The 50 Most Exciting DJs in the World (Right Now)
Right from the start, dance music has been integral to Crack Magazine.
There’s limitless capacity for innovation with electronic production, a seemingly bottomless mine of obscure treasures to be discovered in the crates, and a positive clubbing experience is still one of the best ways to connect with music. Many of our members of staff and contributors are committed to the lifestyle of club culture, and good DJs inform this magazine’s music policy.
In many ways it’s a difficult time for club culture – great venues are being washed away by waves of gentrification, and bad attitudes still pervade the industry. But despite these challenges, there’s a healthy demand for exciting, adventurous DJs.
So we’ve compiled this list in celebration. We wanted to create a snapshot of a scene that continues to thrive, despite its set backs, a selection which highlights underrated talent and new favourites alongside mainstays who never stop surprising us. The criteria for including DJs is fairly simple: these are the people who are creating a sense of genuine euphoria on the dancefloor right now. Some DJs achieve this with transformative ‘journeys’ or alien sounds, others excite a crowd by clashing together eccentric selections with a sense of unpredictability. Safe spaces and positive political ideas have always produced good energy at raves, and right now there are activists who are striving to reclaim the club as a sanctuary from the struggles of the outside world.
It’s safe to say every DJ in this list had brought us joy in some way, and it feels like there’s never been a better time to support them.
In the past 12 months, London’s sonic DNA has been transformed by a scintillating diasporic strand of Afrobeats, dancehall, RnB and hip-hop. Like a second coming of Wiley’s Wot Do You Call It? pleas of the early 2000s, the hybrid genre’s long gone unnamed. But for the past five years, P Montana has overlooked the debate around semantics and become a leading figurehead for the movement, collecting all the earworm hits and staying closely connected with the innovative young artists sculpting the sound. He was one of the early adopters – along with Kenny Allstar and Afro B – who curated roadblock events and played electrifying sets up and down the country, solidifying the wave as an unrivalled DIY phenomenon through radio sets, compilations and parties.
While he’s been known to play t.A.T.u. edits and model his aesthetic on WWE heavyweights of bygone decades, Kamixlo’s DJ sets sound distinctly un-ironic. Along with the Bala Club family, he represents a new school of DJs and producers who deal in high-impact, abrasive stylings shot through with theatrics and emotional sincerity. Where his productions find more subtle, poppy shades, Kamixlo’s DJ sets and mixes blend warped reggaeton sounds with supercharged pop edits and caustic streaks of nu-metal. Ignore at your peril.
As the founder of the Johns’ Kingdom collective, Pavel Milyakov aka Buttechno created a platform for the disparate sounds heard rattling around the art schools and suburbs of Moscow. Though artists like Kedr Livanskiy, HIIWAY and Jeff Boomhauer communicate their own stories in their own ways, they bonded with each other and Buttechno through shared ideas about art and DIY. His own sets, in clubs, on catwalks or at art shows, are loosely built around a conception of techno (though he says he doesn’t care about genre) – but truthfully it’s the determination to take music of this kind into daring and high-minded places that makes him such an exciting prospect.
Freewheeling through splintered footwork, twisted dancehall and supercharged bootlegs of chart bangers, Zora Jones and Sinjin Hawke’s Fractal Fantasy platform has become a stable for artists and creatives situated in the CGI nowhereland between URL and IRL. While the mesmeric 3D visuals and overproduced aesthetics are cool, it’s Sinjin and Zora’s DJ sets which really leave an impact. Zora’s dazzling FACT mix from earlier this year serves as a perfect introduction. Robust rhythms, contorted vocal samples and a swag-bag of exclusives all stitched together to bone-rattling effect.
The Regelbau collective, a tight-knit cluster of producers and DJs based out the genteel city of Aarhus, Denmark, had something of a breakout moment this year. Founding member Milán Zaks, better known as DJ Sports, has been one of the main motors behind their growing reputation. Like his productions, Zaks’ DJ sets are startlingly broad in scope, leaning hard into throwback genres: deep house – something of a Regelbau hallmark – new age, ambient, dub and drum’n’bass. But far from being a desiccated exercise in ‘90s excavation, you sense that, for Zaks, it’s the emotional response that guides his off-beam record selections. The result is thrilling, uplifting and utterly surprising.
