Tracks, tunes, bangers, stinkers, rollers, steppers, heaters, hurters, slammers, bumpers, thumpers, sizzlers, scorchers, jams, cuts, grooves…. Whatever you want to call them, singles are the lifeblood of the dancefloor, they come at us at a rate of knots with hundreds released every week and still we crave for more.
But tunes are for life, not just for blink-and-miss hype, so we asked our team of contributors to look back and pick one or two of their favourites and celebrate them. These are just a handful of the thousands of tunes that have hit us hard throughout 2021.
Airstrike – Lion Up (Unchained Recordings)
It’s incredibly refreshing to see drum and bass being exported across the pond back to its country of origin and, if all of the USA’s exports are like the Texas born producer Airstrike, it goes without saying the dancefloors in the UK will be as dirty as a night club toilet. Now living in Brighton, Airstrike comes with dark deep sine wave judders ready to blow your sub apart. Lion Up is a fine example of his abilities… The atmospheric stabs that ride above the sinister bass and the organic rolling drums makes this track a must have for any discerning drum and bass connoisseur. (Jake Williams)
Benny L – Shut The Front Door (AudioPorn)
If, like me, your first true ‘holy shit this music is everything, it makes me feel ten times taller and want to take on the world!’ D&B epiphanies happened around the late 90s / early 2000s then Benny L’s Shut The Front Door doesn’t just strike a chord with you, it strikes an entire symphony of memories and feelings.
That catchy hook, that bubbling funk, the brazenness of it, the mischief, the muscle. It’s Bristol, it’s The End, it’s Bingo Beats, it’s Zinc when he was king of the world and untouchable in both D&B and UKG, it’s Chase & Status’s earliest releases, it’s Clipz, it’s Playaz… It’s everything that got me into this music but done with contemporary production, in a way that you instantly know it’s Benny L’s strong-armed signature.
On dub since pre-lockdown days and release on Benny’s awesome debut album Reactions, Shut The Front Door is one of those tunes you could double drop with anything or bring into any mix and it would add some gully panache. An ageless slice of good-times, knees-up D&B, it’s the type of D&B you’d play to someone who’d never heard the genre and wanted to get an instant flavour of its character. The type of D&B I’ve been championing as a writer ever since I first got bitten by it all those years ago and will be dancing to for a long time to come. Timeless… And wise advice for this time of year, too; keep all doors shut and you’ll save a packet on your heating. (Dave Columbo Jenkins)
Biome – Joker (Deep Dark & Danger)
Biome’s Joker has to be noted as a stand-out track this year for me. From the Joaquin Phoenix monologue sample to the overall vibe, weight and tone of the music, Biome has terrifically merged the second-to-none atmosphere of deep, dark dubstep with the biggest bad guy in the Batman universe.
The eerie melody in the intro serves as an omen… Only to return in a more dreadful and ‘uncontained’ form later on. A deep bassline answers, leading into a conversation between two elements – while a dying echo of a woman’s voice occasionally interrupts.
It’s as close to the sonic equivalent of Arthur Fleck becoming the Joker as you can get. Like he’s increasingly oscillating between the illusion – the ‘happy’ clown – and utterly, violently losing it and lashing out.
Badman Biome perfectly captures the essence and (d)evolution of his character so damn well. He nailed it on this release for Deep, Dark And Dangerous.
Finally: If this is what you really like, then the rest of The Joker EP will certainly please as well. Toting gun fingers included. (Michael Janiec)
Dimension feat. Liam Bailey – Lord’s Prayer (Dimension)
The deeply passionate, uplifting and ethereal sounds of Lord’s Prayer were a blessing to the ears in March 2021 as we emerged from a dark and bleak winter into a more hopeful, blooming spring. The release of the Organ album was inevitably a big day for drum and bass fans, with the 17-track LP including well-loved anthems like Desire and new favourites such as Offender. Lord’s Prayer is smooth, silky and emotional, whilst still packing a punch with the help of vocals from the unforgettable Liam Bailey.
