Best Of 2011: Top 100 Tracks/EPs
This year we decided to expand our best tracks of the year list from 50 to an admittedly bulging 100. The simple fact is, listening to records as we do, day in, day out, we hear a lot of good music. Some great music, in fact, and in our top 100 we have specified exactly what drew us to each title – was it the quirky B-Side, the anthemic opener or, as with our number one selection, the entire EP? Read on to find out…
In a year where Hessle Audio’s release schedule was left largely alone so the focus remained on their imperious label compilation, the decision makers did their best work elsewhere. And none of them made more actual noise than Pangaea did with Hex. Arising on Hemlock for the first time, Pangaea delivered two jerking darkside manoeuvres. Described to a tee as the “spirit of 92, via Plastic People”, lead track “Hex” was a fixture on Rinse for months before finally being unleashed. Alongside it “Fatalist” screwballed even further into rave dementia amidst cockney gasps of “Alright? Listen. Listen. Listen”.
Pional’s graduation from Hivern to Permanent Vacation with Last House On The Left was further proof that like John Talabot, merely tossing him in the categories of deep house or nu disco is being disingenuous. Across the three tracks Pional displayed with panache his innate talent for singularly interesting productions with “Where Eagles Dare” offering the most immediate moment. A glistening slant on punchy jacking rhythms underlined by those trademark floating vocals, the playful way it explodes into colour remains long in your memory.
Unknown to the Unknown really cranked up the pressure with their releases towards the end of 2011, and Delite Tonite from Chicago legend Alias G was a pounding highlight. Both tracks here were dementedly brilliant, pairing the gut punching rhythmic jerks of the title track with the Controversy era Prince Funk of “Pulsate” which sounded ripped to shreds and glued back together with distortion and compression. There’s plenty more goodness to come from UTTU and gratifyingly what we’ve heard sounds just as f*cked up as this!
Alongside his all conquering Brandy sampling white label, the other real triumph of a breakthrough year for Blawan came towards its end. By the time Peaches had arrived on the Clone Basement Series, Blawan’s status as a purveyor of fine, bezerk techno founded on a drum sound few if any could match was long established. What impressed the most about Blawan’s debut on our favourite label of the year was the inherent sensation that he has as much fun, if not more making those incessantly burrowing rhythms and indescribable drum sounds as those who play, listen or dance do.
Having released a quite stunning album at the turn of the year in Feed Forward, Sandwell District spent the subsequent months in the long player’s shadow, with every twelve inch released on the label not quite matching its magnitude. However their most recent missive truly stood out – to put it plainly Rrose’s The Merchant Of Salt was a beast! Two superb examples of burrowing techno from the mysterious entity delivered what was the label’s most immediately gratifying release of 2011. Lead track “Shepherd’s Brine” built with intoxicating ease towards a mid point tunnelling groove that was lent no small degree of spectral wonder by the deep set vocal waves. Proceedings plunged further into the foggy recesses of uncompromising, mordant rhythm on the wholly visceral, gut wrenching exercise in laser guided menace and sound sculpture that was “Waterfall”.
George Fitzgerald’s debut on the Aus label was impressive as you’d expect in a year when the Londoner impressed further with releases on Hotflush and his own newly minted Man Make Music imprint. The most enduring aspect to the Silhouette EP however was undoubtedly the contribution from John Roberts. Upon hearing the Dial man and erstwhile travel magazine editor had been collared to remix Fitzgerald, it had seemed like a naturally good choice from Will Saul. We were not quite prepared for the stuttering, fractured mass of heaving industrial psychedelia that was Roberts’ resultant remix, which sounded quite unlike anything else this year.
Whilst there was something arguably Dilla-esque about the approach displayed in Lukid’s album Chord last year, this EP feels arguably more fractured; beats hang looser than before, with cracked melodies and sonics threatening to unravel at any minute, particularly on “Park It Low”, where a wistful organ threatens to fade into a mist of static before bursting into life again. But paradoxically, his rhythms seem tighter than ever before; the bassline and drums on “Dragon Stout” for instance seem tied together with taut elastic string bouncing like a paddle and ball. It’s this tension that make his productions so engaging, and this EP is one of his finest to date.
This cerebral release from Darkestral Recordings explored the more ethereal side of bass music with Instra:mental’s Al Green adopting a number of personas. Transportation AAD (a collaboration with Drkstr) contributed “Pagoda”, a soundscape worthy of a noir tinged sci-fi movie, and the cavernous sonics and brooding atmospherics of “Lost Transmissions” under the Grey Goo guise recalling the introspective dub experimentation of Blackest Ever Black’s Raime. The final contribution comes from the mysterious Vaalhaala, who employs a pulsing arpeggio which sounds like it has come from a far off satellite transmission, with sounds that threaten to explode at any moment. Sounding like nothing else this year, this EP is a perfect hybrid of futuristic bass and bleak moods, and is essential listening for anyone interested in where the genre can go next.
From the beginning of Andres III, the former Slum Village DJ wraps your senses in his familiar and beguiling concoction of warm soulful samples and tuff beats that straddle the lines between neck snapping beatdown and sensual housey deepness. “Be Free Baby” is notable for the slick implementation of a naggingly familiar vocal harmony and piano hook amidst the jazzy bump, whilst “Baby” displays his talent for dicing up samples with consummate ease. Special praise goes to the raucous boom bap bizniz of “Outta This Earth” that closes this release tinged with a fair amount of aching soul via the vocal sample and heavy organ vibes.
The shady Manchester duo AnD made the jump to Bristol’s Idle Hands label for this release, two sides of wormhole techno at its finest. “Hydrothermal” initially wrong foots you with its syncopated toms but soon eases its way in to a four to floor pattern. It’s a track that concerns itself primarily with atmosphere, as metallic synth tones provide the most sparing of melody. “Lights Down” meanwhile takes their material in a more unexpected direction, jettisoning any regular rhythmic pulse for a more bass inspired drum pattern, which combined with the furiously pulsating bassline which ripples underneath and creates a track that nicely highlights the common DNA between Bristol’s fervent bass scene and the sort of tightly woven Berlin inspired techno that AnD excel in.
While Dauwd caused a bit of a stir earlier this year with a free digital EP released through Pictures Music, What’s There saw his debut proper. The title track is characterised by its melodic approach to bass music, with elastic synths and water droplet sonics accented with minimal, clicky percussion, and it’s a deceptive track which unfolds itself gradually, hitting you between the eyes with its emotional climax. The other tracks don’t disappoint either, with “Acireams” utilising a straighter 4/4 beat with a palette of warm synth textures and clipped samples. Perhaps the real gem is “Ikopol”, with its golden tones and bright bell percussion in combination with its rich bass and house untertones is perhaps exactly what you’d imagine a collaboration between Four Tet and Martyn to sound like. An incredible debut from what looks set to be one to watch in 2012.
Maya Medvesek cut loose her former 8Bitch guise with this release for Svetlana Industries. The first two tracks in particular have a bold, anthemic quality to them that is both instantly accessible and satisfying; the production itself is weighty, with a rumbling bottom end and a healthy dose of dirt, but it’s the optimistic, reaching-for-the-skies feeling that “Night Bird” has that makes this tune explode. Unknown To The Unknown meanwhile delivers an abrasive remix of “Night Bird”, which finds a groove and slams it hard, matching the chunkiness to be found elsewhere on the EP.
This 23 year old New Jersey resident has been responsible for the arrangements that sit beneath the lyrical swagger of Soulja Boy and Lil B, and it was via these productions Tri Angle Records boss Robin Carolan became aware of the potential potency of the Clammy Clams steez stripped of lyrical swagger. It’s been a wise move, as the hugely popular beat tape Clams Casino released prior to his debut on Tri Angle testifies. Furthermore, the five tracks that form Rainforest have a bewitching effect on your senses; this is the record we’ve gone back to repeatedly over the year due to the rich detail in the murky production. Ignore the hype attached to both this release and the label; it’s totally worth indulging in Rainforest.
One Hunned offered a more concise, bolder vision of what the Montreal based beat miner offered on his debut solo endeavour Stacker Upper last year. Opening with “Glow”, Lunice essentially demonstrates his new found confidence at chopping drums amidst a choir of heavenly vocal harmonies and illustrious synth bombast. Alongside it “I See U” is pure club tackle and a notable highlight, snapping through cavernous vocal stabs and shotgun snapping drums before introducing a Godzilla sized buzz synth thrusting with drunken glee. Elsewhere tracks such as “Bricks” and “Juice” immediately make you want to see Lunice live so you can fully appreciate the dextrous MPC manipulation that clearly went into its inception.
