Photo by Joel Fowler, Design by Christopher Classens. Drum machine featured Elektron Analog Rytm.
As 2015 winds to a close, we're realizing that it's been a truly action-packed year for electronic and dance music. THUMP will be looking back at the highs and lows all month, and today, we are starting with our top 50 tracks of the year. The selections on this list reflect a year typified not only by fantastic production and innovation, but one where the lines between genres and scenes got blurrier than ever before. From the gaudy heights of EDM to the subterranean rumbles of dubstep, this list showcases that in 2015, it didn't matter who was making the music—all that mattered was that it sounded this good. To hear all of the tracks in one sitting, scroll to the bottom for our Apple Music playlist.
South London producer and Her Records founder Sudanim brings the thunder and the fury on "Seydou." Its grimey, brassy sound palette and intricate polyrhythms add up to a six-minute wall of sound that feels equally suited to a climax in a movie or a peak on the dancefloor. Its moves in waves, seeming to reach a higher plateau of energy with every lull and peak. Like Hans Zimmer for the Rage Generation, or Moombahton meets Game of Thrones.—Gigen Mammoser
Florist is a graphic designer from Vancouver, and the Phenomena EP is his first release. With its pensive bass line, dubbed stabs, and filtered "Think" break, "Marine Drive" sounds like something I heard through the walls of dark rooms everywhere I went for the better half of the summer. And that's fitting, because on the sleeve, Florist states that his inspiration comes from a video of a midsummer warehouse party at White Waltham Airport in 1989, during the infamous second Summer Of Love.—Joel Fowler
Few tracks on our list are as tied to lived experience as Four Tet's devious rework of Eric Prydz' "Opus." The build up is, of course, the center of attention here. As I reported a few months back, the song's almost farcical length has inspired unprecedented scenes of genuine, shared disbelief among clubbers—all clawing, straining, and pining for the drop. Whether this play with listener expectations has been enjoyed or understood every time is another question, but in a year where the lines between alternative club culture and the mainstream just kept getting blurrier, Four Tet's re-imagining of an otherwise gaudy slice of Euro-house has proven a landmark achievement.—Angus Harrison
That this is considered anywhere near pop music is a victory for post-postmodern culture. In Twigs' self-directed video, the UK-raised iconoclast gives birth to a gaggle of dancers who then partake in a fierce bout of voguing. The track itself takes half of its duration to drop a beat, and then it's all glitchy low-end warbles and stillbirthed hooks that peter out as soon as they grab you. As pop music grows weirder and weirder by the day, FKA Twigs reminds us that truly surprising one's fans is becoming a harder thing to pull off—so hard that only she can do it.—Jemayel Khawaja
Packed into the Amsterdam-based Korean-German's long-awaited debut for Rush Hour, Hunee's "Rare Happiness" kicks off with some chopped-up vocal moans before slowly building through pads and twangy drums. Once the thing finally drops—amidst increasing levels of enjoyable restraint—you get slapped with a full-on shuffling house groove and a bliss bomb to the face. An ironic title if there ever was one.—David Garber
Deliberately or not, the practically untraceable nature of Denis Sulta's "It's Only Real" has made it the monster it is today. It has become 2015's phantom—plaguing track ID groups on Facebook and jamming the mentions of every DJ who plays it out. Aside from the hype and mystery, it's pretty obvious why the up-and-coming Glasgow producer's belter has gotten so under everybody's skin this year. That bloodcurdling melody that snakes in and out above the rattling drums is impossible to fuck with—the sort of thing you hear once then spend the next two months trying to sing to people, though you can't ever quite recreate it. Then, one night, without any warning whatsoever, it slinks back into view, and it's like it never left.—Angus Harrison
