It was an autumnal year for the DJ mix CD, thanks to the closure of the fabric and FabricLive series at 100 volumes apiece (though DJ-Kicks’ continuing physical appearance remains a boon). And of course BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix turned a quarter-century old – worth making some noise about, as it most assuredly has.
But if the DJ mix is a marker of what’s current at a given point, it’s also spurred many jocks to dig harder and deeper into the crates to find yet more previously unheard music to delight us with anew. The success of reissue labels specialising in ultra-rarities, such as The Numero Group and Melodies International, has been reflected in a lot of DJ sets, particularly around stations like NTS Radio and The Lot.
The first half-hour of Jeremy Underground’s Essential Mix (September 8) plays like a riff – and upgrade – on that ‘can you top this’ crate-digger sensibility. It kicks into gear with Mirage’s ‘Summer Groove’, a propulsive disco gem from 1980. Not everything is a rarity – you’ve heard the sinuous groove of Deodato’s ‘Whistle Bump’, even if you can’t place the title – but it sounds of a piece, fished from an endless river of golden 80s 12’s. Soon enough the set explores the 90s New Jersey/New York house sound that is Underground’s raison d’être, but the selections are still just elusive enough to stay tantalising. It’s one of the series’– and maybe the year’s – best.
Here are a few other 2018 favorites, arranged by style rather than preference.
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BEST POLITICAL SETS
Completely by accident – I’d intended to escape the news a while, in fact – I wound up listening to Blowing Up The Workshop 96 (October 14), by the Bristolian DJ Laksa, right as the election results came in from across the US. It wasn’t the Democratic rout I’d been hoping against hope for, but it was heartening, a glimmer not merely of hope but of sheer common sense in a political year short of those. But Laksa, who records for labels like Ilian Tape, Timedance and Whities and has just finished a masters in social work, opens with the first of many sound bites about the exploitative nature of modern work. Rather than putting me off, it drew me in immediately. There is pleasure in hearing plain-spoken social realism that relates to damn near everyone you know; you’re less alone that way, especially over 80 minutes of non-stop gorgeous ambient tracks. Its musical obverse, DJ Bus Replacement Service’s RA.610 (February 5), revels in questionable taste from a lifelong Dr Demento fan (real name: Doris Woo) who performs in a Kim Jong-un mask.
BEST R’N’B AND HIP HOP SETS
The up-and-coming LA hip hop producer 10.4 ROG’s edition of the Seattle radio show Midnight In A Perfect World (July 26) is a languid, engrossing showcase for the sheer variety of approaches that are flourishing in r’n’b right now, climaxing in back-to-back knockouts from Khadja Bonet and Janelle Monae. But if 90s rap classicism is more your bag, Miamian Induce’s Steppin’ Heavy Mix Series #3: Random Rap (August 30), part of a regular spotlight set for US beat-digger magazine Wax Poetics, introduces us to 20 ultra-rare post-Premier bangers that, put together, sounds like a lost classic itself.
BEST EBM-FLAVOURED TECHNO SETS
From where I was dancing – in the post-industrial Midwest, where EBM, industrial, goth, and darkwave have long commingled with house and techno – this was the quasi-genre of the year. My favourite in-person moment came courtesy of a Minneapolis visit from LA trouper Silent Servant (check his NTS Radio show from September 25), but the two mixes, out of many, that resonated hardest came from up-and-coming women. The Turkish-born Berliner Nene H’s Crack Mix 220 (June 20) is a blistering black hole that’s like techno as reimagined by David Cronenberg. Londoner SPFDJ’s Discwoman 52 (August 22) takes a different route. Leading off with the sweeping, goth-like electro of Zwischenwelt’s ‘Cryptic Dimension’ gives this set a welcome sense of melodramatic shape.
BEST CHILL-OUT SET
Granted, picking Mixmag cover star Ben UFO's September 10 Rinse FM show is sort of cheating; as the host himself notes, he was more in ‘selector’ mode. But what he plays is rapturously beautiful, starting with the hypnotic Brazilian opener, Marlui Miranda with Uakti’s ‘Tchori Tchori’. His guest, Johanna Knutsson, presented a recording of her live performance at Germany’s Nachtdigital festival occupies about half of the two-hour show, and its twinkling edges and blurry surfaces helped a lot of sleepless nights go by.
BEST REDISCOVERED SETS
Colin Faver is best known and deservedly loved for his early-90s techno evangelism on London’s Kiss FM, but prior to that – back when Kiss was still a pirate – Faver was early on the dance wagon. His Kiss set from August 15, 1987, from The Pirate Archive, is 20 minutes of hip hop and rare grooves followed by 25 minutes of burgeoning US house, separated by some amazing adverts. Meanwhile, DJ Krome with Mr Time live at the Suburban Base showcase, Madisons, Bournemouth (September 17, 1991), from Rave Archive UK, is dizzying in every way imaginable: London hardcore caught during the giddy early part of its mutation from house to jungle. Five years on, drum ’n’ bass was hitting its mellow maturity, and there’s no better snapshot than LTJ Bukem’s Assassins Chapter 1 (April 20, 1996), from Deep Inside the Oldskool. Recorded right around the time the release of the major Bukem-and-friends showcase Natural Progression, his trademark aquatic sound was at its royal peak.
Michaelangelo Matos is a regular contributor to Mixmag, follow him on Twitter