It’s been pretty hard getting the wherewithal to even begin starting this round-up, let alone getting motivated to finish it. Early 2020 was the last time I wrote anything about music, bar my Twitter feed, which let’s be honest, doesn’t really count. So to state the obvious it’s been an emotionally draining couple of years for many of us. Thankfully I’ve not personally lost anyone close due to the pandemic, nor have I been very sick myself. What’s got in the way is more the constant state of anxiousness and dread a lot of us are feeling, intermingled with a sense of being somewhat trapped in a time loop. On top of this I’ve not really danced outside of my kitchen and the DDR studio all that much, so it’s been somewhat difficult to quantify and categorise new dance music releases in any meaningful way. That said, music, especially house music, has been an escape that’s really worked for me over 2020 and 2021. So, as I missed the boat for writing about music released in 2020, I guess this is my attempt to try and not to let 2021 slip by without digesting some of the brilliant releases that I’ve enjoyed over the year.
As per the last time I tried the do a yearly round-up I need to note that this list is certainly not a “best of” nor is it in any way definitive of wider trends happening in dance and electronic music. It is merely a selection of tracks that I’ve personally enjoyed that were released in 2021 via the Bandcamp platform. Obviously, like all of us, there’ll be a huge amount of records that I just didn’t get exposed to or didn’t get around to downloading, streaming or picking up. I’ve also selected the tunes in such a way as to make a mixtape that I’ll play on our Heat Werk show on Dublin Digital Radio as soon as I get a chance. As such there are many tunes I’ve loved last year that are not on here, not least a heap of vinyl releases and other bits obtained from elsewhere. So I needed to put a bit of constraint on this review otherwise I would never have got around to writing anything. As the fella says, “this is the way.”
Ok, let’s get stuck in…
Flying Lotus & Thundercat – Black Gold
From the incredible Yasuke soundtrack this is a love bomb of a track from 2 veterans of the LA beat scene that do not need any introduction. Yasuke is an animated series about a black samurai in, I guess, Japan’s historical Edo period. I devoured it in about 2 sittings. I definitely recommend if you’re into sci-fi anime. I would normally complain that this tune is too short, but it’s the main title for the show, so as such is actually perfect.
Loraine James – Change
I’ve probably done the Reflection LP a disservice by singling out this one tune from it as the whole record is seriously good and works best as an album. There’s a lot to admire about James’s production style, but what I really like is her seemingly effortless way of mixing futuristic sounding hip-hop beats with abstract electronic elements, R&B and bass music. She’s created an audio world that is really unique. I’ve heard her live show is really good too. She’s definitely one to watch out for in the coming years.
Cristian Vogel – The All Clear
Released in early 2021 the Rebirth Of Wonky LP by my perennial favourite Cristian Vogel was interestingly crowd-sourced, as in a few fans contributed to a Patreon campaign to afford the artist some time & space to make an LP. Ostensibly it’s as a kind of tribute to the genre known as ‘wonky techno’ from the 90s & 00s, but for me it’s even more. What materialised was a beast of a record with many layers and some serious depth (as you’d expect from Mr. Vogel.) This tune ‘The All Clear’ just seemed to flow nicely in the mixtape, so that’s why it ultimately made the list, but the whole album is unreal, taking a good few twists and turns through dub-techno, wonky (obviously), ambient and almost grunge-like, sludgey electronic fuzziness.
datassette – Tanz Mit Mir
Datassette made one of my favourite LPs of 2020 – ‘VOID FILL PRODUCT’ so when I saw that this track was released as a standalone I copped it straight away. I’m into the cheeky mix of electronic messing around and slow-ish disco-house 4/4 rhythm. This is the kind of track that we (my friends & I) would have played at after parties as it nicely occupies a place between serious electronics and more fun dance music. I think ‘Tanz Mit Mir’ translates from German as ‘Dance With Me’, okay then you mentaller, I will.
Dylan Bryne – Cherenkov Blue
Taken from the ‘SHOUTS 2021’ compilation on the excellent Rhythm Section International label this an understated one from Dylan Bryne that may have slipped through many radars unnoticed, but for me it’s been a very steady grower since it came out. Invoking memories of late-90s – early 00s electro, but with a mellow sunny-day kind of vibe, not dissimilar to The Other People Place or other “come down” records form that era. The bassline is nice and solid too, so it’s a lovely one to mix through with tunes that have other beat patterns.
