Top 10 official compilations
What makes a great compilation? Looking at this year's top ten, the best ones are marked by an obsessive attention to detail, quality presentation and a carefully programmed selection that shines light on a label, artist or genre. Our 2013 list is notable for the general absence of retrospective compilations—something that's been prevalent in previous years—with most of the staff favourites showcasing relatively contemporary sounds.
Three years in and Night Slugs have a hold on club music that remains unmistakable even as it's taken on new shapes. Just compare All Stars Vol. 2
to the first one. More grimy and more angular, with standout tracks from Helix, Girl Unit and Lil Silva, the crew continued to distil their melting pot of styles into ever purer forms.
Anyone who's been to Berghain know that "nightclub" doesn't quite encapsulate the place. "Cultural institution" might fit, though you wouldn't necessarily link it with Berlin's more buttoned-up arts enclaves. A ballet score by regulars on the club's roster, then, is a world away from Tchaikovsky, but it revealed an avant-garde strain of Ostgut Ton that's often obscured by its debauched reputation, while featuring some of the iconic label's edgiest music in ages.
A Drexciya compilation gets a pass by its very nature, but for the fourth and final instalment in their excellent Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller
series Clone went all out. Not only did the disc collect some of the Detroit duo's heaviest tracks ("Black Sea," "Mantaray")—it also unearthed five previously unheard tracks that whet the insatiable appetites of Drexciya obsessives. They aren't an easy bunch to please, but Clone managed it.
The Eglo roster is a colourful cast of artists, and this year they celebrated four years of operation with a two-disc compilation. The tracklist included some of the label's best-loved tunes—"Vacuum Boogie," "Soul Glo" and "Roland's Jam" among them—and threw in a couple of unreleased cuts, including Floating Points' "Wires." The accompanying photo booklet told the Eglo story with as much warmth as the music.
The first track on This Is How We Roll
, from young Keysound producers Wen, Visionist and Beneath, is called "New Wave," and it's a mission statement. The compilation caught the London label during a complete overhaul, as it snapped up some of UK's most exciting and innovative artists, a group who channel grime, dubstep and house into heavily percussive music that swings and slaps in equal measure. If this is the future, we're in good hands.
Music For Shut-Ins
is the second L.I.E.S. end-of-year compilation, following last year's American Noise
. The two-disc set pulled together some of the tracks that made 2013 another remarkable year for Ron Morelli and co—"Amaze" by Terekke and Florian Kupfer's "Feelin'" are as good as anything the label has released—as well as lesser-known gems that fans may have missed amidst L.I.E.S.'s punishing release schedule.
Colin McBean was in his late 30s when his production career kicked off, long after plenty of others would have retired their 909s. He's released an unwieldy count of EPs since, though, more than making up for a late start. Retrospective
made for a welcome guide to one of the inimitable dance music voices of this millennium. If you needed to scorch a floor this year, you had 21 classic blowtorches to choose from.
Though NonPlus had its quietest year in 2013, Think + Change
meant it left a crater-sized impression on dance music anyways. Boddika showed he still had his sights set firmly forward, with new music from Kassem Mosse and Pearson Sound, and he made a nod to the label's drum & bass roots with a haunting Instra:mental track. But let's be honest: Joy Orbison's near-mythical dubplate "Big Room Tech House DJ Tool - TIP!" is grounds for inclusion alone.
Part of the allure of Livity Sound is their meditativeness: these tracks throb with a deadly serious intensity but are inviting all the same. Cuts like "More Games" are immense constructions built with as few elements as possible, instantly recognizable because of their stark minimalism. But minimalism shouldn't be confused with hesitance: Peverelist, Kowton and Asusu were behind some of the year's most pulverizing jams.
If you think about it, the remix could be considered the least artistic form of electronic music production. Sure, there are more great ones than you can count, but taken as a whole, remixes explore a far narrower range than original productions. There's often a cynical aspect to them as well—artists can boost their profiles by getting a big name remix credit on their new EP.
For 14 glaring exceptions to this theory, see Queerifications & Ruins - Collected Remixes By DJ Sprinkles. In case you've been too distracted by his extraordinary original material, Terre Thaemlitz has spent the last few years producing some of the most passionate and unorthodox house remixes out there. Though he describes them as DJ tools, they plunge depths well out of reach for most club music. Think of the anguish of "Lost Area (Sprinkles' Lost Dancefloor)," the subtle drama in his rework of Hardrock Striker's "Motorik," or the transcendent melancholy of Oh, Yoko's "Seashore (Sprinkles' Ambient Ballroom)." Thaemlitz's way of elevating club music has always been part of what makes him great, and there's no better example of this than this extraordinary remix collection.
