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Where My Head’s At: Kunal’s DJ Mag Top 100 picks

Even though the DJ Mag Top 100 is essentially a popularity contest, we think everyone who loves dance music should vote. It’s a great way to support your favorite DJs and engage in some spirited debate with fellow dance fans. As an extension of our Where My Head’s At series, our editors will share their five favorite CDJ technicians, and tell you what makes them so great.

First up: Kunal Bambawale.

1. Dubfire

A vote for Dubfire is a vote for style. While you are at home reading this article, Mr. Ali Shirazinia is probably somewhere exotic, twiddling the knobs of a mysterious contraption that is making strange clicking noises. In front of him, there is probably a crowd of people dancing to the strange clicking noises. They are having a great time.

Some are twisting their hips and tapping their toes. Some are waving their arms and nodding their heads. The dance moves vary from person to person, but one thing is certain: they are all shifting their weight from one foot to the other — forward, backward, left foot, right foot. They are joined together by Dubfire’s spell. They move as one.

On stage, Mr. Ali Shirazinia is probably wearing a black v-neck t-shirt. He is gracefully and almost imperceptibly bouncing on his toes. His torso sways, but his shoulders never seem to move. His dark eyes scan the crowd, absorbing its energy. These people are ready. And just like that, the bassline kicks. Everyone who can hear it loses his/her shit.

2. John Digweed

John Digweed makes progressive house. Real progressive house. You know, the type that isn’t sugary-sweet and Swedish and rhythmically offensive. When John Digweed is spinning progressive, the beat does not always have to go DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM, over and over again. You don’t have to fist pump. But you do have to dance.

When John Digweed sequences records and sounds together into a DJ set, you feel connected to every person who has ever had the pleasure of watching him perform. You appreciate the sense of history. You realize that maybe the DJ Mag rankings aren’t so horrible, after all, because there was a time when John Digweed was #1.

The mix grows more complex. Melody combines with intricate structure. Not all of the songs are happy — some are spooky and dark and mysterious. It’s a spiritual experience that touches every frequency in the spectrum of human emotion.

Eventually, the music grows so elaborate that it’s impossible to keep track of every loop. Now, John Digweed has control of you. You stop trying to figure out what’s going on and enjoy the feeling of being washed away.

3. Mark Knight

The intersection between house and techno is an unpredictable place. It’s a place where time feels arbitrary, where minutes can last a lifetime but hours can speed by in an instant. Tech house is a land of possibility and magic. When the groove is right and the crowd is in sync, tech house can make the world outside a nightclub’s comforting walls feel distant and insignificant.

Since 2006, Mark Knight and his Toolroom cronies have blurred and smeared the lines between house’s irresistible rhythm and techno’s elegant sparsity. They have explored tech house’s endless possibilities, and made some pretty fine music. The Toolroom boss has many formidable tunes, but my favorite will always be his  remix of Florence + The Machine’s “You’ve Got the Love.” Sure, there are many times when I feel like throwing my hands in the air. When “You’ve Got the Love” plays, however, it’s not a conscious choice. I don’t throw my hands anywhere. I don’t even think about my hands. But somehow, they drift inexorably upward, as if they have minds of their own.

4. Luciano

Luciano makes “modern swing dance music” that bursts with Latin American effervescence. By voting for him, I’ve broken one of my biggest rules — only vote for DJs that you have experienced live. To be honest, I’ve heard mixed things about his sets from those who have danced to them. Some people say he’s an overrated primadonna. Others validate my view — that his music makes it very easy to have fun.

Whenever I hear a Luciano mix, I become convinced that I can foxtrot and jive and boogie-woogie. I cannot do those dances, but I try them, and manage to enjoy myself when I fail. I am filled with a sort of irrepressible pre-adolescent joy. I forgive Luciano for the atrocious pink highlights in his hair. I am reminded that, at its core, great music is always very, very simple — that less is always more.

Luciano and Cadenza Records are not for people who live for the drop. They are for people who understand that life is about the search for the perfect groove.

5. Above & Beyond

Because even though they don’t need my vote, I still feel obligated to give it to them. Because Anjunabeats is a phenomenon for which there are no appropriate words. Because without them we wouldn’t have Arty or Andrew Bayer or Mat Zo or Norin & Rad. Because Paavo looks a little bit like a lesbian and watching him ride the trance wave is supremely entertaining. Because Group Therapy is good for society. Because Tony writes lyrics that are soppy and sentimental and existential… and I enjoy being soppy and sentimental and existential. Because Jono is my favorite bald person who isn’t named Marco Carola. Because both their Essential Mixes were transmissions from heaven. Because Above & Beyond changed my life — and if you’ve seen them, then they’ve probably changed yours too.

So, where’s your head at?

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