The Best Mixes of 2021
There’s an air of celebration running through this year’s best mixes. Some DJs spun odes to old-school genres; some celebrated community, culture and the pioneers we’ve tragically lost. Here is an unranked list, featuring 20 of our favourite mixes from 2021
If we had to pick one DJ to sum up the year, we’d surely go with Yung Singh. The Midlands-born DJ was already known to the heads as a bootleg maestro and curator of vintage Punjabi garage, but when the Daytimers collective took over Boiler Room in August, his turbulent live mix – spanning jungle, drill, bhangra, juke and ’00s Asian underground selections – felt momentous. Easily the best Boiler Room since Sherelle’s, and an unforgettable moment for a generation of the UK’s South Asian diaspora.
Loraine James’ kaleidoscopic SOPHIE tribute is an apt rendition of the late pioneer’s all-too-short musical career. The Hyperdub signee and former Crack cover star’s tumultuous mix interweaves SOPHIE’s own productions with those that took them as inspiration, including the covert collaboration with Jeffery Sfire. Here, James transitions unapologetically between the balladry of It’s Okay to Cry to the abrasiveness of Tony Perez’s dark ambient track Rite. It’s a homage to SOPHIE’s dexterity and range, as well as the wicked sense of humour that threads through their work.
There isn’t a safer pair of hands than Midland, who, in November, stepped up for the final mix of San Francisco’s Honey Soundsystem party. In a period when the UK DJ excelled himself in the home-listening stakes, this three-hour marathon still stands out as essential. Glowing with feminine energy, melodic songwriting, luscious vocals and samples celebrating gay life, history and culture, the mix touches on every corner of Midland’s collection, slotting in songs from Kelela, Erika de Casier, Orbital and Outkast.
Off The Meds
One of the more unique acts to emerge in 2021, Off The Meds are a Swedish and South African supergroup made up of DJs Adrian Lux and Savage Skulls, and the MC Kamohelo Khaoripe. Their RA mix is both a primer for their style and collective energy, as the three trade percussive acid bangers, rippling techno and day-glo house for an hour, while Khaoripe riffs over the top like a seductive guide. An MC in the old-school sense, Khaoripe’s musings elevate what is already an awe-inspiring blend of sounds to something higher. A hypnotic masterpiece.
Sorry 2 Go – Party Pack Vol. 1-4
There’s a great story behind this mix of new jack swing, Linndrum synthpop, breakbeat R&B and early technotronica. Recovered from DAT tapes found in a subway station, this nearly-six-hour set is the soundboard recording from the last night at SorryClubTV, a “video nightclub” decked out with screens and projectors which ran from early ‘87 to the end of ‘92. Like we said, a great story. Props go to Durham, NC-based DJ Johnathan Lyon, aka boxofbox, for spinning the yarn so beautifully.
Dimensions Mix 255
As a booker at Nowadays, regular at The Lot and founding member of the Working Women collective, Kristin Malossi occupies a central position in the popping NYC club scene. She’s also an incredible DJ, as evidenced on this top-tier mix for Dimensions. Kicking off with one of Tom VR’s trademark buoyant wigglers, she moves through an impeccable selection of bubbling, knotty bangers, hitting the high notes with a host of standouts from the likes of Simo Cell, Facta and the master of this mood, CCL.
Crack Mix 400
Clubs have been on our minds a lot this year. In the spring, we crossed our fingers for their eventual reopening, and pined for the return of the dancefloor. It was around this time we launched our Crack Mix 400 series: a 18-strong collection of archive mixes recorded by a globe-spanning cast of artists at a slew of venues around the world. This mix from Hakuna Kulala mainstay Don Zilla, recorded at Kampala’s Hollywood Massawa, is a highlight. Not one for the faint of heart, it’s unpredictable, thrilling and demanding of your attention. If there’s a mix that left us yearning for the club more, it’s this one.
Finn: UKG Garage Revolutions 1-6
We’re cheating slightly by including this six-pack history of UK garage, but it’s useless trying to pick a favourite. One moment you’ll be pledging allegiance to the stripped-down rhythmatics of 2-step, another you’ll be carried away by the bossy stomp of northern 4×4. Lovingly pieced together by Manchester-based DJ and club history buff Finn, it’s a tight compendium of six distinct subgenres, complete with memory lane nuggets from DJs like Sticky, Jeremy Sylvester and Big Ang.
Gyal Dem Love Alté (Lovers Mix)
Alté music is a bit tricky to pin down. The term (a shortened form of ‘alternative’) was first used in Nigeria to describe a scene that sits outside the mainstream, distinguished from the conventional Afrobeat-dancehall-R&B-hip-hop axis by its softer, sexier and slightly more ambiguous style. By bedding scene anthems and deeper cuts amid dancehall and Afrobeat rhythms, BAE BAE artfully maps out the nuances of alté – from its similarities to adjacent genres, and differences. It’s a compelling mix that showcases just why the genre is so uniquely alluring.
Astral mysticism permeates throughout this two-hour recording from Cora’s own 6G+ party’s first birthday. From its swelling ambient opener to the heart-wrenching closer, and Daft Punk’s Touch, the Chengdu-based artist never lets up on the energy. In between, she does so by pulling rattling techno, trance and gabber into a howling maelstrom of contorted club sounds. It’s hard and fast, the sweaty room almost palpable through your headphones. As the set fades, its closing words tell it best: “I need something more.”
