Contrary to what you may have read on some bitter techno blog, DJing is not a lost art form. Every night in our city, you can find dozens (or hundreds, on weekends) of men and women doing it the old-fashioned way, mixing records live (whether they be on vinyl, CD or flash drive) and conjuring up new soundtracks for your night out. No lasers, pyro or beat-matching software required.
The following list is our attempt to sift through those dozens and hundreds of DJs and identify the ones who are operating at the very top of their game. They're a reflection of the sonic diversity and depth of talent that makes our nightlife scene arguably the best in the nation. They aren't all necessarily L.A.'s greatest of all time, but they're the greatest right now.
If you go to a club and one of these 20 DJs (24, if you count the teams) is spinning, you know you're in for a good time.
The apple-cheeked JSTJR is a recent Los Angeles transplant, but the multigenre bass music producer and DJ has quickly made the city his own. He already had a presence via Mad Decent and Smog Records with his banging releases on those top labels. His monthly bass party, Plugged In, features not only a great array of talent but also EDM celebrity attendees. JSTJR has a number of indigenous lenses through which he filters both his productions and his fast-paced DJ sets. He has a honed ear for creative, regional bass tones, and he has a knack for combining them into a fresh sound that is all his own. —Lily Moayeri
19. AC Slater
We've sung the praises of L.A.'s patron saint of bass house many times before, but it bears repeating: AC Slater's monthly Night Bass parties at Sound remain one of the best club nights in the city. Together with fellow residents Bones and Petey Clicks, plus a rotating cast of ace guests like DJ EZ and Sinden, Slater represents his emerging genre with a down 'n' dirty sensibility that encompasses everything from U.K. grime and garage to G-house and electro, woven together over filthy, funky bass lines that keep the dance floor bouncing. Fresh from his first Coachella and poised to wreck the decks at Hard Summer and on Night Bass' eight-city Summer Phases tour (local stop: July 1 at Union), Slater continues to tear it up. —Andy Hermann
18. Amanda Jones
L.A. native Amanda Jones has been enhancing and enchanting L.A.’s best-known gloomy grinds (Malediction Society, Bar Sinister, Das Bunker, Evil Club Empire parties) for more than two decades, and she only seems to get better as time goes by. The struggle is real when it comes to being taken seriously as a female DJ in the clubs, and if you’re hot, multiply that by 100. Yeah, we’ll say it, she’s fun to look at — but it’s about her energy and flair, not what she looks like in fishnets. Jones' gothic, industrial and darkwave sets go from heavy and hard to familiar and fun and back again, a meld that always seems to move her to dance behind the decks, and turns the floor before her into a fiendish free-for-all. —Lina Lecaro
17. Michael Stock
If you ever wanted to dance to the original O.C. hardcore punk of The Middle Class, the dub-influenced funk-punk of A Certain Ratio and the call-and-response thrash of L.A.’s late great Mika Miko, then Michael Stock is your kind of DJ. For more than a decade, Stock has been showcasing the huge musical spectrum that punk music encompasses, and the new bands (especially L.A.-based) that add to that spectrum. You can catch him at his weekly club night, Part Time Punks, at the Echo; PTP’s sister club, Punky Reggae Party, at La Cita; and on his KXLU radio show, which currently airs Thursday afternoons from 3 to 6 p.m. —Sam Ribakoff
16. Lovefingers and Heidi Lawden
Frequent collaborators Lovefingers and Heidi Lawden are a dream team of dance-floor eclecticism, with nearly a half-century’s experience as house, techno and disco tastemakers between them. Equally at home on the airwaves at L.A. underground radio station Dublab or atop the Mayan Art Car on the dusty expanses of Burning Man, the duo’s aesthetic balances vintage crate-digging nerdism with stylish panache. Andrew Hogge began the Lovefingers moniker as an early and influential MP3 blog before founding NYC-based analog-chic label the ESP Institute, while Lawden makes music under the names Locussolus with DJ Harvey (whom she has managed since before he had a moustache) and Heidi Hoven, and hosts the show "Magic Roundabout" on Dublab. Put ’em together, and it’s no surprise that they know exactly how to get a party started while accommodating the occasional chin stroke. —Jemayel Khawaja
15. Masha and Alison Swing
Promotion partners Masha and Alison Swing DJ separately, but if you hear their sets bleed into one another at their Dig Deeper parties, it's clear that the two up-and-comers are on the same wavelength. Both DJs have a fantastic sense of mood and energy, and use eclectic collections — filled with everything from synth-pop to house to world music — to warm up the crowds. As the duo heads into summer with a weekend-long party at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs this June, their stars continue to rise. —Liz Ohanesian
14. Peanut Butter Wolf
