It's that time of year again when — before planning year-end trips and making New Year's resolutions — we at Mixmag Asia offer you our top selection of sonic creations to come out of Asia and the Asian diaspora.
This year's line-up is a raw and unfiltered plunge into audacious innovation of the aural kind, fuelled by the personal picks of our writers; Henry Cooper, Mengzy, Arun Ramanathan and Amira Waworuntu. Whether it be anarchic 303-infused madness or historical compilations preserving transcendent sounds, these tracks and albums/EPs defy norms with relentless intensity, showcasing what seems to be a rebellion of sorts from the underground music scene.
In addition to saluting original arrangements, we also nod the remixes that deliver a variety of Balearic dreamscapes to hardcore drum'n'bass anthems. From self-released gems with catchy grooves to forward-thinking techno, devilishly twisted soundscapes and nostalgic acid-infused tracks, enjoy the eclectic arrangement of music that has made its mark in 2023 (and that we recommend adding to one or two playlists!).
Title: Boy (VIP Edit)
Label: Klasse Wrecks
Mogwaa is on a roll this year, delivering three diverse full-length projects. While his usual vibe leans towards dreamy and mellow, Klasse Wrecks revealed my favourite side of his artistry in his latest single. Both versions of the track are madness, but the VIP Edit takes it for me. I’m a sucker for that 303 he lays over those hypnotic vocals, all tied together with those rolling breaks, with it all culminating in the final minute, which, as Klasse Wrecks says, is organised chaos.
Title: Final Hate
Apart from its sonic allure, there’s an intriguing backstory that comes with this one. Yoshi Nori at JIN encouraged Gonno to step out of his comfort zone, birthing a hellspawn of a sound that, sadly, Gonno has since vowed never to revisit. It's a one-of-a-kind creation, the likes of which we’ll never hear again. It’s cursed and twisted, but oh so gripping. It's like watching some screwed-up horror movie or being punched square in the face…but in a good way.
Title: Power Jam Play
Spraybox stands out as one of my top labels this year, and picking just one track from them posed a challenge. While it may not be the deepest and doesn’t reinvent the wheel, this one from Jacotanu is an absolute floor filler—pure UKG bass fun. It's been a personal go-to track for injecting a bit of life into a stagnant dancefloor, consistently delivering infectious, undeniably good vibes.
Title: 绿帽 Green Hat
'绿帽 Green Hat' is a uniquely primal album, delving into the ancient Chinese symbol of cuckoldry: a green hat. This symbol becomes a vehicle for Tzusing to confront China's complicated history with patriarchal norms, male insecurity, and fragile masculinity. The fleshed-out production, characterised by his typical anxiety-inducing elements, features blood-curdling sampling, chaotic traditional Asian instrumentation, and abrasive dog-eat-dog industrial basslines. Seeing him perform several of these tracks live, every time has resulted in some of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen — so incredibly raw.
Title: In The Zone
Artist: Didi Han
Label: Shall Not Fade
When hitting play for the first time, I had to double-check if it was the same Didi Han I've loved for years. She's veered from her dreamy vibe into a '90s-inspired, high-octane sound laced with vintage vibes, eclectic samples and old-school rave sounds. This shift in sound is partly down to her using a TR-8S for the drum work, with her saying it added layers of enjoyment to her music-making, which is abundantly clear across the five tracks on display. She laced track #3, ‘Rim Shots On The Clouds’, into a set of hers earlier this year, leading me to spend months and months trying to track it down before knowing its title. Now here we are with her full release, with the rest of the project being just as strong.
Title: Flanged Vortex (Faze Action Remix)
Artist: Eiki Nonaka
Label: Mule Musiq
After resurrecting Eiki Nonaka’s obscure 1995 album ‘A-Key’ with a vinyl and digital re-release, Tokyo-based Mule Musiq treated the world to a fresh set of remixes to recontextualise its archival find. Faze Action conjured a Balearic dreamscape with their downtempo remix of ‘Flanged Vortex’ that stands up as one of our favourite tracks in any BPM this year.
