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Year-End Lists

The 40 Best Dance Songs of 2015

The year that was got us intoxicated with X-static house anthems, interstellar jock-jam updates, and Travolta-hot footwork burners. Below you’ll find our list of the 40 best dance songs of 2015, a balanced diet of the cerebral and the hedonistic, and house every weekend if you’re good Monday through Friday.

40. Diplo & Sleepy Tom, “Be Right There”

When it was originally released in 1992, Jade’s sensual pop smash “Don’t Walk Away” came with a “Mack Daddy Stroll” version on CD. It was longer, stronger, and got a little more bass friction on — a fitting (if unwitting) template for “Be Right There” by EDM’s very own mack daddy, Diplo, who interpolates and intensifies the original’s chorus. Between his and Sleepy Tom’s knob-twiddling fingers it becomes a lit love song, streamrolling Priscilla Renea’s juicy vowels with a thunderclapping bass bounce. — HARLEY BROWN

39. Ricky Eat Acid, “Dear Lord”

The prolific and prodigious Sam Ray further indulged his electronic alter ego Ricky Eat Acid this year with the uncharacteristically trap-happy “Dear Lord,” a double-time EDM dropper that’s more than halfway to Mad Decent territory. But the song’s dubstep exterior can’t hide the glimmering core of Ray’s more ambient work, the swooning rush of extraterrestrial synths, backwards-playing drums, and gorgeously melodic piano. Better for beach parties than any previous REA material, but still just as much “Windowlicker” as Spring Breakers. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

38. Heathered Pearls, “Interior Architecture Software”

Interior, architecture, software — all meaningless enough words on their own that triangulate into the most basic approximation of making electronic music. Heathered Pearls, a.k.a. Jakub Alexander, fills the space between with sub-aqueous synthesizers, interjecting with a straight-ahead techno pulse to remind us which way is up, each beat hitting a little softer than expected, like a gunshot into a pillow. If gray matter were a sound, this is what it would be. — H.B.

37. Claude VonStroke, “Big Ten”

For the tenth anniversary of San Francisco booty-bass dispensary Dirtybird Records, label chickenhead Claude VonStroke blew out all of the stops (and sound systems). “Big Ten” bangs like there won’t be a Big Eleven, with apocalyptically tectonic rumbles that could blow a woman’s clothes off. Maybe that’s the idea: VonStroke has always had a sense of humor, and the ridiculously twirled flute notes and bantered samples — “Mm-hm, that’s right,” sneers a man, followed by a woman’s yelped “YeAH!” — suggests even dirtier things at play than such a low-down drop. — H.B.

36. Powell, “Sylvester Stallone”

Powell is often categorized as dance music, but his releases are much more in line with no wave, post-punk, and industrial pioneers than his peers on XL Recordings. His beats can sound like they’re recorded by a band in a living room or coaxed from some very old and unpredictable drum machines; the hums and screeches that make up his motifs could be an unplugged cable or a boiler room at full steam. Things get a bit more focused on “Sylvester Stallone,” an abrasive workout with pummeling kicks, sizzling synths fired at a relentless pace, and dumbfounded, distant vocals that seem to have been sampled from Stallone himself. The DJ with the guts to drop this will either be a hero or sworn enemy to all present for all-time. — STEVE MIZEK

35. Jex, “La Casa”

A sequel is a second chance, usually one in front of a larger audience. To this end, Jex’s “La Casa” features choice elements from his previous “Please Be Bad to Me,” originally released by his own Good Timin’ label. Take two arrives on Gerd Janson’s closely watched Running Back label and the results are superb; the Toronto-born, New York-based producer nestling the familiar kalimba riff in a buoyant instrumental that delivers synth-funk with a light house touch. Its cheerful licks are likely to get stuck in your memory, cataloged somewhere near classic tracks by Metro Area and the like — a second chance certainly not wasted. — S.M.

