It’s almost 2019, which means it’s also time for some reflection on the year behind us. Rather than make a generic listicle that examines global trends, we decided to look at the year in dance music via the club culture that surrounds our editorial office in Berlin.
The following listicle isn’t necessarily comprehensive—what listicle could be?—but we tried our best to encapsulate the diversity of sounds on offer in the German capital this last year. If you require other perspectives, we recommend that you check out some of the artist and listener-made lists on Avalon Emerson’s Buy Music Club site.
Berlin’s club scene is in a state of fragmentation. Though from the outside it may seem as though it’s one long never ending techno marathon, the truth is that the city’s nightlife is incredibly diverse. And looking back on 2018, we were surprised to realize how tribal the city’s parties have become.
Of course, there’s the baseline techno and house communities, but there’s also sub-tribes centered around minimal, industrial and even more experimental sounds. This is perhaps why a party like the PAN x Mannequin night at Berghain felt so special—because it allowed for a rare opportunity of hybridization between two distinct tribes: the experimental club music and EBM communities.
We can only hope that more cross-pollination between scenes like this occurs in the year ahead of us. But for now, these were the songs that defined the sonic tribes of Berlin in 2018.
[Further reading: The ultimate guide to every Berlin club worth going to in 2018]
Krystal Klear, “Neutron Dance” (Running Back)
Krystal Klear‘s “Neutron Dance” has nothing to do with The Pointer Sisters’ song of the same name. And while that may disappoint some people, the track was nevertheless one of the year’s distinguishing anthems. Listen to it once, and you’ll understand why: It’s a sonic cocktail comprised of equal parts Todd Terje and New Order. Cheesy? Yes. Catchy? Hell yea. Festival friendly? Definitely. But if there was ever a song that sounded like the feeling of the blinds being opened inside Panorama Bar at 9 a.m. while you stand…enhanced…at the bar double fisting an espresso and a Sekt auf Eis, this is it.
Alessandro Adriani, “One Minute (After Death)” (Pinkman)
Alessandro Adriani seems to have taken over the experimental music underground in the last two years. His label, Mannequin Records, has long thrown some of the more popular dark-leaning parties in Berlin, first at OHM and now at Berghain’s experimental-leaning Säule room. Adriani’s cut, “One Minute (After Death)”, has low-fi, squelching synths, vintage-sounding percussion and nods to both EBM and ‘80s wave. Needless to say, it got a lot of air time at darker-leaning parties at both of the aforementioned clubs.
Essaie Pas, “Substance M (Schwefelgelb Remix)” (DFA Records)
Essaie Pas is a duo comprised of Marie Davidson (who we recently interviewed) and her partner, Pierre Guerineau. Schwefelgeb’s remix of their New Path EP cut “Substance M” twists the dystopian, paranoid energy of the original track into something sinister and danceable. The rework contains the Montreal artist’s signature deep and driving sound design and the Berlin EBM duo’s penchant for more intense rhythmic stabs. If you want to feel like you’re partying at Urban Spree for a local DJ night, play this track in your living room. Loud.
Pangaea, “Bone Sucka” (Hessle Audio)
2018 was another strong year for the Hessle Audio crew. Pangaea‘s “Bone Sucka” stood us as one of the label’s most played tracks throughout Berlin clubs from Panorama Bar to ://about blank to Griessmühle. Pangaea knows how to drop a classic breakbeat and lean into UK hardcore’s legacy without sounding like a pastiche of a bygone era.
Terence Fixmer, “Expedition” (Ostgut Ton)
This list has no shortage of EBM-leaning tracks, and that’s with good reason. It was a dominant sound of 2018. Terrence Fixmer‘s “Expedition”—from his excellent Through The Cortex LP on Ostgut Ton—bares some hints of the producer’s work with Nitzer Ebb frontman Douglas McCarthy. It’s slow-burning and tight with an intense momentum that’s made it a recurring part of the soundtrack at clubs like Tresor, Berghain, Alte Münze and Ohm.
