My Favourite Dance Floor Tunes of 2016

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When this time of year rolls around I get a wee bit reflective, and I find this very useful. I believe that so much can happen in the space of 12 months that if you don’t stop to consciously think about all the experiences and lessons you’ve witnessed, the true value of those things will go to waste.

So when I find myself in this pensive state, I like to take some time to look back on the year that was and plan for the year ahead. I’ll be continuing this process over the next few days, but before moving on I thought I’d take this chance to think about some of my favourite dance floor tunes of 2016, and share the top 10 with you.

10. Serum – Species

Chuggin’ in at number 10 is a dirty little roller from Serum. Nothing too fancy about this one, I think that’s part of it’s charm. Just forward-moving percussion, a catchy lead with nice texture and a sub that gets you moving in the club.

9. Whiney – Guardians

Coming off S.P.Y’s 2016 mixtape is this murky number from MedSchool newcomer, Whiney. The 21-year-old has had a string of releases this year and I personally think ‘Guardians’ is one of his best. Crystal clear, interesting percussion, great control on the low end, nice movement in the lead sound and put together in a spacey, grimey mix. Love it – watch out for PLENTY more from this guy in 2017 and beyond.

8. Annix – Paper Feat. Gumster

Slowing things down at number 8 with a halftime face-scruncher is Playaz badman, Annix. I love how this track doesn’t muck around; just a little itty bitty intro and BAM, you’re greeted with an abrupt kick, a dirty bassline and the agonising cry of an electronic elephant. Big ups to Gumster with the rhymes on this one too, not sure if you can draw deep meaning from the lyrics but they sure are catchy.

7. My Nu Leng, Flava D – Soul Shake (1991 Remix)

1991, the mysterious producer signed to Chase & Status’s MTA Records, is another newcomer forcing his way onto my favourites list with this banger of remix. This track is nothing too ground-breaking, but it does exactly what it’s supposed to do i.e. hits HARD with punchy drums, nice movement in the bass and the right amount of creepy, metallic, mechanical vibes. Perfect for that surprise switch in your set.

6. Dossa & Locuzzed – Shag

Now, this one coming from fresh Viper Recordings duo, Dossa & Locuzzed, is plain and simply a guilty pleasure. The cheeky undertones are great, as are the punchy drums, but the thing that puts this track on the list is the obscenely obnoxious lead that rolls through the drop. It might not be everyone’s cuppa tea, but I think any reasonable person would have a pretty hard time trying to stand still if this came out of the speakers. I, for one, can’t resist. Groovy tune. Full stop.

5. Lisp – Got Me Down

This creeper coming in at number 5 is the second track from S.P.Y’s mixtape on the list and it’s ALL about the low frequencies. I’m a sucker for an old-school(ish) bassline and in my opinion, this tune nails it with a nice mix of bass edits, tasteful use of reverb and clean, simple percussion driving the whole thing along. Can’t get enough of it – big up Lisp!

4. Camo & Krooked – If I Could feat. Joe Killington

After a long hiatus which had me wondering if they were gone for good, Camo & Krooked have reappeared with a huge release on their very own label, Mosaik Music, powered by RAM and BMG. For me, this tune has everything: massive radio-ready vocals, catchy AF hook, uplifting build and a drop into that forward-thinking signature sound that C&K have well and truly made their own. Keep an eye out for their album dropping in May 2017, I reckon it’s gonna be pretty special.

3. Metrik – Terminus

This tune dropped very early in 2016, but if we’re talking dancefloor favourites of the past 12 months, the list would be complete without this textbook Metrik belter. One of the main things I love about this track is that it goes in hard on the midrange with no apology. This might get a few chin-strokers offside but if you throw it on a club system, when the build stops and the beat drops not a soul in the house is standing still.

2. Tantrum Desire – Tesoro

Number 2 on the list comes at you from a name that is very responsible for me getting hooked on the 170’s, Tantrum Desire. Tesoro, which came off Technique Recordings’ Summer 2016 Compilation, is a tune I find really hard to describe. It rolls but it’s quite a roller and it bangs but it’s not quite a banger. I guess if I had to sum it up in one word it’d be FUNKY!

