Sasha
Sasha
Marc de Groot

20 Best House & Techno Tracks of 2017: Critics' Picks

by Billboard Staff
December 29, 2017, 3:03pm EST

In 2017, the conjoined worlds of house and techno culture unequivocally transcended the underground. With artists like Bicep and Sasha attracting mainstream attention, and labels like dirtybird and Diynamic bringing in hoards of new fans, house and techno culture experienced what will likely be regarded as its most visible and fruitful year yet.

Though genres rooted in decades-old traditions and structure, house and techno continued to evolve at a remarkable rate this year. One such example was the digital eruption of lo-fi house, a sub-genre driven on the back of YouTube algorithms, viral videos, and grainy, yet relentlessly catchy hooks. Offline, tribal house and techno saw a massive resurgence, thanks in large part to European imprints like Innervisions and Keinmusike pushing their low-key brand of hypnotic, afro-centric dance floor tracks.

On the release front, there were no shortage of standout tracks this year to speak of. From Stephan Bodzin’s latest bomb, “Strand,” to Patrice Baumel’s inescapable “Glutes,” 2017 saw a seemingly endless slew of stellar offerings. When compiling our list of best house and techno tracks of the year (that are arranged in alphabetical order), we judged on a criteria of both production quality and overall impact. These aren’t necessarily the tracks that sold the best or got the most recognition (although some of them certainly did), but rather the ones that consistently won over dancefloors and helped define genres in 2017.

&ME, "Avalon"

&ME, and really the entirety of Berlin-based imprint Keinemusik, have come to define the emergent genre of "afro house" -- a loosely-termed genre which recently received its own official Beatport category. The German producer’s “Avalon,” which arrived on the aforementioned Keinemusik, proved one of the genre’s standout contributions of the entire year, notably becoming one of the most pervasive tracks of this year’s Burning Man. --MICHAEL SUNDIUS

Adam Beyer & Enrico Sangiuliano, "Preset Heaven"

Few artists were as hyped as Enrico Sangiuliano in 2016 after the widely-acclaimed success of hits like "Moon Rocks" and multi-dimensional rework of Moby's "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?" The Italian super producer proved his staying power in 2017 with techno drivers "Astral Projection" and "Blooming Era" in addition to major gigs at Amsterdam Dance Event and Awakenings Festival. But it's his celestial team-up with Drumcode boss Adam Beyer that encapsulated the uplifting vibe needed to endure a tough year for many, with "Preset Heaven" reminding us that sometimes you have to go underground to reach new heights. --JORDAN DIAZ

Bicep, "Glue"

Few tracks stuck in the memory of dance fans quite like Bicep's "Glue," a nostalgic ode to the U.K.'s taste-making electronic sounds wrapped in time lapse-inspired cinematic pacing that is equal parts refreshing and tear-jerking. Coming off their critically heralded debut EP, Glue, the Irish duo reflect on the early rave days (cited as "the best time of my life" in the track's accompanying visuals) sourcing their strength by justly immortalizing the scene's origins for generations to come. --J.D.

Chloé, "The Dawn" (Dixon Remix)

Dixon doesn’t release much music, so when he does, DJs tend to pay attention. His sinister remix of “The Dawn” became an international hit, gaining support from the likes of Ame, Sasha, Tale of Us and more. Even minimal techno champion Richie Hawtin could be found dropping the dark club weapon -- a testament to both the ubiquity of the track and Dixon’s transcendent approach to remixes. --M.S.

Dee Montero, "Halcyon"

Diynamic’s Four to the Floor EP series consistently unearths some of the best house and techno gems from international producers around the world. One such track was Dee Montero’s “Halcyon,” which arrived on Four to the Floor 09, and quickly shot up to the top spot on Beatport’s Deep House chart. With its soaring string progression and tribal drums, it easily made its mark as one of the year’s most triumphant offerings in the genre. --M.S.

