|RA Poll: Top 50 tracks of 2012
The RA staff count down their favourite tracks of the year.
Dance music is still very much a singles game. And in 2012, the field felt especially wide-open. Memorable music seemed to trickle out from the moment the calendar turned, leaving us with no shortage of anthems. With once disparate genres continuing to cozy up to one another, there was no telling whose sets those big tracks might turn up in. A number of new producers turned in exceptionally auspicious debuts this year, but 2012 also found artists who have come up these last few years making good on their early promise by continuing to push things forward. So rather than just a round-up of what slayed the clubs this year, our list of 2012's best tracks is a testament to how much we have to be excited about right now—and how bright the future looks for dance floors.
50. Phase - Binary Opposition (Process 1) [Token]
A barreling techno track from one of the genre's finest purveyors.
49. Bookworms - African Rhythms [L.I.E.S.]
This syncopated siren song was one of many 2012 highlights on the NYC imprint.
48. Dub Phizix & Skeptical - Run It Like the President [Samurai Music]
The finest moment in a sterling year from two of drum & bass's hottest new properties.
47. Jam City - How We Relate to the Body [Night Slugs]
One of the few dance floor tracks on the London producer's abstract masterpiece, Classical Curves.
46. Daniel Avery - Taste [Phantasy Sound]
Daniel Avery has a lot of very talented people singing his praises. Andrew Weatherall has said that he basically could play an Avery mega-mix each time he's in a club. Erol Alkan has snapped up the young producer to become one of Phantasy Sound's flagship artists. Ed from The Chemical Brothers complimented the fabric resident on his mix for the London's club long-running series. So, in a year in which it seemed like everything was coming up Avery, "Taste" was just another shining moment, a track that—as Weatherall so memorably described it—was "gimmick-free machine-funk of the highest order."
45. Untold - Motion the Dance [Hemlock Recordings]
Every few years Jack Dunning chucks it all in, finds new inspiration, and rethinks his approach completely. It's resulted in some of the most singular music of the past half-decade. For his Change in a Dynamic Environment series, the genre was techno and the idea to have defined sections to each track that connected naturally. As he put it to XLR8R earlier this year, "Motion the Dance" goes from "soft > abrasive and light > dark" in its eight minute length. What's most important, though, is that ">" sign. The seamless transition from one to the other is where the track's true magic resides.
44. DJ Qu - Times Like This [The Corner]
The dark and droning centerpiece from the debut release on Anthony Parasole's new label.
43. Fracture - Get Busy [Exit]
Juke meets jungle on this frenetic party-starter.
42. MPIA3 - Ely [Avian]
An acidic banger from the increasingly unhinged producer also known as Truss.
41. Moomin - Don't Fly When It's Foggy [Aim]
A busy bassline provides the funk on this house number. Soaring pads give it that trademark Moomin feel.
40. Levon Vincent - Speck's Jam [Novel Sound]
The long awaited bit of twanging funk finally found its way to vinyl in December.
39. Pearson Sound - Untitled [White]
One YouTube commenter said, "He's just showing off now." We couldn't agree more.
38. Vatican Shadow - Cairo Is a Haunted City [Bed of Nails]
Veteran noise producer Dominick Fernow tries on lush '90s-era IDM for size.
37. Hot Natured - Benediction [Hot Creations]
If Jamie Jones is going to offer up a public defense every time he has a part in writing a song like "Benediction," he better get his thesaurus out. "Benediction" followed in the footsteps of last year's "Forward Motion," but did it one better by upping the pop and dropping the BPMs. The result was a confection that seemed to take proper advantage of collaborator Ali Love's voice. Given the space to be heard, it became clear just what a stunning voice he has—and how perfectly suited he is to Hot Natured's palm tree house.
36. Geeman - Bang't [Clone Basement Series]
Among the finest DJ tools of the year, this one was liable to pick up the pace just about anywhere.
35. Bicep - $tripper [Love Fever]
In a year full of Kerri Chandler and MK-inspired tunes, this might've been the finest.
34. The White Lamp - It's You (Ron Basejam Remix) [FutureBoogie]
A summer jam that seemingly finished off every set that took place on a beach in 2012.
33. Trevino - Backtracking [The Nothing Special]
Marcus Intalex's stunning transformation into Trevino over the past 18 months shouldn't have been surprising: the veteran drum & bass DJ/producer has always had a soft spot for house and techno. What was surprising, however, was the sheer amount of material that he had at the ready. (Releases came thick and fast throughout 2012 on labels like [NakedLunch], Klockworks, 3024 and Apple Pips.) Intalex's assured hand meant that almost everything he touched was strong, but this electro-tinged anthem was his best, its delicate piano and epic breakdown ensuring its status as a perfect end-of-night tune.
32. Dusky - Flo Jam [Dogmatik]
The London duo became a hot property after this lush house tune hit stores in the middle of the year.
31. Kowton - Des Bisous [Pale Fire]
This grime-inspired house tune sounded like nothing else in 2012.
