Slam on the CDJ’s Best Sets of 2022

Michael McKinney explores the greatest DJ sets from the livelier year of 2022.
By    January 5, 2023

Image via Michael McKinney

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As 2022 draws to a close, dancefloors are starting to open back up. Many of the best sets from the year took place in front of crowds, with DJs and ravers alike pushing each other into ever more exciting places. That’s not to say it’s all firestarting sessions, though: while the dancers got plenty of time in the sun, there’s lots for the head-trippers and headphone purists, too. It’s more or less impossible to summarize a year in mixes, but consider this list an attempt to catalog some of its most exciting moments.

Here are some of the best DJ sets 2022 had to offer.

Honorable Mention: OOJO GYAL & FUMU – AMX004

AMX004: Mixtape, by OJOO GYAL & FUMU

AMX004: Mixtape by OJOO GYAL & FUMU, released 04 February 2022 For the next installment of the AMX series, we've called upon two of our favourite artists/DJs, FUMU & OJOO GYAL, it's a battle we’ve been dreaming of for a while. With a side each on the mixtape, there’s noise, industrial-dancehall, ambient & screwed-up techno aplenty.

A white-hot blur of club tools the world over: cragged post-industrial and shrieking ambience, hardcore reggaetón and bass-blasted techno.

25. Nick Boyd – Closing Heaven on a Thursday Night for Loveless Records

From the cover on down, Closing Heaven is downright goofy. But it’s also stuffed with an effervescent kind of joy, filled with the firestarting rhythms and playful blends that Nick Boyd excels at.

24. Minor Science – Bleep Mix #227

Speaking to Bleep about this set, Minor Science put it simply: “After the last couple of years, there doesn’t seem to be much point in holding back.” Bring on the Amen breaks.

23. RL Grime – Halloween XI: Dead Space

The Halloween series is a trap-EDM institution at this point, and not without reason. Halloween XI is a cluster bomb filled with amp-shattering drums and titanic basslines.

22. Mumdance – Four Decks / Ninety Minutes

He may have taken some time off from mixing, but he’s clearly kept his ear to the ground: Four Decks / Ninety Minutes is the sound of a techno-etc. wizard sprinting in a million directions at once.

21. CCL – Live at Horst Music & Arts Festival

A wildly unpredictable DJ goes fast and messy, reaching for accelerationist dancefloor tools and finding elation along the way.

20. Huerco S. – Super Dommune Sustain Release Tokyo

Huerco S. has pulled off a remarkable shift towards club tools in the past few years; here, he leans into everything-goes dancefloor psychedelia.

19. Toma Kami – CNC Live

A whirlwind of futuristic electronics: light-speed neoperreo and blistering dubstep, new-school New-York junglism and bass-blasted hard-drum.

18. Traumprinz – Life

A legendary house-and-techno producer digs into his crates and finds a gentle beam of sunlight.

17. Deadbeat & Sa Pa – RA.836

Two critical names in modern dub-techno go long, turning in three hours of head-tripping dancefloor tools along the way.

16. Felix Hall – Fact Mix 873

A don of modern dancehall goes deep, connecting the dots between old-school essentials and hypermodern genre offshoots.

15. Pretty Sneaky – Crack Mix 460

One of Berlin techno’s best-kept secrets goes deep into the lush grooves of space-disco, synth solos, progressive rock, and library music.

14. k means – Fact Mix 879

A dive into the uncanny valley: in k means’s world, there’s not that much room between left-field club stormers and disheveled ambience.

13. Kush Arora – SYSTEM Mix 068

A light-speed race through neck-snapping drill, reggaetón, ragga, and steamrolling percussion.

12. Ron Like Hell & Doctor Jeep – SORRYMIX19

A celebration of New York’s anything-goes club-music culture from two of its staples.

11. BK Owusu & YBD – Dekmantel Selectors 2022

A Library of Babel filled with smog; a pile-up of ambience, pop-radio inversions, and deeply alien dance music.

10. Yu Su – Dekmantel Festival 2022

Yu Su trades in subtlety. The best sets from the Vancouver-based DJ are full of oddball blends, jumping between styles and scenes with abandon, but they are rarely loud about it. With Dekmantel Festival 2022, she takes that approach and stretches it out for two hours, bending rhythms back into each other and flipping genres inside out. Here, slippery techno and fuzzed-up rock might as well be the same thing, and funked-up jam sessions bleed naturally into rickety electro. It’s a slow-motion sort of psychedelia, with each blend deepening the disorientation. Impressively, Yu Su makes it all feel natural, flipping her way through a rolodex of sounds to find one that’s all her own.

