Illustration by Dana Kim.
2016 was a great year for losing yourself in the delirium of a great DJ mix. Online radio surged, crate-digging selectors brought their geekily obsessive sets to festival main stages, and countless wonderful records and new DJ tools came out, giving all sorts of selectors new reasons to hop behind the decks and kick out a few jams. From nails-on-the-chalkboard experimental club music, to dusty house edits of 50 Cent, to the "how did he do that?" transitions of Parisian wizard Teki Latex, below are 20 of the mixes that reminded us just how exciting it is to be listening to DJs play music right now.
My weekends tend to go like this: Friday night I stay in and watch Boiler Room, then I wake up at 6 am the next morning to catch up on the rest of the week's Boiler Rooms, just like Saturday morning cartoons. So trust me when I tell you this GoPro-assisted session from Los Angeles, featuring Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt, is one of the streaming platform's best offerings of the year. Under his "Earl Fletcher" alias, Sweatshirt rips through an hour of Lil B, 21 Savage, and 2 Chainz, interspersed with blunted instrumentals from the likes of Black Noi$e. He trainwrecks every other transition and doesn't give a shit; neither should you. DJing isn't just about Berlin fortysomethings creaming themselves over subtle blends—it's also about a blasé young rapper spinning Juvenile and instructing a crowd of skater teens, "It's time to back that ass up...fuck the bullshit."—Ezra Marcus
There's something truly enchanting about this sleepy session from Manchester-based Balearic don Richard Moon, a.k.a. Moonboots. Created for Apiento's Test Pressing label as part of a series of sunrise-friendly sessions, Jutro—which means "morning," in Polish—is the best morning mix I've heard all year. The blushing synths and plucked acoustic guitars have an obviously therapeutic quality, but in a way that manages to be so much more interesting than your typical new-age, blissed-out fare. Then, around the 36-minute mark, it happens. Out of the dusty rustle and funk of the preceding half-hour emerges Mike Francis's "Let Me In," like a boat cutting through motionless water. It's gentle, but monumental.—Angus Harrison
The reemergence of Japanese deep house stalwart Soichi Terada has surely been one of the brightest moments in a largely dark year. Following the 2015 release of Sounds from the Far East—a compilation curated by Hunee that featured a collection of Terada's sought-after 90s deep house tracks—the artist emerged out of a long period of obscurity into a chapter of exciting new bookings. He also found himself a new family in Rush Hour Recordings, the eclectic Dutch label that released the comp. Luckily, Terada hasn't lost any of his charm, or his impressive collection of colorful shirts, both evident in the mix at hand here. With a tracklist consisting exclusively of Japanese deep house tracks, you can nearly hear his grin peeking through the waveforms.—David Garber
Every so often, someone with a keyboard and a broadband connection will tap out a screed about how the loss of the chillout room in clubs signalled the death of club culture itself. They'll have a point because, after all, after a few hours, the combination of drink, drugs, and the endless doof doof can get a bit too much. You start to think, "Hey, wouldn't it be great to lie on a grubby beanbag in a lava lamp-filled room with total strangers who are suddenly very handsy because they've taken a pill..." No, it'd be hell. What'd be better would be if all clubs were, by law, forced to play music akin to the soothing hour of jazz, lovers-rock, and afrobeat oddities on Sassy J's Libra mix at least once an evening. Thanks to Sassy J, the Bern-based digger whose breakout year included a steady slew of blissful festival sets, un-Shazamable radio mixes, and a charming Dekmantel video profile, the chillout room's never felt less lame.—Josh Baines
For the opening moments of her March mix for Fact, the Brooklyn-based producer Via App wafts in an untitled track by Asthyna, her duo with Bookworms. Its lithe arpeggiations are shimmery and incandescent, a side of the producer born Dylan Scheer's musical output that's not often on display—but all too quickly, it evaporates. Using the heat-sick experimentalism of Providence's Wilted Woman as a bridge, she ramps quickly into her more humid techno-dystopian environs. Molten originals collide with mechanistic floor-fillers (a Christian Vogel EP cut is a notable standout), to create an hour-long anxiety trip through the automated, optimized, and terrifying hinterlands of techno's industrial districts. There is a bit of a comedown at the end, but even that's squirmy, unsettled, and otherworldly—the beauty at the beginning, it turns out, was just a mirage.—Colin Joyce
