Dancing Astronaut's 30 Most Influential Artists of 2015
What does it mean to be an influential artist in today’s dance music landscape? It means to be a veritable force to be reckoned with. It means to be a zealous entrepreneur, a global brand, and a tireless innovator. Rather than resting on one’s laurels or being content with the status quo, it means being a game changer in the industry.
These are the 30 artists we believe to be the top influencers of 2015. We’ve factored in things such as official releases, live performances, impact on trends, overall hype, and ability to move the industry forward.
Disclaimer: Ranking DJs/producers will always be subjective; it’s inescapable. There are hundreds of artists we could have included in this list. We all adore our particular idols and an unforgettable set from any DJ has the power to change one’s entire perception. It comes down to which artists you saw, which sets you streamed, which tracks you chose to spend your days to. We’re bound to play favorites, and we’re bound to overlook amazing artists for the sheer fact that there are too many exceptional DJs and producers to include in a list of 30. Yet that doesn’t deter us. Rather, it makes every artist on this list all the more worthy of their spot.
These influencers are in no particular order.
Despite the fact that plenty that could be said about Diplo, what should be said can be boiled down to his indisputable and outstretched influence on the year in dance music. Last year, he named his compilation Random White Dude Be Everywhere as somewhat of a cheeky joke, but in 2015, he lived up to the statement and beyond. On the radio, at every festival and even in major outlets that wouldn’t usually consider electronic music even a blip on their radars (Charlie Rose and The New York Times, to name a few) – you name it, Diplo was there.
As one half of Jack Ü with Skrillex, he landed an album that single-handedly managed to revive Justin Bieber’s career. As one part of Major Lazer, Diplo also helped to craft what we named as the biggest song of 2015, “Lean On.” What Wes Pentz has done for music this year is heavy; undeniably impactful not only for dance music, but for music as a whole. In 2015, Diplo managed the precarious balance between walking the inner circle of pop music while at heart, still remaining invested in tastemaking with his label, Mad Decent. Heading into the new year, it’s advised to leave behind all expectations — just strap in, and prepare for the ride.
Highlights of 2015: Most Shazam’d artist of the year, “Be Right There,” production for Madonna’s Rebel Heart, “Where R Ü Now”
Eric Prydz boasts one of the more dedicated fanbases around, and for good reason: he’s dutifully consistent. Whether it’s his show-stopping performances — which included an entire Generate tour in 2015 — or his blockbuster singles, you can always count on the Swedish producer to deliver.
This year, Prydz ushered in an insane amount of new material. From releasing 22 new originals over the course of three Pryda 10 EPs, to recently dropping 5 brand new Cirez D tracks, we received a seemingly endless flow of material from Prydz. With his artist album dropping in February and his newly announced EPIC 4.0 tour, we have a feeling next is going to be just as momentous.
Highlights of 2015: EDC Las Vegas set, PRYDA 10, “Opus”
With another year quickly coming to a close, it is difficult to make the case that anyone had a bigger year than Skrillex. With the accolades and accomplishments seeming to stack higher than ever, dance music is in the palm of Sonny Moore’s hand. This year Jack Ü dominated the global dance circuit – from “Where R Ü Now” to an American Music Award – and garnered massive commercial success, while solo Skrillex responsibilities didn’t miss a beat.
Beyond that, as an extension of his taste-making duties, Skrillex’s OWSLA imprint curated some of the most boundary-pushing music of the year. Perhaps most impressively though is the humble nature by which the archetypal rock star was replaced by a Los Angeles-bred alien enthusiast with thick black frames, half his head shaved, and a skateboard. At the end of 2015 though, if you ask Sonny, he’d tell you he’s still just getting started.
Highlights of 2015: Remix of GTA’s “Red Lips,” production for Justin Bieber’s Purpose, Ultra performance
DJ Snake has redefined the notion of a “meteoric rise”. The French talent was all but unknown in February 2013, when he released his breakthrough hit, “Bird Machine,” with Alesia. However, William Grigahcine has been responsible for our “biggest song of the year” for the last two years – last year with “Turn Down For What (feat. Lil Jon),” and this year for his iconic Major Lazer collaboration, “Lean On.” DJ Snake possesses all the qualities necessary for a dance music icon. The combination of Grigahcine’s innovative creativity and his ability to isolate the pulse of the mainstream dance music scene allow his production to be ubiquitous, but never stilted.
