DA Presents: 2017’s Producers of the Year
Despite incessant predictions for the trajectory of the scene, 2017 marked a banner year for all things electronic music. As such, producers experienced more freedom to explore more new sounds with the end result not a fractious, rigid delineation between genres, but rather a continuum of experimentation that led to some of the most interesting and forward-thinking music of the year, with the addition of exciting new niches for artists to inhabit.
With this nuance in mind, Dancing Astronaut is proud to present a superlative class of seven producers who stood about the rest in a crowded space. From the more obvious, mainstream mainstays who continually wow to the breakout producers who surpassed everyone’s expectations, 2017 was packed full of impressive productions from this eclectic pack of standouts.
THE PRODIGY WHO EXCEEDED ALL EXPECTATIONS: REZZ
Isabelle Rezazadeh ripped into the electronic music scene in 2015 with an unparalleled juxtaposition of industrial techno and pummeling bass that immediately carved out an unforeseen niche in the mines of ominously-sinister, singular techno. While Rezazadeh has exuded a singular artistic vision from the very inception of her REZZ moniker, her unique, genuine vision has more recently seeped into all facets of her “brand” in a refreshingly distinct and similarly succinct fashion.
Having signed and released two EPs on mau5trap in 2016 — both The Silence Is Deafening and then Something Wrong Here — REZZ has since earned slots at premier music festivals and become renowned for her craft across the world.
Through her own music, REZZ has widened a sonic space where creative forces can continue to push the envelope in their own creative capacity. To a degree, REZZ’s envelope-pushing M.O. has aided in the present trickle down of underground music into the mainstream light. In both her alignment with underground pioneers and maintsage appeal, REZZ has aided a new generation of electronic music fans on their potential journeys to underground au courant. At the very least, she’s uncovered the lesser known, both stood behind and brought up the independent artists — which is encapsulated most recently in her collaborations with knodis and Kotek on her debut LP, Mass Manipulation. REZZ has also elevated the experimentally inclined that results in a healthy attempt to wreak havoc on the mundane. Surely, her music has driven many to explore what lies beneath the surface of popular post-EDM, but it has concurrently challenged its listeners to examine the very boundaries between the separate sects of EDM and dance music entirely.
Seminal tracks like “Edge,” “Voice In The Wall,” and “Purple Gusher” are some of REZZ’s most well-known tracks, all released in 2016. These solidified the notion that REZZ was truly finding her production footing in 2015. After an appearance on DA‘s 25 Artists to Watch list for 2016, REZZ was duly named our Breakout Artist of the Year one year later. Over the course of 2017 Rezazadeh has only continued to polish her authoritative skills and justify her selection.
If 2016 was the year REZZ defined her signature sound, 2017 marked her ascension into superstardom.
She spent the year honing in on her image, toured the entirety of the fall as a bruising headliner, announced she would be pivoting entirely towards nighttime shows in the following year to enhance the experience, and in turn, established a well-rounded, distinguishable decorum.
As REZZ took her dark, foreboding ouevre across the world this year, she stunned in her meticulous attention to detail, even going so far as to heed fans about watching the videos of her shows online, so even those who missed on the opportunity to experience her sets live could be mesmerized for themselves.
REZZ also elongated her artistic vision in 2017, in a capacity that was internalized for some time. She extended her artistic body of work with a visceral 60-page comic book co-created alongside Luis Colindres, the Chicago-based graphic designer behind the Mass Manipulation album art and who has worked alongside Rezazadeh since her Something Wrong Here days.
REZZ has announced that she will be slowing down her touring in 2018, and despite her previously announced shows at Holy Ship!, Buku Music + Art Project, Bassnectar’s Chicago-based Spring Gathering, and a few other jaunts, it’s likely that she’ll be laying off on the more direct hypnotism of the masses. Still, even with a reduced schedule on the road, there are no doubts REZZ will continue her momentum into superstardom.
THE SUPERSTAR REINVENTION: PORTER ROBINSON –> VIRTUAL SELF
Porter Robinson‘s ability to reinvent himself at will is a testament to his storied success within the electronic music sphere. In addition to performing stellar solo DJ sets at festivals around the world, the mercurial producer moved into the year by embarking on the Shelter world tour with Madeon, which spanned North America before a few extraordinary dates in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Tokyo, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. The duo concluded the immersive tour with two back-to-back performances at Coachella, occupying the coveted sundown slot before Lorde and Kendrick Lamar. The Shelter tour’s impact on electronic music created waves, and was solidified as one of the most memorable live performances in EDM’s nascent history.
