K.W. Griff ‘Bring In The Katz’ (Night Slugs)
If there was ever a track that, once it became successful, felt like a lifetime achievement award being bequeathed to a production legend, city, and subgenre, it’s K.W. Griff’s ‘Bring In The Katz’. Born Kenny Wilkins in Baltimore, Maryland, Griff had two decades of experience as a DJ and producer, his Sanford and Son theme-sampling ‘You Big Dummy’ an influence on Diplo’s production of M.I.A.’s ‘URAQT’ in 2005.
‘Bring In The Katz’ is great because its chops are stacked on top of each other in a way that it makes it sound like there’s a major commotion happening in the discotheque. Loud and aggressive, it amplifies both the sound and the energy of any room. Add in Baltimore FM radio and DJ/personality legend Pork Chop to the mix with his exhortations to Griff to “bring in the katz!” and the result is pure insanity.
Griff’s track is an exemplary DJ tool that, not unlike Rod Lee’s ‘Dance My Pain Away’, the Doo Dew Kidz’s ‘Watch Out For The Big Girl’ or DJ Class’ ‘I’m The Shit’ are essential material in the annals of Baltimore club music and wild parties worldwide. Add in the work of other globally respected and Baltimore-based producers and DJs like Scottie B, Diamond K, Blaqstarr, Johnny Blaze, DJ Booman, Say Wut, James Nasty, and so many more, and the scope of names and tracks inclusive in what ‘Bring In The Katz’s’ success truly means is truly apparent. Marcus K. Dowling
Todd Terje ‘Inspector Norse’ (Smalltown Supersound)
The year is 2012. Dance music is firmly back in mainstream conscience. Ravers no longer sit at the bottom of the cultural pile, crusty gel hair and scoffing eccies to Ministry Of Sound Annuals. Guitars are firmly in the rearview mirror and everyone has remembered how good disco, house, techno and DJ culture is. Todd Terje’s comeback landed at the perfect time for this environment, culminating in the funnest track of the decade. Derided as throwaway cosmic disco in the early 00s (H/T ‘Eurodans’), ‘Inspector Norse’ blossomed from a winter release to become 2012’s undisputed summer anthem. Its earworm melody became an instantly recognisable head-bopper, the soaring mid-section a moment all ravers would try to sync their come-up with. It represented the unbridled optimism of the industry in the early part of a crucial decade for dance music.
That summer I went to Glastonbury for the first time with my uncle to work in his rock carving workshop. Every morning I was treated to the redolent synth sweep and clap that signals the start of ‘Inspector Norse’. Every morning it made my uncle literally hop out of bed and into the workshop. That energy was infectious. This song is fucking infectious. Louis Anderson-Rich
Andrés ‘New For U’ (La Vida)
Being the 21st century, the internet is a common theme on this list. Andrés’ ‘New For U’ is no different, but since its near-inescapable popularity in 2012 its legacy is waning in meme territory. As a literally constant recommendation on Discogs for anyone even thinking about a house record, it’s possible to become sick of the record before ever actually listening to it. Still, that doesn’t overshadow the fact that Andrés’ flip of Dexter Wansel’s ‘Time Is The Teacher’ is this decade’s wistful dancefloor bomb. With strings reminiscent of early-00s Moby, and a groove that is pure MPC-swinging funk, it’ll make clubgoers cry and dance in equal measure. Don’t let a bad algorithm fool you, ‘New For U’ will always remain certifiably excellent. Louis Anderson-Rich
Jam City ‘The Courts' (Night Slugs)
When it comes to basketball, one figure has emerged as the leading sensation associated with the sport this decade: Jam City. I’m sure LeBron James has done some cool stuff, but did he ever redefine club music just by squeaking his shoes? In 2012, Jam City made one of the best and most important dance music tracks of the decade, built around a sample of friction between trainers and waxed wood. Also making use of a stuttering bassline, bursts of glossy synths and detached vocal fragments, ‘The Courts’ arrived perfectly formed as the genesis of a new movement of bare-bones club tracks. A half court buzzer beater of an anthem. Patrick Hinton
DRS 'Count To Ten' featuring Enei (Soul:r)
MCs and drum 'n' bass go together like an Amen break and a rumbling bassline. MCs have been ever-present since the earliest jungle raves and it’s highly likely your favourite producer’s album has got your fave MC on a tune. What is rare, though, is for an MC to be a consistent album artist like Manchester's DRS. He's released four since 2010, the second being 'I Don't Usually Like MCs but...' on Marcus Intalex's Soul:r. This includes 'Count To Ten', a piercing techstep menace with Russian producer Enei. DRS' devilish flow weaves perfectly into the sawtooth production, proving why he's been a go-to for d'n'b's finest producers, from LTJ Bukem to Calibre and Marcus Intalex.
