Best of 2013: Top 100 Tracks, EPs and Singles
Last week saw us reveal our favourite albums, labels, compilations and reissues, and today marks the onset of the 100 tracks, singles and EPs that have collectively impressed the Juno Plus editorial over the past twelve months. Today we are revealing the first 25 from 100 downwards, with the top spot set to be revealed on Thursday. It’s a list characterised by balance where established names such as Silent Servant, A Made Up Sound and Rick Wilhite brush shoulders with emergent and, in some cases unknown, artists.
Copicat Tracs Vol 1
Brandishing a name and label that quite possibly references a series of tape echo units originating in 1950s Britain, the shadowy pair known Watkins & Almadovar emerged from the swampy ether with their own distinct brand of grotty primitive electronics on two limited 12”s. It’s their debut that still holds the greatest pull for us, consisting of two untitled frequency modulated brain scramblers that came across like Container operating in a Cold War era paranoid state. Whether it’s the work of two established producers operating under the cloak of alias or some vintage hardware enthusiasts doesn’t really matter to us, these were some mind bending electronics at their finest.
Soundtrack For No Film Vol. 1
Perhaps the closest thing you’ll get trying to create a contemporary version of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports and Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)” – and for the sake of it we’ll throw in a warped Stanley Kubrick score – are these conceptual electronics from the always on point Acido Records. Soundtracks For No Film Vol. 1 was the first instalment in an ongoing series, and it was Madteo’s haunting “Science Fiction” and the barely audible hums of SVN and Dresvn’s “Low” and “Moonwalk” that first drew our attention to this six-track various artist 12”. If you add the lazy guitar swoon of 291out’s “Urania (Titoli Di Coda)” and the cosmic Doc L Junior – “Modul 32”, not only have you got Acido’s best release of 2013, but a breathtaking film you’ve never seen.
Blank Slate 001
Each year brings with it several breakthrough labels and Blank Slate could be one for 2013. The Ithaca-raised and ambiguously Berlin-based operation is fuelled by the talent of its own roster, avoiding remixers, altogether. A release which defines the Blank Slate sound best was fittingly their first, a various artist sampler which gave debut to Mirko, who later supplied BS004, while also shining a brighter spotlight on Northlake and Britain’s deep house advocate of the year, Arnaldo.
Sandra Plays Electronics
Whilst Karl O’Connor was busy overseeing a curatorial renaissance at Downwards HQ, his army of feverish completists were treated to a few choice releases of early material through other outlets. Blackest Ever Black launched their Krokodilo Tapes label with what’s now the highly prized Family Sex cassette, whilst Minimal Wave offered up a typically sumptuous seven-inch containing two recordings from O’Connor under his Sandra Plays Electronics banner. The latter was particularly well-received here at Juno Plus, expanding on the White Savage Dance 12” issued in late 2011 and shining further light on the primitive electronics O’Connor explored in his youth. Excitingly, it seems that Minimal Wave are planning a more conclusive appraisal of O’Connor’s work under this name with a Sandra Plays Electronics album due in Spring 2014.
The Trilogy Tapes
“What I do is really simple: I go to places and I play other people’s music off records that I bought in a store, as well as making music for someone else to play or put it on and enjoy.” That’s Anthony Naples speaking to Pitchfork only a few months back, and it encapsulates how he’s remained down to earth despite his swiftly increased profile since that fateful debut release for Mr Saturday Night last year. 2013 saw Naples start his own label Proibito which has been guided by similarly unfussy principles and featured some great club cuts from himself and Huerco ‘Royal Crown Of Sweden’ S as well as unheralded acts like Local Artist and Hank Jackson. Naples’ finest personal moment came early in the year with a debut appearance on The Trilogy Tapes, where the romanticism of deep house at its finest was covered in hissing abstraction and infectious hue across the title track and the wonderfully plangent “Busy Signal”. Naples hitherto secret penchant for the works of Fleetwood Mac was also revealed in charming fashion.
Pev & Hodge
Peverelist’s return to his own Punch Drunk label after three years saw him collaborate with young Bristol producer Hodge on the excellent Bells single. Hodge’s experience as part of house duo Outboxx was obvious on this pair of strange tracks, which saw the same melodic motif threaded through a syncopated piece of techno in the Livity Sound mould, and one much more ethereal track which combined classic Detroit futurism with Bristol’s bass and house heritages. Pev’s Livity Sound project might have received more attention this year, but this pair of tracks were undoubtedly just as important in their own right, hopefully paving the way for more Bristolian experimentation at slower tempos in the future.
