Looking back on the music recorded and released in a given year is a good means of reflection for normies. But for the vampires and club kids who piss away all their free time in clubs around the world every weekend, lists of songs and albums only show part of the picture. Dance music is a form that’s best absorbed IRL, with a subwoofer pounding deep into your chest cavity, but since that’s an experience that’s hard to compress to an MP3, this list of the year’s best mixes will have to do. Here’s a few of our favorite selections from around clubland and beyond.
Chicago pop mutant Osno1—otherwise known as Laura Les—turned in this head-spinning set for Diplo and friends this year, largely relying on her own sugary originals and teeth-chattering flips of giant pop hits. She often favors a sorta “fuck mixing, let’s dance” approach, slamming these spiky edits into one another rather than blending them. It can be a disorienting listen, but that feels fitting when everything else is disorienting too. | LISTEN
This 32-track collection of unreleased heaters is a brilliant survey of all the best stuff going on in the weirder corners of the electronic underground. From totally fucked club tracks to rotted-out noise-techno to bleary breaks to deep modular ambient, it covers a lot of ground. Tune in for the exclusives from inveterate boundary-pushers like Caterina Barbieri, Nkisi, and JK Flesh, but Mumdance, who blended it all, is the reason to stick around. It’s all mixed together incredibly deftly, elevating what could just be a compilation into a cinematic experience. | LISTEN
SPFDJ said her Discwoman mix was fuelled by the energy of newfound “sexual discovery slash liberation,” as well as the IRL liveliness of a pair of friends engaging in vaguely defined but almost certainly prurient “high jinx [sic]” in the room while she recorded. As such, it’s low-slung but heavy techno, the sort of stuff designed for bodily movement and heavy breathing. Lest you doubt her bonafides, when she played New York this summer, it was at a party called FIST. The bodily atmosphere was fitting, to say the least. | LISTEN
You’d imagine that a producer as prolific and consistent as Galcher Lustwerk wouldn’t have much on the cutting room floor, but lo-and-behold, this August set consists solely of low-lit outtakes from his 2017 album Dark Bliss. They’re rougher around the edges at times, but that suits the sound of Galcher’s low-key cool. Like a pair of old canvas sneakers, this one wears its scuffs well. | LISTEN
Ghetto house pioneer Slugo digs deep into his archive onto this Fader mix. What he finds there is exactly the same kind of energetic sleaze for which he’s best known. It’s a 35 minute collage of thrusting house beats, disembodied moans, and sexual sloganeering that—as much of his work is—strikes the perfect balance between ecstatic and annoying. You’ve probably heard him work in a similar mode before, but it feels like the very first time. | LISTEN
Your fave technoid tripper could never pull off the opening gambit on this Juliana Huxtable mix: a churning, nauseous bass drone that sounds like it could be from a Profound Lore record. From there, things stay weird, shimmying through claustrophobic ambient passages, R&B flips, hardcore, delirious club tracks, and dizzy trance synths. It’s all over the place, proof that there are no rules to this shit. Nor should there be. | LISTEN
Death Is Not the End, the London-based reissue label run by Luke Owen, is inherently a preservationist effort. They repress old gospel and blues and other crackly, hard-to-find records for new audiences, so this radio special on the French field recording label Ocora is clearly them recognizing a historical forebear. Musicologist Charles Duvelle and musique concrète forerunner Pierre Schaeffer started the label as a way of documenting and maintaining the knowledge of music around the world. This set shows the breadth of what Ocora was about, pulling together folk traditions from Laos, Sweden, Crete, China, Mexico, Turkey, and more. It’s a lot of life, compressed into a two-hour runtime. | LISTEN
So many of the mixes in this series by the Chicago producer and DJ Hi-Vis count among the year’s deepest trips, but few are as rewardingly unsettling as this set by Sold. It starts on unstable ground, with a vocal piece by the Japanese experimentalist Phew, and it doesn’t really chill out from there. Whether they’re playing gnarly shoegaze or billowing drones like Phill Niblock, it is uniformly dense and downcast. It proves that ambient music isn’t just for self-care. Sometimes it’s better for self-obliteration. | LISTEN
The Copenhagen techno scene seems to prize speed, and this set from rising star Mama Snake is a sort of thesis statement. The hourlong set flies by fast, carried by engine-piston percussion, while the soaring synth melodies she favors keeps the proceedings from getting too dour. Hard techno can feel like a battering ram, but this is more hopeful—a mix for rolling the windows down and speeding through the countryside on a hot summer night. | LISTEN