Mariska Neerman – Finding Our Way Back Home
Another mellow-ish electro offering, this one from Mariska Neermanit seemed to chime nicely with Dylan’s one above. I’ve always loved this genre, I guess rooted in appreciation for all things Drexciyan. It’s nice to hear artists visiting this space between home listening and more sound system orientated electro. The elements are stripped down to basics, so it contains a certain timelessness. Personally this one had hit me a good few times when it came on shuffle in the car.
LNS – Gentle Acid
Straight-up acid-electro from LNS that does what it says in the title. This one’s a really nice roller for playing in a warmup set or for after hours. Sublime in its simplicity. I’ve played it many times over the year and it’s never failed to bring me joy.
Yu Su – Melaleuca
I was actually looking forward to Yu Su’s album Yellow River Blue before it came out, such if my fandom for her music. That’s a rare thing for me as I’m not normally one for fawning over pre-releases or getting into the hype around release schedules. The album itself is really good. It’s a varied journey, to use that cliché, but I was pleasantly surprised by its range – effortlessly moving from pop to ambient, chillout to more industrial sounds. This track Melaleuca is one of the dancey ones off it and I think it represents the LP as a whole pretty well.
Todd Modes – Time Layers
This one from Todd Modes was one of my favourite 12s” from 2021 and to use another cliché – it’s deep as fuck. Such was my love for the digital tracks, I decided I needed them on vinyl. Time Layers could easily be replaced here by equally groovy ‘Serpent’ on the flip, with the Bs on each side getting into more mellow territory. Interesting to note that these tracks are performed by a full band and I think that adds to the overall funkiness. The notes on Bandcamp say that Yoshinori Hayashi is in the band too, so that would help explain why these tracks contain a dream-like quality. Incidentally, the label – Going Good Records, soundly sent me a free ‘List Of Lizards’ record in the post with my order. It’s a deadly 12 of Finnish chillout that I’ve played often while cooking food and such.
Kaidi Tatham – Carry ft Mongo Man
Broken beat genius Kaidi Tatham was in prolific form yet again in 2021 and as you’d expect all his releases are pure quality. This tune ‘Carry’ is one of my favourites off his awesome ‘An Insight To All Minds’ LP. Tatham uses different beat patterns and time signatures, but he somehow always manages to keep the music accessible and seriously funky. The record he put out on Neroli with his long-time collaborator Lord called ‘Find Another Way’ is an absolute corker too. Bandcamp tells me he’s currently based in Belfast, which kind of adds to the coolness if you ask me.
Atjazz & Mark de Clive-Lowe – Awake We Stay
Staying with the broken beat genre for a moment this one by Atjazz & Mark de Clive-Lowe really rocked me as well. It’s a bit of an earworm (in a good way) and sounds particularly awesome on a nice system (thank you Lucky’s.) Broken beat kind of passed me by during it’s heyday in the late-90s, although I was very into Dego and 4-Hero and other related things back them, I didn’t really fully cop to it as a wider genre until more recently. So it’s been an absolute pleasure getting more familiar with the classics during the past year or so.
East Coast Love Affair – Without You
Sexy, deep and dubby vocal house of the absolute highest order, using vocals from the now sadly deceased Avelino Pitts, which adds to the melancholic soulful vibe. I don’t think words are useful to describe this one, so just play it loud, let the vibe surround you and heal your soul. The remix of Mary Love Comer ‘Come out of the Sandbox’ on the flip is ridiculously good too, absolutes vibes. This whole 12” is a house deejay’s dream, I should really pick it up on wax asap, ‘nuff said.
Seven Davis Jr. – Figure It Out ft Juliet Mendoza
Bouncy up-beat vocal house with Seven Davis Jr.’s signature leftfield low-fi twist. I was into a few cuts that he put out this year, this probably being my fav of the bunch. I think it came out as a digital single initially, but it now seems to be only available on his new LP ‘I See The Future’ that I should really check out asap.