What has been markedly noticeable about all the WNCL output so far is that it doesn’t make any daring leaps to re-invent the wheel, tackle trendy tempos or get all post-modern. Instead of using an old template of sounds as so many do today, it’s actually a fearless old-skool give-a-fuck spirit that makes the WNCL output so addictive, so refreshing and so damn fun. On this release, a cheeky mid-nineties vibe is undeniably present, but somehow fuses Strictly Rhythm-style funk with a rolling break, hip-hop stabs and positively modern acid squelches. It’s quite simply a party rocker, with a tongue-in-cheek lyrical spit of spiritual fulfilment. Karenn, the new production endeavour of Blawan and Pariah, took the call for remix duties and deliver a rough and chunky house reworking. Employing almost industrial hits which keep the melodics muffled and muted, their revision makes for tracky, functional house music as it should be made, as if the Berghain boys weren’t taking everything so seriously all the time.
The new Crossover Series from the Sound Pellegrino crew makes for a canny and eye opening endeavour, offering the chance for like-minded producers from different paths the chance to collaborate together with the aim of “crossing the invisible bridges of the great house music archipelago”. The standard for the series was set truly high on the inaugural release that saw Alex “Bok Bok” Sushon team up with Tom Trago for the Night Voyage Tool Kit EP. The six tracks see Trago and Sushon deliver heavily, stripped down drum trax informed by a love of Dancemania era Chicago House, and by far the highlight of the EP was the brilliant “Pom Clash”, heaving with thick slabs of London bass and held together with brittle Amsterdam rhythms.
With this release, Luke Slater’s Mote Evolver launched the Parallel series, the concept being that two contrasting but complementing artists drop a brace of tracks each on the one 12″. US based Englishman ASC (real name James Clements), known primarily for his forward thinking D&B excursions, turned in two whopping techno cuts on the A-Side. The relentless guttural throb of “Slow Burn” is offset by some slapping synths and barely there vocal snippets, kind of what we’d expect a studio jam between Levon Vincent and Boddika to sound like. This is complemented by the more liquid tones of “Transit”, a reverb-laden throbber with menacing sonar bleeps piercing the swampy atmospherics. On the flip, Slater adopted his seldom seen L.B.Dub Corp guise for “Lurcher’s Dub” and “Native Dub”, with the cavernous sub-bass and twinkling keys of the former demanding play on an implausibly large soundsytem.
This was the second of two raw, bruising Detroit leaning techno releases on Naked Index this year from the mysterious Adam Rivet, consisting of the kind of bruising productions that Shed has made his name with. A-Side track “Slant” displays the kind of drums that would put Blawan to shame, combining a powerful kick with shackling percussion, whilst a one note bassline plays off against a syncopated stab. On the flip, “Running (Edit)” is a thunderous techno juggernaut with serrated edges which channels a similar energy to arch-techno maverick Boddika, (and found enough favour with Scuba to land a place on his DJ-Kicks compilation) whilst the EP is rounded off by “Afterbirth”, slower, but no less of a powerhouse than its counterparts, characterised by its industrial atmosphere, taking his sound into even bleaker sonic terrain which is not for the faint hearted.
Take The Plunge saw Dave Huismans return to the A Made Up Sound moniker for the first time in a year, following the superb Fever album under his 2562 alias. Huisman is known for his particularly unique productions, but “Take The Plunge” is perhaps his most mind-bending yet, combining his signature garage-inflected techno rhythms and combining them with syncopated samples, chopped and distorted beyond all recognition, while their pneumatic drill-like quality pans across both channels at irregular intervals. The B-Side sees “Anger MGMT”, which, despite its name, is actually less aggressive then its counterpart on the A-Side. With the same kind of clattering, ramshackle beats, it’s a slightly more straightforward techno track, albeit with dub influenced bass and scaffold pole percussive qualities providing its flavour. The EP closes with “Take The Plunge (First Thought)”, a beatless version of the original which regardless of its abrasive jackhammer tones, actually has a bizarrely soporific effect. Another fantastic EP which is further proof of Huismans’ unique genius.
This EP from former Italians Do It Better types Eric Tsai and Justin Simon is easily one of DFA’s best this year. Both “In A Hole” and “Can’t Feel My Knees” are woozy, ethereal concoctions, all dream-like, off-kilter grooves, fragile vocals and ketamine-addled soundscapes. Both tracks come backed with heavyweight dubs, too, which transport the originals further into soft focus, early morning comedown territory. The whole thing comes across like Primal Scream’s “Higher Than The Sun” for the M-cat generation, which is high praise indeed.
The Monad series aimed and succeeded in getting techno producers to explore their more esoteric side – and VIII was our pick of an elite bunch. Indeed, any electronic music release that draws influence from a Nobel Prize-winning scientist – Ilya Prigogine, after whom “Ilya” is named – is unlikely to offer up run of the mill DJ fodder. “Ilya” saw Dadub set a tone that was both menacing and captivating as the solemnly intoned phrase “evolutionary feedback” prefaced a descent into walls of finely sculpted electronic noise and the dead paced thump of a ponderous bass drum. A similar mood prevailed on “Hadean”; on this track vast swathes of feedback vied for the listener’s attention, with Dadub’s robust, dense broken beats sounding like footsteps treading on crunchy, autumnal leaves. The swirling, hazy ambience of “Biopoiesis” was an entirely different proposition, its creaky, spooky tones conjuring up memories of Tangerine Dream and Eno, while on “Amnion”, Dadub finally lurched towards the dancefloor.
This was Swedish label Studio Barnhus’ most esoteric release yet: a collaboration between label boss Axel Boman, nuclear physicists Bo Cederwall and Torbjorn Back and media artist Kristofer Hagbard. Known as the Radioactive Orchestra, the project started as an awareness campaign spearheaded by the Swedish government; the primary aim, according to a Studio Barnhus press release, was “to interpret gamma radiation, which has its origin in the nuclei of atoms, and translate it into sounds and music”. The team of four went on to “create musical algorithms based on the scientists’ models of how radiation is emitted from various isotopes”. Of course even the best concept falls flat if the music doesn’t hold up: excitingly, the fruits of this project are nothing less than stunning. Put simply, this is one of the most interesting house or techno releases you’ll hear this year.
Arriving on the fledgling yet already impressive Studio Barnhus imprint run by messrs Boman, Kovacs and Petter, quite why it’s taken so long for Ex-Pylon’s debut to arrive isn’t revealed and is likely to remain so. – Let’s just be grateful to the Studio Barnhus crew for finally allowing the music buying public a chance to indulge in the rewarding vision of techno Ex-Pylon dabbles in. The title track “Hammerfest” opens proceedings in fine fashion, sprawling across A Side towards the run out groove in a sonic fashion not dissimilar to the arrangements that made up The Field’s debut set for Kompakt a few years ago. Frosted synth lines compete with glitched out rhythms in shifting in and out of focus over stripped down drums, whilst the final ascent into the skies provides a potent end to a track which demands the needle be returned to the start.
Running Back continued to impress in 2011, and this swooping cross city house pollination from Marco Passarani was one of their most essential. There’s a steady, constantly building vibe to “White Dwarf” that proves to be quite consuming; layers of mid tempo percussive bump drawing you in before Passarani introduces subtle acid bubbles and great big dramatic Detroit string flourishes, with a totally gorgeous drop into synthtastic white light towards the end. On the flip Passarani introduces the darker, more percussive counterpart “Black Dwarf” with only jagged shards of dubbed synths to separate the relentless rhythmic rattle of percussion. This contrasts nicely with mutant house bomb that is “Colliding Stars (Part 2)”, an increasingly psychedelic melange of subterranean Italo arpeggios, euphoric keys, searing discoid strings and rasping metallic rhythms.
After delivering one of 2010’s best albums in Splaszh, Actress has had a fairly low key 2011, but he has delivered his best with this 12″ on Honest Jon’s, with the lead track described quite presciently by the label as the “alien son of Sleng Teng”. Just like that riddim pioneered a new wave of digital dancehall when Wayne Smith joined forces with King Jammy on “Under Me Sleng Teng”, “Rainy Dub” seems to signify a concentrated shift in Cunningham’s focus towards ever new jagged dissections through the fuzziest extremes of sub bass. Minute attention to detail such as the near indecipherable vocal gurgles trapped far beneath ensure you keep returning to the track, as new sonic elements come to light. “Faceless” creeps towards you like 2nd album highlight “Purple Splazsh” regurgitated through a robotic variant of the human centipede, with the track’s hazy melodic elements desperately trying to claw through the claustrophobic rhythms, creeping corroded textures and rising gurgles of stomach acid.
