In a media and technology-saturated global society, where the public is continuously bombarded with coverage of mass shootings, human rights violations, and political scandal, finding an outlet to de-stress is becoming psychologically crucial, whether we admit it or not. From ancient Greece to the Renaissance and into the glittery nightclub scene of the late 20th century, dancing has always been a vehicle for escapism and dealing with the struggles of life. Beyond the beach raves, yacht parties, and mass-marketed EDM festivals of the past decade, dance music has often fostered a sense of solidarity and empathy in the face of crises and chaos.
2019 saw massive losses within the dance community through the deaths of Grammy Award-winning producer Philippe Zdar (half of the French house duo Cassius), and the Prodigy’s charismatic frontman Keith Flint. It also saw the passing of Spatsz from influential French coldwave duo KaS Product, and Chicago house diva Kim English, who scored eight No. 1 hits on Billboard’s club/dance chart — which is more than some of today’s megastars like Daft Punk and Calvin Harris. In the wake of tragedy, the pulse of the beat prevails.
As we approach the next Roaring Twenties, electronic music continues to splinter into different subgenres. Glitch house, nu-disco, progressive trance, acid techno, synthwave, trap, tech-house, electropunk, jungle, breakbeat, garage — the variety is seemingly endless. Still, one thing is for sure, the recent doom-laden articles declaring its demise are merely commenting on the dwindling festival scene. Dance music hasn’t lost its worldwide luster in the charts, and no one should be planning its funeral anytime soon.
December has arrived, and with it comes a round-up of some of the best tracks of the year by songwriters, DJs, powerhouse vocalists, composers, and electronic musicians across the globe. From French-Canadian producer Marie Davidson’s riotously scathing critique of modern capitalism to Dolly Parton’s uplifting foray into the world of EDM, these are the creative minds who continue to pioneer new sounds. Not only are they paying homage to their iconic predecessors, but they are pushing the art form into exciting, uncharted territories, and shaping the future of audio on the dance floor.
17. Party Favor – “Wasabi” (feat. Salvatore Ganacci)
Lifted from NYC-based DJ/producer Dylan Ragland’s (aka Party Favor) debut Layers, the unabashedly bonkers booty-shaker “Wasabi” is light on lyrical profundity and heavy on comical weirdness. Featuring dramatic Swedish DJ and performance artist Salvatore Ganacci, the single’s 1980s-style, nostalgic music video is as over the top as you’d expect from such a collaboration. So You Think You Can Dance breakout contestant Rachael Blanchard stars as a spandex-clad Jane Fonda clone, whose “Light & Tight” aerobics routine becomes increasingly sexualized as she gyrates on the VHS boob tube. Hilarity ensues as a motley trio of actors mirror her every ludicrous move to Ragland’s grinding beat and blaring synth horns. One of Layers‘ clearcut highlights, this bouncing bop should spice up your workout playlist, but don’t be surprised if you’re laughing more than working up a sweat.
16. Galantis & Dolly Parton – “Faith”
When the KLF enticed Tammy Wynette to sing “Justified and Ancient” in 1991, it would take decades before the trend truly caught on fire again. From Audien and Lady Antebellum’s “Something Better” (the dreadful), and Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ smash hit “Old Town Road” (the decent), to Diplo’s recent alliance with Nashville expat Cam, “Something Better”, (the outstanding), the collision between country and dance/rap music has been exploited to varying degrees of success. So when Swedish EDM duo Galantis (Linus Eklöw and Christian Karlsson) called upon Dutch rapper-singer Mr. Probz and legendary country queen Dolly Parton to rework John Hiatt’s 1987 single “Have a Little Faith in Me”, it was anyone’s guess how that might turn out.
As Parton recently mentioned in Rolling Stone, “As soon as I heard it, I thought, ‘Yes! This is a song that the world needs right now. It’s all about uplifting mankind and believing in a higher power.” Well, all is in divine order, and bus driver Dolly is at the wheel. “Faith” has now landed the pop-cultural icon her first No. 1 single on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales Chart, so they were all definitely on to something.
Having conquered the globe with their colorful, quirky albums and eye-popping videos, Galantis didn’t reinvent the wheel on their latest, toe-tapping effort. “Faith” falls somewhere within the tropical house sub-genre and throws in a string section and some synth mandolins, for that country flair. Formulaic (in a great way) though it might be, their collaboration is undeniably catchy and one of the more inspirational, mainstream tracks of the year. In these tumultuous times, that is sorely needed, and clearly, Dolly knows that. If anything, it sparked a desire within the ageless star to explore more dance-oriented sounds, so who knows where this party bus will stop next.
