DJ Mag’s top 50 tracks of 2018
Our end-of-year list compiling 2018's biggest tracks...
2018 has been a huge year for electronic music.
The industry is the biggest its ever been, both within a globally thriving underground and on a mainstream scale. At a time when techno and tech-house have further established their dominance on the world's biggest stages, in the underground genres have cross-pollinated and fused more than ever to create a scene that is replete with variance and experimentation. Cross-over tracks have also come from surprising places, with a deep house cut becoming the year’s biggest hit and a tech-house track dominating in the EDM world.
Compiling this list is always one of the DJ Mag team’s most challenging tasks, as striving to maintain subjectivity whilst giving the appropriate nod to current trends means scores of incredible releases are not able to make the final cut. But 2018 seemed more challenging than ever before, with the release schedule throughout the year bursting with quality from start to finish.
With that in mind, delve in below, to see DJ Mag’s top 50 tracks of 2018.
In a year that electro continued its dominance on European dancefloors, Sansibar’s ‘Used To Live In Detroit (Boy Toy)’ has been a constant feature of the sound’s most party-starting selectors. If you haven’t heard it on a big system, where exactly have you been?
Techno trance has taken over underground dancefloors in 2018, with Courtesy’s Kulør imprint showcasing Copenhagen’s most gifted producers pushing the sound with a 10-track compilation in October. IBON’s ‘No Sleep’ from it made the biggest impact, a thundering cut of rolling kicks spliced with a brooding breakdown.
With a chugging main line that constantly threatens to burst into ecstatic noise, a classic sing-along vocal hook, and a punchy kick-clap combo, ‘Burning Up’ is a glistening example of how to do tech-house right. The real star, though, is the naturally evolving track-long crescendo.
Released on Sunil Sharpe’s Earwiggle as part of the Eel Behaviour compilation series, Giant Swan’s ‘The Sun Inside Jaden Smith’ is a feral and flamboyant cut of caustic techno in keeping with the Bristol duo’s infamous live sets.
If you’re looking for nosebleed techno’s next star, look no further. A favourite of Dax J, the Dubliner knows exactly how to terrify and delight simultaneously; ‘Skull Skrushers’ in particular showcases this via madness-inducing, chaotically panned bleeps, barely audible demonic vox and obligatory brutal kicks.
As These Machines, Steve Mac has been utilising the myriad bits of hardware he’s acquired through the years to celebrate his vast catalog of influence. ‘Martina’ is a soulful balearic groover with a rich acid flourish.
Nick Curly and Gorge dropped Josh Butler’s debut EP on their 8bit Records in March. The US house of its title track shows a different side to the Leeds-based DJ/producer.
Ilk’s Narratives debut is all about width and pace. Blasts of Doppler effect brass whizz by, while others form drawn out pads; the drums overflow with energy and groove; the widescreen low-end growls; and that lo-fi, melancholy vocal is as slick as they come
Released on emerging UK label Par Avion, Meta’s ‘Fault Line’ is a track that fuses the bass-laden intensity of labels like Timedance and Hessle Audio with heads-down, feverish techno. It’s one of those cuts that is guaranteed to ignite any dancefloor it touches.
Soul Of Hex's Vicario Musique returned for the first time since 2016 with the ‘Tetro’ EP. The infectious, piano-driven house of ‘Sun Compass’ was the pick of the bunch.
DJ Seinfeld continued his meteoric rise with the ‘Sakura’ EP on Or:la and Breakwave’s Deep Sea Frequency imprint. ‘Sagrada’ combining organic drums with swerving bass wubbs and vibrant melodic flourishes.
UK techno, jazz and dubstep futurist Djrum released his opus, 'Portrait With Firewood', via R&S in August. 'Sex' is a percussive epic with a captivating wordless vocal and an emotive string-led breakdown.
Catchy and upbeat, this easy-going cut runs off a simplistic beat and some lively, panned synth hits. This allows Murphy’s vox to take centre stage, delivered in choppy, relatable lyrics.
Mandar – made up of Lazare Hoche, S.A.M., and Malin Génie – made the transition from underground darlings to omnipresent in Ibiza’s main rooms this year, and it’s easy to see why with ‘String Theory’ – delicate deep house built for sun-drenched terraces.
CamelPhat continued their meteoric rise – which included holding a Hï Ibiza residency through summer – with 'Dopamine Machine' on Defected, another chart bothering big room house cut.
Linkwood proved himself once again to be one of the most innovative producers around on the ‘Fresh Gildans’ EP, released via Edinburgh’s superb Firecracker Recordings. The title track launches forward with a near-incomprehensible robotic vocal before turning into a rapid and colourful electro stormer.
Adopting his given name for his debut release on the ever-consistent Whities, Nathan Micay – FKA Bwana – delivered a real triumph with ‘First Casualty’. A staple in sets by the likes of Avalon Emerson, this track soars with uplifting melodic trills and a glorious ambience.
Techno is all about the vibe — losing your head to a rolling beat and mind-altering atmospherics. ‘Rave Story’ has both of those in spades, plus a rising acid line, sneaky hardcore stabs and a secret weapon: a roughed up sample of a snarling MC spitting pure venom.