Following up last year's mesmerizing "Something on My Mind" could have seemed like a nearly impossible task. Nevertheless, the Pender Street Steppers man did it in fine style. Once again presenting a breezy, relaxing take on the melancholy house his region is known for—this time on Washington D.C label Future Times—Jack J features his own soothing, romantic vocals on a track that floats upward while also remaining deep in your veins. And that bassline! That bassline!—David Garber
"Let me walk away/let me walk away," croons New York City's Empress Of on "Kitty Kat." But don't mistake this for a welpy breakup song. The track is directed at the plague that is catcallers who harass women on the streets every day. Empress Of makes a powerful call for standing up against sexism, resulting in something that you can't help but think on far past its brief 2:26 runtime.—Dylan Coburn
Berlin-based producer M.E.S.H (AKA Jamie Whipple) produces atmospheric club bangers that reimagine space and rhythm in dance music. "Epithet," the opening track on his genre-melding, PAN-released, debut album Piteous Gate binds different rhythmic speeds through syncopation, creating jarring contrasts between rippling bell sounds and pounding drum-patterns. The effect is an unsettling musical vision mirroring the instability of the digital age.—Claire Wang
Dominick Fernow is one of those gnarly dudes who wears a lot of leather and makes comically intense music primarily aimed at other gnarly dudes who wear a lot of leather and make comically intense music. Which, we can all agree, is a pretty played-out trope by now: leather-clad gnarly dudes "pushing boundaries" and "exploring transgression" stopped being interesting in, ooh, 1987 or so. But get past the SHOCKING IMAGERY and TOTAL FUCKING INTENSITY and it turns out that producers like Fernow are still capable of bending harsh noise into totally new shapes. He's had a relatively quiet year under his Prurient guise, releasing just the two albums: the cassette-only Cocaine Daughter and Frozen Niagara Falls. The latter is a chaotic, crashing carsick crowd of crescendos and this cut is sheer hellish miasma. In a good way.—Josh Baines
"His is so fucking weird yet it attracts me like a magnet with a pussy. " Thus reads a YouTube comment left on the video for "Savage Coast," a gem from the Berlin-based producer's debut album on Dial Records, Grind. And we absolutely agree with the author, as the track pretty much defines what you'll get through the record: a surge of synths that fall over like a psychoactive domino effect, with a result that is either dancefloor-friendly or bedroom exotic—you decide.—Juan Pablo López
Alright, alright, we know, we know—everyone heard this on Galcher Lustwerk's seminal 100% Galcher back in 2013, and even then it was a track made in 2012. But get this: he decided to press it to wax in 2015, and it's still as pitch-perfect as it was way back when. All together now: I rock the drop top down/hanging out/you know when we come through/we bang it out.—Josh Baines
On her latest Armzhouse EP, Hyperdub mainstay Cooly G brought her dark, off-beat sensibilities back to the club, delivering five unfussy tracks of house music of which the bumping "Booboo" is a standout cut. The ideal mid-set track won't make you get on the floor so much as keep you there with verve. With its sizzling groove and beguiling vocal samples, "Booboo" is the kind of banger that's already dancing, and just asks you to follow its lead.—Michael Scott Barron
"Sicko" sounds fucked up. A lurid romp through garbled, industrial territory, Rex the Dog's (Jake Williams) release on Kompakt saw the producer using the simplest and rudest of materials: a single strangled synth that cackles and growls against clattering kicks.
Since its release, the track has been deployed by everyone from Jackmaster to Joy Orbison, to devastating and warped effect. Its inimitable sound is best summed up by the producer himself when he premiered the track on THUMP. "Imagine a drugged up robot," he mused, "it'd smash everyone in the face and it wouldn't even notice."—Angus Harrison
The first few times I heard "Rewind," I thought Kelela was singing the word "Greenpoint," the name of the neighborhood in Brooklyn where I live. When a song really hits you, it can be easy to interpret what you hear in a self-centered fashion, but Kelela's music—and particularly, this balmy love song from the Los Angeles singer's Hallucinogen EP—seems to lend itself to personalizing.