15. Maluca – “NYC Baby”
In the decade after her debut single “El Tigeraso” was unleashed upon the world, Afro-Dominican rapper/musician Natalie Ann Yepez (aka Maluca) released a mixtape (China Food), a smattering of singles (“Trigger”, “Mala”), and collaborated with Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique on “Love Is Free”. The debut album that everyone assumed would drop once she signed to Diplo’s Mad Decent label never materialized, though. That is all set to change. The Washington Heights-bred artist who got sidetracked by drugs, alcohol, and the chaos of living, is now sober and busily putting the finishing touches on that long-gestating set while teasing devoted fans with her comeback single.
Produced by Sam Sparro, Aussie singer-songwriter and producer extraordinaire, “NYC Baby” brings back the flavor of the late 1980s/early 1990s Freestyle era at its height and infuses it with tropical house, and Yepez’ rap-fire wit. Over brassy Casio horns, airhorn sirens, and rumbling synth passages, Maluca humorously raps, “New York City in the summertime / Sweat dripping down, Papi damn you’re fine / No AC in Juela’s house / Good luck getting up from the plastic couch,” before one of the year’s most infectious choruses arrives and sinks its hooks in deep.
14. Norman Doray – “Morning Light (Arno Cost Recut)”
One of the disco era’s biggest hits came roaring back to life this year courtesy of French house heavyweight Norman Doray (born Jérémy Lecarour) and the queen of ‘quiet storm’, Marlena Shaw. In 1979, the legendary vocalist recorded a dance cover of Diana Ross’ No. 1 single “Touch Me in the Morning”, for her album Take a Bite, and it saturated discotheques across the globe. Sampling only a portion of that iconic classic, Doray and fellow DJ/producer Arno Cost tip their hat to the sound that defined the decade, but give the track a glossy modern sheen. Enveloped in strings, Shaw sings, “Well, I can say goodbye in the cold morning light / But I can’t watch love die in the warmth of the night,” over and over again, like a moment of crystalized sadness stuck on repeat.
13. Salvatore Ganacci – “Horse”
“Try to relax your anus.” In a genre dominated by cookie-cutter clones, Bosnian-born Swedish DJ/producer Salvatore Ganacci is a polarizing oddity, a theatrical affront to the “stand still and push a button” DJ purists and a riotous reminder to not take life so fucking seriously. Whether you were smitten with or infuriated by his viral-making Zumba class antics at Tomorrowland, there really is no other artist on the electronic music scene whose sets have evoked such ire, support, and controversy.
In April of this year, Salvatore delivered the video for his pulverizing club bumper “Horse”. While the phenomenal track is like a relentless jackhammer to the skull, the single’s bizarre video has eclipsed the music and sent the internet into a frenzy with its protest against animal cruelty. Salvatore, the hawk whisperer, hops into his enormous vegan loafer on wheels and frees the benevolent beasts from the cruel clutches of humanity, but not without giving us some of the year’s most GIF-worthy dance moves.
Call him a performance artist or call him a crazy class clown; either way, DJ culture is getting trolled, and it’s hilarious to watch the furor over nothing. Bear (pun intended) in mind folks, it’s just dance music we are talking about after all, not a staid lieder recital. Men in Hats once sang, “you can dance if you want to”, and Ganacci is dancing all the way to the bank.
12. Tom Staar & Brian Cross – Hornet’s Nest
Relentless and frenetic as a swarm of irate insect’s out for vengeance, this riveting collaboration between English DJ-producer Tom Staar and Barcelona-born entrepreneur, DJ, and producer Brian Cross, sinks its barbed stinger in deep and pulls out quickly before plunging back in again and again. A delectably nasty exercise in tech house, “Hornet’s Nest” bounces along with a blunt-bladed bassline, before erupting in a fury of squelchy synths and a gut-wrenching woman’s cry that soars over the chaos below it. As if the track weren’t mesmerizing enough, its trippy, kaleidoscopic video is like stepping into an LSD-fueled fever dream.
11c. Jaded – “Hand of God” [TIE]
In May, Jaded released “Move It”, a hard-hitting Caribbean-flavored, old school hip-house track with a hint of electro-swing, and July yielded another blistering single with football anthem “Hand of God”. Conceived during the last World Cup, this tribute to Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona features a saucy turn from yet another unnamed, fiery female vocalist, and a deep, grinding beat that won’t stop. With industry fans from Jax Jones to Fatboy Slim and a seemingly endless supply of sublime tracks in their arsenal, expect mainstream success and one hell of a spectacular debut LP in the future.