Amnesia Scanner, “AS Too Wrong” (PAN)
At some point this year, Amnesia Scanner‘s debut full length Another Life rose from the ashes of a heavy barrage of lo-fi blacked-out memes, looped tech videos and uncanny pop culture references. It’s a mix of heavily-processed vocaloid-esque lyrics, crushing EDM-influenced beats and something they refer to as “doombahton”. At its core, it’s a pop record. It’s just one you’re more likely to hear at one of Berghain’s Janus parties or a smoky, cyberpunk art installation than on the radio.
Years Of Denial, “We Operate On Each Other” (Death & Leisure)
Years of Denial is another ambient-meets-industrial music group that’s come to the fore of the underground fold since 2017. Their release on the experimental industrial label Death & Leisure—a project of Broken English Club’s Oliver Ho—cemented their place in the electronic body music community and even earned them a performance at this year’s Krake Festival. “We Operate On Each Other” seems to have become one of their most lauded tracks. It has a catchy female vocal riff that arcs across the track’s infectious synth line, which makes it the perfect flourish to any industrial, electro or straightforward techno set. Trust me, we’ve heard it in all of them.
999999999, “Love 4 Rave” (NineTimesNine)
Sonically speaking, 2018 was a year defined by the exploration of the harder side of rave music’s history. Case in point is 999999999‘s “Love 4 Rave”, which fully embraces that “hoover synth” sound that was once so ubiquitous. It mixed these with classic rave stabs and a speedy tempo to devastating effect. We heard it in just about every rave dungeon we spent time in, like, for instance SYNOID at Griessmuehle. Give it a spin, and you too might feel like one of those sannyasin’s doing Osho’s dynamic meditation in the accompanying video above.
DJ Koze, “Pick Up” (Knock Knock)
This track reminded us that there can still be a lot of beauty in a well-looped disco sample. DJ Koze‘s “Pick Up” feels like classic Roulé-style French touch as it blends Melba Moore’s 1978 disco cut “Pick Me Up I’ll Dance” with some added vocals by Gladys Knight. The resulting mixture adds up to a beautifully bitter-sweet disco house anthem that smashed dance floors at Panorama Bar, Watergate, Kater Blau Sisyphos and just about every other house-leaning club in the city.
The Mover, “Dark Comedown” (Planet Phuture)
One of the most interesting developments of 2018 was the fusion of techno with hardcore and gabber. And though there are plenty of new artists doing this, Marc Acardipane has built an entire multi-decade career around it. “Dark Comedown” is a bonafide techno tsunami that’s about as bleak and intense as it gets. Small wonder that this track swept through Berlin’s industrial-strength dance floors, like Berghain (read our review of his performance at CTM Festival’s gabber-themed party there, Adrenalin).
SNTS, “Solitary Confinement” (SNTS)
Masked producers are something of a techno cliche these days, but there’s nothing cliche about SNTS‘ brutal “Solitary Confinement”. Taken from Cruel Opacity, it’s dramatic and pounding big room techno with a kind of droning monastic chanting that, on a properly loud system, can invoke a trance-like state in receptive dancers. This one dominated the city’s techno sphere pretty much since its release.
Schacke, “Automated Lover” (Kulør)
Schacke is one of the producers at the fore of Copenhagen’s wildly creative techno scene. “Automatic Lover”, the inaugural release on Courtesy‘s Kulør imprint, offered a colorful counterpoint to a year in techno painted mostly industrial monochrome. Its seemingly trance-inspired melodic psychedelia made it a regular part of Nina Kraviz’s sets, but also throughout Berlin at Griessmuehle, Globus and Berghain.
Oli XL, “Stress Junkie” (W-I)
One of the year’s sleeper hits, W- I- label head Oli XL‘s “Stress Junkie” is the type of track you’d hear stitching together futuristic club selections at a sweaty night at TRADE, Creamcake or Janus. Its weird rhythms and lurching drums give it a strangely mechanical vibe that recalls rain and neon-soaked nights. If we didn’t live in Berlin already, we could also imagine hearing this one at some club in Cyberpunk 2077. Its b-side, “Mimetic”, is also not to be missed.
