is set. One night, struggling to finish a writing deadline, she takes a break to join some friends at a bar and wakes up the next day having to piece together the details of what happened to her that night. The show is a powerful examination of consent, rape culture, Millennial dating culture (and the blurred lines that occur between the two when things are left unsaid.) Despite its difficult subject matter, the show is light-hearted, featuring a charming cast and an excellent soundtrack showcasing UK garage, UK rap, afrobeat, and future R’n’B.

Pelada at Club Quarantine

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We first reported on viral sensation Club Quarantine earlier this year, and much has been said of the Zoom rave-slash-world wide web’s hottest club since it first launched in March. As much as I miss the communal experience of shouting along to my favorite performers IRL and dancing the night away in the swamp-like atmosphere of tightly-packed clubs, I have loved seeing the concept of “live shows” being transformed under the circumstances, with new dimensions added by way of visual effects and virtual backgrounds.

“Universal Healthcare” by Ziwe Fumudoh

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I first came across Brooklyn-based comedian Ziwe Fumudoh’s work by way of her biting post-election Twitter commentary in 2016, but by all accounts, 2020 has been Fumudoh’s year. When her web series Baited was put on hold due to COVID-19, she promptly pivoted to a weekly version of the show on Instagram Live, in which she put celebrities like Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, fellow comedians, and lower-tier celebrities (such as cookbook author Alison Roman, who came under fire on social media for her incendiary comments about Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo) in the hot seat. Intended as a loose comedy format, her show exposes the need for continuous discourse on race relations in the United States. As Vulture’s E. Alex Jung said, “For guests who dare to appear on the comedian’s Instagram Live show, the question is not if you are racist, but how.” She also produces satirical songs such as “Universal Healthcare,” in which she declares that it is, in fact, a “human right!”—reminding us just how messed up the health care system is in the States still is, with a Daria-inspired music video to match.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

I’m cheating a bit here, seeing as My Year of Rest and Relaxation was released in 2018, but bear with me—you’ll soon notice why this novel strikes a chord in 2020. In My Year of Rest and Relaxation, the unnamed protagonist sets out to opt out of society by spending an entire year in a sleeping drug-induced haze and isolating herself—sound familiar? Released in 2018, the book’s off-the-rails main character and gallows humor resonated strongly in a year where reality felt suspended, absurd occurrences became the norm, and the prospect of hitting the fast forward button by “sleeping it all away” seemed oddly attractive. Reading this book, I was also reminded of just how privileged of a position it is to be able to simply ride out (or metaphorically speaking, sleep through) a difficult situation—whether that be internal turmoil, unresolved trauma, or a global pandemic.

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Zach Tippitt, Editor

Ya No Estoy Aqui

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Ya No Estoy Aqui follows Monterrey, Mexico native Ulises, the leader of an impossibly stylish gang called Los Terkos who have an obsessive taste for slowed-down Colombian cumbia. After witnessing a crime at the hands of a rival gang, Ulises flees overnight to the U.S., ending up in New York City without any plan or connection to the community around him. It’s a beautifully shot film that juggles an intensifying sense of displacement, alienation, and cultural pride against the backdrop of US immigration politics and includes an exceptional soundtrack.

The Last Of Us Part 2

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Maybe an obvious choice, but if you have a Playstation and haven’t played 2020’s blockbuster dystopian, plague-goes-horribly-wrong survival/horror game, I highly recommend it (and its predecessor). Its narrative—which juxtaposes the brutality of a post-apocalyptic America with a sense of hope in the midst of crisis—hits close to home while still being a worthwhile alternate timeline to sink into during our “unprecedented times.” Good times all around.

Arca’s Twitch stream

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2020 goes to the artists who leveraged isolation to communicate more intimately with their fans than ever before. With the release of this year’s KiCk i, Venezuelan artist Alejandra Ghersi blossomed from underground sensation to full-on experimental pop icon, and on her Twitch channel, Diva Experimental FM, she opened viewers up to the wild creativity, rough edges, and extra-sensory overload of her previously-obscured creative process. She’s not actively streaming at the moment, so you’ll have to cough up the five bucks for access to full recordings, but there’s also a treasure trove of highlights on YouTube.

Pickles

Some learned to bake sourdough. Others picked up new hobbies. I made a concerning amount of pickles, ferments, and kombucha. Here are a couple of links to video recipes for pickled cucumbers and kimchi by David Zilber, the former head of fermentation at Copenhagen’s Noma (and the author of this cookbook). Follow his Instagram.