Back in February, the third installment of Lone’s ‘Ambivert Volumes’ on R&S established itself as an early contender for one of 2018’s strongest EPs. The British producer continued to flex his capacity for energised breakbeats, while constantly maintaining an emotive edge throughout the release. Nowhere was this more present than on his euphoric ‘Temples’.
Glasgow-based Maya Medvesek, aka Nightwave, explores tribal beats, skittery hi-hats and hypnotizing melody patterns on 'Sanctuary', which keep it rolling through what feels like a journey deep into the jungle. As Maya puts it herself "Sanctuary is the soundtrack to a rainforest club that I created in my mind”; it's a perfect glimpse into her psyche.
Few things can set a dancefloor on fire better than an upbeat piano hook and a vocal that makes you want to hug your mates and yell as loud as your lungs will allow. This latest summertime smash from Weiss does just that and then some.
Marquis Hawkes’ album on Houndstooth this year was a masterclass in vintage house flare. Collaborating with Jamie Lidell, ‘We Should Be Free’ is an anthemic house cut that retains a classic chicago vibe while effortlessly incorporating an essential contemporary edge
HAAi’s Phonox residency more than proved that she can keep a dancefloor transfixed. Her 'Motorik Voodoo Bush Doof Musik’ EP shows she has buckets of production talent too, and this rebellious number, with its anarchistic drums and Taigen Kawabe's amplified vox demands repeat plays.
Mella Dee has been an unstoppable force this past year when it comes to DJing. Since launching his Warehouse Music imprint he’s also showcased his own production chops with five dancefloor-driven EPs. ‘Donny’s Groove’ seamlessly blends disco sampling of Melba Moore with house heft to make an unforgettable club cut.
Following three EPs on Dixon Avenue Basement Jams, Big Miz dropped his debut album on the label in 'Build/Destroy' in January. 'The Hadal Zone' was the highlight, an infectious cut of freewheeling, organ-driven tech-house.
Alex Eveson’s DMC project has been a constant source of buy-on-sight jungle and any of his 2018 tracks could have made this list. ‘Trip II Eclipse’ perfectly sums up the moody dub-meets-clattering jungle sound he’s been pushing. Lose yourself (and control of your limbs)!
Dean Grenier’s Individuate on Omnidisc is one of those techno tracks that gives dividends with minimal resources. A deep, growling kick and skipping hi-hat pattern carries the track while electric trills dive in and out atop a bed of lush distortion. Fierce.
Built on Sully’s signature drum rolls and hacked together with some instantly recognisable vox and cheeky 8-bit computer game death samples, if you hear this beautifully chaotic explosion of sound in the rave and it doesn’t get a rewind, call the police; if it does, call the fire brigade.
Indisputably the hardest track in this list, how SOPHIE manages to make that low-end slam with the crushing weight of a collapsing neutron star is beyond us. Combine that with screeching sonics and the contrasting gloss of a lip-smacking vocal and you’ve got a recipe for glorious depravity.
Already packed with attitude by way of a staccato percussive pulse and bouncing low-end, when Montreal act Davidson’s no-nonsense vocal comes in this track basically says ‘dance or GTFO’. Had it been released 30 years earlier it’d be a bona fide club classic by now!
Berlin-based DJ/producer Emanuel Satie hooked up with jazz fusion pioneer Billy Cobham on Rebirth in spring, with the result this languid house track hammered by everyone from François Kevorkian, Kölsch, Dj Koze, Andrea Oliva, Rampa, Soul Clap and more.
B.Traits’ star continued to rise in 2018 and ‘I Feel The Music’ on Drumcode was the the huge, big room techno cut that shot her to new heights. Played by some of the world’s biggest techno DJs in the world’s biggest clubs, this one never fails to go off.
Violet’s Naive imprint has been truly unstoppable this year and this joint release from Eris Drew and Octo Octa was the icing on the cake. Our highlight comes in the form of nostalgia-soaked breakbeat, swimming in a lush soup of delayed bleeps and woozy synth notes.
Shadowax is part of Russia’s ever-growing collection of producers exploring the outer reaches of techno. On 'I Want To Be a Stewardess' – on трип’s phenomenal 10-track 'Don't Mess With Cupid' compilation – she delivers a skewed slice of brooding techno that does simply incredible things on a big system. Just wait for that breakbeat.
LSDXOXO’s wild manipulation of mainstream sounds regularly borrows samples from popular culture, and the heavy breakbeats of 'Death Rattle' – his devastating edit of Mr. Vegas’ ‘90s smash 'Heads High' – destroyed dancefloors across Europe through the summer.
Rinsed at festivals and clubs throughout the summer, ‘Untitled Horn’ is what we call an instant classic. The eponymous horn bellows out through any mix, and the sparse percussion post-drop allows the widescreen bass to ring true. Effing huge!
