Few mixes hold the clout of BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix, and nominations are now in for the title of 2016’s best entry. Plucked from a busy year in Pete Tong’s office, the five entries represent the crème de la crème of this year’s mixes, and it’ll be a tricky task selecting the winner from the high-quality shortlist. The victor will follow in the footsteps of Berghain technician Ben Klock, who took the award for 2015.
Âme x Dixon
In the least shocking news of the year, Dixon has just reclaimed RA’s top DJ award for a fourth time, and so it is no surprise that his b2b Essential Mix with Innervisions co-founder Âme was one of the year’s most fervently anticipated mixes. Atmospheric arpeggiated house in abundance with lots of euphoric fog and soaring synths - you know what you get when an Innervisions artist gets in the mix and this is a prime example.
Somewhere down the line, Dusky turned from a warmly appreciated act on the consistent Aus Music label to the biggest stars of the UK underground, and though we’re not exactly sure when or even how it happened, there’s no questioning their status as the people’s favourite house pairing. Perhaps not as eclectic as the likes of Midland or Vynehall, Dusky’s penchant for rave-influenced house with a distinct UK sound to it makes them a popular choice for this year’s top Essential Mix title.
When it comes to playing the publicity game, Leon Vynehall isn’t too interested. Fortunately, having become a bit of an enigmatic sensation with his debut album Music For Accelerated Culture, he almost doesn’t need to play the game at all.
A superbly talented producer and an eclectic DJ, Leon has justifiably been letting his music do the talking since he broke out in 2014 with Music For The Uninvited, and his Essential Mix in March last year was another example. Slinging together some of his own tracks as well as pieces by Steve Reich, Ploy, Fela Kuti and Can among others, Vynehall showed off his broad-ranging tastes with panache for days.
For a lot of artists, the second half of the name “Essential Mix” seems to be the focal point, but for Midland the emphasis was strongly on the “Essential”. Laying down tracks from all four corners of his musical repertoire, the Autonomous Africa co-founder gave us a look into his most treasured music, with Nick Drake, Patrick Cowley and Jai Paul among those thrown forward. Packing in some of his own edits and original tracks, there’s an undeniable danceability to the mixtape, but it feels less like a dancefloor-oriented composition and more like a mixtape made for the producer and his mates to enjoy on a road trip. Tracks like “The Rainbow” by Talk Talk are made for the mind, not the feet, and Midland’s willingness to subvert expectations and call the disco to halt during such a high profile mix demonstrates that this is a set of tunes that he genuinely doesn’t want to do without.
Few techno instrumentalists are as widely respected as Lorenz Brunner, aka Recondite, and this mix will only have strengthened his position. Dealing out two hours of his own productions, including plenty of unreleased material, the German demonstrated the unbelievable control that he has over atmosphere in his productions, using his machine-made rhythms and melodies to create soundscapes that feel like they were plucked from the natural world. Brooding and melancholic, the mix stirs with a distinct restlessness, tension often building to the point that a storm seems inevitable only to descend back into a simmering arrangement of chimes and background rhythms. A masterclass in captivating techno, it’s a strong contender for the top prize.
Once you’ve listened to all the mixes, there’s a good chance you’ll be craving a night at the hands of at least one of the artists on show, and fortunately Leon Vynehall, Dusky and Midland can all be caught in the UK in the near future. Both Vynehall and Midland are on the books for Feel My Bicep at The Warehouse Project this weekend, with Midland featuring in further shows in Manchester and Bristol in January. Dusky also have a busy winter ahead, with shows in Leeds and Brighton coming up in February. Keep your eyes peeled for further news as the summer festival announcements roll in over the next few months.
Words by Andrew Kemp
Photo courtesy of Gray Powell via Midland