9. TA’A_INO – Ori Deck Special

Like many scene-specific sounds, ori deck—a fusion of moombahton, reggaetón, and dubstep that’s taken over French Polynesia—evolved out of dance. Just look at the name: in Tahitian, “ori” means “dance,” and local legend contends that it emerged from a moombahton party on a deck in Papara’s Taharuu Beach. With Ori Deck Special, TA’A_INO, a multidisciplinary art collective stretching from Polynesia to Paris, shows off the breadth of the style to winning results. Throughout, the group takes earth-shaking dembow and slows them down to a crawl, cranking up their weight along the way. The hour is filled with miles-deep basslines and tectonic-plate rhythms; it moves at a steady 90 BPM, but it’s electrifying enough to keep even the busiest dancefloors moving.

8. Jake Muir – Juanita’s Mix 065 / Bathhouse Blues Vol. 2 / Campout Mix Series

Jake Muir has long since established himself as a critical name in modern ambient music; his productions and mixes alike are both tender and a bit alien, dunking familiar forms into a vat of smog. Three of his best sets from this year showcase that in spades. Juanita’s Mix 065, he digs into the blunted-up sounds of illbient and turntablism, connecting the dots between thirty years of downcast and outré electronics. Bathhouse Blues Vol. 2 goes for something a bit more intimate and a lot more foreboding, combining deep-space ambience with flecks of dialogue ripped from vintage gay-porn flicks. Campout Mix Series lies, perhaps, somewhere between the two—a long-form session of glitched-up ambience and dreamy synthesizer workouts that never quite lands on Earth. In each case, though, Muir’s central strength—an ear for transportative and otherworldly sonics—shines through.

7. Time Is Away – 1994 / inis:eto

Time Is Away, a.k.a. London’s Jack Rollo & Elaine Tierney, conjure worlds over the airwaves. On their long-running NTS residency and elsewhere, the duo make mixes that frequently feel closer to old-school radio plays, exploring stories, traditions, and histories along the way. 1994 exemplifies this approach: gossamer ambience and feather-light IDM form the background for a sepia-tinged narration, which focuses on the experience of the United Kingdom in the mix’s titular year. Inis:eto—another set predominantly composed of ambient music—is downright manic by comparison. Here, they move from drum circles to scuffed-up drum-and-bass and back again, touching on all sorts of downcast electronics in between. Despite its largely wordless structure, inis:eto showcases the duo’s knack for worldbuilding all the same, drawing lines between countless traditions with an understated grace.

6. Sueuga Kamau – SYSTEM Mix 067

Dembow and its million permutations already make for electrifying dance music, but Sueuga Kamau presents an alternative vision entirely. Manolis Sueuga’s music stretches from ancient folk musics to outer-cosmos electronics, using hefty drums to draw everything together. SYSTEM Mix 067 documents this approach with aplomb, fusing mutant dembow and corrugated hard-dance rhythms into something that won’t stop shedding its skin. After a bracing blast of woodwinds and slammed percussion, they spend the rest of the session slowly dimming the lights, working their way towards all sorts of post-industrial global-South screamers: white-hot hard-drum workouts, twisted-up baile funk, scraped-metal dancefloor burners, atonal drone-reggaetón. It’s wild-eyed and utterly singular, blurring histories and futures with a rubbernecking intensity.

5. Physical Therapy – Slow Garage

Physical Therapy is perhaps best known for his omnivorous appetite for dance music—between his NTS residency and his label Allergy Season, he’s responsible for pushing a downright kaleidoscopic vision of electronic music. It should come as little surprise, then, that he reaches for re-contextualization whenever possible: taking existing sounds and turning them inside out to create something that feels entirely new. Slow Garage is one of his most successful transpositions yet: what if UK garage was pitched down and stretched out a bit? It transcends any possible gimmickry from the jump, with the genre suddenly sounding something closer to golden-era nu jack swing than anything else; at the flick of a dial, the neon hues all look a bit more mournful. Like much of Physical Therapy’s work, it’s a wildly successful inversion delivered with a wink.

