For the third consecutive year, global music sales have flourished, online streaming has become the record industry’s most profitable revenue source, and artists are still rarely compensated at an equitable rate exceeding the time and investment they have put into their craft. Nothing revelatory there, but maybe this news points to a possible shift in the pervasiveness of international music piracy. Maybe. On the other hand, festivals continue to draw ire each time someone tragically overdoses, yet thousands of fans continue to flood these mass, tented parties to witness their idols up close and personal. In the world of electronic dance music, a simple Google search inevitably brings up a barrage of articles proclaiming its impending demise. Funny, but these same commentary pieces have been popping up for years and years, and they rarely seem to highlight any other genre. News flash: It is not disappearing into the ether anytime soon.
This year marked the devastating suicide of Swedish DJ Avicii, whose success was integral in bringing EDM into the mainstream. House music legend Frankie Knuckles and NYC DJ and club innovator David Mancuso passed away in recent years, but the loss of Avicii at the age of 28 in his prime, was seemingly more impactful, devastating the entire industry. Regardless of whether or not you believe his output was groundbreaking, his influence was widespread. In an interview with the London Evening Standard in 2013 he said, “since it got so big in America the past couple of years, dance music is taking over everywhere. It’s important that it keeps changing, so it doesn’t become a fad.” Five years later and it is still alive and kicking, with many musicians pushing the genre in exciting directions.
Some say that artists are on the brink of becoming eclipsed by algorithms and the machines are taking over. That may seem a bit paranoid, but this year, French collective SKYGGE presented the first album ever composed by AI software and artists, called Hello World. Charming as is it was (and it has some fabulous highlights), the human element with Kiesza, C Duncan, JATA, and the Pirouettes, really imbued the record with a warmth that no computer thus far can simulate. That day may come, but there will always be real musicians out there who innovate, rise above the formulaic tripe, and bring something novel and exciting to the table.
Billboard’s 2018 charts place the Chainsmokers, Marshmello, and Calvin Harris at the top of the list as the most successful dance and electronic acts of the year. None of these DJs or producers are found within the collection below, but you will find 12 incredible tracks from artists both indie and mainstream. From the raw, dance-punk rush of ADULT. to the stadium-sized anthems of Rüfüs du Sol, here are some of the endlessly addictive dance tracks of the year.
12. Valentino Khan – “Lick It”
No boundaries. There isn’t a genre LA-based music producer and DJ Valentino Khan hasn’t dipped his fingers into since he made a splash in 2013 with his worldwide hit with Diplo, “Bubble Butt”, for Major Lazer’s album Free the Universe. The 31-year-old released his debut EP In Khan We Trust in 2014 and has swiftly established himself as a sought-after remixer for everyone from M.I.A. to Paul McCartney, and produced hip-hop for Grammy-winning artists such as Bruno Mars and T.I.
Following the success of “Pump” and “Deep Down Low”, Khan delivers the goods once again with the saucy banger “Lick It”. A classic house track in the making, this salacious single with its wobbly, disorienting bass line hits all the right spots. A dark, raspy voice dipped in honey instructs you to “pat it, lick it, pull it down”, and once the first mammoth drop arrives, it’s virtually impossible to sit still. Kudos to director Drew Kirsch, for his eye-popping, color-splashed interpretation of Khan’s red-hot track. I’ll never look at a tennis ball or a Rubik’s Cube the same.
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11. CHANEY – “My House”
In late August, UK artist and producer CHANEY (Theo Altieri) dropped his debut EP #SaveSwindon, a brisk, four-track love affair with house music overlaid with a soulful vocal performance not far removed from that of Birmingham producer Joe Flory (Amateur Best, Primary 1). Altieri’s previous singles “Dixons” and “Let You Know” gained over 70,000 and 300,000 streams alone on Spotify, so it was no surprise when his latest track “My House” began to set the chart a flurry.