Artist: Ryuki Miyamoto
Label: TREKKIE TRAX
Expectations are high for a track with a name like ‘Firestarter’ but Ryuki Miyamoto didn’t disappoint with the last track of his ‘PLAY IT LOUD AGAIN’ EP. With enough energy and impact to open a headline festival set, ‘Firestarter’ embraced the hardcore revival aesthetic with a fiery stab motif, alongside tearout builds and breaks, to craft one of the baddest drum’n’bass tunes out of Asia this year.
Title: Pum Pum City
Catchy and headsy at the same time? Now, that’s a bargain. Dropped as a self-release, the drum work on GoodMostlyBad’s ‘Pum Pum City’ is truly a work of art. Textured, layered, and infinitely groovy, it offers the listener something new with each return. Incredibly versatile to DJ with, ‘Pum Pum City’ always gets a reaction from those who know, if you know what we mean.
Title: PLAY IT LOUD AGAIN
Artist: Ryuki Miyamoto
Label: TREKKIE TRAX
One of TREKKIE TRAX’s strongest EPs this year came courtesy of Ryuki Miyamoto. A breakbeat-driven release, ‘PLAY IT LOUD AGAIN’ mounts in intensity across seven tracks that span 130 to 174 BPM integrating several bass genres. While the writing and treatment of influences smashed it out of the park, it may be Miyamoto’s world-class sound design and engineering that elevates this release to one of the year’s best.
Label: Jugaar Records
A well-balanced, all-killer-no-filler VA is a thing of beauty. Back in March, that’s precisely what Pakistan-based Jugaar Records delivered with ‘JR003’. Featuring stars on the rise from multiple continents, such as Egypt’s Hassan Abou Alam, Thailand’s Chalo, and UK-based Joe Koshin, the release will surely endure as a snapshot of forward-thinking techno in 2023 on a global scale.
Artist: A Vision of Panorama feat. Eiko Hara
Label: Cala Tarida Musica
Sticking to his less is more trait, AVOP never fails to deliver exceptional character in creating a unique space of sound. Detouring from his typical downtempo path, ‘Unconditional’ is a smooth house ride, made unforgettable by Eiko Hara’s velvety-smooth voice. With so much of this year’s focus on the dance floor leaning heavily on the theme of ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’, ‘Unconditional’ dropped into our inbox as a refreshing, sensual and impressionable track that deserves to be treasured as a delicacy for years to come.
Title: ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ (Higher Intelligence Agency Mix)
Artist: Temple Rat
Label: Siamese Twins Records
There isn’t a step taken by the Siamese Twins family that doesn’t go unnoticed. In line with the label’s quest for novelty, this particular single from Temple Rat speaks highly of what deeper dancefloor experiences can offer. Kāthā refers to sacred mantras from Cambodian and Thai traditions meant to offer shelter and blessings. The original cassette tape release featured Khun Fluff, Nic Ford and Temple Rat, with a follow-up release of remixes that includes a psychedelic IDM trip from Higher Intelligence Agency. The 90’s experimental artist from Birmingham lends his hallucinatory style to Temple Rats’ ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. Expect a blissed-out, dubby trip, fit for a left-of-field dancefloor.
Title: Pleasure (Original Vox Mix)
Artist: Jennifer Loveless
Label: Butter Sessions
A stripped-back production might be a personal preference for only a few when it comes to rating a groove; but a semi-nude body of house music can also be resonant of a raw, promiscuous sensation. Coming off the back of highly acclaimed early releases, Butter Sessions’ resident Jennifer Loveless offers ‘Pleasure’ as a moody, heady and irresistible rhythm. A wild ride for the timid; an incessant groove for ‘Pleasure’ seekers.