DJ Sotofett and his brother DJ Fett Burger could make a strong case for being among the weirdest DJs out there. You could see Sotofett play just a handful of times, but his excursions into spiritual jazz, grubby electro, wheezing industrial, krautrock, hours of beatless, foggy ambient and warm and woody house will leave you reeling from pretty much every oddball offshoot of dance music you can think of. Somehow, none of these occasions inspire chin-stroking, instead they descend into the kind of loose, wild affairs that live long in the memory.
Either grouped with Ital under their collective Interplanetary Prophets moniker or as a solo selector, the sort of sensory overload Hieroglyphic Being aka Jamal Moss formulates behind his selected hardware is awkwardly imposing if not downright contentious. His sets lack linearity, often tessellating from slack-grooved funk to quickened disco edits to tempo-tempered krautrock all within an irregular bracket of segues. Yet it’s through this wilderness of eccentric dissent that Moss has established himself as one of the underground’s most compelling artists.
DJ Haram is incredible at bringing Jersey club, RnB and experimental club sounds from international producers together in her sets. The throbbing bass of the genres that dominate her mixes is even more powerful when seeing her shift between tracks in person. Her DJ sets create such an intimate relationship between the booth and the audience in front of it that the electric exchange of energy is almost tangible. Dress to sweat would be understated advice for going to see Haram play.
Willow’s story is of the type that publications like this one relish: discovered and championed by Move D, she became house music’s latest darling thanks to her breakout track Feel Me and subsequent solo release on Workshop. But the truth is, by that point she was already getting deserved props from DJing. Plus she was only hanging out with Move D because she had booked and supported him at 808 in Nottingham.
Her club sets are deep but still bang, threaded with the dubby textures of her productions, yet hint at her formative club experiences from electro nights at Sankeys. Best of all, she can stay in the mix, threading in all sorts with the best of them – all the while remaining unequivocally fun.
Discodromo’s approach to DJing has always been centred around their effervescence and their particularly strong party and label Cocktail D’Amour. There is a richness to their selections, whether it’s moody chugging house or lighter, more atmospheric pieces that service the long durations they often play. One of electronic music’s most consistently underrated acts, Discodromo’s full prowess is often only felt in the German capital but word is finally out, and their reputation is rightfully spreading across Europe and beyond.
As his Timedance label flourishes with releases by Ploy, Lurka and himself, Batu’s star as a DJ also continues to rise. There’s no shortage of talent in Bristol (though Timedance has as much history in Bath as its big neighbour), but nobody can claim to be carrying the flame passed on by pioneers like Pinch and Peverelist quite like Omar McCutcheon. His sets exist within house and techno but are built on the spaciness of dub. Staying true to the dubplate culture of 140, tracks by his peers are the bedrock of his mixes, the result of which is his truly singular sound.
There was talk of this year’s Dekmantel festival being the best yet. And of all the highlights, one particular performance blew up on the timeline – Volvox and fellow Discwoman member Umfang’s exhilarating b2b electro set. Volvox (who also runs the label and NYC clubnight Jack Dept.) began DJing around 2006, and over the years she’s perfected an intense approach which sees her fluctuate between techno, electro, acid and EBM, making her high-octane sets the perfect soundtrack for the rebellious spirit of a good dancefloor.
There’s a certain magic to Zaltan’s selections, found in both the endlessly listenable, strung out dreaminess of his NTS shows and his club sets, which are full of twists and turns. Each carry a rare charisma, careening through Parisian flea market finds, slammers courtesy of his formative years in London during the halcyon days of acid house, and the music of Antinote, the esteemed label he co-runs. It may be Antinote – which has released stunning, playful and killer records from a tight-knit family of artists since 2012 – that put Zaltan on the map, but it’s his skills as a DJ which have kept him there: masterful selections with heaps of Parisian charm.
