WEDIDIT's ACLU Benefit Was About Fighting For Our Freedom To Do Whatever We Want

Photos by NJinLA

When your shithead President is threatening the livelihood of immigrants and refugees, you put up a fight, which, if you’re a certain breed of (party) person, means turning up for a good cause. That’s exactly what LA-based label WEDIDIT, Mixed Management, and RL Grime’s charity Because of U did last night, uniting for a benefit concert in Hollywood’s Fonda Theater with all door proceeds going to the ACLUa non-profit leading a resistance campaign against Trump’s political agenda, including overturning the Muslim travel ban in court.

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The sold-out show on March 16th, announced on Instagram, brought out an all-star lineup with performances from RL Grime and Baauer, Shlohmo, DJDS, Groundislava, D33J and Nick Melons, along with Michael Washington.

The author

As a former EDM thot now in my late-20s, I decided to relive my glory days for a night. Pulling up to The Fonda, I tried to calm my anxiety as I walked past a line of EDM teens, who formed an amoeba of dad hats, WEDIDIT tees, and Nike Huaraches that wrapped around the parking lot. The last time I had been to this lot was two years ago for another, slightly different act of protest: seeing a rare one-off performance of the Chief Keef hologram banned from Chicago and Hammond, Indiana.

Inside the theatre, the ACLU had a table set up in the foyer, with chipper attendants handing out stickers, informational pamphlets, and mini US Constitutions, which I took a stack of to make rain on the dancefloor and #EducateTheYouth. The merch booth in the corner was also donating its proceeds to the ACLU. Nestled among the selection of WEDIDIT swag was a special longsleeve tee with an awareness ribbon on the front, and an apt George Eliot quote on the back: “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?

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I stepped into the auditorium as Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3” reverberated through the black and white checkered dancefloor. Michael Washington opened the show, making his DJ debut from a chandeliered balcony above the stage. I was the only person dancing while every other EDM teen began to barricade themselves at the front of the stage to secure their spot for the headliners, RL Grime and Baauer, four hours earlytrue dedication to the brand.

DJDS

The velvet curtains came up on the mainstage with D33J and Nick Melons emerging from the haze, playing a mix of ethereal soundscapes and rap bangers from Playboi Carti to 21 Savage, the neon WEDIDIT tombstone shining in front of them in all its glory. As the room began to fill, I felt the hormonal thirst of a thousand yung EDM thots about to erupt like a volcano. I instinctively ran away, taking refuge in the pub connected to the theatre, where I ate a whole truffle burger to give me the energy to deal, while also charging up my phone to share the live experience on Insta storyan activity I’ll never be too old to do.

Shlohmo

When I returned, Samo Sound Boy and Jerome LOL were performing together as the duo DJDS, rattling the walls of the theater with their emotional strain of techno and house. Next up was Shlohmo, who came out with the unreleased version of Jeremih’s “Planez” that features a verse from Chance the Rapper. Cocaine rap tracks followed bedroom slaps, and marijuana clouds billowed through the air. Finally, headliners RL Grime and Baauer took the stage, playing their EDM trap classics I’d forgotten all about, reigniting a flame I’d left festivals ago as I moshed and milly rocked. I can confirm Baauer’s remix of “Roll Up” still goes off in the club.

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From top to bottom of the house, everyone was lit off the energies. The neon lights were on steroids, and to prevent a seizure I turned my head into the crowdand ALLOFASUDDEN caught view of a couple a few feet away from me who were fully exercising their civil liberties by fucking doggystyle, girl with her hands latched onto the speakers, dress pulled up, ass bent over, fully copulating with her dude for a good 15 minutes through Migos and Future.

If that’s not an American right worth fighting for, I don’t know what is.

Jazper Abellera is a reformed EDM thot. Follow him on Twitter.

The 33 Best Albums Of 2016

Illustration by Dana Kim

Never question the efficacy of a great album. Dance singles offer concentrated dopamine hits and lengthy mixes offer IV drips of all sorts of pleasant neurotransmitters, but 2016’s vast slate of electronic full-lengths, while sometimes more gradual in their effects, are no less life-altering. Afforded the opportunity to take up a little more space, producers made a number of complex statements, offering up electro-protest anthems, rose-tinted remembrances of childhood, and collections of club tracks as harrowing as War of the Worlds. Below are 33 albums that went beyond a single track’s impact to offer expansive discourse and complicated feelingsin a year that demanded both.

33. Baauer – Aa

Though Aa didn’t come out until March, Baauer heralded his debut studio album’s arrival back in January, when the producer debuted “Days Ones,” a collaboration with Novelist and Leikeli47, on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Leikeli47 was wearing her signature balaclava; the Brooklyn-based producer, whose real name is Harry Rodrigues, was seated casually on a couch to the side of the stage, wearing headphones and staring at a laptop. Even for someone who has lived, at various times, in Philly, Germany, London, and Connecticut, the ruse positioned Rodrigues first and foremost as a child of the internet.

And Aa cements that interpretation, leveraging bass music, grime, hip-hop, and twinkling ambience less as ends in themselves than as shifting emotional terrains in an LED-lit journey into the end of the night. The stacked lineup of guests on the albumamong them, Future, Pusha T, MIA, and South Korean rapper G-Dragonmake for some of the highest highs, but to Baauer’s credit, in his first big look since the “Harlem Shake,” the moments of wide-eyed lyricism leave as much of an impression as the drops.Emilie Friedlander

32. DJ Tiga – The Sound Vol. 1

DJ TiGa describes his craft in surprisingly functional terms. Discussing the philosophy that informed The Sound Vol. 1, his debut mixtape for J-Cush’s influential Brooklyn label Lit City Trax, the Newark-based producer put it simply: “Club music isn’t beautiful. It’s supposed to make you sweat, you’re supposed to jump, you’re supposed to be able to scream to the top of your lungs.”

Caffeine-pill flips of Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” and Biggie’s “Dead Wrong” (presented in filleted form here as “Take Note (Who the Man),” fulfill that mandate of dancefloor destruction. But the real triumph of The Sound Vol. 1, contrary to TiGa’s own claims, is the paradoxical beauty of the thing; he has a knack for presenting simple melodies that roil colorfully against the TV static of the drum programming. It’s often an austere sort of allure, but the kaleidoscopic sweetness underpinning songs like the Tink and Aaliyah-sampling “Your Love” is part of what makes The Sound so addictive outside of dancefloor contextsa little saccharine to accompany the sweat.Colin Joyce

31. Ana Caprix – M6 Ultra

Since I started working a 9-5 last year, my listening sessions during my daily bus commute have acquired a level of personal sanctity similar in emotional intensity to Helga’s shrine to Arnold in her closet. This is my time, and whatever I put on better fucking jam. So it’s not faint praise to say that the album I’ve played most often after wrenching myself out of bed and crumpling into a blue plastic bus seat is this under-the-radar stunner from British producer Ana Caprix. It’s hard to quantify exactly what’s going with it musically: there are elements of trance, sure, but there’s also hip-hop percussion, dreamy ambient pads, and a nasty Dido sample or two. It doesn’t matter, ultimately; just throw it on and melt away.Ezra Marcus

30. Mock the Zuma – Gauss

Mexican producer born Kevin Santana is known for making bold statements; his alias of Mock the Zuma is a parody of the notorious ninth governor of Tenochtitlan, Moctezuma II. Released on influential Mexican label and collective NAAFI, Gauss is plagued with sounds extracted from video games and internet clips and is about the realities of living and making music in Mexico. The record’s seven tracks aren’t intended to shine on the dancefloor, but rather to provoke introspection from its dark production. Santana’s hometown of Ciudad Jurez is one of the most violent cities in Mexico, and his EP is a reminder of what it’s like to create music in a city at war with drug trafficking, where the hours after curfew are passed with friends and video games. Ultimately, Gauss is a reflection of the border reality that is lived in Mexico.Valeria Anzaldo

29. Tommy Awards – Sessions II

Even if my listening has been colored by the repeated occasions I’ve imagined that this Swedish Balearic duo’s name is some sort of porn award, Sessions II is a strangely sexy recordif your idea of a perfect fuck involves lapping waves, silk sheets, and the prurient bliss of Ash Ra Tempel records. Even if all that isn’t your bag, this tantric two-trackerwhich plods along gently on puttering drums, then recedes as gentle mystical Environments recording soundalikes and lackadaisical guitars swell around itis a perfect accompaniment to any activity that involves two consenting adults and a pair of speakers. Highly recommended for those of you out there into rainforests, Steve Roach, post-coital glows.Josh Baines

28. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Since their inception in 2009, RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series has become a kind of fantasy football for people who read The Wire and despise actual football. Previous installments have seen Blues Control jamming with zither-maestro Laraaji, Sun Araw hanging out with reggae legends the Congos, and the formation of what is possibly the world’s greatest modular synth supergroup to date, Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo, and Lopatin.

This time around, the label has paired the celestial and perennially soothing Suzanne Ciani with fellow Buchla player Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for a languorous waltz down the Pacific Coast Highway. Sunergy is an unhurried minor masterpiecea burbling and barely-there set of synth-jams that breathe themselves into the most subtle of beings. This is intricate and understandably ornate music that demandsand rewardsdeep listening.Josh Baines

27. Foodman – Ez Minzoku

Critics have largely described the sonic riddles that Takahide Higuchi issues as Foodman as if he were still in the throes of an early fascination with the caffeinated kick drum programming of footwork. But in the years since he debuted back in 2012, he’s taken real glee in frustrating those expectations, channelling the twitchy programming he learned from that genre into a barrage of harebrained samples.

His full-length return to the absurdo-futurist imprint Orange Milk, Ez Minzoku, is his most hilarious effort yetand perhaps his record least linked to footwork, or the dance floor at all for that matter. Within the space of just a few tracks, there’s jaw-dropping samples of metal riffs, referee whistles, dial-tone drops, pinched “ow”s, Japanese rapping, and treacly synth lines that sound kind of like Dntel’s cotton candy programming for the Postal Serviceand sometimes more. It’s a joyous cacophony of sounds that shouldn’t be able to coexist, let alone produce moments as sublime as the new age-y bliss of “Ure Pill.” Mostly, though, it’s the sound of cartoon neurons juking at the same speed as his bass drums once did.Colin Joyce

26. Umfang – Riffs

Emma Burgess-Olson’s productions as Umfang tend to be even more multifarious than her DJ sets. On a split earlier this year for the Danish experimental label Phinery, she demonstrated a taste for the totally fucked, tossing up acidic screwballs that lifted her sound away from the dancefloor entirely. Her August release for 1080p, Riffs, is perhaps even more skyward-sounding. Over five tracks, she flits through spacious synth sequences and sparse kick drums; there’s an overbearing anxiousness in the air, a sick awareness of the rapidly decreasing oxygen as she drags you closer to the stratosphere. Riffs is the rare record that baffles me every time I play it, both because of its own harrowing internal logic and because of what its triumphs suggest for an artist who hits stranger heights on every release. What earthly realms are left to conquer once you’ve broken orbit?Colin Joyce

25. Powell – Sport

In the short time that he’s been signed to XL Recordings, Oscar Powell has developed a reputation as one of dance music’s merry pranksters. Last year, Powell took out a billboard featuring the full text of a sample clearance letter from legendary punk grump Steve Albini that allowed Powell to sample one of his recordings but stated that he “detest own agency.”

Self-determination is a difficult topic to untangle on a record full of collaborations, especially given that it ends on the white-hot sunrise of “Red Eyez,” a track made by the London-based Lexxi alone. But the answer to her question proves relatively intuitive here, both because all of her collaborators are longtime pals, and because nearly overstuffed and nauseous pieces like “Dummy Track” demonstrate she’s a natural for the director’s chairknowing just how much detail to creep in before cutting it off. Like most of her work, an atmosphere of optimistic longing underpins the proceedings, but with the help of her friends, her work feels more impactful than it’s ever beena testament to the power of pushing ahead, with friends on your side.Colin Joyce

4. Kornel Kovacs – The Bells

The Bells begins with a half-remembered melody, a shadowy prelude-that-never-was to a 2014 track about getting fucked up. It sets a precedent for an album that revels in its weightlessness, and a producer who seems to defy standard conventions of time. Kornel Kovacs plays with this temporal slipperiness over the course his debut double LPthe first two sides are a sparkling FM tribute to 80s synth-pop and funky disco-house, while the second slab is a glittering journey through disco atmospherics. Meanwhile, the album title refers to another decade, and specifically to Jeff Mills’s seminal 1997 techno track “The Bells,” a hypnotic roller which shares little in common with Kovacs’ record, other than its layered and organic approach. All of this makes for an album which confidently knows it can’t be easily bracketed by epoch or genre. So don’t think about it too hard, throw this one on at home while the album art cheekily smiles back, and do as one of its timeless tracks implores you: “Dance… While The Record Spins.”Jesse Weiss

3. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Overflowing with four-on-the-floor rhythms, washed-out bass lines, and crate-plucked samples, Kaytranada‘s music sits somewhere between the booty-bouncing beats of house and the funk of 90s R&B. It takes cues from the artists he grew up listening to as the child of immigrant parents in Montreal, but it also sounds fresher than anything you’ll find on the radio today.

His long-awaited debut album, 99.9%, pushes that outside-of-time logic even further, setting rising talents like rapper Vic Mensa and jazz experimentalists BadBadNotGood alongside unsung veterans like Craig David and Phonte of Little Brother. Whereas lesser producers would be overshadowed by such a cabal of guests, here, they only serve to accentuate the producer’s kaleidoscopic, percussion-first instrumentals. “You’re the One,” a collaboration with vocalist Syd tha Kyd, is a frontrunner for the best distillation of the Kaytranada sound. From the hand claps, to the Internet co-founder’s feather-light coos, to its reverberating synth bass, the track flows through you in an instant, infectious, loving rush of music.Britt Julious


2. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Brian Eno famously first conceived of the idea of ambient music while bedridden after he was hit by a car. Unable to get across the room to turn up the stereoso the story goeshe found himself annoyed by, then enamored of music that blended into the room’s preexisting sonic environment. The genre he proposed was to beas he wrote in the liner notes for Music for Airportsas “ignorable as it is interesting.” But the beauty of For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)the producer Brian Leeds‘ first album-length foray into ambient musicis in its apparent rejection of this idea.

