The 10 Best Essential Mixes of 2016

The irrepressible Pete Tong and company went from strength to strength this year on BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix, with sensational debuts from new talent like Mano Le Tough, Leon Vynehall and Rødhåd; more great work from EM vets like Âme and Dixon; the mindblowing return of The Avalanches; and the last-ever BBC Radio 1 broadcast from Space Ibiza.

We’ve chosen 10 of the best Essential Mixes from this year for you. That’s no easy task – there’s a reason they call them essential, and those who didn’t make the cut, certainly not for lack of quality, include Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin, Cassy, Moderat, tINI and Fatboy Slim. Consider this a selection rather than a definitive list, and keep diving into this truly essential series if these 20 hours don’t quench your thirst for the world’s best DJs in action.

#10 Maribou State

The first Essential Mix of 2016 came from the rural-England-based duo, an appropriate way to kick off the new year for the two after a triumphant year that saw them tour the world with a live band, launch a new label and release an acclaimed debut album, Portraits.

The pair’s mix fits into the tradition of eclectic Essential Mixes, following in the footsteps of Jamie xx, Todd Terje and others. Their entry is certainly worthy of those names, with wonderful selections from Daft Punk, Bonobo, Gold Panda, Nils Frahm and Aussie funkmeister Harvey Sutherland alongside legends Gil-Scott Heron, Al Green and Nina Simone. With all that going on it’s also a very personal and atmospheric mix, augmented by field recordings from their world tour. It was a hard act to follow.

#9 Baauer

Baauer spent 2016 making a surprisingly graceful comeback from the kind of viral Internet notoriety that can define or ruin a career, releasing a full-length debut that earned its share of respect and kind of killing it on The Late Show.

He also recorded this Essential Mix, on which he seems to be telling the world that he’s first and foremost a passionate young trap and hip-hop DJ from Brooklyn and not That Harlem Shake Guy. But it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to forget all the baggage and just sink into this excellent mix, which is as eclectic and melodic as it is tough, and features tracks from Hudson Mohawke, M.I.A., Shlohmo, Jay-Z, Djemba Djemba, our own RÜFÜS and, of course, quite a few from Baauer himself.

#8 Dusky, Derrick Carter and The Black Madonna at Space

Essential Mix’s annual mini-season in Ibiza wrapped with the show’s last-ever broadcast from the terrace at Space Ibiza before the club closed for good in October.

It was a particularly choice line-up for such a momentous show, featuring two Chicago heavyweights and Smart Bar residents, The Black Madonna and Derrick Carter, and the London-based duo of Dusky, relative newcomers who’ve been killing it recently at venues like Panorama Bar and Fabric (and who also had their own highly regarded session on the show this year, now on the shortlist for Essential Mix of the Year).

The Black Madonna kicks things off with a 40-minute set that, in her typical fashion, swings from jackin’ house through to disco and garage classics, all mixed smooth as butter. In the second segment, jackmaster Derrick Carter does what he’s been doing for 30 years: blow the spot the fuck up. He’s in fine form, and it’s a refreshing reminder how funky house can be and how hard-hitting at the same time. Dusky crank things up even more with their driving, soulful, melody-saturated techno.

The best thing about the broadcast is the crowd noise that’s audible throughout, giving it that extra-live feel: it must have been a hot night on Space’s terrace (RIP).

#7 Âme X Dixon

The Innervisions honchos, veterans of their own memorable solo Essential Mixes, delivered 2016’s first entry in the show’s X series of back-to-back mixes, and to no one’s surprise it was one of the high points of the year.

The utter confidence with which Dixon and Âme’s Kristian Beyer build up and break down the vibe, alternating between their patented long excursions into trippy ambience followed by puslating deep techno and tech-house by the likes of Mano Le Tough, Bicep and Yotam Avni, confirms their status as vibe masters.

Of particular note are the lush, exquisite jazzy and tropical flavours in the first hour of the mix. This is one for the headphones.

#6 Seth Troxler at Output

Essential Mix’s broadcast from Brooklyn’s Output in October marked the show’s first excursion to New York since 2003.