Ok, so this one’s a little out there but collectives have been an undeniable, driving force for good in dance music of late. As one of the key crews in the movement, SIREN deserve their props. The London-based collective has been throwing inclusive parties and calling out your shitty white bro techno nights since 2016. An evening with SIREN strives to be DIY at heart and women and LGBTQ dominated, championing their ethos of inclusive raving. This plays out in wild nights at Bloc’s Chapter Femme earlier this year, and their own high-energy club shows celebrating rising artists and residents. The music selection is dappled with intricate and expansive tune choices, turning your perception of techno, minimal, breakbeat and acid on its head.
Over the last five years, the inimitable sounds of Lisbon’s surrounding barrios have caused shockwaves on dancefloors all over the world. As the godfather of the genre, DJ Marfox’s DJ sets embody the infectious frenzy of the sound. Sets in his hometown and overseas spark atmospheres of hysteria with diverse, energetic crowds hurling their bodies around to the clomping, high BPM thud of this unparalleled party music. While unleashing his own productions and cuts from the Príncipe family, Marfox has also been known to sew current bangers from hip-hop and R&B into the jagged fabric of his own sound. A godfather who flies the flag proud and loud.
Paula Temple has been DJing for over two decades, refining her highly technical style into a fine art. A former vinyl DJ, nowadays her sets are a hybrid between live performance and traditional DJing. By applying her expert grasp of cutting edge tech, she pulls from sections of tracks and edits, layering and disassembling, always sensitive to the energy of the room. The result are visceral techno sets that are much more than blunt force. And yeah, they really, really bang, too. In an age of where digital DJing is the norm, few artists feel as conversant with its full potential as Temple.
As South Africa’s electronic music boom creates commercial opportunities for more mainstream names, the bubbling undercurrent is still the most thrilling thing to follow. Gqom is no longer a best-kept-secret – high profile label nights in Europe and extensive editorial pieces across the board have solidified the genre’s status in contemporary clubland. But DJ Lag, a pioneer of the movement and one of the most prominent producers of the genre, still oozes with a raw, DIY energy whenever he performs. In short, he plays to make sure you’ll never forget the first time you heard the snapping, jarring rhythms of the Durban underground.
Those who operate at the vanguard of culture often take on the role of shock troops, mapping out strange territories. This is certainly true of Ashland Mines who, alongside peers at NYC’s GHE20G0TH1K parties, finessed a soundtrack to a subculture which demanded the dancefloor be a site of subversion. By pulling together – and breaking apart – sounds that drew as much from mainstream pop and the agitated, energised rhythms of black and Latinx culture, Total Freedom queered conventional wisdom of what a club set should be. And while his DJ style is still copped by a wave of imitators armed with abrasive samples and Beyoncé acapellas, few manage to foment the same fractious energy and white-knuckle thrills.
As loyal as the Chicago-rooted DJ Earl is towards the TEKLIFE crew, his sets place him a little way apart. While discreet inferences of classic juke and booty music link back to the movement’s founders such as RP Boo and DJ Spinn, Earl’s sets embody the generational mutations led by contemporary footwork artists; many of whom have gifted the scene with a greater breadth of sonic influences. The zeal of his track selections – habitually accelerating beyond 160 BPM and sustained over two hour slots – marries perfectly with the dance crews that accompany him on tours. An evolutionary experience.
Championing the future-proof sounds of London’s contemporary underground through her Radar Radio show and lighting up DJ sets with a heady mix of reggaeton, grime, UK drill and transatlantic trap, Becker is an astute curator and an exceptionally precise technical DJ. Her Acrylic radio show and night series has welcomed guests ranging from Khan right through to Swing Ting and Staycore co-founder Dinamarca – placing Becker at the epicentre of experimental club music’s next gen.
There’s an undeniable warmth that radiates out of Shanti Celeste when she plays records. Her sunny disposition can be felt through her selections, whatever situation she’s playing in. That’s not to say she can’t ramp up the intensity when she wants to, but much like her productions there’s a common melodic thread in the house, electro and techno she reaches for that could brighten up the darkest party. Having cut her teeth playing extensively around Bristol, she’s since imparted her feel-good gospel on every major festival line-up going, managing to maintain an intimacy that speaks to the smaller spots she started out in before becoming a main stage booking.
