In 2011 we've discovered The Only Way Is Essex, we've torn up our own high streets in the name of something or other, and we've planted the seeds for divorce from Europe. Yet out of hard times comes good music - so while 2011 can hardly claim to have been a great year for the UK, it's been a pretty storming affair for electronic music. So how about something cheery for once? How about 10 albums and 10 compilations that made 2011 a better place?
Choosing them wasn't easy - but from a shortlist of several hundred covered by DMC over the year - and a couple that slipped through the reviewing net - we have the following for your listening pleasure:
1) 20 Years of Planet E - We Ain't F@#&ing Dead Yet! (Planet E)
Carl Craig has been an omnipresent figure this year, touring the legacy of his label, and why not? Detroit hasn't had much to celebrate as a city of late, but its musical heritage lives on as strongly as ever. Planet E is one of its success stories, and this epic tribute shows why, with productions by Craig - under several different aliases - intermingling with Martin Buttrich, Ican, Jonah and the Lazy Fat People among many others. Between them they have created one part historical document and one part celebration - with the techno on offer covering fast and slow, energetic and balmy, light and deep. And, as the title of the compilation stresses, techno? It ain't f@#&ing dead yet!
2) Invasion of the Mysteron Killer Sounds in 3-D compiled by The Bug and Stuart Baker (Soul Jazz)
What a great compilation this is in every way. Before you even get to the music Soul Jazz have a wonderful package to offer, with colourful artwork including a specially commissioned graphic novel. The music is similarly spectacular, with forward thinking digital takes on dancehall, funk and hip hop. The Bug and Stuart Baker excel in their track selection, with Diplo, Harmonic 313, Roots Manuva, King Tubby and South Rakkas Crew all bothering the bass bins. An essential document of carnival season!
3) Back In The Box: Global Communication (NRK)
In which Global Communication look back to techno's first golden age, with Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard - yes, him again! - scouring their record collections for early 1990s' gems. These can be found in abundance, with the first especially a thrill of System 7 & Derrick May ('Altitude'), Shake's 'Sonar 123' and F.U.S.E.'s 'Technotropic'. The second disc gets heavier with the breaks but balances out nicely by offering blissful ambience towards the end from Barbarella, as well as including Aphex Twin's 'Tha' and 808 State's 'Sunrise'. Respect for the old school, seen through the eyes of two DJs whose record collections know no limits!
4) Live At Robert Johnson Vol. 8: Dixon (Live At Robert Johnson)
Both Dixon and the Robert Johnson label have hinted this might be their last mix compilation, as they feel the format is unable to develop any more. A shame, but what a great way to go out. Dixon is especially daring in the way he takes his time to start things moving, the music hanging suspended for a while. Then, almost imperceptibly, it starts to move, and soon things are geared for an altogether more energetic dancefloor - but you'd be scratching your head to spot the join. If this is to be Dixon's swansong then it's a mighty fine one!
5) Air Texture Volume 1 mixed by bvdub and Andrew Thomas (Air Texture)
This is music almost completely lacking in beats and rhythm, with barely a single drum in two hours. The clue is in the title - this is all about ambient textures, with slowly shifting units of sound. As the listener floats through the selection of weightless moods it is difficult to resist a comparison with weather patterns, the Eno-like soundscapes exerting a strong pull. Andrew Thomas's mix generates more movement, going a step beyond relaxation. Both mixes find a strong sense of peace as they unfold, creating a new world for the listener whether active or comatose.
6) Let The Children Techno mixed by Busy P and DJ Mehdi (Ed Banger)
Another bittersweet entry, with DJ Mehdi's untimely death in September making this compilation an unexpected legacy. But what a way to go out, cooking up a storm with Busy P in a compilation typical of everything Ed Banger do so well. Want to know where techno is right now? You won't get the finished answer here, because you'll be busy contorting your body to the myriad of 20 tunes, which wind up the party brilliantly with Mattie Safer's 'Is That Your Girl'. The mix hurtles along before the pace slows suddenly for Riton's 'One Night Stand' and the fantastic collision of old school and new that is Skream's 'Boat Party', a massive, hands in the air moment. Terrific entertainment.
7) DJ Kicks: Motor City Drum Ensemble (!K7)
Danilo Plessow resides in Germany's very own motor city, Stuttgart, but in his mix he draws on the heritage of that and that other motor city across the Atlantic, Detroit. It's a perfectly paced mix, starting with low key dub but gradually adding components of funk that start speeding things up. It's all so cleverly done that it's difficult to spot the join, and soon Plessow is building the expectation nicely, adding more and more percussion as he goes. All that's left to do is start the mix again - a really excellent contribution to a series that continues to thrive.
8) Fabric Live 59: Four Tet (Fabric)
Given the size of Kieran Hebden's record collection, it should come as no surprise to learn that his contribution to Fabric Live is vibrant and original. What really makes it feel like a piece of the club though is the way Hebden pans out now and then, taking in widescreen breakdowns or crowd noise from the club itself. The beats themselves bring strong reminders of '90s London garage, but are updated with fresh ideas from the likes of Joy Orbison and Krazy Baldhead that branch out towards dubstep. There's an appealing roughness to Hebden's mixing, reminding us that this is, after all, Fabric Live, rather than a digital imitation!
9) Late Night Tales: Trentemøller (Late Night Tales)
When 'Another Late Night' started out with Fila Brazillia in 2001, they found themselves at the start of a series that has now topped 25 releases. Here Trentemøller takes up the reigns with a darkly coloured set of pop noir, with an impressive legion of tracks at his disposal. The Velvet Underground's 'Venus In Furs' is perhaps the most obvious, while some gems from the back of the record box include his own remix of Chimes & Bells' 'The Mole', This Mortal Coil's 'Waves Become Wings' and M.Ward's 'Poor Boy, Minor Key'. Perhaps not the most uplifting of the series yet, but a richly coloured treat nonetheless - music's equivalent of Bournville, if you like.
10) Era One mixed by Noah Pred (Thoughtless)
Half a century for Thoughtless, whose head Noah Pred somehow crams 50 of his favourites from the catalogue on to one seamless mix. He keeps a firm hand on the tiller but generates an intriguing blend of deepness and energy in the house music on offer, making it almost impossible to listen to this music and stay still. Thoughtless are in a healthy state if this is anything to go by - and go buy you should, if your tastes encompass deep house in any shape or form.
Written By Ben Hogwood.