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Monday, December 17, 2012

The 10 Best Bay Area Electronic Records of 2012

Posted By on Mon, Dec 17, 2012 at 10:42 AM

  • Kahley Avalon Emerson

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.


Pillow Talk

Soul Edits

[W+L Black]

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.


Stereogamus feat. Shaun J. Wright

"Face Love Anew"

[HNYTRX/Cocktail D'Amore]

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.


Ghosts on Tape

Nature's Law

[Icee Hot]

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.


Holly Herndon


[RVNG Intl.]

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."


Justin Martin

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.


Vin Sol

The Line Up

[Soo Wavey]

Another new San Francisco label is veteran local DJ Vin Sol's Soo Wavey records, an imprint that's dedicated to putting out new interpretations on the theme of raw old-school house. So far that's included a handful of memorable works like the Soo Wavey Rhythm Tracks series and 5kinAndBone5 & Robert Jeffrey's "Penis Power." The Line Up is Sol's first solo release, and it follows a similar hardware-centric aesthetic with brutal drums and bit-crunched stabs. Check out "Break Point," the sample-heavy B-side, for a trippy experience that's almost as weird as the record's cover. (That's a good thing.)



A Night at the Haç

[100% Silk]

A lot of reviewers remarked that Roche's first release for 100% Silk didn't sound very much like the kind of music you'd expect to hear at Manchester's legendary, but now defunct, Haçienda club. Actually, the discrepency comes down to which "Haç" he's referring to. In this case, all signs point to Haçeteria, the monthly dance party that's played a major role in fostering an entire circle of up-and-coming San Francisco house producers (such as Roche). Given that information, the release's name makes sense, as its four tracks are all good examples of the kind of loose and live sound associated with that party. Listen to "A Night at the Haç" and "Outsider Insider" and don't forget to check out "Auragan," his other excellent release on Hieroglyphic Being's Mathematics imprint.


Bobby Browser

Just Browsing

[100% Silk]

Bobby Browser has been around for a little while now (actually, his duo with Greg Zifcak, Wav Dwgs, was on our 2011 list), but he's only recently begun to step out on his own. 2012 was a big year because it saw the release of Just Browsing, his debut EP, on 100% SIlk. Locals who've seen him know that he puts on an impressive live show with tables full of vintage hardware. That aesthetic translates to his record, with four tracks of brightly melodic keyboards married to the rhythms of ravey '80s house. Check out highlights "Smooth Cruise" and "Airbody."



"Make U Understand"/"Rest"

[Unknown to the Unknown]

This year has been especially good for 5kinAndBone5. The hardworking half-L.A./half-S.F. duo has certainly paid its dues, but it was only really in 2012 that the group stepped out into the spotlight. There were a number of reasons for this: the production of LE1F's "Wut," the outfit's creepy and hilarious Tumblr presence, and its string of bass-oriented releases. "Make U Understand"/"Reset" was one of its more high-profile singles of the year, as it was put out by respected U.K. label/YouTube channel Uknown to the Unknown. Even though 5kinAndBone5's sound has changed quite a bit since, this shows off the duo's studio chops and tasteful approach to bass music.



Worlds EP


This might technically be cheating, but we're really looking forward to the January release of Oakland-based deep house producer Aybee's Worlds LP, the follow up to 2009's East Oakland Space Program. In the meantime, he just put out this excellent four-song vinyl EP cut for club play. As you might expect from the Deepblak label head, the music is textural and atmospheric in the best way possible, with a cosmic slant that invokes space travel while still being rooted in a kind earthly funk. Listen to A-side "Landing" and you'll hear why Aybee's upcoming LP is so anticipated.

-- @DerekOpperman

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