Best of 2015: Artists, DJs, label owners and producers on the music that defined their year
The tables are turned as some of our favourite people from electronic music discuss the records that helped shape their year.
This is the fourth year we’ve canvassed artists, DJs, producers and label owners for contributions to this particular annual list and what’s become clear is how much (most of) these individuals love to speak about music. Once again a fresh round of names was sought out, from the familiar and established to newer artists whose endeavours this year have really caught our attention and its been a pleasure to see their selections roll in, regardless of whether they’re accompanied by brief explanations or in depth words of praise. We realise how impossible a task it is to narrow down a year’s worth of music to just the one choice so a bit of creative and artistic freedom was allowed and we are very happy with the results.
Fango – “Caballos (Nuevo edit) (Degustibus Music)
Dungeon Acid – “Tiger Claw” (Börft)
First off I have to say I’m ashamed about choosing a track that is digi only. It really is quite an offence from a life-time vinyl aficionado, but I just can’t deny that there is one track that blew every other out of the water when it comes to crowd reaction and number of ID requests this year: “Caballos (Nuevo Edit)” by the Italian tech house (yup!) producer Fango. It kinda snuck its way into my sets as a wild card that I planned to try in some really late morning outdoor ravey settings, but by chance I threw it on in a peak hour club setting at like +8 pitch and the room just went to another level. I’ve seen it do this many times now and it is a thing of magic to experience. It’s very different both in style and mood with its bombastic Imperial March-ish theme and collapsing percussions so undeniable it takes some getting used to, but once you let your guard down you’ll surrender. To retain some techno cred you have to let me name one more!
My favourite headsy piece of the year: “Tiger Claw” by Swedish underdog Dungeon Acid, on the always very ballsy, non-conformist label Börft. This is the polar opposite of Fango, there is no cinematic theme or super engineering but instead just one of the dirtiest and most evil loops I’ve heard in years. Imagine Regis’ seminal “Montreal” on a filthy drug induced mania and you’re halfway there. This track just keeps clawing and clawing and clawing. It’s quite a water divider of sorts, separating the “casuals” from the “hardcores” in the crowd. There will be blood.
Ricardo Villalobos / Insanlar – Kime Ne Versions (Honest Jon’s)
Tessela – Bottom Out (R&S)
Huerco S – Railroad Blues (Proibito)
Mix Mup – Beach Hotel De Haan (Meakusma)
Minor Science – Whities 004 (Whities)
Laurel Halo – In Situ (Honest Jons)
Mika Taanila – Stimulus Progression (Apparent Extent)
One record? Maybe one for each season might whittle it down. Winter/spring bought the stunning Kime Ne Versions from Ricardo Villalobos / Insanlar – just from the online clips you knew you were in for a treat, nice artwork too. Tessela’s Bottom Out got added in at 33rpm to a guest-mix I made for Bake’s Rinse FM slot, which to my ears brought out even more fruitiness to the sound, though possibly unintentionally pissed off Tessela fans. Railroad Blues by Huerco S, Mix Mup’s Beach Hotel De Haan and Minor Science’s Glamour were like a warm, rough blankets in autumn, same goes with Laurel Halo’s beautiful In Situ, loved hearing elements of that record in her live show too. Throughout the year, Volker Zander released more great audio records on his Apparent Extent imprint, my favourite of the year being the muzak sound-system and other Helsinki field recordings by Mika Taanila on his Stimulus Progression LP. Loved that ”Cha Cha” one too.
Creta Kano – “Skyway Motel” (Happy Skull)
Domenique Dumont – Comme Ça (Antinote)
The tune that has worked best for me as a DJ has to be Creta Kano’s “Skyway Motel” on my friends the Kelly Twin’s Happy Skull label. One of those tunes that fits at any point of the night and always piques people’s interest. A bright, synthy electro cut that feels like you’ve heard it a thousand times yet always feels fresh. A special mention as well for the O$VMV$M remix which flips it into something completely new, like a grime track heavily sedated. Very strong stuff.
On a slightly different tip, Domenique Dumont’s Comme Ça LP on Antinote caught me off guard and has beguiled me ever since. I can’t quite pin it down, and certainly can’t put it down. It’s cheery, almost indie pop take on things is shot through with a brilliantly dubby attitude. A record to cherish.
