Any knucklehead with DSL and a laptop can now make an electronic track. With a half hour of clicking and fiddling, you can sample enough cheesy beats and mashups to clog arteries from here to Berlin. Simple dropdown mouse maneuvers can transform electro tracks into progressive house tracks (from dry and synthetic to wet and gushy), rhythm tracks can be tempo-tweaked with an upward toggle to change a Timbaland beat into a Chromeo one. Add some T-Pain-esque pitch-correction vocals to your between-track banter for that 2008 feel (actually, please don't). The rail guiding it all: that four-on-the-floor stomp. Herewith: nine collections of dance music (and one licentious exception), some of them mixed into sets, others unmixed for your own sampling pleasure.
Simian Mobile Disco
At least four different Fabric mixes could have landed on any reputable list of the year's best dance collections. Depending on your mood and your hormonal levels, either Metro Area's syrupy Demerol disco mix, M.A.N.D.Y.'s 25-track thumpfest (featuring Yello, Gui Burrato and Booka Shade), or DJ Yoda's insanely diverse FabricLive mix (Violent Femmes, Jurassic 5, Bell Biv Devoe, Adam F, Wiley), could effectively wobble your azz. Simian's stands a little above the rest (save one - see below) in its audacity, inclusiveness and ability to celebrate electro and house without resorting to the stupid futuristic robotic stuff. The set opens with Japanese 1970s cheeseball Tomita, features the year's best dance track, Hercules & Love Affair's "Blind," transforms "Suite Equitra" by the late NYC street composer Moondog (who's having a very healthy afterlife as a mixtape MC) into a dancefloor stomper, hits on current faves Deadmau5, and digs deep in the crates to uncover genius inventor/musician Raymond Scott. It closes with a great threesome: Plastikman's "Spastik" into Green Velvet's "Flash" into (of all things) the Walker Brothers' "Night Flight." This mix will totally transform your rush hour slog home from work.
(from Simian Mobile Disco's FabricLive.41 mix)
(Word and Sound)
Part of Ellen Allien's BPitch Control posse out of Berlin, Sasha Funke creates crisp, clear, antiseptic beats on his own tracks, and this mix, released by the popular Watergate club in Berlin, hits all the right riddims if you like your techno with funny chirps, bloops, hisses and electro-riffs swirling around heavy bottom-end bass bump. It's a cool mix of minimalism, one in which repetition is dotted with tidbits of oddball melodies and sampled voice-wisps. You're not going to hear any raucous divas pretending to lose their virginity, not going to hear dumb k-hole trance washes or dirt-covered electro. Rather, Funke offers a mixed sampler of mostly 21st century, mostly German techno (DJ Koze's masterful "I Want to Sleep" included), with one glorious surprise smack dab in the middle: Midwest rave legend (Wisconsin) Woody McBride's "Boy Girl Boy Girl."
Minilogue Vs KAB
"That's a Nice Way to Give Me Feedback"
from Sascha Funke's Watergate 02 mix
Lagos Shake: A Tony Allen Chop Up
I can't get over this record, and feel bad for anyone interested in rhythm and soul that misses this deep, satisfying instrumental ode to Nigerian drum master Tony Allen. Released on the ace British label Honest Jon's (which reissued a fantastic batch of early Nigerian 78 recordings, Delta Dandies: Dance Bands In Nigeria 1936-1941, this year, too), Lagos Shake features sliced-and-diced samples taken from the solo work of the percussionist best known for his work with Fela Kuti's Africa 70 band. Allen's beats are a feast for remixers - so many sounds, such varied rhythm clusters to work with - and producers from across the globe wrestle with them. Featuring Detroit techno veteran Carl Craig, Basic Channel founder Moritz Von Oswold (who this teamed with Craig for a fascinating set of remixes of Maurice Ravel's and Modest Mussorgsky's work), Philly dj Diplo, and Dizzee Rascal proteges Newham Generals, among others.
"Ole (Moritz Von Oswold Remix)"
You can always count on DJ/Rupture to school you on the latest advances in the post-jungle rhythms of dubstep and the outer regions of experimental electronica. Rupture, who was born Jace Clayton, recently returned to the States after a long stint in Spain, and he's now in NYC, where he hosts a show on the great WFMU. Seamlessly overlaying ragga MCs on top of angular beats, mixing weirdo synthetic tones with off-kilter melodies, juxtaposing deep funk with high-end noise, Uproot targets the sound of deep, rumbling bass and beat. Electronic music fans unable or unwilling to track the newest developments in dubstep should make a beeline. But, in addition, Rupture includes some wonderful juxtapositions, like the gentle sounds of Ekkehard Ehlers' tribute to John Cassavetes.
from DJ/Rupture's Uproot
Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story
Purists who scoff at electronic dance music, preferring live action to the computer kind, will find great joy in Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell set up a studio in the Bahamas in the late 1970s, hired reggae rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare to address the bottom end, which attracted musicians from across the globe (the Rolling Stones recorded there, as did the Police). And for good reason: Shakespeare's confident, rolling basslines and Dunbar's skittering, jerky way with the beat helped define early New York hip hop, which, in turn, informed the late 1970s and early 80s downtown arts scene, where Grace Jones, the Talking Heads (and its offshoot, the Tom Tom Club) and the diva Cristina were taking notes. Lesser-known tracks (Ian Dury's rubbery "Spasticus Elasticus" and Gwen Guthrie's "Padlock," remixed by Larry Levan are the best) pop with energy. Combined, this unmixed collection is essential for anyone interested in left-field post-disco dance music.
