The RA staff votes on their favourite compilations, online mixes and official mixes of the year.
Top 10 official compilations
Over the past few years, the compilation has become more and more important to electronic music. Curators, labels and DJs are taking stock, reviving rare tracks, celebrating unsung heroes and recontextualizing what has come before. Looking over our list of favourites of the year, it's also a way of contextualizing the present day as well. (Half of them group together like-minded contemporary producers.) As the amount of music released each year continues to be almost too much to keep up with, look out for compilations like these to become all the more essential.
10. The Burrell Brothers - The Nu Groove Years 1988-1992 [Rush Hour]
It shouldn't be a surprise that The Burrell Brothers compendium was among the most well received reissues of this year. What is surprising is how Rush Hour continued to revitalize long-dormant music. (The last year also saw them rediscover worthy obscurities from James Mason and Chicago legend Gene Hunt.) Rumor has it there's a flux capacitor-enabled Delorean parked out the back of the Dutch record store.
Who needed gangster retweets or endless revivalism when you could feast on these 2.5 hours of vintage Chicago house? Curtis A. Jones's path-breaking label is even more epic in the rearview, luxurious on the cheap from a deep jacker like Cajmere feat. Terence F.M.'s "Feelin' Kinda High" to the disco dazzle of G.U. (Glenn Underground)'s "Beyond"—not to mention "The Percolator" and "Brighter Days," maybe the greatest 1-2 in house label history.
Collecting the eight 12-inches comprising Honest Jon's Shangaan Shake series, this compilation boasts a who's who of producers remixing tracks from the label's Shangaan Electro anthology. It's a well-executed concept. Yet it's also a testament to techno's anything-goes attitude nowadays. After all, here we have the likes of both Demdike Stare and Theo Parrish, Actress and Mark Ernestus, Shake and Hype Williams, all finding common ground in some strange-ass dance music from South Africa.
With its second compilation of synth-pop curios assembled in conjunction with Stones Throw, Minimal Wave once again brought goodness to our ears we'd likely never hear otherwise. Even if we're well aware of the sort of brittle sounds we should expect from Minimal Wave Tapes, the quality and variety of this second collection made it essential, with every tinny vocal and noisy snare drum still cutting through like nothing else.
Encapsulating the first three years of International Feel's legacy, founder Mark Barrott presented 21 of the Uruguayan label's defining moments. With many of the inclusions previously only available on vinyl, cornerstone releases from Bubble Club, Gonno and Gatto Fritto were joined by well-thumbed remixes by Andrew Weatherall, Tim Love Lee and Com Truise. Adding a further sense of occasion, exclusives from Flights Of Fancy and Barrot himself completed one of 2012's notable catalogue showcases.
L.I.E.S unquestionably made a lot of racket this year, but American Noise still struck some as a strange title for a dance music compilation. But if the specimens collected in Ron Morelli's singular trawl through America's electronic underbelly share one thing in common, it's sonic grit. Featuring L.I.E.S sides both old and new, American Noise caught the label at a moment when its future is looking as bright as its past.
Naming all of the artists on a compilation might seem like a no-brainer, but for UK techno label Frozen Border, it was a pretty big leap (hell, before Minutes In Ice, none of their records even had titles). Then again, how could you bring together artists like Blawan, Szare and Dario Zenker (AKA #.4.26.) and keep it under wraps? Even for such a shadowy outfit, this one was way too good to keep secret.
It's worth remembering that when Clone first announcedJourney of the Deep Sea Dweller, they felt compelled to include a very careful explanation of their actions, as if to preemptively stamp out any possible backlash. The Detroit duo's records are, for some, about as hallowed as the Old Testament. Listening to this career-spanning collection, with its groundbreaking productions and the imaginary worlds they conjure up, it's not so hard to see why.
Turbo's compilation presenting new and under-the-radar techno producers was a small revelation. Each track seemed to have a unique spin on the genre and, thankfully, one that didn't conform to the en vogue Berghain or industrial sounds. Largely compiled by Tiga's brother Thomas Von Party, it also served as a nice reminder that the label's remit has always been far wider than many seem to realize.
A steady curatorial hand will always be welcomed in the murky realm of '80s electronic music. On the two-disc Metal Dance compilation, Trevor Jackson—a UK veteran whose tastes were most visibly exhibited through his influential Output imprint—took on the role of guiding light. Subtitled Industrial, Post Punk, EBM, Classics & Rarities 80 – 88, Jackson gathered a selection that ran the gamut from the playful to the unnervingly taut. Touchstones of the period like Nitzer Ebb, Cabaret Voltaire and Einsturzende Neubauten rubbed up against lesser knows such as Hard Corps and Naked Lunch. Despite the scope of the discs, coherency was never an issue—a product perhaps of Jackson's "back of the bag" approach to his selections. In his review of Metal Dance, William Rauscher noted that "the neat balance of classics and rarities allows the compilation to function as both a primer for newcomers and treasure trove for diehards": exactly the type of qualities that keep compilations alive in the internet age.
