100 underrated DJs who deserve more shine
NB: List is in no particular order.
Around this time every year, the music world debates and dissects DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs poll.
We’re never sure why they bother. The poll offers zero exposure for interesting acts (this year, as with every year in recent memory, the most credible artists on the list are Richie Hawtin and Daft Punk, who haven’t played a public DJ set for over a decade), and merely reinforces the power that faux-hawked Dutch trance producers hold in the dance music world. In short, it simply makes the rich richer, and represents, we’d wager, the tastes of DJ Mag‘s staff even less than its readership.
So this year, we thought why moan? Why not instead take this opportunity to shine a light on some of our favourite DJs who not only will never crack the DJ Mag Top 100, but will – for the most part – never be flown business class to a booking, never get a Resident Advisor mix, never even be ripped off by Diplo. Some of these artists were crucial to specific, regional scenes and never received adequate plaudits outside of them, while some are the sort of veteran club residents who understand the flow of a clubnight too well to ever upstage their headliners, even though they could. Others are just brilliant DJs and radio hosts who don’t fit neatly enough into a movement or scene to give magazines a hook to write about them.
The one thing that binds them is this: they deserve more shine, both on FACT and other magazines. Rather than bicker over Avicii and Aoki, let’s pay them the attention they’re due.
Thanks go to Josh Doherty (Posthuman) for setting us off on this course and making suggestions, as well as Simon Whight, Dean Driscoll and James Friedman who all added nominations and words to the pot.
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Berlin-based and schooled at Breaking Science, his Panorama Bar sets are always a treat. Try his Fabric mix for size.
Cousin of one Omar-S, Strick is capable of going deep and catering to a party crowd in equal measure, as anyone who caught his recent Dance Tunnel session will testify.
His Trilogy Tapes label is well-known, but Bankhead the DJ is equally exciting, whether digging deep for dub or spaced-right-out acid house.
Now based in Berlin, South Africa-born Khathi – who DJs under the name Lakuti – runs stellar house-and-beyond labels Uzuri and Süd Electronic (the latter in partnership with Tama Sumo). The quality of music on those labels is proof alone of the impeccable taste reflected in her soulful sets.
Matthew & Jolyon
There is no London disco party like a Low Life party, and Matthew & Jolyon are vital cogs in its machine. Their connoisseurs’ disco-balearic-vintage-house is delivered as if it was the newest most exciting thing in existence: and in their hands it IS.
His Funky Manifesto mix and Margins Music Redux album should be considered classics.
Dom Servini & Scrimshire
Veterans of the jazzy-funky-beaty-acoustic sort of world, and the masterminds of the Wah Wah 45s label, Servini & Scrimshaw as DJs are miles from flutes’n’bongos beard stroking – both are masters of beautifully strung-together eclecticism.
An accomplished DJ and prolific producer, with a history dating back to the early days of Rephlex and his own label Breakin’ – Ed DMX has straddled genres both in his output and DJ sets from purist electro, rave, techno, braindance, boogie, house, breaks, acid and more displaying a deep knowledge and expertise across the board. He even once played drums for Tiga on Top of the Pops.
His parties in Brighton going back some two decades are among the most consistent repositories of straight-up good vibes anywhere. Jazz, latin, golden age hip hop, funk all somehow feel turbo-charged in his hands, and his crowds respond in kind.
Gus Van Sound
Resident DJ at Moog Club in Barcelona, reputed to be one of Weatherall’s favourite venues in the world. Gus has quietly shared bills with the best, his sets tailored as the perfect warm-up regardless of the genre of the headliner. He also runs his own imprint Polybius Trax featuring artists he’s played with at Moog.
Spinning since 1990, Jerome has earned his stripes both playing & producing hip-hop, rave, breaks, acid house, techno and more. Running two imprints, Don’t Records and Super Rhythm Trax, as well as running his own parties and residency on Koolradio, Jerome is still definitely up there with the very best of them.
An unsung techno hero; just ask Blawan and Pariah. Or listen to him play!
