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DJ Mag’s top tracks of 2023

2023 has been a bumper year for bangers. From chart-bothering drum & bass, fusionist club scorchers and playful rave barnstormers, through underground avenues of garage, dubstep and breaks, into amapiano, anthemic house, R&B and experimental electronics, DJ Mag's contributors write about their personal favourite tracks of the year, offering an unranked overview of the sounds that made the past 12 months so memorable for electronic music around the world

 DJ Mag compilations of 2023 - A-J
'Green Blue Amnesia Magic Haze (d 7)' [Ninja Tune]

Actress' ‘Green Blue Amnesia Magic Haze (d 7)’ weaves its deep sub-bass line through a kaleidoscopic tapestry of sound. Warm, drifting pads float hauntingly within this enveloping cloak, creating an entrancing atmosphere. Its evocative melodies, played in part by twinkling bleeps, paint a sonic landscape that’s soft and cosy, but also melancholic. It's a testament to Actress’ ability to create music that surpasses mere listening – it's a transformative experience. This one runs deep. MICK WILSON

Aho Ssan
'Till The Sun Down (feat. clipping. & Resina)' [Other People]

With collaborators including Nicolas Jaar, Moor Mother and Blackhaine, Aho Ssan’s ‘Rhizomes’ explores the experimental underground’s global root system, and celebrates the collectivity that energises it. Its first single struck like a thunderstorm: drums erupt, sub-bass rumbles, distorted synth shards crack like lightning. The Parisian artist’s flair for system-shaking intensity is matched by clipping.’s Daveed Diggs, who spits searing verses over a lurching beat. Resina’s climactic strings and vocals radiate power and pathos, cutting through the clouds like a beam of pure light. EOIN MURRAY

'Last One' [Locked On Records]

Lovers of UK breakbeat have come to know Bakey for his distinctive brand of low-key grit, which straddles a spectrum across garage, jungle and hip-hop. Over the past year, he’s grabbed Interplanetary Criminal’s attention, who featured him on ‘All Thru the Night’, an exhaustive compendium of today’s UKG landscape. ‘Last One’ has a characteristically moody groove, its bassy wubs adding a skittering swing to a chopped snare and soaring vocals, evoking a delicious feeling of yearning on the dancefloor. BECCA INGLIS

'Londis' [Believe UK]

The former Harlem Spartan and Baile-funk- drill fusion pioneer returned in March with ‘Londis’ — the lead single from his excellent sophomore tape, ‘ReBourne’. The track reaffirmed Blanco’s commitment to rapping over challenging, expansive productions, this time swapping his trademark Brazilian beats for a looped sample from 20th century film composer Henry Mancini’s ‘Lujon’. This nod to the 1960s bathes Blanco’s cornershop ode in a warm, nostalgic glow. ROB KAZANDJIAN

Chase & Status, Bou
'Baddadan feat. IRAH, Flowdan, Trigga & Takura' [EMI]

The prevailing mood in the scientific community right now suggests that the universe is infinite, which means there may still be sentient beings who are yet to hear ‘Baddadan’. But like the universe, the track’s reload tally is now too big to measure, making this an unquestionable high-point in drum & bass, rave and all of music in 2023. From the bassline to the drop to the gravel in all four MCs’ voices, this is a sign of d&b’s rude health. SAM DAVIES

Doctor Jeep
'Push The Body' [TraTraTrax]

New York’s Doctor Jeep delivered one of the summer’s most versatile club scorchers here — a frenetic blend of buzzsaw dubstep, percussive techno and robotised baile funk vox that whips up a frenzy wherever it lands. Sun-baked festival slot? Gear shift in a warehouse rave? Curveball in a rowdy warm-up? It slams every time. The Brazilian-American artist’s penchant for an addictive hook has provided plenty of ace-in-ya-sleeve heaters over the years, but this one hits different. Yet another knockout in the TraTraTrax catalogue. EOIN MURRAY

'Wub' [Self-released]

Grime saw a huge resurgence in 2023, as a burgeoning live scene reinvigorated a sound that had been somewhat quiet in recent years. And it’s testament to the sheer volume and quality of Brazilian grime, or ‘brime’, being made that the B-side on a self-released EP from Floripa-based artist Fungi has been rupturing sound systems in the way it has. Over 20 years since first erupting from pirate radio stations in London, it’s clear grime still remains as vital as ever. ROB MCCALLUM

