If there's a recurring sour note here, it's anxiety over the health and availability of events spaces, and the shaky relationships they have with local communities and authorities. This problem seems to be the on-going millstone around the scene's neck, and there are obviously no easy answers to this complex issue. Overall, though, our writing and events staff were upbeat about what 2015 could mean. We wanted to try to make sense of what's likely to be another thrillingly messy year in modern electronic music.
"Feelings" scored a landslide victory in our DJ and live acts lists in 2014. It's important to point out that the guys I'm about to mention don't all play the exact same music or offer the exact same experience when you go see them, but they do share a fondness for melodies, emotions and songs within the framework of house music. So in the DJ list we had Dixon (#1), Tale Of Us (#2), Âme (#3), Mano Le Tough (#8) and John Talabot (#20) among others. And in the live list we had Recondite (#1), Âme (#2), David August (4#), Ten Walls (#5) and Henrik Schwarz (#8). These guys all probably know each other well and have played together loads. They all sell out shows around the world (obviously: these lists are voted for by RA readers) and their sounds are instantly recognisable.
In years gone by I would have said that in the 12 months following such a tidal wave there was bound to be a backlash—an equal and opposite reaction. But now I'm not so sure. For one, this was no overnight success. Innervisions, the label Dixon and Âme run that's at the centre of all this, has been slowly and smartly forming its identity since 2005, and the same could be said for the label bosses themselves. These guys are not part of a trend per se, and their style is the result of musical beliefs that transcend their genre.
Secondly, and perhaps crucially, we're now living in an age where instant accessibility to music has had a flattening effect on the scene. The older models of distribution and music consumption often led to homogenous music movements sweeping across continents, and they could dominate for years—remember how all conquering (and suffocating) minimal felt in the mid-'00s? But now it seems like we all have our own niche interests and can, for the most part, happily coexist. Put another way, I don't think a large number of producers will feel the need to rail against the "Innervisions sound" in 2015, stripping the musicality out of tracks and making them aggressive, because, through the internet, they probably already have an audience for what they're doing.
This flattening had another knock-on effect in 2014—one that really served my personal interests—and I can see it accelerating into 2015. I'm talking about the blurred division between the underground and the mainstream. I grew up in the '90s with pop radio on in the kitchen. Some of my favourite songs are what you might call "shitty Euro pop." I guess this wired me a certain way, and so creating divisions, the sort of "popular music = bad" line of thinking never made sense to me.
This was brought into a fresh light in 2014, when I noticed that some of the artists I was most interested in were working within the wreckage of this dichotomy. DJs and producers like Bok Bok, SOPHIE, Jam City, Lotic, Felicita, Nguzunguzu, Hudson Mohawke, A.G. Cook, Total Freedom, Rustie, M.E.S.H. and Arca all seemed to have a certain fluidity between underground/overground influences in a way that felt refreshing and of the moment. They shattered—and will hopefully continue to shatter in 2015—the thinking that music can't be both challenging and accessible. You could also link artists in this mould through an interest and/or participation in different mediums, whether its film, visual arts or fashion, and in 2015 I'd be happy if this cross-disciplinary melting pot continued to bubble.
I'll finish with some hopes for 2015. I hope that albums from Pearson Sound, Future Brown, Björk, Anthony Naples, Nick Höppner, Jam City, Zenker Brothers, Kelela, Mumdance & Logos and Dasha Rush are as good as expected. I hope that big DJs find a way to do smart "big-room" music. I hope that Berlin continues to look outside itself. I hope that London gets some fantastic new clubs (but I'm not holding out much hope). I hope that local sounds like Jersey and Baltimore club, Portuguese batida and kuduro and London grime effect things on a global level. I hope that lo-fi and '90s house take a breather. I hope that Jackie Dagger, UVB, Pender Street Steppers, Sudanim, Shanti Celeste, Puto Márcio, Amnesia Scanner, Kobosil and Neana break through. I hope that people are open-minded.
I'm finding it tough to make predictions this year. With Trouw gone, the European continent is down to approximately one myth-making, bona fide classic nightclub, and it's hard to imagine another spot entering the fray and developing such an outsized influence. And the music itself doesn't hold too many clues of where we'll be this time next year. I heard a lot of incredible tunes in 2014, but the sounds I had the strongest connection with weren't shockingly new. Fresh as they felt, the most memorable DJ sets I saw last year—Anthony Parasole going tribal in Panorama Bar back in August, the inimitable Douglas Sherman carrying the torch for David Mancuso at the Loft in May—were downright throwbacks. There are certainly gripes to be found with this state of affairs, but while I was dancing, I didn't have much of a problem with it. As Nick Höppner writes of Berlin in his statement of intent about Folk, his forthcoming debut album (and an extremely early candidate for one of this year's best full-lengths), "Techno and House are more vented on a constant level without being questioned too much. It’s tried and tested—loved for exactly what it is." Last year's lack of any large-scale changes of pace and instrumentation proved that even if we're dancing in the past for the most part, we're still dancing and loving it.
