2016 didn’t deliver anthems quite as large as dance fans have grown accustomed to of late, but dig deep and you’ll find plenty of good music came out this year. From maturing North American sounds to stellar local productions and plenty of European fire, the past 12 months have given us house, techno, trap and beats-y delights by the bucketful. So grab your headphones, turn up the volume and catch up with the 80 best tracks of 2016.
German producer’s Recondite’s debut on Hotflush is a melodic techno weapon that’s built from the ground for a powerful impact. Warg goes for unrestrained epic vibes, with its high-pitched synths and menacing drops that rattle and thunder like the apocalypse. It made such an impression in his DJ sets that Recondite had to take to Facebook to ask overeager fans not to rip and share it prior to release, evidence enough Warg‘s packing some serious firepower. [Angus Paterson]
In 2016, OWSLA doesn’t just do bass bangers. Case in point is From Here, the feels-heavy, beats-driven tune from the label’s Worldwide Broadcast compilation. It comes from Louis the Child, AKA Chicago duo Freddy Kennett and Robby Hauldren, who are part of the new wave of artists changing the sound of North American dance music. From Here is only their second original, which means you can plant Louis the Child firmly on your artists-to-watch list. [Katie Cunningham]
Two of last year’s biggest tracks were Major Lazer’s Lean On with DJ Snake and MØ, and Jack Ü’s Where Are Ü Now featuring Justin Bieber. The common denominator of these Top 40 smashes was Major Lazer and Jack Ü member Thomas Wesley Pentz, aka Diplo—which shouldn’t be much of a surprise, given that the Mad Decent boss has crafted hits for major pop artists such as M.I.A., Usher, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, and Madonna.
So what happens when their two worlds collide in the form of a Cold Water collaboration between Major Lazer, Bieber, and MØ? More deliciously wonky dance-pop goodness that, when Bieber’s knight-in-shining-armour chorus kicks in, wrings out your heart with each synth-horn blare.
“I’ll be your lifeline tonight,” he sings in the track which seems to hint at his last few tumultuous years in the spotlight—but oddly enough, the lyric could also apply to the state of radio-ready dance-pop, which seems to have successfully matured from its overly saccharine, big-room predecessor with his assistance. Not bad for the once swoop-fringed guy who sang “Baby,” eh? [Krystal Rodriguez]
Legend of the UK’s 170bpm music scene Fracture teamed up with fast-rising star Deft to deliver a stellar track, perfectly capturing the leftfield sound which is becoming more and more popular in the drum & bass scene.
As always with Fracture, there are tonnes of rare samples and classic breaks all finely diced and re-combined into new, exciting patterns as well as killer bass growls which carry the groove. Deft’s personality shines through in the lush chords, chunky sub bass stabs, and schizophrenic percussion sequencing, which keeps I Just fresh throughout. Footwork-meets-half-time-meets-jungle at its best. [Andrew Wowk]
Contrasts first fluttered out across the speakers at last year’s Group Therapy gig at Madison Square Garden during the ‘warmup’ set from Above & Beyond, eventually revealing itself to be the Anjunabeats debut for Belgrade producer Vintage & Morelli. Hovering ambiguously in that gulf between house and trance, Contrasts is haunting, and the build-up to its powerful peak is mesmerising. Groove-driven progressive trance that gets it right. [Angus Paterson]
It’s been a healthy 2016 for Aussie linchpin Nina Las Vegas with a whole run of overseas shows under her belt, including the big deal of doing Coachella earlier in the year.
Meanwhile Nina’s NLV Records imprint has been catching fire with big releases from Swick and Strict Face, but we’re particularly keen to single out her own EZY as one of the picks of the bunch. This one struts out on a drumline snare, before NLV swerves into the oncoming traffic of a pounding beat and buzz of noise. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Brissie producer Scraps does everything in the right measure on Touch Blue, easy-going as it meditates on a no-frills groove for close to seven minutes, never feeling undercooked or overdone. There’s noodling melody, a detached yet resonant vocal. It’s a gentle tractor beam, drawing you either to the dancefloor or towards introspection. Maybe a combination of both. A shiny opal from the Australian underground. [Lachlan Kanoniuk]
As is the case with much of Gold Panda’s productions, In My Car is stuffed with so many musical ideas that it could all very easily go tits up. Instead, it flourishes, and therein lays Gold Panda’s adept programming skills: keeping all the madcap elements sounding so beautifully coherent. With its crisp hip-hop template, chopped-up vocal samples and shimmering synths, In My Car ’s magic lies in its power to conjure up wistful, long forgotten memories. [Henry Johnstone]
Another year, another entry from power duo Samo Sound Boy and Jerome Potter. Their name might have changed – DJ Dodger Stadium quietly became DJDS sometime last year for reasons still unexplained – but the themes of hometown and heartbreak have not. On I Don’t Love You, the Body Higher founders are still making songs about breakups and videos about Los Angeles. The end result is, as ever, excellent. [Katie Cunningham]
To make the most painful of dad jokes, it’s fitting that this song from Swick is called Offside because it’s almost unfair how far out in front of the rest this local producer has been in 2016. Hey, I warned you, right? But still, it’s true and all year long Swick has been dropping golden tracks on NLV Records starting with his Stamina EP which featured collabs with Marcus Whale and Spank Rock, before ending 2016 on a massive high with Offside. Not reliant on a prominent vocal feature for Offside, Swick hammers a hooky sample and lets loose with this starburst of undulating noise. [Dave Ruby Howe]
How nice it was of Sydney solo dude POOLCLVB to go and ring in the Australian summer a month and a bit ahead of schedule upon the release of this certified house-y scorcher, Always. Teaming up with vocalist Carl Fox – he of like minded feel-gooders Porsches – the pair mix up a very colourful cocktail that with each sip tastes of the beach, dolphins out the car window, and parties in the sunset. The crisp hi-hats race along and there’s this liquified squiggly synth that just makes this a total package of irrepressible energy. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Lindstrøm returned to the clubs this year with Closing Shot, keeping one foot in the psychedelic prog-rock sound he’s been exploring lately and coming out with a record that’s all the better because of it. He unleashes his arrangements one after the other over the course of eight and a half minutes, with the track’s early synth flourishes followed by a rubbery bassline, then a gorgeous chord progression, which in turn is followed by lush string arrangement, before it all peaks with a serotonin rush of a psychedelic synth swirl. Much musicality. [Angus Paterson]
There’s a cute story behind the making of this tune, which has the Indian Summer guys trying to track down Gold Coast duo Lastlings for a collab after hearing their track one time on the radio en route to the airport.
