The RA staff select their favourite compilations, online mixes and official mixes of the year.
Top 10 compilations
The word "compilation" can mean a number of different things. Some are retrospectives, from greatest-hits-style roundups to collections of obscure material from artists we've never heard of. Some pull together remixes, some have a conceptual bent and some show off the breadth of a label or crew. Some collect previously released material, some focus exclusively on the new. The best compilations show us something fresh or invite us to look at familiar music in a different way, which are qualities shared by our ten selections below.
Vinyl obsessives Ilias Pitsios (of Echovolt) and Tako Reyenga (of Redlight Records) opened a beguiling portal into a world of weird and wonderful Greek electronic music with the 2012 Into The Light compilation. On The Sleeping Beauties, they focused their attention on one of the artists featured on that LP, Vangelis Katsoulis, whose ambient and new age compositions twinkle as brightly in 2014 as they did in the 1980s.
Anyone who's spent a Saturday or Sunday dancing to Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin, especially in their native Brooklyn, knows the DJ duo is onto something special. Brothers & Sisters proves their talents extend to A&R as well. It's hard to chart the precise path that runs through the jazzy sprawl of Archie Pelago, the ravey disorder of Keita Sano and the classic feel of Anthony Naples' early records. But even across two discs, it's invigorating to follow the thread.
This year Guido Minisky and Hervé Carvalho released the fullest realisation of their Acid Arab project to date, a collection of 13 dance tracks that gleaned inspiration from North African and Middle Eastern folk music. In addition to a couple of their own productions, Minisky and Carvalho called on a mostly Parisian selection of artists to contribute—I:Cube, Etienne Jaumet and Pilooski included. Between them they conjured some of 2014's most refreshing and original club tunes.
With 33 unmixed tracks from his various aliases, this three-CD retrospective was yet another affirmation of Robert Hood's status as one of techno's essential producers. Whether it was with classics like "The Grey Area," "Minus," and "Untitled 1," or newer cuts like "Alpha," "We Magnify His Name" and "Baby, Baby," 20 Years Of M-Plant Music showed just how timeless Hood's work is.
Calling DJ Koze's remixes "Reincarnations" makes sense. After all, Stefan Kozalla doesn't just remix tracks—he turns them into something else entirely. Reincarnations Part 2 was filled with the wit, wonderment and orchestral panache we associate with DJ Koze. As well as his remix of Herbert's "It's Only"—RA's number one tune of 2013—the 14-track compilation featured one of this year's biggest remixes (Moderat's "Bad Kingdom") and a chest full of lesser-known gems.
Next Life is a benefit album with an admirable cause—all proceeds go to the late DJ Rashad's son. Beyond sentimental value, it's a comprehensive look at footwork's continued evolution and growing reach. On Next Life, the increasingly global Teklife roster has ballooned, and so has their musical scope. Whether we're talking 8-bit cascades, spacey interludes or drum & bass-style machine funk, Next Life showed that with some imagination anything was possible within the footwork template, an attitude that, fittingly, feels like Rashad's greatest legacy.
LA's music scene has gone through a lot of changes in the past five years, and Friends Of Friends' fifth birthday compilation is a great document of this. Focusing on pivotal Angelenos like Shlohmo, LOL Boys, Salva and Daedelus, 5oFoF chooses greatest hits over obscurities. For the experienced listener, it's a trip down memory lane. For the newbie, it's a killer primer on some of America's best electronic artists.
Livity Sound have recorded some of the most inventive dance tracks in recent memory. And to follow up? How about turning them over to the other most inventive dance artists in recent memory? From techno's old guard (Surgeon) to new (Pangaea), from L.I.E.S. (Ghost-202) and Acido to a pair of Berlin party-starters (MMM and Nick Höppner), Livity Sound Remixes covered all their bases. And with his two "Velez" remixes, A Made Up Sound produced music as indescribable as the originals.
