Having already collated our favourite reissues, compilations, albums and record labels of 2012, today we start our annual shakedown of the year’s best singles. For now we’re unveiling numbers 100-76, with the announcement of no. 1 coming this Friday, December 14. The first 25 selections see inclusions from a smattering of big names – Shed, Levon Vincent and Legowelt all feature – alongside a host of talented newcomers including Huerco S, Roche, Bambounou and MGUN, with in-depth reviews accompanying every selection.
In customary style, the only Levon Vincent solo release of 2012 was announced with no prior fanfare. The A-Side of Stereo Systems features the stripped back title track, an early highlight of the Berlin based producer’s Fabric 63 mix from earlier this year. Lifted out of the context of his Jedi-style mixing there, the track sounds all the more remarkable in isolation, a deathly kick drum offering sole forward momentum before an ever daunting array of beautiful crystalline synths rain down in a manner you feel could slip into infinity. The flip side was even better, with the loose percussive stomp of “Together Forever” followed by the insanely catchy loop-driven house of “Specks Jam”. Business as usual then.
Skogan, Flicken och Flaskan
Young Swedish producer Axel Backman seems to belong among that new breed of bedroom producers whose dreamy, malfunctioning slant on electronic music is perfectly suited to the cassette tape format. Backman first stole our attention under the 1991 name, surfacing on the Astro:Dynamics Soundcloud at the turn of the year with the stunningly degradated treatment of The Cure that was “Open To The Dark”. That track eventually appeared on Backman’s debut release, the eponymously titled 1991 tape put out by Astro:Dynamics in September, and this gauzy, star gazing side to the Swede was explored further on High-Tech High-Life, his subsequent release for the breakthrough label Opal Tapes. All of which didn’t really prepare us for his latest Opal Tapes opus, Skogen, Flickan och Flaskan, released under the linked MCMXCI moniker, which traded the meditative qualities of his 1991 project for some unrelenting, melting techno brutality that sounded like Jamal Moss suffering from demonic possession.
Tom Trago/Terrence Dixon
Tracks From The Vault Vol 2
The Vault Series from Rush Hour evokes amusing mental images of the label’s staff rummaging around the dusty basement of their Spuistraat headquarters for lost, arcane and unreleased gems worthy of latter day re-evaluation. The self-styled “cheeky series” launched in consummate fashion late last year with an unreleased track from the still mysterious Duster Valentine complemented by the timely repressing of an Aardvarck classic. The template was flipped back in April when Rush Hour released volume 2, placing the timeless Actress remix of Tom Trago from ’09 on the A-Side, offering an illuminating chance to compare its gritty thrust to the Werk Discs man’s new LP R.I.P. Of equal interest was their decision to include a previously unreleased Convextion remix of the Terrence Dixon track that inspired the label’s name, preceding the Detroit producer’s re-emergence in the latter stages of 2012, which was surely one of this year’s most musically rewarding stories.
Club Constructions Vol 1
Club Constructions Vol 1 was perhaps the record that best encapsulated the subtle shift in the Night Slugs aesthetic in 2012, one that also marked a new stage in the production career of L-Vis 1990. While the influence of Dance Mania has always loomed over Night Slugs, this record, with its five raw tracks of relentless kicks, rubbery textures and vocal jolts provided a blistering antidote to the swathes of copycat Kerri Chandler house that did the rounds this year, and showed that the “neon” tag that has followed the label around since its early days wasn’t really applicable any longer.
Bed Of Nails
Techno and noise music have always occupied the same orbit, but Vatican Shadow emerged as one of the key figures bringing ear-bleeding textures together with more conventional rhythmic structures this year. An alias of Dominick Fernow – best known as noise artist Prurient – his releases were difficult to keep on top of such was their frequency. However, it was September Cell, released on his own Bed Of Nails imprint that stood out, the gentle pads of the title track’s two halves belying its savage undercurrent of grizzled beats and industrial scrape, while on the flip, it was the furious rhythms of “Cairo Is A Haunted City” that really managed to transmit the manic energy of his incredible live show.
