Simian Mobile Disco
best dance-floor anthems of 2008
At least four different Fabric mixes could have landed on any reputable list of the year's best dance collections. Depending on your mood and hormone levels, Metro Area's syrupy Demerol disco mix, M.A.N.D.Y.'s 25-track thumpfest (featuring Yello, Gui Barrato, and Booka Shade), or DJ Yoda's insanely diverse FabricLive mix (Violent Femmes, Jurassic 5, Bell Biv Devoe, Adam F, Wiley) could effectively have wobbled your ass. Simian's stands a little above the rest (save one — see below) in its audacity, inclusiveness, and ability to celebrate electro and house without resorting to the stupid futuristic robotic stuff. The set opens with Seventies Japanese cheeseball Tomita; features the year's best dance track (Hercules and Love Affair's "Blind"); transforms "Suite Equitra," by the late NYC street composer Moondog (who's having a very healthy afterlife as a mixtape MC), into a dance-floor stomper; and digs deep in the crates to uncover genius inventor/musician Raymond Scott. It closes with a great threesome: Plastikman's "Spastik" into Green Velvet's "Flash" into (of all things) the Walker Brothers' "Night Flight."
(Word and Sound)
Part of Ellen Allien's BPitch Control posse out of Berlin, Sascha Funke creates crisp, clear, antiseptic beats on his own tracks. This mix, released by the popular Watergate club in Berlin, hits all the right riddims if you like your techno with funny chirps, bloops, hisses, and electro-riffs swirling around the bottom-end bass bump. It's a cool mix of minimalism, one in which repetition is dotted with tidbits of oddball melodies and sampled voice wisps. You won't hear any raucous divas pretending to lose their virginity, no dumb k-hole trance washes, or dirt-covered electro. Rather, Funke offers a mixed sampler of mostly 21st-century, mostly German techno, with one glorious surprise smack dab in the middle: Midwest (Wisconsin) rave legend Woody McBride's "Boy Girl Boy Girl."
Lagos Shake, A Tony Allen Chop Up
Anyone interested in rhythm and soul shouldn't miss this deep, satisfying instrumental ode to Nigerian drum master Tony Allen. Released on the ace British label Honest Jon's, Lagos Shake features sliced-and-diced samples taken from the solo work of the percussionist best known for his work with Fela Kuti's Africa 70 band. Allen's beats are a feast for remixers — so many sounds, such varied rhythm clusters to work with.
You can always count on DJ/Rupture to school you on the latest advances in the postjungle rhythms of dubstep and the outer regions of experimental electronica. Rupture, who was born Jace Clayton, recently returned to the States after a long stint in Spain, and he's now in New York City, where he hosts a show on the great WFMU. Seamlessly overlaying ragga MCs on top of angular beats, mixing weirdo synthetic tones with off-kilter melodies, and juxtaposing deep funk with high-end noise, Uproot targets the sound of rumbling bass and beat. Electronic-music fans unable or unwilling to track the newest developments in dubstep should make a beeline.
Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story
Purists who prefer live action to the computer kind will find great joy in Funky Nassau. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell set up a studio in the Bahamas in the late Seventies and hired reggae rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare to address the bottom end, which attracted musicians from across the globe (the Rolling Stones recorded there, as did The Police). And for good reason: Shakespeare's confident, rolling bass lines and Dunbar's skittering, jerky way with the beat helped define early New York hip-hop, which in turn informed the late-Seventies and early-Eighties downtown arts scene, where Grace Jones, the Talking Heads (and their offshoot, the Tom Tom Club), and the diva Cristina were taking notes. They and others traveled to Nassau and created the bounty presented here.
Nobody Knows Anything: DFA Presents Supersoul Recordings
There's nothing like good, clunky house music, and no one save maybe Metro Area does it better than DFA Records. The good news is that the label, co-owned by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, has not only been expanding its own roster but also augmenting it by partnering with kindred labels such as Rong Music of Brooklyn and Supersoul Recordings out of Berlin. The latter label is featured on Nobody Knows Anything, a selection of new Euro disco-house sides that are funky, a little cheesy, and filled with electro-retarded whirs and washes that sound great on the dance floor. Fans of Italo-disco kingpin Giorgio Moroder's proto-techno will dig this, as will anyone hopped up on Ecstasy and looking for weird sounds spinning through beats.
We're taking some poetic license here, because Tussle's Cream Cuts isn't a mix CD, but it is a dance CD, and one of our favorite records of the year. The San Francisco-based band creates live dance music that draws from disco and house without being derivative. The wah-wah on "Titan" competes with big drums for attention for a good five minutes; then the track halts and the sound of crickets creates confusion. You soon realize this is Tussle's version of a hook: silence filled with insects. Add to the equation the soothing piano plonk in "Night of the Hunter," one of the best dance songs of the year, and you've got live-action thrills.
Buraka Som Sistema MP3
If we might trend-spot for a moment: The success of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" following its placement in both Pineapple Express and Slumdog Millionaire has opened America's ears to thrilling international polyrhythms bouncing across the globe. I think we're on the verge of a new international sound, one that leaps continents and oceans in a single YouTube bound, and mutates not only through neighborhoods and cities but also across borders, courtesy of the massive collaborative studio that is the Internet. While Buraka Som Sistema hasn't released an official mix (though its new Black Diamond full-length is pretty wild), this 45-minute set (search for it online) offers what feels like the beginning of a new world. There are hints of techno, drum 'n' bass, kuduro, and everything else beat-related, all mixed into one big-ass thrilling ride.
This CD could stay in your stereo for three weeks straight and you would love every minute of its bumping, funky, streamlined techno. Equal parts smart, funny, angry, thoughtful, and dreamy, Ame's selection of earthy, vibrant beats is tangled with rhythmic variation and some amazing spoken-word selections, all remaining at that easy, smooth 124 bpm clip. There's Moondog again, this time offering a monologue. A few tracks later, activist/poet Ras Baraka's "An American Poem" infuses the rhythm with outrage: "My God, where is all the American poetry? Not poems about your attic. Not poems about how your clothes fit, or fucking poems or stale slobber or the night before or the morning after." Exactly. And you can dance to it.
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Santi White, who is Santogold, was my favorite musician this year, closely followed by Diplo, whose taste at times so overlaps with mine in the D.I.T.C. way that he feels like a blood brother. For Top Ranking, the Philadelphia DJ transformed Santogold's self-titled debut into a mixtape, laying her a cappella vocals over a wild selection of tracks from the past 30 years, souped up with remarkable reconfigurations and segues: the B-52s' "Mesopotamia" (underrated classic, produced by David Byrne); Black Flag's "Six Pack" bass line sampled, funkified, and rejiggered with wicked Cutty Ranks vocals; the Dixie Cups classic "Iko Iko," infused with a DJ Magic Mike-inspired Miami bass rumble.