Every recent year we get caught in the annual list-making… what is it? A process? A ritual? A submission to a social fact? An inevitability? Sheer-fitting stupidity? Sociological proof that music is mostly about the accumulation and exchange of social capital? Illness-inducing evidence of the indigestibility of the datasea (you cannot drink the ocean), and the necessity, therefore, of trying to make some kind of curated, theraputic sense of the overwhelming number of audible objects available, willy-nilly, on this network of networks? Or just the best excuse imaginable to get (back)on rapidshare and jack some (more) tunes?
Whatever you interpretation, I always approach the season and its task with a heady mixture of fear, loathing and, yes, anticipation: who will be misjudged? Who will be forgotten? Who will be justly lauded? Which ‘trusted websites’ and magazines will get it totally fucking wrong? And how will the overall year, such as it is and was and will be known, be characterized, compiled, remembered, forgotten, archived, recalled (and so on) by the hacks, pundits, shysters, tipsters, opinionators and ‘audiences’ that comprise this weird but, these days, completely indispensable faire-savoire to savoir-faire. Say what you will about the whole she-bang, but just try refusing to even countenance not rating your favourites (and even ranking the rankers...I was tempted), stay online among your padres, and see what happens… you might as well have refused to talk wikileaks these past few weeks…
One important but overlooked aspect of this annual fever of rating and ranking is the way that different formats shape the lists. Think of many sites’ continued commitment to that favourite 90s profitmaking promo tool, the CD DJ mix, or the way that most sites – be they indie, pop or dance – ask for ‘tracks’, instead of EPs. Or the way that 2010 is always about ‘the music of 2010’ (which, of course, we must stop listening to from January 1, 2011). My favourite recording from this year was from 1985, my biggest re-discovery was from 1971, and the compilation that had the biggest impact on me (at least in terms of ear worms) was an arrangement of Elvis Costello singles that I put together myself, all half remembered favourites from the long-distance car trips of my childhood. Yet all this will not be represented on any list – so how representative are they? Or, to put it another way, who and what do the lists represent? As an old bearded man once said: ‘they cannot represent themselves, they must be represented’. It takes making! And that also means doing some absencing and othering... of course, how could it be otherwise, but...
For me in 2010, the best thing of all has been mixtapes, and podcast series that have strayed away from the now now churn-and-burn that gives us this daily our daily chow, in the name of the commute and the desk, and the gym workout (amen). To me this is a case of mp3 really coming into its own, enabling a range of exciting recordings that were heretofore improbable: long recordings, weird combinations, legal grey areas (what would never make it on to a pressed CD) and the true pleasure of discovering fully formed, deep, rich soundworlds about which I knew approximately SFA.
What follows are recordings - this is kind of my understanding of them - that I have listened to and re-listened to, that I loved more than many of the albums that I would have had to list had I listed more than ten. Though judging by some lists, I’d have to say it’s clear most people aren’t listening to said albums very closely, or even (shock, horror) ‘at all’. But I digress before the bitch begins in earnest – see what this listmaking thing does to me? Grr! And here was I just wanting to share some great stuff with you. So, well, here they are, all wonderful, several of my favourite recordings:
Patrick Russell – RA.194
For me this is one of the best groove-based mixes I’ve heard. The feel is excellent, the track selection and programming nearly perfect and the overall effect makes it a keeper. I find this mix almost impossible to get sick of, and keep finding all these new pockets in it. Not only that, but it is also listenable as a kind of mixtape... yeah, just wonderful, this...
I know it’s a weird statement, but here it is (without qualification): very few mixes this year were contemporary. But this is one of them. Perhaps it’s narcissism ¬– given that I love and own most of the tracks – but I just dig this mix to bits. Can’t get enough. Keep going back. And have you listened to Kowton’s EP on Idle Hands? You should. Quality ahoy from this boy in the year to come.
Convextion – live @ Freshweekend, Spain, 4/7/2010
Gerard, like his music, is unique, and each one of his sets, while more or less recombining a set number of motifs, always sounds fresh and interesting. As with the Patrick Russell, I never get sick of listening to this one.
Promomixes – Pure, Edinburgh, 1996 - Patrick Walker
promomixes.com has been one of the few coherent, worthwhile series for my ears. There IS a point, it’s not just a churnfest. Important distinction. The series is a genuine education, and a pleasure. This mix reminds me how much fun techno can be, and how much energy and pace it had in the 90s. Weirdly, at that time, I was reading Irvine Welsh, but not yet listening to techno, ever the untimely...
