Electronic dance music (you know, EDM) is the hottest thing going right now. But to you, it still all sounds like “oontz, oontz, oontz” — except Skrillex, who sounds like “wom, wom, wom.” Right?
Fear not. You don't have to be a kid yourself to know what the kids are into nowadays. The ten albums below might not convert you into a glowstick-twirling rave monkey, but they will at least help you tell the difference between dubstep and drum 'n' bass, or Chicago house and Detroit techno. Note that while these are great records, this isn't meant to be a definitive “best of” list — it's just a good entry point for EDM newbies.
10) The Chemical Brothers
Exit Planet Dust (1995)
No one has ever engineered a better gateway drug to EDM than this ferocious debut album from the British production duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, which is why it kicks off our list. The Chems would refine their balls-out mix of techno, acid house, hip-hop and stadium rock on future releases, but they never went straight for the lizard brain more effectively than on this frenetic set.
9) Derrick Carter and Mark Farina
Live at Om (2004)
House music got its start in Chicago, and Chicago house in its purest form remains the dirtiest, funkiest, swingingest form of dance music based on strict four-on-the-floor beats. This double-disc collection captures live sets by two of Chi-town's most gifted DJs and is a brilliant study in contrasts: Where Mark Farina's jazzy, stylish tracks (like the Vibezelect tune above) are all about the hip-shake and shoulder-shimmy, Derrick Carter's downright filthy mix is all grit and grind and goes right for the crotch.
Beaucoup Fish (1999)
The band behind “Born Slippy” (you know, from the final scene in Trainspotting) released three classic hard techno albums in the '90s, of which this '99 set is both their best and the one most accessible to newbs. The last Underworld album to feature their secret weapon, producer Darren Emerson, it contains at least three tracks that will melt your face off: the deceptively titled “Kittens,” the Donna Summer-sampling “Shudder/King of Snake” (yes, it jacked that pulsating synth from “I Feel Love”) and album closer “Moaner.” For British techno, this is still the gold standard.
7) Ian Pooley
Since Then (2000)
Underlying a lot of great dance music is the fantasy of the endless party, a place where the sun is always shining, the drinks are always flowing, the beautiful people never stop dancing, and the drugs never wear off. The closest anyone's ever come to capturing all that on disc is this gloriously sun-kissed, Brazilian-tinged set from German producer Ian Pooley. Now, where's that drink?
6) Paul van Dyk
Vorsprung Dyk Technik: Paul van Dyk Remixes 92-98 (1998)
Paul van Dyk is sort of the Bob Marley of trance. Even if you don't like the subgenre, van Dyk's work — especially his early stuff — manages to be uplifting in a reasonably non-cheesy way. This three-disc set of his early remixes might seem like overkill, but it's more consistently entertaining than any of his studio LPs and features the definitive version of his biggest hit, “For an Angel.”
Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (2010)
Dance music snobs hate Skrillex because his music is pretty much all about the same thing: simplistic pop melodies with brutally choppy, squelchy bass drops that are the musical equivalent of getting donkey punched. But you know what? His shit is fun as hell, and a way better introduction to dubstep than the austere-to-the-point-of-boring soundscapes of Burial and Kode9. Call it fratstep if you must, but Skrillex's steez gets the party started.
As French DJ acts go, Daft Punk is still king and you should totally go next time their giant-pyramid show comes back to SoCal. But as far as albums go, they were seriously one-upped by this gonzo debut from Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay, the duo known as Justice. Full of filthy, distorted bass lines and moments of unexpected pop pleasure like “D.A.N.C.E.”, it's the missing link between French house and Skrillex's crunchy take on latter-day dubstep.
The Emperor's New Clothes (2007)
The trick to understanding drum 'n' bass is to realize that it's not really meant for dancing. It's meant for either jumping around like a lunatic, or lying back like you're in one of those massage chairs at The Sharper Image and letting the densely syncopated beats vibrate you into sweet submission. Much '90s drum 'n' bass already sounds a bit dated, but Klute's Tom Withers has kept the genre fresh with a style that mixes in elements of punk, techno and dubstep, all while still resembling the soundtrack to a 25th century day spa for people with really high metabolisms.
2) Deep Dish
Global Underground 021: Moscow (2003)
Why does every major EDM club in America still mostly pump out progressive house on Saturday nights? Because of albums like this influential mix from the D.C.-based DJ duo of Ali “Dubfire” Shirazinia and Sharam Tayebi. Fittingly based on a 2003 set they spun at Club XIII in Moscow, Deep Dish's booming take on prog-house is sexy, sinister and, like all good mega-club music, as tawdry and ostentatious as a stretch Hummer.
Sheet One (1993)
Detroit techno was already a force to be reckoned with when Richie Hawtin released this, the debut album under his Plastikman alias, right around the time rave culture was taking off in the U.S. But more than any other Motor City artist before or since, Hawtin proved that techno could be an album-length art form, not just 10-minute singles and beat exercises for the DJs' record crates. Sheet One is a sparse, challenging listen compared to most of the rest of this list, but in it, you'll hear the seeds for everything that came after it.
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