Club owners and journalists worldwide spent the early part 2016 rushing to be the first to sign the death certificate of the stadium-filling strain of electronic music called EDM. But even as some of the genre's marquee festivals struggle to stay afloat, club culture at large has remained vibrant, spawning new sounds and scenes and reimagining old favorites to assert the continued relevance of house and techno.
So as a tribute to the upstarts, visionaries, and legends still slaying the dancefloor year after year, THUMP decided to take some time over the next few weeks to reflect on all the great music that's already surfaced in 2016. Today, we begin with the 30 best electronic songs of the year so far.
We're only halfway through the year, but it's unlikely there'll be a more politically charged and urgent record than ANOHNI's debut LP, HOPELESSNESS, which sees the singer challenging her listeners to confront humanity's greatest transgressions against itself. Following the bombastic 1-2 punch of "Drone Bomb Me" and "4 Degrees," "Watch Me" addresses government and corporate surveillance over swelling, metallic production courtesy of Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. The ecstatic cries that make the chorus so memorable— "Daddy! Daddy!"—might be tongue-in-cheek, but there's nothing funny about the song's Orwellian message.—Max Mertens
With the boisterous "Basslines For Life," Buz Ludzha—the Irish producer born Andrew Morrison, and also known as the Cyclist—further cements his place within the ranks of the community of distorted techno practitioners that have coalesced around the rosters of 1080p and 100% Silk. The track is as outwardly triumphant as something this patently lo-fi can be, while conjuring a longing for something greater beneath the melting synths and rotting drums, like a fading photograph of the best summer you never had.—Angus Harrison
Carla dal Forno, also of Blackest Ever Black acts F ingers and Tarcar, made her solo debut this year with the hazy single "Fast Moving Cars." A glacial bassline casts an algid air over the track, the Berlin-based artist's words barely intelligible through a fog of reverb (though they're helpfully subtitled in the track's video). The fuzz is appropriate for a song about trying to find more in your day-to-day life, with Dal Forno lamenting, "I wanna know what else there can be." But can you ever really know?—Anna Codrea-Rado
If Dawn Richard's history as a reality show contestant makes her collaboration with Fade to Mind founder and Los Angeles club deconstructionist Kingdom seem unlikely, well, you haven't been paying much attention. When you look at Richard's career—with proudly auteurist records like 2015's BlackHeart already in the rearview, along with recent production help from dancefloor weirdos like Machinedrum—it's clear that she's continued to dig deeper underground with each release.
"Honest" is an R&B track sped up to a club-worthy BPM that happens to feature some of her most wonderfully warped (and Warp-worthy) impulses to date while showcasing her knack for simple, cutting refrains. For instance, it's all heartbreak and backslides as she deadpans, "I'm over you /I'm not over you." This song would probably be a real tearjerker if you weren't too busy standing there in awe of it all.—Isobel Beech
In the artist's statement for her new album, Demon City, Bolivian-American composer Elysia Crampton explains that it is characterized by "an ongoing process of becoming-with," suggesting a distinctly collaborative mode of being in the world. Fittingly, its lead single, "Dummy Track," was produced with two other artists—Richmond's Chino Amobi and Copenhagen's Why Be—and conveys a strong sense of communal generative power with its conversational arrangement of harmonics-rich percussion, aggressively loping bass, and insistent demonic laugh. The proceedings have a dark, unhinged edge—fitting for album whose title wouldn't sound out of place in a psychological thriller.—Alexander Iadarola
UK funky forerunner Champion first teamed with the producer born Kieran Hebden back in 2013 on a remix of the latter's rumbling ode to pirate radio, "Kool FM." But "Disparate," from a 12" single on Hebden's own Text label, aims for heretofore unexplored realms, combining the sunny-eyed stretches toward the sublime characteristic of much of Hebden's recent work——bird chirps included—with the lumbering bass-drum bombs that have become Champion's calling card. Warmly terrestrial and chillingly otherworldly at once, it's a testament to the strangely productive alchemy that can happen when you put two producers with such, uh, disparate interests in the same room.—Colin Joyce
DJ Haram's best productions are studies of balance, and "Birds of Paradise" is her most terrifying tightrope act yet. Pulling on Jersey club rhythms while constructing a dense bramble of jittery samples, tinny horns, and chattering tambourines, she creates the threat that the record might, at any moment, spiral into chaotic darkness, take a swan dive off toward the dingy depths on either side of the high wire. Miraculously, though, she keeps it from going off the rails, maintaining poise and, importantly, a grin in the face of shuddering horror. Still, you don't want to look down.—Colin Joyce
