If you have not heard of Grey, you have definitely heard their music. Their track with Hailee Steinfeld, “Starving”, featuring Zedd, has racked up over half a billion plays on Spotify. And their remixes of Kaskade, Mike Posner, and Zedd have been gracing the sets of DJs big and small for the last two years. Top 40 radio is currently saturated with their sound – alongside that of innumerable knockoffs trying to capture their unique and exciting flavor. The wave of copycats chasing a singular talent might sound a little depressing, but I am actually delighted to see that their fresh approach to music has inspired so many other songwriters and fans. It’s a rare act that’s able to shift the sound of the mainstream charts so completely in another direction.
What makes the music of these two brothers so compelling? First of all – and this is coming from a blog with “EDM” in the name – it’s the acoustic elements. For the last ten years or so, pop radio has mostly stuck to a safe formula of four-on-the floor beats and derivative, EDM-laced hits. Grey’s music comes from an entirely different direction. The first thing you’ll notice on a Grey track is an acoustic guitar, typically plucking out a sexy Spanish-style melody. Compared with the compressed-to-death kick drums and synths that have made up the basis of pop music in recent years, their sound pops right out of the speakers, inviting us to savor the particular sound of human fingers strumming on taut copper strings.
The second element that makes Grey songs unique in 2017 is their incredibly rhythms. They unapologetically eschew repetitive four-to-the-floor beats in favor of syncopated rhythms that crackle with a wild energy. Their songs are typically based on a drum-and-bass style kick groove peppered with percussive elements that seem to come from all directions. Their precise, crystal-clear mixing makes it feel as if they are in the room with you, rapping out a beat on a cowbell or shaking a marimba. Their use of a wide palate of timbres in every song is reminiscent of complextro – but is perhaps more compelling due to the realistic samples they employ.
Despite being pretty new to the scene – their first official releases are only two years old! – these Grey has already made an enormous impact on contemporary pop music. Clearly, these two have a long career ahead of them. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what they come up with. For now, check out their new Chameleon EP, featuring collabs with talented vocalists like Avril Lavigne, Skott, and Stephen.
In the last few months, a mysterious artist by the name of No Mana has started to make appearances on all of my favorite podcasts, including The Hot List with Aruna and Group Therapy with Above & Beyond. The polished, dark sound of his tracks caught my ear and led me to his recent Game Over EP, out on Mau5trap. Each song on the record is equally strong and strikingly different, from the deep, techno beats of “Ten” to the fragile atmosphere of “Frozen Fireworks.”
No Mana’s dark, throbbing, textured sound incorporates elements of techno, progressive house, and video game music. His style sits somewhere between Deadmau5, Matt Lange, and Jerome Isma-Ae, so it’s only natural that he’s been snapped up by Mau5trap records.
It turns out that No Mana has a solid size discography behind him, despite only recently bursting onto the scene. I’m looking forward to digging further into his catalog as this up-and-coming producer continues to make a name for himself in the dance music scene.
With so many incredible artists playing simultaneously across seven stages, one person couldn’t possibly cover them all. What I can share with you is the experiences from last weekend that I will never forget. This is a list of the five most incredible sets I had the privilege to witness at Ultra 2016. I hope they hit you just as hard.
Eric Prydz‘s hypnotic, thrumming techno set at the A State of Trance stage on Sunday night was augmented by a typically exceptional light show that gave the music shape and color. It was an hour of pure energy and excitement, propelled by the beats of Eric and his alter egos, Prydaand Cirez D. The set consisted mostly of newer material, such as “Rebel XX,” and, of course, included a few IDs. It was such an absorbing performance that I couldn’t peel myself away from the experience even as friends texted me warning that I was going be late to Knife Party’s mainstage closing show. I just couldn’t imagine being any happier than I was basking in the repetitive beats and dazzling lights of Mr. Prydz as a cold, light rain fell on my skin. By the time “Opus” started nudging its way into the set toward the very end, I knew I had just witnessed the best set of Ultra 2016.
