Like a gluttonous monarch with a taste for domination, electronic dance music continued to saturate the airwaves and feast upon the U.S. charts in 2014, devouring everything in its path. Trends come and go, but for now it appears the crown shall remain upon its head, and no throne shall be relinquished in the near future. It has cleverly adapted to the times since its “birth” in the ‘60s, expanding its palette to satiate ever-fluctuating musical tastes. Throughout the years, there are have been immense highs and staggering lows as it expanded and evolved. This year saw huge losses in the dance community through the deaths of “The Godfather of House Music” Frankie Knuckles and Chicago’s iconic DJ Rashad, but the life-affirming pulse of the beat always seems to prevail amidst any tragedy.
2014 was the year that British dance pop annihilated the charts. From Disclosure and Sam Smith’s massive hit “Latch”, to the rise of Gorgon City, MNEK, Duke Dumont, SBTRKT, Rudimental, and Jess Glynne with Route 94, the UK continually dropped one incendiary track after another. This was also the year the NYC club scene resurfaced from the decimating legacy of former Mayor Rudolf Giuliani, and was reignited with massive, decadent hotspots like Verboten and Output, picking up the torch Twilo, Paradise Garage, Limelight, and countless others left behind when they were closed in their heyday. Electronic festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, Ultra, and Movement in Detroit flourished, even amidst the controversy of 2013’s drug-related deaths at NY’s Electric Zoo. The party invariably finds a way to carry on.
In an interview with MixMag, British DJ and producer Carl Cox said that EDM is “an entry level to dance music” in America, and if so, it is a great thing that dance and electronic artists are now being embraced in the U.S. where once they went unnoticed. The word EDM is now egregiously associated with the David Guettas, Aviciis and Afrojacks of the business, while deep house has come to represent everything beyond the stereotype of EDM’s inauthentic DJs, who simply press a button and stand there. Regardless of labels, there have always been artists who sell-out and others who maintain their artistic integrity and consistently defy categorization. The list below consists of ten artists (there was a tie, so make that 11) who represent some of the more interesting dance offerings of the year. From the ‘90s, R&B-inflected, dance-pop throwback of Moko, to the genre/gender-defying sassiness of Shamir, here are a collection of artists who continue to further the evolution of dance music and present their vision of its future. Dance on.
Mason feat. Rouge Mary
“Gotta Have You Back”
Amsterdam-based DJ and producer Iason Chronis, aka Mason, knows how to throw one hell of an eclectic house party. The man who climbed to the top of the UK dance charts with his blistering instrumental track “Exceeder” and its Princess Superstar-helmed facelift “Perfect (Exceeder)”, has returned with a whole new arsenal of talented vocalists at his beck and call. For those who thought he couldn’t surpass the brilliance of 2011’s They Are Among Us know that it was merely a pre-game warm up. His second full-length album ZOA forgoes the use of well-known heavy hitters like Róisín Murphy, DMC, Kurtis Blow, and Sam Sparro found on his previous outing, for newcomers like Pien Feith, Rouge Mary, and Lizzie Massey. Chronis clearly knows immense vocal talent when he hears it and ZOA features two of the best dance tracks of the year, in an album full of highlights. Consider it a tie.
Parisian singer Rouge Mary’s soulful baritone saturates the sleek “Gotta Have You Back”, recalling both Prince and the elastic funkiness of Jamie Lidell. Effortlessly flicking between a muscular growl and a seductive falsetto, its come-hither timbre flaunts a gritty sexuality, perfectly complimenting the track’s metallic percussion, filthy bass-line, and raunchy, churning synths. One only needs to hear this gender-defying singer’s stellar contributions on Hercules & Love Affair’s latest album The Feast of the Broken Heart to know that a solo effort is unquestionably in order.
