Maybe you were at the grocery store when you found yourself singing along to Afrojack’s “Take Over Control” for the hundredth time. Or maybe it was when Martin Solveig’s “Hello” was suddenly on repeat on your iPod. Whatever your moment was, it’s fair to say the American appetite for electronic dance music surged in 2011, bringing “the rave” to radio and festivals, touching every U.S. city (big and small). Even Grammy voters took notice this year, nominating Skrillex for Best New Artist and in four other categories.
Afrojack, David Guetta, Calvin Harris and Benny Benassi put up mainstream, chart-topping bangers. Las Vegas’ Electric Daisy Carnival and Miami’s Ultra Music Festival saw record attendance, and dance music’s biggest stars headlined a stage at every major mainstream festival: Lollapalooza, Coachella, SXSW, Austin City Limits.
We’ve been covering the movement, but this year we tapped some of our EDM pros to commemorate a seminal year for the genre. MTV News’ Akshay Bhansali and Adam Stewart, MTV Coordinator of Music & Talent Rawley Bornstein and MTV World Music Director Micah McKinney sat down for a roundtable discussion — moderated by MTV News’ Sway Calloway — about the biggest players this year and crowned our top 10.
10. Martin Solveig
When Irv Gotti stopped by MTV News’ “RapFix Live” in October, he joked, “We’re just one record away from Kanye or Jay [being like]: [sings hook to Solveig’s ‘Hello’] ‘I just came to say hello — Hov!’ ” Gotti was kidding, but it’s true. Rap dudes beware: Songs like “Hello” and guys like Martin have seen such widespread success that the hip-hop industry, which has long enjoyed club and radio dominance, is shook. In addition to being a technically superior producer and DJ, Solveig has also proven to the world that he has a sense of humor. His “Smash” video series — including “Hello,” “Initial S.H.E,” “Ready 2 Go” and “Big in Japan” — are some of the funniest and most well-produced clips of any genre. Kudos to Martin and his “manager” Lafaille for making us laugh and dance in 2011.
Veteran DJ/producer Tiësto might not be trance anymore, but judging by his popularity, fans don’t seem to care. How else do you set a record for the largest single DJ event — 26,000 fans attended his Carson, California, show — in U.S. history? T had hit collabos this year with Mark Knight, Hardwell, Diplo and, oh, Kanye West (sure, the Yeezy track hasn’t been released yet, but everyone’s heard it!). And if you can’t produce like Tiësto, at least now you can look like him: The EDM titan’s Club Life clothing line just hit select stores in New York and L.A.
Coming off a massive 2010 highlighted by Dynasty, Kaskade watched as his 2011 studio album, Fire & Ice, quickly became a staple in a healthy EDM diet. With features from Skrillex and Dada Life, and even vocals from rising star Skylar Grey, you’d be hard-pressed to find music lovers who couldn’t identify with or enjoy his breezy music in one way or another. The Illinois native pioneered the Identity Festival, which brought real-deal dance to America’s small cities. He also conquered Las Vegas’ day and nightlife and was named America’s Top DJ of 2011. Not a bad year for Mr. Ryan Raddon, not a bad year at all.
7. Calvin Harris
2011 was a marquee year for this Scotsman. Riding high on the success of Ready for the Weekend, Harris “Bounce”-ed and “Awooga”-ed with his adoring EDM fans the world over. He also infiltrated the mainstream by teaming up with Rihanna for a pair of hit collabos: the chart-topping “We Found Love” and “Where Have You Been.” As he gears up for his third studio album, Harris’ presence in EDM and pop culture is undeniable, and at this pace, he’ll be unstoppable in 2012.
