The best mixes and compilations of the year, as selected by the RA staff.
Top 10 compilations
Between the vast history of recorded music and the never-ending deluge of new stuff, compilations serve an important role: putting a lot of great music in one place, providing the listener with a guided tour of an artist, label or scene. Some of our favourite comps from this year led us through forgotten worlds, from Japanese house to gay porn soundtracks to overlooked '80s avant-garde artists. Others simply bundled massive club weapons. All of them gave us treasure troves of music that were a pleasure to dig through.
Two seasoned music connoisseurs came together on Science Fiction Dancehall Classics. Adrian Sherwood enlisted Trevor Jackson to pick out choice reggae, punk, industrial, hip-hop and early electronica from the archive of Sherwood's label, On-U Sound. Jackson jumped at the chance, and his selections showed On-U Sound at its most belligerent and eclectic. Not only did Jackson cut a swathe through the catalogue of a highly influential and criminally overlooked label, he explored one of the most fertile periods in British musical history.
As Glenn Jackson said in his comprehensive review of Muscle Up, the breadth of Patrick Cowley's music has only come to light more than 30 years after his death. This second collection of Cowley's music from the vaults of Fox Studio, known for gay porn, was even broader than 2013's School Daze, stitching together slinky dub cuts, psychedelic jams and cosmic synthscapes. What tied them all together was Cowley's preternatural musicality—steeped in a sinister, excellently sleazy mood.
Modeselektor rolled out the red carpet for their final 50 Weapons release, calling on faces old and new for a 22-track compilation that showed us why they've been one of club music's essential outlets. There was pitch-black techno from Rødhåd, gorgeous synth fare from Bicep and a frankly indescribable Monolake record. For all the special guests, though, it was Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary themselves who came through the strongest, first with a killer Shed remix and then with "Trees," a crackly dub techno cut as powerful as any they've put their name to.
Dial has been helping to shape modern deep house for 15 years. But as this year's anniversary compilation made clear, that's only part of the picture. All showcased a broad spectrum of the Hamburg label's sound, which by now traverses folk, indie, ambient and experimental. The connecting thread was Dial's trademark warmth and class, which helped make All one of the year's most charming compilations.
If you follow electronic music at all, chances are you have an opinion about SOPHIE. His music breeds discussion about some of this particular subculture's core values: anti-commercialism, history, authenticity, self-expression and so on. Product arrived in November to put an exclamation mark on that discussion, doing so with a prismatic collection of his zippy, helium-huffing Numbers singles. From the giant rubber band ball that is "Bipp," to the teary-eyed "Just Like We Never Said Goodbye," SOPHIE proved himself to be as musically uncompromising as he is relentlessly fun.
On paper, a three-disc collection of UK techno from the '90s might seem intimidating; this set of Surgeon tracks is anything but. Tresor '97 - '99 captures the staggering breadth of the producer's early work, which ranged from colourful house-leaning fare to ambient and, of course, pummelling techno. Surgeon launched a label called Dynamic Tension around the time these tracks were made, which is the perfect way to describe the mood here.
When it comes to sniffing out musical treasures, Music From Memory are like truffle hounds. Their knack for unearthing records that others miss has formed the label's backbone, and in Vito Ricci they found someone primed for an archival release—his music is brilliantly weird and weirdly brilliant. I Was Crossing A Bridge was right up there with Music From Memory's finest work to date, shining light on a musician who, for one reason or another, never received the acclaim he deserved the first time around.
The compilations on Future Times are aptly named. "Vibe" is just what connects seemingly disparate artists like Jack J, Juju & Jordash, Raica and Steve Summers, as well the brilliant new artists the DC label plucks from the ether. From ambient to house to off-piste techno, everything the label touches has the same irresistibly chill vibe, which was never been more obvious than on this three-disc set.