Girls of the Internet, "When U Go" (MoBlack Remix)

The original "When U Go," out on Classic Music, was an alluringly laid-back house cut. But the remix angled the track gently, if firmly, towards the dance floor, adding extra zip in the form of hand percussion and a bright synth riff that hints at breezy steel drums. The lyrics are dispatches from the front lines of a rapidly deteriorating relationship -- "My mind won't say it but I know it must be true/ I'm losing faith in you." But there's an irrepressible hint of hope in this new beat, or at least the promise of temporary distraction. --ELIAS LEIGHT

Greco ft. Rowetta, "Be" (Klangkeunstler Remix)

In an era of endless (and sloppy) television and movie remakes, it's easy for consumers to approach modern interpretations with apprehension. So, how about a remake of a remake? KlangKeunstler's re-imagining of New York newcomer Greco's cover of Rowetta's "Be" -- famously remixed about a decade ago by Steve Angello and Laidback Luke -- was an instant runaway peaking at No. 3 on the Beatport 100 chart taking the Berlin-based producer's burgeoning career to a new echelon of in-demand bookings and turning Greco's Rawsome Recordings into a go-to underground house label. --J.D.

Honey Dijon - "State of Confusion"

While Honey Dijon has dazzled crowds for years with her soulful and delectable mixes -- including a recent guest spot on BBC Radio 1's Essential Mix -- the dance diva's debut artist album, The Best of Both Worlds, surprisingly didn't drop until this year. The project's hit single "State of Confusion" saw Dijon collaborate with iconic Billboard dance chart-topper Joi Cardwell for a '90s classic house homage laced with contemporary lyricism that showcases both artist's breadth of dance music culture. Now, who's ready to hit the roller skating rink? --J.D.

KiNK, "Perth"

On "Perth," KiNK creates out a battering ram out of just a few elements: a pushy, pleasurable bassline, a squeaky, agitated string sample and waves of blasting brass. There's some of the frantic force of early 2000s French house here -- riding one riff as far as it will take you, and then riding it some more -- and hints of the chomping disco-redux of producers like Joey Negro. But modern dance floors prefer sparser production, so KiNK keeps "Perth" trim, hard-bitten and ruthlessly efficient. --E.L.

Nina Kraviz, "You Are Wrong"

Kraviz gets to have her cake and eat it too on "You Are Wrong," a techno track that is both inscrutable and crystal-clear. First, the enigmatic stuff -- keyboards that hint at a melodic phrase but don't bother to complete it, hard scrubs of electronics that keep you at arm's length, samples of vocals that throw you into the middle of a conversation without providing context or resolution. But there's no wishy-washiness in the beat, and around the three-minute mark, the drums find an insistent partner: the title phrase floats into view, asserting "you are wrong" over and over. Ambiguous gives way to unequivocal. --E.L.

Omar S Feat. Nite Jewel, "Confess to U"

Detroit stalwart Omar S and the indie singer Nite Jewel demonstrate the endless durability of early 1980s boogie on this shimmering collaboration. There are echoes of Sade's great "Nothing Can Come Between Us" in the melody here, but Omar S' drums have enough driving smack to hold their own in any contemporary house set. The playful hand percussion almost steals the show, romping around the stern beat and coming close to burying Nite Jewel's vocals. The nature of her confession is not entirely clear, but the groove is undeniable. --E.L.

Oxia, "Domino" (Matador Remix)

This was one of the best-selling tracks on Beatport in 2017, owning the No. 1 spot on the site's charts from March 1 to April 28, and it's easy to see why. The mechanical elements -- thwacking drums, sprightly synth motif -- are offset nicely by what sounds like a human shout and stirring bursts of strings; everything hurtles forward with unwavering purpose, leaving you no choice but to give in or get out. Impressively plotted and impeccably layered, this remix is tenacious from the jump and unshakeable until the end. --E.L.