Even for a label as famously creative as Hyperdub, their ten-year anniversary compilation series was ambitious: four instalments with a total of six discs and 98 tracks. Also consider that roughly half of the series comprised new music—including material from the label's best known artist, Burial—and that 10.3 explored ambient, a style Hyperdub has only dabbled with in the past. That they pulled it off so well was further proof (if any were needed) of just how far ahead of the pack Hyperdub has been these past ten years.
Nothing on Jeremy Underground Paris's extensive and impressively varied statement-of-purpose is new—some of it dates back decades. Somehow, though, My Love Is Underground still sounds impressively fresh and very much of the moment. This freshness is a function of the relative obscurity and ultra-high quality of Jeremy's selections. With Discogs and YouTube now the primary "digging" spots for many, it's never been easier to discover gems like these, but it's as hard as ever to find (and justify paying for) original physical copies of most of these inclusions. If you've had an existential crisis hunched over your laptop loading up your Want List late at night, My Love Is Underground is bound to resonate. But even if your consumption of house music is more straightforward, it's an essential document of some of the best iterations of the style you've never heard.
Top 10 online mixes
We tend to consume online mixes and podcasts as regularly (and quickly) as cups of coffee. So imagine trying to condense a whole year of those into just ten highlights. It doesn't help that the format is extraordinarily open-ended, ranging from radio broadcasts to live recordings to good old-fashioned DJ sets, but some mixes manage to stand tall over the rest. Whether it's a star turn from a rising DJ (our number one) or a career-defining festival performance (our number two), these were the mixes we kept coming back to.
On his mix for Pitchfork and MoMA PS1, Cashmere Cat showed how dissolving club music's barriers can lead to fresh and exciting new sounds. Here was a young Norwegian artist recording a 40-track, 60-minute mix for a famed New York art institution that took a little something from everywhere. There were cross-continental takes on Jersey club. An Australian interpretation of London grime. European artists tackling mainstream US hip-hop. We could go on. The biggest achievement of this mix, though, was how Cashmere Cat had such disparate music speaking the same language.
Whenever Traumprinz (or Prince Of Denmark, or even DJ Metatron) emerges from the Weimar fog to release some music—an album, a 12-inch, a podcast—people tend to get excited. His This Is Not… mix served as a kind of follow-up to the 2013 Traumprinz RA Podcast. Published on the Giegling website in May, the mix contained all the hypnotic hallmarks of a Traumprinz set—tough at some points, melodic at others—and reaffirmed his status as Giegling's not-so-secret weapon.
A certain word pops up again and again in the tracklist for this Clash podcast: "forthcoming." Dave Huismans, AKA 2562 and A Made Up Sound, is the kind of DJ who makes a point of presenting the listener not only with great music, but with sounds that are new, inspired and exhilarating. In virtually any of the Dutch artist's sets, you'll have a sensation that's becoming all-too rare in dance music—the thrill of hearing something startlingly fresh.
It's easy to see why Ben UFO invited Leif and Joe Ellis to take over the Hessle Audio radio show for a night. The UntilMyHeartStops duo have an ultra-deep style of DJing that they do better than anyone else, one honed not in nightclubs but in Welsh forest raves and house parties populated entirely by "heads." Colorful, trippy and modern, full of lurching rhythms and lush beatless sections, this mix is surreal dance music at its best.
With all the talk about togetherness, spirit animals and hedonism, it's sometimes easy to forget that a lot of people go to Burning Man for the music. This recording of DJ Tennis at the festival's Robot Heart stage is a great reminder of that. In dropping big tracks from well-known names like Cobblestone Jazz, DJ Koze and Roman Flügel, the Life And Death boss's set feels just right for an environment in which people are constantly on the move. That it transcends its original context shows just how strong the session was.
Looking back over Leon Vynehall's breakthrough year, three things stand out: Music For The Uninvited, Butterflies and FACT 429. Preceding both EPs, it was the mix that outlined the young Brit as one to watch, introducing many to his wide-ranging tastes as a DJ (Pépé Bradock, Steve Reich, Talking Heads) and the warmth of his studio skills ("Butterflies," "It's Just (House Of Dupree)"). Vynehall is that rare talent who appeals to the heads as much as the casual clubber, which explains why this mix remains such a keeper.