Berlin-based Yank Seth Troxler made sure it was worth the wait with a smokin’-hot two-hour live set: Troxler wastes no time getting in gear, digging some banging jacking house out of his bag right off the bat and only getting more intense from there with hypnotic deep techno and acid and some raunchy ghetto-track action. From the sound of the crowd noise it seems like the punters were climbing the walls.

#5 Rødhåd

Rødhåd (“redhead,” a very apt moniker for the ginger-bearded Mike Bierbach) is a young architect and DJ from Berlin who’s taken the techno world by storm of late with powerful late-night sets at Berghain and beyond.

His Essential Mix debut is a wonderful introduction to the “Berghain techno” vibe (as my ITM colleague Andrew Wowk terms it) if you’ve only skimmed the odd news post about the club’s infamous queue. Though Rødhåd’s mix is, as expected, very pure and uncompromising, it also demonstrates how varied, expansive and musical techno actually is once you sink into the driving beats and whooshing snyths. Check out Detroit master Robert Hood’s stunning remix of Turner’s lovely vocal When Will We Leave at the 24-minute mark to get an idea of how accessible and inviting this music can actually be.

The two-hour journey also includes tracks by last year’s Essential Mix of the Year winner Ben Klock, Plastikman (AKA Richie Hawtin), the atmospheric deep-tech of Answer Code Request, Hood’s fellow Detroit legends Octave One, and a Klock remix of Depeche Mode. A slew of cuts on Rødhåd’s own label Dystopian round out the mix.

#4 Leon Vynehall

The Brighton, UK-based young house gun delivered his EM debut in March and it was a dazzler, making the official short list of Essential Mixes of the Year.

As with many other selections on this list, eclecticism is the order of the day, and Vynehall does it in real style over his two hours. It’s filled with treats from the opening stew of experimental, Afro and funk by Steve Reich, Fela Kuti and edit king Serge Gamesbourg, to face-scrunchingly funky house by Iron Galaxy, HNNY and Vynehall himself through the heart of the mix, and ending with Krautrock kings Can – all mixed with aplomb.

#3 Blond:ish

The debut Essential Mix from the Canadian duo, who divide their time between Barcelona and Tulum, Mexico (it’s a living hey), is one of the more unique entries in the series in recent memory. It was actually recorded at a mate’s house right on the beach in Tulum, and it sure sounds like it, with a languid, psychedelic vibe that, like Tulum itself, is both chill and spellbinding.

Over a dreamy two hours, Blonde:ish weave in many styles, from the leftfield indie dance of their home imprint Kompakt to Ricardo Villalobos’s microhouse classic Dexter, from an epic by Italian tribal-techno masters Voices from the Lake to a tasty edit of St. Germain’s jazzy-house anthem Rose Rouge. They even make room for a Pink Floyd tune from 1968’s psych masterpiece Ummagumma. All up it’s part Essential Mix, part audio therapy.

#2 The Avalanches

The Australian legends shook the electronic-music world when they released their second album, Wildflower, following a hiatus of 15 years. In addition to a flood of new attention and acclaim and a world tour, they recorded a rare and jaw-dropping DJ mix, which, true to the band’s famed sampladelic style, makes most other “eclectic” mixes sound flat and boring.

Clocking in at around 80 tracks, it’s a mindblowing collage of bits and pieces from the last 60 years of pop-music history that blurs into a thrilling new mutant creation the more you listen. To run down the wild variety of artists on the tracklist (the Grateful Dead, Madlib, Paul and Linda McCartney, the Stooges, Bad Brains, the Joubert Singers, Ratatat, the Pointer Sisters, Sun Ra, Frank Zappa), doesn’t do it any kind of justice. You have to hear this thing.

#1 Mano Le Tough

The Irish star, formerly based in Berlin and now ensconced in Zurich, Switzerland, came through towards the end of the year with a powerhouse of an Essential Mix debut.

Like many of the show’s best, it’s a slow burner, starting off with some moody, melodic electronica from the likes of Roman Flügel and Youandewan, with MLT only slowly ratcheting up the tempo and the vibe until he’s unleashing some facemelting techno at the peak, with highlights including the Aussie classic 6AM by DJ HMC (Late Nite Tuff Guy). Even when he’s cranking it, though, Mano’s selections remain exquisitely melodic and oh-so-seamlessly blended. It’s a masterful mix that sucks you into its atmosphere and demands repeat listens.