Ranking DJs is inherently confusing. As Dillon Francis pointed out on DJ Mag’s annual list, it’s never quite clear what criteria is being considered when compiling these lists. In an effort to clarify this process, we’ve decided to split our end-of-year artist rankings into two distinct categories: Top 10 Producers and Top 10 Performers.
While last week we ranked the Top 10 Performers of 2016, we’ve now turned the spotlight to our favorite creators of the past year. Incompiling this list, we took a variety of factors into account: our criteria ranged from prolificness, to consistency, originality, sound design, cultural impact, and more. It wasn’t simply enough for an artist to release one big track and ride its coattails into 2017. We were looking for artists who repeatedly showcased their studio prowess throughout the entire year, solidifying themselves as masters of their craft.
These are Dancing Astronaut’s Top 10 Producers of 2016.
From the sweeping success of another Bieber-assisted hit, to being recruited to work on Beyonce’s groundbreaking Lemonade project, Diplo kept himself busy per usual this year at the forefront of pop’s intersection with dance. Production credits on M.I.A.’s AIM and The Weeknd’s highly anticipated Starboy album tied Diplo to some of hip-hop’s most notable releases of 2016.
Diplo’s global influence and well-rounded tastemaking have made him one of the world’s most sought-after producers, and when he’s not in the studio, he’s tapping into unclaimed markets like India and Cuba. Wesley Pentz has staked his claim at the top of this list years ago, and each year manages to reaffirm why he is indisputably one of the world’s top producers.
– David Klemow
9. Martin Garrix
It’s hard to imagine anyone who’s done more in a calendar year than Martin Garrix. The 20 year old producer managed to launch a record label and snatch a lead role in a forthcoming Pete Tong produced documentary in between a spate of international charity and talk show appearances and a never ending list of awards ceremonies. Amidst all of this, the wunderkind managed to release 11 tracks.
Garrix’s 2016 releases, including the Platinum certified Bebe Rexha vehicle “In The Name Of Love”, are what have largely set Garrix apart from the hoi polloi of young Dutch producers on the Spinnin’ roster. The young producer’s recent output has shown a willingness to experiment with new sounds and take chances that others of his ilk can’t compete with. Garrix has teased his debut album for some time, but its delayed arrival only seems to ensure a prolific output of work and his continued relevance in dance music.
– Alexandra Blair
8. DJ Snake
When DJ Snake will start taking days off is anyone’s guess. French producer William Grigahcine has played formative roles in the biggest hits of the past few years with “Turn Down For What” and the now fabled “Lean On”.
This year, Grigahcine took a break from his relentless assault on the charts to put forth an ambitious debut album, Encore. The 14 track LP was remarkably genre-defiant and hosted collaborations with virtually everyone; from rappers Young Thug and Travis Scott, to Justin Bieber, to Mr Hudson on album standout “Here Comes The Night.” Encore at once revealed the acuity of the producer’s eye for larger trends in dance music and the creative curiosity that enables him to flex between genre boundaries with abandon. When considered alongside his (possible) debut EP from his (possible) side project, Grigahcine’s continued dance music domination seems entirely inevitable.
– Alexandra Blair
After cultivating an air of mystery in the beginning of his career, Zhu managed to generate some serious waves while at the same time avoiding becoming oversaturated in the electronic scene. The producer unleashed his debut LP Generationwhy, a measured production that adroitly blends synthesizers and live instruments into brooding, atmospheric tour de force. Further, Zhu’s effortless compositions reveal a depth of musicianship that is truly special. He’s since followed Generationwhy‘s release with a shortfilm and a remix EP featuring the likes of Big Wild and Louis Futon.
– Mike Cooper
Few artists have had a year as productive as Flume has. In a year when full-length albums really made their mark on the electronic music landscape, perhaps the most anticipated was the Australian’s sophomore LP Skin. The album somehow managed to live up to the monumental hype and Flume has ridden that momentum to new heights. The producer walked away with a clean sweep at the ARIAs, released a four-track companion EP for Skin, and has seen the album’s first single go platinum. Most enticingly, Flume is already planning a new direction for his third full-length effort.
– Mike Cooper
deadmau5 requires no introduction. Here’s one anyway: he’s a living legend in a mouse helmet who shows no signs of slowing down. Despite personal dissatisfaction with his latest album, W:/2016ALBUM, it has rapidly proved itself to be a fitting cap on what has been a banner year for electronic music. The Canadian superstar will also be embarking on a tour to support, featuring an updated version of his legendary CUBE stage setup. All this is on top of the release of the long awaited Strobe Remix EP and performing back-to-back once again with Eric Prydz.
– Mike Cooper
Major collaborations with Rick Ross, Mr. Oizo, RL Grime, M.I.A. Chance The Rapper and Hundred Waters carried us through the year, and all the while Skrillex managed to bring his incalculable production acumen to every project he assisted on. Throughout 2016, rather than choose to release a new EP or full-length record, we saw Skrillex take on more of a directorial role in the scheme of OWSLA’s artistic growth. The LA-based collective has grown to new heights behind the keen supervision of its founder, and while we didn’t have any new solo Skrillex products this year, it seemed Sonny Moore was featured on new heat every week from all ends of the musical spectrum in 2016. From bulldozing dubstep to radio-primed pop, Moore has maintained his status within music’s most forward-thinking echelon; and the world is starved for new solo Skrillex in 2017.
– David Klemow
3. The Chainsmokers
By any metric, 2016 was a banner year for producers Alex Pall and Drew Taggart. Though the duo had enjoyed come success with novelty tracks in years prior, The Chainsmokers have exploded into a new realm of mega-celebrity virtually overnight.
The duo released several tracks in 2016, collected in the year end Collage EP, including the Daya-featuring earworm “Don’t Let Me Down” and “All We Know”, but the release of their latest single “Closer” with Halsey is the platinum certified cherry on top. 4x platinum, actually, in as many months. The track itself is emblematic of The Chainsmokers’ unbelievable journey: written months ago in a shared one bedroom apartment in Chelsea, now satiating sold out crowds at Madison Square Garden.
Pall and Taggart have received some deserved flack for their unabashed “bro”-ness, but the appeal of their infectious brand of radio-friendly EDM has become undeniable. Whether you love them or hate them, you’ll be hearing a whole lot more from them in years to come.
– Alexandra Blair
One LP spanning 10 tracks in the last five years is all we need to remind ourselves that Xavier De Rosnay and Gaspard Augé are two of the brightest creators dance music has ever seen. Behind their beaming cross, Justice returned this year with Woman: a thoughtfully composed, lovingly crafted contemporary disco masterwork. The Ed Banger duo delivered a contender for album of the year, living up to every bit of hype that Woman was worth. It wasn’t sequined blazers and easy-listening disco, either. Woman was tender at times, aggressive at others, ultimately embodying everything we love, and missed, about the leather-clad champions of French electro.
– David Klemow
1. Eric Prydz
While easily one of the more talented DJs around, Eric Prydz is first and foremost a sensational producer. Such has been evident throughout the course of his nearly two decade long career, and in 2016, the Swedish mastermind proved that reputation beyond doubt. In fact, for whatever reason, 2016 marked the year Prydz finally delivered his first-ever artist album, unleashing 19 original tracks for a truly timeless debut.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Prydz turned to his techno alter ego, Cirez D, to release two highly acclaimed EPs, even topping Beatport with the potent single “In the Reds” which gained support from everyone from John Digweed to Chris Liebing. Yet still, Prydz wasn’t finished. At the tail end of November, he surprised fans with a 3-track Pryda EP, dawning his revered progressive house moniker and finally delivering his long-awaited DJ weapon, “Choo.”
Having released somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 tracks in 2016 — all of which lived up to his immaculate quality — Eric Prydz is our standout choice for Top Producer of the year.
– Michael Sundius