The short players, free mixtapes, and online mixes that had the biggest impact on us this year, from great trance pop jams to vogue house reissues to b2b mixes.
Doss left a trail of pixie dust on the internet when her magical trance pop appeared earlier in the year, revealing a mysterious, enchanting presence with otherworldly vocals. The theory that Doss may be a play on 'DOS', or 'Disk Operating System', seemed valid with the not-quite-real voice and the lack of a physical vessel to attribute to the sounds. As much as it’s an emotional journey, Doss's self-titled EP also conjured up images of unlocked Dance Dance Revolution tracks at the arcade and secret trance raves where candy floss gets stuck between your fingers and raspberry slushies are served at the bar. Aurora Mitchell
Acéphale released the 'Doss' EP on April 28th 2014 (buy).
Mixtape, Double Denim
When Bayou first drifted into our lives last year with Cherry Cola, we were enamoured with his pretty, longing strain of understated pop music and R&B rhythms. The 18 months since then have seen a countless number of earnest, R&B-inflected artists appear and disappear faster than a Soundcloud takedown notice, but rather than settle on any one comfortable or predictable style, Bayou pushed himself above and beyond on his debut mixtape, 'Loopback'. Taking influence from the modern, elasticated production of a strain of underground producers and remoulding it to fit with his own songwriting style, Bayou produced a mixtape that was playful, adventurous, and forward-facing. Selim Bulut
Double Denim released 'Loopback' on May 12th 2014 (download).
More consistent than most debut albums and with better songs than the most heavily-plugged singles, 'Hearing Colors' was a crystal clear document of Eyedress's scuzzy production aesthetic and nihilistic-yet-vulnerable outlook. Collecting 12 tracks made by the synth punk musician in his bedroom in Manila, the Philippines, over the past couple of years, one of the most exciting things about 'Hearing Colors' was that it drew a line under Eyedress's old material in order to make way for the new. What he does in 2015 will be very exciting to hear. Selim Bulut
Eyedress self-released 'Hearing Colors' on April 10th 2014 (download).
EP, Night Slugs x Fade to Mind
For all those irritating advocates of the 'there’s-nothing-new-anymores', here’s one for your team from 1998. It’s a lost house recording rediscovered by DJ Total Freedom and dropped in the first joint release by LDN and NYC sister labels Night Slugs and Fade to Mind, fleshed out with a slaughterhouse remix by the aforementioned Total Freedom, as well as versions by L-Vis 1990 and the late DJ Rashad. It’s really quite astonishing just how much Icy Lake shares in common with the likes of Bok Bok, Nguzunguzu, and Mike Q - artists that emerged on the two labels over a decade later. There’s the disjunctive samples of a hollow kick drum, a rain of gun shots and a ringtone that puncture the chillly urgency of shattered glass and the creepy passive aggression of a phone message flatly announcing, I just thought I’d call before I throw myself into the icy lake. Steph Kretowicz
Night Slugs x Fade to Mind released the 'Icy Lake' EP on April 22nd 2014 (buy).
EP, Gum Artefacts
Probably one of the most challenging of the South London crew of producers inspired by a cosmopolitan pallette of musical miscellanea, Felicita’s second EP is the block that doesn’t quite fit the toy sorter of a sound obtusely shared with his PC Music peers. Beyond the hook of climb up eh (My hair, my eyes, my lips and my teeth) and the leap and bound of climb up eh, the rest of the tracks stumble through the energetic eclecitism of not-quite rhythmic banter. There’s the creepy-femme makeup tutorial and indecisive simulated flute in when you get home and the closing clatter of bring it, all of which make 'Frenemies' the uncomfrotable outcome of an unhealthy fixation on fun and frippery. Steph Kretowicz
Gum Artefacts release the 'Frenemies' EP on October 13th 2014 (pre-order).
EP, PC Music
'Western Beats' is a collection of spry tech house jams crammed with absurd samples, MIDI free jazz explorations, and OTT bass drops. Sarah Bonito pops up at one point and says the words "shower curtain" over and over. The artwork is Comic Sans on a white background, and the artist is literally called Kane West. The thing is, this is just too well put together to be treated as a joke or a novelty release: the drums are tight, the bass is driving, and the hooks are melodically rich. A lot of 'serious' house fans might turn their noses up at a PC Music release, but there’s a lot that they could learn from 'Western Beats'. Don’t forget me when you’re famous, Kane! Selim Bulut
PC Music released 'Western Beats' on September 1st 2014 (download).