Lit City Trax
Along with Slackk and Logos, Visionist has been one of the most interesting of the current wave of artists using grime as a jumping off point to create some of the year’s freshest sounds. This EP for J-Cush’s Lit City Trax label was particularly unique, merging his own sparse, mournful palette of sounds with the framework of footwork and techno across six tracks. Most importantly, its appearance on a transatlantic label such as Lit City Trax is proof that this burgeoning musical movement is far from being something uniquely local to the UK, hinting at exciting cross pollination possibilities for both genres next year.
A Made Up Sound
Transmissions from Dave Huismans – whether under the 2562 moniker or as A Made Up Sound – are seemingly all too rare, but are always guaranteed to cause the kind of excitement usually reserved for big budget summer blockbusters, without the disappointment. After Hours saw Huismans back on home turf after last year’s releases on 50weapons and Clone Basement Series, and of the two A Made Up Sound 12”s this year, this EP, with its title track described as offering a “brooding alternative soundtrack to that most underrated of Scorsese movies” (complete with film dialogue samples), provided a disjointed feast of broken kick drums that seem to explode like landmines. “What Preset” offered some stark tribalisms in line with Livity Sound’s productions of 2013 while also exploring techno’s slower possibilities, without compromising on impact. In the true spirit of electronic music, this EP isn’t a representation of today, but sounds from the future.
Metal Irene EP
Don’t Be Afraid
Initially coming to prominence under the name Darling Farah, Kamau Baaqi delivered one of last year’s most striking debut albums in the form of Body, a smoky collection of introspective techno that recalled Actress in his more straightforward moments. This year he dropped the first half of his moniker to become simply known as Farah, and delivered this excellent EP for Don’t Be Afraid. The honed sound design that has characterised the producer’s work is still very much present on Metal Irene, but there’s a newfound warmth and directness on display that make them feel like a step forward as well. “Cloudy Apple” and “Speak In The Spotlight” straddle the line between deep house and techno with finesse, but it’s “Lockhead” and “Pieced Apart” which really impress, both revolving around stripped back rhythm constructions which play havoc with your perception due to their strobing sonics and heavy use of delay. For a label that is often so defined by its focus on house music, the Metal Irene EP was an interesting move into different sonic territory for Don’t Be Afraid, and a fine development for a maturing producer.
Tales From The Night Sky Part 1
Perseus Traxx is a massively prolific producer, and it’s fair to say that a lot of his material can rely too heavily on the tropes of classic Chicago house. Tales From The Night Sky Part 1 however was easily the best thing he’s produced, looking outside the his influences into more abstracted territory. Everything on this EP just felt more muscular than anything else he’s done before; “Poseidon’s Monster” growls with all the menace its name suggests, “Return To Seriphos” was quite simply some brilliantly executed acid, and the fizzing pads and epic chords of “Stranger Shores” felt as otherworldly as any classic Legowelt production. But it was the brilliant “Gorgon” that provided the high point, channelling the same thick, heady and impressionistic view of acid house as Gavin Russom’s Black Meteoric Star project, with its furious bassline and epic chords giving the impression of being trapped in the path of an oncoming storm.
Inaugurating a new series of more club-focused 12”s on the excellent Public Information label, Portuguese producer IVVVO delivered six tracks of unsettling techno that neatly straddled the line between the experimental nature of his EP for Opal Tapes last year and something more explicitly aimed at the dance floor. “Darkness In My Soul” combined the kind of apocalyptic textures you’d expect to hear on a Tim Hecker record, while “Future” sounded like being trapped inside an skipping record that had accidentally worked itself into almost danceable rhythm. However, it was the haunting piano piece that ended each side that hinted at a maturity that goes far beyond mere rave nostalgia. With a recent EP for Ramp’s Fourth Wave continuing on a similarly strong footing, IVVVO is someone to keep a close eye on next year.
Announced with a similar amount of abruptness as the disbandment Sandwell District, Jealous God seemed to be an opportunity for Karl O’Connor, James Ruskin and Juan Mendez to take the piss out of the notion of limited edition vinyl that’s become an all too often used marketing tool. Instead of records, they would release ‘issues’ which came with art ‘zines and specially tailored artefacts such as ‘engraved logo daggers and military logo badges’. Of course, despite this, the music was generally as up to scratch as you would expect, and it was the third issue from Mendez under his Silent Servant guise that impressed most. Culled from a limited split tape release with Regis, “Lust Abandon” was a continuation of the sound Silent Servant had focused on with last year’s Negative Fascinations LP, but played at a slower, hypnotic tempo. It was finely complemented by a ramshackle no wave remix from Powell, and a superb mix CD from cult Boston DJ Ning Nong. More of this in 2014 please Jealous God.