Produced in collaboration with Kingdom and Nugget, it's full of long, airy vowels and unpredictable melodic turns, wrapped in a halo of reverb that contains all the mystery and invitation of a fog-filled dance floor. Her lyrics are contradictory, wavering between the longing to merge with another person completely ("Baby, don't blink when I'm watching you"), and the desire to hit the breaks ("I can't rewind"). The cumulative effect is one of irresolution and open-endedness—what it feels like when you're falling in love, and as with most nascent love affairs, ripe for all sorts of projections.—Emilie Friedlander
Swedish producer Axel Boman hit new heights this year on DJ Koze's Pampa Records with "1979," a ten-minute journey winding through hypnotic rhythms and floating synths. It's a fine-tuned, timeless production, with wistful swells and starry synths punctuated by idiosyncratic bleeps. Once more, Boman has proved his exceptional ability to create dreamy sonic worlds hermetically sealed from the noise outside.—Valeria Anzaldo
One of this year's most essential post-rave comedown gems came from UK-based artist Fort Romeau (AKA Mike Greene). "Saku" starts with a beat pattern reminiscent of Metro Area productions, and is slowly fueled with cosmic sound effects before drifting off into even dreamier themes. The track's catchy tones are a homage to the Fairlight—an essential 80s synth that the EP is also named after. Ultimately, it's probably best enjoyed as the first rays of sun hit the ceiling after a long, long night.—Tom van Haaren
Leon Vynehall's "Midnight on Rainbow Road" was the standout track on Gerd Janson's Music For Autobahns 2—a compilation of songs inspired by Germany's highways. This was no small feat, considering that the critically acclaimed album included cuts from Joy O, Bicep, and Fort Romeau. But Vynehall's contribution, which even ends with a coda of whizzing car sounds, stood out by channeling that distinct feeling of automotive bliss you get from cruising alone at night, straight to synth heaven—or wherever else that rainbow road is headed. Not even a seatbelt could prevent you from drifting away on this one.—David Garber
Sophie's saccharine 8-bit melodies will burrow deep in your brain and leave you humming like an idiot, whether you're in on the joke or not. This track from the London producer's recent singles compilation PRODUCT is reminiscent in style, though not sound, of the aloof, Warhol-esque pop music that Uffie and Ed Banger Records were putting out ten years ago. It is, in many ways, a cultural and sonic mashup, like Nintendo in a dark alleyway in Atlanta. Though the track is all pounding 808s and Halloween-y arpeggios, its minor electro blips fortunately never veer too close to redundant trap cliches; there's even a fourth-wall-breaking moment in the middle, where the whole thing's interrupted by a stretch of heavenly ambience. Original, pertinent, and fucking weird, "MSMSMSM," like most of Sophie's work, has depth to match its painstaking sound design.—Gigen Mammoser
"Let Me Tell U" is a masterclass in simplicity—and one of the most accessible tunes of Detroit art-dance provocateur Jimmy Edgar's career. The song ad nauseum for just over seven minutes, yet somehow, it never gets old, as the shape shifts and morphs throughout. The titular vocal refrain provides some semblance of stability amidst the staccato rhythms, and by the time those arpeggios kick in around six minutes, you're long lost to the dancefloor.—Jemayel Khawaja
Arca (AKA Alejandro Ghersi)'s stomach-churning sonic landscapes stretch from the fringes of the underground to the forefront of pop—Björk, Kanye West, Kelela and FKA Twigs have all benefitted from his warped touch. Ghersi's hypnotic, futuristic sound went full throttle on "Vanity," a violent clash between jittery synths and jarring synths off his appropriately-titled album Mutant. The abstract, expressionistic abandon with which Ghersi distorts sounds shows how he's become one of the music industry's most sought-after ingenues.—Claire Wang
The Nordic countries have, hands down, some of the most exciting club music coming out right now. "Silver Cloak," the title track off the producer's debut EP, is a shining example of the Nordic club sound—ethereal vocalized synths and drum programming that calls on everything from Chicago drill to reggaeton. But what's most exciting about Drippin and his cohorts like Slick Shoota, Kid Antoine, Toxe, and Dinamarca is that their region-specific sonic identity is a sure sign that dance music isn't receding into the fragmented blackhole of #hashtag Internet genres just yet.—Dylan Coburn
