In a digital era of rampant piracy, plunging album sales, failing business models, and hotly contested streaming platforms, it is relatively easy to point fingers at record-industry executives and file sharing websites. Like most grey-hued aspects of life, the erosion of the system cannot be pinpointed to one particular element or another. Despite surging vinyl sales, fan-funding platforms, and swarms of festival-goers, 2016 proved to be the “worst year (so far) for music sales since the 1991 debut of SoundScan (now Nielsen Music).” Well, before the death knell tolls and anyone jumps the gun prematurely, it isn’t all gloom and doom, especially for lovers of EDM. No matter what unfolds, in the ever-evolving world of electronic music and its seemingly infinite sub-genres, art and ingenuity will prevail. They have before and they will again.
From cult followings and underground basements, EDM arose over the past decades, punched a hole in the wall of mainstream music, and whipped up a bass-dropped fury that shows few signs of dissipating anytime soon. While the market is oversaturated with electronic artists clawing and kicking their way into the public consciousness, there are business-savvy musicians who have learned how to fuse the latest technology with their artistic sensibilities—without bowing before those who hold the purse strings—to push this industry in exciting directions. With cutting-edge software tools, artists can now deliver DIY products as polished as anything recorded in a plush studio.
Like every musical genre, there are those who innovate and those who merely exploit the popularity of a particular sound and reap the benefits. Not to diminish anyone’s success, but for every formulaic “performer” out there, transcultural painters of sound like Parisian duo Acid Arab outshine them. Talented artists continue to emerge, like New York-based electronic musician/producer Black Coast, and Australian record producer, musician, and DJ Flume, whose stuttering, trap-kissed “Never Be Like You” with Kai, cracked the stateside top 40 and dominated the ARIA Charts.
Artistic integrity and innovation may not always persevere at the top of the charts, but where there are creative minds, there will always be great music, even if the industry collapses and is forced to rise from the rubble. While everyone scrambles for solutions, let us crank up the bass and give into the beat. The list below consists of 10 artists who typify some of the more enthralling dance offerings in 2016. From the ‘90s-flavored house of London-based Antony & Cleopatra, to French electronic duo You Man’s mesmerizing track “When We Fall,” here are a collection of songs from DJs, producers, and electronic musicians that continue to push the frontiers of artistic expression.
Galantis & Hook N Sling
“Love on Me”
Hot on the heels of their kaleidoscopic debut album Pharmacy and recent hits “Peanut Butter Jelly”, “Money”, and “Runaway (U & I)”, Swedish electronic music duo Galantis (Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklow) return with their latest dance floor dominating global hit. “Love on Me”, a collaboration with Australian DJ/producer Hook N Sling, builds upon the pair’s previous sound palette with their trademark distorted, feline vocals—this time featuring the pipes of English singer-songwriter Laura White—yet sees them flex their muscles, as they take on tropical house. While it might have been a dicey move to try their hand at this overdone sub-genre, they execute it with effortless aplomb. Warm synth steel drums are joined by a lush, full orchestra and progressive house hooks that embed themselves so damn deep, you’ll be humming along hours later despite yourself.
Alex Newell and DJ Cassidy
“Kill the Lights” feat. Nile Rodgers
The promotional clips looked spectacular, but HBO’s gritty series Vinyl was met with less than stellar reviews, and in June of this year the premium cable network pulled the needle and silenced the possibility of a second season for the rock ‘n’ roll drama. Attempts to capture the hedonistic spirit of the music industry in the 1970s were entertaining, albeit unconvincing, but the series offered up one of the year’s best tunes as it stepped into the glamorous world of disco. Recorded a year before the series aired, the original version of “Kill the Lights” is a glittery love letter to a bygone era, with American DJ Cassidy at the helm, sweeping strings, and an appearance by legendary Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers.