DRS is a don at the heart of Manchester's stellar music scene, paving the way for the likes of soul-meets-hip hop duo Children Of Zeus, aka Konny Kon and Tyler Daley, and the LEVELZ crew to taste success. Konny Kon told Complex in 2018 that DRS is "the glue that holds Manchester together", while Fox and IAMDDB are other MCR icons to shout him out for what he's done. Shortly after 'Count To Ten', Enei's debut album 'Machines' was released on Critical Recordings, full of rattling industrial cuts that are synonymous with Enei and have shaped him into one of d'n'b's most revered producers. It's no coincidence the DRS-featuring 'The Moment' on that is a monster, too. Dave Turner
Trevino ‘Backtracking’ (The Nothing Special)
Marcus Intalex had a long and illustrious career in d’n’b before creating Trevino, an alias through which he could channel deep, whompy, string-laden UK techno. The early tens was a fertile period for such a maneuver: dancefloors had become obsessed with four-to-the-floor and producers from the bassier end of the spectrum got switched on to a new kind of thrill.
Artists went stealth mode with new projects, like Endian, or folded slower tempos into their existing aesthetic, like Martyn, Pinch or Scuba. The trend became so popular – and commercial – that it inevitably became a cliche, but in that magic moment before the bandwagon arrived some brilliant music emerged. Trevino notched twelves on all of the labels responsible for the shift – 3024, Apple Pips, Hotflush – as well as a real stamp of approval in Ben Klock’s Klockworks.
Trevino was on fire in 2012, releasing 6 records, and his sets at the time consisted of predominantly his own productions, like the certified UK techno wobbler ‘Derelict’ or the tense, broken ‘Under Surveillance’. But it’s ‘Backtracking’ where Trevino’s power and beauty combine perfectly, providing an instant contact high across a soaring eight minutes. RIP. Seb Wheeler
Justin Martin 'Don't Go (Dusky Remix)’ (Dirtybird)
Two years after exploding onto the global house scene by remixing Dirtybird standard bearer Justin Martin’s single ‘Don’t Go’ I had dinner while interviewing Dusky in a restaurant overlooking a river, a stone’s throw away from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Later that night they played an underground gig in Washington, DC. It wasn’t anything incredibly special as a night in retrospect, but I distinctly remember the term “post-EDM” and “never crossing over” being bandied about and resonating deeply.
As a label, Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird has grown vertically to the level of throwing its own Campout festivals, all the while teaching kids raised on sick drops how to get lost in deep grooves. It’s thumping, funky remixes like these as well as originals from the likes of Justin Jay, Ardalan, Shiba San, Walker and Royce, and others that have diversified the taste of America’s dance fanatics in the past decade.
Impressively, house music’s re-emergence in American circles has seen shuffling and throwing shapes arguably supplant moshing, head-nodding, and twerking among festival and club attendees. In this case, it’s house music forever. Marcus K. Dowling
DJ Sliink ‘Vibrate’ (Body High)
Club music’s three decade-long house and hip hop-influenced journey up and down America’s east coast between Newark, New Jersey to Baltimore, Maryland is the stuff of underground legend and creative inspiration. In the 2010s, it was a new generation of club kings and queens from Newark, New Jersey whose ribald, sensual, and deeply percussive innovations in the genre opened the door to Jersey club music’s significant worldwide appeal.
DJ Sliink takes the sound of a cell phone vibrating on a desk, samples it, adds in a suggestive vocal, and then the magic happens. Hyper-sexed youths worldwide are literally bouncing and shaking their bodies on each other in sweaty dance halls around the globe. Club music’s sustaining acclaim has always been its ability to make the commonplace extravagant, and this is no different.
‘Vibrate’ was a key track that opened the floodgates of Soundcloud-ready music labels like Body High, Main Course, Pelican Fly and numerous more flooding dancefloors with undulating basslines, squeaking bed springs, sexual vocal chops, and more. Then there’s European producers like Lido making club tracks under aliases like Booty Beaver, Drippy Dolphin, Trippy Turtle, Disco Duck, Wasted Whale, Faded Fox and Girly Gorilla and it’s clear the level of reach that Jersey Club’s irreverent, pounding take on house had. Moreover, it’s clear that when the original article is of such high quality, club music’s legacy is well intact. Marcus K. Dowling
Amir Alexander ‘Gutter Flex’ (Argot)
The truly great dance anthems are those that, regardless of the year of release, retain a flavor that has timeless dancefloor appeal. Amir Alexander’s ‘Gutter Flex’ feels like the smoothed-out house antecedent to A Number of Names’ iconic 1982 single ‘Sharevari,’ but it delivers in ways that other tracks with similar inspiration approach, but don’t exceed, the mark.