This Romanian producer has stood at the crossroads between dubstep, funky and techno, but on the evidence of this release, it sounds like he is gravitating towards the older style. Of course, it’s not that simple and never should be when attempting to categorise artistic endeavour. Context is everything and Cosmin takes reference from and is inspired by his previous releases. It explains why “Separat”, though featuring granite weight beats, surging filtered chords and chain mail percussive elements – all of which would be likely to push even the most powerful sound system to its limits – still has a certain swing to it, a lack of rigidity that, when played alongside many contemporary releases, will sound positively liquid. Cosmin brings the same qualities to bear on “Izolat”. Although it’s slower than “Separat”, there is no doubting its efficacy; similar chord filtering is evident, anchored by thundering claps and eerie strings. However, none of this can prepare the listener for the wall of noisy bass that Cosmin unleashes midway through and which makes all the other elements sound dwarf like by comparison. There has been way too much talk about the dubstep-techno or techno-funky crossovers; this is the record that finally reconciles the 4/4 sound with the power of bass music.
British techno icon Karl O’Connor returned this year with In A Syrian Tongue – his first solo EP under the Regis moniker in 10 years – via London-based imprint Blackest Ever Black. Following the Sorrow Of Two Blooms EP from Tropic Of Cancer (aka Camella Lobo and Juan Mendez), the fourth release from BEB again delved into the rich vein of talent contained within the Sandwell District collective. In A Syrian Tongue features two solo tracks, namely “Blood Witness” and “Blinding Horses”, and a third, live edit of “Blood Witness” produced in collaboration with Mick Harris (aka Scorn). “Blood Witness” is sprawled across the A-Side, all splintered, frenetic break beats and sinister drones. The result is a throbbing, tense slab of abrasive, yet utterly hypnotic music. Flipping over, the MJ Harris/Karl O’Connor live version once again pounds the pavement with rugged broken beats, as groaning electronics twist and bend like creaking metal, before the hypnotic sway of “Blinding Horses” rounds off an essential 12″.
WK7’s “The Avalanche” is throbbing party techno, with a punishing kick – the centrepiece around which all other percussive elements fall – reigning blows down relentlessly: this is the sonic equivalent of sticking a firework up the dancefloors’ collective backside and lighting the touch paper. Drop it down to 33 rpm on the flip for “High Power”, which is just as incendiary – the key point being that these are not just dumb slices of peak time dance music – they have clearly been produced with intricate poise, with detailed nuances and obsessive attention to sound design. The Hardcore PCK mix of “Higher Power” is perhaps the pick of the bunch, with a broken beat bass drum pounding alongside off-kilter chord stabs.
Should you ever be quizzed as to why exactly Mr Shakir prefers to called “Shake”, direct that inquisitive soul to the A-Side of this release. Shaking is one way to describe the sensation that runs through “Piper” as drums rattle with a roughness of texture unparalleled to our ears. Faint strains of calypso melodies permeate throughout amidst a sea of huge sounding sub bass which makes for one of the most militantly thrilling techno tracks we’ve heard in a long time. Changing tact, Shakir lays two heaving slabs of Motor City beatdown across the B-Side with “So Delivered” alternating between slickly chopped drums and searing pads and Eastern wood block rhythms, whilst “Millenium Blues” provides a more solemn, downtrodden excursion through rusted metallic head nod material.
Lone’s release on R&S demonstrated a growing maturity in the new sound the Nottingham based producer unveiled on last winter’s impressive Emerald Fantasy Tracks. Shy of that mini LP by only three tracks, the six productions that form Echolocations tighten the focus to 90s Detroit and Chicago, though the distinctive melodic stabs that characterised EFT remain – something that’s apparent as soon as the huge drop in “Coreshine Voodoo” arrives. Meanwhile “Dolphin” delights via the vast swathes of melodies that wash over the intricate layers of percussion that build and drop with expertise whilst “Approaching Rainbow” is perhaps Lone at his most rhythmically rigid, with mellow bursts of colour and texture arising from the rasping Strafe-esque drums, though perhaps the highlight is the 808 State sunrise vibes of “Explorers”. Certainly our R&S highlight of the year.
Taking the low end tradition of Bristol music and marrying it to a murky, swung 4/4 aesthetic, Kowton returned to Idle Hands back in January after the claustrophobic paranoia of his “Basic Music Knowledge” / “Hunger” set. She Don’t Jack creeps into life with industrial textures before crisp, rigidclaps and shuffled hits skip energetically around a bassline malevolent in its simplicity. “Drunk On Sunday” – our pick of the two – works drum machine grooves from the off, heading down a stripped-bare corridor of pitch-black house. Fearsome bass swells soon enter the mix while metallic hits bolster the percussion. This release established Kowton as one of the leading lights in the wilder realms of UK house and techno, and kicked off a fine year for Idle Hands too, with the label going on to release essential 12”s from Kevin McPhee, AnD, Szare and Outboxx.
Irish imprint Naked Lunch continued to career impressively between tempos and genres with their first release of 2011 shifting the focus towards Canada, with the debut release of one of the year’s most exciting newcomers, Kevin McPhee. Opening with “Get In With You” McPhee demonstrates a real talent for micro managing percussive elements, whilst the delicate piano sounds provide the perfect backdrop to delicate yet indecipherable vocal yearnings. “Bridges” proves to be just as impressive, with off key rhythmic elements swamped in a delightful bubble bath of sonic textures which somehow combine to provide a narcotic swinging effect. The B-Side belongs to Hyperdub acolytes LV who reposition the mellowness of “Get In With You” for the dancefloor by submerging that vocal lead deep beneath a truly memorable bassline flex.
The endeavours of Long Island Electrical Systems went up several notches in our already considerable affections with this release positing the ever excellent Legowelt at the helm for a triplet of his distinct cross city house pollinations. The title track “Sark Island Acid” sets the tone in glorious form with rapidly oscillating streams of acid twirling around expert layers of drum machine energy. It’s indelibly marked with the sonic identity of Legowelt and is both a beautiful slice of electronic music and a potent dancefloor shaker. On the flip Wolfers digs deeper into the machine with “Backwood Fantasies” an expert example of mind altering jack heavy on the twisting synth scapes, whilst “Sea Of Nuhuhu” contrasts heavy bass turns with glistening key refrains over basic constructed drums. A pleasure from start to end.
Bumping across your speaker cones at circa 110bpm, the seemingly incongruous drum patterns of Photonz’ “Lamborghini Funk” work in a way that brings to mind how the great Jockey Slut once described Maurice Fulton’s music as the sound of falling up the stairs. Indeed to draw further on the Fulton comparisons the track is reminiscent of his work as Syclops – especially when the demented key stabs take effect. Alongside it “Xabregas” shows similarly deft approaches to programming with a stripped down swinging proto house rhythm augmented by off kilter dusty fills, as massive waves of rave potency rise from the depths and engulf proceedings with a winning sense of euphoria. Further demonstration of the versatility of the Photonz sonic palette is shown on “Cascade” which teases out twilight synth washes over a dripping tap of pads before a rough percussive flex is introduced which signals the ascent into some expansive, mind altering computer funk. It makes for a sensual pleasure from beginning to end on a EP that is highly recommended.
This is a record that achieves that rare sensation of immediately making you wish you were transposed to a warehouse space heaving with the rhythmic pulse of several hundred bodies in tune with the beat. There’s a primal urgency to “Super Disco Drums”, the epic 13 minute excursion into heavily dubbed disco steeped in the early 80s attitude of Liquid Liquid et al that is all too rare amidst the somewhat pedestrian nu disco scene. That it should arrive via the minds of Justin Velor and Black Lodge, affiliated with Finders Keepers and Trilogy Tapes respectively, means it all makes sense given their feverish musical knowledge. The first release on the aptly titled Brutal Music label, this crazily limited twelve (only 100 were pressed) is worth it for the A-Side alone, yet the flip holds yet more sonic gems to behold. “Pride Part 2” for instance retains the heavily dubbed feeling but glides along a rasping metallic twang of a groove which is embellished by some decidedly Weird Sensation-esque orchestral touches. A brief, jagged sounding “Segue” leads into the freakadelic head nod satisfaction of “I Can’t Sing” with mad analogue sounds shooting in all directions before everything implodes with sonic glee.
Dominated by 808 drum machines and pulsing rhythms, yet maintaining that uber-cool classiness and delicacy that shapes his work with production partner Damon Kirkham as Instra:mental, Boddika really lived up to the high expectation bequeathed upon him here in both “Electron” and “Underground”. Whilst “Electron” is the rather more frenetically patterned, ever so slightly aggressive and insatiable track of the pair, after a few listens you will feel yourself caught up in the driving groove, beats pattering around like the dots of an impressionist paintbrush before a heavy drum kick and atmospheric pressure re-sets the tone. “Underground” continues in a similar vein, dark and brooding, coloured with cowbells and droning arpeggiated synths – it’s a contemplative cut and more of a 3am draw, but just as powerful.