Freedom School DJ Series Vol 1
Freedom School Vol. 1
Returning in high profile manner as part of the 3 Chairs collective alongside messrs Dixon Jnr, Parrish and Pittman sort of put this killer 12” from Rick Wilhite for the Japanese label Freedom School in the shade, which is a shame because it’s a masterclass in schooling from the Godson. It essentially presents three different shades of the Wilhite production palette, and in “Tribute & Respect” brandishes one of those timeless Detroit house grooves that you could quite happily listen to for something approaching infinity. On the suitably titled “Techno Dust,” Wilhite ripped through a gnarled, brutal, thrusting alien soundscape. Completely lacking in subtlety, it was the sort of track you literally have to drop on an unsuspecting crowds and witness the damage. Sitting somewhere in-between was “Kinky” where skeletal drum arrangements offered something to grab onto amidst the gurgling lo-fi fog.
The Trilogy Tapes
Although the EOMAC 12” came close at times, no other record on The Trilogy Tapes was more worthy of a ‘Will redline/blow lesser soundsystems” warning than the suitably named “Firebomb” from Rezzett’s self-titled EP. First taking form via a series of mulched out videos on his YoTtube channel which were later snapped up by Will Bankhead for release on The Trilogy Tapes, the lack of tangible information readily available on Rezzett coupled with the incendiary nature of his/her/their productions meant those with overactive imaginations didn’t take long to form a long list of possible producers hiding under an alias – Lukid and Actress among them. We’d like to think whoever is responsible for the Rezzett project will unveil themselves several years down the line in a manner similar to how Larry Heard claimed ownership of the Gherkin Jerks material, stating it was a creative experiment issued to test people’s responses.
Lukas Nystrand Von Unge
Studio Barnhus EP 1
Few records this year sounded quite like Lukas Nystrand von Unge’s for Studio Barnhus. Brandishing a discography and production heritage equivalent to compatriots and analogue pranksters Frak, von Unge’s penchant for humour (Biskopsgården Disko Workshop and Sentimental Cat are just two of his fanciful aliases) obviously appealed to the light hearted trio behind Studio Barnhus. The surprisingly plainly-titled Studio Barnhus EP No. 1 was the first (and thus far only) of several releases from von Unge planned by Studio Barnhus, and was a utterly singular EP of fearless ideas, lo-fi mess and skewed 4/4 grooves. From the off, von Unge effortlessly put paid to the notion that house music has become a genre devoid of ideas or ingenuity, with lead track “Förmodligen” a genuine thrill.
Five O’Clock Traffic
Let Us Leave To The Machine What Belongs To The Machines
With just a few scattered releases to his name over the last 11 years, Daniel Wendler’s project of electronica studies makes a logical addition to the Börft catalogue. With three tracks per side, there’s an abundance of quality music to get stuck into here, especially if you dig the of lo-fi electro, acid, and kooky house-and-techno sounds associated with Scandinavian electronic music. There’s a healthy amount of leftfield attitude in all these tracks too, with the wild tones of and tubby drums of “RPC”, the EPs opener, a particular stand out. Of the four entries to Börft Records’ never ending catalogue this year, not only was this our favourite, but it was a criminally slept-on release.
Wes Gray’s emergence under the Moon B guise was one of this year’s low key success stories, with a nostalgic sound pitched somewhere between an astro-travelling Dam Funk and the lo-fi house of Willie Burns. An end of 2012 LP of untitled tracks for People’s Potential Unlimited first hinted at Gray’s talent, and this year has seen further highly prized records for the DC based label as well as inaugurating the emergent Going Good operation. It’s not been made explicitly clear, but perhaps a by-product of Gray’s success has been the opportunity to perform his music in a club setting and get a glimpse at what’s missing amidst all the fuzzy edged sonic nostalgia. That might have been the driving force behind Gray’s decision to adopt a new alias Vaib-R and turn in some more rhythmically focused material for the rising Athens label Nous, with the three original tracks on the Intl EP his best work yet.
Copeland & Gast
Material from both Inga Copeland and Dean Blunt has remained compelling despite an apparent permanent Hype Williams split. Whereas Blunt has eased himself into a role as a piano ballad-playing crooner across two albums, material from Copeland has been less forthcoming this year. The intriguingly titled Don’t Look Back, That’s Not Where You’re Going EP surfaced back in February featuring production from Martyn and Scratcha DVA and was promised as the lead single for a debut solo album that never came. Whilst we still hope that’s on the menu for 2014, Copeland did treat us to UKmerge, a wonderfully weighty record in collaboration with Henry Moan’s John T. Gast. A title track that was almost jungle in its raw, distorted construction and a frenzied sonic attack of a B-side left us wondering how interesting that album might be if it ever arrives.