Leeds has said that he too uses this music to relax and recover while on his intercontinental travels between DJ sets. But this album is nestled more in the lineage of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s new age-adjacent tone pieces than the delicate drones of the Eno strain of ambience. There’s just a whole lot more movement on For Those of You than you might expect from an ambient record, from spectrally swelling synthesizers and gently sequenced electronics, to pieces that sound like sleepwalking club tracks with the drums skillfully excised. Instead of augmenting the spaces you inhabit, this gauzy latticework breathes and coalesces into something darker, wispier, more cocoon-like. The album’s not a way of coping with the world around you; it’s another world entirely.Colin Joyce

1. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

Earlier this year, sitting in the lobby of the Roxy Hotel in Lower Manhattan, ANOHNI informed me that she was going on an “eyes-wide-open” campaign.

“How wide can I hold my eyes, how much can I try to see, knowing that I’ll never see it all?” she mused. The former Antony and the Johnsons mastermind was referring, of course, not to the physical faculty of sight, but to a kind of psychic equivalent of ita willingness to hold open a space in her heart and her mind for the alarming headlines about American foreign policy and corporate surveillance and climate change she’d been reading in the news for the past 15 years, to allow the terror and sadness they elicited in her to sink in, to refuse to look away. Later on, I realized that she’d offered me a pretty perfect summation of what it means to be an artistnot to report the news, but to channel what it feels like to live it, to articulate what it feels like to be human in the midst of, or in spite of, the political, social, and economic realities of one’s time.

Hopelessness, her sixth album, embraces this definition of art more literally than most, using palatial, club-inspired production from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never as a launch pad for some of the most disarmingly direct social commentary our generation has heard from an artist. She sings a song about Obama that calls the president by name. She sings a song from the perspective of a young girl whose family has been killed by an American drone bomb, and another about how incremental temperature changes may be slowly killing off species of flora and fauna.

Were it not for the motherly cradle of her voice and the ecstatic bombast of the synthetic horns and strings, it would all probably be too much to take inand to many listeners, it probably was. But after the election, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that while many of us spent that past few years hermetically sealed inside our hyper-liberal Facebook bubbles, blissfully ignorant of the things we didn’t want to see, ANOHNI was already looking. That didn’t make Hopelessness any less quixotic, any less crazy of an undertaking; it just reminded us that it was only as crazy as the world that ANOHNI is singing about.Emilie Friedlander

The 33 Best Albums Of 2016

Illustration by Dana Kim

Never question the efficacy of a great album. Dance singles offer concentrated dopamine hits and lengthy mixes offer IV drips of all sorts of pleasant neurotransmitters, but 2016’s vast slate of electronic full-lengths, while sometimes more gradual in their effects, are no less life-altering. Afforded the opportunity to take up a little more space, producers made a number of complex statements, offering up electro-protest anthems, rose-tinted remembrances of childhood, and collections of club tracks as harrowing as War of the Worlds. Below are 33 albums that went beyond a single track’s impact to offer expansive discourse and complicated feelingsin a year that demanded both.

33. Baauer – Aa

Though Aa didn’t come out until March, Baauer heralded his debut studio album’s arrival back in January, when the producer debuted “Days Ones,” a collaboration with Novelist and Leikeli47, on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Leikeli47 was wearing her signature balaclava; the Brooklyn-based producer, whose real name is Harry Rodrigues, was seated casually on a couch to the side of the stage, wearing headphones and staring at a laptop. Even for someone who has lived, at various times, in Philly, Germany, London, and Connecticut, the ruse positioned Rodrigues first and foremost as a child of the internet.

And Aa cements that interpretation, leveraging bass music, grime, hip-hop, and twinkling ambience less as ends in themselves than as shifting emotional terrains in an LED-lit journey into the end of the night. The stacked lineup of guests on the albumamong them, Future, Pusha T, MIA, and South Korean rapper G-Dragonmake for some of the highest highs, but to Baauer’s credit, in his first big look since the “Harlem Shake,” the moments of wide-eyed lyricism leave as much of an impression as the drops.Emilie Friedlander

32. DJ Tiga – The Sound Vol. 1

DJ TiGa describes his craft in surprisingly functional terms. Discussing the philosophy that informed The Sound Vol. 1, his debut mixtape for J-Cush’s influential Brooklyn label Lit City Trax, the Newark-based producer put it simply: “Club music isn’t beautiful. It’s supposed to make you sweat, you’re supposed to jump, you’re supposed to be able to scream to the top of your lungs.”

Caffeine-pill flips of Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” and Biggie’s “Dead Wrong” (presented in filleted form here as “Take Note (Who the Man),” fulfill that mandate of dancefloor destruction. But the real triumph of The Sound Vol. 1, contrary to TiGa’s own claims, is the paradoxical beauty of the thing; he has a knack for presenting simple melodies that roil colorfully against the TV static of the drum programming. It’s often an austere sort of allure, but the kaleidoscopic sweetness underpinning songs like the Tink and Aaliyah-sampling “Your Love” is part of what makes The Sound so addictive outside of dancefloor contextsa little saccharine to accompany the sweat.Colin Joyce

31. Ana Caprix – M6 Ultra

Since I started working a 9-5 last year, my listening sessions during my daily bus commute have acquired a level of personal sanctity similar in emotional intensity to Helga’s shrine to Arnold in her closet. This is my time, and whatever I put on better fucking jam. So it’s not faint praise to say that the album I’ve played most often after wrenching myself out of bed and crumpling into a blue plastic bus seat is this under-the-radar stunner from British producer Ana Caprix. It’s hard to quantify exactly what’s going with it musically: there are elements of trance, sure, but there’s also hip-hop percussion, dreamy ambient pads, and a nasty Dido sample or two. It doesn’t matter, ultimately; just throw it on and melt away.Ezra Marcus

30. Mock the Zuma – Gauss

Mexican producer born Kevin Santana is known for making bold statements; his alias of Mock the Zuma is a parody of the notorious ninth governor of Tenochtitlan, Moctezuma II. Released on influential Mexican label and collective NAAFI, Gauss is plagued with sounds extracted from video games and internet clips and is about the realities of living and making music in Mexico. The record’s seven tracks aren’t intended to shine on the dancefloor, but rather to provoke introspection from its dark production. Santana’s hometown of Ciudad Jurez is one of the most violent cities in Mexico, and his EP is a reminder of what it’s like to create music in a city at war with drug trafficking, where the hours after curfew are passed with friends and video games. Ultimately, Gauss is a reflection of the border reality that is lived in Mexico.Valeria Anzaldo

29. Tommy Awards – Sessions II

Even if my listening has been colored by the repeated occasions I’ve imagined that this Swedish Balearic duo’s name is some sort of porn award, Sessions II is a strangely sexy recordif your idea of a perfect fuck involves lapping waves, silk sheets, and the prurient bliss of Ash Ra Tempel records. Even if all that isn’t your bag, this tantric two-trackerwhich plods along gently on puttering drums, then recedes as gentle mystical Environments recording soundalikes and lackadaisical guitars swell around itis a perfect accompaniment to any activity that involves two consenting adults and a pair of speakers. Highly recommended for those of you out there into rainforests, Steve Roach, post-coital glows.Josh Baines

28. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Since their inception in 2009, RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series has become a kind of fantasy football for people who read The Wire and despise actual football. Previous installments have seen Blues Control jamming with zither-maestro Laraaji, Sun Araw hanging out with reggae legends the Congos, and the formation of what is possibly the world’s greatest modular synth supergroup to date, Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo, and Lopatin.

This time around, the label has paired the celestial and perennially soothing Suzanne Ciani with fellow Buchla player Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for a languorous waltz down the Pacific Coast Highway. Sunergy is an unhurried minor masterpiecea burbling and barely-there set of synth-jams that breathe themselves into the most subtle of beings. This is intricate and understandably ornate music that demandsand rewardsdeep listening.Josh Baines

27. Foodman – Ez Minzoku

Critics have largely described the sonic riddles that Takahide Higuchi issues as Foodman as if he were still in the throes of an early fascination with the caffeinated kick drum programming of footwork. But in the years since he debuted back in 2012, he’s taken real glee in frustrating those expectations, channelling the twitchy programming he learned from that genre into a barrage of harebrained samples.

His full-length return to the absurdo-futurist imprint Orange Milk, Ez Minzoku, is his most hilarious effort yetand perhaps his record least linked to footwork, or the dance floor at all for that matter. Within the space of just a few tracks, there’s jaw-dropping samples of metal riffs, referee whistles, dial-tone drops, pinched “ow”s, Japanese rapping, and treacly synth lines that sound kind of like Dntel’s cotton candy programming for the Postal Serviceand sometimes more. It’s a joyous cacophony of sounds that shouldn’t be able to coexist, let alone produce moments as sublime as the new age-y bliss of “Ure Pill.” Mostly, though, it’s the sound of cartoon neurons juking at the same speed as his bass drums once did.Colin Joyce

26. Umfang – Riffs

Emma Burgess-Olson’s productions as Umfang tend to be even more multifarious than her DJ sets. On a split earlier this year for the Danish experimental label Phinery, she demonstrated a taste for the totally fucked, tossing up acidic screwballs that lifted her sound away from the dancefloor entirely. Her August release for 1080p, Riffs, is perhaps even more skyward-sounding. Over five tracks, she flits through spacious synth sequences and sparse kick drums; there’s an overbearing anxiousness in the air, a sick awareness of the rapidly decreasing oxygen as she drags you closer to the stratosphere. Riffs is the rare record that baffles me every time I play it, both because of its own harrowing internal logic and because of what its triumphs suggest for an artist who hits stranger heights on every release. What earthly realms are left to conquer once you’ve broken orbit?Colin Joyce

25. Powell – Sport

In the short time that he’s been signed to XL Recordings, Oscar Powell has developed a reputation as one of dance music’s merry pranksters. Last year, Powell took out a billboard featuring the full text of a sample clearance letter from legendary punk grump Steve Albini that allowed Powell to sample one of his recordings but stated that he “detest own agency.”

Self-determination is a difficult topic to untangle on a record full of collaborations, especially given that it ends on the white-hot sunrise of “Red Eyez,” a track made by the London-based Lexxi alone. But the answer to her question proves relatively intuitive here, both because all of her collaborators are longtime pals, and because nearly overstuffed and nauseous pieces like “Dummy Track” demonstrate she’s a natural for the director’s chairknowing just how much detail to creep in before cutting it off. Like most of her work, an atmosphere of optimistic longing underpins the proceedings, but with the help of her friends, her work feels more impactful than it’s ever beena testament to the power of pushing ahead, with friends on your side.Colin Joyce

4. Kornel Kovacs – The Bells

The Bells begins with a half-remembered melody, a shadowy prelude-that-never-was to a 2014 track about getting fucked up. It sets a precedent for an album that revels in its weightlessness, and a producer who seems to defy standard conventions of time. Kornel Kovacs plays with this temporal slipperiness over the course his debut double LPthe first two sides are a sparkling FM tribute to 80s synth-pop and funky disco-house, while the second slab is a glittering journey through disco atmospherics. Meanwhile, the album title refers to another decade, and specifically to Jeff Mills’s seminal 1997 techno track “The Bells,” a hypnotic roller which shares little in common with Kovacs’ record, other than its layered and organic approach. All of this makes for an album which confidently knows it can’t be easily bracketed by epoch or genre. So don’t think about it too hard, throw this one on at home while the album art cheekily smiles back, and do as one of its timeless tracks implores you: “Dance… While The Record Spins.”Jesse Weiss

3. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Overflowing with four-on-the-floor rhythms, washed-out bass lines, and crate-plucked samples, Kaytranada‘s music sits somewhere between the booty-bouncing beats of house and the funk of 90s R&B. It takes cues from the artists he grew up listening to as the child of immigrant parents in Montreal, but it also sounds fresher than anything you’ll find on the radio today.

His long-awaited debut album, 99.9%, pushes that outside-of-time logic even further, setting rising talents like rapper Vic Mensa and jazz experimentalists BadBadNotGood alongside unsung veterans like Craig David and Phonte of Little Brother. Whereas lesser producers would be overshadowed by such a cabal of guests, here, they only serve to accentuate the producer’s kaleidoscopic, percussion-first instrumentals. “You’re the One,” a collaboration with vocalist Syd tha Kyd, is a frontrunner for the best distillation of the Kaytranada sound. From the hand claps, to the Internet co-founder’s feather-light coos, to its reverberating synth bass, the track flows through you in an instant, infectious, loving rush of music.Britt Julious


2. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Brian Eno famously first conceived of the idea of ambient music while bedridden after he was hit by a car. Unable to get across the room to turn up the stereoso the story goeshe found himself annoyed by, then enamored of music that blended into the room’s preexisting sonic environment. The genre he proposed was to beas he wrote in the liner notes for Music for Airportsas “ignorable as it is interesting.” But the beauty of For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)the producer Brian Leeds‘ first album-length foray into ambient musicis in its apparent rejection of this idea.

Leeds has said that he too uses this music to relax and recover while on his intercontinental travels between DJ sets. But this album is nestled more in the lineage of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s new age-adjacent tone pieces than the delicate drones of the Eno strain of ambience. There’s just a whole lot more movement on For Those of You than you might expect from an ambient record, from spectrally swelling synthesizers and gently sequenced electronics, to pieces that sound like sleepwalking club tracks with the drums skillfully excised. Instead of augmenting the spaces you inhabit, this gauzy latticework breathes and coalesces into something darker, wispier, more cocoon-like. The album’s not a way of coping with the world around you; it’s another world entirely.Colin Joyce

1. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

Earlier this year, sitting in the lobby of the Roxy Hotel in Lower Manhattan, ANOHNI informed me that she was going on an “eyes-wide-open” campaign.

“How wide can I hold my eyes, how much can I try to see, knowing that I’ll never see it all?” she mused. The former Antony and the Johnsons mastermind was referring, of course, not to the physical faculty of sight, but to a kind of psychic equivalent of ita willingness to hold open a space in her heart and her mind for the alarming headlines about American foreign policy and corporate surveillance and climate change she’d been reading in the news for the past 15 years, to allow the terror and sadness they elicited in her to sink in, to refuse to look away. Later on, I realized that she’d offered me a pretty perfect summation of what it means to be an artistnot to report the news, but to channel what it feels like to live it, to articulate what it feels like to be human in the midst of, or in spite of, the political, social, and economic realities of one’s time.

Hopelessness, her sixth album, embraces this definition of art more literally than most, using palatial, club-inspired production from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never as a launch pad for some of the most disarmingly direct social commentary our generation has heard from an artist. She sings a song about Obama that calls the president by name. She sings a song from the perspective of a young girl whose family has been killed by an American drone bomb, and another about how incremental temperature changes may be slowly killing off species of flora and fauna.