It’s tracks like Bass Clef’s “Rollercoasters Of The Heart”, marrying the house and garage templates in ways that other labels simply didn’t that earned Punch Drunk a place in our top 10 labels of the year. There’s an undeniably throwback nod to the euphoric days of rave gone by thanks to the swirls of lysergia tinged stabs and stretched out vox, but it’s how Bass Clef marries them to a crisp groove of rolling sub bass and crisp off kilter house drums that had us hooked. Glorious in every way.
There aren’t many producers who have made two entries on our top 100 list, but Ital has, and with good reason. The deviations from the house music template shown his release for 100% Silk are further explored on Culture Clubs, not least on the elegantly dizzying shifts in rhythmic direction that permeate through the opening title track. A schizoid approach to pitch shifting the gloopy sounds creates a mystical effect which is replicated on the B Side opener “Eternally Yours”. Based around a rawer sound, with tinny stunted rhythms at the fore, Ital employs similar shifting techniques on a track that gains increasingly abstract intentions as it progresses. Given the esoteric sounds that permeate through every Mathematics release, label boss Jamal Moss aka Hieroglyphic Being seems a perfect fit to invite on board for remix duties and the resultant remix of “Culture Clubs” is typically unique.
After a breakthrough year in 2010, Kyle Hall was relatively quiet in 2011, but this release showed he’s still a force to be reckoned with. On the stamped side “Xero” rumbles along with jangling rhthyms and outer galatic sonic squiggles, with KMFH turning down the volume intermittently with an abruptness that echoes the ‘give a f*ck’ mentality of fellow Detroitian KDJ. Flip over for “Down!”, a heavily filtered house jam that teases in a barely decipherable vocal sample betwixt shuffling hats and a killer bumpin groove.
The alias of Finnish producer Matti Pentikainen, Teeth has dabbled in everything from abstract hip-hop as Ceebrolistics to dub techno as Mi Ni Ma. Currently ruling the dubstep scene in Helsinki via the club night Alas his Katusea crew run, “Shawty” was a truly auspicious debut- having caught the ear of Sound Pellegrino boss Teki Latex who quite accurately described it as ‘northern light-induced-clap-trap-house’. Distinguished by a sultry female vocal, frosted synths and beat programming that shuffles between dubstep, juke and dirty south hip-hop, “Shawty” was yet another hit for Oneman’s 502 Recordings. Adding further heat is the flipside remix from Falty DL which adds more urgency to proceedings via scattergun 2-step riddims, affected vocals and jagged bass flourishes.
Lazer Sword don Lando Kal stepped out for this solo endeavour on Hotflush earlier this year, and it was one of the label’s most interesting releases of 2011. “Further” takes a US garage swing and twists it round a swathe of cavernous twilight hypnagogics coated in frosted atmospherics – ably assisted by the emotive twinge of the heavily diced titular vocal refrain, with a distinctive melding of transatlantic references that particularly caught our attention. The B-Side offers the more urgent juke throb of “Time Out”, which swerves brilliantly through several different directions as it descends uneasily towards the run out groove.
Punch Drunk scored one of many winners this year with Andy Mac’s “Everytime”, a truly auspicious debut from the young Bristolian which impressed with its genre bending qualities. There’s a soulful tint to the track courtesy of the deep 2-step bass flourishes and that mournful vocal, though it’s offset by some brilliantly snapping beat programming. The flip is just as good too, with “Asteroid Belts” delivering the best dirt filled Martian house rhythm this side of a Maurice Fulton production.
This was one of those records that arrived with little to no fanfare and knocked us for six. Cupp Cave is just one of the many aliases of the clearly quite talented Belgian musician Franz Baker, and the Dice Pool EP included four tracks of incendiary house music that was reminiscent of Lone at his bubbling analogue best. We got a sense this was a bit special from the moment the sloppy synth patterns filter out over the flamboyant drum programming on “Thoughtograph”. Alongside this, the woozy degraded beat narcosis of “Mind Bones” provided some viscous mind fodder before the more upright floor annihilation of “Hypersport” and the dextrous utopia of “Dice Pool”. Just to make it that extra bit special, Vlek housed the release in a stunningly sleek screen printed sleeve.
Matias Aguayo’s Comeme continued to do right in 2011 following the superlative EP from Argentinean Ana Helder with this EP of oddly brilliant proportions – enlisting artists on the label to remix bands from the bustling underground music scene in Santiago. Aguayo himself adopted the Broke guise along with Markus Rossknecht to remix the band Fredi Michel – turning “Enganami” into a rattling, organic mutant discoid future classic, whilst the same band are remixed by Diegors, with his Percapella rerub of “Marinero” sounding like a Chilean cold wave cover of “Set It Off”. Just as good but equally different is Diegors & The Don Gata Negras take on “Gatito” by $990 which is a pummelling EBM epic offset by the gentle Latin vocals, while Rebolledo rounded off our favourite Comeme release this year with a sex jam take on Javiera Mena which unfolds into a behemoth combination of gristly arpeggios and drawn out vocals.
According to the notes that accompanied this release, Brazilian producer Yes Wizard, was discovered by Tigersushi boss Joakim via urban legend whilst on a South American jolly – though some believe that Yes Wizard is simply a moniker for Joakim’s own Latin influenced productions. Whether this is true or not, the music speaks for itself; lead track “Elephant & Castle” is utterly hypnotic, blazing through raw drums and jagged synths before introducing a delightful floating arpeggio. A fantastic remix of “Elephant & Castle” is offered by the rarely spotted Duke Dumont, focusing on the heavenly arpeggio and straightening the track out with some killer drum programming that’s like an afro UK funky flex.
After two auspicious releases on the Swedish label Aniara Recordings, production duo Genius Of Time stepped up to Clone’s Royal Oak series, previously graced by the likes of Space Dimension Controller, Reggie Dokes and Gerd. It was as good as anything we’d heard previously on the imprint, with A-Side offering “Drifting Back” providing a jazzy house delight with softly pumping chords making for a jam that wouldn’t seem out of place in the KDJ back cat. It’s the two flipside offerings, however, that contain the real heat. “Houston We Have A Problem” combines calming synths, vocal moans and rolling percussion to breathtaking effect, while “Juxtapose” could almost be David Kennedy in house mode such is the tough, raw drum programming, but Genius Of Time add some softly soaring strings, thus imbuing the track with a nice classicist bent.
Along with the likes of Photonz, The Off Key Hat and Gatto Fritto, new material from Binary Chaffinch will always be received with a certain degree of excitement thanks to their output on Andy Blake’s iconic Dissident imprint. The dark brooding experimentalist EBM alias of Milo Smee, a key member of the slightly unnerving Chrome Hoof collective, this trio of Binary Chaffinch productions on Cosmo Vitelli’s I’m A Cliche imprint provided real reason to celebrate earlier this year. Words don’t really do “Heavenz Gate” justice; an epic track just shy of twenty minutes that barely squeezes on the A Side, with Smee utilising the talents of two vocalists, a choir and five other musicians, it’s a track filled with rhythmic twists and turns taking in heavy arpeggio and guitar solos. Complementing this, the B Side contains the raw industrial flex of “Neoprone Wizard” which indulges in some brilliantly demented synth stabs, whilst “Theme” is quite possibly a weird and wonderful synthpop cover version of Henry Mancini’s “Theme From Peter Gunn”.
German producer Kassem Mosse pretty much owned 2010, releasing a slew of records that touched on the raw, thumping end of house and techno. His remix of Commix was a particularly fine moment, while his 12″ for Dial sub-label Laid was a melodic shuffling delight. His highlight of 2011 however was this three track return to the Berlin based Workshop imprint. “Track 1” is characterised by tense synth work and a looped up female vocal which remains central to the track; from this foundation Mosse adds a dose of other deft analogue tweaks which combine to create a cavernous sonic landscape. The real heat, however, is on the flip; first Mosse takes things unfeasibly deep on “Track 2”, before the EP’s true gem, the all too short “Track 3”, brings the EP to a bruising finale.
One of our favourite labels Millions Of Moments paid a fitting tribute with this release to a true Detroit great in the dearly departed Aaron Carl. His passing late last year was a truly sad end to a glorious career and one of his finest moments in “Wallshaker” is revisited here. Massively rare upon original release back in 1997, Millions Of Moments have already reissued “Wallshaker” and it’s accompanying and quite hypnotic “Midnite Dub” back in 2007 but here they went the extra mile, enlisting Sven Weismann to add his own touch to the track. Spread across the B-Side, Weismann delivered a superlative remix which transforms the rattling original into a lavishly deep and dubby excursion filled with delightful orchestral flourishes. Extra special sleeve packaging and all profits going to the Carl family just add reasons to indulge in this special release.
A precursor to their debut album, “Below” saw Skudge in hypnotic form twisting an indecipherable and haunting vocal through around and between a bass heavy throb of droney synths and snapping metallic percussion. Rhythmically subtle in the way it undulates, Skudge showed an impressive new side in this release.