The mystery man behind the Tusk Wax empire. Strictly vinyl only, in both his sets and his labels, Tusk has established himself as a prime selector of the some of the most underground house, Italo, psychedelic, and slow-mo acid found this side of the 1970s.
The epitome of the DJ’s DJ, from London pirate radio stations and warehouse parties in the late ’90s to Dalston trendsetter promoter today, Jane Fitz has been one step ahead of the curve across the UK and Europe for over two decades. She can even knock ’em dead ambient style.
The consummate DJ’s DJ, Placid is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on Acid House. Resident at Bristol’s Under-Score and London’s I Love Acid parties, his strictly vinyl-only sets, and staunch support of underground labels has earned him huge respect across the world with acid, house and techno aficionados.
Annie Errez & Bobby O’Donnell
Residents at System, Mint Club, Leeds, Annie & Bobby are often found playing b2b sets and have shared the bill with Ricardo Villalobos, Loco Dice, Joy Orbison and more. The pair also both produce deep, lush house tracks very much worth checking.
Pally with Novelist and The Square crew, catching the South Londoner in full flight is an awe-inspiring sight.
Thee Mike B
At the famed Banana Split party, Mike helped revive L.A. club culture with the late-great DJ AM and (ahem) Steve Aoki. He’s remained one of the city’s most in-demand DJs ever since, spinning everything from disco and dembow to acid house and hip-hop along the way.
The Readers Wifes
“Purveyors of progressive working-class entertainment”, the Duckie club in Vauxhall is one of the raddest, rowdiest polysexual parties you could ever hope for, and fearsome drag duo The Readers Wifes work its engine room with five decades of pop thrills and crotch-level dance rhythms.
If you don’t know the ape man, you don’t know Manchester. He’s known as the rambunctious personality at the heart of the MCR scene, but he wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for his skills smashing out garage, grime, hip hop, jungle and loony Manc patois with an ever growing bag of specials from top flight MCs, to inevitable dancefloor carnage. His recent Rinse set with Chunky and Big Narstie is a masterclass in DJ/MC interplay.
Joe Hart & Andy Blake
To truly understand the might of World Unknown you have to experience it – but Andy Blake’s FACT interview might give you a clue. Vets of the scene they might be but this duo have brought the Balearic anything-goes ethos right up to date with a dark and dirty London edge.
Head of Peckham’s Rhythm Section parties and label, and a prominent face in South London’s clubbing renaissance.
Secret weapon of the Greco-Roman stable, his hip-house mix for FACT still bangs like few others.
Hesseltime & Mr Solid Gold
As bookers for the bimonthly Corsica Studios party, Hesseltime & Solid Gold have been able to give themselves the extremely pleasant task of warming up for some of the best DJs in the world on a regular basis. That they’re so damn good at it speaks to their own not-inconsiderable selection skills.
A co-founder of crucial Jersey club night Thread, Nadus has both the Newark credentials and outsider co-signs (Pelican Fly et al) to be the genre’s next world-wide ambassador.
Dettmann and Klock get most of the plaudits, but few people know how to rock the Berghain like its unsung hero.
A Manchester veteran who became an unlikely hero of the Belgian New Beat scene, Acid Alan managed to wangle his way to Unsound’s 2012 line-up at the request of Leyland Kirby.
Joey B, Platt & Samrai
Residents at Manchester’s brilliant Swing Ting night, mixing dancehall, UK Funky and more – watch for the Swing Ting label starting in the near future.
Score5 hasn’t been active since the start of the year, but the former Rinse FM resident is right up there with grime’s most terrifyingly quick mixers (Spooky, Mak 10 et al). Come back!
Glasgow is a city full of great DJs, and Barbarossa – whose sets blend disco, funk, house and more – is a firm favourite.
Drawing almost exclusively from his own stable (Dullah Beats, JT the Goon and Spooky), few DJs have a sound as focused and direct as Oil Gang.