Florida-born indie pop act Hundred Waters has always seemed a strange fit on the often bombastic OWSLA imprint, but a remix by their label boss Skrillex shone a spotlight on the common ground: joy. Bearing the same title as another ecstatic classic, this track twists Hundred Waters vocalist Nicole Miglis' weightless harmonies into amniotic dancefloor filler. Then Skrillex and Chance the Rapper pop in like kids with magnifying glasses and transform all the ambient energy into searing ultralight beams. Just try not to smile.—Colin Joyce
Sometimes you can't quite quite say the things you want to. Such is the guiding production principle on James K's sublime "Sokit to Me Baby," a distended collection of synth ambience and barely-there vocals that first appeared as a digital single on UNO last year. The song appears in smoothed and slightly extended form on her debut full length, PET, which finally surfaced after a period of turmoil in her personal life. She's described the record as a "an escape into ethereality" in the wake of that time, and to that end, "Sokit" makes a powerful case for its own abstractions. Her vocals, though downcast, are choked out by electronic processing, stripped of any specifics, and wrapped up in a blanket of delicate synth lines. It's ok that you can't quite understand her; there's safety in the blur.—Colin Joyce
Justin Cudmore's "Crystal," the latest release on Honey Soundsystem's in-house label, is a stunning glimpse at what the San Francisco collective is all about: playful re-imaginings of rave tropes past. Some may gravitate to Mike Servito's grinning remix or fellow New Yorker Gunnar Haslam's abstracted takes on the track, both of which are also included on the 12". But the wonderfully squirmy original's a perfectly lighthearted dose of acid already, replete with fluttering 303 lines and a sample of one of Crystal LaBeija's famous lines from the late 60s drag documentary The Queen: "She doesn't equal me." Few could.—Colin Joyce
As the mercury in thermometers rises, so do the annual conversations about which 2016 track deserves the completely arbitrary distinction of Song of the Summer. Rihanna and Drake's "Work"? Beyonce's "Hold Up"? What about the chirping of birds or insects? For what it's worth, I'm throwing my weight behind Kaytranada's "Glowed Up," a buoyant highlight from the Montreal producer's highly anticipated debut album 99.9%. Featuring up-and-coming LA rapper Anderson .Paak—who also dropped the sunny Malibu LP earlier this year—it's an utterly triumphant pairing, with glinting synths, Dilla-influenced drums, and a beat change midway through that goes over like a cool mid-summer's breeze.—Max Mertens
Sometimes it seems the man born Danny Wolfers can do no wrong. Following five Legowelt 12"s in 2015, one in 2016, and a double LP under his Ufocus moniker already this year, this Unknown to the Unknown screamer is a murkily melodic masterpiece from the busiest man in the world of acid-fried-super-wonky-hazy-gauzy-fucked-up-avant house. The Dutch producer explored extraterrestrial kidnapping on another single he released this year, but "Sampling Winter" is the sound of being abducted by aliens who are really into old I-F records. Beam us up!—Josh Baines
Hans-Peter Lindstrøm and his Scandinavian peers like Prins Thomas and Todd Terje have been occasionally been dubbed "space disco" over the years, though I don't think that's because their music sounds weightless or celestial (though it can); it's because their tracks reek of rocket fuel. Lindstrøm's latest interstellar issuance, "Closing Shot," is eight roiling, volatile minutes of pure jet propulsion. Gleaming synth arpeggios react with puttering percussion and big, dumb, bass drum fist-pumps, all without losing the forward momentum that makes everything in the margins a little beautifully blurry. No smoking onboard; this one's already in danger of going up in flames.—Colin Joyce
Seb Wildblood's small Church label scored a lucky hit with young Australian producer Mall Grab's winter 12" release, Sun Ra. In the four months since, the 22-year-old's become the talk of the house world, with two additional EPs and an even-more-raucous-than-usual Boiler Room set to his name. "Down"—a track from Sun Ra—is reasonable justification for his rapid rise. As with much of his output thus far, there aren't a ton of moving parts, but that's where the unexplainable maturity of his production shines though. Five piano key strokes whisk amidst crisp hi-hats and a gentle drum line. But then, when you least expect it, a dusty hip-hop sample crackles its way into the mix, offering a whiff of blunt smoke you can almost smell emanating from your headphones. Hey, a kid's gotta let off some steam every now and then.—David Garber