Online mixes allow DJs to be freer with their selections—there are no royalty payments or licences to worry about, after all. The possibilities of the format are explored widely in this year's top ten, which were plucked from the infinite number of podcasts and mixes floating around the online ether. There are live club recordings, off-the-wall jazz mixes, and considered selections worthy of official release. This year's number one, however, is cut from a different cloth: it's a showcase for the productions of one artist.
Those looking for club music on DJ Koze's FADER mix were greeted with a whole lot more. Cuts from Typesun, Kendrick Lamar and Madlib gave way to Moodymann and a medley of enchanting house that made up the mix's second-half. Tracks from M.Ono, Trinidadian Deep and Isolee generated a warmth that had us returning to the mix time and time again.
Pepe Bradock's mix for Roof.fm was outrageously smooth from the moment the needle dropped on the first record, and it stayed that way as the Frenchman gently blended 90 minutes of smoky jazz and sensual soul, from John Coltrane to Sun-Ra to Teddy Pendergrass. The mix was accompanied by a written track-by-track commentary from Bradock himself, featuring descriptions such as "Rue Lepic. On the 5th floor. Facing south," "My childhood" and "Erotic City."
This effort from Floating Points, Red Greg and Jeremy Underground Paris, recorded live at Plastic People on a Thursday night, is an unusual one. Four hours long and recorded on unwieldy EMT turntables with no pitch control, it's a tasteful crossfading affair. But that doesn't dampen the trio's impeccable funk, disco and soul selections. If you have any doubts about that, just listen to the crowd cheer with every new track.
Trushmixes routinely serve up intriguing selections from a loosely connected network of artists linked to Sex Tags Mania. There were plenty of excellent instalments this year, but the highlight was the two-and-a-half hour session from Sex Tags co-founder DJ Sotofett and L.I.E.S. man Ron Morelli. Both DJs took turns to work through a selection of house records that had trainspotters salivating. Morelli's sets are usually dark and punishing, so it was fun to hear him indulge in some party jams.
If you're a certain kind of new-releases-page-refreshing techno fan, Prince Of Denmark may have been your top artist this year, releasing a treasure trove
of shadowy, nefarious jams that quickly disappeared from stock lists. The mystery man's podcast for Taiwan's Smoke Machine showed his sound wasn't just a specialist concern. The mix's icy melodies and steamy beats come together wondrously, making the case to enthusiasts and the uninitiated alike that he's one of the most original voices in techno right now.
DJing Panorama Bar for the first time is like walking between those two sphinxes in The Never Ending Story
: only the true of heart make it through unscathed (entering the club can feel this way, too). With this in mind, it must be pretty satisfying to walk in there, as Midland did, and destroy with a near flawless three-hour set—perfectly timed with the sunrise, no less.
Electronique.it have been repping Italian house and techno for a while now. Who better, then, to helm their 200th podcast than the ambassador of Italian techno himself? Donato Dozzy offers up a 67-minute excursion into the mind-bending textures his club sets are renowned for, traversing breakbeat, electro and barrelling techno. This isn't the kind of mix you throw on in the background while you go about your chores—this is music to get lost in.
From cuts you know (The Mole's "Lockdown Party (Sprinkles' Crossfaderama)") to the ones you don't (Bosq Of Whiskey Barons were well off our radar) to those you'd start hunting for long before they ended (Dego & 2000 Black Family's "Find A Way," the mix's glorious closer), each of Fact Mix 43's 23 inclusions is a killer. Plenty of DJs burn through tracks at an alarming rate, but Tama Sumo's considered mixing makes you wish more DJs would let things simmer.
"It's a pretty dark mix, even for me, but there are moments of clarity in there as well." You have to admire Ben UFO. The guy plays some of the strangest stuff you could ever hope to hear in clubs—"twisted, broken house music" by his own description—and for the almighty Essential Mix he goes even stranger than usual. He probably wouldn't get away with it if it weren't for his pitch-perfect delivery.