Noizar & Borys
A familiar narrative has emerged out of Ukraine recently, as a new generation of Europe-facing creatives, promoters and artists – buoyed by youth-led revolutionary movements – has established its own sense of identity. As usual, this cultural revolution has played out not in the political arena, but across the country’s underground spaces, studios and nightclubs. As residents of Closer, the most established of Kiev’s clubs, Noizar & Borys are at the heart of this underground cultural groundswell. Their b2b DJ sets – which shape-shift between acid, trippy minimalism and heads down techno – channel the energy and freedom of young Ukraine. Their afternoon set at Brave! Factory Festival was the talk of the festival, well, among the foreign journalists. The long-time fans didn’t need telling.
Orpheu The Wizard
Tucked away in the depths of the red light district, Amsterdam institution Red Light Radio is endlessly listenable, hosting reams of quality wigged out sounds from a tiny, smoke-filled studio. Amsterdam’s finest broadcaster of good vibes and deep cuts, the station was co-founded by Orpheu The Wizard, a man with impeccable taste and a bottomless record crate. As a DJ, Orpheu is tireless. In a scene heaped with ‘selectors’, he’s pulled ahead in recent years, showing that his gleeful approach to the dance knows no bounds. His passion for house, disco, soul and rarities regularly whips up dancefloor euphoria, conjuring ear to ear grins across the crowd.
Merging the sonic DNA of his native Colombia with years spent in stuffy Manchester basements, the electrifying sound of Florentino’s reggaeton productions is turned up to 11 in his scintillating DJ sets. Fiery reggaeton edits and UK bass VIPs are all melded together with heat and pace. Now signed with the dancehall futurists at Mixpak, his rise feels imminent as he continues to tear up dancefloors with sets you can’t stand still to. The fuego keeps burning.
The residents of fabled Dusseldorf club Salon des Amateurs regularly peer into the depths of murky weirdness, but each with their own flare. Hot on the heels of Lena Willikens and Tolouse Low Trax, Vlamidir Ivkovic is the latest of the club’s roster to tour extensively outside of its intimate confines, and his style very much mines its own adventurous path. While his sound is hard to define, Ivkovic embodies a dark elegance, his sets plunging deep with anything from moody breakbeat, abrasive EBM, pitched down trance and abstract obscurities while reaching high with glistening euphoria. If you can’t make it to the Salon any time soon, this set from Dekmantel is a good place to start. It’s totally insane and equally intoxicating, tracing a line from absorbing, percussive wig outs to Underworld.
An expert at rocking the party, the main stage, and the club, NYC-via-Miami’s Jubilee has proven herself to be one of the most adept purveyors of the new American sound. The manic selector’s sets are fruitful yet focused, centered upon a celebration of the diverse specificities of the North American musical landscape by highlighting regional pockets of Miami bass, freestyle, NYC dancehall, ballroom house, Baltimore and Jersey club. Jubilee represents the diaspora-born dynamism of the best of American dance with glee, moving dancers into a frenzy through her party education built around both her ace original productions and inspired selections.
As the newest resident at Panorama Bar, Roi Perez has some big shoes to fill. Not that he needs to worry, the Israel-born, Berlin-based DJ is crafting some of the most propulsive, sweat-soaked sets in the game right now. It’s an approach that’s taking him across the globe to play some of the world’s most fun-loving parties, and he’s quickly becoming known for his eclectic sets, careening through jacking house, cosmic techno, lustful disco, thick, muggy breakbeat and more. If you were to pick one element that ties his selections together, it would be a hypnotic, seductive pulse.
Cutting her teeth with Copenhagen DJ collective Apeiron Crew, Courtesy aka Najaaraq Nicoline Vestbirk has a little bit more space in the booth nowadays – and it shows. An expert selector, her sets are masterful excursions in streamlined techno by turns deep, flinty and otherworldly. But beneath that immaculate control and icy cool is an ability to know just when to mess with the crowd – we saw her drop Borai’s Anybody from London at an underground club in Arhuus. The response was nothing short of riotous.