In the wake of the gargantuan Shelter tour, Robinson forsook his expansive, outwardly turned production and, not for the first time turned a 180, experimenting with a more introspective sound that birthed his alter ego Virtual Self. On the eponymous debut EP, Robinson created a unique sonic landscape in which computer era — the EP would fit perfectly as a soundtrack for video game from the 90s — is used as a basis to explore motifs and existential despair that establish an otherworldly narrative. Virtual Self utilizes psytrance, deep house, and computer-futura influences in order to evoke emotional purgation in the listener. Everything from the mysterious marketing behind the project to its expansive live debut is an off-kilter dive into the unknown.
Porter Robinson’s dive into the virtual abyss known as Virtual Self is one of the most audacious efforts for one of electronic music’s biggest stars recent years, and becomes even more audacious when one remembers that fans had been clamoring for new music from the producer since the release of his seminal LP, Worlds. It’s a testament to Robinson’s prodigious talent that by utterly subverting his fans’ expectations that he managed to give them exactly what they wanted.
DEEP HOUSE’S MELODIC HERO: LANE 8
The years 2016 and 2017 have functioned synergically for Daniel Goldstein, the Anjunadeep prodigy and Pete Tong-distinguished Future Star who goes by the moniker Lane 8. 2016 would serve as the foundation for a major shift for the Denver-based artist as he established This Never Happened imprint, the label’s foundation followed by the concert series of the same name that derived its immersive nature from its restriction of cell phone use during performances.
Initially met with curiosity and, later, engrossment, the sell-out success of the This Never Happened initiative led Goldstein to extend the tour’s run into a brief summer session that visited Colorado, San Francisco, and New York City from July to September of 2017. Lane 8 effectively bridged the disconnect between listener and live performance in his removal of the cell phone screen from the interpersonal equation, re-engaging audiences, and re-personalizing the live experience.
Amassing a following over the years, listeners enthralled by Lane 8’s Anjunadeep and Suara releases, Lane 8’s conception of the This Never Happened imprint in 2016 would foreshadow the artist’s embracement of an increased independence in 2017, as Lane 8 went out on his own and announced his sophomore album Little By Little, due out Jan. 19 on his label. Concurrently, Lane 8 unveiled the impending album’s accompanying 35-date Little By Little World Tour.
Lane 8’s aural tones, complex choral progressions, and all around intricately produced releases rode an effervescent wave in 2017 that seems to be situated in the realm of the ever rising, the producer’s seasonal mixtapes and ensuing singles — think “Atlas” and “No Captain” — reflective of a continually maturing style that achieves peak after sonically pearlescent peak without plunging. 2017 surfaced as a sort of artistic Bildungsroman year for Lane 8 — one that had the whole world enthralled.
THE FUNKY CURVEBALL: CALVIN HARRIS
Calvin Harris‘ status as one of electronic and pop music’s most gargantuan auteurs is undeniable. Whether it be a headlining performance at Coachella or his massive Las Vegas residency, the Calvin Harris brand has become synonymous with the hedonistic adventures of clubbing.
Wildly enough, however, Harris’ fifth studio album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, marked a turnstile departure from the big room atmosphere that popularized him in the first place. If albums 18 Months and Motion were forthright efforts encompassing an expansive, festival prepped soundscape, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 acted as their virtuosic counterpart.
Harris’ status as an EDM legend certainly helped him in securing features from some of contemporary musics heavy hitters including storied R&B darling Frank Ocean, contemporary hip-hop hit makers Quavo and Offset of Migos, Pharrell Williams, Ariana Grande, Future, and Khalid, to name a few. The album encompassed a forward-thinking landscape of sonic textures, ultimately serving as a beaming playlist in which Harris is the producer and curator. With an unquestionable legacy as a maestro just as capable in the club as in the arena and on the main stage, Harris’ side journey into sunny, funk-influenced territory marked a an unexpected, bold artistic evolution — one that will certainly pay dividends for his long-term contextualization as a producer.
– John Flynn
THE GENRE DEFIER: DREZO
In the deepest, darkest, most clandestine corners of the electronic music continuum, Andre Haglund, aka Drezo, can be found in front of bewitched crowds with his self-proclaimed “evil downtempo.” Known for his disdain towards genre-assignment, the 26-year-old wielded his visionary, malevolent soundscapes in 2017 as a cudgel to rid the scene of its often formulaic, drop-obsessed predictability. After dropping out of college to pursue DJing, and eventually production, the “Drowning Pool” remixer caught the fateful ear of Dillon Francis’ alter ego/arch-nemesis DJ Hanzel, later linking up to go one deeper on a remix of Francis’ “Need You.”
In just three tracks, Drezo’s long-awaited Jaded EP, released mid-2017, enraptured the ears and blackened the hearts of even the most unsuspecting listeners. Seamlessly weaving electro, house, and techno through the tainted fabric of the nefariously sampled EP, the result is a rich and driving milestone in Drezo’s still incipient career.
To add to his already impressive release history in aligning himself with industry favorites like Mad Decent and OWSLA, this year Drezo was also featured on some of dance music’s hottest radio shows like Triple J Mix Up and BBC Radio 1’s Diplo & Friends, wherein listeners got a heady sampling of Jaded.
Looking ahead, the “Heaven” producer has announced his nationwide Evil Live tour, set to commence in early 2018. Additionally, Drezo and known like-minded comrade REZZ, have both recently hinted on social media about future collaborative work. According to Drezo, “The future is bright, but the music is dark.” After an incredible 2017, one would be hard-pressed to disagree.
THE PRODUCER POWERED BY COMMUNITY: SHIGETO
Shigeto stands as something of a an outlier as far as 2017’s top producers go. His tracks aren’t going to set records for most streams and it’s unlikely he’ll play the mainstages of the world’s premier festivals. It’s the release of his first new album in four years and his work building a community in his home base of Detroit, though, that makes the Ghostly International artist a deserving addition to the list.
The aforementioned album, The New Monday, is a triumphant, yet restrained, return to form for the producer. Much like 2013’s No Better Time Than Now, the new LP sees Shigeto reservedly flex his chops across nine tracks. It also marked a homecoming for the artist, as Shigeto returned to Detroit after a multi-year sojourn in Brooklyn where his career took off. Unsurprisingly, the record takes a multifaceted approach that matches Motown’s diverse musical history. Shigeto flirts with genres as wide ranging as trip hop, techno, acid, and house and imbues them with his signature style — a combination of clever production flourishes and dipped in elements of jazz that recall his early career as a drummer. Though only nine tracks long, The New Monday is full without being forced, as the producer opts for compositions with long run times. with the shortest clocking in at just under three minutes while the longest, a heartfelt ode to his city and the album’s opener, “Detroit Pt. II” has a run time of nearly seven and a half minutes. This combination of tracks combine for an LP that is equally at home on the dancefloor or spinning on a record player on a languid summer day in Michigan.
Beyond the new album, though, Shigeto has taken things a step further in Detroit. He’s recently launched his own label, Portage Garage Sounds, that serves as a creative outlet for the city’s local musicians and also launched a free, weekly showcase at Motor City Wine dubbed Monday is the New Monday — the inspiration for his album’s title. Beyond his immense musicianship, it’s this focus and drive to foster a creative and supportive community in Detroit that makes Shigeto an exemplar of what an artist can accomplish, both in the studio and out in the world, in 2017.
THE INSURGENT TALENT WHO TOOK THE SCENE BY STORM: EKALI
Though he’s been steadily making a name for himself over the past few years, Ekali became a dance music household name in 2017.
The Canadian producer kicked off the year with a massive collaboration with KRANE just nine days into 2017 and has been gathering momentum since then.
He toured constantly throughout the year, but never slowed down his flow of fresh releases. With each new release comes an entirely new sound from the producer, as he refuses to shy away from challenges like taking on Porter Robinson’s “Language” with QUIX. His production invigorates — it effortlessly combines relatable elements of today’s mainstream electronic music with his own haunting, delicately crafted style.
As he flexed his production skills throughout the year, Ekali also shone on a wide range of mixes in 2017, including three hour-long Awakening mixes, a Diplo & Friends mix, and a Triple J mix – all packed full of his favorite music at the time.
Instead of following trends, Ekali has been a trailblazer under Skrillex’s OWSLA imprint, creating a loyal and enthusiastic fan base that sold out many of his Babylon tour stops up until the end of December.
In a tweet posted on Jan. 3, the producer called 2017 “the best year of [his] life,” and says he’s ready to “give you an even better 2018.”
We can’t wait.