A breakthrough artist doing a mix of their own material is pretty novel—especially in the world of house and techno—which made 100% Galcher one of 2013's best surprises. The mix, released as part of the Blowing Up The Workshop series, offered the first insight into the world of Galcher Lustwerk, the elusive jewel in the White Material crown. (His debut EP, also released this year, was equally promising). Lustwerk's own description of the mix was about as understated as his vocal delivery: "some tracks and stems from 2012 compiled into a promomix." The hour-long selection was perfect for morning commutes, lonely strolls and house gatherings. The sparse house beats rolled from track to track, eased along by Lustwerk's laconic spoken word style. The sooner these tracks end up on vinyl, the better.
The death knell was apparently sounded for licensed CD mixes years ago, but every year a few gems continue to trickle through. Our top ten in 2013 is anchored by some of the institutions that continue to carry the torch for high-quality commercial mixes—most notably the fabric series, which account for four of the top ten. There are contributions from another couple of reliable sources—DJ-Kicks and Rinse—and mixes from more unexpected outlets that inject some freshness and variety into a format that still has life in it yet.
DJ EZ has played roughly the same records for the last decade, many of which were included on his mix for fabric. But, as Stephen Titmus noted in his RA review, this is exactly what made it so good. The unofficial "greatest garage DJ ever" stuck to his guns, sprinkling newer artists like Disclosure among his trusted classics, and tying everything together with his legendary rapid-fire mixing.
Much of the fuss around For Your Eyes Only
was over its almost comically limited release—the initial run was just 50 copies, though more were made available when those sold out. The mix itself was superb. Tracks from the likes of James Ruskin, Yves De Mey and Skirt were woven together across two discs with the care and subtlety of a master craftsman.
Token has one of the best discographies in techno. As such, label founder K!rz had an enviable task in mixing an in-house compilation. With Token Introspective
, he showcased the imprint's broad spectrum, cutting a clear, linear path through Token's music, with his a no-frills approach to mixing giving each track the space it needed to breath.
Just like his club sets, Kode9's Rinse CD isn't so much about the mixing—which is quick and rough in true pirate radio style—as it is about selection and juxtaposition. Burial into Theo Parrish? Why not. A blistering 13-track stretch of footwork to close? You got it. Rinse 22
was bewildering on paper and no different in execution.
Over the course of her career, Cassy's sound has changed. But thanks to sets like Fabric 71
, her skills as a DJ have never been in question. The meaty house and techno on this mix are a far cry from the minimalism she built her career on, but it was put together with the same finesse. You'd might've heard some of the cuts before—but give another DJ the same records and the end result won't be anywhere near as good.
Black Jazz Records was a label whose experimental attitude and knack for fusion made it a cult favorite. Something similar could be said of Theo Parrish, whose bold and unpredictable style has long made him the oddball luminary of Detroit house. This natural synergy, combined with the rich beauty of the records themselves, made Black Jazz Signatures
one of the year's most pleasant surprises.
Sandwell District's fabric mix was the last official document from a collective that's helped shape techno this past decade. (And it's possibly the last time the combustible pairing of Regis and Function will work together on any musical project.) The mix was a layered, obsessively detailed selection that served as a kind of farewell tour through the music the label stood for: "Encapsulating an era and putting it to rest," as Function put it.
Weird records mixed really quickly—that's Fabriclive.67 in a nutshell, but that's also not really doing it justice. The mix showcases how Ben UFO's tastes have developed in the two years since his Rinse CD
, and how well he's honed his DJing style, with plenty of gutsy blends. It also helped that the tracklist read like a best of underground house in 2013.
For someone preoccupied with heartache and injustice, Terre Thaemlitz does good vibes pretty well. This has never been more true than on Where Dancefloors Stand Still
, his near-flawless mix CD for Mule Musiq
. Made up of 14 gentle deep house tracks, smudged together with soft filters and dreamy echo effects, it reminds us of house music's original purpose: to work as an emotional salve.
On fIN, his breakthrough LP from last year, Barcelona's John Talabot showed his emotional range, crafting tunes that were sunny, sexy and sensitive. On his DJ-Kicks, he found these same qualities in others, synthesizing even more complex feelings with his mix.
Talabot invented a state of mind here—at once warm and eerie, familiar and paranoid. Sleights of hand tie the mix together, gradually pushing it from a Balearic rumble to a healthy house clip. At one point, Madteo's "We Doubt (You Can Make It)" floats over a transition from a Young Marco remix to a Harmonious Thelonious track while the tempo slowly rises and melodies go wild; as the titular vocal wobbles around the beat, we wonder if the singer has a point. Talabot does make it, though, suggesting his productions are just one manifestation of his considerable talents, and in the process delivering the year's smoothest mix.
This poll is decided by the votes of RA staff members and current contributors.