Thank god for Shazam, eh? Gone are the days of hearing a killer tune and painstakingly searching for it. Singing a hook to a bemused-looking bloke in a flat-cap in your local record store, or rudely interrupting a DJ during a crucial moment and causing him to clang a mix.
And this year more than ever, clubbers all over were spotted on dancefloors eagerly holding their phones up — like professional ramblers checking the direction of the wind — to find out what tune was playing at that particular moment.
A weird development that may be for some, especially phone-hating dancefloor purists (stop texting!), what it does prove is that dancefloors — as well as live streams and forums — were full of people genuinely into the music in 2016.
Once again techno, house and tech-house dominated UK clubland this year, but let’s not forget it was a strong 12 months for d&b, grime and disco too. These are the tracks that blew our little socks off in 2016, and probably yours too…
Mr. G has the midas touch. The UK techno veteran has had his best year yet, dropping another excellent LP (‘A Good Place…?’) and EPs onto Midnight Shift, Warm Sounds and his own Phoenix G label. However, it’s ‘Transient’ for D’Julz’s Bass Culture that ruled clubland’s underground in 2016. The dark, bulbous deep-slung bassline, heavy synth “glock” and that addictive, blues-y railroad sample was ubiquitous since it dropped in the summer, and it will live on long as an anthem into next year and beyond.
Much like the spooky memory of a forgotten trance classic, ‘Mutter’, which appeared almost miraculously on Gerd Janson’s immaculate Running Back imprint in April, haunted many-a techno set this year. When it dropped — and subsequently got played seemingly everywhere — it sounded nebulously classic, like it was an old tune we’d heard a thousand times before but couldn’t quite put our fingers on where. Turns out it was brand new, it just sounded vintage — with a classy, modern twist — and became inescapable as a result.
Never afraid to drop a rare disco classic into his eclectic DJ sets, Harry Agius — aka Midland — did the bootleg business on ‘Final Credits’, sampling Lee Alfred’s rhythm & blues/soul ’80s classic ‘Rockin — Poppin Full Tilting’ and mixing it up with the vocals of Gladys Knight (‘Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be First to Say))’ — sped up to belting, gospel effect. Released the same year as ‘Blush’ — another, more druggy contender for this list — on his Graded spin-off, ‘Final Credits’ is not only an exceptionally executed disco mash-up, it existed as the life and soul of glittery, discerning dancefloors all over, throughout the summer and beyond.
‘We Do What We Want’
We Are The Brave
Drumcode regular Alan Fitzpatrick really hit the big league with this techno/breakbeat hybrid monster on his own We Are Brave imprint in 2016. That evil rave stab, a ridiculous techno build-up and an unexpected explosion of fierce amen breaks undoubtedly make this one of the most impactful tunes of the year. For a DJ/producer known best for fast-paced, panel-beating sets and meaty big-room bangers, ‘We Do What We Want’ showed a new side to probably the UK’s fastest rising name in techno, and blew the roof off dance festivals and marquee club-nights everywhere in 2016.
‘Tell Me No Lie’
After causing considerable debate at DJ Mag Towers, it’s ‘Tell Me No Lie’ that gets the final nod over A-side ‘Music’ in this year’s top 10. Offering up an ecstatically banging gospel-house bombshell, Detroit’s Robert Hood — alongside his daughter Lyric — represented his more Chicago-leaning project Floorplan at its most potent in April. Appearing like a remastered cutting of an old, forgotten Larry Levan edit from back in the day, ‘Tell Me No Lie’ is pure fire in the disco; a hi-NRG track to be treasured, held back and only used at peak-time, when the time is right…
Techno had another big year and with that came the welcome return of a widely revered veteran. Parisian DJ Deep is a master of refining the core elements of a track and on this steely warehouse cut for Deeply Rooted, his layered approach to swirling metallic pads, lively percussion and warm, unctuous bass is as absorbing as it comes. Dropped by Detroit don Delano Smith in the main room of DC10 to powerful effect earlier this year, ‘MKS1’ was undoubtedly one of the year’s best moments — for dance music in general, let alone for techno.
‘I Always Liked Grime’
If 2015 was the year grime returned, 2016 was the year grime outsiders embraced it. Take cool Aussie house upstart Mall Grab, for instance. Even the title of this tune is a tongue-in-cheek nod to his way-back allegiance to the sound. But rather than a cheap cash-in, ‘I Always Liked Grime’ on Unknown To The Unknown is an absolute masterstroke. A bleeping Boy Better Know top-line, a sublime, cavernous bassline and a slammin’ four-four drop — not forgetting those eerie, crystalline synths — this is cross-genre pollination at its absolute finest.
He might not release very often, but when he does Matthew ‘Recloose’ Chicoine doesn’t disappoint. The Detroit-born producer returned to unrivalled form in the spring with ‘Honey Rocks’ for Will Saul’s Aus Music, once again exhibiting his ear for an exquisite off-kilter melody. Soft summery pads, wavy, wistful synths and elastic streams of sepia space-funk, ‘Honey Rocks’ is an engrossing house journey that’s as mellifluous as it is made for the dancefloor. Magic!
Dan Ghenacia & Chris Carrier
Music For Freaks
Apollonia co-boss and fellow Frenchman Chris Carrier teamed up again for Luke Solomon and Justin Harris’ rebooted Music For Freaks imprint in September — and blew our fragile little minds. ‘Vaporized’ is a slow-burning slice of rubbery bass and freak-out jungle rhythms weaved through a weird, druggy tech-house formula. Immaculately crafted, it’s a spooky pressure cooker that’s been sending dancefloors totally doolally towards the latter part of 2016 — but we get the feeling it’s only just the beginning…
‘Hear What They Hear’
A huge tune this summer, we heard Adrian Hour’s ‘Hear What They Hear’ smashed twice within the same 24 hours in Ibiza this October. First by Nic Fanciulli during his last ever set at Space Ibiza (about 8am), and later that night by Paco Osuna in the main room of DC-10 (about 3am). Each time it went off! Meaty tech-house with a sleazy electroclash feel, it might not be the most inventive track of the year, but it certainly had one of the biggest impacts.
THE NEXT 40…
Last Night On Earth
‘Feel The Love’
‘Preachin’ Some Tight Games’
‘Don’t Come Home’
‘Ingrid Is A Hybrid’
‘Gave Up My Love’
‘Silly Club Song Number 5’
The Willers Brothers
‘Mind Craft Glasses’
My Favourite Freaks
‘Ascend feat. AJ Tracey’
‘Better For You’
‘Lucky For Some’
Feel My Bicep
‘To The Unknown’
‘Rinse & Repeat’
Ministry Of Sound