Nicolas Jaar spent the majority of 2015 delighting and confusing audiences in equal doses with a series of ponderous festival sets throughout North America. Almost all of them were anchored around the unveiling of "Fight," an eight-and-a-half minute opus with multiple movements, all featuring stuttering vocal samples, near-aleatoric atmospherics, and a gentle touch that had crowds raging without veering into the red. Typically high-brow, but atypically rewarding for Jaar in its infectious beat, "Fight" will be a cornerstone in the career of one of this generation's most challenging producers.—Jemayel Khawaja
Kamixlo is a blue-haired, Chilean-British pixie-boy who lives in the UK. Every now and again, he gets together with his crew to throw a party called Endless in tucked-away spaces far away from the big clubs—like an office complex in South East London. The rooms are dark, steamy, and free of bouncers; the speakers are kind of shit. Everyone dances while Kamixlo DJs from a laptop stacked on a small table, and this track, "Paleta," is their anthem—a Latin club heater that samples a Wisin y Yandel song featuring none other than the turn-up master himself, Daddy Yankee. Blending grime, industrial, kuduro, and cumbia, Kamixlo is part of a rising wave of young producers busy wrestling the heart of UK dance music away from its vanilla superstars. And they're having the sickest time ever while they do it.—Michelle Lhooq
Swedish producer Tiger Stripes has an uncanny knack for churning out peaktime rollers, but this one's his most addictive yet. During my virgin voyage to Ibiza earlier this year, "Brrr" followed me from cavernous, 6,000-capacity clubs to underground pits where the dancefloor was the size of my living room. If I was ever unsure, that unmistakable rolling "brrrrrrrrr!" would remind me that yes, it really was this fucking song again. Like most earworms, "Brrr's" hook is insanely annoying, bringing back memories of my brother giving me wet willies. But when it comes to both club bangers and childish pranks, there's no point fighting, so you might as well give in.—Michelle Lhooq
If "Bitchcraft" is the sound of dubstep in 2015, then it is the sound of dubstep gradually re-emerging as something new and all-conquering. The almost ancient-sounding track is off Volume 1, the collaborative album from newly-formed dubstep supergroup Commodo, Gantz & Kahn. Despite the heft of the record, there's a delicate dance taking place on "Bitchcraft." It stings with measure and precision, and carries its weight with an HD quality, adding stern drama to a sound all too often understood as best kept low-key and murky.—Angus Harrison
Let's keep this one simple: DJ Haus, the bloke behind Hot Haus Recs and Unknown to the Unknown took Fatima Yamaha's unearthed end of the night classic and switched it up from an introspective bit of clubby electronica into a gigantic Ibiza ready anthem. Sometimes you've got to throw subtlety out of the fucking window.—Josh Baines
Nick Hoppner's Folk was one of those rarest of things: a fantastic, filler-free house album. Perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise, given that he used to run one of the most prestigious house and techno labels in the world, Berghain's Ostgut Ton. Leave it to everyone's new favorite DJ, Chicago's Black Madonna—who has herself become an increasingly familiar presence behind the Berlin club's decks— to transform "Relate" into an off-the-chain, peak-time screamer that's torn any decent party in two during the last few months.—Josh Baines
Am I listening to old or new music? When you're listening to one of René Pawlowitz's alter egos, it's a question you often have to ask. In the case of "Amen Garage," the query is one you have to direct at PCK, on a record called For The Kingdom, the second release from his label The Final Experiment, which includes "stuff out of the galaxy called Hardwax Berlin." This track's a revitalizing take on UK garage and breakbeats, combined with the severity and strength of Shed in his more fucked-up days. Proper business from the Don.—Jaun Pablo López
The Studio Barnhus boy's been on a roll of late, dropping a fantastic EP on that label, crafting the best melancholy house cover ever of the theme tune for a children's film about basketball and Bugs Bunny, and casually releasing the biggest summer jam since, well, "Summer Jam." "Pantalon," which emerged in June on Glaswegian label Numbers, is the sound of every summer you thought you'd have every time May drifts out of view. It's an irresistible, nonsensical, whimsical, absurd, delicious, jocular slab of fluttering freestyle that we've not been able to get out of our heads since we first heard it. It's easy to forget that dance music can be big, brash, dumb and incredible fun, but songs like "Pantalon" are perfect reminders of the power of pure pleasure.—Josh Baines