Although Objekt may have been the more visible producer fusing dubstep with techno this year, this release from Bristol’s Orphan101 proved just as furious. “Propa” kicks things off with a flurry of clicks, alarm style bleeps and midnight chimes like the cinematic soundtrack to a psychological thriller. This is soon swept away by a bone-crushingly heavy, deep DMZ style bassline, which quivers away squid bass style with light, ticking percussion sketched over the top, while juddering chords create a sense of unease, like a light flickering in the gloom or a moth’s wings pattering against a bulb. This is complemented by “Disemble”, which tunes into his techno sensibility much more palpably with a rippling undercurrent reminiscent of Rockwell’s “Reverse Engineering’. Fractured sounds, bubbling bass and bewildering SFX build gradually on top of one other and seem to ebb and flow like organic structures before the track finishes abruptly but masterfully with an artistic musical flourish.
Ah yes, whilst Angello, Axwell and Ingrosso amuse all with their 21st century update on Spinal Tap, Rush Hour dropped a timely reminder of the real Swedish House Mafia, enlisting Skudge and MRSK to take apart some Frictionalism classics and piece them back together in their own distinct fashion. Impressive as Skudge’s A-Side is, MRSK provided an even better take on “Travelers” transforming the future abstractions of Shakir’s original track into something dark, sensual and pulsing with an intensity that’s comparable to Robert Hood at his finest.
The alias of Manchester based producer Naveed Akhtar, Freak Seven was last seen dropping some Detroit tinged output on New Kingdom some seven years ago. This release marked a well overdue return and is drenched in house music history thanks to the vocal contribution from Aniff Akinola, whose CV includes co-writing “Voodoo Ray”. This pub quiz fact is barely the most impressive aspect, with the title track “Nano Kids” dripping with a pulsating sweaty bleeping energy which combines brilliantly with Akinola’s anthemic vocal refrain. This is complemented by the rougher, darker sonic headfuck of “Feel The Soul” with percussion bouncing off the rumbling rubber band bass, off kilter rhythms combining with spooked out sax flourishes and heavily phased vocals that suddenly rise to dominate brilliantly at the mid section.
The first in an ongoing series of Shangaan Electro remixes from the esteemed Honest Jon’s remains perhaps our favourite to date. Signalling just how switched on the label was, Anthony Shake Shakir and Oni Ayhun stepped up and set the standard for the series with two splendid and typically diverse efforts. Shakir’s reimagination of BBC probably just shades it – a beefy, positively booming bass drum bristles beneath traditional percussive elements and laser beam synth stabs. On the flip the enigmatic producer Oni Ayhun adopts a broken drum pattern, with all manner of curious sonic elements warped and twisted in the Swede’s idiosyncratic style. Stunning stuff all round, and we cannot wait for the forthcoming editions from Demdike Stare, Actress, Hype Williams and more.
Zomby remains such a singular and interesting figure within the music industry that the mooted legal kerfuffle surrounding “Natalia’s Song” led James Holden to remark (via Twitter) with more than a degree of humour that it was perhaps the first instance of a European intellectual stealing from a Russian. This one sided ten inch was released ahead of the producer’s exceptional album Dedication, sampling and stuttering Russian Star Factory singer Irina Dubtzova and wrapping her voice around skeletal programming and heart melting melodies. Housed in deluxe packaging and first heard closing out Mary Anne Hobbs’ tenure on Radio One, it’s a little slice of niceness this.
Responsible for the Detroit collectors item “Programming” under his Sound Of Mind alias back in 1987, Erik Travis seemingly fell off the radar before reappearing in the late 90s. Having set up his own FACT Records label, he’s been quietly releasing his own unique take on Detroit music ever since. A round of applause to Clone for squeezing these four slices of Travis brilliance out of him, with the title track the sort of expert boombap melding of vintage electro and techno that demands you play it in the discoteque. Elsewhere “Arise” and “Can’t Get Off” sounds like a Viagra embellished take on the fresh beat sounds of James Pants debut opus. Finally “Phone Sex” is a sample heavy Detroit electro funk epic with the rudest kick drum in some time – another highlight from our label of the year.
Across both sides of this hand stamped ten inch on MOS DEEP, the ever excellent D’Marc Cantu demonstrated the ease with which he can work vintage, driving Chicago house rhythms and more emotive, utopian visions of machine made sounds. Lead track “How Are We Doing?” is the former, with wide reaching analogue thrusts gradually being joined by soaring strings over a driving jack groove. Our favourite however was the B-Side “A Second Earth”, a blissful saunter through laidback melodic touches and skittering rhythms that could go for infinity and not lose its charm.
If you haven’t heard Joe Goddard’s “Gabriel” then you’ve probably missed one of this year’s most infectious underground pop moments; with production that comes across as a more understated version of the best Hot Chip tracks, the track is nonetheless firmly focused on the dancefloor, with a UK Funky inspired drum pattern and huge symphonic build-up sitting beneath Valentina’s subtly cut-up vocals which give the track its life. In an alternate reality this would be a number one hit – and rightfully so.
MMM (aka Errorsmith and Fiedel) conjured up a more than worthy successor to last year’s “Nous Somme MMM” for the fifth instalment of the infrequent MMM series that commenced all the way back in 1996. It’s nigh on impossible to call which of “Dex” and “Rio” is the superior party jam – a sure sign of quality. The A Side flex of “Dex” is distinguished by truly evil sub bass that filters through your every pore and a kind of diwali meets kick drum rhythm that’s simple in its execution but stunningly effective. It’s the descent into absolute sonic chaos towards the end of the track that left our jaws firmly planted to the floor. “Rio” is just as rhythmically dextrous though it’s far smoother, eschewing the A Side’s route towards bedlam for an undulating UK Funky pattern that lends the track real energy.
“Tarantula”, the debut release from Ossie, arrived at the perfect time: its sun-flecked synth stabs, UK Funky rhythms and tropical percussive elements came just as the Juno office was groggily emerging from a frosty winter, desperate for some warmth. Indeed we were so impressed we booked the East Londoner to DJ at our second birthday bash back in September, and he did a consummate job supporting John Talabot and Will Saul. His follow-up EP (Set The Tone on Kode9’s Hyperdub) was almost as good, but it’s “Tarantula” which lingers longest in the memory.
Whilst the Tropic Of Cancer duo of Juan Mendez and Camella Lobo have since moved on to the Blackest Ever Black imprint, it was their final EP for Downwards that struck the truest chord with us this year . The title track “Be Brave” eschews lazy comparisons with Joy Division by virtue of the dead eyed sonic menace that drapes over your senses as the track progresses through the droney minimalist fog. Strengthening the bridge between the past and present, Downwards scored a real coup in securing a remix of the track from Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H Kirk, who lifts the track out of the mist of sonic depravity somewhat and twists it into a relentless, ever building industrial groove.
One of many highlights on Instra:mental’s album Resolution 653, “Thomp” was perhaps named in honour of the sensation that hits you as soon as the truly evil juke rhythm finds its place amidst the bass heavy industrial mist. Embellished by loose rackets of percussion, the track is a thrilling example of how Instra:mental are always looking to flip the sonic script.
The news of one of the UK’s premier producers on one of our favourite Dutch labels made us very excited when it broke, and thankfully we weren’t disappointed with the results; “Little Things Like That” is resolutely booming techno music, effortlessly stepping up the gears of dancefloor menace towards a subway sized juggernaut of rasping, finely sculpted pressure. On the flip, “Bachelors Delight” merges the bassier excesses of Untold’s background with a 4/4 flex, dipping the expertly syncopated drums in a sub bass swamp lifted from the harsher end of 2-step.
The news of Burial’s first solo material in four years came just a matter of days after the producer’s collaboration with Radiohead front man Thom Yorke and Four Tet arrived on record shelves across the UK and promptly sold out amidst a frenzy of hype. “Street Halo” was a surprise to most, taking his subterranean gurgles, trademark clicking beats and barely-there vocal snatches and melding it with a bassline that was deadly in its execution. It led Four Tet to declare it one of his top tracks of the year on Twitter, as well as awarding it a spot on his Fabriclive mix. The other two tracks are more what we’ve come to expect from Burial, with a sweet childlike vocal pervading the sonic mist on “NYC”, and “Stolen Dog” closing out with ethereal vocal harmonies buried deep beneath vinyl crackle, but then nobody does it quite like him. Stunning.
When it comes to all round classy EPs, few could match this release. Science & Romance was only the second release proper from Chairman Kato, but the music exuded a real ease for marrying granite thick sonic manipulation with heartfelt artistic expression. The four original productions from the London based producer provided a real statement of intent from an artist who we expect big things of next year. Furthermore, Science &Romance proved to be an equally illuminating release for the label Awkward Movements, whose intriguing commissioning of Ekoplekz and DJ Andres for remix duties was a decision that paid dividends several times over. The Punch Drunk star really went to town, delivering a dubby nightmare of a remix that was complemented by the brightness of the Detroit natives simplistic yet devastatingly effective rework.