11b. Jaded – “Move It” [TIE]
In February, Jaded collaborated with New York City electro duo Black Caviar and UK duo Antony and Cleopatra for “Slippin”. Marvelous British-Ghanaian singer-songwriter Anita Blay (aka Cocknbullkid) gives the late Madeleine Kahn’s monotonic performance of “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles a run for her money, with one of the most delightfully bored deliveries in decades. She sings, “If you see me mañana / I be chill like Obama / But I’m winning like Pippin / No, you won’t catch me slippin,” over a bouncing bassline and queasy, angular synths, and you cannot do anything but succumb to the power of the track’s booty-shaking beat.
11a. Jaded – “Slippin'” [TIE]
Blame it on a Beatle. Thanks to a remix of Sir Paul McCartney’s “Hope for the Future,” London DJ and production trio Jaded (Nari Akrami, Jordan Parkinson, and Teo Cretella) rose within the ranks in 2014 and have continued to make a massive splash on the international dance scene with one annoyingly exceptional offering after another. Not since Basement Jaxx burst on the scene has there existed such a quirky, inventive electronic troupe, one that brings something fresh to the table to devour. This year saw the release of three dazzling house tracks, all tattooed with the group’s irreverent style.
10. Polo & Pan – “Gengis”
Anyone who has listened to recordings and witnessed Parisian electronic duo Polo & Pan’s Technicolor-splashed live sets can attest to the overwhelmingly different aesthetic on display. Early electro-cumbia singles and charming 2017 record Caravelle were perfect for a lively social gathering, but rave-worthy? Not so much. That’s primarily because the treble-always eclipsed the bassline in the mix. Sometime between the arrival of the deluxe edition of their album, the “Mexicali” remixes, and their collaboration with Yuksek on the tropicalia-spiked cocktail “Cadenza,” they cranked up the bass behind the deck and in the studio. From polite dinner party to full-blown bash, the French DJs recently set sail on a world tour in support of their debut, with spellbinding singer Victoria Lafurie in tow and a few new surprises along the way.
In the middle of July, Paul Armand-Delille (Polo) and Alexandre Grynszpan (Peter Pan) released epic floor-filler “Gengis,” taking a sharp detour from their signature sound. Heavily influenced by Debussy, Ravel, Air, Moroder, and Vladimir Cosma, their past tracks were whimsical, even Disney effervescent at times, but this boundary-pushing banger is truly something wondrous and unique. Clocking in at over seven minutes (3:52 for the edit), the track takes fans on a psychedelic journey to the Mongolian steppe with the sounds of tsuur flutes, steel jaw harps, guttural throat singing, and a punishing beat that pushes the boundaries of what dance music should sound like in the 21st century. Forever thinking beyond the box, Polo & Pan are poised for greatness if they continue to follow this inspiring muse.
9. Irène Drésel – “Chambre 2”
French electro/techno musician, composer, and producer Irène Drésel conjures up blindingly brilliant tracks that capture the nuanced color and chiaroscuro of sound. A graduate of Paris’ prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, this polymorphous artist first garnered attention in the music world for her 2017 EP Rita and has continued to receive accolades for her phenomenal live sets over the past few years. Following the release of singles “ICÔNE” and “Medusa”, Drésel revealed her magnificent debut album Hyper Cristal in March of 2019.
Led by fourth track “Victoire” and its psychedelic taxi ride video, the record has somehow been cruelly ignored by most North American media outlets. In turn, Irène has remained a best-kept secret amongst European audiences, as she has continued to tour the continent with live percussionist Sizo Del Givry. Second offering “Chambre 2” will hopefully expose her to a broader audience. Arriving quietly in mid-November, as if it were a specter passing through a hallway, the track’s accompanying video features live shots of the Normandy countryside, and a mysterious hotel draped in Drésel’s animated drawings. Like a psilocybin-fueled trip down the rabbit hole, this sensual single is dark and foreboding at first, slowly creeping into your bloodstream and heightening your senses, before it finally wraps its hot lips around you over the course of three exquisite minutes.
8. Metronomy – “Salted Caramel Ice Cream”
Three years after their fifth album Summer 08, English electro-indie band Metronomy reappeared with riff-heavy lead track “Lately” and “Salted Caramel Ice Cream”, a bluesy, sugar-laced, summery single off their latest record, Metronomy Forever. Equal parts Fever-era Kylie (“Can’t Get You Out of My Head”) and Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown”, this buoyant dance floor stomper features one of the year’s most habit-forming synth choruses and a lip-licking vocal performance from bassist Olugbenga Adelekan and frontman Joe Mount. As if that weren’t enough, the Sesame Street gone Pufnstuf vibe of the track’s wildly wonky video only adds to the charm of the Devon-based quintet’s frothy dancefloor confection.