The sonic epicenter of Vancouver's Mood Hut label, Jack J and Liam Butler Jr, as Pender Street Steppers, make tracks that represent the vibe of their city and region—breezy, chilly, and totally effin gorgeous. Even with a confusing title that has nothing to do with their home base (fun fact: it's actually the nickname for Toledo, Ohio), "The Glass City" reps their zip code's unique temperament to a T with an echoing horn line, fuzzy house beats, and a delicate piano chord. Whether you drop it at the start, middle, or end of the set—it's the type of jam you never want to end.—David Garber
There are far prettier songs on Garden of Delete than "Sticky Drama." In truth—with its squeaky Chipspeech vocal melody, abrasively pummeling drum freakout, and titular reference to the grossest of gross celebrity gossip blogs—"Sticky Drama" is quite the opposite of lovely, but that's kind of what makes it so great. Considering Oneohtrix Point Never's professed intent to explore the emotional and physical experience of puberty, there's something endearingly honest about this sweeping, electronic homage to the steroidal excesses of 90s alt radio rock. After all, we already knew that Lopatin was capable of making the detritus of popular culture sound moving and beautiful—what we didn't know was that he was also an artist capable of going out on such a limb.—Emilie Friedlander
Bristol, UK producer Julio Bashmore's "Holding On" is a disco love affair from this year's Knockin' Boots album. It's built on an instrumental sample of Inner Life's 1981 track "Make It Last Forever," invigorated by the vocal duties of Chicago singer/songwriter Sam Dew. There's nothing mind-blowing about the track's straightforward production: a great singer with an undeniable hook will always sound great over classic club sounds and well-tuned drums. But, there's no denying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Bashmore could very well lead the charge to bring disco out of its Studio 54 crypt and back onto the charts.—Gigen Mammoser
Jerilyn Patton's take on footwork's been terrifying us all year. In a good way. Her restless and relentless Dark Energy was one of our favourite long players of 2015 and the roiling, rolling, haunted and haunting "Guantanamo" was it's undoubted highlight.—Josh Baines
"4 Degrees" arrived out of the blue this November, announcing its existence to the world in a burst of synthetic brass, timpani, and strings. It had a breathlessness to it that felt like the birth of something awe-inspiring, and in many ways, it was. "4 Degrees" was the first cut we'd heard thus far of Hopelessness, the long-in-the-making, "dance / experimental electronic record" the artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty will release next year under her new moniker of choice, ANOHNI. ANOHNI's voice was just as fluttering and mysterious as it'd always been, but it came with a new name and a new sonic context, including some pretty cinematic-sounding production flourishes from Hudson Mohawke and Oneothrix Point Never. Coinciding with the UN's conference on climate change in Paris this year, it also seemed to announce the dawn of a new era: not just one in which the earth continues to get hotter and hotter, threatening one-sixth of the world's animal and plant species with extinction, but one where we all accept personal responsibility for where our planet is headed.—Emilie Friedlander
Clattering into view with a whirl of galactic synths and squealing dolphins, "First Mythz" was an announcement. It was an announcement from Rustie that EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE was going to be his record on his terms. Bizarre, frenetic, funny, impassioned and wholly specific to his singular vision, the track encapsulates perfectly his defiant imagination and also his particular skill for channeling euphoria through the weirdest channels imaginable. While other album cuts like "Big Catzz" and "Morning Starr" achieved similar heights of maximalist expression, nothing on the LP quite topped this charged explosion of gooey, lurid glory. It's more than just a weirdo slab of reworked happy hardcore though. It's one of this generations clearest and strongest voices proving once again that his work, when produced on his terms, has wingz.—Angus Harrison
Asked to explain the title of his first proper LP as Kode9, Nothing, Hyperdub label head Steve Goodman told writer DeForrest Brown he'd just needed to single out a premise as a jumping off point for the music. Starting out with a concept that was completely empty, he said, "produced a sort of umbrella that contained all the different song ideas." Later on, he revealed a more personal, devastating reason: "I also knew that this album would be empty to me, because there would be no Spaceape."
