DJ Marfox '2685-2686' (Príncipe)
DJ Marfox is the leader of the Lisbon Kuduro scene that’s sprung from the city’s social housing projects. The movement – also including DJ Firmeza, Nidia, DJ Nigga Fox and DJ Lilocox, among many others – has found international recognition throughout this decade thanks to furiously high energy levels and spine-twisting rhythms. What sounds like a warp-speed workout to the uninitiated is just regular club music to Marfox and his peers.
‘2685-2686’ is an unrelenting insight into this Afro-Portugese dance music and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything else as glorious and life affirming on this list. The track positively vibrates with dancefloor momentum. It’s released via Principe, the scene’s main platform and the label that began its discography with a Marfox record – as well as taking its name from the island off the coast of west Africa where the artist’s family are from. Seb Wheeler
Pearson Sound ‘XLB’ (Pearson Sound)
Probably the closest clubland have come to embracing the dreaded moshing, because ‘XLB’ is like a circle pit in music form. Suspense for the bedlam to come is telegraphed from the start by an ominous tone and ritualistic snare hits, before the ante is upped by the introduction of steadily spiralling elements. Tension builds, and builds, as whirlpool synths trickle, flow, and then cascade towards an ineveitable collapse. And when the drop hits its seismic.
‘XLB’ was ubiquitous in 2016. From the sunny outdoors at Dekmantel to dark and sweaty dungeons, dancefloors erupted every single time. Topsy-turvy chaos with arms flying upwards and jaws dropping to the floor. While Pearson Sound’s hit rate has been remarkable throughout the decade, this track signalled the peak of his powers. Just like the expertly crafted Chinese soup dumplings xiao long bao, it’s a wonder of precision engineering. Both will have you getting lost in the sauce. Patrick Hinton
Jessy Lanza 'It Means I Love You’ (Hyberdub)
It was below freezing in Hamilton, Ontario the day that Jessy Lanza’s popularlity hit new heights. It started with a simple tweet from Jeremy Greenspan from electro-pop band Junior Boys announcing their exceptional new collaborative single and just like that, Lanza was launched into the stratosphere. That track got one exhausted Londoner through those final days of January 2016. It made getting on the tube infinitely more manageable. The beat itself is made for rush-hour - it’s quick and trippy, like time is running out, yet her vocals are soft and soothing - healing, almost. On those cold early mornings Jessy’s copious use of delay would be reflected in the live updates at Mile End station.
The track transcends style and audience. At the time, Lanza was riding the same wave as Duke Dumont, Bondax, Grimes and Charli XCX - blurring the lines between dance music and pop and delighting the tastes of every listener in between. But that dark January Jessy did more than connect with a global audience and smash dance music’s fundamental boundaries. With this track Jessy Lanza made the Central Line bearable. Alice Austin
Jubilee ‘Stingray Shuffle’ (Mixpak)
Top-tier bass selectors are informed by hours of sound bwoy burials under speakers piled one on top of the other, raining all manner of champion sounds down upon a sea of people rooted in place – booties and arms swaying – by seductive riddims. Jubilee, from Miami by way of New York by way of Miami (again), is an entirely different type of star of bass-driven dancefloors. That’s showcased on her 2016 release ‘Stingray Shuffle’.
Miami’s dance music culture is as much influenced by the 2 Live Crew and electro rap as it is kandi raves and UK hardcore. ’Stingray Shuffle’ is from Jubilee’s debut album ‘After Hours’, which was released on Mixpak, a label best known for breaking dancehall artists like Popcaan into the mainstream. Impressively there’s a thorough awareness of all these sounds apparent in Jubilee’s creations.
