BEST OF 2023 The Best Electronic Music of 2023 By Joe Muggs · December 14, 2023

On the surface of things, 2023 doesn’t seem to have been a year of radical innovation. There have been no surprise new styles or tempo switches. But that’s not to say electronic musicians have been getting stuck in a rut, either. Every one of these selections—whether based in a single genre or vibe, or hybridizing several—has, in some way, found fresh and profound inspiration in the familiar, and channeled it into music that has devastating physical, intellectual and/or emotional power. From house tropes from its mid-‘80s origins through ‘90s electronica; ‘00s dubstep and grime; and more recent South and West African vernacular styles; deep rooted club culture shows itself to be as fertile and vital as it’s ever been, and these records will, without question, have staying power as well as instant impact.

Kelela
“Contact (Karen Nyame KG Remix)”

Ghanaian-British producer Karen Nyame continues to go from strength to strength. This, year her EP Red and remixes for Brit soul singers anaiis and TYSON showed just how consistently she pulls her own distinct sound from a melange of house, R&B, dancehall, and West and South African sounds. Best of all was this rework of much beloved alt-R&B star Kelela. With its rich waves of chords and reverb surrounding impossibly sophisticated percussion and bass interplay, it’s one to float away into forever.

Lila Tirando a Violeta & Sin Maldita
Accela

Merch for this release:
Cassette

The deconstructed club template of counter-intuitive rhythm and hyper-high production values played against scary distortion and discord isn’t new—but it sure as shit sounds new in the hands of prolific Uruguyan-in-Ireland Lila Tirando a Violeta and “infernal, androgynous” Berliner Sin Maldita. This album ramps up everything: the “is it real?” synthetic classical instruments, the vicious metallic crunch, the everything-everywhere-all-at-once maximalism, the Gothic religious drama, the sense of global information overload with influences from everywhere, and—as the title suggests—the tempos. Over seven tracks and 20-odd (very odd!) minutes, this will transport you to a crazed kind of transcendence. It’s the pinnacle of a vintage year for Hyperdub, along with immense records from Loraine James, Lee Gamble, Jessy Lanza, and more.

IFS MA
REIFSMA

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Cassette

Poland’s own Outlines label has long championed weird, advanced, complex sounds rooted in Chicago footowork. But even by their high standards, this is absolutely extraordinary. Over eight tracks, Polish production duo IFS create huge bass tones and trippy rhythms and tones that slip, slap, and gloop against one another, while Japanese vocalist MA raps, chants, and speaks in tongues in, over, and around the music. It’s properly mind-bending gear, and gains more mental traction with every repeat play, whether on a club system or beamed straight to your frontal cortex.

DJ K
Panico No Submundo

Merch for this release:
Cassette

Brazil’s vast shanty towns—favelas—have always been a hotbed for musical innovation, where elements of hip-hop and dance from the world over are boiled down into ultra-intense forms. And in the favelas of Sāo Paulo, this has been pushed to giddy extremes with the bruxaria sound. It’s deliberately gruesome and twisted, with a horror-movie aesthetic and a love of high-pitched, digital shrieking sounds (“tuin”) which apparently echo or enhance the ear-ringing effects of the solvents inhaled by dancers as a cheap intoxicant of choice. It’s simultaneously horrifying and irresistable, and this collection of 17 artists steered by the young DJ K sprays the sound at you like a firehose full of squid ink.

Azu Tiwaline
The Fifth Dream

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Since 2019, Tunisian producer Azu Tiwaline has been working in the post-dubstep, post-techno zone where crispness of production and detailed understanding of rhythm allow the opening up and manipulation of sonic spaces around the listener. So it was natural that as her finesse increased, so her music would become more exciting. This, her second album, does everything her early work did in combining the complex folk rhythms and desert atmospherics of her homeland with potent dubwise bass and electronic experimentation—but with added power in every regard. It’s a Saharan sci-fi movie in sonic form.

muva of Earth
“High (Hagan Remix)”

The influence of South African amapiano on the wider world of dance music continues to sink in and mature, and this British release is one of the most thrilling evolutions of it yet. Singer muva of Earth deals in a kind of psychedelic soul, heavily influenced by the likes of Nina Simone and Erykah Badu, and her work is compelling in its own right. But given an Afro house re-rub by producer and multi-instrumentalist Hagan, “High” is, well, taken to new heights—a rich cascade of voice and percussion that keeps all the structure of the original, even as it pushes the sonics to galactic proportions and the groove to lose-your-mind levels.

