|RA Poll: Top 10 DJs of 2006
Who is a great DJ? Simple question, but one which can divide even the best of clubbing friends. We always said we'd never do a DJ poll after the kerfuffle that always follows you-know-who's results, but for most of us, a great night out in clubland means being wowed by a great DJ. So here it is.
So what kind of DJs did we vote for? Obviously, getting around matters. While votes came in for club residents who week in week out do the business on their local turf (Cassy, Optimo, Slam, Craig Richards), ultimately it's the DJs who spend their lives hanging out in airport lounges, flying into a city one day and out the next, who made it onto our list.
Size also matters. It's one thing to rock a room full of your mates, but it's another thing to impress a couple of thousand complete strangers, many of whom come with huge expectations, especially after forking out a lot to see you play. Small parties are great, but when it comes time to vote, it seems the DJs can who wow hordes of us at the big events such as the Winter Music Conference, Sonar, Mutek and Ibiza are who we tip our hats to. Big DJs nominated included Carl Cox, Adam Beyer, Laurent Garnier, Sven Vath, John Digweed and Desyn Masiello to name a few.
There were also plenty of nods to the tastemakers such as Roman Flugel and Luciano, who always seem to have record bags filled with vinyl that we've never heard before. Digital download stores and online record stores mean any bedroom jock with a credit card can easily get their mitts on a release, but how can they compete with the likes of our number one DJ, who has upfront access to almost 200 labels months before they hit the shelves?
But it’s not just about who’s biggest or who’s first, it’s ultimately about being able to rock the room. Plenty of votes came in for DJs who managed to please the crowds in 2006: John Tejada picked up more than a few votes from one big night at Spacelab Yellow, while Ryan Elliott probably jumped up a couple of hundred places by playing a blinder at Sonar this year. If you managed to catch M.A.N.D.Y at Kubicle in London, you voted accordingly.
Then came the technical votes. Ableton Live, Final Scratch and all those Pioneer gadgets mean pretty much anyone can splice, dice or beatmatch two records together, but many contributors paid respect to DJs like Richie Hawtin, Magda and James Zabiela, who've managed to find a way of incorporating the new-fangled gizmos to complement, and not replace, the music.
There are no DJs from the southern hemisphere. When getting your name out there means clocking up gigs in hundreds of cities, location is everything. “If you live in the UK or Europe,” Danny Bonnici laments Australian’s Nubreed. “You’re only two to four hours away from thirty-three countries that you can tour in.” Unsurprisingly, many of votes were for European DJs: Ivan Smagghe, Ewan Pearson, Damian Lazarus, Tiefschwarz, High Contrast, Steve Bug, Marc Romboy – the list is a long one.
There are also no fresh-faced kids. You won’t find anyone on our list who still has the receipts for their decks. Votes came in for old hands Francois K, Andrew Weatherall and Josh Wink, all of whom have put in the hard yards. But's that not to say we're stuck in the past either – lots of votes for ones-to-watch such as Margaret Dygas, My My, Erol Alkan and Henrik Schwarz.
Here are the ten DJs that rocked our floors best in 2006.