Chris Manak is a mild-mannered dude who goes by Peanut Butter Wolf when he’s mixing records or running his label. He doesn’t need a loud, corny personality to get booked. He lets his records do the talking, and he’s got one of the best collections in Southern California. The Stones Throw don has become known for increasingly long, high-concept DJ events, such as his 12-hour Boiler Room mix on 12/12/2012 and many others in his now-retired numerology series. He’s known in particular for his collection of funk, soul, boogie, disco and rap 12-inches and 45s, but he can rock you in any way he sees fit. His vinyl (which weighs a ton) often requires a U-Haul to transport to the gig. If there is one DJ who encapsulates the diversity and history of L.A.’s many music scenes, it’s Wolf. —Jonny Coleman
13. DJ Dan
Though he hails from Seattle, DJ Dan was integral to the early rave scene in Los Angeles and San Francisco. As a member of Funky Tekno Tribe, he played breakbeats so devotedly that one of his more famous early mixtapes was an all–James Brown production. In the late 1990s he abandoned breaks, moved to L.A. permanently and became a top-of-the-flier adherent of banging, festival house. Dan’s energy is full-voltage, and his beat-matching, a lost art, is mesmerizingly perfect. His 1999 mix CD Funk the System is a subtle beast that’s a fascinating assembly line of animated grooves. —Dennis Romero
In 2009, just as the racket of proto-EDM electro grew louder, veteran DJ triptych Droog went against the grain and launched Culprit, a label dedicated to deep house and techno. The imprint has played a key role in the underground renaissance we’re all currently enjoying in L.A. In between exporting their homespun Angeleno club aesthetic everywhere from London’s Fabric to Space in Ibiza, Droog legitimized the Standard Downtown as a dance venue by hosting the likes of Seth Troxler and Dixon at their iconic rooftop Culprit Sessions. The label’s catalog has established a world-class tech-house pedigree that has seen them become a beacon for the scoop-necked, long-shirted masses that are the lifeblood of L.A.’s underground scene. You can catch them next on May 27 at, in true underground fashion, a location TBA. —Jemayel Khawaja
When Simon Green aka Bonobo was the surprise Sunday-night headliner at the Do Lab stage at Coachella last year, any thoughts anyone present may have had of braving the crowds for Drake melted away. Green is justly revered for his full-band live shows and original tracks, which mix breakbeats, jazz, trip-hop and future bass into a soulful stew that has nourished heads from London to Low End Theory and beyond. But his live DJ sets are, in their own way, just as good. Relying more on four-on-the-floor house beats, but never straying far from the lush melodicism and jazzy sensibilities that are his trademark, a Bonobo DJ set can encompass everything from Todd Terje to Four Tet to Moderat, as well as his own remixes and edits. Green is DJing all over the summer festival circuit, including a stop at Electric Forest, but since the native Brit now calls L.A. home, we'll likely have a chance to hear him on the decks again soon. —Andy Hermann
10. DJ Colette
A DJ and vocalist, Colette trades off between skills seamlessly in her sets. She'll mix the jams before grabbing the mic for a brief moment of song, still working the EQs as she belts out lyrics, then gets right back into the groove. Colette got her start in Chicago's legendary house scene where, almost 20 years ago, she joined forces with Heather, Dayhota and Lady D to form the all-female collective Super Jane. For more than 15 years, though, she has been based in L.A., where her smooth vocals and the power of the 4/4 beat keep crowds dancing. —Liz Ohanesian
9. J Rocc
J Rocc has won numerous DJing awards, by himself and with the Beat Junkies crew. He’s also DJed for the late great J Dilla, Mos Def and many others, and is a big part of Stones Throw Records. But most importantly, J Rocc is a DJ who will take you to every part of his record collection, illuminating connections between different music genres — and his collection is huge. From hip-hop to footwork to Brazilian music to techno and electro, a J Rocc set will let you know that there’s only good music, and that other stuff. —Sam Ribakoff
Tending a goat farm and screaming in a death-metal band don’t rouse thoughts of a typical EDM DJ’s origin story, but Ghastly is an aberrant behind the decks. “Doing death-metal vocals for so long instilled [performance] in me at a young age ... just full energy, full chaos. What’s better about [dance music] is the energy isn’t angry,” says Ghastly. If he’s not cueing up the next bass house or dubstep record, he’s swinging from the club’s rafters and catalyzing raver hysteria. “I try to hold back sometimes and be a little bit more chill, but I just can’t.” —Patrick Shannon
Drum ’n’ bass is a difficult game stateside, requiring a strong constitution both aurally and emotionally. Original junglist DJ Machete has these in spades. A Los Angeles fixture, he has been at the decks for 25 years, 17 of those as the main promoter of North America’s longest-running drum ’n’ bass weekly, Respect. He's also a member of the drum ’n’ bass crew Junglist Platoon and hosts a Wednesday-evening radio show at DnBRadio from 8 to 10 p.m. This is on top of a busy gigging schedule that has him showcasing his unerring skills, playing melodic tracks alongside hard-hitting ones, blending the classics into the latest cuts with the kind of expertise that only comes from years of experience. —Lily Moayeri
