So, how was 2013 for you?  The Riot Squad have had a brilliant year bringing you the best in contemporary music wherever we find it.  Allan, John, Klare and Louie have reviewed some exceptional live and recorded music throughout the year and we all thank you for reading our reviews and looking at our photos.  We couldn’t resist this opportunity to remind you of some of the artists we reviewed for the first time in 2013.

We saw live performances by the Emile Gerber Band (which became Stoneface Travellers), Henrik Freischlader, Josephine, Marcus Bonfanti (solo and with his band), The Kennedys, Federal Charm (twice), Black Casino & The Ghost, Coco and the Butterfields (several times), The Dirt Tracks, Carrie Rodriguez, Aynsley Lister, Civil Protection, Wheatus, Dean Owens and Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion.  Quite a selection, really.

We reviewed albums and singles by Henrik Freischlader, Marcus Bonfanti, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Black Casino & The Ghost, Jimmy Livingstone, Austra, Tess of the Circle, Aynsley Lister, The Nyco Project, The Dirt Tracks, Nadine Shah, Sullivn,  Radio (in my) Head, Tal National, Layla Zoe, Kinver, Au Revoir Simone, DENA, Hartebeest, Polly Scattergood, Glasser, Annie, Emika and John Grant and probably a few others as well.  Along the way we had some great fun and met some lovely people; you all know who you are, and we’re hoping to meet most of you again this year.

Looking forward to 2014, we’re hoping for more of the same.  The review copies are already coming in and it’s starting to look pretty good already.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our predictions for 2014 from the Riot Squad and possibly from a few guest contributors as well.  And, while we’re on the subject of guest contributions, many thanks to Aynsley Lister, Steve Jenner, Marcus Bonfanti and Billie Ray Martin for their contributions to our High Fives feature last year.

Opening to double handclaps, a spare hip-hop beat and a middle- eastern twang, Bulgarian born Denitza Torodrove, aka DENA’s, third single “Guest List” brings to mind MIA when she was fresh out of art school on her 2003 debut “Galang”. Also sharing the Grammy nominee’s anarchic political stance, DENA twists ‘everyone’s trying to get their name on the guest list’ to a double meaning; her music will be played in clubs where status can be everything but she is also directly referring to her native country’s immigration policies. Unlike MIA, DENA’s delivery is more relaxed and measured, eccentric swoops in her vocal delivery maybe but she’s no kooky novelty MC either.

The track builds from its initial bare bones and features some lovely vibes and jagged, buzzing synth shards as it finds its alt-hip-hop rap feet. It is somewhat crude sounding and doesn’t come with the sonic bells and whistles we’ve come to expect with some American artists’ early releases, such is the level of sophistication coming through, but this is welcome in an overly producer-dominated genre.

DENA is a rare find indeed. Female Bulgarian rap artists aren’t dominating anywhere at present and she has enough cultural blends and savvy not to alienate a more far reaching audience ( her work is so far performed in English) with a clear understanding of how to captivate just the kind of audience who will embrace her (hipster alert!). Her debut album is out next year and my ears are ready and waiting.