But wouldn't it be nice to love something new this year? Much of what was wildly new in electronic music over the last few years happened off the dance floor, or on its periphery at closest, and plenty of it hasn't made it off SoundCloud or cassettes bought on Bandcamp. I hope that this year, some of this ample, weird energy will spill into the club space, where the constant level of house and techno is extremely strong but could probably benefit from a few ripples. The popularity of DJs like Ben UFO and Objekt prove we're ready for it, and I'd love to hear a few more Ben UFOs and Objekts on the circuit this year. Here's hoping we spend the year trying and testing, and sweating as we do it.
Last year, a lot of music made me think "What the fuck is this?" That's the feeling that made me fall in love with electronic music in the first place, and something I hadn't really felt since the halcyon days of dubstep. As we head into 2015, things seem to be getting more unpredictable, and we're going to hear some genuinely new sounds. You've got people from far-flung corners of the globe—Logos, Gage and Mumdance in the UK, Rabit in Texas, Victoria Kim and Strict Face in Australia—pushing the edges out from grime to the point where it's going to become almost unrecognizable. The pandora's box of cutesy, high-energy pop music that PC Music and SOPHIE opened last year should only lead to more twisted creations, especially as new producers and crews get in on the game (watch out for the JACK댄스 crew, led by Simon Whybray, this year). At the other end of the spectrum, there's an increasing crossover between the darker corners of techno and the experimental sectors of metal, which I think will really take off in 2015. French label In Paradisum is another one to watch—they're working with grindcore musician Luke Calzonetti in 2015, and if their history is anything to go by, it's only going to get more brutal from there.
Last year one of the labels that for me best captured the anything-goes spirit was Vancouver's 1080p, which I recently profiled for a label of the month feature. Constantly surprising and always digging up new artists, it's representative of a larger dance music renaissance happening in Canada. It's not that dance music ever went away in Canada. It's more like a coming of age for a new group of young artists who are inspired by the smorgasbord of sounds you get growing up with the internet. With labels like Mood Hut, 1080p, Pacific Rhythm, Hybridity, A/S/L Singles Club and plenty of others, Canada seems more relevant than ever, and there's already a ream of promising 2015 releases lined up. Lnrdcroy, Project Pablo, Friendly Chemist, Khotin, Sergio Levels and Neu Balance are just a few names to look out for, and you can probably expect to see a lot of them in 2015. All of this is happening despite an ongoing venue shortage in several of the country's major cities, which brings me to my next point.
2015 will be the year that clubbing becomes more of a social issue. With the forces of gentrification bearing down on cultural capitals like London and New York, along with general fear-mongering around drugs, partying and dance music, it's not looking good. 2014 ended with fabric under attack from its local council. Then 2015 began with Plastic People closing, and that's only a drop in the bucket. It's an unfortunate trend that's been going on around the world for years now, particularly in North America. In Vancouver, where I live, there are very few decent venues with the kind of forward-thinking programming of those two aforementioned, and whatever ones exist are constantly under threat from real estate developers, noise complaints and other anti-nightlife forces. It means we have to work together, both locally and remotely, to preserve and cherish our existing venues as well as creating and supporting new ones. Lionizing clubs on their way out is a good way to show how important these spaces are to art and culture in general, but we can't forget to forge forward at the same time.
The house and techno that usually grabs me is stripped-back and loopy, so naturally I'd like to see more DJs pushing these sounds break through. That Rødhåd is now a superstar proves there's still widespread appreciation for minimalist techno, despite the sense of stagnation that surrounds many of the well-known DJs playing it. I think there's room for another Rødhåd-style breakthrough (or two) in the coming year. Blind Observatory, another lesser-known Berghain regular, is one name that keeps popping up, but there are many others playing (and making) great deep, minimal techno—I/Y, Distant Echoes, Subjected, Sawlin—in a way that has relatively broad appeal.
