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2018 saw the dance world stepping its game up. In a scene that is rapidly diversifying itself and demanding more originality, artists in all corners of electronic music were seen stepping outside their comfort zones and kicking up experimentation within their sounds. The result was a breath of fresh air and imagination, where fans were invigorated by new takes on classic sounds, intriguing collaborations, groundbreaking new concept albums, and out-of-the-box style mashing that set the bar high for the coming year.
Careful deliberation has led to the following ten artists ranked as our top in 2018.
Choosing a top artist of the year was an arduous task, for sure. Ultimately, however, we have to give Dillon Francis the number one spot. Francis had an unprecedented year in 2018. It was the year his artistic vision became fully actualized with the release of his warmly received WUT WUT LP — a wholehearted return to his moombahton beginnings, backed by a stellar cast of emerging Latin artists. The record resulted in a Latin Grammy nomination, Francis’ first, and ultimately cemented him as an independent artist fully in control of his own creative direction.
The album is the culmination of a lot of work, ultimately set into motion by Francis’ split from Columbia Records in early 2017. After signing a major record deal and releasing a palatable debut LP aimed at mass appeal, Francis split from Columbia and hit the ground running on his own terms, when going dark in the wake of losing an international distribution network was probably much easier, and at times, probably more appealing. Nonetheless, 2018 brought the album Francis’ day one fans had been waiting for, and it was done in well-thought and intentional fashion that intersected perfectly with Latin pop’s massive moment in the sun this year. Francis made good on his promise to return to moombahton, a genre he helped champion after Dave Nada coined the term more than a decade ago, but he also managed to do much more with his time in 2018.
This year Francis also managed the launch of his Like and Subscribe series, a feature on NBA 2K19’s soundtrack, co-production credits with Panic! at the Disco, a role on Comedy Central’s Taskmaster, along with a slew of remix efforts and a firm grip on the festival circuit’s most coveted events of the year. Putting up a marquee year in terms of output and creative diversification without compromising in either direction, Dillon Francis is Dancing Astronaut’s Artist of the Year in 2018.
Dillon Francis, we salute you.
It’s been lovely to watch witness Alison Wonderland’s swift ascension to the top this year; it was truly a culmination of the sturdy groundwork she’s laid over the years, proving herself on the global scale as a well-trained musician who’s conquered the studio and honed her sound. The Australian talent is known for her openness and humility as well as her beatmaking, making for an organic connection with her audiences rarely exhibited among her peers. Awake showed off her vulnerability in sonic form as well as her versatility, unfolding across fourteen hugely distinctive tracks that skillfully blended together hip-hop, bass, EDM, and pop and eventually leading to her selling out gigantic venues across the globe, from the Shrine in LA for multiple nights, to Washington DC’s Echostage. Additionally, she played to her biggest crowd of over 20k as the highest billed female DJ on the festival’s bill — a deserved placement.
Once on our Breakout lists, Illenium has since blossomed into an icon over the past few years — and with good reason. Ever the evolutionist, the young artist unveiled two brand new live setups this year while deepening his bond with out-of-box instrumentation and arrangement. Illenium truly dominated the festival and club circuit as well, appearing at virtually every high-profile festival in the states like Lollapalooza, Coachella, Austin City Limits, and beyond, plus iconic venues like Red Rocks. Of course, we can’t forget about his vast output over the past year either, which has included a number of vast number of collaborations like his notable “Gold” alongside Excision, in addition to remixes and bootlegs for the likes Kaskade and Halsey. Having been taken under the Astralwerks wing this past summer, we expect Illenium is in for yet another big year in 2019.
Meanwhile, REZZ continued to build upon the empire she started in 2018, becoming another one of the major standouts this year. There are hardly any venues she touched that didn’t completely sell out, including another round at Red Rocks, and appearances at other famed venues around North America. The young musician continued to captivate minds with her extraterrestrial electro sound, putting out a brand new LP in the process aptly-named, Certain Kind Of Magic. The album was carefully constructed with her usual expertise and won REZZ her first Juno Award, spotlighting her as a consistently remarkable talent while backing her placement as headliner for major events like Shambhala, Wobbleland, and more. Paired with her humble attitude and openness on social media, her rabid fan base has seen exponential growth. It won’t be long before she is a household name.
