The Waveform Transmitter team have trawled through their somewhat hazy memories of 2017 and selected their favourite albums and singles of the year. See if you agree with their selections, here.
2017. What a fucking year. I’d be tempted to start off on a massive rant about the shitstorm that is Brexit and the damage that will inevitably do to our culture and arts, but I’ll spare you and stick to the music. Which the utterance ‘what a fucking year’ applies to, only this time in a significantly more positive light.
To say we’ve been spoilt over the past twelve months is a complete understatement. Labels have been churning out quality releases like their lives depended on it. Which is obviously great news for your ears, which would be bereft were it not for sumptuous sonic waves being blasted into them continuously (or is that just us? We doubt it).
However, the difficult task of selecting some of the best albums and singles/EPs of the year falls into our laps. This kind of choice is always a tough one, especially when the editor only allows us to pick two of each. I mean, who even does that to people…? (I picked three of each, because I can. HA).
The fact of the matter is, many people get bored of a particular sound. Fans are fickle and no sooner has a scene become flooded with one particular style, people start to wander off, searching for their ‘next big thing’. We see that constantly here at The Waveform Transmitter. “But what are you going to do to help prevent this?!” we hear you cry.
Well, by continuing what we’ve started, that’s what. We will always support new and undiscovered artists, labels, and events. OK, so we all have our favourites who are already established on ‘the scene’ and we will continue to push their sound, but at the same time we welcome new blood with open arms, we will invigorate individuals who dare to be different. Encouraging innovation within the current landscape is important if we are to advance our young bedroom producers to past the threshold of their comfort zone and into the world of underground dance music.
Anyway, I’m going to stop with the rambling and get down to brass tacks. Here we have, in no particular order, The Waveform Transmitter‘s picks of 2017.
Ste Knight, Waveform Transmitter Editor
Steffi – World of the Waking State
I said that it was a difficult decision, but selecting this album, for me, was a no-brainer. Steffi released her long player via bastion electronic label, Ostgut Ton, and what an album it is. Taking on an IDM influence, she has produced an album here that swerves right on by the ‘usual’ techno fayre that has become so prevalent on the current scene and gives us some music to genuinely think to.
Steffi has shifted from her traditional sound, and it works so well. The album features richly layered textures that combine to create a mellifluous sonic tapestry. Many long players within the electronic music realm are guilty of including a whole heap of filler tracks. Not here. She has brought together a selection of tracks that work well as an entire narrative and also as standalone tracks. A wonderful album and truly deserving of a spot in our top picks of 2017.
Various Artists – District 66: Compilation Two
Some individuals may decry the inclusion of a compilation in a top albums list, but Hamburg-based label, District 66, have been putting out some really exciting music of late, plenty of which is included on their compilation album, Compilation 2. Featuring tracks such as Clark Son‘s driving, hypnotic looper, Central Station, Markus Schwarz‘ dubby Run Away, and Mattias Fridell‘s Sumprunkarna, their is plenty of techno to delight to, herein.
We hope to see more from this exciting fledgling label in 2018. Despite only having come to fruition in 2016, the imprint is pushing exciting artists and their productions and so we believe that District 66 are playing an important role in keeping the scene we know and love alive and brimming with opportunity for young producers. As long as they continue to do so, their sound will become even more prevalent in the next 12 months.
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia
Having seen this performed live, I can confirm that, such was the magnitude of the performance, I was left breathless. Still, four months on, I’m reeling from how absolutely perfect it was. The album achieves a very similar effect (although it would be hard to beat the live rendition) as it takes the listener on a fantastical journey through the stars via seven compositions, via the mind of her late grandmother.
Hannah Peel has injected so much personal reflection and emotion into this record that it is impossible not to be drawn deeply into its huge cosmic expanse. The album builds on tension until the almighty crescendo as we finally reach the galaxy for which we are searching. The fact that every time I listen to this album it brings tears of both joy and melancholy to my eyes is an achievement not to be ignored. It speaks to me on so many levels that it rouses a fervour that I didn’t even know was possible to feel. A truly remarkable piece of work which every electronic music fan should own. Utterly utterly incredible and stultifylingly beautiful.
