German crowd-pleaser Robin Schulz enjoyed an absolutely huge 2015 that’s catapulted him into the Top 100 DJs poll and transformed him into a genuine crossover house music star, with the rich vocal house appeal of both ‘Sugar’ and ‘Headlights’ translating into highly-addictive pop hits that were propelled into the charts of more than 30 countries around the world.
“They even reached #1 in some countries,” Schulz says of the hits, which came off the back of a Grammy nomination earlier in the year for his breakthrough remix of Mr Probz ‘Waves’. It all drew together with the release of his sophomore artist album ‘Sugar’ shortly before the Top 100 announcement, which saw his knack for pop collaborations extending to further guest appearances from Akon, Disciples, Moby, Moguai and beyond.
“It was a long journey,” he says of the album. “It took nearly a year, but now I'm more than happy. And the feedback is more than great, I'm happy, as I was able to produce with a lot of talented people. Some of them I was following for a long time, and some are newcomers.”
On top of that, Schulz grew his profile as a DJ significantly in 2105, joining an impressive number of festival bills as well as his first Ibiza appearances, DJing at flashy hotspots like Ushuaia alongside Axwell v Ingrosso and David Guetta (who are also both artists he lent his remix skills to this year, naturally).
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.
Dash Berlin have been everywhere this past year. DJ Jeffrey Sutorius, the Dutch trio’s frontman, has had one heck of a packed touring schedule with dates in Chile, Japan, Las Vegas, Paraguay, Peru, Canada and London over the last few months.
“I’ve had a lot of memorable gigs all over the planet, which makes me realise every time, what a privilege it is to be a DJ,” he tells DJ Mag.
As well as DJing, Sutorius performs another particularly important role in the three-man group, which also includes Eelke Kalberg and Sebastiaan Molijn: testing out material with audiences and relaying feedback to his studio-based colleagues.
It’s this creative relationship that’s made the trio a formidable production outfit as well as a much in-demand live act. Outside of music, the group have also been supporting an Indonesian children’s charity by donating proceeds raised from merchandise sales. Good on you, lads!
DJ style: “Emotional, energetic dance music.”
Best known for: “Dashing things up.”
Tune of 2015:
Breakthrough DJ/producer of 2015: “DJ Isaac.”
What’s the most important skill a DJ should have?
“It will always be about selecting the right music at the right time, so that people can enjoy themselves on the dancefloor.”
Is the future still bright for EDM?
“Lots of creative minds out there, fantastic music is being made, the future is very bright for music in general.”
Does the constant travelling and DJ lifestyle ever take its toll on you mentally?
“I was already a bit crazy before I started DJing, so it’s hard to tell really, ha ha!”
What cause is closest to your heart?
“Thanks to my success I’ve been able to help, feed and send a lot of kids to school via the foundation that I’ve been supporting for many years now.”
Which club would you like to bring back from the dead?
“The Index in Groningen, the Netherlands.”
Why aren’t there more women in the Top 100 DJs poll?
“Good question to ask them! Come on girls!”
What do you think of DJs who use ghost producers?
“I work together with other producers all the time and I am very open about it. What others do is their decision.”
Since bursting onto the scene as a young teenager with epic hardcore tune 'Valley Of The Shadows' under the name Origin Unknown in the early '90s, Andrew Clarke has been immersed in breakbeat science. He started RAM Records in 1992 after borrowing £1000 from his uncle, and Ram 004 — 'Shadows' — contained the moon landing-sampling “31 seconds” snip and the “long dark tunnel” phrase culled from a BBC documentary about near-death experiences.
As drum & bass grew in the '90s he became one of its key playas, smashing into the Top 100 DJs poll at the start of the noughties and remaining there for the next decade and more. Usually the Highest Drum & Bass DJ in the poll, he's been voted back in again by his legion of fans — plenty of whom again were raving at his All Night Long sold out 02 Brixton Academy show at Halloween just the other day.
So what's been the highlight of 2015 for the drum & bass don? “Probably playing the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea!” he tells DJ Mag. “When you're growing up and dreaming of being a DJ, you can never imagine playing a gig like that. I was just dreaming of playing at my local club!”
Tujamo has the rare distinction of actually having commercial chart success with his productions in the UK, Germany and Holland, something not a lot of dance artists can say. DJing since 2006, Tujamo — real name Matthias Richter — got his break by winning a DJ competition, which then saw him cut his teeth as resident DJ at Schuttorf club, Index.
But it was his chart-topping success with sleeper hit ‘Dr Who’ – which grew from a Miami Winter Music Conference hit in 2012 to a chart-topping hit in 2014 — alongside Plastic Funk, and featuring grime vocals from Sneakbo, that saw Tujamo thrust into the collective consciousness of the European charts.
With remixes for the likes of Deadmau5, Jack U and Bob Sinclar, releases on Laidback Luke’s Mixmash Records, and Dutch goliath Spinnin’ Records, and collaborations with veterans like Chris Lake, Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke, Tujamo’s skills and versatility are clearly in high demand. The German is just as at-home putting grime raps over big-room bangers as he is creating full-throttle club smashes like ‘Boneless’ alongside Messrs Aoki and Lake.
“It’s been an absolutely amazing year for me,” he tells DJ Mag. “All my summer festivals dates and club shows were off the hook, and the feedback for all my productions has been out of this world.”
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.
Another new entry into the Top 100 this year, Russian trio Swanky Tunes have been producing together for a decade, collaborating for years with heavyweights like Afrojack and Kaskade. However, they’ve achieved plenty in the past 12 months to warrant the extra attention, and they don’t need much prompting to start rattling off their achievements.
“The past 12 months have been the most busy and successful year of our artist life and music career,” they say.
“Firstly, we hit the charts in Russia with our single ‘Fox Me’, which also became a real crossover international radio and club hit in the UK and the rest of Europe. And our single ‘Wherever U Go’ got amazing support from US dance stations and generated more than 1.5million streams on Spotify in the first couple of months after it was released on Dim Mak.”
The trio also relaunched their label imprint SHOWLAND and teamed up with Armada Music on distribution, and well as renewing their publishing deal with MusicAllStars and Spinnin’.
“We’ve actively toured all year round with a three-continent tour of the USA, Europe and Asia, leaving only Australia and South America uncovered. On top of it all we sold 4000 tickets for our show in our hometown of Smolensk, that’s an all-time record for a solo event by a DJ act hailing from the Russian Federation.”
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!