Just when you thought you’d seen the end of the “best of 2012” lists malarkey on Louder Than War along we come with another! This one, however, is a bit different to what we’ve been publishing over the last few days as it focusses on just one (albeit quite broad) genre & because it’s a list of some awesome music that it’s pretty unlikely you’ll have heard before. The list has, as you’ll have gathered from the title, been compiled by our resident guru of all things loosely fitting under the umbrella “Digidub”, Gareth Main. And accompanying the list is a soundtrack mix featuring a lot of the music in Gareth’s 20 for 2012. Smart advice therefore would be for you to scroll down to the Soundcloud embed, click play, then come back And start reading from the “Let me get this straight from the off” below. Sorted? Cool.

Let me get this straight from the off. End of year lists, although not quite pointless, are definitely misleading. So when I was asked by Louder Than War for my top dub, digidub and general top albums from across the reggae-cum-dancehall spectrum, I couldn’t give an answer, primarily because so many great records would miss the cut purely for not being long enough to constitute an album. This is the weakness of genres that tend to release through clubs – on dubplates and on individual tracks put to an MC by a producer. So despite my derision of these types of lists, I decided to put together a top 20 of records – whether released as CD albums, 12″/10″/7” vinyl, digital or just uploaded to Soundcloud that have come out in 2012. Loads have missed the cut, and the order is rather arbitrary based on one person’s preference at the time of writing.

The joy of great music is that every track provides something new, interesting and different. So I’ve tried to incorporate as many great artists as possible with as few duplications as possible, that means that if you love one of these artists, go and dig deeper, because it’s inevitable they’ve released more incredible music this year.

20 7FT Soundsystem x Brother Culture – Dubplate

As I wrote in my debut digidupe column for this site, dub music has spread far and wide across the globe. The internet makes collaborations intercontinental affairs and this track, released in February, puts London MC Brother Culture up alongside the All Hope Riddim from South Africa’s 7FT Soundsystem. The result is a delectable slice of digi reggae. It was released on Soundcloud back in February, and was amongst the first brilliant tracks that set a high bar for 7FT Soundsystem’s output in 2012.

19 YT – Revolution Time 12″ (Renegade Masters)

The first LP on Soom T’s Renegade Masters label features the brilliantly monikered MC YT with his third long player. Unashamed reggae, pulling in riddims from Mungo’s HiFi, Nucleus Roots and Kris Kemist amongst others, when it was released back in the summer, it was a perfect soundtrack for the odd days of sun we managed. It also came with the best or worst album cover of the year depending on my mood – it’s certainly in contention for both though.

18 Various – Jahtarian Dubbers Vol.3 12″ (Jahtari)

The Jahtari compilation is an essential part of any modern dub collection. The third volume failed to match the unquantifiable brilliance of its predecessor, but it still came up with the goods. Incredible tracks from usual suspects Disrupt, El Fata and Soom T were backed up by the old guard, including Mungo’s HiFi, Mikey Murka and Lee Scratch Perry. If you’re unaware of Jahtari, one of these compilations is the place to start.

17 Horace Andy – Watch We (WellWell Remix)

WellWell is a Parisian producer who could have almost filled this chart on his own. My selection though is this remix of Massive Attack collaborator Horace Andy’s Watch We. WellWell excites me greatly, he does a fine line in digidancehall, and I’m really looking forward to hearing a non-Soundcloud release in 2013.

16 Soom T – We Want Out 7″ (Junior Wize)

A number of years ago, it would have been conceivable that Soom T would get the top two slots on a chart like this with two cuts from her Dirty Money EP, released on Jahtari back in 2009. Since then the quality has remained consistent and the workrate seems to have cranked up considerably since starting her own label Renegade Masters. A couple of 7”s released this year, and this is my favourite, put out by Japan’s Junior Wize (Naoyuki Hashimoto), who has been putting out some exceptionable stuff over the past twelve months. The depth of this riddim is incredible, building and falling around the paradoxically consistent flow of Soom’s lyrics.

15 xRob Black – Boss the Ripper 7″ (Superfly)
A bit of modern ska? Well yes please. This is a track that came through Dreadsquad’s Superfly Studios over the summer and is the first release of xRobBlack – a Poland-born keyboardist who merges reggae roots with Caribbean rhythms. The result is something undeniably catchy, appearing both retro and contemporary.

14 The Paradox Musicians feat Carl Meeks – Done Wid It 7” (Junior Wize)

The second Junior Wize production to appear in this list. Done Wid It pairs fellow Japanese chaps The Paradox Musicians with Jamaica’s legendary dancehall MC Carl Meeks, who talks in biting, exasperated tones about gun problems and prays for the youth to devastatingly poignant effect.

13 Various – Ancient Times 12” (Reality Shock)

What happens when you put Soom T, Solo Banton, Afrikan Simba, Aqua Livi, Deadly Hunta and Kris Kemist together? The answer should be the best 12” money can buy, and this release on Reading label Reality Shock got exceptionally close to just that. Kris Kemist’s riddim is a sublime, hazy nod to the mystic, with choral touches underpinning some of the best lyricists in the world.

12 Prince Jaabaal – Hailing Jah Jah

This is my favourite great unknown of the year. Prince Jaabaal hails from Trinidad & Tobago and that’s all that the web seems to know about him. He put out a couple of tunes on Soundcloud back in June, and hasn’t been seen since. On the basis of Hailing Jah Jah, one hopes that he is hidden away creating more gold for 2013. This is one to watch closely.

11 7FT Soundsystem Meets Fletcher In Dub – 7FT Meets Fletcher In Dub EP (Bombaada)

This digital release is one that would have driven me wild a few years back. Taking Austin Powers samples and cutting it into an otherworldly, space age digi riddim, these two Cape Town masters combine to stunning effect for the first release on netlabel Bombaada. It’ll be interesting to see what’s next from the label.