1. Numa Crew, Robert Dallas, Petah Sunday – Impossible (Brian Brainstorm Remix)

And finally, grooving into top spot on the list of my favourite dance floor tunes for 2016 is… a bit of a dark horse. Like many songs on the list, this one’s nothing ground-breaking, but every time this remix from Brian Brainstorm comes on I am compelled to strop, drop n boogie. To put it simply, I love everything about this tune: the reggae / dub vibes infused into the intro, the sneaky little build and that vocal hook with a wicked bassline just plugging underneath. This one gets the number one title because it is an A-grade, certified, ridgy-didge, dancefloor filler. What more could you ask for?

The Story Behind ‘Delta’

I can’t for the life of me remember why, but one day in early 2015 I was feeling particularly sorry for myself so I decided to sit down and try to write a sad song.

Unlike the way I produce now, when I started to write Delta I didn’t really overthink anything. If I had an idea, I tested it out and if it sounded alright, I left it. That simple.

I started with piano and then added some strings (because they’re both good sad instruments). Of course, both were software instruments drawn-in with a mouse because I can’t actually play either. I thought some vocals would be nice, so I recorded some “ooh’s” and “aah’s” on my computer’s in-built mic, pitched them up, added a pinch ( / truckload) of reverb and threw them in too. I wanted to get a bit more ‘me’ into the song, so I recorded some guitar chords, again using the crappy Macbook mic. I always intended to go back and re-record everything with my proper mic but the parts just “worked” so I decided to leave them.

I then started to play around with percussion. At the time I was listening to A LOT of Etherwood’s first album and tried to go for a vibe that was similar to much of his music – lots of little clicks, blips and random sounds that you wouldn’t typically expect to hear in a drum and bass beat. Many of them didn’t make the final mix, but it helped get a groove going in the moment.

At the end of that first, very experimental session (the kind that feels like 20 minutes but is actually 4 hours) I went to sleep, and the next morning, I tackled the terrifying task of listening to back to the new infant song. Nine times out of ten, this ends badly. You start a new song one night and think to yourself “This is amazing. I’m a fucking wizard!”, only to listen back the next day and wonder what on Earth you’d been smoking. But this was not one of those times. In fact, to my surprise, ‘Spanish Woods’ (Delta’s working title) sounded just as good to me the next day as it did the night before.

As an added bonus, the sadness which had motivated me to start writing the song in the first place was nowhere to be seen. It seemed as though the very act of sitting down to write from and about my feelings had essentially cured them. I thought that a song which was able to have this effect on me and showed such initial promise in a musical sense deserved to be investigated further, so I decided to keep working on it.

As for the meaning? Even back when I was writing acoustic songs (e.g. “The Angler”), it was extremely common for me to write in a sort-of preemptive fashion. That is, the music or melody would come before the lyrics, and then the meaning would arise organically sometime afterwards – usually rooted in a real-life experience. Put another way, most songs I write grow into their meaning; and this piece was no different. Although the song was initially just an experiment, as I began to work more seriously on Delta, a story started to develop in my head. And even though this story doesn’t have a connection to my life that is as personal as Longing, to me it means just as much.

* * *

Delta is essentially the soundtrack for a short film that exists only in my mind about a fisherman returning to his lover in the Nile delta region of ancient Egypt following a long, fruitless voyage out on the Mediterranean.

In one way, the song attempts to sonically capture the environmental setting of the story – the fisherman untangling his nets as his vessel glides gracefully across the sparkling bay, a flock of ibises guiding him home, his lover waiting on the docks and watching for the white spec of a sail on the horizon, and the setting summer sun painting the sky 10 blissful shades of peach.

In addition, the two-tiered tone of Delta tries to communicate the psychological conflict consuming the minds of each character. The emotionally-charged and reflective aspect conveys their respective doubts regarding the uncertain fate of their relationship; as well as their awareness of a psychological and physical distance that has come between them. Conversely, the strong and hopeful quality of the melody is intended to represent their deep connection, mutual affection and shared wish that everything will be as it was when they parted.

