Earlier this month, the one and only Calvin Harris sent me on a trip down memory lane with a candid history of his 2011 EDM opus, “Feel So Close.” As I read his heartfelt connection to the track ten years after its release, reading about how it was a turning point for him and his career, I thought about how the year 2011 was a turning point for rave culture in America.
2011 was the year dance music took the US by storm. The term “EDM” was suddenly a point of conversation and contention throughout the entire music industry. DJs became comparable to rock stars in terms of audience size and notoriety, and the music they were making reflected that newfound status.
2011 was also a turning point for me, personally. I attended my first rave in 2011, the first ever Escape From Wonderland (that’s what Escape Halloween used to be called). So in honor of that very special year, I put together a list of some of the biggest EDM tracks from 2011. Some undoubtedly shifted the sound and defined the era. Some are just my favorites.
In the past ten years, Skrillex has gone through so many phases. He was the king of brostep. Then he was a legitimate pop star winning Grammys for a track with Justin Bieber. Now he’s an enigma who works with rappers behind the scenes and barely plays shows. None of that would be possible without his timeless remix of “Cinema.”
The last time I saw Sonny Moore DJ live was a surprise set at Coachella’s Do LaB in 2017, and he closed with his “Cinema” remix. So you know it still has a special place in his heart.
One fact that may surprise fans of the EDM era is that the big room sound that took over the US was already massive (literally and figuratively) in the Netherlands. A string of talented youngsters morphed the swirling tones of progressive house and laid it against the biggest kick drums anyone could imagine. Sandro Silva and Quintino were two of those youngsters, and “Epic” was a welcome addition to any set in 2011.
Speaking of Dutch youngsters, Hardwell may be the one who picked up the most steam in 2011. What’s interesting, however, is he didn’t start picking up steam just because of his own music.
2011 was around the time Hardwell starting putting on other artists with his label, Revealed, which he founded the year before. He signed W&W, Dyro, and other artists who went to be nearly as big as him, laying the groundwork for topping the DJ Mag 100 list in 2013 and 2014.
If there is a single track that embodies the feelings of the millions that instantly flocked to EDM in 2011 it’s Swedish House Mafia’s classic “Save The World.” Dance music was the savior for everyone in the crowd that year, and they all believed that power to connect could save the world. Naive, maybe. But it made for some unreal energy.
Now Swedish House Mafia is coming back full force with an entirely different sound. I’m glad to see them evolve, but by golly if they could put out one more generational banger (especially after a pandemic)…let’s just say it would be much appreciated.
Given that DJs started reaching the same level of celebrity as rock stars in 2011, it’s only fitting at least one remix from a major rock group is on this list. Fedde Le Grand‘s remix of this Coldplay classic elevated so many crowds to the paradise Chris Martin wrote about.
Today, Porter Robinson is a hugely respected artist all over the world, known for his intuitive live shows and his albums that tell stories like multi-volume mangas. In 2011, however, he was a 19-year-old kid making totally rad sounds in a computer program.
Robinson’s EP, Spitfire, was the debut release on Skrillex’s label, OWSLA, and it included, in my opinion, some of the best-written dance music in history. “Spitfire” may sound quite different than what Robinson’s making now, but it still totally holds up. Plus, it launched his career to new heights.
I already mentioned that DJs were getting as big as rock stars in 2011, but what about rappers? Well at the time, rap was, by far, the biggest genre in the world, and there was no way any DJ was at the same level as Kanye West or JAY-Z (who had just dropped Watch The Throne).
Rappers were starting to pay attention, though. They saw the potential in this rising genre of music and they wanted in on the action. One of the first rappers to make a mark on EDM was Lil Jon with his vocal feature on “Turbulence” by Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke. After this collaboration, Lil Jon was ushered into a new career path as a DJ and hype man and many other rappers followed suit.
In 2011, Nero dropped their debut album, Welcome Reality and established themselves as a straight up electronic band. With vocalist Alana Watson as a permanent member of the group, the sound of Nero became unique and unmistakable.
Most people will remember their hits “Innocence,” “Me And You,” and “Must Be The Feeling,” which all landed on Welcome Reality, but the biggest track on the album was definitely “Promises.” Not even Skrillex’s remix could take the shine away from Nero and how hard they crushed it on this one.
Dillon Francis first started making music at 110 BPM because the house he was making sounded better at a slower tempo. Simply put, he didn’t give a fuck or shit, and after he dropped this song, neither did anyone else.
Now that Francis is such a versatile producer, it’s hard to believe he blew up from a niche genre like moombahton, but this track still slaps for sure.
You best believe I saved the best for last. Rather than recount the historical significance of this piece of music (which is monumental) I’ll tell a personal story about it.
I first went to EDC Vegas in 2012 (“Levels” was released in 2011), and Avicii was set to play Saturday night. A prime 1-2:30AM slot at main stage. Then the festival shut down that night due to high winds at around 11:00PM. I was lost. Alone. Stranded on the Speedway. Didn’t get to see Avicii or Steve Aoki and Blue Man Group (why have they never been booked again?).
In my 19-year-old immaturity, this ruined my night. I sulked in my car until sunrise while my friends were off meeting new people and venturing into car-stereo renegades. It almost ruined my entire festival, too. I went to the event on Sunday still salty from the previous night.
I spent the first few hours of Sunday milling around the festival, doing my best to reignite my spirit. Don’t get me wrong, being at EDC at all was definitely helping, but it wasn’t until I wandered into main stage that I felt uplifted.
The only music coming from the speakers was a piano playing a chord progression I recognized, but couldn’t place. I wandered farther into the crowd as the chords continued to swell, it was “Levels.”
I was confused. Avicii’s set was cancelled.
“Who is playing?” I asked a beaded-masked raver to my right.
“It’s Avicii. He’s playing a surprise 30-minute set.”
The fellow raver’s response concluded just as the vocals shot through.
“Oh oh sometimes, I get a good feeling, yeah. It’s a feeling that I’ve never had before.”
It was a feeling I had never had before. Never once. I had been attending live music events for years. Nothing made me feel the way I did in that moment, and frankly, nothing has since.
It was euphoric of the body, but also of the mind. Maybe bad things happen for a reason if we make them happen for a reason? Maybe everything will actually turn out OK?
In that moment, Avicii made me believe that. The the bas dropped.
R.I.P., King. Where would we be without you? EDM would be nowhere. That’s for sure.
Featured image provided by Rukes