The past year brought the worst economy since the malaise of the 1970s, and like that era, it also saw dance music sweep the nation. Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, Beyoncé and Sean “Diddy” Combs all dabbled in the sound. Even Michael Jackson was said to be working on a dance album with the Peas’ Will.i.am before his untimely death in July.
Leagues beneath the headlines and charts, it was also a banner year for core e-music grooves. If one thing marked 2009 on the dance floor, it was a new sense of eclecticism. Cool-kid indie DJs played trance, trance jocks name-checked MGMT, techno artists expanded the definition of the genre, dance stars went pop, pop stars went dance, and a brooding aesthetic returned to the big-room marathons of after-hours America. This list of the year’s top 10 dance-music long-players represents all of the above.
Joris Voorn, Balance 014 (Eq Recordings)
Joris Voorn spread 102 tracks of other people’s music over two discs. More than that, however, he cut, edited and atomized the tracks and re-orchestrated them using Ableton Live software so that the entire composition was essentially his own. This sublime, progressive house and melodic techno isn’t recognizable as anything particularly “2009,” but the compilation represents an edgy, postmodern blur of sampl-adelic art.
Deadmau5, For Lack of a Better Name (Ultra)
In 2007, Deadmau5 had just a few tracks to his name. Two years later, he’s the leader of a new generation of DJs who are as much computer whizzes as musical artists. More than any other album, For Lack of a Better Name spanned the dance-floor trends of ’09 — hip-hop dance, tech-trance and crunchy, ’80s-flavored electro — and slotted them in a nonstop DJ mix.
Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak (Roc-A-Fella)
This 2009 Grammy-eligible album (released in late ’08) left any doubt about rap’s electronic ambitions in the dust. Still, 808s & Heartbreak was more like digital blues than anything you’d hear in a superclub at 3 a.m. West set the studio afire with synths, samples and voice-box lyrics, and he opened dance music’s door to a new generation of African-American kids.
Gui Boratto, Take My Breath Away (Kompakt)
Gui Boratto continued to pump out lush, symphonic, emotive material light-years from the linear sound of typical minimal techno. His instinct is valid: Dance music has to continue to take people beyond the bathroom stalls and bass bins of club land. Take My Breath Away represents the beautification of the genre.
MSTRKRFT, Fist of God (Downtown)
Canadian duo MSTRKRFT gave the cool kids what they want — grinding, “keytar” synths, a punk-rock attitude and plenty of pop references (John Legend, N.O.R.E. and Ghostface Killah make appearances). Despite the pair’s hockey-mask appearance and heavy-metal-dance aspirations, Fist of God is surprisingly accessible. Sure, there are headbanging moments (“1,000 Cigarettes”), but there are also tuneful, heartfelt songs (“Heartbreaker,” featuring Legend) that suggest this nu-electro thing could have staying power.
Calvin Harris, Ready for the Weekend (Ultra)
Trance is mostly a bad word within the dark corners of the dance floor. Yet the style has permeated the mainstream like never before, whether it’s peppering Kanye West tunes or providing a futuristic framework for pop crooners like Calvin Harris. On the well-rounded Ready for the Weekend, Harris offers melancholic, almost Coldplay-like songwriting. Meanwhile, his fresh-air, hand-raising grooves (“I’m Not Alone”) are undeniably uplifting.
DJ Hell, Teufelswerk (International DeeJay Gigolo)
Whenever the world gets grim, dance music gets correspondingly moody. A new dark wave in house and techno swept Europe in 2009, with the likes of Radio Slave, Dubfire and Sven Vath at the helm. But few went deeper into the abyss than DJ Hell, whose Teufelswerk was a blueprint for the scene’s new bacchanalia. His collaboration with Brian Ferry on “U Can Dance” is brilliant, and Diddy cheers on the “after-hours spots” and the “13-, 14-minute versions” of DJ tracks. Dark and long, indeed.
Sharam, Get Wild (Ultra)
While his longtime DJ partner, Dubfire, was spinning hedonistic sounds in Europe, the other half of Deep Dish, Sharam, was polishing his pop chops. The result was the bubbly, floor-friendly mix CD of the year. Get Wild not only introduced us to a rapper named Kid Cudi (“She Came Along”), but it also showcased Dubfire as a populist who can bring down the house. His redux of Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” (“PATT,” featuring Diddy) is a table-service theme song, and “Get Wild” proves to be peak-time magic.
Oscar G, DJ (Nervous)
Few media artifacts have been able to capture the true vibe of a superclub experience, but DJ comes close. It features a mix CD, a disc of original material and a DVD of the mix, complete with footage of Oscar G spinning at Space in Miami. G’s style is macho, percussive and Latin, and the video documents the buoyancy of his style. Heads bob, bodies move and a sea of people swells, providing a new dimension to the e-music experience.
Various Artists, In the Mix: Ten Years (of) Cocoon Ibiza (Cocoon)
The true sound of the underground in ’09 combined the bouncy elements of house with the stark stance of techno. In the Mix represents the rubbery, slow-burning flavor of a sweaty, black-walled after-hours party in Ibiza. Thank Dubfire and Loco Dice for taking on one disc each and infusing them with music from the likes of Marco Carola, Tiga and Jay Haze & Ricardo Villalobos. These twisted, freaky sounds will get you through to the next bubble, we promise.