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.
If you were to accuse Afrojack of anything, it couldn't be of using a ghost producer. The Dutch DJ is in the studio when we call, prompting a load of back and forth texting to schedule the interview, and at one point accidentally starts blaring out a track he's been working on, causing our waveform to go a bit haywire.
The man born Nick Van de Wall laughs when DJ Mag asks him what he thinks about people who do. “I’ve had a lot of people saying, 'Ha ha ha, where’s your ghost producer, Afrojack?' I've been using the same programme and the same instruments for all my music for the last 17 years. It's pretty funny. I'm not gonna try to prove them wrong.”
On reflection, Afrojack has little to prove. He’s been having a pretty good year. ‘Hey Mama’, his recent track with Nicki Minaj and David Guetta, hit the Top 10 all over the world.
He’s been delivering his bouncy brand of hyperactive house to Ultra Peru, TomorrowWorld, Taiwan and Japan. He’s working on stuff for Rihanna. He’s just about to unveil the immortalised wax version of himself at the Amsterdam Madame Tussauds. It could be worse.
“I actually split up with my management this year, and it gave me more control about where I wanna go with my music,” he nods. “I've been producing a lot, outside of the EDM genre — I've been doing a lot of techno stuff with some friends.”
The Wall Recordings head, as well as being known for having dated a certain hotel heiress and crashing multiple(!) Ferraris, has become a household name for tracks like ‘Take Over Control’, and his collaborations with Bassjackers and Martin Garrix.
On the topic of women who mix, Van de Wall is all for the “feminine movement” that’s taking place. “I actually think that when a girl is DJing it makes it even cooler, because when a girl's DJing the guys can go, 'Oh that's so sexy', and the girls can be like 'Oh that's so awesome'. I'm pretty sure if Martin Garrix was a girl, he would still be as successful as he is now. But his name would be Martina.”
“DJing requires shit-loads of practice and I can imagine that a lot of girls just aren't that interested in DJing. I can't imagine another reason” he shrugs.
There’s that saying: find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. “The first thing I do when I wake up is work,” Afrojack finishes. “Because I love my work. It's more like a hobby. It's difficult for me not to work 16 hours a day. But sometimes I do it, sometimes I just chill out and watch a movie or something.”
2015 has been a year of metamorphosis for Avicii. Still riding high from 2013's stratospherically successful LP 'True', which included global country-cum-EDM anthem 'Wake Me Up', the producer (known to his mates as simply Tim Bergling) has kept quieter in the last twelve months, slowing down to focus on his next album.
The hotly anticipated 'Stories' arrived at the start of October in a blaze of pop/dance glory, with DJ Mag awarding it an impressive 8/10. It's a masterful follow-up for the Swede, whose debut 'True' dropped at No.5 on the Billboard charts whilst 'Wake Me Up' hit the No.1 spot in 63 countries.
'Stories' sees Avicii reveal his darker side, with some of its lyrical content alluding to his ongoing battles with global fame and a demanding schedule. There’s also a bevy of impressive collabs bulking up the tracklist with Alex Ebert, Matisyahu, Wyclef Jean, Zak Abel and Zac Brown, plus country singer Gavin McGraw.
It's widely known that Avicii's 2014 schedule was marred by reported health issues that saw the DJ miss perhaps the most important gig of his then-career — a headline set at Ultra Miami — thanks to a blocked gall bladder and ruptured appendix.
The operation would go on to affect the producer's schedule for the rest of the year, with further gigs at TomorrowWorld, XS/Encore and Insomniac's Halloween all cancelled. It was during this time that Avicii revealed that he had struggled with alcohol dependency — a direct result of life on the road.
“You are traveling around, you live in a suitcase, you get to this place, there's free alcohol everywhere — it's sort of weird if you don't drink,” he told GQ in April 2013. “I didn't expect it to last... I was so nervous. I just got into a habit, because you rely on that encouragement and self-confidence you get from alcohol, and then you get dependent on it.”
It's on his newest album that Tim seems to have confronted his issues head on, delving into deeper and darker places than ever before. He also made his directorial debut last month, crafting not one but two music videos for two forthcoming album tracks: ‘Pure Grinding’ and ‘For A Better Day’.
Directed by Levan Tsikurishvili and Avicii himself, the video for trap-meets-swing-pop single ‘Pure Grinding’ follows the story of an industrial labourer and a disturbed bank robber, both trying to get ahead in a violent, crime-soaked world.
The second, that accompanies radio hit 'For A Better Day', tackles the issue of child sex trafficking, and features gory scenes of murder, (implied) rape and civil warfare.
When speaking about the 'For A Better Day' video, Avicii said: “The promise of a better life often traps families and children into being used as tools for some of the most despicable people on earth.
“It’s an issue about which I hope to start a louder discussion, especially now with the huge number of families on the move from war-torn countries looking for safety and shelter,” he added.
As well as his current passion for social activism, Avicii also teamed up with Swedish car manufacturer Volvo this year to create a global campaign titled ‘A New Beginning’. It was an apt title considering the DJ's tumultuous past, with the mini-movie soundtracked by Avicii’s updated version of Nina Simone classic, ‘Feeling Good’.
“I've been a big fan of Nina Simone, Etta James and that kind of sound for a very long time,” Avicii told Billboard.
“So when I found out that was the song that Volvo Cars wanted in the music video, I was really excited and happy to do something with it. I wanted to create something new, and at the same time stay true to the original.”
Whether he’s crafting No.1 hits, raising awareness for causes or staring wistfully into the distance perched on the bonnet of a Volvo, there’s little doubt Avicii is a dance music mainstay. Through his ups and downs, his production nous has remained consistently excellent — his latest effort ‘Stories’ proves just how resilient the Swedish producer really is.
“This is not irreversible at all. It was just kind of a wake-up call,” Avicii told In The Mix, when discussing his health issues. And with another excellent LP under his belt, let’s hope he’s finally banished his demons once and for all.
It's not easy tracking down David Guetta for his Top 100 DJs interview this year. It's not that he's fallen out of love with the poll that crowned him No.1 DJ in 2012 — we cannot imagine Mr Guetta has eaten a single sour grape his entire life — or that he's too busy or can't be bothered.
No, David currently has a far graver issue on his mind. In September of this year, his production manager (ex-Cream employee) Alan Green passed away tragically. “Respects to him and love to his family; he helped change the game and built #teamguetta which continues in his memory. RIP mate,” he eventually tells DJ Mag in an email.
All this aside, life is still hectic for the king of EDM/pop. Since dropping his last artist album 'Listen' last November (which hit No.1 on iTunes in 75 countries) — “I try to balance the hits with club beats, so have been releasing them too,” he says —
he's done a three-month residency in Vegas (XS and Encore Beach Club), curated parties in Ibiza (Ushuaia and Pacha) and toured Europe and South America, where he sold out arenas in Germany and Brazil, before returning home for three months.
Not forgetting, of course, Ultra (Miami and Japan)... the usual, yes, then David? “OMG. Where didn’t I play?” he adds. “This year live has been the best yet.”
In 2016, we can expect more of the same from Camp Guetta — “more tours, more music,” he says — but most notable is his appointment by UEFA as official musical ambassador for Euro 2016 in France. “I will be making the anthem and playing the opening party at the Eiffel Tower,” he adds. “Another wish coming true.”