2010: The year that was

Above all, 2010 was a fantastic year for electronic music.

The past twelve months were rife with new genre names coined by a vibrant if hyperbolic music press – contenders for the most outlandish include witch house, brostep, chill wave and moonbahton – whilst Juke music burst out of its Illinois bubble thanks to the efforts of Planet Mu and key bloggers like Dave Quam. Meanwhile post-dubstep was shortened to pubstep to describe the continually fractured journey beyond the sonic confines of a genre that remained the most fertile ground for creative young minds. Whilst the above saw the likes of Untold, Ramadanman, James Blake, SBTRKT and the Night Slugs troupe truly excel, at the other end of the scale dubstep finally punctured the mainstream with the popstep Magnetic Man album and Katy B singles bothering the charts.

This year was also notable for an appreciative glance to the forefathers of electronic music. The likes of FCL, KiNK and Lone released tracks that were heavily indebted to the sounds of vintage house, yet dipped in a contemporary sheen and innovation that elevated them beyond the realms of mere pastiche. Furthermore, Doldrums realigned themselves with the house and techno spectrum when Joy Orbison and Braiden dropped twelves late into the year. Labels like Rush Hour and Slow To Speak dusted off old gems and gave them the reissue treatment (Virgo, Jamie Principle, Gene Hunt from the former, Mood II Swing, Ron Trent and Kerri Chandler from the latter), while legendary Berlin imprint Tresor finally reissued their voluminous back catalogue of seminal techno.

A new era of young, obscenely talented producers also broke through, from the deep house and instrumental hip-hop of San Soda, the intergalactic electro-disco-funk of Belfast wunderkind Space Dimension Controller, the introverted musings of Chilean born New Yorker Nicolas Jaar, and of course the precocious Kyle Hall, who continued where he left off in 2009. The aforementioned Space Dimension Controller was commissioned by Rush Hour to remix Detroit legend Anthony Shake Shakir (alongside New York beatsmith FaltyDL). More than merely a novel idea for a remix project, this release served as a neat snapshot of what electronic music is all about in 2010: transcending genres, eras and continents, with one foot respectfully planted in the past and the other wedging the door open for the future.

“A new era of young, obscenely talented producers also broke through, from the deep house and instrumental hip-hop of San Soda, the intergalactic electro-disco-funk of Belfast wunderkind Space Dimension Controller, the introverted musings of Chilean born New Yorker Nicolas Jaar, and of course the precocious Kyle Hall, who continued where he left off in 2009”

In the kingdom of the cowbell, DFA led the way once again with a surfeit of excellent twelve inches that most prominently demonstrated the growing belief that Gavin Russom is a sonic wizard without match. In terms of outright personal success, this year belonged to German disco/house producer Tensnake aka Marco Niemerski, who went overground and showed how to retain credibility with the ubiquitous “Coma Cat”. Originally released in January by Munich imprint Permanent Vacation, it worked its way into the summer playlists of Daveeed Guetttah and was subsequently licensed by Defected. In addition Niemerski was tasked with delivering one of Defected’s In The House sessions and excelled with a superlative selection absent of commercial concession. It should also be noted that Niemerski’s Mirau imprint delivered some fine moments courtesy of Erdbeerschnitzel and Barford & Bjorke.

Looking back, the disco fraternity seemed to spurt in several directions with the steady flow of edit twelve inches being dominated mostly by our Italian brothers as imprints like Super Value, No More Hits and Small World maintained a steady pace. The more balearic slant was handled with suitable aplomb by International Feel and Claremont 56, though Max Essa delivered perhaps the definitive balearic track of the year in the shape of the sprawling 20 min epic “Panorama Suite”. Labels such as Nang, Bear Funk and Solar Disco duked it out in the prolific stakes, though boutique labels like Under The Shade, Delusions Of Grandeur and Instruments Of Rapture impressed the most. As the year progressed there seemed to be a subconscious shift away from disco towards the proto raw house sound, with Mark E exemplifying this perfectly – contrast his release for Vibrations with earlier material. New York labels like Throne Of Blood and Wurst are amongst a multiplicity of imprints whose output more than smudges the gaps between disco and house, thus causing much heated debate regarding the possibility of a new genre tab on the Juno pages.