Fledging label left_blank burst onto the scene this summer with this genre shattering EP from Bristol based producer Vessel. Although it turned many heads due to its exceptional Peverelist remix, it’s Vessel’s original productions that deserve the plaudits, with opener “Ton” combining Border Community style analog glitch with Bristol’s dubstep rhythms, Blushes providing a hazy, atmospheric house moment with echoes of Mr Fingers, and “Nylon Sunset” providing a tense piece of lo-fi techno weirdness with echoes of Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin.
Releases from Dam Mantle’s are usually accompanied by a deluge of online chatter, but hyperbole aside, it’s clear to see this young Glaswegianis a talent with a knack for making an addictive tune. There’s no shortage of surprises across this EP, which flirts between synthesized machinations and organic sources vie for your attention while integrating seamlessly, with the title track a seemingly infinte joy. It’s hard to avoid a comparison to Mount Kimbie, however where Kimbie are fluttery and fragile, Dam Mantle has a solidity to his sound which should see them him over hearts and minds on an almost instantaneous level.
It may be early days for Gerry Read, but with several impressive realises this year on 2nd Drop and Fourth Wave as well as a thumpingly good podcast for us, his already his unique tendencies are standing him aside from the rest of the sizeable pack. Perhaps the highlight of his releases this year was this EP: On “We Are” a few grainy samples start a steady house template. After a crafty dropout the tune switches into a distorted piano house jam of the highest order. Meanwhile “Narry” kicks off on a steadier groove; the melodic elements easing smoothly into the melee while the main hook of a bluesy vocal duels with the filter. Unconventional they may be, but with the right room of freaks in front of them there’s no reason why these tracks can’t be party rockers.
In recent times, Rush Hour’s Direct Current offshoot has been a constant source of inspirational, dancefloor baiting material. Seemingly designed to offer a retro-futurist take on house from producers perhaps better known for their more experimental material, the imprint has rarely put a foot wrong to date, and one of their finest moments this year was provided by Sepalcure’s Praveen Sharma, under the Braille pseudonym. “The Year 3000” opens with a delay-laden vocal snippet from Sterling Void’s Chicago classic “It’s Alright”, before sprinting off on a woozy journey into 21st century Euro-jack – all dub-laden percussion, heavyweight 808 thumps, hissing jazz cymbals, spiralling vocal cut-ups and heavy, off key chords. “Leavin’ Without You” treads a similar path, but offers more basic, straightforward thrills. A heartfelt vocal sample nimbly dances round a ricocheting rhythm of off-beat 4/4 percussion, densely layered chords and mind-altering FX. By the time the organs drop after two minutes, you’ll be lost in the pulsing, ever-evolving groove. Like its impressive A-Side, “Leavin’ Without You” is off-kilter late night house music of the highest order.
Mike Dehnert was in fine form this year for all manner of labels but it was The Bricolage EP on the label he oversees with Lindau and Rydell that inpressed us most. Whilst all four clean and powerful tracks here achieve the same goal in their impact, each arrangement contains its own unique character, making this a neatly diverse release. The A-Side splays the dubby, industrial textures of the elongated “Montage” with the more urgent, fractured “Isolateur” which slips powerfully dark rave stabs over insistent subterranean bleeps. On the flip, “Treibholz” presents an almost house bump which rides through a gliding array of crystalline rhythms before Dehnert spooks us out with heavily pitched vocals slurs. “Picon” ends proceedings with in a decidedly disjointed fashion with stuttering beatdown drums and abstract vocal intonations the backdrop to Dehnert squeezing out frosted smudges of sound dripping with Motor City emotion.
A superb second release on the fledgling Nsyde imprint from Detroit’s secret weapon Kevin Reynolds, emboldened no doubt by the positive response to his drop on Todchai earlier this year. Lead track “Liaisons” is a delight, masterfully expanding from the industrially charged and finely sculpted rhythms that open the track into an expansive realm of mesmerising vintage Motor City utopia. The ease with which new layers of sound and texture are implemented amidst the subtly shifting directions keeps your senses enraptured throughout the sumptuous eight minutes. “Port” is just as memorable though more simplistic in its execution, utilising slick beat programming and a thick set bass line to draw you before the vast waves of Detroit emotion come rising through and take effect. The second wave of creeping keys imbues the track with an odd sense of kaleidoscopic warmth.
If “Ladywell/BB” signalled Joy Orbison’s intentions to take a house-centric turn, then “Jels” & “Wade In” is the producer (here under the Joy O moniker) tackling Chicago and Detroit in his own inimitable style. “Jels” arrives with a synth wash swagger, dropping into crisp 808 rhythms and future Detroit synths that build towards an emotive drop into the throbbing main. Craftily switching between snarling acid leads and elegant piano flourishes, it’s a bold dancefloor statement. “Wade In” looks to the emotive deepness of Chicago, adding some glorious tropical touches to the thudding rhythmic thrust with uplifting results. There’s a point where the pads are stretched right out in unison with the subaqueous vocal harmony which is truly blissful.
Glasgow resident Auntie Flo’s “Oh My Days” was massively anticipated on it’s release, having already found has already found favour with the likes of Jackmaster, xxxy and Pearson Sound, and it’s easy to see why. Combining an infectious vocal snippet which lodges itself deep in your brain with a slowly rising synth line and clattering percussion, it succeeds due to its unique mixture of African pop and contemporary bass which is quite unlike anything released this year.
The fledgling Cocktail D’Amour imprint maintained their status quo in our affections with its second release which saw Heatsick at the helm. Whilst this was the debut twelve inch from the East Anglian recently transposed to Berlin, he has plenty of DIY form having released some under the shade CDrs for that most esteemed of imprints Not Not Fun, amongst others. His is a talent worth paying attention to, as the classiness of “Dream Tennis” will inform your senses. Central to the track is a kaleidoscopic treatment of a vintage Casiotone keyboard, its rusted rhythms oscillating outwards with true intent over equally strained Chicago house drum patterns. Seemingly endless in its progression, “Dream Tennis” is a track worthy of NNF offshoot 100% Silk and a magnificent coup by Cocktail d’Amour overseers Discodromo and DJ Boris. That the original totally overshadowed the accompanying remix from Prins Thomas is a true sign of Heatsick’s obvious talent.
Mathematics Recordings tends to be a bit of a hit or miss label but when one of their twelves hits they really get it right – as was the case with this twelve from John Heckle. The producer impressed last year with The Life On Titan EP, his debut release for Mathematics, but the four tracks on this EP provided some next level twisted abstract techno. There’s a classic Chicago and Detroit sound present throughout but it’s wrapped in enough lo-fi finery to give the 12″ that unique sound. Proceedings commence with the spinal rattle of the title track, with the deft flourishes of jazzed piano a strange but complimentary bed fellow for the rhythmic thrust of pounding drums. “Forgotten Lights” is a more jagged ode to Motor City futurism, as growling chords and layers of metallic percussion duel to a twisting backdrop of abrasive sonics. “What Once Was” demonstrates Heckle can be more mellow, with the glistening sci-fi melodies sucking you right in before the track gradually enters a crazed body hammer stage, whilst “Ahead Of Time” might just be the best thing here – a gurgling, stuttering guttural rhythmic throb which descends swiftly into organised percussive chaos.
Borne out of the club night of the same name (aka the best Friday night out in South London) the World Unknown record label proved to be every bit as excellent as you’d expect with Andy Blake at the helm. Giving a typically wide berth to trends, their four releases to date have been club music in it’s purest form and Rotters Golf Club alumni Timothy J Fairplay provided a true highlight. “Cleopatra Loves The Acid” is a fine dollop of bristling, juddering 303 refractions, with uber slow monolithic techno beats caked in mid tempo sludge and topped with a compressed vocal that details Ancient Egypt’s fancy for a dab of acid.
Young Turks continued their assault on releasing good music this year, paying no heed to genre politics in securing some all too rarely seen original material from Barcelona resident John Talabot. The tracks on Families really provide further evidence of the somewhat mysterious producer’s endless progression into a musician of real talent, perhaps most notably on the title track collaboration with Glasser’s Cameron Mesirow. “Families” is in a word sublime, a perfect melding of pop sensibility and glorious electronic production. It’s obviously going to add to the reputation Talabot has amongst the music press glitterati, but crucially could see him gain wider appreciation. It wasn’t simply a one track EP though, with Talabot indulging in some crazed digi horrorcore boombap business on “Lamento”, all jagged vocal edits stretched over a sea of white noise and click clacking percussion. “Lovers Tradition” occupies similar territory, aping the hip-hop trend for chipmunk vocals and sinking them deep beneath twisting Eastern melodies that worm their way into your cerebral cortex with far too much ease. The final track sees Lonely Club rework “Families” – adding more club meat to the beat and laying down some hypnotic melodic qualities before slowly bringing in the vocal refrain – a perfect end to what was an excellent release.
