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Top 3 BBC Radio 1 Essential Mixes of 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

As any serious electronic music fan knows, Pete Tong's Essential Mix is a weekly radio show that showcases two hours of uninterrupted, commercial-free sets recorded by both established superstars and rising talents. Certain mixes are renowned as legendary and have done much to catapult artists into new stratospheres of fame (Above & Beyond's 2004 show comes to mind). While I am always loathe to label lists as "best ofs", since beauty and value in art is often in the eye of the beholder and can't be quantified, I'd love to share my personal favorite BBC Radio 1 Essential Mixes of 2013 as the year winds down.  In no particular order, the following sets not only established these artists as genuinely unique talents but also showcased their craftsmanship, their emotional underpinnings, and their personal tastes in track selection and mixing.

1.  Mat Zo

Mat Zo's 2013 was one of wild success (I saw him twice, spinning a deeper, more alternative set for Swedish House Mafia's One Last Tour in March and brighter, more buoyant selections at Life In Color at the Tacoma Dome in May) and he continually displayed his extraordinary maturity by drawing on a vast catalogue.  This Essential Mix, for me, was the zenith of his work in 2013.  Within the first 30 minutes, Mat Zo incorporates shoegaze, jazzy, and industrial influences into his work; at times, I feel as though Trent Reznor might have selected some of the tracks, "Pretty Hate Machine" era as it were.  From anthemic cuts to funky rhythms, Mat Zo leaves no stone unturned.  Highlights include the stomping and cacophonous Gessafelstein remix of Justice's "Heliz", Stoneface & Terminal's uplifting and driving classic "Blueprint", and Alex Kenji's slimy and slithering "The Funk".  Mat Zo's brilliance lies in placing obscure cuts beside big room bangers like Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike's "Wakanda" and his Porter Robinson collaboration "Easy".  Seamless, rousing, and inquisitive are a few descriptors for one of my favorite Essential Mixes in recent memory.

2.  Eric Prydz

If Mat Zo's Essential Mix signals the arrival of a superstar with its fresh and feisty approach to musicality, Eric Prydz's 2013 Mix establishes Prydz as a bonified veteran who will continue to rule live performances for years to come.  Prydz's sets are not for the impatient or faint of heart; buildups are slow, pronounced, and layered with nuances far beyond what most producers can envision.  I can only describe Prydz's Essential Mix as orchestral and grandiose; sweeping synths wash over the soundscapes, and transitions are so well developed that they are scarcely recognizable to a fairly amateur listener like myself.  Favorite moments include "Snaz", a tour de force of intensity, as well as the iconic "Power Drive" and Cirez D's slowly rumbling "Drums in the Deep".  Prydz's 2013 set is prolific yet standard as befits his reputation for incredibly quality work; it is complex and dark yet accessible and uplifting.

3.  Steve Angello

Steve Angello's mix was not as revolutionary to listen to as the two previously mentioned, but it reinforced what I've always suspected and what is now confirmed:  Angello is an incredible producer whose keen ear and devotion to deeper tracks make him one of the scene's best DJs.  Swedish House Mafia, while energetic, gave audiences opportunities to reduce each member to a one-size-fits-all image (unfairly deserved, I might add, as the group's live show was breathtaking). Angello reinforced in countless interviews the importance of continuing his long and successful solo career, and his Essential Mix is a grand slam from the start. With multiple versions of his own edits, Angello proves that he is a dance floor maverick, never content with the status quo.  Not to be missed are his reworks of Dannic's futuristic "Clobber" and Wayne & Woods' and Chris Avantgarde's chaotic and frantic "Revolt".  Angello presents a fascinating juxtaposition of the mainstream (Swedish House Mafia's biggest hits are present a month after their final show) and deeper cuts, proving that his (already) thriving career will continue unabated for years to come.