When Mixpak was invited to compete in this year's Red Bull Culture Clash, the Brooklyn label sent a crew of dancehall heavy-hitters to London's O2 Arena, including Popcaan, Jubilee, Dre Skull, Spice, Serocee, and Tony Matterhorn. Up against teams representing garage (UKG All-Stars), grime (Wiley's Eskimo Dance), and hip-hop (Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang), the DJs and MCs brought their A-game, packing exclusive dubplates and rambunctious riddims into four rounds. In between stadium-pleasers like Jamie xx's "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)," Major Lazer's "Lean On," and Shaggy's "Boombastic," Mixpak brought out British special guests Big Narstie, J Hus, and Sneakbo to make the victory a truly transatlantic effort. Saving the best for last, Jamaican "singjay" Popcaan threw some good-natured fuck yous to their competitors (wearing an English national team football jersey, no less), before ad-libbing over a colossal dub of Drake's Kyla-sampling "One Dance." Just try finding a more joyful singalong than the one at the 40-minute mark of the above video.—Max Mertens
While the term "one to watch" gets thrown around more than it should these days, in the case of young Australian upstart Mall Grab, we can't help but shout it out the window of our Uber while blasting his dusty, seductive brand of house music. Following his much obsessed-over, Alicia Keys-sampling breakout "Can't" (finally pressed to wax via Church this year)—a standout in the burgeoning lo-fi house trend—Jordon Alexander has gone on to harness his loose and loveable style via a prolific year of releases. There's been remixes, hip-hop edits, a risk-taking Boiler Room stream, and, of course, expertly curated mixes like this one for i-D. I mean, who can pull off an edit of both 50 Cent and Craig David over the course of one hour? Mall Grab, that's who.—David Garber
The full title of Dedekind Cut's February mix for NON, Black History Month in 3D, underscores the power structure-dismantling mission the loosely affiliated crew has ascribed to from the start. The title implies revision—not just presenting histories, but putting them forth in ways more complex, more fully realized, and maybe more fully human than previous retellings have. As such, the selection here doesn't limit itself to one lane. Dedekind blends N.W.A's insurrection into hardstyle abandon, and Kate Bush's fantasia into System of a Down's paranoia—all scarred by sounds of breaking glass and high-gloss violence. It's a diorama of decades of uprising, rendered remarkably lifelike over its half-hour runtime.—Colin Joyce
You couldn't travel far in technoland this year without hearing this Discwoman-affiliated DJ's name. Volvox, a Boston-bred and New York-based producer whose real name is Ariana Paoletti, played a near-uncountable number of her tough-as-nails, acid-drenched closing sets around NYC. Each was its own punishing dancefloor endurance test, an experience she replicated on her debut for the city's iconic Beats in Space radio show. We're treated to 60 minutes of tracks so hot and heavy they may very well combust your iPhone. Don't hold us accountable for any property damage, though—just play this shit loud, and remember her name.—David Garber
Red Devil is a single file of all-new, original material, so the South African producer and NON affiliate ANGEL-HO could have easily billed this one as an "album," especially in an era when such distinctions are increasingly messy. But this release, with its chaotic ephemerality, does feel a little more within the lineage of DJ sets than proper album releases. As ANGEL-HO dips and dives between chattery static, powered-down industrial, and slowly creeping club tracks, strict divisions—between sounds and styles, but especially between tracks—become blurred. As soon as you pick up on an interesting moment, he flits on to the next, leaving it unclear where cuts like "Para" end and "Cupids Bow" begin. The sounds are unconventional, uncomfortable even, but Red Devil is a stunning example of what can be done with the form as its intent gets twisted. After all, as the title implies, even hell-dwellers need a Friday-night soundtrack.—Colin Joyce