Minimal house also looks like it might have a resurgence. Dustin from Giegling played one of my favourite DJ sets of last year, and half of the tunes he put on could've come from Perlon, [a:rpia:r] or early Smallville records. As the Giegling-style of deep house and techno gets bigger, it would be nice to see a few more unknown DJs on board with this style getting attention. One of minimal's main labels, Vakant, has a brilliant ten-year compilation due out shortly, which is testament to the genre's health.
Finally, one of my favourite things about last year was the refocus on slightly more traditional house and techno sounds. Giegling, Ilian Tape and Token made the top labels poll for the first time, and they're all labels with skilled in-house DJs (Dustin and Konstantin, the Zenkers and Kr!z respectively). Like many others, I'm tired of breakthrough producers and label owners who can barely beat-match scoring big gigs, so I hope the trend continues.
As RA's events programmer I have less of an idea on specific releases and more of an eye on what's doing well in the live space, and how to bring different styles together in a refreshing way. Last year a lot of boundaries were broken, genres that were unfashionable were brought back into the club sphere, and some exciting producers crossed into the pop-producer realm. Heated debates over what is OK and what is not OK were everywhere, and a mirror was held up at the culture, with people reflecting and evaluating what their musical ideals are. All exciting developments. But where will that lead to this year? My take-away is that people are craving a raw, pure sound, whether that comes from the analogue sounds of Powell or SOPHIE's futuristic sin waves. It hopefully won't be a year of nostalgia, but one of freedom and experimentation.
In the EDM world, the trickle down effect is continuing, with "tropical house" artists like Kygo and Thomas Jack pushing a (relatively speaking) more palatable sound. This might not be the ideal, but maybe it's a promising direction—there's a huge potential audience out there that is hungry to develop their taste. On the other side of big room happenings, RL Grime mentioned in our feature last year that Jersey club could be the sound of the big tents next year. If UNIIIQU3's Just Jam set at Barbican was any indication, I believe it. Elsewhere, the "cute" set will continue to straddle the divide between avant garde and the mainstream. I anticipate seeing a few Radio 1-friendly moves from this collective in 2015, especially from PC Music head A.G. Cook.
On the other end of the spectrum, last year there was the reboot of old-school genres: Lorenzo Senni's deconstructed trance, TCF and Objekt's IDM-sylings to name a couple. I think there will be even more cross-pollinating next year. As far as specific things I'm excited to see: Jane Fitz and other local selectors having overdue international recognition. The Romare album. 18+, and hopefully more duos like them. Jam City's finished product. The effect that consuming music through SoundCloud and social media has on our tastes and brains.
Plastic People was my favourite club in London, and its abrupt closure this month stung. Fair enough, everything has to end, but it's left the city's clubbing landscape looking decidedly threadbare when it comes to world-class venues. It feels like the ingredients that made Plastic People so special—small venue, nice crowd, excellent programming, killer soundsystem—are harder than ever to get right.
Everyone who lives in London knows the situation: rampant development, spiralling rents—these things aren't conducive to a healthy underground party scene. But most large cities face these issues, and London still has a ridiculous amount of interesting stuff happening. There's the World Unknown parties, midweek weirdness at Café Oto, Dance Tunnel's rock-solid programming. I want to spend 2015 supporting existing venues and parties rather than pining for ones that have vanished.
Last year I lost count of the number of articles celebrating vinyl's resurgence. This is a good thing, but I'm uncertain how much the record labels I follow are gaining from this, apart from delays caused by overstretched pressing plants. Still, there's certainly a healthy appetite for vinyl at the moment, and it's been great to see some truly original and inspiring record shops open across Europe in recent times: The Living Mountain in Edinburgh, Public Possession in Munich, Red Light Records in Amsterdam. I hope they continue to thrive in 2015, and that some other new spots sprout up, too.
Record-wise, two of my first purchases will be reissues: Ata Kak's Obaa Sima on Awesome Tapes From Africa and Lnrdcroy's Much Less Normal on Firecracker Recordings (Look at that cover art!) I think a few labels that have been around for a couple of years will really blossom in 2015—I'm anticipating strong years for Antinote, Themes For Great Cities and Music From Memory.
I hope Hieroglyphic Being's collaboration with members of the Sun Ra Arkestra for RVNG's FRKWYS series is as cool as it sounds. Other stuff I'm looking forward to: the Telephones album on Running Back, the Björk album, the DJ Sotofett double-pack on Honest Jon's, anything Terekke puts his name to. The Panda Bear album is out this week and I fully expect it to be in my personal top ten come December. Terrence Dixon announced his retirement in 2014 and it sparked a run of very good records from the big man—I hope 2015 sees him remain as prolific in his dotage. I'll be tuning into these (and more) podcasts: Lena Willikens's Sentimental Flashback, Trushmix, the Berceuse Heroique, L.I.E.S. and Crème Organization mixes and anything else that turns me onto weird and wonderful music.