Highlights of 2015: “Lean On,” Star Wars remix
Australia’s Flume continues his electronic music takeover with his biggest year to date and no signs of slowing down. He began the year by publicly splitting from production duo What So Not, and ended the year with an Essential Mix debut that highlighted his mixing skills. Flume earned headlining spots at major 2015 festivals like Bonnaroo and Governor’s Ball, which was impressive considering that his first and only studio album, Flume, came out three years ago. Since then, the young producer shared several remixes and edits, an original track titled “Some Minds” with Miike Snow singer Andrew Wyatt, and a collaborative 2013 EP with Chet Faker, Lockjaw. The EP’s follow-up is in the works for release next year, along with a sophomore solo album.
Martin Garrix is an anomaly. Despite being lopped into the oversaturated big room genre, the young Dutch producer consistently transcends the crop of EDM monotony. At just 19 years old, he’s the youngest artist on this list, and easily one of the most powerful. Case and point: Garrix’s legal dispute with Spinnin Records earlier this year. Standing up to one of electronic music’s biggest labels is no easy feat, yet Garrix successfully won back the the ownership rights to his music. On the music side, he collaborated with Usher, Ed Sheeran, and remixed The Weeknd in 2015, crafting some of the year’s biggest festival anthems in the process. If nothing else, Martin Garrix deserves a spot on this list for an inspiring a new generation of young dance music producers across the globe.
Highlights of 2015: “Don’t Look Down feat. Usher,” departure from Spinnin Records
Considered by many a reigning baron of EDM and pop crossovers, Calvin Harris naturally held a tight grip on the dance industry over the past 12 months. Aside from tabloid fodder about his ongoing relationship with pop sweetheart Taylor Swift, the Scottish legend topped Forbes’ “Electronic Cash Kings” list for the second time in a row and even bested fellow superstar Tiësto, landing the title as the Richest DJ in the World. On the Vegas front, he maintained his fruitful residency with the Hakkasan group at their new Omnia club for not just one year, but three. Musically, Calvin continued to steal airwaves this year with “How Deep Is Your Love,” a track with such a catchy bassline and melody that it ignited a series of remixes from various corners of the electronic spectrum.
Sans album release, 2015 could have been considered somewhat of a quieter year for Calvin, yet still, he remains unquestionably a leader of the pack, year after year.
Highlights of 2015: “How Deep Is Your Love,” Armani campaign, winning Billboard’s Top Dance Electronic Artist award
Oliver Heldens was not only one of 2015’s undisputed MVPs, but by far one of its youngest. From the inception of Heldeep through the inauguration of Hi-LO, the young Dutch heavyweight gave many an indicator that there was life in the Spinnin’ protégé past ‘Gecko’ and the hackneyed ‘future house’ coinage. While HI-LO showed a grittier side to Helden’s musical repertoire, Heldeep itself made way for his first injection of fresh talent, and it wasn’t half bad. There were still a few polished Spinnin’ singles out there to keep the crossover crowds happy, but enroute to 2016 and hotly anticipated Throttle collaboration, the industry looks ready and willing to let Oliver Heldens continue to shine a light for young artists with brand-led ambitions in a huge way.
Highlights of 2015: Hi-LO alias, launch of Heldeep Records
Disclosure got a lot of slack in 2015 — too much so, perhaps — and we’re just as guilty as the next for criticizing their commercial ambitions. We will say though, if there’s any dance artist to be creating music for the pop realm, we’re glad it’s the Lawrence brothers. While they certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel with Caracal, they ushered in some of the biggest crossover collaborations of the year. From The Weeknd to Lorde, Disclosure provided a platform for some of the music industry’s biggest non-electronic stars to enter our sacred space in a non-offensive manner. At the end of the day, Disclosure remain one of the most pivotal dance acts in the industry, and we’ll be following their next move closely.
Highlights of 2015: “Magnets,” “Omen,” Caracal North American tour
Despite releasing In Return in 2014, ODESZA has remained a ubiquitous and enigmatic new piece of the electronic dance music puzzle even in 2015. Taking their debut album on tour, the Seattle duo continued to defy being categorized amongst any other peers and delivered powerful set after set throughout the year, including a momentous stop at Coachella. The duo sold out nearly every stop of their tour, including three nights back to back in Los Angeles and their hometown Seattle.