You can always count on a last minute twist or two at Ultra – and odds are that Deadmau5 will have something to do with it. This year, it took the form of an unexpected hat trick by Mr. Joel Zimmerman himself. Already scheduled to perform on Sunday at the A State of Trance stage (a shock in itself, as host Armin van Buuren alludes to in the recording of his set), Deadmau5 was called in to replace the Prodigy on Saturday at the last minute. Then on Sunday, the the Mau5 was briefly trotted out onto the mainstage by Pendulum when they played “Ghosts n Stuff.”
While I felt that his Live Stage set on Saturday night was disjointed (the highlight being when he dropped NOISIA‘s searing remix of the Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”), Deadmau5 rose to the challenge of Sunday’s performance in the ASOT megastructure. Like Eric Prdyz, Deadmau5 went deep for this set, crafting a delicious techno treat that shied away from his own extensive oeuvre in favor of a consistent, subterranean sound featuring artists like Maceo Plex and Jooris Voorn. (Of course, it wouldn’t be a Deadmau5 set without some conspicuous trolling. He kicked off his otherwise coherent set with a furious metal track, apparently a reference to a joke he’d made on Twitter. Feel free to skip the first two minutes of the recording. Beware also a NSFW rant about 40% through his set when his DJ equipment briefly gave out.)
On Sunday, dubstep titans NERO rocked the Live stage with an electrifying live set, amplified by drum pads, synths, and of course, the live vocals of singer Alana Watson. Despite the relatively simple stage setup (when juxtaposed with the overproduction of the Main Stage, Resistance Stage, and Megastructure), NERO managed to absolutely slay the audience with their signature bassy riffs. This was the rare live set that may even sound better recorded than it was live, as it is easier to tell where the songs were augmented from their studio counterparts.
Squirreled away on Stage 7 was one of the most potent weapons on Friday’s lineup: bass music duo Botnek. Their high-energy, vomitstep set was far the highlight of my Friday at Ultra. Filled with remixes of 90’s throwbacks and dirty, dirty drops, Botnek got the crowd thrashing around and dancing with a visceral fervor. It was one of those special sets where the music wordlessly brought me together with other dancers to rock out to one special song or another, whether it was Botnek’s definitive remix of The Chainsmokers‘ “Selfie,” or an edit of Rage Against the Machine‘s testosterone-tastic anthem “Testify.” At the end, I even heard one dancer wonder aloud that he couldn’t remember “the last time I danced that hard sober.”
SNBRN played the Worldwide stage on Saturday in the mid-afternoon Miami light, a perfect setting for the captain of the “sunset house” movement. The only daytime set on this list, this one is a marked contrast to the techno and bass-heavy sounds of the immersive minor-key experiences of Eric Prdyz, Deadmau5, NERO, and Botnek. I was pleasantly surprised by SNBRN’s feel-good set, which was a well-mixed serving of groovy melodic house songs with considerable trap and hip-hop influence, including his hits “Gangsta Walk,” “California,” and “Raindrops.” While the others on this list left me feeling exhausted and fulfilled, SNBRN’s set recharged me and left me feeling good.
Before Porter Robinson was known as the audio-visual creative powerhouse behind the immersive Worlds tour, he was recognized as a DJ of exceptional skill and talent, whose high-energy sets were unmatched in intensity, mixing skill, and straight up danceability.
After his planned show at Digital Dreams was cancelled last weekend, Porter made it up to disappointed fans by returning to his roots for a one-off DJ performance at the Monstercat Showcase Afterparty in Toronto. The set he came up with – filled old and new classics, bangers and downtempo glitchy grooves, and, of course, some throwbacks to your favorite video games of the ’90s – is everything you’ve missed since Porter officially renounced DJing last year.
It’s an eclectic set that was clearly engineered for fans of the Monstercat sound (best exemplified by Haywyre, Pegboard Nerds, and other polished bass-heavy producers who meander somewhere around trap, electro, and drumstep, depending on their mood). Plus, it’s got the deliciously rough touch of a DJ who may have gone rusty, but still knows how to do his job better than most of acts on the mainstage.
Listen to the magic yourself, below, which is also a free download through Soundcloud.
Matt Langehas released a dark, downtempo, and altogether incredible remix of Nine Inch Nails‘s “Discipline.” If you’re a fan of NIN, and Lange’s signature broody, moody production style, this is something you can’t miss. Luckily for you, it’s a free download from his Soundcloud page.
