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DJ Mag's top compilations of 2021

We've switched up our end-of-year coverage this year. Instead of ranked countdowns, we've asked 40 contributors to pick their favourite albums, tracks and compilations from the past 12 months, celebrating the personal sounds that made this strange year a memorable one for electronic music. Here are DJ Mag's compilations of 2021

V/A '1 Year of Invicta'
[Invicta Audio]

For a glimpse into drum & bass future, you need to look at Invicta Audio. Founded as an event, Invicta had such a strong following it was nominated in the 2020 DJ Mag Best Of British and Drum&BassArena Awards (for Breakthrough Label and Best Newcomer Label, respectively) after just two releases! ‘1 Year Of Invicta’ landed a year later, capturing the brand’s fizzy new-gen energy and eclectic signature. Featuring hotly-tipped talents like Refracta, Magenta, Harley D and Gonda, the album is a vibrant and wide-armed snapshot of where d&b is at in 2021… And beyond. DAVE JENKINS

V/A '8 Years Of Cakeshop'

The lauded South Korean event space, Cakeshop, curated this hypnotic 16-track LP, which taps into the pulse of Seoul’s nightlife. Featuring notable names who have graced the venue’s decks over its eight-year reign, Berlin-based mobilegirl’s ‘I Know A Lil Freak’ is the white-knuckle soundtrack to Dance Dance Revolution set to extreme, while Hong Kong artist Kelvin T’s swelling ‘Ice Sculpture’ is laser precise. A mosaic of subterranean anthems that define a city. SOPHIE WALKER

V/A 'Amapiano Now'

When the dancing stopped, dance music lived on. Over the past two years, there’s been no greater proof of dance music’s eternal staying power than the global spread of amapiano, a sound born in South Africa that’s spread around the world as clubs shut and tentatively reopened. ‘Amapiano Now’ is as good an introduction as you’ll find, a bevy of vibe and rhythm that endures like a heartbeat. Vusinator’s ‘It’s Never Too Late’ is the best drum loop since Apple’s ‘De Siegaliser’. SAM DAVIES

V/A 'Arthur Baker presents Dance Masters: Shep Pettibone The Classic Master-Mixes'
[Edsel Records]

He retired from studio work eons ago, but Shep Pettibone — along with such revered figures as Tom Moulton and the late Walter Gibbons — is still considered one of the premier remix/re-edit artists to ever come out of New York City. This gargantuan retrospective may not feature his classic work with Madonna (his Bette Davis Dub of ‘Vogue’ is brilliant), but it brims with his magnificent work on songs from New Order, Gloria Gaynor, Pet Shop Boys and The Communards, among others. BRUCE TANTUM

V/A 'Atlas / 1'
[1985 Music]

THROUGHOUT this year, Alix Perez’s 1985 label has continued its expansion as a dominant force not just within drum & bass, but across dance music. ‘Atlas / 1’ brings together the label roster — Visages, Deft and Foreign Concept, amongst others — and its various stylistic strands, offering loping dubstep, ambient-cum-halftime, ethereal liquid and biting dancefloor cuts. It’s a tried and tested formula which very few labels can pull off with the precisely engineered panache pioneered by Perez. BEN HUNTER

V/A 'Back Up: Mexican Tecno Pop 1980-1989'
[Dark Entries]

An international sigh of relief went up recently, when precious Mexico City Hi-NRG dance club Patrick Miller announced it would reopen after a closing scare. This ear-opening compilation helps fill in the deep history of Mexico’s sincere, exuberant love of synth-pop, while introducing a range of experiments slotting into early industrial and techno. One highlight: Syntoma’s 1983 ‘No Me Puedo Controlar’ — a rapturous, lo-fi call to dancefloor rebellion. MARKE BIESCHKE


SHERELLE is sometimes perhaps unfairly marked as just a new-wave junglist, and she certainly does a lot of that, but as her new label BEAUTIFUL shows, her horizons are much, much broader. Roska, KG, Tim Reaper, Loraine James, Sheba Q and No Nation combined across 18 slammers from the disparate worlds of jazz, techno, jungle, amapiano, R&B, and even a haunting vocal turn from Mr. Mitch on a Scratcha tune. JAMES KEITH

V/A 'Blunted Breaks Vol.2'
[Western Lore]

