the-10-best-dance-songs-of-2016

The 10 Best Dance Songs of 2016

From the '90s-flavored house of London-based Antony & Cleopatra to French electronic duo You Man, here is a collection of songs from DJs, producers, and electronic musicians that continue to push the frontiers of artistic expression.

In a digital era of rampant piracy, plunging album sales, failing business models, and hotly contested streaming platforms, it is relatively easy to point fingers at record-industry executives and file sharing websites. Like most grey-hued aspects of life, the erosion of the system cannot be pinpointed to one particular element or another. Despite surging vinyl sales, fan-funding platforms, and swarms of festival-goers, 2016 proved to be the “worst year (so far) for music sales since the 1991 debut of SoundScan (now Nielsen Music).” Well, before the death knell tolls and anyone jumps the gun prematurely, it isn’t all gloom and doom, especially for lovers of EDM. No matter what unfolds, in the ever-evolving world of electronic music and its seemingly infinite sub-genres, art and ingenuity will prevail. They have before and they will again.

From cult followings and underground basements, EDM arose over the past decades, punched a hole in the wall of mainstream music, and whipped up a bass-dropped fury that shows few signs of dissipating anytime soon. While the market is oversaturated with electronic artists clawing and kicking their way into the public consciousness, there are business-savvy musicians who have learned how to fuse the latest technology with their artistic sensibilities — without bowing before those who hold the purse strings — to push this industry in exciting directions. With cutting-edge software tools, artists can now deliver DIY products as polished as anything recorded in a plush studio.

Like every musical genre, there are those who innovate and those who merely exploit the popularity of a particular sound and reap the benefits. Not to diminish anyone’s success, but for every formulaic “performer” out there, transcultural painters of sound like Parisian duo Acid Arab outshine them. Talented artists continue to emerge, like New York-based electronic musician/producer Black Coast, and Australian record producer, musician, and DJ Flume, whose stuttering, trap-kissed “Never Be Like You” with Kai, cracked the stateside top 40 and dominated the ARIA Charts.

Artistic integrity and innovation may not always persevere at the top of the charts, but where there are creative minds, there will always be great music, even if the industry collapses and is forced to rise from the rubble. While everyone scrambles for solutions, let us crank up the bass and give into the beat. The list below consists of 10 artists who typify some of the more enthralling dance offerings in 2016. From the ’90s-flavored house of London-based Antony & Cleopatra, to French electronic duo You Man’s mesmerizing track “When We Fall,” here are a collection of songs from DJs, producers, and electronic musicians that continue to push the frontiers of artistic expression.

 

Artist: Galantis & Hook N Sling

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Galantis & Hook N Sling
“Love on Me”

Hot on the heels of their kaleidoscopic debut album Pharmacy and recent hits “Peanut Butter Jelly”, “Money”, and “Runaway (U & I)”, Swedish electronic music duo Galantis (Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklow) return with their latest dance floor dominating global hit. “Love on Me”, a collaboration with Australian DJ/producer Hook N Sling, builds upon the pair’s previous sound palette with their trademark distorted, feline vocals — this time featuring the pipes of English singer-songwriter Laura White — yet sees them flex their muscles, as they take on tropical house. While it might have been a dicey move to try their hand at this overdone sub-genre, they execute it with effortless aplomb. Warm synth steel drums are joined by a lush, full orchestra and progressive house hooks that embed themselves so damn deep, you’ll be humming along hours later despite yourself.

 

Artist: Alex Newell and DJ Cassidy

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Alex Newell and DJ Cassidy
“Kill the Lights” feat. Nile Rodgers

The promotional clips looked spectacular, but HBO’s gritty series Vinyl was met with less than stellar reviews, and in June of this year the premium cable network pulled the needle and silenced the possibility of a second season for the rock ‘n’ roll drama. Attempts to capture the hedonistic spirit of the music industry in the 1970s were entertaining, albeit unconvincing, but the series offered up one of the year’s best tunes as it stepped into the glamorous world of disco. Recorded a year before the series aired, the original version of “Kill the Lights” is a glittery love letter to a bygone era, with American DJ Cassidy at the helm, sweeping strings, and an appearance by legendary Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers.

In true 21st century “more is more” fashion, British chanteuse Jess Glynne was invited to step beyond the R&B/pop guise she’s known for and share the mic duties with former Glee star Alex Newell, on the Audien electro-funk remix of the track. She can’t hold a candle to Newell’s powerhouse diva chops and winds up cluttering the whole affair with her pointless inclusion. Attention music industry, sometimes less IS more. Long after everyone has forgotten the existence of Vinyl, the original version of “Kill the Lights” will hopefully be remembered with affection. It perfectly captures the decadent spirit of the time, in a way most throwback efforts rarely achieve.