34. Alesso feat. Roy English, “Cool”

“I can’t keep cool about it!” wails Roy English on Alesso’s “Cool,” and it’s quite possible he’s singing about his producer’s professed admiration for Chris Martin. The Swedish DJ has a penchant for splashing his big-stage supernovas with Coldplay’s euphoric watercolors of grand pianos and Grander Emotions, and “Cool” zooms down a Rainbow Road of buzzing kazoo synths and tinkling keys. It’s impossible not to howl along, full speed ahead, while acting — or dancing — like a fool. — H.B.

33. Rizzla, “F**king Fascist”

As radically far right ideologies creep ever closer to mainstream thought (both in the United States and abroad), it was only a matter of time before there was proper protest anthem. Long Island-born DJ/producer Brian Friedberg (professionally knwon as Rizzla) imbues Iron Cages‘ “F**king Fascist” with a boundless sense of uprising and overthrow — energy flowing outward and upward on the back of sampled yelps and dancehall-inflected kick rhythms. If it were entirely wordless, its rebellious spirit would be clear, but halfway through he offers a dramatic kiss of death to the title figure: “Rest in peace, my friend.” — COLIN JOYCE

32. Fit Siegel, “Carmine”

Aaron “Fit” Siegel released only one record this year and it was a massive statement. “Carmine” applies the Detroit staple’s knack for sticky melodies to more bittersweet motifs. Swooning synths and a haunting piano refrain give the tune a cinematic quality while the mournful acid bass threaded throughout the second half anchors it to the dance floor. Made to swell and shrink at poignant times, stretched to just the perfect length, “Carmine” feels like a future deep-house classic. — S.M.

31. Roland Tings, “Hedonist”

If its musical exports are any indication, Melbourne, Australia is probably a pretty chill place: besides the psychonauts in Tame Impala and Jagwar Ma, Flume’s sun-dazed drops and Chet Faker’s velvet purr&B have rounded dance music’s harder angles across the ocean. But local son Roland Tings is having none of it on his eight-minute odyssey “Hedonist,” riddling warm synthpads lapping in the background with machine-gun hisses and a steadily clicking hi-hat. Despite the bullet holes, the house Tings built on deconstructed techno will carry your feet from the beach to the warehouse. — H.B.

30. David Zowie, “House Every Weekend”

The song title destined to launch a million cheesy t-shirts, radio mixes, and Ibiza compilations. “House Every Weekend” is definitive like that; just a thudding bass line, some big beat keys, and the slightest of beat drops, tied together with a head-smackingly obvious vocal sample that feels like it should’ve been part of the culture for 25 years already. It’s something like a platonic ideal for 2015 dance-pop, and its catchphrasing is infectious and powerful enough that reorienting your entire life to meet its priorities doesn’t seem like the worst idea. — A.U.

29. Boys Noize and Pilo, “Cerebral”

Boys Noize’s Alex Ridha puts Ableton DJs to shame. For the tenth anniversary of his label, BNR, the Berlin-based industrial icon burned off what little extra fat remained on his stripped-down techno to release Strictly Raw Vol. 1, a tough-as-reinforced-concrete collection of tracks cobbled together from a drum machine and a synthesizer or two. “Cerebral” drills down with the literal sounds of a power tool, before the labelmates let shipping-cable-strength bass whiplash through the guts of their beloved analog machines. Not even the distant sound of an alarm at the two-minute mark can snuff out the flames. — H.B.

28. DJ Fett Burger and Jayda G, “NYC Party Track”

DJ Fett Burger is one of the better serial collaborators in dance music right now, always choosing production partners who bring out the best in him as they explore different styles together. His latest inspiration is Vancouver’s Jayda G, whose new Freakout Cult label hosts the appropriately titled highlight “NYC Party Track.” It’s rare to find Fett Burger so focused, locking in a popping bass line aimed straight at the booty while synth stabs cribbed from classic house tracks massage the brain’s pleasure centers. And like many parties that pop off this hard, the track ends with police sirens. —  S.M.

