Every Track on Harlecore, Ranked
Today marks one year since Danny L Harle dropped Harlecore, and the world was never the same.
The thirteen-track opus made for one of the best electronic albums of 2021, not just for how great it sounded, but also for its unique presentation. Each of the songs are credited to one of four DJs, representing each collaborative partnership Harle worked with on the record. There’s DJ Danny, a moniker for Harle’s solo bangers, MC Boing, a collaboration with Lil Data of PC Music that leans into happy hardcore, DJ Mayhem, an industrial dance venture with Hudson Mohawke, and DJ Ocean, a blissed out collaboration with Caroline Polachek. Together, they form what Harle dubs a “24/7, virtual club experience”, with each moniker giving the listener the feeling of stepping into a different room of a nightclub. The album perfectly achieves the mission statement, making for a beautiful record. So of course, I’m going to dissect the album in the silliest and nerdiest way: ranking the DJ’s against each other.
As part of my ranking process, I revisited each of the tracks and ranked them in order from least-great to best. I assigned each of them a score depending on their ranking: the highest-rated song got 13 points, the second-highest-rated got 12, and so on. Finally, I took a mean of the points each DJ achieved, and compared them against each other. We'll be looking at the data soon, but for now, let's count down throughout the tracklist of this incredible album!
13. For So Long - DJ Ocean
There are only two DJ Ocean tracks on Harlecore, which is a shame, because production-wise, they’re some of the album’s best. Forgoing the rave frenzy of most of the album, For So Long is more of an ambient mood piece, with Caroline Polachek’s wordless vocals sounding divine. Around the 2:40 mark, a lovely arpeggiator enters, teasing at new worlds of sound out there, before being swallowed by the ethereal bass at 3:20. If the DJ Ocean tracks are at all representative of Polachek’s follow-up to Pang, then we’re in for a treat.
12. Ti Amo - DJ Danny (feat. MC Spirits)
Sometimes when you hear a song, you just know that it couldn't have been made by any other artist. The closing track across all versions of Harlecore is Ti Amo, a collaboration with the enigmatic MC Spirits - who may or may not be a pseudonym for Italian gabber producer Gabber Eleganza - which also samples Golden Brown by 80s new wave punks The Stranglers. If that sounds like it could be out of place in Harlecore’s wacky world, fret not - it rounds off the album perfectly, and fits seamlessly into DJ Danny’s universe.
11. Piano Song - MC Boing
If you’ve not heard a song by MC Boing before, please take a moment to listen to the 100-second whirlwind that is Piano Song before continuing reading. I'll wait.
How was it? What did you think? Personally, I think I'll be banging the piano, banging the piano, all day, all night, all day, all night. The weakest MC Boing track on Harlecore is still unforgettable. The piano refrain is wonderfully catchy, the glitchy synth line is jaw-dropping, and the percussion is so powerful you feel it throughout your whole body. I love this ridiculous track.
10. All Night - DJ Mayhem
In the music videos for his tracks, DJ Mayhem is shown as a giant beast that creates music by smashing a huge metal hammer against the ground. Listening to All Night, you can see why. From the beautiful vocal sample and the watery synths in the intro, you're lulled into a false sense of security, before the Eurodance synths enter, giving way to the menacing producer tag and brutal percussion. Mayhem is an understatement - this track is all out chaos, in the best possible way.
9. Do You Remember - DJ Danny
It's a sign of a great song that it gets better with every listen. Do You Remember is such a song. As with all the best DJ Danny tracks, it feels heavenly - I can close my eyes listening to it and feel myself flying through the clouds. If that sounds daft, then you haven't heard the song. It's that good. If you want to know why Harle is one of my favourite producers, then let Do You Remember stand as evidence.
8. Car Song - MC Boing
I almost ranked this song lower than here. After all, do I really prefer it to the melodic beauty of Do You Remember, or even the gabber chaos of All Night? And then I told myself to shut up, because if any given Harlecore track is going to be stuck in my head on any given day, it’s going to be Car Song, with its insistent refrain of “WE ARE DRIVING IN A CAR CAR CAR CAR CAR”. It’s hooky as hell, with so many ridiculously catchy passages, perfectly drawing you into the batshit world of MC Boing. Plus, I laughed out loud the first time the “flowers in a petal” part started. Maybe my brain melted from too much raving, I’m not sure. Either way, this song is a bop.