@ We Love...Sounds, Sydney: “Now if the party was to finish at that time I would have said that it was a pretty good night, definitely not outstanding. But things change, and the man behind the transformation was Danny Howells. Danny showed why he is by far a better DJ then all the other acts showcased at Sounds. Sure, Deep Dish have made their name with massive single releases, but as DJs they don’t hold a candle to the likes of Danny. His intensity was immense. Starting off with some driving house and finishing off with a flurry of techno loops and rhythms, Danny’s flow and mixing was absolutely flawless. There was not a dull moment in those two hours. It was just a shame that it had to end so soon, I could have most certainly done with one of those 7+ hour epic Danny sets…” – Robbie Younan
@ Unit, Tokyo: “Luciano, however, also defied expectations, completely avoiding the sexy minimal style he is associated with and launching into an hour and a half of rocking minimal techno, which looked to the past as much as it looked to the future. Recent tracks by DJ Koze and Donnacha Costello signposted an exciting and progressive set full of classic synth stabs, old school rave-up pianos and slamming beats. It was also surprisingly melodic, and the dancefloor was soon completely full again as the atmosphere at Unit became brighter. After a while it became clear that Luciano wasn’t concerned with building a narrative of any kind, but instead seemed content to just focus on the moment. Thankfully, that moment was fun, fast, and melodic, which met with the approval of the crowd. Towards the end of his set Luciano was joined by Ata, and the two began to tag-team DJ, Ata’s slightly dark techno-pop nicely complementing Luciano’s melodic driving beats. Luciano and Ata were clearly enjoying themselves, as were the crowd, dancing until the sun rose outside…” – Cameron Eeles
@ Chinese Laundry, Sydney: “…finding shelter under the lone air conditioner, I stayed put for the three hours Lee was playing. The first hour was just solid, featuring a host of tracks with dirty basslines and addictive melodies. One thing that Lee always displays in his sets is the skill to pull a set up then down, moving from tech to techno to the unknown. One memorable moment when I actually remembered a track name was when Lee really lifted the mood, dropping ‘Rej’ by Âme, a slow, minimal burner with a gorgeous melody that just builds over eight minutes. The last half of his set was phenomenal, especially the last hour. Moving from techno beats and wild, spinning breakdowns to deep, minimal sounds, the dancefloor was alight with delight.” - David Berkley
@ The Garden Party, Ireland: “Finally, Carl Craig took the stage, fading out Humphries housey-doings into 'Experimento' before going straight into tunnel techno, the looped disco of Soundstreams' '3rd Movement', Moroder basslines and modulating synths. With the clatter of hi hats, Craig led into Paperclip People's 'Throw', making the older heads whoop in recognition, before pulling out of his laptop groove with tinkling jazz-piano keys. With a bow and a smile, he finished on his remix of Theo Parrish 'Falling Up', showing us why the track has been turning heads. It was the perfect end to the event. Carl Craig opted for a different kind of set than what I’d heard from him at Waterford last year. Never one to stay in the same place musically, tonight he played very avant-garde, very futuristic and very out there.” – Dave Noonan
@ Vision, Chicago: “The latter part of Sasha’s set seemed to take on an otherworldly aura. Different sounds were being sewn into the music with masterful intricacy. Sasha wasn’t simply mixing records, rather he was bringing records to life through a process of stripping them down to their bare essentials and then building them back up in a completely different way. There was a definite minimal aspect to his set, although I would not say that he was playing minimal techno. He was, simply put, dissecting records and re-attaching the essential elements together to create his own unique sound. And so, to all those punters out there who think that mixing with Albeton Live and a MIDI controller is cheating and requires less skill, think again. Although the traditional aspects such as beat matching have been eliminated, this new way of DJing opens up a whole new realm of possibilities that requires a completely different level of skill.” - Enrico Kasjan
