It's official — dance is dominant again. Not just EDM cheese but credible, interesting, exciting music bubbling up from the underground. The latter fed the pop charts in a way not seen since the early 90s in 2013, and there were plenty of other exciting developments from the subterranean experimental labs of house, techno and breakbeat too...
1. Paul Woolford 'Untitled' (Hotflush)
Just to prove that he's not abandoned house completely and gone postal in a junglist stylee with his Special Request moniker, Paul stuck it to the young bucks with this anthem. 'Untitled' owned floors from Ibiza to London and everywhere else with an ear cocked to life affirming irresistible rhythm.
Being Wooly though, it still powers in like a juggernaut on the kind of beats 'n' bass Boddika might write off as too full-on, before switching up to arms-aloft pianos and a well-deployed female vocal lift that thankfully didn't need to be slowed down. The result? The perfect balance of aggression, power, funk and emotion. Experimentalism and pure accessibility in one.
2. Ten Walls 'Gotham' (Innervisions)
A label that never goes out of vogue gave us another classic in 2013. But few would have predicted that this avowed slab of minimal techno — the like of which was banished from dancefloors when house thawed from its long cryogenic sleep — would sound so fresh and exciting now.
Those ominous electroid ziggurats that emerge from the gloomy house beats like the hulking buildings of the track's Batman metropolis namesake recreate the dark atmosphere we've craved for so long. As to the mysterious Ten Walls? Mario who?
3. Joy O 'Big Room Tech House DJ Tool' (NonPlus)
Teasing us yet again for ages with this one on acetate/white label/cannily distributed CDs/WAVs for DJ mates only, the joy boy took the temperature of the d-floor and decreed it needed this. He was right.
Finally released on vinyl only as part of Instra:mental's NonPlus 'Think and Change' comp, 'Big Room Tech House DJ Tool' is the drily descriptive name of this banger, and only partly right. Before the 4/4s, and in the breakdown, it's more like pure instrumental grime. When it takes off though, and unlooses that R&B vocal break down, it's pure ecstasy. No assistance needed.
4. Tessela 'Hackney Parrot' (Poly Kicks)
Already a name to watch thanks to killer cuts like 'Darlene, Please' and 'D Jane' Tessela took his bassy propensities to new heights with this certified missile.
A cut-up breakbeat hardcore/early jungle piece retooled for a modern mindset, its 'Think' drum-break, lush pads and bulldozing bass hum make it stand out a mile. Dropped at the right time, this is a deadly weapon. Fast forward to now and there are plenty of producers crafting killer breakbeat bombs in its image.
5. Daft Punk 'Get Lucky' (Columbia)
Whether you thought the web-savvy promotional teaser campaign for Daft Punk's comeback was ingenious or just plain annoying, you couldn't escape this tune in 2013.
Unashamed disco pop, the presence of both arch producer and former Chic maestro Nile Rodgers and erstwhile Neptunes man Pharrell made you wonder what exactly Daft Punk themselves did on this track bar sing into a talkbox a couple of But the effortless, fluid funk guitar of Nile, earworm melody, and yes, lush voice of Pharrell make this not just a great tune of the year but the kind of thing you'll keep hearing on the radio for years to come — and find impossible to resist.
6. Midland 'Trace' (Aus)
Though he's kept up the momentum with productions and DJ gigs Midland's big breakthrough has eluded him. Until now. 'Trace' was the track that made us all sit up and take notice.
It's simple but devastating, where the percussion takes centre stage, and bubbling analogue bass keeps the floor percolating until the rival of the mega tech riff at its heart. Escaping the bass music niche, this is Midland's new calling card and it's a strong one.
7. Breach 'Jack' (Dirtybird)
It's somewhat ironic Ben Westbeech's biggest success came with not the soulful voice and accessible songs of his albums for Brownswood and Strictly Rhythm, but with his underground production alias Breach. 'Jack', though made for Dirtybird and fundamentally a stripped-back club house track, came at just the right time, though its success in the charts surprised even us.
Only the most churlish could deny its appeal though. That spoken word vox, those low-end bass tones and crisp funkin' beats are irresistible and to have such an uncompromised tune in the charts is just a sign dance is back at its rudest health for a long while.
8. Tiga Vs Audion 'Let's Go Dancing' (Turbo)
Few expected this collaboration to happen. And fewer still could have predicted its immense popularity. Especially since this track is stripped-down techno at its most spartan, a loopy head-mess of drop-hammer beats a pulsing bleep and — ah — it's the vocal that makes it. We've tried to get the deadpan “I wanna go dancing/all night dancing/with you” out of our heads but can't. Neither can anyone else — everyone from Solomun to Maya Jane Coles has remixed it.
9. FCL 'It's You (San Soda's Panorama Bar Acca Version)' (Defected)
One of the weirdest dance hits ever in a way. Why? It was an acapella of course. What this great vintage house vocal ultimately became was a great DJ tool to be used in conjunction with other tunes. It certainly didn't cause an outbreak of beatless DJ sets, but was popular enough in 2012 (in its original We Play House incarnation) for Defected to pick it up to much greater notoriety in February of this year. Listen now, it still sounds wicked, but a little odd in isolation...
10. Disclosure 'White Noise' (PMR)
Moan all you like about this one. Yes, it was No.2, but would you rather have this or some EDM dog egg at the top of the charts? The fact remains that 'White Noise' with its lush Aluna George R&B vocal and oscillating robotic riff is a very exciting dance pop confection. Those that poke fun at charting dance hits should remember that the likes of Inner City also did rather well in the top 10 back in the day.Typifying the dance idiom and its renewed vigour and popularity in 2013, 'White Noise' won't be forgotten easily.
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.