The sonic geography of club music has been global in scale for several decades now, but its internal dynamics and external metabolisms are far from homogenous. Contra trite claims to globalization, flatness, and various melting pot-isms, the thorny particularities, insular cultural codes, and aural cul-de-sacs of contemporary club music are as prominent as ever. Of course, this efflorescence of the particular is firmly contrasted by the near-total homogenization in music production technologies, distribution logics, and consumption practices. Dance music in the United States, following much of the rest of the world, has been concretized in industrial bodies, heritage organizations, real estate speculation, and the quotidian mendacities of a culture industry hell-bent on profit.
This contradiction between the routine brilliance of vernacular dance music – lived, participated, and iterated upon at the local scale and its digital reflection – and their perpetual subsumption through a mediatized exchange relation is hardly new. But our present conjuncture requires persistent attention to the modalities of difference and the alter-globalizations growing like spores in the seams of otherwise standardized dance music.
In 2022, those modalities revolved around a dialogue between legibility and occlusion. Projects by DJAaron, DJ J Heat, and Fwea-Go Jit can be loosely assigned to the former, elucidating the rhythmic dynamism, hybrid tendencies, and pop constellations of Flex Dance Music, Jersey Club, and SoFlo Jook, respectively. In a constant dialogue with dancers who comprise critical elements of each scene, these artists cannot be unknotted from the genres they ply their trade in. On the other hand, releases from DJ Travella, Jana Rush, and twofold challenged both commonly-held genre conceptions and dancefloor music’s sonic and perceptual limits. Herein, digital audio workstations are shattered by velocity and splendor, the materiality of sound itself is foregrounded, and humor meets otherworldly sound design. Falling somewhere in between, DJ GÄP, Estoc, Nick Léon, and TAYHANA showed off their talent with an almost unfathomable range of global music, contorting familiar forms into almost inconceivable geometries.
Survive The Madness
Like much of the best American dance music, DJAaron makes music for a specific subset of dancers. Survive The Madness was the Brooklyn artist’s only release of 2022, but its minor critical mood and martial rhythms stand out in a crowded field of regional club forms. Along for the ride are fellow flex dance music producers Davincii Productions, HITMAKERCHINX, and Showoffmadethis, each lending a characteristic tick to DJAaron’s loopy dancehall machinations. Closer “Mayday” – channeling ragga dancehall as much as action film soundtracks– comes in at under two minutes but exemplifies the synchronized bombast and grace of the DJAaron sound.
Very little of the chaotic energy that ran through club music in the early 2010s remains. Still, every few years, a project emerges that cues into a rich vein of form and content redolent of the heyday of DIS Magazine mixes, GHE20G0TH1K and Hood By Air. Bratislava’s DJ GÄP, hardly a newcomer, attains a slice of that energy on Burning Brakes, speedrunning through stylistic signifiers and genre touchstones that have too often applied with a spiritless concern for taste and propriety in recent years. None of that etiquette can be found on Burning Brakes, a release that recklessly hurdles through grime, funk carioca, bubbling, dancehall, and more. TAYHANA sutures the project in a slick rework of the title track, lending structure to chaos without losing the spirit of DJ GÄP’s project.
DJ J Heat
You Know The Drill
In the nine months since DJ J Heat’s You Know The Drill dropped, New York’s drill sound has percolated ever further into global club music and the general pop consciousness. That said, the vocal-heavy interpellation of Jersey Club with drill production stands out as one of the most thoughtful, forward-thinking impressions of where the sound is and where it might go. Ash B., Demi The Baddie, DJ K-SHiZ, Ty-Gee, and Wild Milly all feature, but J Heat’s production shines through on tracks like the Eiffel 65-referencing “Stay On Yo Feet” and bedroom-ready “Sneaky Link.”
Vinyl LP, Cassette
If breakneck FL Studio beats are your thing, then DJ Travella is already, or at least should already be, on your radar. Part of a new generation of single producers, the Dar Es Salam-based artist broke out in April with the kaleidoscopic Mr. Mixondo, an eternally bright, incomprehensibly fast collection of dancefloor smashes. While full of ecstasy-inducing peaks, the record thrives in its moments of sincere beauty. Thus we have piano and voice harmonies layered over an incessant tom patter on “London Uwoteeee” and its flip in the pitched-up and blown-out “Tambasana.” There’s plenty of room for overindulgence, though, especially on the discordant squelch of “Crazy Beat Music Umeme 2”, an adequately titled track if I’ve ever seen one.
