Ten reasons 1996 was a great year for dance music

1996 was a year to remember for so many reasons. Finley’s finest Spiderbait came number one in the Hottest 100; pop music was gifted the first chart topper by the Spice Girls; Will Smith punched an alien in Independence Day; and rock and indie fans got classic albums from Belle & Sebastian, Sleater Kinney, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and…Barenaked Ladies.

More importantly, 1996 also played host to an impressive output of indelible dance albums, from chart-toppers to scene-starters, massively-influential mix CDs and bona fide classics that still sound fresh two decades later.

inthemix writers JIM POE, KATIE CUNNINGHAM and NICK JARVIS have gathered together here ten of the best albums and mixes from 1996, and it’s a handy overview of where dance music was at 20 years ago: trip-hop and ambient electronica was everywhere, big beat was just starting to blow up, drum & bass breaks were working their way into unexpected corners, and prog-house still ruled the raves. 

Scroll down to discover (or rediscover) ten seminal albums – in no particular order – that are two decades old.

#10 Fatboy Slim – Better Living Through Chemistry

Two years before Norman Cook’s Fatboy Slim alias took over the world – putting big beat onto dancefloors everywhere with his powerhouse You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby and becoming a household name in the process – he hinted at the potential to come with 1996’s Better Living Through Chemistry.

The ten-track album’s packed to bursting with catchy breakbeats and tasty funk samples, from acid-lite lead single Everybody Needs a 303 (with its middle-finger-at-the-music-industry film clip) to the Pete Townshend collaboration Going Out of My Head. Pillaging old funk records never sounded so pop. [Nick Jarvis]

#9 The Jedi Knights – New School Science

The dynamic duo of Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton, more usually known as Global Communication, were jacks of all electronic trades during their ’90s heyday. Over various releases they mined many strata of electronic music, including deep house, techno, drum & bass and ambient.

The Jedi Knights project (hard to imagine Disney letting them get away with that name now) stood somewhere in the middle of all of that, with the pair whipping up a heady brew of funk, spacey breakbeat jazz and wicked, thumping electro; standouts like May the Funk Be With You pummelled dancefloors across many formats from house to trip-hop. “That’ll funk ’em,” their cartoon counterparts declare on the manga-inspired comic on the sleeve.

New School Science also helped pioneer the nu-jazz and broken-beat sounds that would become dominant later in the decade. Clearly the funk was strong with them. [Jim Poe]

#8 Everything But the Girl – Walking Wounded

Walking Wounded is a wonderful snapshot of the mid-90s, a halfway marker between the alternative and indie that soundtracked the coffeehouses of the ’80s and early ’90s and the electronic and club sounds that rose to prominence during the decade. EBTG had been at it for years, building a loyal following for their folky “sophisti-pop,” but they turned a corner into a more beat-centric realm after collaborating with Massive Attack in 1994.

Todd Terry’s remix of Missing was inescapable in the summer of ’95, as big in underground clubs as it was on the radio, in part because Thorn’s keening, sombre, icily soulful vocal struck a universal nerve. The audaciousness with which the rest of the album married its melancholy indie ballads to drum & bass and handbag house ushered in a new era of bleakly beautiful electronic pop.

Ben Watt’s shimmering soundscapes and Tracey Thorn’s aching vocals have a cool, easy-listening accessibility; the cover design – amusingly dated but still eerily striking – speaks worlds about the angst and artifice of the era. [Jim Poe]

#7 LTJ Bukem Presents Logical Progression

Logical Progression was one of the ultimate expressions of the mid-’90s UK electronic zeitgeist. A compilation of tracks from London producer and DJ LTJ Bukem’s Good Looking Records, it captured the essence of the post-rave, post-jungle, post-everything drum & bass sound – perhaps the one uniquely, quintessentially British genre of dance music.

Bukem rightly hated the term “intelligent drum & bass” to describe the music – as if other kinds of jungle were lacking intelligence. But there’s no questioning the smarts and vision behind the sounds here, which fuse jungle with Detroit techno, rare groove, acid jazz and house. The kinetic, crystalline, melody-saturated tracks by Peshay, Aquarius & Tayla, The Chameleon (who also made this list as the Jedi Knights), PFM and Bukem himself still sound so transcendentally cool and futurist without compromising the sub-bass boom.

The album became a deserved hit and, along with Goldie’s Timeless LP, helped spread the gospel of D&B to a wider audience outside the clubs and far beyond the UK’s shores, along the way becoming one of the great chillout albums of the decade. [Jim Poe]

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