This year, remixes ruled. DJ Snake slung AlunaGeorge’s “You Know You Like It” to the top of Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Songs chart by subbing treble for subtle bass, and Felix Jaehn turnt up OMI’s sun-dappled “Cheerleader” just enough for the Jamaican-American’s jam to be deemed Song of the Summer.
Behind the Top 40 noise, other producers quietly plugged away in their studios or behind the decks to put their spin the year’s lesser-sung hits: Skylar Spence strobe-lit Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Your Type,” Zola Jesus laid her richly haunted vocals atop John Carpenter’s non-musical score “Night,” and Nicolas Jaar even further warped Florence + the Machine’s tortured “What Kind of Man.”
Slip on your dancing shoes before checking out the songs of summer (and all the other seasons), reworked for the dance floor.
The first and most enduring thought upon listening to this is how unsurprising it is that this exists. It’s as if DJ Mustard heard the pleasantly surprising acoustic triple-threat collab and thought, “You know what this could use? Me, on the beat, ho.” But the producer born Dijon MacFarlane isn’t stupid: “FourFiveSeconds” didn’t need any adornment — but he still dressed it to the nines for the club with the most basic of his signature gloss. Suddenly, Kanye-Rihanna-McCartney doesn’t sound out of place booming out of a Just Blaze DJ set. — HARLEY BROWN
U.K. jacked-up house duo Dusky must be very flattered. Legendary countrymen and ‘90s electronic icons Global Communication emerged from a two-decade near-silence to stretch and pull “Skin Deep” into a glittering, ambient sprawl over twice its initial length. Filling the space between Dusky’s chopped-and-screwed vocals with icy jungle breakbeats, endless arpeggiators, and the iconic melodramatic swells of their own heyday, the duo recalls the days before progressive house became a bastion of EDM-lite. — H.B.
PC Music crew member Danny L Harle took his remix skills out for a spin this year, first with Panda Bear and then U.K. electro-pop trio Years & Years, rocketing their already-sparkling “Shine” into the stratosphere. Pitching up frontman Olly Alexander’s voice to match twittering bird-call samples and stabs of ecstatic trance, Harle throws in an unmistakable “Rhythm of the Night” through line, a move so subtle it keeps his “Shine” this side of a mashup. — H.B.
Back when Skylar Spence was Saint Pepsi and Carly Rae Jepsen was the girl who sang “Call Me Maybe,” the former chopped and screwed the latter into a skittering sex mix, pitching down the Canadian pop star’s voice and setting it against a curtain of pattering rain. His skyscraping remix of E•MO•TION’s “No Type” trades the mood lighting for a glinting disco ball, kicking it up from a synth run fit for a John Hughes credits sequence to a bubbly confetti cannon circa post-chillwave Toro Y Moi. We’ll always make time for you, Carly, but especially when you make room for us on the dance floor. — H.B.
Even after Andrew Wyatt successfully shoehorned a Marlena Shaw sample into Swedish synth-pop so crunchy and horn-heavy it sounded like an RJD2 joint, he worried that laying rap verses on the instrumental would look like trend-hopping. He needn’t have. El-P spits about Wookies and bearskin rugs, Killer Mike nods to the source material with the line “Iced out in Iceland in the blue lagoon,” and all of a sudden Miike Snow’s departure from their signature crystalline chords makes sense: It’s like they had Run the Jewels in mind for their comeback the whole time. — H.B.
You might remember Radio Slave from “Can’t Get Blue Monday Out of My Head,” the British, Berlin-based producer’s poptimistic 2002 mashup of the New Order and Kylie Minogue. But Matthew Edwards’ most recognizable alias (he has ten) specializes in acid house and techno’s minimally mesmerizing brutality. He meets his match in Detroit’s Robert Hood, who dials up the heart-thumping tempo of “Don’t Stop No Sleep” to an even more unforgiving clip, turning the titular repetition around and around until it echoes like a sweaty fever dream. — H.B.