4. Amelia Holt b2b deep creep / DJ Rhubarb b2b Ian Kim Judd / dreemseed b2b Ophealixz – pi 2 pi LIVE for PI day >:) / Amelia Holt, Yumi & deep creep – False Peak b3b

If you want a snapshot of what makes New York’s dance music scene so critical, just look for anything with these names on it. pi pi pi, a dance-music community helmed by deep creep, has quickly become one of Brooklyn’s most striking dancefloor outfits, with a refreshingly anything-goes approach to techno tools. pi 2 pi LIVE for PI day >:) sees the crew going long: a trio of back-to-back sessions from the crew’s friends and family that stretch from storming techno to zero-gravity dubstep, between pop-radio tools and boiled-over breakbeats. It’s delightfully playful and a bit loopy, bottling the kitchen-sink energy that fuels New York dancefloors. False Peak b3b takes the same approach but cranks the energy up a bit, moving into full-on dancefloor steamrollers by the end. In each set, several of New York’s finest modern DJs vault between a million colors of dancefloor fodder, electrifying the club along the way.

3. Bruce – Truancy Volume 289

Speaking to Truants, Bruce outlined his style of DJing: pushing himself into unusual corners with “dumb mixing and mashes of sounds and styles,” leaning deep into his role as crate-digger and party-starter. His music is neither novel nor utilitarian, though. It’s wildly inventive and joyfully unpredictable, full of rug-pulls and trap doors. Truancy Volume 289 epitomizes this approach. Take the first ten minutes: he opens with somber a capella before complicating it with some scraggly guitar work; from there, he moves into aquatic and deeply alien techno, only to shift gears into some disorienting dubstep. The range is impressive, to be sure, but more important is that he makes it stick, conjuring an entire universe of left turns and blind alleys. He spends the remaining ninety minutes in this mode, delighting in off-kilter blends and madcap dial-fiddling: gothic rock and glitched-up bass cuts, blazing breakbeats and busted-cassette rap records, sludgy ambience and storming techno. It’s a head-spinning session delivered with a wink.

2. Ben Bondy – Live at False Peak 03/05

Ben Bondy’s music pushes against genre, but it is most easily linked to the nu-ambient scene coming out of Kansas City, Berlin, New York, Saint Petersburg, and a few key SoundCloud accounts. Live at False Peak sees the producer-DJ pushing against form yet again, blending plaintive pop-radio hits, gauzy ambience, and field recordings until any distinction between the three seems pedantic at best. Bondy opens with a blast of fog-horn drone landing somewhere between mourning and awe; sixty seconds in, he introduces a sludged-up Kim Petras song to the mix, her voice cutting against the backdrop even as it runs a few octaves lower than expected. The effect is both surreal and heartrending; it is the sound of heartstrings getting stretched to their breaking point. Bondy can tell when an approach works, and he spends the rest of Live at False Peak mining a similar vein. The set is short and elegantly paced, offering a survey of lapel-grabbing pop-radio numbers and vertiginous ambience. For half an hour, Bondy wraps beating hearts in crushed-up synthesizers, filling the dancefloor with a deep fog.

1. ¥ØU$UK€ ¥UK1MAT$U – RA.849

Million-genre DJing can be a risky thing: add too many styles to a mix and the whole thing can come off muddied. But it can be electrifying, too; play enough styles and each new blend comes as a total surprise. That central tension runs through ¥ØU$UK€ ¥UK1MAT$U’s work, which runs the gamut from pitch-black ambience to billion-ton dancefloor bombs. He has a tendency towards hard left turns, but only rarely sounds like he’s peacocking for its own sake. Instead, Yukimatsu’s sharpest blends underline the specifics of his selections, highlighting textures and moods at the moment they crumble underfoot.

His offering for RA’s long-running mix series encapsulates this approach, diving deep into vertiginous voids and filling the chasms with piles of percussion. Again and again, he shifts between pitch-black ambience and steely-eyed club tools, jettisoning styles and doubling back at a neck-snapping clip. Yukimatsu holds the affair together by focusing on bleeding-edge electronics throughout, balancing spine-tingling synthesizers with quick and precise avant-club tools. In his hands, a million genres turn to one, thanks in large part to his careful, audacious, and utterly disorienting blends. With RA.849, Yukimatsu pulls off the contradictory and enthralling trick that powers so much of his work, using harsh contrasts to turn umpteen sounds into something that feels bracingly new.

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