It’s the tastefully dubby bassline and jazzy melodies that offer a level of sophistication that much of the music of this era lacked. If wanting to understand the hotter side of the chill, teutonic techno influence on house’s emergence as a top-tier sound of the 2010s, tracks like this one are important. For as much as the likes of Maya Jane Coles define the dark side of soul, ‘Gutter Flex’ offers an undeniable warmth that occupies a different side of the same vibe.
If you want to discover where sophistication begins for dance fanatics born in underground bars and near festival stages, it’s in tracks like these. As a musical inspiration, soul is a universal instinct that inspires the most funky expressions of euphoria. When handled with this much care only the best of results are possible. Marcus K. Dowling
TNGHT ‘Higher Ground’ (LuckyMe)
Sometimes you just need a visceral kick. Pure gun-finger mayhem. Total chaos. Like Rustie’s ‘Slasherr’, like Girl Unit’s ‘Wut’, like Hudson Mohawke’s ‘Thunder Bay’. Like doing eccies on the waltzers and trying not to throw up. Fucking ‘ave it.
These turbo-charged anthems were the result of a pocket of mischievous artists pushing rap beats to illogical extremes, minds addled by US trap, UK hardcore, trance, strong weed and (presumably) Monster energy drink. A blizzard of biblical synths and alien melodies, demolition derby bass and constant euphoria.
This retina-popping, widescreen fun is epitomised by ‘Higher Ground’, the track that sent HudMo and Lunice’s TNGHT side-project pinballing between festival mainstages, as well as accidentally inventing the trap dance music sub genre. Things got totally out of hand and the (recently reunited) duo retreated from the strobes, happy to hop in the studio with Kanye, Drake and Pusha T (HudMo) or to link with labels like XL, Big Dada and Warner (Lunice). Seb Wheeler
Laurel Halo ‘Joy’ (Hyperdub)
On her debut album ‘Quarantine’ in 2012, Laurel Halo played hard and fast with the rules of genre, ambient bleeding into pop, pop bleeding into ambient, and a well-honed sense of beat and rhythm strung it all together. It was a technique that was to define the rest of her output, and at the time of its release, ‘Quarantine’ played with perceptions like nothing else, right down to the cover art. On closer inspection, what seems to be a joyous illustration in manga style of schoolgirls playing together becomes a troubling image of the girls stabbing each other with swords, all with friendly smiles on their faces.
‘Joy’ is a track that sticks out on the album for the way it does an about-turn a minute in, shifting from the spacious and inviting first section to what could be a separate song entirely. In this second half, melody is only in the ear of the beholder, and what ties the two sections together is a sense of anxiety. The first half is so light and airy that the anxiety stems from being able to hold onto this sense of joy, and the second half in having let it slip away. This tension defines the generation of Laurel Halo’s peers, and is why it has been cemented as one of the decade’s defining dance music tracks, not for its dancefloor-filling capabilities, but its encapsulation of an entirely modern state of being. Jemima Skala
Zebra Katz feat Njena Reddd Foxxx ‘Ima Read’ (Mad Decent)
Designer Rick Owens' 2012 Paris Fashion Week show created a sensation. The clothes, inspired by architectural brutalism, were acclaimed - but it was the brutality of the soundtrack that was unignorable, 12 minutes of icy threats delivered like a knife to the throat, a track that exploded across the internet in subsequent weeks.
There's almost nothing to 'Ima Read': the music comprises a hypnotic 808 pulse and a rudimentary rhythm, while its protagonists' rapping is so laconic as to be virtually spoken word. That's the point: look how little effort Zebra Katz and Njena Reddd Foxxx have to put in to destroy you. But appropriately for a song that emerged from the ballroom scene, where the merest gesture can make the difference between slaying and flopping, the track's thrill is in how much their intonations convey while retaining the unfeeling mask.
Njena is, frankly, the star turn: pure contempt as she asks, "I called you a slut, whatchu gon' do, bitch?", savouring the insults on her tongue; surgical precision as she expands the academic metaphor with "It's gon' be cohesive; it's gon' be my thesis"; drifting almost absent-mindedly into outright violence as the song comes to an end. It's a damn shame - particularly given the quality of her follow-up 'Silly Bitch' - that 'Ima Read' turned out to be lightning in a bottle for both of its artists. Alex Macpherson
Head High 'Rave' (Dirt mix) (Power House)
A looped open hi-hat hasn’t aged a day since the 90s rave heyday. Dance music’s own many faced god René Pawlowitz showed there’s still life in the early acid house aesthetic in the 2010s with this slamming cut as Head High. Using a humble mix of repetitive beats and chords soaked in reverb, he created an anthem that inspires an insatiable need to dance - and preferably, dancing in a dingy room filled with dry ice underground somewhere.