Title: Party Music 87'- 94
Label: Sound Metaphors Records
Dusting off the archive of early tape recordings of Ray Castle’s music collection and DJ sets from the heydays of Goa’s glorified rave movement, Berlin labels Sound Metaphors and Transmigration have found a way to preserve a liberal slice of history on this double 12” compilation. Known for having a penchant for transcendental music, a meticulously curated selection of Castle’s collection from the late 80s to early 90s can be enjoyed in all its nostalgic glory — note the stellar sleeve photography for added nostalgia). Enclosed in this release is a wider range of sounds than one might expect that sonically depict a liberal era; the cosmic Italo influences of ‘Saturnalia’ to the driving psy-acid house energy of ‘Beat Control’ (Siena Mix 1) to the ancestral hypnotism found on Peyote’s ‘Alcatraz’.
Title: In Parallel
Label: Wisdom Teeth
Since their first experimental singles in 2019, which were followed by a debut EP in 2020, Korean duo Salamanda have found their own method to transport listeners to otherworldly places. Creating fantastical soundscapes that are filled with fluid motion and whimsical moments, the pair have struck a manifestation of a signature spectrum that falls between playful mellow grooves and cosmically animated ambience. ‘In Parallel’ is their fourth album, and has to be one of our favourite bodies of work in the alternative electronica realm to come out this year. Combining their trippy-ambient style with Asiatic nuances, ‘In Parallel’ subtly leans on an alternative-pop tip, most notably with their pitched up and auto-tune vocal play. Subtlety makes this blend both warm and fuzzy — cosy would be an understatement. Early morning lie-ins or a poolside siesta under a warm glimmer might be ideal scenarios to hit play let the album do its magic on you.
Artist: Ma Haiping
Label: Molecular Recordings
When it comes to techno in Asia, Ma Haiping stands as an undeniable frontrunner. The concept of ‘Collapse’ is influenced by time singularities, and the producer proves that repetition can actually be equally riveting. Kicking off with a steady, fast-paced beat, the track progresses into a plethora of modern sounds with futuristic textures via hypnotic synths that impose themselves into the composition. A guaranteed dancefloor weapon for discerning techno enthusiasts.
Eclectic to the core. DOTT’s mindboggling mash-up of sounds may not be your typical floor-filler but is a testament to his constantly evolving and experimental sound. It maintains a minimal charm while it teems with the ebb and flow of menacing, warbling synths and persistent percussion. With a mind-bending, deep house groove throughout, we reckon it won’t take long for you to cosy up to this one.
Title: Angel Number 909 (Acid House Mix)
Artist: Mr Ho
Label: Klasse Wrecks
Prepare to be transported back to rapturous nights of 90s rave heyday, with sweaty bodies gyrating across dimly-lit dancefloors. Pulsating with nocturnal energy (powered by that addicting four-by-four beat we all know and love), the Acid House Mix presents a swarm of sounds typical to a warehouse-setting getdown. Snappy, acidic synths, the purposive bedlam of breaks, a grubby, punchy bassline that’ll get fists clenched…it’s a just right combination to culminate your wide-eyed dancing in the wee hours. Sunnies highly suggested.
Title: Young Love
Label: Accidental Records
A fitting follow-up to last year’s debut on Matthew Herbert’s imprint, Sijya’s remix album demonstrates her true artistic essence, allowing full-on experimentation and amplifications towards her multi-dimensional songwriting. The collaborators on 'Young Love' throw down their distinctive styles, unleashing everything from glitchy, ominous electronica to hypnotic ambient beats and mind-bending off-kilter house, while staying true to the original compositions’ vibes. Consider it a diverse sonic showcase of genres, textures, and atmospheres that stir emotions you might not have been aware of as you immerse further into the experience.
Title: I Want An Earth
Artist: Yu Su
Label: Pinchy & Friends
A beautiful sounding release that serves as a sonic revolt against a world teetering on the edge. In ‘I Want An Earth’, Yu Su showcases her mastery in composition, seamlessly blending geographical inspiration with experimental sounds, moody chords, and snippets of field recordings. Influenced by her experiences in the deserts of Ojai, California, the music features warm and modular compositions, immersing listeners in a rich tapestry of sound. The album's cosmic elements, intricate melodies, unconventional rhythms and lush pads add an otherworldly dimension to the listening journey — one that also serves as a reminder that there’s no planet B.