In true 21st century “more is more” fashion, British chanteuse Jess Glynne was invited to step beyond the R&B/pop guise she’s known for and share the mic duties with former Glee star Alex Newell, on the Audien electro-funk remix of the track. She can’t hold a candle to Newell’s powerhouse diva chops and winds up cluttering the whole affair with her pointless inclusion. Attention music industry, sometimes less IS more. Long after everyone has forgotten the existence of Vinyl, the original version of “Kill the Lights” will hopefully be remembered with affection. It perfectly captures the decadent spirit of the time, in a way most throwback efforts rarely achieve.
“There Is a Land” / “When We Fall” (feat. Jérôme Voisin) [TIE]
It was the summer of ’96 in Callais, when French guitarists Tepat Huleux and Giac Di Falco realized that they had each found the perfect creative foil, in pursuit of a sound unbound by genre, tempo, and clichés. Subsequent bands with names such as Dynamo, Klone, Auto, T&K, and Termi-nus were formed and then dissolved, but by 2013, the retro-visionary project You Man was born, and the two musicians released a four-track collection of songs called Restless. Three years later, those who fell in love with the EP’s cheeky, arpeggiated single “Birdcage” will be pleased to know that the electro duo from Lille have finally released a gorgeous debut, entitled Spectrum To Love.
Like a futuristic session on the metaphysics of consciousness, lead single “There Is a Land”, features two robotic voices who utter clipped, meditative mantras, as they drift in and out of a chilly techno landscape. The track’s equally dark and hypnotic follow-up, “When We Fall”, spotlights the sensual, AaRON meets Antony-esque vocals of GYM lead singer Jérôme Voisin, as he moans and sighs over discordant steel drum passages and a sultry bassline. The album is undoubtedly worth a spin, but Tepat and Giac have created something that borders on auralgasmic with these two stunning tracks.
Antony & Cleopatra
“Love Is a Lonely Dancer”
Sparkadia frontman Alex Burnett and London vocalist, Anita Blay (CocknBullKid), continue to mine gold with their latest single “Love Is a Lonely Dancer”. The songwriting duo, who met six years ago during a UK pop-writing session, have slowly been releasing one remarkable track after another since their Sirens EP dropped in February of 2015. For those interested in a full-length release, the group is currently in the studio working on an LP for release in the future.
Blay’s marvelous debut pop record, Adulthood, never quite caught on with the public as it should have, but here with Burnett, she emits blistering sparks of creativity that her previous solo outing only hinted at on occasion. Produced in NYC by Sammy Bananas, this infectious blend of ‘90s house realness and 21st century bravado is like a splashy Deee-Lite track for the post-millennial generation. There is, however, emotional depth within the lyrics that steps beyond the strobe lights.
“Fashion Killa (Papapapa)” feat. Stefflon Don
Following 2014’s ZOA and his primal ode to ancient dance rituals, Nite Rites, Dutch DJ, producer Mason (Iason Chronis) returned this summer with London’s new rap queen Stefflon Don in tow. When his club track “Papapapa” shot straight to number one on Beatport, he found himself courted by Island Records, and once signed, he retooled it with Azealia Banks in mind. Following a barrage of homophobic and racially insensitive commentary by the controversial Harlem-born rapper-songwriter, he chose to work with UK grime artist Don instead.
Netherland’s underground house scene trailblazer never disappoints, and “Fashion Killa (Papapapa)”, not to be confused with a similarly titled song by hip-hop artist ASAP Rocky, has the kind of crossover appeal that turns low profile DJs into household names overnight. Like many of his previous tracks, this sassy cut shot to #4 on the UK dance chart, joining “Exceeder”, “Runaway”, and “Boadicea” as yet another chart-topping hit for the 36-year-old Chronis.
Enough cannot be said about the hilariously camp, “beware the braids” video, set in a hair salon. It’s as brilliant as the track itself. While Stefflon might be tipped as the British answer to Nicki Minaj, she exudes more star appeal than her American counterpart could ever muster. With this summery single, Mason proves that once again, he has a singular knack for picking the perfect voice for his dazzling instrumentals.
// Notes from the Road
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