As RA's Ibiza correspondent, it makes sense to centre my hopes and predictions for 2015 on the White Isle. As the island's dance scene grows increasingly safe and profit-driven, I'd like 2015 to see a return to the island's once rebellious, free-spirited ideals. I want more underground activity. More people taking risks. And I don't mean club promoters booking a DJ from Berlin—I'm referring to the huge community of up-and-coming DJs, producers, label managers and music-lovers who populate the island year-on-year. It's on them to channel their collective brainpower and carve out their own scene-within-a-scene. For example, I'd like to see one or two smaller venues opening up; cosy spaces that host parties showcasing smaller acts and fresh talent, and that aren't backed by a top-tier DJ. Somewhere for people to hang out and play music away from the world of private villas and superclubs. The old and new generations must join forces and put some of themselves back into the island they love.
With regards to Ibiza's club scene, the island's yearly shifts are always entertaining (or at least the speculation around them is). I expect to see UK DJs like Jackmaster, Eats Everything and Richy Ahmed build on impressive summers. They bring an energy and musical colour that the island lacks, and the likes of Cocoon, ENTER. et al have picked up on this. Every year, Circoloco motions towards deeper, less conventional sounds, so I hope to see the likes of Jackmaster, Black Coffee, Margaret Dygas, Delano Smith, Chez Damier, Steve Rachmad and Ryan Elliott play more regularly, and even possibly pick up the mantle from some of the party's residents. On a similar tip, I'm curious as to how Kehakuma, following last year's difficult season, will approach incorporating the deeper strains of house and techno into a viable business model. Last year suggested that this branch of underground dance music no longer had a place in Ibiza—I'd like someone in 2015 to find a way to make it work.
Away from Ibiza, there's plenty I'm looking forward to. Albums from Pearson Sound, Jamie xx and Radiohead, in particular, and it's hard not to be intrigued by the new Björk record. I think UK grime will enjoy an even bigger year than last year, with Stormzy and Novelist set to challenge Dizzee Rascal and Wiley for the throne. In more pop-centric circles, London lyricist George The Poet will blow up, while in house and techno I reckon the wide-ranging Ryan Elliott is on course for a career-defining 12 months. And as for London's club scene, it might be time the focus shifted away from the East and onto pastures new.
When we named our favorite tracks of 2014, someone left a comment saying that many of the high-ranking tracks wouldn't really work in clubs. I think he meant it as a complaint, but this points to something I've really been enjoying in dance music lately. Angus Finlayson put it nicely in a recent Critics Roundtable when he said that some electronic albums "gesture to another context"—i.e. clubs—while others don't. These days, I'm hearing more and more dance music that, even if it's perfectly DJ-friendly, simply exists on its own, without inviting the listener to imagine a party, club or festival.
Take American crews like L.I.E.S, Mood Hut and Future Times. They release house and techno, but it's rarely inspired by the rave experience (the L.I.E.S. compilation title Music For Shut-Ins tells you everything you need to know). On the other side of the Atlantic, you've got guys like Powell, a post-punk inspired artist whose cheekily titled Club Music EP is anything but (despite its 4/4 chug), or Objekt, whose electro mutations certainly make you want to dance, but are far too erratic to be of much use to DJs (himself aside).
A more subtle example would be Traumprinz, clearly a key artist in 2014. Even some of his most DJ-friendly productions feel more like songs than tracks. Consider "All The Things" and its B-side, "Gave My Life"—though perfectly mixable, both are as melodramatic as Smiths ballads (not party music, in other words). To my ears, these are somber and affecting pieces of music that just happen to use deep house as a blueprint. (The same can be said of a lot of music on Giegling, RA's favorite label of 2014, which I'd wager is why they've got such a cult following.)
Historically, dance music was largely shaped by the needs of the DJ, but at this point it's a form of artistic expression that can be used to any end. As a result, the range of moods and styles common within dance genres becomes increasingly vast. You can hear this in our favorite track of the year, Objekt's "Ganzfeld"—though it clearly spewed forth from club culture, it is completely unencumbered by the rules of the club. This is by no means a new development, but it's one that's picked up a lot of momentum lately, and looks set to continue into 2015 and beyond. If it does, we've got a lot to look forward to.