EDM.com proudly publishes four installments of annual year-end coverage: Industry Leaders, Performances, Music Producers, and Songs.
DJing and music production are different. But the difference between the two is like a wallflower—it hides in plain sight, and it is vastly misunderstood.
To publish a "Top DJ" list would be to undermine the originality, ingenuity, and dauntless imagination of the artists who dedicate their lives to music creation. To honor their fearless creativity and profound dedication to their craft, we've recognized 10 of the best electronic music producers of 2021.
From the feel-good future bass of his Disconnect EP to the textured synths on “melodies from heaven,” Laxcity took over 2021 with his wistfully dreamy takes on the electronica genre.
Setting him apart this year were the sheer number of ideas he shared with the electronic dance music community. This included a polished 14-track mixtape called 2018-2021, which seamlessly juxtaposed whirring bass (“Outcry,” “Thinking”) against more sublime, ambient arrangements (“Delete,” “Soft Pillow”). Laxcity was also tapped to appear on two albums commissioned by League of Legends developer Riot Games, wherein he contributed three extraordinary original songs. With his first-ever headlining show slated for early 2022 in London, it’s clear his growth has not only been unprecedented, but justly rewarded.
Calling 2021 dominant would be an understatement for Belgian techno aesthete Amelie Lens, whose spellbinding sound took leaps and bounds in 2021. Case in point is her breathtaking Raver's Heart EP (with AIROD), which embodied the persevering spirit of the electronic music community during a pandemic that simply will not relent. "We missed the dance floors so much and wanted to create something energetic for big stages and festivals," Lens told Forbes of the heart-pounding EP.
Lens recently tied a bow on 2021 with Louder Than Chaos, Vol. 4, the penultimate installment of a collaborative series launched by veteran Scottish duo Slam on their venerated Soma Records imprint. The three-track EP is yet another barometer of her versatility, touching on breakbeat, jungle, acid house and more in a riveting display of her wholly singular approach to techno music.
As Porter Robinson himself has suggested, the lengthy seven-year gap between his groundbreaking debut album, Worlds, and his sophomore effort, Nurture, was characterized by a lack of confidence and feelings of being stuck in place. Paradoxically, it wasn’t until Robinson started seeing friends again, prioritizing his health over his career, and generally spending time outside the studio that he began to feel his creative inspiration return.
In many ways, Nurture is Robinson’s capstone project from that seven-year period, a well-documented emotional journey encapsulating his personal highs and lows of the era. The album was not only a billet-doux from Robinson to his fans, but also to himself. From the anxious introspection of “Mirror” to the blissfully triumphant “Musician,” Robinson was able to meet the sky-high expectations driven by fans of Worlds, and overcome his biggest trials and tribulations as a musician while sharing some of the most deeply personal releases of his career thus far.
When CharlestheFirst released SOLUS in March, little did his fans know the album would be one of the last vestiges of a bright career cut far too short. The innovative album was a tour de force for the prodigious artist, who explored new sonic frontiers with the dauntless curiosity of someone with big plans. SOLUS is a relic of an electronic music virtuoso gone too soon—and with much, much more to accomplish.
And after the introspective album's release, it was clear that CharlestheFirst's artistry derived not from the blue light of his DAW, but from a deeply spiritual frame of mind. "[SOLUS] is a story of the lone journey, a pilgrimage to places previously unknown," CharlestheFirst said at the time. "A time of challenges that represent growth, and finally looking one’s true self in the mirror. A story of solitude. A story of sunrises seen and felt. A story of holding onto love and letting love go."
It's tough to imagine many artists having a year as prolific as GRiZ had in 2021. Despite the uncertainty of the concert industry and the on-again, off-again nature of shows in the face of the pandemic, he remained resolute in his efforts to lift the spirits of the EDM faithful with his music.
Back in July GRiZ celebrated the release of Rainbow Brain, his brilliant seventh album which was inspired by the dubstep producers before him. He then went on to unveil "Griztronics II (Another Level)," the jaw-dropping follow-up to his wildly popular dubstep anthem, "Griztronics" (with Subtronics). He also recently wrapped his annual "12 Days of GRiZMAS" charity extravaganza by raising over $100,000 for children in Detroit.
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With a staggering seven albums under his belt and an insatiable hunger for philanthropy, GRiZ is proof that that the EDM community is in good hands as we head into 2022.
Nora En Pure
2021 was yet another banner year for Nora En Pure, who remained as prolific as ever.
She kicked off the year with an EP called Monsoon, a sublime three-track opus brimming with the hypnotic deep house cadence of a classic Nora En Pure record. Another EP followed just a few months later with the brooding Thermal / Oblivion, which set the tone for a slew of must-listen singles to close out the year, such as the mesmeric “Aquatic.” An understated highlight came in September, when she dusted the cobwebs off Tove Lo’s unapologetic 2016 pop anthem “Cool Girl” with a stunning official remix.
After his stunning late-2020 performance for Cercle from a hot-air balloon above the honeycombed hills of Cappadocia, all eyes were on Ben Böhmer ahead of 2021. And the German beatsmith delivered in a big way, entrancing the masses with his signature melodic house sound en route to one of the year's best albums. The September release of Böhmer's sophomore album, Begin Again, showcased his most evolved work in electronic music production yet, brimming with sublime textures and deeply contemplative lyricism.
Soon to embark on a sold-out world tour in 2022, Böhmer's dominance next year is all but a foregone conclusion.
New music from TSHA was a rarity in 2021, but when the London-based house music prodigy did share new tunes, they were special.
Her OnlyL EP, released back in August, was a masterstroke. Spanning three tracks, it oozes with soul but remains sharply club-focused with its brisk percussion and jungle influences. “Power” is a particularly remarkable cut thanks to its ingenious sampling and unconventional layering—two elements of TSHA’s wholly singular approach to dance music production that have catapulted her to global acclaim. And after reportedly signing a three-album deal with the fabled Ninja Tune label, she’s poised for a tremendous 2022.
2021 saw Folamour demonstrate one thing that many music producers spend their entire careers searching for: range. Minting this sonic versatility was the Frenchman’s most recent album, The Journey, which blended old-school synths with more modern manifestations of disco, house and R&B. Pensive instrumentals like “St Moskov'' and “Latécoère” appeared alongside the radiant layers of vocal-driven hip-shakers like “The Journey” (with Zeke Manyika) and “Lost In Space” (with SG Lewis).
Meanwhile, “Rue de Paradis” enlisted Tertia May for a sultry study of R&B, and album closer “Just Want Happiness” saw bluegrass, indie rock and samples of bird calls come together for an electronic opus fit for a coming-of-age movie. Obviously, Folamour has learned how to soak in inspiration like a sponge, without losing himself in the noise. Instead, his ideas are curated and focused—a rarity for producers who are as enchanted by music as he is.
The ascension Spencer Brown took over the course of 2021 was a beautiful one to behold.
Already a rising act on the roster of Above & Beyond's iconic Anjunabeats, the California native stepped up to the plate last year with his sensational sophomore album, Stream of Consciousness. In 2021, Brown shifted gears and dipped his toes into the techno lane with his time-travel of an EP, I Was Too Young For 90s Raves. He may have been too young to rave in the 90s, but his ingenuity in the studio and unbridled love of dance music could fool anyone. From acid techno breaks to progressive trance melodies, Brown is shaping the sounds of the future.