 

Artist: You Man

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You Man
“There Is a Land” / “When We Fall” (feat. Jérôme Voisin) [TIE]

It was the summer of ’96 in Callais, when French guitarists Tepat Huleux and Giac Di Falco realized that they had each found the perfect creative foil, in pursuit of a sound unbound by genre, tempo, and clichés. Subsequent bands with names such as Dynamo, Klone, Auto, T&K, and Termi-nus were formed and then dissolved, but by 2013, the retro-visionary project You Man was born, and the two musicians released a four-track collection of songs called Restless. Three years later, those who fell in love with the EP’s cheeky, arpeggiated single “Birdcage” will be pleased to know that the electro duo from Lille have finally released a gorgeous debut, entitled Spectrum To Love.

Like a futuristic session on the metaphysics of consciousness, lead single “There Is a Land”, features two robotic voices who utter clipped, meditative mantras, as they drift in and out of a chilly techno landscape. The track’s equally dark and hypnotic follow-up, “When We Fall”, spotlights the sensual, AaRON meets Antony-esque vocals of GYM lead singer Jérôme Voisin, as he moans and sighs over discordant steel drum passages and a sultry bassline. The album is undoubtedly worth a spin, but Tepat and Giac have created something that borders on auralgasmic with these two stunning tracks.

 

Artist: Antony & Cleopatra

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Antony & Cleopatra
“Love Is a Lonely Dancer”

Sparkadia frontman Alex Burnett and London vocalist, Anita Blay (CocknBullKid), continue to mine gold with their latest single “Love Is a Lonely Dancer”. The songwriting duo, who met six years ago during a UK pop-writing session, have slowly been releasing one remarkable track after another since their Sirens EP dropped in February of 2015. For those interested in a full-length release, the group is currently in the studio working on an LP for release in the future.

Blay’s marvelous debut pop record, Adulthood, never quite caught on with the public as it should have, but here with Burnett, she emits blistering sparks of creativity that her previous solo outing only hinted at on occasion. Produced in NYC by Sammy Bananas, this infectious blend of ‘90s house realness and 21st century bravado is like a splashy Deee-Lite track for the post-millennial generation. There is, however, emotional depth within the lyrics that steps beyond the strobe lights.

 

Artist: Mason

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Mason
“Fashion Killa (Papapapa)” feat. Stefflon Don

Following 2014’s ZOA and his primal ode to ancient dance rituals, Nite Rites, Dutch DJ, producer Mason (Iason Chronis) returned this summer with London’s new rap queen Stefflon Don in tow. When his club track “Papapapa” shot straight to number one on Beatport, he found himself courted by Island Records, and once signed, he retooled it with Azealia Banks in mind. Following a barrage of homophobic and racially insensitive commentary by the controversial Harlem-born rapper-songwriter, he chose to work with UK grime artist Don instead.

Netherland’s underground house scene trailblazer never disappoints, and “Fashion Killa (Papapapa)”, not to be confused with a similarly titled song by hip-hop artist ASAP Rocky, has the kind of crossover appeal that turns low profile DJs into household names overnight. Like many of his previous tracks, this sassy cut shot to #4 on the UK dance chart, joining “Exceeder”, “Runaway”, and “Boadicea” as yet another chart-topping hit for the 36-year-old Chronis.

Enough cannot be said about the hilariously camp, “beware the braids” video, set in a hair salon. It’s as brilliant as the track itself. While Stefflon might be tipped as the British answer to Nicki Minaj, she exudes more star appeal than her American counterpart could ever muster. With this summery single, Mason proves that once again, he has a singular knack for picking the perfect voice for his dazzling instrumentals.

5 – 1

Artist: Eli Escobar

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Eli Escobar
“Phreeky” (feat. Vanessa Daou & Nomi Ruiz)

The penultimate track and lead single from native NYC “house and disco evangelist” Eli Escobar’s Happiness, straddles two golden eras with a mischievous grin slapped across its face. One evokes thoughts of a crowded roller rink, complete with knee-length socks, tight hot pants, and a swirling mirror ball, and the other elicits the vibe of a crowded, sweaty underground club in the early ’90s. “Phreeky” is deep disco house of the funkiest variety, a joyous piano-driven jam that brings together the lusty pipes of legendary chanteuse Vanessa Daou and Hercules & Love Affair/Jessica 6 vocalist Nomi Ruiz.

Shrieking violins stab the bass line, cowbells ring, a hi-hat bounces on a blistering beat, and a choppy, male voice wails, “I need a freak, yeah yeah, I need a freak right now.” Well, this should bring all the freaks to the dance floor. Escobar’s Happiness is hands down one of the year’s best long-players.

 

Artist: Big Gigantic

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Big Gigantic
“The Little Things” (feat. Angela McCluskey)

That voice. It is as stunning in person as it is on record. Since the early ‘90s, when she fronted the L.A. alt-rock band Wild Colonials, Glaswegian singer-songwriter Angela McCluskey has left audiences spellbound with her unique vocal stylings. You’ve heard that breathtaking instrument over countless commercials, but it is through her collaborative work with every DJ/producer you can think of and Télépopmusik’s global #1 hit “Breathe”, that she has slowly started becoming a name on the lips of those who have great taste in music. Add red-hot Colorado electro-jazz duo Big Gigantic to the list.