Mason feat. Lizzie Massey
“Someone I’m Not”
ZOA‘s first teaser single “Someone I’m Not” should have blown up in a massive way, but at least it introduced its vocalist to a wider audience. Brighton based singer-songwriter Lizzie Massey’s voice has a warm, husky sensuality about it and a striking emotional depth rarely found in female dance vocalists. Her latest foray into electronic music followed a stint as the frontwoman for the bands Barriers and Tiny Dragons, but if her collaboration with Mason is any indication, the decision to leave behind the guitar-centric “alternative soul” of her past affiliations was a wise one. Let us hope she is given the opportunity to move beyond a guest spot on someone else’s album and be the star on one of her own.
“Dangerous” (Oliver Remix)
Hot on the heels of their stellar EP Light Years Away, DJ/producer duo U-Tern and Oligee, collectively known as Oliver, delivered one of 2014’s best remixes with their funky, retro-nostalgic overhaul of Big Data’s alt-pop hit “Dangerous”. With a buoyant rhythmic structure tenuously ripped from the pages of Men Without Hat’s ‘80s classic “The Safety Dance”, the duo wrap new wave synths, disco syndrum pings, and squelchy, bouncing bass-lines around Joywave vocalist Daniel Armbruster’s paranoia-laden lyrics. Privacy is but an illusion in the digital age and “Big Brother is watching you”, even on a sweaty, neon lit dance floor.
Tensnake + Jacques Lu Cont feat. Jamie Lidell
“Feel of Love”
“Meanwhile in the testicles”...Jamie Lidell, German DJ/Producer Tensnake (Marco Niemerski), and Grammy Award-winning producer Jacques Lu Cont (aka Stuart Price of electro-pop band Zoot Woman) collaborating on a track together? Dreams do come true. The R&B-inflected, electro-soulful disco track sounds like a lost Prince jam from decades ago. While the song is ace, the video is the ne plus ultra. Think dancing sperm and Wonkavison. Think a man in diapers, blow-up dolls and kinky-minded Furries. Think mad-capped, fetish-friendly amusement. Think amazing.
Niemerski has consistently dispatched one marvelous single after another since the early 2000s and his remixes never fail to do less than dazzle with their ingenuity. He dropped his debut album Glow in March of this year, featuring six collaborative tracks with Tasmanian singer Fiora, a contribution from the legendary Nile Rodgers, and another from Toronto singer, producer, and DJ Jeremy Glenn. “Feel of Love” is the clear highlight of the record and this video is definitely the whore red cherry on top.
The past couple of years have seen a huge resurgence in ‘90s R&B-flavored, deep house tracks. Cue the arrival of Britain’s Diane Nadia Adu-Gyamfi, known professionally as Moko. Not since Mica Paris has a UK soul singer possessed a voice so stunning that she could be singing the ingredients of a recipe or a newspaper article, and mouths would still be watering in anticipation of her next syllable, regardless of the content. That golden, buttery timbre is what keeps you coming back for more.
Following her Black EP, she dropped its genre-defying follow-up Gold at the beginning of September. Lead track “You Love” absolutely slays with its big-voiced, throwback charm, and the accompanying video nails the essence of what makes Moko so interesting. A deserted warehouse saturated in rich, primary colors, long whip-like pigtails to invoke envy on sight, and one hell of an emotionally sincere, divalicious voice. Bring on that full-length debut.
Disclosure feat. Mary J. Blige
“F for You”
It appears perfection can actually be improved upon. English Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence (aka Disclosure) re-released their massive track “F for You” at the beginning of the year to unanimous acclaim. Featuring Mary J. Blige as a wailing house diva, this stellar little reinvisioning harkens back to the old Clivillés and Cole recordings of the early ‘90s and elevated a great track to the status of modern dance classic. So when Blige announced that she was working with the duo on her next album The London Sessions, no one batted an eyelash. Their undeniable chemistry proved to be one of the most incendiary collaborations of recent years. The brothers’ debut album Settle has rightfully garnered accolades by the dozen since its release in June of 2013, and tracks like “F for You” are precisely the reason why.