“I think it’s a really odd phenomenon,” Armin van Buuren says matter-of-factly down the phone line. We’re talking with the legendary trance producer about ghost production — an issue that Armin feels strongly about.
“For example, everyone remembers the whole Milli Vanilli scandal, how cheated people felt. I think it's wrong if someone puts a name on a track they had nothing to do with, that they weren't even in the studio for. I've never used a ghost producer, I can firmly say that,” he states.
It’ll come as no surprise to any Armin fan that the industry champ crafts his own tracks. He’s been releasing music for nigh-on two decades through his imprint Armada and radio show/label, A State Of Trance. It’s not just with his tunes that Armin has garnered fans worldwide — he’s adored for his spectacular stage shows too. His 2014 Armin Only tour took 35 people on the road, including a theatre director, trapeze artists, dancers, singers and musicians, with this year’s Intense tour going even bigger.
“It was probably the worst decision for me to do this tour financially,” he says, ruefully. “But the best choice for me personally. It was the best time of my life!”
“It's so sad when it’s over because I won't get to see my Intense family anymore, we’re a really close team,” he finishes, passionately.
Armin’s Intense tour crossed the globe from corner to corner, with the DJ visiting the Ukraine, India, Russia, the USA, South Africa and Australia — phew! As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Armin also held down his usual residency in Ibiza this year, spinning every Thursday to his loyal legion of White Isle trancers. “Ibiza is always fun, this year was really excellent. It feels like a home-coming when I play there,” he says of lush Ibiza venue Ushuaia, which he moved to following many seasons at Privilege.
So after another successful year as trance’s leading man, with his sixth studio album ‘Embrace’ set to drop on October 29th, is Armin van Buuren still in love with his day job? Absolutely!
“To be a great DJ you need to be able to read the crowd, to read the room, and track selection is obviously the most important thing! That's why it's so special to be one. I’m still really excited every time I play a set.”
CHARLOTTE LUCY CIJFFERS
It’s incredible to think that Martin Garrix isn’t legally allowed to drink alcohol at the EDM festivals he's been a fixture at the past few years. Garrix, who’s aged 19, wouldn’t even have been old enough to get into most nightclubs when he charted at No.40 on the DJ Mag Top 100 for the first time in 2013. But his relative youth, compared to the rest of the DJs who have made this year’s top 10, has not held him back — if anything it’s probably aided his remarkable rise.
Garrix, who was born Martijn Garritsen in 1996 in Amstelveen, just outside of Amsterdam, is, in many ways, the embodiment of the generation that have grown up with EDM. In 2004, Garritsen had a musical revelation after witnessing fellow Dutchman Tiësto DJ during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games held in Athens.
(The soundtrack to the event was the first CD he ever bought). The setting in which Garritsen was exposed to dance music is significant: a decade on, he would be playing to packed-out stadium-sized venues before having even set foot in a club.
Like many of his fans, Garrix’s experiences with dance music have been largely mediated through festivals rather than clubs; the sound and spectacle of such large-scale events have no doubt shaped his own productions.
When recently asked in an interview with SPIN which artists inspired him, Garrix cited Dillon Francis, Bauuer, Flosstradamus and, of course, Tiësto. He belongs to a generation for whom the progenitors of house and techno mean very little — and who can blame them.
Instead, they subscribe to a different canon altogether: one in which the faces of Daft Punk, David Guetta, Diplo and Skrillex might make up its Mount Rushmore.
Garrix’s success rests partly on being an EDM everyman. He looks like he could have been picked out entirely at random from the crowd at TomorrowWorld. In a parallel universe he might have been a YouTube vlogger in the mould of Alfie Deyes.
Tiësto described Garrix as an “inspiration” in 2013. He’s right: in a way, Garrix is an inspiration precisely because he’s an ordinary and unremarkable 19-year-old in a lot of respects.
His favourite song of all time is Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ because, as he explained to EDM.com, it “makes me happy... every time I play it”; his favourite food is a cheeseburger without any tomatoes or onions; he describes Ed Sheeran as a “genius”.
When Playboy attempted to see if Garrix had a more mischievous side by asking him what crime he would commit if he could get away with it, the youngster answered: “Drink a beer”.
