Talking about the best electronic music of the decade somehow feels wrong, because the sounds oozing, crashing and screaming out of the following 10 albums all feel as thought they’re from hundreds of years in the future. The restless spirit of experimental synthetic music is always ahead of its time — you only have to look at the music of pioneering artists 20 or 30 years ago and you’ll hear styles that are only just now settling into the mainstream. I think that’s why this sub-set of music still feels like the best kept secret which makes it all the more exciting. Whether it’s pummelling you with aggression, or carrying you with a whisper, soundtracking a transcendent night out or an intimate moment of complete privacy, everyone who knows will tell you that there’s far more emotion in 6 minutes of ‘computer music’ than there is an entire back catalogue from as chart-topping everyman.
Mount Kimbie — Crooks & Lovers (2010)
When I was 18 I moved to East London for uni and a song called ‘Maybes’ by Mount Kimbie completely upended everything I thought I knew about electronic music. I got completely lost in the lunar echoes and booms of its sound so when the pair followed it up a year later with a full length album I was all over it. When Mount Kimbie first formed they were briefly a trio with James Blake, which makes a lot of sense as their sound plays like his more playful side, before he sang. But the duo have a keener ear for groove and really lay the groundwork for the so-called Post-dubstep sound which dominated every club night and house party I attended for the next 3 years. Their manipulation and pitch-shifting of female vocal samples which they made so popular became as familiar to me as my own friends’ voices. It’s city mood music; head-bopping, eyes-closed, drink-in-hand music.
Listen on Spotify: Crooks & Lovers
Flying Lotus — Cosmogramma (2010)
I think I was originally drawn to Flying Lotus’ groundbreaking second album largely because I heard that Thom Yorke featured on it — which tells you how green I was to experimental beat music back then. But lying on my bed in halls really listening to this properly for the first time, it felt like I was floating up into the circle of light on the cover. It was an epiphany. To me it felt like listening to some dissembling the very constructs of music and using the pieces to create something completely new. But it was more than just the electronic components that hooked me. Centrepiece ‘Do The Astral Plane’ blended warm vocals samples and beatific strings with his driving pad sounds. It’s in those moments that you really do hear the ancestral inheritance from John & Alice Coltrane, his grand uncle & aunt — FlyLo is more composer than producer in his appreciation of form and world-building. He also acted as a gateway for me to become a fan of everyone else on his Brainfeeder label.
Listen on Spotify: Cosmogramma
Caribou — Swim (2010)
What does a club-ready album made by a doctor of mathematics sound like? Ecstatic and calculated in equal measure. Up until Swim Dan Snaith had made music to nod your head to, but this album set his sights on the dancefloor. The single, ‘Odessa’ womped artfully before the whole EDM thing ever happened. ‘Sun’ immediately called a tropical sunrise rave to mind, even if you’d never been to one while ‘Bowls’ sounded like a tribe working on Ableton. But it was the closer ‘Jamelia’ which really raised eyebrows. Featuring Born Ruffians’ Luke Lalonde, it injected soaring heartbreak into the album, finishing the record on a pleading howl. It inspired one of the most stunning fan-made videos I’ve ever seen, still to this day. Snaith would go on producing music to be danced to, but the follow up Our Love, while just as great, lacked the wild desperation housed on Swim which is why this is the one that holds a special place. A doctorate in maths gives you more emotion than you might think.
Listen on Spotify: Swim
Gold Panda — Lucky Shiner (2010)
Gold Panda chose to name his debut album after his Indian grandmother Lakhi Shiner. This is a great starting point in introducing you to the warm, inviting sounds of the album if you haven’t heard it before. While using samples to conjure emotion was not an uncommon practice at the turn of the decade, the producer AKA Derwin Dicker did something more magical with them. Rather than plumbing the 90s/00s R’n’B playlists for inspiration, he pulled from various world music to make his statement. Fitting from one who studied at School of Oriental and African Studies and spent time living in Japan; it’s truly an international affair. Following the blueprint set by Onra before him, Gold Panda explored the world to achieve the warm sounds on this album, that often make you feel like you’re on a rickety railway, watching desert land or mountain ranges blur past you. Most interestingly however is how – despite its restless wanderlust – the record feels like home, like a hug from an elderly relative.