Were it not for the motherly cradle of her voice and the ecstatic bombast of the synthetic horns and strings, it would all probably be too much to take inand to many listeners, it probably was. But after the election, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that while many of us spent that past few years hermetically sealed inside our hyper-liberal Facebook bubbles, blissfully ignorant of the things we didn’t want to see, ANOHNI was already looking. That didn’t make Hopelessness any less quixotic, any less crazy of an undertaking; it just reminded us that it was only as crazy as the world that ANOHNI is singing about.Emilie Friedlander

The 66 Best Tracks Of 2016

Illustration by Dana Kim

Despite occasionally feeling like a trip through a dishwasher filled with swamp water, 2016 managed to cough up a handful of musical gems from the murk. This was not a year for muted introspection, but for throwing back your head and letting it all outwhich the year’s 66 best tracks certainly demonstrate. Whether they’re disco screamers, candy-paint EDM nightmares, queasy mutant love ballads, or mind-melting trance weapons, the songs below trace the full spectrum of emotionsfrom burn-it-all-down anger, to sadness, to exuberant abandonthat made us want to dance our hearts out this year.

66. Rihanna feat. Drake – “Work (Murlo Remix)”

Drake and Rihanna dropped two massive collaborations this year, grabbing a guest spot on each other’s #1 records. One would only hope that “Work,” a coup de grce by these two popa music greats, would get the remix treatment it deservesand surely, plenty attempts were made. But none of these efforts were more effective than Murlo‘s cleanly stripped back edit. It’s a deadly interpretation of one of the year’s biggest tracks, but its power lies in its sense of restraint. The London producer and remixer nudged the vocals slightly deeper in the mix, allowing his chirping synths and woozy bass to take shape around Rihanna’s commanding intonation to “work, work, work.” Murlo knows even he can’t take this track away from Rihanna.Jesse Weiss

65. The Chainsmokers – “Closer”

Consider this: from September 3 to November 19, a song featuring two artists who nobody over the age of 18 would have previously considered a real celebrity occupied the top spot on the Billboard charts. That 12-week span was the year’s longesta full two weeks longer than its closest competitor, Drake’s “One Dance.” As of now, “Closer” has 610 million Spotify streams and 770 million YouTube streamsmassive numbers, any way you cut it. Everyone you know has had a serious personal moment to this song at some point this year. But what’s the appeal?

“Closer” is an enigma, a slippery synthesis of several prominent teen trends from Halsey’s Lana Del Rey-lite Americana to the Chainsmokers‘ Flume-ish synth flourishes. The beat swoops and dips on a pleasant trampoline ride of SoundCloud pop-trap tropes, while the lyrics paint a relatable picture of middle-class ennui and temporary release. In interviews, Chainsmokers unabashedly cop to treating their music like a product, testing and exploiting market trends to optimize their brand. “With these two, music has found its very own tech bros,” wrote Billboard in a famously controversial cover story. I don’t think the duo’s marketing savvy makes their music inherently flawedit just means that they’ve adapted to the current reality of the pop music marketplace, where success has less to do with an artist’s charisma or star power, and more to do with how effectively their music aligns with the Spotify and Apple Music algorithms that drive viral success.

Which is to say, the Chainsmokers seem like extremely boring people, but it doesn’t matter. The music industry has already become a massive Silicon Valley experiment about how people share and consume cultural information. Through a combination of serious talent and relentless resolve, the Chainsmokers have developed strategies to make this system work for them. The rest of us had better learn from their accomplishmentsor get out of the way.

There’s also this.Ezra Marcus

64. Kilbourne – “Men:Parasites”

In THUMP’s interview with New Orleans-based producer Kilbourne about her 2016 EP Sourland, she explained that “Men: Parasites” was made during a time in her life in which she resented someone who’d sexually assaulted her. The track was able to signal a shift in her narrativization of the experience: “‘Men:Parasites’ felt like an opening to first accepting and experiencing the violence of being haunted by trauma, and then responding to it in an unapologetic, aggressive, femme way,” she said. Sourland on the whole signaled a stylistic departure for the producer in its total embrace of European hardcore styles such as hardstyle and gabber, and these ferocious sounds make perfect sense on “Men: Parasites,” an arsenal for the brazen process of becoming she describes. Like a Defqon.1-ready anthemone imagines a carnivalesque, mud-soaked festival erupting in mosh pits”Men:Parasites” conveys an irreducible compound of anger, pain, and bloodthirsty adrenaline.Alexander Iadarola

63. Filomena Maricoa – “Nhanhado (DJ Jio P Remix)”

This intoxicating remix of a Mozambican singer by a young Portuguese talent was my favorite in a year full of standouts from the scene. DJ Jio P places a gentle Tarraxinha loop under the heart-wrenching vocal, bolstering it with drums that sound like a stack of ceramic plates falling off a table and faint synth figures that swoop in the background like glowing bats. Maricoa’s yearning melodies and Jio P’s elegiac production illustrate the tension between the timeless intensity of young love and the bracing awareness that nothing lasts forever.Ezra Marcus

62. RIOBAMBA – “Hecho/Hechizo”

New York-based, Ecuadorian-Lithuanian DJ Riobamba is both a talented musician and an astute political activist who has worked hard to increase Latin American visibility in the dance music world. “Hecho/Hechizo” is a complex brew of the noise, folkloric, and brujeria sounds currently cooking in the growing global bass scene. Its propulsive mix of reggaeton, samples of field recordings of earthquakes, and dark atmospheres won’t keep any feet off the dancefloor.Valeria Anzaldo

61. Danny Brown – “When It Rain”

If Danny Brown‘s virtuosic Atrocity Exhibition is a travelogue of bad drugs, worse sex, and immutable sadness, then its frenetic centerpiece “When It Rain” is when our protagonist whirlwinds into his Detroit home. A truly Midwestern rap anthem that sonically recalls the cybernetic paranoia of classic Detroit techno and the shuddering trippiness of footwork, Brown calls out regional luminaries like Traxman and DJ Assault while conjuring the image of dancefloor-as-war zonea place where you duck and cover when danger’s present, or because that’s the only way to get your ass as close to the floor as humanly possible. In the destructive, depressive maelstrom of Atrocity Exhibition, “When It Rain” is the eye of the storm, where a sense of calm only exists because everything else around you is so fucking crazy.Larry Fitzmaurice

60. LUH. – “$ORO”

“Money over everything…this is the mantra of a generation living in end times,” roars Ellery James Roberts (formerly of WU LYF) on this standout from his 2016 debut album as LUH. (short for Lost Under Heaven), SPIRITUAL SONGS FOR LOVERS TO SING. On “$oro,” he and his bandmate and girlfriend Eboony Hoorn drench their voices in Auto-Tune and try to chant down the apocalypse.”I know you’re afraid that this culture is dead,” sings Roberts, grappling with the spiritual void he sees at the heart of a crumbling empire. “I can’t hear you over my money, babe/for all the greed in my fuckin’ head.” Most artists couldn’t pull off this kind of bombast, but Roberts is an exception, as he and Hoorn create massive soundscapes that reflect the violent times and jagged emotions they’re obsessed with. After four minutes, the song explodes into a harsh hardstyle breakdown, like a nuclear blast sweeping over a doomed civilizationa conclusion that, these days, doesn’t feel particularly unexpected.Ezra Marcus

59. Ducky – “Work”

LA-based label, radio station, and collective of rave enthusiasts Club Aerobics kicked off their series of free releases earlier this year with a hyper-energetic banger by co-founder Ducky. The three-and-a-half minute ode to working hard and partying harder took direct aim at the dancefloor, and quickly became a staple at peak-time clubs all over the world. Forget Rihanna and Drakethis is the “Work” that the dance music heads really needed.Valeria Anzaldo

58. Cruel Boyz – “Umeqo Emagqomini (Dub Mix)”

Gqomthe drippy, vibrant melange of scenes and styles emerging from suburbs of Durban, South Africahas developed a reputation for darkness over the past couple of years. But Cruel Boyz’ “Umeqo Emagqomini (Dub Mix),” from the January Sound of Durban Vol. 1 comp, is a reminder that even electronic music’s gloomiest sounds can be turned into celebratory music. Wrapped around a monotonic drone that’d probably sound more at home as a horror movie cue, this track employs a collision of clucking clave lines, stuttering electronic chatters, and hopscotch drum programming as a way of ascending from the muck and mire.Colin Joyce

57. Andrs – “Mighty Tribe”

Andrs, the Detroit-bred former Slum Village DJ, producer, and scratch extraordinaire, doesn’t release muchcertainly not as often as his legion of fans pray he would. But like most inimitably cool talents to emerge out of the Motor City, that’s just how he likes it. Aside from sneaking out a remix every so often, he pretty much sticks to quietly dropping about one record a year on his own La Vida imprint. How can a guy rely so heavily on such a thin release schedule in an industry that demands the opposite? Because every record is so damn good. Unleashed right in time for the scorching rays of summer, “Mighty Tribe” is a party record right down to its core. Revolving around a few subtle soul samplesEarth, Wind & Fire and Eddie Kendricks, at thatthe loopy disco beat swirls relentlessly around your membranes for nearly nine minutes, switching things up without a second’s hesitation. It has a similar ethos as the roller skating rinks Andres cut his teeth on in the D: get your ass on the floor, and don’t look back.David Garber

56. R.L. Grime, Skrillex, and What So Not – “Waiting”

Bass dons R.L. Grime, Skrillex, and What So Not really took the name of their latest collaboration to heart. The trio trickled out the track to the masses at a drip-feed pace, first teasing the track back in September before What So Not debuted it later that month during a show in Los Angeles. R.L. Grime then used it to close out his annual Halloween mixtape, and the day before its release, fans could call a hotline to hear it in full. “Waiting” marks the second time R.L. Grime and What So Not have teamed upthe first being the monolithic festival trap anthem “Tell Me” in 2014and as Grime told NPR, they actually started writing both songs on the same day. With Skrillex’s added involvement, however, the scale of the sequel is even more mammoth, as whirlwind builds, blaring horns, and flooring drops guarantee another grinning festival staple in the makinga concentrated dopamine hit amidst the darkness.Krystal Rodriguez

55. Kamixlo – “Bloodless Y”

Sitting in a hotel room with his trademark aquamarine hair twisted back with two plastic babydoll clips, Kamixlo once explained to me his longtime fascination with Japanese wrestling. Contrasting the sport’s brutal, full-contact physicality with the fake showmanship of its American counterpart, the 22-year-old Brixton-based producer said quietly that he dreams of one day collaborating with the Japanese wrestling crew that his label, Bala Club, is named after. The DJs Mechatok and Zakmatic, who were curled up in bed next to him, chimed in, saying that Kamixlo’s tracks themselves sound like wrestling matcheswith their violent, stomping percussion, foggy basslines, and razor-edged vocals clanging together like bodies being pulverized into dust. (Unfortunately, the recording of our interview from that night got fucked up after a technical glitch, and couldn’t be salvaged.)

Without a doubt, “Bloodless Y” embodies this idea of a club banger as a visceral assault. It leaves a trail of carnage from the second its searing, mechanical bassline hits, and its sing-song reggaeton acapella haunts your bloody ears for days. The whelper of a track is fresh off the Chilean producer’s recent EP, Anglicoa follow-up to his name-making, club-destroying Demonico EP from last year. If Kamixlo broke into the dance music ring with Demonico’s “Paleta,” “Bloodless Y” is his knockout.Michelle Lhooq

54. Earth Trax and Newborn Jr – “Flute Track”

Earth Trax and Newborn Jrthe duo of Baltic-Balearic-Beat legend Bartosz Kruczynski and a producer normally known as Matat Professionalsslunk onto discerning dancefloors across the globe earlier this year with Sax & Flute, their debut EP for Peckham label Rhythm Section. Clocking in at a smidgen over ten minutes, the B-side “Flute Track” is a pristine and crystalline new age-inflected ambient house jam that sits somewhere between “Xtal” and the teary-eyed glamour of Komapkt’s most damply glossy. If you’ve ever wanted to recreate the strange sensation that comes with visiting a crystal healer on an overcast afternoon, in a club, you might just have found the perfect record.Josh Baines

53. Project Pablo – “Closer”

In 2016, Montreal-via-Vancouver house music purveyor Project Pablo put out releases for Lone’s Magic Wire Recordings and Rotterdam’s Clone Royal Oak, but it was a single on his SOBO imprint that might be the crown jewel in his prolific career so far. With freaked-out DX7 melodies, jingling cowbell, and a warm, meandering groove, “Closer” distills everything that we’ve come to love from the Canadian producer into one pristine, nearly seven-minute summer anthem. Unlike the Chainsmokers song of the same title, Pablo’s “Closer” is better suited to smoky, after-hours loft parties, before the lights come on and the drugs wear off.Max Mertens

52. Zir – “Collar Bone”

Mika Risikio (AKA Zir) has a refreshingly open-minded approach to the strictures of club music. The Berlin-based DJ and producer told Discwoman’s blog that “there is no right and wrong in music”a refreshing bit of advice in an industry that prizes flawless beat-matching and pristine production techniques, both of which require expensive equipment many aspiring artists can’t afford. Risikio’s open-mindedness bears out in her own music no more compellingly than on “Collar Bone,” a crumpled and compressed inversion of raves gone by. Jumping from stuttering vocals to drunken synth arpeggiations to squealing children, it’s a collection of absurd and off-putting sounds that shouldn’t work, but the forceful clatter of her percussion programming gives it enough propulsion to rise above the mire. No rules, just right.Colin Joyce

51. MHD – “Afro Trap Part 5 (Ngatie Abedi)”

French rap thrived in 2016. At the forefront are newly minted superstars PNL, but following not far behind comes MHD, a 21-year-old rapper of Guinean and Senegalese descent who hails from the 19th arrondissement in Paris. He made waves with a series of singles titled “Afro Trap 1-7,” which combines complex rhythms with the brash energy of his city’s rap scene. The results are original, electrifying, and deeply political at a time when France is wracked with xenophobia and racism toward its population of African immigrants. More than just a collection of infectious anthems, MHD’s music offers a vivid defense of his right to belong in French society, and take pride in who he is.Ezra Marcus

50. Baauer feat. Novelist & Leikeli47 – “Day Ones”

While Baauer‘s long-awaited debut Aa featured a coterie of guest stars, the record’s best performances belonged to two relative newcomers. London grime MC Novelistwho also delivered a scene-stealing verse on Skepta’s “Numbers” this yearand balaclava-wearing Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47 are perfect high-octane foils for each other, and “Day Ones” is a barreling, bruising collaboration in which Harry Rodrigues laces the duo with an earth-swallowing instrumental, all sabre-rattling bass and distorted cavalry horns,over which they trade battle cries.Max Mertens

49. Marshmello – “Alone”

Of all the producers to descend from EDM’s carnivalesque first wave, Marshmello seems to best understand the emotional currency that gave the scene any value in the first place: pure unrestrained fun. Other well-coiffed bros have adopted the scene’s sappy romanticizing and 100-watt electronicsboth of which our masked marauder also uses to single-tear-jerking effect on his breakout hit “Alone”but few make aesthetic choices as unselfconsciously as he does.