100 gecs’ online presence

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Since releasing their full-length remix album 1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues earlier this year, the pop duo has flooded the internet with hours of music videos, live shows, and virtual festival appearances. Here are three of the best: their Ratatouille-themed live set at A.G. Cook’s Appleville festival, this hour-long mix of nightcore edits, metal and cracked-out dubstep drops, and Darío Alva and Weston Allen’s video for “hand crushed by a mallet (Remix) [feat. Fall Out Boy, Craig Owens, Nicole Dollangager]”, which might be my pick for video of the year.

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Pilar Rashad, Social Media Manager

Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

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Though most of the tracks on Punisher are excellent, we need to talk about “I Know The End.” The album closer begins in typical Bridgers-fashion: melancholic and slow, but then escalates into a theatrical apocalyptic crescendo—there’s horror, there’s screaming, there’s a bunch of people yelling, “The end is here!” If this isn’t a strong contender for Official Soundtrack of 2020, I don’t know what is.

Plenty by Ottolenghi

Like most people, 2020 saw my unexpected retreat into the kitchen. Among the many new recipes and culinary discoveries that lockdown brought, a standout has to be Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, released in 2010. Chef and serial restauranteur Ottolenghi writes in such a casual, ‘fun uncle’ tone that you’re almost not mad about having to source three types of soy sauce for a recipe. Highly recommended for delicious, restaurant-grade vegetarian dishes.

Gregory

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A mind-boggling true-crime documentary that centers around the abduction and murder of a little boy in a small town in France. The prime suspects: Pretty much everyone in his extended family. Other honorable mentions for like-minded true crime buffs: The Pharmacist, Don’t F**k With Cats, The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, and Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich.

OHOY swimwear

OHOY is a swimwear brand based in Dubai founded by two Scandinavian designers in 2016. Their garments are made sustainably from plastic collected from the ocean. Yay for cute, sustainable fashion!

The Insight Timer app

If you’re curious about meditation or just want to spend a little bit more time on self-care, I can not recommend this app enough. It has tens of thousands of meditation courses, yoga sessions, and sleep soundtracks—and the best part is that most of it is free.

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Nicolo Fischer, Social Media Editor

The arm over his shoulder (2020) by Spyros Rennt for 2020Solidarity

2020Solidarity is an amazing project by Wolfgang Tillmans’ Between Bridges foundation launched to support the cultural scene during the pandemic. I chose Spyros Rennt’s The arm over his shoulder and every time I look at it from my home office desk since it arrived, it reminds me that there will be a time when we’ll meet on the dancefloor again.

Tiny Desk (Home) Concert by Jhené Aiko

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Everything about Jhené Aiko’s 18-minute performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series is perfect—the songs, the musicians, the mastering, the atmosphere, the feeling this performance leaves you with. Give it a listen, I promise you’ll hit the replay button several times afterwards.

H&S MIX 018 by Angel D’lite

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This mix was on our monthly top mixes list in August, and the energy, the mixing, and the track selection is just outstanding. It was the perfect soundtrack to an unusual summer. If I’d have to describe this mix with just two words? Pure fun—something we really needed after the first half of the year. Every time you think it can’t get any better, London’s Angel d’Lite adds another banger.

De Brevitate Vitae by Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Roman philosopher Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life may have been published in 49 AD, but it came to me unexpectedly this year. On the Shortness of Life offers some very valuable thoughts, for example, “You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.”

The Confused Doggo WhatsApp Sticker

If there is one thing to describe me during 2020, it’s this WhatsApp sticker—my most-used sticker this year for sure.

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Sofia Apunnikova, Designer

Volkmitte in Berlin

One highlight of mine this year was eating oysters for the first time in 15 years at an amazing oyster bar in Berlin called Volkmitte. Volkmitte is a small and very cozy place in Mitte opened by the chef Margaux Arabian, who comes from one of the most important culinary families in France, and her partner Oliver Chesler, who makes electronic music under the name The Horrorist. There are only few tables inside and some outside, but it’s almost full all the time, so make sure to book a table in advance. We were lucky to be the only visitors inside and spent our time talking to owners about music, traveling, and food. After many years of being vegetarian, I started eating seafood recently, and this place was perfect to try oysters.