Golden Features
'Touch (feat. Rromarin)' [Warner Music Australia]

The gem of Golden Features’ ‘Sisyphus’ LP, this is a slow-building stunner that starts on a minimal note before unfolding into a full-bodied, break-laden experience. Featuring the ethereal tones of Australian vocalist Rromarin, the tune’s lyrics extend an invitation to immerse yourself and let go. This sensation is one its producer, Tom Stell, became familiar with night after night in Berlin’s rave scene, providing the genesis for this boundary-breaking project. MEGAN VENZIN

DJ Mag compilations of 2023 - K - M
Kai Alcé feat. Ash Lauryn
'Underground & Black' [NDATL Muzik]

‘Underground & Black’ was one of the summer’s biggest hits in underground circles, and a breakout tune for Ash Lauryn alongside already revered Atlanta mainstay Kai Alcé. Lauryn is a musician and activist who centres Black artists in her sets, the Black experience in her writing and, with this track, the ubiquity of the Black influence on so much global music. Not only is it a killer deep house gem, then, but a vital reminder of the roots of our scene. KRISTAN J CARYL

'Fly Away XTC' [Steel City Dance Discs]

I am genuinely surprised that KETTAMA’s ‘Fly Away XTC’ wasn’t an absolute smash this year — it was far and away my anthem of the summer. Shuffling rhythms, otherworldly vocals, high-stakes melody — this is pure raw emotion, the wistful kind that makes you long for bygone dancefloors. My heart burst when Carista dropped it at Dekmantel this year, and again when KETTAMA played it in his AVA Boiler Room set, fully embraced by the home crowd. Top-notch classic. RIA HYLTON

'P.L.L' [Rhythm In The City]

You know a KG track when you hear it — every production sounds like it’s been smouldering somewhere very warm. ‘P.L.L’ (Pretty Little Liar), a sensual push-pull confessional and what she describes as “a diary entry in music format”, has that similar smoky feel we’ve come to expect. And it’s been doing the rounds — Amari Marshall, dance co-captain on Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour, and B2K’s Omarion have both been seen cutting shapes to the single. The ‘Goddess of Rhythm’ doesn’t release often, but when she does, it’s fire. RIA HYLTON

Lauren Flax
'I’d Risk It All To Be With You' [2MR]

Lauren Flax in non-jacking-acid shocker! In reality, the Detroit-born, NYC-based artist has been down similarly vibe-drenched paths before, but many fans were still unprepared for this gorgeous bit of muted emo-house. The centrepiece of the ‘Liz & Lauren’ EP, a hugely affecting collaboration with vocalist and songwriter Liz Wight from 2MR’s Pale Blue duo, the tune’s blend of Motor City melodic motif, yearning whispers and gently percolating rhythm forms something both intensely personal and universally stirring. BRUCE TANTUM

Loraine James
'I DM U' [Hyperdub]

Enfield producer Loraine James could be communicating anything with the wordless ‘I DM U’. The tingling nerves before messaging a crush, maybe? But one might say it sounds like hope. Cloud-like synths become vocals over drums courtesy of Black Midi’s Morgan Simpson. They are frenetic, as if the artist is playing a breakbeat pattern by hand. The result is captivating; the track sounds like pure catharsis, and can be anything the listener wants it to be. CHRISTINE OCHEFU

'Rabbit On The Moon' [OPIA Records]

Luca Cazal is an example of longevity and commitment in the scene. Releasing records for over a decade, recently he’s been crafting his sound under the name of LVCA and the result is club-ready, hardware-based music with emotion. ‘Rabbit On The Moon’, released via Tam Fallan’s OPIA Records, is one of his finest creations yet. It’s a modern anthem with an essence of the '80s – a record looking to the future while remembering the past. This will create unforgettable dancefloor moments for a long time to come. ANNA WALL 

Made by Pete & Zoe Kypri
'Horizon Red' [Crosstown Rebels]

When good music is undeniable, the world will recognise that and uplift it accordingly. A mesmerising track full of rich chord progressions and harmonious percussion deserved the blessing of Zoe Kypri’s powerful yet sensual voice. The strength in the production from Made By Pete is perfectly matched by Zoe, which is telling of their synergy. ‘Horizon Red’ undoubtedly has been a song that has caught major attention and been greatly celebrated across electronic music this year. KITTY AMOR

Marla Kether
'BTR2 (feat. MADELEINE)' [Saffron Records]