Top 10 online mixes
Just finished playing the set of your life? Upload it. Made a track that day? Put it in your new mix next to all the old classics you know and love. Want to highlight some aspect of your music taste you can't in the club? Here's your shot. The list below of our favourite online mixes of 2012 takes all of these ideas as starting points, pointing toward the inherent sense of possibility that comes with making an online mix. (Or, in the case of some, for radio broadcast.) It's also why they all stand out in a world awash with them.
Sweetness may be the flavor in the foreground of most Smallville sides. Smallpeople's Talking Shopcast mix for Little White Earbuds, though, proved there's a whole lot of spice in the label's palate as well. Paring Smallville standard bearers like STL and Juniper with big tunes from Glenn Underground and Omar-S, Smallpeople coaxed some serious heft out of the usual Smallville suppleness for an exceptionally toothsome hour of house music.
There was little that sounded as fresh in 2012 as UK newcomer Beneath. Ben Walker introduced himself through a thrilling 70-minute vinyl and dubplates mix for FACT that mostly featured his own music. Like so much of the UK's sonic innovation, Beneath's sound takes a little something from lots of places—the syncopation of UK funky, the attitude of grime, the pacing of house and the low-end of dubstep.
When Dan Snaith tried to put his Daphni project into context he described it as the antithesis to the "mind-numbing predictability of the EDM barfsplosion." As eloquent as the word 'barfsplosion' is, a better way to get inside Snaith's head is to listen to this mix. Touching on psyched out prog rock, avant jazz, techno and UK bass music, Daphni's set is a masterclass in tasteful genre-hopping and ballsy track selections.
This mysterious Mancunian outfit cut through the white label hype with this mix of their own material. Jumping back and forth between techno, garage and some cyberpunk vision of dubstep, it's held together by an ascetic aesthetic—built from surgical steel, their tracks are precise but hit with deadly force. And it isn't just about the strength of their productions, either: the way the mix breathes between tempos is art in itself.
The influential and always opinionated mnml ssgs blog called time on its five year-plus run with a final (FNL) string of mixes across June and July. The site's overarching ethos was captured by Morphosis' entry in the mini-series, a live recording of a warm-up set he played at Panorama Bar; very far from an hour of functional house, the Lebanese producer pushed the envelope with experimental electronics and a remarkable sense of adventure.
Bok Bok's first instalment in a new podcast series reinforced Night Slugs' vitality with cutthroat conviction. Proving that UK DJs playing house don't have to be polite about it, he mixed his own grime-influenced productions with efforts from Kowton and Levon Vincent. Throw in Jam City's showstopping space-age productions and the only thing more impressive about his DJing than its reckless speed was its razor-sharp ingenuity.
Nicolas Jaar is not a DJ, and that's precisely what makes his mixes so special. With no expectations, he simply plays anything he likes. On his Essential Mix this year, he found his way from the gentle indie of Feist to teen pop from *NSYNC through to jazz giant Charles Mingus. Not many DJs would think to attempt something like that. Even fewer could pull it off.
Enigmatic techno and experimental artist Rrose was beginning to gain significant traction through his Sandwell District releases when his mix for Electronique.it was broadcast early in the year. From its advanced sound design to its deft control of noise and ambience, the 53-minute set built upon the themes of those 12-inches, and felt like just about the most vital techno statement of the year.
Something special happens in the final minutes of Dixon and Âme's Boiler Room set at ADE, broadcast live from a hotel room in Amsterdam. There had been a pillow fight earlier, so feathers are drifting through the air. Kristian Beyer twirls a rose and Dixon plays an edit of Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes." There's a real magic to Innervisions when they're at their best, and you'll never find a better example of it than this moment.
Hip-hop collided with dance music in a huge way in 2012. There was arguably no better example of just how massive it could sound than Rustie's Essential Mix. A mammoth effort that set the tone for ensuing months, the Glaswegian producer spent two hours mixing his own spastic productions with cutting-edge dance music, bombastic mainstream hip-hop and sugary pop. It proved Rustie was not only an astounding producer but an astute DJ, drawing lines between Clams Casino, Destiny's Child, Lone and Cassie that few people even realized existed. It was also the first time many would have heard Baauer's "Harlem Shake" or S-Type's "Billboard"—two soon-ubiquitous tracks which Rustie foresaw as anthems, and would later come to define the nascent trap movement. At the end of the year, Rustie's mix still feels every bit the event that it was when it was first broadcast.
