From the aquatic odyssey of Lechuga Zafiro’s “Agua y Puerta” to the fragmented dembow meditation of Florentino and Ms Nina’s “2 Late (Don’t Call),” the world of electronic and club music overflowed with complex meditations on texture and affect in 2018. Bringing peers and collaborators together seemed more important than ever this year, particularly as the forces of gentrification and prejudice against this music threatened to shutter independent venues and clubs for good. Despite these challenges, the community endured, creating rich compositions that are worth highlighting as standout releases this year.
This year, we’ve elected to create a series of genre-based lists to better capture the complexity of our community’s musical landscape. This list features all kinds of electronic sounds, from industrial techno to experimental tracks to club music.
Our list cuts across region and genre, capturing the sounds we believe are leading the pack in different diasporas. Selected by our editorial and freelance staff, these are the top 10 electronic songs of 2018.
Entrópica - “N”
Opening with a bass-heavy beat and rich, full analog synths that hit the inside of your chest, “N” delivers a meandering melody punctuated with joyous claps, the perfect match for dancing – or lying in bed contemplating your tiny place in the vastness of the universe. “N” is the first track from Chilean producer, singer, and sound engineer Francisca Bascuñán’s NARF EP. Released on Chilean electronic record label Pirotecnia, the EP is Bascuñan’s first fully instrumental project.
Initially produced with the intention to add vocals, Bascuñán noticed that each track worked on its own, so she ultimately decided to release them as they were. This decision has given Bascuñán a chance to flex her production muscles; while she has always produced and been at the forefront of each painstaking stage of her work, throughout her career, she has been outspoken about people’s (misogynist) assumptions that someone else is behind her sound. NARF leaves no room for such questions, and firmly establishes Bascuñán as the force she is. – Verónica Bayetti Flores
Boundary - “De Mi Ser” ft. Cult Exciter
It’s only logical for artists to start making electronic music at a younger age these days. After all, technology has democratized the way music is produced and shared, and in the Age of Information, you can figure out how to do pretty much everything through a YouTube video. But to make music the way Dominican producer Josué Suero does as Boundary, you must have a different kind of sensibility.
Released when he was only 17 years old, “De Mi Ser,” the second track on his Mi Transferencia No. 2 EP, is all about restraint and effortless structure, something that’s hard for someone his age to commit to. For over five minutes, we float wherever this electronic breeze wants to take us. The vocal contribution from L.A. based duo Cult Exciter’s Z serves as our lighthouse, but when Suero manipulates it into a polyphonic swirl, we’re sent into a maelstrom, only to fall softly on arpeggiated steps. Boundary’s voice is fully formed and clear; all we have to do is listen. – Cheky
Diego Raposo - “Desconocidos” (ft. Mula)
As the Dominican Republic spawns a new wave of independent artists, this collaboration between 22-year-old MITEL DICO label boss Diego Raposo and dark dembow duo Mula was nothing but fated. “Desconocidos” is a bubbly burst of bachata futurism; the tender, amorous vocals of Cris and Anabel Acevedo layer breathlessly over Raposo’s deceptively intricate production of guitar riffs, merengue tamboras, and baile funk percussion. Its split screen music video, directed by José Rozón, illustrates moments of quotidian Dominican life, from dominó games to bustling street corners captured from the front seat of a concho. Mula, Raposo, and other members of the MITEL DICO crew make cameos as passengers, and their wandering gazes embellish the song’s themes of unity and belonging amidst the anonymity of public transit. As a new generation of roots music artists experiment with the traditional sounds of the island, tracks like “Desconocidos” offer a sense of futurity, proving that these genres are overflowing with longevity beyond the realm of pure folklore. – Isabelia Herrera
Rubio - “Hacia El Fondo”
Fran Straube has been a mainstay of Chile’s vibrant indie scene for years, first capturing our hearts and ears as the drummer and frontwoman for Miss Garrison. However, Straube’s growing sonic curiosity eventually coalesced into her riveting solo project Rubio, where she swapped traditional rock structures in favor of more experimental textures. This shifting perspective has unfolded in a dramatic fashion across a series of micro-releases, giving fans a bird’s-eye view into Straube’s creative process, perhaps best exemplified by her early 2018 work “Hacia el Fondo.” Produced in conjunction with Pablo Stipicic, “Hacia el Fondo” is no doubt Rubio’s best-known release to date, plunging the adventurous roquera into the depths of digital club bedlam by chopping and screwing her signature howls and sprinkling them over a pulsating beat. The track also represents a major leap of faith for Straube, who relies on digital sounds and her musical instincts instead of the impressive gamut of percussive skills that have defined much of her career and Rubio’s ongoing journey. – Richard Villegas
Tomás Urquieta – “La Sustancia de la Materia”
When Tomás Urquieta’s “La Sustancia de la Materia” begins, we find ourselves in the middle of a bleak, sordid landscape like the ones the Chilean producer has masterfully constructed in his previous EPs Manuscript and La Muerte de Todo lo Nuevo. The experience is chilling; in this frigid atmosphere, doors close on us like the rejection we frequently face as human beings. But Urquieta has a punk rock soul, and he turns rejection into his fuel, creating an explosive composition of industrial techno that functions as the dynamite we need to detonate every obstacle in the path to freedom.
