Known as much for his personality both online and onstage as he is for his massively successful productions, Toronto native Joel Zimmerman, aka Deadmau5, maintains his place in the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs poll for another year.
Deadmau5 continues to showcase his endless musical versatility, tantalizing fans with previews on his Soundcloud account, like the melodic rework of last year’s hip-hop track ‘Are You Not Afraid’ and a powerful ballad of slowly building synths in a yet-to-be-released collaboration with Grabbitz called ‘Blood For the Bloodgoat’.
Always one to speak his mind about the state of electronic dance music, the year has seen no shortage of Twitter Mau5-traps — artists and fans alike may unwittingly step into one at any moment — but 2015 also saw the artist on line-ups across the globe.
A headlining act for the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, Deadmau5 also appeared at the fabled Austin City Limits, the Reading and Leeds Festivals in England and debuted a new stage at Governor’s Ball in New York City, where he prevailed despite technical turmoil.
Of course, entertaining audiences in the digital ether and on the live stage aren’t the only places you can find him; those who follow his work are well aware that the Mau5 is no stranger to the world of video games.
Earlier this year he released a unique series of sound clips featured in Dota 2, a game developed by the Bellevue, Washington-based Valve Corporation. At the close of the Dota 2 competition — TI5, the largest ever eSports tournament to date — Deadmau5 surprised the crowd at KeyArena in Seattle with a live performance, reminding everyone yet again that his persona is synonymous with large scale entertainment... no matter the mode or method.
Fadil El Ghoul, aka R3HAB, has been on a quick ascent to join his EDM colleagues at the festival main stages, and for proof of his studio prowess, you only need to glance at the tracklist for his recent ‘Inspired’ mix for Ministry Of Sound. The upfront disc contains no less than 12 of the singles, remixes and collaborations that he’s put his name to this year.
“The past 12 months have been an absolute whirlwind,” he told DJ Mag. “The most memorable personal highlight for me was playing Coachella. Two weekends with 25,000 people per show, and we even had Ciara come out and do two songs. It is something that you dream about as an artist, and it could not have been better.”
In addition to Coachella, he also launched a new residency in Las Vegas this year, played across two different days at Belgium’s Tomorrowland in July, and otherwise toured and performed all around the world, from Tokyo to Dubai to Ibiza.
In the studio is where R3HAB has really made his mark this year though, with his production partnership with Calvin Harris resulting in ‘Burnin’ and a collaborative remix of ‘How Deep Is Your Is Love’, in addition to high-profile collaborations with Sander van Doorn, NERVO and Headhunterz. He’s also remixed everyone from Axwell Λ Ingrosso to Rihanna.
“I can’t wait to see what the next 12 months have in store!” he enthuses to DJ Mag.
It's official, Axwell and Ingrosso are married. Not legally of course — even if civil partnerships (unlike some US States) are accepted in Sweden. No, the marriage of these two ex-members of the Swedish House Mafia is purely of creative convenience. Not just so they can double up on votes, enter the Top 20 and score an award for Highest Collaboration in the process.
Instead, the Axwell 'n Ingrosso axis is one hinged on amalgamation; dedication to a cause, they say. “The big difference now,” says Axwell, “is that when we did Swedish House Mafia, everyone was also being individuals and doing their own thing.
But now we buried our own things a bit. It’s more of a commitment. That’s what it came to feel like with Swedish House Mafia: it was a side project. But it wasn’t fair to treat it like that. That was the big problem.”
The boom in dance music in America, adds Ingrosso, was one of the motors driving Swedish House Mafia’s success. “It helped us become big,” he acknowledges, “but that meant it couldn’t be a side-project. The culture was demanding more.”
For these two, then, the past 12 months have been about drilling down and focusing more on music as an art — something more personal — rather than as a response to mainstream expectations.
While the intention was to avoid the booth as much as possible, it's a partnership that's seen them close both weekends of Coachella, headline Ultra Miami, sell out London's Alexandra Palace and enjoy a successful season at Ushuaia in Ibiza.
Culminating in an album later this year, they've also released a series of tracks, including 'Sun Is Shining', picked up as the soundtrack to H&M's summer campaign, and 'Something New' used by Beats.