"My Jamaican Guy"
from Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story
Nobody Knows Anything: DFA Presents Supersoul Recordings
There's nothing like good, clunky, house music, and no one save maybe Metro Area does it better than DFA Records. The good news is that the label, co-owned by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, has been expanding not only its own roster but augmenting it by partnering with kindred labels like Rong Music of Brooklyn and Supersoul Recordings out of Berlin. The latter label is featured on Nobody Knows Anything, a selection of new Euro disco-house sides that are funky, a little cheesy and filled with electro-retarded whirrs and washes that sound great on the dancefloor. Fans of Italo disco kingpin Giorgio Moroder's proto-techno will dig this, as will anyone hopped up on ecstasy looking for weird sounds spinning through beats.
"Deuteronomy Brown (i-f Edit)"
from: Nobody Knows Anything: DFA Presents Supersoul Recordings
I'm taking some poetic license here, because Tussle's Cream Cuts isn't a mix CD, but it is a dance CD, and one of my favorite records of the year. The San Francisco-based band creates live dance music that draws from disco and house without being derivative, builds epic, megadance classics with bass, drums, keyboards and guitars that have at their center a big four-four stomp. And though the band is purely instrumental and there's no way to measure their verbal intellect, the band possesses that certain something in their musical choices that's genius-like in its delivery. The wah-wah on "Titan" competes with big drums for attention for a good five minutes, then the track halts and the sound of crickets creates confusion. You soon realize that this is Tussle's version of a hook - silence filled with insects. Add into the equation the soothing piano plonk in "Night of the Hunter," one of the best dance songs of the year, and you've got live-action thrills.
"Night of the Hunter"
Buraka Som Sistema
If we might trendspot for a moment. The success of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" this year due to its placement in both Pineapple Express and Slumdog Millionaire has opened America's ears to thrilling international polyrhythms bouncing across the globe. In South Africa, DJ Mujava's "Township Funk" cracked the sound of kwaito music wide open this year. Brazilian baile funk sounds as fresh and immediate as it did a few years ago, and Buraka Som Sistema's Angola-by-way-of-Portugal kuduro music, as heard on their massive "Sound of Kuduro" track, is as hard and energetic and immediate as punk rock. Cumbia music's getting crazier, as is American hip hop. I think we're on the verge of a new international sound, one that leaps continents and oceans in a single YouTube bound, and mutates not just through neighborhoods and cities but across borders, courtesy of the massive collaborative studio that is the Internet. Though Buraka Som Sistema hasn't released an official mix (though their new Black Diamond full length is pretty wild), this 45 minute set offers what to me feels like the beginning of a new international sound, one that merges the best of many worlds. There's hints of techno, drum & bass, baile funk, kuduro and everything else beat-related, all mixed into a big-ass, thrilling ride.
Buraka Som Sistema
"Sound of Kuduro"
I had a great L.A. moment with this mix on the Hollywood freeway the first time I heard it. I was stuck in traffic, and a pile of CDs sat next to me on the seat. Looking for a danceable diversion, I popped this on, and as the car poked at 5 mph, Ame's Fabric mix introduced itself at a pleasant 124 bpms, and within a half minute of Linkwood's "Hear the Sun," I was lost inside. This CD stayed in my stereo for three weeks straight, and I loved every moment of its bumping, funky, streamlined techno. Equal parts smart, funny, angry, thoughtful, dreamy, Ame's selection of earthy, vibrant beats, their mix is tangled with rhythmic variation and some amazing spoken word selections, all remaining at that easy, smooth bpm clip. There's Moondog again, this time offering a monologue. A few tracks later, activist/poet Ras Baraka's "An American Poem" infuses the rhythm with outrage: "My god where is all the American poetry? Not poems about your attic. Not poems about how your clothes fit, or fucking poems or stale slobber or the night before or the morning after." Exactly. And you can dance to it.
Jens Zimmerman featuring Moondog
from Ame's Fabric 42 mix
Santogold and Diplo
Santi White, who is Santogold, was my favorite musician this year, closely followed by Diplo, whose taste at times so overlaps with mine in the D.I.T.C way that he feels like a blood brother. For Top Ranking, the Philadelphia DJ transformed Santogold's self-titled debut into a mixtape, laying her a capella vocals over a wild selection of tracks from the past thirty years. Like Diplo's work on M.I.A.'s bootleg Piracy Funds Terrorism, Volume 1 mix, this set caresses the tender part of my brain where nostalgia creates an adrenalin rush, but it infuses old with new in remarkable reconfigurations and segues - the B-52s' "Mesopotamia" (underrated classic, produced by David Byrne); Black Flag's "Six Pack" bassline sampled, funkified and rejiggered with wicked Cutty Ranks vocals; the Dixie Cups classic "Iko Iko," infused with a DJ Magic Mike-inspired Miami bass rumble. And woven throughout are reworked tracks from Santogold; Diplo pairs her "Lights Out" vocals with Panda Bear's "Comfy in Nautica"; "Shuv It" with the late Detroit producer Disco D; with the Clash (a renamed "Guns of Brooklyn") and dozens of others. It's all blended together with precision, and combines to create a mix for the ages.
"Guns of Brooklyn (Doc and Jon Hill Dub)"
-- Randall Roberts
More 2008 in Review:
Top Pop Songs
Top Indie Rock
Top Latin Albums
Worst Lyrics: A Final Four Bracket-Style Competition
Craziest Rap Songs
Top Metal Albums
Top Hip-Hop/Rap Songs
Top Country Songs