I don’t remember having this much trouble last year in coming up with a few favourites. In 2015, though, great records came in gangs. I won’t go into all of them that stuck with me this year. I’m sure I’ll keep remembering more 12″s that should have been on this list for months to come, but as with the other lists this one isn’t supposed to be exhaustive. It doesn’t reflect the views of a committee, or professional wags furnished with every record, and it doesn’t try to cover ever angle of every genre. All this list represents are a handful of records I really liked this year, and was drawn from those I could get my hands on.
There could be hundreds of special mentions here, so I’ll just stick to a few of those who got me going. I could write a huge essay about Luca Lozano’s tight mix of house and rave which poured out across a number of great records this year, or Special Request triple hit of eye watering hardcore on XL, all of which pointed to a growing interest in other routes through electronica’s past rather than more classic house and techno. It wasn’t all nostalgia, though, Pevererlist’s Undulate/Grit 12″ gave us a pair of future dancehall bangers which lit up with sly grooves, and O Xander’s Nous record gave us the last word on crumbling, frayed techno.
For me, it was a pretty important year for electro, and it won’t be long now before all you heathens know you love it best. DynaRec and Heinrich Dressler had some very classy releases, as did VC-118 on Tabernacle. Cygnus’ EP on Recondite is particularly worth finding if you don’t have it already. Its graceful, haunting electro had made it as far as a test pressing a couple of years ago before being benched. DJ Stingray seemed to have a quiet year, yet every one of his three records explored a difference facet of his musical character. Last but not least was Shanti Celeste’s SSS split with FunkinEven, an authentic breeze of genuine high-tech soul born in Detroit and raised in Bristol.
Our, err, elder statesmen had a good 12 months as well. Marco Bernardi was on fire for much of the year, with perhaps his EPs for Berceuse Heroique and Brokntoys being the best. Glasgow’s Sparky finally started getting the attention we all knew he should get from a larger audience when he built on last years release of Portland with Signals, a slow burning groove of winding synths and wistful melodies that had attained anthemic qualities in Glasgow long before it had been released.
What else? Jared Wilsons follow-up to last years Ghost Miners, the cleverly titled Ghost Miners 2, managed to build and improve on some already great music, and DJ Overdose delivered a crazy tapestry of beats on Housejam Freaker for UTTU. I’ll stop now. I think I’m going mad.
Mikron – Sleep Paralysis (Central Processing Unit)
When a journalist recently described electro as a genre that was too abstract to really dance too, I suspect Sleep Paralysis was the sort of record he had in his mind. Like a lot of CPU’s output this début for Mikron is built out of sparse beats and an economy of frequency which slices out the unnecessary and leaves behind a lean cut marbled with classic electro and EBM, and flavoured with ghostly atmospherics which are as primal as they are advanced. While there are moments that pull towards the abstract, though, Sleep Paralysis is a record which is as dance floor functional as anything else you’ve heard this year. Side A fuels the tension with a pair of sleek electro bombs, before Dry Sense and it’s refrain find release with their floor rocking, Dopplereffeck tinged double act.
Privacy – Human Resource Exploitation Manual (Lobster Theremin)
Lobster Theremin’s release schedule has had a good go of covering almost every genre under the sun, but there had been a noticeable lack of anything truly electro. Human Resource Exploitation Manual went some way to dealing with the oversight. The three tracks mash dripping acid, crumpled techno-bass and weirdo-rave styling into the space between the break beats and pummel them until they emerge as an angular, driven machine. Privacy and Apex Predator charge ahead with loping beats and nods to classic electro, but it’s the slow, woozy Code that trumps them both as it bristles with grooves under a blizzard of industrialised bleeps and darkly acidic chords.
Stellar OM Source – Nite Glo (RVNG INTL)
As with Bass Clef’s Raven Yr Own Worl last year, Nite Glo takes acid house as a starting point before removing all but the smallest nod to nostalgia and hauling the sound into the future. While there is an element of Plus 8’s approach to acid house in the way Stellar Om Source marries the 303 to something more recognizably techno, she goes further, drawing on synth pop, rave and experimental house to flesh out the skeletal acid and leave us with a work that is full of invention and clever touches, and which captures something of the spirit of both LFO and Matt Herbert. While the warbling and deceptively deep Sudden and the cheeky, bright Sure are the most obviously, immediately acidic, the stand out is the midnight drive of Never which invokes the swirling Detroit funk of Juan Atkins and Carl Craig to brilliant effect.
Dez Williams – Sleight Of Hand (Shipwrec)
Yeah, if there has been a theme around here this year, it’s electro shaped. Sleight Of Hand refuses to be quite so easily pigeon-holed though, and in actual fact the out and out electro occupies only half of the record. Regardless of what genre the individual tunes call home however, William’s weaves a common narrative through all of them. Seeming almost too dark on first listen, the music soon blooms into something far less downcast, and there is more than enough light to evaporate the shadows, most of them anyway. The tribally undertones of Death Threat and the cosmic shuffle of the Millsian Slave Driver are perhaps the tracks that stray furthest from home ground, both of them adding a deeper and fragile mood to the record, but it’s Balancing Act that takes hold the quickest and feels like Hardlfoor’s acid trance rebooted with a punchy directness and grittier foundations.
Ekman – GMMDI (Berceuse Heroique)
Thinking about it, there could be a number of BH records worthy of being here. Marco Bernardi, Mark Forshaw and several other all did the job for the label this year, and Hodge’s Forms Of Life in particular was an unexpected treasure of deconstructed moods and wobbling grooves. Ekman, though, has had a pretty impressive year and this one even tops his killer Trilogy Tapes release whilst encapsulating BH’s ethos of sharp beats and scuffled tunage. GMMDI is scuzzy, street level techno of the filthiest kind; serrated and tireless it just won’t stop moving, the melody buried under so much dirt it probably needs a blood transfusion. Breaker 1 2’s remix clears some of the trash but goes a bit mad in the process, painting over the manky patches with other worldly burst of rave and maintaining all the unhinged delight of a killer clown standing in the rain staring at you. It’s techno gone wrong. What’s not to love?