The term “electronic dance music” means so many things to so many people, and this year things only got more complicated. Dubstep continued its dance floor takeover, mainstream pop-oriented EDM ruled the radio, and the beat scene pushed on. Although divergent in style and ethos, here are the ten dance tracks that made us move most this year.
L.A.-based duo Poolside made good on their “daytime disco” tag with 2011 standout “Do You Believe.” But they lured the musically fashionable deeper into their dreamy world of sun-drenched synth with this sweet come hither cover of the Neil Young classic, which got play on KCRW and gained traction when James Murphy starting dropping it in his DJ sets.
9. Four Tet
Taken from Four Tet's sixth LP Pink, “Lion” finds ever-dependable British producer Kieran Hebden at his minimalist best, layering pared down beats with an ominous synth foundation for nine minutes of darkly complex yet terrifically delicate dance shimmer.
French producer Hugo Pierre Leclercq has ridden the electro-pop wave with a handful of notable singles and remixes for artists including Deadmau5 and Pendulum, but it was “Finale” that demonstrated his ability to synthesize big beat builds and drops with a futuristic sophistication that dipped into the pop realm while avoiding all out cheese. Not bad for 18 years old.
This Grammy-nominated single forwarded Skrillex' position as the de facto leader of the worldwide dubstep movement and proved his staying power, a rough-hewn sophistication. He represents the just-don't-take-it-too-seriously fun of the genre he has forged.
No matter your take on electronic music as mainstream pop, what was abundantly clear in a thousand festival dance tents around the globe this year is that this hybrid sound was the stuff capturing the feet and pumping fists of millions of neon-clad early twenty somethings. From the crop of producers satiating this youth movement, it was Avicii's pretension free and unabashedly joyful singalong “Silhouettes” that embodied the best of the dance world crossover realm and made the Swedish producer the current torch bearer of mainstream EDM.
Deadmau5 flared up early in the year with feel good dance track “The Veldt,” but it was this darkly alluring floataway single from his 2012 LP >Album Title Goes Here< that reminded us why Joel Zimmerman is the reigning nerd punk-king of progressive house.
4. Disclosure feat. Sam Smith
House duo (and brothers) Disclosure paired their spaced out production with soulful vocals from London-based singer Sam Smith for a quick-build dance jam with an absolutely undeniable chorus.
3. John Talabot feat. Pional
Barcelona-based producer John Talabot cemented his status as an underground electro-hero with the release of his gorgeous LP Fin last January. Standout track “Destiny” is five minutes of moody slow build that evokes the greatness of '80s synth acts like Depeche Mode while maintaining a freshness from levelheaded beats and clean production. If anything sounds like a good night in Ibiza, this is it.
2. St. Lucia
Brooklyn by way of South Africa-based St. Lucia came out the gate strong this past summer with the release of his eponymous, synth pop-oriented EP, but it's this recently released stunner track “September” that revealed St. Lucia as a force in the world of big room dance music production. The thing just builds and builds, and when it seems it can't get any bigger, minute 3:41 happens.
TNGHT (Hudson Mohawke x Lunice)
1. Higher Ground
The 16 minute TNGHT EP, a collaboration between Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke and Canada's Lunice, found a clear centerpiece in “Higher Ground,” a frenetically in your face club banger culled from elements including trombones, snare beats, shouting and a relentless female vocal. Incorporating elements of bounce and trance, the track might be labeled as something like “trap rave.” A more apt qualifier though is the extent to which it got everybody in proximity of the speakers moving each time it was dropped. And that was a lot. The track got major Low End Theory play, turned up in sets by DJs including the Gaslamp Killer and 12th Planet, found Kendrick Lamar rapping over it on BBC radio and even turned out Kanye, who made an appearance during a recent TNGHT set.