If ever there were a year that you could feel a seismic shift taking place in electronic music, it was 2019. Almost literally, as a rumbling under your feet. The truth is, the past few years in the genre had been slow: Despite the commercial explosion of EDM at the top of the decade, and the wave of opprobrium it generated from various corners of the underground and middleground, broad swaths of the dance-music scene didn’t offer much in the way of a counterargument—they just kept on doing what they’d been doing for years. And in many cases, that meant familiar, frequently retro-oriented house and techno, much of it indistinguishable from its inspirations from 20 years prior.
But in 2019, the status quo began to crumble, not just in terms of sound but also the people behind it. Much of the most exciting music came from relative newcomers, and many of them were women, trans, nonbinary, or queer, or artists of color, or some combination of the above—a far cry from the hegemony of straight, white dudes that had set dance music’s terms for far too long. The geographical center of power seemed to be shifting, too: London, New York, and Berlin remained key hubs, but some of the most unexpected sounds came via Kenya (Slikback), Uganda (MC Yallah), China (33EMYBW), or the Afro-Lusophone diaspora (DJ Nigga Fox), or from America-based musicians who incorporated their roots into their music (DJ Haram, 8ULENTINA, Debit).
In place of a dominant style, the sound of 2019 mirrored this radical openness. Four-to-the-floor rhythms gave way to the breakbeats and shifting syncopations of AMAZONDOTCOM, AceMoMa, and CCL x Flora FM. Peak-time requisites yielded to ambient instincts in the work of Barker, Leif, and Topdown Dialectic. Tempos swung wildly, from Dj Python’s dembow cadences to the breakneck rhythms of Jay Mitta’s singeli. And even in all this flux, dancers still clustered around a few enormous anthems, like Joy Overmono’s “Bromley” and Schacke’s “Kisloty People.”
These aren’t necessarily the 40 best songs of 2019—to make a list like that would be a fool’s errand. But they all represent chinks in the armor of dance music’s status quo; each one might be its own rabbit hole.
Photo Credit: Jase Cooper