Leif has been a firm insider’s tip for a few years now. The Freerotation regular and Until My Heart Stops label boss is a favourite with DJs like Ben UFO. This particular connection makes sense; similarly to the Hessle Audio boss, Leif’s sets reach celestial heights. Cherrypicking elements from across the history of electronic music, Leif manages to craft something entirely new, with hypnotic, time-stretching experiences that keep crowds locked in to his strangely elegant groove.
Let there be no doubt that Jacob Martin feels every ounce of the music that he plays as Hodge. The restless energy of the man behind the music is plain to see as he pogos around behind the decks, and it shows in the taut, bristling brand of mutant techno he’s best known for. The Bristol-based producer’s sound has roundly defined the post-dubstep fallout, championing the bassweight of UK soundsystem culture while embracing the unrelenting machinations of European techno in a style that rightly earned him a place amongst the highly regarded Livity Sound crew. With a razor-sharp focus and an unflinchingly modernist approach, he’s one of the strongest operators in this ill-defined bass music landscape.
When it comes to igniting the dancefloor, few can match the intensity of DJ Bone. Eric Dulan’s brand of high-octane Detroit techno manages to keep the tempo high and the kick drums relentless without losing that all-important soul. Sounding bright and bold at a time when hard techno often means monochrome industrial textures, it’s not uncommon to find him seamlessly slinging a Motown record into the mix while he juggles another two pumping 130 BPM juggernauts. More than comfortable on three decks and with enough fader tricks to shame the most avid of turntablists, DJ Bone is a perfect emblem for the life-affirming power of slamming Motor City techno.
It takes something special to retain mystique in the face of saturation, yet somehow Harvey has managed it. It’s a long time since his return to the UK from his wilderness years in America, and seeing his name on a bill is no longer the deified, rarified thing it was five years ago. Yet his presence behind the decks – glinting, bespectacled, mane slicked-back – is still a thing of awe and reverence. In an era where the role of the DJ is increasingly reduced and sanitised, he is a powerful symbol of the richness of real clubbing. Until someone else comes close, until someone else spreads wild grins in the darkness like Harvey, he will remain peerless.
When Palms Trax broke through in 2014, he was one of dance music’s fastest rising stars. Now he’s one of the scene’s most cherished DJs, and his stock seems to be consistently rising – more recently the irresistible groove of his sets has become a festival favourite. It’s easy to see why his floor-ready sound resonates with crowds across the world; his thrilling approach to euphoric, dust-laden house, disco and Afro excursions is always sure to make bodies move.
Jane Fitz is the kind of character that makes the underground continue to have potency. Long time Freerotation resident and Field Maneuvers mainstay, Fitz’s commitment to playing events that have a small but loyal following including her own Night Moves party at The Pickle Factory have left her with an undeniable following, her name a buzzword for quality on any line-up. Deploying records across myriad genres, it’s been reassuring to see one of the most consistent DJs out there getting picked to play on increasingly larger line-ups.
An acuity and genuine zeal for discovering obscure records and, by extension, cultivating that same sense of discovery on the dancefloor, mark Sam Shepherd’s performances out as some of the most exciting you’re likely to experience.
Extended sets cruise through spiritual jazz, highlife and all manner of rare groove and disco – the logical end result of Shepherd’s famously deep crate-digging – without once dropping in energy.
His You’re A Melody parties too, are celebrated for their inimitable sense of community and fun. Its last UK incarnation at St. John-at-Hackney Church was a 7-hour love-in, the perfect manifestation of Floating Points’ inquisitive approach to dance music. There were no headliners or set times, five DJs set to play, and the only thing visible was a halo of coloured lights bathing the faceless DJs and decks. The crowd’s reaction told its own story as every obscurity or mythical pressing pulsated through the speakers.
On that night, as with all of Floating Points’ endeavours, the music came first: and that palpable love for what he does is why he remains one of the most exciting DJs in the game.
Whether she’s holding court at Berghain, a heaving back room in Brooklyn or steering a sopping wet crowd at an open air Boiler Room, Umfang has a way of intuitively tapping into an audience’s raving psyche. The New York via Kansas DJ, real name Emma Olson, has had stellar solo shows from London’s Corsica to Detroit’s Grenadier Club and back again. Her Technofeminism nights in NY have further cemented her reputation. Wonderfully textured, Umfang’s sets slide from driving acid to percolating, dark techno with ease, and the emotional intelligence she shows as both a selector and producer is really special – you’ll leave an Umfang night sweatily spinning on your axis.
