2016 in Music – A Compendium

2016 was a year in which I played less DJ gigs but listened to five times as much music than the year before, a lot of it in rented sedans and long-haul flights. I was  grateful to be have been invited to play Magnetic Fields Festival in Rajasthan earlier this month which was easily the best festival I’ve attended in a long time. Ali and Prince died, and so did Leonard Cohen and David Bowie and Maurice White (RIP). I wore out two pairs of headphones by October, and trudged in the cold New York rain the morning after Donald Trump won a historic election. Here in India, people are (still) lined up for hours at banks to get access to their own money after the dumbest move by any government ever. It’s been a pretty fucking horrific year for most people so thank heavens for the music because on the music front, 2016 hasn’t been half-bad. Dig in, hang tight.

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Hailu Mergia – Wede Harer Guzo
Back in the ‘70s, Bombay’s hotels hosted Friday and Saturday night affairs for hipsters of the day who danced to the latest in psychedelic music, soul and jazz and even Bollywood jams courtesy of the house band. The ‘house’ band, usually comprising an area’s most prolific musicians, is stuff of legend, even in India. Mergia’s house band was formed almost by chance at the Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa and this tape was recorded during an afternoon rehearsal soon after. That’s before it disappeared altogether. Thank you Brian Shimkovitz/Awesome Tapes From Africa for yet another great discovery.

µ-Ziq – RY30 Trax
Gotta say this is much preferable to the Aberystwyth Marine longplayer also out on Planet Mu and definitely more in line with Paradinas’ earlier work. That’s also because this was recorded in 1995 and released only this year (as was the remastered and re-edited reissue of Mike & Rich’s Expert Knob Twiddlers)

Adrian Younge – The Electronique Void
Adrian Younge’s Los Angeles topped my 2015 list. The Electronique Void sees him travel in in a different direction, experimenting in the studio to get into the heart of the synthesizer as a sound source and then beginning to work outwards. This is something I’ve gone back to on the regular because of my own work with modular synths. I particularly admire how Adrian works here with space, kinda playfully yet almost scientifically precise.

Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
Speaking of Adrian Younge, he’s had a hand to play in this surprise Kendrick release, specifically that doozie at the end featuring Cee Lo. To me, untitled was a breath of fresh air after the obvious burnout of TPAB, which was no doubt excellent by itself. I think the casual drop of this suite and the handful of live performances on TV (watch below) really made this a huge year for Kendrick Lamar.  

Scott Monteith – Qawwali Quatsch
Scott Monteith aka Deadbeat isn’t the first or last electronic music producer to find solace in and be profoundly influenced by qawwali but he’s arguably the most famous to have puts an original spin on it in 2016. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Sophie Troudeau guests on violin as well. This is a record for a specific moment and I’m glad to had many of those since.

TOBACCO – Sweatbox Dynasty
Come on now. How has this not been on every list out there? Easily one of the most inventive pieces of music of all time not to mention crack for the synth and tape nerds.

Nu Guinea – The Tony Allen Experiments
Berlin’s Nu Guinea made sure I began my year on a really high note with this super groovy suite of hybridised nu-age Afro-funk. Nine months in, it’s still fresh and funky as fuck. Unfortunately, I’ve played nearly all of this out in warmup sets recently to near zero fanfare. Maybe that’ll change in 2017.

Andy Stott – Too Many Voices
I remember putting Too Many Voices on for the first time in my hotel room in Moscow after an evening spent at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall and was pleased at how it almost blended in seamlessly after a long evening spent listening to classical music. I’m still digging it as the year comes to a close.

cv313 – the other side
It’s sad how dub techno is so under-appreciated among people who call themselves techno fans in general. And even worse that there’s DJs out there who go out and play some absolutely misleading shite and call that dub techno. Get headphones and surrender yourself to the other side. 

Gaika – Security
If you haven’t bumped this mixtape at least a dozen times or more this year, something is seriously, seriously wrong with you. Gaika will rule the world (aka be tapped by Kanye for his next album) soon and you don’t wanna be playing catch up then.

Kornel Kovacs – The Bells
As the only Studio Barnhus resident making music outside of the typically coy Studio Barnhus vibe, Kornel Kovacs’ The Bells is unique in its vision of bringing a global freshness to the mid-tempo club sound. ‘Dollar Club’ is the kind of floor filler that’ll work as well in Durban as it will in Tokyo.

X-Coast | Steel City Dance Discs Vol. 3 – Ghetto Baby / Natural Dub
From Brooklyn via Novi Sad, ‘Ghetto Baby’ here is my anytime jam. Bumped it driving down Santa Monica Boulevard and had people come up to ask what it was. Threw it on during my warm up set at Bonobo last week and, well, same thing. ‘Dub’ is a proto-eurodance track, admittedly as fun as it is nostalgic.

