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DJ Mag's news of the year 2019

From the tragic loss of punk-rave pioneer Keith Flint to a resurgence in the sense of community in dance music, this year, and indeed the decade itself, has been a veritable rollercoaster. Below, we reflect on the news that defined the year in dance music

2019 has been a year, hasn’t it? With the seemingly inescapable doom and gloom of the world, political tensions and the increasing urgency of saving the planet, people have sought an escape — and they’ve found it in hedonism, deep in the global underground, raving for a cause, just in time for another decade. And, it seems, love is still the message.

That escapism has caused the underground to surge into prevalence once again, becoming more active; experimentalism and the pressures of the world around us have forced the industry to mobilise, and actively encourage change. From the anti-Brexit R3 Soundsystem to the newly launched, all-inclusive Homobloc festival, queer dance troops like Gay Little Brother and parties like Extinction Rebellion’s Rebel Rave, dance music is returning to its roots, back in the hands of the people. Festivals like Nyege Nyege in Uganda, at the mouth of the Nile, have risen to prominence, with more people than ever seeking festivals and escapes abroad. 

The immediate impact of social media might be considered a negative one, but it’s allowed music and individuals to connect to each other in inspiring ways this year. It’s been a year of charity compilations, with Polish collective Oramic’s 113-track mixtape raising money for LGBTQIA+ organisations, following a spate of violence at Pride marches in the country; Bandcloud’s ‘Missives’ compilation, battling Irish homelessness and supporting drug-focused charities; and Orphan. Records’ World Mental Health Day compilation, which featured Ariel Zetina, Ciel and Nathan Micay. There’s even been a video game to raise funds for mental health awareness, featuring productions from the late Avicii.

In other charitable movements, DJ Mag’s Top 100 Awards raised over 100,000 euros for UNICEF. Label Ninja Tune’s The Independent Music Cup, which features 32 teams from across the industry — including Warp Records, NTS, Boiler Room, and DJ Mag — raised £13,831, helping to deliver two War Child FC programs in Bossangoa (Central African Republic) and Duhok (Iraq). Overseas, Porter Robinson launched a fund to combat childhood cancer in developing countries, and fellow US star Bassnectar funded free therapy for 1,000 people.

We started 2019 with one of the UK’s underground techno stalwarts, Rebekah, on DJ Mag’s cover. It was an indicator for some of the outstanding artists on the covers that followed, with Houndstooth affiliate Anastasia Kristensen fronting May, and SOPHIE on our July cover. London’s driving label and collective Hyperdub featured en masse on the cover in August, and Floating Points fronted October’s ADE issue. He also played DJ Mag’s Amsterdam Dance Event party at Amsterdam’s Claire club, alongside KAMMA.

In statistics shared early in the year, it became clear the underground wasn’t just making a resurgence — so was the format with which it was first exported around the globe. During the very first days in 2019, it was reported that 16.8 million vinyl records were sold in the US alone throughout last year, with 4.2 million sales in the UK — five times higher than 2013; eBay also announced later this year that it had sold over 20 million records since 2007. There’s been an abundance of new record stores to accompany the increase in wax sales, with Berlin’s techno haven Griessmuehle opening new shop Latitude. Two record stores also opened in Brooklyn, and Kristina Records returned to its East London home.

The good comes with the bad, however, and 2019 also brought closures. Las Vegas’ Intrigue nightclub closed down, as did legendary Italian techno club Cocoricó. Milan also lost Dude Club, and the beloved Concrete Paris also closed its doors permanently in July. The Parisian Smallville record store shut down, too, in February. Clubs have continued to thrive against the odds, with the addition of new venues globally: New York’s Basement, London’s Drumsheds, Colours and Space289, and Depot in Manchester. 

When it comes to mainstays, Brazilian superclub Green Valley remains up top at No.1 in the DJ Mag Top 100 Clubs poll, after also achieving the accolade in 2013 and 2015. Clubs in Asia were up 20 per cent in this year’s polls too, and 48 of the top 100 clubs listed were in Europe. Washington’s Echostage also appeared in the top 10, as did White Isle clubs Ushuaïa and Hï Ibiza.