Listen on Spotify: Lucky Shiner
Bonobo — Black Sands (2010)
I think it’s safe to say that a common feature among the best electronic albums of the decade was that they were transportive. Perhaps I connected with Bonobo because his journey started in Brighton, much like my own. His fourth record ‘Black Sands’ for at least a couple of years became completely inescapable. From university halls to art galleries, from coffee shops to nightclubs – his inimitably soaring dance music soundtracked anywhere creative people gathered. From the swelling violins of the opening songs you know this is something special, that’s supposed to mean something. It doesn’t let up from there til the end. ‘Black Sands’ taught me dance music could have an earnest beating heart at its core. It also ushered Andreya Triana into the spotlight; appearing on a quarter of the album’s songs. I was lucky enough to see Bonobo perform it all in full at the time and Triana came along with him – one of my favourite gigs ever. Much like the the album itself, the show was euphoric, mesmeric and inspirational.
Listen on Spotify: Black Sands
Nicolas Jaar — Space Is Only Noise (2011)
When I first heard Space Is Only Noise, the debut album from American-Chilean wunderkind Nicolas Jaar, my ears actually strained with the challenge of digesting something completely new, something completely different to anything they had heard before. The album is less a piece of music as much as it is a piece of physical artwork, an abstract sculpture that demands thought and consideration. Like the best modern art, it forces you to transpose you own sense of meaning to it without offering any easy answers. As the title teases, the record is preoccupied with the idea that electronic music is shapeless; impossible to qualify or contain. That’s my interpretation anyway. What’s clear is that it’s a stunning piece of music, one that Jaar would use to build and build upon in the subsequent years until his genius became indisputable. It opened me up to more ‘out there’ electronics such as Oneohtrix Point Never and Andy Stott; sounds that didn’t demand you to move, but to leave your current plain.
Listen on Spotify: Space Is Only Noise
Jon Hopkins — Immunity (2013)
I found it incredibly hard to choose between this, Hopkins’ breakthrough and 2018’s equally stunning Singularity but this won out in the end because of the indelible impact it made on British electronica. It landed like a bowling ball thrown off a multi story car park; pummelling physicality with a twisted beauty at its core. It is a concept album, of sorts. Meant to sonically depict the adrenaline peaks and serene dips of a night out; the album jumps in hard as the evening lurches into life. The first half throws you into the heady thrill of a crowded night club while the last 4 songs seem to represent the walk home as the sun slowly comes up. It’s an album for everyone whose Saturday night doesn’t start before 11pm, for everyone who’s had to shield their eyes from the piercing light of daybreak, for everyone who understands that there are certain truths that can only be obtained when you completely lose yourself to the night. It stands a head and shoulder above other dance records simply because it explores the calm after the storm as studiously as it does the party.
Listen on Spotify: Immunity
Jamie xx — In Colour (2015)
Soon after The xx’s quiet yet meteoric rise to fame it became apparent that their percussionist Jamie Smith could do much more than gentle, heart-beat pulses for the other 2 to sing over. But then a string of remixes released through 2011 hinted at production greatness, culminating in a full remix album of the late Gil Scott-Heron’s final record. This cemented Jamie xx as One To Watch in the electronic world but for the next few years he just dropped the odd mix here, a single there, teasing what he was capable of. By the time In Colour arrived in 2015 the people were crying out for a full solo statement, and it didn’t disappoint. From the soaring euphoria of opener ‘Gosh’ to the intoxicating magic of closer ‘Girl’ he dazzles and stuns at every single turn. Guests are limited to other members of The xx, save for one insane collaboration with Popcaan and then-rising-star Young Thug in the shape of ‘Good Times’ — a truly jaw-dropping song that could only have been released at that specific moment in time. A sheer celebration of our age.
Listen on Spotify: In Colour
Kaytranada — 99.9% (2016)
Kaytranada’s debut seemed to come out of nowhere. 2016 was a landmark year for headline releases; legends returning to take their crowns be it Bowie and Cohen, or Beyonce and Ocean. But this left little room for the newbies to muscle in. Like a lot of producers, the Haitian-Canadian started gaining recognition from his remixes, which gave him a strong platform to work with big names. But unlike dance nerds like Disclosure, or hip hop collaborators like DJ Khaled he never let the star status outshine the music itself. 99.9% is effortlessly, unapologetically cool. Its many thrilling features feel like guests invited to an amazing party, where Kaytranada is DJing the best set you’ve ever heard. He helped Anderson .Paak and Goldlink get big and brought Craig David back from the dead. But he leaves enough space to showcase his unrivalled ear for rhythm and melody, and some of the most thrilling moments are completely without vocals. That’s the mark of a real beatsmith.
Listen on Spotify: 99.9%
Clarence Clarity — THINK: PEACE (2018)
The producer/singer also known as Adam Crisp spent a large part of the decade completely redefining electronic music as we know it – and with the criminally little recognition for it. He blended everything from bubblegum pop to heavy metal, from breakbeat to 00’s R’n’B in an attempt to distort convention and change music forever: give the man his dues! This was my album of the year in 2018 and I preached to anyone who would listen about how it needed to be heard to be believed. Snippets of choruses come and go and return again in later songs like ghosts or memories. The sonic palette is so erratic and technicolour while the lyrics are frequently miserable – it’s quite bipolar in that sense. I’d compare moments on it to a friend saying something unutterably worrying in your ear on the dance floor then proceeding to dance wildly with their eyes squeezed shut. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve heard before or since. Maybe in the future everyone will catch up.