A great song can help breathe fresh air into life's many mundane moments, but a truly special mix can take you on a trip where time melts into itself. As two DJs with some of the most cavernous crates around, Rush Hour pals Hunee and Antal channeled their knack for captaining otherworldly musical journeys with a six-hour set on Amsterdam's beloved Red Light Radio. An ID nerd's worst nightmare—or wet dream—, the set goes through everything from blissful Balearic to bouncing disco sleaze, traversing through genres as the hour clock ticks on.—David Garber
DJ duos can come off a little bit silly—what, exactly, are they both doing up there? At the end of the day, couldn't one human really handle it? But when it works, it works. Both members of DBM—Deadboy and Murlo—are ace DJs in their own right, but you can tell they're pushing each other to go harder and deeper with both tempo and track selection, a fact evident on this joint session for Rinse FM from September. The pair serves up two hours of tear-out UK garage, loaded with head-snap breaks and playful vocal flips—the snippet of Young Thug's "Best Friend" preceding a vicious bassline drop is particularly clever. You won't find a more effective celebration of the genre's past and present than this. Perhaps sometimes two heads are better than one.—Ezra Marcus
I'd love to pin down exactly what it is that makes both Beautiful Swimmers and Pender Street Steppers such alluring selectors. There's a shared quality to everything they play, from the roof-raising funk of Toney Lee's "Love So Deep" to the molten waves of Mark Seven's "The Fatal Flaw." It's sometimes as though they are playing disco and house underwater, or perhaps channeling an imaginary FM radio station from 1980s Miami. Whatever it is, however they do it, and however they keep finding these tracks, there has been no greater treat than listening to these two untouchable duos spar for four hours. Many thanks to the festival Dekmantel for programming the supergroup set of the year.—Angus Harrison
As a member of the New York collective #KUNQ, SHYBOI makes it her business to unsettle the dancefloor. Recorded earlier this year for Kevin Beasley's Listening Room series, "Guzzum Power" is a raucous, at times violent mix featuring a host of genre-pushing club tracks shot through with waves of screeching feedback and harrowing vocal interludes. As with many of her sets, the selector and visual artist uses this mix as something like catharsis—a way of processing the past and aiming towards a better future. As SHYBOI told THUMP earlier in the year, "[Guzzum Power] explores topics I've been thinking about in the past year: police violence, interrogations of racial and gender identity, and the violence that's enacted by others due to these identities. In the end, it's solemnly celebratory and hopeful." This is the power of the DJ set as a nightmarish form of healing—a club-induced exorcism.—Jesse Weiss
TJ Hertz's entry to Tresor's Kern series feels like a watershed moment for the Berlin-based DJ. He's always been playful with regards to his sound, describing his genre as "proto-minimal wankstep, gondola, shithouse" on his own website. But this aversion to self-seriousness is exactly why he should be taken so seriously. Objekt is, first and foremost, an exceptional DJ, yet he has a rogue streak that propels his mixes into truly unknown and boundary-pushing territory. He achieves blends on this mix that seem spatially, logistically, mathematically impossible, and between these rhythmic workouts, he is also totally unafraid to indulge huge tonal shifts—best showcased during the ambient, vocal stretch preceding Clatterbox's "Aspect Ratio." Kern Vol. 3 challenges what we actually want, or expect, from our favorite DJs. Of course, a great mix can just be a series of great tunes in a great order, but as Objekt's finest moment to date proves, it can also be a science.—Angus Harrison
5. Amy Becker - FADER Mix