‘Stingray Shuffle’ slays because it shows even greater depth in Jubilee’s influences. Stingray isn’t just a tropical nod to a fish, but to Detroit techno icon DJ Stingray. Add in the pop-locking flavor of something akin to 2 Live Crew’s DJ Mr. Mixx and it’s the perfect mix of hard and pop that makes it truly connect. Marcus K. Dowling
Midland 'Final Credits' (ReGraded / Classic)
Harry Aguis has had big records out before, the brilliant ‘Blush’ and his early classic ‘Trace’ among them, but it was the surging strings of ‘Final Credits’ that saw him enter the higher echelons of dance music and bag himself a bespoke Mixmag cover as a result. Harry had worked with all the right labels beforehand, including Aus, More Music and his own Graded imprint, but ‘Final Credits’ was duly picked up by Defected’s Classic and it even caught the ears of Marcel Dettman and Marco Carola. One thing we can all agree on: it brought back the funk and was utterly unavoidable for one long hot summer and for half of the next one to boot. An instant classic, and a great use of a Gladys Knight vocal, just like DJ Koze! Ralph Moore
M.E.S.H. 'Search. Reveal.' (PAN)
Alongside Janus cohorts Kablam, Why Be and Lotic, M.E.S.H.’s disruptive influence on club music this decade has inspired a rise in anarchic approaches. So much so that Janus disbanded its regular nights after just a couple of years, having essentially crowded itself out of the market by being so successful in ushering in a new generation of innovative artists.
M.E.S.H.’s music can be fractured, barbed, and at times dramatic, barrelling beyond convention with visceral abandon. Through this rejection of established tropes, he still makes bangers, but the tracks bang with atypical brilliance. Take ‘Search. Reveal.’ from his second album ‘Hesaitix’ on PAN. It’s a track that grabbed me immediately. Experimental music can often be a slow burn, as you digest the textural intricacies, but ‘Search. Reveal.’ was an instant screwface ecstasy and excitedly DM the link to fellow music nerds type beat. The opening is spacious and organic sounding with rippling noise and parched percussion, before a kick landing at the minute mark pushes the track towards an overload fuelled by synths evocative of a startled elephant. At various points different elements drop out, leaving only hammer hit drums or rough-edged drone in the mix, but the sense of chaotic intensity stands firm. When all the strands slam back in together, new levels of mayhem are unlocked. Patrick Hinton
Sir Spyro feat Teddy Bruckshot, Lady Chann & Killa P 'Topper Top' (Deep Medi)
Surely it’s common knowledge by now that upon hearing the first rumble of “Sounds of the Sirrrrr…” something good is about to happen, right?
Here on ‘Topper Top’ – the sought-after dubplate turned Deep Medi 12” turned one of the few tracks capable of eight reloads in a row in the rave turned arguably the biggest grime track of 2016 – Spyro’s familiar tag arrives after what may be one of the greatest, and most hype-inducing intros ever. Horse hooves (years before ‘Old Town Road’) and commanding vocals from mysterious MC Teddy Bruckshot (now known to be the late MC and grime pioneer Stormin) entice you in – if you dare – with a subtle “Look who the fuck is back” before all hell well and truly breaks loose.
The frenzy surrounding its release – while standard procedure for cult imprints like Deep Medi, Bandulu Records and affiliated artists such as Kahn or Commodo – is worth noting too. By this point in the 2010s the hype over vinyl releases had started to wane, with more than ever before choosing digital and streaming over tangible records. But the ‘Topper Top’ 12” sold-out almost immediately, despite the fact it had been doing the rounds for over a year prior and despite the fact it would eventually end up on streaming services.
But it wasn’t just hype, or floor appeal, that kept fans flocking to the track. ‘Topper Top’ is top-quality grime produced by one of the scenes’ best. Packed with iced-out snares, low-slung subs and bangin’ vocal features – all involved on ‘Topper Top’ form (sorry, I had to) – Bruckshot, Lady Chann and Killa P slewing their bars with a star quality that translated on wax, in the dance or via the track’s well-worth-watching visual. Jasmine Kent-Smith
Dinamarca 'Holy' (Staycore)
Like I said earlier, Latin and Caribeean sounds truly invaded club music this decade and I for one was thrilled. It became all the more apparent towards the last half of the decade, with the likes of NAAFI, Salviatek and Venus X’s NYC party GHE20G0TH1K and more in full-swing and European clubbers hungry for fresh ideas from fresh faces with wholly different perspectives and life experiences.
