No one could have foreseen what EDM has become. After Avicii released ‘Levels’, the whole world got swept up in electronic music faster than Coachella tickets sell out every year. This massive shift in the direction of the music industry also brought along several of the biggest and most influential artists of the past decade, but what were they doing before then?
Although there are dozens of big name producers who saw the rise of EDM as opportunity to start a career in music, there are many others that simply saw EDM as a new avenue for musical exploration, and perhaps an opportunity to stand on MainStage.
One thing’s for sure though, if EDM were to suddenly disappear off the face of the Earth, these five musicians would be just fine.
If you’ve seen A-trak live, it’s obvious what he was doing before EDM was a thing: DJing. As the youngest DMC champion ever at age 15, Alain Macklovitch’s (aka A-trak) prodigious skill behind the decks has been a hot button topic in the rap scene for years. He has won all three major DJ competitions, and is an honorary member of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, a DJ crew consisting of legendary disc jockeys such as DJ Q-bert and Mix Master Mike. In 2004, he became Kanye West’s personal touring DJ for several years, and his scratching can be heard on Kanye’s albums Late Registration and Graduation. A-trak also ran a label with his brother, David (aka Dave 1 of Chromeo) named Audio Research from 1997-2007, wherein A-trak would often scratch over rap beats produced by his brother. However, Audio Research came to an end after A-trak moved to the east coast to start Fool’s Gold records, a label he still runs today. Currently A-trak continues to incorporate his roots in rap music and turntablism into performances around the world including the Fool’s Gold Day Off series, which has grown from one free show in Brooklyn to a five stop National tour. Artists featured on the 2015 tour included Action Bronson, Laidback Luke, Father, What So Not, and Danny Brown. On the production front, A-traks’s produced singles with Tommy Trash, Juicy J, and Cam’ron in addition to starting Duck Sauce with House Legend Armand Van Helden. After EDM exploded, A-trak naturally applied his existing talents as a label head, producer, and DJ to another style of music (not that he wasn’t already), and as a result he has helped to blur the lines of rap and electronic into a completely new sound. Not too many people get to be “pioneers” of two different genres of music. A-trak is one of them.
If I asked you how old Mark Kinchen was, what would you’re answer be? Not too long ago, late twenties or early thirties would have been my guess. However, I recently learned that not only is he 43 years old, but that he hit number 1 on the Billboard Dance chart 22 years ago in 1993. The songs that got him there were titled “Always”, and “Love Changes”. They featured Alana Simon on lead vocals and were credited to MK featuring Alana. Now, people were definitely making house music in 1993, but for the most part, it was confined to specialty record shops and underground dance clubs. Well, all those people in the clubs were listening to MK. After a few more hit remixes, one of which was the infamous mix of Nightcrawlers’ “Push The Feeling On” (another number one on Billboard), he steered his career towards pop production. A significant moment came when he was hired as an in house producer for Will Smith in 2002. Not just because he got the chance to work with the Fresh Prince, but because he is currently working with Will’s children Willow, Jaden, and Trey. Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and Rihanna are other names on his production resumé, and just before his return to house music, he was working with Pitbull. According to an interview with The FADER, it took MK three records in order to adjust to modern house music, now he has an album deal with Sony. Just proves how versatile he is as a producer.
One producer who undoubtedly got into EDM at the best time is Sonny Moore, aka Skrillex. Known for his raucous, snarling dubstep cuts, it might be a little hard to believe he started his musical career years before he was known as Skrillex as a singer/guitarist. He joined the indie rock band, From First To Last as the lead singer in 2004. During his time with them, he toured with bands like Atreyu, and recorded two albums with the band: Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Body Count, 2004, and Heroine, 2006. In 2007 he left FFTL to pursue a solo career. He acquired new bandmates, and released an EP entitled Gypsyhook. He was then scheduled to release a solo album, but produced My Name Is Skrillex instead. Since then Skrillex has applied his knowledge of rock to his electronic music which has lead to a collaboration with the living members of The Doors, and joining Above & Beyond on stage during one of their acoustic shows to play guitar. Haters might say that the music of Skrillex sounds like old cars being trashed at a junkyard, but his ability to produced an original sound and apply it to his own music as well as his multiple collaborative projects (Jack Ü and Dog Blood) stems from his roots as rocker. Working with a band reinforces the benefits of collaboration, which in turn leads to new perspectives on music in general. That kind of talent will last much longer than EDM.
It wouldn’t surprise most people to learn that Thomas Wesley Pentz, aka Diplo, is a grammy nominated producer. What may come as a surprise however are the categories for which he was nominated. Spoiler alert: neither of them have anything to with “Best Dance Recording” or “Dance/Electronica Album Of The Year”. In 2009, Diplo was nominated for “Record Of The Year” and in 2013 he was nominated for “Producer Of The Year”. The first nomination was a result of him cowriting the instant classic, “Paper Planes” with M.I.A.. The single would reach quadruple platinum in the U.S. and was featured across all platforms of the media including movies and video games. The second nomination in 2013 was a result of his work across the entire spectrum of genres. He worked with Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, Mac Miller, Justin Bieber, Usher, and many others. He also released his second full length album with Major Lazer, Free The Universe, which featured hits like “Get Free” and “Watch Out For This (Bumaye)”. The real significance of this nomination lies in his competition though. He may not have won the Grammy, but he didn’t lose to anyone who sits behind their laptop tapping away at Ableton, he lost to Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. This means of all the producers in the music business, Diplo was one of the best that year, and he went up against anyone who made, rock, rap, R&B, pop and everything in between. Diplo may have started out as a DJ in the late 90’s, but his undeniable flavor behind the decks has given a musical taste that has made him one of the most in demand producers of any genre.
It’s still throws me off a little when I see someone as legendary as Moby on a rave lineup. Even though he may be heavily involved in opening vegan restaurants and animal rights at the moment, the fact that he’s sold over 20 million albums isn’t easily forgotten. Throughout a career of over 20 years, he has pretty much written, produced, and recorded every genre of popular music since the early 90’s from hardcore breakbeat to alternative rock. His contribution credits include Daft Punk, David Bowie, Public Enemy, and Metallica. The fact that he still spins the occasional DJ set at EDC Vegas is just plain generous.
One of the reasons the electronic music scene has some of he most vocal haters around (other than its current popularity) is because the conception of a DJ is just some guy pressing buttons with no real musical talent. While there is a lot of button-pressing involved in both DJing and producing, the method of composition does not devalue the music. If the aforementioned artists are in demand beyond the world of EDM, it means they’ll be around making records long after EDM has come and gone. The fact that they took advantage of its phoenix-like rise its just plain smart.