Marcus Scott: A&R at Hyperdub and Planet Mu by day, and a superlative DJ by night – not to mention one of the select few to own Aphex Twin’s Caustic Window album pre-Kickstarter.
Whether spinning quiet storm soul, disco or garage, there’s little on Earth as reliably comforting as Josey Rebelle’s Rinse show, and her blends are some of the most inspired and musical around.
It’s almost becoming a running joke to call Jon K the UK’s most underrated DJ, but the Hoya:Hoya resident’s sets simply continue to astound and educate. But then maybe that’s the Hoya way: absolute understatement and lack of hype meaning you have to find your own way to it.
DJ, producer, remixer, vocalist — the prolific Divoli S’vere does a little bit of everything for MikeQ’s Qween Beat collective with one of the rawest and fiercest styles in the ballroom world.
If pirate radio culture is on the wane nobody told this man: a DJ for grime’s Slew Dem Crew back in the day, he can now be found spinning breakneck sets on Deja Vu FM at any time of night – and he can wreck a dance as easily with roots reggae as with exclusive grime dubs.
Sure, Marcus Nasty and a select few other UK Funky DJs receive most of the plaudits, but MA1 has both the dubplates and skill in equal measure – and he still sounds great today.
Kon & Amir
Not just DJ’s DJs, the Boston duo are crate-diggers’ crate-diggers to boot, and routinely smash up a party with both originals and their own edits of deep funk, soul, jazz, R&B, Latin, reggae, hip-hop that’s so obscure it might as well be from Jupiter, yet in their hands sounds like you’ve known it your whole life long.
A veteran London DJ and key part of the NTS roster, few radio shows are as both enjoyable and illuminating as Dark’s – he’ll smash up a club too, most recently with some sterling retro dancehall sets.
A classic example of a scene trouper, as resident at Bristol’s Subloaded, Blazey flew the flag for grime as a producer’s and DJ’s genre right through the years dubstep ruled the clubs. Now broader in genre with his own Bodynod parties, he still remains a grime scholar but absolutely consummate at rocking the party with whatever style he turns his hands to.
Tayo was a lynchpin of Basement Jaxx’s Rooty parties, but has continued to make his presence felt in various ways, whether on the international breaks scene, or through his Tayo’s Tracksuit Party sessions or all-Prince-all-the-time Purple Rave sets with Rob Da Bank. A proper man-about-town, Tayo reminds people how fun clubbing should be.
Nottingham’s Littlefoot has existed on the peripheries of garage, dubstep and grime without ever making a true splash, but he’s a truly excellent DJ, repping for a lot of artists and records that sadly rarely see light outside the Midlands. Hopefully his new Special Stage Audio label will get the buzz it deserves and see more outside the area getting a chance to appreciate his skills and selection.
There’s very few producers who could both feature on FACT’s 100 best IDM and a hypothetical 100 best Dubstep, but Geiom’s released minor classics in both scenes, and was mixing Carl Craig with Coki longer before that sort of genre splicing was acceptable in dubsteppers’ circles.
The man behind Rubadub Records, Glasgow’s most famous record shop and distributor. Martin ran parties for many years at Paisley’s notorious Club 69 and has shared the decks with everyone from Underground Resistance to Autechre. A thoroughly nice chap well liked in the industry, but with an accent so strong no-one really knows what he’s saying half the time.
Northern boy Craddock has been mixing since the late ’90s, but seems to be enjoying a second wind of late after support from the Hessle Audio and Don’t Be Afraid crew. He also occasionally plays back-to-back with…
The London-based Italian made a huge impact in 2011 with JX – Son of a Gun sampling ‘The Vox Attitude’, later remixed by Joey Anderson and Pangaea. His sound since has taken a darker turn from those earlier Skudge-esque sounds, with his brooding yet impactful DJ sets getting wider recognition.
Resident at Mad Racket, an Aussie institution that’s been running for almost 20 years.
No Boring Intros, and a lot of exciting music – 90% of which you haven’t heard before. Recent back-to-backs with Jamie xx and the launch of his own label, Levels, should see Rust’s profile continue to rise.