Regis and Blackest Ever Black were meant to be together. In the years since Sandwell District ended, Kiran Sande's exquisitely bleak label teased out the vein of post-punk and industrial that's always lurked in the core of Karl O'Conner's soul. Combining remixes of artists like Raime and Tropic Of Cancer with the best of O'Connor's latest productions, Manbait is a bold and absorbing compilation that shows one of techno's latter-day visionaries at the top of his game.
Before we get to the music on Sounds From The Far East, let's talk about that sleeve. Soichi Terada's smiling face, which adorned the cover of the Rush Hour compilation, illuminated record shops the world over in 2015. The faded photo of the Japanese producer wearing one of his many flamboyant shirts has been one of the year's most enduring images.
Terada's smile may have brought this record to life—and that's not to mention the sparkling live shows he performed in 2015—but it was of course the selection of tunes on Sounds From The Far East that made it the year's best compilation. It was mostly devoted to Terada's contributions to Far East Recording (though Shinichiro Yokota also features), with sleeper classics like "Do It Again" and an alternate version of "Sun Shower" nestled alongside deeper cuts. Many of the tracks elicited "Oh right!" responses from those who'd heard their distinctive melodies but never knew what they were. Overseen by Hunee (who was quick to deflect any praise to Terada), this release brought Japan's deep house scene back into focus. Thanks to Rush Hour and Hunee, Terada's place in the canon is assured.
Top 10 online mixes
By now the online mix is one of dance music's essential formats. Omnipresent and free, and with no limits on length, style or content, they are a profoundly optimal way for artists—especially DJs—to show the world what they've got. Our picks from this year include club recordings and bedroom sets, random one-offs and carefully curated series. But all of them share one thing in common: they show you what a given artist sounds like fully in their groove.
As we found out in a recent Playing Favourites feature, Tako Reyenga of Redlight Records has the kind of vinyl collection that leaves most record nerds feeling inadequate. In August, the Amsterdam-based digger contributed to Juno Plus's podcast series. His mix was an absorbing selection of strange, wintry music that spoke to Reyenga's immaculate taste. But more importantly, it was a reminder to the rest of us that there's a whole universe of music out there waiting to be discovered.
Berlin-based Bunker resident Derek Plaslaiko graced the internet with some epic sets in 2015—a 12-hour session from his apartment, a nine-hour back-to-back with Mike Servito—but the best distillation of his inimitable style came in at just under two hours. Recorded live at Output nearly a year ago, The Bunker Podcast 088 is all fire, but it's Plaslaiko's steamy mixing that's the showstopper here, making it next-to-impossible to tell where one propulsive cut ends and the next begins.
After three shimmering left-field house records, Truancy Volume 109 stopped and restarted with a half-time drum & bass track— Peshay's "The Real Thing (90 BPM Mix)"—played at the wrong speed. This moment showed the deftness of Leif Knowles' talent. The Welsh artist plays the same kind of records he makes and that he and Joe Ellis release on Untilmyheartstops—sun-dappled oddballs that take a bit of clever mixing, fitting together like strange puzzle pieces.
Blowing Up The Workshop describes itself bluntly: "SITE FOR MIXTAPES INNIT." That, of course, is a cheeky understatement. Recent alumni from the series include respected avant-garde acts like K. Leimer, and the most absorbing entry yet came from Berlin's Call Super. Fluidly moving from dub to Afrobeat to house and new wave, this montage of balmy grooves showed the choice cuts of an amazing record collection flawlessly stitched together. What more could you ask for from a mix?
Great live recordings don't just faithfully reproduce the audio from the DJ set. Listening to Danilo Plessow's closing slot at Dimensions 2015 (featuring a late-game assist from Jeremy Underground), you can actually feel this wasn't just another night in Croatia. There were, of course, loads of killer disco records and crowd whoops feeding in through the turntables, but in MCDE's energetic mixing, you can sense him daring the crowd to push past the burn on the final night of a festival.