Dimension somehow manages to make all of his tracks sparkle, sizzle or slap. Alongside the incredible vocal arrangements, he elevates a standard dancefloor track to an impactful piece of music that can make you feel empowered and emotional in equal measure. Lord’s Prayer is another example of why Dimension has reached such dizzying heights in the scene. (Hannah Gowen)
Fade Black – Elysium (Critical Music)
A collaborative project between artists Shyun and Cruk, Fade black have been tearing apart dancefloors since their first release on Critical Music in 2017. They have been closely associated with the label ever since they first joined and this latest release maintains the level of creative sound design and stellar, crisp mixdowns that we have come to expect.
The track emerges with beautiful atmospheric synth and strings then transitions into an uplifting bass melody for the build up. It then drops into ruthless syncopated bass stabs that are laid over what I can safely say are some of the tightest drums I think I’ve ever heard. This song is a masterclass in drum and bass and the technicality in production is second to none. Absolute wizardry. (Jake Williams)
Fox, DLR, Alix Perez – Walk Out (The North Quarter)
The guys involved on this one are three of the best. A trifecta of drum & bass virtuosos at the peak of their powers – of course it would be an anthem. The track appears on Fox’s NQ album Squang Dangs In The Key Of Vibes’ where it emerges as the rude, high-energy banger amongst mostly soulful tracks. On the beats, we’ve got the long awaited link up of DLR and Alix Perez – each bossing two of the best boutique labels in D&B. They deliver a menacing, brash instrumental for Fox to lay down some catchy and cheeky rhymes – it all comes together to create one of the most memorable tracks of 2021. Learn the lyrics, so you can join-in on the fun when it plays at the rave. (Sam Yates)
GLXY – New Soul (Shogun Audio)
I’ve been mumble-singing “step into my life” to myself all year. Released last February, New Soul still sounds extremely fresh, delivering a nice wee treat every time it’s heard in the mix – it’s certainly one I’d struggle to scroll past on the CDJ screen. The crisp, clear production and uplifting tones align with the time it came out – when spring was just hitting and there was a real sense of optimism about lockdown lifting in the UK. A perfect tune with a timely release, that should go down as a classic. (Sam Yates)
Inja & Charlotte Haining – Reach Out (Hospital Records)
Released in the middle of the year in July, just before the clubs reopened and the festivals were starting again, Reach Out landed at the perfect time. A real feel-good tune taken from Inja’s second studio album Smile & Wave, it’s a beautiful track, that never fails to lift my mood. With Whiney on production, Inja’s unmistakable flow plus Charlotte’s soulful vocals we’ve got a match made in heaven. I love how the energy in this track switches up throughout – with a deceiving soft start, then dropping with a hard bassline, with the chorus softening again. Would love to see Inja and Charlotte perform this live! (Louise Lake)
Earlier this year Jubei announced his own label Carbon Music, and the first release was one of the most anticipated tracks in recent years – the incredible Show Me, with DBridge. They certainly showed us; I’d heard it being played out before but never knew what it was, now we are blessed with the full length version. It’s been doing the rounds in sets for years, one of those classic dubplate situations where you know what the track is as soon as you hear it, especially thanks to that proper old school vibe that always gets me in the mood for a dance! Let’s face it, it was always going to be great with the likes of Jubei and DBridge on production but this one is particularly special because everyone now can put a name to the track and we can all play it to our heart’s content after being teased with it for so long. (Louise Lake)
Instra:mental & DBridge – What We Got (CNVX)
If Instra:mental were going to release music for the first time in two years, it only made sense for it to be in collaboration with Autonomic partner, dBridge. A classic from the vaults which has aged impeccably, What We Got fluctuates between the light and the dark as it oozes playful melodies with sci-fi atmospherics, synthetic percussion and those unmistakable Bridge vocals. Released on Kid Drama’s CNVX, the spacious tune has fans of the Autonomic era on the edge of their seats as it provides hope that Instra:mental could return to the studio and treat the world to some fresh music. However, at the very least it signals that more gems from the Autonomic era could continue resurfacing when we expect it the least but deserve it the most. (Purav Parmar)
Ivy Lab – Soul Sista (Feat. Frank Carter III) (Critical Music)
Ivy Lab making a return to the soulful liquid D&B sound we all fell in love with them for. What’s not to love? As sad as it is the duo don’t favour drum and bass anymore, it makes it all the more special when they release a one-off masterpiece like this. This track landed at the start of 2021 and kicked off the year with a bang. Not only is it a majestic production, it’s a meaningful one as it featured an unused vocal from Frank Carter III – who at the time of release had just lost a leg due to complications with an illness. Soul Sista was Ivy Lab and Critical’s way of paying homage to a vocal talent who played a key role in the birth of Ivy Lab, with all proceeds going to Frank and his family. Awesome tune, even better sentiment. (Jake Hirst)
Makoto – Spread Love (Hospital Records)
If ever there was a tune to come strutting out of lockdown to, it was Makoto’s sublime cover of Lenny Fontana’s 1999 soulful house gem Spread Love.