Dinamarca, and his label Staycore in general, were well placed with one foot in either door. Based in Stockholm, the label was engaged with the European crowds and the deconstructed club sounds circulating in the Janus meets Tropical Waste meets Bala Club universe. However, Dinamarca’s Chilean roots, flair for dramatics and keen interest in mutating traditional genres with a melodic, mischievous take on experimentation meant the label and its crew were authentic in their harnessing of global sounds. Take 2016 track ‘Holy’, for example. The title track to one of his earlier releases, ‘Holy’ pairs slices of reggaeton with hints of dembrow in a way that feels like the apocalypse is nigh but it’s all good because the music is excellent and gabber, hardstyle, trance and reggaeton are thriving in harmony.
‘Holy’ is tough but ultimately functional as a dance music track, which is something that didn’t always occur in the outer-fringes of electronic music while the experimental rollercoaster was propelling to its peak. Landing on his ‘Holy’ EP, which featured fellow scene pioneer and pummelling purveyor of club theatrics KABLAM on collab track ‘DINABLAM’, it reflects a period in electronic music history and stands out as an example of how to do it well – Dinamarca the embodiment of his label, which was, and is, one of the best to do it. Jasmine Kent-Smith
Avalon Emerson 'The Frontier' (Whities)
It’s the video to ‘The Frontier’, a trippy motorcycle ride through the grand landscapes of America’s still wild West, that provides context to the Berlin-based producer’s grand inspiration. While techno’s roots lie in the mechanised production lines of urban Detroit, 'The Frontier' is an ode to Emerson’s upbringing in rural Arizona and the desert, an environment that can be both beautiful and deadly.
It’s a heady combination she captures sonically, a whirl of toms and sand-blasted hats suddenly lit up by vistas of sweeping, airy melodies. Like a peak time version of Oni Ayhun’s ‘OAR003-B’, it ventured further than she’d ever gone before and brought a sense of the untamed wilderness into the club. Joe Roberts
67 ft Giggs 'Lets Lurk’ (6ix 7even)
In the early-’10s, the intense, paranoid sound of drill music burst out of Southside Chicago, eventually landing in the UK, where DJs would drop Chief Keef tracks in sets and artists would start rapping over drill beats, most notably LD, of Brixton Hill collective 67, who used L’A Capone’s ‘Separate Myself (Intro)’ beat on ‘Live Corn’.
UK drill now boasts its own clear-cut sound that has been steadily forged by a number of artists and producers, such as the aforementioned 67, whose collaboration with Giggs, ‘Let’s Lurk’, stands as one of the young scene's most recognisable tracks.
Along with ReekzMB's 'Blueprint', 'Let's Lurk' made me take notice of the sound's moody, incendiary urgency. Mazza and GottiOnEm's beat pits a creepy piano melody against sub-swamped 808s, while Giggs and 67’s Monkey, Dimzy, ASAP and LD deliver super-charged verses, a baton pass from one UK rap generation to another.
The track took on a new lease of life when Michael Dapaah/Big Shaq’s freestyle on Charlie Sloth’s Fire in the Booth show, which used the ‘Let’s Lurk’ instrumental, went viral — Dapaah’s followup track, ‘Man’s Not Hot’, has since accumulated an eye-watering 342 million views, immortalising the original in internet lore. James Ball
J Hus 'Did You See' (Black Butter Records)
Light, upbeat, and a top 10 chart hit, ‘Did You See’ marked a turning point in helping the contemporary mainstream understand that not all UK rap is grime. While UK hip hop dates back to the 80s with originators like Derek B and Rodney P and birthed a star in the 90s in Roots Manuva, the post-millenium runaway success of grime artists like Wiley, Dizzee, Skepta, Kano and Lethal Bizzle led to a lazy labelling of almost all British MCs as grime artists. Rap artists like Sneakbo and Giggs were relentlessly tagged with the descriptor, despite reguar rebuttals. And in late February 2017, Stormzy’s chart-topping album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ exploring r’n’b and UK hip hop alongside grime was glossed over for headlines calling it the “first pure Grime number one album”. A week later, J Hus and his main producer JAE5 blessed the world with ‘Did You See’, and from those opening marimba chimes and ensuing laidback flow there was no mistaking this sound as entirely distinct. The track went double platinum, selling more than 1 million units, and established J Hus as a breakout star of UK rap. Thinkpieces appeared in mainstream outlets such as the Metro declaring “Calling artists like J Hus ‘grime’ is lazy racial stereotyping – let’s change that now.” Two years later, Dave’s introspective UK rap record ‘Psychodrama’ won the Mercury Prize, with the likes of the BBC recognising its “melancholy piano chords and textured beats that set it apart from the grime scene he rose up through.” Patrick Hinton
Jlin & Zora Jones 'Dark Matter' (Fractal Fantasy)
Mutations in low-end club music in the latter half of the decade were steered by Zora Jones and Sinjin Hawke’s Fractal Fantasy. The pair, from Austria and Canada respectively, have created their own sound palette and visual world, presenting A/V work only when it’s totally perfected. Their attention to detail is so on-point that you can imagine them working in a 2001-esque studio-come-lab deep underground and the results of their dextrous programming are always thrilling and unpredictable.