UK bassist Marla Kether’s ‘BTR2’ is a beguiling, silky-smooth, space-jazz 4/4 jam built around Kether’s gliding, snaking basslines and decorated with twinkling, candied keys from MADELEINE. Subtle, restrained, gently mystical and almost casually otherworldly, in a world of day-glo, turn-it-up-to-11 tracks with overblown sonics and outré FX, tunes like ‘BTR2’ take us right back to the pure beating heart of the funk, its potent, mesmerising soft power capable of transporting a room of dancers to groove nirvana. HAROLD HEATH

'Mud-Dauber Wasp' [Smithsonian Folkways]

2023 was the 75th anniversary of Folkways Records, and what better way to celebrate its diamond year than to let found sound brillianteers Matmos loose on the catalogue of science and nature field recordings? This might seem like pedestrian source material compared to some of the duo’s previous palettes, but the disorienting theremin buzz of the mud-dauber wasp cross-hatched with patchy beats and frothing synths is classic oddball music-making from a pair who can meld their material into whatever shape they choose. OLIVIA CHEVES

MCR-T & horsegiirL
'My Barn My Rules' [Live From Earth Klub]

Dance music has been taking itself too seriously, making indie sleaze and electroclash’s 2023 comebacks inevitable. The assignment: inject some much-needed loucheness back onto the dancefloor and into Discover Weekly playlists. No one understood this better than horsegiirL, whose viral hit ‘My Barn My Rules’ is part meme, part manifesto. The Berlin DJ’s ravey signature barnstormer delivers the camp Eurotrash of Eiffel 65 with the stoic seriousness of Burial, producing one of the year’s most head-scratching yet brilliant bangers. TAZMÉ PILLAY

Mia Koden
'Hot Take' [Self-released]

Formerly one half of Sicaria Sound — the renowned duo known for spinning system-shaking cuts around 140bpm — this South Sudanese-British DJ and producer began a new chapter with her spring two-tracker. Maintaining her taste for sub-bass, the release alchemised strands of dubstep, garage and electro into a heady, personalised brew. ‘Hot Take’ drinks from the Deep Medi well, with an ear-tickling vocal sample that skips around a foundation of murky dub sonics. (Re) introductions don’t get much stronger than this. EOIN MURRAY

Mochakk & Fernanda Ouro
'NO8D0 (Plaza Edit)' [Cercle Records]

Sometimes a track just has everything, and Mochakk’s chunky ‘Plaza Edit’ of his breezy summer cut ‘NO8DO’ is just that. Produced especially for his Cercle set at the iconic Plaza de España earlier this year, the Brazilian artist shows his knack for nailing down every element that makes dance music fresh, infectious and captivating. You only have to hear the original to see how creative Mochakk has been with this remix — its rumbling bassline, soaring vocals, layers of groove, and unpredictable turns makes it one of his best. AMY FIELDING

 DJ Mag compilations of 2023 - O - S
Octo Octa
'Late Night Love' [T4T LUV NRG]

‘Late Night Love’, the lead 12-minute opus from the ‘Dreams Of A Dancefloor’ EP, somehow seems to distil the last 30-something years of rave into one track, which makes for a superb set-starter or mid-set builder. With a nod to Octo Octa’s roots in breakcore and IDM, the track unfolds with a classic hardcore topline and skippy, popcorning glockenspiel bass. Fluttery gated synths join the fray after the first drop, lifting it into floaty prog territory. Understated, and great. CARL LOBEN

Pola & Bryson & Emily Makis
'Phoneline' [Shogun Audio]

A production duo and vocalist who in their own rights have made huge strides in 2023, Pola & Bryson linking with Emily Makis on ‘Phoneline’ was only going to end with something beautiful. Stemming from a Shogun Audio writing camp, the idea quickly grew into one of the most respected drum & bass tracks this year — rolling through raves and festivals at will. It was always going to be challenging for Pola & Bryson to follow on from ‘Tell You What I Did’ with Zitah, but ‘Phoneline’ is truly special. JAKE HIRST

Rainy Miller & Space Afrika
'Sweet (I’m Free) (feat. RenzNiro & Iceboy Violet)' [Fixed Abode]

Taken from the collaborative album project, ‘Sweet’ emphasises what’s vital about everyone involved, all of whom are either based in and around Manchester, or have been. Wildly different flows from RenzNiro and Iceboy Violet mirror wider instrumental juxtapositions the producers are renowned for. Abrasive yet soulful, industrial but human, mutant sounds spliced together in the audio labs of a rain-soaked city where dystopian grime and factory ambient is immersive bliss. MARTIN GUTTRIDGE-HEWITT