Patrice Baumel, "Glutes"

Patrice Baumel caught fire in 2017; nowhere was this more evident than his repertoire of remixes and original productions this year. From stellar renditions of Cubicolor, Khen, and Max Cooper, to originals like “Atacama” and “Sorcery,” his music consistently enamored underground nightlife across the world. The Dutchman’s biggest offering, however, was “Glutes,” which arrived on Tale of Us’s Afterlife imprint. The melodic techno weapon became a favorite in the arsenals of everyone from Solomun to Nicole Moudaber -- and for good reason: its hooking bassline and bubbling arpeggio proved a devastating combo. --M.S.

Red Axes, "Sun My Sweet Sun" (Konstantin Sibold Afro-Tech Remix)

If you've ever seen the VR-inspired music video for Red Axes' "Sun My Sweet Sun" -- or really any video of theirs --  then you know just how far down the rabbit hole the Israeli duo are willing to go. Recreated with a hypnotizing melody and subtle fan slaps, the record's Afro-Tech remix appears as sort of a sequel to its original enticing listeners to come above ground after crash landing on a dystopian planet. --J.D.

Ross From Friends, "In an Emergency"

Degraded, fuzzy-around-the-edges distillations of classic house continued their rise to popularity in 2017. The engine of "In an Emergency" is a call-and-response built from two vocal samples: one coos the title phrase, while the other responds with a wordless cry that can correspond to whatever you're feeling when you listen -- sympathy, helplessness, heartbreak. The producer never messes with this central motif, but he buttresses it in smart ways, mimicking the second vocal with a subtle keyboard line and periodically changing the syncopation of the drums. There's little build and no explosion, only the comfort of stasis. --E.L.

Sasha feat. Poliça, "Out Of Time"

What do you get when you cross dance legend Sasha's unrivaled progressive sorcery and indie quintet Polica's retro synth-pop? A massive "chune" crafted for an Ibizan summer with legs to endure for eternity. With looming melancholy, infectious bass line and Channy Leanaugh's omnipresent vocals, the Kompakt Records release received heavy support from the likes of Argentina's Hernan Cattaneo and a sinister remix from Amsterdam staple Patrice Baumel. --J.D.

Stephan Bodzin, "Strand"

Stephan Bodzin has cemented his name as the master of melody in the techno world. While the majority of his year was spent working away on his new album and touring his live show, he did make time in 2017 to release the mighty “Strand,” a signature Bodzin bomb and an instant classic. Having been a favorite in the sets of Tale of Us, Adriatique, and course Bodzin himself all summer long, the track received a late release in December on Afterlife, where it proceeded to quickly surmount the Beatport Top 10. --M.S.

Tom Demac, "Sink or Swim"

You never quite know what you’re going to get from a Tom Demac production, and that’s a good thing. With “Sink or Swim,” the U.K. producer proved his aptitude for progressive, crafting an absolutely infectious composition dominated by its pluck-based melody and roaring reese basses. Perhaps the biggest testament to the appeal of the track was the wide support it received in 2017, with everyone from Eagles & Butterflies to Adam Beyer and Maceo Plex playing it. --M.S.

Walker & Royce feat. Dances With White Girls, "Take Me To Your Leader"

Whenever dance music starts taking itself a bit too seriously, labels like dirtybird are around to inject a bit more fun back into the mix. This year, the Claude VonStroke-helmed imprint shined the spotlight on Brooklyn-based duo Walker & Royce and their standout album, Self Help. The album provided an extended showcase of the pair’s quirky spin on house music, with “Take Me To Your Leader,” featuring Dances With White Girls, serving as the LP’s breakout hit. --M.S.

Yaeji, "Raingurl"

"Raingurl" moves easily between muted -- washes of quiet synth, conversation lyrics -- and ferocious: the potent hip-house hook repeats three syllables, "make it rain," 16 times. The resulting single is soothing and galvanizing all at once, the type of track that can ignite a party or bring one to a graceful, emphatic end. And at a fleet 3:57, "Raingurl" also packs cross-genre appeal, capable of perking ears of club-goers as well as drawing in those who prefer to listen to their dance music in the comfort of their own homes. --E.L.

Billboard Year in Music 2017