POV: post-rave afterparty at someone’s house, you see some cheap, battered decks sat alone in the corner of the living room. Everyone is conflicted over what music to play, so you take position, ready to gift them with a mix to keep the vibes going. Artists like Head High are to be cherished if you adore mixing house tunes with a classic feel at times like these. Lydia Webb
Blawan 'Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage' (Hinge Finger)
One of those tunes that was made as a bit of a joke and spiralled into such a monster hit that even the producer himself ended up overwhelmed. The success of 'Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage' took Blawan by surprise. As the story goes, Blawan made it to show his mum what he would do if he was going to remix one of her favourite albums ‘The Score’. The line, from ‘How Many Mics’, was uttered by Pras and morphed by Blawan into one of 2012’s most bizarre club singalongs.
'Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage' appeared in the first quarter of 2012 and within weeks it became a massive hit, shaking up dancefloors everywhere eventually landing on Will Bankhead and Joy O’s Hinge Finger label in October of that year. It amplified the prestige he’d already picked up through previous hit ‘Getting Me Down’. Even Skrillex got in on the act with his own edit and Girlband did a cover for their 2015 album ‘The Early Years’.
But it was all a bit much for Blawan, who was a bit perturbed by the unwanted attention. “I put the ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies…’ track out, and was totally shocked by how popular it was. I was kind of like, ‘Fuck, I’ve made a big mistake here’. It wasn’t really the sort of thing I wanted to do,” he admitted in an interview last year. Marcus Barnes
Crazy P 'Heartbreaker' (20/20 Vision)
If you were in Manchester at the close of the late 90s, religiously attending Paper Recordings’ Robodisco at Planet K (a club pre-dating the drug’s mainstream popularity), you probably missed Crazy P’s beginnings as Crazy Penis - a non sequitur sticking not just a middle finger, but also a penis, up to the idea of a mass marketable name.
Over a decade later, and shorn of their enis, Crazy P had ironically risen to become possibly the biggest name in the explosion of new disco, the band itself swelling ranks but the original self-assured spirit remaining fully intact.
Despite its accusatory lyrics of wrong-doing and plaintively bitter-sweet melodies, ‘Heartbreaker’ captures this sense of nostalgia for what once was. Serve with Teengirl Fantasy’s ‘Cheaters’ (2011, Hivern Discs) for a fully-rounded flavour of heartache. Joe Roberts
Disclosure ‘Tenderly’ (PMR)
Disclosure’s music started out as a naive kind of future garage, hardly surprising given that Guy and Howard Lawrence were just 19 and 16 when their first single came out in 2010. Disciples of Burial, Joy O and Floating Points, they soon moved toward bright, bouncy post-dubstep and captured the moment with ‘Tenderly’. Its clean, seductive groove and light-headed keys proved irresistible.
Hype spread quickly and the duo had to smuggle an underage Howard into clubs, playing charged live shows at packed underground parties. As their sound and taste developed, they’d distil their garage-y influences into smooth, bassy UK house, taking the post-dubstep kids with them like two pied pipers. The resulting album would be the gateway for their generation into the world of dance music, dancing ‘til dawn and communal ecstacy. Seb Wheeler
Azealia Banks ft. Lazy Jay '212' (Self-released)
Kanye West jamming out Chicago house classics at pseudo religious ceremonies and working with the likes of Evian Christ and Hudson Mohawke, Vince Staples rapping over beats by Jimmy Edgar and Flume, and Brodinksi collabing with LA and Atlanta rappers like Bricc Baby Shitro and iLoveMakonnen may just be normal service these days, but it’s easy to forget how separate the worlds of rap and dance music were at the start of the decade. Azealia Banks was the spark that binded the two together in 2011 with ‘212’, pairing feisty bars with a bumping house beat made by two Belgian brothers. The monchrome video featuring Candian DJs Jacques Greene and Lunice became a viral hit and shot Azealia Banks to fame, setting the blueprint for the mingling of the electronic and rap scenes that followed. Her debut album in 2014 ‘Broke with Expensive Taste’ featured production credits from Pearson Sound, Boddika, Machinedrum, SCNTST, MJ Cole and Lone. Although Azealia Banks may have tainted her personal reputation with a frequently offensive social media presence since then, her musical legacy is solid. Patrick Hinton