Kahn and Neek
Although often painted as two of the UK’s meanest warlord selectors, Kahn & Neek’s ruff-and-tuff reputation often masks how intelligent and fluid their DJ sets really are. Rolling between grime, dubstep and various mutated sound system styles (and all on wax), they’re as comfortable playing meditative, heads-only DMZ raves as they are playing to rowdy festival crowds, matching their output accordingly.
Masters of pulling out records from seemingly nowhere – often VIPs or dubs they’ll have cut especially for whatever party they’re playing – the two, having both learnt to DJ as kids, are always in-sync with their movements too. Informed by their own individual and collective musical pursuits away from Kahn & Neek, especially as part of 11-strong musical collective Young Echo and as label heads of their Bandulu label, it is their insistence on staying true to traditional sound system culture that makes them such an exciting and powerful DJ outfit.
Through her productions, Moko Shibata makes house music. But that title can only be applied loosely. The depth and breadth of influences which flow into her sound result in a product full of undertones and subtle shades. It’s an artistic ethos which the Tokyo-based DJ also applies to sets – blissfully careening from beat-less ambient textures to sugar-lacquered house with ease, creating the kinds of slow-burning, fizzy euphorias which leave you breathless. Still making her mark as a DJ on the UK/EU circuit, Powder’s meticulous style is destined to cut through the noise.
It’s always a pleasure to see a DJ, a cult-status DJ at that, who plays for themselves as much as a crowd. The soulful, slick voice of the Detroit legend has probably been sampled and broadcast in as many clubs as he’s graced around the world, and when he’s there in the flesh, it’s a riot. He cuts an odd figure onstage: at times veiled like a grieving widow, earbuds rather than headphones, surrounded by merch-wearing hoards of fans. Moodymann set the electronic music scene gabbing after a particularly divisive set at Field Day back in June when he played Sex on Fire – a playful move that only Moodymann could pull off. But then, you sense he enjoys throwing a room into chaos with a 4am jaunt in Notorious B.I.G or mixing The Beatles into Future.
Around 2013, JR Seaton underwent something of a metamorphosis. Reappearing solo as Call Super, having initially started the project with Matt Waites, he released a string of releases on Houndstooth that seemed to expand what was possible from a techno release, and with his debut album Suzi Ecto he concocted what many see as a modern classic.
His DJ sets took a little longer to garner the same praise, but gradually, the same disregard for expectation in the booth earned comparisons with peers like Objekt and Ben UFO, with Call Super maybe seen as a little softer, more oblique. He still does techno with the best of them of course, and is capable of plunging to concussive depths with little warning, but there’s something of a wry smile in the way he’ll flirt with cheese one minute and the deadly seriousness the next.
Unpredictability is a great asset in modern DJing, but it’s a tough path to tread: for every Ben UFO, a DJ whose whims can do no wrong, there’s a thousand mavericks clearing thousands of floors on a nightly basis. Call Super though, influenced perhaps by his jazz clarinettist father, is a natural, keeping his sets loose but threaded innately with groove. When watching him play or hearing his tracks, you’re struck by the same thing: that thrill of watching someone tear up the rulebook with reckless abandon.
Expect to bunnyhop genres, oceans and eras in a night with Josey Rebelle. The London DJ and radio host can get an unfaltering conversation going between a stormy Detroit techno track and soul-busting 70s funk, with a sprinkling of TLC for a whooping, screwfacing audience. She’s fearless, and that reverberates out from her decks whether on the Croatian coastline or a strobed room in Fabric. A room moves with Rebelle like metronomic tidal waves, as she delves fluidly through her exciting and considered collection of records that showcase a brilliant creative mind. Plus, she has a pretty good time doing it.