But hell, you don’t even need a bit of feel-good marketing to convince anyone that Love Like This is a hot one – the Melbourne producers thump you upside the head immediately with this uplifting, almost-gospel refrain and a thundering drum solo. It’s all offset by the ghostly vocals by Lastlings’ Amy Dowdle who brings her own style to a serendipitous collaboration. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Melbourne producer Christopher Port has made quite an entrance this year. His debut EP, Vetement, proved that garage and 2-step hasn’t run out of ideas, injecting the genre with moody atmospherics akin to Mark Pritchard, or even Boards Of Canada (both artists he strongly admires). With My Love – the lead track from his latest EP – he has left 2016 a bittersweet parting gift, and given DJs the perfect closing track to drop at sunrise. [Henry Johnstone]
2016 will go down as the year Tkay Maidza graduated from darling of the Australian industry to the rising star the rest of of the world is obsessed with. She’s scored a BET nomination – just like little known names Beyonce, Rihanna and Drake – dropped a killer debut album in TKAY and been tapped by French hitmaker Martin Solveig for a collaboration. Together, they make magic: Do It Right is pure dance-pop joy and the sort of tune you would have to be straight up dead inside not to enjoy. Keep killing it, Tkay. [Katie Cunningham]
Odesza might currently hold the title of dance music’s buzziest remixers, but Jai Wolf is certainly giving his Foreign Family Collective label heads a run for their money. Last year he turned in on-point edits for Skrillex, kitty and Mocki and in 2016, the New York native has kept the hot streak going with his flip of Feels. Luckily, this won’t be the last dance time dance producers fuck with Kiiara – she told BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe this month that tracks with Dillon Francis and Marshmello are on the way. [Katie Cunningham]
For anyone who misspent their youth dancing to Embrace or Wild Strawberries, new single Chameleon would have felt like a welcome return to form for Pnau. Gone were the tepid soft rock stylings of 2011 LP Soft Universe and back was Peter Mayes and Nick Littlemore at their bright, bonkers and ravey best.
It probably helps that this time around, they got Sam La More – the super producer who worked on hits like Peking Duk’s High and Parachute Youth’s Can’t Get Better Than This – on board as an official member of the brand. Cross your fingers there’s a whole new album on the way. [Katie Cunningham]
‘Producer and poet’ is a job title we’d like to hear more of in 2017 but for now, we’ll happily make do with Montreal’s Marie Davidson. Naive to the Bone is Davidson’s whip smart, spoken word track, and it’s one that oozes assurance. “Do you think I’m too soft? Is it that you feel superior behind a costume of indifference?… It’s 2016, get real,” she says so cooly you can practically hear the eye roll. “I’ve got nothing to prove.” Stellar stuff, and perfectly at home on Veronica Vasicka’s 80s-aesthetic label Minimal Wave. [Katie Cunningham]
There’s plenty to love on Harley Streten’s long-awaited second album Skin but for our money, it’s the two-minute instrumental Pika that towers above the rest. It may be brief, but Pika is the perfect encapsulation of the direction we’re so glad Flume took on this LP: it’s icy, forward-thinking and a little bit experimental, but it retains the melody and emotion the Future Classic star built his name on. [Katie Cunningham]
The Weeknd’s new album, Starboy, is full of back-to-back bangers, but it’s the lead single that blew everyone away and defined his new sound. The Daft Punk-produced beat is predictably on point and even though their signature sound is there, it blends perfectly with Abel Tesfaye’s vocals, proving that French house and R&B pair surprisingly well together.
The track also just beats Desiigner’s Panda as 2016’s best ode to beautiful, fast cars. Daft Punk, Lamborghinis, a chorus dedicated to coke – what’s not to love? [Osman Faruqi]
If anyone had assumed German electro duo Digitalism were a spent creative force, the pair’s surprisingly epic comeback album Mirage would have set the record straight. Go Time proudly stepped up as the album’s lead single, a piece of crossover radio-pop perfection that channelled – and possibly even exceeded – the exhilaration of Digitalism’s biggest ever hit Pogo. [Angus Paterson]
For their second full length album, Faraway Reach, Los Angelinos Classixx called in guest spots from famous friends including Holy Ghost!’s Alex Frankel, Passion Pit, T-Pain and Future Classic outfit Panama, cooking up another set of tasty and slickly-produced dance music.