They’ve invited other like-minded artists into their realm: Martin Bootyspoon and Xavier Stone have released via Fractal Fantasy and the label has long pioneered collaborations, documented best in two ‘Visceral Minds’ compilations that feature MikeQ, DJ Taye, L-Vis 1990, Swing Ting, Murlo and others. The overarching Fractal Fantasy vision influences all of this output, with Zora and Sinjin’s inviting guests to add their own details. ‘Dark Matter’ is a white-knuckle example of the flubberised party music that happens as a result. Seb Wheeler
Octo Octa 'Fleeting Moments of Freedom' (Honey Soundsystem Records)
The impeccable production, addictive hook and inspiring backstory made ‘Fleeting Moments of Freedom’ an instant jaw-to-the-floor house classic. At the time of release Octo Octa was becoming increasingly vocal about her experience as a trans woman and, despite its uplifting piano chords and irresistible grooves, there’s an underlying melancholia that seems to say “Forget, detach and dance.” Octo Octa turns the trope of escapism through dance music on its head by demanding we escape - and in so doing reveals herself to be a gifted producer with an awe-inspiring ability to successfully communicate her personal experiences, struggles and emotions through one flawless house production. In 2017 Octo Octa was firmly established in America - but dropping this track made her a dancefloor name from Bangor to Beirut. The message that courses through this track, straight from her soul to ours is: no matter where you are or what you’re going through, you are not alone. We have dance music. Alice Austin
TQD ‘Vibsing Ting’ (Butterz)
‘Supergroup’ is a word that easily comes to mind when trying to describe TQD. However, when we’re referring to the combined effort of Royal-T, DJ Q and Flava D, can you really blame us? Although they shy away from the word, it’s an apt descriptor for what happens when three giants of the UK garage and bassline scenes decide to come together to create the stuff of legend.
While the trio had released the single ‘Day and Night’ together in 2015, ‘UKG’ was TQD’s first, and potentially only, full-length LP. Released in 2017, its effect was seismic for UK bass music. To see three stalwarts of the scene collaborating for the pure love of it, and not solely for clout or press coverage, removed ego entirely and reminded people of the scene’s roots and origins.
‘Vibsing Ting’ first appeared on 2016’s #savefabric compilation, and it quickly became a defining track for TQD. It has not one but two expertly crafted hooks: the smooth call of the vocal sample and that descending motif that manages to so succinctly encapsulate bassline tones and rhythms in just a few bars. It’s no surprise that this became a firm favourite at bass nights up and down the country, guaranteed to make the dancefloor pop off. Jemima Skala
NKISI ‘Kill’ (MW)
Two years before ‘Kill’ was released, I stumbled across NON WORLDWIDE during a deep Bandcamp dig. A collective founded by Nkisi, Chino Amobi and Angel-Ho, their ethos is anti-borders and anti-social segregation, firmly merging both the conceptual and reality. This was a pivotal moment, reigniting my love for warped, twisted and frantic sounds. In all honesty, I had become a bit disillusioned with the constant de-contextualising and exclusionary practice of a lot of dance music. Then boom, NON WORLDWIDE released Angel-Ho’s and Chino Amobi’s ‘Drop’ and ‘Mimesis As Threat’. My entire outlook changed and soon after, there was an internal focus and public shift towards producers of colour. I began meeting other Brown and Black people who felt the same. We bonded over the possibility of a future we could recognise ourselves in.