Simon Reynolds – Eldritchtronica and Wyrd Bliss Mixtape
Music hacks come and go – hell, some just won’t piss off – but Simon Reynolds is a special category unto himself and an cherished exception for me. A thinker, and a writer – and a music lover. As this mixtape shows: Reynolds has the love and the knowledge to weave several of 2010’s interesting tropes into his own musical statement about the past decade. And he does. With aplomb. This mixtape is totally addictive, very excellent and, yes, in terms of form, content, format, and so forth – very 2010, very 00s. Yay Pontone, yay Simon.
K-Punk – The Metaphysics of Crackle
A spectre is haunting contemporary electronic music; it is the spectre… of Derrida? Or just hauntology? Yes, apparently so. Don’t worry, K Punk’s audible interpretation of the dead deconstructor’s philosophy is definitely easier than it might be to try to resurrect the good reader with a ouija board, a theremin, and a copy of Dissemination.
Oneohtrix Point Never – FACT mix 162
Daniel Lopatin totally owned it this year, but as beautiful as Returnal is, it’s this mix that I listen to more often. I didn’t know half the artists on here ¬– which, of course, just shows up my narrowness and ignorance for what it is (to wit: narrowness and ignorance) – and the tape treatment works a treat! The track with the Japanese vocal was genius on the shinkansen… For my eyes, Lopatin isn’t that hot, but if I was his prospective partner and he gave me this mixtape, the woo would have been half won. Daniel: buy me dinner, and I'm yours after this...
Each year I listen to a huge amount of mixes. Most get deleted after one or two listens. Some I'll keep listening to. Some I'll really like, but just forget about, or will ignore because they don't fit my work patterns (distracting mixes are a big no no). I've listened to many mixes this year I've enjoyed, for short times I've loved, but the tyranny of an mp3 player with a rather small memory means only a small amount of mixes stay on it permanently, as others come and go, visiting for a week or two, then joining a big pile of mixes on my HD that rarely get revisited. The list of mixes I've put together are ones that have survived each purge, as these are all really essential mixes for me.
In compiling our lists, PC and I made a clear decision not to include anything from mnml ssgs. Our mixes speak for themselves. Beyond that, I set myself some extra criteria. First, the mix needed to have an immediate impact on me. There are no sleepers here, each one grabbed my attention the first time I heard it. Second, that immediate impact needed to be maintained. All of these mixes have undergone heavy, heavy rotation, and they still sound fresh. As part of selecting my list, I have been relistening to all of them in the last few weeks to confirm my selections. All still sound brilliant. Third, these are mixes that - in one way or another - I connected with, and in most case the emotions they brought out were more complicated than simple enjoyment. Fourth, all of these mixes have had me fist pumping or grinning like an idiot when listening to them in public places. Finally, I decided not to include any livepas, and just limit myself to mainly studio DJ mixes.
I put a lot of thought into this list, and I would strongly encourage you to listen to, or revisit, all of these mixes. And as a final note, there were a number of mixes I considered including, but I didn't because I haven't listened to them enough yet for them to be 'eligible' (notably: Optimo's 'Creatures of the Night', TVO's 'BrokenRoots', and Surgeon's 'Peter Christopherson Tribute'). Thanks to all the artists involved for helping to soundtrack my 2010.
DJ Pete - Wax Treatment 06 (DL)
This is pure body music. It doesn't hit me in the head or heart, it hits me right in the stomach. I cannot think of any mix that has made me do more stupid fist pumping this year. I still remember getting some very bad looks when I was rocking hard to it at my old supermarket in Wales... I really don't have anything profound to say about this mix, Pete just kills it, that simple.
Hieroglyphic Being - Mix at RTS.FM Chicago
When I was young I used to watch a cartoon called 'The Mysterious Cities of Gold' (太陽の子エステバン). It was totally awesome. I kind of imagine that this is where Jamal Moss comes from. What I love about his music is how incredibly unique and otherworldly it sounds: futuristic house music from the past. Not that this description makes sense... No one really quite sounds like Jamal. Amidst the constant deluge of similar sounding mixes, this sounds so incredibly distinctive and individual.
Kirk Degiorgio - Bleep43 Show 168 (DL)
2010 was another big year of travel for me. Hopefuly my last for a while. I really don't know how DJs manage... Well, one way I survived was by having regular 'go to' music when on the move. And Kirk provided my soundtrack for keeping me sane in and around airports. Not an easy task, but the fact that this mix even made me smile at an airport should give you an idea how good it is. Perhaps it is because the mix has such a fluid feeling to it, I've always associated it with movement and travel. The mix has a beautiful cohesion to it, the groove just keeps ticking over at the right pace. A real treat.