Mix, DIS Magazine
Coming from a producer with a penchant for dancehall and intercultural collaborations, there’s a lot to be said for Palmistry's flair for creating a mix that flows seamlessly through emotional states. There’s the hyperactive Hispanic rhymes of Uli K and Blaze Kidd on EP harbinger Ascensión and melancholy British-Vietnamese rap of frequent collaborator Triad God’s So Pay La, as well as the playful standout of the producer’s own DROPdrip before the Jamaican patois of Alkaline’s bodily Gyal Bruk Out. 'Free Indeed's sound expresses a sonic Esperanto at its most lucid, where it takes what it wants and applies it liberally to an open-wide ouevre of globalised harmony. Steph Kretowicz
DIS Magazine released 'Free Indeed' on January 31st 2014 (download).
'Pinch b2b Mumdance'
Mix CD, Tectonic Recordings
As Pinch said to Mumdance in a conversation piece published on Dummy earlier this year, "in dance music you can only really present a proper document of the moment in a mix format." With this in mind, the two producers and DJs presented something akin to a collaborative LP with their state-of-affairs, back-to-back mix CD, but without any of the baggage that comes when dance producers do an album album. With Pinch moving his Tectonic label into a new phase with new signings and his Cold Recordings sister label (a vinyl-only imprint capturing a hybrid mutation of dubstep, grime, funky, and techno), and with Mumdance having a breakout year with singles like Take Time and his Weightless label, 'Pinch b2b Mumdance' is a no-nonsense document of two artists at the top of their game. Selim Bulut
Tectonic Recordings released 'Pinch b2b Mumdance' on June 30th 2014 (buy).
'PC Music x DISown Radio'
Mix, DIS Magazine
When PC Music first properly arrived with Hannah Diamond’s Attachment, everything about the label felt futuristic, alien and left you with that empty unsettling feeling - similar to the amount of air and uncomfortable space that infiltrated the label’s musical output. But before that, the majority of the London collective got together for a collaborative mix for DIS Magazine. It was a chance for them to present themselves as a tight knit group with a crystal clear purpose to produce unexplainable, forward-thinking pop music rather than a scattering of similar musical presences. Everything from A.G. Cook’s wonky rap edits to GFOTY’s talk-singing over stammering, metallic beats produced both an excited and perplexing reaction that was preparation for a year in which PC Music continued a prolific streak of releases that either welcomed you further into their hyped-up realm or made you screwface at every mention. Aurora Mitchell
DIS Magazine released on March 24th 2014 (download).
Mixtape, UNO NYC
After leaving Gang Gang Dance, the experimental, psychedelic electronic outfit that he started with Brian DeGraw in New York, Tim DeWit was shot in the chest at a bar while home in Michigan. Feeling at the lowest of the low, DeWit slowly but surely came around, and after a move back to New York he assimilated himself with the city’s underground, particularly the movements centring around Venus X’s GHE20 GOTH1K parties. DeWit’s first solo record, ‘IN.RAK.DUST’ is a product of his newfound creative energy, filled with shuttling rhythms, alien sounds, and mystical samples that’s bursting at the seams with ideas. Selim Bulut
UNO NYC released 'IN.RAK.DUST' on March 5th 2014 (download).
Click on any of the images above to launch the gallery.
Last year, we kept our favourite EPs and mixtapes out of our albums list. This was partly down to habit and partly down to puritanism, but it was also down to the fact that albums aren't easy things to release. They take an extraordinary amount of extra resources from labels and artists to produce, promote, and sell, and that needs acknowledging separately in its own roundup.
But as this list proves, some of the most exciting music to emerge in 2014 was released in short formats, online mixes, free mixtapes, DJ sets, and numerous other means that were often far more creative and captivating than the traditional channels. As the walls between formats and old models of distribution continue to fall, it's getting increasingly difficult to keep making these distinctions.
This list is dedicated to any non-album format that wowed us in 2014. These are things that either need to make a statement in a shorter space of time, things that excite the listener without giving the game away too early, that stand out from the pack while suggesting that there are bigger and better things still to come. While the list is skewed more toward the new artists who appeared out of nowhere and blew us away, there's still room for an old track recontextualised in new ways, familiar faces moving into thrilling new stages of their career, and musicians we've been admiring from afar finally putting out their first substantial body of work.