7. Kiddy Smile – “Slap My Butt”
Queer French artist Kiddy Smile (born Pierre Hache) is no stranger to courting controversy, simply for being true to himself. The “French prince of vogueing,” made global headlines last year when he performed at the Élysée Palace for president Emmanuel Macron, wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Fils d’immigrés, noir et pédé” (“Immigrants’ son, black and faggot”). A mouthpiece for a seemingly invisible community within an already marginalized community, this fierce, fearless, masterful DJ, singer, producer, actor, dancer, and fashion designer continues to humbly reject the labels of “icon”, “advocate”, and “role model”. By bringing the spirit of the Paris ball culture to the masses with his defiant, glitter-flecked performances, his mere existence has sparked debate, and Hache has become a positive catalyst for change within and beyond the LGBTQ+ community.
In September of 2018, Smiles dropped his poker-hot debut album One Trick Pony, followed by a string of staggering singles/videos — from the risqué “Dickmatized”, to the stirring gospel pop of “Be Honest”. Nothing could have prepared his fans for this spring’s salacious, neon-streaked ode to sexual delusion, “Slap My Butt”. In sharp contrast with the bat shit crazy submissive lyrics, Kiddy is totally in charge here on camera and holding the reins. Clad in a cheetah-print spandex onesie with assless chaps, he gives three salivating spectators one hell of a hot lap dance. Filmed at Amsterdam’s Casa Rosso Peep Show and inspired by the TV series POSE, this delectably smutty house track and its witty, body-positive clip are by far some of the most entertaining 3:37 you’ll encounter all year.
6. Marie Davidson – “Work It (Soulwax Remix)”
“Love yourself. Feed yourself. So you can be a winner.” Two years after her third solo album, Adieux Au Dancefloor, French-Canadian electronic producer Marie Davidson returned with her critically lauded 2018 record, Working Class Woman. In April of 2019, album highlight “Work It” was given a fierce face-lift by legendary Belgian band Soulwax, accentuating this punishing acid house track’s biting satire of capitalism with an air of sweat-stained drama and high operatic camp.
Leaving the skittish synths behind, but retaining the 1980s workout video meets self-help guru vibe of the original, the duo’s ingenious remix kicks off with a brittle, metronomic drum machine and a rip-roaring sample of Outlander’s 1990s single “Vamp”. Deadpan lines like, “How does that feel? Is sweat dripping down your balls?” still seethe with sarcasm, but housed within David and Stephen Dewaele’s daffy, Decade of Decadence digs, they seem infinitely more amusing. If the track wasn’t already exquisite fodder for DJ and drag queen setlists before, this remix should ensure that it will find a permanent spot in the queer nightlife canon.
5. Peggy Gou – “Starry Night”
“Everybody wants to feel alive, and what connects people is music and dance.” Korean-born, Berlin-based DJ, producer, and fashion designer Peggy Gou has swiftly risen through the international DJ ranks since her debut EP Art of War arrived in February of 2016. Now with seven EPs to her name, the globe-hopping dance music icon launched her own independent record label, Gudu Records, released the 69th installment of compilation series DJ Kicks for !K7 Records, and created her fashion label KIRIN (“giraffe” in Korean) in the spring. Relentless ambition has catapulted her to the top, and now she books over a hundred live gigs a year, so it’s no wonder she hasn’t quite found the time to deliver her debut LP, but she promises that it is in the works.
In late July of this year, Gou released her breathtaking music video, “Starry Night”, lifted from her latest acclaimed EP, Moment. Shot in South Korea and directed by filmmaker and photographer Jonas Lindstroem, this big-budget, widescreen love letter to the ancient Korean harvest dance Ganggangsullae, features Yoo Ah-in, the lead actor in the award-winning 2018 film, Burning. In an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music’s Beats 1, Gou said, “I wanted to do something that would make you dance like nobody’s watching.” This gorgeous, acid-imbued piano house track and its sumptuous, cinematic visuals achieve that desired effect from the first frame and measure to the last.
4. Crush Club – “My Man (feat. Nicki B the Vagabond)”
Rising from the ashes of electropop outfit Avan Lava’s quiet demise, NYC-based producer, multi-instrumentalist Le Chev and gifted vocalist TC Milan recharged in the sunshine of the Ibiza coastline and formed Crush Club. Following a string of electric singles and the Alive EP, the duo resurfaced last month with their scorching new track “My Man”, and tossed a lit match on a crowded dance floor. Call it nu-disco, call it deep funk house, call it whatever sub-genre you like, but don’t expect to sit still once that rubbery bassline works its magic all over your body.
