As every year, we present our annual round-up of our favourite records of the year. Albums, singles, compilations and reissues are all here. It seems the dance / electronic scene, from a music point of view, is as healthy as ever. Tales of a vinyl boom may be misled (ask any label that presses 300 copies instead of the 5000 they pressed up a decade ago) but there is a healthy scene out there for new, fresh music on independent labels. Distributors of this music seem to be starting up every week, as well as the labels themselves… there is so much new music to go through to find the gems, in what can be a sea of easily-produced mediocre music.
The good stuff does shine through, however. Labels such as Whities, Central Processing Unit or Meda Fury have provided us with some choice records. In-demand small presses, of course, create a lot of hype but with due reason – if only we could get more Deep Covers, Acting Press, S.O.N.S, Social, Hostom to satisfy the demand.
There has also been lots of discussion about pressing plant problems/delays, of course, the majors always get first place in the queue but these delays are not only caused by them. It’s just the sheer demand on a limited number of plants – with some new plants opening up next year, let’s hope this eases.
So enjoy our selection, and remember, even though its tagged ‘Best of 2017’, this is just our own opinion (or an amalgamation of many opinions of the staff here), some regular customers, our sales charts (so those records that have sold well this last year are featured too!). It doesn’t mean that No. 1 is better than No. 100, far from it… just see this as a checklist to see those records you loved, listened to, danced to, heard about or those ones you may have missed. See you all in 2018!
Make sure you check out our Best Of 2017 playlist on Spotify too!
Our album selection gets more and more varied each year, where it’s not only electronic & club music we are embracing.
Our top 100 reflects both the diversity of opinion amongst staff members here at Phonica and the sheer variation amongst records being made in 2017.
Afrobeat, Disco (and disco from less explored countries has been a feature this year), House, Broken Beat, Kosmiche, Synthwave, Grime, Ambient, Techno, and indefinable records which explore new boundaries.
And this is what makes our life more interesting, not knowing what we are going to hear as we open boxes from far-flung labels and reliable distributors who just keep on finding us mind-blowing music. Unique electronic albums from Cru Servers, DJ Python, Errorsmith, SW, Albinos, Actress, Ninos Indigo, John T. Gast has led to a far better selection of outstanding long-players this year.
Rather than focus on particular tracks, we prefer to focus on entire singles here at Phonica, be they 7inch, 10inch or 12inch – there has to be a physical release for it to be included in our chart. It’s the hardest chart of all to compile. So, what can be said of the ‘sound’ of the 2017 single?
Many trends have passed through our racks this year. The ‘lo-fi’ house aesthetic continues to remain strong and has actually converted into genuine big-selling lo-fi anthems from the likes of DJ Seinfeld, Mall Grab and DJ Boring and reliable labels such as Lobster Theremin, E-Beamz, Shall Not Fade, Distant Hawaii and the like.
There has definitely been a resurgence of releases revisiting the rave aesthetic and the sound of the breakbeat (even drum n bass) such as the likes of Textasy ‘Welcome to the Darkroom’, Coco Bryce releases, Dj Normal 4’s huge ‘5 Elements EP’ or even the more melodic ‘Rave sunrise’ sound permeating tracks from Shanti Celeste or practically the entire Bicep album (but especially ‘Glue’).
The trouble with our favourite singles chart is that a lot of these records have gone and won’t be coming back – limited presses create hype and a lot of labels are happy to see this hype build, Discogs prices rise but mostly, in the end, a repress does appear and that’s when the record gets noticed. Whities, Acting Press, Regelbau / HELP, Sued, Firecracker and World Building are all labels we struggle to get as many copies as our customers want. Conversely, there are still huge records that just continue to fly out as soon as they come back – Midland’s ‘Final Credits’ has now been Phonica’s bestseller for 2 years in a row!
The top positions were impossible to decide so see the entire top 10 as equal as many of us staff could not agree on our favourites of the year…
The compilation (as we used to know it) is not as big as it once was. As we saw last year, playlists and mixes have become the new ways for DJs to show off their sets and only the established series such as Fabric and DJ Kicks seem to be releasing mix CDs these days. However, we have definitely seen the increased popularity of ‘Curated’ collections with some choice platters, such as Jan Schulte’s ‘Tropical Drums Of Deutschland’, Dekmantel’s Selectors series and Bill Brewster’s ‘Tribal Rites’ collection. These unmixed collections of tracks can concentrate on a micro-genre, a geographical area (John Gomez’s excellent ‘Outro Tempo’ compilation of Brazilian music was a highlight) or even a cross section of many genres but having a common thread… this reflects digging culture and diversity in DJ sets, ways in which you can be original when presenting records to people despite an age when everything is on YouTube!
The top of our compilation pile this year was a DJ’s selection highlighting a particular sound linked to Italy in the early 90s – whether catching a wave or starting a trend, this particular release was perfectly timed for the return of breezy, summery Italian house which continued all year.
The reissue market has grown considerably in the last few years thanks to the resurgence of vinyl. Both the house and disco reissues provide many choice unforgotten gems and huge anthems from the past with labels such as Mint Condition, Flash Forward, Isle of Jura and Floating Points’ Melodies label starting just to provide us with choice reissues. Not to forget the excellent work of Josh Cheon’s Dark Entries label which gives us the most obscure post-punk or synth-wave release one day and then a huge Italo disco reissue the next – with a lot of love spent on mastering and artwork, setting the blueprint for other labels.
Recently, we have also seen classic labels such as Salsoul releasing unofficial mixes ‘officially, with the likes of Pangaea’s mix of Loleatta Holloway’s ‘Stand Up’ getting a full release and a stamp of approval from the Salsoul label.
Far too many to feature in this countdown and far too many records to compare – how can we compare a 1988 house record with a 1978 funk / soul / disco crossover rarity anyway? And how old does a record have to be before it is considered a reissue, rather than just a repress?
The records we have featured on this list are here for a number of reasons – they have either sold phenomenally well in the shop and online or have been records held dear in the hearts of at least one member of staff here.
Reissue Albums & Collections:
The number of quality reissue albums and collections seems to be accelerating year on year at the moment. Whether it’s due to the ‘vinyl resurgence’ we are told is occurring by major news outlets, or perhaps the Discogs generation maturing and gaining the courage to email their favourite lost producers is not yet clear.
One trend that has been noticeable this year is the interest in Japanese ambient albums – those records that have been considered ‘holy grail’ records and fetching enormous prices on Discogs – now lovingly restored and reissued such as Midori Takada, Yasuaki Shimuzu alongside lesser-known gems.
It’s also been a great year for the more conventional reissue/collection practice of re-exploring the classics. We’ve been treated to reissue albums spreading across all matter of genres this year, from electro to rock to soul to house and everything in between. Obvious standouts for us are the Metro Area and the B12 reissues (both the original Electrosoma and the collection of other tracks released around that time on Electrosoma 2).
2017 saw the continued rise of ‘eclecticism’ and wider audiences now tolerate and enjoy a varied selection of genres within a set. In fact, DJs who favour their collector side over functionality are on the rise and a few even rank high on several DJ polls. With a broader range of records being exposed by DJs, producers are also channelling a more diverse mix of influences. We have reached out to the artists behind some of the releases featured on these lists, as well as to some friends and regulars, to find out which releases they have been digging and who have influenced them in 2017.
Last but not least, our own staff have compiled their personal highlights of the year. As a team, we have discussed thoroughly the content and order of all the other lists and the results are a mixture of best sellers and Phonica favourites. This list is an opportunity to get to know our individual tastes better, this way you know who to talk to next time you are in the shop!