Part and parcel with the runaway success of “Alone,”which has 48 million YouTube streams and counting at the time of writingis Marshmello’s cartoonish headgear, the goofy dabbing in the song’s video, and a handful of synth lines as grotesquely sticky and sweet as downing a whole bottle of Karo. The track is the sonic equivalent of those horrifying milkshake monstrosities that dazzled the Instagram feeds of suburban teens this yeartake the hi-fi bombast of a Hard Summer headlining set, pile on a pound of sprinkles, and top it with a whole slice of cake. You’ll suppress the urge to retch before you succumb and dig in, unapologetically.Colin Joyce

48. Lil Uzi Vert – “Ronda (Winners)”

What the hell is this song? It’s not rap, that’s for sure. Metro Boomin and CuBeatz’ production barely uses drumsjust a few daubs of sub-bass and a pointillist sprinkle of hi-hats as Uzi spits over what sounds like a lost Jamie xx xylophone loop, overlaid with barely audible synths that sound like neon skyscrapers looming in the background. A lesser artist might get lost in such an austere, chilly environment, but Uzi is more than a match for what surrounds him, smashing through the beat’s glassy architecture with brash melodies that sound a lot closer to Blink-182 than Nas. Lil Uzi Vert is rap’s first synth-dance-pop-punk star, and we’re blessed to have him.Ezra Marcus

47. Peggy Gou – “Maktoop”

The Berlin-based producer and DJ Peggy Gou‘s tracks pull from a variety of influences you want in your corner: Detroit, Chicago, the organic vibrancy of highlife (she’s called African music her biggest influence)it’s all there. But like any artist turning heads and moving feet, the real power of her sound is all her own. Gou’s penchant for layered sound design design and syrupy acid lines are all evident on this cut from her recent EP for Ninja Tune’s Technicolour imprint. Another of 2016’s most rapid success stories, Peggy Gou enters the next calendar year as a name on everybody’s lips. One can’t help think the track’s title, which is Arabic for “destiny,” is more than just a clever coincidence.David Garber

46. Bezier – “Cosmos”

The Honey Soundsystem crew has put out some absolutely fantastic records this year. When I tried to buy the Justin Cudmore record at Academy, Ron Like Hell strongly insisted I listen to this record by Honey’s Bezier (AKA Robert Yang) before leaving the store (thank you Ron). The first time I heard “Cosmos” I thought to myself, this sounds like the Drive soundtrack, but less boring. Sure, your friends who had never heard of Chromatics loveeeed that soundtrack, but it was a knockoff; Bezier’s Cosmetologist EP is the real thing.

What I love about the Honey crew at parties as well as in the studio is the complete individuality they each bring to the table. Bezier uses a classic and fairly simple palette of classic Juno-esque synths in an arrangement that turns and breathes seamlessly. It makes me want to cruise down a curvy road in a 5.0 Mustang (convertible top down, of course!), looking up as the cosmos flies by.Joel Fowler

45. LOUDPVCK and NGHTMRE – “Click Clack”

Skrillex’s OWSLA label has made moves toward a more diverse sound palette over the past couple years2016 alone saw them dabble in indie-leaning pop music, Jersey club aesthetics, and “fuck a genre” sounds by relative newcomers like Mija. But LOUDPVCK and NGHTMRE’s “Click Clack” is proof that the label is staying in touch with their tympanic-membrane-rupturing roots. Most of the aggro, festival-filling music that people have taken to calling “trap” is built with rollercoaster-like engineering: build enough momentum, and you’re bound to get a payoff with a drop, flip, roll, or other form of excitement. Yet most EDM-trap producers tend to practice restraint in comparison to, say, their gabber counterparts, as if they need to hold a bit of energy to get them to the end of the track. “Click Clack” throws that blueprint straight into a roaring bonfire from its opening seconds, blasting from barely tonal synth stabs into relentless waves of stomach-churning drops that feel like hardstyle tracks transcribed for LRAD. Few tracks in recent memory are as vertigo-inducing, but that’s the fun of tracks like thisnever knowing which way is up.Colin Joyce

44. Toxe and Mechatok – “Still Life”

One thing that surely cannot be said about Staycore is that they stood still in 2016. Quite the contrary, this new and exciting collectivefounded in 2014 and featuring the likes of Dinamarca, Ghazal, and mobilegirl among many otherstook clubs such as Berlin’s Panorama Bar by storm. While a vivid 2k16 trend has been a certain UK-orientated rave nostalgia, the DJ sets of this international crew helped define what contemporary club music could sound like. Often linking aggressive hardcore beats, trance patterns, Caribbean rhythms, and pop hits in a challenging, ever-changing mixture, Toxe proved herself a master at this brave new sound. And among the many great tracks Staycore has been responsible for, this banging, Kenzo-supported Toxe-Mechatok collaboration might be its most ideal representative. Kicking off in a menacing, almost chamber drama-like fashion, it sees heavy synths and a crunching beat join forces, bringing to life all of Staycore’s promises.Thomas Vorreyer

43. Sporting Life – “Court Vision”

Harlem producer Sporting Life (AKA Eric Adiele) got his start as the core producer for NYC rap group Ratking. This year, the producer stepped out on his own, signing to R&S Records, and dropping his debut LP, Slam Dunk. On “Court Vision,” the album’s lead single, he teamed up with Vancouver’s Evy Jane to deliver one of the most beautiful downtempo anthems of the year. The collaboration plays to the musicians’ strengthsEvy Jane Mason is left plenty of room to breathe over Adiele’s spare beat, a skittering hi-hat that gallops over his lush pads and tumbling kick drum. It’s a comedown gem that deserves a misty morning spliff to end the night.Jesse Weiss

42. Move D – “I Gave My Love (Shan & Gerd Janson Edit)”

It’s hard to make a good edit of any classic house track, let alone one that was released in 1993 and still sounds fresh. But Shan and Gerd Janson found a way. Their breakbeat shuffle tricks you into thinking that their version might have been released a long time ago, perhaps even in the same era as the original. This track is a good example of respecting one’s source material while taking it in a new direction.Philipp Kutter

41. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – “Stranger Things”

The idea that nostalgia colors our expectations in hazy, unsettling ways is the backbone of Netflix’s sci-fi sensation Stranger Things, so it’s only fitting that the show had music to match, care of the Austinite synth-slingers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. As half of the sepia-toned quartet S U R V I V E, the pair has spent the better part of the last decade exploring the subtle terror inherent in the brittle synth lines that scored the Reagan era’s hastily put together horror films.

The theme song for Stranger Things, built around the same sort of tightly coiled analog arpeggiations that fills S U R V I V E’s records away from the TV show, showcases the soundtrack’s much-lauded triumphs in miniature. Just when the panic of those eighth note barrages seem too much to bear, the song lands on a final celestial chord, presenting something hopeful underneath all that tension. Like the show itself, it’s a nod to the wondrousness that coexists with the dread of childhood memories.Colin Joyce

40. Lotic – “Formation (Election Anxiety/America Is Over Edit)”

As the results poured in on election night and I wiped my tears in total disbelief, Lotic, AKA J’Kerian Morgan, answered the crippling hopelessness felt around the world with a palpating rework of Beyonce’s “Formation” titled “Election Anxiety/America Is Over Edit.” From the moment it starts, the thunderous drum line hints at a looming revolta greater call to action for collective resistance against white supremacy. With a corrupt leader coming to power, Lotic’s take on Bey’s empowerment anthem feels like an encouragement to “get in formation,” storm the front lines, and fight against systems designed to destroy black and brown bodies. It urges us to slay outside the dancefloor, and arm ourselves with the love and strength we’ll need to get through the dark days ahead.Max Mohenu

39. Beatrice Dillon, “Curl”

A label called Alien Jams may seem a little on-the-nose for releasing one of extraterrestrial experimentalist Beatrice Dillon’s forays into celestial techno. But the London labelwhose handful of releases over the last couple years largely live up to that interstellar titlewere able to coax something a little more earthbound out of a producer who’s tried her hand at countless otherworldly styles over the course of her career. Drawn from a split with composer Karen Gwyer, “Curl” gradually evolves from primordial gunk into ticking, elastic motion, its gentle cycles resembling something like locomotion. Or maybe, given the loopy gravity of its rhythms, it’s more like QWOP‘s gawky, awkward and endearing take on anthropoid movement. The listener is overcome with the cringey feeling of watching someone else trip and faceplantand there’s little more human than that.Colin Joyce

38. Porter Robinson and Madeon – “Shelter”

Through his flickering, introverted revisions of big-tent festival sounds, Porter Robinson has found a uniquely personal spot in the sweat-and-glow-stick wake of EDM. “Shelter,” his one-off collaboration with the similarly-minded French producer/songwriter Madeon, is one of Robinson’s more rafter-reaching tracks in recent memory, built around the skyward lurch of a chopped vocal and floodlight synthesizer lines. But Robinson’s strength lies in making moments of grandeur quiver with candlelit intimacy and turning screeching electronics into whispering bummer jams. Madeon proves a fitting partner in this particular endeavor, singing sweetly about taking comfort in interpersonal connections during life’s trials. It’s a song about finding comfort in spite of the odds, from two producers who’ve made their whole careers off that idea.Colin Joyce

37. Mikael Seifu – “How to Save a Life (Vector Of Eternity)”

Ethiopia is a good home for electronic music, says Mikael Seifu, and this is the song that proves him right. In a country without a dominant electronic music culture, a mind like Seifu’sfilled with sounds from local folk to Burial, Stockhausen to technocan operate as freely as he wants it to. On “How To Save A Life,” the producer combines traditional Ethiopian instruments with electronics, adding a whole new layer to the 4/4 regime. Halfway into the six minute-long track, after an intriguing call-and-response intro between a flute sound and some percussion, strings flare up again and again in a crescendo. The groove becomes irresistible, and you think to yourself, This thing must fall apart in a second, it just cannot keep going on this energy level. But it does. And by the end, you’ve already put “How To Save A Life” on repeat. Is this song made for eternity? Well, it’s definitely made for our times.Thomas Vorreyer

36. The Black Madonna – “He Is the Voice I Hear”

While the Black Madonna (born Marea Stamper) has produced her own music in the past, her recent prominence on the electronic music stage has given her both the attention and resources to fulfill a longstanding vision. This year, she launched her own label, We Still Believe, with a ten-minute, ecstatic paean to disco called “He Is the Voice I Hear.” From the minute its lush piano chords and violin stabs break into a rollicking disco beat, it’s clear that Stamper meant this song to be a statement-making release that stands apart from the typical 2016 dance music hits. Focusing on live instrumentation, she collaborated with Grammy award-winning violinist Davide Rossi and pianist Christoforo La Barbera on the track, noting in the accompanying press release, “I wanted to return to an older way of making disco and dance music.”

The title of the track comes from a Frankie Knuckles quote where he pays homage to his friend and mentor, Larry Levan. Similarly, Stamper dedicates her song to all the voices who inspired herincluding both Knuckles and Levan, as well as Arthur Russell, Walter Gibbons, and Loleatta Holloway. Stamper has a knack for straddling both the past and future of dance music: her sound harkens back to the classic house and disco of the Paradise Garage era, while her progressive politics of fighting inequality and paying homage to dance music’s queer roots taps into some of the most important issues of our time. Nowhere is that more clear than on “He Is the Voice I Hear.”Michelle Lhooq

35. Craig David – “16”

Garage crooner Craig David’s unexpectedly triumphant comeback was one of 2016’s rare moments of joy. The UK producer/vocalist, who shot to stardom 16 years ago with the runaway success of his debut album Born To Do It, returned in 2016 with an album that went straight to the top of the UK charts. One of the album’s singles, the cheekily titled “16,” pays tribute to the passage of time by mixing his 2000 hit “Fill Me In” with Jack and Justin Bieber’s CinemaScope beat for “Where Are Now,” of all things.

It opens with stripped back instrumental so David can display the full power of his Werther’s-sweet voice until he reaches a line made more poignant by the all the passing time: “We were just doing things young people in love do.” It’s a reminder that even back then he was a master of nostalgia, capturing the subtle warmth of pleasant times just out of reachmade all the more poignant here by the recursiveness of this remix. He’s looking back on looking back; the cozy memories are 16 years more distant.Anna Codrea-Rado

34. Zomby and Burial – “Sweetz”

It took another masked man to coax Burial, AKA William D. Bevan, back to earth from whatever celestial realms he’s been inhabiting on his last few sparse releases. Fellow UK-born mysterio Zomby pulled him in on “Sweetz,” a standout from the former’s new album Ultra that’s as full of street-level propulsion as any of the late-night drives that populate Bevan’s most beloved work. The spectral cries and crackle that have become Burial trademarks are employed as scene-setters for the dystopian rave memories that Zomby’s become so adept at conjuring. It’s a glorious return from the phantasmal realms of Burial’s recent EPs to the grit of the real worlda streak of psychomagnotheric slime across the dancefloor.Colin Joyce

33. MC Pikachu – “L No Meu Barraco”

Brazilian teens churned out oceans of wild and wavy baile funk this year. Some of the best came from the effervescent icon MC Pikachu, a dude with a mile-wide grin, a high-pitched voice, and a knack for hooks. “L No Meu Barraco” consists of nothing more than a flute line, a drum loop, and Pikachu’s sing-song voice chanting melodies that will never leave your head again. At first listen, the track sounds almost too spare to exist, but it unleashes bone-shaking energy when played on the right dancefloor at the right volume (loud as hell). There’s also an incredible video that features MC Pikachu seducing a girl twice his height by shaking a chicken at her while she watches from a balcony. Delicious.Ezra Marcus

32. Mija and Vindata, “Better”

“Better” is an OWSLA family affair, pairing two of the Skrillex-helmed label’s rising acts on a summery slice of feel-good music that’s prime for playing out on open-air stages during festival season. Both parties are equally represented on the trackVindata’s glimmering chords, Mija‘s hints of happy hardcorebut the sonic highlight is the song’s namesake vocal sample (“just keeps getting better”) that’s as saccharinely reassuring as a carton of ice cream after a bad breakup.Krystal Rodriguez

31. 808 State – “In Yer Face (Bicep Remix)”

Compared to the year before, 2016 has been a bit of a quiet one for this duo from Belfast. Bicep have been DJing all over the worldobviouslybut in terms of new music, they’ve kept things largely under wraps, staying off-grid while they apparently work on something big for the not too distant future. Don’t let that fool you into thinking 2016 was a write-off, though. With this deft repurposing of 808 State’s rave classic “In Yer Face,” they produced one of the biggest peak-time house tunes of the year. Like most of their trademark tunes, it’s huge-sounding and fun, but there’s a darker, stranger quality existing beneath it, building on the rafter-rattling character of its source material and leaving an impression that lasts well beyond the club.Angus Harrison

30. Justin Cudmore – “Crystal (Servito’s 730 AM reshape)”

As his DJ career continues to gain profile year after year, most still know Detroit-turned-Brooklyn hero Mike Servito as a selector, not a producer. It’s perhaps the lack of pressure to churn out club hits that’s led to the inimitable simplicity behind his refix for fellow Brooklynite Justin Cudmore. Servito’s take on Cudmore’s debut tune for Honey Soundsystem is a freewheeling, acid-drenched belter, brimming with the same looseness and elasticity of his celebrated DJ sets. Put us on the list.David Garber

29. Kanye West – “Fade”

Think of “Fade” as a much hornier version of Kanye’s “Lost in the World.” When that first line, “Your love is fadin,” hits, ears perk up and eyes get a little bigger in anticipation of the spectacle that’s about to unfold. Then the beatwhich samples the classic house tracks “Mystery of Love” by Fingers Inc. and “Deep Inside” by Harddrive, as well as Rare Earth’s cover of the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You”drops. And the next thing you know, sweaty strangers are rubbing up on each other in the middle of what pilgrims probably thought pagan worship ceremonies look like.