Hot off the heels of her debut album, BOG TROLL sees Estoc hit a slow-and-dirty pace, linking dub siren FX, “Witch Doktor” samples” and gremlin-like vocal convulsions over a series of floor-ready beats. Released on Why Be’s excellent Yegorka label – somewhat of a departure from careful voice and instrumentation projects by GIL, Ryong + Eva Tind, and Dove, also released this year – Estoc is both forceful and humorous on BOG TROLL, simultaneously pushing the extremes of vocal processing and layering dense, percussion arrangements. “SOMNOLENCE” plies the boundary perfectly; led by a resonant, creepy hummed melody and overdriven bassline, the track lulls in a way only Estoc could conceive.
2 La Jit
We featured several SoFlo Jook projects in Best Club Music this year, but none exemplify the anthemic, call-and-response style of the Miami sound quite like Fwea-Go Jit’s 2 La Jit. With fellow Jook artists like DJJam305, DJ Schreach, and MikeOnaBeat in tow, 2 La Jit runs up vocal drill hybrids (“Let Me See You Drill”), a track made up almost entirely of shoe squeaks and bouncing ball sounds (“Dribble”) and funk carioca interpellations (“Make It Do”) across 15 jam-packed tracks. The sound is extensive, but Fwea-Go Jit’s imprint – in terms of rhythm and voice – is unmistakable across 2 La Jit.
Composed of extended, workout versions of old tracks alongside new compositions, Dark Humor is at once an extension of 2021’s Painful Enlightenment and a distillation of the Jana Rush sound at its purest and most dissonant. “Suicidal Ideation (Aural Hallucinations Mix)” runs well over eight minutes, subjecting a series of multivocal sonic objects – cackles, screwed incantations, and snippets of speech – to sickening fields of sub-bass. “Lonely,” a collaboration with DJ Paypal, is Avant-jazz, forged in the contradictory crucible of improvisation and rigid structure. While being sure not to take itself too seriously, Rush’s sole long player of 2022 is both formally adventurous, and a massive soundsystem listen.
One of several artists working across Latin American club forms to be belatedly accepted by an EU-centric club and festival circuit, Nick Léon has had a banner 2022. Edits of Chucky73, Control Machete, and Pretty Ricky set the stage, but it was July’s Xtasis EP, bracketed by remixes from Pearson Sound and Doctor Jeep, that came off as the culmination of the Miami’s artist’s sound. Dubbed ‘latin tribal techno,’ the title track features raptor house legend DJ Babatr and hits a seductive swing with vocal snatches layered in a lush bed of synth pads. B-side “Grito,” on the other hand, strikes a more agitated groove, drawing on a loopy guaracha pattern for maximum late-night excess. Doctor Jeep’s remix of the latter also stands out, transforming the loopy original into a masterful autonomic drum and bass exercise.
Rompe el silencio
One of the most tactile, joyous DJs currently active, TAYHANA, turned her energy to original compositions this year on Rompe el silencio. With each track aimed directly at peak time play, the EP totters on the edge of energy overflow, stitching cumbia, funk carioca, guaracha, and more into an ebullient mess. Looped melodies take on an autonomous quality on “Lo hago por mis hijxs” and “Sale GiraFA (De qué viven?)”, seemingly driven forward by their own internal temporal and affective logic. Meanwhile, brass is stretched thin on the triumphant “No me siento un poco bien,” evoking a syncopated strut punctuated by stomping kicks.
THE LOST MECHA TOOLS
THE LOST MECHA TOOLS, a collaborative project between twofold and a group of like-minded artists, raises metallic and mechanistic club music to near-ontological status. Coining ‘mecha’ as a genre-indicator, the Atlanta-based artist works with a range of metallurgic palettes, coupling the bounce, sway and lurch of regional club music–ballroom, juke, footwork, grime, and more profound across the EP’s four originals and three remixes. But while these rhythms have emerged from human hands, that provenance is not so evident in the structure of tracks like “DRUMLINE MECH” and “Like Clockwork,” each taking on a life of their own behind the backs of producer, listener, and dancer.