Released in March of this year, Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken’s bass-fueled, future funk anthem “The Little Things” quickly climbed the charts and recently re-entered Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales at #9. This brassy downtempo banger, with its chunky piano intro, roaring drums, trap, and half-time swagger, contains two of the hardest big bass drops in any dance track of recent memory. Big G’s rise continues with their killer, genre-defying record Brighter Future, and McCluskey continues to beguile with her brilliant new solo album, The Roxy Sessions, a delightfully fizzy cocktail of electro-spiked dancehall gems, string-laden spy themes, breezy yé-yé, and sexy soul pop. With each new release, both Big G and McCluskey prove once again that great talent knows no boundaries.

 

Artist: HiFi Sean

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HiFi Sean
“Lost Without You” (feat. Paris Grey) / “Truck” (feat. Fred Schneider) [TIE]

Love him or detest him, German-American poet, novelist, and short story writer Charles Bukowski conjured up some inspirational food for thought on occasion. A couple of spins of Scotsman Sean Dickson’s phenomenal debut album and a line from one of the controversial writer’s poems comes to mind: “Invent yourself and then reinvent yourself and stay out of the clutches of mediocrity.” Many musicians have a knack for flipping expectations on their head, but few have the talents or the innate artistic instinct to successfully pull it off with poise and panache. Well, then there’s Dickson, whose gifts for crafting dance tracks that shout “instant classic” are palpable, and whose talents are anything but garden-variety.

Former frontman for late ’80s alt-rock band the Soup Dragons, Hifi Sean, stepped away from the limelight after the demise of his critically acclaimed outfit the High Fidelity. With Ft., his star-studded wet dream of a dance record, he has reintroduced himself to a new audience as a formidable DJ/producer of exceptional talents and given staunch admirers of mid-’90s house music a reason to rejoice.

An album bulging at the seams with guest artists is something to be approached at with a bit of trepidation. Too often than not, the star of the show is eclipsed by his or her collaborators. Not so on the 13-track Ft., a compulsory collection of commercial hitmakers, underground heroes, and avant-garde icons, that features everyone from Yoko Ono, Bootsy Collins, Bille Ray Martin, Alan Vega, and even Crystal Waters on the life-giving, gospel-tinged opener “Testify”. Two of the record’s most indelible moments are captured within the middle half of this magnificent set. Detroit’s Inner City house legend Paris Grey (“Big Fun”, “Good Life”) serves up full-throated diva divinity on “Lost Without You”, and “Truck” find B52’s Fred Schneider rocking the CB radio with camptastic flair as he joins Dickson on this delicious duet. Why choose just one, when the entire record could fill up every slot on this list?

 

Artist: Leon Vynehall

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Leon Vynehall
“Blush”

Taken from British producer and DJ Leon Vynehall’s fantastic sophomore record Rojus (Designed To Dance), this euphoric, 8-minute house anthem with it’s cleverly sampled bird calls and wailing primal sighs, is one of eight tracks inspired by a National Geographic documentary on the bird-of-paradise courtship ritual. Dark plumage gives way to shimmering color, as Leon’s flashy bird struts across the dance floor with an air of cocky confidence. An incessant hi-hat snaps and a plinky piano passage wafts in and out of this feathery orgy, building to a hedonistic swirl with each successive moan.

 

Artist: Kaytranada

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Kaytranada
“You’re the One” (feat. Syd)

In this cut-throat industry, there are artists who ride the coattails of their colleagues to stardom and others who blaze a pathway so brightly lit that everyone else must follow suit. Montreal producer Kaytranada (Louis Kevin Celestin) is that radiant light. It is a testament to the immense talents of the Haitian-Canadian DJ, that the countless collaborative guest spots on his Polaris Prize-winning debut 99.9%, never overshadow the clear-cut vision of its creator. With each new spin, it is abundantly clear why he is one of the most sought-after record producers of the day, and his first LP most surely heralds the arrival of an artist that the phrase “sky’s the limit” was intended to describe.

Nothing about 99.9% is particularly game-changing, but Celestin’s wondrous 15-track set is so intricately crafted, programmed, and immaculately produced that the influences dematerialize, and they quickly take shape into something uniquely his own. The highlights are innumerable, but his latest single “You’re the One” with the Internet’s singer/producer Syd Tha Kid, is absolutely incredible. With a raunchy, rubbery bassline, old school ‘90s whoops, and Syd’s voluptuous voice, Celestin nails that uncomfortable feeling of falling for someone who is terribly wrong for you, but undeniably alluring all the same. Just like the lyrics, you find yourself coming back again and again, this time without any guilt.

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