“Rollin” was hidden away on the B Side of Relative 005, the first solo endeavour from the ever brilliantly named John Swing. Whilst the diverse EP was excellent, it was the final track that really stood out, providing one of our favourite purely visceral drum trax of this year. “Rollin” twists inside out as it progresses, commencing with a huge throbbing bass drum which constantly trades places in front of your face with an expansive rattling rhythmic rollercoaster of percussion.
Terje Olsen doesn’t release many records, but when he does they tend to be pretty special. This surprise EP for Running Back was his only his fifth original single in seven years, but was arguably his best yet. “Ragysh” is devilishly simple, a naggingly hypnotic house/ electronic disco head-nodder that builds to a gasping climax of chic, intergalactic melodies. It’s partnered by “Bonysh”, a dubwise beats track that ekes maximum thrills from little more than ever-changing percussion. B-side “Snooze For Love” – available in dancefloor and downtempo versions – continues the stargazing theme, offering up an uber-Balearic mix of bleep melodies, dozy chords and sleepwalking percussion.
Having finished 2010 basking in widespread plaudits for Swim, his stunning album as Caribou, Dan Snaith did as Dan Snaith does and introduced a captive audience to the latest new moniker of his chameleonic musical career in the shape of Daphni. And what an introduction it was, with the imperious “Ye Ye” sharing a twelve inch with long term touring partner Four Tet on the towering producer’s Text imprint. Snaith is no stranger to club music, but “Ye Ye” seemed to signal Snaith was switching his focus to concentrate on it specifically with Daphni , a fact that was subsequently borne to fruition with subsequent output under the name. Crucially, that indescribable organic quality that is a hallmark of Snaith’s output was retained for “Ye Ye” whilst also seemingly out Carl Craig-ing Carl Craig.
The point where Long Island Electrical Systems moved beyond our secret obsession into wider acclaim might have arrived around the time of this release but we won’t begrudge the New York label one bit! In the space of a little under two years, the label has supplied a grateful audience with some delightfully rough house jams from the likes of Legowelt, Steve Moore and more, marking L.I.E.S out as a transatlantic cohort to the likes of Clone and Creme. That comparison with the Dutch heavyweights is only increased by this release, which saw Jason Letkiewicz return to the label under his Steve Summers moniker – pop pickers will know he was responsible for the debut L.I.E.S. release as Malvoeaux. As Summers, the producer has priors on Clone with a couple of killers for the Jack for Daze offshoot, and the four tracks on In The Mode For Love ensured the L.I.E.S high standards were more than maintained. “Nethermead Arches” in particular is a real highlight, as a raw sinewy bassline tinged with malevolence is pinged by swinging drums – the intermittent drum fills that sound throughout are thrilling, whilst off key synth modulations are spectral in their intent.
Clone stalwart Dexter maintained his sumptuous run of form this year with the Great Northern Diver EP. The title track is splayed across the A-Side, with a booming bass drum and chirruping sonic elements that draw a line between vintage electro and modern UK bass a la Julio Bashmore. There is plenty more heat on the flip, too, and although the world probably doesn’t need another Amerie sampling track, Dexter’s deep, dusty revision is probably the best we’ve heard – indeed we’d go as far as to say it’s downright excellent. Finally, the droning low frequencies of “Bo-Dyned” round off one of Clone Basement’s most essential releases this year.
Objekt arrived out of nowhere, seemingly completely fully formed back in January to deliver one of this year’s first must-have releases with some devilishly good stripped back stepper action. Equalling the brilliance of its title, “The Goose That Got Away” effortlessly slips between twisted 808 lines and soaring stepping chords, with added dread vibes contributing to the overwhelming pressurised flex. One listen and it’s easy to see why this production led many to believe Objekt was a more experienced producer working under a different moniker. Flipside ride “Tinderbox” is even more menacing, with a cloud of increasing bass threatening to engulf the crisp crunk step programming, before a left turn into retro ravisms via the rolling subterranean synth patterns.
Of all the gems released by on-fire Ukrainian producer Vakula this year, this EP on boutique Amsterdam based label Dekmantel was undoubtedly most accomplished. The EP opens with “Picture Of You”, which unfurls majestically from a warm deep house joint with aquatic melodies and cosy pads to a certified end of night anthem, capped off with the stuttering keys that come in at the end. “Acid Release” serves as the perfect foil to the grandiose opener, doing exactly what it says on the tin with a dusty bump ridden throughout. On the B-Side the vaguely (but accurately) titled “Music”, which features a killer female vocal turn that sounds like it was recorded at the bottom of a well. “Smooth Sketch” features some off kilter Theo style mindf*ck weirdness while “Johnny” picks up where “Music” left off with that memorable vocal, this time adding some lovely jazzy keys and superbly crafted chords to the sonic equation.
FunkinEven’s ascendance to big things continued apace with the release of Roland’s Jam, a dextrously rough around the edges three track insight into what we can expect from his forthcoming album. The title track is a slab of tempo shifting, tuff 303 circulations that pretty much demand the shaking of booty. The B Side elicits further acid soaked deviations with “Take It Back” unfurling heavily lysergic lines over spring rolled drums and delicious Hardcastle style vocal and synth hooks; there’s a charming scattergun approach throughout, slipping between shards of forgotten 80s pop and ascendant zigzags of acid house delight. “XXX” operates on a similar plane, with the added addition of risque vocal samples throughout making it an altogether thrilling experience.
Sam Shackleton’s “Deadman” was the surprise hit of last year’s Fabric mix – a sought-after gem that took his particular take on techno and dubstep in a thrilling new direction. Thankfully, it received a single release through Honest Jon’s earlier in the year alongside an impressive King Midas Sound remix from Kevin Martin. “Deadman” itself is an intoxicating fusion of conga-led percussion – influenced, one expects, by the tropical beats of UK funky’s most forward-thinking practitioners – and his usual densely layered atmospherics. The King Midas Sound remix, meanwhile, is a spaced-out, heavily ambient take that delights and confuses in equal measure.
Ital’s Theme not only announced the arrival of Amanda Brown’s 100% Silk imprint – it also unveiled a new musical moniker for Brooklyn based producer Daniel Martin-McCormick (also of Mi Ami and Sex Worker). The epic “Ital’s Theme” showcased Martin-McCormick’s skewed take on house, although the curiously loping drums of B-Side opener “Queens” impressed us even more. The shimmering arpeggios and raw thwack of eight-minute odyssey “One Hit” could’ve been made by Oni Ayhun and rounded off a brilliant debut 12” for label and artist alike.
“Getting Me Down” started causing a stir ever when it debuted on Rinse FM back in January courtesy of Hessle Audio’s Ben UFO, and quickly became the year’s must have buzz track when it arrived on a strictly limited white label pressing (thanks to the rather copious accapella usage of a famous 90s R n B singer’s debut hit). As with any Blawan production what really impressed was the drums, fluid programming augmented by snappy percussive touches marking it out as uniquely his. The menacing bass that snakes in the lower regions beneath the slightly stretched vocals and bumping flex make it extra special. It may have been fairly ubiquitous over the summer, but if based on sheer enjoyment alone, he produced nothing better this year.
Following Jacques Greene’s superlative entrance into the art of releasing music last year for Night Slugs and LuckyMe, the Montreal resident served further notice of his clear talent with this drop for the Glaswegian crew. Taking a sample from Ciara’s “Deuces” and combining it with expertly teased out warm tones of bubbling melodies over some typically next level beat programming delivered one of this year’s certified anthems. In a word: sublime.
Earlier in the year Rush Hour turned a few heads when they enlisted Caribou and Hunee to remix Virgo Four’s “It’s A Crime” with startling results. It’s likely you will have heard the Caribou remix in a basement or warehouse or cavernous venue over the last year – with DJs as diverse as Ben UFO, Renaissance Man and Stopmakingme professing their undying love for the revision. It’s not hard to see why, commencing with little more than a lolloping drum beat and a deceptively fiendish bass throb before Snaith’s own distinctive vocal arrives over the top of a parping horn, lulling the unbeknownst into a sense of sonic security before exploding into an all encompassing rough acid rattle. It’s a shame that the rightful expectation that has surrounded Snaith remix has cast a shadow over the accompanying tweak from Hunee, which whilst straighter in its ambitions is a fine contemporary update on the Chicago house sound that Virgo Four helped to formulate.