Darkwave don Jon Hopkins took Lorde’s vindictive inspiration for “Magnets” (“a hit girl who seduces and then burns alive douchey boyfriends”) and sprints with it. His dream of what the fiery pits of hell might feel like essentially dismantles the original, which appears only as a mere shadow of its former self in the very beginning. Hopkins amplifies Disclosure’s clopping beat into a thunderous backbone, chipping Lorde’s breathy siren into barely audible gasps and syllables. It’s a song for the end of days — or at least, the end of his. — H.B.
In his live sets, Total Freedom isn’t the kind of DJ to throw anything against the wall to see what sticks — he’s the kind that will spin Beyoncé singing the national anthem b2b five minutes of breaking glass, and the crowd can take it or leave it. It’s fitting, then, that his Jezzy Pride (short for “jezebel”) mix of U.K. MC Faze Miyake’s whiplashing “Below Me” opens with Chi-town rapper Sasha Go Hard snarling, “You’re not with me, you’re below me.” As her verses are almost subsumed in Total Freedom’s garbage-compacting mix of guttural grunts, tuba-like honks, and a haltingly plucked gamelan, it’s clear who’s on top. — H.B.
Fela and Femi Kuti associate Dele Sosimi has found a kindred spirit in Nigerian-Swiss producer Laolu. Initially mistaken for the work of another, better-known production team called Âme (who named this their “favorite track of the year”), his extended edit of “Too Much Information” channels the ebullience of Dele Sosimi Orchestra’s version through crisp snares accented with whimsical flutes, rather than chunky brass. A thrumming bass line carries the bridge to its bittersweet symphony, buoying the chorus with string swells akin to early-‘00s electronica like Moby’s “Porcelain.” Indeed, it’s almost too much. — H.B.
Belgian instrumentalists Go March went widescreen on “Rise,” a proggy electro-opus of feedback screeches and deliberately ponderous time signatures. While Detroit drummer and producer Shigeto is more than capable of similarly grand scopes in his jazz-informed electronic flights, he tones it down on his breakdown of “Rise.” More appropriate for a bleary-eyed late-night than a golden-hour stumble home from the club, Shigeto delicately extracts any signifiers of Go March’s bombast, replacing the voids between his skittering percussion with crackling static, at once deeply soothing and slightly unnerving. — H.B.
Horror savant John Carpenter’s first album of non-score music, Lost Themes, sought to distill the creeping anxiety of his cult-worshipped films into brief blood-spattered keyboard drones — and did so, to varying degrees of torment. “Night” was one of that collection’s most harrowing successes, adding a pulse and drive to his decades of amorphous instrumentals, so it’s only fitting that Nika Danilova, a.k.a. Zola Jesus, would lend her Lost Highway-esque incantations to transform it into a truly traumatic ballad. It’s the closest you can get to Halloween on pure sonics. — COLIN JOYCE
Matrixxman’s mechanical sci-fi fixations and Jackie House’s four-on-the-floor kick as one of the founders of DJ collective Honey Soundsystem exist on the same San Francisco spectrum, regularly spinning at the same parties and frequently hopping on each other’s tracks and 12-inches. On his remix(x), Matrixxman slashes any of House’s self-aware irreverence (like the background whoosh reminiscent of a metallic object zooming through the sky), streamlining “Stydive” into a straight-ahead banger. Aside from the same shrill, amorphous vocal sample that occasionally floats overhead, its unexpectedly piercing claps and a radar-like background rotor render his version almost unrecognizable. — H.B.
Twenty years after genre-bending U.K. duo Leftfield melted and melded minds on 1995’s “Afro Left” with heavy bass squirts and mesmerizing lyrics in a gibberish they called “djum djum,” London beatmaker Melé has taken on the intimidating task of revitalizing the track. First he condenses “Afro Left” to about half its initial length, cutting Paul Daley and Neil Barnes’ new age-ier meanderings in favor of tightly wound U.K. funky thunks. It’s so transfixing you’ll wish he kept winding it up for a least twice as long. — H.B.