“Fade” was everywhere you went this yearevery memorable Uber ride, every worthwhile party, every muffled leak through the earphones of your coworkers who play their music so loud to the point that you worry about how bad their tinnitus is going to be. “Fade” is one of those Kanye moments that often gets overlooked, and now that it’s getting cold out, the song might lose a little bit of its hot-blooded lusterso do your best to bestow or receive one more good wine to it while you can.Trey Smith

28. Princess Nokia – “Tomboy”

As she explained in her FADER-produced documentary, Bronx native Destiny Frasqueribetter known by her stage name, Princess Nokiastruggled to find her voice as a teenage rapper when labels were battling for her to sign with them. “They were expecting me come out with a jam, and I couldn’t do it,” she explained. This year she finally wrote the jam that everyone was looking for: “Tomboy,” which came out on her self-released mixtape 1992 earlier this year. The Saint-produced track opens with Frasqueri spitting over militaristic drumming and whistles, until she bursts out proudly and abruptly, “With my little titties and my fat belly.” You might laugh at first, but pretty soon you’ll be belting the devil-may-care line right along with her.Meilyn Huq

27. Legowelt – “Sampling Winter”

In a year where Danny Wolfers’ output was relatively quiet by his standards, he used the best known of his more-than-30 aliases, Legowelt, to release an album and two EPs. One of those works was Sampling Winter, released on the British label Unknown To The Unknown; the title track of which has the unmistakable Legowelt aurawarm, a bit raw, and projecting a colorful melange that manages to feel nostalgic and futuristic at the same time.

How does he do it? You might be tempted to credit his nearly infinite collection of vintage studio equipment, but he’s sworn that’s not the secret to the cordial glow of tracks like this. “Slowly you will see it as plastic crap that is lying around your house,” He wrote in the book R is for Roland. “I am focused purely on sound. It does not matter if it comes from a computer or a vintage 1970 synth.” Honestly, Danny, we don’t care how you do itas long as you keep sampling the winter, the summer, and the spring.Juan Pablo Lopez

26. Mall Grab – “Can’t”

Mall Grab’s Alicia Keys-sampling breakout production “Can’t” floated around YouTube for about a year before it saw a proper release on the South London label Church. Secreted away on moderately popular YouTube channels, and paired with videos that contained a bunch of pretty shapes and trippy characters, the track built up the mystique that anonymous white labels used to back in the day. Even if Jordon Alexander (the producer behind the moniker) wasn’t exactly anonymous, how did he manage to emerge so fully formed? The production’s clever and immediately gratifying, twisting Keys’s vocals around narcotic electric piano lines, a surprisingly textured and subtle effort for the genre of R&B-sampling house tracks. Finally, this simple-yet-sensual tune is off the web and into the world.David Garber

The 66 Best Tracks Of 2016

Illustration by Dana Kim

Despite occasionally feeling like a trip through a dishwasher filled with swamp water, 2016 managed to cough up a handful of musical gems from the murk. This was not a year for muted introspection, but for throwing back your head and letting it all outwhich the year’s 66 best tracks certainly demonstrate. Whether they’re disco screamers, candy-paint EDM nightmares, queasy mutant love ballads, or mind-melting trance weapons, the songs below trace the full spectrum of emotionsfrom burn-it-all-down anger, to sadness, to exuberant abandonthat made us want to dance our hearts out this year.

66. Rihanna feat. Drake – “Work (Murlo Remix)”

Drake and Rihanna dropped two massive collaborations this year, grabbing a guest spot on each other’s #1 records. One would only hope that “Work,” a coup de grce by these two popa music greats, would get the remix treatment it deservesand surely, plenty attempts were made. But none of these efforts were more effective than Murlo‘s cleanly stripped back edit. It’s a deadly interpretation of one of the year’s biggest tracks, but its power lies in its sense of restraint. The London producer and remixer nudged the vocals slightly deeper in the mix, allowing his chirping synths and woozy bass to take shape around Rihanna’s commanding intonation to “work, work, work.” Murlo knows even he can’t take this track away from Rihanna.Jesse Weiss

65. The Chainsmokers – “Closer”

Consider this: from September 3 to November 19, a song featuring two artists who nobody over the age of 18 would have previously considered a real celebrity occupied the top spot on the Billboard charts. That 12-week span was the year’s longesta full two weeks longer than its closest competitor, Drake’s “One Dance.” As of now, “Closer” has 610 million Spotify streams and 770 million YouTube streamsmassive numbers, any way you cut it. Everyone you know has had a serious personal moment to this song at some point this year. But what’s the appeal?

“Closer” is an enigma, a slippery synthesis of several prominent teen trends from Halsey’s Lana Del Rey-lite Americana to the Chainsmokers‘ Flume-ish synth flourishes. The beat swoops and dips on a pleasant trampoline ride of SoundCloud pop-trap tropes, while the lyrics paint a relatable picture of middle-class ennui and temporary release. In interviews, Chainsmokers unabashedly cop to treating their music like a product, testing and exploiting market trends to optimize their brand. “With these two, music has found its very own tech bros,” wrote Billboard in a famously controversial cover story. I don’t think the duo’s marketing savvy makes their music inherently flawedit just means that they’ve adapted savvily to the current reality of the pop music marketplace, where success has less to do with an artist’s charisma or star power, and more to do with how effectively their music aligns with the Spotify and Apple Music algorithms that drive viral success.

Which is to say, the Chainsmokers seem like extremely boring people, but it doesn’t matter. The music industry has already become a massive Silicon Valley experiment about how people share and consume cultural information. Through a combination of serious talent and relentless resolve, the Chainsmokers have developed strategies to make this system work for them. The rest of us had better learn from their accomplishmentsor get out of the way.

There’s also this.Ezra Marcus

64. Kilbourne – “Men:Parasites”

In THUMP’s interview with New Orleans-based producer Kilbourne about her 2016 EP Sourland, she explained that “Men: Parasites” was made during a time in her life in which she resented someone who’d sexually assaulted her. The track was able to signal a shift in her narrativization of the experience: “‘Men:Parasites’ felt like an opening to first accepting and experiencing the violence of being haunted by trauma, and then responding to it in an unapologetic, aggressive, femme way,” she said. Sourland on the whole signaled a stylistic departure for the producer in its total embrace of European hardcore styles such as hardstyle and gabber, and these ferocious sounds make perfect sense on “Men: Parasites,” an arsenal for the brazen process of becoming she describes. Like a Defqon.1-ready anthemone imagines a carnivalesque, mud-soaked festival erupting in mosh pits”Men:Parasites” conveys an irreducible compound of anger, pain, and bloodthirsty adrenaline.Alexander Iadarola

63. Filomena Maricoa – “Nhanhado (DJ Jio P Remix)”

This intoxicating remix of a Mozambican singer by a young Portuguese talent was my favorite in a year full of standouts from the scene. DJ Jio P places a gentle Tarraxinha loop under the heart-wrenching vocal, bolstering it with drums that sound like a stack of ceramic plates falling off a table and faint synth figures that swoop in the background like glowing bats. Maricoa’s yearning melodies and Jio P’s elegiac production illustrate the tension between the timeless intensity of young love and the bracing awareness that nothing lasts forever.Ezra Marcus

62. RIOBAMBA – “Hecho/Hechizo”

New York-based, Ecuadorian-Lithuanian DJ Riobamba is both a talented musician and an astute political activist who has worked hard to increase Latin American visibility in the dance music world. “Hecho/Hechizo” is a complex brew of the noise, folkloric, and brujeria sounds currently cooking in the growing global bass scene. Its propulsive mix of reggaeton, samples of field recordings of earthquakes, and dark atmospheres won’t keep any feet off the dancefloor.Valeria Anzaldo

61. Danny Brown – “When It Rain”

If Danny Brown‘s virtuosic Atrocity Exhibition is a travelogue of bad drugs, worse sex, and immutable sadness, then its frenetic centerpiece “When It Rain” is when our protagonist whirlwinds into his Detroit home. A truly Midwestern rap anthem that sonically recalls the cybernetic paranoia of classic Detroit techno and the shuddering trippiness of footwork, Brown calls out regional luminaries like Traxman and DJ Assault while conjuring the image of dancefloor-as-war zonea place where you duck and cover when danger’s present, or because that’s the only way to get your ass as close to the floor as humanly possible. In the destructive, depressive maelstrom of Atrocity Exhibition, “When It Rain” is the eye of the storm, where a sense of calm only exists because everything else around you is so fucking crazy.Larry Fitzmaurice

60. LUH. – “$ORO”

“Money over everything…this is the mantra of a generation living in end times,” roars Ellery James Roberts (formerly of WU LYF) on this standout from his 2016 debut album as LUH. (short for Lost Under Heaven), SPIRITUAL SONGS FOR LOVERS TO SING. On “$oro,” he and his bandmate and girlfriend Eboony Hoorn drench their voices in Auto-Tune and try to chant down the apocalypse.”I know you’re afraid that this culture is dead,” sings Roberts, grappling with the spiritual void he sees at the heart of a crumbling empire. “I can’t hear you over my money, babe/for all the greed in my fuckin’ head.” Most artists couldn’t pull off this kind of bombast, but Roberts is an exception, as he and Hoorn create massive soundscapes that reflect the violent times and jagged emotions they’re obsessed with. After four minutes, the song explodes into a harsh hardstyle breakdown, like a nuclear blast sweeping over a doomed civilizationa conclusion that, these days, doesn’t feel particularly unexpected.Ezra Marcus

59. Ducky – “Work”

LA-based label, radio station, and collective of rave enthusiasts Club Aerobics kicked off their series of free releases earlier this year with a hyper-energetic banger by co-founder Ducky. The three-and-a-half minute ode to working hard and partying harder took direct aim at the dancefloor, and quickly became a staple at peak-time clubs all over the world. Forget Rihanna and Drakethis is the “Work” that the dance music heads really needed.Valeria Anzaldo

58. Cruel Boyz – “Umeqo Emagqomini (Dub Mix)”

Gqomthe drippy, vibrant melange of scenes and styles emerging from suburbs of Durban, South Africahas developed a reputation for darkness over the past couple of years. But Cruel Boyz’ “Umeqo Emagqomini (Dub Mix),” from the January Sound of Durban Vol. 1 comp, is a reminder that even electronic music’s gloomiest sounds can be turned into celebratory music. Wrapped around a monotonic drone that’d probably sound more at home as a horror movie cue, this track employs a collision of clucking clave lines, stuttering electronic chatters, and hopscotch drum programming as a way of ascending from the muck and mire.Colin Joyce

57. Andrs – “Mighty Tribe”

Andrs, the Detroit-bred former Slum Village DJ, producer, and scratch extraordinaire, doesn’t release muchcertainly not as often as his legion of fans pray he would. But like most inimitably cool talents to emerge out of the Motor City, that’s just how he likes it. Aside from sneaking out a remix every so often, he pretty much sticks to quietly dropping about one record a year on his own La Vida imprint. How can a guy rely so heavily on such a thin release schedule in an industry that demands the opposite? Because every record is so damn good. Unleashed right in time for the scorching rays of summer, “Mighty Tribe” is a party record right down to its core. Revolving around a few subtle soul samplesEarth, Wind & Fire and Eddie Kendricks, at thatthe loopy disco beat swirls relentlessly around your membranes for nearly nine minutes, switching things up without a second’s hesitation. It has a similar ethos as the roller skating rinks Andres cut his teeth on in the D: get your ass on the floor, and don’t look back.David Garber

56. R.L. Grime, Skrillex, and What So Not – “Waiting”

Bass dons R.L. Grime, Skrillex, and What So Not really took the name of their latest collaboration to heart. The trio trickled out the track to the masses at a drip-feed pace, first teasing the track back in September before What So Not debuted it later that month during a show in Los Angeles. R.L. Grime then used it to close out his annual Halloween mixtape, and the day before its release, fans could call a hotline to hear it in full. “Waiting” marks the second time R.L. Grime and What So Not have teamed upthe first being the monolithic festival trap anthem “Tell Me” in 2014and as Grime told NPR, they actually started writing both songs on the same day. With Skrillex’s added involvement, however, the scale of the sequel is even more mammoth, as whirlwind builds, blaring horns, and flooring drops guarantee another grinning festival staple in the makinga concentrated dopamine hit amidst the darkness.Krystal Rodriguez

55. Kamixlo – “Bloodless Y”

Sitting in a hotel room with his trademark aquamarine hair twisted back with two plastic babydoll clips, Kamixlo once explained to me his longtime fascination with Japanese wrestling. Contrasting the sport’s brutal, full-contact physicality with the fake showmanship of its American counterpart, the 22-year-old Brixton-based producer said quietly that he dreams of one day collaborating with the Japanese wrestling crew that his label, Bala Club, is named after. The DJs Mechatok and Zakmatic, who were curled up in bed next to him, chimed in, saying that Kamixlo’s tracks themselves sound like wrestling matcheswith their violent, stomping percussion, foggy basslines, and razor-edged vocals clanging together like bodies being pulverized into dust. (Unfortunately, the recording of our interview from that night got fucked up after a technical glitch, and couldn’t be salvaged.)