Standing out from the LP is the How To Dress Well collaboration Just Let Go, a track that plays to the strengths of both artists – you’ve got the glimmering production that has become Classixx’s trademark, while How To Dress Well delivers a typically emotive and whispy vocal. It doesn’t really matter that Just Let Go arrived after the Australian summer had waved goodbye, this tune is a pop-up poolside getaway all in itself. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Woolford took a break from the jungle excursions under his Special Request alias this year to work on something a little more emotive, and he tapped right into Halcyon-era progressive house vibes with Mother & Child. Its string sections are more than a little reminiscent of Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy, though it’s the dizzying melodic flourish in the breakdown that really kicks things into high gear. Something different from both the Hotflush label as well as Woolford himself. [Angus Paterson]
Oh man, how good’s this MayaVanya track? With a sparkling electronic wash all over it and a beat that just struts through your headphones, this sounds like something R Kelly or Usher would pay big money to call their own. And with Melbourne’s Maribelle recruited for vocals it’s got this dangerously seductive R&B tinge. Now that MayaVanya have bounced all the way from Croatia to New Zealand and finally Melbourne, it’s the right time for Australia to claim the duo as our own. [Dave Ruby Howe]
This year has been all about the big electronic album, but one that really towered above the rest was Justice’s third LP Woman. Although the days of French electro-house are now long gone, the LP’s fourth track Fire stands as one of the most exciting singles of the year. By combining trailblazing guitar riffs with their signature bass lines and echoing vocals, Justice’s new, modernised touch on their classic sound is both fresh and nostalgic, and a sound definitely missed in the long, five-year wait between Audio, Video, Disco and Woman. [Hayden Davies]
Porter Robinson and Madeon have been buds since their pre-teen years, when they used to hang out on the same production forums and trade tips. So for them Shelter isn’t just a collaboration, it’s the culmination of a lifetime of friendship and mutual respect.
Given it comes from two guys with meticulously high standards, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that it took them a good ten years to release a track together – or that they’d go all out and team-up with Japanese anime studio A-1 Pictures for a short film to go with the music. Our only gripe? That Porter’s confirmed Shelter is a one off collab’. [Katie Cunningham]
Not only is Harry Agius one of the most consistent producers knocking about, he’s also one of the most versatile. Just look at the contrast between his two big releases this year: while the Blush EP boasts three cuts of heads-down, sci-fi techno, the aptly titled Final Credits is a hands-in-the-air summer anthem that just wants to plant a big silly grin across your stupid face.
It’s not exactly wheel re-inventing stuff, but what Final Credits does show off is expert crate-digging chops and a knack for editing, with Agius speeding up the unassuming funk of Lee Alfred’s 1980 cut Rockin-Poppin Full Tilting and marrying it with a bittersweet diva vocal sample. Make no mistake – this one is destroying a dancefloor somewhere in Europe as we speak. [Henry Johnstone]
While the modern age of music listening places a lot of currency on the discovery of brand new talents, there’s a rewarding thrill to watching a couple of old timers bounce back with a reminder of what made them so celebrated in the past. So it was when French icons Cassius broke a six year drought and dropped the undeniably fun and groove-struck Action.
Fittingly, Action comes with the featured talents of a couple of other old hands, including vocals from Cat Power and Mike D of The Beastie Boys. The tune’s accompanying video, overrun with kitsch props and effects, gold bodysuits and synchronised boner thrusts, is obtuse but totally hypnotic – with is a pretty good way of thinking of Action, really. [Dave Ruby Howe]
By now it’s standard to describe James Blake’s music as ghostly, angelic or ethereal, but there’s no denying the primal impressions it evokes. Perhaps the original concept of soul music meant something this spooky and transcendent. And from the cheeky but perfect title of this song, the first single from his third album, The Colour in Anything, clearly Blake ponders these things.
Despite the control he’s gained over his voice, his crooning and pleading is still so ragged and raw – still as astonishing as it was five years ago. And he is, of course, still an awesome producer and composer, still at the peak of his powers with the spare beauty and shimmering weirdness of this one. Not fair how talented some people are. [Jim Poe]
Precious little is known about the real identity of German house wizard Traumprinz, AKA The Prince of Denmark, AKA DJ Metatron. What we do know is that for the past five years he’s released some of the most consistently fascinating and beautiful underground dance music (mostly on vinyl only), with uncanny command over multiple modes from bassy minimalism to melody-saturated, ravey progressive and drum & bass.
2 Bad might be his best yet, a jaw-dropping mini-masterpiece of string-laden soulful melancholy and wicked mid-tempo breakbeats. It’s a very deliberate pastiche of party-closing, everybody-hug-now ’90s anthems by, say, Orbital or Massive Attack, but still sounds like the freshest thing that’s come out this year. [Jim Poe]
Feki had a pretty fantastic 2015 thanks to tunes like Remember and Quiet Minds and now, the Brisbane genius has started his 2016 on the right note with the excellent Thankful. As has quickly become the producer’s calling card, Thankful is brimming with warm, starry chords – drawing a few comparisons with Porter Robinson, which never hurts on the internet – and a real emotional depth even without lyrics.