30. I:Cube - Transpiration [Versatile]
The raviest cut on the French producer's 2012 album was also its best.
29. Jeremih feat. Natasha Mosley - Fuck U All the Time [Datpiff]
This spare R&B tune was somehow both unapologetically dirty and melancholic at the same time.
28. Joy Orbison & Boddika - Swims [Swamp 81]
Walk for me walk for me walk for me SERVE walk for me SERVE SERVE walk for me walk for me.
27. Ben Pearce - What I Might Do [MTA]
This lush vocal house cut was a favourite for Seth Troxler and Jamie Jones in 2012, and it's not hard to see why.
26. Tuff City Kids - Begger [Unterton]
RA editor Todd L. Burns and Gerd Janson's multi-year poll season back-and-forth may have to end soon. All of the Running Back head's predictions that seemed to be unlikely at the time have come true. Aside from his appearance in our live act poll, that is. But you can count on even that one changing if he ever gets a set together with production partner Phillip Lauer as Tuff City Kids. Based on their debut solo 12-inch for the Ostgut-affiliated Unterton, their simple, melodic hardware-driven sound doesn't do anything too fancy, but it does it exceptionally well.
25. WK7 - Do It Yourself [Power House]
Yet another delicious slice of retro rave from Shed.
24. Matthew Dekay & Lee Burridge - Fur Die Liebe [All Day I Dream]
This atmospheric anthem was the perfect theme song for the duo's new label.
23. Moodymann - Why Do U Feel [KDJ]
Possibly the most romantic track yet from the revered Detroit producer.
22. Joe - Studio Power On [Hemlock]
Broken glass, sawed wood and Morse code. The UK producer continued his run of form with this abstract banger.
21. Ry & Frank Wiedemann - Howling (Ame Remix) [Innervisions]
Innervisions has always flirted with a full-fledged pop move, and Ry & Frank Wiedemann's "Howling" was its consummation. The original was a loving embrace. Spare, folky, dusted lightly with electronic percussion. The Ame remix turns it into the tantric ode to backseat fucking that singer Ry Cuming seemingly always hand in mind. ("Swallow my pollen"? Puh-lease.) Its epic unveiling didn't hurt much either: "Howling"'s public debut as the last tune of a much-talked about Dixon Boiler Room set had Soundclouders scrambling for weeks afterward in search of an ID.
20. Jessie Ware - Running (Disclosure remix) [PMR]
Two of the year's most hyped acts wrapped up in one bouncy UK garage-inspired concoction.
19. Jai Paul - Jasmine [XL]
More falsetto-driven R&B theatrics from the UK artist.
18. TNGHT - Higher Ground [Warp]
Was there a more triumphant 2012 debut than TNGHT's "Higher Ground"? Wagnerian brass fanfares, hilariously large drops and a sampled voice that never quite reaches the word "ground": It all added up to a song so joyous it was almost impossible to deny. Hudson Mohawke and Lunice's masterpiece was gobbled up by amateur trap producers around the world and soon spat out in lesser forms. That those Soundcloud-alikes never reached the same heights only proved how unique they are. This kind of confidence only comes off well when you have the talent to back it up.
17. Storm Queen - Let's Make Mistakes [Environ]
Another year, another strutting piece of electronic pop from Storm Queen in our top 50.
16. Head High - Rave (Dirt Mix) [Power House]
The gritty, banging B-side to Shed's standout 2012 12-inch.
15. MMM - Meets Tshetsha Boys [Honest Jon's Records]
Errorsmith and Fiedel regroup for a stripped back and uptempo contribution to the Shangaan Shake series.
14. Barnt - Geffen [Comeme]
This lumbering house beast singlehandedly made a case for brass synth presets.
13. Factory Floor - Two Different Ways (Perc Remix) [DFA]
Analogy time: Factory Floor is to New Order as Perc is to? If you answered Throbbing Gristle after hearing Perc's remix of Factory Floor, we wouldn't blame you. The London techno producer beefed up the tune considerably, but left in horrid, grating bits of noise that floated in the background. So much momentum was generated by his lead and bassline, though, that you almost didn't notice the horror lying underneath. In a year that saw Perc catching his breath after the release of Wicker & Steel, it was a bracing reminder of his talent for shock and awe.
12. Joy Orbison & Boddika - Mercy [SunkLo]
The finest moment in a memorable year from the highly regarded UK duo.
11. Objekt - Cactus [Hessle Audio]
The sound of dubstep eating itself.
A brisk shuffle, ornate piano runs and chattering vocal samples all add up to one of the more carefree house tracks of the year. Sounding beguilingly timeless, newcomer Anthony Naples showed up out of nowhere to inaugurate esteemed NYC party Mister Saturday Night's eponymous label with one hell of an anthem. It's a tune defined more by its mellow vibe than anything else, and it's easy to imagine it soundtracking the kind of perfectly laid-back vibe that the mythologized Mister Saturday Night parties
have come to represent.