Maxsta, Boothroyd and Maniac – 100 Problems (Rinse)
Harley Gaber – The Winds Rise In The North (Edition RZ)
Two records really snagged my ear in 2015. Maxsta, Boothroyd and Maniac’s vertiginous Rinse EP, 100 Problems, is one of them. It’s a wildest dreams sort of collaboration that transcends the sum of its parts; accelerating classic grime with precise, shockingly fwd production chops and ideas that sound like something Autechre should have been doing ten years ago but, voiced by a bullish, anxious, road-taught gob that’s achieved the rarest of tings in grime. A record that stands up in terms of both innovative production, and the incisive, emotive impact of the MC. For me, it’s one of 2015’s most memorable records.
Another big Percival is Harley Gaber’s The Winds Rise In The North, which was written and recorded in 1976 yet only reached my ears nearly 40 years later via an Edition RZ CD. Without meaning to sound hyperbolic, this record has hit me on levels unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. I had to buy an original 2LP very soon after hearing the CD. Essentially it’s a string quartet sustaining Gaber’s dense and garrotingly discordant drones in a creaking log cabin for over an hour and half, all mic’d up to the extent that you can hear wind and trucks passing outside, and practically taste the rosin and fresh blood on the players’ fingers. I’m not sure if I’ll ever come to terms with the emotions this recording unleashes every time I hear it. And ostensibly, there I can draw an instinctive connection between this LP and the Maxsta EP; they both made me feel something incredible and direct that I can’t, or even don’t, ever want to explain.
Elec Pt. 1 – “Acid Mark” (Signals)
Interchain – “Closed” (Unreleased)
Tandy Ogmo – “Everybody” (Viewlexx)
The Bod-x 12” from Elec Pt. 1 is a relentless record and “Acidmark” is probably one of the tracks I’ve played most on dancefloors. I wanna say thanks to those guys for this track. “Closed” is a secret weapon of a talented Russian band. I’ve played this unreleased track in many of my DJ sets this year. I love the bawl of this simple word ‘closed’ into the microphone… haha! It creates such a crazy atmosphere, the effect on the crowd is really powerful. This track for me is like the soundtrack to my life and my soul… Crazed and wild but closed. Finally, “Everybody” is an edit of a popular disco song called “Let’s All Chant” on I-F’s imprint Viewlexx. This is a really wonderful hit. I feel happiness and absolutely a carefree attitude towards life. I will play this song again and again.
Jordan GCZ – Lushlyfe II (Rush Hour No ‘Label’)
I’m not a huge fan of saying what’s ‘best’ in music. That this person is ‘better’ than another, that one record is more ‘important’ than another. I find the whole competition aspect to anything in life completely mind numbing and feel my eyes literally glazing over at the mere mention of the word ‘best’. I also spend most of my time enjoying and discovering music spanning the last 50 years or so, that was predominantly made by people that were never considered the best, never topped any end of year charts and some of which was maybe never even heard beyond those that made it.. And a handful of their friends.
Rush Hour’s No ‘Label’ is consistently inconsistent and each release is very much its own thing in both music and design – and I’m definitely a fan of the label generally but Jordan GCZ’s Lushlyfe II is one release that I’ve been listening to a lot, and actually enjoying more and more with each listen. This is really music to sink into and get lost in, though it’s definitely more zone-out than chill-out. At moments it’s lush indeed, with drawn out face-melting synths and dreamy vocals whilst at other times it seems inspired by French or Italian late-‘70s and early-‘80s more experimental or stoned explorations of ambient.
I wouldn’t like to try and summarise the record too much really because the publicity text kind of nails it perfectly; “Living it more Hassell free than Kenny Gcz” haha. But it definitely has these really interesting parallels with music that we’ve put out and are passionate about at Music From Memory and especially so with some previously unreleased material that we have forthcoming early next year.
Modini – The Answer EP (Hypercolour)
Even though this EP is only out in December on Hypercolour I managed to get hold of these Modini tunes early in the year and have always dropped one in my sets. Coming from Neil Landstrumm (and Hostage) they have his wobbly rave sound powered by slamming bass and a load of fun. It’s a wicked project I can’t wait to hear more from.