Jungle/Drum & bass returned to prominence some time ago, but many of the most vital productions right now still fall within this sound. Western Lore’s output is a case in point, with the Bristol label run by Dead Man’s Chest perfectly suited to the emotional juxtaposition of dystopia and joy tangible since venues reopened. All 12 outings here feel rooted in the sheer happiness of reunification, existential anxiety that everything could end at any moment, and borrowed nostalgia of memories not yet made. MARTIN GUTTRIDGE-HEWITT

De Schuurman 'Bubbling Inside'
[Nyege Nyege Tapes]

‘Bubbling Inside’ is a 13-track collection of music that wouldn’t feel out of place on Nyege Nyege Tapes’ dance-focused sister label, Hakuna Kulala. A key component in the continuation of bubbling (or bubbling house) — the high-energy subgenre inspired by the crowd’s reaction when young Curacao-based DJ Moortje accidentally dropped a dancehall track at 45RPM rather than 33 — these tracks were largely never properly released and should be played loud. ROB MCCALLUM

AK Sports & Kessler 'Club Glow Vol. 3'
[Club Glow]

Club Glow proved unstoppable again this year, with a return to parties and the epic ‘Need U’ EP from Borai followed by this third installation in the label’s split tape series, the first from outsiders. On the A-side, AK Sports delivers sizzling hardcore and jackhammer techno alongside tongue-in-cheek samples, while the flip has Kessler raining down hellfire junglism with a dash of electro for good measure. Big choons all round. BEN HINDLE

Special Request 'DJ-Kicks'

Long-time electronic music soldier Paul Woolford’s 'DJ-Kicks' mix drew on several decades of dance music history while still remaining wonderfully sonically coherent. Woolford applied the knowledge gained from a lifetime spent making and playing tunes to create a truly cosmopolitan collection, with electro, disco, jungle, techno, house and electronica all getting a look in. Its egalitarian selections are like a tribute mix to all the genres Woolford, and we, have loved over the years and is the perfect DJing approach in these fractured times. HAROLD HEATH

Jayda G 'DJ-Kicks'

Kicking off with a tribute to her new home town (London), Jayda G’s 'DJ-Kicks' proudly reps her exceptional taste across house, disco, funk and techno. The Canadian DJ’s ear for melody and vibe, paired with her ability to spot and slam out a banger without a moment’s notice, makes her one of the most captivating DJs going. It’s all on show here, in one of the best 'Kicks' in years. DECLAN MCGLYNN

V/A 'DT002'

Though Daytimers launched last year and the history of South Asian talent stretches back much further, 2021 has seen many finally tune in. 'DT002', the collective’s second compilation, soundtracked this year’s movements, with many of the featured tunes popping up again and again at events like Yung Singh’s Boiler Room takeover and Dialled In. A true community project, the record brought together the vast sounds of the South Asian diaspora whilst raising money to support the Covid-19 crisis in India. SAFI BUGEL

Overmono 'fabric presents Overmono'
[fabric records]

Arriving just before dancefloors finally re-opened in England, this mix painted a heroic vision of what post-pandemic nightlife could look like: it could be empowered, aware, and truly inclusive. With vocal tracks like ‘I Have a Dream’ tapping into prevalent issues like attitudes to British multiculturalism, it’s definitely an important statement — but it’s also a roaringly infectious dance mix. With 29 tracks effortlessly blended across jungle, electro, rave, and almost everything in between, it’s enough to make you stop and think, but also melt into a dizzying bliss. CHIARA WILKINSON

V/A 'Friends Of Sub II'

In a time when all artists were forced apart, Voigtmann brought a sense of togetherness with the second outing in his 'Friends Of Sub' series. Artists from far and wide create the colourful tapestry of the compilation, but one theme that runs throughout is its distinctively London sound. Melding breaks, minimal, UKG, and heralding the artists who’re making moves in the scene, released in lockdown it shows the dedication and staying power of the label and everyone involved; here’s to many more. ANNA WALL

SHERELLE 'fabric presents SHERELLE'
[fabric records]

Straight into the fast lane from the off, as befitting SHERELLE’s headline status after a comparatively rapid rise to fame, this mix for the celebrated London club brand bookended the end of a huge year for the Hooversound boss. A frenetic gallop through jungle old and new, high-octane footwork, jungle techno, and including her own ‘Jungle Teknah’ track halfway through, this rowdy mix with serene interludes confirmed what we knew already — that SHERELLE is someone completely at the top of her game. CARL LOBEN

V/A 'IDMEMO - A Future Of Nostalgia Vol. 1'
[Above Board Projects]