Thankful never pushes too hard or tries to be too clever for its own good; it’s a steady tune in BPM and by nature, but it’s got Feki’s multi-textured layering as well as a lightness and adaptability to it that’ll likely have it on playlists for both the Northern Hemisphere summer and an Australian winter. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Funky-house producer and bandleader extraordinaire Matt Chicoine, originally from Detroit by way of New Zealand, now based in New York, has held off on releasing music for the past three years, much to the chagrin of fans who fiend for his unique, thoughtful strain of jazzy deepness. Give the guy a break, he’s no doubt been busy raising his kids and moving house.
Now Honey Rocks comes along, and woah, was it worth the wait; the title track from his new EP is one of his best yet. It’s a highly textured marvel of effervescent percussion, spacey atmosphere and spine-tingling chord progressions; one of those tracks that makes you think that house music keeps getting better. [Jim Poe]
One of the surprise homeruns this year came from Cubicolor and their debut album Brainsugar. Actually the deep house side project of progressive veterans 16Bit Lolitas, the duo developed their sound into something very special after linking with British vocalist Tim Digby Bell, and Dead End Thrills is the perfect showcase. Its lush melodies swell to fill the speakers, though its crackly organic vibes bring an earthy charm, the final result evocative and emotional. Bell’s vocals offer a Radiohead-style melancholy that transmits perfectly into the club. [Angus Paterson]
Sydney-based dynamic duo Stereogamous – the team of Jonny Seymour and Aussie electronic-music legend Paul Mac – have been on fire lately with a string of collaborations with Chicago vocalist, dancer and DJ Shaun J. Wright, formerly of Hercules and Love Affair.
The resulting supergroup mines the rich tradition of house music’s queer underground roots to create future soul for the dancefloor that sounds unlike anything else out there. This superb track is crisp and hauntingly melodic, with a sinuous bassline anchoring dramatic breakdowns and soaring buildups; Wright’s silky vocals make heartache sound seductive. It’s a pitch-perfect cross between sophisticated electro-pop and chunky soulful house at its best. [Jim Poe]
While some of his peers are pumping their SoundClouds full of new material as fast as they can, Golden Features takes a different approach. His releases are few and far between, and you can tell that each of them is deeply considered – the Sydney star’s last EP came out a full 18 months before Wolfie/Funeral, the double A-side that arrived just over a week ago and has already made a serious splash.
Part of Tom Stell’s charm as a producer is his ability to pull in vocalists from outside the dance world and make them sound perfectly at home – it’s what he did with folk singer Thelma Plum on last year’s No One, and it’s what he’s done with Julia Stone on Wolfie. Bring on that debut album. [Katie Cunningham]
RL Grime shoots for the stars on Aurora, and what results is a track that pairs his ability to craft gargantuan production with tasteful restraint in the right places. The video for Aurora couples perfectly with the colossal nature of RL Grime’s production – showing vast and isolated stretches of desert from outer space, making this track sound like a precursor for a mysterious alien invasion. [Christopher Kevin Au]
2016 saw dance music’s serial antagoniser give us a lot of SoundCloud experiments and, eventually, an album by the willfully-difficult title of W:/2016ALBUM. Snowcone was the first taste of that new LP and it’s Deadmau5 in downtempo mode – there’s no vocal, there’s no drop and the Boards of Canada influence is strong – but it’s a side of Joel Zimmerman we thoroughly endorse. [Katie Cunningham]
Jim-E-Stack’s productions are like copping a southerly gust of nostalgia right in the face. It feels really good, even if you can’t exactly pinpoint why. Take, for instance, the sample-heavy Deadstream – the Brooklyn based producer’s most recognisable track thus far. A delightfully giddy hybrid of breaks, garage and kiddy-rave, it has the power – as great music often does – to make every joyous, heartbreaking and ecstasy-fuelled moment of your life whiz by in just four minutes and 27 seconds. [Henry Johnstone]
Over the course of seven years and three albums, Modeselektor and Apparat have strived to master the synthesis of their distinct sounds. On III, their goal has come to fruition. This is immediately apparent on the first single, Reminder; staccato breakbeats pummelling their way through glorious, triumphant synths, with Apparat’s image-evoking chorus line (“Burning bridges light my way”) elevating it all into glorious pop territory. [Henry Johnstone]
Alan Fitzpatrick has been one of the strongholds from the Drumcode stable for years, though he struck out on his own and established his We Are the Brave record label this year. Fittingly, he came roaring out of the gate with a record timed perfectly for the summer.
It illustrated Fitzpatrick had little interest in techno purism with his new venture, and was welcomed accordingly, with a teaser clip posted In July that was recorded at Hideout Festival quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of listens. We Do What We Want is a rip-roaring crossover record that’s dripping with rave, with its jungle drum breaks mingling nicely with the same techno pulse Fitzpatrick cultivated playing alongside Adam Beyer all those years. [Angus Paterson]
From the first few moments of Drop Your Love On Me, you get the feeling that something big’s going to come of this track. DiRTY RADiO’s vocals are wrapped up in some tasteful production before the arrival of grin-spreading piano house pumps. From there, things take off and we’re left with something that’s both soulful, jackin’ and, thanks to a little bit of vocoder, definitely funky.
