I buy a lot of records at Berlin’s flea markets, mostly curiosities that might make good sampling. I particularly keep my eye open for acapellas, and a few months back I got lucky: I came across a copy of Joe Smooth‘s ‘Promised Land’, from back in 1987, that contained a “percapella” version—that is, just drums and voice, and perfect for layering with more recent tunes. (That was my closing track the last time I played Panorama Bar, in fact, mixed with John Tejada’s ‘The End of It All’—and it sounded pretty special, if I do say so myself.)
Used sparingly, acapellas can be a great way of ratcheting up the tension in a DJ set. I’ll never forget the way the Wighnomy Brothers worked a preacher acapella to delirious effect at MUTEK a couple years ago. Of course, there’s always the risk of overdoing it. It’s great to introduce something that everybody knows—on the dancefloor, recognition factor is a powerful thing—but there’s a fine line between populist and played-out. If you’re going to drop Eddie Amador’s ‘House Music’ acapella, you’d better be prepared to do something special with it.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of material out there to be used by DJs who want to tell a story, stoke a vibe, and make their sets stand out. These days, with CDRs, Traktor, and Ableton it’s easier than ever to layer acapellas and sound effects over your tracks, especially if you’re using a third channel. And producers are stepping up and producing plenty of new material to be used in just this way, from the Cadenza Split Composition series to Bar25’s most recent release, Sascha Braemer & Nicone’s ‘Thank You’, a trippy strip of drums, vox and FX that’s tailor-made for corkscrewing deep into clubbers’ minds.
The Beatportal staff recently put together charts for 60 of our favorite acapellas, from classics like Green Velvet’s ‘Flash’ and the Jungle Brothers’ ‘I’ll House You’ to more recent james like Manuel Tur’s lush ‘Golden Complexion’ and Joakim’s ‘Lonely Hearts’. Check them all out below, or go straight to the DJ Tools genre of the catalog to explore more. Which acapellas are your secret weapons? Share your favorites in the comments below.
Header image: Creative Commons, Nicolas Esposito