Ben & Lex
Less known than they could be because a) they ply their trade in the much-looked-down-on breaks scene and b) they are proper west country wurzels, this duo can nonetheless be put in just about any context and conclusively smash it every single time – few can read a crowd and deliver exactly what’s needed like them.
Founder of the notorious IDM-era label that launched Squarepusher, MDK and Cassetteboy, Hardy Spymania is more or less retired from the music scene these days – but still mixes avidly, pumping out bogglingly great mixes based on themes, individual artists, labels or just the sounds in his head via Mixcloud on a regular basis.
No Disco Bloodbath party was ever complete without Beaumont pulling out at least one record that blew the roof off of whatever smokey basement the trio took over that month. With a preternatural talent for causing dancefloor moments that can end up defining nights, weekends or even entire years, it’s fitting that Beaumont now oversees the running of London’s best small club, Dance Tunnel.
As well as being a prolific producer, Wrexham export Luv*Jam is a master of marathon five-hour sets, throwing in deep and diverse gems from across the board.
Founder and resident of London’s Fill Yer Boots night, William Smith (yes) also has a great line in semi-regular mixes which take you on a proper voyage from new age moods to jacking house and back again.
Montreal record shop guy and promoter who has brought over most of underground London to his club nights at one point or another, Olivier “Bowly” Borzeix is also a killer DJ who can play for hours on the go, bringing out the highest common factors of Detroit techno, UKG, funky and more in a highly distinctive sound of his own.
Founder of legendary techno label R&S, Renaat Vandepapeliere is a veteran of 30+ years behind the decks and a fantastic selector in his own right – his outings are rare these days but well worth catching.
Cosmo is the rare “jack of all trades, master of all,” having pioneered boundaryless, anything-goes open format DJing, both by himself and as a co-founder of New York’s long-running institution The Rub. For hip-hop, disco, funk and anything you can shake your ass at — Cosmo’s your man.
Sure, DJ Technics can rock your party with a trap-EDM set or a funk-soul nostalgia trip, but he’s best known for one thing: Baltimore club. He’s been a pioneer of the sound since its inception, and he can still bring it — just check out his recent Boiler Room appearance.
The Radio 1xtra and BPM resident is an excellent selector, lynchpin of the Manchester scene, and was onto a lot of 2014’s crucial artists (Her Records, for example) before most.
A real diggers’ DJ, Sean P has selected for some killer disco, funk and soul comps in recent years and has a record bag to match. Living proof that rare can also mean good when it comes to keeping people moving.
Riz La Teef
One of London’s finest new vinyl-only selectors.
Definitely an unsung gem in Chicago’s DJ heritage, Sadar Bahar’s collection of rare grooves and lost cuts makes him one of the best disco selectors around. He’s been digging for records all his life, tirelessly hunting down rarities and unearthing obscure b-sides. Continuous dedication to craft has earned him deep respect from his peers, so much so that upon their retirement, several DJs have handed him entire record collections, confident he would do them justice. No surprise that Theo Parrish regularly cites him as his favourite DJ.
You don’t spend over half a decade as a Jazz Café resident without learning how to mix some pretty demanding music. With sets that out jazz-funk Theo Parrish, expect K15’s reputation to grow beyond Camden when a long-awaited EP drops on Kyle Hall’s Wild Oats later this year.
Detroit’s first lady has still never been matched – in her hands differentiations between different strands of house and techno become irrelevant: it’s all just source material for her sterling sets.
A hip-hop expert and resident at Gretchen and Fabfernseher, Delfonic also runs Berlin’s OYE record shop and organises the city’s annual Record Store Day.
Part of the team behind South London’s Ryewax record shop, Unlikely has been resident at several London clubnights across the years, and also co-runs the Wavey Tones label. His background in industrial and black metal, as well as having had a hand in the dubstep world from very early, all add an edge to his deep and eclectic selections.