'Junkyard Dog' (Basic Rhythm Remix) [SAFE.RAVER]

Basic Rhythm has been applying his idiosyncratic beatmaking style to drum & bass this year, and the results have been nothing short of incredible (see also his ‘Sound Killa’ EP on Straight Up Breakbeat and ‘Blood Rhythm’ collab with exciting up-and-comer Blood Trust over on SAFE. RAVER’s parent label Repertoire). Though this has unjustly remained a relatively obscure remix, it’s been a personal favourite since dropping in February — a clattering juggernaut that merges tech-step futurism with grime’s sound palette and relentless energy. Woof! BEN HINDLE

'Right Ingredients' [Rupture LDN]

Not just the best jungle/drum & bass event on the circuit, Rupture has also been putting out music since 2012, but this year saw the label step up its output with six EPs, a charity remix in aid of Palestine, and the debut artist album from co-founder Double O. This sublime cut from Canada’s Rumbleton is a perfect example of Rupture’s willingness to deliver the unexpected — a silky smooth, dubbed-out, funked-up, sampladelic delight, with breaks that flow like liquid gold. BEN HINDLE

Samrai, LINTD & Raheel Khan
'Oil Money' [Sangha Industries]

2023 was a busy year for Manchester-based Samrai, who released a string of videos from his debut solo album ‘Work & Roti’, a beautiful meditation on the sounds and stories of the producer’s East Punjabi ancestry. On standout track ‘Oil Money’, Samrai links up with GOMID’s LINTD and multi- disciplinary artist Raheel Khan (known for work with the likes of Nabihah Iqbal and Paul Purgas) for a provocative piece on capitalist greed that weaves LINTD’s haunting vocals with shimmering synths, stuttering drum machines and staccato tabla tones. KAMILA RYMAJDO

'L.F.O. (feat. Sampha & George Riley)' [Save Yourself / AWAL Recordings Ltd]

SBTRKT’S run in the early 2010s was untouchable, lacing impossibly danceable beats with, at times, almost primal emotion. And then he left us for seven long years. After a soft launch last year, he returned maskless in 2023 with ‘The Rat Road’, a fresh and innovative LP that still hits some familiar, comforting notes. On ‘L.F.O.’, the album’s fourth single, old pal Sampha makes a welcome return, but the addition of new face George Riley also makes it clear SBTRKT is still as dialled in as ever. JAMES KEITH

'Crash' [Sacred Bones]

This LA-based three-piece made one of the albums of the year with the pulsating punktronica of ‘Push’, and ‘Crash’ is the album’s centrepiece and highlight — a gorgeous evocation of both night-time highs and strung-out morning comedowns, the dazed tension of the street and the wide-eyed release of the dancefloor. A post-punk attitude of innovation shot through with an ecstatic sense of ’90s freedom, it’s a contact-high record that leaves you fragile, trembling. NEIL KULKARNI

Sofia Kourtesis
'Madres' [Ninja Tune]

Motherhood and healing might not be typical dance music talking points, but on Sofia Kourtesis’ debut full-length, the Berlin-based Peruvian artist sets autobiographical sketches of her life to euphonious, Latin-led sonics. The LP’s crowning jewel is its title track, a soaring, synth-soaked paean dedicated to Kourtesis’ mother and the neurosurgeon who helped her survive cancer. Counterbalancing its emotional heft with sunlit house rhythms and a Spanish falsetto, it’s a masterful ode to the remedial powers of dance music. OLIVIA STOCK

Special Request
'Sliver (feat. Novelist)' [Gudu Records]

All-star collabs rarely produce material that adds up to the total sum of the talent behind it. Thus, it’s really saying something that a pairing as gifted as Special Request and Novelist have bested the maths and delivered a track that stands up with the most celebrated work of either’s discography. A wild ride of a beat that slows to a crawl midway through, only to come back with vengeance in the second half, this feels like somebody distilled the spirit of pirate radio and then bottled it for the floors. REISS DE BRUIN

DJ Mag compilations of 2023 - T - Z
'Half Stab' [WNCL Recordings]