Every year feels like a big year for Diplo; the producer-turned-crossover legend has his hands in too many projects to count, and is easily one of the most well-known producers in the music scene at large. However, 2018 was a particularly innovative year for the producer that really saw him branching out his creativity. The main motif for him this year was collaboration, where this creative exploration truly manifested itself. We first saw this in the form of LSD, his collaborative project with Sia and Labrinth — by their first release, they’d poised themselves for radio domination. Then, weeks after debuting LSD, Silk City came to fruition: his disco-leaning Mark Ronson project. Both groups served to diversify Diplo’s growing repertoire, and further cast him as a universally-loved producer. Diplo also had his fair share of production credits this year: he worked on songs with John Mayer, Ellie Goulding, and more, contributed to the Fifa 19 soundtrack, and produced for YouTuber Poppy, to name a few.
Its difficult to think of a year in which Alex Ridha hasn’t been at the top of his game. In more than a decade of activity as Boys Noize, he has continuously improved upon his oeuvre, neither slowing his prolific output nor sacrificing quality for quantity. The German maverick began his year with the long-awaited sophomore installment of his Strictly Raw compilation series, expanding upon the signature brand of industrial techno and electro fusion which defined 2015’s Strictly Raw, Vol. 1 and his career at-large. In 2018, Boys Noize unsurprisingly made waves via a predictably large flurry of singles, remixes, and collaborations, including his anthemic joint effort with RL Grime, “Power.” However, even alongside Ridha’s exciting offerings from his main moniker, he arguably put forth his most scintillating contributions in the past year via his ancillary projects. Over the summer, he debuted his new Diynamic-backed alter-ego, ELAX, and in October, he reunited with Mr. Oizo to release the first Handbraekes EP in four years. And, with rumors of a Dog Blood renaissance brewing on the horizon, it seems likely that Herr Ridha will top himself once again in 2019.
One could argue that Charlotte de Witte has become a bit of a new-gen figurehead in recent times. Like others on this list, it didn’t take her long to transform from an “artist to watch” to an all-out icon right away. The past twelve months have seen the Belgian mainstay express her love for classic rave sounds via pounding techno laced with acid, earning the adoration of older and younger fans alike. She’s climbed so far up the ranks, in fact, that she was even called to play Tomorrowland’s main stage for its 2018 edition, in addition to hosting her own at the festival. Her name also found its way onto the top of notable underground lineups, like Awakenings, DGTL, Movement, and many more. Meanwhile, choice releases like her Heart Of Mine EP on Suara and Healer on Novamute found their way into techno crates all over the world.
Martin Garrix started off 2018 headlining the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which few musicians (and even fewer electronic musicians) have been asked to do in their lifetime. Over the course of the year, the 22-year-old released 12 tracks, where he continued to successfully navigate putting out chart topping pop collaborations like “Ocean” featuring Khalid while also remaining true to the hard-hitting big room sound that brought him into the spotlight in the first place with “Breach (Walk Alone)” alongside Blinders, and more. Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) was a focal point of the producer’s year, where he released a 5-track electronic EP over the 5 days of ADE. His new live show ANIMA, which was also debuted at ADE, continues to push the boundaries of what is possible within an electronic music show. Lastly, Garrix has not let global success keep him from innovating his sound and experimenting in a way that few producers of his stature have had the courage to do. His collaboration with New York subway singer Mike Yung titled “Dreamer” features a gospel choir and has a soulful sound that is hardly mainstream, but supremely authentic to Garrix’s ability to continue to produce music that is outside of the box.
While Mat Zo often acts as a behind the scenes player, his output in 2018 has been nothing short of spectacular. Growing his role as a tastemaker, his Mad Zoo roster now houses up and coming artists like Shadient, Wavedash, and Swardy, all of whom have had a massive year. However, the British DJ made major waves with his own music as well. 2018 marked Mat Zo’s return to Anjunadeep, with his textured and entrancing No Words EP and a two-hour “Best of” compilation. He also dabbled in drum & bass on his one-off single “Vice.” Showing a diversity of styles on a number of releases, Mat Zo kept his head down and put out some of 2018’s most exciting music.
Many wondered how trap stalwart RL Grime would be able to follow up what many considered to be a masterpiece in 2014’s VOID; he certainly set the bar high for himself. With his initial singles ranging from the pop-leaning “I Wanna Know,” to the trap heater “Pressure,” it was hard to tell which direction the album would take. However, diversity of styles is part of what made RL Grime’s comeback so intriguing. Dropping NOVA in July, RL Grime carved out a lane for himself in a variety of genres. From recruiting Joji and Chief Keef for the enthralling “OMG” to leaning into his garage influences on “Shoulda,” RL Grime took 2018 as an opportunity to establish himself as a top tier producer in this post-EDM world.