He's only 27 years old, but with his six-track EP, Chapa Quente, Portuguese batida producer DJ Marfox juggles different regional and international sounds with the confidence of a veteran. Clocking in at just under five minutes, standout track "2685" doesn't allow you to catch your breath once, with a whirling flute melody colliding with clangorous block party drums. "This is music that could only happen here," the producer told THUMP earlier this year, referring to the inherently Portuguese nature of batida. With a track as strangely electric as "2685," he's probably right.—Max Mertens
Over the last half-decade, DJ and producer Mija has proven herself to be something of a shapeshifter. Her early 2016 team-up with her OWSLA labelmates Vindata is no exception; sneaking in a flute-like synth line, a juke kick pattern or two, and even a vocal sample from a classic happy hardcore track, she demonstrates her ability to jump from one style to another while maintaining the playful grin that's become her signature. It's a track that points to a better way forward for all producers operating in a post-EDM landscape: try to be everything all at once.—Colin Joyce
Though its title is suggestive of interstellar science, Larry Heard's "Qwazars" feels more like sorcery. With the same barely-there kicks and sputtering synths that he started utilizing decades ago—and that so many lesser producers have attempted to harness since—he succeeds in making you feel the naive wonderment of a child who's suddenly happened upon David Blaine on the street. Only there's no trick: Heard's wonderfully restrained efforts here are like that of a wisened alchemist unearthing an ancient elixir. After over a decade, it would seem that the Chicago house founding father has returned to his Mr. Fingers moniker to discover that, yep, it still holds its magic.—Colin Joyce
Nkisi's instantly blistering Soundcloud dispatch "Mokonzi" begins in medias res. The NON collective co-founder adopts the sci-fi thrum of techno and electro's most aggressive corners from the first bar, and maintains that unrelenting intensity over the track's entire three-and-a-half minutes. As with most of the tracks released under the banner of NON—whose stated goal is "to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power"—there's something that feels inherently political about this track. Or at least it feels justifiably restless, dissatisfied, and maybe most importantly, urgent.—Oliver Kinkel
Every Omar-S album has its share of heart-melting Detroit deep house, and The Best features "On Your Way," one of the Motor City producer's, well, best. The things-get-better lyrics from Divinity—who bears one of the most celebrated set of vocal chords in his hometown—are a little more direct than usual Omar's fare, but it's nice to see him embrace a little cheese. And though he balances that out with a clinically precise mix and drums cleaner than an operating room, the triumph here in the looseness, reminding us that even an enigmatic guy like Omar has a soft side.—David Garber
A couple of years ago, during a trip to London for a story, I spent a long afternoon chatting with Benjy Keating in a park in Covent Garden. Back then, he was most widely known as the shadowy producer behind the Cantonese-rapping Hippos and Tanks enigma Triad God; I'd expected him to be a weirdo, but mostly I was just struck by how soft-spoken and polite he was—kind of in the way that most Americans expect British people to be polite, but probably even more polite than that.
Fittingly, the songs he's been churning over the past few years under the moniker Palmistry have a memorable gentleness to them—all warming, light-footed synth touches and pillowy vocals, with a little shock of melancholy mixed in. Many will praise or critique "Club Aso"—a song from his debut record, PAGAN—as yet another example of the Mixpak artist's "digital dancehall" aesthetic, but for me, it simply sums up the rare sweet spot he's able to hit as a songwriter: catchy enough to compete with most Top 40 radio tunes, but dialed down to a near-whisper.—Emilie Friedlander
It's continuing to prove close to impossible to feel properly sad when thoughts turn to the death of footwork icon DJ Rashad two years ago, and the ecstatic "Roll Up That Loud," sums up exactly why. The collab between the footwork icon, DJ Spinn, and Taso is the most joyful moment of Afterlife—their Teklife collective's first release as a label—a posthumous collection intended to celebrate the life and legacy of a legend gone far too soon. It's raucous and frenetic, destructive and delicate, and an enduring reminder that some things never die.—Angus Harrison
You know how every Friday night without fail for the last few years you and the friends you've not actually liked for years trek to parties you know'll be terrible because there's something strangely pure and honest and almost transcendental about being around people you utterly despise with those you merely loathe? Well, "Party Politics"' clubby jocularity is the sound of all those Fridays rolled into one boozy and blissful dream sequence—one you never want to end.