A hero of The Hague through his work with Intergalactic FM, Overdose possesses one of the world’s best Miami bass collections, and has released on some of the Netherlands’ best labels in Murder Capital and Creme Organisation.
Having lived the classic veteran DJ career path through a love of Motown and battling ropey equipment set-ups, Sheffield’s Chris Duckenfield rose to prominence through the ahead-of-its-time Version series as part of the Swag collective. More recently, Chris has been revelling in the warm up role with astute selections that set you on your path with a Ready Brek glow.
Jumping Jack Frost
Sometimes even legend need a bit of extra bigging up. The mighty JJF was of course one of the key DJs (and producers: witness Leviticus ‘Burial’!) of the jungle years, but where a lot of his compadres went for international D’n’B superstardom, somehow he has kept flying the flag for jungle as underground rave, and his sets have all the excitement which that passion brings.
We should never, ever let Storm’s brilliance as a DJ be eclipsed by the sad passing of her long time partner-in-crime Kemistry; she was, and remains, as vital a force as anyone in the Metalheadz orbit, and her sets to this day are full of “WTF” moments that remind you that drum’n’bass’s potential as future music is far from exhausted.
A true DJ can turn your head, even if they’re playing a style you’d normally run a mile from – and Jeff Amadeus can do that and then some. A stalwart of the Stay Up Forever / Liberator warehouse hard-tekkkkkkkkno scene, his three-deck mixing makes what can, let’s face it, be pretty unimaginative music take entirely new and startling forms.
The co-founder of Belgian club clique Pelican Fly has been an unlikely supporter of Jersey club, Southern rap, R&B jams and all-things maximalist, slaying parties in Brussels, Paris and beyond.
Teenaged Dance Mania sensation, DJ Rashad collaborator and Beyoncé remixer: Chicago legend DJ Gant-Man has done it all in his 20-year-career, repping ghetto house, juke and footwork like no one else.
Another lynchpin of the Rooty parties with Basement Jaxx and Tayo, Frank “Dope” Tope is a true disco scholar but with none of the snobbery that can entail: this is a man who will only play a record because it’s right, not because it’s rare.
If you’ve ever lived in London you’ve seen Ross Allen’s name on a flyer – and quite possibly seen him spin, too – but it’s easy to underestimate the soul boy; there’s very, very few better.
Brighton’s foremost quartet touch on disco, balearic, boogie, yacht rock and all those other slick things that beardies like, but always add a party-starting booster with their own edits and bootlegs that takes it well beyond chinstroke energy levels.
As well as half a decade of classic edits, the duo have released two mix CDs – Magik Cyrkles and Magik Sunrise – that will breathe life into any afterparty.
Whether playing r’n’b or her own recordings of New York street performances, there’s rarely a bad time to tune into Nabihah Iqbal’s NTS show.
Head of Soundman Chronicles, collaborator with Wen and affiliated with Blackdown and Dusk’s Keysound label, Parris’s focused, vinyl-driven sets – often on three decks – are helping keep FWD>> culture alive.
Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy plays as a resident alongside David Mancuso at the Loft parties in NYC and London. You kind of don’t need to know more than that really! But if you need telling, she plays it warm, groovy, psychedelic and lush every time: music as warm welcome.
The 29-year-old Englishman based in Berlin has been steadily building his profile over the past few years, during which he’s proven a knack for melodic techno, especilly under his newer Inland guise. You don’t get approached by Function to co-run his relaunched Infrastructure New York label if you don’t know what’s up.
Conor & Solar
Residents at San Francisco’s No Way Back events and more, with a wealth of experience between them.
Brian Not Brian
Formerly of Phonica Records, currently of Kristina, Brian Not Brian runs the Going Good label and recently released on Blackest Ever Black’s Krokodilo Tapes sub-label.
Mano Le Tough
Disco and house are this Irish DJ’s home turf, and he’s unafraid of chucking a dirty great pop melody into the mix. Though the Berlin transplant has played all the best clubs, he remains mysteriously underappreciated.
