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.
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.
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.”
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.”
While at one time Major Lazer seemed destined to be a Diplo side-project devoted to futuristic versions of Jamaican dancehall, made alongside UK producer Switch, it’s become very much the Mad Decent founder’s primary concern these days.
Three albums deep, the most recent of which ‘Peace Is The Mission’ dropped this year, Major Lazer may have lost Switch along the way but have since become a fully-fledged band, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire now permanent fixtures.
Diplo’s restless inquisitiveness has seen him explore many forms of the world’s electronic music, and similarly the sound of Major Lazer has expanded in recent times to take in fizzy EDM, more contemplative sounds as on the quietly anthemic ‘Get Free’, and the pure pop of ‘Lean On’ with DJ Snake and MØ, lifted from the new record ‘Peace Is The Mission’.
That record also has guest spots from mainstream chart-pop singers like Ellie Goulding and Ariana Grande, as well as former Clipse MC Pusha T. Clearly on a creative run, Major Lazer have already suggested that 2015 might yield a second release with the title ‘Music Is The Weapon’.
The fact the band have hit the Top 100 in addition to separate showings from bossman Diplo and also Jack U, his duo with Skrillex, suggests that they’ve become a hugely popular entity in their own right. Diplo might generate headlines for his controversial comments, but Major Lazer have clearly got it going on.
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...)