As most of the music found on Dueños De Nada, his official debut album on Infinite Machine, “La Sustancia de la Materia” isn’t exactly a pleasant listen, and in that way it mimics life in an oppressive system. But deep in its dark heart, the production is actually a call to liberation – one that can begin right now, on the dance floor. – Cheky
Florentino - “2 Late (Don't Call)” ft. Ms Nina
Throughout the genre’s history, reggaeton producers have spliced their flows into electronic wedges, from The Noise’s sample aerobics to DJ Blass’ trance-inspired push for perreo. In fact, there’s never been an era where reggaeton isn’t innovating synth sounds — just ask Luny Tunes. In 2018, these ventures have reached an outer stratosphere best expressed by Florentino’s “2 Late (Don’t Call),” from his EP Fragmentos. The UK-Colombia producer calls in Ms Nina, but instead of giving the reggaeton vocalist the sassy flows and full-throated hooks for which she is best known, Nina is restricted to a quick cellular dismissal of a love too far gone to explicate. With her minimalism, Florentino gives himself space to fill in the plotline with cutthroat finger snaps, mocking phone rings, and an alien’s sense of closure. The producer calls himself “el más romántico de los románticos,” and here he’s captured the sheer heartbreak of modern-day love ambivalence — consider yourself lucky if this track didn’t remind you of anyone in 2018. – Caitlin Donohue
Trillones - “Ir Hacia El Miedo”
Mexicali producer Polo Vega has turned heads with his output as Trillones since the project’s inception. Relying on dreamy, affective soundscapes and unstoppable electronic beats, Vega has explored the territory between contemplative tracks and party music in his work. This year’s Tal Vez No Existe integrated both styles, allowing the tension between melodicism and rigidity to collide in unexpected ways, and in turn generating a heat seldom heard anywhere else. There’s a feeling of luminosity in “Ir Hacia El Miedo” amid the baile funk-adjacent percussion, as melody blooms between the cracks of booming electronic drums. This textural quality makes “Ir Hacia El Miedo” a work of art that evokes a sensorial and subtly surreal narrative, one that unfolds without clear lyrics or even melodies. It reveals itself like a painting, as the listener gives it sense and purpose. But “Ir Hacia El Miedo” is more than just abstraction or intellect; it’s a rush of dance floor adrenaline, guaranteeing the night will endure. – Marcos Hassan
Debit - “Audiacious”
Short and anything but sweet, Debit’s “Audiacious” is the sensory and intellectual shockwave of clashing passions for ambient music and dark club sounds. Demonstrating a hunger for cerebral sonic investigations, “Audiacious” is one of several unique narratives on the producer’s debut album Animus, which, upon release, received co-signs from electronic music publications like FACT and Resident Advisor. The success of Animus has made Debit one of Mexican collective NAAFI’s crown jewels, earning bookings at Panorama Festival in New York City and centering her philosophical questioning during performances at Mutek in Montreal and Mexico City. But “Audiacious” remains at the center of Debit’s creative essence, unleashing a jagged dance floor diatribe that reaches dystopian heights as it unravels. The track builds on an ice-cold beat – quasi-militaristic in its rigidity – while gauzy synths come in thoughtful waves. Buzzing and a series of unexpected silences allow the listener to come up for air throughout – until Debit gets back to work disassembling all our preconceived notions of music, or even sound. – Richard Villegas
Arca - “Fetiche”
Striking yet nuanced visuals, whether by video or live performance, are intrinsic to the Arca experience, like mental cues shepherding us through the Venezuelan producer’s own vulnerable explorations of emotion and healing from their harmful residues. Sometimes accompanying words are critical to the piece, too – like with “Fetiche,” released in April, where we were offered this instruction: “Look inward, cut yourself loose from your self; tolerate no abuse.” If you corral any wayward thoughts and concentrate completely on that for the entire clip, you might feel changed by the end of its almost 11 minutes.
Created with frequent co-collaborator Carlos Sáez, “Fetiche” shows a pair of legs – presumably Arca’s – interacting with a bouquet. Shiny, beige stilettos crush and smother the flowers. Hands graze bits against skin, then it’s all dropped to the floor for more punishment; the track evolves into crackling near-dissonance. There’s wild laughter, manipulated to an almost ready-to-snap crisp: the bouquet is almost unrecognizable. Arca’s feet gather the mess, but a mesmeric syncopation returns the purpose to crushing them. For the final two minutes, the screen is an opaque blush.
Are the flowers meant to represent the self? Could they be a metaphor for abuse? What about the abuse we inflict upon ourselves? In destroying the bouquet, is Arca obliterating inner negativity? The self? What are the repercussions of not freeing ourselves from either?
Arca’s repertoire – three albums, a few EPs, many remixes, short films – is experimental in the most far-reaching sense – a kind of radical therapy. “Fetiche” is just one session, but if you participate intently, it can be formative. – Jhoni Jackson
Lechuga Zafiro - “Agua y Puerta”
It should come as some comfort in these days of human bluster and brimstone that Earth will almost surely survive civilization as we know it. Perhaps that darkly comforting certainty powered Uruguayan producer and Salviatek co-founder Lechuga Zafiro as he toured the nocturnal club gatherings of the world and worked on Testigo EP, released this summer through NAAFI. Nowhere more than on track “Agua y Puerta” does one feel Lechuga’s conviction that nature shapes us. The listener is ritually and repeatedly dunked into water, a symphony of aquatic resolve that forces a late night dancer to confront the notion of moving in time to a most natural force — indeed, a substance that makes up about 60 percent of our body mass. The implications of this subversion of electronic technology are rather breathtaking, a study of the boundaries of moisture and sound. NAAFI’s accompanying video clip echoes with an unfurling of pulsing epidermis, furrowed brows, and of course, the rippling surface of H2O. – Caitlin Donohue