Peter Van Hoesen reckons he produced at least an album's worth of new material in preparation for his 2014 set at Labyrinth, a four-hour DJ/live hybrid. It showed. As the autumn sun set on that mountain valley in Japan, the Belgian DJ, couched in the cozy glow of a tepee, led his audience through an unforgettable odyssey of soaring, cosmic techno, all rendered in the crystalline sound of the festival's peerless system. Even heard at home on mp3, the magic of this set remains intact.
For any other DJ, this set from Osaka could have been a career-defining moment. For Ben UFO, it was just another day at the office. The Hessle Audio DJ balances the old and the new, the swung and the straight, like no other DJ working today, and he does it with gusto every single time. Here, we get three and a half hours of Ben UFO simply doing his thing, and it's fantastic from start to finish.
2015 was the year of the digger DJ, and Bern collector Sassy J repped the style by keeping things heady without losing sight of the dance floor. Her set for Dekmantel, which was typical of her approach, pulled off a tricky balancing act, mixing classic soul and lithe Afrobeat with modern weirdos like Cloudface. By the time she drops Twinkie Clark's gospel disco rave-up "Awake, Oh Zion" it feels like you're attending an intimate afterparty at Sassy J's place.
Plastic People was a special place. But nightclubs, like most things in life, come and go. And given the choice between mourning the closure of one of London's best venues and jamming out to an epic six-hour recording of Floating Points and Four Tet playing its closing party—well, it was a no-brainer. Sure, there were moments that left a lump in the throat—the crowd cheers feel increasingly bittersweet as the recording wears on—but the mix's electric energy and freewheeling track selection means it'll remain a treasured keepsake for anyone who cherished this unforgettable London club.
Morrissey, that most cheerily morose of pop artists, once famously called for the proverbial DJ to be hanged. "The music they constantly play," he explained, "says nothing to me about my life." Even house heads might admit he has a point: for all the happiness it brings us, club music is more about creating feelings (usually of pleasure) than about reflecting them. Enter DJ Metatron, AKA Traumprinz (and Prince Of Denmark), a producer who's become a cult favourite by doing just the opposite. This faceless artist at the core of Germany's Giegling crew makes club records that tap into emotions rarely heard on the dance floor: hope, vulnerability, loneliness.
Despite what Morrissey thinks, you may find that This Is Not, a Metatron/Traumprinz mega-mix released this year through Giegling's website, says quite a bit about your life, if in its own oblique way. Take "Where Is Home," an unreleased production near the beginning. With little more than a few chords, a simple beat and those three loaded words, the track releases a flood of poignant thoughts: homesickness, memory, the passage of time. Near the end, a tender diva (one of Traumprinz's unlikely hallmarks) consoles the listener, "It's too bad, too bad, too bad, baby." All the while, an ever-changing current of rhythms, from frantic breaks to deep house grooves, keeps you bouncing. This was dance music at its most delicate and powerful.
Top 10 official mixes
As the CD shuffles off into format history, the future of what we now call the official mix becomes ever more unclear. But that doesn't stop a few timeless series from continuing to carry the torch, nor does it prevent DJs from weaving together fantastic entries in those series. Eclectic listening sessions, peak-time club material, mega-mixes of a single artist's records—this classic dance music format gave us some of our best listening moments of 2015.
They say the longer you leave goulash simmering, the better it tastes. You could apply the same rule to Thomas Moen Hermansen and DJing—to catch the Norwegian in his element, he needs three hours at least. Inspired by Paradise Garage's play-what-you-feel philosophy, his latest recorded mix clocked in closer to four, steering us through the annals of his vast and varied record collection. There aren't many DJs out there who could blend Bjørn Torske, Hieroglyphic Being and Ricardo Villalobos and make it taste so good.
Nina Kraviz's Trip became one of techno's defining labels in 2015, and this DJ-Kicks is a great primer for the imprint and its aesthetic—ultra-deep techno with an emphasis on hypnosis. Perhaps more than anything else this year, the mix summed up Kraviz's appeal. She's a main stage DJ who plays music that sounds like it was it was made for the sweatiest, druggiest afterhours you could imagine.