The Argentine club contortionists in the Buenos Aires-based collective Hiedrah Club de Baile have been responsible for a fair amount of the year’s most forward thinking electronic music, and this set from their own Desdel Barro offers a compelling reminder of that fact. The mix is most striking for its contrasts—blending together traditionalist folk rhythms with high-gloss sound design. The rhythms are stiff yet slippery, dangerous yet silly. They wind around one another in this strange, surreal way, like rubber bands wrapping around a snake. | LISTEN
This Clevelander’s set for the Daisychain series—which celebrates the “power, beauty, and strength” of women and nonbinary artists—is an hourlong explication of the strange powers of Midwest rave music. This means she plays exclusively machine music, but the general tone is colorful and celebratory. On the Soundcloud page for the mix, Laveaux lists “collective joy” and “public transportation” as a few of her main influences, which suggests that the best way to consume this set is moving fast, in the company of smiling friends. | LISTEN
The opening track here—an old King Britt track called “Theme to Cosmic View”—is the tone-setter: this is space music with a soul. For a little over an hour Rebelle journeys to corners of the club both interstellar and intimate, favoring neon arpeggiations, but also quiet, handworn sounds like Yusuf Lateef’s synth-led lecture “Technological Homosapien.” It’s a compelling gesture toward a widely accepted understanding of this kind of music, that the dancefloor is somehow connected to a world beyond our own. | LISTEN
Waajeed, a Detroit DJ and producer who came up alongside J Dilla’s Slum Village crew, has long had a knack for making and playing tracks that feel handmade and lived-in. His set for the New York radio institution Beats in Space is a pretty evocative mix of that side of his work, pulling together a handful of creaky originals with well-loved tracks from from house and techno legends. It’s dusty, warm, and comforting, like that old blanket your grandmother made you that you’ve finally pulled down from the attic after years and years. | LISTEN
Dance music has its share of mystics but few have been so finely attuned to its spiritual side over the last few years as Eris Drew. She’s made basically every one of her mixes feel like tablets pulled down from the mountain, but this “Thundering Goddess Mix” is one of her finest sets, an hour of sounds from the annals of rave history that offer a potent reminder of why they call that drug that the dancers love so much “ecstasy.” It’ll make you a believer. | LISTEN
LSDXOXO is the proprietor of an party called Floorgasm, which basically tells you what you need to know about this set for Fact: it’s a cathartic purge of pent up energy. Across an hour of ravey mutations, there’s sinister, clubby edits of Kanye songs, fractured Beyoncé samples, and a whole lot of other high-energy, high-gloss takes on hard techno tropes. It gets hot and heavy real fast, which is exactly what you want from this kind of thing. | LISTEN
Objekt’s November record of fractured electro-wanderings Cocoon Crush was another solid entry in his expanding canon of boundary-pushing productions. But for my money, his biggest achievement this year was this set for Resident Advisor, in which he purged his crates of a particular kind of track that he calls “no-kick roller.” These are basically just sort twitchy, vibrant techno, but they’re all based around something other than a bass drum, which is so often the center of these kinds of songs.
The mix could feel off-balance or spacey, but what’s amazing is how propulsive it still manages to be. There are all sorts of floaty beatless tracks out there in the world, but Objekt slams down the gas pedal, weaving together technicolor tracks with reckless abandon. The whole set feels like something that might be bumping from a car stereo during an F-Zero race: it’s futuristic, gravity defying, and fucking fast. | LISTEN
The New York producer, DJ, and songwriter Yaeji started 2018 as a superstar in certain circles of the electronic music underground, but this was her year. Capitalizing on two EPs of brilliant tracks that joyfully tread the boundaries between house, rap, and low-lit pop music, she spent the year touring the world and gracing the covers of The Big Magazines. You could see it in person during her slot at this year’s Warm-Up at MoMA PS1; there were so many teens in the front row chanting along to every surreal murmur, going hard when the neon drops hit, dancing along even in the quieter moments.
It’s a testament to the magnetic personality she projects in her music. Like, say, Moodymann or Galcher Lustwerk, she projects this effortless, whispery cool that draws people close and leaves them hanging on every syllable. It’s a characteristic that’s easy enough to see in her best songs, but the joy of this Blowing Up the Workshop mix is that she’s able to sustain that feeling in for a longer stint. She calls it a “karaoke mix,” which means that in addition to throwing together tracks from her favorite producers—like DJ Rashad, Chaos in the CBD, and Chevel among others—she also sings quietly, and hesitantly over the top of them, lending a quiet intimacy even to the outright bangers on the set. It’s what she does best: making even the biggest parties feel small, like you’re in a dingy basement somewhere, deep in conversation with the coolest person in the room. | LISTEN