You can mix in one of three ways: not at all, in a perfunctory manner, or really fucking well. Each of these relies upon the trusty crutch of context: your favorite Balearic DJ's got no use for tight blends; your favorite tech-house DJ understands that you're off your nut on a Gold Bar and just need a steady pulse to see you through to the morning; and Amy Becker is ample proof the latter method has the potential to make you ecstatic on its own merits. The London-based selector—and Radar Radio host—stepped up to the plate for The FADER's mix series with a crate full of everything from vogue to drill, dancehall to grime, R&B to club music, for 50 breathtakingly exciting minutes of beyond-belief blends. Becker's a star in the making, and this is a mightily impressive calling card. It's also really great to drink to on a Friday night, FYI.—Josh Baines
Moodymann's DJ-Kicks mix marked a moderate historic moment in the electronic music canon—the elusive Detroit producer's first commercially released compilation of other people's tunes. And what a delectable selection he stitched together over the release's 75 minutes. Zigzagging the full gambit of dance music, the 51st DJ Kicks edition is a heady concoction of sultry house, velvety blues, and bruising hip-hop. What unifies the 30 tracks is physicality. From Solomun's knee-buckling remix of Noir & Haze's anthemic "Around," to the stinging melancholy of José González's sparse "Remain," and Andreya Triana's trembling vocals on Flying Lotus' wobbling "Tea Leaf Dancers," you can't help but really feel the music.—Anna Codrea-Rado
To me, the opening moments of DJ Haram's spring Mixpak blend sum up what 2016 felt like better than a million words could: a long, throttled scream, streaked with chipmunked voices and gut-turning bass hits. And like this year's endless cavalcade of dead heroes, political disappointments, and law-enforcement nightmares, it drags on and on, much longer than you think it will, much longer than a throat can conceivably continue producing such a sound. In truth, that scream is one the producer and DJ lifted from a hardcore band called SOUL GLO from her home city of Philadelphia. You can't even tell that it's the vocal from a song anymore, but its relentlessness sets the tone for the rest of the mix, which sticks geographically close to home for the most part (Baltimore and Jersey club, experimental club music from the NYC/LA/London circuit), while tacking on enough bone-crushing percussion, colossal drops, and digital horns that it sounds ready to take on the world—or at least, like DJ Haram is.—Emilie Friedlander
At the start of 100% Radio Hits, the boss of the bubbly Sound Pellegrino label Teki Latex proclaims himself to be "the king of blends." And over the course of an absurdly exhilarating two hours we listen to the former TTC rapper crown himself over and over—though not many coronation ceremonies feature Gwen Stefani, Skepta, and DJ Q. As one of the most technically gifted selectors in the world today, Latex mixes with his usual jaw-dropping levels of panache throughout, guiding us through what he describes as "the sound of the radio station that plays 24/7 inside my brain." Never weighed down by his own propensity for nostalgia, Latex's keen-ear for melody is a perfect foil for his obsession with the clanking polyrhythm of contemporary club music. This is mixing as pure pleasure.—Josh Baines
Years from now, when the ocean has swallowed up a large fraction of the world's land mass and music festivals are exclusively located on islands—because there's only four parking lots left—historians may look back at this Mike Servito and Black Madonna tag-team as an important piece of musical history. The jacking, acid-infused marathon session from San Francisco's prized underground party As You Like It came at a time when both artists were on a rapid upward trajectory towards underground stardom, and, as a result, helped solidify a "Servdonna" (yes, my homemade moniker will also be penned into the scrolls) set as one of the most sought after, gloriously spontaneous, and straight-up fun happenings to ever hit a dancefloor.
But beyond the music that comes pouring out of their bags—let it be known it's a masterclass in the musical flair of their respective hometowns: Chicago and Detroit—the pair's chemistry hits your heart in other ways. Just like how they spin, Mike and Marea don't mind getting loud and in your face for what they believe in. Whether winning crowds from Brooklyn to Dekmantel, hopping on Twitter to clap back at the haters, or just simply plotting their night like any two good friends would do, they're a pair that are making dance music better than ever. Sometimes DJ sets are more than just a great night out: they're part of history.—David Garber