On a similar tip the year has very much been soundtracked by Jerome Hill’s Super Rhythm Trax, every release is killer and DMX Krew’s Bleep-o-logy probably tops the lot (it’s almost as heavy as Jerome’s Control EP on I Love Acid which complement each other pretty perfectly). I also want to note Stingray’s two releases this year for Bleep43 and Lower Parts which have been topping off my sets once I’ve eeked it up to 150 bpm territory. Finally, I of course have to mention the debut release on my own label null+void from Shinra with his Ball & Chain EP which I’ve been playing at every opportunity!
Pev / Steevio – Edges / Seren (Schmorgasbord)
Oren Ambarchi – Quixotism (Editions Mego)
The Pev & Steevio 12” has to be one of my most played out records this year – a collaboration between two of my favourite producers with each providing a reinterpretation of the other’s work – both sides are killer, and seem to keep unveiling new elements the more I listen. As usual with both Pev and Steevio, they manage to achieve that perfect balance of interesting experimental rhythms while remaining tough enough for the dancefloor.
Oren’s music has really intrigued me over the past few years – 2004’s Grapes from the Estate being a particular highlight. Quixotism is an incredible piece of work, a collaborative venture between Ambarchi, Jim O’Rourke and Thomas Brinkmann amongst others. A hypnotic triumph of measured patience, it carefully builds to a finale where the reserved minimalism casually unfurls into a cascade of musicality. Next level stuff.
Affinity – “Don’t Go Away (Runaway Dub)” (Mango)
I experienced a weird sort of epiphany in the last few months as I tried to make sense of that section of my records collection where disco, Italo, wave, industrial, funk, electro-funk, hip hop and everything else that is old and not house or techno is relegated. As I tried to figure out a filing system that included BPM I finally started seeing beyond the ‘genre’ and glimpsed at the threads that connected them; the year they were released, what country, what tempo and often what production teams.
This is probably a very obvious map inside the heads of all the old timers DJs but to see it physically there in your records and connecting the dots has made for some very exciting weeks of backtracking and discovery. What attracted me the most were the years from about 1981 to 1986 where dance music moved on from disco and started incorporating hip hop, dub, post-punk, the synth heavy European sound of Kraftwerk, Italo, the UK funk scene with its Mancunian Factory sound and started really messing about with pop.
One track I love out of this time is the dub version of “Don’t Go Away” by Affinity, the Mark Kamins-produced project of keyboard wiz Warren Doris. Mark was right at the centre of EVERYTHING that was hot in NY at the time. A resident at Danceteria, Mark had just produced Madonna’s “Everybody”, he occasionally shared decks at Paradise garage with Larry Levan to whom he introduced New Order and to top it all, Chris Blackwell, who had just set up Compass Point studios for Island records, had just asked Mark to do A&R for him.
Basically Mark was on top of what was what in terms of dance at the time and you can hear it all in this track; the dubbed out vocals, THAT bassline, a fire keyboard solo accompanied by Euro-centric synth stabs and guitar licks and that sparse arrangement heralding the arrival of garage. I hope revisiting this era of dance music might help us to move forward and past the trite house or techno tropes of today and to truly appreciate the diversity of styles available to DJs and producers alike.
I-LP-O in dub – Communist Dub (Editions Mego)
Various Artists – Neu Konservatiw (Walter Ulbricht Schallfolien)
Wolf Eyes – Slicer (Orion Read)
Galen – Recordings 1979-80 (Vinyl on Demand)
Nick Forté – Primordial Forms (Amish)
Scheich in China – Scheich in China (Hafenschlamm Records)
“Hey! I really cannot understand how you guys are able to write about music all day-it´s so difficult! Wuuuuoaah, whatever i am writing, I’ve heard it a thousand times before!”
“Nina, we are dying a slow, painful death because of it…”
Well then, my favourite records of 2015 (descriptions are impossible).
Colleen – Captain of None (Thrill Jockey)
Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – Never Were the Way She Was (Constellation)
Ekoplekz – Reflekzionz (Planet Mu)
Meredith Monk – Dolmen Music (ECM Records)
Though none of my choices are club records, and only one of them could be described as techno in any broad sense, it’s albums like these – rather than the tracks I’d play in club after club after club and which I love too for their own merits – that I’ll take away from this year. They resonated with me the most, especially with 2015 turning out to be a rather intense year for me in which I found myself seeking refuge in music particularly often. If there’s one common thread running through all four LPs it’s a feeling of being suspended in mid-air and propelled forward at the same time.