@ Sonar Festival, Barcelona: “Part of the Ghostly/Spectral showcase at Sonar, Ryan Elliott humbly let the records speak for themselves and the dancers found their feet. Being a nerd, I tend to judge DJs on how many what-is-this-record moments they create, and with Elliott I lost count – he was spinning a kind of techno I now need to know all about: crystallized synths, a touch of darkness, intelligent yet danceable, graceful yet dirty. An hour of happiness, and Elliot wrapped up with the riff from Villalobos’ ‘808 the Bassqueen’, a gracious tip of the hat to the main draw waiting in the wings…” – Jeremy Armitage
@ Kubicle, London: “By Sunday afternoon we were a man down. Patrick was at the helm, sporting a navy Malmaison bathrobe and self-styled t-shirt turban, but Philipp was nowhere to be seen. It had been a long night. The guys had started at Fabric around 3 a.m. and played through until room one closed at 9 a.m., and now we were getting our rave on, in a former public-toilet, as early summer beamed through the glass tiles of the footpath above. With each new bassline or key-change we all rise, sharing the same second/third/twelfth wind. Then the fun really begins. Patrick drops the master volume. From his raised platform he can see Philipp descending the stairs. "PHILIPP, PHILIIPPP!!!" he cries like an explorer separated from his comrade in a blizzard. "THIS IS MY FRIEND PHILIPP, HE HAS BEEN SLEEPING, BUT HE IS HERE NOW. PHILIIIPPP!" Killing the music at an after-party is a risky move, but there is a lot of love in the room as the charismatic German duo are reunited. A much fresher Philipp makes his way to the decks, the crowd cheer, he cues up Chloe's 'I Don't Care' and Patrick joins the dancing throng on the podium.” – Richard Chinn
@ Wire06, Tokyo: “Richie Hawtin definitively proved those who say minimal is boring and uninteresting wrong. Hawtin took the woozy bleepy sound of the current M_nus aesthetic and carried the crowd along on a series of wonderfully deep basslines. It was technically impressive, with Hawtin moving between decks and a laptop, seamlessly sliced up and stitched up tracks such as ‘25 Bitches’, ‘Baby Kate’ and Claude VonStroke’s ‘Who’s Afraid Of Detroit?’ He’s always maintained that his mastery of technology allows him to focus more on the artistry of his mixing, and with a series of perfectly timed breaks and kicks that the crowd couldn’t help but respond to, Hawtin ably demonstrated why he’s one of the most interesting and innovative techno DJs in the world today.” – Cameron Eeles
@ Fabric Birthday Weekender, London: “I missed Ricardo's entrance thinking Craig Richards was still playing, but soon we were unmistakably in Chilean territory. Long, patient mixes, where each track carefully segued into its neighbour, with small percussive detail take precedence over colour and melody – it’s involving but deeply satisfying music. By the time we left at 9am, with crowds of Sunday revellers queuing to enter, we'd missed many enticing acts in room 2 - Matthew Dear, Matthew Styles and Claude Von Stroke - but nights like these are always a matter of compromise. Fabric can throw one hell of a party.” – Joshua Meggitt
@ Unit, Tokyo: “Emotions and feelings were the name of the game for headliner Michael Mayer. Starting sometime around 2 a.m. with some sweeping melancholic orchestral sounds, Mayer took the partygoers at Unit on a six-hour journey that was by turns melodic, dramatic, anthemic, emotional, and highly danceable. Edgy, New Wave basslines (Super Discount’s 'Fast Track' gave way to swaggering, soaring guitar rock (Superpitcher’s remix of M83’s 'Don’t Save Us From The Flames') which in turn folded into soaring minimal techno anthems and out and out feel-good tunes (Justus Koehncke’s 'Elan'). There were moments that would have no doubt made a minimalist purist cringe ('Good Life' by Inner City or Pete Heller's 'Stylus Trouble', for example), but Mayer made it all work because he loves music... all music. As the sun rose outside and 8 a.m. finally rolled around, Mayer let the crowd down gently; his last two hours filled with sweeping ambient textures, letting the journey that had started so dramatically end equally as blissfully. Earlier in the evening Superpitcher had been crooning 'I need happiness.' I think it’s fair to say that tonight, Michael Mayer delivered happiness in spades.” – Cameron Eeles
Contributors: Jeremy Armitage, Peter Chambers, Richard Chinn, Paul Clement, Cameron Eeles, Tami Fenwick, Stéphane Girard, Chris Hobson, Ben Hogwood, Nico Ilickovic, Mohson Iqbal, Matt Langler, Alex Macpherson, Joshua Meggitt, Tal Messing, Dave Noonan, Barry O'Donoghue, Siana Petro, Dave Rinehart, Nick Sabine, Kiran Sande, Christopher Thomarios, Jacob Wright, Robbie Younan.