Two-thousand-twelve was an especially good year for electronic dance music in the Bay Area. Local club culture is experiencing a full-on renaissance that's bringing a whole new group of producers, labels, and promoters pushing exciting new sounds. There's a lot of stuff out there to choose from, but here's our list of the 10 best electronic dance music releases from the Bay Area underground.
Since its debut last year, Pillow Talk has easily become one of the biggest groups out of San Francisco. In fact, it was just rated the 11th best live dance music act in the world by Resident Advisor. That's no small amount of praise, and its entirely earned by the group's hectic touring schedule. Though Pillow Talk has released a couple records this year, our favorite was this three-track EP of soul re-edits. Sure, it's not exactly the full-on Pillowtalk sound, but there's something about it that gets to the heart of what it's all about. We included Pillow Talk on our 2011 year-end list, and described the EP as "what we imagine Rookie Ricardo's might be stocked with in 2043." That's definitely applicable here -- just listen to the hypnotically loopy "The Real Thing" and you'll hear what we mean.
"Face Love Anew"
Stereogamus might not be from San Francisco, but the imprint putting this out certainly is. HNYTRX is the label arm of S.F. gay nightlife fixture Honey Soundsystem and this marks its first 12-inch release. "Face Love Anew" is a stomping house tune that mixes bits of retro appeal with a cutting-edge arrangement that, as it says in the press release, "activates all the pleasurable regions." To get even more local, Honey Soundsystem resident DJ Jason Kendig has a remix on here that pushes things in a darker '80s Chicago direction. As a whole, it's a killer single from one of the best parties in the city.
Another party that recently launched a label is the ever forward-thinking Icee Hot. The first EP comes from resident DJ Ghosts On Tape, a producer who's lived in the Bay Area for some time now. Yet while his previous releases were rooted in bass, his latest rides in the blurry space between techno and house. A-side "Nature's Law" is a delirious vortex of samples and stabs over brutal stop-start percussion. On it's own it would warrant a mention on this list, but the release really drives the point home with B-side "No Go" and deep remixes by Underground Quality's Jus-Ed and Lazer Sword's Lando Kal.
2012 was a good year for Holly Herndon. A Mills-trained composer and current Ph.D candidate at Stanford, her music traces a line between the dancefloor and the academy. The focus of her music is her own voice, which she plays with extensively on Movement, her debut LP. The result is a varied and challenging album of bizarre cyborg landscapes that's a natural fit for the city's post-human dancefloors. You may have heard the titular single, but be sure to sample some of the trippier tracks like the techy "Fade" and genuinely strange "Breathe."
Ghettos and Gardens
Given his arrival in 2003 with "The Sad Piano," saying that Justin Martin's LP debut has been a long time coming would be an understatement. Ghettos and Gardens is a comprehensive look at the many sides of the Dirtybird co-founder, with a balance between heavy-hitting festival bangers and lightly melodic tech house ballads. There's a wide amount of variety on offer, as well as some guest spots by Dirtybird friends Leroy Peppers and Pillow Talk. Get down with the harder side of the album with "Ruff Stuff," but also be sure to listen to the techy, drug-fueled lament of "The Gurner," a highlight of the release.