Unlike many other genres, compilations are equally as important as artist albums in dance music. When a DJ doesn't produce original material, it's the only official record of their existence. When a producer primarily works in the vinyl format, it's often the only time a home listener can hear what they're up to. Sure, anyone with an internet connection these days can download live mixes or vinyl rips, but that makes the comp all the more important in 2008. It's a challenge: When faced with 80 minutes, licensing issues and the weight of expectations, what does Luciano do? What does Metro Area produce? What secret weapons does Efdemin pull out?
The majority of our list is made up of mixed compilations, of course, but we do have some notable exceptions: Skull Disco's vinyl output from the past year, the towering reissue of Gas's quartet of ambient albums, Basic Channel and Andy Stott's dub experiments are all here as well. But like our growing list of polls indicates, the most amazing thing about this list is how many we had to leave out. Our contributors voted for more than 150 compilations that were released in 2008. What follows is merely the top 20.
20. Carl Craig – Sessions [Studio !K7]
"It's not as if we needed much of a reminder of Carl Craig's genius in 2008, but when faced with the totality of his range on Sessions, it's still a bit breathtaking. Craig can recast just about anything—The Junior Boys' synth pop, Rhythm & Sound's deep dub, Francesco Tristano's solo piano—and make it epic, danceable and totally new. Which, of course, shouldn't overshadow his original productions. Sessions' second disc was littered with them and reminded us of just how long it's been since the master has been at work. Perhaps in 2009 he could see fit to remind us of that too."
-- Terrence Fuller
19. Adam Beyer - Fuse Presents... [Music Man Records]
"Unlike previous efforts, the emphasis for Beyer on Fuse is on the hypnotic repetition and the cleaner, intricate melodies of minimal and less on the dirtier electro hammer of the past. Beyer never gets weighed down in the intellectual pretensions of minimal, though. He sticks to his roots, driving straight for the more high-octane banging side, all without sacrificing the melodic complexities of the individual tracks. This is in fact where the genius of Beyer's mix lies: The prismic manner in which he burns the EQ spraying around the melodic and percussive accents is truly master class, even more so because of the high tempo he maintains."
-- Chris Mann
18. VA - Circoloco @ DC10 - 10 Years Anniversary [Moon Harbour Recordings]
"If its brief reopening for the rest of the '08 season was to be the last hurrah for DC-10, then this ten-year anniversary, six-disc behemoth of deep druggy house is even more essential. Those unfamiliar with the DC-10 sound will be bemused at how such "deep" music can enthrall over a two-hour set, let alone nearly nine. But those in the know understand it's all about stamina at DC-10: Beloved resident Tania Vulcano, Italo boy DJ Sossa, those Romanian [a:rpia:r] upstarts Rhadoo, Petre Inspirescu and Raresh, the irrepressible Matthias Tanzmann and the sublime Thomas Melchior each have programmed a swirling subterranean soundtrack for a day in the dust."
-- Piero Ruzzene
17. Matthew Dear - Body Language Vol. 7 [Get Physical Music]
"The core of Matthew Dear's entry into the Body Language series focuses on tracks that tease out controlled funkiness, congas, heavy breathing and the kind of innuendo-tainted vocals intent on clawing foreplay back onto supposedly sterile dance floors. Sascha Dive and Johnny D are on board for two tracks each, with the likes of Kid Sublime, Seth Troxler and others co-opting the habits of deep house along with some of the influences that first fed house music in the first place—a touch of diva here, a taste of polyrhythm there. In other words, a portrait of what made dance floors move in 2008."
-- Dimitri Nasrallah
16. Dave Clarke - Back in the Box [NRK Music]
"Back in the Box provides the ultimate tool for dance music history boffins with a collection of classic deep Chicago house and forthright acid weirdness, as well as a number of "uncategorizables." What is most intriguing about listening to this collection though, is that over time you begin to hear where modern genres like minimal techno and progressive house came from. "Give Yourself to Me" is a dead ringer for "Trompeta" by SIS, you could be fooled into believing that "In a Vision" was a John Digweed creation and "Mystery Girl," the best track of the lot, sounds like it's straight off Daft Punk's Homework."
-- Finlay John
15. Basic Channel - BCD-2 [Basic Channel]
"After keeping Basic Channel more or less in mothballs for the last decade or so (a couple of reissues of some related work for Planet E aside), suddenly, with no fanfare or even much notice, a second CD arrives. This time, however, the tracks are full-length versions arranged in chronological order and packaged in a simple black digipak with titles clear on front and the BC and Maurizio catalogs detailed in the center spread (the "buy vinyl!" message remains on the back). Maybe the years have softened Ernestus and Von Oswald, because this CD is about as definitive a label comp as one could fit on a single disc."
