Our top track of 2015 was a shoo-in for the top spot from the moment it was released, but we've wound up with plenty of surprises elsewhere. It's not often, for example, we have a track with (at the time of writing) 366 million YouTube views. Or that a two-and-a-half-minute cover of a '60s rocksteady tune makes the list. And we've got fair few tracks with no beats at all. Sounds like a good year, right?
"Architectural Lie" is the kind of track techno DJs drool over. Very little happens across its six minutes, but that's the point. Max_M, who very sadly passed away from cancer earlier this year, was a master DJ with a knack for taking dancers a few steps further down the rabbit hole. Simple to mix, full-bodied and energetic—few techno tracks were more effective this year than "Architectural Lie."
- Nick Höppner
Relate (The Black Madonna Remix)
2015 was Marea Stamper's breakthrough year as a DJ, but this remix reminded us that she's also a killer producer. With her version of "Relate," she turned Nick Höppner's slow and steady house groover into a techno barnstormer. It was well manicured and perfectly paced, picking up steam and then letting it off in all the right places—the type of arrangement that comes from someone who knows the dance floor like the back of her hand.
At the heart of his mournful mini-album, The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam, LA's Thundercat snuck in a pop gem. "Them Changes" was like one of Herbie Hancock's jazz-funk epics distilled into a three-and-a-half-minute shimmy through the stages of grief—at once injured, bewildered, hopeful and resolute. (The keyboard legend did in fact appear elsewhere on the record.) "Them Changes" was the sound of an accomplished, multifaceted artist bringing jazz's rich history back into the contemporary conversation.
B-1 (Shackleton Remix)
Woe To The Septic Heart
It's hard not to be intrigued by the idea of Shackleton remixing Nisennenmondai, an avant-garde band known for brutally minimalist compositions played on drums, bass and guitar. This year's remix EP on Woe To The Septic Heart did not disappoint. Combining the Japanese trio's tensely linear rhythms with the UK producer's otherworldly palette (throbbing basslines, strobing organs, surreal soundscapes) the B-side in particular was a synthesis of styles as unlikely as it was electrifying.
- Kornél Kovács
There's a silliness to "Pantalón." It was those retro drums, the camp bassline, the nonsensical Spanish lyrics ("Broken trousers. Shouting. I'm going to distribute")—even the artwork was garish in a cute sort of way. It all came together for the Swedish producer's most free-spirited record to date, a track as suited to 6 AM dance floors as it was to house parties.
The Northern Electronics brand of techno is deep and highly textured, but you'll still find high-energy gems like "Taotast" dotted throughout its catalogue. Half-techno, half-progressive house, this sprawling 12-minute epic might be the most expansive track the continually classy Stockholm label has dished out. Built with a heavily broken beat and layers of dazzling synths, it was a spellbinding club tune that paired intensity with Northern Electronics' trademark sense of depth. (Good luck trying to beatmatch with it, though.)
- Kassem Mosse, Simone White
Flowers In May
Honest Jon's Records
Until this year, Gunnar Wendel's only big vocal cut was the A1 on Workshop 12 ("-ensuality..., -ensuality..., -ensuality...," etc.). That's just one way in which Three Versions, an EP on Honest Jon's that reinterpreted music by the singer-songwriter Simone White, expanded on his sound. While the rest of the record departed from Wendel's typical style altogether, "Flowers In May" used one of his skeletal rhythms to transform this ghostly pop song into a strange and seductive house track.
"See the puddles? Isn't it wonderful? It's my home." Named for the street that hugs Vancouver’s coastline, "Marine Drive"—with its pouring rain and warm organs—somehow made the "Canadian Riviera" strain of house sound even more like Vancouver. Taking clichéd samples like the Yeah! Woo! break and making them as reassuring as a warm wool coat, "Marine Drive" was the overcast autumn counterpart to Mood Hut's beachside summertime jams.
- Dude Energy
It speaks to Diego Herrera's talent that he has two tracks in our top 20 and they aren't even remotely similar. While "Flatiron," produced as Suzanne Kraft, was a perfect post-party wind-down moment, "Renee Running," produced as Dude Energy, was the standout track from the club you'd just come home from. Herrera has a signature style (his RA podcast in February made this clear) and it was out in force on "Renee Running," the whole thing bristling with the energy of a live jam as the loose and infectious melody did its thing up top.
- Call Super
As Call Super, JR Seaton excels at making all kinds of techno. This year's bomb, "Migrant," was arguably his most accessible effort to date, matching wispy atmospheres and a slinky melody to a bumpin' bassline. Lean yet brimming with emotion, it was tough enough for techno DJs and groovy enough for the house heads, which is maybe why it wound up in so many sets. But there was another reason, too: it was the kind of transcendental club weapon that stayed with you for days.