The strain of home-listening electronic music that rose to prominence in the early ’90s — sometimes dubbed IDM — has come to the fore again in the last few years, as rigid genre classification becomes meaningless and DJs dig for lost treasures from that era. Vladimir Ivkovic & Ivan Smagghe’s compilation ‘IDMEMO - A Future Of Nostalgia Vol. 1’ brilliantly explores the sound, foregrounding melody and atmosphere. The mystic tones of rarities from Reload, Abfahrt Hinwil and Replicant can be heard echoing through the works of artists like Mikron and Mause today. BEN MURPHY

V/A 'Intermission'

Nothing captured the essence of metamorphosis and adaptation that the pandemic forced upon electronic music more than 'Intermission'. Conceived as an extension of Unsound’s online 2020 festival, the compilation developed into a full-blown standalone project filled with experimental musings on the pandemic. Featuring cuts from Tim Hecker, VTSS, JLIN and the late SOPHIE, 'Intermission' is a compilation that weaves together its contributors’ work to turn individualised experiences of a harrowing time into a beautiful collective catharsis. KELLY DOHERTY

V/A 'It Was Always There Vol. 1-3'

What with live music’s cessation, fundraisers and Bandcamp Fridays, since 2020 the music we've decided to buy has felt more important than ever. Loads of labels and organisations have done amazing work to contribute in some way, but with 'It Was Always There', 3024 built a community of support for young and emerging artists that felt considered and permanent in a way that was hard to ignore. That the compilations are full of head-twisting bangers from acid reggaeton to wrung-out d&b doesn’t hurt either. THEO KOTZ

V/A 'J Jazz Volume 3: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan'

This 13-track compilation served as a reminder of the beauty of music. In the coldest month, amidst the strictest lockdown, in what felt like a winter of despair and solitude, this array of Japanese jazz sought to create a balm for the soul, washing away the negativity which surrounded us, allowing the listener to be transported away to a different era. Illuminating Japan's golden period of jazz, this compilation allowed for a love of music to be reinstalled while offering a space to discover new artists and sounds. DHRUVA BALRAM

V/A 'Madorasindahouse Selects #3'

The ever-growing label Madorasindahouse put together an audio showcase of the finest talent it has to offer. One of the most influential music platforms within the scene, which started as a YouTube channel and now encompasses events production and a music label, the Madorasindahouse mission is to spread a deeper understanding of the essence of African-inspired house music on a global scale. This compilation demonstrates how everyone's vision of modern day electronic music has changed and progressed for the better. KITTY AMOR

V/A 'Message From The Parazone'
[Parallax Recordings]

One of the most highly anticipated releases of 2021, Berlin-based hardcore/jungle label Parallax Recordings did not disappoint when ‘Message From The Parazone’ finally arrived. Boasting 16 tracks across the vinyl (plus a digital bonus track and three DJ mixes), there was no finer snapshot of the modern jungle scene this year. Crashing Amenism, storming four-to-the-floor, screaming rave stabs and crusty vocal snippets, ASBO-worthy basslines — names like Double O, Tim Reaper & Dwarde, Pete Cannon, Dev/Null, K Super, Champa B and more delivered the lot, all wrapped in a gorgeous quadruple 12” package. BEN HINDLE

V/A 'Molten Mirrors - A Decade Of Livity Sound'
[Livity Sound]

Few labels have been as central to UK dance music’s evolution in the past decade as Livity Sound. With this 18-track anniversary compilation, Peverelist’s Bristol imprint celebrates the exploratory ethos that has defined its output to date, folding elements of UK funky, techno, house, grime and garage into sub-bass foundations. Label regulars Batu, Hodge, Simo Cell and Kowton appear on top form, as do more recent contributors Azu Tiwaline, Surgeons Girl, Two Shell and Bakongo. A landmark release from a label that is endlessly innovating. EOIN MURRAY

V/A 'Muzique, Vol. 1'
[Odyzey Music]

‘Muzique, Vol. 1’ marks a special moment not only for label boss and world bass producer, CloZee, but for the diverse community of artists she is cultivating. Featuring selections from some of 2021’s breakout glitch-hop and downtempo stars — such as Tripp. St., Dreamers Delight and VEIL — ’Muzique, Vol. 1’ is a healing collection of organic, meditative and downright ethereal tracks that offers a glimpse into what’s on the horizon for the fledgeling imprint. Roll out your yoga mat and clear your mind because this listen is a vibey one. Make sure to check out the smooth collab CloZee produced alongside her brother Jead, ‘Please Come Home’ — we can’t be the only ones who want to hear more flute up in the club. MEGAN VENZIN

Curses 'Next Wave Acid Punx'