-- Todd Hutlock
14. Stefan Goldmann - The Transitory State [Macro]
"The first disc of The Transitory State is a collection of works released over the past three years, but the lack of novelties is made up for by the fact that, in sequence, this album sounds wonderful. Voices of the Dead—the second disc—inhabits an odd twilight world of static tones and electroacoustic hums; a kind of bare-bones ambient music. The scale of this project might seem pompous to some, but Goldmann comes out of it well—his ambition is justified by the quality of the music. And whatever you think of the second disc here, the first is doubtless one of the best house albums released this year."
-- Robin Wilks
13. Sascha Funke - Watergate 02 [Watergate]
"Where Onur Özer's Watergate 01 was a strictly minimal affair, Sascha Funke's working from a more broadly colored palette far more in line with his own Mango release earlier this year. Though he sifts older tracks like the clubfooted house of Maus & Stolle's "Taxi" and Closer Musik's broad-shouldered "Giganten" into Watergate 02, the mix centers around some of 2008's deft club and home standouts, a well-crafted sequence fit for house parties, lengthy autumn drives or just sweeping up around the home. Watergate 02 is child happy, melding emotive techno with some of the year's steamier cardiac fare."
-- Derek Miller
12. Wighnomy Brothers - Metawuffmischfelge [Freude Am Tanzen]
"Recorded from turntables, several of them, Metawuffmischfelge is a fine antidote to the Hawtin school of digital cleanliness. Over 30 tracks are thrown into this sixty minute session, and we're seldom presented with individual works. Indeed, the point seems to be to play numerous records simultaneously and continuously, to see what exotic cocktail emerges. The pace is languid, in a woozy deep house kind of way, and the effect of all this is like seeing double, dancing drunk: double kick drums beef up the lower end, hats compete to stay in time, basslines stagger and sway, fading in and out of view."
-- Joshua Meggitt
11. VA - Soundboy's Gravestone Gets Desecrated by Vandals [Skull Disco]
Compilation and tombstone, Soundboy's Gravestone Gets Desecrated by Vandals collects (basically) the second-half of Skull Disco's output or—as I like to call it—when Shackleton and Appleblim got weird. While their first edition was assuredly strange, there seemed to be a formula to their Middle East-tinged dubstep. On Soundboy's Gravestone there seem to be no referents, something further put forward by their stunning slate of remixes on the second disc that move from dub to drone to somewhere else entirely. The only question that still lies unanswered for me? Where in the hell does these guys go from here?
-- Sam Louis
10. Andy Stott - Unknown Exception: Selected Tracks Vol. 1 (2004 - 2008) [Modern Love]
"Drawing inspiration from the usual dub techno suspects (Basic Channel is loud and clear) and fusing them with minimalist ideals and bathwater-warm melodies and textures, Stott's tracks offer a deep home listening experience, as well as the requisite punch to make club floors move. Stott works with consistent tones and a palette that never seems to get tired, Stott makes even his most dissimilar material sit comfortably together long enough to take a loving family portrait. Despite his pedigree, popularity and near-universal acclaim, Stott still holds somewhat of a low profile; Unknown Exception should raise it exponentially."
-- Todd Hutlock
09. Âme - Fabric 42 [Fabric]
"You might not associate the creators of 2005's ubiquitous milky way jam, "Rej," with musty old school funk and techno. But in creating Fabric 42, Âme's Kristian Beyer and Frank Widemann dug into their collection in an attempt to step out of their deep house shadow a bit. As such, perhaps more than any mix this year, Fabric 42 is reminiscent of The Mole's As High as the Sky. Murky and reverberant at once, Fabric 42 often seems refracted through a dense and cluttered space, one that resembles a museum storage hall as much as a dancefloor."
-- Derek Miller
08. Robert Hood - Fabric 39 [Fabric]
"In its best moments, Fabric 39 is a summation of a particularly hardy and long-lived style of Detroit techno, the kind with fast pummeling beats, short loops and a punchy, urban feel. It doesn't want to gently seduce you into dancing, it wants to beat you into submission and then jiggle your limp limbs like a puppet on a string. Like his long-time collaborator Jeff Mills he treats records as tools and components to be reassembled into a new whole. It feels less like the tracks are being mixed together, and more like they're being hurled at the dancefloor in quick succession."
-- Jacob Wright
07. Gas - Nah und Fern [Kompakt]
"When Arnold Schoenberg devised twelve-tone serialism in the 1920s, he claimed it would "ensure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years." Similarly, Kompakt founder Wolfgang Voigt has always been about creating a distinctly German form of music, although this time not in opposition to atonal composition but to Anglo-American pop. The result has been twenty years of techno records defined by what Voigt has humorously described in the Wire as "boofta-boofta-boofta," and—under the name Gas—a collection of towering ambient work, a profound meditation on music and history. It's what Schoenberg would produce if he'd lived into the sampling age."
