“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
“Maybe you won’t believe it, but it’s my 10-year anniversary in the DJ Mag Top 100!” gushes Sander van Doorn. We can believe it alright. Sander is worldly-wise. While some of his contemporaries get stuck in a rut musically, van Doorn knows just when to switch it up.
Never content with one genre, he’s made a name for a shape-shifting sound that flits between big room electro-house and trance, collaborated with such diverse names as Underworld, Robbie Williams, Mark Knight, The Pet Shop Boys and Martin Garrix, and had a prolific hit-rate with his label DOORN, as well as with many other imprints.
In 2014 he minted the fresh tech house track ‘This’ alongside Oliver Heldens, and has six new releases out in 2015 already. There’s no standing still for Sander.
Last year, Kaskade’s management made a song and dance about him answering a few simple questions for our poll. This year, they went one step further — insisting the main man was too busy on tour to answer the questions we put his way.
He’s not the only one, but all things considered this LA-based DJ/producer is fast becoming as notorious for his potty-mouth as he is his musical output. Last year, for example, he famously told us that “Anyone over the age of 30 is suspect in a nightclub” (Kaskade is 44), while this year he’s been taking pop-shots at rock royalty in the shape of Sir Paul McCartney.
To give you a bit of background, at this year's Lollapalooza Festival, the sound bleed from Kaskade’s stage meant that it interrupted McCartney’s acoustic guitar during a tribute to John Lennon.
“I intended this,” McCartney joked as Kaskade’s bass crossed over to his stage. “It's like a crazy mash-up of this song and whatever they're playing over there.”
Kaskade’s response? “I love that!
There’s something irreverent about electronic music, that it’s very young and youthful, so the fact that I pissed some old guy off is very funny. Life achievement unlocked.”
Douche. He might be big business in Vegas and a regular fixture in the Top 100, but with this sort of outspoken carry-on it’s surely only a matter of time before this man’s antics relegate him to a bin marked ‘obscurity’. Kaskade, please, stick with the day job, mate.
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.
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.”
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.”
With releases on Dutch imprint Spinin’ Records, remixes for the likes of Avicii, and a huge collaboration alongside Tiesto, American EDM producer and DJ KSHMR has had quite a productive 2015 to say the least.
His ascension to the top is even more impressive considering Niles Hollowell-Dhar has only been releasing music under his KSHMR alias since 2014. Before then he was one half of hip-hop production duo The Cataracs alongside David 'Campa' Benjamin Singer-Vine.
2015 finally saw the LA-based producer breakout from his hip-hop roots and into the world of EDM, and it was his collaboration, ‘Secrets’, alongside Dutch heavyweight Tiesto that was the catalyst to putting his new alias on the map. That success then saw the LA-based producer play his first live show at the Fonda Theatre in LA alongside Bassjackers and newcomer Yogi.
“This year has gone better than I ever hoped for,” KSHMR tells DJ Mag. “'Burn' with DallasK really opened the door for me, and from there I had the honour of collaborating with Tiesto on 'Secrets', which became the biggest release of my career so far.”
“Music aside, Tiesto introducing me for the first time at Ultra 2015 in Miami was one of the most surreal experiences of my life,” he continues.
As well as high-flying collaborations and remixes, KSHMR also found time to release 'Jammu' — his most personal track to date. It pulled in a host of influences, including those from his Indian heritage, into a giant EDM melting pot.
With support from the scene's biggest names, KSHMR is showing all the signs of becoming one of the US’s biggest EDM stars to date.
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.
Once the mainstay of our Top 10, trance is no longer the dominant sound of the world's big-room clubs. Of course, EDM is today the world's mainstream sound du jour, which even Tiësto is now embracing — however, that hasn't stopped this London trio sticking to their guns.
While the Anjunabeats bosses have delved deeper into house territory with their 'deep' spin-off, they've continued to stay true to the supple melodica of their DJ sets in 2015. Third studio LP 'We Are All We Need' is as earnest as you'd expect, feeding elegant, Goan-influenced styles into a pop formula, while the return of their acoustic show in 2016 will see them illuminate their illustrious club tracks as a live band. Above & Beyond are still maturing — continually evolving — and their following is still strong, placing in the top 30 in the poll again.