This year more than usual, the most exciting dance music came from far-afield acts grating sounds in the upper frequency, as opposed to DJs testing how hard their bass can shudder an Ibiza sound system. Houston, Texas has been a surprising hotbed for these producers; specifically, TriAngle Records’ Rabit and Lotic, who has since taken his gunshot-spattered R&B inversions to a Berlin base. He pushes the knobs a bit gentler on his interpretation of Lafawndah’s wistful “Lung,” weaponizing her squeaky yearning with the crash of rusting iron gridworks and the tinkling progression of unresolved chords. Rarely does romance for robots sound this human. — H.B.
It’s always been relatively easy for listeners familiar with Richard D. James’ output to peg tracks from his “anonymous” SoundCloud dumps to various periods in his career — only his remixes, collected to a point in 2003’s 26 Mixes for Cash, have escaped such name-that-era games. His alter-ego AFX’s edit of Streetside Boyz’s 1988 minimally murky house bumper “I Want To Be With You” can only be timed to cuffing season: Released in October, it’s described as a “late-night jam best served after midnight.” After he strips the vocals and teases out the whomping bass line and horror-score shudder, “I Want To Be With You” shifts from an atonal attempt at love to not even a full-night stand. — H.B.
Let’s hope you downloaded DJDS’ (f.k.a. DJ Dodger Stadium) “acid mix” of Adele’s “Hello,” because a) Sony Music Entertainment made quick work scrubbing the Internet of its existence, and b) you are missing out on the closest you’ll come to legal ecstasy since those Amsterdam Dance Event rumors. Los Angeles house-music worshippers Jerome LOL and Samo Sound Boy dialed up Adele’s voice — which sails so far in this context she could have a second career, along with Giorgio Moroder, as one of his topliners — and kept the piano figures, burning off any residual schmaltz with a stutter-step so rapidly escalating it practically leaves skid marks. Topped with body-jolting pops, DJDS’ rework will erase any heartache — along with your mind. — H.B.
DJ Snake’s svelte reimagining of the slinkiest number off of British alternative R&B duo AlunaGeorge’s 2013 debut LP, Body Music, ushered in a year in which remixes catapulted already radio-friendly songs from de facto relative obscurity to the Top 40. (Thank you, Felix Jaehn!) Rather than unleashing the literally floor-smashing bass of the French producer and DJ’s best-known crunk slam — that’d be “Turn Down for What,” of course — Lil Jon adorned “You Know You Like It” with only the most judicious of staccato snare rolls and mid-range thumps, letting Aluna Francis’ own voice carry the chorus. You know you like it. — H.B.
Over the past few years, New York City’s most irreverent post-punk danceniks in DFA have been losing their edge to deeper BPM-oriented Brooklyn labels like Mister Saturday Night and L.I.E.S., focusing instead on developing rawk bands like Slim Twig and Guerrilla Toss. And yet, it’s not a stretch to draw parallels between their roster’s U.K. industrial innovators Factory Floor and a proto-LCD Soundsystem, especially on drummer (and F.F.’s go-to remixer) Gabe Gurnsey’s reboot of neu-disco chanteuse Shura’s “White Light.” There’s that cowbell, for starters, but the real fire burns in the melty low-end alarm wails and his persistently Liquid Liquid bass thwacks, percolating in the background with the unavoidable intensity of a strobe light. — H.B.
The emotional centerpiece of Björk’s Vulnicura is haunted by ghostly memories and vibrant emotions long deadened, so it’s only fitting that a producer as spectral and doom-burdened as Houston noise deconstructor (or “texan techno teddy boy,” according to Björk) Rabit would get saddled with the role of undertaker. His string mutilations and broken electronics flow a little more naturally here than in his usual amalgamation of dissonant elements — like injecting embalming liquid into a corpse, rather than dumping it into a cocktail to see who winces first — but the final effect is just as rigid and toxic. — C.J.
Avant instrumental collective Jaga Jazzist and Norwegian space-disco kingpin Todd Terje embody the phrase “clash of the titans” on his remix of Starfire’s “Oban,” an already epic big-band bender. Terje takes a good, long look at the track through LSD goggles and adjusts it as such: some sticky snare rolls here, acoustic bass augmented with twittering blips there, drums that hit with a more satisfying punch. With a sweeping sense of grandeur, he raises up the strings like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, only to send them crashing back down, washing away any residual hesitations about letting yourself be taken over by his masterful rework. — H.B.