In a similar fashion to Sim Hutchins’ ‘Club Love’, most of my dance music stories are born in the club. ‘Kill’ is how I wanted the future of dance music to sound. Disjointed percussion, a bit sad but with a healthy dose of trance to keep you moving. 17 seconds in and I’m reminded of clutching my tinny of Thatchers close to my chest in a basement club. There’s smoke everywhere, I can’t find my friends on the dancefloor but suddenly I hear my name being shouted from the distance. Shortly after, we embrace, the melancholic synths confirming the end of the summer but perfectly foreshadowing our smoking area chat. We hazily discuss changing the scene, what needed to be done in order for a cohesive future. Certain we had solved it, I concluded, ‘if only everyone could hear this and ‘Parched Lips’, then they would feel the same as us’. Yewande Adeniran
Arca ‘Desafío’ (XL)
On the eponymous album of Venezuelan producer Arca, her voice rings most clearly on ‘Desafío’. Released in 2017, the track builds like an electronica ballad. The breathy vocals swell into an emotional peak, before dissolving over a driving bassline and reemerging as bridge that begs to be shouted—it’s a crying-in-the-club anthem for the ages.
‘Arca was her the artist’s first foray into doing her own vocals, and the effect is spectacular: Her sound is filled with a burgeoning soulfulness. Soon, other producers followed suit, with SOPHIE and Lotic borrowing from their own voices to tell their own stories. It’s the same kind of electronic yearning that tracks onto Dean Blunt’s most recent work, and onto Colin Self’s chamber choirs on ‘Siblings’.
Arca is known for her precision, and the track is built on Arca’s deep understanding of how the most moving instrumentations should be laid out. ‘Desafío’ is founded on a beat that grows under then around the vocal line, like an ivy. The production acts an extension of her heart-rendering vocals before it consumes them in its many textured layers. Nathan Ma
coucou chloé 'Stamina' (NUXXE)
coucou chloé and her NUXXE counterparts (Sega Bodega and Shygirl) represent club music in one of its darker, sexier post-internet forms. While club labels, DJs and artists like Total Freedom, Venus X and Staycore were to thank for the very conception of the genre and its polarising, glass-shattering deconstructed little sibling, the names heading up these sonic realms in 2019 bring with them new techniques, new intentions and new visual aesthetics. Like the work of Sega and Shygirl, chloé’s music pairs the vulnerable with the inhumane, sexy, sensual vocals and slower BPMs with bold flashes of trappy 808s, slivers of pop and enough intrigue to keep her global audience begging for her next move. Or, for her to step on their throats.
I saw chloé perform ‘Stamina’, the opening track to her 2017 ‘Erika Jane’ EP the year it released and fell for them both. chloé’s desire to encompass the heavy nature of her music as exhaustively as possible – entwining everything from sound to style to stage presence in an moody yet transfixing bow – was mesmerising to watch. Plus, the track was a clear EP standout too. On it, chloé’s creepy whispers slither through a storm of synths and kick drums over an ice-cold club beat in a manner akin to that of a ghost ride; harsh noises emerging from unexpected places and a sinister, smirking undertone trickled throughout. Jasmine Kent-Smith
Yaeji 'Raingurl' (GODMODE)
“Make it rain gurl, make it rain. Make it rain gurl, make it rain. Make it rain gurl, make it rain...” You heard it in the club, you heard it in the streets, you heard it in the car, you sang it in the shower. Yaeji’s ‘Raingurl’ is a surefire anthem.
After its release in 2017, ‘Raingurl’ helped catapult Yaeji into superstardom. Almost immediately after its release, the song was everywhere. People couldn’t get enough of it. At the time, the track seemed to follow me wherever I went, completely enveloping me in the club and staying with me until we got home. No matter where you where or who was playing, when the DJ dropped this tune, it was guaranteed to turn the space into an exhilarating utopia.