Matthew Hawtin - Once Again, Again (extended version)
Sorry guys, this is the one mix on this list that you actually have to pay for. But I promise you it is worth it. The CD version of this simply doesn't work. A normal CD is not long enough to let these records breathe, and at the end of listening you can't help but feel a bit disappointed. The extended 3 hour version that you can buy digitally is a different story, however. Here all the tracks get the space they need, and the difference it makes it huge. Deep 90s ambient in all its glory. I adore this mix. And just as Kirk Degiorgio's mix was the one I always turned to when in airports, this is what I would put on once that had finished and I was on the plane. Flying in the air, floating in deep space. The combo worked.
Ercolino - Process Part 199 (DL)
This year I heard so many techno mixes that all sounded so same-ish: Ben Klock remix, Sandwell District track, something from Ostgut, a Luke Slater or James Ruskin number, Shed, something from Prologue and/or SA, Dettmann, PvH, repeat. These just bored the fuck out of me. Mixing together a bunch of big, obvious techno tracks really isn't very special or interesting. If I am honest, when I tuned into this mix from Ercolino, that is basically what I was expecting: another rather dull, predictable effort. How wrong I was. In the middle part of the mix it certainly has the kind of techno sound that defined 2010, but the way the mix is structured and packaged as a whole is where it differs and distinguishes itself. It is techno presented in a very personal and direct way, and this put it well above most other mixes I heard.
ASC - RA233 (320kbps DL)
I never really liked drum and bass at all. The Autonomic sound passed me by for most of the year. I'd never heard of ASC until the description for his 'Nothing is Certain' album caught my eye. I was going to buy it, then forgot all about it until the RA 'cast. So I can make no claim to really knowing shit about ASC, this sound or anything related to it. I just know that this mix totally owns. Rarely do I obsess over a mix the way I did with this. This might even be my most listened to mix of the year. For me, it is about as close to perfect as you can ask for. The mix has an amazing balance and structure to, with ASC pushing and pulling at all the right moments. Mixes like this remind me why I love electronic music.
Shed - FACT Mix 116 (DL)
Shed is getting plenty of praise right now in many end of year lists, but I am not convinced he quite deserves all of it. For much of 2010 it felt like he was almost in cruise control. The problem is Shed not putting in 100% is still better than most, but too many of his productions this year just felt like he hadn't put everything he could into them. One moment, though, when I felt Shed's brilliance really shined was with his mix for FACT. For all his abilities as producer, shit, this guy can also seriously DJ. When he drops Aphex Twin's monster rave classic 'Digeridoo', fuck, that is absolutely insane. The perfect reminder of what he is capable of.
Terre Thaemlitz aka DJ Sprinkles - RA188 (DL)
As with many of the other artists here, Terre walks his own path, and that's why we love him so much. Some DJs might sound like Terre, yet no one sounds quite like Terre. He has such a strong vision and distinct voice that filters not only through his productions, but through his DJ mixes, and that is what you find here on this mix. I have no idea how the fuck he manages to transition from Depeche Mode to Faye Wong AND make it work, but he does. And that's why Terre is so awesome.
Peter van Hoesen - Promomix 006
One of the more depressing things about 2010 was the constant flood of mixes, with at least one new podcast series arriving almost every week. Add in soundcloud, official.fm, twitter and so on, and there is a nonstop torrent of mixes. What really frustrated the hell out of me is how lacking in vision most of these podcasts were, being reduced to nothing more than cheap promo tools (for the artist, site, label and promo agency). But there were 2 new series that really stood out from the deluge and provided some consistently high quality, thoughtful and worthwhile mixes. The first is Graphite North's 'Unseen Selectors' (my pick of their mixes is definitely 04), which has tracklists without the DJ being named. Not only are the mixes great, so is the concept, though I wish they would later reveal the name of the DJ! The second series is Promomixes. An inspired concept has really led to some inspired mixes. There are a few misfires, but most have been real gems; perfectly combining memories, education and fun. Unsurprisingly, my favourite mix came from one of my favourite people: PvH. What I love about this mix is how he revisits and shares a very formative period in his life, but does it in a way that makes it feel like more than a historical document, he brings out the energy, vigor and emotion of these tracks to their fullest. And like with many of the mixes here, I associate it with a certain time, place and feeling in 2010, and that is one of the main reasons it is so important to me. Kudos to PvH and everyone else involved in both of these series. We need more of this and less of the dross.