Colleen’s breathy, deadpan vocals and the undulating, delay-laden ostinatos of her viola da gamba conjure a hypnotic sense of escapism which has brought me back to this album again and again, often listening on headphones walking through the city or drowning out the din of some airport or another in an exhausted daze. Reflekzionz, by the same token, shudders forward insistently while gazing at the sky the whole time, its fizzy, knackered drums cantering unrelentingly underneath gauzy layers of gorgeous, wistful analogue synths, almost to early IDM as Burial was to jungle.
Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld’s Never Were the Way She Was offers less by way of nostalgia. It sounds as forlorn as it does forceful, Neufeld’s cello and Stetson’s saxophone weaving sinuously through one another, bolstered by god knows what FX and supported by rough, clunking thuds (is it drums? contact mics? electronics?), to powerful and utterly compelling ends. And Meredith Monk – well, I may be about 40 years late to the party but this year I finally discovered this record (and her) in earnest, having first heard Gotham Lullaby on Minor Science’s Blowing Up the Workshop mix two years ago, and then seen Nuel play Dolmen Music in its 30-minute entirety up in the Japanese mountains at Labyrinth this September. This is a wonderfully weird, vivid piece of choral music, Monk’s incredible voice soothing and bewildering by equal measure.
Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls (Profound Lore Records)
Svengalisghost – CCCP-015 (Russian Torrent Versions)
Girlband – Holding Hands With Jamie (Rough Trade)
The Prurient album was one of the records that I’ve listened to most and it’s really made an impression on me. I am a big fan of power electronics, and extreme music, but this album draws you into a far bigger world. I hate to use the term, but it’s very cinematic, there’s a space and a world this music inhabits that’s unusual for the power electronics genre. He still has the power of noise but he also contrasts it with a lot of synth patterns that give a really dramatic atmosphere, it’s big sounding and even melodramatic, but it really draws you into a world. I found myself listening to it after gigs on flights home, I would fall asleep to it and dream to it.
This Svengalisghost 12” is a monster of a record, he is a fantastic producer. Dirty nasty synths and a fucked up groove too. All the tracks are killers on this record, but the one I’ve played most is the second mix of “Razors Edge”, it’s got a booming doom acid vibe to it. It sounds like a huge death-ray beaming over the human race, brutal!
I’ve been following Girlband for a while and it’s amazing to hear them record their first album. They are doing things with noise-rock that are really inventive, there’s a lot of no-wave ideas in this, pure noise and rhythm. There’s a demented quality to it, like the music is some kind of therapy for the band. The way they create very tight bursts of noise along with almost no discernible melody or notes. It’s a very techno album, but it’s all pure punk too.
Asda – Three Tracks (FuckPunk)
October – Black Body Radiation (Skudge)
Creta Kano – “Skyway 81 (O$VMV$M Version)” (Happy Skull)
I realise that this might look selfish to choose Asda as this record was released on a label I’m involved in running – but I don’t care. It’s one of my favourite things to see the light this year. Vessel and Chester Giles have made something that I would class as proper new-age punk… No fucks given, but still straight from the heart – noise music with a message. I remember seeing them play earlier this year and it was near riotous, I think there’s a lot to be said for that. Although it sounds different in many ways, I think it also sits nicely alongside the Diagonal output and certain BH records this year, and I’m glad to see a fresh wave of rebel music. I think Asda are set for big things next year.
I love the October album, it’s been on repeat for a while now. It’s so lively, makes me want to play it loud and shock out. He told me the album was made over two years ago, but I think it doesn’t matter when it was made, it has enough retro-futurism and undeniable energy in there to feel pretty timeless. The album goes through its motions, but it’s also pretty non-stop and makes for great listening as well as packing some real dancefloor bombs. From the stripped back, explosively dubbed “Blood Feud” to the killer industrial charge of “Body Chant” it’s proper body music and I’d recommend giving it a blast if you haven’t done so yet. October is a badman.