Amelie Lens, “Basiel” (Lenske)
2018 was the year when Belgian selector Amelie Lens really broke through. She’s become a main stage festival regular, and that’s as much due to her relentlessly energetic sets as it is to ferocious techno releases like “Basiel”, which achieves an aggressive feeling without sounding remotely industrial. Needless to say, it’s been a regular part of the soundtrack at larger techno clubs like Griessmuehle and Berghain.
Giant Swan, “IFTLOYL” (Timedance 2017)
Though from 2017, Giant Swan‘s Celebrate The Last 30 Years Of The Human Ego / IFTLOYL was played straight through 2018. Like perhaps Powell before them, they approach techno from the perspective of angular—and angry—post-punk. “IFTLOYL” is technically the EP’s b-side, but we heard it getting more play, and that’s probably because it’s a bit more straightforward. Its percolating machine drums and ominous dubby growls made it a good match for those atemporal twilight zone hours that only seem to exist in the techno voids of Berlin.
Toxe, “Honey Island” (PAN)
If you live in Berlin, Toxe‘s “Honey Island” is probably already hard-wired into your brain. Far and away one of the catchiest club tunes of the year—especially considering it was released on seminal Berlin experimental label PAN—”Honey Island”‘s slippery melody has been laced into mixes by Errorsmith, edited by Elysia Crampton and played live by Toxe herself during sets at both Prince Charles and Berghain’s Säule room. Though she only has a handful of tracks, “Honey Island” and the rest of Blinks prove that her meteoric rise is only the beginning.
Batu, “Flash React” (XL Recordings)
Batu only released one record in 2018, but what a record it was. Simultaneously heavy as hell and weirdly weightless, it feels like techno as viewed through the lens of a heavily blunted drum and bass head. No wonder, then, that it often shook the walls at the city’s bassier parties, like Version at OHM and Wax Treatment at Griessmuehle—hearing this on the Killasan Sound System was like a full body frequency massage. Simply put, it’s one of our favorite tracks to come from the UK bass music sphere in quite a few years.
Giraffi Dog, “351 Nation” (Aiwo Recs)
What would a year-end list for 2018 be without some breakbeat house? Don’t worry, we didn’t forget. This one by Giraffi Dog on Aiwo rec. was a recurring theme of our summer. Its neo-Balearic feeling and lazy electro rhythm made it an obvious sunset (or more often, sunrise) selection, and we heard it more than a few times a Klunkerkranich, but then also in the basement at Sameheads, Panorama Bar, Salon zur Wilden Renate and—of course—Cocktail d’Amore.
Peder Mannerfelt, “Temporary Psychosis (VIP Mix)”
Sometimes it’s hard to know when to go home while out partying in Berlin. That said, if you’ve reached a point in the night where whoever is DJing starts playing tracks like this, you’ve definitely entered “the red zone”. Peder Mannerfelt‘s “Temporary Psychosis (VIP Mix)” is a demented techno banger that’s a bit of an ode to being out of your mind. Considering that’s a Berlin pastime, we weren’t surprised to hear this out as often as we did at the city’s more forward-thinking techno parties.
Bucks Fizz, “Land Of Make Believe” (RCA Records, 1981)
We’ll be completely honest with you on this one: We have no idea if this was or was not played anywhere this year. To help compile this list, we asked our network of “nightlife professionals” what they’d been hearing. One contributor suggested this, and, well, barring Ben Klock’s “Subzero”, we’re going to go out on a limb and say this track could very well be the ultimate Berlin party anthem of all time. That, or it might just be the most epic way to close a set at Sameheads. Is there a better way to describe Berlin nightlife than as “the land of make believe”? The answer is no. See you next year