D∆WN – REDEMPTION
Watching Dawn Richards at the Echoplex a couple of months ago was easily one of my highlights of the year. Following up on Grimes’ excellent Art Angel from 2015 (not discounting Richards’ own Blackheart), this is a great direction for pop music in 2016. Produced by Machinedrum for the most part, who happened to headline that same show, this is what I’d like to hear in the clubs instead of the tired old R&B and trap hits of years gone by. ‘LA’ is among a few standout tracks, S/O to my man Trombone Shorty.

 
 Ital Tek – Hollowed
A world or three removed from Alan Myson’s prolific dubstep (and post) output over the last many years, Hollowed is deep space exploration courtesy of gooseflesh-inducing drones and (mostly) arrhythmic percussion. Possibly his most wholesome piece of work yet. Cue up Jenova below if you really want to know.

Westside Gunn – Flygod
In a year that saw more tongue-wagging around emo-rap than ever before, Griselda x Fashion Rebels kept it real to the bone. To these ears, Westside Gunn scoops rap album of the year by a long shot with Flygod and incidentally one of the most unique voices in hip-hop. Certainly NOT rap for the rock crowd, even though Daringer’s delightful sample choices borrow directly from that world. I could go on and on about how much I fucking love this record but I won’t. Listen to all of it. Hit rewind. Listen again.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Skeleton Tree will be a hard album to listen to if you’ve hung on Nick Cave’s words for a large chunk of your life or if you’ve perhaps lost someone close to you. I’ve managed about 8 or 9 full listens this year, which is pretty surprising to me even. Few works of art as moving as this in 2016. 

Autechre – elseq 1-5
I wonder if Sean and Rob will ever ever top their 2016 output of a 21-piece studio suite plus 10 live albums. elseq 1-5 is staggeringly good and sees them in their finest form in years while the Helsinki show (below) is the icing on an already decadent cake. Take a bow boys.

Abul Mogard – Works
Works is an extension of the old Serb gentleman’s fertile field of sound and ideas. You’d be surprised how most of it works in breaking and yet expediting tension in the middle of a frenetic DJ set (Sunday morning crowd at Magnetic Fields, I’m looking at you). Admittedly, much better consumed in one go in a dark room filled with cold air. Some of the most evocative ambient work in 2016.

Innercity Ensemble – III
Nearly un-fuckwithable and precisely what “world music” could and should have been had it not been taken over by greedy labels to sell compilation albums anodyne enough to play at coffee shops and “ethnic” furniture stores.

Getatchew Mekurya – Ethiopian Urban Modern Music Vol 5
Few blowers out there can hold a candle to Getatchew, a man for all his extraordinary skill, was not formally trained in his weapon of choice – the tenor saxophone. A sad loss to Ethiopian music and the world of jazz in general, he passed away in April this year which led me to pore over all his readily-available work for closure. Technically not a release from 2016, it’s in fact from 1972, but was impossible to find on vinyl before it popped up on Bandcamp this September to the delight of his fans.

Kool Keith – Feature Magnetic
Feature Magnetic sees Kool Keith invite a load of guests (including MF DOOM, Rass Kass, Craig G) to complement his still fly-as-fuck rhymes to fucking bone-chilling effect. Bump it without second thought.

Apollo Brown & Skyzoo – The Easy Truth
“the penning of the God like a scene by the seed of Matilda and Gerard or the lift of a Chopard, my records is over nighters that turn into over never, in hands that’ll hold you second like I’m lifting a Chopard..”
Mello Music has been hard to touch in 2016. Put a lid on all that gluten-free rap you’ve been banging out and nod to some of the finest rhymes of the year courtesy Apollo Brown & Skyzoo.

drumcell – Absence Of Appropriate Effect
“It’s midnight on Wednesday in Bombay and Moe Espinosa aka drumcell is playing to 40 odd people at Royalty in Bandra. 35 of those people are going ooo-ooo like he’s playing a garba night and I haven’t seen a single recognisable face all evening (which in its own way, is great). So where’s the scene kids now? Where the Trixx army at when the real techno comes to town?”
On the streets of LA, drumcell is certifiably the shit. He’s to modern-day techno what Eazy E was to gangsta rap in ’87. This EP from earlier in the year is a fine mix of his modular-driven output as Hypoxia and his abundant four-to-the-floor sound.

Kemba – Negus
YC The Cynic has changed his name and his sound and he’s come back in a different weight class. And if The Farewell Tape was the match that lit the fire earlier this year, Negus is by all means the propane that’ll keep it burning. Not to be slept on, oh no. Kemba’s lyrical gospel will be huge (maybe even outside of the underground). It’s only a matter of time. 

Moor Mother – Fetish Bones
There’s nothing quite like it this year which is why Fetish Bones is such a stand-out release. Carmae mixes pleasantly dark and lo-fi industrial noise and drones with biting, political venom. MC Ride, please take note. This is how it’s done in 2016. A real toss-up picking a song here but ‘KBGK’ is the total package, even though I really recommend this top-down.

LEVELZ – LVL 11
I’ll admit grime hasn’t been a part of my listening habits pretty much ever. The new Skepta record didn’t blow my mind, never got into the Kano fandom of years past either, but I do dig the subversive yet fun stuff LEVELZ have been up to. Pretty much mainlined this album and then reached around for their previous work and lapped it all up.