Garrix’s plainness has allowed him to become a blank slate onto which thousands of white male teenagers have projected their ambitions of DJ superstardom onto. He makes EDM fame look like it’s just one Beatport-charting production away — a wet dream recently played out in Zac Efron’s dismal EDM film We Are Your Friends.
Following the release of ‘Break Through The Silence’ in July, Garrix is back in the studio hard at work on a full-length. When asked in a recent interview about his plans for the future, he replied: “Conquer the world”.
Of all the inflated personalities that he’s shared a bill with in the last few years, Garrix’s propensity for hyperbole is low. In a genre full of overblown characters, his earnestness makes him an oddity. Earlier this year, Garrix starred in the music video for his Usher collaboration ‘Don’t Look Down’, playing an attendant at a country club handing out towels to guests.
His attempts to court a woman lounging by the pool with a hip-thrusting, walking-on-water dance routine fail spectacularly. Naturally, he’s more comfortable in the role of the towel boy than the bicep-flexing jock.
What sets Shogun apart from other US DJs is his work ethic; Andrew Chen is known to spend 12 hours a day in his studio, and that hard work and dedication brought him to the attention of some of trance’s biggest names including Ferry Corsten, Above & Beyond, Paul van Dyk, Markus Schulz and Nadia Ali.
Despite falling in love with the industrial sounds of Nine Inch Nails, Filter, The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers, Chen was eventually drawn to the epic melodies of Armin van Buuren and Gouryella in the early 2000s.
Fast-forward to 2015 and Shogun has become a permanent fixture in the Armada family, featuring heavily on Armin’s A State Of Trance radio show.
But it’s been his own productions that have really propelled him into the upper echelons of the trance world, including his recent album ‘Dragon’ – which took four years to complete. This saw the producer touch on a range of styles including trance, progressive and electro — ranging from vocal bangers like ‘Underwater’ to fierce, beat-driven tunes like ‘Laputa’.
“This year has been amazing!” Shogun enthuses. “I released my album 'Dragon', and the response has been incredible. I toured in different parts of the world, and had a blast playing at festivals like Stereosonic.”
Alok is a poster boy for Brazil's love of deep mid-tempo forms of house and techno — albeit with a pop twist. It's a subcultural penchant often outshone by the garish lights of EDM.
Son of the founders of Universo Paralello, a huge dance festival set within the Brazilian mountains 15 years ago, electronic music exists in Alok's DNA. And in 2015, there's a sense his life-long aspirations are finally getting fulfilled. A main stage set at TomorrowWorld (US) and sets at festivals in Germany, Las Vegas and Portugal reflect a DJ taking things global, while his record label Up Club is helping to cultivate local talent. He has Alok to offer! (Sorry...)
The past 12 months have seen brothers Sjoerd and Wouter Janssen, aka Showtek, capitalising on their hard work over the past few years, as they transitioned from their early dominance in the hardstyle scene into a broader main stage EDM act.
They've now worked with some of the industry’s biggest names, including their collaboration with David Guetta this year ‘Sun Goes Down’. They point to the launch of their 'Crazy Collabs' project a few years ago as the start of what pushed them towards where they are today.
“We started 'Crazy Collabs' back in 2012, because it was a great way to work with other artists from different genres in the studio,” they say. “It’s really cool to create an opportunity to work with artists like Tiesto or Hardwell, especially because a lot of people wouldn’t expect it from Showtek.”
The duo say the greatest compliment is that these artists want to work with them, and in 2015 they’re widely respected as elite studio magicians.
“Showtek has always been a music-driven act. Producing music made us who we are, and working with names like David Guetta allowed us a broader spectrum. Our music is well known throughout the industry, and looking back on the past, we've always been shifting styles and implementing different kinds of genres. We plan on continuing to surprise people with new ideas.”
Like the prom queen that snubs her most persistent suitor year after year, Diplo has declined DJ Mag’s gracious advances yet again, opting instead to let us speculate on his feelings about making the Top 100 DJs poll and his ongoings for 2015.
