2014 was the year house heads reignited their love for melody. While shufflers continued to go wild for garage, a new generation have reared their heads, filtering mood and emotion into underground dance music in a way that hasn't been done since the late '90s. Ten Walls, Tale of Us, Mano Le Tough, Âme, even Leon Vynehall all make this year's Top 10, proving how progressive made a return in 2014 within a deep tech house format. However, that's not all that made us dance over the past 12 months. Dance music was as diverse and as rude as ever in 2014.
'Walking With Elephants'
From sunset house industrialist to prog tech house demi-god, it’s been a whirlwind 18 months for Lithuanian Marijus Adomatis. While piano house and Balearic nu-disco for labels like Needwant and Under the Shade allowed him to reach a glass ceiling as Mario Basanov, it’s the majesty of tracks for Innervisions, Life & Death and this for BOSO (since picked up by Warner Music) that’s seen him to smash through it as Ten Walls. And it’s only taken three releases. ‘Gotham’ featured in most end-of-year lists last year (including ours), ‘Requiem’ threatened this one, but it’s ‘Walking With Elephants’ that undoubtedly makes the cut in 2014.
The reason for Ten Walls’ meteoric rise is simple. He’s found a formula that works and has stuck to it. Comparisons to Gregor Tresher’s ‘Thousand Nights’ and ‘Mandarine Girl’ are tricky to avoid, however it’s the density of the production — that massive brass! — that makes Ten Walls stand so tall. And you can already hear his enormous influence on the many imitators emerging from the cracks. Prog is well and truly back — but this time it’s on Marijus’ terms.
A string of strong releases can make an artist bookable, but these days especially it only takes a single game-changer for them to become untouchable. Hot Creations' new hotshot Patrick Topping certainly became the former in 2013 with funktional bangers like ‘Walk On’ and ‘Any Amounts’, but ever since ‘Forget’ landed on the label with its aggressive klaxon, spine-tingling bassline and electroclash vocal, every man and his dog has wanted a piece of Patrick Topping in 2014. Tapping into the “shuffle house” zeitgeist of the year while giving it his own irresistible twist, ‘Forget’ is a tune none of us are ever likely to forget.
'Can't Do Without You (Tale of Us & Mano Le Tough Remix)'
The original whipped up a storm, drumming up radioactive hype around Dan Snaith’s sixth album as Caribou. However it’s the tag-team re-edit from two of tech house’s most progressive artists that really got DJs onboard. Not that the original is unplayable, something proved by Midland at Glastonbury. But by slamming a 4/4 under tear-jerking major chords and overlaying Snaith's supernatural frequencies over an epic breakdown and drop, Caribou's halcyon summer anthem gets expertly reworked especially for the dancefloor. Hammered by Sasha, among many others, it's offered some pretty massive moments.
Sailor & I
'Turn Around (Âme Remix)'
Life & Death
If 2013 was Dixon's year, this one belonged to Âme; the Innervisions duo who made probably the year's most emotive remix. The German duo have a history of giving indie-pop a deep, textured disco re-rub, and somehow making it sombre and uplifting at the same time. Their 'Howling' re-edit was one of 2012's most played, laid down by the likes of Solomun, but their reinvention of Sailor & I's emo-dream-pop is what really took things next level. Turning the original into an eye-liner ballad of Emperor of the Sun magnitude, it's the slow, forcible drive — the languid tension of the build — that made their version of 'Turn Around' such an unbeatable tool for proggy deep house DJs in 2014.
Sam Shepherd made quite a comeback in 2014. Despite working with Fatima and as part of Floating Points Ensemble, there was a genuine sense that we'd been missing something as timeless as 'Vacuum Boogie' or 'Love Me Like This'. And then in the summer this came along. A bulbous slice of boogieing funk that wouldn't be out of place on ToeJam & Earl's spaceship. Built of unsteady hi-hats and a jazzy off-kilter time signature, 'King Bromeliad' is a masterful creation that reinvents the wheel.
'Are You There? (Ben Klock Remix)'
When the technoid drums of Ben Klock's remix of Josh Wink's classic 1996-issued 'Are You There?' — released as part of a brace of reworks to celebrate the Ovum label's 20th anniversary — make way for a new layer of clanking metallic Amen break, the result is simply hair-raising.
Originally custom-made for Ben Klock's 'Fabric 66', it was cleared for use on the comp on the proviso that the label could possibly release it later, when the time was right. That day happily came in April. A wicked combination of techno hammering and funkier breakbeat clatter, it's a crossover track in the best possible sense, reaching out far beyond the fanbase of either Wink or Klock on their own in 2014.
Seven Davis Jnr
'One (Live Edit)'
Released originally on Must Have Records in 2013, it wasn't until Luke Solomon and Derrick Carter got their hands on it for Classic in August that Seven Davis Jnr really began to get the credit he deserved. A soulful Detroit-inspired deep house jam, 'One' could almost be a tribute to Moodymann. He's even heard craftily cutting the EQs on the 'Live Edit', the tune recorded in a single take. The deeply slung groove of the production work might ooze character, but it's Sev's slender vocal tones that make him such an exciting talent to watch. With his collaboration with Doc Daneeka 'I Promise' dropping on A Thousand Yen this month, you can expect things to truly go ballistic for Seven Davis Jnr in 2015.
Everything Phillip Lauer touches turns to gold. It runs in the family, even his brother is blessed with a similar Midas touch, getting in on the action for the breath-taking 'Here's Your Trance Now Dance'-style odyssey on 'HQ' for Live At Robert Johnson earlier this year. His housier work with Gerd as Tuff City Kids is also marvellous. However, the pick of the bunch in 2014 was Italo bomb 'Hershel' on Permanent Vacation in the summer. Built over a jacking hook, soft Balearic pads and bouncy disco bassline, it's the '80s electro synths that make it. Exceptionally constructed — it winds and builds to ecstatic effect — Lauer is a magician!
Clone Royal Oak
2014 will be remembered as the year that elegant melodies returned to house; even finding their way into the hyper-cool strokes of Leon Vynehall, whose unique breed of outsider house really came into its own this year. 'Butterflies', appearing on Clone spin-off Royal Oak in July, is a wholesome concoction of heavy grand piano chords, a gut-pummelling 4/4 and tech-y clicks that make it as playable for bass music's most industrial as it is for journeying house DJs who like to take it deep. A majestic tune from a magnificent producer.
Oliver $ & Jimi Jules
Oliver $ and Jimi Jules aren't the first people to sample Alice Russell's vocals on Quantic Soul Orchestra's 'Pushin' On'. Jem Atkins did it for Sneak's Magnetic label in 2012 (remixed excellently by Darius Syrossian). Nixwax's Rob Amboule did it for 2020Vision the following year. Both to respectable acclaim. For Oliver and Jimi however, it proved to be a winning formula that would not only define their careers, but scored them a No.12 UK chart hit. Recalling the '90s house heyday when handbag house reigned supreme, the success of 'Pushing On' was a sign of the times in 2014. However, rather than merely being in the right place at the right time, these two have made their own luck. Despite ubiquitous play on the radio and at the gym, it still sounds bloody great.
'Drip Dawn (JTC's I-94 Lick)'
'Can't Find A Reason'
'The Way U Do It (Jacques Renault Remix)'
'Talking To You'
'You Can't Fight It'
Fly By Night Music
Feel My Bicep
Trumpet & Badman
Unknown To The Unknown
Damiano Von Erckert
'Diamonds & Girls'
Noir & Hayze
'Angel (Ripperton Remix)'
Live At Robert Johnson
'DAM (Akkord Remix)'
Genius of Time
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.