The 15 New British Acts You Need to Know in 2020Photos by El Hardwick, Shane McCauley, courtesy of the artist Music Lists British Bands
Here at Paste, we enjoy rounding up the acts we’re most excited about from across the pond. We did so for the past two years (here in 2018 and here in 2019), and have found favorites in artists like Shame, Yola, Nilüfer Yanya, black midi and Honey Lung. Now, we’re ready to gush about the next class of fresh-faced Brits whose ages, background and genres vary wildly, but that’s part of the fun. We were excited to see several of the artists listed here at Austin’s now-canceled SXSW, but even though we weren’t able to see them live, we’re still thrilled to introduce them to you. Some of these names, like Georgia and Beabadoobee, have been drawing headlines for a few years, but others, like caroline and Sault, will likely be new for many. Ranging from folk, jazz, punk, pop and more, here are 15 U.K. artists who’ve caught our eyes and ears as of late, listed in alphabetical order below.
Bea Kristi, the 19-year-old singer/songwriter behind Beabadoobee, signed with Dirty Hit (the label giant behind The 1975, Wolf Alice and others) two years ago and has been climbing the ranks ever since. Through her early singles and recent EPs (2018’s Patched Up and 2019’s Loveworm and Space Cadet), Beabadoobee has perfected her tender acoustic pop, floaty dream pop and distorted indie rock. Also a self-described ’90s obsessive, she’s won over hordes of Gen Z listeners, landed an opening slot for Clairo in the U.S. and became a BBC Sound of 2020 finalist.
2. Black Country, New Road
Formed out of the ashes of another band Nervous Conditions, seven-piece Black Country, New Road are one of today’s definitive dark and jazzy post-punk bands. Having released just two singles for Dan Carey’s buzzy Speedy Wunderground label (black midi, Kate Tempest), their surreal sound has already drawn praise from outlets, including us here Paste and Stereogum, and they were due to storm SXSW this year. While their amusing, slightly gothic debut single “Athen’s, France” dropped Phoebe Bridgers and Ariana Grande references, their nine-minute follow-up “Sunglasses” built to a shrieking horn-laden climax for the ages.
Recent Rough Trade signing caroline are perhaps the most mystifying and gorgeous sounding group in this bunch. The London band started as a three-piece in 2017 as a result of regular improvisational jams, and they soon began adding members. Despite no name for the project yet, they spent a year and a half playing in secret before performing shows, which now include eight members. They’re currently working on their debut album, but all we have now is “the first half of a two-part video project” called “Dark blue,” a painfully beautiful, ever-unfolding composition that borders on slowcore, classical, emo and folk.
British-Jamaican singer/songwriter Celeste won this year’s prestigious BBC Sound of 2020 prize for her satiny soul pipes and refined instrumentals perfect for a rainy Sunday. She made a big impression at the British Music Embassy at SXSW 2019 and has already opened for the likes of Janelle Monáe, Michael Kiwanuka and Neneh Cherry. There’s no debut album yet, but last year she re-released her Lately EP with the addition of two new singles “Strange” and “Coco Blood” and repackaged it as Compilation 1.1. It’s an elegant, minimal collection of songs with a yearning, jazzy romance and boundless grace.
5. Chubby and the Gang
Members of the U.K.’s preeminent hardcore bands (Gutter Knife, Violent Reaction, Arms Race) formed a new band called Chubby and the Gang, but instead of making another vicious hardcore album, they set out to make a breackneck, classic punk record. Their debut album, Speed Kills, released earlier this year, has the zippy pace you might expect, but what’s surprising is how well they pull off rhythm and blues, surf and pub rock influences. Frontman Charlie Manning-Walker still brims with hardcore attitude, but their super-charged riffs cop the best of the ’50s and ’60s, resulting in a punk-pop LP so infectious you’ll want your gang membership in no time.
6. Fenne Lily
Bristol singer/songwriter Fenne Lily recently announced her signing to Dead Oceans after several years worth of crushingly beautiful indie-folk. She self-released her debut album, On Hold, back in 2018, has previously opened for Lucy Dacus and Andy Shauf on tour in the States and was meant to return to the U.S. at this year’s SXSW. Lily arrived with her first new music since On Hold in the form of a new single “Hypochondriac,” and it’s blissfully cathartic to hear such an angelic, ribbon-like voice calmly sing the words “I’m freaking out.”
7. Garden Centre
Garden Centre are both subtle and not-at-all subtle. Their sound is led by chief singer/songwriter Max Levy, whose voice sounds like Wand’s Cory Hanson if he inhaled a ton of helium and lived in a mushroom-shaped dwelling from a children’s book. Levy’s high-pitched vocals might be off-putting at first, but it doesn’t take long to warm up to them, especially when they pair so well with his fantastical lyrics and off-kilter instrumentals. Garden Centre released their latest album, A Moon for Digging, last year on Brooklyn’s Kanine Records, and its leisurely, oddball pop songs à la Daniel Johnston are heartwarming at the very least, and at most: an absolute emotional tidal wave.