Louisahhh – A Trap I’ve Built
Louisahh steps up to the plate with easily one of my favourite EPs of 2017, A Trap I’ve Built. It may seem odd to select something so dark as being your favourite, but the visceral nature of the tracks contained here really spoke to me. There is something raw and emotional about the difficult subject matter that Louisahhh presents to us, here, but adding personal elements to music has always been something that has endeared me to it. Besides, surely music is supposed to make us feel – this EP certainly does that.
Dealing with difficult subject matter can be a double-edged sword for a lot of artists, it can certainly alienate listeners who don’t understand. However, those who know, know, and Louisahhh manages to somehow create something which is accessible and thoughtful in equal quantities. This is some blindingly original work from the American producer and I find it achingly exquisite.
Volruptus – Hessdalen EP
Signing to Nina Kraviz‘ Trip imprint seems to have been a great move for Volruptus, the Reykjavik electronic artist, especially when you consider that the label head herself selected one of the tracks from the EP as her favourite electro release of the year. We’re inclined to agree. It should be said, though, that the producer isn’t limited solely to the electro/techno side of electronic music. Previous excursions into the electronic genre have seen him encapsulate other styles, such as his alien drum and bass effort, Gett Vffreakye, which is somewhat reminiscent of some of the works of Aphex Twin and artists of his ilk.
Bjargmundur Ingi has levelled us with some serious electro vibes on Hessdalen, complete with all the swing that you would expect from the genre. Retaining the ‘other-worldly’ qualities of previous productions – qualities that give him his signature sound – Volruptus takes the rich pads and echoing synth hits that have become IDM tropes and works them into his own productions to startling effect. This would make an excellent addition to any electro fan’s collection, so if you don’t already own it, go and grab a copy immediately.
Kristin Velvet – Now or Never EP
Kristin Velvet seems to be totally unstoppable at the moment. Her appearances at worldwide events are testament to her abilities behind the wheels and her performances are always energetic both musically and physically (she really does move behind those decks!). However, her grace in the booth should not undermine her skills in the studio. Earlier this year Kristin released her Now or Never EP on Darren Emerson‘s Detone imprint, and what a fantastic beast it is.
The title track pulled together Kristin‘s retro-house influences into one tightly knit package, but it was the absolute snarler that is The Lothario that really set tongues wagging here at Waveform HQ. A big, bolshy bastard of a track that kicks sand in your face and throws your ice-cream into the sea. Killer production from Velvet, who we hope to see a lot more of in 2018.
Andy Weights, Waveform Transmitter Senior Writer
Bartellow – Pankorama
First, we have Bartellow with the impressive Pankorama, released by ESP Institute. The album is a multi-textured, musical cauldron of instrumentation. Mixing primitive tribal beats with a retro-future feel that creates a soundtrack for cross-dimensional adventure. Using his Jazz schooling, Bartellow creates a stunning line up of compositions that aim to take the listener through illustrious soundscapes and imaginary resonance of alien places.
A Brehme – Intiyat
A Brehme with the release titled Intiyat gets my second vote: a psychedelic, minimalist techno journey that was released on Form and Function on the 3rd October. It has been a constant player on my playlist ever since. The tracks hypnotise with subtle percussive elements with a pulse to the ambient feel that are as deep and intense as they repetitive and dance worthy. (OK, so it is an EP. Sue me).
Bawrut – Rhumba
Bawrut‘s single Rhumba is a retro-sounding acid house screamer, only armed with a modern suaveness, it has a great 303 bass-line hook and was released on the 31st January by Ransom Note Records. A wicked acid-infused track that mixes unusual samples and sounds with trusty old school sentiments while firmly stepping into the audio phonic future.
Matt Sawyer – Good Morning
My other single choice is Matt Sawyer’s Good Morning which was released on Top Town Records in February. Harnessing the power of vintage disco and house, steeped with Detroit electro-tech feel and sounds, this track is a fantastic, good-time, dancefloor mammoth.
Simon Huxtable, Waveform Transmitter Writer
Afterlife – On Being
In the course of my reviewing life, I’ve had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of some truly exceptional human beings. Steve Miller (Afterlife) is one such fellow and his music is otherworldly. This is his new album and I’ve hammered it for months.