It would be fair to say that Shed’s third album, released on 50 Weapons in the summer, was somewhat divisive. While some were happy to see it for what it was – an album of blockbuster techno with no pretentions towards anything other than the dancefloor – some may have felt it didn’t quite push enough boundaries – something that was especially apparent in the context of this single that preceded it. “The Praetorian” is 90s ambient done Shed-style, a rolling snare slowly smothered in glassy digital sheets which alone would have stood out, but B-Side “RQ-170” was the real killer, a piece of lurching 160bpm savagery that sounded like the producer had reanimated the partially decomposed corpse of jungle itself.
Tuff City Kids
Bobby Tacker EP
In announcing Unterton, Ostgut Ton said the sub label would have a broad remit, promising to utilise it as an outlet for remixes of existing Ostgut material along with the more open ended possibility of music from “befriended artists and one-off projects”. Unterton’s second release set the standard, procuring the first original material from the Tuff City Kids duo of Lauer and Gerd Janson. The bizarrely named Bobby Tacker EP lived up to the billing, cramming all the production experience the pair had stockpiled on numerous Tuff City Kids remixes into three tracks with only one thing in mind. Just like any year, functional dance tools were ten a penny in 2012, but few stuck in our memory as hard as this Tuff City Kids 12″, with a noticeable mastery of powerful synth leads and rugged bottom end which we imagine sounds immense bouncing around the Panorama Bar’s soundsystem.
A New Brutality
Ali Wells aka Perc is a central figure in the UK techno renaissance, and has also worked hard in forging the already strong ties between industrial and techno music in his own unique way. On A New Brutality it was impossible to tell whether he was being serious or simply taking the piss; this kind of ambiguity is prevalent among all the great alternative artists, from Joy Division, The Fall and Throbbing Gristle to Larry Levan and Shed. Are those tones at the start of the title track a sample of the TV test card or Perc fiddling with an insane frequency? On “Cash 4 Gold”, the questions continue, the uncertainty lingers; is Perc satirising Britain’s army of Vicki Pollards or has he presented the listener with the hopelessness and desperation of working class life in modern-day England? Certainly amid the grubby, twisted broken beats it is almost possible to smell the stale chip oil mixed with the bang of overflowing ashtrays and unwashed armpits – is it funny, tragic or just fact? After all, it could just be Ali Wells having a drunken laugh. We may never know – and that sums up the beauty of A New Brutality.
Stellar OM Source
Image Over Image
Belgium based producer Stellar OM Source is best known for her mesmeric and generally beatless synthesiser compositions, but in late 2012 she returned with her most overtly Detroit techno-inspired release to date. Image Over Image retained all the hallmarks of SOS – sweeping synths evoking images of a colour-soaked digital world – but fused them with visceral drum patterns reminiscent of Terrence Dixon. Released through Rush Hour’s low profile No Label imprint, the four tracks on offer positively shimmer, from the stunning kaleidoscopic keys of “Club 5-7” to the proto rave of “Innergy”, the sheer driving force of “Situation Ja Love” and retro-fusturstic bleeps of “10785 Sound System”, all of which sounded like the perfect soundtrack for a virtual stroll through one of Superstudio or Archizoom’s radical utopias.
With bass music hurtling ever faster towards a beige sound of flaccid day-glo synths, tired R&B vocals and plodding tech house rhythms this year, Elgato stood out as a producer proving there’s still plenty of room for experimentation in the space between dubstep and house. Melding the atmosphere of early dubstep with a micro-house beat, the 118bpm “Zone” inspires movement in the head, not the feet, combining a sludgy vocal with intense bass pressure. “Luv Zombie” is its mirror image, coiling up tension with its vocal, the bass drop offering a gentle lift in energy instead of an oppressive weight of force.
The Ginseng Root
While Inskwel ended the year with a superbly presented induction into the Unthank family, our favourite release from the Australian producer was the The Ginseng Root EP that surfaced over the summer months. You couldn’t find a more appropriately named label than Dopeness Galore for this four track slab of health conscious boogie which had us hooked from the off thanks to the magnificent “High All The Time”. Driven by a crunched up and spat out regurgitated DMX flex, the frenetic ease with which he flipped between a soul strained gospel vocal hook and the slightly ominous “back in your speakers” line floating over a spectrally charged elastic bass line makes for one of this year’s most idiosyncratic productions. The velveteen MPC manipulations of “Salada Estrelar” and heavily fonked collaborations with Tom Trago and Benny Page ensured this 12″ was quality all the way through.
Stand Against War
Although the ambitious Mala In Cuba project attracted plenty of column inches and generally achieved its goal in combining Mark Lawrence’s bass pressure with the rhythmic percussive influence of Cuban musicians, Stand Against War saw the South Londoner return to doing what he does best, releasing two highly sought after gems from the DMZ vault. The instantly recognisable vocal sample and complex rhythmic thrust on “Stand Against War” has been a staple of Mala sets since 2005, while the relatively newer cut “Maintain Thru Madness” (which has been floating around since 2010) is all about the pitter-pattering percussion, sitting high in the mix above oodles of sub bass and requisite siren wails. In a year that saw many jumping aboard the tech house bandwagon with glee, Mala’s classicist stance is worthy of respect.
Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui
Danny Wolfers is no stranger to silly aliases, but in Sheela Rahman the Dutchman has found himself a new partner in crime. The San Franciscan known more commonly as Xosar seems equally willing to Holland’s forest techno figurehead to adopt fanciful monikers in order to escape mundane everyday life via racks of dusty drum machines, synths and 16bit computers. First seen proffering the self-styled San Jose brand of Surfer House as Trackman Lafonte and Bonquiqui on Crème earlier this year, a more powerful statement arrived with the Pacific House EP. A rarely spotted L.I.E.S. sleeve embellishment had them shouting out their contemporaries such as DJ Rude Ronny M, while laying down their mantra: “Surfer House is a way of life, either pull in hard or back off”. Musically Pacific House had them slamming down sick, raw drums from the Poindexter school of rhythm against hyperactive vocal loops and dreamy tape degraded textures.
“Apparently I’m 20 years ahead.” These are the words of Paris-based record dealer and producer Gwenael Jamois aka Iueke, who revealed in an interview with Dazed Digital back in March that the three tracks on his Tapes 12″, released earlier this year, were actually crafted back in the early 90s. The record was the debut missive from Antinote, a new label with a stated focus on unearthing unreleased material from bygone eras, and it’s hard to imagine a better debut release, with “Tape 1” opening proceedings with a clipped intro drowning in fuzz and hiss – this was mastered direct from a cassette tape that had been gathering dust in Jamois’s mum’s loft after all – which soon gives way into a booming, reverberated kick drum. “Tape 2” meanwhile is the kind of crusty tape loop industrial techno jam that sounds like it could be a L.I.E.S. white label release. With Aphex Twin a notable Iueke acolyte, it’ll be interesting to see what else Jamois has lying around in that loft.
Lolita (Warehouse mix)/Alone
The influence of jungle seemed to seep in to a lot of productions this year, but nobody quite translated the unhinged energy of the genre into a modern package as successfully as Paul Woolford’s Special Request project. This first of three hand-stamped white labels this year seemed pieced together from half-remembered tracks heard in the fuzzy space between frequencies; although the 4/4 pulse of “Lolita” showed more of Woolford’s techno credentials, it still bounced breaks around its airhorn-like bass with ease. On the flip, “Alone” provided one of the most sinewy tracks this year, holding amen breaks, diva vocals and acid together by a thread, jumping around at will and infusing it with pirate radio spirit by giving the impression Woolford was changing the dial on a wireless.
Speaking to Juno Plus earlier this year, Jamal Moss touched on the vetting process for people looking to release music on his Mathematics label, stating it revolved around tracks so dope he’s mad that he can’t make that music himself. We get the feeling Moss had this Mathematics debut release from Roche fresh in his mind when saying that, specifically the lead track “Sans Quimico”. Employing a tried and tested technique of a lull inducing opener, the dusty restrained spools of percussion spiralling in on themselves don’t really prepare your senses for the sudden explosion of textural incandescence that locks into groove and pulses with alien life. It’s all too easy to picture Moss spitting out his hot wings with gleeful surprise as this track’s rich details continue to unfurl with a certain panache. The other two productions from San Franciscan Roche wisely don’t look to replicate this approach, though a sense of glowering light remains present, flickering brilliantly amid the shifting rhythmic pulse of “LFTL Eternal” and residing in a more subtle, smudged position on the sumptuous glide of the title track.
Idiot Savant Masterpieces
House music swung back into favour this year, the widespread popularity dominated by what some call the cookie cutter approach – tepid recycled shallow house movements devoid of soul. Those who impressed did so by releasing music distinguished by their own uncompromising and refreshing approach. Veteran Chicago native Amir Alexander was definitely among this group, a producer who’s been around since the late 90s but found his distinct slant on US house and techno embraced by a wider audience in 2012, releasing music on labels as diversely positioned as Argot and HYPE Ltd. For us Alexander’s standout release was the Idiot Savant Masterpieces, surfacing in October on his own Vanguard Sound label and perfectly encapsulating his craft. For anyone battered into submission by repeated play of “Au Seve”, the lead track on this 12″ would reinvigorate your love of house music, “The Realest Of The Real” agitating effortlessly from crisp 303 fuelled focus to all out madness, coming across as a rawer take on Tyree Cooper.
If we still operated our long dormant Ones To Watch feature, Huerco S would be a compelling case for inclusion. Next year will see the Kansas City native surface on numerous labels in one shape or form, and his continual stream of productions and remixes for the fledgling but highly ambitious DIY tape label Opal Tapes has become a highlight of 2012 for us. Contributing to one of the label’s earliest releases, the three track Untitled cassette set the tone for how deep Opal Tapes would consider plunging, creeping bleary eyed through a sultry blend of smudgy techno, stuttering house and gauzy, crackling ambience. What truly impressed was the ease that Huerco S teased out moments of glistening melodic light just when you had settled on the notion that the path ahead was daubed in thick, claustrophobic darkness. Subsequent remix treatments on 51717 and MCMXC1 tapes have left us very excited about where Huerco S is going.
BDI presents Compassion Crew
In an ever shifting age of zeitgeists, amusing sub genres and short lived trends, Running Back remain one of the few constants, a eminently charming label mining their own path of decidedly oddball house music and various related strands, all touched by a certain idiosyncratic nature. It made perfect sense for the crimson masked shenanigans of Redshape to appear on the label for a new album, much like it made sense for Disco Nihilist and Theo Parrish to deliver 12″s. One of the most rewarding emissions from the tutelage of Gerd Janson was however Paper Tears, a three track plate from the mysterious BDI described in suitably amusing terms by Running Back as “Vatican house”. Last seen on Rush Hour, BDI’s re-emergence presenting the Compassion Crew was an archetypal Running Back release, offering three variants on the same track that veered through stripped back Catholic boogie, reverse 707 laden Muzic Box fonk and hissing drum machine bliss. All three perfectly suited for various moments on the dancefloor, something that seems to be a Running Back pre-requisite.
Detroit native Manuel Gonzales graced three of our favourite labels in 2012 in Wild Oats, Don’t Be Afraid and The Trilogy Tapes and challenged ears with each and every release. In a calendar year when many seemed content to copy/repackage what came before (and were celebrated for doing so) those who push boundaries catch our attention and Gonzales truly did with the Harmnear 12″ for Kyle Hall’s label. The record presented two experimental explorations into the deepest recesses of Detroit techno, with the unsteady, bristling title track so cavernous in its execution there isn’t really a sufficient physical depth to measure it. It’s overshadowed however by the jaw dropping “Konnekt” which discarded any notion of rhythm, remaining in stasis as Gonzalez brandishes an incandescent synth tone with similar deadly intent to a Barbarian wielding a newly smelted sword. The track raises the hair on the back of your neck in a similar fashion to Pangaea’s “High” but is far less reliant on computer assisted time stretching to achieve that goal.