While one might question the practicality of a cassette full of unmixed club tracks, D.C.-based duo Beautiful Swimmers' mixtape for TTT felt like a gift from your coolest friend. Andrew Field-Pickering and Ari Goldman made it feel special by going for a vastly different mood on each side. Side A is for the clubbers; Side B is for the lovers. Highlights include a cheeky remix of Watt Noise, a soca Sade cover and Ben Tankard's piano fantasia, "Eden Celebration."
How does it feel to get smacked in the face by René Pawlowitz-produced DJ tools for 56 minutes straight? Pretty damn fabulous. For anyone who's not DJing on gigantic soundsystems every weekend, Home.House.Hardcore is the best way into this side of Pawlowitz's discography. These cuts, credited to Head High and WK7, were made to get stuck into DJ bags and never leave. This compilation, unfussy but expertly paced, shows you why—not only how they sound, but what they do.
If Dub Phizix is a breath of fresh air in the UK's drum & bass scene, then his Fabriclive mix was a gale-force wind. George Ovens has always looked at the 170 BPM template a little differently, and different is exactly what this mix was, focused on layering rather than punishing bass drops. Fabriclive 84 was one of the series' best entries in recent memory, and one of the best moments in drum & bass all year.
Everyone who thinks the mix CD is a dying format is lucky to have an artist like Actress, who can't help but dismantle and recontextualise tired concepts. His DJ-Kicks entry caught us off guard when it dropped in May, if only because it did such a great job of defying conventions. Mixes were abrupt, tracks often trampled over each other and Actress treated genres like a toddler uses a tray of finger paints. Throw in unlikely selections, a couple stellar new productions from Darren Cunningham himself and the will to experiment, and you've got an example why physical mixes endure.
Jack Adams doesn't just challenge convention—he blows it apart. Just when we thought bass music might have reached its creative limits, he came through with a mix and an album so fresh that it spawned its own sub-genre. This year's Fabriclive mix was another exhilarating high for Adams, splicing "weightless" tracks with proto-jungle, grime and golden-era hardcore. Adams is an electrifying force within contemporary club music, and this mix was further proof of why.
Function told us that this was "the single most difficult music project" he's ever done. It didn't sound like it. In fact, the seventh Berghain mix, like its Panorama Bar counterpart last year, pinpointed the club's vibe with ease—or what felt like it, anyway. Picking out exquisite selections from a newer guard of techno producers, including the likes of Abdulla Rashim, Blue Hour and Rrose, Berghain 07 was as fine a collection of modern techno as we heard all year.
Moments like the one immortalised on fabric 84 don't come along every day. Here's an artist at the top of his game putting his all into a performance at the 15th birthday party for one of the best clubs in the world. It's a perfect storm, and the end result is one of the best dance floor mixes to come out in years. What makes it even more remarkable is that all 20 tracks are Jonson's, highlighting just how singular an artist he is.
Stefan Kozalla's DJ-Kicks reminded us that a great mix doesn't have to be mixed. For the series' 50th instalment, he went back to its origins (CDs by club DJs made for home listening) and returned with one of the year's most enchanting mixes—with barely a hint of beatmatching. The German selector highlighted his unique ear for charming melodies, quirky vocals and lush strings, connecting the dots between cLOUDDEAD, Daniel Lanois and Marcel Fengler. Even William Shatner made an appearance for the mix's most show-stopping moment. (Imagine anyone other than Koze getting away with this.)
What made Kozalla's DJ-Kicks so good was the same things we love about his own music: wry humour and overt sentimentality, delivered with a solid beat. The mix had all of these in spades, employing the same charming naiveté and vibrant colour palette of Amygdala, Kozalla's last (and career-defining) artist album. As usual for anything Kozalla touches—from remixes to DJ mixes—it was his unmistakable artistic voice that came through the loudest.
This poll is decided by the votes of RA staff members and contributors.