Taking its beat-driven inspiration from the spirit of the defunct but iconic Manchester club Haçienda, blended with a gritty street vibe, CHANEY welcomes you into his home under the prerequisite that you take off your shoes and never spill drinks on the island in his kitchen. This ode to house rules, homicidal tendencies, and pesky neighbors is quite possibly the most off-kilter club track of the year, but Altieri’s unique, indie-flavored take on dance music is most welcome in a sea of uninspired EDM clones.
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10. Lauer – “Mirrors (feat. Jasnau)”
Frankfurt-based DJ and producer Philipp Lauer, recently released his latest album Power in November of this year, a fearless shift from the chunky house, electro, and etherial Balearic compositions of his solo output and as one half of remix squad Tuff City Kids. On this third outing, his love for ’80s synthpop envelops these nine cleverly crafted offerings with twinkly, Roland-style arpeggios, stabbing analog synths, and atmospheric instrumentals.
Jasnau, the striking baritone vocalist (think a fusion of Robert Smith and David Gahan) last seen on Lauer’s Borndom and Tuff City Kid’s debut record Adoldesscent, returns for the album’s “Sweet Dreams”-esque title track and the infectious “Mirrors”. This pulsing lament to love lost is both an anthemic highlight of the collection, and a rare lyrical moment within modern dance music, one that offers its singer a moment of self-reflection leading to an empowered state of clarity.
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9. Femme – “Be Shy (feat. NOVA)”
UK singer-songwriter and record producer Femme (Laura Bettison) followed up her genre-defying 2016 debut album Debutante with an album of remixes and two electro-licked singles “Angel” and “Fire with Fire”, signifying a notable shift in her signature sound. Then in September, she released the 2.0 EP, and things got really interesting. From the chunky electro-piano stomper of “All For You”, to the Röyksopp-reminiscent “Tied Together”, this short, spectacular, four-track collection contained one of the year’s best dance-pop singles with “Be Shy”.
Teaming up with fellow British singer-songwriter NOVA, Bettison sings, “We all fall out of love / We don’t know how to fix this / We are moments away from being broken to pieces”, before dropping one of the sexiest bass lines of the year. Not to say that her punky, alt-pop princess persona wasn’t altogether charming, but she’s pushing her sound in exciting new directions. File this under club culture queen on the rise. Bring on that sophomore album.
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8. Azealia Banks – “Anna Wintour”
Love her, hate her, or find yourself shrugging with indifference, it’s almost impossible to ignore the immense talents of Azealia Amanda Banks when she’s on the top of her game. Following her adventurous mixtapes Fantasea and Slay-Z, along with her much-delayed, but critically acclaimed debut Broke with Expensive Taste, the NYC artist unleashed “Anna Wintour”.
The first single from her upcoming sophomore album, Fantasea II: The Second Wave, this fierce house track is a nod to the revered British-American editor of Vogue, and an homage to the sassy sound of the vogueing ball culture of the ’70s and ’80s. Produced by legendary DJ, artist, remixer and record executive Junior Sanchez, this blistering paean to self-empowerment proves once again that the woman can wail like the greats and devour other rappers with a simple flick of her tongue.
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7. The Presets – “Downtown Shutdown”
Sydney-based electronic duo the Presets returned this June with their fourth record Hi-Viz, after a six-year hiatus and a couple of fiery stand-alone singles along the way (see PopMatters Best Dance Singles of 2014). It was well worth the wait and by far one of the best dance albums of 2018, featuring cameos from Alison Wonderland, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, and Australian three-piece rock band DMA’s.
While Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes blew up the scene with their sophomore album Apocalypso and its string of dark-hued hit singles, some were taken aback by the brighter, electropop atmosphere of 2012’s followup Pacifica. Hi-Viz feels like a synthesis of all that has come before but thrusts the duo into exciting new territory. From quirky opener “Knuckles” onward, the record explodes upon the dance floor with one extraordinary offering after another, strung together like a flawlessly executed DJ set.