In our interview with her this year, The Black Madonna told us that no matter where her inspiration goes, her music will always "be a form of disco." That holds true on her Beats In Space podcast, a kaleidoscopic look on the genre that shows her taste and technical skill in equal measure. She glides through soulful strains, Italo-influenced bangers and some straight-up house (check out that piano breakdown near the end) with a touch so light it sounds like the records are playing themselves.
As you'd expect, Joy Orbison used his Essential Mix as an opportunity to play juicy unreleased tunes from illustrious friends like Pearson Sound and James Blake. But the London DJ also dug into his record bag, opening the two-hour session with some '80s Australian experimental music and closing it with Smith & Hack's 2007 epic "Falling Stars." The highlight, however, was a brutal Barnt one-two—"Under His Own Name But Also As Sir" into "Chappell"—giving us the first taste of one of this year's best dance floor records.
An hour into his set at this year's Freerotation festival in Wales, TJ Hertz reduced the tempo to around half of what he'd been playing. By this point the carpeted ballroom— Freerotation's "room 2"—was almost unbearably hot, but the crowd was hanging off his every beat. The track bottomed out and revealed an overwhelming rising tone. Underneath, Hertz gradually introduced an incredible electro track, which we'd later learn was his own "Ganzfeld." When the kick finally dropped: chaos. This sleight of hand typified a set that blended fast, futuristic techno, electro and IDM into something that was unmistakably Objekt.
No Way Back once called itself "a celebration of the lost art of the late night Midwestern DJ," a description that very much rang true at their Movement afterparty in May. That night at 1515 Broadway—the former site of The Music Institute, arguably the first techno club of all time—Detroit underdogs like Carlos Souffront, Patrick Russell and BMG rocked the hot, dark and tiny room with the kind of sets that can only come from decades of experience in a city like Detroit. Everyone was fantastic, but the highlight of the night was Mike Servito.
BMG calls Servito's sets "a massive bitch slap," which is pretty much what you get on this recording. His headsy but party-rocking selections are ceaselessly flawless, his quick and cut-happy mixing style is a riot, but perhaps the real winning ingredient is the pacing and programming—throughout this mix, it seems you're never more than 16 bars away from another explosive hook. And how often do you hear a bomb like KiNK's "Existenz" veer into a curveball like Talking Heads' "Girlfriend Is Better?" Lost art, indeed.
Top 10 official mixes
As we found out earlier this year, times are tough for the mix CD, and let's be honest: the pickings get slimmer every year. If there was anything we learned, however, it's that those who want to continue will keep on keeping on. Many of the format's regular practitioners had excellent years (we're looking at you, fabric), while there were some outliers who did something different (Optimo) and even a few newcomers (Beats In Space, Mister Saturday Night) to keep things fresh.
But making the biggest wave was one mix that abandoned the physical format entirely, stretching the idea of what an "official" mix means and pointing towards one potential future for the format.
Guests draw you into Beats In Space, but Tim Sweeney keeps you coming back. Beats In Space 15th Anniversary Mix celebrates the show's second act, when Sweeney assumes control of the decks and occasionally outshines whoever played first. Featuring classics like Tensnake's "In The End (I Want You To Cry)" mixed to perfection, Disc 2 testifies to Sweeney's knack for spotting huge tunes. But the new cuts on Disc 1 suggest the past 15 years haven't dulled his ears in the slightest.
As a DJ and producer, Rebolledo is obsessed with forward momentum. "I try to imagine the reaction that a track has to create," he told us this year, "and for me, it's always this feeling of constant motion, getaway, getting lost in the music." This quality was obvious on his Momento Drive mix for Kompkat. He's latecomer to the style, but this sense of movement was created by a mood that often felt closer to krautrock than contemporary dance music—the sounds were otherworldly, the mood was dim but hopeful, and underneath it all the drums rolled on and on…
Techno is serious business. You don't need to look at all the black and white photos of morose-looking producers and gloomy track titles to see that. Sometimes it takes an outsider to show just how fun the genre can actually be. On Fabriclive 73, Hessle Audio co-founder Kevin McAuley's most high profile outing yet, he played serious music in a non-serious way. McAuley found hooks and bounce in rough, dark techno, presenting tracks in a quick-fire way that made them almost unrecognisable. This was techno with a twist.