There's also been various collaborations, including one with Swede musicians Vincent & Salem, and an electro mash-up featuring vocals from Pusha T. If Swedish House Mafia were about capturing people's attention, the Axwell ^ Ingrosso combo is about casting the net out further.
Before trying their hand at dance music, Canadian duo DVBBS (pronounced ‘Dubs’), made up of brothers Alexandre and Christopher van den Hoef, were members of a local rock band.
During their formative years, the two had been part of Ontario’s underground punk scene. At the age of 16 and 17 respectively, the van den Hoefs started making electronic music after having a dance music revelation prompted by seeing Dutch hardstyle act Showtek perform, who also happen to be brothers.
In 2013, the brothers finally broke through on an international level with the release of ‘Tsunami’. Initially released anonymously, the pair eventually revealed that they had collaborated with label-mate Borgeous on the track after scoring No.1s in the Netherlands, US, Belgium and Poland.
The brothers have gone on to tour the EDM circuit extensively, clocking up some 300 gigs last year including Ultra Music Festival and Electric Daisy Carnival. The van den Hoefs have shared a stage with acts like Tiësto, Steve Aoki, Martin Garrix and, perhaps most significantly for the two, the Dutch artists who inspired them to start producing back when they were teenagers — Showtek.
Willem van Hanegem and Ward van der Harst's mix-up of trance, electro and progressive house elements have seen them reach out and connect to a wide audience of dance music fans across the world.
“There are not a lot of people who mix different genres the way that we do,” they tell DJ Mag, before modestly adding “we can imagine that for someone who isn't into dance music so much it sounds similar to other artists’ music, but then again that goes for any artist in any genre.”
As well as having a fierce live DJing reputation, the duo also host their own popular radio show. “Our radio show and our live sets are two completely different worlds,” they explain. “In our radio show we play all the new music we like that came out during that week.”
Next year they plan “to enjoy more of what we do!” and with a gig rider that includes “champagne, a bottle of vodka for our agent, some beers and coconut water, ever since Tiesto told us it's the best cure against hangovers”, W&W look like they're enjoying themselves quite a bit already.
Alesso obviously puts as much time and effort into making EDM/pop tunes as he does his hair. However even his mentors — Steve Angello and the now-paired Ingrosso & Axwell — can claim to have half a foot in the past — within dance music's underground roots — while embracing pop modernity to move forward.
Perhaps it's an age thing, but for Alesso — considered the protege of Swedish House Mafia — it's about hits, plain and simple. His 2013 track with Calvin Harris 'Under Control', featuring Hurts, is a manufactured major label super-collab of Grand Canyon proportions, while anyone hoping for last year's 'Heroes (We Could Be)' to be influenced by Bowie's '77 anthem can think again. The only consolation for Bowie fans is that he didn't attempt to cover it.
Still, the numbers don't lie. With 3m+ followers on Facebook and almost 95m plays on YouTube for a single song, this guy is the modern face — and hair — of pop music. After refusing to answers Qs for the poll this year and no sign of a campaign, Alesso appears to have turned his back on dance culture in 2015. But, would you blame him? Pop hits are far more lucrative.
The ushering in of 'future house' as the “saviour of EDM” last year felt a little premature, but a 22-place climb for Oliver Heldens (Highest House DJ) following his Top 40 new entry placement in 2014 suggests that the future is, in fact, bright for EDM.
The larger-than-life sounds of DV&LM might have taken the crown this year, but the sight of Heldens flirting with the Top 10 (and Aoki dropping tech house) is a sign that mainstream EDM is no closed shop.
'Shades Of Grey' (out October), featuring Delaney Jane on vocals, is a nailed-on hit; a 125bpm house tune with a candy-floss pop hook and a garage skip closer to Disclosure than David Guetta, and further proof that — if given the right twist — house can still compete.
Sellable records aside, it's Heldens' hard work in 2015 that's contributed to his rise. 200 shows all over the world's big stages — including Ultra Miami, EDC Vegas and Tomorrowland — a sold-out UK tour and four Beatport No.1s, he's also launched his own Heldeep label/radio show and bassline alias HI-LO. Heldens is a busy, busy boy!
