2021 may not have been the year we all got back to the club in full force, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great time for dance music. And while we spent the majority of our time longing for the days we could be pressed against a couple hundred sweaty strangers all thrumming to the same kick drum, the soundtrack to our at-home raves did not disappoint.
With a lot of highly anticipated debuts and previously delayed follow ups finally seeing the light of day, the year saw massive offerings from the likes of established names like Porter Robinson, Boys Noize and Danny L Harle, as well as strong showings from newcomers like SHERELLE and Wavedash.
Whether you’re looking for nostalgic indie dance, headbanging dubstep, forward-thinking mutant techno, over the top hardcore rave, throwback house, blistering fast drum and bass or something that defies easy categorization, there was a little something there for whatever type of beat gets you going.
Danny L Harle — "Harlecore"
An album so massive they had to build a mythical multi-story megaclub to contain it, PC Music OG Danny L Harle’s debut, Harlecore, feels like the closest thing you could get to the purest distillation of rave euphoria. From soaring hooks to stadium-sized synths and teeth-chattering bass, Harle explores the emotional extremes of every ravey genre under the sun. Enlisting the help of Hudson Mohawke, Caroline Polachek and Lil Data to create the DJ personas of a hammer-wielding werewolf, an ethereal jellyfish and a hyperactive blue mascot respectively, Harle takes the concept of a fantasy rave compilation and pushes it to cartoonish proportions while still making some of the year’s most impeccable dance music.
Leon Vynehall — "Rare, Forever"
Straddling the line between sonic experimentation and forward-thinking dancefloor-ready rhythms, British producer Leon Vynehall’s latest album was one of the more forward-thinking club records to drop this year. Balancing moody interludes full of dulcet saxophone tones and distorted noise composition with giddy bursts of frenzied percussion and four-on-the-floor stompers, Rare, Forever unfolds like a descent into a damp, dark cave with expansive hits of bass and deftly plucked strings reverberating off the walls. It’s a bizarre beast of a dance record, but one that draws you in with every quirk, twist and turn it takes you along the way.
Boys Noize — "+/-"
The fifth studio album from veteran DJ and producer, Alex Ridha AKA Boys Noize, +/- (pronounced “polarity”) runs the gambit from sweaty hard-hitting industrial electro to Berghain-ready techno, ethereal indie dance, experimental beatmaking and everything in between. Making use of his own extensive modular synth collection, Ridha brings forth a bevy of new anthems and bangers that feel right in line with what one would expect of a Boys Noize record, while still sounding fresh and new. Featuring the likes of Kelsey Lu, ABRA, Tommy Cash, Chilly Gonzales, Rico Nasty and more, +/- marries Ridha’s club prowess with his finely honed pop sensibilities for one of Boys Noize’s strongest offerings to date.
Wavedash — "World Famous Tour"
Having established themselves in the dubstep scene at a time when all the major players had moved on, Wavedash looked to make a distinct departure from what they were known best for with their debut album. Taking cues from their musical idols like Porter Robinson and Skrillex, World Famous Tour sees the producer trio branch out from the growling bass heavy bangers (although there is still plenty of that on the album not to fear), exploring Rustie-esque maximalist drops, moody drum and bass, pensive ambient compositions, Soundcloud-era future bass, hyperpop and a few things that defy easy categorization. If you want to know what the future of EDM sounds like, Wavedash is a good place to start.
CFCF — "memoryland"
This one's for all the '90s kids out there. Montreal producer CFCF drenched his latest album in a healthy layer of nostalgia to craft a record that sounds like it was tucked away between a copy of Moby’s Play and a yellowed 12” of Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker." Leaning heavily into the electronica side of dance music, memoryland includes bits of shoegaze, punk, French touch, disco, funk, IDM and more all collaged together like a musical scrapbook. Tracks like “Life is Perfecto” and the epic eight minute “Night/Day/Work/Home” walk the line between Oneohtrix Point Never’s experimentalism and Four Tet’s dancefloor warmth for a blissful mix of accessible and cutting-edge.
Porter Robinson — "Nuture"
The long awaited follow up to 2014’s landmark debut, Worlds, Porter Robinson’s sophomore album, Nurture, had a lot to live up to and did not disappoint. Straying further into the indie side of dance music with a few experimental detours along the way, Robinson builds on the heavily processed vocals and soaring maximal sound he honed on his first record with even more emphasis on songwriting and personal sentiment. An album born out of his own struggles with mental health and writer’s block, Nurture sees Robinson be more vulnerable than ever by opening up about anxiety, gushing about finding love and celebrating the artform itself. From the cinematic fireworks of album high points such as “Look at the Sky” and “Something Comforting” to the twitchy pastoral interludes like “Wind Tempos” and “do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do,” Robinson’s Nurture is a record worth holding near and dear to your heart.
Koreless — "Agor"
Arriving a full decade after the producer released his first single, Koreless’ debut album, Agor, was more than well worth the wait. Full of bright trance synths, copious vocal samples and drumless beats all interwoven through a series of amorphous interludes and extended transitions, Agor unfolds like a journey through an ethereal futuristic landscape with glitchy textures and sprawling melodies. From the syncopated chorus of “Joy Squad” to the haunting harpsichord and choral arrangements on album closer “Strangers,” Koreless packs a meticulous amount of detail into every track without losing sight of what makes people move.
Eris Drew — "Quivering In Time"
A true disciple of rave history, Eris Drew builds on the series of crate-digging DJ sets alongside partner Octo Octa recorded in a woodland clearing during the middle of the pandemic. Devised as a versatile mix of tracks that would slot in next to even the deepest of cuts, Quivering In Time is a solid house record front-to-back, full of Hi-NRG beats, acid basslines, shuffles, breaks and spinbacks traversing the genres of techno, house, prog house, disco and more. It's clearly made by someone that's put in years of work behind the decks, studying their dance music history and putting their knowledge of every microgenre, obscure rave and out of print white label to good use.
SHERELLE — "fabric presents SHERELLE"
London-born DJ, producer and Hooversound label head SHERELLE is one of the most exciting new names making waves on the faster end of the club spectrum. Tapped to put together a mix for the prestigious "fabric presents" series, SHERELLE brings together one of the year’s best curated collections of old-school jungle techno, breakbeat hardcore, acid and footwork. Featuring cuts from Tim Reaper, Kush Jones, DJ Rashad, AceMo, LCY, Dub One and more, SHERELLE shows us what life lived above 160bpm is truly about with some of the most batshit drum breaks you’ve ever heard. If you’re looking to work up a sweat, this is a must listen.
Ross from Friends — "Tread"
The sophomore album from British producer, Felix Clary Weatherall, Tread feels like lo-fi house and trance went on a date and got really stoned afterward. Offering a more mellowed out sound with the occasional detour into trip hop and washed out psychedelics, Ross From Friends makes meticulously crafted house sound like easy-listening with soulful samples, bright trance-y synths and brushed drums. It feels fitting that the music video for album opener, “The Daisy,” features a speedcubing competition given the level of intricacy Weatherall bakes into his rhythms while still maintaining a lighthearted sense of novelty and play. If you're looking for a good record to bliss out to or even just get extra cozy, you can’t go wrong with Tread.