Listen on Spotify: THINK: PEACE
Electronic music was such an important part of the decade for me — not just because of the great artists who made it — but also because of the doors it opened. At the turn of the decade I had just turned 18, and hearing a lot of these records at skeleton-rattling volumes made me understand how important bass really is. It also acted as the gateway for me to get into hip hop; as I became obsessed with the technical production behind it. And when rap music rightly became the mainstream – it felt like electronic producers were the weirdos keeping the underground alive. But the most important thing I learned from electronic music throughout the 2010s was just how much emotion can be communicated without words. I’ve tried to find a passage I once read about the producer Burial in order to properly credit the writer here but have failed. They basically said that his music feels like the warm gush of air that hits you just before the underground train pulls in. Any music that can build an entire scene with no words at all deserves reverence. Here are 10 more albums that succeeded too:
Massive Attack – Heligoland (2010)
Massive Attack were a massive discovery for me growing up and Heligoland was the first album of theirs to come out while I was already a fan. I was so excited by every song and the features played right into my then-Indie-leaning taste: TV On The Radio, Elbow, Damon Albarn. But each sounded lost in the band’s own darkness and all the better for it.
Zomby – Dedication (2011)
The misanthropic masked producer is kind of like the anti-Burial. He hides his identity not because he is shy of fame, but because he prefers infamy. True to form, he essentially stole the hit song on the record and was forced later to give credit – but don’t let that put you off; the whole album is a masterclass in brooding, dark electronics that summed up the time.
SBTRKT – SBTRKT (2011)
This had no right to be this good. At the turn of the decade it felt like all the great ‘post-dubstep’ producers would be destined to only release great 12" singles but then SBTRKT destroyed the formula. By bringing along UK voices like Sampha and Jessie Ware (launching their careers in the process) he showed the next generation how to break out.
Rustie – Glass Swords (2011)
Here was an album so bonkers that music critics scrambled to invent new genres just to describe the sound (‘Aquacrunk’ anyone?) But the baby-faced Glaswegian didn’t care for any of that – he was busy crafting a dreamscape of wonky, glitchy dance music that along with the likes of Hudson Mohawke would become the UK’s answer to Brainfeeder. A trailblazer.
Todd Terje – It’s Album Time (2014)
The mad Norwegian created a studio album so big and so fully realised that he must have deemed it unnecessary to give us any more. But that was ok, songs like ‘Svensk Sås’ and closer ‘Inspector Norse’ were colossal while so pure that they have never got tiring in the years since. Only one who really understands music can make timeless statements like those.
Shlohmo – Dark Red (2015)
Shlohmo and his WeDidIt Collective were responsible for some of the most murky and mysterious sounds of the 10’s, and they really pushed the envelope. Dark Red was the the rallying cry that brought them the recognition they deserved. Songs aptly titled ‘Emerge From Smoke’ and ‘Slow Descent’ perfectly captured the spiralling mood of the apocalyptic music.
Oddisee – The Odd Tape (2016)
This was a funny one to categorise: an instrumental jazz record from a hip hop MC. But at its heart there is a triumphant groove to the album; one that bops for nearly an hour before leaving you again. Of every album I’ve looked back on for this retrospective; this one is the quintessential Summer listen and brings back memories of much-needed sunshine.
Four Tet – New Energy (2017)
I could have chosen any one of Hebden’s amazing 2010’s album run. Form the minute I first heard single ‘Love Cry’ I knew I’d be listening to him for the long haul. But it was his most recent full-length for me that hit all the right notes. It’s one of the magical albums you can put on anywhere and it works. I even heard a song from it iceskating that year and it was perfect.
SOPHIE – Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides (2018)
When SOPHIE first emerged as part of ironic PC Music I was not a fan. But with her coming out as a trans-woman and exploring those themes more aggressively, I found her work to be completely compelling. Oil is defiant, confounding, at times terrifying but most of all it is completely unique. Her production for other artists, too, has been incredible.
Burial – Tunes 2011–2019 (2019)
This is cheating as it’s really a compilation, but seeing as Burial managed to see the decade out without giving us a new album my hand has been forced. For me the 3 EP run of Street Halo, Kindred & Rival Dealer in 2011, 2012 & 2013 consecutively was without doubt the most inspiring electronic music of the decade. So no apologies.