“It's like you're driving a Ferrari at full speed, and that's fun and I love that energy; that adrenaline,” Steve Aoki tells DJ Mag over the phone from his car, but not while driving (we hope). He's speaking about the difference between EDM/electro sets and playing deeper, mid-tempo stuff to people.
“With house, it's a different kind of energy,” he continues. “You're not going full force, you have a really great groove that you can stay in; that can keep you in the same place and it's continuous, it lasts longer and it's a different kind of flow. It's nice to change it up. You're not speeding down the freeway the whole time.”
The reason for this discussion is not because DJ Mag is contemplating buying a new sports car — or considering what to listen to while driving it. It's because the Dim Mak boss plans to release a series of four house tracks early next year; each inspired by another season on the White Isle.
“Being in Spain for four months, there's a lot of English people who go there — and from mainland Europe — you really get a sense of what people are accustomed to.”
Tracing his roots back to DFA and LCD Soundsystem, it was the dawn of Ed Banger that heralded Dim Mak's natural disposition towards distorted big-room sounds. However, it was a tipping point reached two years ago that prompted EDM DJs/producers to sprout out into different directions, he says.
“Sounds became about, 'How much bigger can you get?'. 'How much louder can you get without it becoming too distorted, too saturated or whatever?' And we got answers to those questions two years ago.”
Since that point, we've seen future house, trap, tropical and garage/bass seep into the mainstream world of EDM and it's all part of its evolution, Aoki points out. “Nobody wants to do the same thing over and over again,” he says. “It's very rare to find an artist that does that.”
As part of his evolution, Steve has on the one hand found himself reverting back to the underground. On the other, however, the second instalment of his sophomore artist album 'Neon Future' earlier this year saw him working with various vocalists — the likes of Snoop Lion, Linkin Park and Rivers Cuomo — to make a series of crossover party/pop tracks.
Followed by 'Neon Future Odyssey' — a deluxe version featuring five new collaborations with the likes of Headhunterz, Borgore and Marnik — last month, it might not be a pathway to more radio play across The Atlantic — something which has been an “uphill struggle” due to “stigmatisation,” he believes. It remains to be seen if his upcoming house stuff will be.
Forget collaborations with the likes of Usher and Bieber. Forget the six Grammys and the 19 million Facebook fans. You know you’ve infiltrated pop music’s front lines when dads are shimmying their shoulders to your beats while driving their pre-teens to football practice.
Sonny Moore, the California native who has brought bass music to both festival stages and fathers in minivans under his musical moniker Skrillex, is a force to be reckoned with.
Like his sound or not, there’s no denying that he is among the most influential artists in music today. And whether Skrill likes it or not, his inherently non-commercial productions now sit squarely in the mainstream.
Of course, that’s the way things have always gone. When punk rock emerged as a rebellious answer to the limp Top 40 of its day, detractors presumed it was a spike-studded phase that would ultimately dissipate into the angst-ridden oblivion from which it presumably came.
While Sonny has said he doesn’t necessarily consider his music “dubstep” — eschewing genre classifications is a luxury afforded to the famous few who straddle sonic sectors — he does not blame people for dubbing it as such.
After all, definitions do change. To his credit, his own sound is constantly evolving, noisy as it may seem to some. Collaborations with artists far apart on the musical spectrum aside, Skrill has yet to become mired in any one set formula, and that is a refreshing reality in the world of commercial hits.
As he points out himself, his Grammy-winning breakout hit ‘Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites’ was an organic success, pushed to the front edge of trending releases by an audience that craved a whole new trend in and of itself.
The record was decidedly non-commercial at the time of its peak, and ignited a revolution for the genre. Skrillex has helped to birth the sound that launched a thousand screaming synths, but he has also embraced and supported music that sits on the opposite end of the irritation spectrum.
While his OWSLA imprint features the menu one might expect from an artist of Skrill’s ilk, his Nest HQ website showcases everything from groovy house to psychedelic jazz and aims “to nurture and encourage the growth of artists of all genres and all mediums, heralding their works through positive journalism, engaging, unique content, and genuine support.”
For Skrillex’s devout fanbase, Nest is just another reason to love him more — but for those who remain dubious, it’s a peek into who Sonny Moore might actually be.