Producers are the backbone of music. They are the connectors, the creators, the magic makers. Whether it’s someone on their laptop in a cramped studio apartment or in a state-of-the-art, multi-room studio, producers are tasked with managing all elements of a song and bringing them together in a beautiful state of euphony. As with previous years, NEST HQ’s recognitions for production are not solely measured by sales or social followings. Rather, the list of producers below shines light on those continually bettering their craft, opening new doors for music, and inspiring others to do the same.
Review the 10 best producers of 2017 below.
NEST HQ’s Best of 2017: Producers
*10 artists listed in alphabetical order
With over a four-decade long career, Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork holds a place, without question, as one of the most iconic musicians of this day and age. Each album is a reflection of points in time, as she crafts delicate, personal narratives within her music that exist on the forefront of innovation across both science and art. 2017 saw the release of her ninth album, Utopia, which came in stark contrast to her previous album, Vulnicura, which she describes as “we sort of call it hell.” Utopia is bursting with color, scattered with rich atmospheres and light instrumentation that acts as the emotional antithesis to Vulnicura, which journaled a break-up. In such, Bjork is remarkable in her ability to use otherworldly textures to communicate her existence on Earth, and the fact she is as human as the rest of us through the exploration of affection and bitterness. She worked closely with co-producer Arca on both Vulnerica and Utopia, but whereas Arca joined the process after the songwriting for the former, Bjork chose to bring Arca in much earlier in the process for Utopia, making the production process an integral series of choices that impacted the songwriting as well. The result was one of the year’s closest melds between songwriting and production, and now, we await the 2018 live performance and the physical manifestation of her Utopia. — CS
Burial came at a formative time in UK dubstep, and his two albums, Burial and Untrue, set a bar for the entire scene when they released in 2006 and 2007 respectively. These works grew to hold widespread influence, markedly changing the music that would follow in years ahead and paving the way for much of the modern-day electronic scene, while also locking down Hyperdub’s reputation as a forward-thinking label. In their wake, however, Burial came into a sort of reclusion, releasing perhaps an EP per year, usually quietly at its close, otherwise avoiding attention. He had a couple years with collaboration and bursts of activity, notably 2009 and 2011, but otherwise he remained quiet enough that a new generation of producers was allowed to rise to whom Burial was more of a mythic legend than an active member of the production community.
In 2017, that all changes, as Burial comes off his most prolific and groundbreaking year since Untrue‘s release a decade ago. He opened the year on Hyperdub with his most ambient release to date, Subtemple / Beachfires, which omits percussion entirely and brings the chalky soundscapes that underlie Burial’s signature vibe into the forefront. Then, he jumped over to Metalheadz for a Record Store Day release that saw him an anxious, manic remix of Goldie’s drum ‘n bass classic “Inner City Life” which has been waiting on shelves for years. It may have been the first remix that Burial released in a decade, but it wasn’t the only remix he released in 2017: Burial’s glistening, tropical reshape of “Deep Summer” by the relatively unknown Mønic found him returning to form while experimenting with new sounds, all while lending his name to help build up an emerging artist.
By the fall, Burial was prepared for a return to his home label Hyperdub, this time with the insular, groovy Rodent, pinned to a four-on-the-floor and one of his most danceable tracks to date: a complete contrast from his earlier ambient Hyperdub release. Finally, Burial threw all hats to the wind, hopping onto Boddika’s label Nonplus Records for a techno jaunt, Pre Dawn / Indoors. Whereas most of Burial’s 2010s experimentation feels primed for at-home listening, this release feel explicitly aimed at dark warehouse spaces, while still capturing Burial’s millisecond-level of production detail and crispy vinyl noise floor. All this makes me wonder: is the enigmatic, reclusive William Bevan planning to bring his project out into the live sphere? We can’t do anything but speculate, and considering how secretive he’s been throughout his career, a Burial live debut might seem outrageous – loyal fans may recall that it took years before a photo of the man emerged, let alone his name. But tracks this rampageous demand to be played out, and as Burial moves into his second decade with the fervor of a newborn baby, who knows what could happen? — NR
It’s been a huge year for Chris Lake, a man who was charting in the UK over a decade ago with a smooth, big-room-house/pop crossover jam called “Changes” featuring Laura V. This year saw the rise of “Operator” from the HOWSLA compilation featuring Dances With White Girls, a track that couldn’t be any more opposite of the bubbly sounds in “Changes” if it tried. Those dizzying synth sequences and hypnotic vocals were blasting out of every other car driving into Coachella 2017, getting rinsed well into the summer.