After all, ‘Raingurl’ is certainly the type of track that you hear once, and it seeps into your soul, implanting itself in your head for days. Yaeji dances between English and Korean language as her whisper-like vocals bend into bass-heavy beats. The tune originally emerged from NYC’s underground DIY scene, filling the spaces that embody queer Asian-American culture. It would soon become a global phenomenon, one that is proving to be a timeless cut. Kelsey Boyd
Bicep 'Glue' (Ninja Tune)
Make no mistake, the band’s self-titled debut album on Ninja Tune was a thing of beauty with a life force that most artists LPs could only dream of, and it’s also one of the best Mixmag covers we’ve created to date. But if there’s one record that will come to define Bicep more than any other, it’s ‘Glue’: incredibly, the record is still going in 2019 thanks to its use in a new commercial for BMW. Time, like ‘Glue’, keeps on (s)ticking. Ralph Moore
Karen Gwyer 'The Workers Are On Strike’ (Don’t Be Afraid)
While her debut album, 2013’s ‘Needs Continuum’ displayed a knack for capturing Detroit electronic soulfulness using a classic hardware set-up, it worked within a template of slower, more experimental forms. This made 2017’s ‘Rembo’ all the more incendiary, a searing collection of techno burners inspired by homegrown inspiration like Claude Young and Drexciya.
It’s standout was ‘The Workers Are On Strike’: a track as militantly-charged as its title. A relentlessly pumping beat, an urgent melody and crunchy hits demand attention at the same time as sorrowful strings make known their lament.
Clearly not one to put up with deteriorating conditions, Gwyer has sadly since left the Brexit badlands of the UK to live in Europe’s techno heartland, Berlin, instead. Our loss is their gain. Joe Roberts
Fever Ray 'Idk About You' (Rabid Records)
Karin Dreijer is a specialist in radical expression, equally captivating and bewildering with xer distinct take on lively synth pop and maniacal experimental, as one half of The Knife and solo as Fever Ray. How could the Swedish artist’s music get any more exhilarating? In 2017, we found out the answer: by working with Batida badass Nídia. The polyrhythmmic percussion specialist provided a 160 BPM beat to ‘Idk About You’ from the second full-length Fever Ray record ‘Plunge’, intensifying Dreijer’s perturbed vocals with hard-hitting pace.
The music video was equally berserk. Arriving as one part of an unfolding long form narative of ‘Plunge’ visuals, the clip’s anxiety inducing prelude features hostage style night vision footage of a shaven headed Dreijer breathing shallowly, and then flips into a technicolour trip with costumed members of the Fever Ray band engaging in some kind of free spirited ceremonial celebration. Messages like “I am not free while any woman is unfree” and “One vagina 2 rule them all!!” are scrawled in blood red paint on rooms separated by spiked vaginal imagery doorways - except for one wall displaying a poster of Justin Bieber. We’ve seen a rise of high concept experimental music this decade, but Karin Dreijer has firmly remained one of a kind. Patrick Hinton
MHYSA ‘spectrum’ (Halcyon Veil)
“A popstar for the cyber resistance”. How delicious does that sound? Ripe with possibility – and unforgettable vocal hooks. It’s how MHYSA styles herself, a product of the East Coast DIY art and club scene, of lit underground parties in Eritrean restaurants and SoundCloud uploads that reveal a new approach to pop and a connection to similar disruptors around the world such as Scintii, Shygirl, LYZZA and Angel-Ho.
These artists represent identities that aren’t usually found in mainstream pop and bring a songwriting sensibility to the rush ‘n’ tumble of experimental club music put forth by labels like Rabit’s Halcyon Veil, which hosts MHYSA’s debut album and the brilliant ‘spectrum’, a stripped-back declaration of optimism. “I wanna be naive / build me a spectrum only we can see,” she sings softly, if a little languidly. But the intent is definitely urgent – a new world can and will be built. Seb Wheeler