-- Joshua Meggitt
06. Luciano - Fabric 41 [Fabric]
"When news went out that Luciano was signed on for the next Fabric installment, people began to wonder whether he'd take the Villalobos route. But while much has been made by hardcore Luciano-fans and live set collectors that Luciano's unveiled a pretty stale assembly here—based on tracks played out from his sets or including 'old' standard-bearer Cadenza cuts like "Albertino"—Fabric 41 will sound to most home-listeners, or the many simply not lucky enough to catch Luciano live, as an intricate, season-muggy mix CD from one of dance music's most dependable producers, one which deftly balances its quirks with its more instantaneous appeals."
-- Derek Miller
05. DJ /rupture - Uproot [The Agriculture]
"If you want to understand DJ/rupture's music without hearing it, read his blog. Recent musings glanced Croatian hip-hop, Arabic classical, books by Polish journalists on Iranian history and talking Mattel dolls that may or may not endorse Islam. Rupture's mixes are similar. They play on the way sounds clash, not blend, but Uproot—one of the best mixes of the year in any genre—proves what his past mixes didn't imagine possible: when used well, a little restraint is more freeing than chaos. Rupture's eclecticism isn't defined by sonic opposites on Uproot, but his ability—and willingness—to reconcile them."
-- Mike Powell
04. Metro Area - Fabric 43 [Fabric]
"Metro Area's music is so basically tasteful that the beginning of Fabric 43 threw me off at first. Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani don't just get on the mike to introduce themselves and their mix: They narrate the proceedings. Geist: "Yeah, ladies, clap, clap! Clap, clap, clap, clap! The disco experience is all about the claps." When the hell did these guys turn into comedians, anyway? The answer, of course, is lighten up. Especially since the next hour-plus—which, rest assured, passes without anymore jokes from the DJs—is, like the best of Geist and Jesrani's music, as singular and direct as biting into an orange."
-- Michaelangelo Matos
03. Appleblim - Dubstep Allstars: Vol. 06 [Tempa]
"Dubtsep Allstars Volume 6 reveals that Appleblim is a DJ more interested in evolutions within the genre than playing to its biggest hitters. He insists on taking the listener on a deep and varied excursion, and he's not afraid of slowing things down or speeding them up to get the results he wants. It's worth listening to this mix alongside his RA podcast, which takes the journeyman's mentality in an entirely different direction. Between the two mixes, Appleblim has showcased, if anything, just how versatile dubstep has become in absorbing the music that surrounds it."
-- Dimitri Nasrallah
02. Efdemin - Carry On, Pretend We're Not in the Room [Curle Recordings]
"The handsomely titled Carry On, Pretend We're Not in the Room is Efdemin's first mix CD proper and follows on from what his 2007 RA podcast promised, mining the vibe of both the ballsy Detroit strut of Eddie "Flashin" Fowlkes and the bump-and-grind of Minimal Man, wiggling much closer to Stacey Pullen than Sven Väth. Capturing the effortless sense of panorama that oozes from one of his sets, it's an astounding mix that takes you from the deep house of Patrice Scott to the tribal techno of Dettmann & Klock to Photek's barely-there, sci-fi house monster "T'Raenon." Educating, entertaining and essential."
-- Piero Ruzzene
01. Marcel Dettmann - Berghain 02 [Ostgut Ton]
"Berghain 02 is something of a definitive statement of where techno is at now, and where it is going. It's a purist vision to be sure, but it is by no means limited: T++'s excellent "Mo 1" is dubsteppish, "Warped Mind" by Shed is standout neo-Detroit, while the piano riffs and gradual undulations of Radio Slave's "Tantakatan" underscores the link between Berghain and Rekids' crossover hypnotism. In short, it's something of a guided tour of the most innovative and forward-thinking techno around. Chances are we'll look back at Berghain 02 as a defining moment when techno got out of that locked groove, and started moving forward again."
-- Chris Hobson
What were your top compilations of 2008?
Have your say in the RA forums
Voters: Bernardo Arrospide, Daniel Bates, Andy Battaglia, David Berkley, Per Bojsen-Moller, Clovis Bouhier, Richard Brophy, Todd L. Burns, Richard Carnes, Peter Chambers, Richard Chinn, Paul Clement, Thomas Cox, Jon Dale, Nate Deyoung, Cameron Eeles, Terrence Fuller, Stéphane Girard, Chris Hobson, Peter Holley, Todd Hutlock, Finn Johannsen, Tom Jones, Eike Kühl, Matt Langler, Sam Louis, Will Lynch, Chris Mann, Michaelangelo Matos, Joshua Meggitt, Lawrence Millar, Derek Miller, Dimitri Nasrallah, Grego O'Halloran, Siana Petro, Daniel Petry, William Rauscher, Elly Rifkin, Carl Ritger, Christian Rose-Day, Piero Ruzzene, Nick Sabine, Greg Sawyer, Colin Shields, Björn Schaeffner, Philip Sherburne, Lee Smith, Dave Stenton, Samuel Strang, Mark Strauss, Christopher Thomarios, Nik Torrens, Karl Tryggvason, Derek Walmsley, Robin Wilks, Jacob Wright and Sean-Michael Yoder.