This year, Avicii underscored his place as dance music’s “Piano Man” (sorry, Bill Joel fans!). It started with “Blessed” (featuring Shermanology), continued with “Fade Into Darkness” (and Leona Lewis’ “Collide,” let’s be real) and capped off with the eagerly awaited release of “Levels.” Yes, Avicii’s keys and vocals went pop in ’11, and Flo Rida would certainly back us up on this as his Etta James vocal is sampled on Flo’s “Good Feeling.” To close out the year, Sweden’s Tim Bergling (stage names: Avicii, Tim Berg, Tom Hangs) is nominated for the Best Dance Recording Grammy with David Guetta for DG’s “Sunshine.” But before that Big Apple ball drops, Avicii will rock New York with a sold-out New Year’s Eve show.
Holland’s towering bleep-bender put on a spectacle of versatility in the past 12 months. Afro-beats scored monster mainstream U.S. radio singles for Beyoncé, Chris Brown and Pitbull. And then there’s his EDM game: Nearly a dozen collabos bearing his name charted in Beatport.com’s top 10, with Nervo, Steve Aoki, R3hab and Quintino onboard for a few. He wrapped up the year with a Grammy nom and the earth-shaking single “Lionheart,” and we can only pray he’ll deliver a video for it in ’12 … with a Jean-Claude Van Damme cameo.
4. Swedish House Mafia
Dubbed by MTV News as the “holy trinity of house music,” the rock stars of dance were everywhere this year, from “Miami 2 Ibiza,” Las Vegas to Brazil and all points in between. Not only did they succeed as a unified front, but Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso also soared as individual brands. And thanks to their Size, Axtone and Refune record labels, stellar acts like Thomas Gold, Swanky Tunes, Junior Sanchez, Third Party, Max Vangeli, AN21 and buzzworthy young rookie Alesso are on the verge of becoming household names. On the heels of a historic show at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden this week, and a 2012 Grammy nod for “Save the World,” the Swedish Flag has been firmly planted in the American EDM soil.
“4×4=12″ cranked out hit after hit after hit. He nailed well over 100 live tour dates on the Meowingtons Hax Tour, earned RIAA gold with “Ghosts N Stuff” and headlined the traditionally all-rock Lollapalooza fest. Did we mention the wonder born Joel Zimmerman turned a skyscraper into a 4-D experience in London and bid farewell to a Playmate? I mean, who else can say they did that? The dude has balls N stuff.
2. David Guetta
David Guetta’s career has definitely gone pop this year — including the radio hits “Where Them Girls At” (featuring Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida) and “Without You” (featuring Usher) — but for EDM purists, his Nothing but the Beat had plenty to offer too, like stellar co-productions with Afrojack (“Lunar” and “The Future”) and Avicii (on the Grammy-nominated “Sunshine”). DJ Mag crowned Guetta the #1 DJ on the planet, and he headlined the world’s biggest festival’s, including Belgium’s Tomorrowland, Miami’s Ultra Music Festival and Las Vegas’ Electric Daisy Carnival. Guetta’s American Music Awards performance with Minaj seems to indicate that “Turn Me On” will be the next single from Nothing but the Beat, and fans can expect a shocking new video (and much more, we’re sure) early next year.
MTV’s EDM Artist of 2011 scored a whopping five Grammy nominations this year, including being the first DJ to land a Best New Artist nod. Indeed, Skrill’s musical background — both on his own and as a member of his former group, From First to Last — has carried over into his brand of fiery electronica. Skrillex has garnered an audience the world over that includes ravers, house heads and rockers alike. In today’s laptop generation of music, Skrillex is the new “rock.” From his remix of Benny Benassi and Gary Go’s “Cinema” to the recent Avicii pop song “Le7els” (not officially released yet), Skrillex dropped massive re-workings in ’11, in addition to his More Monsters and Sprites EP. He scored video games, produced records for Korn, launched his own OWSLA label and hit almost every major festival in the States, including Coachella and Lollapalooza. An exceptional catalog of releases coupled with an incessant touring schedule has made Skrillex the biggest EDM star of the year, and in 2012, he plans to tour 322 of the 365 days.
MTV will reveal the best artists, songs and movies of the year. Come to MTV News each day to see more big reveals and check out more of MTV’s Best of 2011 music, TV, movies and news coverage.