Our favourite time of the year – a time when we can sit back and arbitrarily handpick the ‘best’ tracks of the last 12 months. Even the staunchest of snobs (that’d be us) could not deny that 2013 was a great year for underground electronic music. Of course, the internet itself benefitted from the ceremonious return of Pelski, a transformation from weedy blog to beefed-up website, complete with rambling reviews, our very own podcast series and an abundance of new and neglected corners of the site.
Enough about us. Here are the top 100 original tracks that really made an impression this year.
(For our top 50 remixes and edits, click here.)
1. Henrik Bergqvist – Spin / Go For What Hurts
Taking joint first place are two delightfully nuanced house tracks on Aniara from relative unknown Henrik Bergqvist. B-side ‘Spin’ is testament to the fact that it doesn’t matter how repetitious a track is when the groove is this good. As stark and tatty as winter branches, a rattle of rickety percussion forms the backbone, underscored by a boulder of sturdy bass. The A-side is a more tender piece of shuffling house fitted with a delicate violin loop.
2. Damiano von Erckert – No Good Times
Any number of tracks from young Damiano von Erckert’s two 12” Ava LPs this year could lay claim to a place in our top five. Perhaps not strictly an ‘original track’ given its patent sampling, ‘No Good Times’ is nonetheless a marvellous piece of vintage funk. Von Erckert’s fondness for dusty and loose instrumentation lends an authenticity often missing from modern house and soul music.
3. Nirosta Steel – Foxy Pup
Following his untimely death in 1992, Arthur Russell famously left behind a wealth of unreleased material. When Steven Hall aka Nirosta Steel sent us this unreleased gem, we couldn’t help get excited. The track in question was produced on tape by Bob Blank and Arthur Russell in 1985 for Steven Hall’s solo project – and has only now seen the light of day. It is killer in its simplicity: a minimalist improv groove built around an E-minor chord and a slim, metallic drum beat. There’s a gnarled analogue snarl to the bass, whilst Hall and Russell’s delay-laden vocals are as cool as steel.
4. Blanc 1 – It’s All Over
Released on Talabot’s new white label series (limited to 100 pressings), this Pional production showed surprising longevity. The young Spaniard’s vocal-work – a haunting croon that’ll linger on in the back of your head – hangs like a cloud over the tropical, steel-tipped percussion and nagging synth. A staple of Pional’s remarkable live set, it actually packs quite a punch on the dancefloor.
Powell’s ‘A Band’ – a monolith of murky static and industrial clangs – contains so many grey and brutalist elements that it should really sound gloomy as hell. In fact, it is peculiarly upbeat – feel-good, even. Fuzzy synths crackle like an unstable electrical box gone haywire, and the chugging drum machine and guitar-twangs push the blunted groove resolutely onwards.
6. DJ Fett Burger – Disco Tre
The madcap and decidedly lo-fi house and techno of the Sex Tags crew really caught on in 2013. The Norwegian imprint’s ramshackle aesthetic often spills over into the inaccessible for some; but ‘Disco Tre’ perfectly straddled oddball charm and straight-up dancefloor fodder. Its organic bongo drums are scattered so loosely they continually feel on the brink of collapse – just about held together by a propulsive bass beat and warming Nordic disco synths.
7. Dark Sky – In Brackets
Dark Sky have made a name for themselves over the last five years with their darkened, bass-laden output, lending their hands to everything from amen breaks to raw techno. Their deep house excursion on Mister Saturday Night unveiled another layer to their sound. The intricate title track boasts a lovely build-up – a beat-less twirl of strings and synths, both wistful and dramatic – before dropping into a medley of gently snappy percussion. The synth-work lays a shimmer of light across the track, but Dark Sky’s signature, an undercurrent of darkness, is buried somewhere in the shifty rhythms and sinister throb of bass.
8. Pépé Bradock – Imbroglios
A good year for Pépé; this one rather slipped under the radar, released on the fourth instalment in his experimental Imbroglios series which predominantly focused on ambient textures mingled with slack house arrangements. ‘Imbroglios’ is a sweet – almost twee – deep house track, all twinkling synths and dainty clangs of percussion.
Famously just 19 years old, Max Graef has rightly been hailed as newcomer of the year. The seventh instalment on his own vinyl-only imprint Box auz Holz featured this, a sample-heavy bumper encapsulating all of Graef’s staples: jazzy, hip-hop indebted samples, choppy beats and a nagging vocal hook.
10. Floorplan – Never Grow Old
The obvious floor-filler from Floorplan’s album (a side project of Robert Hood’s) features a lustrous soul vocal that sores above the unrelenting bass drum and jazz-flecked keys – all set to a breakneck 132 BPM tempo. It is a masterful exercise in incrementally increasing the intensity: the keys becoming more fevered and the vocal swelling upwards.
Jan Schulte’s ‘Fantasy’ is a magnificent tribal beast that unfurls hefty bass drums, hollow percussion, a host of peculiar squarking noises, and a marimba-like melody that drops you straight into the tropical jungle. Seriously robust analogue house music released on Dusseldorf-based imprint Verein Freier Menschen und Musik.