Ploy’s ‘Ramos’ was one of the most ubiquitous tracks of 2018’s festival season. A percussive, crescendo-led cut of rhythmic UK techno, it’s been played by virtually everyone this year, from the Hessle Audio and Timedance crews to Gilles Peterson and beyond. An instant classic that we’ll be hearing for years to come.
Bruce’s ‘Sonder Somatic’ on Hessle Audio was one of the most auspicious debuts of the year. Fusing UK bass, dubstep, techno and lush sound design, the Bristol-based DJ/producer proved himself as one of the UK’s most promising talents, particularly on the album’s towering apex, ‘What’.
Galway’s Kettama has blazed a trail to become one of Ireland’s most hotly tipped DJs. His ‘Bucklyn Bridge’ on Homage Records launched him to new heights with support from the likes of Mall Grab, Denis Sulta and The Black Madonna. ‘B O D Y’ is pure peak-time heat.
Lifting a vocal track from Can’s 1972 cut ‘Vitamin C’, Drumcode boss Adam Beyer was responsible for 2018’s biggest techno ear worm alongside Bart Skils, with ‘Your Mind’ dropped in big room techno sets across the globe.
Australian surf dude-turned-house music producer started releasing on Dirtybird in 2017 before teasing out this monster in mid-summer. And over the course of a few months, it became a firm favourite with big mainroom hitters like Hardwell, DV&LM and David Guetta. Indeed, virtually half of the Top 100 DJs — Alok, Fedde Le Grand, Claptone and so on — cited it as tune of the year. Does this Dirtybird-esque behemoth signal a new direction for mainstream EDM?
Rebekah’s upwards trajectory has continued steadily since relocating from Birmingham to Berlin, the Que Club in Brum being her original inspiration. In the German capital she’s developed her pitch-black techno sonics, dropping debut album ‘Fear Paralysis’ on Slam’s Soma imprint last year, and coming with this hard-edged piledriver towards the end of 2018 — as well as rocking countless clubs and festivals.
Liverpudlians Dave Whelan and Mike Di Scala have eased out some biggies this year — ‘Dopamine Machine’ with Ali Love and ‘Breathe’ with Cristoph, plus remixing Fatboy’s ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and Paul Woolford’s ‘Hang Up Your Hang-Ups’ — but it was ‘Panic Room’ that hit hardest. The result of a team-up with teen singer Au/Ra, it’s an affecting, dreamy proggy beast that detonated dancefloors everywhere.
With a big sweeping disco sample that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early Defected release, this would’ve been described as an ‘Ibiza terrace anthem’ if the White Isle had any open-air music terraces left. But ‘Roy Keane’ — amusingly named after the former Man Utd hard man — isn’t just a nostalgia-fest. Irish duo Brame & Hamo now live in Berlin and initially released on Dirt Crew before setting up their own eponymous imprint, and this track is as riotous as it is reverential.
Hard-working house music fiend Cinthie has launched a record shop, studio and new label in Berlin this year, but that didn’t stop her recording this certified banger at the tail-end of summer. Coming out on the same EP as ‘Together’ on her new Crystal Grooves imprint, ‘Ada’ is pivoted around a disco string-loop and has a notable Chicago house swing to it. Fire!
Brazilian artist ANNA underlined what a great year she’s had by not only scooping the Beatport Breakthrough artist award during ADE, but seeing this Kompakt missive rack up half a million YouTube hits. A perfectly programmed techno track with wibbly, subterrain depth-charged melodics and a fierce bassline.
A French touch-inspired discoid groove, some accused our May cover star Koze’s lead cut from his album ‘Knock Knock’ as sounding almost unfinished. Little more than an airy hypnotic groove, nevertheless its feelgood loop — culled from the same Gladys Knight track as Midland’s ‘Final Credits’, although reportedly recorded before — fed into all sorts of house sets over the summer and beyond.
Pangaea from the Hessle Audio crew dropped this bone-rattler early in the year, and was one of the core tracks which helped bring broken rhythms back onto techno floors. A breakbeat-laden siren track that rattles along with chopped vocal cuts, variable woodpeckering drill-FX and synthetic melodies, its polyrhythmic perversity helped provide a bridging point in countless sets.
The lead track from the ‘Division’ EP, ‘Neutron Dance’ immediately made waves on release in April. Owing quite a debt to New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, this euphoric new-wave synth-house banger had floors everywhere bouncing. Despite a plethora of acts having the word ‘Crystal’ in their name, Dublin’s Declan Lennon has been able to cut through with his smart productions. He repeated the big retro-futurist synth-work on his remix of TERR’s ‘Neuromancer’, teeing up his 2019 nicely.
When Korea-born, Berlin-based Peggy dropped this beatific, breezy lead track from the ‘Once’ EP on Ninja, DJ Mag immediately dubbed it the tune of the summer. It duly made its way onto BBC Radio 1 via Ibiza, and has been rinsed everywhere from pool/beachside to TV to clubland ever since. A soft burbling acid backing and composed percussion is overlain with some understated synth-work, and Peggy’s vox on top — the first time she’s sung (in her native tongue) on one of her own tracks — have the languid, e-zee feel of a transported Astrid Gilberto. An enduring classic. Some kind of wonder.