Compilations you may have missed in 2021
In a year where music continued to fractalise into sub-genres, compilations highlighted the collective spirit of scenes, or sounds from decades past. Here’s an unranked selection of 20 compilations that you may have missed – but should catch up on
Pastor T. L. Barrett & The Youth For Christ Choir
I Shall Wear a Crown
Pastor T. L. Barrett is the kind of wildly prolific and influential cultural figure whose story can’t be adequately captured through written biography. Despite a number of historic moments – marching with Jesse Jackson, sampled by Kanye, preaching to Donny Hathaway and Earth, Wind & Fire – you only start to get a picture of Barrett’s spirit when you hear the music. This definitive compilation, lovingly put together by Numero Group, collects 20 years of recordings across 49 tracks and five LPs. Breathing contemporary shades of funk and soul into joyful gospel, it’s the year’s most revelatory rediscovery.
On cutting-edge Shanghai-based label SVBKVLT, club forms don’t exactly get deconstructed. Rather, the component elements of techno, hardcore, minimal, dubstep and plenty more get thrown in the blender and flung forwards with ferocious clarity. Across Cache 02 there’s a constant physical impulse even on the most disorienting tracks. The roll call on this label overview is heavyweight, from flagship mavericks 33EMYBW and Mun Sing to collaborations such as Slikback with Hyph11E and Tzusing with Hodge. Throughout you’re confronted with shockingly fresh ideas about what constitutes as dance music in the modern era, with every shard of sound rendered in startling high-definition.
Detroit Love Vol. 5
DJ Holographic has been on a steady upwards curve which broke through with this entry into the Detroit Love series. Splitting the difference between the loved-up funk of house music and the forward-thrust of techno, this collection is a proper club mix through and through. It’s heads down and tracky where it counts, blurring the lines between tracks until you’re fully immersed. But Holographic has a sharp instinct for when to pull you back out with a curveball beatdown or a rousing, tastefully dropped vocal belter, not least with her own show-stopping Faith in My Cup featuring Apropos.
Tsonga Tremors: Explorations in Tradition, Technology & South African Dance Music (1983-1991)
Tsonga Tremors: Explorations in Tradition, Technology & South African Dance Music (1983-1991) opens as it means to go on: jubilant and melodic. This isn’t a surprise, really, given that its title is just as direct, and also signals to what the compilation entails from the off. Across 18 tracks, the release captures a moment in time in South Africa’s dance music history. It was a period in which electronic music was coming to the fore and styles like Tsonga disco were growing in favour, decades prior to the emergence of the wildly popular Shangaan electro sub-genre. Compiled and released by Glasgow-based reissue label chOOn!!, Tsonga Tremors serves as a timely reminder of South Africa’s rich musical lineage.
Community-minded crew Daytimers have been instrumental in bringing South Asian dance music into focus in 2021. They created a platform loud enough to be heard in all corners of dance music, and gave their projects purpose. As well as a collab with Big Dyke Energy in November, they put together DT002 in the summer to celebrate South Asian producers from across the diaspora and to raise funds in response to the Covid-19 crisis in India. The quality is boundless, from Kindness’ elegant ambience to Yung.Raj’s nervy footwork abstraction, making it the perfect place to discover new talent as well as supporting a collective.
10 Years of Butter Sessions
Sleep D’s Butter Sessions is one of the fundamental cogs in the Australian electronic music machine. Part of their success is undoubtedly down to their open-minded attitude to the music, shirking pretension and embracing all kinds of approaches within a largely 4/4, machine-powered sound spectrum. Toasting ten years in grandiose style, they gathered together a mighty 22 tracks across three discs, presenting colourful, engaging twists on modern dance music forms from marquee names like Roza Terenzi and D. Tiffany, longer serving producers like Ewan Jansen and Tornado Wallace and some fresh talent from down under like Vanessa Worm and Polito.
Now Thing Vol. 2
When the first Now Thing compilation dropped back in 2001 it was a shock to a Western audience largely uninitiated in the wild power of dancehall production. Twenty years on, groups like Equiknoxx push adventurous strains of dancehall to worldwide audiences, but Now Thing 2 arrived this year as a stern reminder how much heat there is to discover in the Jamaican dancehall scene. Compiled by Felix Hall, Lil Toby and Richard Browne, the riddims come from true titans of dancehall. Take the opportunity to get schooled on the blinding vision of Ward 21, Steely & Clevie and Dave Kelly, to name but a few on this perfect dancehall instrumental primer.