12. Medlar – Tides
The standout from Medlar’s Sleep LP is wonderfully emotive, darting between wistful, cinematic and soulful all at once. Comparisons to the likes of Moodymann and Andres are more than justified judging by this rugged piece of funk.
Detroit techno seems to have taken a backseat to Detroit house of late. But this slamming 12” released on Paranoid London harks back to the unbridled rawness of early Detroit, unleashing whiplashed 808 rhythms and a rumbling acid bassline.
14. Italo Johnson – ITJ 07A
So-called ‘DJ tools’ can be frankly unexciting propositions. So Italo Johnson’s seventh episode in his ITJ series was a welcome surprise; simple and repetitious enough to earn its ‘tool’ tag, but punchy and wholesome enough to be a banger all of its own.
15. Mind Fair – So Strong
A lush piece of disco, displaying a restraint and patience absent from the majority of today’s churned-out ‘nu-disco’ productions. The languid funk bassline underpins all manner of disco tropes – live percussion, dubby horns, the tinkle of bells – all tastefully executed amidst the sparse deployment of what sounds like a Nina Simone sample.
16. The Raw Interpreter – The Way You Love Me
17. Omar S – The Shit Baby (CP-1 Played By D.Taylor)
18. Rick Wilhite –Tribute & Respect
19. Begin – Here Comes The Sun
20. Simba – Three Kays
21. Mount Kimbie – Made To Stray
22. Damiano von Erckert & Tito Wun – The Way U Do It
23. Eddie C – Every Life Under The Invisible Hands
24. Olivier Boogie – Dance Band
25. The Mole – Now I Understand
26. Shit & Shine – Blowhannon
27. Albinos – Baka Tribe
28. Crowdpleaser – Right Beside You
29. Session Victim – Hyuwee (Instrumental)
30. Daniel Avery – Naïve Response
31. Sandrow M – Schnaubi
32. Levon Vincent – Speck’s Jam
33. Doc Daneeka – Walk On In feat. Ratcatcher
34. Borrowed Identity – Leave Your Life
35. Cuthead – Nautic Walking
36. Baba Stiltz – Our Girls
37. Soulphiction – Drama Queen
38. Ben Sun – Your Footprints
39. Midland – Checkbob
40. Beautiful Swimmer – Spezi
41. Dark Sky – Voices
42. Session Victim – Random Blues
43. Ben La Desh – Escape Route
44. Man Tear – Outside Amore
45. Mr Beatnick – Symbiosis
46. Four Tet – For These Times
47. Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie – Dusty Jazz
48. Romare – Taste of Honey (Give Me Fever)
49. Wbeeza – If You Believe
50. Velour – Speedway
51. Motor City Drum Ensemble – Send A Prayer Pt 2
52. The Right Now – Call Girl (Original Live Recording)
53. Soulphiction – Maybachswagger
54. Palms Trax – House In Motion
55. West Norwood Cassette Library – Acid Jazz
56. Deep88 & Melchior Sultana – Yo
57. Break SL – Zauberhafte Fantasie
58. Saine – Matte
59. Leon Vynehall – Step Or Stone (Breath Or Bone)
60. Axel Boman – Hello
61. Funkineven – The Joker
62. Ugly Drums – Basement Workout
63. Trus’me – T’es Une Pute
64. Pev – Aztec Chant
65. Cottam – The Other World
66. Francis Inferno Orchestra – Amber Express
67. Sisterhood – Call Me Ishmael
68. Quarion – The Plump Shrew
69. Tommy Rawson – Brenda Done Died With No Name
70. Daniel Dub – Smile
71. Graze – Ques
72. Romare – Hey Now
73. Chicago Damn – Temporary Transgression
74. Mr Tophat & Art Alfie – No Holdings (radio edit)
75. Syclops – Jump Bugs
76. Pittsburgh Track Authority – Now’s Tomorrow
77. Tirzah – I’m Not Dancing
78. Martin Brodin – Wilmert 1 & 2
79. Boogie Nite – Gotta A Lot Of Static
80. Eddie C – Jam On Dallas Road
81. Kyle Hall – Measure 2 Measure
82. John Roberts – Palace
83. Even Drone – One A1
84. Ninetoes – Finder
85. FRAK – Talk On Answer
86. Sounds Stream – Julie’s Theme
87. Crystal & S. Koshi – From Red To Violet
88. Dj Koze – La Duquesa
89. Moomin – Au Bord De La Mer
90. Mano Le Tough – Please
91. John Swing – Loving You Is Easy
92. Secret Squirrels #1 – Track A
93. Marquis Hawkes – I Want You
94. Isolée – Allowance
95. Tornado Wallace – Desperate Pleasures
96. Vaib-R – About Freedom
97. Max Graef & Andy Hart – Biting
98. Tessela – Helter Skelter
99. Moomin – You Neva Know
100. Jimpster – Rollergirl