Young Franco has been making us dance for the last couple of years (seriously, check his tracks with KLP, UV boi and Set Mo if this is your first taste) but this one will go down as the Brisbane producer’s breakthrough moment. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Kenton Slash Demon’s keen sense of melody and emotional groove has always made for accessible dance music, but the Danish duo’s latest single Peace might just be their long overdue pop moment. Possessing a catchy-as-hell bassline (reminiscent of their excellent 2011 track, Daemon) and their first use of a vocalist instead of samples, it’s shaping up to be their biggest release to date. Frankly, it’s about time the newest members of the Future Classic stable received their comeuppance. [Henry Johnstone]
The 1990’s revival may be in full swing, but the 80’s is still being deliciously plundered too, thanks to newcomers like the Atlanta-based Abra. Back in July the singer dropped her six-track Princess EP, the highlight of which was the infectious and R&B flavoured Crybaby. An on-point lesson in electro-pop, what’s all the more surprising is that Abra self-produced the cut herself. Be sure to check out the Deadboy remix for a drowsy dose of UK Funky. [Henry Johnstone]
On one fateful afternoon back in 2013, RL Grime and What So Not sat down for a studio date in Sydney. In one session, they finished the better part of a track and dropped it for the first time that night at an inthemix house party with LA’s HARD crew, where it blew up the living room dancefloor. Needless to say, its name was Tell Me, and it quickly became one of the biggest songs of the season.
In 2016 the A-team reunited to finish off the spiritual successor to Tell Me – only this time, they upped the ante and got OWSLA head Skrillex involved too. In November Waiting finally arrived and proved the triumvirate haven’t forgotten how to craft speaker-rattling bass anthems. [Katie Cunningham]
One of the standouts that came later in the year from the Anjunadeep camp, Luttrell works with the deep house conventions, though manages to stand out by keeping it soulful, euphoric and fresh. There’s the prerequisite slow-motion R&B sample, though it’s accompanied by some particularly buoyant chords that set a euphoric tone, while Luttrell works in some string harmonies to deepen the emotions. One of the moments where prototype deep house still definitely proved effective in 2016. [Angus Paterson]
Of all the guests aboard Paces’ debut LP Vacations – and it’s a star-stuffed affair with artists like Reija Lee, Bonde Do Role and Jess Kent mixing it up with less obvious names like Oliver Tank and Guy Sebastian – the track Work Me Out featuring American rapper Rye Rye is worth particularly high praise.
Work Me Out marries Mikey Perry’s past in Gold Coast bass duo Surcut Kids with the kind of tropical flavours he’s made his trademark as Paces. The vocal from Rye Rye is a serendipitous team-up too, with Rye Rye’s rubbery raps matching the bounce and fizziness of the beat. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Snakehips had great crossover success with their 2015 festival favourite All My Friends, and Tinashe’s sing-a-long hook served as one of the year’s most addictive.
On Money On Me, Snakehips collaborate with another West Coast talent in Anderson.Paak, weaving a woozy soundscape that has us floating blissfully through purple space. There’s plenty to love this track: Anderson.Paak’s irresistible “put the money on me” refrain is delivered endearingly, while the animated ad-libs slice through the serenity to inject some unexpected energy. [Christopher Kevin Au]
It had to be one helluva daunting task for local duo Vallis Alps to follow up their breakout hit Young from 2015 – y’know, that song that charmed the pants off everyone last year, got ‘em booked on Splendour with just a handful of gigs under their belts and raced to #27 in that year’s Hottest 100.
More than a year later the pair fluttered back into our lives with the bloody jubilant Fading. Still gazing toward the stars with some sweetly lovestruck lyrics, Fading finds Vallis Alps sounding more urgent than before, nervously approaching the “paradise” in the song’s refrain. Now they’re here, I sure hope these two stick around awhile. [Dave Ruby Howe]
“We still believe”: It’s the unofficial mantra of one Marea Stamper, otherwise known as The Black Madonna.
The Chicago-based DJ/producer is unquestionably one of dance music’s biggest up-and-comers, working her way up from, as she told Resident Advisor back in 2014, writing copy for online underwear stores while making music to buying talent at local institution Smart Bar and shining behind the decks at festivals and clubs worldwide.
In the middle of her first-ever American tour last month, Stamper released a new single, He Is the Voice I Hear, her first new original material since 2013’s Lady of Sorrows EP. Already sold out at most online retailers, listeners have but a brief preview to go by—but even its 60-second span radiates a warmth and optimism in its swelling strings and disco bassline. As she wrote in a Facebook post, this track realised her longtime dream of working with a live ensemble of musicians.
How she tops herself next will be as equally exciting, even if it takes another three years. Believe that. [Krystal Rodriguez]
Between Enschway and Kuren, we can rest assured that the future of Australian bass music is in good hands. Last year the two young guns teamed up on an instrumental track called Taking Hold, catching the ear of triple j and marking themselves as ones to watch. So in 2016 they went to work on version 2.0, recruiting rising Canberra rapper Turquoise Prince for a topline, signing the track to Sweat It Out and re-releasing it as the lead single from Enschway’s new EP. Future bass that slaps. [Katie Cunningham]
Melbourne house maven Roland Tings (née Rohan Newman) followed up his 2015 self-titled debut LP on Prins Thomas’s Internasjonal label with this burst of melody and good vibes on the New York-and-London-based Cascine imprint, the first release from a forthcoming EP.