There has, as always, been some less serious happenings in the last 12 months, too. February was a strange month to say the least. Fatboy Slim went on tour and played the final date in, erm... someone’s house. Steve Aoki announced he featured in the new Star Trek video game, and techno pioneer Jeff Mills accidentally released someone else’s music under his own name. Perhaps one of the strangest, though, was Acta Tropica’s published results of a study in April, which found Skrillex’s ‘Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites’ confuses mosquitoes, meaning they’re less likely to bite. Later in the year, a track composed entirely of birdsong entered the UK Singles Chart for the first time in music history. Like we said, strange times...

In the early months of this year, we also tragically learnt of Prodigy frontman Keith Flint’s passing. The punk provocateur was the face of the UK’s ’90s dance music revolution, bringing the rave scene to the radio with the iconic 1996 hit, ‘Firestarter’. A kind and gentle soul away from the stage, Flint died aged 49. In the wake of Flint’s death, London DIY venue The Cause arranged an 11-date charity tour, with 100 per cent of the proceeds donated to mental health charities Mind and CALM. Iconic duo The Chemical Brothers also paid tribute to Flint at Glastonbury, dedicating their headline slot to the frontman. 

Flint wasn’t the only prominent passing in the industry this year. Legendary French house pioneer, Cassius’ Philippe ‘Zdar’ Cerboneschi died unexpectedly in June, and acid house pioneer Sleezy D passed away after suffering kidney failure. Chicago-born vocalist Kim English, who performed on multiple house classics after debuting in 1994, also died from kidney related complications this year.

The loss of Flint served as a stark reminder that mental health in the music industry is still one of our most pressing issues. In the wake of EDM legend Avicii’s death at the start of 2018, his family launched The Tim Bergling Foundation in March this year, offering support to individuals and organisations in the field of mental health and suicide prevention. DJ Mag also dedicated 36 pages of editorial content in our September magazine to mental health. We asked if speaking out openly and honestly is really enough, and pioneering drum & bass DJ Jumpin’ Jack Frost spoke with DJ Mag’s editor Carl Loben about how his depression and anxiety pushed him into the role of a mental health mentor. We spoke to other artists and promoters who have moved into roles as mental health and wellbeing practitioners, and imagined a safe-space club. In October, to coincide with World Mental Health Day, the Association For Electronic Music also shared a mental health guide specifically for those who work within the industry.

DJ Mag hosted a pool party during Miami Music Week, with Armin van Buuren, Nicky Romero, Don Diablo, and tINI all performing poolside. It was a small party, though, in comparison to DJ Mag’s Top 100 Awards ceremony at the Johan Cruyff ArenA in Amsterdam. Taking place in October, over 35,000 people attended the live reveal of the votes, which saw Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike take the No.1 spot from Martin Garrix. Armin van Buuren and Don Diablo scooped the awards for Highest Trance and Highest Future House respectively, with Skrillex a non-mover at 21, taking home the award for Highest Bass DJ.

In the rest of the poll, Carl Cox took the award for Highest Techno DJ, while climbing to the top of the Alt Top 100 DJ rankings, too. Australia’s Alison Wonderland moved up 52 places for the award of Highest Climber, and masked purveyor of house Claptone took home the award for Highest House. 

Elsewhere in 2019, the industry made efforts to become more eco-friendly. Ibiza club DC-10 banned single use plastics, replacing its (expensive) bottles of water with cartons, and London clubs Oval Space and Pickle Factory became 100 per cent plastic-free. Glastonbury saw its greenest year to date, with 99.3% of all tents taken home from the festival site, and also banning the use of non-recyclable bottles. In a huge, global movement, international events promoter Live Nation shared the news that all of its events will be plastic-free by 2021.

Overall, it seems 2019 was a year of moving forwards, with the continual efforts to tackle gender imbalance, the eco-movements, the charity-centred releases, and awareness- raising raves and parties. If the industry continues to strive for inclusivity, sustainability and supporting causes as it has done over the previous 12 months, who knows where we’ll be when we celebrate the first year in a whole new decade of opportunity, in 2020.

Check out our feature reflecting on the year in dance music, exploring the rising sounds and exciting cultural shifts in our scene

Amy Fielding is DJ Mag's digital staff writer. Follow her on twitter @amebbbb