Waiting For Love
If anyone is an example of how to become a household name from their first release it’s Samuel Kerridge. This Waiting For Love 1-4 EP was the first of three releases for Downwards this year, culminating with his debut album, A Fallen Empire, with Karl O’Connor’s label becoming a home base for Kerridge’s productions since his debut for Horizontal Ground last year (coming in last year at no 53). More so than his other releases, this 12” sees Kerridge create a whole conceptual EP in parts; it’s a release that proved accessible enough for the club, while simultaneously proving his ability to combine industrial techno rhythms with harsher ambient scores – all the while setting himself up as a Downwards’ newest mainstay.
DJ Spider & Marshalitto
Dancer turned producer Marshallito launched subBASS Sound System last year, turned onto making music after frequenting the weekly Deep See parties that DJ Spider played at. Thus far all three releases on subBASS have come from Marshallito and Plan B boss Spider, and have seemingly latched onto a particularly murky brand of house and techno pollinations. Despite a later appearance on The Trilogy Tapes, it was Infinite Potential, the pair’s second release together, that bore the greatest results for us. Few other current producers seem to nail the low slung rhythmic arc like Spider and Marshallito did here, with tracks such as “Rene Descartes” and “White Phosphorus” seemingly swinging in and out of syncopated focus with little prior warning.
DJ Muscle 2
Keeping up with the countless pursuits of William Burnett aka Willie Burns rivals the endless stream of music that proliferates from the likes of Mika Vainio or Dominick Fernow, and although Burns’ music is of a stark contrast, all concerned carry scant regard for adhering to trends. In the past W.T. Records happily put out obscure cyberpop from Japanese artist Nao Katafuchi and reissues of the cult synth-jazz explorations of Woz along with 12”s from the likes of Shawn O’ Sullivan, Alex Israel and Hunee. This year’s three-part DJ Muscle series promised a “beautiful and functional” return to the dancefloor, and of those three various artist 12”s it was volume two, featuring Crème Organization’s Orgue Electronique, and the respective return and debut of Entro Senestre and Geena to the label, that stood out most – but none more than the big-room house antics of Towlie’s “This Is A Momenth (BMX Edit)”.
D’Marc Cantu/JM de Frias
I Have No Eyes, And I Must See EP
Techno in New York has been a burgeoning scene as of late, and the Sequencias label has quietly become one of the most interesting labels operating out of the five boroughs. Founded by JM De Frias back in 2011, Sequencias has worked with a high standard of artists, amongst them Aroy Dee, Jamal Moss and Willie Burns, and offered them the chance to indulge their avant-garde leanings. With five releases in 2013, Sequencias seems to have found a real groove, and its most memorable moment came with D’Marc Cantu returning under his dcantu guise for a collaborative release alongside De Frias. The superbly named I Have No Eyes, And I Must See EP featured a solo cut from each as well as one production recorded together, and in “The Lost Tribe” gave us the most heart wrenching production yet of D’Marc Cantu’s peerless recording career.
One of our favourite new labels this year was Public Possession, the Munich based operation that’s grown out of the city’s record shop. Both label and shop are overseen by Marvin & Valentino, and the former has really hit its stride in 2013; commencing with the Tambien project Marvin & Valentino share with fellow Münchner Bartellow, subsequent Public Possession releases came from the largely unheralded Australian producers Matthew Brown and Bell Towers, leaving us eager for what the German label have planned for next year. This was all trumped however, by the surprise appearance on ESP Institute from Tambien later in the year. Andrew ‘Lovefingers’ Hogge has overseen a quietly impressive year for ESP Institute and the Drogato 12” was a highlight, especially the epic B-side “Dois” which languidly stretched a classic breakbeat out over some 12 minutes, and was reminiscent of Carl Craig’s timeless “Planet E Special Mix” of Incognito’s “Out Of The Storm”.
Best Available Technology
Excavated Tapes 1992-1999 Vol 1
At times this year it felt as if you couldn’t move for records full of tracks rescued from a DAT tape gathering dust in an attic somewhere. As well as Move D, Kirk Degiorgio and Marcos Cabral, there was Portland-based Kevin Palmer aka Best Available Technology, who despite having been producing for two decades, only really broke through this year. Excavated Tapes 1992-1999 Vol. 1 provided some of the most ahead of its time material in this category, with eight tracks of punchy rhythmic flutter, steam-powered melodies and deeply unsettling ambience. This year may have seen a proliferation of more contemporary productions with a foggy, indistinct quality, but this collection of tracks showed that Palmer was decades ahead of everyone else.
Last year was undoubtedly one of Julian Smith’s busiest years to date. His October project graced a dizzying array of high-end labels; from Skudge and Apple Pips to Aus and Simple, not to mention his own co-run TANSTAAFL. As for this year, nothing stood out more than the title track from the Unstable Phenomenon 12” on burgeoning New York label Voodoo Down. At every turn this is a record that celebrates the approach of the non-conformist which October has built a career around; making Voodoo Down a logical ally, both in their curatorial choices and creative impulses.