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!
Sometimes it's hard to know if an artist's 'people' are making the decisions on their behalf, or if they choose for themselves to keep a distance from their fans. In either case it's an outdated approach for an interconnected world in which communication of all types is more vital to an artist than ever before.
Whoever is responsible for making the choice here, the upshot is that Galantis have declined DJ Mag's invitation to answer our questions or talk to us about their inclusion in this year's Top 100 DJs Poll.
Christian Karlsson (from Miike Snow) and Linus Eklöw (Style Of Eye) have between them worked with the likes of Madonna, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry and Icona Pop and created massively successful international chart pop hits.
So as the duo Galantis you wouldn't exactly expect them to be at the cutting edge of any underground movement, or maybe even be that bothered about featuring in a Top 100 rundown where they find themselves rubbing shoulders with the world's greatest DJs.
Still, there are plenty of dance fans who like the duo enough to have taken the time and effort to vote for them in this year's Top 100 DJs Poll. Sadly, although most of the biggest, best and most successful personalities in the global dance scene take the opportunity to thank their fans for voting for them, we'll never know what Galantis themselves think of it all.
Every year someone, somewhere, declares the death of trance music, and every year they’re proved wrong — trance is in just as rude health in 2015 as it was in 1999.
Trance’s ability to survive is testament to its passionate fans, and the scene’s biggest players — like German veterans Cosmic Gate — staying true to the trance sound, whilst others have jumped ship (yes, we’re talking about you, Tiesto).
German trance duo Cosmic Gate have been plying their melodious trade for well over two decades, and have featured in the Top 100 DJs poll numerous times. Claus Terhoeven and Stefan Bossems — better knows as Nic Chagall & DJ Bossi — have released six studio albums as Cosmic Gate, with their latest, ‘Start To Feel’, released on Armin van Buuren’s Armada imprint last year.
Cosmic Gate’s unflinching dedication to the trance sound has seen the German duo tour the world playing on average 130 shows a year. The duo are in as high demand now as they were when they penned scene-classics like ‘Be Your Sound’, ‘Fire Wire’ and ‘Exploration Of Space’. ANDREW RAFTER
“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.
Knife Party don’t do interviews. It’s their thing... well, along with Daft Punk and, err, Burial. So we're still in the dark as to what their top track of 2015 was, or why they think there aren't more women in the Top 100 DJs list. But fair play to them, they're busy guys.
The duo, made up of ex-Pendulum alumni Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen, dropped their first EP as Knife Party (the name comes from a Deftones track, they're not actually knife crime advocates) back in 2011 after leaving their strictly drum & bass days behind, and have since been dropping growling 140bpm beats for headbangers to lose their shit to.
Their first studio album, 'Abandon Ship', arrived late last year after being leaked on iTunes (whether accidentally or on purpose, we’re not quite sure), and the Australian duo gifted their followers with a handful of more aggy mid-range cuts.
And the productions keep coming: at this year's Ultra they announced that a brand new EP was done and dusted, premiering three new tracks for their army of fans: 'Parliament Funk', 'PLUR Police' and 'Kraken feat Tom Staar'.
While at Kingsday Festival they premiered new track 'ID' featuring Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine fame — complete with battering-ram bass and all guns blazing. May 2016 herald even more fist-pumping moments and musical accolades for the gruesome twosome. FELICITY MARTIN
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 was a very busy year,” Zatox tells DJ Mag, but from what we can see, that's a big understatement. The Italian hardstyle don — real name Gerardo Roschini — has been globetrotting throughout 2015, celebrating his debut long-player, New World Order, which dropped via Holland's Q-Dance imprint this time last year.
Taking the album tour to down under at Easter, Roschini (and partners in crime, Audiofreq, Toneshifterz and Kronos) brought his musical revolution to the likes of Sydney and Melbourne, before heading home to tear up more European festivals than you could shake a glowstick at.
Unsurprisingly, Roschini names his personal highlight as Qlimax — Q-Dance's long-running, annual extravaganza dedicated to the harder end of the electronic spectrum.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Roschini has been back in studio this year too. He not only dropped a host of collaborations as Zatox via his own Unite Records, but also returned to his Wild Motherfuckers project with Tatanka for the duo's first release since 2013, 'Knock You Down' — and, after hearing it ourselves, we might not be getting back up again.