Without a doubt, “Bloodless Y” embodies this idea of a club banger as a visceral assault. It leaves a trail of carnage from the second its searing, mechanical bassline hits, and its sing-song reggaeton acapella haunts your bloody ears for days. The whelper of a track is fresh off the Chilean producer’s recent EP, Anglicoa follow-up to his name-making, club-destroying Demonico EP from last year. If Kamixlo broke into the dance music ring with Demonico’s “Paleta,” “Bloodless Y” is his knockout.Michelle Lhooq

54. Earth Trax and Newborn Jr – “Flute Track”

Earth Trax and Newborn Jrthe duo of Baltic-Balearic-Beat legend Bartosz Kruczynski and a producer normally known as Matat Professionalsslunk onto discerning dancefloors across the globe earlier this year with Sax & Flute, their debut EP for Peckham label Rhythm Section. Clocking in at a smidgen over ten minutes, the B-side “Flute Track” is a pristine and crystalline new age-inflected ambient house jam that sits somewhere between “Xtal” and the teary-eyed glamour of Komapkt’s most damply glossy. If you’ve ever wanted to recreate the strange sensation that comes with visiting a crystal healer on an overcast afternoon, in a club, you might just have found the perfect record.Josh Baines

53. Project Pablo – “Closer”

In 2016, Montreal-via-Vancouver house music purveyor Project Pablo put out releases for Lone’s Magic Wire Recordings and Rotterdam’s Clone Royal Oak, but it was a single on his SOBO imprint that might be the crown jewel in his prolific career so far. With freaked-out DX7 melodies, jingling cowbell, and a warm, meandering groove, “Closer” distills everything that we’ve come to love from the Canadian producer into one pristine, nearly seven-minute summer anthem. Unlike the Chainsmokers song of the same title, Pablo’s “Closer” is better suited to smoky, after-hours loft parties, before the lights come on and the drugs wear off.Max Mertens

52. Zir – “Collar Bone”

Mika Risikio (AKA Zir) has a refreshingly open-minded approach to the strictures of club music. The Berlin-based DJ and producer told Discwoman’s blog that “there is no right and wrong in music”a refreshing bit of advice in an industry that prizes flawless beat-matching and pristine production techniques, both of which require expensive equipment many aspiring artists can’t afford. Risikio’s open-mindedness bears out in her own music no more compellingly than on “Collar Bone,” a crumpled and compressed inversion of raves gone by. Jumping from stuttering vocals to drunken synth arpeggiations to squealing children, it’s a collection of absurd and off-putting sounds that shouldn’t work, but the forceful clatter of her percussion programming gives it enough propulsion to rise above the mire. No rules, just right.Colin Joyce

51. MHD – “Afro Trap Part 5 (Ngatie Abedi)”

French rap thrived in 2016. At the forefront are newly minted superstars PNL, but following not far behind comes MHD, a 21-year-old rapper of Guinean and Senegalese descent who hails from the 19th arrondissement in Paris. He made waves with a series of singles titled “Afro Trap 1-7,” which combines complex rhythms with the brash energy of his city’s rap scene. The results are original, electrifying, and deeply political at a time when France is wracked with xenophobia and racism toward its population of African immigrants. More than just a collection of infectious anthems, MHD’s music offers a vivid defense of his right to belong in French society, and take pride in who he is.Ezra Marcus

50. Baauer feat. Novelist & Leikeli47 – “Day Ones”

While Baauer‘s long-awaited debut Aa featured a coterie of guest stars, the record’s best performances belonged to two relative newcomers. London grime MC Novelistwho also delivered a scene-stealing verse on Skepta’s “Numbers” this yearand balaclava-wearing Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47 are perfect high-octane foils for each other, and “Day Ones” is a barreling, bruising collaboration in which Harry Rodrigues laces the duo with an earth-swallowing instrumental, all sabre-rattling bass and distorted cavalry horns,over which they trade battle cries.Max Mertens

49. Marshmello – “Alone”

Of all the producers to descend from EDM’s carnivalesque first wave, Marshmello seems to best understand the emotional currency that gave the scene any value in the first place: pure unrestrained fun. Other well-coiffed bros have adopted the scene’s sappy romanticizing and 100-watt electronicsboth of which our masked marauder also uses to single-tear-jerking effect on his breakout hit “Alone”but few make aesthetic choices as unselfconsciously as he does.

Part and parcel with the runaway success of “Alone,”which has 48 million YouTube streams and counting at the time of writingis Marshmello’s cartoonish headgear, the goofy dabbing in the song’s video, and a handful of synth lines as grotesquely sticky and sweet as downing a whole bottle of Karo. The track is the sonic equivalent of those horrifying milkshake monstrosities that dazzled the Instagram feeds of suburban teens this yeartake the hi-fi bombast of a Hard Summer headlining set, pile on a pound of sprinkles, and top it with a whole slice of cake. You’ll suppress the urge to retch before you succumb and dig in, unapologetically.Colin Joyce

48. Lil Uzi Vert – “Ronda (Winners)”

What the hell is this song? It’s not rap, that’s for sure. Metro Boomin and CuBeatz’ production barely uses drumsjust a few daubs of sub-bass and a pointillist sprinkle of hi-hats as Uzi spits over what sounds like a lost Jamie xx xylophone loop, overlaid with barely audible synths that sound like neon skyscrapers looming in the background. A lesser artist might get lost in such an austere, chilly environment, but Uzi is more than a match for what surrounds him, smashing through the beat’s glassy architecture with brash melodies that sound a lot closer to Blink-182 than Nas. Lil Uzi Vert is rap’s first synth-dance-pop-punk star, and we’re blessed to have him.Ezra Marcus

47. Peggy Gou – “Maktoop”

The Berlin-based producer and DJ Peggy Gou‘s tracks pull from a variety of influences you want in your corner: Detroit, Chicago, the organic vibrancy of highlife (she’s called African music her biggest influence)it’s all there. But like any artist turning heads and moving feet, the real power of her sound is all her own. Gou’s penchant for layered sound design design and syrupy acid lines are all evident on this cut from her recent EP for Ninja Tune’s Technicolour imprint. Another of 2016’s most rapid success stories, Peggy Gou enters the next calendar year as a name on everybody’s lips. One can’t help think the track’s title, which is Arabic for “destiny,” is more than just a clever coincidence.David Garber

46. Bezier – “Cosmos”

The Honey Soundsystem crew has put out some absolutely fantastic records this year. When I tried to buy the Justin Cudmore record at Academy, Ron Like Hell strongly insisted I listen to this record by Honey’s Bezier (AKA Robert Yang) before leaving the store (thank you Ron). The first time I heard “Cosmos” I thought to myself, this sounds like the Drive soundtrack, but less boring. Sure, your friends who had never heard of Chromatics loveeeed that soundtrack, but it was a knockoff; Bezier’s Cosmetologist EP is the real thing.

What I love about the Honey crew at parties as well as in the studio is the complete individuality they each bring to the table. Bezier uses a classic and fairly simple palette of classic Juno-esque synths in an arrangement that turns and breathes seamlessly. It makes me want to cruise down a curvy road in a 5.0 Mustang (convertible top down, of course!), looking up as the cosmos flies by.Joel Fowler

45. LOUDPVCK and NGHTMRE – “Click Clack”

Skrillex’s OWSLA label has made moves toward a more diverse sound palette over the past couple years2016 alone saw them dabble in indie-leaning pop music, Jersey club aesthetics, and “fuck a genre” sounds by relative newcomers like Mija. But LOUDPVCK and NGHTMRE’s “Click Clack” is proof that the label is staying in touch with their tympanic-membrane-rupturing roots. Most of the aggro, festival-filling music that people have taken to calling “trap” is built with rollercoaster-like engineering: build enough momentum, and you’re bound to get a payoff with a drop, flip, roll, or other form of excitement. Yet most EDM-trap producers tend to practice restraint in comparison to, say, their gabber counterparts, as if they need to hold a bit of energy to get them to the end of the track. “Click Clack” throws that blueprint straight into a roaring bonfire from its opening seconds, blasting from barely tonal synth stabs into relentless waves of stomach-churning drops that feel like hardstyle tracks transcribed for LRAD. Few tracks in recent memory are as vertigo-inducing, but that’s the fun of tracks like thisnever knowing which way is up.Colin Joyce

44. Toxe and Mechatok – “Still Life”

One thing that surely cannot be said about Staycore is that they stood still in 2016. Quite the contrary, this new and exciting collectivefounded in 2014 and featuring the likes of Dinamarca, Ghazal, and mobilegirl among many otherstook clubs such as Berlin’s Panorama Bar by storm. While a vivid 2k16 trend has been a certain UK-orientated rave nostalgia, the DJ sets of this international crew helped define what contemporary club music could sound like. Often linking aggressive hardcore beats, trance patterns, Caribbean rhythms, and pop hits in a challenging, ever-changing mixture, Toxe proved herself a master at this brave new sound. And among the many great tracks Staycore has been responsible for, this banging, Kenzo-supported Toxe-Mechatok collaboration might be its most ideal representative. Kicking off in a menacing, almost chamber drama-like fashion, it sees heavy synths and a crunching beat join forces, bringing to life all of Staycore’s promises.Thomas Vorreyer

43. Sporting Life – “Court Vision”

Harlem producer Sporting Life (AKA Eric Adiele) got his start as the core producer for NYC rap group Ratking. This year, the producer stepped out on his own, signing to R&S Records, and dropping his debut LP, Slam Dunk. On “Court Vision,” the album’s lead single, he teamed up with Vancouver’s Evy Jane to deliver one of the most beautiful downtempo anthems of the year. The collaboration plays to the musicians’ strengthsEvy Jane Mason is left plenty of room to breathe over Adiele’s spare beat, a skittering hi-hat that gallops over his lush pads and tumbling kick drum. It’s a comedown gem that deserves a misty morning spliff to end the night.Jesse Weiss

42. Move D – “I Gave My Love (Shan & Gerd Janson Edit)”

It’s hard to make a good edit of any classic house track, let alone one that was released in 1993 and still sounds fresh. But Shan and Gerd Janson found a way. Their breakbeat shuffle tricks you into thinking that their version might have been released a long time ago, perhaps even in the same era as the original. This track is a good example of respecting one’s source material while taking it in a new direction.Philipp Kutter

41. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – “Stranger Things”

The idea that nostalgia colors our expectations in hazy, unsettling ways is the backbone of Netflix’s sci-fi sensation Stranger Things, so it’s only fitting that the show had music to match, care of the Austinite synth-slingers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. As half of the sepia-toned quartet S U R V I V E, the pair has spent the better part of the last decade exploring the subtle terror inherent in the brittle synth lines that scored the Reagan era’s hastily put together horror films.

The theme song for Stranger Things, built around the same sort of tightly coiled analog arpeggiations that fills S U R V I V E’s records away from the TV show, showcases the soundtrack’s much-lauded triumphs in miniature. Just when the panic of those eighth note barrages seem too much to bear, the song lands on a final celestial chord, presenting something hopeful underneath all that tension. Like the show itself, it’s a nod to the wondrousness that coexists with the dread of childhood memories.Colin Joyce

40. Lotic – “Formation (Election Anxiety/America Is Over Edit)”

As the results poured in on election night and I wiped my tears in total disbelief, Lotic, AKA J’Kerian Morgan, answered the crippling hopelessness felt around the world with a palpating rework of Beyonce’s “Formation” titled “Election Anxiety/America Is Over Edit.” From the moment it starts, the thunderous drum line hints at a looming revolta greater call to action for collective resistance against white supremacy. With a corrupt leader coming to power, Lotic’s take on Bey’s empowerment anthem feels like an encouragement to “get in formation,” storm the front lines, and fight against systems designed to destroy black and brown bodies. It urges us to slay outside the dancefloor, and arm ourselves with the love and strength we’ll need to get through the dark days ahead.Max Mohenu

39. Beatrice Dillon, “Curl”

A label called Alien Jams may seem a little on-the-nose for releasing one of extraterrestrial experimentalist Beatrice Dillon’s forays into celestial techno. But the London labelwhose handful of releases over the last couple years largely live up to that interstellar titlewere able to coax something a little more earthbound out of a producer who’s tried her hand at countless otherworldly styles over the course of her career. Drawn from a split with composer Karen Gwyer, “Curl” gradually evolves from primordial gunk into ticking, elastic motion, its gentle cycles resembling something like locomotion. Or maybe, given the loopy gravity of its rhythms, it’s more like QWOP‘s gawky, awkward and endearing take on anthropoid movement. The listener is overcome with the cringey feeling of watching someone else trip and faceplantand there’s little more human than that.Colin Joyce

38. Porter Robinson and Madeon – “Shelter”

Through his flickering, introverted revisions of big-tent festival sounds, Porter Robinson has found a uniquely personal spot in the sweat-and-glow-stick wake of EDM. “Shelter,” his one-off collaboration with the similarly-minded French producer/songwriter Madeon, is one of Robinson’s more rafter-reaching tracks in recent memory, built around the skyward lurch of a chopped vocal and floodlight synthesizer lines. But Robinson’s strength lies in making moments of grandeur quiver with candlelit intimacy and turning screeching electronics into whispering bummer jams. Madeon proves a fitting partner in this particular endeavor, singing sweetly about taking comfort in interpersonal connections during life’s trials. It’s a song about finding comfort in spite of the odds, from two producers who’ve made their whole careers off that idea.Colin Joyce

37. Mikael Seifu – “How to Save a Life (Vector Of Eternity)”

Ethiopia is a good home for electronic music, says Mikael Seifu, and this is the song that proves him right. In a country without a dominant electronic music culture, a mind like Seifu’sfilled with sounds from local folk to Burial, Stockhausen to technocan operate as freely as he wants it to. On “How To Save A Life,” the producer combines traditional Ethiopian instruments with electronics, adding a whole new layer to the 4/4 regime. Halfway into the six minute-long track, after an intriguing call-and-response intro between a flute sound and some percussion, strings flare up again and again in a crescendo. The groove becomes irresistible, and you think to yourself, This thing must fall apart in a second, it just cannot keep going on this energy level. But it does. And by the end, you’ve already put “How To Save A Life” on repeat. Is this song made for eternity? Well, it’s definitely made for our times.Thomas Vorreyer

36. The Black Madonna – “He Is the Voice I Hear”

While the Black Madonna (born Marea Stamper) has produced her own music in the past, her recent prominence on the electronic music stage has given her both the attention and resources to fulfill a longstanding vision. This year, she launched her own label, We Still Believe, with a ten-minute, ecstatic paean to disco called “He Is the Voice I Hear.” From the minute its lush piano chords and violin stabs break into a rollicking disco beat, it’s clear that Stamper meant this song to be a statement-making release that stands apart from the typical 2016 dance music hits. Focusing on live instrumentation, she collaborated with Grammy award-winning violinist Davide Rossi and pianist Christoforo La Barbera on the track, noting in the accompanying press release, “I wanted to return to an older way of making disco and dance music.”