7. Ocean’s Theme - DJ Ocean
If For So Long was dipping a toe into the world of DJ Ocean, then Ocean’s Theme is taking the plunge. It sounds exactly like Ocean looks on the Harlecore album cover. The deep bass is as cavernous and beautiful as the Mariana trench, and the gentle piano chords feel like they’ve been transported from an ancient cathedral. It feels more like an impressionistic classical piece than a Harlecore club banger, and that's probably the point. You just wish it could go on for longer.
6. Shining Stars - DJ Mayhem
From the moment the rubbery synth intro to Shining Stars begins, I'm completely won over. It's a beautiful track, the lyrics describing the feeling of total euphoria, soundtracked by Mayhem's signature insistent percussion and celestial keyboards. However, everything pales compared to the incredible high note at "We're shining stars tonight!". No other song captures the feeling of toward the end of a club night, as things are winding down but still burning brighter than the sun.
5. Where Are You Now - DJ Danny
The opener to the digital version of Harlecore (but not the vinyl version - more on that later…) is a phenomenal statement of intent. With heavenly vocals by NAO, it's perhaps the most instantly loveable track on the project, drawing us in with a titanic hook of "I want you to return to me". I've certainly returned to the track so many times since - on any other album, it could easily be the best track. The fact it barely makes the top 5 shows just how amazing a project Harlecore is.
4. Boing Beat - MC Boing
I’m not sure I’ve ever recovered from hearing this song for the first time. Where to fucking begin? What’s the point in writing anything about this song, when nothing - and I mean nothing, dear reader - can compare to hearing “ANGELS SINGING, ANGELS SINGING” before the seraphic voice of Hannah Diamond emerges like a break through the clouds to croon “you’re MC Boing”? Boing Beat is the audio equivalent of making coffee with 5-hour energy instead of water. There’s also a fucking digeridoo. It makes me wanna have a great life. Angels singing, bass is tight. Audio perfection. Yeah, I know there’s songs I’ve rated higher. This is still perfect.
3. Interlocked - DJ Mayhem
Mayhem’s crowning jewel of the record, Interlocked is a masterpiece. Everything about it - from the extreme brass mixing to the merciless percussion - works on all levels. For me, it's the song that achieves the Harlecore mission best: every time I hear it, I feel like I’m instantly transported into a sweaty nightclub where the vibes are just perfect. Incorporating a vocal sample from L Devine and songwriting credits from two-thirds of Chvrches, Harle and Mohawke combine the best of several worlds together into one of the best songs of the year, a banger of a track that if there’s any justice, should be a club night staple for years to come.
2. On A Mountain - DJ Danny
More than perhaps any other song on the album, On A Mountain feels designed for people to lose their shit to live. It’s clear that Harle is a master of live performance: from the deceptively simple piano melody that opens before giving way to the vocal line, everything is perfectly set up for the amazing drum and bass drop. When everything recedes at the half-way point, it’s a glorious moment to catch a breather, before the colossal second half enters. Everything in this song is huge. While Harle has said "There is nothing that replaces a rave", this song certainly comes close. As the opener of the vinyl version of the album, it kicks offs proceedings perfectly.
1. Take My Heart Away - DJ Danny
As good as On A Mountain is, Take My Heart Away is the best song Harle has ever made. It's a masterpiece of a song, and I'd argue it's one of the best EDM songs ever written. The chorus is an all-time great, and feels engineered for festival singalongs. The lyrics are direct and impassioned. The songs multiple drops are all distinctly incredible, spanning several EDM subgenres from chiptune to gabber. It's a genuinely perfect song that words cannot possibly do justice.
All right! Now that we've counted down through each of Harlecore's many terrific tunes, let's take stock of our data. Since Take My Heart Away came first, that means it's got 13 points. On A Mountain came second, so it gets 12 points, and so on. Let's see how that looks:
So, what does this mean for our DJ rankings? Well, if we take a mean and standard deviation across each DJ's individual tracks, we can get a clearer picture. Let's put this into a graph to compare each DJ to find out who's the reigning king of Harlecore!
AC is the Head of Written Content at QSO Media. Follow them on Twitter. They are driving in a car, car, car, car, car.