The original is a straightforward rock song off the band’s 2008 album The Slip, propelled by a catchy riff and drum beat. Under Lange’s touch, the song is transformed into a subtle, melancholy meditation that builds from a spare and etherial start into an aggressive and defiant climax, in a fitting tribute to a band known similar song structures. The production is stunning – and of the caliber you’d expect from this talented Anjunabeats producer. The overall sound recalls his Counterstrike Global Offensive music kit, which he recently uploaded to his Soundcloud page.
With his “Discipline” remix, Lange integrates all of the elements that make NIN great – from the overall depressed-yet-determined mood to the glitchy effects – with skill, style, and creativity, while making the production uniquely his own. I was certifiably obsessed with Nine Inch Nails for a good four years, so I feel pretty qualified in saying that this is a high-quality remix that pays tribute to the band in a very faithful way.
What really makes it stand out, though, is the way it carefully builds to a powerful climax in the tradition of the best of NIN songs (see: “Somewhat Damaged,” “Just Like You Imagined,” and “The Becoming“). The high dynamic range lures us closer to the speakers during the quiet moments, forcing us to listen closely as the song gathers strength like a tropical storm. At 4:25, that hurricane makes landfall when Lange drops on us a metal-inspired, deliciously overcrompressed glitch riff that could have been taken straight from “The Great Destroyer” (or “Demon Seed,” or…). Lange rides out the fully unleashed tapestry of sound he’s built while weaving in yet more noise, tension, and glitch, until there’s just nowhere else to go, and the song cuts out. I love that he lets you go right at the point of most intensity, with no time for mental decompression. It’s a refreshing choice in the DJ mix-driven world of dance music that demands lengthy, sometimes lifeless, song intros and outros.
The track is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Share-Alike license, meaning that you are free to remix or otherwise modify the track as long as you don’t sell it and you release the resulting work under an identical license. (You can thank Reznor for choosing to release The Slip under such a license in the first place.) It’s because of these terms that Matt can offer the song as a free download. I’ve embedded the file from SoundCloud above, but if you decide to download it, do head over to Matt’s page and give him a follow. And check out another of my favorite Matt Lange tracks below – his remix of Versa‘s “Illusion.”
As I continue to work my way through the feast of sets from Ultra 2015, in preparation for the summer festival season, I turned this week to Andrew Bayer‘s performance at the ASOT stage. While I feel that Bayer’s recent club tracks sound largely the same, and was underwhelmed with his Do Androids Dream EP, I have to say his music really came alive in this expertly crafted Ultra set. I think it goes to show how real the art of crafting a set is. The songs you hear, and the order in which you hear them, create a flow, and subconsciously set up your expectations for what should come next. In this case, the songs from Bayer’s recent EP don’t hold much luster for me when heard on their own, or as one-offs in sets with much different flavors, but when spun together like a quilt, I can follow the patterns with pleasure. Along the way in this Ultra set, there’s some great surprises, including a throwback to Delerium‘s classic, “Silence,” several IDs, and a whole lot of Above & Beyond. The set is also a free download from the UMF2015LiveSets account on SoundCloud. Enjoy.
Speaking of Ultra, it was while rewatching Skrillex‘s excellent set with friends on Saturday that I discovered this gem of a brostep song by JumoDaddy, which Sonny mashed up with his and Kill the Noise‘s own track, “Recess.” I love how it plays with triplets in the depths of that insane drop. It turns out that this is one song of a four part EP, available for streaming on SoundCloud, themed around the four horsemen of the apocalypse. All four tracks share the same gritty, groovy sound, but “Black Horse” is definitely the best of the bunch. Excited to dig deeper into the catalog of this talented Bulgarian producer.
I found this next one indirectly through Le7els, the Aviciipodcast a few weeks back, when he played an ID remix. I couldn’t get the catchy vocals out of my head though, so googled the lyrics to find the original, which features that same insane rap over a deep house beat. It’s been running through my head nonstop for a week. I hope you love it as much as I do. I haven’t heard of Kantbefore, but a brief look at his SoundCloud shows some solid house tunes in his repertoire.