DJ Kemit & Luke Austin present The Lounge Lizards – Real Love
Quality soulful Detroit house as you’d expect from anything bearing the name of DJ Kemit. This one’s got a disco-esque twist and bangs like hell. I can’t wait to play it out and hear it on a good system. The whole 12” it’s off rocks like fuck too. One of the trends in house music I’ve noticed is the return of the use of more percussive rhythms on top of the 4-to-the-floor kick drum and in particular the clap &/or snare hitting twice on the one & two. This is a really welcome development and the dancer in me knows this gear will really work well on the floors. Irrespective of room size I’ll be playing this one out as soon as I get a chance and I guarantee there’ll be a stupid grin of happiness strewn right across my face
LADYMONIX – Steppin’ Out
Another straight-up house banger from LADYMONIX. She’s done it before with tunes like ‘Club Nowehere’ from 2020 and ‘WhoRU’ off Waajeed’s Detroit Love mix from 2019, and now she has done it again with this one in 2021. Incidentally, the Waajeed remix of Steppin’ Out adapts this vibe for even tougher dubbed-out late-night partying and the other tracks off the wider release are very dope too. Top notch gear for house heads and an interesting artist to watch over the coming years.
Brian Kage & Taho – D-Twah
Initially I wasn’t too gone on this particular track, it seemed a little cheesy or something, but I picked it up off Bandcamp on the strength of another homage-type track ‘Tour de Troit’ from the release (it’s one of those releases where you have to get the full thing if you buy it on Bandcamp.) However, it hit me properly when I played it on our radio show and I’ve been rotating it ever since. It’s a kind of French-house homage to Detroit with a nice piano riff (ubiquitous in house I know.) It’s pretty simple in its concept, but is actually perfect in its execution. So what we have is really just great party starter, one for all the family & friends.
Zhané – Groove Thang (P. J. Swerve Mix)
Zhané’s mid-90s R&B classic gets a house remix treatment courtesy of Huey Mnemonic. When you hear it you’ll realise that this tune being given a house remix was actually very long overdue as it works so well. Coincidentally I had been playing the original on our show a little bit quite recently, so it was like a dream for me when I saw Huey Mnemonic was putting it out. I did get a chance to play this remix out at Lucky’s bar and I can tell you it was very well received with shouts and whoops to be heard from the smoking area.
Santiago Salazar – Claro, Claro (Moderna Club Mix)
Underground Resistance member Santiago Salazar hit us with yet another future classic containing one of his trademark killer UR-style basslines. This one has a disco-like quality to its hook, almost reminiscent of an old Pépé Bradock track, or something along those lines. I should say thanks to Eddie (Tr One) for putting me onto Salazar’s newer stuff via his show on DDR (which is blindingly good by the way.)
Danae – Concrete Rose
I could have picked any number of tracks off the excellent ‘Good Fruit’ LP from Danae. The album is all heaters from start to finish. Produced by the always good Maurice Fulton the album flows through R&B, disco, house, funk, hip-hop, breakbeat and electronic sounds. It’s truly wide in scope, but never meanders off its core of showcasing Danae’s considerable vocal presence. I picked the tune ‘Concrete Rose’ for this list because it seems to encompass all of these things. Another track, ‘Life Under The Sun’, has that double-tap snare over a 4-to-the-floor beat pattern that was talking about as trending earlier. So this album’s timeless sounding and bang-up-to-date all at the same time. The word ‘uplifting’ doesn’t seem to do it justice. Essential music in times when great music like this is more necessary than ever.
Terrace – Sonomatic
For the last track we’re departing house territory for this more pulsating techy electronic number by Terrace. I think ‘Sonomatic’ ended up coming out on the awesome Delsin label in the end. I’ve been sliding it into my mixes as it’s rushy yet somehow kind of mellow, so it’s perfect for late-night listening and for moving from one style to another, be it electro to techno, or back again in the mix. This one also has a certain timelessness about it and I image I’d be just as into it if I heard it in the late-90s as I am now. Somethings never change, and that’s okay because for me, because with music this good they don’t really need to.
So what do I make of 2021 in the end?
For me it was a year that went by very quickly. Not really having many gigs, or attending any club nights, or even festivals meant that I didn’t really create many musical memories aside from continuing to do our online radio show – Heat Werk. On the other side of this coin, doing the show with my brother really continued to be a lifesaver for me. It’s kept me focused on the music I like and not worrying at all about wider trends in dance music.
I want to give thanks to all the DDR community and the other DJs and hosts on the station who’ve kept the vibe very much alive. Also thanks to my bro Daragh and all the guests we’ve had on Heat Werk over the year. Big thanks also to my Mrs, Niamh, for never once flinching from supporting my deejaying nonsense over the years. Finally I hope that, when things open up post-pandemic, I can continue to grow as a DJ and get to play at more parties and in some clubs. I’ve recently started a residency in Lucky’s bar (as I mentioned already), so maybe a seed is sewn here.
Best of health to you and yours,
Pauly (Platinum Ray)