Reminiscent of Todd Terje’s analogue bubblebaths, its mood was influenced by Newman’s move from Melbourne to the Central Coast of New South Wales. “I wanted to make something that sounded like total release, coming out of a dark place into somewhere filled with light.” He certainly succeeded: the track’s warm, cascading synth melodies and tingly buildups and breakdowns definitely sound like something you’d want to hear at sunrise on a remote beach (eyes open or closed). [Jim Poe]
Supervillain flick Suicide Squad was a bit of a turd, but its saving grace (Margot Robbie aside) was the soundtrack. Lil Wayne, Grimes and Kehlani all leant their music to the movie but the biggest song on the soundtrack came from Skrillex and Rick Ross, who paired up on a tune custom made for the silver screen. Purple Lamborghini is Sonny Moore in blockbuster mode, from the throwback “Ohmygod!” sample to the 2011-esque bass screeches and Ross’ barking topline. There’s more than a little Bangarang to this, and that’s a good thing. [Katie Cunningham]
Leave it to Floating Points, AKA Sam Shepherd, to follow up the triumph of his universally acclaimed Elaenia – an album of gorgeous, mathematically refined electronica – with an EP led by an 18-minute live experimental rock jam.
Recorded with Shepherd’s touring band, Kuiper ranges through influences from Krautrock icons like Neu! and Can to Godspeed! You Black Emperor to LCD Soundsystem to (not joking) Led Zeppelin. Over its sprawling length it dips and soars from quiet to loud and through different moods and tempos, all held together by Shepherd’s precise dynamics and his synth work. It’s not like anything you’d call dance music, but it’s stunning as it is unclassifiable, and quite in line with the genius that is Floating Points. [Jim Poe]
This year dubstep pioneer Benga made his welcome return to dance music, some eighteen months after taking time out to focus on his mental health. While the Londoner’s solo EP Future Funk wasn’t quite a homerun, Boys Noize collaboration Dynamite was a sure winner.
Alex Ridha says Benga helped him take Dynamite from something “too busy and hectic” to the sleek, bassline-driven banger that arrived on his fourth album Mayday – and for our money, it’s the best track on the LP. (The uncredited vocalist laying down those howls, by the way? That’d be Don’t Wait singer Mapei.) [Katie Cunningham]
There’s an ominous undercurrent that carries throughout Clouds & Rain, often clearing for flashes of legit brilliance from Sydney’s BUOY. The repetition of the vocal hook is emboldened by some fearless production tricks, with a modus operando that never settles for ‘good enough’. It demands repeat listens, and rewards each time with dense and deft craftwork. [Lachlan Kanoniuk]
Unfinished Sympathy, Protection, Teardrop, What Your Soul Sings, Paradise Circus. With each Massive Attack album cycle comes a centrepiece; a female-led, post-modern lullaby, often draped in a heartbreaking string section. In a sense, it’s become the long-standing Bristolians’ calling card.
2016 didn’t yield a new album from 3D and Daddy G, yet a gorgeous lullaby still emerged from a flurry of EP releases in the form of The Spoils. Quintessentially laced with melancholy and steered by Hope Sandoval’s fragile vocals, it’ll do just fine until that long-awaited sixth LP eventually surfaces. [Henry Johnstone]
It’s no secret that Tiga has a strong love for early 90’s rave music, regularly taking staple elements from the era and reworking them to fit into a contemporary underground framework, but still keeping that cheeky, playful attitude that characterised the early hardcore sound.
On Planet E, he pays homage to those vibes with a nasty lead hoover synth that filters in and out of the mix throughout the track, while adding his trademark catchy, irreverent vocal content and underpinning the tune with a relentless TR-808 groove and gritty electroclash style bassline.
The PR campaign for Sasha’s latest album Scene Delete promised a side of the dance music titan that “you’ve never heard before.” Truth be told, if you slapped a 4/4 beat under most of the album’s ambient and modern classical passages, you’d wind up with the same emotionally driven club cuts that we’ve come to expect from The Man Like. Still, for all its hit-and-miss familiarity, Scene Delete possesses moments that are up there with some of Sasha’s finest. His sublime collaboration with Ultraísta, Bring On The Night Time, is a shining example. [Henry Johnstone]
If you were a producer looking to raise your profile overnight, you might consider the Luke Million method. Step 1: Tap into a trending cultural phenomenon, i.e., the mainstream’s renewed fascination with 1980’s synth nostalgia. Step 2: Craft an irresistible remix of a hit TV show theme that lovingly nods to the original while injecting it with plenty of neon funk swagger. Step 3: Reap the almost instant career rewards that result from creating one of the most loved tracks of 2016. [Henry Johnstone]
The UK grime scene roared back into the greater cultural consciousness last year, thanks in part to Skepta and the Godzilla-sized stomp of his single Shutdown. That one was inescapable in 2015 and it set a pretty lofty bar for Skepta’s fourth record, Konnichiwa. Luckily the album delivered and this year, the UK don has continued rattling with speakers with Man.
Adjusting to his newfound ubiquity on Man, Skepta bosses the would-be hangers-on trying to ride his coattails, hitting ‘em with a line like “told me you was a big fan but the first thing you said was can I get a pic for the ‘gram?” That’s gotta sting. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Could William Phillips – that’s the dude who produces as Tourist – think of anything more apt to title this tune than Run? Because it’s practically perfect – the title and the song itself, that is. One of many standouts from the London gun’s debut U LP, Run is the kind of song that demands movement.