I’ve got another mix for you. This one I stumbled across organically on Youtube (well, as much as you can find anything organically on the internet), several songs into an autoplaying playlist that started with Swedish House Mafia‘s “Miami 2 Ibiza.” I love me some vocal trance, and the sound of these tracks (many of which were new to me) took me back a few years to when I was new to the scene and basking in the melodies of trance. I was hooked from the moment Gareth Emery‘s classic “Concrete Angel” started playing (admittedly a bit abruptly, though overall I was impressed with the quality of the mix). And how can you not love a tracklist that includes Armin, Arty, Emma Hewitt, RankOne, and more? Thanks to DJ Ash for this great mix.
This week, we were graced with many of the livesets from Ultra 2015. I look forward to listening to many of them over the next few weeks. Of the ones I’ve listened to so far, I highly recommend Eric Prydz‘s. His sets are melodic, arpeggiated, slowly morphing journeys of the body and mind that take you by the hand and lead you through a wild landscape of emotion and elation. It’s too early to say for sure, but this may well end up taking the crown for best set of Ultra 2015.
Skrillex‘s set, which closed out the festival on Sunday night, is a stunner of a different kind. This one is all energy, all the time. The first half of his set might as well be called Skrillex’s Greatest Hits in 30 Minutes, while the second half features more A-list cameos than a Hollywood house party. At some point, it becomes clear that this performace is no longer a Skrillex show: it has transcended to become a superjam of some of the best and brightest names in the industry. I think a text I received from a friend today sums it up best: “Holy crap have you heard the Skrillex Ultra Set? Jesus. Insane.”
If you’re in need of something quicker-to-the-bloodstream, check out this beauty of a song revealed by Mat Zo on April first. In response to a tweet charging that “Your genre is ‘dance music’. You don’t do country, rock, folk, jazz or classical,” Mat replied simply, “really?” with a link to this song. In a tweet that appears to have been deleted, he said something along the lines of, “You can decide for yourself if it’s an April fool’s joke.” But the careful, airy production of this song makes it clear that this is anything but a joke. In fact, it will leave you wanting more.
And I have to say, Mr. Prydz blew me away with a production he dropped just before going onstage for his set at Ultra. “Generate” was featured in the coveted opening slot on ABGT this week, and with good reason. It’s a classic uplifting Prydz tune that follows in the tradition of his remix of CHVRCHES‘ “Tether” – which he debuted unforgettably at Ultra 2014 as the centerpiece of his set. (For what it’s worth, I also think Eric’s set from Ultra 2014 was the best of that festival. If you take a listen – and well you should – make sure to watch the video for the full effect of his incredible visuals.)
If you’re looking for something to get your blood pumping again after that Skrillex & co. set, check out this filthy goodness from Far Too Loud. It’s a remix of Zomboy‘s “Delirium” (feat. Rykka) with a drop that will take you from space down to the underworld. The weird vowely sounds that go nuts remind me of Snails‘ signature sound, which has been catching on around the EDM scene like wildfire.
That’s all for now. For more song recommendations, follow me on Soundcloud, where I repost the best of EDM for your listening pleasure.
Last week, Jack Ü, the powerhouse collaboration between EDM titans Skrillex and Diplo, dropped their debut album with little advance notice. The ten-track collection, titled simply Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü, is available in full on Soundcloud now. It includes the previously released track “Take Ü There” as well as some brand new gems. These include “Febreeze” with 2 Chains, as well as collabs with Justin Bieber (“Where are Ü Now“), AlunaGeorge (“To Ü“), and Missy Elliott (who lays down a sick rap on top of the already excellent “Take Ü There”). Some tracks, including “Beats Knockin” (feat. Fly Boi Keno), the pair had previewed at their massive Madison Square Garden New Years Eve show.
It’s an eclectic album that sits right between the styles of the two tastemakers, while incorporating sounds from trap, hip-hop, EDM, and even jungle. Particularly distinctive is the wild snare found on “Take Ü There” and “Mind” (feat. Kai). I wouldn’t be surprised if this fuller, tonal snare sound (that Skrillex says they recorded in Jamaica) catches on beyond the duo.