Electronic music is enjoying its peak in popularity these days. While some of the top-tier DJs don’t do much outside of pressing the play button and being hype men, there are an infinite amount that do a lot more than that. Read on for a list of our 20 favorite electronic/dance artists that aren’t quite the mainstream selections. We must note that without acts like Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Prodigy, Daft Punk, Underworld and other electronic music pioneers we wouldn’t even have the great acts that we enjoy today, and to them we tip our hats as well.
You can stream our Top 20 Electronic/Dance Artists in Indie/Underground playlist here.
Seeing Los Angeles-based artist Robert DeLong utilize dozens of instruments (and non-instruments like a Nintendo Wii controller) while also jumping behind a drum kit will have you thinking most other artists in the genre are just plain lazy. He’ll even bring someone from the crowd on stage and have them say random things, then loop their voice and use it in a track — now that’s impressive.
Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso
Electro-folk — that’s what you could call the pairing of Nick Sanborn and Amber Mead in Sylvan Esso. While Mead’s voice is at the forefront, it’s Sanborn’s minimalistic approach to beat-making and live looping that gives the duo their signature sound. Seeing him at SXSW do a solo set as Made of Oak has us giving him even more credit as an artist.
All of the DJs in Animal Collective are talented, but Panda Bear stands on his own as the most creative in our opinion. He’s released five solo records outside of his work with AC, and his visuals are as odd as they come. Not to mention, his samples selection are as out of the box as it gets. When you go see Panda Bear or Animal Collective, you end up feeling as though you’re on a hallucinogen even when you aren’t.
The ambient sounds of Tycho put him in a category of his own. San Francisco’s Scott Hansen started as a graphic design artist before turning to music, where he found a niche with his ultra-layered grooving electronic tunes. In a live setting, watching him and his band recreate those sounds with actual instruments is a joy. If you were at CRSSD Fest in March and got to see his sunset performance, count yourself among the lucky ones, because his music was made for watching the sun rise or set.
The xx has laid dormant for quite awhile, but in the wake of that, Brit-born Jamie xx has risen and proven he can do it on his own. He can put together a killer collaboration with someone like Young Thug for one of last year’s best tunes, but he can also spin a killer DJ set outside the work you’d find on his album. He might not fit the indie label anymore after nabbing a GRAMMY nomination last year. He’s also done killer remixes of the likes of Florence + The Machine, Adele and others.
Dan Deacon has got moves and his stage presence is unlike most other DJs. He will divide his crowd into groups and have them imitate the dance moves of his friends on stage. You will see more dance-offs at one Dan Deacon show than you will at an entire festival combined. He also has a thing called a “Wall of Life” — the anti-thesis to the metal-show “Wall of Death” — where he has one side of the crowd run into the other and give them high fives upon meeting in the middle. Oh, and his music is killer.
Kieran Hebden’s solo project Four Tet mixes elements of experimental and abstract electronica in ways you wouldn’t think possible. His ability to throw together remixes and bizarre mash-ups that just work in his DJ sets is nearly unparalleled. There isn’t a genre he doesn’t touch — except maybe country? He’ll mix in jazz and Latin music with Grimes and Radiohead. There’s nowhere he won’t go.
Watching this duo shred on their instruments in tiny Sonos Studio with no air conditioning was one of my biggest joys of 2015. Combining electronic music with earth-shattering riffs, Ratatat has been making killer music for quite awhile and are pretty groundbreaking in the genre. Their latest record Magnifique proves that these guys just get better with age.
Los Angeles based Goldroom is another DJ who has beefed up their live show dramatically in recent years. He has spurned successful remixes by groups like CHVRCHES while also spinning some great original tunes. You can expect his theatrics to be elevated to another level for this year’s Coachella.
Jennifer Lee aka ToKiMONSTA is a SoCal gal from Torrance who cut her teeth on the L.A. underground scene at the infamous Low End Theory club among other acts like Flying Lotus and Gaslamp Killer. She’s been producing her own stuff forever and is one of those rare acts that can fit in at the tiny clubs as well as on the festival circuit.
Todd Terje & The Olsens
Norwegian DJ Todd Terje’s project Todd Terje & The Olsens was one of the biggest hits at Coachella two years ago. That project incorporatse a live band to perform his bevvy of disco bangers, and during that famed festival set he was joined by legendary Bryan Ferry on stage. His BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix is essential listening in our book.
Belgian-born French-speaking Stromae is the king of Europe. His song “Alors on danse” achieved No. 1 status in Belgium, France, Sweden, Greece, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Switzerland and a slew of other countries. A cross between hip-hop and electronic, Stromae gives you a live show unlike anything else out there. It’s part French nightclub, part theater performance. He was a breakthrough artist at last year’s Coachella, and people who didn’t know anything about him left his set thinking it was the best they saw the whole weekend.
This Aussie DJ has blown up over the past year. She’s a force of nature on the stage, jumping around and revving the crowd all while live mixing and producing badass tracks. Wonderland recently allowed her followers to check her out on Periscope, where she set the camera up so you could see her deck while she put together a trial run for a set at SXSW. While most of her music is in the trap genre, she’s been going outside that field as of late. Catch her now before she blows up and crosses over into the mainstream.
Don’t let the mask fool you, Aaron Jerome aka SBTRKT is no gimmick. His remixes of Radiohead, M.I.A. and others put him on people’s radars right from the start. His live show with collaborator Sampha is always excellent — you’ll see Jerome on electro and acoustic drums and synthesizers while Sampha lays it down on two keyboards and sings.
I didn’t know much about this trap act until checking them out one night at Avalon in Hollywood. Over the course of the evening, Stooki Sound brought out a slew of special guest singers and had the crowd JUMPING and a sick dance circle going. They didn’t go on until midnight and everyone was into it. These UK producers are on the come up.
Clams Casino is Jersey hip-hop producer who has made tracks for A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller and others while also putting together some killer remixes of Lana del Rey and Washed Out. He’s been putting out awesome instrumental mixtapes for a number of years and we only wish he’d do more live sets.
Pendulum, the longtime Aussie group just made a comeback at this year’s ULTRA Fest and that is very promising for fans of live drum and bass (they even play their own instruments!). The performance included never-done-live versions of songs such as deadmau5’s “Ghosts N Stuff” with the producer joining them for the track and Knife Party’s “Begin Again.” Their remixes are always very peculiar and epic.
As Steven Ward wrote in his review of Neon Indian last month at the Fonda, Alan Palomo helped him time-travel back to when disco ruled the world. His groovy and sublime tracks will have you moving — and the guy can really sing as well. Enough said.
Credit SOPHIE for changing up Charli XCX‘s sound to a more bass-heavy sound — their performance together at SXSW was one of the most talked about of the week. They brought it back together at the El Rey just last weekend and this British producer (Samuel Long) has given pop music quite a twist with his productions. He kept his face out of the public eye for a long time, but we finally know what he looks like.
Synthwave producer Com Truise (Seth Haley) will make you feel like you’re in a Super Mario video game, as Ziv Biton wrote about his set at the Echoplex last year. He always delivers an excellent live set, working hard for the audience while on stage.
Words: Mark E. Ortega