Crying Vessel – A Beautiful Curse
I met Slade (the lead singer) through Facebook: he’s also a kick-ass studio engineer who writes for Reverb Mag. Anyway, we got chatting and he asked me to rewrite the band’s biography ahead of this album release, which I did. The album is a mix of 80s new wave and that electro-y nu-disco vibe bands like Sneaky Sound System and The Presets were doing a while back. Anyway, its an emotive collection of songs for days when dance music isn’t what I’m after.
Bon Iver Vs. Fatama Yamaha – CrEEks (James Zabiela Messina Mix)
There’s something about the way Zabiela‘s brain works that intrigues me. Here he’s taken two disparate alright tracks and mashed them together with a keen sense of style, supreme studio craft and a wicked sense of fun. Just the perfect way to close a set in my opinion.
Ken Hayakawa – War Drums (Hiroshi Watanabe Remix)
Ken was something of an enigma to me, but after this EP dropped into my promo box some months ago, I haven’t stopped playing it. Definitely going to be one of those tunes that hangs around my hard drive for a long time, occasionally getting a well overdue dusting off and airing. Sublime Detroit-y sounds which for me, is what real Tech House is all about.
Paddy Hooley, Waveform Transmitter Writer
Various Artists – Soma 25
2017 is a year that has seen many milestones for artists and record labels. Dynamic duo Stuart McMillan & Orde Meikle aka Slam are celebrating a quarter century of Soma Records, a year that has so far produced an incredible 48 releases for the Glaswegian label, including it’s landmark 500th Soma release in shape of a remixes EP that features Detroit masters Robert Hood & Carl Craig.
Soma 25 is my first selection of Album of the year, an album that showcases the label’s vision, boasting twenty tracks from some of the biggest names in techno. Jeff Mills, Blawan and Steve Bicknell boost the album to legendary status, alongside remixes from underground talents Kobosil, Shlømo and Vril. Andrew Weatherall appears under alias Woodleigh Research Facility with interstellar space sounds, bleeps and police sirens in his future/retro acid number S.O.M.A 25, whilst Cleric bangs the drum in his remix of Positive Education. The intrepid diversity of creative ideas and consistency in production quality, highlights this edition to Slam’s imprint as one of the best releases of the year and most definitely of Soma’s zealous silver jubilee.
Various Artists – Token Records: Momentum
Dystopian drones and constricted tension marks Token Records tenth anniversary, with the Belgian label’s collaborative release Momentum. The triple-vinyl LP colludes nine masterpieces from the imprint’s core collective, kick starting December alongside an announcement of 11 European tour dates.
The opening track ‘Bloom’ by Sigha and Rødhåd, juxtaposes ambient chords with the anfractuous pressure of an evolving drum loop, exposing the listener to the forceful juggernaut of Momentum. Further artistic impressions from label boss Kr!z & Ctrls, Phase (Ø) & Antigone, and titans Inigo Kennedy & Oscar Mulero collide to concoct an incredible definition of Token’s specific sound, whilst driving forward new concepts of techno.
Wirrwar – Void the C-Stem (VSK remix)
The first of my two singles of the year goes to Italian artist VSK and his truly mental remix of Wirrwar – Void The C-Stem. The brutal kick and marching toms spark the industrial machine into motion, rolling through acidic lightning and sprays of hats. The track is a homage to dark and industrial techno and would destroy any sound system.
SDB – Paranoia
Next up is a track from SDB. The 21-year-old producer and DJ from Saarbrücken, Germany is ahead of the game with his productions, if there’s one artist that you look into following this article it should be him. Paranoia was released in July and is the fourth track available on the young talent’s Bandcamp page, all of which could be contenders for track of the year. SDB’s fast, swinging rhythms and euphoric pads soar into hypnotic builds before crashing downwards into a relentless kick drum, leaving dance floors in a dissociative daze, rushing in nostalgic mystery.
Daniel James, Waveform Transmitter Writer
Four Tet – New Energy
An amazing album that somehow encapsulates all of his previous sounds and influences. A beautiful experience of eclecticism, however within the constrains of Kieran Hebden’s amazing musical mind. A true journey with reflective ambience, middle eastern strings and electronic pulses with dancefloor edge.