It’s too bad RL Grime just missed festival season with his monumental remix of “The Hills” — the Weeknd’s unapologetic, chart-topping ode to pill-popping booty calls — because it’s a damn near a crime to hear his post-trap cinderblock smashes out of any sound system that’s less than three stories tall. Bass has been scientifically proven to make listeners feel more powerful, which explains the intense surge of adrenaline that accompanies the WeDidIt beatmaker’s clattering builds and the immediate thunderclap that follows, at once half- and double-time in true dubstep fashion. How does a body move to that kind of time signature? It doesn’t. Expect to collapse at the waist with a stupid grin on your face, and feel unreasonably exhausted when the track peters out with Abel Tesfaye’s faded, fading voice. — H.B.
Dean Blunt’s prankish take on “Julia,” a standout track from techno producer Bruno Pronsato’s work as Archangel, isn’t a remix so much as it is meta-commentary. Via Microsoft Sam-eque vocals, the former Hype Williams member and button-pushing aesthete enlists a spoken-word monologue and short sample to transform the swooning ballad into a twisted club track — sort of. It’s an uncomfortably detailed (but vastly entertaining) story about the quotidian experience of going to a club, over a raga-tinged backing track so soothing it could induce a body high all on its own. Like a famous Dave Chappelle bit about people who talk about other times they got high every time they get high, this extended soliloquy of an edit is another convincing argument for such vicarious thrills. — C.J.
“We’re prisoners of space and time / As we’re locked inside our minds,” murmurs Rob Birch — perhaps ironically, given dance music’s emphasis on letting the beat control your body — on French/German DJ duo Terranova’s soot-black “Tell Me Why,” a worthy successor to nostalgia-fueled club mavens Stereo MCs’ 1992 breakthrough, “Connected.” Former drug-dealing Miami wunderkind Danny Daze builds his thudding ripper off of that theme, spinning Birch’s ghostly howls down a wormhole so far and fast you can’t help but be sucked down into it. Known for his unpredictable DJ sets threading acid, electro, and the dustiest of basement techno, Daze hooks you with a bass uppercut a minute in, maintaining momentum with hissing pistons and a brief wash of organs. This one will stay, as predicted, locked inside your mind. — H.B.
The bitterness coursing like a rail whiskey shot through “What Kind of Man” finds its most piercing expression not during the chorus, but in the guitar riffs biting at Florence Welch’s heels. In his 12-minute exorcism of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’s last grasp on a tortured relationship, Nicolas Jaar replaces these strings with helicoptering bass blasts so urgent and overpowering they almost drown out her powerful lungs. Strangled with reverb, as if she’s trapped in a prison of her own making, they come in and out of the mix: a perverse reflection of the here-today-gone-tomorrow dude making her life a living hell. But the moment of reckoning comes three-fourths of the way through. Jaar stacks squealing synths on top of each other with such purpose you think surely a release must be coming — but it never does. With melancholy horns, “What Kind of Man” burns out like the final embers of Welch’s love.
At his Ibiza closing party this past fall, Barcelona-based DJ Maceo Plex decided to tease the island club mecca’s increasingly drop-desperate audience by spinning Four Tet’s ten-minute drag-out of Eric Prydz’s “Opus.” Though the Swedish legend’s paean to his label Pryda’s tenth anniversary also takes its expertly-calculated time reaching the searing climax, Kieran Hebden one-ups him by erasing the breakdown’s backbeat altogether.
Opening with the jazziest shuffle of kicks and snares he can fit into such a tightly 120-BPM time scheme, Four Tet keeps winding it up with Prydz’s orange-alert sirens in the background. Then he sits back and lets the beat drop out for six whole minutes, cranking the crystalline arpeggios faster and faster only to bottom out, almost as an afterthought: Fine, I’ll give you what you want. It’s an homage to the first days of warehouse raves, when DJs would tantalize drops for weeks before throwing it down. Let Four Tet keep you waiting, anticipating — it’s worth it. — H.B.