Gangster Music Vol. 2
Marlon Sassy’s Gangster Doodles illustrations captured hip-hop and pop culture with love and irreverence in equal measure. If anyone doubted Sassy’s devotion to the music, he’s put paid to that by compiling the outstanding Gangster Music series for Dublin beat label All City. This is a vital update on the current state of hip-hop and its satellite sounds. Breakthrough stars like Liv.E and Woodie Smalls sit alongside seasoned pros knxwledge and DāM-FunK, with more than enough scope for new discoveries across 27 utterly fresh beats and flows. Anyone copping the physical edition also gets an accompanying book of Sassy’s artwork and a colour-it-yourself sleeve.
8 Years of Cakeshop
To say that it’s been a tough year for clubs would be the understatement of the century. However many have endured, and some have even found time to celebrate anniversaries in the midst of the madness. Famed Seoul venue Cakeshop, for instance, marked its eighth birthday during lockdown with a two-sided compilation spotlighting buzzy regional producers and a slew of its international friends. With more peaks than a mountain resort, the compilation roars into life with propulsive heaters and mischievous edits from the likes of Hitmakerchinx (Watermelon), mobilegirl (I know a lil freak) and Scratcha DVA under his Scratchclart alias (SCATTY). From there, the energy remains high and the collective focus solely on the dancefloor, as NET GALA, Kelvin T and Puzzy Stack, among others, convey the essence of the club itself through their infectious productions.
Representing the increasing interconnectivity between India’s electronic music scene and the rest of the world, Boxout.fm has steadily risen in stature as an online station over the past four years. Their attendant label launched a compilation series this year to highlight the depth and breadth of their residents’ tastes, not to mention providing a window into the buoyant community of producers making forward-leaning beats across India. From Mumbai’s Marbman to New Dehli’s Sijya, NYC-based DJ Suchi demonstrated her intimate relationship with the ever-expanding Indian scene by offering up this impeccable selection of crisp and punchy electro, techno and breaks to close out 2021.
Sahel Sounds Label Sampler 3
Since 2010 Sahel Sounds has done a fine job of connecting with musicians from the Sahel region spanning Mauritania, Senegal and Mali and presenting them to the world. As well as helping launch the international careers of Les Filles de Illighadad and Mdou Moctar, the label has continued to offer an unmatched window into the eternally enchanting sounds coming out of this part of West Africa. The latest compilation on the label spans the dusty desert guitar of Abdallah Oumbadougou and the uptempo Kuduro style of DJ Balani, Lingo Seine’s Hauka ritual music and Mamman Sani’s uplifting lo-fi electronic organ.
(Djibouti Archives Vol. 1) Super Somali Sounds from the Gulf of Tadjoura
In 2019, New York-based label Ostinato Records was granted access to a rich and relatively unknown archive of East African sounds, named the Archives of Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti (RTD). First created in 1977, the archive features thousands of reels and cassettes spanning sounds from across Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti. This compilation is a definitive anthology of the 40-member Somali group 4 Mars, who performed as the band for the political party The People’s Rally for Progress, and toured with leaders such as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Djibouti Archives is a snapshot of an era: of the location’s historical trade routes, politics and calls for peace and unity.
Nahma: A Gulf Polyphony
The FLEE Project presents itself with an air of academia, but at its heart it’s a label celebrating cultural crossovers in music. On their latest compilation they reached out to artists such as Tomaga and YPY to bring their reliably non-conformist styles to bear on music from the Persian Gulf. More than just an interesting experiment though, Nahma is special because the artists seem to go above and beyond, inspired by the concept. Jamal Moss never sounded so meditative, Conny Frischauf soars above her usual stripped-back minimal wave style. It’s also a great introduction to incredible talent from the Middle East – Aya Metwalli’s slow but stormy meditation, Tarek Yamani’s impassioned, industrial-tinged chant.