Pure disco in its spirit, total funk in its soul, already a tried and tested D&B banger thanks to Nu:Tone’s remix of the original way back in 2002, everything about this Makoto production screams positivity, which is exactly what we needed after coming out of THE bleakest lockdown which dominated the first half of 2021.
Featuring the rapturous dulcets of Pete Simpson and a whole host of live musicians, Spread Love is an example of how soulful D&B can be in the right hands and in the right context…. And, at a time when there are so many people following similar arrangements and textures, it’s also a reminder of what happens when D&B isn’t inspired by D&B but instead is reflecting other musical elements and influences, just like it was always meant to.
And if that’s not enough reason to highlight such a powerfully euphoric tune, it’s also worth noting that release was that it was part of Hospital’s 25 anniversary album which was one of the label’s most exciting and wide-armed VA curations to date. From Spread Love to a lovely spread, there’s a lot of love right here. (Dave Columbo Jenkins)
Particle – Fall 2 Fast (Drum&BassArena)
Particle’s uplifting jungle gem has had me falling too fast since it landed back in April on Drum&BassArena’s 25th anniversary series, and I’ll blame it on pure vibes. Renowned for experimenting with the darker shades of D&B, Fall 2 Fast saw Particle flexing a different side to his musical psyche, once again showcasing his versatility as a badass beatsmith.
From the cosmic intro, that infectious vocal and moody undertone – Fall 2 Fast’s triumph is in its ability to incite multiple emotions with its crisp, precision-produced delivery; it’s uplifting, emotive, atmospheric and melancholy all in one.
Guaranteed to elicit a genuine roar any time it’s unleashed in the dance, this tune has a real timeless quality to it and is definitely one of 2021’s guaranteed future classics. Long may it prosper! (Maja Cicic)
Simula – Angels (Neksus Sound)
This track takes top spot as the most unique, weird and wonderful tune of 2021. The ominous intro leads you down a dark and mysterious path towards a simple but twisted drop, with incredible drums and a synth that you can’t forget. Sneaking around on a few livestreams and club sets post-lockdown, this track was highly anticipated by many and shot up the beatport drum and bass chart, to no surprise. This follows a year of similarly masterful releases on the darker side of bass.
This tune became even more significant when placed in its hugely important context. Angels transcends beyond technical brilliance to promote and support the positive cause of mental health. A tale of the trials and tribulations of depression and anxiety, Simula uses his musical influence to create a track that is not only a crowd pleaser, but a fundraiser and advocate, too.
What more do you want from the tunes you listen to? Angels is a beast in the rave and a point of support all in one. (Hannah Gowen)
Skrillex, Noisia, josh pan, and Dylan Brady – Supersonic (My Existence) (OWSLA)
With what may well be their final ever release as arguably the most influential, forward-thinking, and talented trio to ever grace the world of electronic music, Noisia are signing off with one of their most distinct releases to date.
