Dancing Astronaut’s Top 10 Essential Mixes of 2013
It was deep, it was soulful, it was techno, it was disco: It was Friday night on BBC, and what a night it was. This year marked the twentieth birthday of the beloved Essential Mix, but it was listeners who were given presents. Weekend after weekend a cross section of the top names in dance music heeded the call of Pete Tong and took the global stage for two uninterrupted hours. For some it was their 10th visit, for others their first, but for everyone it was a chance to showcase their undiluted best. While the official Essential Mix of the Year will be crowned this weekend, we’ve compiled our own list of the ten mixes that wooed us, wowed us, and had us laying a heavy hand on “repeat.”
The quack was definitely back this year, and what better way to prove it than with an exclusive-laced Essential Mix. Coming in at number 10 are the Duck Sauce boys, who celebrated their debut Essential Mix as a duo. The first hour of the mix featured cuts from their 2014-slated debut album, including their hiatus-ending “It’s You” and the then new but now familiar “Radio Stereo.” While the first half was later packaged and sold as the Duck Tape, it was the specquackular selection of tunes from the second half that cemented the mix in its place on our list. With an assortment that spanned from Cupcakes to Cajmere, Sharam Jey to Solomun, the final chapter also sprinkled in some Italian punk, Spanish tech house and an extra dose of Deutsch.
Fitting nearly 70 tracks into 120 minutes may seem overzealous, but DC and Hooks were taking no prisoners were their debut Essential Mix. Delivering a certified bass bonanza, the pair sought to welcome listeners to the “entire world of Zeds Dead.” This world proved to be very loud with very low basslines and ideal for very short attention spans. Nevertheless, the Canadian pair pull off the melee and prove there is method to their madness: A listen to the mix gives not just an overview of their career path, but juxtaposes influential tracks next to unreleased material, giving fans a taste of both where they’ve been and where they’re going. And when that path includes Bon Iver and Incredible Bongo Band, The Prodigy and roughly three EPs worth of new tunes, we highly suggest you follow it.
After being nominated for 2011’s Essential Mix of the Year, Maya Jane Coles returned to the tables in full glory in 2013 with a brand new bag. Touting a wikipedia-worthy tracklist, the mix highlighted what makes MJC such a talented producer while only featuring two of her own releases. Like the best authors are the ones who read, the mix demonstrates that the best musicians are the ones who listen, as no genre goes unturned through the chapters of the mix. Low-key but wide in breadth, obscure but obviously meticulously selected, the curated collection displays Deetron, enhances Ella Fitzgerald, and pauses on Francesco Rossi’s “Paper Aeroplane” just long enough to leave a lasting impression. For opening up her crates to the collective masses, MJC earns our number 8 spot.
After winning three Grammys two years straight, so too does Skrillex get a second spot on Pete Tong’s stage. While his official debut was shared with others in 2012’s Live From Rockness broadcast, his first solo act proved worth the wait. Neither rolling out nostalgic originals nor bathing in the glory of OWSLA, the mix is decidedly well-rounded with a sound for every self-proclaimed weirdo. While dub, Dog Blood, and the Deftones have their day, as a whole the mix digs into the depths of trap, elevating its status in the process. A tribute to the labels that push the genre boundaries by refusing to admit that genres have boundaries, Sonny’s Sonar-inspired session was a breath of cigarette- and Red Bull-flavored air.
6. Guy Gerber (September 21st)
Recorded off the cuff at an Ibiza house party, Guy Gerber’s mix takes on the hazy appearance of a Spanish Sunday morning. Starting out slow and strong, the Israeli’s first Essential Mix blurs from bizarre to brilliant with many a bottle swig in between. Intentionally transitional, the mix slithers from sedated to swinging, with an uptick right around the halfway mark of the nearly 40-track pack. While the first chapter gets inside Guy’s head, the second shows what came out of it, with an influx of edits and unreleased tunes. After highlights that include his Paris By Night remake of countryman Chaim’s “Blue Shadows” and edit of the Deadbeat remix of Deepchild’s “Riyadh,” Gerber ends the mix with aplomb with his 11:11 Diddy collab, “Lifted.”
In an already banner year for Guy and Howard Lawrence, the two nab one last accolade with the number 5 slot. Rocketing from hot “newcomers” to Rolling Stone recognition with a single album, Disclosure utilized their Essential Mix to give a bit of a history lesson for their newer fans. Single-handedly quadrupling the google searches for “J Dilla,” the brothers nodded to their own influences by weaving in works from Detroit and New York hip-hop heroes while also representing some of the UK’s best. Playing just two of their own tunes, the mix treads between rap lines and house beats, putting Q-Tip on the same deck as George Fitzgerald. As unexpected as it was exceptional, the brothers’ debut mix dares to go far outside the box.
It was the third Essential Mix slot for the former third of Swedish House Mafia but his first time taking the decks solo. Invited on the air just weeks after his final performance as a band member, Steve Angello proved there is definitely life after SHM. Putting on his labelhead hat, the Swede used more than half of his slot to showcase his Size and X roster. Big room, bold, and beautiful, the rest of the mix rests on SHM favorites, Angello’s own edits, and a sample platter of cuts from Spinnin’, Toolroom, and Iberican League. A polished party-started and master mixer, Steve Angello sits comfortably in our top five.
It was not only a debut Essential Mix but a first of other sorts for Dixon, who makes our list at number three. The track- and tracklist-posting averse producer not only revealed his tunes but allowed them to be posted on the BBC website, finally allowing fans to look instead of simply listen. You’ll want to do more of the latter however. Opting for quality (and apparently length) over quantity, the German house hausmeister played just twenty tracks in two hours and gave only label co-founder Ame the honor of two tunes. While the Innervisions roster did dominate, after a strong lead in with Tricky’s “Nothing’s Changed” it was the unreleased Dixon/Guy Gerber “No Distance” collab that struck the deepest chord.
From getting Will.I.Amed to leaving twitter, releasing one of the albums of the year to touring the world to support it, Mat Zo has had an eventful year. Amid the creative chaos was his first-ever Essential Mix, deemed a contender for Mix of the Year despite its February airing. Alongside Zo’s own favorites and originals are “new tracks that give [him] hope for the music industry” – to put it simply, they proved an eclectic mix. From his drum n’ bass roots came tracks from Netsky and Noisia, from his trance fusion tunes from Ferry Corsten and Norin & Rad, and from nearly every other musical category came at least one selection (Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, Duke Dumont). Interspliced with Carl Sagan quotes, the mix took on a mystical aura not yet to be repeated in the Essential Mix galaxy.
Earning its spot as the mix to beat early in the year, Eric Prydz’s first Essential Mix of 2013 proved untoppable. Essentially teasing his entire 2013 and 2014 release schedule, Prydz featured a whopping 14 unreleased Pryda tunes, including the truly massive “Power Drive” and undeniably hooky “Layers.” Though we’re still waiting for 10 more of the tracks to hit Beatport, the mix also gave us a new Cirez D tune, a label submission nod to aspiring producer Cory Lasser, and a deeper love for Jeremy Olander, whose “Let Me Feel” proved an indispensable climax to the awe-inspiring arpeggiated journey. Truly living up to the Pryda moniker, Prydz takes top honors for putting soul into the songs and adding a heartbeat to the basslines.