As the song progresses, the fisherman’s ship glides closer and closer to the shore, their feelings intensify and heart rates rise. Then as Delta fades into the outro, the ship docks, the fisherman jumps off and sees his lover for the first time in months. They stand like statues just meters apart, in dead silence and with their eyes locked & lips sealed, they say more than words ever could.

I’m not entirely sure what they said in that moment, nor do I know how the story ends. As far as I am concerned, these details are not for me to decide. Rather, what happens next is limited only to the boundaries your imagination… let me know what you come up with.

LISTEN TO DELTA HERE

The story behind ‘Longing’

A lone astronaut is adrift in space, billions of miles from Earth.

He’s doing what he always wanted to do – push boundaries and explore new horizons – but there’s something missing. He’s on a mission but he feels lost. The initial excitement of the voyage has long worn off; he feels the cold of deep space and the isolation that is his world.

He hasn’t said a word in months. His communication devices have failed and there’s no one to talk to. He stares at a large, weathered poster of Earth, and then looks out his portal window at the tiny little dot it actually is. He misses home. He doesn’t wish he could go back, but still, he yearns for that which he left behind: friends, family, comfort, safety, certainty.

The picture painted here is pretty grim, though in his state of isolated despair, his flame almost extinguished, the astronaut nurtures a fragile ember; a glimmer of hope that he’ll one day find whatever it is that he’s looking for.

* * *

At the time of Longing’s origin, I was traversing a period marked by loneliness and uncertainty about the future. I was sick of my job. I’d been working as a Physio for 18 months in the same shitty nursing home with no end in sight. I won’t pretend that 18 months is a long time by any means, many people have endured much worse for much longer, but when you’re doing the exact same monotonous things day-in-day-out, in an environment where people are broken, sick and/or dying, you start to pine for escape, adventure, life.

I knew I was not where I was supposed to be. I knew that I had to get out but I didn’t know how. In many ways I felt trapped. All I wanted to do was make music, but I couldn’t. I’d get to work, have my coffee and be all-guns-blazing from 9am-1pm. Music pervaded my thoughts during these hours but when I finally got home and had the chance to put pen to paper, I was “too tired”. (I now realise that this was, of course, a pathetic excuse.)

I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to do music first thing of a day, and just work in the evenings doing something basic to pay the bills. The more I thought about it, the more obsessed with this alternate reality I became. But to pull the trigger would be suicide. I’d have to be crazy. Would it even work? There was only one way to find out… so I quit.

The week after I left that job, I was visited unexpectedly by an old friend from the UK. She was here long enough to stir up old feelings, but not long enough for me to act on them. Despite the fact that it had been 5 years since we’d last met face-to-face, every emotion that was there before was there again, just as intense… for both of us. Without knowing the full story it might be hard for you to understand, but when she went home I felt as though a part of me went with her. I was left craving that connection; wishing for something that, deep down, I knew I could never and would never have. A bit dramatic, I know, but it’s the truth.

The emotional climate that arose from my job dissatisfaction and bleeding heart is essentially what motivated me to work harder on Longing. I wanted to do the song justice, but lacked the skills to execute my ideas. Frustration mounted. The harder I tried, the greater the distance grew between my vision for the song and what was coming out of my speakers.

At this point, I started to drown in self-doubt. Once positive, optimistic thoughts became overshadowed by toxic one-liners stuck on loop: “you’re fooling yourself”, “you’re wasting your time”, “you’ll never be good enough”, “you should give up”… and I nearly did. Several times. What kept me going? Amongst the frustration, I found solace in production. Time spent working on Longing became a means of addressing my feelings in a constructive way. Producing at night made me feel better in the morning. Looking back, I guess it was the ultimate self-help therapy.

From what you’ve just read, it might seem like Longing was always “about” what was happening in my world at the time, and how it made me feel. I apologise for misleading you, but this is incorrect. As is the case with most of the songs I write, the music for Longing came before the meaning; and only over time did the two gradually converge.