The first two singles felt like a return to form, but it is “Downtown Shutdown” that begs to be cranked up to maximum volume. Featuring the nimble bass skills of Michael Di Francesco (Touch Sensitive) and the joyous sounds of the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Choir — an ensemble comprised of former refugees from Burundi, South Sudan, and D.R. Congo — this protest against Sydney’s restrictive nightlife laws recalls the political unrest of their huge hit “My People”. Celebratory, sunlit, and so far removed from anything the Presets have presented thus far, the track dares you to smile and toss aside all the bullshit of life, as you shake every inch of your body and throw your hands skyward.
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6. Studio Killers – “Dirty Car”
Since April of 2011, the elusive musicians, animation, and design team behind audio-visual collective Studio Killers have remained shrouded in secrecy. Really though, who doesn’t love a little mystery? Well, it appears Eliza Jäppinen, creative director of multimedia studio SHIING, has been one of the driving forces behind all the exciting video blogs, social media posts, and many of the innovative music videos over the years. This labor of love though would be nothing without the tunes. Seven years later, the sassy virtual band from Denmark, Finland, and the UK has still got that “It” factor in spades.
Vocalist-designer Cherry, keyboardist Goldie Foxx, and DJ Dyna Mink have yielded a smattering of stellar singles since their 2013 debut arrived, but for years fans have been clamoring for an official follow-up. That time might be arriving soon. This summer, the trio’s social media presence roared back to life with the poolside jam, “Party Like It’s Your Birthday”, and now they invite you to step inside their “Dirty Car”. It was well worth the wait. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare to play this brilliant track on an endless loop.
That inimitable sexy voice is front and center, gin-soaked and out for an evening of action. Cherry sings, “I wish you’d be as dirty as my car / I could be your ride tonight,” against a backdrop of woozy, late ’80s synth brass, club-ready beats, and vocal samples from YouTube sensation and Jamaica-based chef, Ras Mokko. Dazzling as it is, the GFDM Club Mix manages to kick the track up a whole notch with a deferential nod to Deee-Lite’s classic ’90s hit, “Groove Is in the Heart”. The band’s subtle animated music video, sees our saucy heroine as an Über driver, picking up the likes of Björk and possibly Salad Fingers and Johnny Bravo. You be the judge.
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5. Robyn – “Honey”
For decades Robyn Miriam Carlsson has perfected the art of melancholic bangers, bringing a much-needed emotionalism to dance music that few have duplicated. The Queen of Heartbreak Disco last released an LP in 2010, seemingly content to set her solo offerings aside to collaborate on projects with other musicians (Röyksopp, Metronomy, Kindness, Markus Jägerstedt, and Mr. Tophat). To the delight of fans, she returned this year with “Missing U” and her eighth studio album Honey.
The entire record is a masterful exercise in riding pain into the pleasure, one that has risen to the top of nearly every year-end list. Out of the nine incredible offerings, the title track is the one song that lingers long after the album comes to a close. A snippet of “Honey” appeared during the final season of HBO’s Girls, and on September 26, Robyn premiered the song on BBC Radio One as Annie Mac’s “Hottest Record in the World”.
There is something quiet and reflective, erotic and soothing about the track. As she sings, “Let go of your doubt, say yes / let it soak up into the flesh,” it is as if she is summoning her fans into the cold, flickering lights of a dance floor and enveloping them in a warm, amber light of reassurance. Everything is going to be all right. Now, “Come get your honey.”
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4. ADULT. – “Irregular Pleasure”
This September, Detroit dance-punk duo ADULT. (Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller) released their seventh LP This Behavior to critical acclaim, and immediately embarked upon an extensive U.S. and European tour to promote it. There are few experiences in life more exhilarating than witnessing this husband and wife team work their dark, delicious magic in person, and their latest outing is without a doubt, one of the best collections they’ve concocted yet. It also holds up even better in a live setting.
