Let’s start with the obvious: That it was a very weird year for dance music. In one sense, the tightly-crafted DJ mix had added value at the height of the pandemic; an artform intended as a low-resolution taster of IRL dancefloor experience suddenly became the main event. We clung to DJ mixes as a relic of the past and a promise of the future.
In another sense, new mixes seemed to float around without aim. The discovery of a favorite new mix couldn’t be upgraded into a big night out or a festival sighting. And no one knows what the years’ biggest tracks were—we can list them, vote on them, whatever, but without a summer of festivals, it’s impossible to truly gauge what’s popping off and what new trends are spreading like a virus.
None of that impacted on the quality of the mixes we loved, though—if anything, it felt like standards went up as DJs’ travel time went down. This list may only stretch to eight mixes, but these are the ones that demanded repeat listens, ones that outlined bold new aesthetics, and ones that confirmed the infinite and magical possibilities of playing one record after another.
Angel D’Lite – H&S Mix 018
Sugar-Rushing Love Core From a Fresh Face
London’s Angel D’Lite landed in a ball of neon light in 2020, dropping a debut EP on top label Banoffee Pie Records and pairing it with this screamer of a mix for Hue & Saturation. Simultaneously one of the hardest yet frothiest mixes ever committed to waveform, it’s a sherbet-dipped wonderland of cheek-chewing ‘90s breakbeats, wigged-out acid, and speed garage stompers. The opening refrain (“I’m rushing on pink champagne, ye-eah!”) was lodged in our brains for several weeks at the end of summer, and we’d welcome it back whenever. On days when it felt like the dark clouds would never lift, Angel D’Lite was our rainbow warrior.
Anz – Spring/Summer Dubs 2020
All-Original Feel-Good Music for Feel-Bad Times
Every summer for the past five years, Manchester DJ and producer Anz has dropped a mix made up solely of her latest studio confections. This year we needed that sweet, sweet hit of summer dubs more than ever—and Anz did not disappoint on this technicolor journey from UK funky to retro-boogie, 140 shufflers to garage flips of “Candy Rain,” and all kinds of irresistible party music in between. It’s relentlessly high-quality—and doesn’t even include the three stunners she released on Hessle Audio just a few months later. How does she do it?
fabric presents Octo Octa & Eris Drew
As a rule, this column exists to celebrate DJ mixes in the wild, uploaded to the cloud and available for free. But an exception had to be made for this mix album, the latest from the ‘fabric presents’ series and maybe the best session yet from DJ partners Eris Drew and Octo Octa. The shroom-loving, Motherbeat-conjuring duo are pretty much household names in dedicated dance circles now, and their ability to traverse genres, borders, and audiences is on exquisite display here. Finding unexpected connections between garage, trance, and acid chug, Eris and Maya set out a distinct personal aesthetic—one where filthy bassline and patchouli-scented pipes happily coexist. Listen to it here.
Perila B2Beats Special Guest DJ
Seductive Duvet Music for a Slow-Moving Year
In a year marked by inertia and repetition, one of the biggest challenges was learning to sit still and simply exist. In the swell of downtempo mixes made to accompany our enforced home listening, the highlight was this seductive B2B from 2DEEP, the shared alias of Berlin’s Perila and Special Guest DJ (AKA uon). Turn down the lights, turn up the heating—hell, why not get the foam roller out? Their uncommon blend of erotic illbient, ASMR grime, daybreak IDM, and dubbed-out duvet music deserves total immersion.
Roza Terenzi – RA 756
Here’s Your Trance… Now Dance
We may be cresting the wave of the trance revival by now, but if 2021 offers the chance to experience a Roza Terenzi set—ideally under the heavy green foliage, or out among desert rocks, that kind of thing—we’ll be dropping everything to run straight to her speaker stack. On her Resident Advisor mix, the Australian DJ combines ancient trance artifacts (Adamski, Power Circle) with powerful new music from her own label in order to rekindle the magical potential of a maligned genre. It’s two hours of heartfelt and bass-heavy belters, ready to move your limbs and open your third eye all at once.
Shannen SP for DJ Mag
An Audio Theory of Ebonics
Some mixes do more than simply swirl together with a set of great records; some put forth a grand unifying theory, a different way of hearing music altogether. Hyperdub crew member Shannen SP delivered an audio concept of Ebonics in her mix for DJ Mag’s ‘Recognise’ series: a jaw-dropping journey that extends the Black Atlantic vision of Afrofuturist dance music to encompass a truly global network of sound and rhythm. Involving such US and UK producers like RP Boo, Hitmakerchinx and Scratcha DVA, her concept has room for Nazar’s “rough kuduro” from Angola, Lechuga Zafiro’s Afro-Latin club weight from Uruguay, and DJ Doraemon’s tumbling grooves from Lisbon and Cape Verde. The result is a mix that feels both cutting-edge and historic.
Yung Singh’s Punjabi Garage Mix – SnS Members Mix 014
A History of Asian Underground Steppers
2020 was a banner year for UK garage, of all things, with a new generation of producers picking up the threads of 2step, 4×4, dark garage, and other niche variants, while DJs and journos dug into back catalogs to celebrate the only thing that ever made Britain great. The standout among a haul of garage-focused mixes was this sweaty sesh from XOYO club resident Yung Singh: a journey into Punjabi garage. The mix includes tunes from the ‘90s to the present in various UKG styles, all produced and voiced by artists from the Asian Underground movement—marking a time in UK music when garage and jungle absorbed Indian classical instruments and Bollywood samples. Featured artists include ‘00s sibling unit RDB, but there’s no tracklist—frustrating but understandable. The entire set feels ripe for a reissue compilation.
Chal Ravens is a freelance writer based in London. Find her on Twitter.
Graphic design by Ekaterina Kachavina.
Published December 28, 2020. Words by Chal Ravens.