As with many of the tracks on Nothing, "Void"—with its teetering breaks and vibrating machine pulses—lets the negative spaces do as much talking as the space that's filled. The difference with the blanks on "Void" was that they were originally supposed to be spoken over by his old friend Spaceape—the British MC, poet, and frequent Kode9 collaborator who passed on from this plane in October of last year. Trying to imagine how Spaceape's voice might have snaked around those jagged-in betweens, you realize that sometimes saying nothing is the way you say the most.—Emilie Friedlander
By now even your Shakin' Stevens-besotted mother is a huge fan of the Belfast boys. From their early days as heavy-hitters on the blog scene—remember blogs?— to pretty much double-handedly leading the mid-90s house revival in the UK, Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar have become pretty much synonymous with good times. Which was why we were so surprised when this balearic-tinged sunset stunner "Just" wafted into view earlier this year. Anyone who'd blithely pegged the duo for purveyors of balls-to-the-wall, big room house music clearly hadn't been paying enough attention, but to even the most hardened —flexed?— of Bicep devotees, "Just" was a step in a bold new direction. It's feels like a soundtrack to the most perfect after-party imaginable, and we can't think of many better ways to end a night.—Josh Baines
With "Ryderz," Hudmo proved himself once again to be the rare contemporary producer to successfully merge early-2000s hip-hop with modern electronic dance music. The drum and sampling work summons warming memories of vintage, motown-obsessed productions from Rockwilder, DJ Premier, Kanye West, and Just Blaze—a time back when Beanie and Jay were still cool, and Funk Flex's "Heavy Hittas" show on Hot 97 was the reason you dipped out of work early ("Suckaaaaaas"). Compared with the tried-and-true formula of festival trap, Hudmo has confected something much more delicate, a minute-long end-of-the-night singalong that lives on well after the festival lights have gone out.—Dylan Coburn
A track's a track, regardless of its length. The A-side to Four Tet's Morning/Evening LP may clock in at a solid 21 minutes, but it still feels too short. Centered around tapping hi-hats, slowly bending strings, flickering organ notes, and the looped voice of Hindi singer Lata Mangeshkar, the track builds like a morning does—from the gentle first notes of the sunrise, to a sky illuminated as far as the eye can see.—David Garber
Despite originally coming through as one part of Ratking, Sporting Life's solo contributions this year were decidedly his own. His debut record, 55 5's, was full of blinding, twisted tracks full of a bold and huge emotionality. Across its four and half minute run-time, "Badd" absolutely soars, riding on pitched-up early Kanye-esque vocal loops and shattering breakbeats. Of course, it hugely marks out his talent as a producer, but more than that, it somehow escapes the baggage of scenes, affiliated acts, hip-hop and footwork that one might check in describing it, abstracting into a revelatory exercise in cathartic motion in music. For a track built from so many strains of "now,""Badd" contains something strangely timeless.—Angus Harrison
Jamie xx's debut LP In Colour, released at the end of May, was one of the year's most anticipated. While the critical reception was divided, no one could deny that "Good Times," featuring Atlanta rapper Young Thug and Jamaican dancehall gem Popcaan, was one of the summer's sunniest dance jams. The moody British producer won over our hearts with some glorious sampling, bubbly steel drums, and enough ebullient bars to make even his critics grin.—David Garber
DJ Koze is the reigning clown prince of European house and techno. The Hamburg native's recorded output is littered with oddities of the best kind, but he always aligns his off-kilter humor with delicate production chops, so the joke never veers into dodgy territory. On "XTC," though, he plays it relatively straight—by Koze standards, at least. Luminescent synth pads shuffle under the kind of skittering percussion that was all the rage back when Kompakt was king, and there's a well-mannered woman blathering on about ecstasy over the top. In 2015, we learned that everyone in the club loves songs about a drug we've all taken in the club.—Josh Baines
Sam Shepard said in an interview a while back that he'd figured out he needed to establish a basis of trust with his fans so he could ease them into the more esoteric records that he wanted to fit in while DJing. I wonder if all of his productions up to this point have been doing the same thing, each melodic 4/4 masterpiece building up a rapport with the listener as "Silhouettes I, II, & III," with its enveloping voices and delicately interlocking jazz phrases, was maturing in the back of his mind. Maybe he was just saving it for right moment when he felt he could finally show people what he was really made of.—Joel Fowler
If Vulnicura is Björk's big breakup album, "History of Touches" registers the moment of the break. I wake you up, in the night feeling/ This is our last time together/ Therefore sensing all the moments/ We've been together. Compared with the other songs on the record's strings-laden first half, it's short and sparse, as if to emphasize the stunning, icy quickness with which an emotional chord between two people—even one built up over decades of marriage—can finally, decisively, be cut. Fluttering electronic textures produced in collaboration with Arca provide a cradle for Björk's voice to rest in as every single touch and every single fuck she and her lover ever shared flashes sequentially before her eyes. And like the sort of love one imagines one fancies one can rest one's head on forever, "History of Touches" feels perfect—until it stops.—Emilie Friedlander
We live in a world where violence is ubiquitous. Mass shootings are so frequent that the last one's still splashed on our front pages when the next one erupts, without the mercy of a breather in between. Drones pipe footage of bombed-out wastelands to our TVs, and sometimes, a volley from those distant wars reaches this side of the world—exploding in crowded concert halls, and giving us a bloody taste of the fear that others live in everyday.
