Illustration by: Dan Evans
Last year saw more focused energy in club music than at any time in recent memory, but it was the artists pushing sonic boundaries that rose up and held our attention.
As it became more and more difficult to decipher genuine political thought and investment from fashion accessory activism, the hybrid “club trax” form was taken to almost comical extremes as producers tried to mash together more and more styles. The producers who stepped away from the dancefloor – Sim Hutchins, M.E.S.H., Kuedo, Rabit and Angel-Ho, among others – achieved the most in that realm, although their work was already only tenuously connected to traditional club forms.
Some artists have managed to maintain an interest in the club as dance space though, whether through entrenching themselves further in the insular cultures that brought them up (the #retiretheha movement for example) or by producing more idiosyncratic original work. Many of the following producers play out regularly or have nights of their own, allowing for a more acute understanding of how club spaces work and how DJs and dancers function within them. Others exist almost entirely in the context of the internet, a conundrum that’s still difficult to reckon with even as their tracks are played out all over the world.
In past years, it was only a few lucky, sometimes talented artists that would be able to break out of the proverbial underground and into pop visibility. Now there’s enough of a groundswell of support from record labels, booking agencies and club nights for more club-oriented artists and DJs to subsist off of their work.
Expect to see the following producers making moves on the release front and in venues, bars and clubs near you.
Part of a growing contingent of central and northern European artists pushing back against the region’s house and techno hegemony, Munich’s Mechatok has already made his official debut, but it’s his collaborative work with Toxe that has our interest piqued for his forthcoming work with Stockholm’s Staycore.
With a predilection for beatific strings on the one hand and sparse, thrusting rhythmic tracks on the other, Mechatok’s production oeuvre offers an in for a wide range of listeners. Considering how perfect his ‘Nite Dew’ track sounds when paired with Young Thug’s ‘Stunna’ and a predilection for mixing left-field rap and dancehall from the likes of Haleek Maul and I-Octane, don’t be surprised if you hear Mechatok’s idiosyncratic aesthetic behind some of your favorite vocal tunes in 2016.
A member of Philadelphia’s #ATMDATA crew, DJ Haram burst on the scene last year on the back of her brilliantly transgressive mixes for Truants’ Functions Of The Now series and Mask Magazine, not to mention her kinetic ‘Sustained Crisis’ effort, the best of the grief and rage externalizing Identity Crisis series.
With Jersey and Baltimore rhythms at the fore, Haram’s mix work often features likeminded producers like 8ULENTINA (of Oakland’s Club Chai), Istanbul’s Dalt Wisney and N-Prolenta, while her productions mesh the Atlantic coast’s stark structures with vocals from spoken word artist Moor Mother Goddess to destructive effect.
Along with ATM’s plus_c, E. Jane/E_SCRAAATCH and Marcelline, Haram is part of a growing movement of artists standing up, collaborating and asserting their position in the all-too-white world of club music.
One of the more constant presences in our monthly For Club Use Only roundups, Philadelphia’s DJ Delish has been pointed to as one of the most talented up-and-coming producers in the ballroom world and is sure to continue to make inroads in 2016.
A member of the rising Pumpdabeat collective (DJ Spider, VJtheDJ, Capital K’aos, etc.), Delish has already released one excellent mixtape to date, and with a sound that builds on the raw, totemic platform favored by MikeQ, Vjuan Allue, Divoli S’vere and other modern ballroom pioneers, his tracks will be punctuating many a set in 2016.
If you don’t regularly tune into the Boko! Boko! Show on Radar Radio, you’re missing out on one of the most joyous regular broadcasts on any station, a well-calibrated journey through kwaito, afrobeats, dancehall, kuduro and more, often featuring guests like DJ Lag and Lil Tantrum. You’ll also catch some of host Mina’s own bootlegs of Beenie Man, Castro, Konshens and J Capri (RIP) and original riddims which have become increasingly integral to the program’s success.
Last year’s ‘Tombura’, a collaboration with Lorenzo_BITW released through Friends of Friends, was a late summer favorite and put the spotlight on Mina’s production prowess, equal parts stark, rolling percussion and hook-heavy theatrics. Along with selectors like The Large, Hipsters Don’t Dance and Samrai, Mina is pioneering some of the very best transatlantic dance sounds and is primed to make further inroads on the production side in 2016.