The title of the track comes from a Frankie Knuckles quote where he pays homage to his friend and mentor, Larry Levan. Similarly, Stamper dedicates her song to all the voices who inspired herincluding both Knuckles and Levan, as well as Arthur Russell, Walter Gibbons, and Loleatta Holloway. Stamper has a knack for straddling both the past and future of dance music: her sound harkens back to the classic house and disco of the Paradise Garage era, while her progressive politics of fighting inequality and paying homage to dance music’s queer roots taps into some of the most important issues of our time. Nowhere is that more clear than on “He Is the Voice I Hear.”Michelle Lhooq

35. Craig David – “16”

Garage crooner Craig David’s unexpectedly triumphant comeback was one of 2016’s rare moments of joy. The UK producer/vocalist, who shot to stardom 16 years ago with the runaway success of his debut album Born To Do It, returned in 2016 with an album that went straight to the top of the UK charts. One of the album’s singles, the cheekily titled “16,” pays tribute to the passage of time by mixing his 2000 hit “Fill Me In” with Jack and Justin Bieber’s CinemaScope beat for “Where Are Now,” of all things.

It opens with stripped back instrumental so David can display the full power of his Werther’s-sweet voice until he reaches a line made more poignant by the all the passing time: “We were just doing things young people in love do.” It’s a reminder that even back then he was a master of nostalgia, capturing the subtle warmth of pleasant times just out of reachmade all the more poignant here by the recursiveness of this remix. He’s looking back on looking back; the cozy memories are 16 years more distant.Anna Codrea-Rado

34. Zomby and Burial – “Sweetz”

It took another masked man to coax Burial, AKA William D. Bevan, back to earth from whatever celestial realms he’s been inhabiting on his last few sparse releases. Fellow UK-born mysterio Zomby pulled him in on “Sweetz,” a standout from the former’s new album Ultra that’s as full of street-level propulsion as any of the late-night drives that populate Bevan’s most beloved work. The spectral cries and crackle that have become Burial trademarks are employed as scene-setters for the dystopian rave memories that Zomby’s become so adept at conjuring. It’s a glorious return from the phantasmal realms of Burial’s recent EPs to the grit of the real worlda streak of psychomagnotheric slime across the dancefloor.Colin Joyce

33. MC Pikachu – “L No Meu Barraco”

Brazilian teens churned out oceans of wild and wavy baile funk this year. Some of the best came from the effervescent icon MC Pikachu, a dude with a mile-wide grin, a high-pitched voice, and a knack for hooks. “L No Meu Barraco” consists of nothing more than a flute line, a drum loop, and Pikachu’s sing-song voice chanting melodies that will never leave your head again. At first listen, the track sounds almost too spare to exist, but it unleashes bone-shaking energy when played on the right dancefloor at the right volume (loud as hell). There’s also an incredible video that features MC Pikachu seducing a girl twice his height by shaking a chicken at her while she watches from a balcony. Delicious.Ezra Marcus

32. Mija and Vindata, “Better”

“Better” is an OWSLA family affair, pairing two of the Skrillex-helmed label’s rising acts on a summery slice of feel-good music that’s prime for playing out on open-air stages during festival season. Both parties are equally represented on the trackVindata’s glimmering chords, Mija‘s hints of happy hardcorebut the sonic highlight is the song’s namesake vocal sample (“just keeps getting better”) that’s as saccharinely reassuring as a carton of ice cream after a bad breakup.Krystal Rodriguez

31. 808 State – “In Yer Face (Bicep Remix)”

Compared to the year before, 2016 has been a bit of a quiet one for this duo from Belfast. Bicep have been DJing all over the worldobviouslybut in terms of new music, they’ve kept things largely under wraps, staying off-grid while they apparently work on something big for the not too distant future. Don’t let that fool you into thinking 2016 was a write-off, though. With this deft repurposing of 808 State’s rave classic “In Yer Face,” they produced one of the biggest peak-time house tunes of the year. Like most of their trademark tunes, it’s huge-sounding and fun, but there’s a darker, stranger quality existing beneath it, building on the rafter-rattling character of its source material and leaving an impression that lasts well beyond the club.Angus Harrison

30. Justin Cudmore – “Crystal (Servito’s 730 AM reshape)”

As his DJ career continues to gain profile year after year, most still know Detroit-turned-Brooklyn hero Mike Servito as a selector, not a producer. It’s perhaps the lack of pressure to churn out club hits that’s led to the inimitable simplicity behind his refix for fellow Brooklynite Justin Cudmore. Servito’s take on Cudmore’s debut tune for Honey Soundsystem is a freewheeling, acid-drenched belter, brimming with the same looseness and elasticity of his celebrated DJ sets. Put us on the list.David Garber

29. Kanye West – “Fade”

Think of “Fade” as a much hornier version of Kanye’s “Lost in the World.” When that first line, “Your love is fadin,” hits, ears perk up and eyes get a little bigger in anticipation of the spectacle that’s about to unfold. Then the beatwhich samples the classic house tracks “Mystery of Love” by Fingers Inc. and “Deep Inside” by Harddrive, as well as Rare Earth’s cover of the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You”drops. And the next thing you know, sweaty strangers are rubbing up on each other in the middle of what pilgrims probably thought pagan worship ceremonies look like.

“Fade” was everywhere you went this yearevery memorable Uber ride, every worthwhile party, every muffled leak through the earphones of your coworkers who play their music so loud to the point that you worry about how bad their tinnitus is going to be. “Fade” is one of those Kanye moments that often gets overlooked, and now that it’s getting cold out, the song might lose a little bit of its hot-blooded lusterso do your best to bestow or receive one more good wine to it while you can.Trey Smith

28. Princess Nokia – “Tomboy”

As she explained in her FADER-produced documentary, Bronx native Destiny Frasqueribetter known by her stage name, Princess Nokiastruggled to find her voice as a teenage rapper when labels were battling for her to sign with them. “They were expecting me come out with a jam, and I couldn’t do it,” she explained. This year she finally wrote the jam that everyone was looking for: “Tomboy,” which came out on her self-released mixtape 1992 earlier this year. The Saint-produced track opens with Frasqueri spitting over militaristic drumming and whistles, until she bursts out proudly and abruptly, “With my little titties and my fat belly.” You might laugh at first, but pretty soon you’ll be belting the devil-may-care line right along with her.Meilyn Huq

27. Legowelt – “Sampling Winter”

In a year where Danny Wolfers’ output was relatively quiet by his standards, he used the best known of his more-than-30 aliases, Legowelt, to release an album and two EPs. One of those works was Sampling Winter, released on the British label Unknown To The Unknown; the title track of which has the unmistakable Legowelt aurawarm, a bit raw, and projecting a colorful melange that manages to feel nostalgic and futuristic at the same time.

How does he do it? You might be tempted to credit his nearly infinite collection of vintage studio equipment, but he’s sworn that’s not the secret to the cordial glow of tracks like this. “Slowly you will see it as plastic crap that is lying around your house,” He wrote in the book R is for Roland. “I am focused purely on sound. It does not matter if it comes from a computer or a vintage 1970 synth.” Honestly, Danny, we don’t care how you do itas long as you keep sampling the winter, the summer, and the spring.Juan Pablo Lopez

26. Mall Grab – “Can’t”

Mall Grab’s Alicia Keys-sampling breakout production “Can’t” floated around YouTube for about a year before it saw a proper release on the South London label Church. Secreted away on moderately popular YouTube channels, and paired with videos that contained a bunch of pretty shapes and trippy characters, the track built up the mystique that anonymous white labels used to back in the day. Even if Jordon Alexander (the producer behind the moniker) wasn’t exactly anonymous, how did he manage to emerge so fully formed? The production’s clever and immediately gratifying, twisting Keys’s vocals around narcotic electric piano lines, a surprisingly textured and subtle effort for the genre of R&B-sampling house tracks. Finally, this simple-yet-sensual tune is off the web and into the world.David Garber

Baauer Lets Loose On New Track, “Paauer”

Photo by Jasmine Saefaeian

Producer and “Harlem Shake” viral star Harry Rodrigues, a.k.a. Baauer, shared a new track today, “Paauer.”

Rodrigues premiered the new single this week on his new Studio B radio show on Beats 1, which debuted last month. The bi-weekly program takes listeners on musical expeditions via mixes inspired by various locations around the world, and it’s also a launchpad for the producer’s riotous new material. “Paauer” is no exception, fusing grimy jungle and trap with an unsettling effects sampler of sirens, bird calls, and unintelligible vocal chops.

“Paauer” is one of the newest tracks to come out of Baauer’s arsenal since he released his debut album, Aa, earlier this year with guest features from Novelist, Leikeli47, M.I.A., G-Dragon, Pusha T, Future, and Rustie.

Baauer Lets Loose On New Track, “Paauer”

Photo by Jasmine Saefaeian

Producer and “Harlem Shake” viral star Harry Rodrigues, a.k.a. Baauer, shared a new track today, “Paauer.”

Rodrigues premiered the new single this week on his new Studio B radio show on Beats 1, which debuted last month. The bi-weekly program takes listeners on musical expeditions via mixes inspired by various locations around the world, and it’s also a launchpad for the producer’s riotous new material. “Paauer” is no exception, fusing grimy jungle and trap with an unsettling effects sampler of sirens, bird calls, and unintelligible vocal chops.

“Paauer” is one of the newest tracks to come out of Baauer’s arsenal since he released his debut album, Aa, earlier this year with guest features from Novelist, Leikeli47, M.I.A., G-Dragon, Pusha T, Future, and Rustie.

Just Blaze Wants To Share His Building Blocks With A New Generation Of Artists

Photo by Marie Jose Govea, courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool. This article appeared originally on THUMP Canada.

In 2014, I saw Just Blaze play the drums in a crowded airport hangar-sized venue in Austin, Texas, as part of a Boiler Room event during SXSW. Watching New Jersey-born Justin Smith enthusiastically bashing away on the kit you couldn’t help but grin, especially because he didn’t have a clue what he was doing.

“I don’t know how to play the drums but I’ll try it,” he admitted to the festival audience, before jumping onto drums left behind the booth following R&B singer Tinashe’s set, while his back-to-back partner The Gaslamp Killer scratched over-top. This entire session lasted maybe two minutes, but it’s just one example of how the the man behind some of the biggest hit songs of the past decade and a half has never shied away from a new challenge throughout his career.

Beginning in the early 2000s working with New York artists including Jay Z, Cam’ron, and Memphis Bleek, the self-taught Blaze became known for his percussive beats which sampled everything from Rick James’ “Super Freak” to the theme song from A Night at the Roxbury, with his instantly recognizable producer ID tag gracing songs by Eminem, Drake, T.I., and many others. It’s not hyperbolic to say that without his influence, rap would sound very differentand certainly not nearly as soulfultoday.

Over the last few years, he’s shifted a large part of his focus to mentoring, which includes working with young students at the globetrotting Red Bull Music Academy. To paraphrase another one of his collaborators, Kanye West, you could even say that today the producer’s all about the kids, bro. A longtime fan of house, techno, and UK garage, he’s also dabbled in more electronic-minded one-offs, including tracks with Baauer, Flying Lotus, Sinjin Hawke, and more. We recently spoke to him on the phone from Montreal to discuss the secrets to his career longevity, how he feels about the trend of EDM and hip-hop artists working together, and why it’s important for him to pass on his musical knowledge to the next generation.

This is your fourth time at the Academy, why is it important for you to be involved as a mentor?

Just Blaze: This is my fourth year as a studio team member, but I’ve worked with them in a bunch of capacities over the past years. My first experience with them was giving a lecture in 2006. I always tell people when I was trying to make a name for myself and pursue my dream, we didn’t have the accessibility to resources as far as musicians and producers have now. I would have killed back in the mid-90s to have been able to in the same room with like a RZA or a Q-Tip or a DJ Premier or any of those guys, you know what I mean? Those opportunities didn’t really exist back then. So if I can pass on any knowledge to someone who might look up to me, the same way I idolized those guys when I was younger, I’m all for it. If we don’t pass on our knowledge, there’s no point of having it.

And I’m sure that it goes both ways and you learn stuff from them as well.
Definitely. Obviously I’m passing on my experience and my wisdom to them, but they’re also opening my eyes to new approaches and techniques to making music that I would never be aware of.

Can you give me a specific example?
Nothing that would be super jaw-dropping to the average person, but just quicker ways to get around all the software like Ableton and Logic, studio tricks that end up saving you time in the long run.

You also frequently share advice on social media and last year you made many of your early 2000s drum samples available to download as a package.
All of my teachers were on the radio, everything I loved I learned by listening to radio, watching music videos, and obviously listening to albums. I never had the right teacher to say “this is how you do this.” One other thing that you get from the RBMA is having that kind of access to the headspace of musicians and producers like myself. What I mean by that is you can probably go on YouTube, find a tutorial that will explain to you how I may have from a technical standpoint created a certain chord progression or drum pattern. But to be able to just sit down and sit down and say “What was going through your head when you made that? Were you in a certain mood? What were you going through in life that created that period of music where all your songs sounded a certain way?” And when I say “you,” I’m not just talking about me, I’m just talking in general.

In terms of me giving out my drum kits and stuff like that, all our brains work differently. I have no problem saying “here take my resources,” because you’re not going to use those resources in the same way I have. Your brain is going to process them differently from how my brain processes. If you want to take my building blocks and build your own house, great, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.

Speaking of sampling, today we’re seeing a number of high-profile court cases surrounding copyright infringement, but that’s something you’ve been able to avoid.
One of the reasons that I’ve always been able to maintain some sort of relevance or presence within the industry is because you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who says Just Blaze does bad business. I’ve always tried to do good business, I’ve always tried to do fair businesssometimes to my detrimentbut because of that, I’ve always had opportunities to work.