One of the defining narratives in clubland in 2012 was the joyous rediscovery of skipping '90s New Jersey house, and Huxley was among its biggest beneficiaries. Appearing on Hypercolour, "Let It Go" was the Tring producer's biggest hit of a year in which he had a few of them. ("Out of My Mind," "Box Clever.") The tune's infectious bounce owed some debt to Kerri Chandler, but the epic strings, bumping bassline and late-arriving second melody proved that Huxley's finally found a sound he can call his own. Unsurprisingly, he's also never sounded better.
A bit like Shackleton or Levon Vincent, Burial is an artist completely committed to his own ultra-singular sound. The damp atmospheres, skittering percussion and, perhaps most importantly, the ghostly vocals are, as Jordan Rothlein put it
, "plenty familiar to longtime Burial listeners," but that doesn't make them any less profound. These signature elements seem more impeccably arranged with each eagerly-awaited release, and never more so than on "Kindred," an 11-and-a-half-minute epic that's in turns evil, bittersweet and, once those pads come in 3/4 of the way through, euphoric.
John Talabot's music has plenty of pop appeal. We absolutely shouldn't confuse "pleasing" with "simplistic," though. "So Will Be Now...," the conclusion of Talabot's cracking debut full-length fIN
, hammers this home. With just a bear hug of a bassline and some heavy-hearted crooning carrying the track, Talabot stirs up a surprisingly complex assortment of emotions: it's at once hopeful and resigned, good-humored and a little gloomy. Talabot has hardly gone pitch-black, but he's let a few choice clouds break up a sky he normally keeps clear. It makes those fleeting rays of sunshine sound all that much sweeter.
When Julio Bashmore announced he was starting his own imprint—exactly the 757th producer to do so this year—he made sure its debut would count. Taking a style already perfectly engineered for maximum crossover appeal, "Au Seve" distilled the Bristol producer's populist house down into something so pure it's like a table of the elements for house music. All fist-pumping chords and maddeningly repetitive "baby!" samples, "Au Seve" dominated festival sets throughout the summer, the kind of omnipresent hit you could never get really sick of because it's just so damn infectious.
There's really nothing better than a song that gives you goosebumps. Peak-time bombs are great, and it's hard to argue with a perfect afterhours tune, but it's that rare emotional track, executed at just the right moment
, that's still seared into your memory years down the line. "Time," the best track yet from Pachanga Boys (Superpitcher and Rebolledo) is one of those tracks. Hypnotic, starry-eyed and just a little bit sad—not to mention 15 minutes long—this is the kind of thing you can't get away with often, but when you can, it's pretty much unbeatable.
"Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?" had Blawan pushing the same type of demented techno beat as last year's smash "Getting Me Down." This time, though, the lyrics seemed to fit. In one of the macabre singalongs in recent memory, the UK producer had crowds across the world asking the titular question. (Kudos to anyone who can name a more ridiculous juxtaposition than RA's boat party
at Dimensions Festival in Croatia.) Blawan's thrilling, wonky and raw rhythms seem to work with just about anything he throws over them, which is why we're so curious (and worried) to see what he comes up with next.
It probably says something about the way dance music works these days that one of the most inescapable tracks of 2012 was also ubiquitous last year. It's easy to see why the popularity of "Ellipsis" endured, and even had a slight renaissance upon its much-awaited release: this one's all about giddy anticipation. The oddly indelible speech snippet is all the more exhilarating because it predicts the speed demon bassline, which in turn precedes probably the only piano breakdown this year that could cause whole crowds to break out into spontaneous air piano.
Listening to "Inspector Norse," you have to wonder: does anyone ever actually feel this good? The song is pleasure delivery on an epic scale—its strutting beat, soaring melodies and Big Bang-style climax all suggest a moment far superior to anything most of us will ever experience. It's this kind of moment we chase when we go out, or (like the young Norwegian in the song's video
) dream about as we dance alone in our bedrooms. Terje's obviously got a knack for this—let's not forget last year's double-top-five-coup
—but he's never done better than "Inspector Norse."
Those strings. It was impossible to escape those strings in 2012. Detroit's Andrés began a new imprint, La Vida, in February of this year. The first track from the first 12-inch was "New For U." Eight bars of eroded house drums gave way to a simple string loop. Like Pépé Bradock's "Deep Burnt" before it, you could sense an instant classic taking shape right there in front you. And that's exactly what transpired.
Dez Andrés has been releasing classically-informed house, soul, hip-hop and funk since 1997. Moodymann is his closest contemporary. Like Kenny Dixon Junior, a knack for smart sample manipulation has been a theme in his work—it was Dexter Wansel's 1978-released "Time is the Teacher" in this case—although nothing in his mostly excellent back catalogue has "borrowed" with quite the same impact. Nick Höppner ended his Panorama Bar mix with "New For U," and you suspect countless other DJs also chose to go out on this timeless high note in 2012. As someone put it in the RA forums: "new for u makes everything feel alright."
Published / Tuesday, 18 December 2012