Best record? Naah, there aren’t any best records, just lots of good uns. I’ve heard a few people here and there saying it was a poor year for music. Well, I guess it depends where you look. There wasn’t a huge amount of house music that did it for me this year, I have to say. While the genre’s taste for nostalgia was fun enough to begin with, it’s now looking more and more like a chronic – and limiting – condition. There was some brilliant techno once you got past the hordes of records which assaulted you with matching beats, sounds, tones, and themes. And as for electro, well…although its true that electro never went away, it was certainly in a rather sleepy state until it began to get a head of steam again last year. The effort has been rewarded in 2016 with some astounding music. Even better, the electro renaissance looks like continuing into next year and beyond.
As ever though, the best option is to ignore genres and simply buy stuff that gives you pleasure. it’s a lesson some of us are slow to learn, and even slower to put into practice. There was a fair bit I liked this year, and less that I really loved. Here are the honourable mentions plus the five I wouldn’t part with for anything. As ever, no true favourites, no attempts to frame debates, or make a point. These are genuinely, simply, records I enjoyed because I enjoyed them. What else matters?
Bruce brought his A-game on three releases this year, but it was the filthy technoid skank of I’m Alright Mate (Timedance) which was still on my decks at the end. Likewise, Randomer was a busy lad throughout 2016, and he left the biggest impression with the strange, polyrhythmic charmer Running Dry on Dekmantel. Michael E kicked us into a time loop with the stripped down, direct-to-jack acid of Child Of God, with Give Me Vision particularly invoking memories of wobbly bangers long departed. Jared Wilson also went down acid house lane with Communicating With Ghosts (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams), but the stark, pared down approach was swapped out and replaced with a more muscular and techno vibe. LnrdCroy also brough acid house to the fore with Ooze City (Mood Hut) and soaked the floor with sludgy, swampy grooves. And if you thought acid was the only game in town this year, DJ Overdose’s Don’t Get Burned (Computer Controlled) pushed back with a record flavoured by the stomping house of Dance Mania (and, yes, a little bit of acid).
It was a mental year for electro, and I could have done this entire list ten times over with nothing but the electro records. Jeez, I don’t even know where to begin. How about with 214, who continues to get better with every release. This time it was Fuel Cells on CPU which best showed his box of tricks as he gave us a record as quirky as it was jagged. London Modular Alliance’s Out Of Sync (Brokntoys) brought some full throttle electro and mixed it up with warped, abstracts, and Annie Hall’s Tenured Position (CPU) dived into deep pools of light to create some of the most joyful and shining takes on the genre this year. Special shouts to Carl Finlow, Silicon Scally, Plant43, and Dez Williams who all added their unique voices to electro’s new awakening.
There are too many names to list. Far too many. I’m sure there will be some later I remember and kick myself for forgetting but that’s life. Here are five of my absolute favourites from 2016. I’m sure you will all join with me in wishing that 2016 gets tae fuck and in hoping that 2017 is, at the very least, a tiny bit less stupid. I’m going for a long drink. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Umfang – Riffs (1080p)
There are always records kicking around here which get lost in the general messiness of my unordered mind. Often times I stumble over them months later when I’m looking for something else and curiosity finally reasserts itself. I wasn’t familiar that much with Emma Olsen’s slender body of work, and the little I had about her was mostly related to DJing, but this EP on Vancouver’s 1080p simply blew me away. Described in one review I read as ‘minimal’ the reality is that record is a juxtaposition of empty space and the sharp, potent sounds which gradually flow in to fill them. Some of the hardest techno I’ve heard this year, it infuses it all with a spiky, acidic energy before muting it with a worn world weariness. Listen to Ecstatic_Layer‘s hammer-blow of industrialized, focussed, mood and see what I mean. Essential for anyone made despondent by techno’s current production line sounds.
E.R.P – Ancient Light (Solar One)
While Gerard Hanson’s 2845 album under his Convextion guise garnered most of the publicity, it was this release for Solar One which really shone. languid, spectral, and distant in the sort of way great art often is, Ancient Light brought all of its qualities to bear in a trip to the furtherest reaches of the universe and powered it all with a warp drive of the tightest, purest machine grooves. Whilst it recalled something of Detroit’s own aural deep space program, it refused to settle for too much homage, creating instead its own cosmic funk by way of some very modern electro. Deep doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Samo DJ Kicked Out Of Everywhere (TTT)
The Trilogy Tapes had another undoubted year of quality, with some great releases courtesy of Elmo Fudd, Bored Young Adults, and Rezzet, it was Samo DJ’s Kicked Out Of Everywhere which best symbolised the labels leaning towards a deceptive and subversive accessibility throughout the last 12 months. Too heavy for house, too hypnotic for rave and too lively for techno the record stalked a different course, rolling little bits of everything together and making the connections through kindred grooves until the music took on a lithe independence all of its own.
Lokk 44 – Bouse (Trust)
It took me a little time to adjust to Bouse; rightly or wrongly I expected something a little bit more comfortably electro, at least a little less obtuse. Eventually it all blossomed and I woke up the way Daniel Lodig plays with both the conventions of the genre and our own preconceptions to create a sound world strongly coloured by quiet drama and a flair for taking electro forms and reworking them into something wider and symphonic until each tune sounds like the soundtrack to a private and untold story. In a year when some electro went for the jugular, and some angled it downwards into the gloomy depths, Bouse’s subtle experimentation and clever structures made it an important – and timely – milestone.
Morphology – Frozen State (Vortex Traks)
Although Morphology’s first release of the year, Lack Of Light on Abstract Forms, was a superbly unnerving example of bleak, frozen, electro, this release on nascent Berlin label Vortex Traks takes everything from the first record and improves on it in every way. Well, not every way because Lack Of Light’s heart of ice has thawed by application of some furious, acid soaked grooves and a burgeoning sense of urgency which invades the structures of the music like a benevolent virus. In the moments when it isn’t building dancefloor-chewing future funk, it’s evoking the spirit of IDM to accent the tunes with a palpable sense of adventure and wonder. Of all the great electro records this year, this one comes closer than any other to summing up the genres new-found spirit of excitement and vitality.