Fact Mix 805
Shannen SP is so quietly prolific that it can be tricky keeping up with her output. For one, she’s a prominent vocalist, DJ and radio host. SP also co-curated Hyperdub’s popular club night ø with label boss Kode9, and during lockdown she formed the Black art and sound collective Nine Nights alongside GAIKA, GLOR1A and Zara Truss-Giles. A desire to showcase inventive club music rooted on the African continent shines through in all that SP does – and this mix for Fact is yet another example. From its opener – kwaito pioneer Sandy B’s Amajovi Jovi – through to buoyant South African house cuts, hip-hop selections and floods more of old-school kwaito, it’s as much a history lesson as it is an antidote to midwinter (or 2021, in general) blues.
The bio for Berlin DJ Paramida’s Love On The Rocks label reads: “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” It’s a starry-eyed mantra evocative of halcyon-era Pleasuredome or 90s British acid house – the feeling that the feeling is all you need. This philosophy is tangible in Paramida’s contribution to the Chicago mix series Daisychain. Freewheeling through spiralling psychedelia, full-bodied breakbeat and cosmic grooves, it’s a masterclass in finding links and joining dots in dance music’s constellation.
The Juanita’s mix series is a wonderful thing: a community-first platform operating out of the New York underground that consistently manages to cut through the noise with its output. Our pick of the year is from Simisea – a member of the RVNG Intl. crew who also co-runs the Human Pitch label with Tristan Arp. His mix unfolds like a lazy summer morning: starting slow and languid before building gradually to a breezy strut. It’s oddball, funky and packed full of hooks – the kind of mix you keep in your back pocket for regular use.
Bleep Mix 173
On her 2021 album Fatigue, Brooklyn producer and sound designer L’Rain exhibits a supernatural ability for building atmosphere – submerging vocals in a swell of shoegaze, pop, ambient and neo-classical. This affinity for the theatrical and immersive is on show once again in this gorgeous mix for Bleep. Moor Mother meets Galcher Lustwerk via Hiroshi Yoshimura and Pino Palladino, all mixed together with such blurred edges you feel like you might have imagined that delicate folk cover of I Will Survive. You didn’t.
Outsiders: Kashual Plastik with Jamie Burke
Jamie Burke has a knack for finding a serene kind of beauty in the darkest and eeriest ends of the musical spectrum. This mix starts off with creepy, weepy drone and chanson, drifts into some zonked out psych folk, follows up with cascades of wailing, agonised guitar, and then rounds off in a gentle acoustic daze. Altogether, it sounds sad, tortured and isolated, but the mix speaks to a particularly intense and brooding part of the soul. Why not nourish it every now and then?
2021 has witnessed the sharp rise of San Antonio-based musician claire rousay. A firm Bandcamp favourite for many, after the release of the confessional it was always worth it in 2020, rousay has a knack for stitching together, well, anything – field recordings, sound art, love letters – in a way that heightens the mundanities of everyday life; placing the details of day-to-day tasks in a more poignant, reflective light. Her stunning Sunday Mix is in a similar vein, with rousay describing it as a “DJ equivalent of a children’s show-and-tell presentation in primary school”. Filled with a meticulously-curated selection of excerpts and unreleased tracks, the mix ruminates on friendship, loneliness and self-growth. With the stop-start motion of the pandemic this year, doesn’t that feel so now?
Radio listening surged during lockdown. It’s no surprise, really. With usual routines askew, many looked to radio for a sense of structure; of routine, familiarity and camaraderie. In March 2020, while some of us were whipping up batches of banana bread and ‘TikTok coffee’, a handful of friends living between Ramallah and Bethlehem – in the West Bank – and Amman, in Jordan, launched a now-vital online station called Alhara (or “the neighbourhood”) as their way of staying creative. In this hour-long guest session for NTS, the crew bring a set of selections spanning delicate piano music, Egyptian club and galvanising genre-shrugging pursuits from Deena Abdelwahed, 3Phaz, Dirar Kalash and more.
Rolling hand drums, pummelling low end and dense foggy ambience: these are the calling cards of Azu Tiwaline. Like Zuli or DJ Plead, the Tunisian producer crafts vital, contemporary dance music that intersects traditional North African rhythms with UK bass music, and her entry to the Crack Mix series early this year was the fullest exploration of her sound to date. Most impressive is the way she makes tracks from a seemingly disparate set of producers feel cut from the same cloth, bringing a global spread of sounds together to form a unified whole.
Ciel with Tomu DJ
In April’s edition of her monthly Rinse FM show, Ciel introduced listeners to the “kaleidoscopic dream world” of Tomu DJ. Ciel’s description of the Cali-based artist’s shapeshifting sound is entirely appropriate. Tomu DJ’s music is enchanting and bright, and, much like a dream, there’s a comforting familiarity to be found. There are whispers, or more obvious nods, to genres we know already – footwork and juke on the clubbier end of the scale, or downtempo house and ambient on the other – but manipulated in such ways that they feel unique to Tomu. This near-hour-long guest mix is chock-filled with original productions, edits and unreleased material, with the artist offering a peek into her then-forthcoming debut album FEMINISTA – a record that soundtracked much of our summer.
Female Pioneers of Electronic and Electroacoustic Music in Latin America
Lima-born experimental instrumentalist, Alejandra Cardenas, intricately crafts a poignant mix of all-women Latin American electronic music from the late 50s to early 90s. Here, Cardenas remasters and cuts pieces from the likes of Argentinian composer Hilda Dianda, and Peruvian-born musician Ola Pozzi Escot, to create a dynamic, soul-stirring excursion. There’s the chilling effect of Jacqueline Nova’s spectral soundscape, combined with Marlene Migliari Fernandes’ plaintive ambience. The laughter of Beatriz Ferreyra’s niece in Echos, along with the whimsical cheer of Oksana Linde’s Mariposas acuáticas, briefly lend shape to an otherwise wistful and amorphous journey through sound.