Exploring Berlin on foot

While we’re on the Berlin tip, I explored my new city with the help of maps. Walking along the deserted streets of the German capital gave a feeling of the approaching apocalypse and calmness at the same time. One of the strangest locations I have been to is Bucher Forst, in the north. I went there to check out an abandoned hospital. It was a secret place to treat higher-ranking GDR officials. Now it is full of stalkers wandering around this creepy, mysterious place.

Gaining a deeper understanding of the human body

I began taking contemporary dance lessons (while it was still possible) and began reading about performance art and human bodies. Check out Helen Thomas’ Dance, Gender and Culture and Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter.

“A Cyborg Manifesto” by Donna J. Haraway

 

I also got more into Donna J. Haraway, the author of numerous foundational books and essays (such as A Cyborg Manifesto) that bring together questions of science and feminism.

Kikujiro by Takeshi Kitano

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I watched almost all of Takeshi Kitano’s movies, my favorite among them being Kikujiro for its dream-like aesthetics and violence-free plot following a young boy’s search for his mother.

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Laurenz Niemeyer, Working Student

Maemo Glüh Gin

Maemo Glüh Gin is like mulled wine, just with Gin. Top it up with hot water according to your preference. I love it. For any German speakers out there, you can find a recipe here.

Expanding my musical horizon

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Having grown tired of the driving 4/4 techno sounds dominating Berlin’s dancefloors, I rediscovered the pleasure of digging and exploring genres like UK garage, breakbeat, Afrosynth and more. My catalog highlights in 2020 included Welsh label Haŵs, British labels Dansu Discs, Lobster Theremin, San Francisco’s Dark Entries, and Amsterdam’s Rush Hour.

Walking

2020 was the year I discovered walks for myself. It’s the most flexible activity ever. I grew up in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin, and exploring new neighborhoods in the capital has been a nice way to stabilize my mental health. My advice for walks is, take one while listening to this album you’ve been wanting to properly listen to for ages, in the company with a friend you haven’t had the chance to catch up with lately, in the park mesmerized by mother nature, or in the streets of your favorite neighborhood. It’s a vibe.

Basketball

I used to play ball in a club but stopped a few years ago. With the shutdown of bars and clubs, I have now pivoted to a healthier form of physical activity and it’s so much fun.

Magazines

Whether it’s fashion, sports, music, philosophy, or history—I’ve always loved the format of a print magazine, because it’s the perfect casual read at any time of the day. Whether it’s fashion, sports, music, philosophy, or history—I’ve always loved the format of a print magazine, because it’s the perfect casual read at any time of the day. Some of my favorite magazines are Playful Magazine, and (for any German speakers out there) Philosophie Magazin, Geo Epoche, Panorama, Wissen, and art.

Compiled by the Electronic Beats staff.

Additional graphic design by Ekaterina Kachavina.

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“Tracksuit Dub” from 'The Passenger EP' by Om Unit and Martyn

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The track name itself might hit square on the nose, but tallying the amount of athleisure I’ve purchased in this pandemic mayhem (most notably some key pieces from the collaboration between Paulina Russo, the Central Saint Martins knitwear designer, and Adidas), there is likely no better choice as a theme song. A very insular 2020 made for an introspective and often nostalgic choice in personal music selection, and this particular 140 bpm heater by dubstep heroes Om Unit and Martyn, although released in early November, has both a shuffling, tech-woven riddim that is by its nature remarkably contemporary, all the while managing to evoke my bass-y, halcyon entry into dance music—gun fingers and all.

Romare Bearden: Abstraction at the DC Moore Gallery 

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My domestic, wholesome, and often neglected interests separate from clubbing finally received their overdue attention this year, as I’m sure was the case with most. The Harlem Renaissance-era American modernist painter Romare Bearden, best known for his figurative works, inspired my lockdown tangent from self-soothing tarot card readings on YouTube to therapy painting when “River Mist” 1962 popped up on my timeline during an evening scroll. Critics say nothing that can replicate the visceral wonder of viewing art in person, but in the absence of possibility, Bearden’s little-known abstract side, particularly in this piece with its coral flecks and silvery whisps within deep blue marbling, made a striking impression, even on a phone screen. My quarantine scribbles are not nearly as regal as Bearden’s, but they’re explorative and curious all the same.

Published December 11, 2020. Words by Caroline Whiteley.