As compilations go, Curses’ ‘Next Wave Acid Punx’ is a beast. Through 38 tracks it explores 40 years of music, with the added bonus of 12 new, exclusive tunes. Berlin-based Luca Venezia calls upon some of the scene’s stalwarts and rising talents, with features from Local Suicide, Pablo Bozzi, Kendal and Shubostar. This is something to keep going back to for years to come. It is hard to describe such a stacked compilation, but it feels rebellious and dangerous, but equally romantic. What a ride. LIAM SMITH

V/A 'Now Thing 2'

2021 saw an ongoing exploration of dancehall rhythms within club music as numerous producers — Otik, Florentino, TSVI, to name a few — continued to build on the sound that Mr. Mitch dubbed ‘techno dancehall’ in 2018. ‘Now Thing 2’, a compilation compiled by Felix Hall, producer Richard Browne and Lil’ Toby, looked back through to some of the turn-of-the-century dancehall riddims that have inspired new producers probing the sound today. Following up on the release of the first instalment for the Mo Wax label in 2001, ‘Now Thing 2’ was a journey through the minimalist, bass-heavy instrumentals that light up dancehall floors. CHRISTIAN EEDE

V/A 'NS001'
[Natural Selection]

London-based collective and event series Natural Selection has had an active presence on the UK circuit since 2010, but in October, the team launched their eponymous record label with a stacked V/A, showcasing an astral blend of futuristic electro and hard-hitting techno. Cressida, Annie Hall, The Advent, DJ Skull and many more contributed to the 23-track compilation, each of whom have made a significant impact on the evolution of Natural Selection over the last 10 years, truly reflecting the ethos of the imprint. NIAMH O’CONNOR

V/A 'Nhạc Gãy Tổng Hợp Số 1'
[Nhạc Gãy]

Based in Ho Chi Minh City, the Nhạc Gãy club night has been the driving force behind a new electronic underground in Vietnam, railing against conservative ideology and the domination of the local market by foreign DJs and sounds. This debut compilation highlights homegrown artists and some from the Vietnamese diaspora via carnivalesque gabber, throbbing warehouse techno, distorted house and glitched-up trap, repurposing traditional instrumentation for a hypermodern rave culture. It’s wildly varied but linked by a true punk energy that makes it sound like an experimental live set when played as a whole. BEN HINDLE

V/A 'Planet Love Vol. 1 - Early Transmissions 1991-95'
[Safe Trip]

As the reopening of dancefloors in the UK loomed closer, I found myself wanting for a euphoric palette more than ever. So when Young Marco's label Safe Trip put out this glittering and trippy compilation of early '90s trance cuts in June — a collection of hits, rarities and undiscovered gems — it tapped into my most primal dancefloor desires. In the words of the great Omar-S, 'Here’s your trance, now dance!' KATIE THOMAS

V/A 'Redline Legends'
[Eastern Margins]

High-drama, higher-tempo bangers don’t always lend themselves to extended formats, but the gems put forward by diasporic collective Eastern Margins are endlessly inventive and compelling, so the buzz never wears off. ‘Redline Legends’ showcases producers from cities like Yogyakarta, Manila, Almaty and Hangzhou on their terms, allowing hybridised styles incubated in the lucent reflection of arcades, food stands and PC monitors across the East and Southeast Asian region to flourish. Overlook this at your peril — the comp is all killer, no filler. GABRIEL SZATAN

Om Unit 'Retrieval'

Such a varied selection of electronic goodies and hidden gems from Om Unit is a gift for fans of the Bristol-based electronic producer. Featuring some unreleased material, as well as vinyl-only releases and long-lost tracks, ‘Retrieval’ — a Bandcamp exclusive — radiates jagged bass and warped sounds from the 10 tracks on offer, taking the listener through various stages of sonic movement from across Om Unit’s illustrious career. MICK WILSON

V/A 'Sharpen, Moving'

This excellent compilation of future-facing leftfield club tracks missed last year’s best of lists by dropping at the very end of November, but it served as a fitting soundtrack to last winter’s isolation. Heady and tensile atmospherics course throughout its 12 wide-ranging mind- melters, from the likes of Mang & GRAŃ, Peter Van Hoesen and label head, Batu. Even while relegated to seemingly indefinite home listening at the time of its release, ‘Sharpen, Moving’ signalled how far Timedance had pushed dancefloors in the past five years, and where it still could (and would) take them in a post-lockdown world. ZARA WLADAWSKY

V/A 'Shouts 2021'
[Rhythm Section International]