If the rhythmic beat and the repeated intonations of “ruuuuuuuuuuuuun” don’t compel you to get off the couch and sprint down the street in your joggers, then it might very well convince you to pack your bags, tell your boss to shove it and race across the world and catch the sun setting over as many countries as you can before the euphoric smile makes your face hurt. [Dave Ruby Howe]
This meeting of minds between Detroit’s minimal-techno master and Toronto’s mavens of dark, obsessive electro-pop made for one the coolest tracks of the year. The tension between Jeremy Greenspan’s hushed crooning – spookily obsessing over the fashion choices of an unrequited love – and Hood’s surging horror-movie strings and brittle pulsating percussion makes for hair-raising feels when Big Black Coat is dropped at peak time. It’s highly reminiscent of Kevin Saunderson’s late-80s/early-90s fusions of techno and sythpop – a welcome nod to Detroit’s expansive, accessible roots. [Jim Poe]
D.R.A.M was thrown into the spotlight last year after accusing Drake of jacking his anthem Cha Cha for Hotline Bling, but in 2016 he seems to be moving on from the debacle. Here, he’s featured alongside Mabel on SBTRKT single I Feel Your Pain, the standout tune from a surprise 8-track release.
The staccato production is backed by synths that heighten greatly with uneasy tension, before relieving the listener and building once more. It’s a rollercoaster of sorts that D.R.A.M rides confidently with his silky crooning, and Mabel jumps on a verse before the two tangle towards the song’s cathartic end. [Christopher Kevin Au]
Both as a solo artist and part of Club Cheval, Myd has been at the forefront of hard edged electro-meets-hip hop sound. While Club Cheval’s debut album, Discipline, kind of missed the mark, No Bullshit delivers. Sure, Twice and Lil Patt aren’t exactly rap superstars – so you won’t hit play for the novelty of their guest feature – but their verses melt seamlessly into Myd’s comparatively subdued beat. The tropical melody, the moody rapping and the R&B hook all make for one of the best tracks of 2016. [Kish Lal]
Oizo and Skrillex couldn’t stop gushing about each other after busting the generation divide and jumping into the studio together (“I could spend a month watching Skillex making beats…”; “Sitting next to Oizo was a priceless experience for me”). It would have been disappointing if the results were any less than super cool, but luckily End of the World exudes an effortless charm. An awkward robot vocoder sets the scene for several super-powered drops and sonic twists. [Angus Paterson]
With this year’s Outer Acid EP, Chicago house legend Larry Heard returned for the first time in a decade to his storied Mr. Fingers moniker, under which he basically invented deep house with revolutionary tracks like Can You Feel It and Mystery of Love.
True to the EP’s name, Qwazars finds Heard in deep space, floating beyond the constraints of contemporary “deep house” with a dreamy medium tempo, a gentle kick and pulsating analogue synths. But as trippy as the track is, Heard’s signature jazzy keyboard riffs find that perfect vector between techno and soul. Like all of Heard’s late-period work, Qwazars transcends the dancefloor and is simply one of the best electronic records released this year. [Jim Poe]
To the casual observer, it would be easy to put RÜFÜS in a box as an accessible band with a great live show and a knack for writing direct, feel good hits. So you’ve got to give the trio due credit for really upping their game on their 2016 LP, Bloom, the crown jewel of which stands as Innerbloom.
Across nine minutes RÜFÜS use all their tricks to create a fully immersive experience that feels equally at home at dusk among thousands of punters at an outdoor festival as it does through a set of headphones, as the listener peers out a rain-drenched window contemplating fresh heartbreak. So congratulations to RÜFÜS for a their trademark high energy production with a genuinely meaningful soul. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Some of Four Tet’s best work has been within the realm of hip hop – check his 2005 EP of Madvillain remixes for starters – and Love$ick continues that tradition in spectacular fashion.
His take on the worldwide smash hit from London producer Mura Musa adds a hot polyrhythmic tropical-funk feel to the original’s already blistering beat, along with a generous helping of his signature cosmic-jazzy chimes and bells. It’s one of those remixes that’s win-win: it retains the original’s brilliant rhymes and hooks while being unmistakably Four Tet. Essential stuff as ever from Kiaran Hebden. [Jim Poe]
On the surface, Seekae’s first single in two years appears to be a straight-up slice of electronic soul – the kind of sound that is being kicked around almost ad nauseam these days. But as the climax kicks in, listen a little closer, and you’ll notice something kind of genius (aside from Alex Cameron’s brilliant vocals). The pulsing bassline, the euphoric synths…is that…trance? Yep, and it sounds fucking awesome. Old school fans may argue otherwise, but Turbine Blue is the trio’s finest moment yet. [Henry Johnstone]
You could have a knife fight between this and Meet In The Middle as the pick of the lot, but for its warm romanticism I’ll favour Love Somebody as the standout single from the duo’s joint EP (m)edian.
It finds Ta-ku and Wafia playing to their strengths; a precisely-rendered production full of mood-driven cues and Wafia’s magnetic voice. It’s a fittingly cozy listen on the ears that wraps Wafia’s and, yes, Ta-ku’s vocals together like the tentative fingers of two young lovers holding hands on a first date. Aptly for such a successful partnership you could say that Ta-ku’s beats have never sounded better than with Wafia singing on them, and Wafia’s voice has never sounded better than it does against a Ta-ku backdrop. [Dave Ruby Howe]
Anohni’s voice has always been a powerful force, a vivid beauty like no other. Here, it’s weaponised. For the album Hopelessness, producers Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke provide a fractured, techno-dystopic setting for Anohni’s politically charged commentary.
