By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Recordings of DJ mixes have been multiplying like e-mail spam over the past decade. The sheer volume of said releases is overwhelming, and it makes one wonder: Who the hell is buying them? There must be a demand if labels keep issuing the things as if the music industry has a future (such quixotic earnestness warms the heart as 2006 limps to its dismal conclusion). Whoever you are, bless you for keeping this art form financially solvent. For your efforts, you deserve a top-ten guide -- in alphabetical order, even -- to the year's most excellent DJ mixes. Happy holidays, lovers of intelligent track selection and ingenious segues!
1. Audion, Fabric 27(Fabric Records) and 2. Marco Carola,Fabric 31(Fabric Records). Fabric is a London-based club and record label that issues two mixes per month with phenomenal quality control -- a novel concept. It's tough to choose the imprint's finest releases, but after much internal debate, we're going with Audion's and Marco Carola's, which edge out Carl Craig's and Tiefschwarz's contributions. Audion (Detroit's Matthew Dear) and the Italian Carola are masters of experimental yet pumping techno. They spin the brainy anthems to which you can swing your shirt around your head and shout yourself hoarse while still respecting yourself in the morning. Both jocks favor the intricately designed minimalism that's gained momentum in forward-thinking clubs, but their aural menu will still seem damned exotic to 99.8 percent of the population. Roll over, Paul Oakenfold, and tell DJ Tiësto the news.
3. Cassy, Panorama Bar 01 (Ostgut). In Germany and other enlightened European nations, hundreds of people will pack a venue and dance from midnight till 10 a.m. to weird, slant-grooved techno. These dynamos are lucky to have DJs like Cassy to provide their bizarrely hedonistic soundtracks. A resident at Berlin's Panorama Bar, Cassy re-creates on this 24-track disc a portion of a typically sublime night at said emporium of elite electronic music, as cuts by Melchior Productions, Ricardo Villalobos, DBX, Mathias Kaden, V/A, NSI, and many more worthies prove. Her mix elegantly combines scrupulous tonal science with near-peak-time euphoria -- a difficult balance to attain.
4. Four Tet, DJ-Kicks(!K7). Four Tet (Englishman Kieran Hebden) makes eclecticism sound like the best idea ever on this twenty-track mix. He's one of those DJs with voracious curiosity, fantastic taste, and a knack for connecting unlikely tracks into revelatory segues, as demonstrated on DJ-Kicks. Avant-dronesmithery (David Behrman), electro (Syclops), funky soul (Curtis Mayfield), menacing proto-synth rock (Heldon), U.K. garage (So Solid Crew), microhouse (Akufen), tribal indie rock (Animal Collective), jazz fusion (Julian Priester), African mbira jams (Shona people of Zimbabwe), underground hip-hop (Madvillain, Group Home), fruity prog rock (Gong), techno (Model 500), IDM (Autechre), and more jostle among themselves and revel in their diversity like long-lost sonic kin. Surprise is Hebden's S.O.P. His transitions aren't the smoothest, but with aesthetics this advanced, it hardly matters. DJ-Kicks is like the weirdest party soundtrack you've never had the pleasure to hear in real life.
5. Girl Talk, Night Ripper (Illegal Art). The sensational reaction to Night Ripper has rocketed Girl Talk (Pittsburgh's Gregg Gillis) to Rustbelt Diplo status. Dude's received tons of hype and consequently has performed before loads of celebs and shallow trend-sniffers in 2006, but don't hate on Girl Talk. He's earned his It DJ prestige by splicing together the most enjoyable mashup document to date. Night Ripper is an ADDled, bacchanalian mixtape of supreme cleverness and boasts more fun per minute than any release this year. The disc is like a remix of almost forty years' worth of Top 40 charts, expertly edited -- Gillis surgically implants over 150 sample sources -- for maximum party-rockin' and ironic, iconoclastic belly laughs. This is your obsessive music geek mind on random shuffle. Unlikely juxtapositions somehow cohere into zesty new sonic flavors. Who knew yacht rock and mainstream rap worked so well together? Who ever thought George Benson, Boston and Boredoms could harmoniously share disc space? Girl Talk, that's who.
6. Jay Haze, Mindin Business Part 1: The Minimal Grind (Tuning Spork). Some pundits whine that minimal techno is passé. Hogwash, counters Philadelphia's Jay Haze with this 47-track argument for its robust health. Mixed for maximum quirky punch and unobvious dance-floor oomph, Mindin Business Part 1 features scads of obscure producers (including Haze in various guises) whose complete works you'll want to own after hearing this two-disc album. The first disc teems with the sort of inventive, scientific techno with appeal for the genre's most discerning aficionados. Disc 2 is a more song-based/vocal-laden joy ride down tech-house's strangest thoroughfares. You're not going to believe this, but there's not a weak cut here.
7. Kode9 (feat. The SpaceApe), Dubstep Allstars: Vol.03 (Tempa) and 8. Youngsta & Hatcha, Dubstep Allstars: Vol.04 (Tempa). Dubstep -- U .K. garage and grime's more forlorn, less MC-oriented cousin -- has been incubating since 2000, but despite greater awareness via blogs and Internet forums, it's unlikely to blow up; most people just don't want to experience cranium-clamping bass pressure, entropic beats, and austerely melancholy melodies. Nevertheless, seekers of innovative low-end music should keep tabs on Tempa's Dubstep Allstars series. The latest two entries offer 72 tracks of the stuff, giving newbies a crash course in the London-centric genre's stark, haunted mutations of dub and 2step while sating devotees' hunger for fresh jams. Vol.03 benefits from the SpaceApe's ominous basso deadpan (imagine dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson riffing on William Gibson's Neuromancer). "I am lost in paranoia's most beautiful dream," Spaceape intones, summarizing his intensely laid-back approach. Vol.04 doubles the darkness with Youngsta and Hatcha delivering crucial overviews of dubstep's spellbinding, dread-filled (r)evolution.
9. Magda, She's a Dancing Machine(M-nus). Micromanaging normally annoys, but in DJ mixes we can tolerate it when the results are as rewarding as Magda's hundreds-of-edits-per-hour M.O. on She's a Dancing Machine. Similar to mentor Richie Hawtin's method in DE9:Transitions of weaving countless minibytes from several artists into an über track of awesomeness, Magda constructs a minimal-techno magnum opus from 71 discreet pieces (mostly from M-nus Records' superb roster: Marc Houle, Ryan Crosson, Plastikman, Run Stop Restore, I.A. Bericochea, Magda herself). The effect is like delving into dance music's internal organs and discovering what makes them thrum, burble, and click. Magda's mix inspires a deeper appreciation for minimalism's subliminal kineticism. As a bonus, Dancing Machine also lifts your spirits and revs your sex drive.
10. Henrik Schwarz, DJ-Kicks(!K7). The DJ-Kicks series has been trending eclectic this year (see Four Tet above), and with selectors like Herr Schwarz at the controls, this is wise. One-dimensional, perfectly beat-matched mixes in which all flaws -- and surprises -- are digitally airbrushed away are bo-ring. Heads are jonesing for risk-taking and deep, diverse crates. Schwarz's DJ-Kicks delivers and then some. Taking listeners/dancers on a "journey" is a hoary DJ mantra, but Schwarz rejuvenates that cliché with a transcendent blend of excellent cuts from Moondog, Cymande, Drexciya, Robert Hood (his minimal techno cut segues into an African chant and Pharoah Sanders's astral-jazz piece to stunning effect), Arthur Russell, Rhythm & Sound, and many other essential, soulful musicians rarely heard in clubs -- plus certified gold from James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and D'Angelo, just to keep you off balance.