27. MCFERRDOG, “Lawd Forgive Me”

Applying a Bandcamp bedroom aesthetic to ’90s rave, McFerrdog’s Lawd Forgive Me was one of the year’s most inscrutable dance releases that was still unmistakably floor-filling. Most ecstatic of all was the set’s titular closer, a humming piano stomper whose ceaseless, breathy vocal chop actively tries to invade your bloodstream while the keys hammer at your subconscious. It’s an aggravated assault but a blissful takeover; no apologies necessary. — A.U.

26. Dusky, “Jilted”

Billed as “One for the ravers ;)” on Dusky’s SoundCloud, “Jilted” goes out to those dedicated, deranged, or drugged-up enough to still be spilling sweat on the dance floor at 6 a.m. Dancers are kept on their feet by an ever-changing lineup of rhythmic patterns: stutter-stepping foghorn blasts, synthesized screeches dive-bombing, increasingly impatient toe-tapping snares, and a steady kick. Small melodic touches — a soulful vocal, a misty one-note swell — relieve the pressure for just a moment before they’re swallowed back up by the dark abyss they’re pumping through. It’s quite ruthless, really. — H.B.

25. Rustie, “First Mythz”

Rustie’s skyscraping work has always been bigger than the dance floor, but “First Mythz” is his first on-record recognition of the world outside the discotheque. It drops not with rim-rattling synth bass but with the echoing chirp of a dolphin, a goofy, grinning, self-conscious look at the uninhibited joy of the world around him, as uncomfortably ecstatic as pure MDMA. The club’s measly four walls were never going to be enough to hold the massive compositions by the producer born Russel Whyte, but now, it would seem, he has the whole ocean to play around in. — C.J.

24. Palms Trax, “Sumo Acid Crew”

One of the year’s most powerful acid flashbacks, but with a warmth that Phuture never imagined, blanketed by aerated synths borrowed from classic Detroit singles and Tears for Fears deep cuts. Even the vocal sample — a heavily distorted murmur, of course — sounds more to be pleading for comfort than lamenting his oncoming dementia. They still call it acieeeeed, sure, but the stuff’s not nearly as harsh as it was back in the day — you might even be able to find your way back from it. — A.U.

23. José Padilla, “Day One”

When you’re the godfather of the Balearic sound, your musical squad is as big as you want it to be. José Padilla, the Spanish DJ and producer who helped define and spread Balearic through his Café del Mar residency and mix series, has been assembling all-star casts to work on his albums since 1998. This year’s So Many Colours found Padilla surrounded by some of the best minds in underground house, like Tornado Wallace and Telephones. The latter helped write and perform the stunning album opener, “Day One.” Let its swelling strings, cheerful hand percussion, and lush vibes wash over you with closed eyes, and you’ll be transported early-’90s Ibiza before the synths even kick in. — S.M.

22. Kornel Kovacs, “Space Jam”

You have to love the mischievous streak in Kornel Kovacs. Like his friend Axel Boman and techno yogi DJ Koze, Kovacs can’t resist injecting a bit of heedless fun into his music. Sure, “Space Jam” — taken from Smallville Records’ recent Fortyfour Ways comp — samples the titular movie’s jock-jam theme song, but that’s not what crosses your mind when this groovy, melancholic track rolls up on you. Pitching down the vocals to a low smolder erases their irony and melds them into a stoner-house torch song. Kovacs transforms what could have been a cheap joke into a grabby tune worthy of many spins. — S.M.

21. Dillon Francis & Calvin Harris, “What’s Your Name?”

There’s usually reason to be suspicious when someone proclaims their own song/album/mixtape/demo/chop-and-screw to be “fire,” but at least one track on Dillon Francis’ This Mixtape Is Fire is truly 🔥🔥🔥. “What’s Your Name?” stretches open with the sound of an alarm clock but goes from zero to 110 decibels with a dizzying vortex of whoops, bleats, and shrieks, spun ever faster by metallic ricochets fast enough to vibrate eyeballs. By the time Francis’ signature moombahton booms hit the decks at the very end, you’ll be too burned out to remember anything but your blown-out eardrums. — H.B.