Matthew Dear – DJ Kicks
This must be one of our favourites from the DJ Kicks Series with one of the pioneers of minimal and melody taking control. You can feel how much effort has gone into this mix, and it feels like an original piece in and of itself. There is a nice balance of experimentation and driving techno, mainly using weapons from his own releases as Matthew Dear and his alter ego techno purist Audion.
Mark Henning – Brilliance of The Sun
This is a satisfying number where Mark has re-gravitated back to his world of techno. This is a sci-fi track with thunder, it shoots you up into the stratosphere whilst forcing you to head bang. Marks production shine through with crisp layers of bass and electric volts that scratch your spinal cord.
Jan Driver – Tonikum
A fun, cinematic and just brilliant electro track from German producer Jan Driver. You listen to this track and it feels like you’ve heard it on the radio a load of times or that its featured in a massively famous film (A previously used sample perhaps?).
Maximilian Carton, Waveform Transmitter Writer
Carl Craig – Versus (in collaboration with Francesco Tristano & Les Siècles Orchestra).
8 years in the making, it was originally meant to be a live recording but has grown into something much better…
Adding to his long standing legacy as one of the finest exports from Detroit, Craig’s new album offers orchestral takes on some of his best work, as well as remixing Tristano, a Luxembourger classical pianist and the Les Siècles Orchestra, an ensemble of the finest young French players.
Although some tracks from the album are very much made with the club in mind, as a full album, Versus oozes class whilst still maintaining his forward thinking style of production.
Call Super – Arpo
Released on Fabric’s imprint Houndstooth, Arpo has cemented Call Super as one of the best producers around.
2017 has certainly been Call Super‘s year, playing at many of the worlds’ most renowned clubs and festivals, sharing the decks with the likes of Ben UFO and Objekt, and releasing top notch music. Arpo dives deep into sound design and each track allows the listener freedom to interpret them however they choose. From clicks & clanks, sombre tones to funky, this album is a masterpiece.
Niall Johnston, Waveform Transmitter Writer
James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits
Wonderfully complex and experimental album from James Holden (who used to produce trance) that evokes feelings of avant-garde jazz mixed with electronica. His movement away from traditional dance music drove him to assemble a collection of musicians from various backgrounds and sees the album recorded in a single live take. Throughout the album Holden’s mutations of the synthesizer rise and consume the atmospheric organs, brass and ritual-like drums. Favourite track: Each Moment Like The First.
Carl Craig – Versus
This project sees the re-imagining of music that was already classic in the sense of being a seminal, into classical in its very form. It was created via a collaboration between techno pioneer Carl Craig, composer Francesco Tristano, and the Les Sèicles ensemble headed by François-Xavier Roth.
This work transcends two totally different musical worlds: techno and classical, resulting in a masterpiece of epic proportions. This is not the first time that Carl Craig has attempted this but hearing even more of his famous synth melodies brought to life in orchestral form is a source of great enjoyment for us. This album is the product of nearly 10 years of work from the many people involved and that dedication really shines through in the quality. Favourite track: The Melody.
Shanti Celeste – Loop One
This track is as beautiful a house track as they come. Starting out with shifting breakbeat cymbals, birdsong and eerie chanting, warm chords later wash over this and launch a punchy beat. The exit and return of the intermittent cords throughout the track create the emotion that fills it. This track feels like birth but it also has finality to it, like the parallels of sunrise and sunset.
I’ve listened to this track at both times to equal pleasure but still not heard it out. Hopefully 2018 will grant me that, in addition to more great music from Shanti Celeste.
Benjamin Damage – Montreal
Legendary Belgian imprint R&S never fail to disappoint with their cutting edge techno sound that blends elements of previous generations sounds with the most zeitgeist ideas around. This relentless number is packed with poly-rhythmic percussion that can send the listener in a multitude of directions. Muffled synth lines start as barely as a whisper but expand and mutate to add a fierce emotion to the composition. Insta-classic.
