This year, rather than compile hierarchical best-of lists, we thought we’d try something different: we’ve tried to capture what 2021 sounded like for us. And that means not just a playlist, not even two playlists, but three playlists, each representing a different part of our experience of the year. We won’t say too much here – there’ll be more Mixtape writing on the themes of the year and what we can look forward to in 2022, and the sounds can speak for themselves, but here they are, with just a few notes.
As we’ve noted several times on Mixtape over the past year, one thing these chaotic times have encouraged is deep listening and healing music. Whether that’s dreamy ambient, the folk revival, neo classical or lush jazz orchestration, we all needed music that could provide a sanctuary from the difficulty and uncertainty of life around us. Here are some of the very best.
Somewhat related to that need for sanctuary, there’ve been some great, warm grooves and songs made this year. An extraordinary soul renaissance has been taking place particularly in the UK, but globally too. Introspective indie rock has proved itself, not just for its moody qualities but for a welcoming community vibe (see our interview and video feature with the brilliant kolezanka). Perhaps the single biggest musical movement of the year is the embracing dance sound of amapiano, bursting out of South Africa and influencing a global Afro-diasporic sound. Add disco-jazz, thoughtful dance music, rap and more, and this is guaranteed to cheer and liven up your day.
Sometimes, though, we just need to blow off steam. The reopening of shows and festivals post-lockdown was the perfect chance to go wild, and dance, rap and rock music reflected that. The jungle revival is still in full swing, techno is bigger than it’s ever been, and guitar music is exploring all kinds of maniacal hybrids. This cathartic playlist brings all that together with club, grime and more – including, as you might expect for music that channels anger and delirium, some spicy lyrics. It’s perfect for the gym, driving, or just leaping around the house when you feel like it’s all too much.
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.