It's the funny, sincere, and eminently singalong-able result of what happens when the best band in Britain today decides to mix Prefab Sprout's Mondeo Pop perfection with piano house. If that chorus doesn't roll around your head on an hourly basis then you've been listening to music wrong all year so far.—Josh Baines
It took two attempts at shooting a music video to capture the boundless energy of Rihanna's "Work," but Murlo's unofficial remix evokes an equally compelling visual with sound. The Brighton-born producer's twitchy, videogame synthscape of an edit plays like an rotoscoped version of the original track, a hyperrealistic fantasy straight out of Linklater's A Scanner Darkly adaptation or the more few fanciful corners of Deviantart's warped communities. It's bold, bright, and a bit uncanny, just the way bootleg fan art should be.—Oliver Kinkel
Earlier this year, working with his daughter Lyric as Floorplan, Robert Hood released "Tell You No Lie," a rollicking, romping disco-house record that felt like being smiled at by God after the best pill you've ever taken. A few months down the line, though, he decided to take us to the darkside. Arriving on Dekmantel's label, "Magnet" is Hood doing what he does best: stupidly simple, punishingly effective clanking techno that sounds utterly out of this world. It's like the Fordian production line ideal transmuted into the sweatiest club you've ever been to.—Josh Baines
Everybody and their mother lost it to "Shutdown" last year, but Skepta's long-awaited fourth album, Konnichiwa, proved the veteran British MC still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. One of the less heralded tracks—and arguably, best— was "Lyrics," a no-holds-barred collaboration with rising 19-year-old grime MC and producer Novelist over a twitching digital riddim. Opening with some famous words from Wiley—sampled from a classic 2001 clash between two rival UK Garage crews—Skepta underscores his best talent: the ability to nod to the past while keeping an eye on the future.—Max Mertens
Galcher Lustwerk and Alvin Aronson's collaborative techno project is just as soundtrack-y as its name suggests, but the duo seems less interested in scoring actual films than in mitigating the "harshness" of our "sci-fi" present. "Bent Light," one of their debut LP's most placid moments, certainly proves useful in that respect. With the gentle putter of a few drum machine rhythms and the delicate fog of their electric piano work, it's enough to lift your spirits on an ugly day. Even if—like Lustwerk and Aronson—you find yourself surrounded by the overwhelming bustle of New York City, throwing "Bent Light" on your headphones can make you feel like you're gliding somewhere above the garbage and grit.—Colin Joyce
Tiga's original "Planet E" is overwhelmed with happiness, as odes to ecstasy often are. The Canadian techno mainstay opens the track with a fitting refrain—"With the joy that I'm feeling/I'm on Planet E"—but when UK duo Dense & Pika reworked the track, they made sure to blot out the sun. Crisp but engagingly abrasive, their industrial remix is twice as long and twice as biting. The syncopated synth pattern gets louder and more overdriven with the gradual punishment of a torture rack, the perfect counterpart to the song's giant, foreboding, echoing bass drums. It's like a return trip from the planet Tiga maps out in the original: comedowns can be a doozy.—Oliver Kinkel
If—contrary to what the title of this remix proposes—there is such a thing as the "end," this cool breeze of a remix is exactly the sort of thing we'd hope to hear at the pearly gates of rave heaven. Adopting Metatron as a zen alter-ego, mysterious German producer Traumprinz brings back past-life memories of the dancefloor enthusiast's most sacred grounds: trance, house, and breakbeat hardcore. Against a repeated non sequitur of a refrain—"Back into the sky"—the track becomes gradually more celebratory as time goes on, cresting in a celestial piano improvisation over a subtle break that contains some sort of hand drum. It goes on for 11 minutes, but you'll want to keep hearing it until the hereafter.—Oliver Kinkel
Emma Burgess-Olson's productions have carved out a distinctly anti-gravity take on techno tropes, but her latest release as UMFANG—part of a four-way split for experimental label Phinery—afforded her the occasion to go even spacier than usual. The goofily titled "Aaaaaaa" is the best of her bunch, a slow-mo collection of acid squelches, stuttering snares, and sickly drones that slowly sidles up to the dancefloor, breaching the edge before quickly receding again—a reminder, perhaps, that there's worlds out there behind the club's tomb-like confines.—Colin Joyce
You may be aware that some of Arca's most visible moments as a producer have come while operating in the hip-hop world, but Wench—nominally a rap project with Hood By Air's Shayne Oliver, who contributes both vocals and production—is a reminder that he's at his best when left to follow his strangest impulses. The duo aim for the heavens on "Sick," crafting sounds as ascendant and sacred as any that exist in Western music, like mammoth church organs or the most gleaming Cocteau Twins guitar lines. Meanwhile Shayne's Biblical kiss-offs ("Repent, repent / Being with him is a sin") only make it go down more like holy water. Praise Yeezus, Arca's back in rap again, but this time he's not making beats; he's writing hymns.—Colin Joyce