Paul McGuinness, Waveform Transmitter Writer
Depeche Mode – Spirit
Some might think this is a bit of a predictable choice, but who can argue that Depeche Mode are still probably our finest electro pop, alternative band? They have literally shaped our childhood musically (for the last 30 years consistently, in one way or another) and have fit into every genre you can come up with. Having said all that people still criticise them saying they have lost their edge (which is absolute rubbish to be honest). Always reinventing themselves and sticking to their guns lyrically and musically, how many other bands can inspire and conjure up such thought provoking tracks not many!
So, Spirit was their 2017 album and not much has changed (thankfully, Depeche Mode are still Depeche Mode.). From the opening track Going Backwards reflects the current regressive attitudes of our modern society and just how disjointed the human race has become.
Where’s The Revolution, again nails the modern world laxi dazy attitude absolutely perfectly delivered by the dark,dreamy and wonderful vocals of Dave Gahan. Spirit continues to move through the ages electronically like only The Mode can (not sure if that’s a thing or I’ve just coined a phrase). The album shifts into familiar territory with tracks like Scum, Cover Me, Poison Heart, and Poorman, with its massive shot at capitalism and greed corporations (and rightly so). No More (This is The Last Time)…brings the album to a close. In short let’s champion our beloved Depeche Mode, bands like this are a dying breed.
Unkle – The Road Part 1
Unkle, aka James Levelle and Tim Goldsworthy – friends from school – founded the band back in 1992 and since then have gone from strength to strengh, with a list of brilliant collaborations and releases featuring artists like DJ Shadow, Future Beat Alliance, and Ian Brown amongst many others. The Road Part 1 is their 2017 album and straight from the off we are introduced to their dark and tripped out world which we have come to know and love.
With tracks like Fair Well and Looking for Rain, featuring Mark Lanegan on vocals, it is almost tech ‘Country and Western’ (I hope I’m not doing Lavelle and co a disservice saying that). I always personally feel like Unkle keep the indie dream alive with their use of live instruments, vocals and FX, then write and produce the music accordingly which all adds to the feel and atmosphere.
The journey continues with tracks like Cowboys or Indians and Nowhere To Run, which maintain the emotional soundtrack, then its back to some 4×4 action on Arms Length, which seems like a beautiful little tribute to Massive Attack, with hints of the acid house era bubbling underneath them dreamy vocals.
In between all of the tracks we also have some precious little sound bites and intros that shape the dark storyline (like a proper album). The Road, Iter 5, Sunrise, and Lullaby, all bring the album to a close with reversed re verbs,ghostly undertones and more, all of which hark back to an older and more vintage sound, combining all this with immaculate use of strings,pianos,pads and vocals. Unkle write, produce and perform their music like it was their last hence why they are innovators and always moving forward.
Phil Kieran – Wasps Under A Toy Boat (Planetary Assault Systems Remix)
Phil Kieran has produced and written some absolute dancefloor bombs over the years and this is no different. This is machine-like techno genius with its constantly rising mods, filters and – yes – wasp-like FX. It is Mr Luke Slater who does the business here for me though, under his Planetary Assault Systems guise. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Luke perform his live sets on a few occasions which, if you haven’t seen them yet, you really need to. He literally tears it up and that’s exactly how this remix sounds – like hes rocking a dance floor. Luke always adds his unique flavour to techno which is very distinctive and most of outstanding one of the heroes of the scene for me hands down.
Hans Zimmer – Time (Tale of Us Edit)
The man…the legend…Hans Zimmer needs no introduction at all. We all know what this German sound-wizard can do and has proved it on many many occasions musically, through his film scores which are quite frankly magically woven together. The edit by Tale of Us (Carmine Conte & Matteo Milleri) is a brilliant little percussive, tech house work out of the great mans original track adding their own unique “Berlin” euphoric sunset touch. They make great use of the lush strings and textures all traveling delightfully on top of a dark heavy baseline complete with metallic tones and stabs.
So, there we have it, The Waveform Transmitter‘s top selections of 2017. Hopefully 2018 will prove to be equally as fruitful. Stick with us for the ride as we will have plenty coming in the new year (including the winner of our Christmas competition…you’ve entered, right?)
From everyone here at Waveform HQ, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a most bountiful New Year. We love all of you, we really do. X