Top 10 official mixes
Year upon year, you'll notice that the number of labels releasing official mixes grows smaller and smaller. (It's no secret that sales have declined precipitously.) The upshot, however, is that the quality of released mixes has increased substantially. When we compiled the list below, we were forced to leave out a considerable amount of standout releases. In an age where these types of mixes are fewer and further between, they've been better than ever.
Part of the idea behind Tresor's new Kern series is to let the artist "weave their own story" through a mix, which is precisely what DJ Deep has done here. This 22-track tour-de-force bears out the Parisian selector's two (plus) decades of experience in electrifying detail, bobbing and weaving through classic house, contemporary techno and a slew of exclusive tracks, making them all sound cut from the same cloth as he goes.
It spoke to the inexorable rise of Maya Jane Coles that only a year after her breakthrough she'd be tapped for a DJ-Kicks mix. The resultant set traded in the same standout qualities as her recorded music—virulent hooks, colourful melodies and an adroit form of accessibility—setting the tone for a year in which she affirmed her standing among house music's brightest talents.
Thomas Franzmann's fabric installment didn't attempt to stray from house's norms in any obvious way. To some, this may have been somewhat surprising, considering the German's longstanding reputation for flair and his position at the forefront of minimal's development (as a producer and DJ). With this mix, though, Franzmann presented 17 quality tracks arguably in the best way possible—well-paced, well-mixed and with a clear narrative. What more can you ask for?
You could argue that Norman Nodge has the best range of any Berghain DJ—a point Berghain 06 would readily support. Just like when he's opening the club, he uses its 60 minutes to navigate a careful arc from beatless atmospheres into full-on techno. Once in the thick of those relentless beats, he finds more room for color and emotion than many of his peers ever do. This quiet sage of a DJ is one of techno's finest.
There was a time in house music's history when a soaring saxophone or wailing diva vocal was just as welcome as a deep bassline. New York City imprint King Street Sounds were key proponents in this regard, and on Classic House Grooves, Slow to Speak (the outspoken duo behind Dope Jams) bumped their way through the imprint's joyous back catalogue.
It was entirely fitting that Tiga's name appeared in his latest mix's title: Tiga Non Stop exhibited the exact qualities for which the Montreal DJ is celebrated. "The very fine line between pop and club music" was how Jordan Rothlein put it; this on-going tightrope act—"will it, won't it come crashing down?"—was what drove Tiga Non Stop relentlessly forwards.
From Jon McMillion's whirring organ through to Andres' year-defining strings, Nick Hoppner's turn at the helm of the vaunted club's mix series turns out to be its most patient and dignified. The Ostgut Ton label manager keeps things at a steady simmer, hinting at a boil with gorgeous and gentle rustling from DJ Gregory and The Mole, flaunting Hoppner's impressively steady hand before one hell of an ending.
The urge to descend into beard-stroking indulgence is often too much for icons to resist when showcasing their inspiration, but the ever-humble legend kept his addition towards the Masterpiece series focused firmly on the floor. Purposed to reflect the vibe of London's A Love From Outer Space shindigs, Italo-themed house, bluesy disco and doe-eyed electro formed the basis for each of the three CDs, with plenty of his own output included along the way.
In the club, Ben Klock pushes sound relentlessly. His mixes, however, revel in the spaces between those cavernous kicks. So while Klock's entry into fabric's mix series is a well-oiled techno machine, there's a softness to his precision that sets it apart. It's not cuddly, exactly, but fabric 66 is rife with spaces you can curl up in, with enough drive to remind you you're still getting the sort of workout only Klock can deliver.
In an active recording career of over ten years, fabric 63 represented the most concrete statement to date from US house and techno producer Levon Vincent. Choosing to put out music predominantly through his own vinyl-only Novel Sound imprint has—in addition to a judicious release schedule—attached a sense of occasion to any transmission from the Berlin-based producer, but also a feeling of scarcity. The mix brimmed with new and unreleased material from Vincent, alongside the mainly New York-based coterie of producers that includes Fred P, Jus-Ed, DJ Qu and Joey Anderson. Much has been made of the group's fierce dedication to cutting their own sonic path, and in a way fabric 63 was as much a showcase for the collective as it was Vincent himself. Each puts a unique spin on the brand of house and techno that's only been identified by the naming the artists themselves. Vincent himself is somehow able to make deep, dark club music sound chest-beating and anthemic: It was one of the many reasons that fabric 63 stood tall as the finest mix this year.