With regard to the former, we refer readers to Twitter, where Wesley Pentz’s rants under his Diplo alias are immortalized for all eternity. With regard to the latter, it’s hard to deny that his efforts warrant him a seat among the world’s DJ elite.
The Mad Decent label boss has been busy making music and signing names — such as bold new trio Bad Royale. If that act’s melodic, soca-infused productions are any indication, there is hope for the future of trap yet... and we have Diplo to thank for turning up the volume.
Keeping his Major Lazer collaborative moniker alive and well, a third LP titled ‘Peace Is The Mission’ was released in June. The album includes collaborations with pop stars that span the musical spectrum, from Ariana Grande to 2 Chainz and Ellie Goulding.
Never one to shy away from the names people love to hate, Diplo and Skrillex, via their Jack Ü alias, paired up to create EDM’s most maligned cameo of 2015 when they featured Justin Bieber on their hit track ‘Where Are Ü Now ’. Say what you will about that one; the charts tell a different story. The question to ask Diplo now is, how do you top that in 2016?
Flying solo and loving it, former Swedish House Mafia man Steve Angello has mostly positive things to say about the state of the scene as he sees it. He’s particularly glad of the mainstream’s shift away from panel-beating big room sounds towards something more rhythmic.
“The whole movement right now is shifting in the right direction — which makes me happy,” Steve says. “Loads of new stuff is getting played, and yes, I am trying to play more groovy house stuff.”
Steve’s had a big year, crowned by the release of his three-years-in-gestation ‘WILD YOUTH’ long-player, but he’s also remixed electronic music legend Jean Michel Jarre and M83’s ‘Glory’, rinsed out Las Vegas club Omnia on a regular basis, and played everywhere from Green Valley in Brazil to Creamfields in the UK and Ultra Europe in Croatia. Leaving SHM has clearly done him no harm.
This year, Dyro (real name Jordy Van Egmond) has gone big. He started his own imprint, WOLV, that's allowed him to expand his own catalogue, saying, “We went down on the bpms as I was getting bored of 127/128 bpm, I wanted to show another side to myself and the label”.
In fact, keeping things fresh is very important to the Dutch EDM don — that's why he started his imprint in the first place. "I did it to have my own outlet that I could control completely and just to release cool tracks that I dig,” he says.
Aside from his new imprint, Dyro's already lined up hotly-anticipated collaborations with Headhunterz and Milo & Otis for next year, as well as promising his fans “lots of exciting new shows and, of course, WOLV material for 2016!”
The dawn of future house in 2014 heralded a new age for EDM, it seemed. It was the sound to nudge the continuum away from garish stadium noise towards the (relatively) deeper sound of classic house reimagined through EDM eyes, they said.
A slew of names such as Tchami, Oliver Heldens and Holland's Don Diablo were found carrying the torch, and it felt (at least) as if 2015 was going to be the year that the nubile, cool-cat friendly sound of future house would usurp the EDM juggernaut.
And thus, after polling at 82 last year, Don Diablo is this year's Highest Climber. However, after remixing Rudimental, Ed Sheeran and Tiësto & KSHMR as well as teaming up with Khrebto to borrow Candi Staton's 'You've Got The Love' this year, it's not just Don's progressive approach to EDM that you kids love him for — it's his ear for an infectious pop hook!
Asaf Borger, aka Borgore, is something of a musical chameleon. He started his music career young, first becoming a classically trained musician — he frequently lists Bach, half-jokingly, as one of his favourite musicians of all time — before joining deathcore band Shabira in his formative years. In videos of the band performing he looks out of place, a gawky, shaved-headed figure in a group of bearded, long-haired rockers.
While he might have since left the band and moved from his hometown of Tel Aviv to the US, elements of his heavier musical past have remained a feature of his productions.
Borger describes his music as Gorestep” — a fusion of EDM, dubstep and heavy metal that unites his earlier influences with his newfound passion for brash, in-yer-face electronic music.
In 2012, Borger collaborated with Miley Cyrus on the single ‘Decisions’ — the song is often described as a turning point in Miley Cyrus’s musical transformation. The single catapulted Borgore into the spotlight and proved he could bring ‘Gorestep’ to the masses.