2014 was kind of a strange year for electronic dance music. On one hand, it experienced a wave of retro-influenced music from Disclosure to established producers like Markus Schulz working with classic house singers, while Melbourne Bounce saw its global presence grow.
At the same time, deep house become mainstream and, along the same line, gave way to “future house,” kind of an offshoot that sits better with mainstream audiences. Big Room and progressive house appeared to stagnate, with producers living up to the notion that “all dance music sounds the same.”
Still, from 2013 through this past year, a few producers stood out and have potential to becoming huge in 2015:
There was a period – say, the ‘80s into the mid ‘90s – that the vocalists behind instrumental electronic music acts sounded decent. They didn’t have to have operatic chops – they could just produce a clean, decent tone. Unfortunately, the idolization of that scratchy, Peter Murphy-esque style, or a strictly robotic, vocoder quality, has meant 20 years of interesting production on electro-pop and synthpop tracks, coupled with the sounds from a person who should stay as far away from a microphone as possible. Need proof? Listen to Digitally Imported’s Future Synthpop channel for a bit.
This past year, Harrison Scott came out of nowhere with single “Silence Into Noise,” and then followed it up with “Void.” His smooth vocals hark back to a time when the “pop” in synthpop and electro-pop mattered, while the production on both tracks maintains a timeless quality, one nodding to the style’s ‘80s roots without sounding overtly retro. We’ll have to see if this strong streak continues on his upcoming EP, Spectral Evidence.
On the same line of subgenres and styles that have hit a rut, trance, in its most mainstream form, has reached a state of pleasant complacency, of ethereal vocals and understated, major-key production. It’s only euphoric in a cotton-candy sense.
W&W caught my attention at the end of 2012 with “Lift Off,” which took standard trance elements but added something darker and more sinister. Their profile continued to grow throughout 2013 and 2014, with last year seeing this duo collaborate with a couple of major Hardstyle producers. While some will say “Trance isn’t dead! Just listen to psy-trance!”, the subgenre’s dominant mainstream sound, pushed by Anjunabeats and Armana, needs something to counteract it, and that’s what this duo’s been doing.
Whoever thought deep house would officially become mainstream? 2014 was Oliver Heldens’ year, starting with a successful mixtape in the first half and ending with a string of high-charting Beatport singles: a remix of “Can’t Stop Playing,” and originals “Koala” and “Gecko.” While he may be a Dutch producer signed to Spinnin’, Heldens stands out in one significant regard: His linear, more minimal sounds move away from the chord-based lines of run-of-the-mill Dirty Dutch Big Room and settle into an easy-going groove. Purists may balk, but Heldens appears poised as a game-changer for mainstream dance music.
As a contrast to Oliver Heldens, there’s MoTi, being positioned as the “next big thing” in Big Room. 2013 and 2014 saw support from some of dance music’s biggest names: Quintino, Martin Garrix, DVBBS, and Tiesto.
Collaborations have made an up-and-comer into a bona-fide star, but as much as Spinnin’ keeps on pushing for MoTi’s visibility, there’s one significant factor the label has to overcome: There’s really nothing exceptional about this producer’s sound. Percussive-leaning progressive house rises and falls with drops, and that’s about it. Tracks like “Virus,” “Lion,” and “Ganja” are good for a single listen and nothing more.
If anything, the fact that MoTi seems on the cusp of making it big reveals that finding a dance music hit in 2014 is more about following a formula and churning out something cheap than introducing anything worthwhile listening to.
It’s rare to find a dance music act that’s equally at home in underground/indie circles as they are in the mainstream sphere, but in 2014, Disclosure managed to do that. While their debut album Settle came out in 2013, 2014 saw their profile continue to grow, with a series of main stage DJing gigs, and listeners have been left wanting more.
At the same time, their sound – a blend of two-step garage, minimal textures, and dubstep basslines – has a timeless to it. It would nearly fit in with any late ‘90s U.K. garage record as it would with any post-dubstep release today. There’s supposedly an album coming this year, so we’ll have to see what’s in store.
TJR, Landis, and Brass Knuckles
Considering how boring Big Room has become, Melbourne Bounce has the potential to eclipse it. For one, the percussive, dirtier textures are there, and producers don’t shy away from drops, but from 2012 through 2014, this group of Australian producers, including Will Sparks, Joel Fletcher, and Timmy Trumpet, added a few things extra: One, tracks don’t hit you over the head with an assault of chord-based lines, and two, horn elements – either sampled or played by instruments, in the case of Timmy Trumpet – keep it fresh.
But Melbourn Bounce isn’t looking to be an Australian-only style anymore, and the rest of the world is catching on. While The Chainsmokers borrowed this sound (and scored a huge hit with “#Selfie”), tracks from Landis, TJR, and Brass Knuckles show that American producers can do Melbourne Bounce just as well.