In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ’s in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article’s contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media’s electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term “EDM”.
So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn’t disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America’s first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.
For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.
As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the “shamanic techno” of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir’s brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.
10. Moullinex – “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”
Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes’ third album Hypersex, “Work It Out” like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, “collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference.” Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for “misfits” standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.
Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn’t have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, “you better work your shit out”, this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.
9. Touch Sensitive – “Veronica”
The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn’t think so listening to Michael “Touch Sensitive” Di Francesco’s dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer’s long-awaited LP and its lead single “Lay Down”, which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.
Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson’s “So Much (So Much Mix),” the New Jack-kissed “Veronica” owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco’s talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.
8. Gourmet – “Delicious”
Neither Gourmet’s defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, “There You Go” or “Yellow” gave any indication that the South African purveyor of “spaghetti pop” would drop one of the year’s sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991’s diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.
With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein’s droning roll call in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off , he sings “I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up,” against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can’t help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, “dinner is served.”
7. Pouvoir Magique – “Chalawan”
Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating “shamanic techno” of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique’s LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, “Magic Power” is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.
In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the “Mawimbi” collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo’s studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.
Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single “Eclipse,” with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it’s the pulsing “Chalawan,” with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.
6. Purple Disco Machine – “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)
Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it’s often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek’s Soulmatic is one of the year’s most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D’lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.
The saucy, soaring “Mistress” shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of “UK soul hurricane” Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied “Body Funk”, and the album’s first single, “Devil In Me”, that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of ’80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit “Private Number”, and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ’s debut is one of the best dance records of the year.
5. CamelPhat & Elderbrook – “Cola”
CamelPhat’s deliciously foreboding collaboration with UK vocalist/songwriter Elderbrook was unavoidable this past summer. Named “Hottest Record in the World, by BBC Radio 1’s Danny Howard, “Cola”, by the British DJ and production duo formally known as Whelan & Di Scala, poured its dark charms over dance floors across the world and casually tossed a lit match. Previous singles “Paradigm,” “Constellations” and “Make ‘Em Dance” caught the attention of the Belgian dance charts, but this Beatport #1 topped Billboard’s Dance Club Songs and was voted track of the year at the Ibiza Awards.
Many have said its vaguely sinister lyrics intimate the impending danger of a woman, oblivious to the reality that her Coca-Cola beverage might be laced with a drug. Regardless of how unsettling that particular interpretation might be, there is no denying its staying power. “Cola’s” popularity has grown beyond clubs, surfacing as the soundtrack to sporting events, appearing on the latest NOW CD, and reaching Silver status in the UK. Over the past months, various remixes have surfaced, but none quite captures the narcotic mystery of the original. The less that can be said about this official video, the better. Just close your eyes and feel the beat.
4. BICEP – “Glue”
Over the past decade, the Belfast-born, tech-house duo of Matt McBrier and Andy Ferguson have amassed an enviable following of devoted disciples through their clever DJ mixes, and music blog Feel My Bicep, an academic ode to rave culture and dance music. This August, the London-based BICEP dropped their self-titled debut LP to critical acclaim, announcing themselves as a formidable act, one as adroit at churning out poolside Balearic house tracks and chunky UK garage, as offering up prog house, sweat-drenched jungle breaks, and brittle ’70s Italo-disco.
While it’s all a rather impressive affair, there’s something particularly striking about the second track “Glue”. This sensual, late ’90s, breakbeat jewel cries for replay, like the gauzy diva vocals that soar from deep within the mix. An affectionate nod to a bygone era, this album highlight is hopefully an exciting taste of things to come.
3. Stockholm Noir – “Boy Like a Girl (feat. Ofelia)
Like the veiled arrival of Jonna Lee’s audiovisual project iamamiwhoami in 2009, anonymous electronic dance outfit Stockholm Noir appeared in April of 2017, enrobed in mystery with the Loreen-esque “Hopeless Dreams” and the nocturnal “Black Neon”. While both tracks caught the attention of the blogsophere, it wasn’t until the third single, “Boy Like a Girl” materialized, that the self-described, “black shadow of electronic music”, began to emit sparks.
With each new single, the delicate shroud continues to be lifted. Swedish singer-songwriter/producer Gabriel Wagnberg, whose exceptional 2014 EP Elements was cruelly overlooked by the masses, appears to be part of the mastermind behind this enigmatic ensemble of revolving vocalists. An anthem for those who shy away from “the binary gender system”, this pulsating gem and its frighteningly sensual, Eye Wide Shut-esque video, continues to haunt months after it appeared. Eight incredible singles and a variety of remixes later, Stockholm Noir’s inevitable debut record is something to anticipate in 2018.
2. Joe Goddard – “Home (feat. Daniel Wilson)”
Taken from Hot Chip founding member Joe Goddard’s sophomore solo LP, Electric Lines, gorgeous lead single “Home” is a far cry from the fruit-titled tracks of his intriguing, but ultimately frosty debut Harvest Festival. This warm, euphoric tribute to deep Detroit house music, features a horn-laden sample of Brainstorm’s lost disco classic “We’re On Our Way Home (Part 1),” and the stunning pipes of singer-producer Daniel Wilson.
For those unacquainted with the Ypsilanti, Michigan-based musician’s work, its time to catch up with his back catalogue. 2016 single “Sinner of the Week” and last year’s guest spot on The Weeknd’s “Sidewalks” are a great place to start, but here on the third track of Goddard’s nuanced record, a star is born.
1. Hercules & Love Affair – “Rejoice (feat. Rouge Mary)”
Written over the course of a single day, the rapturous lyrics of Parisian singer Rouge Mary’s latest outing with Andy Butler and company are as smile-inducing as the soulful artist who sings them. That instrument is still an extraordinary thing to behold, even wrapped in a buzz of menacing distortion. While Butler’s struggle with addiction and his triumphant recovery linger within the lyrical content of many cuts throughout Hercules & Love Affairs’ fourth LP, Omnion, this celebratory paean to positivity stretches out from the record and wraps its soothing arms around the listener.
The album was born out of a desire to venture beyond a traditional vocal house record, and as such, “Rejoice” is anything but predictable fare. Darkly industrial like Nitzer Ebb or Front 242, and glittery like the gospel-charged disco of the late ’70s, this magnificent track with its splashy trumpet outro, invites all who listen to step into the light, savor each moment, and “live life with joy.” Defiantly flipping the bird at all things pessimistic, Rouge Mary’s joie de vivre is contagious. Let us continue to clamor for that solo effort Rouge so rightfully deserves.