- Tony Allen
African Man (Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer Remix)
Call this one a meeting of the masterminds: Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen's exuberant "African Man" dismantled and rebuilt by two legends in their own right. As long and eccentric as anything with their name on it, Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer's remix was a slinky 12-minute groove that unfolded with sly shifts. That labyrinthine xylophone at minute two, the funky bass squiggle busting out the gate three later, Allen's horn section appearing in the breakdown, those claps taking a step to the left—in these hands every new wrinkle was a revelation.
- Demdike Stare
"Patchwork" was the B-side from the seventh (and final) Testpressing, a series that did foul and degrading things to jungle, industrial and ambient. The track was loosely based on Wookie's sugary 2000 garage cut "What's Going On?"—although amid the violent editing, ridiculous bassline and chaotic drums you might have been getting down too hard to tell. Club music deconstructions were rife in 2015, but few did it as convincingly as this.
It's hard choosing a favorite from Workshop 21, but one was guaranteed to work every time. "Feel Me" is understated—just some wispy vocals, tightly wound drums and off-kilter chords—but incisive, and to hear it was to have it lodged in your head for the rest of the weekend. It was hardly a cheap trick, though. Willow's first tune to see official release stands with the best music this consistently excellent label has released.
- DJ Koze
Leave it to the evergreen Stefan Kozalla to craft one of 2015's most-played tracks. The German hit-machine's music has appeared in this list three years running, but you won't find many of the usual chart-topping hallmarks in his work—breakdowns, drums rolls, thumping beats. Instead, this track gave us delicate melodies and understated beauty. Bittersweet, melancholic and utterly blissful—"XTC" was all of these and more.
In 2013 there was "Bank Head," and two years later Kelela and Kingdom are still dropping bombs. But "Rewind" burst out of the LA singer's Hallucinogen EP like a secret weapon; we already knew how well she did smoky, leftfield R&B, so this '80s-indebted pop stepper added an unexpected layer to her sound. Keeping to her airy vocal style and intimate lyrics, Kelela boldly claimed the space for herself, matching Kingdom and Nugget's lithe production as she spoke to the club and radio alike. "Rewind" was the standout on an excellent EP and the mark of an underground artist setting her sights on crossover success.
- Fit Siegel
"It's so good that I am literally crying naked under a table while listening to this," is how one Discogs commenter summarised their experience with Fit Siegel's 2015 masterpiece. We might stop short of that, but PuchBot was not far off. The Detroit polymath brewed up one of the year's most emotionally rich singles, with a pad melody that gets under your skin and an electro-tinged beat that felt classic from the moment the needle touched the groove.
- Jack J
There's always been something cozy and personal about the music of Mood Hut, which is probably what makes it so instantly loveable. Every time we heard "Thirstin'"—and we heard it a lot, whether it was in a packed loft on Hastings Street in Vancouver or a dance floor somewhere in East London—it felt like Jack Jutson was singing to each person individually. Like lots of the best dance tracks, "Thirstin'" united everyone in the same beautiful, intimate moment.
What's A Girl To Do
Our favourite track from this year is deceptive in a number of ways. For starters, it's not really from this year. It first came out in 2004 on the Dublin label D1 Recordings, and remained a minor cult favourite until Dekmantel and Magnetron Music reissued it this past July. It's also not, as you may have assumed, by a woman: Fatima Yamaha is a Dutch man named Bas Bron.
But more importantly, "What's A Girl To Do" is a piece of music that's more deep and affecting than it seems at first pass. Yes, it's a great final track of the night, and that faux-sax line is one of the catchiest things you'll ever hear. But there's something else that gives this track its extraordinary staying power—the quality that made it, as Angus Finlayson said, "one of dance music's most pronounced sleeper hits." Call it a sense of drama, at once utterly genuine and slightly tongue-in-cheek, something suggested by the sombre chords and weeping melody and made complete by Scarlett Johansson's cameo in the breakdown. "I just don't know what I'm supposed to be," she says. "I'm stuck. Does it get easier?"
With that line from Lost In Translation, this electro earworm became a poignant slow-burner about a highly relatable existential crisis. How serious was it? It's hard to say, but that ambiguity only added to the track's allure. Those who knew it have already been hitting repeat for 11 years. The rest of us have only just started.
This poll is decided by the votes of RA staff members and current contributors.
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RA Poll: Top 50 tracks of 2016
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