With all three parts of their twelve inch trilogy released on RVNG Intl, it’s Lover/Hater the record that commenced Blondes ever blossoming relationship with the New York label that still resonates most to our ears. Lead track “Lover” presented the duo at their tribalistic best, steadily building from woozy beginnings into a throbbing house rhythm drowned out by shamanistic chanting courtesy of some smart Meredith Monk sampling. A potent part of the Blondes live set, “Lover” remained powerful on record, not least when the midpoint momentum cranked up a notch. Flipside excursion “Hater” was naturally darker in tone, with crisp reverse cascading percussion cutting through the thick bottom heavy throb, before the track twisted inside out into a thrillingly industrial lysergic jaunt skywards.
This release from the Glaswegian imprint added a further sheen of excellence in a year where Numbers really knuckled down and concentrated on a schedule of multi-faceted releases. Such was been the demand for Mosca’s debut on the Numbers imprint, the London based producer cheekily took to touting advance DJ copies of Done Me Wrong via Facebook. Both tracks on the release are fully poised for the floor, priming a throwback Bassline / UK Garage swing dipped in a nowness from Mosca that’s been evident on drops for Night Slugs and Fat City. Unusually, it was the B-Side that garnered the most attention, which is odd as “Done Me Wrong” is excellent, reigning in vintage female hollerations over clipping rhythms, swamping basslines and parping synths that pay homage to the classic “RIP Groove”. Flipside, the more celebrated “Bax” is a dual assault on your senses, murky sub bass jabbing at your ribs, whilst the sweet cooing vocals whisper sweet nothings in your ears, underpinned by a skipping mid 90s flex heavy on the neon stabs that has warehouse jam written all over it.
Vincent has an intricate understanding of sound design and admits, like many producers, to being a perfectionist, obsessing over the smallest details. It’s this potent combination of knowledge and dedication that make each Vincent release something of an event. Speaking in 2009, the producer jokingly remarked he had some tracks up his sleeve that would make people “shit themselves”, and to be honest we wouldn’t be surprised if the title track on this 12″ – his comeback record after a 12 month break from releasing original material – caused a few bowel disruptions. Hi-hats bounce around like giant sheets of metal before the track locks into a sustained groove, which allows the main hook – an indescribably heavy rave synth line – to be twisted around with unyielding, relentless vigour. B-Side opener “Making Headway” is more abrasive in nature; taking the metallic chords heard on his 2009 remix of DJ Qu’s “Party People Clap” to the next level. The result sounds like an orchestrated recording from the inside of the sweatiest steel factory you can imagine. The odd sense of the human and machine worlds combining is heightened by what sounds like manipulated breathing, which Vincent then douses in a surreal sheen, with strangely calm synth line left to sit alongside the piston-pumping hook. It’s an odd yet appealing middle ground between the sheer hedonism of the A-Side and the comparatively serene “No Regrets” which closes out the release with sparse instrumentation and Caribou-esque plaintive vocal.
London trio Factory Floor are one of a few bands whose sole priority seems to be how far they can push the sonic envelope whilst retaining a sense of rhythm and melody. The closest thing to creating techno music with real instruments, the band’s appearance on DFA was rightly lauded, but for us it was their drop on Optimo Music that seemed like the perfect fit. “Real Love” is perhaps best heard live in the bands panoramic Quadrophonic Sound rig but on vinyl it still packs a veritable sonic punch to your guts – driven by a throbbing industrial synth arpeggio that rises and falls amidst a multitude of sonic crescendos and backed with the hypnotic vocal leanings of Nik Void. With the original so close to harsh perfection, there are few people on this earth who could match or even better the track, amongst them JD Twitch – a man familiar with abrasive rhythms (as anyone who has heard his under appreciated hoover rave remix of Dave P & Adam Sparkles can testify). The Optimo Espacio remix can only be described as jaw droppingly monstrous – applying that arpeggiated lead to a rising cloak of sensory destroying sonics which seem specifically designed for that elation filled moment of dancefloor ecstasy where people have forgotten everything apart from the primal urge to dance.
Kieran Hebden returned to his own Text imprint for the second time in a year to deliver “Pyramid” and “Locked”, the two dancefloor focused cuts from his standout Fabriclive mix. “Locked” is characteristic Four Tet all the way through, combining organic drum samples with synthetic beats in a 2-step rhythm, whilst Eastern melodies, painted in a fuzzy radiophonic style, give way to a pulsing bassline. However, it was the B-Side, “Pyramid”, that stands as one of Hebden’s most devastating productions to date. Utilising a throbbing techno bassline in conjunction with a glitchy vocal sample, it’s left to the brief moments of unmistakable melody to remind us that “Pyramid” is indeed Four Tet we’re listening to and not some murky transmission from Detroit’s past. Taking its cues from all of electronic music’s must contemporary tropes without trying to copy them, “Pyramid” felt very much like the thrilling culmination of a period of interesting musical development for Hebden.
By anyone’s standards FaltyDL has had the kind of year that most producers would dream of, with releases across a spectrum of labels, but it was this EP on Loefah’s Swamp81 that was the highlight of his year. “Mean Streets” revolves around an afro jazz swing that cuts through the pitched vocal effects and opaque chord washes, and perhaps most thrillingly offers up several rhythmic left turns along the way. On the flip “Moonshine” sounds like a lost Marvin Gaye classic diced up and made palatable for modern day beat junkies, whilst “Hard” is the sole concession to dancefloor dynamics with a fuzzed out bottom end thrust doused in rude attitude and expertly chopped up rave breaks. Whilst it’s become increasingly apparent Falty DL is just one of a number of artists at the moment who seem inspired to challenge preconceptions, what really impresses here is that Loefah’s label seems to be following in kind – which can only be a very good thing for the future of musical progression.
Musically, this impeccably presented double twelve pack of Floating Points productions was perhaps Sam Shepherd’s most ambitious collection to date, taking full advantage of the space afforded across the two slabs of thick vinyl to veer through sumptuous deep house, expertly crafted broken boogie from another century and bristling techno. “Myrtle Avenue” provided a dreamlike way to open the release, plunging into vast, widescreen expanses of texture and detail, further cementing comparisons with Theo as the freeform keys align with undulating layers of percussion. “Realise” and “Obfuse” are the precursors to the standout tracks on the second twelve, but are in no way filler, with the former teasing out finely placed 808 programming over pensive simmering patterns, whilst the latter is a fizzing, stripped down drum machine workout that is gradually joined by yet more tenderised synths. And thus we come to “Arp3”, a track which will secure this release a place in many a heart, expertly growing into a haunting techno epic and filled with so many production intricacies and rhythmic deviations it demands several repeat plays. “Sais” occupies the final side, revealing in full detail the track’s fuzzy, orchestral glory some time after a Dub version appeared on record store day.
New London imprint PMR launched with a bang back in January as Julio Bashmore delivered a varied and exceptionally sexy take on house music. Commencing with “Battle For Middle You”, a track which featured heavily in the sets of many house-leaning bassheads this year, including luminaries such as Kode9 and Scuba. The track itself was characterised by its crisp bassy sound, consumed by a searing filtered drop. The rest of the EP was exceptional; “Ask Yourself” was next level bliss, with a haunting female vocal attached to gloriously thrilling neon tinged builds and drops. The flipside featured the mid tempo askew disco flex of the title track “Everyone Needs A Theme Tune” whilst “The Horn That Time Forgot” splayed awesomely fuzzed out moog pitches over a boogie boom bap. Arriving on extra thick vinyl and wrapped in an A1 poster PMR dropped something very special indeed.
The clue is in the title here, with Detroit don Omar S utilising soaring, euphoric synths on “Here’s Your Trance, Now Dance” which ride majestically above skittering rhythms and abrasive textures that ensure the track is very much rooted in raw analogue house territory. It was an interesting contrast, and it worked brilliantly. There’s not much more that needs to be said: this track was huge in 2011.
Choosing our Number One for this list was a refreshingly straight forward choice for us – to put it plainly, A Universal Crush was unanimously placed at the top of the pile no questions asked. Cosmin’s latest release for Rush Hour’s imperious Direct Current series gave a clue to the approach in the title, and this EP saw him succeeding in being all things to all people. The title track set the tone, with what sounds like samples of folk music looped to a juddering percussive backing and then combined with muffled, indistinct vocals. That Cosmin managed to make the end product rooted on the dancefloor says a lot about his skills. “Sirop” was another unusual proposition; caught between woozy chords and a stepping rhythm are Chicago kettle drums, appearing at regular intervals. “Negligee” also flirted with contrasting sounds, but has little bearing on the previous tracks. Instead, it pits an abstract rhythm against Warp’s ‘Intelligent Techno’ era bleeps and eerie, ghostly riffs. “Magnetic Bodies” completed this most unusual jigsaw, with relentlessly dense and raw beats offset by a filtered chord sequence.