Featuring some stratospheric guest vocals from powerhouse singer Nicki B The Vagabond, the new frontwoman for Brooklyn-based ESCORT, this insanely catchy track is equal parts heyday Scissor Sisters (dare I say, infinitely better) and Prince at his most delectably funky. If their recent TED Salon appearance is any indication, Crush Club knows how to work even the most staid of crowds into a sweaty frenzy. Expect big things and bigger stages, as this killer collective continues to churn out more of these ass bouncing contemporary classics.
3. KDA – “The Human Stone (feat. Angie Stone)”
On January 7, BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac crowned “The Human Stone” the Hottest Record In The World, and the subsequent buzz became deafening for most of the first quarter of 2019. No stranger to topping the charts, British DJ and producer Kris Di Angelis (better known as KDA) broke into the dance scene in 2015 with his smash hit single, “Turn the Music Louder (Rumble)”, a re-working of his instrumental track “Rumble”, with vocals by singer Katy B and rapper Tinie Tempah. Fast forward four years and a long-dormant mash-up of the Human League’s 1981 commercial breakthrough, “The Sound of the Crowd”, and Angie Stone’s smoldering 2001 single “Wish I Didn’t Miss You”, finally saw the light of day.
Conceived on DTPM night, during a live set in room three of London’s epic club Fabric well over a decade ago, the track was eventually dusted off and offered to Annie Mac. Once spun, the anthem instantly prompted a bidding war. It’s not hard to figure out why. That stunning voice still stops you dead in your tracks and wrapped in this endlessly imaginative collision of 1980s new wave, early 2000s R&B, and hard-hitting house, it all just works. Truthfully, it congeals so well, that it is hard to imagine the originals in their previous incarnation at all. Forget the radio edit and ride the wave of the extended mix.
2. The Chemical Brothers – “Got to Keep On”
Twenty-four years after their smash hit debut Exit Planet Dust, pioneering British dance duo the Chemical Brothers delivered their ninth adventurous studio album, No Geography, in the spring of 2019. Preceded by a flurry of acclaimed singles, this future-forward record with its old-skool flavor, featured fewer guest spots than its predecessors. It also saw an expansion of the group’s songwriting palate, through psychedelic flourishes (“Mah”) and menacing, bongo-laden gems like “Bango”.
“Got to Keep On”, the album’s massive third single, drives home the reason why this constantly evolving duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons continues to pack festivals and has long outlasted 1990s peers like Orbital and Leftfield. Featuring a cheerleading squad of ebullient stacked voices, cooing “oohs”, courtesy of Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora, and pealing bells, a la 1970s Chic, this disco-leaning highlight is an irresistible addition to their chart-topping oeuvre. The track begs for visuals and legendary directors Michel and Olivier Gondry deliver the goods, bringing a Soul Train boogie to the track’s video, complete with fierce dance-offs and writhing white bodysuits that morph into a human mozzarella ballet.
1. Georgia – “About Work the Dancefloor”
Touted as “One to Watch” by The Guardian in 2015, British DIY producer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer-songwriter Georgia was set to take the electronic music scene by storm when her self-titled debut dropped to critical acclaim. Then all was seemingly quiet from the daughter of Leftfield founder Neil Barnes. A revered drummer for Kate Tempest, Sampha, the xx, and Kwes, the former footballer for QPR and Arsenal Ladies should have shot to the top of the charts in ideal world, with tracks like “Feel It”, “Kombine”, and her slow-burning ballad, “Heart Wrecking Animal”, but nothing quite stuck. Her latest offering should fix all that. Born after a weekend of non-stop, sweat-drenched clubbing in Berlin, “About Work the Dancefloor”, with its bright stabbing synths, hypnotic, robotic chorus, and soaring outro, is a glorious thing to behold.
As if the Knife, Robyn, Giorgio Moroder, Sheila E, and Stevie Nicks had been squeezed into a blender and poured into a tall glass, this stellar single and its seizure-inducing video are far too smooth to be tossed back like a dirty shot. This is a sip worth savoring. Summoning you to the dance floor, she sings, “I don’t have much in terms of money now / I don’t have material gifts for you / You want me to stay a while / To be in a moment with you,” and how could you resist? Georgia’s pounding paean to nightlife hedonism and the complexities of love is a clearcut contender for track of the year, in or out of the club scene, and an exciting teaser for her upcoming sophomore set, Seeking Thrills, in 2020.