First heard (at the time unreleased) as a ‘WTF is this?!’ standout moment in Room Two of Fabric, TÉNÈBRE’s ‘Half Stab’ is a big-rig beast with its eyes firmly on the future. The work of French producer and sound designer Paul Ténèbre, it nods to jungle, rolling breakbeats clattering through the breakdown. But it’s waves of distorted, fizzing bass that take centrestage, sweeping away all in their path — most of the percussion included — like some kind of low-end pyroclastic flow. JOE ROBERTS

The Maghreban
'M25 feat. King Kashmere' [Self-released]

Incredibly versatile producer The Maghreban (Ayman Rostom) has made everything from psychotropic hip-hop to spiritual jazz-inflected house music, always investing his beats with plenty of fresh ideas. ‘M25’ is a case in point: sampling a rap snippet from Strange U collaborator King Kashmere, the track lands somewhere between dubstep and broken beat, with thrumming sub-bass, ominous bleeps, cymbal-smashing drums and a star-gazing synth breakdown midway through, before hitting fifth gear again. Forward-thinking excellence. BEN MURPHY

'Talk To Me Nice' [Tinashe Music Inc. / Nice Life Recording Company]

Fortchoming history books will concur that Tinashe is one of the most exciting R&B innovators of her generation — a luxury that label independence has afforded her. ‘Talk To Me Nice’ is ’Nashe at her relaxed best, brimming with a self-assured yet subtle energy. The drums do a lot of work here — moving the song through different pulsating layers and back — but Tinashe’s pristine vocals have never needed to do too much to shine. Blending R&B with electronic influences, she’s at peace easing into a new era of identity exploration. MAKUA ADIMORA

'Petals' [Hessle Audio]

Although technically released in 2022, Toumba’s ‘Petals’ was the start of Hessle Audio’s Big Tune Year. The label, long at the vanguard of the underground, found a new groove in 2023 with massive releases from Olof Dreijer, Anz, and, of course, that Pangaea song that has been stuck in my head for eight months. But no tune was as scene-defining as ‘Petals’. Toumba’s breakthrough moment took South Jordanian dance music and refracted it through genres like grime, UK funky and hip-hop, reorganising club geography along the way. HENRY IVRY

'Overnight Jam' [Children of Tomorrow Records]

Arnaud Le Texier and Emmanuel Ternois’ label Children of Tomorrow is the home of techno in all its tripped-out and spiralling strains. Athens-born, London-based DJ and producer Tsibo’s track ‘Overnight Jam’, from his EP ‘Kinetic’, reflects the consistency of the label’s high-quality catalogue and the Greek producer’s ability to conjure up witchy atmospheres with a psychedelic tint. Shaped by a spiky synthline and hypnotic soundscape, it’s no wonder the track has received plays from DVS1, MARRØN, Justine Perry and many more. NIAMH O’CONNOR

Tyler ICU &
'Mnike (feat. DJ Maphorisa, Nandipha808, Ceeka RSA & Tyron Dee)' [New Money Gang Records / Sony Music Entertainment Africa]

Tyler ICU's bold choice to release ‘Mnike’ in April — before the festival season really started — paid off on a global scale. ‘Mnike’ has taken the world by storm, going viral on TikTok with its accompanying dance. Its infectious ‘nika’ refrain, translating from Zulu to ‘give it to them’, is fitting for a track that has given amapiano unprecedented commercial success around the world and been nominated for a Grammy. RAHEL AKLILU

'Escándaloo' [Voam]

It’s fairly likely you had your mind fried by this one during the summer. The title track from the Colombian producer’s debut EP for Blawan and Pariah’s label erupts like an outta control laser beam; its sizzling bass zaps and galloping hardgroove-goes-dembow beat made it something of a secret weapon for DJs’ USBs. The Insurgentes/TraTraTrax co-founder distils his distinctive fusion of Latin American electronic music here, alchemising it for the dancefloor with head-spinning sound design and eyes-roll-back velocity. Scandalously massive. EOIN MURRAY

'Godzilla Dub' [TXTBK]

When ec2a dropped ZeroFG’s ‘Godzilla Dub (Vox Mix)’ in the middle of summer it had already been doing the rounds on club and festival dancefloors as a dubplate for some time. Sampling Pharoahe Monch’s ‘Simon Says’, the track sold out instantly and was described as an “absolute heater” by the label. But Zero FG’s original instrumental version made its way into the record box of DJs like Riz La Teef, leading to the producer getting hammered with requests to release it, which he finally did in October, causing it to erupt all over again. ROB MCCALLUM