What turns a DJ into a hitmaker? Is it appropriation of a particular track or remix? Is it being in the right place at the right time? Or, is it some je ne sais quoi quality, or an X-factor, that separates certain artists from the rest?
No matter what “it” is, some producers score a home run – like Avicii this year – or are poised to take off but never reach their full potential, like Sander Van Doorn. Out of the crop of artists, some of which cracked DJ Magazine’s Top 100 list this year and those that didn’t, who should you look out for?
If there’s any quality that moves a producer up, it’s an inescapable hit. In that case, Australian duo Feenixpawl is positioned as such. The duo comes at the heels of other more prominent Australian performers seeing worldwide success, such as Dirty South, Tommy Trash, and Nervo, and had their single “In My Mind,” with Ivan Gough, promoted and remixed by Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, Tiesto, and Kaskade. Is that a helping hand, or what?
Trance, in a sense, is a languishing EDM subgenre. Its older performers, like Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk, and Marco V, have essentially gone onto other sounds, or, like Armin Van Buuren, keep pushing the same tired formula.
Yet, amidst what could be called an audio pile of synthesized rubbish comes Shogun, one of the most talked-about names in trance music this year. Shogun, born Andrew Chen, is the first Asian DJ signed to Armada and, this year, finally cracked the DJ Magazine Top 100. Along with his own remixes and original tracks receiving recognition, this American producer received five Future Favorites on A State of Trance and support from Ferry Corsten, Above & Beyond, Gareth Emery, Markus Schulz, and Nadia Ali.
A live setting, as opposed to a studio, is still where certain DJs shine. Otto Knows falls into this category, holding his own against Alesso and Sebastian Ingrosso at New York event All Mixed Up. But while this younger producer/DJ shows he has the chops behind the mixing desk, his original efforts, such as “Million Voices,” feel generic. Should he manage to channel his energy into a solid track, Otto Knows could join the ranks of other rising producer prodigies like Avicii, Porter Robinson, Zedd, and Madeon.
Already ranking well on DJ Mag’s list, Madeon seems like a hit away from a true breakthrough. Yes, “Pop Culture” showcased his excellent remixing skills – and the ability to garner attention on social media – but sampling and splicing 39 tracks on a Novation Launchpad is a one-trick pony show. Madeon has already been invited to perform at major festivals, such as Ultra, Lollapalooza, Coachella, and Ultra, but what separates him from an Avicii-like breakthrough is a quality original track.
Even though he’s in the top 20 of DJ Mag’s list, Nicky Romero is still everyone’s favorite collaborator. And, essentially, Romero has added a certain pizzazz to works with Fedde Le Grand and mentor David Guetta. In an interview with DJ Mag, Romero explained, “2012 has felt a bit like my launch year. And it feels like the first year I’ve been accepted as a main stage artist.”
Yet, Romero has yet to ascend to festival headliner status. Here’s hoping that he does and surpasses Guetta in the process.