His other breakout hit “I Want You” (also via OWSLA) had practically perfect continuity with “Operator” in a music video that created a narrative between the two songs with the unforgettable visual of two corpses reanimating themselves to have a dance party. Chris has been putting out music and growing his career consistently since 2002, nearly 16 years, which is something every young producer in our community aspires to in an era that feels like flash-in-the-pan artists come and go all the time. And he’s not slowing down: Chris just released a stunning remix of Tove Lo’s “Disco Tits” and has promised more new music will be “coming soon.” — MH
2017 was a year of considerable creative effort for Hundred Waters. Publishing a five-track EP and a full-length LP is difficult enough on its own, but producing this much music and of the caliber which they’ve achieved puts them on a level far beyond everyday musicians. Hundred Waters are prolific, and they are bolder than ever, taking on 2018 with their chins held high. Years of sonic exploration meant an album latent with soundscapes still unexplored in the pop world, and a new-found appreciation for the spotlight meant a much more dynamic and in-your-face approach to their press shots, music videos, and on-stage art direction. When you consider the effort, volume, and quality of the art that this group managed to outpour this year, their nomination as top producers of the year is sheer velvet. — DN
For me, Maggie made this list for two big reasons: her abilities as a producer and musician, and her ability to adore and empathize with her fans and with this world. First off, Maggie’s music is fantastic. Her debut EP Now That The Light Is Fading streamed hundreds of millions of times across the world, and her cross-over tones have landed her massive festival bookings and world tours. Still, none of this would really mean that much if not for her intoxicating energy. This year at Outside Lands, Maggie took a moment to speak with her fans in the crowd (me included) about the state of the world. This wasn’t one of those cheeseball moments: an artist yelling political crescendos, or monetizing the turmoil to their own benefit. Her tone was sincere, and her words of kindness and appreciation latched on to everyone, freezing the already emotional concert together into a state of acknowledgment and gratitude. — DN
It honestly frustrates me to put Metro Boomin on this list: this is the third year running that he’s made it up here as one of our best producers of the year, and I want him off this list so we can make more room for new artists. Still, we had to include him, because his influence this year has been beyond comparison. There have been moments in the year where he’s held down up to ten songs on the Billboard Hot 100: that’s ten percent of the charts, produced under the supervision of one guy. Undeniably, Metro has beat out all other contenders to become the Timbaland of this decade. He continues to stay on top of the game by working with and cribbing from the freshest young talents, as with “X,” his song for Uzi Vert featuring co=production by rising star Pi’erre Bourne of “Magnolia” fame. Beyond that, I’m literally just going to leave you an alphabetical list of some big artists he’s worked with this year, and then drop the mic: 2 Chainz, 21 Savage, A$AP Rocky, Amine, Big Sean, D.R.A.M., DJ Khaled, Future, Gucci Mane, Juicy J, Lana Del Rey, Lil Uzi Vert, London on da Track, Migos, Nav, Nelly, Offset, Post Malone, Rick Ross, T.I., Travis Scott, and Young Thug. — NR
In 2013, the sounds of San Holo were associated with the then-new genre of future bass, sparking the interest of electronic music connoisseurs around the world. Through the years, San Holo has avoided being confined to a single genre, and committed to acting as a voice for pure, creative talent in electronic music through his original productions and those of his record label bitbird. Some of the most stunning releases this year from San Holo include the dreamy hit “One Thing,” the dainty, ethereal “I Still See Your Face,” and a gorgeous acoustic version of his NEST single “We Rise” as teased in his impressive Diplo & Friends mix. Above all, San Holo tugged the heartstrings of listeners everywhere by crafting the upbeat yet heavenly production titled “Light.” San Holo holds one of the most significant and exceptional qualities of a musician: his ability to expand the realm of his signature sound and use it to move electronic music forward. — JM
PC Music-affiliate SOPHIE has remained shrouded in mystique since her debut in 2013. You’ve undoubtedly heard her hyper-kinetic and polarizing take on pop music, with features for Cashmere Cat and Lunice, and songwriting/production credits for Charli XCX, MØ, and Vince Staples this year alone. In August, she released the SOPHIE Samples pack; since then, I’ve received at least one track each week with a distinctly identifiable one-shot sample from that set. 2017 also saw the return of SOPHIE’s original material following a two-year hiatus with “It’s Okay To Cry.” The accompanying music video is her first official appearance and presents a powerful emergence from such an artist. As the video released, she spoke on her identity: “All I’ve ever wanted to be seen as or referred to as is SOPHIE, and I stand by that in the same way. I don’t feel the need to clarify anything more than that.” SOPHIE demonstrates a remarkable sense of integrity, both personally and professionally, and her inclusion on this list affirms the significance of her dedication in the pursuit of your truest self. — CS
Few young up-and-comers have struck the balance between immensely talented (prodigious, even) and incredibly personable and inspiring. At such a young age, the brother/sister duo out of Canada known as Tennyson grew from kids with instruments to world-touring artists. 2017 was a phenomenal year for them, releasing their latest EP, Uh Oh!, through OWSLA; touring around the world from Japan to Amsterdam; and playing live shows to captivated audiences. Their music is, above all else, relatable and beautiful in the purest way, sitting comfortably somewhere between improvisational jazz and minimal electronica. Unlike anything we’ve heard in the live-electronic space, Tennyson stay excelling at intimate experiences through music. — NB
2017 was easily the most insane year of producer TOKiMONSTA’s career as she released her comeback Lune Rogue album, all of which was written and recorded after she recovered from a rare, life-threatening brain condition. Following two surgeries to treat the condition known as Moyamoya, she was temporarily left without basic motor skills, the ability to comprehend language, and many sounds she historically used to produce became too harsh for her to process.
As she told Billboard in October, “My approach to creating on this album, methodically, was not too different than in the past. What made this album more personal is the fact that I was even able to make it. When something that means so much to you is taken away from you and then given back to you, you are given a second chance. For me, I gained this renewed perspective on my music in general. I wanted all the songs to be personal — I made these songs for myself, I didn’t try to satiate the needs of anyone else.” Experience the blissful, totally enrapturing Lune Rogue album for yourself to experience TOKiMONSTA’s explosive rebirth for yourself. — MH