The main protagonists in deep house kept on keepin’ on, with new material from Moodymann, Theo Parrish and Mike Huckaby among others reminding us that Detroit was still Deep House HQ. We were saddened by the untimely death of producer Aaron-Carl, who lost his battle with cancer in September. With releases on labels including Ovum, Soul City and his own Wallshaker imprint, Aaron (full name Aaron-Carl Ragland) was well known for his electro funk, techno and soulful house productions, and his death prompted an outpouring of grief and condolence from friends, fellow producers and fans alike.

“This year was also notable for an appreciative glance to the forefathers of electronic music. The likes of FCL, KiNK and Lone released tracks that were heavily indebted to the sounds of vintage house, yet dipped in a contemporary sheen and innovation that elevated them beyond the realms of mere pastiche”

Techno celebrated its 25th birthday in 2010, and the D25 bandwagon rolled around the world collecting plaudits, hosting events and occasionally spinning a record or two. New material from Model 500 was a cause for celebration, with the seminal electronic project of Juan Atkins releasing its first record since 1999’s Mind And Body, while Sherard Ingram’s Urban Tribe crew also returned to the production fold with a new album.

A growing number of techno producers hid behind cloaks of anonymity, with the likes of Traversable Wormhole, Ancient Methods, Skudge, Wax and Horizontal Ground/Frozen Border all releasing varying brands of stripped back machine funk, often in white label, hand stamped format, evoking the memory of Underground Resistance and the like. Many producers were quick to align this movement to the ascendancy of Berlin club Berghain as a beacon for serious clubbing culture, with the former power plant in East Berlin now talked about in the same hushed tones as previous techno meccas such as Tresor.

Team Juno Plus were glad to see The xx win this year’s Mercury Prize, although lovers of electronic music will be disappointed by the absence of Four Tet, Walls and Actress among the nominees. Indeed the quality of the album format – a tough thing to nail when it comes to electronic music – was impressive. Caribou’s album signalled a new direction for London based Canadian Dan Snaith, and was rightly lauded by all corners of the music world.  Scuba’s Hotflush imprint released two vital albums from Mount Kimbie and the label boss himself, while Actress showed us what happens when you drop some Detroit techno into a sonic blender of muddy bass, compression and glitchy electronica.

The words “deep house” and “album” in the same sentence are usually met with chortles of ridicule by the music press, but John Roberts’ stunning debut on Dial had us eating our collective hats, while French producer Onra surprised everyone by releasing a long player that touched on electro funk and hip-hop – a significant departure from his earlier work. Excitingly, 2011 already promises to deliver more of the same, with Canyons, Nicolas Jaar, Steffi, James Blake and Stroboscopic Artefacts boss Lucy all set to release LPs.

“The future of DJing reached a crossroads in 2010: with the death knell sounding for the once mighty Technics turntables, the concept of digital DJing was thrown into the spotlight like never before”

The future of DJing as a practice/art form reached a crossroads in 2010: with the death knell sounding for the once mighty Technics turntables, the concept of digital DJing was thrown into the spotlight like never before and arguments about its merits rumbled on. DJ software became more accessible and commonplace, leading long time vinyl advocate Andy Blake to muse in an interview with Juno Plus, “there are times where I get the impression that turning up to a gig with a bag of records would be tantamount to arriving by steam-powered penny-farthing”. The question is, will the ceasing in production of Technics turntables simply strengthen the fortitude of vinyl purists or has it signalled an interminable decline for the 12 inch? Only time will tell.

On this side of the Atlantic, the healthy production scene wasn’t translating into a vibrant club scene, at least in the first half of the year. Matter closed its doors – temporarily, it transpired – plagued by poor turnouts and difficult transport routes from central London. This dragged parent club Fabric into the mire, and the Farringdon clubbing institution briefly fell into administration before new funding was found. A few miles away in East London, Plastic People shut up shop for the summer after some close attention from local authorities, and has since reopened to a mixed response from die hards. Things picked up after the summer, with 800-capacity XOYO opening its doors and a sprinkling of other mid sized venues opening, giving London a vibrant feel once more. Juno Plus celebrated its first birthday in September in some style, inviting the Firecracker label team down to London to chair proceedings. Linkwood, House Of Traps, Discreet Unit and Fudge Fingas all did their thing in the snug confines of East London boozer Horse & Groom.

To round off 2010, we’ve selected our favourite labels, albums and tracks from the past 12 months. Enjoy.

Aaron Coultate & Tony Poland