“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.
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'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.”
“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...)