"Write what you know," goes the old saying, a piece of advice Will Saul seemed to translate to his DJ-Kicks mix. The 21 tracks were largely drawn from his labels, Simple and Aus, and producers in his immediate orbit. This approach gave the mix a wonderful coherency, something that was due to Saul knowing his source material intimately. Its tight composition was further enhanced by its overall aesthetic: Saul said he wanted the mix to mirror his club performances, but its bubbling synths, washed-out pads and careful percussion gave it a dreamlike quality that sat snuggly at home.
Andrew Ryce described Prosumer's last commercial mix, Panorama Bar 03, as a "joy to listen to." Much the same can be said of fabric 79, which struts its way through classic house, grainy techno, funk and disco in a way that's both deft and insanely danceable. As much as it feels like a party mix, though, there's plenty in there to turn devoted crate-diggers green with envy. But then that's always been Achim Brandenburg's charm: playing music that stimulates head, heart and hips in equal measure.
It's dark. It's winter. It's nighttime. This is the setting Jonnie Wilkes and Keith McIvor drew from on their mix for Endless Flight. Inspired by 1927 blues number "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground," the Glasgow pair led us through a selection of chilly minimalism and icy post-punk—Grouper, Terrence Dixon, Silent Servant, Nurse With Wound—before finishing with the stunning Angel Corpus Christi cover of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream." It might just be their best mix yet.
These days the term "disco" often gets tagged on anyone whose sets are simply too eclectic to be described any other way. Prins Thomas is a case in point, as Rainbow Disco Vol.1 makes clear. Though the end result is exactly the kind of breezy thing we expect from the Norwegian DJ, the selections themselves are all over the shop, connecting the dots between Surgeon, Bee Mask, Skatebård, Shed, Floating Points and about 20 others. Disco or not, this is seriously impressive DJ wizardry.
Pinch is the godfather of a music scene that's obsessed with pushing things forward. On this head-to-head with younger disciple Mumdance, he takes UK dance music so far into the future that it's barely recognizable. Drums spring and sputter chaotically, booming bass notes slam out of nowhere and the melodies—well, what melodies? Dark, unforgiving and sometimes mind-blowing, Pinch B2B Mumdance was the sound of two visionary artists not just breaking the mould but exploding it.
Marcel Dettmann long ago mastered the form of the DJ mix. His latest could have been like any of his others, furthering his reputation as a classically minded techno fiend. fabric 77 emphasises another side: the new music obsessive. Packed with previously unreleased material (much of it just released on his MDR label), this mix doesn't seek to define techno so much as chart its course—less a dig through dusty crates than a trawl through his USBs for a way forward.
Ryan Elliott's Panorama Bar mix was momentous for two reasons. The first is simple and obvious: a master DJ spinning great tunes and nailing the vibe of his home club. Packed with new tracks from the likes of Newworldaquarium, Deadbeat and Nick Höppner and littered with favourites new and old, the mix moved gracefully between styles with the steady hand of an expert. And, at 35 tracks and 90 minutes long, it was a bit meatier than the typical mix CD, which brings us to the other point—Panorama Bar 06 marked Ostgut Ton's move away from the mix CD into digital territory. No mere podcast, the freely available download came with a high-quality digital booklet complete with photography, liner notes and detailed credits. It proved that you don't need a piece of plastic to deliver the same level of careful curation as any other big-name mix CD. We don't yet know what sort of effect Panorama Bar 06 might have on the future of the mix CD, but one thing's for sure: in 2014, Ostgut Ton changed the game.
This poll is decided by the votes of RA staff members and current contributors.
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