One of the more well-known DJs on this list, it’s still hard to shake the feeling that Huckaby deserves more praise – not only for his DJ sets and productions, but for the educational role he plays in both the Detroit community and beyond, sharing the knowledge he built up in his time at the legendary Record Time store and working with techno’s all-time greats with younger generations through workshops worldwide.
Slow to Speak
The duo behind New York’s Dope Jams – not to mention FACT’s monthly house and techno columnists – are two of the city’s best DJs, with several young NY producers admitting to having transcendent experiences at their in-store sessions.
With a career that spans more than two decades in the always-changing world of New York DJing, DJ Relentless has been a key figure in keeping ballroom alive through periods of feast and famine — both in the club and with his legendary Relentless Cunty bitch tracks mixes.
Head of the Well Rounded record label, releasing early 12″s by Deadboy, Hackman and more, Donga now hosts the Well Rounded record store in Brighton. Coming away from his sets or radio mixes without a shopping list is a very rare experience indeed.
Baltimore’s Mr Nice is the US dubstep DJ – just ask Mala, or any of the other scene veterans who’ve shared both DJ booths and dubplates with him.
Presumably the only former male model on this list, Farrell cut his teeth at Peverelist’s Rooted Records store, and now runs Idle Hands, Bristol’s best record emporium. Although Farrell’s label loosely sticks to house and techno, we’ve seen him turn rooms inside out with everything from dub 7″s to grime.
Where to start with Mak10? The main DJ for grime’s N.A.S.T.Y. Crew, his 2008 back-to-back set with Marcus Nasty (Mak 10’s brother; Mak taught him how to mix) is considered the UK Funky set for many. Rarely spoken about in the same vein as Slimzee, Mak was every bit as powerful a DJ in grime’s early days.
Another BBC 1xtra resident, Becker’s sets are always worth catching, whether she’s solo or spinning for MCs like Newham Generals or Big Narstie.
Bristol’s Kelly Twins have been in the news of late, releasing music by Kowton and Hyetal on their Happy Skull label, but the duo should’ve demanded the attention of the music press long before, regularly upstaging headliners at Briz events.
Recently relocated to London, the Glasgow favourite has appeared on both Hessle Audio and Numbers’ Rinse shows.
Joe Andrews is best known as one half of Blackest Ever Black doom-merchants Raime, but he also moonlights as a spectacular DJ when he gets the chance. His hardcore set was a highlight of Blackest’s Corsica party last year.
Noodles has basically been around since the beginning of time, working in Camden record shops and changing the sound of UK garage with Groove Chronicles, his production duo with El-B. Whether playing 90s house, garage or jungle, we’ve never, ever seen him fail to fill a dancefloor.
Dev/Null – Boasting a collection of hardcore and jungle 12″s that has heads from all across the planet hitting him up for knowledge, Cambridge’s Pete Cassin (aka Dev/Null) is one of the US’s best kept secrets. Need proof? Head over to his regularly-updated Blog to the Oldskool and rinse any one of his masses of mixes and you’ll start to see exactly what we’re talking about.
Hoodrich founder Spinz might be best known as a producer, but he cut his teeth spinning on the Atlanta club circuit and his selection skill is second to none. Wanna know what it sounds like in the back room of an ATL strip club? Spinz has you covered.
Fools & Rushmore
The team behind London’s House of Trax party have a selection that’s both broad and focused at the same time: whether it’s ballroom, footwork or booty, they’ll play it – it just has to put the dancefloor before anything else.
Boomkat employee (he’s also the brains behind their Death of Rave label) and founder of Manchester’s Faktion nights, Conor can regularly be found spotted supporting the likes of Powell, and his sets are always highlights.
A regular at Panorama Bar and Cologne-based Pulstar nights, his productions have found homes on Playhouse, Ostgut-Ton and more.
Jon Sa Trinxa
An Ibiza stalwart of the true-school Balearic persuasion who deserves a whole lot more love outside the island.