Though ODESZA remained quiet regarding any definitive updates for what’s to come, their music speaks loudly for them. Each set has been littered with hints of new music, guaranteeing that the pair are gearing up for a bigger and better 2016.
Highlights of 2015: In Return North American tour, Coachella performance
Carl Cox is the kind of artist that attracts fans from across the aisle. There’s a certain bravado and zeal ingrained in his performances that is simply too infectious to ignore. On the international front, Carl was as busy as ever in 2015, headlining festivals like Time Warp and Loveland and championing his pen-ultimate residency from Space Ibiza. In the US, he was just as present, making his usual rounds at events like Ultra and EDC, but also adding festivals such as Beyond Wonderland and Electric Forest to tour schedule. More than just his artistry, it was Carl’s opinions which carried great weight this year. From speaking on the integrity of Ibiza, to offering advice for upcoming artists, Carl was more vocal than ever. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from following his storied career, it’s that when Carl’s got something to say, you pay attention.
Highlights of 2015: Final residency at Space Ibiza, Awakenings in Amsterdam
Jamie xx’s breakout into the music scene appeared to happen concurrently as a solo musician, remix artist, and one-third of London band, The xx. In 2011, he reached two milestones, earning production credits for Drake and Rihanna’s chart-topping single, “Take Care,” and releasing a remix album with Gil-Scott Heron titled We’re New Here. With such a prosperous career attained in just a few years, it’s entirely surprising that Jamie xx only just released his debut studio album in 2015. In Colour, Jamie’s debut, shattered all expectations, not only serving as one of the top albums of the year, but thrusting the producer into the international spotlight. Ultimately, it was the album’s third single, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” that truly cemented 2015 as Jamie xx’s breakout year, becoming Spotify’s official Song of the Summer. With riveting live performances at Coachella, CRSSD Fest, and more, Jamie xx solidified himself as one of the most widely revered artists in the dance industry this year.
Highlights of 2015: In Colour, Coachella performance
ZHU was one of the pioneering artists to embrace anonymity, remaining a mystery until late 2014 when the buzz around him grew deafening. In 2015, he lent his eponymous moniker to some of the more cryptic projects and hyped collaborations in dance music. His enigmatic Genesis concept launched in September united the cutting-edge with Skrillex, Alunageorge, Gallant, A-Trak and Bone Thugs N Harmony on a 6-track EP. Genesis Series was released without promotion or fanfare: a tactic employed by industry heavyweights like Eric Prydz and Beyoncé. Drawing parallel comparisons of this caliber is a gutsy move for an artist who has been releasing music for merely two years, but it is not unfounded. In 2015, ZHU proved he has much more to offer than “Faded.” Instead, he’s proved himself a visionary in a genre where remaining a step ahead is an artist’s greatest challenge.
Highlights of 2015: “Automatic,” “Working For It,” CRSSD set
Above & Beyond
Above & Beyond effortlessly strolled into 2015 following the release of their prolific Acoustic album, trekking a relentlessly victorious path in the electronic music world with the release and subsequent movement spurned by their third artist album We Are All We Need. In addition to increasing their cult-like following with a busy tour schedule, the trio spent time honing their new trademark Anjunabeats sound that straddles the line between progressive house, trance, and electro while proliferating it through their massively popular Group Therapy radio show. As per usual, Above & Beyond’s milestones of 2015 culminated in their spectacular ABGT150 celebration in Sydney, where they were joined by label protégés and influencers Ilan Bluestone, Grum, and Lane 8 to take the sold out audience on a breathtaking journey through their two labels’ sonic facets. With the announcement of Acoustic II’s release in 2016 followed by an album tour hitting the world’s “most iconic venues,” it appears as though Britain’s lovable electronica nerds are already on track to dominate the industry as the new year kicks in.
Highlights of 2015: We Are All We Need, ABGT150
Over the years, Kaskade has proven himself one of the most prolific artists in a genre that filters through names faster than the blink of an eye. From arena tours to intimate Redux club revivals, Ryan Raddon has done it all. And 2015 became a year of new ventures for Kaskade.
Though he’s played the festival before, months later, it still remains impossible to forget the image of Kaskade’s record-breaking crowd at not one, but two weekends of Coachella earlier this year. People gathered to his main stage performance and filled the area as far as the eye could see, giving him the honor of becoming the most attended solo performance at Coachella of all time. And that alone is something to be said about his ability to capture an audience. Kaskade also released his ninth studio album (and notably, first on a major label) Automatic, rounding out the year with a complementary tour across the States and also received his fifth Grammy nod for his remix of Galantis’ “Runaway (U & I)” track for 2016.
Highlights of 2015: Coachella main stage performance, “Disarm You”
At only 24, Henry Steinway is one of electronic music’s most prodigious producers. Initially rising to fame as complextro savant Clockwork, his trap-focused side project as RL Grime quickly usurped the former as his career’s mainstay. Last year, RL Grime enraptured listeners with his debut album Void, which showcased his remarkable ability to fuse minimalistic trap, garage, and techno inspirations into a masterfully cohesive release.
In 2015, Steinway proved his worth as a formidable live presence with his matured live performances, akin to those of Justice and Gesaffelstein in their ominous simplicity. Amidst his Void tour, RL Grime managed to bring a sophisticated trap perspective to a wide audience, as his Big Sean collaboration “Kingpin” infiltrated the mainstream and his melancholically energetic remix The Weeknd’s “The Hills” achieved massive popularity. Ubiquitous within the festival circuit, and consistently honing his craft with new inspirations and collaborators, Steinway endows the often-dismissed trap community with a much needed gravitas.
Highlights of 2015: Void, remix of The Weeknd’s “The Hills”
We didn’t quite get the full album Steve Angello promised for 2015, but after all the waiting and wondering, part one of Wild Youth was a welcome gift from the legendary Swedish House Mafia cohort. Creative absolution and contextualized tolerance seemed to be Angello’s main prerogative throughout the year, one which saw him publicly set the record straight on the streaming, urge fans and peers alike to bring a little creativity back to the table and unveil two risky yet ultimately satisfying singles along the way. As his own Size Records fell by the wayside, there was an overall sense that Angello was out to be the change he saw need for, and accordingly his presence both onstage and on record shone brightly. We may not have the full album, but we certainly have a good picture of the direction Angello is pushing things for the New Year.
Highlights of 2015: Wild Youth, Pt. I, BBC Radio 1 Hall of Fame
Fitting Deadmau5 onto any ‘top’ or ‘best’ list is always a tricky case. Not only does he openly repudiate such rankings, but his Twitter feuds and legal battles often overshadow his musical offerings. Rather than delineate the drama surrounding his antics in 2015, we’d like to shed the spotlight on some of the more important things Joel Zimmerman accomplished this year.
In January, deadmau5 held the final show from historic venue, The Guvernment, in Toronto. In April, he enlisted young producer and vocalist Grabbitz for a collaboration via Twitter. In June, he unveiled his brand new dome-like stage design at Governor’s Ball in New York. In July, he released an album’s worth of new music for Dota. In October, he made a definitive move to independent publisher Kobalt Music. In December, he performed a live streamed set at the Game Awards. Regardless of your thoughts surrounding his online persona, deadmau5 remains one of the most significant artists of the electronic music generation.
Highlights of 2015: Debut of his new stage design, move to Kobalt Music
The first artist to achieve success among the DJ Snake-led “Pardon My French” crew, Martin Bresso has established himself as one of dance music’s most important tastemakers. At the helm of the future house movement which has dominated the industry over the last year, Tchami’s impact in 2015 found itself more in his ability to predict the pulse of the next dominant trend than his own production. Tchami favors quality over quantity in his original releases, which include the short but substantial roster of “Missing You (feat. AC Slater and Kareem Taylor) and his titanic hit “After Life (feat. Stacy Barthe).”
Despite the success of his production over the last year, Tchami’s most significant accomplishments manifested themselves in his trendsetting series of “Confessions” mixes and the establishment of his future house-oriented Confession imprint. As future house broaches mainstream airplay and continues to pervade the festival circuit, Tchami’s presence and newfound label will likely become ubiquitous in 2016.
Highlights of 2015: After Life EP, Confession label
There’s a house and techno movement, and at the forefront of the US revolution is Claude VonStroke and his merry gang of Dirtybird affiliates. The California-based imprint has become the entry point for a new generation of fans searching for new sounds in the face of EDM monotony. With VonStorke at the helm, the label has gained an unparalleled reputation for tastemaking and event production. Beyond his duties for the imprint, Claude took the year to showcase some truly brilliant studio material, from original productions like “Barrump” and “Big Ten” to killer remixes for artists like Rihanna and The Chemical Brothers. Ultimately, Claude VonStroke remains one of the most important figures in the US market: a flag-bearer of authenticity in an otherwise oversaturated landscape.
Highlights of 2015: “BBHMM” Rihanna remix, Dirtybird Campout, Get Real tour announcement
There is perhaps no greater gatekeeper in techno right now than Adam Beyer. As the helm of global techno imprint Drumcode, the Swedish producer has the power to launch any artist’s career into underground stardom. Over the last couple years, the label has come to serve as the definitive voice of main room techno. Spotless in its consistency and deafening in its bold curation, Drumcode rarely ever misses the mark. Beyond his label duties, Beyer acts as one of the leading performers on the international techno circuit, playing an insane amount of dates each year, both as a solo DJ, and B2B with his partner in crime, Ida Engberg. As techno grows in popularity in the US, Beyer and his Drumcode crew will play an increasingly important role in ushering in a new generation of fans into the culture.
Highlights of 2015: Stone Flower EP, Awakenings ADE Presents Drumcode
“Clarity” seems far behind Zedd after a look back into his year. The producer pretty much dominated the first half of 2015’s EDM pop culture after a few smartly-placed hints about his then-budding romance and studio time shared with Selena Gomez. Naturally, the Internet exploded, allowing Zedd to rapidly capture the heart and ears of an enormous new audience leading up to his True Colors album release in spring.
Though his fling with Selena fizzled, what he delivered in and around True Colors remains. Zedd traveled all around the United States prior to the release of his album with a unique concept to preview his album to small, intimate batches of fans. Each venue was chosen with a specific color-coordinated song in mind, reflecting the layers of thought behind each of his musical creations. What also remained from his celebrity exposure was a penchant for unexpected collaborations on the pop spectrum. Zedd later turned to country music while still managing to distance himself from Avicii’s own folk explorations with Lady Antebellum, placing a prominent mark not only on his influence in dance music, but pop musical overall.
Highlights of 2015: “I Want You To Know,” True Colors release and tour
Avicii has become the quintessential global artist. Nowhere was that more evident in 2015 than his sophomore album Stories, which charted highly in over 20 different countries. On top of this, he was inducted into the BBC Radio 1 Hall of Fame, became the face of a Volvo campaign, and was afforded the rare opportunity to remix “Insomnia 2.0,” a modern reimagining of Faithless’ iconic ‘90s rave anthem. Lastly, he even made his directorial debut for the music videos for “Pure Grinding” and “For A Better Day.” While he’s gone quiet on the touring front, Avicii remains as prolific in the studio as ever, if not more so with the added downtime away from the road. With new collaborations arising in new genres each year, Avicii continues to push the boundaries of the crossover dance space.
Highlights: Stories, “Insomnia 2.0 (Avicii Remix)”
If Avicii was the face of electronic music in pop culture back in 2011 then Kygo was 2015’s Tim Berg. Few artists pave the way for an entire genre but the Norweigan talent popularized the often beleaguered “tropical house” sound. He ushered in a new chapter in the sonic zeitgeist for what EDM could be, bringing softer sounds to the main stage discussion that was often overrun with heavy kicks and blaring synths. Regardless of the adjectives used to describe his unique brand of house music, the young producer’s profile is undeniable. What started as remix and Hype Machine success has blossomed into smash hits “Firestone,” “Stole the Show” and now “Stay” with Maty Noyes. With a debut album on the way and complete and utter domination of the streaming market, Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll’s career has only reached a fraction of its full potential.
Highlights: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Performance, One billion Spotify streams, Apple Music partnership
Duke Dumont may have evolved from crafty deep house producer to crossover dance star, but his integrity remains ever intact. Just catch the English DJ live to confirm the assertion. While his singles have reached further into the pop spectrum, his live show and label have remained dutifully authentic. His year was largely defined by the success of his charting single “Ocean Drive,” as well as a vocal reprise of his breakout 2012 single, “The Giver.” On the touring front, Dumont performed some of his biggest US dates yet, from Coachella’s Sahara Tent to Spring Awakening in Chicago. With his newfound crossover status in the dance world, Dumont remains one of the most important influencers in the industry.
Highlights of 2015: Coachella performance, “Ocean Drive”
There was a single artist on the tip of every dance fan’s tongue in the wake of Coachella this year: Gesaffelstein. The Frenchman performed his last Aleph live show to immense acclaim, leaving the electronic world in eager anticipation of his next move. Luckily, fans didn’t have to wait long as the next phase of his career came just months later when a mysterious countdown initiated on his website. The timer culminated with the release of his Maryland film soundtrack. Ultimately, by moving outside of his electronic inspirations and into a film medium with his Maryland score, Gesaffelstein showcased his ability to create from timeless influences like John Cage and Chopin. More importantly, however, in crossing into film composition, he acts as a Bering Strait of sorts between “EDM” and a much larger artistic zeitgeist.
Highlights of 2015: Coachella set, Maryland soundtrack
Bassnectar won’t be found in a Hakkasan residency; Nor will he be seen in the Billboard Top 100. However, Lorin Ashton is inarguably one of dance music’s most formidable faces. With an army of ravenous bass-heads at his beckoning, Bassnectar redefines the definition of guiding a “cult following”. Ashton doesn’t churn out singles like the majority of the electronic sphere. Rather, he releases a full album each year, while touring consistently. In 2015, Ashton released Into The Sun, a trap-infused bass album that pleased his congregation. Furthermore, Bassnectar pushed the envelope in terms of curating his extraterrestrial live performances. In addition to a multitude of headlining festival sets, Ashton performed for a full showing three nights straight at Red Rocks and continued his annual Basslights event with fellow icon Pretty Lights. After popular demand, Ashton also announced that in 2016, he will host his own camping festival, “Bass Center.”
Highlights of 2015: Into the Sun, Electric Forest performance
The Chemical Brothers
It doesn’t get much more exciting than the return of a veteran dance act like The Chemical Brothers. In 2015, the big beat legends staked their claim by delivering their eighth album, Born in the Echoes. The 11-track offering (15 on the bonus edition) unearthed some beautifully weird material, inciting all the old nostalgia of their ‘90s and early 2000s heydey. What’s more, Tom Rowlands hit the road to tour the album with longtime friend and visual mastermind, Adam Smith. Performing at festivals across the world like Glastonbury, Sonar Barcelona, and HARD Summer, their live show provided a much needed breath of fresh air from standard CDJ set — even if they didn’t always receive the audience turnout they deserve.
Highlights of 2015: Born in the Echoes, HARD Summer performance
In 2015, Maceo Plex’s appeal soared to tremendous heights. After 25 years in the industry, Eric Estornel has transcended from the leading figure of the underground to a veritable sensation. It seemed as though everything Maceo Plex touched this year turned to fire. His Conjure Infinity EP on Drumcode, for instance, topped the Beatport overall chart with its brilliant single, “Conjure Dreams.” Further down the line, his album’s lead single, “Solar Detroit,” proved just as successful, receiving widespread DJ support across aisle.
While his European and South American fanbases remained as sturdy as ever, it was truly the North American audience who adopted Estornel with open arms. From headlining stints at CRSSD Festival in San Diego to Verboten’s StageONE, it was a great year to be a Maceo Plex fan in the US. When his Essential Mix arrived in late 2015, it only cemented his stellar year.
Highlights of 2015: “Solar Detroit,” Essential Mix
Four years ago, Nero became the face of a burgeoning bass music movement with their debut album, Welcome Reality. With an equally stunning live show, the UK duo of Daniel Stephens and Joe Ray cemented themselves as one of the most exciting acts of the moment. In 2015, with vocalist Alana Watson as a full-time member, they embarked on the next chapter: Between II Worlds. In many ways, the album’s title most powerfully served as a metaphor for Nero themselves. Caught between the two worlds of rock and electronic music, they’ve meticulously constructed a sound that hinges upon the best elements of both. If their sophomore album proved anything, it’s that Nero are on track to transcend the EDM universe, becoming a timeless electronic band in the process.
Highlights of 2015: Between II Worlds, North American Tour