The initial idea appeared well over 12 months ago; on one of those mornings that you just can’t be bothered to get out of bed. I was watching a documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and inspired by the music behind his soft, soothing voice, I jotted down a few robotic piano chords. The song stayed in this skeletal form for quite a while because I don’t like to force what is meant to be natural. Then, slowly but surely, the song began to take shape and it evolved to tell the tale of the astronaut mentioned earlier.

At first, I didn’t think much of the story, it was just another one of many that has popped into my head over the course of my life, and it felt right to connect the story with the song. But the more I worked on Longing, the more I began to realise that the astronaut was far more than a fictional character. He was, in fact, me.

I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly how, but my subconscious developed a metaphor to help me understand myself and my situation with greater perspective.

After connecting myself with the astronaut, I realised that I had made the right decision to leave my job because in doing so, I had embraced my mission. In my jobless state, I was adrift in space. I was weightless; I was free. I had all the time in the world to work on music whenever I wanted. I was one small step closer to where I wanted to be, but one giant leap away from everything I knew. I was caught in the middle. I didn’t want to go back, but like the astronaut, I craved the safety and comfort of stability and certainty.

I was terrified that it might not work out; that I’d turn around in a few months time, tail between my legs, and look like an absolute fool. All of those people who raised their eyebrows when I told them what I was doing would laugh at me. I’d be a failure.

Going deeper into this reflection, I was able to see that this and everything else I felt whilst writing Longing, everything that the astronaut felt floating in space, was nothing special at all! It’s the nature of the beast.

Whether you’re baking bread, making music or curing cancer, the truth is that achievement of the most meaningful things in your life demands a leap of faith. In the face of uncertainty you must push ahead into oblivion without knowing what really lies beyond the horizon. It’s a HUGE gamble, but you must be prepared to walk away from everything you know and have been conditioned to want from birth, in order to reach for something you may never get, despite your best efforts. You must reach, knowing that even if everything falls into place, the stars align with your hard work and you achieve that which you set out to accomplish, you might get there only to realise that it wasn’t worth it after all. It might be horrible! Too hard. Too lonely. (Case in point: Steve Jobs [hoax?]). But to roll the dice is the only way. Choices must be made, sacrifices must be paid, and in this sense, seeking a life that permits the truest expression of yourself is not so different to the life of an interstellar traveller – at least in my opinion.

Aside from it’s power to transport and reveal, I believe that one of the great qualities of music is that the same song can simultaneously mean so many different things to so many different people. For me, the meaning of Longing revolves around self-discovery; the tension that arises from weighty life-choices and the sacrifices one must make in pursuit of what one really wants; and of course, to me, Longing sonically describes the personal experience that has led me to draw the aforementioned conclusions. But just because that is what the song means to me does not mean that is “what it’s about”. In truth, Longing has no objective meaning at all. It is “about” whatever you want it to be about, and it is my deepest wish that you can find something meaningful within it for yourself.

Listen to ‘Longing’ HERE

Why?

Why what? Why not? Why wait? Why bother? Why do anything at all?

“Why” is perhaps one of the most useful questions we can ever ask. Looking outward, asking “why” helps us make sense of the chaotic world in which we live. It challenges us to go beneath the surface, to not just accept that something is the way it is, but to uncover the motivations and reasons that explain why it is the way it is. This in turn facilitates understanding; assisting us to appreciate the good things that happen, and cope with the not-so-good things as well.

Turning inwards, asking “why” helps us to more deeply comprehend not just what we really want, but where that want comes from. Too often, when forced to think about our reason for doing something, we attribute the “why” to one specific cause – to make money, look good, get likes, avoid embarrassment, and so on. While there might indeed be a foundational factor that underpins all the others, a little further introspection reveals that there are usually several reasons that explain what we think, say, do and desire.

This kind of insight is extremely valuable, but why?