Drone Bomb Me is a confronting depiction of the now. Anohni attunes to global horrors, and brings it all to the fore in vivid, literal detail. Anohni pushes the boundaries conceptually, OPN and HudMo manage to find instrumentation that lend to both the horror and the beauty. [Lachlan Kanoniuk]
By now Karl Hyde and Rick Smith are both well into their fifties, but they’re still turning out the sort of music that makes you want to ignore all adult responsibilities and cut shapes in a crowded warehouse until dawn.
I Exhale, the lead single from their first album in six years, is pinger music so pure you can just about taste the endorphins. It doesn’t mess much with the classic Underworld formula – those hazy drums and Hyde’s spoken word vocals still have centre stage – but we’re not sick of the ‘90s rave vibes yet. [Katie Cunningham]
This moody, implosive, achingly melodic midtempo ballad is a dream-team meet-up between one of electronic music’s most respected and versatile producers and Radiohead’s always-adventurous frontman. It’s a highlight on the first album in five years from the England-born, Sydney-based Pritchard, who’s stayed busy and recorded under many aliases since his 90s heyday in Global Communication.
The cool thing about this collab is the way its influences cut both ways. It’s obviously Pritchard’s loving tribute to Radiohead and their impact on contemporary music. At the same time it lets Yorke get weird for a release on Warp Records – whose glitchy classics from Aphex Twin and Autechre in turn loomed large over Radiohead’s leap into electronica at the turn of the millennium. [Jim Poe]
There’s been a well of talent in the Melbourne electronica underground in the past five or so years, bubbling forth onto SoundCloud with a loosely intertwining community. Simon Lam has been overachieving with projects such as the now-defunct I’lls, his newly resuscitated solo project Nearly Oratorio, and here with Chloe Kaul as Kllo.
Bolide is their best track yet, a gentle construction of ornate clicks and whirring bass. International success resulted in an extra ‘L’ added to their name due to German translation issues. Bolide will guarantee Kllo continue to be flushed with success. [Lachlan Kanoniuk]
While it’s been four years between drinks for Miike Snow, the Swedish-American trio showed no signs of musical cobwebs when they released their third record iii back in March. The stylish production from Bloodshy & Avant and Andrew Wyatt’s distinct lead vocal still sound super crisp, especially on album highlight Genghis Khan.
Reunited with their frequent collaborator Henrik Jonback (who’s also worked with Avicii and Britney Spears) Miike Snow saunter and shuffle all over this one, reaching genuine ear-worm status with that chorus and the ooh-ooh-oohs. Bonus points for that video clip. [Dave Ruby Howe]
“This is one of the missiles. This is one of the ones I guarantee is gonna make some kind of noise,” Baauer said of his track Kung Fu. It’s a statement that’s not to be taken lightly, and here Bauuer delivers a banger that’s enough to cause a snowstorm.
Pusha T delivers vicious verses that build upon his two-decade career of cocaine-based bravado, while the hovering production gains ominous weight for Future’s melodic, drawling hook. And just when you thought that the duo had delivered every drug reference possible, Pusha uses Macklemore as a metaphor for that illicit white substance. Suited to an Atlanta strip club or Miami mega-festival, Kung Fu is the crossover that most producers wish they could craft, and the track that Baauer’s been destined to make in his post-Harlem Shake career. [Christopher Kevin Au]
Given that Kaytranada and Anderson.Paak previously connected on the soulfully upbeat Lite Weight, expectations were high for Glowed Up – and it shines with hazy energy as one of the highlights from the former’s brilliant 99.9% album.
Trickling synths are bolstered by thumping, head-nod percussion, with Anderson.Paak’s raps reclining comfortably in between. His nonchalant approach aligns with Kaytranada’s equally relaxed approach to production, and mid-way through the beat flips and eases even further into dreamland territory with rolling bass and drums that hit like sonic skipping stones. [Christopher Kevin Au]
Flume’s most successful single so far, his first #1 on the ARIA chart and a worldwide hit, was, thankfully, a track that you didn’t really get sick of hearing just about everywhere you went. An ideal balance of sugary pop hooks and warped, jagged production, Never Be Like You is, like most of Flume’s work, a lot better than it has to be for heavy rotation on triple j. It’s the type of tune that provokes obsessive fascination each time the chorus climaxes, and makes your spine shiver each time the kick drum does one of those weird, wobbly dropouts. [Jim Poe]
Known principally for his vocal work with SBTRKT, Sampha has slowly been stepping out from behind the voodoo mask the past year, appearing on no less than Solange, Frank Ocean and Kanye West’s latest albums. Now the English singer is gearing up to make his own artistic statement, with his first album, Process, set to drop in February. If the first taste – the moody, piano-led Blood On Me – is anything to go by, it should be an impressive debut indeed. [Henry Johnstone]
There’s a theme running through the majority of Bicep’s productions: an unashamed love for retro house music. Single out any one of their cuts from the last five years and it’s almost guaranteed to sound like something straight outta 1993. This is no bad thing; ‘90s house is still very much in vogue, and Bicep have a canny knack for making their tracks sound decidedly fresh.
For their remix of Sydney-bred producer Isaac Tichauer’s Higher Level, Bicep continue to play to their strengths. Over a signature ‘90s drum beat and bass line, the Irish duo rinse the living fuck out of a twirling synth pattern, building it up and up until triumphant pads begin to emerge at the surface. It’s a deceptively simple trick that is deadly effective because, before you know it, everything has broken apart at the seams and euphoria is spilling out all over the dance floor. Why change a winning formula? [Henry Johnstone]