Drumcell is Moe Espinosa, a member of the Droid Behavior collective and one of the few DJs on this list who reps the SGV. Raised as a classically trained musician, he later got into punk, industrial and noise before ultimately graduating to more synthesized soundscapes. Together with his Droid Behavior co-founders Vidal and Vangelis Vargas (Raiz), Drumcell deliver no-frills, sandpaper techno more consistently than any other SoCal crew currently active. And Drumcell’s been doing his thing for going on two decades, before L.A.’s underground infrastructure developed into the well-oiled machine it is now. For best results, catch Drumcell in a warehouse (at one of Droid's Interface events) or somewhere else dark, dingy and dank. —Jonny Coleman
5. Adam Auburn
Balance is key in Adam Auburn sets. The Exchange resident's style is rooted in house but runs the gamut from soulful to pop-oriented vocal tracks, with touches of bass-heavy hip-hop influences woven throughout. Auburn started DJing well before he moved to Los Angeles from the East Coast, but he further honed his skills here playing alongside the top touring talent that comes through downtown's Exchange, as well as his own parties, Soul & Tonic and Afternoon Delight. Auburn can play for the heads just as well as he can for the new kids; it's all about the balance. —Liz Ohanesian
4. Lee Foss
Hot Creations boss Lee Foss has long been one of Chicago's greatest gifts to L.A.'s dance-music scene. But for the past couple years in particular, Foss has been on fire, stealing the show at CRSSD, Coachella's Do Lab stage and Hard's Holy Ship! cruise with mesmerizing sets that mix classic deep and Chicago house sounds with touches of techno, disco and the occasional big-room drop to keep the EDM kids happy. When a DJ ditches the USB sticks to play his first all-vinyl set in eight years at a high-profile gig like Mysterylands, you know he's feeling himself — and right now, Foss is mixing with the confidence of a guy who feels like he can take the crowd anywhere he wants them to go. He'll be at Splash House in Palm Springs June 10-12 with Odesza (doing a DJ set), Jai Wolf, Guy Gerber and Justin Martin — all of whom had better bring their A-games, or he'll steal the show from them, too —Andy Hermann
3. Adam 12
L.A.’s most versatile DJ hands-down is Adam Michael Bravin aka Adam 12. Honing his skills in his hometown of L.A. alongside friends DJ AM and Z-Trip, he’s as spot-on spinning fervent sets in a sweaty hip-hop club (AFEX) as he is in a glam West Hollywood hot spot (Giorgio's) or, of late, for a chic goth crowd (Cloak & Dagger). He even played funky stuff for President Barack Obama, where the audience was older but no less jazzed by his turntable jamming. He could’ve easily gone the superstar Vegas route, but 12 was always more soulful than the bottle-service set might have appreciated. Adam 12’s sets are spontaneous and intuitive; he may play one song all the way through, then cut another halfway, only to bring it back a few cuts later. It surely doesn’t hurt that he’s a musician himself (one-half of She Wants Revenge) or that he worked for Prince back in the Glam Slam days. And no matter what genre or style he’s playing, Adam 12’s sets are kinda like his bosses The Prez and The Purple One — as purposeful as they are powerful. —Lina Lecaro
2. Marques Wyatt
When house music started seeping into Los Angeles in the 1980s, Santa Monica native Marques Wyatt was there. When acid jazz swept the small rooms of the early-’90s club scene, Wyatt was there (with a multipiece band, performing over DJ-driven hip-hop breaks). When house got deep in the mid ’90s, Wyatt was there (at the legendary Does Your Mama Know? after-hours nights). He’s no stranger to smoky rooms and dank undergrounds, but Wyatt holds down the tasteful side of Los Angeles dance music. You can thank him for continuing to bring the likes of house legends Louie Vega, Osunlade and Danny Krivit to town. His Deep nights represent a pretty cheap education for students of post-disco dance music. Wyatt’s own sound adds long, syncopated mixes, a West Coast trait, to the jazz- and salsa-infused musicianship of New York house. At a time when EDM is a euphemism for excess, Wyatt is all class. —Dennis Romero
1. DJ Harvey
“You can't understand the blues until you've had your heart broken, and you can't understand my music ’til you've had group sex on ecstasy.” DJ Harvey’s self-description says it all. He is house music’s rock star. Harvey Bassett has been bringing a subversive, punk edge to dance music since the ’80s. He popularized the disco re-edit and was an early resident DJ at London’s famed Ministry of Sound. And he’s done it all with a scruffy yet debonair air that’s made him a cult figure and a style icon.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The grizzled, moustachioed veteran shacks up in Venice Beach but still roams the world dropping the marathon, eight-hour sets for which he’s famed. His next L.A. gig is on June 10, to coincide with Gay Pride weekend. Trends come and go, styles change, but DJ Harvey will always be the coolest motherfucker at the party. —Jemayel Khawaja
[Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Heidi Lawden as DJ Harvey's wife. She is his manager but the two are not married. We regret the error.]