Once you know what you want, it is my belief that the pursuit and achievement of any truly meaningful goal must begin with the fundamental question of “why?”; especially when that truly meaningful goal requires years of deep, focused labour, sacrifice and dedication to realise. If this is the sort of thing that you want, and you’re not 100% clear on all of your reasons for doing it right from the outset, when the hard times inevitably come, you will crack, crumble and quit.

This is something I have had to learn the hard way. I thought I knew what I wanted when I was 18 – to be a Physiotherapist. To go to uni, have fun, get my degree, work hard, open my own practice, fall in love, get married, raise a family, buy a house and a BMW, go on snow trips, have the best lawn in the street, retire, tour Alaska via train and die happy. Oh yeah, I wanted to help people too. But as you can see, that was an afterthought.

It wasn’t until 2.5 years through my 4 year degree on a particularly insightful day that I realised I’d chosen my career for the wrong reasons. Entering into any health profession, your number one “why” should be to help people; to make a difference. It’s shameful to admit publicly, but my number one attraction to Physio was the lifestyle – comfort and safety.

Despite this realisation, and as much as I wanted to quit, I didn’t. I finished my degree and I still work as a Physio in aged care. My “why” has changed: I do what I do to help the people who built the world in which I can chase my dreams, and some days, I really feel like I’m making a difference. But then there are days where I remember my original “why” and I feel like a fraud. Without questioning the reason I was doing my degree all those years ago, I’d still be operating under my own illusion. Instead, I’ve embarked on a Quest that is taking me down an unpredictable, unconventional and unbelievable path.

But WHY? Why throw away a stable profession? Why pursue a career in an overly-saturated market where literally millions of other people are trying to do exactly the same thing as I am? That makes no logical sense.

Well, for me, THAT “why” begins in 2008 with my naive little heart in pieces following a break-up. Seeing how completely shattered I was, a very good friend brought round his 3-day-old Fender Squire and amp for me to play until I felt bit better. Within the week I’d bought my own.

Over the next few months my fingers became slightly less clumsy, I managed to string together a few clunky chords into a couple of crappy break-up songs and most importantly, I found a means of expression – not that I really knew it at the time. Just as it has done for millions of people for literally thousands of years, the performance of and complete immersion in music gave me a sense of peace, tranquility and escape that nothing else could provide.

In 2009 I left my childhood home in Tamworth to attend university in Sydney. By this stage I’d bought another guitar, my skills had improved and I thought it would be an awesome way to pick up girls. I was right. Guitars are magnetic. But there was one problem – I was waaaayyy to scared to anything about it.

So I drank, and drank… and drank. That makes me sound like an alcoholic, but it was really just the typical pattern of 19-year-old binge drinking that unfortunately pervades our society and is, of course, completely OK because everyone does it. Right?

At one blurry uni party in 2012, amidst a drunken haze, my ears were touched by something they’d never heard before. At the time, I was totally obsessed with coastal rock crooner, Jack Johnson, but this sounded nothing like that. It was noise. Offensive yet engaging noise; flirting the line between pleasure and pain. With a sneaky peak over the DJ’s shoulder, I discovered that the song was called ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ by some dude called Skrillex. Listening back now, I’m not so sure what appealed to me – robot sex is pretty far-removed from the ultra-mellow vibes of Jacky J. But if I had to guess why it caught my attention, I think it must have been the violent energy that emanated from the speakers, and how my body was compelled to move in such a ridiculous manner.

This was a real turning point. For the first time, at the tender age of 22, I stopped passively absorbing whatever was fed to me by the radio and started actively looking for more of what seemed to be called “dub-step”.

Myself and a couple friends got really into it. Listening at home was great but it just wasn’t enough. We started looking for dubstep events in Sydney and it didn’t take long before we stumbled upon this thing called “The Wall” – a pumping Wednesday night dubstep rave at The World Bar in the then-thriving Kings Cross. I have the fondest memories of pre’s till 12, shots till close, stomping all night, stumbling out the door at 5am and nursing dance-induced whiplash for the next week. Unfortunately, this is indeed now a distant memory.