Collate their expertise with a titan of the industry and 8x Grammy Award winner Skrillex, as well further top-tier musical input from josh pan and Dylan Brady, and one of the most ludicrously intricate, finely polished, and undeniably iconic songs in recent times was curated in the form of Supersonic (My Existence)
Over the course of 20 years, Thijs, Nik, and Martijn have blessed this scene with incredible music and have left an indisputably illustrious mark on the scene. Although this story is finally coming to an end, it’s one that will most definitively live on. (Charlie Cummings)
Stay-C – Russian Doll (Hospital Records)
A newcomer to the scene with only a handful of D&B releases to her name, Stay-C caught many people off guard when she released Russian Doll on Hospital’s first Future Symptoms compilation – me being one of them. The tune has such an in-your-face raw energy and a beautiful sense of rave nostalgia (which many of us were badly missing at the time). Usually, debut releases go under the radar and get forgotten about over time, but I can see Russian Doll popping off at raves for a very long time. Keep your eyes on this young South African talent. She is only just getting started, but already producing music well beyond her years in the scene. (Jake Hirst)
In a year of fantastic vocal 140 linkups, this one from bonafide Manchester icon Strategy and Bristol bossman Fiend takes the cake for me. Seeing what was originally an off the cuff freestyle, uploaded to Instagram with that signature black & green overlay, grow into the beast that it is was a real sight to behold – surely I can’t have been the only one repeatedly going back to that video on a daily basis! Strategy is at the top of his game right now, and Fiend has had yet another stellar year, with this low-slung, effortlessly gritty production suiting the former’s ice cold Manny lyricism perfectly
In fact, the latter half of this year has been particularly incredible from Strats, and any of his recent drops could have made my picks for this year, so I’ve got to shout them out too… his fully-fledged Regents project with Cartridge saw the much-anticipated release of Greengate Adhesive on Truth’s Deep, Dark & Dangerous behemoth following support from the likes of Mary Anne Hobbs & Digital Mystikz, he produced the entirety of Sahala’s seriously sweet Nectar 4-tracker and of course, we’ve finally been treated to the anthemic Monty x Visages x Strategy x Pavan stinger Hardware. But, Premium Grease just about came out on top for me – I can’t wait to see what he gets up to next year, and whether Strategy & Fiend have more in the locker. (Cal Sorensen)
Sully – 5ives (Over/Shadow)
If you don’t know about Sully, then it’s high time you were properly acquainted with one of the most respected and brilliant musical minds in jungle drum & bass and beyond. Blasting 5ives on the biggest sound system you can find would be a great place to start…
My love affair with this masterpiece commenced as whispers of the highly-anticipated release started circulating just as clubs were announced to re-open following an 18-month pandemic-induced hiatus. It’s safe to say there was mixed anticipation in the air – nerves and trepidation about being thrust into a sea of people once again, but also an unmistakable buzz along with it as we prepared to experience music in the environment a lot of it was made for.
I first experienced the raw power of 5ives rumbling through my chest on my first clubbing experience post-lockdown in a dark, sweaty club buried in far east London, with Over/Shadow bossman Si (of the legendary 2 Bad Mice) unleashing the tune as his last track. Rattling through the VOID sound system, it subsequently caused the entire club to erupt in a frenzied roar. Naturally, the reaction garnered a well-deserved pull up, so back we went with just a moment to compose ourselves and process what we’d just heard and the emotion we’d just experienced, and I quickly realised this was the Sully tune I’d been waiting for… This was the clubbing moment I had been waiting for after a difficult 18 months of lockdown. Covered in goosebumps, grateful to be back, grateful to be hearing such sonics in such a setting, it was one of those moments I’ll never forget, and one of those tunes I’ll never forget hearing for the first time.
From the very first note, 5ives announces itself and sets the tone, immediately drawing you in to what can only be described as a powerful tribal war cry. Cinematic strings lead to all-out bass-driven warfare in a meticulously produced, multi-layered masterpiece that will forever remind me of everything I love about this music. Big up Sully, you absolute legend. (Maja Cicic)
Tsuruda – Migi (1985 Music)
Staking his claim as one of the most forward-thinking artists in electronic music today, LA-based wizard Tsuruda is certainly no stranger to the murky depths of sub-drenched bass music. Whether it’s his gloriously groundshaking half-time movements or 140bpm thumpers, his back catalogue has got something for everyone, and Migi is perhaps the pick of the whole bunch for me.
Initially making waves in Tsuruda’s sets, and as an immensely popular clip on Soundcloud that achieved certified cult status on the platform before it was made private prior to release – I thought to myself at the time, “where is this going to end up?!” Fittingly, it was picked up as the lead track of a full EP by none other than Alix Perez and his inimitable 1985 imprint. The label’s output has always been something to marvel at in terms of the sheer variety of tempos, sounds and variety on show, and Migi is an essential part of that prolific puzzle. The fact it was one of the first tracks I heard back in a club this year makes it even more special for me – acidic, syncopated and downright sonically corrosive in nature, Tsuruda’s Migi deservedly earns its place as one of our best tracks of 2021. (Cal Sorensen)