[Feature image: Nero; Darren McDermott / Panic Music Magazine]
by E.P Pirt, Jr.
While electronic dance music has been around for decades, it really didn’t skyrocket into stardom in the US until just a few years ago. Artists like Skrillex, Flux Pavilion, and Bassnectar are largely responsible. They took dubstep, which had been around in the UK for years, and put their own sensationalized, wobbly, and ramped-up bass spin on it. While the original UK sound was pretty minimal, the new brand of it was much more dramatic and as such was embraced by American ears.
Even though other genres such as house, electro, and trance already had a devoted following in the states, it was the “American dubstep” revolution that really caught the attention of the general public and in turn brought more attention to other genres.
It’s undeniable that early artists like Daft Punk, Moby, and Justice paved the way for the EDM revolution but it wasn’t until about 2009 that it started spreading like wildfire. For that reason and for the sake of narrowing things down, all of the tracks listed below came out sometime between 2009 and 2011. While they weren’t necessarily the first of their kind, they were the catalysts that brought dance music from the underground and into the spotlight.
15. The Glitch Mob – Drive It Like You Stole It
This one probably wouldn’t make most peoples lists because it never made it as big as the others on here, but I still consider it very influential in the sense that it contributed immensely to the dynamic scene of today. Never before has the scene been so diverse and have so many sub-genres of dance music been popular at once. That’s thanks in large part to the incredible technology that’s available to producers today, but I like to think it’s also in part to artists like The Glitch Mob and tracks like this one.
14. Avicii – Levels
Ughh. Avicii. I’ll try not to bring my personal opinion into this one cause it’s not exactly cheery. But you can’t deny how huge this song was in 2011 and just how apeshit people will go for a catchy hook.
13. La Roux – In For The Kill (Skream remix)
Man, this track holds a special place in my heart. My very first electronic show was Diplo at the Sound Academy in Toronto in 2010. Skream & Benga were main support, back when Skream was still doing his dubstep thing. Diplo was great, but saying that S&B stole the show wouldn’t be farfetched. That set alone was enough to convert me for good, and this track was one of a few that I still remember hearing fondly that night.
12. Pretty Lights – Finally Moving
In the dance music world, Colorado was put on the map virtually overnight. Love him or hate him, that probably would not have happened if it wasn’t for Derek Vincent Smith, aka Pretty Lights. He not only brought unprecedented attention to the Colorado scene, he built a sound that is distinctly Colorado and has been embraced by the rest of the world. It’s been donned “electro hip hop soul”, and while there are many worthy ambassadors, PL is undoubtedly considered the Godfather of the movement. If he put Colorado on the map, his single ‘Finally Moving’ put him on the map. The track samples a couple of famous and oft-sampled old tunes; Etta James’ ‘Something’s Got a Hold on Me‘ and Sonny Stitt’s ‘Private Number‘. But never before had an artist combined them for such a hypnotic, chill, and electronic groove. This one will always be legend.
11. Porter Robinson – Say My Name
If all you’ve heard from Porter Robinson is post 2012, chances are you would never guess that this is his track. Chances are even more slim that you’d guess he was only 17 when he released it. If you do remember it, you were likely as convinced as I was that it was only the beginning for this prodigy. His sound has significantly changed since and even though I hate that he left this dirty electro sound behind, it’s safe to say that whatever he’s doing is working.
10. Ellie Goulding – Lights (Bassnectar remix)
If electro hip-hop soul is the child of Colorado, then dubstep is our cherished stepchild. There’s a reason CO is commonly referred to as the “bass capital” of the world. And for Colorado electronic music fans, there’s no bigger name than Bassnectar. The man behind the curtain, Lorin Ashton, has been cranking out his unique take on bass music since the late 90s, but it wasn’t until the late 00s that he started to become a household name. He had hits before it, but this remix of Ellie Goulding’s ‘Lights’ was the one that solidified his place in electronic music lore. His soothing take on the pop song is innocuous enough to appeal to the masses yet has enough bass and is ethereal enough to garner approval from bass heads. ‘Lights’ singlehandedly converted many EDM fans.
9. deadmau5 (ft. Rob Swire) – Ghosts n Stuff
Luckily for deadmau5 this list doesn’t take personality into account, cause it seems like he leaves a lot to be desired in that department. Yea, I know, he will never read this anyways. But I digress. Like many deadmau5 songs, the synth pattern in this track is immediately recognizable, as are the dramatic string (I think it’s a violin?) chords. While some of deadmau5’s biggest hits are soaringly beautiful, this one is hard and gritty. Eight years old and still guaranteed to take the party to the next level.
8. Blue Foundation – Eyes on Fire (Zeds Dead remix)
A well-produced remix is not easily done, but if you do pull it off it can yield big results. And if you can put together a solid remix of a track from a movie as massive as Twilight, odds are it will yield HUGE results. That’s just what Canadian dubstep duo Zeds Dead did when they put out their remix of ‘Eyes on Fire’ by Blue Foundation. Timing is huge with EDM and it just so happened that dubstep began blowing up right after the release of Twilight. Give credit to Zeds Dead to recognize and capitalize on that.
7. DJ Fresh – Gold Dust (Flux Pavilion remix)
Gold was exactly what Flux Pavilion struck when he remixed this song from DJ Fresh. Like many Flux Pavilion tracks, it had all the makings of a festival anthem around the turn of the decade, namely an addictively earth-shaking bass drop. For years it was a go-to in every dubstep DJ’s set, including Bassnectar himself.
6. Nero – Promises
Few artists were as influential towards today’s scene as Nero, and even fewer have managed to remain relevant the way that the London trio has. Their 2010 Welcome Reality LP has at least three songs that are worthy of honorable mentions in this article, but ‘Promises’ has been by far their biggest work to date. You literally could not go to a music festival in 2011 and go one day without hearing this track or the even more popular Skrillex remix of it at least once.
5. deadmau5 – Strobe
I wasn’t going to put a second deadmau5 song in here because I didn’t want to blow up Joel’s already over-inflated ego, but then I remembered once again that he will never read this. deadmau5’s production skills and his influence on present day EDM cannot be overstated. For not being classically trained as a musician, he can sure can write a damn good chord progression. The build up at the beginning of this song is universally recognizable, even if you didn’t know who it was by. It pains me to say it, but the song is just plain beautiful, dammit.
4. Flux Pavilion – I Can’t Stop
One of the most famous drops of all time. It seems that people still can’t stop…playing this song. Just when I think it’s behind us someone sneaks it into their set as a throwback. The funny thing is, people seem to go just as crazy for it now as they did six years ago. I guess classics never die.
3. Rusko – Hold On
Every year there is that one special song that earns the title of “unofficial festival anthem”. You hear it not only multiple times throughout the weekend at any given music festival, but multiple times a day. This was that song in 2010…and even into 2011. The track had everything that kept people fiending for more back then – a very danceable drum n bass beat, some subtle reverberating wubs, and sultry and seductive female vocals. Sub Focus’s bass-riddled dubstep remix was likely even bigger than this one, but because it’s the original I’ll give it the nod. The music video below also did wonders for the track, with tons of great festival and show footage that did an excellent job of capturing the vibe of a special time in dance music that will never be repeated.
2. Bassnectar – Bass Head
Not much needs to be said about this one. Bassnectar’s popularity is more massive than ever, and it was this ridiculously catchy dubstep banger that really caught fire and gave his many affectionate followers a song (and a name) to identify with. To this day, it’s not uncommon to hear his peers drop this one in their sets.
1. Skrillex – Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites
Ah yes, you knew it was coming at some point. Good ol’ Sonny Moore, aka Skrillex. Fun fact some of you kids out there may not know – Sonny was once the lead singer of an emo band called From First to Last. What’s emo? It was like pop punk, but where the singer screams about girls and cutting themselves. What’s pop punk? It’s like punk but poppy…nevermind, just watch this video. Point is, he was the lead singer of a band, then he left them and became the world’s biggest EDM star, starting with this dubstep track. It probably still has more plays than any other. Who knew the little emo frontman had mad production skills?