Thanks to the side-room (The Cave) at Chinese Laundry, I then discovered a genre called “Fast Dubstep”. I didn’t like it. Too fast. Too noisy. No wubs. I’m not ashamed to admit that ‘Feel The Love’ by Rudimental was the song that changed my feelings towards Fast Dubstep – those vocals, the emotion, dat energy, dem vibez! It was dubstep on steroids and I HAD to chase the dragon. Further and further down the rabbit hole I went until finally, I was humbled by the fact that “Fast Dubstep” was actually called “Drum and Bass”. Net-ski was, in fact, Net-SKY. How embarrassing.

After a solid year raving which felt more like 10, I was lucky enough to receive an 8-week DJ course for my birthday. It could not have come at a better time because, after another pretty terrible break-up, I’d found myself in what was and still is the lowest point of my life. Again, music came to the rescue as tool of escape and expression.

I dove into the course with insatiable enthusiasm, mixing / train-wrecking for hours after class had finished. DnB was too hard to mix so at the end of the course, I performed an all-dubstep set (I’ll upload it for you one day) to a room of about 30 mates. In short, it was amazing. Not my skills, they were obviously shit, but the EXPERIENCE was amazing. It felt like I pressed play, passed out and woke up 30 minutes later. I was stone-cold sober – as I am whenever I play – but the only memories I have from that set are from photos taken by others. I was electrified; completely absorbed in and by the moment. I can honestly say that it might have been the first time I’d ever felt truly alive, and I wanted more.

So I registered for Your Shot, a national DJ competition that has been helping young Australians kick-start their dreams for 6 years, hoping it would help me take the next step. Not gonna lie, I was pretty confident that I’d get through but I sat down at the interview and froze. I choked, spluttered and was ultimately, rejected… until a month later when I managed to win a second-chance prize and was thrown into the competition. Lucky eh?

Around this time, I somehow coerced my Mum into loaning me the money to buy some CDJ’s and a mixer. She might even still technically own them (thanks, Mum). I unboxed the decks like a kid on Christmas and begun to mix like a man possessed. 6 weeks later, I performed in the competition to another room of 30; but this time, it was aaaallll dnb. I didn’t win, though that was hardly the point. I craved the moment. It was… indescribable, no words could do it justice.

So why not stop there? I couldn’t. How can you glimpse the infinite and not reach out to touch it? I HAD to have more. So, following one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received (“support the clubs you want to play at”) I set out to try and get some club gigs. To this end, I was VERY unsuccessful. In hindsight I cringe, but at the time it made no sense to me. I was hungry, I was “ready”, I worked hard, I deserved it! Why couldn’t everybody else see it?

Then in mid September 2013, my younger brother had turned 21 and we were having a party back in Tam Vegas to celebrate. With my newly-acquired DJ skillz at the ready, I was asked to provide the evening’s soundtrack. Fending off requests from left, right and centre, I played 6 hours straight of liquid whilst overlooking the pool in my old back yard, sipping on Coronas between mixes. It was beautiful.

As perfect as the night was, the real magic came the following morning. Instead of being woken by my old friend, Hangover, I rose with an overwhelming feeling that I can only describe as clarity. The most pure, serene clarity you can possibly imagine. It wasn’t words in my head, but a whole-body “sense”; like I’d uncovered some long-lost and universal truth.

Without a shred of doubt in my mind, I absolutely, fundamentally, categorically KNEW what I was supposed to do with my life. Music! And she’d been slapping me in the face trying to get my attention for years.

I remember sitting in the lounge room of my childhood home, trying hopelessly to explain it to my Mum and brother. As I finished speaking, I erupted into the happiest tears I’ve ever cried. So did they. I’m not religious in a conventional sense, but that moment will forever remain one of my most spiritual and liberating experiences.

I feel like I owe so much to that day, but what I am really indebted to is the fact that I asked “why?”. If I hadn’t, I’d still be sound asleep. Instead, I now know that I do what I do because I must. I don’t have a choice; nor do I want one. I love it! And while this knowledge leaves me far short of the finish line, I think it’s a pretty good place start.