‘Shouts 2021' blew the Rhythm Section sound wide open thanks to bossman Bradley's Zero tireless A&R. It proves a genuine and boundless dedication to new music, taking in spoken word poetry, futuristic trap, neon R&B and super-smooth jazz-funk, next to a range of compelling worldly rhythms from producers across the globe. Collections as vast and vibrant as this don't come along often, especially when each track manages to excite and emote on so many different levels. A superb piece of work by all. KRISTAN J CARYL

V/A 'SOS Music Vol. 2'
[SOS Music]

After dropping an impressive first instalment in 2020, LA’s SOS Music returned this November with the follow-up. Shining a light on a global selection of talent, contributions come from the likes of Baby T, Aura T-09, Regularfantasy, Yazzus and Closet Yi, who move through experimental club sounds, spacey progression, and killer breaks and synths. It’s a flawless showcase, with label founders Maddy Maia and Tottie’s cosmic cut ‘Spirit’ a standout. AMY FIELDING

Aleksi Perälä 'Spectrum Analysis'
[Repetitive Rhythm Research]

Finnish producer Perälä has spent the last 20-odd years making funky, melodic, minimal techno — much of it along the Colundi scale, a spiritual tuning system invented in his IDM-soaked Rephlex days. There’s a rigour to Perälä’s music that could feel cold, but it’s brilliant and tender; hundreds of variations on a theme, detailed in a dizzying discography. This triple vinyl collects the best from his seven-part 'Spectrum Analysis' series. For the curious, start here and work your way back — all the way back. LAUREN MARTIN

V/A 'Stay True Sounds Vol. 3'
[Stay True Sounds]

With South Africa upholding its reputation for having an unappeasable appetite for house, pioneer and label owner of Stay True Sounds, Kid Fonque has been a stalwart in discovering new local talent, which he showcases on the third volume of the STS compilation series. Across 20 productions ranging through deep, Afro- and soulful house, SONIDO’s opening ‘All Day’ breaks like the dawn, Sio and SGVO’s ‘Locked’ demands repeat plays, and China Charmeleon’s nostalgic ‘Ndikhokhele’ is a standout amongst the country’s groove-worthy house legacy. SHIBA MELISSA MAZAZA

Manix 'Stupid Dope Years'
[Reinforced Records]

Manix, aka Mark Anthony Clair, one half of 4hero and co-founder of the hugely influential Reinforced Records, is a UK legend whose influence is immeasurable. So ‘Stupid Dope Years’, a remastered double-CD of his early singles, is not just a thrilling snapshot of the early '90s rave scene, but also Clair’s hand in shaping it. Mashing up dancehall, rare groove, hip-hop breaks, sub-bass and hoovers, all with distinct musicality and emotional heft, these timeless classics are testament to Clair’s defining imprint on hardcore, jungle and beyond. JOE ROBERTS

V/A 'The Charity LP'

When it comes to V/A albums in drum & bass, there’s never been a release as substantial or unified as DNB 4 Peace’s ‘The Charity LP’. Supersized people-power on a 63-track scale, the album was spearheaded by Bou following the tragic scenes of conflict in Israel and Palestine this spring. Supported by heavyweights and newcomers alike — from Alix Perez to Zoro — the album featured an incredible roll call, showcasing d&b’s full multi-subgenre spectrum but most importantly, raising £35,000 for Medicin Sans Frontiers and showing the d&b community in their best light. DAVE JENKINS

V/A 'Tresor 30'
[Tresor Records]

Tresor’s 52-track album might seem intimidating at first glance, but it really is a treasure trove of techno music’s past and present — with inklings of what the future may hold. The record covers a lot of ground, exploring the different geographical traditions and the works of early pioneers, while also giving ample space to a new generation of artists, many of whom are based out of New York. It’s the perfect gift for techno-lovers and the techno-curious alike. RIA HYLTON

V/A 'xenolith v0.1'

Lisbon-based collective, Kaptcha put out this important compilation to raise money for Casa T, a shelter in Lisbon for trans and non-binary immigrants. Featuring Peach, Octo Octa and more, alongside Kaptcha founders Ketia, Kerox and Sasha Theft, this 12-strong collection of tracks flows with optimism from beginning to end. With an abundance of hot and sexy styles at play, Europa’s ‘Club of Cute and Angry’ is a particular tip — it’s the take on Timbaland’s ‘Way I Are’ we didn’t know we needed. SOPHIE MCNULTY

Want more? Read our top tracks of 2021 here