10 Stand High Patrol – Midnight Walkers 12″ (Stand High)

No best of anything list could be without a nod to Pupajim, who has one of the best lyrical flows I’ve ever heard. Stand High Patrol is three chaps from Brest in Normandy, and after a few wonderful single releases, February saw the release of their debut LP. Midnight Walkers is the sound of modern west coast (France) hip-hop, making some undeniable nods to the sounds of g-funk as well as contemporary digi. It’s irresistible.

9 Dreadsquad feat Lady Chann – Money Ah Dem God (Krak in Dub RMX)

We’re getting into seriously heavy territory here, and this remix from France’s Krak in Dub of an already amazing collaboration between Poland’s Dreadsquad and London MC Lady Chann is a special way to get into single figures on this chart. It cuts the treble, ska element of the original and terrorises the remainder into a instant dancefloor filler.

8 D.E.A.D. – S.T.I.L.L. D.E.A.D. 12” (GM Sounds)

Full disclosure here: this is a record that’s put out on my own record label. I thought I shouldn’t include it to avoid claims of bias, but then that would be unfair to Dutch producer D.E.A.D., who has produced some incredible dubs to close out 2012. Mixmag, the Quietus and this site agree, and it’s getting to a stage where I can claim it is a critically-acclaimed record, so I’m taking that as proof that I’m not being too rose-tinted in including it on this chart. D.E.A.D.’s music is original, odd and terrifying, S.T.I.L.L. D.E.A.D. is a mesmerising carnival of sound – dark, deep and of a time entirely of its own.

7 Mungo’s Hi-fi feat. Skweek a Mouse – Di Cheeses

I’m a man who loves his humour, and a near six-minute track about a mouse stealing your cheese, pitched over a squelchy bass riddim by Glasgow’s finest near enough constitutes my idea of heaven. Unfortunately this is only out on Soundcloud – one to put on a dubplate I believe.

6 Digitaldubs feat. Sugar Minott – Complicated People 7″ (Muzamba)

The late Sugar Minott appears on 7”s rather more regularly than you’d expect someone to do so two years after they have passed away. This release from Brazil’s Digitaldubs on the Muzamba label is the finest example of many that have come out during 2012. Complicated People is a blissed-out summer sound, with an irresistible skank and original lyrics from Minott, which goes to show that death is no obstacle to producing fine sounds.

5 Mungo’s Hi-Fi – Hire and Removal Refix 12″ (Scotch Bonnet)

Possibly the most prolific artist on this list, Mungo’s Hi-Fi and their own Scotch Bonnet label seem to be gearing up for a hectic 2013, with lots of releases already confirmed. This 12” though was one of the more remarkable releases of the year. The A side takes Eek-a-Mouse’s lyrics from Anarexol (on the Mouseketeer label), and uses them to tee up an awesome slice of dubstep. On the flip, Mungo’s take Solo Banton and Ruben Da Silva lyrics, using most prominantly Solo’s lyrics from Kung Fu Master, which appeared on the fabulous 2011 Music Addict EP via Jahtari.

4 Alpha Steppa – Highest Grade 7″ (Steppas)

Highest Grade Dub is the track I’ve most often been asked about by people when I’ve played it out live, and with good reason. This double 7” release on London label Steppas is relaxed skanking dub, most reminiscent of any in this list to the work of the fathers of the dub genre and the pioneers such as King Tubby and Augustus Pablo. Regardless of that, this is contemporary dub at its finest, with Alpha Steppa planting firmly into the dubstep realm later in the record.

3 The Bug – Can’t Take This No More 7″ (Acid Ragga)

Sticking with London residents, The Bug’s Ninja Tune-affiliated Acid Ragga label has built upon his London Zoo record and his Invasion Of The Mysteron Killer Sounds compilations with more of his own brand of forward-thinking acid dub music. The first 7” release was this fired up mind fry of a track featuring mind blowing lyrics by Daddy Freddy, who also appears on the second Acid Ragga 7” too. No doubt 2013 will continue serving up the goods.

2 Dreadsquad – The Riddim Machine 12″ (Superfly)

For me, 2012 has pretty much belonged to Poland. It has been an incredible year for Dreadsquad and his Superfly Studio (see numbers 9 and 15) and the long-awaited LP of tracks that have being doing the Soundcloud rounds for a little while could easily have taken top spot in this chart. The man from Lodz had an enviable cast of MCs lined up for The Riddim Machine, kicking off with Germany’s Dr Ring Ring on the ska heavy Old’s Cool, as well as Tenor Fly, the aforementioned Lady Chann and El Fata (with who another Dreadsquad release is planned in 2013).

1 Gorgon Sound – Find Jah Way 12″ (Peng! Sound)

One release blew me away this year, and that is the one that takes the top spot for my 2012. Illustrating that the ‘best album’ format is flawed, the best thing to be put to vinyl over the last twelve months was a single track from Bristol’s Gorgon Sound. The debut release on the Peng! Sound label (who have made their name putting on fantastic digidub nights of their own over the years), this is insatiable digidub sounds, and has gone through more than one repress, and with good reason.

Okay, so I couldn’t cram everything I wanted into this top twenty, so I’ll use this space to give praise to Helgeland 8-bit Squad, who have released lots that should go in this list, Prince Fatty vs The Drunken Gambler, Mr Williamz – Japan Be Strong, Ghost Town, Tradesman, Ratface, Parly B, Mochi D, Rootsteppa, El Bid, DoobieSound, Don Peke, Maffi and lots of other artists I’ll hopefully find time to write about throughout 2013.

All words Gareth Main. More features by Gareth on Louder Than War can be found here.

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