In this atmosphere, "Pandemic," the standout track on Rabit's debut album on Tri Angle, isn't just a particularly brutal slice of industrial noise—it's a political statement. It begins with what sounds like a trash compactor pounding down an entire city—crunching glass and metal filtered through a mechanical whirl. Then, a blood-curdling scream sets off blasts of machine warfare, and a child's voice cries out repeatedly. Finally, a deafening hail of machine gun fire drowns out everything before fading into an eerie ring. It could be the soundtrack of our favorite video game. But that's little relief when the horror on the screen and on the ground are one and the same.—Michelle Lhooq
This year, I've been fortunate enough to see many artists play their biggest 2015 anthems live, from Diplo dropping "Where Are Ü Now" while Skrillex raced around on a Segway to Jamie xx teasing out that Persuasions sample in "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)."
Yet, nothing came close to witnessing Skepta tear through "Shut Down" this past summer—twice. Only a few hours after smashing his performance at Toronto's OVO Fest with Drake—who gave the song its irresistibly goofy intro—Skepta did it again in a packed club where sweat was practically dripping from the venue's walls. While music outlets continue to argue about the resurgence of grime's popularity in North American clubs, Skepta proved the only stamp of approval he needed was from his fans.—Max Mertens
The biggest techno knockout of the year was made in 40 minutes by an obscure Icelandic producer during a fit of misery. "I had come back to Iceland, and I was working a shitty job," Bjarki told Rolling Stone. "I went to [a Mistress Barbara] show—snuck in—and there was this attitude, this anger in the music. I was like, 'I want to make something like this.'" Sampling DJ Deeon's "2 Be Free" (Dance Mania, 1996), Bjarki filtered the ghettohouse vocal into a deep robotic growl, which simmers dangerously over a stark landscape of muffled bass throbs and brittle claps. When the buildup finally blows its load, a jittery hint of melody injects a rush of nervous energy.
"I Wanna Go Bang" became a peak-time staple—YouTube is loaded with videos of the techno illuminati (Dettman, Rodhad, Klock, Capriati, etc) dropping it onto frothing peak-time crowds. It made Bjarki a breakout star, and remains the top hit on his mentor Nina Kraviz's label трип. In a world cluttered with overwrought, needlessly pretentious garbage, it's refreshing to hear something that cuts through the bullshit to get straight to the point: I wanna go bang. Isn't that the real reason why anyone bothers to get out of bed, or do anything at all?—Michelle Lhooq
Songs that come to define moments in time are seldom built for them. Nobody could have predicted that Justin Bieber would be the secret weapon behind the biggest dance track of the year, and the highest-charting hit ever for both Skrillex and Diplo. Yet, here we are. "Where Are Ü Now" marked the moment where any remaining boundaries between EDM and pop hits officially collapsed. But what makes this track truly exceptional is its ability to be both weird and commercially appealing; it refuses to compromise on its idiosyncrasy while providing an immediate, precision-engineered rush.
"Where are u now?" That simple question became an aching, ebullient mission statement—a lament cried out throughout a long, hot summer by the children of a post-war, post-internet, post-ironic world. And in a response perfectly attuned to our digital age malaise, the question was answered by a dolphin, playing the flute, in space.—Angus Harrison
This summer, I spent a couple of days hanging with Grimes in Los Angeles. We talked about a lot of things, including some of the very topical questions she's come to emblematize in the public eye, like what it's like being a female pop star who also makes all her own beats, and what it's like being a career woman and being in a relationship, and what it's like being an artist from a Canadian DIY scene who suddenly becomes very, very famous. Sometimes, being a music journalist in these post-internet times can feel like it has little to do with writing about music and everything to do with writing about what people represent.
But then songs like "Butterfly" come out, and you're suddenly bowled over by all the things you miss about a person when you're trying to distill their careers into headlines and pull quotes. In this writer's case, it was the fact that Boucher made a song that, lyrically and sonically, points to nothing but the simple, straightforward joy of making and playing pop music—evenhandedly and almost politely at first, then escalating through a series of heavy drops and upward melodic leaps into nothing short of a full-bodied scream. I'm not sure how to put words to that scream, but it seems to contain the entire mystery of why people care so much about pop—and why, perhaps, despite the burden of all the many things she's come to represent, an artist like Boucher might keep on making it.—Emilie Friedlander