It feels a strange thing to admit, but I’m not sure I really listened to as much music this year as I either would have liked or should have. I certainly heard a lot, but most of it went in one ear and out the other. This, I expect, is true for most of us. The sheer amount of new music these days, available in an almost unbroken stream from when we wake up to when we fall asleep means that it is almost inevitable that a lot of what we hear is relegated to filler, to noise. No matter how good some stuff is, it gets filtered out.
What makes this slightly weird is that I probably bought more records this year than ever before, so I must have paid attention at some point. Between first becoming aware of them, though, and those bits of wax ending up on my decks I seem to have mislaid the important knowledge of why they excited me enough to buy them in the first place. Even so I find there are some real crackers which have lodged themselves in my brain.
The reason for this is simple. When it comes to a favourite tune there should be only one criteria which matters. It’s not whether it ticked a pre-set amount of correct boxes. It’s not even how much you listened to it. It is purely this: How much did you want to listen to it? And the answer for almost all these tracks is: a lot.
As anyone who reads this blogs on more than a random basis might imagine, a lot of these tracks were electro in sound, spirit, or both. It was an ass kicking year for my beloved genre (even though, interestingly, the more I wrote about electro, the more I lost readers..hmmm…) and some of the music which filtered through to me was up there with the very best I’ve heard. 214 was an ever present this year, with the scatter-gun robot funk of Programs On The Move (North Cascades EP,Frustrated Funk) and the neutron star compression of Keep Right (Fuel Cells EP, CPU) making my toes all wriggly. Less explosively groove laden, but just as magical were Morphology who just get better and better. Luminescent Organism (Lack Of Light, Abstract Forms) has never failed to chill, excite and electrify me every time I heard it, and it only took me a couple of listens to their Frozen States EP on Vortex Tracks to fall in love with every track on that too. Such an amazing way with mood. I expect huge things from both sets of producers next year. What else? Microlith’s beautiful and playful Dance With Me (Dance With Me, CPU) caught me unaware and wouldn’t let go, and In The End from Arnold Steiner (Mood Sequence, Metroplex) was a mnemonic blast designed to remind me of why I fell in love with electro in the first place.
Beyond electro there were also plenty of bangers, chillers, and belters which rode my neural net for days. It was a particularly great year for the team of young, British, producers who seemed hell bent on building a new future even as the country at large tried to dig a shit lined trench back to 1933. Bruce must surely be on his way to being considered one of the most important of this new breed, and I lost it completely over The Trouble With Wilderness (The Trouble With Wilderness, Idle Hands) and the way it constantly reconfigured both its tone and meaning as the track unfolded. That it was strangely haunting and disorienting added to its charm. Pangaea’s album In Drum Play (Hessle Audio) had more crackers than Christmas dinner at your Gran’s, but it was the sleek, roaring, hunter-killer of DNS which won out. It wasn’t just the young team who were winning though, a few British electronic vets were doing the business too. Casio Royale caught the anger a lot of us are feeling in this year of bastardry with the genius old school acid shuffle of Save It (For Yourself, You Tory Scum) (In Basements Volume 2, DABJ) and John Heckle continues to push for national treasure status under his own name with Alexandria’s wonky, grinning, charms (Tributes To A Sun God, Bedouin Trax) and as Head Front Panel with the brilliant and furious stomp of the last track in HFP #12 (Head Front Panel) which thundered along like Santos Rodriguez’s Road To Rio rebuilt for the modern age Except harder, and with less fucks given.
Lumigraphs’s Bulletproof Holiday EP (Major Problems) snuck in under the radar, but delivered the industrialized breakbeat fueled monster of Spectacular Times, a grouchy, viscous tune with I fell in love with at first listen and tried to get into every DJ mix I did no matter how little it fitted, and Jared Wilson took time out of what appears to have been an otherwise quiet year to deliver a master class in jacking acid mayhem with Communicating With Ghosts (Communicating With Ghosts, DABJ). Koehler also continues to impress, this time with Rotating Rupees on Contra-Blood (Berceuse Heroique) which sounds like the theme tune to that brilliant European art house flick you saw late at night through beer and tears on Channel 4 and can’t remember the name of. Finally, I could have chosen a cubic tonne of DJ Overdose tuneage, but it was the DJ Deeon/ Dance Mania channelling smash of Blue Flame from Don’t Get Burned on Computer Controlled Records which came out top. I say Deeon/DM channelling but it was really much more than that, its techoid, acidy, house cross-breed bringing something missing from a lot of music this year – fun.
My favourite tune though was the suavely named mod_electro_mix4 by Austrian electro duo Microthol. Often to be found of DJ Glow’s brilliant Trust label, here they appeared on one of Brokntoys samplers, Perfect Language. I had already gone mad for it before I was even really aware of who it was by, having heard it at the start of a mix by Marco Bernardi and when I got my hands on it, I played it so heavily I fell asleep every night for weeks with it in my head. I must have played it a dozen times a day at first, and even now I listen to it several times a week in one form or another (if anyone wants to hear it mixed well, check out the Bernardi mix, if you want to hear it done badly, it’s one of the tunes on my mix for Semtek radio show).
Why do I love it so much? I’m still not sure why. It starts out as a tight, slinky little number but grows into something dark and expansive, the beats clipped and urgent, the percussion nervy and the bass ringing like church bells at dusk. What really sends the chill down my spine is its way with the melody; so focussed, so bleak, like the first ice of winter chasing in behind the lengthening shadows. In some ways it’s a direct descendant of that cold electro-noir sound which grew up in Europe in the mid nineties and found a natural home in the various Scandinavian scenes. It drips with visuals, builds itself with a hidden narrative, knocks you down with its grainy sweep. It sounds pared down, stripped of the unimportant. But that’s not because its chasing some minimalistic ideal; simply, every note, every sound, is perfectly placed. It’s a corker and absolutely my favourite of 2016.