Songs and albums tell part of the story of a given calendar year, but the best DJs can lend an additional context and depth. Groundbreaking mixes can help you understand unseen connections between disparate sounds and scenes—the ways that, to take the example of the dancehall aficionados in Swing Ting’s outstanding set for FACT earlier this year, T-Pain is connected to Caribbean club music and sunny synth music. 2017’s best mixes were illuminating in that way, whether they dug deep into nostalgic techno, Grateful Dead live sets, or Arabic funk from the 70s. Check out our favorites below.
The Toronto DJ Bambii’s February mix for The Fader, begins with the sound of a 911 operator. What’s the emergency? Too many heaters on one tracklist, apparently. Stuttering club tracks share space with an abstract Drake edit and an “Bad and Boujee” Afrobeats remix by mOma+Guy. Toward the end, she makes room for a reverent spin of Missy Elliott’s “Pass the Dutch,” as if there weren’t already enough smoke in the air. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
The Nashville guitarist and songwriter William Tyler digs deep into the Grateful Dead live archive to compile a strange collage of their most gnarled moments. Its an hour-plus of prickly feedback, unsettled noise, and cacophonous instrumental breakdowns (a few of the bleak bass drones almost sound kinda doom metally). It’s prismatic psych rock for the real freaks. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
This short set is a fuck-mixing-let’s-dance mission statement from the reissue label Habibi Funk. Over the past couple years their releases have run the gamut from experimental synth music to straight up fusion jams, but this set finds them working in their wheelhouse of gleeful 70s and 80s Arabic funk and jazz. It’s full of the sort of joyous rarities that’ll send you clamoring for Track IDs, but the good news is if you’re looking for more, you can just dig into their ever-blossoming back catalog. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
On top of the requisite Caribbean club mutations and blissful originals from these Manchester dancehall futurist, this mix features gleeful ambience from the rising producer rAHHH and a digitalist T-Pain edit by Murlo and some original MC-ing by pals like Joey B. Taken as a whole, its one of the year’s sunniest hours music—which makes the bird calls make sense. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Philly selector DJ Haram once said she imagined a mix of hers soundtracking a “mosh pit in the club,” which is a decent way of explaining most of the sets I’ve seen her play since. This mix is a short blitz through blown-out and busted dance tracks, layered over one another with ominous precision—a little bit of club chaos, for those who can handle it. True to her promise, it’s the sort of stuff that’ll make you wanna shove a stranger. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
The self-proclaimed King of Blends continues his stream of mixing ambition, proposing the creation of a whole new genre with the February mix-cum-manifesto “Bérite Club Music.” Highlighting a new generation of producers, he proposes a new sort of French club music drawing on a whole intercontinental history of off-kilter rhythms, like kuduro, grime, Jersey club, French touch, Afrobeats, and more. Tracks by up-and-comers like De Grandi and Sunareht are experimental but vibrant, showing the possibility that comes from blowing apart walls between scenes and styles. There’s room to build something brand new. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Call Super’s entry into the esteemed London club’s mix series is a tribute to the early-morning hours after all the floor-shaking bangers, when everything's a little more hazy. So, his 70=minute set here is appropriately hallucinatory, mistily blending somnambulant techno tracks, foggy breaks, with a little bit of lens-flare ambience for the moments that the sun starts to peek in through warehouse windows. He masterfully curates for the comedown, and by the time Yves Tumor’s lo-fi slow jam “The Feeling When You Walk Away” creeps in, he has you ready to float home, somewhere above a new morning’s grit and grime. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Moko Shibata, who records and DJs as Powder, has pitched her dreamy music as a respite from her dreary office job in the electronics industry. This set for the ever-reliable Beats in Space show has a sense of that escapism, soaring through the cloud cities of some of house and techno’s airiest corners—with a few straight-up zoners thrown in for good measure. Consequently, its breezy tempos and pillowy textures make it the perfect mix for your own desk job. Toss it on, drift away, let the hours fly by. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Undoubtedly one of the best DJs on the planet right now and a damn fine producer to boot, Helena Hauff knows how to belt track after squelching track into her audience's ears. The Hamburg legend-in-the-making has a taste for hard acid and tough beats that practically beat your legs into grooving along. Her contribution to BBC's sterling Essential Mix series this year is a victory both for Hauff and the Radio 1 program: on Hauff's end, it's the latest evidence of her mind-boggling talents at crafting sets that are as punishing as they are sonically divine, on one of the biggest platforms she's been afforded to date. And for Pete Tong and the gang, it's one of a few crown jewels in this year's more left-field stretch of Essential Mix bookings—proof that new blood and strange sounds are always welcome presences in even the most hallowed of institutions. —Larry Fitzmaurice | LISTEN
The good doctor Marina Rubinstein’s greatest gift is making techno’s most nauseous corners feel loopy and fun. On her set for the Dekmantel Podcast she runs through seasick acid riffs, tilt-a-whirl electro exercises, and hacking, cigarette-inside-the-club oddballs, building up a wonderfully off-kilter energy over the course of the mix’s 72 minutes. That could make for a sorta upsetting listen, if not for the joy with which she mixes these off-balance tunes—a little antacid for these stomach-turning jams. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Venus X, the driving force behind New York’s wildly influential Ghe20 G0th1k party, teamed up with her pal Asmara (of NGUZUNGUZU and LA’s Mustache party) and went to Brazil to hang with the new generation of funk MCs who’ve supplied their sets with some of their biggest peaks over the last couple of years. They returned with Putaria Maxima Volume 1 a statement of a mix that draws the dotted lines between the hook-heavy sing-raps out of Sao Paolo and the current generation of American rappers doing the same. Hearing Uzi and MC Bin Laden grappling for space in the same track just makes sense. You’d know this already if you’ve been out to any of Venus’ parties over the last few years, but if you haven’t, Putaria Maxima is an exciting entry point. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Every mix by the DJ and producer born Marea Stamper is appointment listening because you never know exactly what you’re going to get. As likely to dig up old porn soundtracks as she is to play hard-nosed techno and chintzy mood music—she’s at her best when she pulls from all three, and more, in the same set—she’s developed a reputation for eclecticism that basically allows her lead her dancefloors basically wherever she wants. For Resident Advisor’s ongoing mix series, that means moving from a Peter Gabriel hit, through EBM, brittle post-punk, and an acidic mix of “Need You Tonight,” among other prickly treats. It’s a fun reminder that, yes, she’s got the range. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Earlier this year, the Detroit DJ BMG said that his annual Movement weekend party was “about finding total freedom in this genre-less Midwestern take on mind-control music.” Such utopian visioneering always sounds fanciful coming from the mouths of enterprising promoters, but over the course of the last ten years’ No Way Back has become a refuge for all the freaks who come to town for the Motor City’s big techno celebration, it’s one of the few stops on the afterparty scene where it really feels like basically anything can happen. When I was in town a couple of years ago for a noise festival, even the kids there ended up at No Way Back—it’s that kinda techno show, a real escape from the everyday.
All this to say, Patrick Russell’s mix recorded live at this year’s installment of the party embodies so much of what’s great about No Way Back, and about dance music writ large. Over the course of 90 minutes, he skips from blistering acid to sleepwalking techno-funk, underwater ambience, and stuttering locked-groove breakdowns. It’s alternately brutalist and playful, spectral and industrial, a collection of anthems for both here and hereafter. This head-spinning blend makes for a rare mix that’s truly transportive, but it doesn’t take you to the party but somewhere else. Somewhere beyond. The party’s name implies you might be trap in this otherworldly realm, but it’s not like you’d want to come back anyway. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN