Here it is – the final 25 selections of 2012’s finest singles and EPs. We won’t ruin the surprise for you – scroll down to find out who came in at number one – all we’ll say here is that this year’s winner was a unanimous choice at Juno Plus HQ. Looking back over these top 100 releases, we’re left with the unshakeable impression that 2012 was a great year for adventurous, challenging electronic music, from the blossoming new generation of UK techno artists to the growing pool of artists who look back on the hardcore continuum for inspiration. We hope our list reflects the full gamut of sounds we soaked up – at home, in clubs, at festivals and on the way to work – over the past 12 months, with certified anthems nestled happily alongside more subtle gems. Enjoy.
Cabrini Green EP
Dixon Avenue Basement Jams
Launching with Jared Wilson at the helm for their debut release, Glaswegian imprint Dixon Avenue Basement Jams set the bar high and justified their stated ethos “Real rockin’ raw shit from the street for the clubs”. Few, however could have predicted the label’s next move, turning to the seemingly Marquis Hawkes for the Cabrini Green EP, a four track release that overshadows his more illustrious label bedfellow. Little remains clear about Hawkes; the label insists he’s a new talent, and these four tracks proved the latter and then some. Final track “Sea Lion Woman’ has naturally gained the most exposure, a highlight of podcasts from Pangaea and Kodiak in recent months which sees a killer vocal sample buried deep beneath a mental ghetto house percussion workout, but it’s complemented by the surrounding tracks that veer from knackered red line house to pitched down Strictly Rhythm tackle via the kind of lysergic workouts that Funkineven has been pioneering of late.
Change In A Dynamic Environment EP1
Of the three Change In A Dynamic Environment EPs that Untold put out this year, it was the first undoubtedly stood out as the best. Though dark, abrasive, nasty techno has been one of the trends of this year (see Blawan and MPIA3), these tracks stand out simply because they sound like nothing else. Developing the techno direction he took with his Clone Basement release last year, Untold took inspiration from drum & bass to create the savage “Motion The Dance” and “Luminous”. Initially light of character in their patient introductions, they metamorphosise into nightmarish vistas composed of visceral, waspish drones, creating tracks that were at once panoramic and claustrophobic.
4 Club Use Only
According to L.I.E.S. boss Ron Morelli, Delroy Edwards’ debut is one of the label’s biggest selling 12”s to date, which may initially seem strange, because it’s appeal isn’t immediately obvious; it doesn’t have the same naïve charm of the Willie Burns or Steve Summers releases, the self-conscious irony of the Trackman LaFonte and Bonquiqui EP, or the unique atmosphere of the Jahilyya Fields album. Compared to these records, it may seem slightly lacking in character. What this record is – that those records aren’t – is absolutely fucking bad-ass. One look at Delroy Edwards Soundcloud page will show he has more than a passing interest in ghetto house, and while “When The Glue Won’t Burn” isn’t quite the frenetic experience you’d associate with the more famous Dance Mania moments, it has that same coarse, sinewy, muscular quality – as does the bulging acid pulse of “Love Goes On & On”. Even “Bells” – a tracky number with a sweeter marimba melody – still has a gravel crunch and a belly full of lead.
Although his first productions emerged last year, 2012 has seen Tessela become one of the bass world’s brightest talents. Bucking the trend for the watery house and limp dub-techno imitations that have characterised the output of certain labels in the scene, Tessela seems capable of creating tracks that make you feel like you’re being thrown from side to side. Like Randomer, he throws jungle, breakbeat and techno into his mix, and though Tessela seems to favour a rounded form of crunch over scythe-like edges there’s a enjoyably cartoonish feel to their productions. Tessela’s Punch Drunk debut was the pick of his release this year, pairing “D Jane”, which bounced around like a surreal Tex Avery loop, and the frenetic “Channel”, probably the finest example of what has been dubbed “the UK bass donk”.
Tropic Of Cancer
Permissions Of Love
2012 was the year that Camella Lobo made Tropic Of Cancer her own, unravelling the layers of mystique that surrounded the project to become it’s creative figurehead whilst Juan Mendez dovetailed into focusing on moulding his own individual musical juggernaut as Silent Servant. Flirting with several labels in advance of a debut album due for release in the coming months on Blackest Ever Black, Tropic Of Cancer might have shed the intrigue but the reverberating power of their music remained very much intact on projects with Ghostly International, Sleeperhold and most impressively Mannequin. Permissions Of Love peeled off the glum sonics of the band’s previous output for Downwards ever so slightly, where the echoed guitar lines previously suffocated, here they allow just enough breathing space for brittle drums on “The One Left’, whilst the soporific weight of the spectral organs on “Beneath The Light” is perfectly judged. This all sets the scene for the final heart breaking tenderness of “It’s All Come Undone” where Lobo’s barely audible vocals slowly descend into darkness accompanied by the fuzz edged ambience.
We get the feeling that the idiosyncratic music that Willie ‘Speculator’ Burns makes is very much evocative of the man himself. Sounding very much like Legowelt doing an impression of Hunter S Thompson when presenting the WT Records show on Newtown Radio, Burns has juggled an increasingly impressive and diverse array of WT output with his own productions, remixing everyone from Erol Alkan and Switch to Orgue Electronique and supplying a killer twelve for The Trilogy Tapes in The Overlord. Across four tracks, Burns presented a wider palette of sound than you’d previously have associated him with, veering from blissful Balearic jack to Afro infused MIDI love via uneasy 80’s instrumental balladry with a Sex Tags twist and the massive “what the fuck” track that is title production. Re-appropriating 90s Hoover rave aesthetics for contemporary analogue house replete with aerated synths being pulled backwards against their will is something few others have attempted this year, let alone do it with the success of Burns.
Sex Tags Mania and its raft of sub-labels had a productive 2012, releasing everything from the cavernous dub reggae of Kambo Super Sound and boisterous disco edits from the memorably monikered Grillo Wiener, to Frak’s stripped back house and Madteo’s idiosyncratic experiments. Our pick of the bunch however came from label co-chief DJ Sotofett; lead track “Pulehouse (Reggi mix)” was a milieu of 808 snares, chirps and chirrups soldered to a deep-as-fuck bassline. It’s complemented by two further tropical excursions on the flip, with the rainforest beatdown of “Sta Opp Med Sola (Chiang Mai version)” complemented by the full on psychedelic afro house wig out of “Assa Med Den Derre Floyta”, where a drunken flute forms the centre piece around which all manner of jangling percussion and barely-there kicks contort into a twisting, loopy, hypnotic groove.
Live At Robert Johnsons
There are numerous Max D related releases we could have included on this list, Orgy Of The Hemp Eaters is worthy for title alone, whilst the late in the year contender for RVNG Intl acts as a true primer for the debut album from the Future Times captain. In the end it was his arrival on LARJ with an extended take on “Polo” that resonated most joy with us in 2012. Dunbar supposedly reworked the track from last year’s Max Trax For World Peace EP at the behest of the label, so taken were they with its “bleepy bonbon”. Expanded into some ten minutes of crystalline gorgeousness by Dunbar, it was complemented by Lauer’s best production of a prolific year, adding his own knack for melody and the most sumptuous of deep house grooves with truly angelic results. The 12” also came brandishing a “No1 illegal download of the year” sticker, ranking it high amongst amusing record release of 2012 too.
Powell’s 2011 debut The Ongoing Significance Of Steel & Flesh was notable for the inclusion of an edit from UK techno don Regis, but in truth the original material on offer demonstrated enough musical ingenuity to ensure any future Diagonal transmissions would be eagerly anticipated. Across the five tracks on Body Music, Powell further carved his own distinct sonic niche, drawing on a palette of sounds that included rickety drum patterns that operated outside standard rhythmic sense, odd vocal samples and textural repetition that burrowed deep. The title track demonstrated this aptly, and along with tracks like the lolloping “Grand Street” could feasibly be very much at home on the Downwards DO series, while “Search” discarded with percussive notions altogether, relying on droning sub bass experiments to draw you in.
On listening to the debut release from Bandshell, several reference points can be identified – Actress, STL and Blawan to name three – but Dust March is an EP far too complex to be boiled down in such a simple way. Every track is subtly different – the title track sounds like a kind of sludgy dubstep broth played at the wrong speed, the drums and yelps of “Rise Em” display a kind of nihilistic tribalism, “Dog Sweater” is like a grime track left to melt in the sun and “Metzger” exhibits a sort of haunted shuffle – but each track shares the same stifling atmosphere and sense of sinking paranoia. This year felt like Hessle Audio had returned with a renewed sense of vision and this EP was the shining example of just how far down the wormhole they’re willing to go.
Now We Relate
As excellent as Jam City’s Classical Curves was, it may have disappointed those looking for club tracks in the vein of “Ecstacy (Refix)” or “Aqua Box”. For those people, there was this extended version of album standout “How We Relate To The Body”, along with the incendiary masterpiece “Now We Relate”, the true centrepiece of this Night Slugs white label release. Jam City’s music has always traded in dysfunction – with a sound like it’s been constructed out of Meccano – but “Now We Relate” takes that to its logical extreme. Constructed around a skipping half bar of house music, it judders like a generator whose desperately pulled ripcord finally splutters into life a whole four minutes into the track. The eventual release is probably the most explosive moments of dancefloor ecstasy you’re likely to hear this year.
Fatima / Funkineven
We’ve been clamouring for the release of “Phone Line” since deep into 2011, and what further superlatives could we possibly lay at the feet of Funkineven and Fatima for the track? In a perfect world this is the track that would make the two of them international pop stars, though we’re sure this is a title neither artist truthfully wants. Undoubtedly a contender for B Side of the year, “Phone Line” finally saw release in August as part of a brilliant full EP between the two Eglo mainstays that really demonstrated the range of the duo’s potential together. The killer swinging boom bap of “90s” echoes the satin dipped RnB antics of TLC at their most sultry,, whilst “East To West” crosses LA boogie vibes with some off the scale rhythmic subtleties that would do Maurice Fulton proud. “Phone Line” is of course the high light and its ease of mixing with Andres’ “New For U” combines two of this year’s best moments.
Bristol-based producer Nick Edwards aka Ekoplekz released a vast amount of music in 2012, but of all his material the most musically robust and conceptually intriguing offering was Dromilly Vale. An imaginary recording studio that is a cross between King Tubby’s on Dromilly Ave, Kingston, and the Radiophonic Workshop’s Maida Vale studio in London, Dromilly Vale is a fascinating concept in itself, and one that was pulled off with considerable finesse. Introductory track “Dick Mills Blues” framed this idea with a cracked fog of soothing tones that could be considered sun-drenched, while the rest of the EP experimented extensively, with the title track firing analogue bullets into an echo chamber and “Neutronix” sounding like a frantic 80s VHS ident caked in spring reverb.
It’s The Arps
Of course, we had to include It’s The Arps which brandishes one of this year’s most ubiquitous tracks in “Inspector Norse”. Like most “anthems” you’ve probably heard the track one too many times, it was known to get dropped at least three times a night at The Nest circa March, and some of you might have got slightly annoyed with the track’s inherent tweeness. However, few people can deny the uplifting joy it possesses when Terje’s masterful manipulation of the Arp2600 arrives on a speaker system, and the EP as a whole demonstrated the Norwegian’s growing prowess when it comes to original production. Given that Terje founded Olsen with the intent of releasing music programmed entirely from individual models of vintage analogue equipment, we can only hope that his recent financial benefit from a certain popstar’s latest attempt for chart success will help fund the next release.
Valley Of The Dry Bones
“Valley Of The Dry Bones” by Chasing Voices surfaced by the usual Preserved Instincts platform associated with Dope Jams back in January, and the impact of hearing the enigmatic collective’s fourth and perhaps most powerful release in three years hasn’t lessened one bit. A handsomely gothic screen printed sleeve sets the tone for what unfolds within; markedly slower than their previous work, the track feels like a euphoric moment in a warehouse rave captured and distilled in the kind of thick, viscous sonic dust Andy Stott’s been bathing in of late, operating at a ghostly tempo that seems to laugh in the face maniacally at the concept of beat matching. We’ve never witnessed a DJ possessing the skills, or indeed the cojones, necessary to unleash all nine minutes of this track on an unsuspecting club gathering, but live in hope of one days seeing such an event.
Kassem Mosse/Mix Mup
The Trilogy Tapes
Having established a sound and an audience with numerous highlights over the past few years, Kassem Mosse elected to show his hand this year by focussing largely on collaborations, working with Aaron Siegel for a FXHE release here, surfacing on Diamonds & Pearls alongside XDB there. The most rewarding music however was to be found in the work Mosse completed alongside fellow Leipzig native Mix Mup, with this not quite an LP for The Trilogy Tapes an obvious highlight. Announced in typically post modern style via the Hessle Audio Rinse FM show, KM MM breezed through a dizzying and highly experimental range of tracks, happily placing genuinely thrilling moments of sonic bombast next to arrangements that came across like three different tracks mangled together. In the midst of all this, “Birds Flying In The Sun Like U Know How” came across as calming and unashamedly odd, the ghost of Nina Simone plunged deep into the plucked, malfunctioning house groove.
Kahn & Neek
Kahn has proved himself to be one of Bristol’s most versatile young producers, turning in two essential singles for Punch Drunk last year that took in the purple strain of dubstep and classic UK garage. But even in the context of his rampant genre-hopping, “Percy” – produced in collaboration with Neek – was an unexpected swerve into uncharted territory. While Kahn’s previous efforts were all characterised by their clean sound, “Percy” is a scuzzed up piece of proto-grime in the mould of Youngstar’s “Pulse X”, with a snarling sample of Roll Deep’s Flow Dan from the Rinse FM Christmas podcast circa 2006. “Fierce” on the flip was no pushover either, providing a nasty, distorted piece of digital dancehall which sounded like the nastiest, dirtiest bits of Zomby and The Bug rolled into one.
In choosing L.I.E.S. as our number one label of the year, further difficult issues arise in separating and arranging in order of favour their various releases over the past 12 months. In the end it had to be Bookworms contribution to the White Label series that rose to the top, mainly because this release perfectly encapsulates the label’s knack for releasing astounding music from seemingly unknown talents. “Love Triangles” blew us away from the moment it surfaced on Soundcloud, existing in that exciting crawl space between accepted musical genres, hinting gleefully at aspects of house, techno and freestyle without fully embracing any of them. In addition, the record granted the gliding brilliance of “African Rhythms” the (limited) physical release it was due, some years after the production was somewhat strangely embraced wholly by the UK Funky community.
The Head High alias is generally whispered in hushed tones among the techno community; and when an anonymous, coffee stained white label simply marked “RAVE” arrived earlier this year, it swiftly flew out of Berlin’s Hardwax store before most were aware of its existence (soon after all was revealed and the 12” got a proper release on the Power House imprint). There was something undeniably positive and visceral about the major key chords and unrestrained joy present in the tiny vocal snippet of the record’s A-Side and the uniquely crunchy quality to the manic hi-hats and mucky kicks of the flipside offering that don’t quite match up with anything else he’s done. It’s difficult to explain the appeal of such a functional set of tracks to a casual observer – and the aura that the RAVE promo created is the kind of thing only true vinyl enthusiasts will ever truly identify with – but for those in the know, the excitement this record inspires is exactly the reason we persist with our quaint and outdated hobby.
His He She & She
It’s hard to explain the appeal of “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage”, but L.I.E.S. boss Ron Morelli perhaps put it best when he compared it to a Green Velvet track. The Fugees sampling vocal sounds almost exactly like a leering, maniacal Curtis Jones, the relentless drums a ringer for the marching band aesthetic of “Flash”. They’re both relentlessly bleak, with stifling atmospherics and tribal rhythms that sound like they’re soundtracking a rave in hell. You have to admire a producer with the courage of his convictions to risk alienating his more casual admirers with something so uncompromising, but to put it with three equally brutal tracks and ultimately create one of the best UK techno records in a generation is something else entirely. Blawan’s sound is currently being pillaged like no other producer making music right now, and there’s reason for that – but he’s proved time and time again that he will always be several steps ahead.
Despite being a respected producer of those in the know for some years now, 2012 was the year that Kowton really seemed to blossom as a producer. A pair of 12”s saw him take the dark strain of house and techno he’d been cultivating over releases for Idle Hands and [Naked Lunch] and strip everything back, recomposing it into a warped form of instrumental grime. Although demonstrated first on his Livity Sound release earlier this year, it was “Des Bisous” with its distorted 8-bar drums and infectious string melody and its experimental, reverb heavy counterpart “Dub Bisous”, released on his own Pale Fire imprint that really left their mark. Grime has always been an influence on Kowton, but these tracks made it more explicit, combining the genre’s ruder tendencies with a gritty techno aesthetic that shook the sounds of identikit tech-bass out of the ears of everyone who heard it.
S E X
FXHE roughly ruled the first few and last few months of 2012 with a series of killer 12” transmissions from the Detroit network, with the S E X Remixes undoubtedly our favourite of the bunch. The record arrived in typically oblique fashion, with three (and a bit) uncredited remixes presented of a track that is, at the time of writing, yet to surface. With some labels this might prove quibble-some, with FXHE you were left to admire a record that further smeared the expectations of what Omar S is capable of. If you’ve been in a club that plays underground house music this year then you’ll have heard the neck snapping Conant Garden Posse version or the s detuned analogue nightmare of the Mack & Bewick remix. Both are just shaded by the brilliantly titled AOL (who we presume is Aaron Fit Siegel, Omar and L’Renee) who offer two variants, one short, the other long that sounded directly inspired by the Drive OST.
Mister Saturday Night
A debut release for both label and artist, Anthony Naples’ Mad Disrespect EP launched Eamon Harkin and Justin Carter’s Mister Saturday Night imprint in consummate style. The title track saw snappy, shuffling beats recall classic New York house and mid-90s New Jersey garage, but with the addition of hissing cymbals more reminiscent of Detroit techno. The garage influence was more obvious on “Slackness”, a skittering, breathless composition that suggests Naples has a love of contemporary British bass music. Then there’s “Tusk”, a gently undulating concoction that sounds like a tribute to Detroit deep house. Its top end was characterised by skittering cymbals – delightfully programmed to switch between complimentary rhythmic patterns every 16 bars – while its mid range boasted the sort of warm, fluid keys reminiscent of Kenny Dixon Jr’s finest moments.
Don’t Be Afraid
Established in 2009, Don’t Be Afraid was largely an outlet for productions from outspoken label boss Semtek until last year when the Synthetes EP from fellow London dweller Mr Beatnick seemed to signal a switch to a more ambitious approach. This year saw Don’t Be Afraid step it up markedly, expanding to incorporate a 10 inch sub-label and an asparagus themed celebration of Record Store Day with some high profile contributors. These releases demonstrated an ingenuity lacking in some other labels and complemented the strong clutch of records that surfaced under the main Don’t Be Afraid banner. Strong 12”s from Photonz and MGUN bookended the year, but it was the Sun Goddess EP from Mr Beatnick that was always going to feature highly on our end of year list. Across the four tracks, Mr Beatnick demonstrated a marked progression in confidence and sound from his previous work for DBA, with the title track a gem that will remain rewarding far into the future.
New For U
It will be no surprise to New For U high on a many an end of year list, and it’s placement atop our 100 tracks of 2012 was swiftly agreed upon. The title track to Andrés’ debut release on his own La Vida label has undoubtedly been one of this year’s ubiquitous dancefloor moments, heard by the Juno Plus editorial everywhere from a grotty Dalston bar before an Innergaze gig to Caribou’s mammoth DJ set in Peckham, and rising from the tinny speakers in a bar on top of a car park. While “New For U” was undoubtedly granted a wider audience after being chosen to close out Nick Höppner’s Panorama Bar mix CD, that doesn’t deflect from its original spread via word of mouth. The track’s popularity grew organically as more and more DJs learned just how effective on a dancefloor the simple yet effective combination of swooping strings, rich chords and deep vocal samples riding that dusty groove are. Combining the beatdown Andrés has been producing on Mahogani for years and deep house elements that bring to mind “Deep Burnt”, LAVIDA 001 made for one of those 12”s that will remain a highlight of any DJ set long after 2012 has passed.