Following her 2015 self-titled debut, London producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Georgia released her second album, Seeking Thrills, for Domino Records earlier this year. It’s a dance-pop triumph with club beats and house influences, and though its lyrics are hyper-focused on the exhilaration of late-night dancefloors, its pulse and spirit are so infectious that it would sound just as good in the car or on a morning run. Georgia performs live as a glorious one-woman show, and having been a session drummer for years, she stands while drumming and belting out transcendent, neon pop melodies.
Not much is known about this Bristol band, but Norman recently dropped a 10-minute mixtape called Songs from the basement, The Old England etc., and it’s wild enough to start turning heads. Their lyrics are a mouthful, often criss-crossing over each other with manic energy in lines like “It’s hard to play guitar in a dissociative episode.” Squawking horns, retro keyboards and baritone vocals culminate in a wash of experimental post-punk, jazz and noir-pop. They’re erratic and eccentric, so we don’t know what’s to come, but we do know it will be interesting.
10. The Orielles
Halifax quartet The Orielles followed up their 2018 debut, Silver Dollar Moment, with a pretty sublime sonic evolution. There were funky, loungey glimmers on their debut, of course, but their 2020 album Disco Volador embraces those aspects more dramatically. It largely trades in their distorted indie for disco, tropicalia, funk and avant-pop, and it sounds like whatever dancing in the clouds must feel like. Their spunky final track, “Space Samba (Disco Volador Theme),” might just be the grooviest thing to come out this year.
11. Porridge Radio
If your introduction to Porridge Radio came via their first two singles since signing to Secretly Canadian, this band probably felt like an avalanche. “Lilac” and “Sweet” are masterclasses in tension building, and Dana Margolin dished out two of the most unhinged, yet utterly perfect, rock vocal performances in years. But this Brighton band’s 2016 self-recorded debut album, Rice, Pasta And Other Fillers, would’ve told you all you need to know about their uniquely magnetic, dynamic guitar music. Four years later, they followed it up with Every Bad, which will more than likely turn out to be the most musically scintillating and emotionally stimulating indie rock release of 2020.
12. Real Lies
It’s been a long road for alternative-dance group Real Lies. The Londoners’ sole album came in 2015 with Real Life, which melded ravey electro-pop and dance music with the gritty, distinctly British realism of The Streets and the instantaneous pop melodies of Pet Shop Boys. According to the band, the five years since then have been rocky, ultimately resulting in the departure of co-lead vocalist Tom Watson. But other lead vocalist Kev Kharas and producer Patrick King have recently regrouped for two new singles—“You Were in Love” and “Boss Trick”—presumably from a forthcoming release due out later this year. Both songs possess the poetic depiction of love and alienation that made their debut so compelling.
These days, it’s hard to remain an anonymous musician, but no one seems to know who or how many people make up Sault. What we do know is that they released two albums last year—5 and 7—on the Forever Living Originals label, and critics can’t get enough of them. Both albums shared the number two slot on Bandcamp’s 100 best albums of 2019, and for good reason—their groovy, free-flowing arrangements are almost too good to be true. Simultaneously sounding like lost funk classics and modern mash-ups of bass-heavy soul, pop and post-punk, these records possess a rare exuberance.
14. Sons of Raphael
There are quite a few peculiar characters on this list, but Sons of Raphael baffle in a way the others don’t. Releasing various singles and EPs on Because Music (Christine and the Queens, Justice) and Moshi Moshi (Bloc Party, Hot Chip), brothers Ronnel and Loral Raphael have built a reputation on their grand, religious-inspired, outsider pop. Their colorful personalities have already resulted in an interview interrupted by an agitated bookie and a music video titled “Eating People,” where they invaded a church service at their international boarding school. Their two latest singles, “He Who Makes the Morning Darkness” and “Siren Music,” have a bold vision we can only sit and try to parse through with awe.
Squid, another one of Speedy Wunderground’s most exciting alumni, blew us away at SXSW 2019, and their EP Town Centre, released later that year, definitely lived up to the hype—landing on our list of Best EPs of 2019 for its “nervy, dynamic art punk.” It all started with a pair of singles—“The Dial” and “Houseplants”—two pummeling, off-the-wall post-punk singles with various combinations of fuzzed-out keys, cowbell, horns and güiro. Then came their Town Centre highlight and best track to date, “The Cleaner,” a moving synth-punk tale of a janitor who dances “with DVDs and books” to “rocket pop.”
Lizzie Manno is an assistant music editor, Coldplay apologist, bread obsessive and lover of all things indie, punk and shoegaze at Paste. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno.