While it might feel at times like a veteran’s game, electronic music is always buzzing with artists talented beyond their years. From darkened dancefloors to the most bombastic festival stages, there’s a new guard of DJs and producers commanding attention in 2013. Welcome to 25 Under 25, our salute to dance music’s ascendant stars. This isn’t a list of new discoveries to watch, and most of the names will be familiar to you. These are the high-achievers who’ve staked their place or are approaching a watershed moment.
The list also reflects the current fleet of young stars. In past years, the 25 Under 25 would’ve included festival headliners like Hardwell and Skrillex through to Maya Jane Coles, TOKiMONSTA, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Andrew Bayer and any number of prodigious talents. This is far from a complete inventory of who’s making waves – the likes of Mele, Lunice, Andrew Rayel, Alesso and M4SONIC could just as easily be here – but these 25 have inspired inthemix with their dynamism.
Throughout this list are quotes from our one-on-ones with the artists alongside some of the music that’s defined them. From underground heroes to EDM-inspired kids, here’s our take on the young stars leading 2013. Who did we miss?
Walden has had what you might call an unconventional decade as a teenager. At age 13, he went on a school trip to the technology museum in his hometown of Sydney, Australia and sat wide-eyed as his class was given a demo of the audio workstation software Acid Pro. From there, he started to tinker with the technology, discovering dance music in the process.
Before long, his buzzing profile on the online musician hub ReverbNation started to prick up ears. Then came the call-up from Big Beat, the dance arm of powerhouse Atlantic Records. Suddenly this Sydney kid found himself in the company of luminaries like Chromeo, Knife Party, Martin Solveig, SebastiAn and Skrillex.
In 2013, Walden has staked his spot as Big Beat’s new boy wonder. While he’s still too young to legally buy a drink in the U.S., his productions have ignited there. The 19-year-old’s sound is custom-built for main rooms, and his new EP Machine Land presents a suite of surging, peaktime weapons.
The parallels with Wolfgang Gartner have been unavoidable, and the elder producer invited Walden onto his Kindergarten Radio show recently for a guest mix. In fact, it’s been a strong year all-round for the electro-house upstart, including a slot at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival and a Marquee stint in Las Vegas. All the while, he’s made it look easy.
Harking back to the year 1993 will bring back visions of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park blockbuster and perhaps memories of [aa.artist:Wu-Tang Clan]’s Enter The Wu-Tang – 36 Chambers LP. It also happens to be the year that German techno prodigy Bryan Müller, better known on dancefloors as SCNTST, was born.
Beyond even the wildest dreams of kids his age, a then 17 year old SCNTST found himself among vaunted company as a part of the Boys Noize Records roster while still in school in 2011.
“It’s like daydreaming, but in real life,” SCNTST buzzed to the Erol Alkan forum at the time. “You’re sitting in your class, thinking of new tunes you could produce. It’s really hard sometimes to handle being on a label like BNR and in school at the same time…at the moment I don’t care about school.”
Far from being the label’s baby-faced techno pin-up, SCNTST slotted into the Boys Noize Records ensemble on the strength of his dynamite Monday EP, with its startlingly good tunes like the relentless crush of the title track and the cut-up 808 workout Beachboy.
Now on the edge of his twenties, Müller’s re-paid his boss’s faith with a prolific output, backing up with 2012’s clattering, bass-and-drum-heavy Premelodic Structures set and again with the just released Summer Jam EP that glimpses a lighter side to Müller’s productions as SCNTST, before a full LP release later this year.
It’s hard to shake the image that accompanied any text written about gun producer Mord Fustang when the Estonian creator hit online back in 2011 with tunes like Lick The Rainbow and The Electric Dream. There he stood, this anonymous producer decked in a bright yellow tee, his face obscured by a conveniently-placed tablet. What, he couldn’t afford a decent mask like half the other DJs out there?
Mask or no mask, the idea was effective. Everyone instead focused on the excellent tunes on offer from this unheard talent with a knack for bright keyboard melodies from the heyday of console games and gut-thumping beats. Deservedly, the youngster picked up honours as Beatport’s Breakthrough Artist of the Year for 2012, a predictor for even bigger things ahead.
The visage of Fustang’s face blanked out by a tablet continues today but now you’re equally likely to see the early-20s producer’s mug in the flesh. He’s been partaking in an exhaustive tour schedule recently, including criss-crossing voyages across North America not to mention crowd-pleasing presentations at WMC and Coachella earlier this year.
As well as that ever increasing club and festival presence, Mord Fustang’s 2013 looks bright considering his musical offerings so far this year. Already his latest Plasmapool release Taito has brought the goods, hitting the Estonian’s favoured marks with shaking bass and complextro breakdowns but there’s also the tune’s insistent, jacking beat and a trance-y afterglow to the synths that hint at further experimentation.
First appearing on the Australian electronic circuit around 2011 with the bubbly synthetic pop of Throw Me To The Stars, Sydney producer and vocalist Elizabeth Rose has surged towards bigger things with each subsequent release. On top of her debut EP release with the five tracker Crystallise and its crisp lead single Ready, Rose has been on a frequent collaboration tip, joining forces with A-grade talent including Sinden, RUFUS and most recently fellow Australian hit-makers Flight Facilities for their buoyant disco anthem I Didn’t Believe.
As impressive as her journey has been thus far, Rose’s rise has been equally notable for its poised and measured strides forward. The young artist has been self-managed until recently and maintained independence with her output.
“I’m a very strict perfectionist,” Rose told inthemix at the time of the Crystallise release. “It was really important to me that I could work by myself and to be in control of what I was making. I got to see how things work on the inside without having a bunch of A&R guys telling me to put more hooks or this and that into my music. I did what I wanted.”
What strikes most about this Sydney talent’s potential though is her spark for toying with new sounds. On the Sinden-assisted Again, Rose hits the perfect balance between club readiness and new-age electronic pop before going all disco diva on I Couldn’t Believe. Better still is the live set where, beneath a tussled collection of gear and cables, a solo Rose commands attention with cold vocal hits and her well-executed remixes.
Probably the first thing that will jump out at you about Space Dimension Controller – aside from his incredibly quirky, unique sound and the fact the era he takes his influences from was nearly over before he could tie his own shoes – is that he’s white and he’s from Belfast. Probably the most unassuming guy imaginable to be making sleazy, intergalactic disco-techno-electro-funk, Jack Hamill is a surprise package.
With a style that blends elements of ‘80s funk and electro, past and present disco and the spirit of the Detroit techno movement, SDC pays homage to his musical heroes while managing to sound like no one else.
Nowhere is this more evident than on his debut album, Welcome to Mikrosector-50, which traverses BPMs and vibes with ease. But it’s not just here where his originality shines: every track (be it a twelve-inch release or an album cut) tells a story. Some are self-contained vignettes and others chapters in a larger opus. Hamill’s music exists within its own fictional schlock sci-fi universe.
However, he’s not just an accomplished producer with releases on legendary labels like R&S Recordings – he’s also a label owner, curating the excellent Basic Rhythm. Then there’s his live show, which will once again keep him busy this summer. As inthemix expert Claire Morgan once wrote: “This guy is the master of juxtaposing nostalgia with modernity, contemplation with extroversion, the high-brow with the downright naff. It’s impossible to describe his sound in a few sentences; I’ll just call it a joyful melting pot of the past, present and future.”
“The role of a producer has become a bit blurred recently, because a lot of music becomes defined by the producer and not by the artist, which is how it used to be.”
These are words spoken by prodigious UK producer Starsmith (that’s Finn Dow-Smith to his parents) during a VICE video feature from December 2011. It’s a notable sentiment from the British beatmaker who, since emerging in 2009 with a slew of high-energy electro remixes made in his campus dorm room, has balanced an impressive solo output with work behind the boards for the biggest names in European pop like Kylie Minogue, Cheryl Cole and his original muse Ellie Goulding.
It’s this approach to his collaborative work that makes him a producer in the truest sense of the term. You need only compare Goulding’s work with Starsmith and another buzzed British producer, Calvin Harris, to see it in effect. Starsmith was content to let the vocalist shine, rather than dominating the track in Calvin Harris fashion.
In Alan Braxe, Starsmith has found a seemingly kindred spirit, the two meticulous producers working together on Starsmith’s glorious single release Lesson One for the famed Frenchman’s Vulture imprint. That tune serves as an all-too-brief bridge before more Starsmith solo work materialises in 2013, according to Dow-Smith himself. That is, of course, in between studio sessions where the 24-year-old’s due to lend his trusted golden touch to a cast of collaborators.
How time flies. From the gangly teenagers who started scoring gigs in 2007, Chris and Steve Martinez have developed into compelling players in the global house revival. Instead of just following the same sound of their European contemporaries, though, The Martinez Brothers draw heavily on the history of house music in their hometown of New York. All the way, they’ve been championed by house head Dennis Ferrer, who released the duo’s breakout record My Rendition six years ago.
In their teens, the Martinez Brothers spent countless hours at iconic New York club Shelter, getting an education from resident DJ Timmy Regisford. In their productions, the siblings pay homage to their disco and soulful house roots while embracing the ever-blurring lines between modern European house, techno and electro. Then there’s the groove they’ve found as DJs, ticking off career milestones like Ibiza’s after-hours mecca DC-10 and marathon sets at Stereo in Montreal and Panoramabar. As one fan praised on the Brothers’ Facebook page: “No lolly-pop shit here!”
“I wasn’t brought up under Juan Atkins or anything like that,” says next-generation Detroit star Kyle Hall when discussing his early years. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t destined to end up in music. The son of the esteemed soul vocalist Penny Wells, Hall initially hearing ghetto-tech on the radio and then started to get serious about the music around the age of 13, when Raybone took him under his wing. Eventually, he caught the ear of the legendary Mike Huckaby and enigmatic Omar S who became his mentors.
Since then, Hall has released tracks on labels such as Detroit’s FXHE and Third Ear Recordings (owned by Omar S and Theo Parrish, respectively), and even London bass music institution Hyperdub. He’s also started his own label Wild Oats and just released a debut album, The Boat Party. As a producer, his sound is almost impossible to pin down, varying from slow, lo-fi boogie and disco to rugged, percussive techno workouts, stripped-down electro, and even the odd footwork-inspired jam.
Despite his many musical manoeuvres, there are common elements to Hall’s output. The most obvious is the raw, analogue edge to his productions and DJ sets. It’s that grit that’s set him apart as a singular talent.
UK production prodigy Mat Zo took his career to the next level in February 2013 when he turned in his contribution to Pete Tong’s iconic Essential Mix. It’s a landmark that would be taken seriously by practically any DJ/producer. Zo went all-in, working in more than 70 tracks “that might not necessarily go together in a club set, but you’d enjoy listening to on a day-to-day basis”.
As Tong put it, Zo really did “flex his creative muscles” in the mix, throwing in everything from sneak peeks of his imminent artist album to peaktime trance from Ferry Corsten and Markus Schulz, mainstage bangers courtesy of Fedde Le Grand and Mark Knight and mash-ups that paired Boys Noize with Daft Punk. It’s an eclectic approach he channels into production, too.
Zo really found his mojo though when he began producing future trance for Anjunabeats. Proudly showcased by the label as one of their brightest stars, he quickly earning a reputation as one of dance music’s most cutting-edge new producers, regardless of genre. Keep your ears peeled for news on his debut album that’s due later this year. As he’s put it simply to inthemix before: “I want to do something different and original.”
“Two teenage producers/DJs,” is the full spiel Bondax offer on their Soundcloud bio. Crucially, the music fills the blanks. The UK buddies (so fresh-faced they’d raise the alarm of any club) specialise in bright, hook-heavy productions with a strong pop sensibility.
Take, for example, their recent Gold EP, which shows off just how deftly they handle a vocal and that sleek house feel that’s been working so well for Disclosure. The Bondax breakout moment came from another shimmering, R&B-influenced outing Baby I Got That, and they now seem poised on the edge of crossover stardom. See below for the recent XLR8R podcast they mixed, which keeps the mood suitably feel-good.
The European summer is looking like Bondax’s defining season, too. They’ve lined up Bestival, Creamfields, Hideout, Parklife Weekender in Manchester and repeat visits to Ibiza, where their sunny sound will be right at home. And now’s the time for pop stars to beat down their door.
Let’s be real: right now, Harlem Shake are the two words most likely to be associated with the name Baauer. But while it might’ve been the meme (and subsequent #1 single) that propelled Harry Rodrigues to fame, that’s far from all he has to offer. In fact, 23-year-old Baauer is one of the most hyped names in trap right now – something Just Blaze hook-up Higher and single Dum Dum have seen to.
Over the last few months, he’s had the chance to show his skills behind the decks at big-league festivals like Coachella and Ultra Music Festival, smashed a whirlwind club tour in Australia, mixed for Boiler Room, lined up a tour with fellow 25 Under 25 name R.L. Grime and signed on for this year’s Mad Decent Block Party, Electric Zoo, Lollapalooza and Electric Daisy Carnival. So he’s keeping busy, then.
But of course, it’s only the beginning for Baauer. Yet to release an album and still relatively new to the spotlight, it’s likely that his best days are still to come – no matter the staying power of trap. “Baauer’s not a trap DJ, he’s a hip-hop DJ – I could tell from his records the first time I heard them,” mentor and label head Diplo effused to inthemix. “That’s what I love about these guys: they don’t fall into any genre.”
“I’m not even sure why, but I’m drawn to those ghetto, hood sounds,” he told FACT this year. “For me, growing up it was hip-hop and dance music – I guess the stuff I tried to make was like Ministry of Sound dance music, but the stuff I listened to was all hip-hop – me and my friends, like nerdy white kids, you know. We listened to a lot of Madlib, MF Doom and Dilla. The classic nerdy white kid stuff.” Whatever you want to label the end product as, it’s working for him.
Now just shy of 25, Belgian drum & bass prodigy Netsky made his mark early, turning heads with a hot streak of 12-inches from 2009 on. Then, in 2010, his debut album arrived on Hospital Records, the label presided over by London Elektricity. It was the show of approval that allowed Netsky to step up. He set his reputation as a prolific remixer, working his magic on Pendulum, Rusko, Leftfield and Swedish House Mafia to name a few. In 2012, he released his second album, fittingly titled 2. With singles like Give & Take and Come Alive leading the way, 2 reaffirmed Netsky as one of the key players in the Hospital camp.
Then there’s Netsky Live, which features live drums, synths, keys and guest vocalists on stage. February saw the show travelling around the UK, and he swiftly sold-out an April headline gig at the 7,000 capacity Lotto Arena in Antwerp, Belgium. The live tour will tick of a long list of the world’s biggest festivals in the months ahead, among them Glastonbury, Global Gathering, Audioriver and Lovebox.
“There’s a lot of DJs and electronic artists doing like an Ableton or visual live set but I wanted to have a proper band behind the live idea,” he told the Fried My Little Brain blog last year of his smart move. “So I started looking for drummers, for keyboard players playing chords and backgrounds and after working really hard for a year we’ve found an amazing crew. I can utilise the whole stage too, not just be confined to the DJ booth.”
When inthemix caught up with Nicky Romero late last year at Amsterdam Dance Event in his home country of Holland, he’d already accelerated to playing the mainstages of the world’s biggest festivals, including the final day of Tomorrowland in Belgium. He’d also been steadily churning out the hits. After jumping behind the decks with Calvin Harris at that year’s Miami Winter Conference, the ensuing collaboration Iron had predictably screamed to the #1 spot on the Beatport charts.
He also clocked in as one of the shining stars of the ADE conference, graduating from his one-time spot on the ‘Next Generation’ panel, to hosting his own personal Q&A session in 2012. Romero spoke to inthemix with suitable bravado. “Let me say this,” he remarked on the support he’s received from David Guetta and Hardwell. “I’m also looking for a way to change the music industry, and I’ve got my eyes open for ways to do that.”
If you’re looking for an idea of how Romero is travelling in 2013, look no further than this year’s edition of Tomorrowland in late-July. He’ll be closing out the festival with a showy back-to-to-back set alongside Guetta and Afrojack. That’s a vote of confidence.
Odds are you’re familiar with RL Grime, the fast-rising trap name responsible for tunes like Trap on Acid and FLOOD. There’s a good chance you’ll also know electro-house dude Clockwork, the name behind this year’s huge Wynter Gordon hook-up Surge.
The sounds may be different, but the producer behind them is the same: both monikers are the work of 22-year-old wunderkind Henry Steinway. Able to nail two divergent sounds with equal flair, it’s clear Steinway’s no one-trick pony. More than that, as a scarily young and hard-to-pigeonhole producer, he’s a personification of everything that’s exciting about the new wave of electronic talent.
“In my opinion if you’re an up-and-coming DJ you better play everything, because in 2014 kids are not going to be into just one sound,” Diplo told inthemix earlier this year. “This is what’s happening right now with these young kids: they’re just doing everything.”
“I’ve feel like I’ve touched on just about every genre of music that has interested me since I started,” Steinway put it in an interview last year. “It’s also been fun starting a new project and being able to apply what has and hasn’t worked for me in the past with other music projects. I think in that sense I have an advantage because I’ve been creating and releasing music for a while now and learning so much along the way. I’ve had a lot of fun working with the artwork too and trying to figure out a brand or memorable visual aspect that goes along with the name.” We’re excited to see where it goes.
Arty’s mainstage performance at Ultra Music Festival earlier this year was as good an indication as anything how far the Russian production prodigy has accelerated within the space of just a few short years, from trance golden boy to headliner status.
“I always love Miami because you are playing to crowds that are here for the love of dance music,” Arty told inthemix back in March, shortly after he’d performed at Ultra’s mainstage. “What I really took from it was a true excitement for the year to come. This is another year of the enormous festivals and I’m so pleased to be a part of some of them.”
Arty’s early career was defined by lush, melodic progressive trance masterpieces like Hope and Rush, which ensured he was snapped up by Above & Beyond’s Anjunabeats stable early in the game. Since then, Arty has evolved his sound and fused it with a main-room house sensibility that’s earned him props from the likes of Axwell, leading to vocal stormers like his recent smash Together We Are. “The second you put yourself in a bracket, inspiration gets that bit harder to come by,” he told inthemix.
Beyond the recent fracas around will.i.am’s unauthorised sampling of his Mat Zo collaboration Rebound, Arty has otherwise had an action-packed 12 months. Last year saw him working with Paul van Dyk on his Evolution album, plus partnering with BT and Nadia Ali on his smash Must Be the Love. He began this year in typically modest fashion; a collaboration with world #1 Armin van Buuren on Nehalennia, which graced the brand-new A State of Trance 2013 compilation. Business as usual then.
There’s the thumping singles: I Can’t Stop, Bass Cannon and Superbad. Then there’s Daydreamer, his hook-up with Example, Jah No Partial, this year’s massive Major Lazer collaboration or Do Or Die, the track with Childish Gambino. Not to mention the remixes (the official discography lists more than 20), the mixes for BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix and Diplo & Friends show, the successful label of his own (Circus Records), the spots on festival line-ups around the world and the riot police who had to come and shut down his recent L.A. gig.
So, yes: when you line it all up, Flux Pavilion is doing alright. By 24, he’s already carved out his position as one of the leaders in the global bass scene: embraced by the U.S. and their penchant for all things heavy but respected in the native UK and abroad as a producer who seriously knows his shit.
Not that he’s content to stick to what he knows. “I’m gonna always try and push myself to write more dance floor stuff or dubstep or big bass music, [but] that’s not all I like to write,” Josh Steele told inthemix. “If I say, ‘Right, I’m going to write some music and see where it goes’, it gives me the opportunity to pick up my guitar or get on the piano or start singing. That step is a lot more inspiring to come up with new ideas.”
Believe it or not, Zedd only began producing in 2009. In four short years, he’s gone from Beatport wave-maker (early single The Anthem and his remix of Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites pricked up ears) to an Interscope-signed, festival heavyweight with a hit album, Clarity, to his name.
Of course, quite a bit went down in those middle years. He went to work on a commissioned remix for Lady Gaga and headed out tour with the pop star in the support slot, got signed to Skrillex’s label OWSLA, toured alongside regular offsider Porter Robinson and went hard in the studio.
In a scene where it’s entirely possible (if not easier) to get by on a string of big singles, boasting an album is quite the feat. “It completely made sense as an album,” fellow young gun Madeon praised Clarity to inthemix. “It didn’t just feel like a great exert of some electro stuff. It sounded and flowed together nicely.”
We asked Zedd to give his perspective on dance music’s changing of the guard. “I do think that we’re getting away from, ‘There’s this guy who was big 20 years ago so he’s gonna play the headline slot’,” he speculated. “We’re gravitating towards a time where it does not really matter if someone was big 20 years ago. If you’re not staying current, if you’re not putting music out, you’ll get irrelevant pretty quickly – or at least quicker than you would have before.”
21-year-old Harley Streten admits he’s been “spoiled” by the crowds he pulls in Australia. Since the release of his debut album as Flume, though, the rest of the world is catching on fast. Here’s how Mad Decent boss Diplo sized up Flume to inthemix: “His productions sound way better than my productions when I started out – he could probably be bigger than Diplo. The fact that he’s become so popular with such a unique sound is cool. But I think Australians have always had an open mind.”
What began in Harley’s bedroom on Sydney’s Northern Beaches (with a music production program dug out of a cereal box, no less) is now a worldwide thing. The Flume album – which struck a compelling middle ground between sleek pop hooks and woozy, blunted beats – quickly became his calling card. From Skrillex to Boys Noize, his fan-club has some high-profile members.
The last 12 months have been a constant whirlwind Flume tour. The itinerary has taken him from Warsaw, Poland in the dead of winter to South By Southwest and many more stops in-between. Then he came home to a string of sold-out shows – some in what could comfortably be called stadiums – around Australia, debuting his Infinity Prism live rig. As he put it to inthemix, “To actually see that many people in front of me and getting into it is like a physical recognition that this actually is happening. Seeing it is believing it.”
“My respect for him is just ridiculous,” inthemix heard disco trailblazer Nile Rodgers tell the room at IMS Ibiza. “As a writer, as a partner, he allows me to be completely free in my ideas. You’d think he’d find it intimidating, but it’s exactly the opposite. He gets wrapped up in mixing it until 6am in the morning, where he’s there tearing it apart and making what I thought was crazy, into something really organised, wonderful, melodic and great.”
The Chic leader is working with Tim Bergling at a significant point in the young producer’s trajectory. 2013 has been, at times, turbulent for Avicii. Under doctor’s orders, he was forced to travel less and cancel DJ commitments. In March, his album showcase on the mainstage at Ultra Music Festival was panned by a fleet of fans (one eloquent sample: “Find a new career bro your finished”.) Then came that GQ profile. All the while, Bergling has been preparing his LP, a concerted play to leave Levels behind. 2012 saw the Swede stretched to breaking by a superhuman 320 shows, but this might prove to be his curveball year.
When inthemix got on the phone to Jamie xx, he was so softly-spoken we had to strain to hear him. The Londoner is not what you’d call a showy character. He is, however, a prodigiously-talented one.
As the non-singing third of the xx, Jamie Smith is responsible for guiding the band’s recent album towards the dancefloor. “I kind of stopped DJing when we went into the studio, and stopped listening to any new electronic music that people sent me,” he told us. “It seems, especially in London, there’s always a path that dance music is taking and a lot of people seem to fall into a groove. Music of a certain time seems to fall into that time. I didn’t want our album to sound of any particular time.”
Onstage with the xx, Jamie Smith lets the dynamic between Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim take the limelight, while he keeps the pulse running in the background. Away from the band duties, though, he’s been much sought-after on his own. His collaborative album with Gil Scott Heron, We’re New Here, sits alongside an ever-widening list of remixes.
Then there’s his plans for an EP, possibly with “a few pop artists” on-board. “I always just want to make music that sounds beautiful, but also music that makes you want to dance,” he told FACT. “Spending years and years going to clubs and raves, you can’t help but be inspired in that way.”
Back in 2011, when inthemix first interviewed the then-21-year-old Nicolas Jaar, he came with an intimidating reputation. Several interviews at the time portrayed Jaar as the affected genius, with London music newspaper The Stool Pigeon beginning its profile with the line: “This rising superstar of techno is patronising, pretentious and insanely talented.”
Down the phone to inthemix, though, Jaar was less assured of his “insane” talents than others might be. “I’m honoured, and humbled by the fact that you want to hear my voice at all,” he sincerely told us. “It’s great news.”
In the years since that conversation, Jaar’s reputation as both an exceptional talent and a prickly perfectionist has only amplified. Meanwhile, he’s graduated from his comparative literature degree at Brown University, played the illustrious West Holts stage at Glastonbury, staged an improvised five-hour performance at New York’s PS1, travelled the world and built his Clown & Sunset label into a hub for forward-thinking talent. All this before his 24th birthday, too.
While his 2012 Essential Mix split opinion right down the middle – BBC named it “bold, brave and timeless”, while others couldn’t find its pulse – Jaar’s a producer at heart. Space Is Only Noise is a relatively quiet album – calling to mind instrumental hip hop, dub and jazz, with shadows of house – the songs become something altogether different in his live set. This Northern summer, he’ll be on another hypnotic run, from Barcelona to Chicago.
“We haven’t been making music that long,” admitted Howard Lawrence down the line to inthemix, in an unintentionally grand understatement. The 18-year-old, along with his 21-year-old brother Guy, have only been making music for about three years as Disclosure. It all started when Howard made a few beats on his laptop and Guy mixed them, and they uploaded the results to MySpace.
“It just got a crazy amount of attention that we weren’t expecting at all,” Howard went on. “I was at school and Guy was at college. It wasn’t a plan. It wasn’t meant to be a job.”
Of course, it’s now not only a job, but a burgeoning career. Since the release of their EP, Tenderly/Flow in early 2012, they have amassed club buzz, critical acclaim and recently a hefty major label deal. Settle releases worldwide this June through Universal. Like the series of singles and EPs that precede it (only Latch, White Noise and You & Me appear on the album alongside ten new tracks), Settle reflects a house music history beyond the Lawrence brothers’ years. Though they may be young, their influences are not.
“I think the production side is definitely influenced by garage, but I think the actual songwriting is more influenced by ‘70s and ‘80s singer/songwriters,” Howard said. He cites Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush as musical heroes along with Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind & Fire, all the way to UK shoegazer Matt Hales of Aqualung.
Though those influences might not be obvious, there is a distinctly youthful freshness in Disclosure’s sound. “There’s that thing where normally first albums are written over the space of about 10 years; you put your whole life throughout your first album. We had about a year.” And no doubt many more years ahead.
With a Mercury Prize nomination, two celebrated albums and sold out shows around the world under his belt, James Blake’s success speaks for itself. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by how seamlessly the genre-bender’s career has unfolded.
After some early EPs and excited ‘next big thing’ whispers, his 2011 self-titled debut arrived and was hailed as one of the best releases of the year (Pitchfork even awarded it a whopping 9.0/10, placing right up there with The Beatles). Blake became the hype act of the moment; his delicate, soulful brand of bass a perfect counter to the ‘frat boy’ dubstep dominating the charts at the time.
Remarkably, his 2013 follow-up Overgrown didn’t disappoint. ‘Second album syndrome’ has claimed many an artist: “I feel like I will break under the pressure that I put on myself,” Julian Casablancas famously told Mojo before The Strokes released their second LP. “What if a critic, or the general consensus says, ‘He really let us down this time’?” Blake, however, rose to the occasion, going deeper than his debut.
But don’t try to pigeon-hole him with the ‘post-dubstep’ tag. “To be honest, I feel like I’ve existed on the outside of all of those things since the beginning,” he told inthemix. “I was putting weird gospel chords into 140-BPM tunes and making clubs not dance…that’s not really being dubstep or ‘post-dubstep’, it’s just doing other music. I totally thought I was trying to do something of that ilk, but I just didn’t know how to do that, and I don’t want to not be myself.”
It’s that inability to pin an easy label what James Blake does – and the range of skill on show – that sets him apart. As our review of Overgrown read: “Blake could probably sell twice as many records if he would just play it straight and become the next Adele. We’re incredibly fortunate he also happens to be a brilliant and forward-thinking electronic producer.”
“His music contains all these strange messages and so does all his visual art – he is on another level,” Porter Robinson told inthemix about his long-time friend Madeon. “It’s as though he’s planned his career so that he’ll be studied in 20 years.”
Madeon – the moniker of 18-year-old French wunderkind Hugo Leclercq – and Porter go way back. “He was 12 and I was 14 or 15. We met on a French internet forum,” Porter explained. “We were part of this weird micro scene that has actually produced a lot of people that were kind of influential on the dancefloor.”
A few years down the track, both prodigies have come a long way from that forum. Producing from age 10, by 17 Leclercq was a viral sensation with Pop Culture, the clip that saw him mix 39 songs into three minutes and display a jaw-dropping command of the Launchpad.
Pop Culture’s phenomenal success won him spots on festival bills around the world – accompanied by a minder, however, given he was still under 18. Come 2012, he followed that breakthrough success up with a string of big singles, supported Lady Gaga on tour and opened for Swedish House Mafia at Milton Keyes Bowl in front of 60,000 people (“That was crazy, I’ve never seen so many people in front of me, ever,” he told us).
Madeon’s star status was confirmed. But rather than renting out his production skills for a price or rushing a debut album out, the Frenchman’s taking a quality-over-quantity route. “I’m not the most productive producer, he told inthemix. “I only release a few songs that I’m really proud of and want to stand behind. I start with hundreds, thousands, millions of songs and finish a handful. Of the handful I finish I release even less. So it’s holding back my productivity, but hopefully maintaining the same level of satisfaction that I have with my work.”
Still, an album is on the cards. “With a bit more possibility and structure; and there’s a lot of general styles I want to explore in an album format that you can’t necessarily do when you’re restricting yourself to singles,” he told us. “It’s kind of one of the next big steps for me. It’s a gigantic challenge, but usually an exciting one at that.”
A few years ago, Porter Robinson was hanging out on that French production forum with Madeon, going to high school and living with his parents in North Carolina. For the most part, his were fairly standard teenage years. Unlike most teens, though, he was pretty deep into production.
“When I was 12 I was more or less experimenting with several different creative software programs,” he told inthemix in 2012. “I was playing around on Photoshop, and Sony Vegas, the video editing software, and I was also using Sony’s Asset which is a music correction software. And for whatever reason, the music correction stuff just resonated with me more than any other. It became my main hobby.”
Before long, the hobby started to pay off: Porter’s single Say My Name hit #1 on Beatport’s electro-house chart, Tiesto brought him along for support on his 2011 College Invasion tour and the then-fast rising Skrillex signed him to his new label OWSLA for a one-EP deal, for what would be OWSLA’s first-ever release. That EP was Spitfire, which crashed Beatport’s servers upon release, soared to #1 on the iTunes dance charts and certified Porter’s status as one to watch.
From there, Porter started to tour alongside his OWSLA labelmates, get booked for major festivals and in 2012 released his biggest hit yet, Language. Recently, he collaborated with Mat Zo on the similarly-as-successful Easy and now, he’s back in his North Carolina home, hard at work on his debut album.
“I’m trying to basically throw away as many DJ friendly moves as I can and to get into my own, more personal musical territory,” Porter told inthemix this month. “And I’m doing so without really any regard for how it could affect me later. The music can be completely unplayable by DJs, but I can’t care about that anymore.”
There’s no doubting that Porter’s résumé is an impressive one. But what makes him number one? You could hone in on the intimidating fact that he’s not yet 21, or the fact that in a few short years he’s risen to near-headliner status, or the obvious finesse that shines through in his productions.
But what’s most impressive about Porter Robinson is that for all his mass appeal (his Facebook fan count currently sits above 300,000), Porter isn’t just churning out EDM-by-numbers. He may have got his start at the same time dance music started to swell in the U.S., but he’s made it clear that he isn’t interested in just catering to the festival crowds.
Rather, he’s pushing boundaries, arguably playing mass-appeal sets far more innovative than the DJs 20 years his senior. “I have no issues presenting a high-energy thing,” he told inthemix. “But now I also like to make references for more knowledgeable crowds and credible people, adding challenging tracks like the occasional Aphex Twin sample or breakdown or some weird techno.”
And, instead of bemoaning the commercialisation of dance music like so many, Porter’s excited about where it could go. “People are, within reason, pretty open-minded here,” he told us. “I’m proud of our scene.”
Other people are noticing what he’s doing, too. Here’s how BBC Radio 1 don Pete Tong put it: “There is a tendency where so many DJs and so many clubs in America, particularly in Vegas, are playing the same 20 records. But once in a while, someone different will break out ‘cause they made an amazing record, or are incredibly talented, or just different. We’re already seeing EDM 2.0 in the shape of Porter Robinson.” And this, of course, is only the beginning.