Works The Long Nights
This year saw Blawan and Pariah move further down the techno wormhole, experimenting further with hardware production techniques during some fruitful sessions with the Analogue Cops. However, it was their collaborative Karenn project that saw perhaps the starkest and most abstract productions from the pair in 2012. Released on their Works The Long Nights imprint, this doublepack contained six tracks of techno sequenced live with their hardware only-rig, with tracks like “Nicotine Window Netting” displaying a subtly abrasive, hypnotic sound that recalled Throbbing Gristle as much as it did Third Side, and “Clean It Up” venturing into propulsive Jeff Mills territory. This pair have been instrumental in the resurgence of techno in the UK, and this doublepack demonstrates just why they’ve earned the respect of their older peers who have been in the business for decades.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Get
Providing the next 12″ after the long-delayed “Swims” was never going to be easy, but Mickey Pearce’s first record for the Loefah-helmed Swamp81 instantly washed away any bad taste its predecessor’s ridiculous hype had left in our mouths. Building on his previous production life as Shortstuff, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Get” was characterised by its rattling, spindly, grime-inspired rhythms and sticky bass drop, with “I Am” bringing elements of African pop together with searing sheet metal textures, thudding bass toms and synthetic yelps. While everyone in the bass world seemed to be looking to techno for inspiration, Mickey Pearce stood out as being responsible for creating a type of techno birthed on the floor of FWD in an alternate universe.
Stephen Samuel Gordon – better known as The Spaceape – has been suffering a rare form of cancer called Neurolymphamatosis for the past three years, and Xorcism is based around the artist coming to terms with the illness. The tracks featured on the EP are essentially a series of vignettes, each clocking in at under three minutes, but this is all they need to have a powerful effect such is the potency of The Spaceape’s typically poetic lyrical flow. Track titles like “Your Angel Has Come “, “He Gave His Body Over To Science” and “Up In Flames” reflect the gravity of the themes explored on the release; sonically it’s heavily influenced by Haitian music, with rhythmically complex percussive elements buried beneath the vocals. In an era in which too much music is devoid of context or emotion, Gordon’s heartbreakingly intense and deeply personal opus was a revelation.
The Sun God
This year saw Mathematics maintain their co-op approach, releasing music from Napoletano, Heckle, Simoncino and others, with label boss Jamal Moss electing to issue his own brand of singular electronic music via other labels (aside from a limited CDr and the brilliantly nasty +++ white label The Human Experience). Choosing to bring The Sun God alias out of creative dormancy, Moss opened proceedings on Paul Du Lac’s Bio Rhythm label in fine style with the Being Hieroglyphic EP. The three tracks here aligned his penchant for distorted, mangled sound to straighter grooves than the kink-laden rhythms you’d expect from a Hieroglyphic Being plate, which in truth magnified the effect of the dissonant yet hypnotic gloopy melodies even further. The corrugated, acid splattered machine funk of “Molokan (Rhythm Edit)” was a particular highlight, bludgeoning onwards despite the fact it sounds on the verge of fully malfunctioning at several points.
Arguably 50 Weapons’ brightest talent in 2012 was Parisian producer Bambounou, whose crafty combination of contemporary Berlin techno, Detroit electro and UK bass forms felt like the aesthetic the Modeselektor-helmed label has been moving towards for the past few years. The Cobe EP offered three tracks showcasing his wide ranging approach; the hyperreal, precision techno of “Chrome”, the syncopated, ghetto leaning vocal cut-up of “Mass”, and “Deepstaria”, a twisting piece of acid electro that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Boddika 12″. Bambounou may make music without any pretentions towards anything other than the floor, but when the music’s this deadly, it’s difficult to find fault with it.