I’ve enjoyed hearing a pretty constant influx of high-grade O$VMV$M tracks from Amos ‘Jabu’ and $am ‘Neek’ – I think Sam’s late night sampling of weird things he finds on Netflix, second-hand hardcore records (or whatever else sounds right) and his quick-fire grime attitude mixes so well with Amos’ knack for putting frequencies together in quite a mesmerising way. The tracks don’t feel over polished, as Sam always stresses, they see them more as collections of ideas and thoughts than finished tracks… I think that gives them a really tactile and human feel, in a very hazy tripped out kind of way. I loved hearing those guys take full control of the pace at Young Echo nights whenever they stepped up with their 7″ acetates, its proper smoked-out, futuristic soundsystem music. Their cassette on NoCorner and the 12″ on Idle Hands are amazing, but perhaps their most ‘classic’ is their recent remix of Creta Kano for Happy Skull… Recently here in Bristol people even sang along with the melody when it got dropped. Underground anthem.
Dude Energy – “Renee Running” (Animals Dancing)
This is the most stirring track for me. It is fresh and creeps me out no matter how many times I listen to the song.
Claro Intelecto – “Peace Of Mind” (Ai Records)
I know this has been around for ages but it’s a tune that has really influenced me this year in particular because it basically the tune that made want to start moving more towards electro with my productions. I think it’s such a beautiful track. For me it encompasses everything I like to hear in a tune, emotion, space and good rhythm. It’s a must have.
DJ QU – “Be Who You Want (Hardknock Shakers Dub)” (Strength Music)
The track I would like to mention is “Be Who You Want (Hardknock Shakers Dub)” bt DJ Qu. It probably is a bit older than 2015 but who cares. For me touring and DJing in 2015 is a lot about using this song. The shakers on this track are so insanely loose and funky. It is perfect by itself or just as an extra percussion tool on top of other tracks. The shakers again, wow! Used that trick a lot during my set at Labyrinth festival this year, together with Sebastian Mullaert. After the show mister John Osborne came up to me and sang the sound of the shakers. I remember I was very impressed that he had noticed what I was up to during those 3.5 hours. Also a bit disappointed that he had revealed the trick of the magician so easily…
Tolouse Low Trax – “Reserves To Talk” (Themes For Great Cities)
Cowboy Rhythmbox – “The Natives Are Having Us For Dinner Tonight” (Phantasy Sound)
Although this production from Tolouse Low Trax is yet to be released it has been around the salon crew for the whole year already. This slow, dark groover combines Detlef’s hypnotic style with a hip hop-like beat and amazing random noises, and I have great memories of playing this to the most varied audiences this year, from dark basement clubs to big festival crowds. Soon to be released on Themes For Great Cities!
Even if I love and play music of all tempos in my sets my two favourites of the year seem to be in the 90 BPM range. Nathan (Gregory Wilkins) sent this Cowboy Rhythmbox track to me shortly after they produced it, and I totally encouraged him to not change anything about the track, leaving it raw and minimalistic. This stomping voodoo beat contains super ‘hard’ sounds, but it still has a smooth way to get a dancefloor in a unique mood.
Tapes – No Broken Heart on the Factory Floor (EM Records)
Stump Valley – “Sunshine Hotel” (Rush Hour No ‘Label’)
Pilotwings – Molitor71 EP (BFDM)
Apart from all the edits, reissues and music unreleased from the past and all, I’ve bought a lot of amazing new records this year. What you guys ask is of course almost impossible. How to pick one? It’s easy to pick the Tapes album No Broken Heart on the Factory Floor as one of my favourites this year. His reggae dub stuff brings the vibe somewhere else, quite authentic and true… and danceable sometimes. In terms of DJing, I also played Stump Valley’s “Sunshine Hotel” from their Magica Movida EP a lot this summer because it’s Balearic but well-percussive, working perfectly for outdoor gigs and festivals. I really do love what Rush Hour No ‘Label’ do. Loving the attitude a lot.
I also wanted to mention the Pilotwings’ Molitor71 EP. Those young guys and BFDM label from Lyon is one of my favourite new French labels and deserve to be followed. This EP gives space to weird comedy and not too serious attitude combined with a true deep feeling and a real respect of the past but never pastiching it. All tracks are dope. The J-zbel project from the same guys is top too.