There’s going to be a point where if you have 20 number one records in two years that everyone wants to be your best friend, and there’s times where there’s five new producers who are killing it and you’re not on that list, and you better hope you have some good relationships in order to maintain your career. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who says I did bad business in regards to a publishing split, sharing songwriting credits, or sampling, you have to give credit where credit is due.

One of the songs that I wanted to ask you about is “Higher,” your 2013 collaboration with Baauer. What do you make of the trend of EDM producers working with hip-hop artists and vice-versa?
I don’t know. To me it’s not a trend. When that record happened and all of a sudden my demographic started to change, and I was playing different types of festivals and shows, the main question I was getting asked was, “What’s the transition like?” I understand why you would ask that, but for me personally it was not a transition. I’m from Jersey, I grew up on hip-hop, I grew up on Detroit house, Detroit techno, Chicago house, UK rave music, and all of that stuff. For me, it’s not so much a transition, as me now being able to explore a lane I love that the average person didn’t know I loved because they identified me with hardcore New York hip-hop.

But I will say this, I’m not the only one. A lot of music types, we found our success in one lane even though our heart may lie in a bunch of other ones. Armand Van Helden, one of best producers of all time, he’s a hip-hop dude. Same thing with Kenny Dope, one of the most legendary NYC house producers, he’s a hip-hop dude, he’s a soul dude.

I saw on Twitter that you were recently hanging out with Theo Parrish, could you see yourself doing more collaborations in that vein?
I started working on a techno record with Theo Parrish last night! Theo came and found me out here in Montreal. That’s one of the great things about RBMAit gives people who likely would never find themselves in the same room together the opportunity to do just that.

Tell me about how you ended up producing Beyonce’s “Freedom.” Obviously the song’s message is incredibly timely with what’s happening politically and socially in the United States right now.
That was a very collaborative effort. Beyonce came to me with a demo of the song and said she thought it was something that I should be working on. We started emailing back and forth, went to the studio a couple of times, and just knocked it out. Given the message and of the record it only made sense for Kendrick to get on it. He’s one of the few artists that’s culturally relevant across a lot of different genres and demographics, that can also actually deliver the political context needed to match what she’s talking about.

Finally, you’ve been making music for almost 20 years nowwhat keeps you hungry?
I was just saying this to a group of students earlier and I don’t necessarily recommend thisactually I highly don’tbut one of the things that has kept me driven is the fact that I’ve never had a plan. I moved out to New York in 1998 with $47 in my pocket and figured it out. I’m thankful that I can make my living using my natural God-given talent, take care of my family, and am relatively rich doing nothing but that. When you love what you do and you genuinely do it because you love it, for me that’s reason enough to get up in the morning.

Max Mertens is on Twitter.

Just Blaze Wants To Share His Building Blocks With A New Generation Of Artists

Photo by Marie Jose Govea, courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool. This article appeared originally on THUMP Canada.

In 2014, I saw Just Blaze play the drums in a crowded airport hangar-sized venue in Austin, Texas, as part of a Boiler Room event during SXSW. Watching New Jersey-born Justin Smith enthusiastically bashing away on the kit you couldn’t help but grin, especially because he didn’t have a clue what he was doing.

“I don’t know how to play the drums but I’ll try it,” he admitted to the festival audience, before jumping onto drums left behind the booth following R&B singer Tinashe’s set, while his back-to-back partner The Gaslamp Killer scratched over-top. This entire session lasted maybe two minutes, but it’s just one example of how the the man behind some of the biggest hit songs of the past decade and a half has never shied away from a new challenge throughout his career.

Beginning in the early 2000s working with New York artists including Jay Z, Cam’ron, and Memphis Bleek, the self-taught Blaze became known for his percussive beats which sampled everything from Rick James’ “Super Freak” to the theme song from A Night at the Roxbury, with his instantly recognizable producer ID tag gracing songs by Eminem, Drake, T.I., and many others. It’s not hyperbolic to say that without his influence, rap would sound very differentand certainly not nearly as soulfultoday.

Over the last few years, he’s shifted a large part of his focus to mentoring, which includes working with young students at the globetrotting Red Bull Music Academy. To paraphrase another one of his collaborators, Kanye West, you could even say that today the producer’s all about the kids, bro. A longtime fan of house, techno, and UK garage, he’s also dabbled in more electronic-minded one-offs, including tracks with Baauer, Flying Lotus, Sinjin Hawke, and more. We recently spoke to him on the phone from Montreal to discuss the secrets to his career longevity, how he feels about the trend of EDM and hip-hop artists working together, and why it’s important for him to pass on his musical knowledge to the next generation.

This is your fourth time at the Academy, why is it important for you to be involved as a mentor?

Just Blaze: This is my fourth year as a studio team member, but I’ve worked with them in a bunch of capacities over the past years. My first experience with them was giving a lecture in 2006. I always tell people when I was trying to make a name for myself and pursue my dream, we didn’t have the accessibility to resources as far as musicians and producers have now. I would have killed back in the mid-90s to have been able to in the same room with like a RZA or a Q-Tip or a DJ Premier or any of those guys, you know what I mean? Those opportunities didn’t really exist back then. So if I can pass on any knowledge to someone who might look up to me, the same way I idolized those guys when I was younger, I’m all for it. If we don’t pass on our knowledge, there’s no point of having it.

And I’m sure that it goes both ways and you learn stuff from them as well.
Definitely. Obviously I’m passing on my experience and my wisdom to them, but they’re also opening my eyes to new approaches and techniques to making music that I would never be aware of.

Can you give me a specific example?
Nothing that would be super jaw-dropping to the average person, but just quicker ways to get around all the software like Ableton and Logic, studio tricks that end up saving you time in the long run.

You also frequently share advice on social media and last year you made many of your early 2000s drum samples available to download as a package.
All of my teachers were on the radio, everything I loved I learned by listening to radio, watching music videos, and obviously listening to albums. I never had the right teacher to say “this is how you do this.” One other thing that you get from the RBMA is having that kind of access to the headspace of musicians and producers like myself. What I mean by that is you can probably go on YouTube, find a tutorial that will explain to you how I may have from a technical standpoint created a certain chord progression or drum pattern. But to be able to just sit down and sit down and say “What was going through your head when you made that? Were you in a certain mood? What were you going through in life that created that period of music where all your songs sounded a certain way?” And when I say “you,” I’m not just talking about me, I’m just talking in general.

In terms of me giving out my drum kits and stuff like that, all our brains work differently. I have no problem saying “here take my resources,” because you’re not going to use those resources in the same way I have. Your brain is going to process them differently from how my brain processes. If you want to take my building blocks and build your own house, great, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.

Speaking of sampling, today we’re seeing a number of high-profile court cases surrounding copyright infringement, but that’s something you’ve been able to avoid.
One of the reasons that I’ve always been able to maintain some sort of relevance or presence within the industry is because you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who says Just Blaze does bad business. I’ve always tried to do good business, I’ve always tried to do fair businesssometimes to my detrimentbut because of that, I’ve always had opportunities to work.

There’s going to be a point where if you have 20 number one records in two years that everyone wants to be your best friend, and there’s times where there’s five new producers who are killing it and you’re not on that list, and you better hope you have some good relationships in order to maintain your career. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who says I did bad business in regards to a publishing split, sharing songwriting credits, or sampling, you have to give credit where credit is due.

One of the songs that I wanted to ask you about is “Higher,” your 2013 collaboration with Baauer. What do you make of the trend of EDM producers working with hip-hop artists and vice-versa?
I don’t know. To me it’s not a trend. When that record happened and all of a sudden my demographic started to change, and I was playing different types of festivals and shows, the main question I was getting asked was, “What’s the transition like?” I understand why you would ask that, but for me personally it was not a transition. I’m from Jersey, I grew up on hip-hop, I grew up on Detroit house, Detroit techno, Chicago house, UK rave music, and all of that stuff. For me, it’s not so much a transition, as me now being able to explore a lane I love that the average person didn’t know I loved because they identified me with hardcore New York hip-hop.

But I will say this, I’m not the only one. A lot of music types, we found our success in one lane even though our heart may lie in a bunch of other ones. Armand Van Helden, one of best producers of all time, he’s a hip-hop dude. Same thing with Kenny Dope, one of the most legendary NYC house producers, he’s a hip-hop dude, he’s a soul dude.

I saw on Twitter that you were recently hanging out with Theo Parrish, could you see yourself doing more collaborations in that vein?
I started working on a techno record with Theo Parrish last night! Theo came and found me out here in Montreal. That’s one of the great things about RBMAit gives people who likely would never find themselves in the same room together the opportunity to do just that.

Tell me about how you ended up producing Beyonce’s “Freedom.” Obviously the song’s message is incredibly timely with what’s happening politically and socially in the United States right now.
That was a very collaborative effort. Beyonce came to me with a demo of the song and said she thought it was something that I should be working on. We started emailing back and forth, went to the studio a couple of times, and just knocked it out. Given the message and of the record it only made sense for Kendrick to get on it. He’s one of the few artists that’s culturally relevant across a lot of different genres and demographics, that can also actually deliver the political context needed to match what she’s talking about.

Finally, you’ve been making music for almost 20 years nowwhat keeps you hungry?
I was just saying this to a group of students earlier and I don’t necessarily recommend thisactually I highly don’tbut one of the things that has kept me driven is the fact that I’ve never had a plan. I moved out to New York in 1998 with $47 in my pocket and figured it out. I’m thankful that I can make my living using my natural God-given talent, take care of my family, and am relatively rich doing nothing but that. When you love what you do and you genuinely do it because you love it, for me that’s reason enough to get up in the morning.

Max Mertens is on Twitter.

Baauer Shares Pummeling New Track With C.Z.

Release art courtesy of the artist

LuckyMe‘s Harry Rodrigues a.k.a. Baauer has followed up his 2016 debut album Aa today with an alternately pummeling and moody new tune with Mad Decent-affiliated producer C.Z., “How Can You Tell When It’s Done?”. Introducing itself in a familiar trap framework lead by a deformed pirouette of a synth lead, the tune eventually chills out for a sentimental, almost vaporwave-y spell, before running through the cycle again in peak time fashion.

Rodrigues has produced a good deal of new club-focused material since releasing his album, according to the press release, so we’re hoping more of that gets to see the light of day. He’ll be on a European tour from October 28 to November 12, starting things off in Bristol, UK and closing out a couple weeks later in Brussels, Belgium; see full dates on his website.

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The 25 Best Albums Of 2016 So Far

The history of dance music has primarily been told through singles. One great trackwhen properly nestled in the right DJ set, so the logic goeshas the power not only to set the dancefloor alight, but to shift the sound and energy of a scene writ large. You’re never going to spin a full-length album at peak hours, but the format has furthered some of the dancefloor’s great paradigm shifts, allowing producers to explore the furthest corners of their sound. Moments of euphoria are spread further out, but they’re just as present, and always worth the wait. We’ve already told you the year’s best tracks, now strap in for the long-haul below and check out the 25 best albums of 2016 so far.

Amnesia Scanner – AS

Amnesia Scanner has never felt real, at least in the sense of corporeal human beings with fleshy fingers programming the mutant beatwork and ASCII melodies that make up their music. But earlier this year, they made their debut in the physical world with AS, issued in varying forms of paper and plastic. The short EP contains some of their most hookily structured material to date, as if the shadowy figures behind the curtain realized that restructuring their jabbering vocals and drum judders into more recognizably humanoid outlinespop and club structures, mainlywould make their work more legible to mere mortals. As it turns out, appending sinew to steel does not a human make, but AS‘ real draw is in the ugly bits, where meat and tech collide in a beautiful cyborgian failure.Colin Joyce

ANOHNI – Hopelessness

Sonically ambitious, ecologically minded, and emotionally fragile all at once, ANOHNI’s HOPELESSNESS is one of the most multifaceted records 2016 has seen yet. The New York-based artist, formerly of the band Antony and the Johnsons, has crafted a protest album that plays out like an assault on society’s grandest ills: climate change, government surveillance, drone strikes, and genocideand it’s particularly interested in the places where all of the above intersect.

But the record’s genius lies partly in the sneakiness with which it plants these messages in the ear. Bolstered by production by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, HOPELESSNESS uses the physicality of dance music to bruising effect, making ANOHNI’s political provocations both more palatable and more punishing. Speaking to THUMP earlier this year, ANOHNI said that the way she “express.” That’s a generous thing of the 26-year-old artist to say, but it’s unlikely there are many people who aren’t left in the dust by his debut for J-Cush’s Lit City Trax. Remixing everything from hip-hop hits to an NFL theme song and a Cousin Terio Vine, the mixtape is an exercise in profound artistic tenacity: just when you think he can’t fit another idea into a track, he fits in eight.Alexander Iadarola

Uli K – Elusivo

Long the most laconic and sensitive member of Long London’s Bala Club crew, singer/songwriter Uli K steps out of the shadow of younger brother Kamixlo (who’s released on PAN sublabel Codes) and pal Endgame (recently signed to Hyperdub) and into blinding, heartrending vulnerability. Uli told The FADER at the time of the EPs release that it that it was part of a process of coming to terms with heartbreak and gender identity by presenting all the misery and confusion wholly unvarnished, or as they put it “snitching on myselfreading my diary out loud.”

That pain reverberates throughout. Even over the fractured beats care of Berlin shredder Mechatok and frequent Yung Lean collaborator Whitearmor (Lean also turns up for a brief verse, on that “Drifting”), Uli sings of blood and money, voluntary loneliness, and romantic dissolution. The catharsis these stories offer feels generous, a hand stretched outhowever tremulousfor whenever you feel similarly broken.Colin Joyce

Various Artists – Pampa Records Vol. 1

There’s a dizzying array of sounds and styles represented on the first label compilation from DJ Koze’s Pampa Records, from Jamie xx’s rave retro-gazing to Matthew Herbert’s butcher-shop techno trickery. But the unifying concept is the unmitigated joy that a dancefloor can bring. UAE-born producer Abood Nasrawi makes that explicit on his contribution “Bump with You,” sampling a small child’s giggly suggestion that singing “embarrassing,” but dancing is “ok.” The track then lurches into glassy-eyed, unrestrained beatwork, permission for liftoff having been granted from the mouths of babes. Pampa’s stable of signees and friends often adopt worn club forms, but their productions underscore why people return to things like house and techno over and over again: club music’s currency is ecstasy.Colin Joyce

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