Despite not having an official release to his name, Cleveland’s v1984 seemed to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue this past year, and while he didn’t push a ton out in 2015, his mix for J.G. Biberkopf’s NTS show and a now-notorious edit of Que’s ‘Too Much’ certainly did the rounds. It’s more likely that you’ve seen his visual work for Rabit and Riko Dan’s ‘Black Dragons’ single and the subsequent Ziro remix, Sharp Veins’ Inbox Island EP and Purple Tape Pedigree’s simmering Body Horror series.
Once affiliated with Paul Purcell’s Glacial Sound label, which unfortunately shut its doors at the end of 2015, v1984 certainly has enough hype circling around him at the moment, and 2016 might just be the year he has a Mssingno-esque rise into popular consciousness.
The first artist to feature on Lechuga Zafiro’s Montevideo-based Salviatek outpost, Pobvio has churned out some of our favorite polyrhythmic tracks in recent memory, blending candombe drumming with a fine-tuned metallic edge on tracks like ‘Mundombe’ and ‘Momo Riddim’.
With a groundswell of support for Lechuga Zafiro’s Aequs Nyama EP, the second release on Salviatek, it only feels like a matter of time before more artists from Uruguay working in the style come to the fore. Pobvio has the best shot of anyone, bolstered by a recent package of baile funk edits that are sure to stay in DJ’s bags for quite some time.
It seems a little presumptuous to put an artist on this list based on two mixes, but in Malin’s case the position is fully validated on the back of volumes for Tobago Tracks and Truants, efforts that haven’t just put the Stockholm-based artists on the map, but were easily some of our favorite mixes of the year.
A member of the E V O L V E R “pseudo-club” (rounded out by Tariq and Iinatti), Malin’s mix work functions at the noisier edge of club music, pierced by vocals from the likes of Holly Herndon and FKA twigs and combining works from an aesthetically varied, yet likeminded, group of producers like GROVESTREET, Kablam and N-Prolenta.
With the ability to transform seemingly standard club forms into spacious, cyborg monstrosities, Antwood’s (fka Margaret Antwood) Work Focus EP on B.YRSLF DIVISION might not have garnered as much play from across the dance music spectrum as it deserved, but it did earn the ear of Mike Paradinas, who signed the enigmatic producer up for Planet Mu.
Like fellow B.YRSLF alums Tsvi and Trap Door, Antwood’s work blends a retrofuturist verve with a knack for truly alien sound design, blending huge, slapping basslines and shiny synth work with well-timed silence and frantic 8-bar switch ups.
Work Focus as a whole is almost entirely aimed at the dancefloor, but its moments of silence, on ‘Coincidence Pt.1’ in particular, and general sonic oddities – the percolating water drop sounds on ‘Pleasure Center’ come to mind – are what have us really eager to hear her forthcoming Planet Mu material.
One of many up-and-comers out of Baltimore, 17-year-old DJ Yae has spent the past few years populating his SoundCloud with exactly the sort of exciting, in-your-face material that makes B’more club such an indelible, irrefutable sound, seemingly pushing out new originals and remixes on a daily basis.
Sometimes hilarious and often lewd, Yae’s tracks rarely extend beyond two minutes and run the gamut of styles, from DJ K-Spin-inspired shake-off to B’more’s smoother breakbeat styles. Like many of the most talented youngsters in the B’more-Jersey-Philly axis though, Yae plays it hard and fast, so play and break it down at your own discretion.
With DJ Firmeza contributing a Resident Advisor podcast, Nidia Minaj garnering acclaim from the techno cognoscenti and Príncipe Discos continuing their world-conquering streak, 2015 felt like something of a breakout year for the ghetto sound of Lisbon.
Even as the label extended into genres beyond the kuduro, tarraxo and others they specialize in, it was artists like Paris-based DJ Lycox of the Tia Maria quartet that continued to solidify the base and expand their production repertoire into exciting new territory. Along with fellow Tia Maria artists DJ B.boy, Lycox showed off an impressive work rate this past year, and that effort should pay off in 2016.