Convextion – 2845
A 2016 version of Detroit hi-tech soul? Gerard Hanson’s last opus as Convextion came more than ten years ago, and while other left-field techno stalwarts, say DeepChord for instance, have been more regular with their output, there’s no denying this is one of the finest and funkiest albums of this year and beyond. Buy it on wax. You’ll be bumping this for ages.

Riatsu – Reminiscence
Sycamore Avenue, Hollywood, CA, circa 2009. I thought it was pretty funny and also a little weird how while a couple of friends and I were sat in the balcony of an apartment smoking pot and listening to rap music, Shadaab Kadri was sat in the bedroom next door listening to what I’m certain at the time was the sound of waves crashing upon a shore. I didn’t know then how serious he was about making ambient music. This year, he made his debut as Riatsu. Reminiscence is studied work, no fucking around here and not the kind of amaeteur-hour shit Facebook’s cultural theorists like to romanticise about. Here’s my pick.

Data’chi – System
Out on Timesig, famously known as the home of Venetian Snares, Datachi’s return to the standard music release cycle is an exercise in and an exhibition of the creative use of modular synthesizers. System is a compelling album from start-to-finish, especially if you’re into modular production. Hard to pick from an album full of gems but ‘512521’ gets my vote today.

Memorybell – Obsolete
If you know me personally, you probably know I don’t sleep much. Earlier this year, I found the cure. Grant Hazard Outerbridge’s first piece of work since being diagnosed with transient global amnesia, a condition that caused his brain to temporarily stop making new memories, was recorded live in one sitting on a piano. Its bare-bones beauty is absolutely worth your time.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – EARS
I doubt Miss Smith can do wrong. I was introduced to her via Alessandro Cortini in 2012 and there isn’t a piece of work she’s had out there that I haven’t devoured obsessively. EARS sets the bar high high high for even the most accomplished of synthesists. Put the cans on, close your eyes and hit play. Gorgeous art too.

Heorge Garrison – Shortridge
If you ask me, this here sounds too much like Richard D James to not be Richard D James. Tip: You can find rips of the 12” if you dig deep but you’d rather wait for the WAV release that’s supposedly coming soon (been a long-enough wait already). Afternoon delight.

Lorenzo Senni – Persona
Most have likened Lorenzo Senni’s debut on Warp to euphoric trance-y/EDM music minus the big drops; almost free of conventional beats in that sense. In a way, they’re right. The melodies are reminiscent of, at the risk of offending fans of trance music (*cough cough* fuck ‘em), the cheese whiz of rave culture. But this is outstanding sound design, so unbelievably tense and satisfying, there’s no way a producer won’t geek out on it. A proper trip. Don’t hesitate.

Solange – A Seat At The Table
I think anybody in denial about A Seat At The Table being one the better albums of this year simply hasn’t heard it. It’s hard to pick my favourite (not that hard – it’s ‘Scales’ w/ Kelela) but I’ll go with ‘Cranes In The Sky”cause it’s a total jam and has a fresh video out.

Disco Puppet – Spring
“Thrills me to say that the finest release of the year from India comes with zero hype, no premeditated “release campaign”, no big-ticket agency backing or jumping on a trend, or any of the miscellaneous image/marketing shit that’s bound to turn peoples’ attention away from the music a.k.a.the substance of it all” – That was me in October, before I was interviewed by Dutch national broadcaster ORF.at where I spoke extensively about new electronic music in India. I remember the day well because I spent at least a third of my time talking about Spring and about how liberating and free it sounded. While there have been some great releases out this year in the subcontinent, Disco Puppet’s has been the only one for me with instant recall value. It also helps that Spring sounds as BIG on my Genelecs as it does on my cans. Easily the best thing to come out of Bangalore in a long while. Hat-tip to Consolidate. 

serpentwithfeet – blisters
Pretty much what you should have been listening to instead of falling for all the silly hype around Frank Ocean just because the dude is all mysterious and queer and shit as if there are no other mysterious queer people around making music ffs.  This here is all-killer-no-filler courtesy of Josiah Wise and a certain British lad known as The Haxan Cloak.

FaltyDL – Heaven Is For Quitters
Brooklyn native Drew Lustman b.k.a FaltyDL is like my safety blanket when I want to drown myself in music that’s reassuring yet totally inspiring. ‘Drugs ft. Rosie Lowe’ is a total jam halfway through this extremely listenable long-player, but I’ve gotta give it to this µ-Ziq collab (below) for keeping me coming back.

Mark Pritchard – Under The Sun
There isn’t a lot that Mark Pritchard can’t do or hasn’t done already. He’s been generous enough to share his expertise through a number of musical styles under different aliases while always remaining uniquely Mark Pritchard. Under The Sun, therefore, came attached with big expectations and in many ways exceeds them. Not a big fan of the Thom Yorke collab that’s racked up most of the attention, I’m instead drawn to the disposition of ‘Sad Alron’ in an album that’s overflowing with emotion. WARNING: Video contains flashes.

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