Best albums of 2011, No 2: Katy B – On a Mission

Not only did Katy B showcase a new direction for dance music, she offered a fresh perspective on love, lust and London nightlife

This was the record that finally saw UK underground dance break into the charts, giving dubstep stars Magnetic Man and funky producers Geeneus and Zinc mainstream success. But what makes it one of our albums of the year is that it doesn't dwell on its bleeding-edge beats. Rather, Katy B co-opted the dramatic production of her rave mates to tell stories about London's clandestine nightlife.

The record's charm stems from a total absence of ego: Katy was never trying to be a superstar. Early recording sessions had to be worked around her degree studies at Goldsmiths (for which she wrote her dissertation about the rise of UK funky). At that time, On a Mission wasn't going to be an album with her name on, but a sampler for pirate radio station Rinse FM to showcase dance's new direction. DJs would submit a track and she would provide guest vocals.

Rinse soon realised Katy could bring something more than just a hookline to their production. She had a perspective on clubbing they never saw from behind the DJ booth: she was in the ladies talking about boys she shouldn't fancy, falling breathless under bass lines or asleep on the night bus home.

She's not the first to write dance music about dance music, but while James Murphy's clipped, self-referential monologue analysed last night's excesses in the bruising light of day, Katy wrote about love and lust from inside that thrilling, drunken moment.

Perfect Stranger is about the spark when a boy brushes your shoulder and in one locked gaze you know what's going to happen next. Easy Please Me condenses a thousand girl chats about fancying the wrong kind of boys into a single lyric: "I love a bad boy mentality, but I don't want to be visiting no jail." The album might as well have been written in the smoking area of Fabric.

Commercial dance music in 2011 was almost totally dominated by Taio Cruz, Pitbull and their gang of nightlife fantasists, singing about DJs, dancefloors and shawtys that existed only in their schoolboy imaginations. Katy's was a quiet, veracious voice that told them what it's really like. Her record was not only a springboard for a different kind of dance music but a telling of its history through one girl's wide eyes.

Contributor

Sam Wolfson

The GuardianTramp

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