All Welcome Volume III
Good Morning Tapes
Soon to become your go-to destination for cosy, soul-soothing ambient electronics, Good Morning Tapes has quietly put out an incredible amount of music this year. As well as knockout releases from Tapes and D.K., there was a third volume of their All Welcome series. Sticking comfortably in the ambient zone, recent signings like Salamanda and Saphileaum melt perfectly into one another thanks to a consistent organic, acoustic quality to the music. It’s the kind of compilation you don’t even consider skipping through, and as a gateway to a label with masses of music to discover, it tells you exactly what Good Morning Tapes is all about.
Essiebons Special 1973-1984: Ghana Music Power House
As well as highlighting funk from Edo and Cameroon, Analog Africa’s dedicated dives into specific genres within African music culture this year included shining a light on the seminal Essiebons label from Ghana. Founded by Dick Essilfie-Bondzie, they were one of the vital forces in pressing and releasing highlife in the 70s. Essilfie-Bondzie had been working with Analog Africa on the selections from the Essiebons archives included here, but sadly passed away before the project was released. The beautiful music presented here, including some never before heard Afrobeat jams straight from the tapes, makes for a fitting tribute to his legacy within modern African music.
Yushh’s Pressure Dome label grew in stature over the past year. The community of artists explored their hybrid broken techno abstractions with more confidence, and the label’s identity came into sharper focus. This was spurred on by the INTL.PDCOMP001 release, which looked further afield for artists tapping into the burgeoning sound of the label. Of course there’s a certain fluidity to the styles, from intricate, tracky crunch to deft electronica flair (check standout track Closing Chapters by Tinkah), but they all land with crisp precision and swerve away from four-to-the-floor to give you something truly fresh.
GOST: A Spiritual Exploration into Greek Soundtracks (1975-1989)
Into the Light
Into the Light have a knack for reissuing and compiling works from overlooked artists, and GOST is a continuation of the label’s interest in Greek composers. Helmed by filmmaker Yannis Veslemes, this compilation is a deep dive into the soundtracks of Greek avant-garde cinema in the 70 and 80s. A retro-futuristic offering, that veers from the creeping dread and mysticism of Dimitris Papadimitriou’s Erotic Scene to Michaelis Christodoulides’ cinematic and synth-heavy Phalanx via the folksy and choral number On the Road by Christodoulos Halaris.
TFGCX (TFGC019) – 10 Jahre TFGC Compilation
Themes From Great Cities
As one of the key Dusseldorf labels orbiting Salon Des Amateurs, Themes From Great Cities is an expressway right to the heart of contemporary kosmische. There might be other ways of defining the music, but it’s all very much building from the groundwork laid in North West Germany in the 70s and 80s. Toasting ten years of rarified, hotly sought-after jewels, TFGCX took a look back at the likes of Wolf Müller, Lucas Croon, Toulouse Low Trax and Mekine U Teksi, and put their best back on show. Compared to many labels, the Themes catalogue is a modest pool to pick from, but they made sure every single release was a cut above.
Now everyone has an analogue synth in their bedroom, there are plenty of labels carrying modern updates on the minimal wave tradition. Bologna-based label Random Numbers did a great job summing up what’s good in that ill-defined field right now – their sole release was a 12-track knockout loaded with gnarly monosynth arpeggios, brittle drum machines and consistently spooky atmospheres. It wasn’t just a club-ready chug-out though, as Eylül Deniz delivered a gothic epic with a meandering narrative and Eva Geist and Steve Pepe toyed with pop-tinted forms in gloriously off-kilter style. Noirish rhythmic pulses abound throughout, whether hand-played (check UVB76) or perfectly sequenced, in a sharply selected celebration of club music’s grubby underbelly.
Buganda Royal Music Revival
Buganda Royal Music Revival is an illuminating history lesson in album form. Positioned somewhere between past and present, the record guides curious listeners through the music of the kingdom of Buganda – a Bantu kingdom established in the late 14th century within Uganda. Released by Nyege Nyege Tapes, the project offers a powerful synthesis of archival recordings from the late 40s to the mid-60s, and more contemporary pieces; old guard uniting with new in an effort to reinvigorate centuries-old musical traditions. These archival recordings date back to a key period in the kingdom’s history: a 1966 attack on the king’s palace that led to his exile, the fleeing of royal musicians and the abrupt dissolution of Buganda (which has since been re-established). There’s a lot to take in here, and a lot to be relished, but when has that ever been a bad thing?