Ghoßt Assembly
I Miss Your Love

Merch for this release:
Vinyl

House abides. Whatever else may come and go, it remains the spine of global club culture. And even among the infinite variations that have arisen over the decades, the original fundamentals laid down in mid-‘80s Chicago, New York, and Detroit remain valid and viable. Abigail Ward knows this, and in her production debut (although she’s been around the block as a DJ, broadcaster, and writer), she went right back to the source. A couple of notes make a bassline; a simple piano chord chime in here and there; the four-to-the-floor kick holds it down; and the yearning, churchy-but-sexual vocal sends it to the stratosphere. So simple, but so hard to get right—and she really, really got it right on this one.

DJ Maphorisa & Tman Xpress
Chukela

As well as heavily influencing and integrating into scenes from Vietnam to Venezuela, amapiano continues to be culturally vital at home in South Africa. Here, veteran Maphorisa from Soshanguve and Soweto-based relative newcomer Tman Xpress team up with a roll call of outstanding musicians including amapiano originator Kabza De Small for eight tracks that show the style at its very best. Vocals that range from sweetly soulful to militant chanting to rapping flow through the inimitable tantrically patient groove that manages to drift dreamily and deliver brutal impact at the same time. Gentle, whimsical melodies and huge open spaces sweeps you up and away into the neverending rivers of bass.

TSVI
Stella Remota

There’s a complex and emotional backstory to London-based producer Guglielmo Barzacchini’s second album as TSVI—but no framing is necessary to appreciate its devastating and instant sonic impact. Sprawling through a wild range of tempos across 19 tracks, with a couple of guest spots from the mighty Loraine James, it nods to dozens of club and soundsystem genres without ever fully falling into any of them. And much like James’s solo material, it completely rejuvenates the possibilities of sui generis electronica as something with mind-bending expressive power. The emotive and cosmic ecstasies this record reaches must be heard to be believed.

David Holmes & Violet Raven
Blind on a Galloping Horse

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP

Though he’s been extremely busy with soundtrack work, Northern Irish maestro David Holmes hasn’t released a proper artist album in 15 years. So what a thrill that he’s not just back, but clearly fired up. These 14 songs are shot through with clear reference points—The Jesus & Mary Chain, Goldfrapp, New Order, acid house, krautrock, Holmes’s old friend Andrew Weatherall—but they’re never beholden to the past. Rather, it feels like an enormously personal statement, and as driven by exploratory urges as anything he’s done before.

NOT_MDK
The 140 Album

As MDK, Martin Wood-Mitrovski made some extraordinary records for the label Spymania in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, swirling from golden age hip-hop to breakcore to death metal and beyond. Since then, his music outlet has mostly amounted to scattered odds and sods online. But now he’s back with a bang, and brand new hyperfocus. On his first album in 23 years, he explores the highest common factors that OG grime and dubstep share with the Detroit electro of Underground Resistance and Drexciya. It’s all about zooming in on the deep cultural and emotional mathematics of the funk, and re-engineering new forms from first principles. Every track sounds hauntingly familiar, yet startlingly new at the same time.

EVA808
Ö​Ð​RUV​Í​SI

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, T-Shirt/Shirt

Icelander-in-Sweden Eva Jóhannsdóttir has already made big waves in bass music with her releases and live sets getting co-signs from big names globally. But her second album—and first on her own label GLER—is something else. It still got all that low-end impact and nods to the core values of dubstep and grime, but its experimentalism expands in all directions. “Hlaupbangsi (SOPHIE Tribute),” for example, has all the high-definition, trippy gloopiness of its inspiration, while elsewhere there’s Boards-Of-Canada fuzz, krautrock chug, and an extraordinary physicality. An absolutely incredible album, up there with the best of any genre this year. It deserves to be considered an enduring classic.

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