If you’ve never encountered the music of ADULT. before, This Behavior is a perfect launching point. Menacing, frenetic, suffocating, it captures the chaos and disconnect of modern life like nothing else out there. Following the album’s glorious title track, the nightmarish “Violent Shakes”, and throbbing lead single “Perversions of Humankind”, the duo push the pedal to the floor with the thrilling “Irregular Pleasure”. This pounding techno masterpiece is a rush of dance floor adrenaline and a swift kick in the face, one that should appeal to fans of Hamburg DJ and record producer Helena Hauff’s beautifully brutal output. For those who like their dance music served up pitch black, disorienting, and laced with acerbic wit, Kuperus and Miller are your new mistress and master of ceremonies.
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3. Leykenda – “Energía”
There is nothing subtle about Leykenda’s hard-hitting “dancefloor bombs”. Following the international success of a string of notable tracks, “High”, “Esfera”, and “Sparta”, which have been spun by the likes of Benny Benassi, Kryder, and Sander van Doorn, the German DJ-producer, who boasts his own imprint Leyk Records, has found a rapidly growing fan base in a short amount of time. Based in Hamburg, his progressive style and layered production are ripe with tension and nuance, the two elements that are the lifeblood of his staggering track “Energía”.
With a loud, descending hiss and an unrelenting, hammered pulse, the track races forward, rarely pausing long enough to catch a single breath. Ominous, blaring horns and a wailing woman’s cry reach out of the mix during the anxious bridge before everything accelerates to a frenzied climax. As sweat drips down your brow and Energía slowly grinds to a halt, you find yourself wanting more. Even though he has only delivered a handful of tracks, the name Leykenda will surely be uttered for years to come.
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2. Andrew Bayer – “Your Eyes” (feat. Ane Brun)
Grammy-nominated for his work on Above & Beyond’s studio album We Are All We Need, Washington D.C. DJ-producer and Anjunabeats darling Andrew Bayer returned this August with his gorgeous, third album In My Last Life. Consisting of eight full length songs and eight shorter edits, this haunting collection highlights his deft songcraft and the ethereal voices of Seattle-based artist Alison May and Norwegian songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist Ane Brun.
The sensual, rapturous track “Your Eyes” stands on the shoulders of all that has come before it and is a clear candidate for one of the best dance tracks of 2018. Ane sings, “How could this happen, this magic between us / I thought we both had to look the other way / Soon you will come to me, lie here beside me / No more imagining you against my skin.” Tapping into a raw vulnerability the likes the dance world rarely showers upon its audience, Bayer and Brun offer up an elegant love letter to intimacy and hopeful reminder that romance is not dead.
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1. Rüfüs Du Sol – “No Place”
Los Angeles-based, Australian alternative dance three-piece Rüfüs Du Sol are rapidly becoming one of the globe’s most popular live electronic acts, and with the arrival of their third album Solace, the reason is readily apparent. The tracks are massive, the widescreen production evokes a heady sense of euphoria with its seamless fusion of live percussion, vocals, and synths, and the songwriting is both intricate and emotionally charged. Their previous records, Atlas and Bloom, shot to the top of the ARIA charts in their home country and this year’s blistering lead single “No Place” found itself resting at the peak of the Hype Machine and iTunes Electronic charts.
There is a newfound depth to the nine tracks found on Solace, and Tyrone Lindqvist, Jon George, and James Hunt steer their signature, summery house aesthetic into a darker, more filmic direction on Solace. Lindqvist’s lush baritone, which often recalls the soul-piercing timbre of both Peter Gabriel and Elbow’s Guy Garvey, is the beating heart of the record. His performance on “No Place” is remarkable, easily shifting between a warm, husky chest voice and a breathtaking falsetto during the song’s bridge. He sings, “While we untangle, our whole world around it’s on fire / I’m hearing sirens calling me closer to you / There’s no place I’d rather be.” The drums mount in intensity, the wall of synths shimmer, and the drop finally arrives. It’s absolutely stunning.