2021 was the year that the void finally snapped and screamed back. Not so much a chef’s kiss of a year, more a kitchen porter’s fisting.

Here in the UK, despite the best efforts of the UK government to simultaneously wish the pandemic away whilst also hanging onto it as it’s a pretty good earner, COVID has again defined our year in dance music. The government abandoned any attempts to protect public health and instead just let everything open back up with no risk mitigation. Dance music was utterly split over whether that was a good idea, a bad idea, a good idea poorly executed or a disgraceful abandonment of their duty of care that will be remembered in infamy.

The Government policy on risk mitigation at this point is pretty much “No worries if not!” If nothing else, it meant that everyone could start responding as “interested” to events on Facebook again. And the slow return to clubs might at least signal an end to drone-filmed DJ sets in disused quarries — we can but hope.

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Promoters realised that the onus for public health had been thrust upon them and scrambled to make the best of it, navigating the vague and changing guidelines from a government that has as much moral integrity as grubby entrepreneur opportunists selling Paul Johnson 12″s for three-figure sums. At least DJs could get back to the important business of thanking entire continental landmasses: “THANK YOU ASIA YOU WERE LIT LAST NIGHT.” Whatever your opinion on the pandemic we can all agree that from now on, all club-goers should show proof of deodorant use and teeth cleaning prior to entry. But by the end of the year, it began to feel like it would be quite cool if COVID held a presser telling us how we’re going to cope with the government.

As we return to clubs it’s important to remember that the phrase ‘as we return to clubs it’s important to remember’ is really starting to grate.

Depressingly, the pro-virus/anti-vax edges of dance music continued to protest against lockdowns that weren’t happening, happy to march alongside renowned racists and conspiracy groups who had clearly been thoroughly infiltrated by the far-right. Ironically of course, through refusing to mask up or to be vaccinated, the pro-virus lobby actually help to breed new variants and to spread existing ones, contributing to the continuance of the whole shitshow they’re protesting against. It’s like a psychedelic crystal-worshipping circle-jerk, except they’ve all got guns and are shooting each other in the dick.

Talking of metaphorically shooting yourself in the dick, here in the UK there was always Brexit to cheer us up. Just some of the brilliant results of Brexit for the UK music industry so far have been: record labels giving up selling to Europe due to increased costs and red tape and UK online shops and publications taking huge losses as they also found their trade with Europe vastly more expensive. We’ve also experienced hospitality staff shortages and many smaller-to-medium DJs and artists are finding out that touring Europe post-COVID is simply going to be financially untenable. Perhaps most worryingly, in September Mixmag was reporting a pill drought due to a shortage of unwitting lorry drivers smuggling them in. And we still have the impact of full border controls on imports from the EU to look forward to in 2022. Meet you at the front for the festival of Brexit!

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But did anything funny happen in 2021? Well it’s been a tough year but strap in while I attempt to lighten the mood. We have to give the briefest of mentions to DJ Carnage, he of throwing-money-in-his-fans-faces-to-teach-them-about-humility fame. In February he tweeted about a song he’d made that was going to change house music forever — and the next day Daft Punk announced their retirement. Coincidence? Or something more suspicious? Well if chunks of dance music can wander around unsupervised spouting utter red-pill pants-down conspiracies about microchips in vaccinations and threatening to execute NHS staff then surely we can allow this conspiracy too, right?

It’s like a psychedelic crystal-worshipping circle-jerk, except they’ve all got guns and are shooting each other in the dick.

Anyway, there was no time to reflect on the wise musings of Carnage as we had to prepare for the first wave of Daft Punk tribute mixes. Spring arrived just as the UK government announced that people in the 25 to 30 age bracket were next in line to boo war memorials or something, I forget. Meanwhile, the Christian dubstep threat level was raised from substantial to serious.

The dance music online discourse has been as edifying as ever. UK politician Michael Gove took on his human form and emerged to feed one night, ending up in a nightclub, triggering a brief older-people-in-clubs debate. Boiler Room had a good year as they announced via their Cultural Recovery Fund application that they had established the careers of Sherelle, Honey Dijon and Four Tet, which was nice of them. Resident Advisor plagiarised 5 Mag and then started to report on plague raves having spent a year or so profiting from *checks notes* umm, plague raves.

A Tiesto fans’ ashes were fired from a glitter cannon during Creamfields, which helped me decide what I want for Christmas: a promise from my nearest and dearest that they’ll bake my ashes into a cake for Steve Aoki to smash into the face of a kid in a wheelchair.

A DJ called Theta Burn dished out some DJing advice to Carl Cox (sample text: “overall, decent mix but needs improvement”), awarded him a C+ and suggested he really needed to buckle down in class and stop being so easily distracted. A Tiesto fans’ ashes were fired from a glitter cannon during Creamfields, triggering the retirement of the last of dance music’s satirists. Just imagine being in the crowd and then finding out afterwards what was in the cannon. Still, it helped me decide what I want for Christmas: a promise from my nearest and dearest that on my demise they’ll bake my ashes into a cake for Steve Aoki to smash into the face of a kid in a wheelchair.

September was the due date for this year’s scheduled online ambient debate and much like the ambient genre itself, the debate just gently wallowed in repetition, never resolving, existing in a perpetual present. Eric Prydz tweeted a, well, it wasn’t exactly a techno hot take, more a lukewarm grasp — and Ben Sims swiftly commented, bringing the term “cheesy muppet” back into circulation, conjuring tasty mouthwatering images of a brie-stuffed fried Kermit.

People bellowing “Woomph there it is” at festivals almost made me want to go back into lockdown but hey, who am I to judge what is fun. Blawan put out his pitched-down Scooby Doo theme just in time for Halloween, triggering some of the most boring dance music takes yet witnessed. No, please, do tell me again your opinion on how much distortion he used.

On the return to clubs, Fabric banned phones and we very nearly sleepwalked into another phones-in-clubs discourse, demonstrating again the need for vigilance. And following the events of this year in the UK, women experiencing sexual harassment in clubs are now being advised to simply dress like a statue of Winston Churchill to ensure they’re protected. Theta Burn won the DJ Mag Top 100 Poll haha not really, it was Guetta, who I like to imagine did a massive gun fingers rewind with a Martin Luther King acapella to celebrate. And we headed into December with the news that some of the richest representatives of an industry that owes its very identity to Black, Latino and gay communities would happily DJ in a country where you can be flogged for the “crime” of being gay.

In summary then: trance is now techno, eurodance is now trance, crypto-house is the next big thing, watch out for the blue pillage, and you can beat the algorithm simply by never listening to or making any music. And as for next year — well hey girl are you the anti-vax club discourse because I’d really like to take your hand and lead you back into the light. May next year bring us all the love and light we so very much need.

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