The Black Madonna
There are DJs who impress with their knowledge of music, those who inspire with their technical skills, and those whose charisma behind the decks is infectious. Marea Stamper manages all three, bringing to bear those decades spent refining her skills and soaking up the traditions of her adopted hometown of Chicago. With this rock solid foundation, her sets deliver on the club’s promise as a place of freedom, merging classicist house and techno impulses with, say, a judiciously timed drop of Frankie Goes to Hollywood or an obscure jungle record. If it feels right, it’s all good – no judgement. Indeed, her rancour is reserved for those who don’t share her belief in club music’s founding principles, directing righteous anger towards those who perpetuate misogyny or homophobia in the scene. Suffice to say, club culture would be considerably less interesting without her.
Watching a long Ricardo Villalobos DJ set remains one of electronic music’s most freewheeling and unique experiences. The selectivity of where he plays for extended periods, coupled with the personality he injects into everything he does, has made him a truly enduring and intriguing figure in the electronic canon. His reticence towards the media was briefly halted before this year’s Houghton festival in which he showcased a mellowing to his character, telling of how fatherhood has curbed some of his more indulgent personality traits. “My wife is not pushing me to earn more money – she says what they need is me, as a father, to be there. It’s really nice, it’s rescuing me from trying to be more successful. Because I really try my best to not be more successful. I’m anti-promotion, anti-internet.”
However, it’s his ability to elongate time and stretch audiences that makes him such a bedrock for so many. From fabric sessions finishing on Sunday afternoon to mammoth b2bs with close friends such as Zip and Raresh, Villalobos remains the pin-up for minimal techno, though in many ways he is very removed from the genre, his sets wondering into tougher and often undefinable sonic territory frequently enough make the badge feel a little misjudged.
Waiting up to catch him DJ often feels like a rite of passage for those unversed in the extremes of club culture, and for regulars he still represents someone who does what he does in wild contrast to other selectors.
While Hunee may appear to sit comfortably among the teetotal, chin-stroking selectors crowd, his earnest character does little to convey what an excellent party DJ he is. Bouncing breezily between jazzy-house numbers and string-soaked disco, with a discerning ear for real fun, the Korean selector has deservedly become the sort of DJ it’s impossible not to like. Releasing on labels like Rush Hour and Future Times, and boasting an NTS residency, he sits at the centre of a perfectly curated and totally irresistible ecosystem of his own making. Tweeting back in 2015 against the violence phrases like “smashing it” in reference to DJing, he spoke of “searching for another relationship with the dancefloor.” Safe to say he has found just that – sincere, soulful and singular.
While most of us first encountered Avalon Emerson via the thundering beauty of 2016’s The Frontier, the Arizona-born talent is a DJ first and foremost, who cut her teeth at warehouse parties in the Bay Area long before going down the producer route. In 2017 she’s been one of the hardest touring DJs in the world, with over 80 gigs in the first nine months of the year across venues as big as Panorama Bar and as low-key as London’s Moth Club. Her bookish exterior provides the perfect cover for her no-fucks-given style at the controls, which you might describe as eclectic but tough – she’s not afraid to bring boisterous techno to a tiny room or to unleash the curveballs on a festival crowd.
As well as drawing from dance music past and present and dropping in plenty of her own remixes (Junior Boys, Bwana, Björk), Emerson has also shown a fondness for freaking out her audience with a well-chosen archive sample, like the vintage clip of Patti Smith raging against totalitarianism which cuts through her 2015 Electronic Beats mix. The perfect storm of talent, ambition, and sheer hard graft – expect world-conquering things from this DJ in 2018.
A Stingray set is an intense view into the dark, visceral realms of the Detroit sound. Behind the black balaclava first gifted to him by James Stinson lies a rich and deep psyche which crafted the underground that artists today fall over themselves to comprehend.
As a young generation of inquisitive fans move away from our current conventions of electronic music to delve into its roots, they find Drexciya and Underground Resistance, both groups which Stingray, real name Sherard Ingram, has a close affiliation with. There lies his evocative, unrelenting brand of electro and techno – always striking that idiosyncratic balance between aggression and riotous fun.
Having moved from Detroit to Berlin last year, Stingray has had the time and space to showcase his rapid fire, hip-hop influenced mixing that jolts any flagging crowds to life again with jagged, hypnotic cuts and extra-terrestrial technical skill. Leave any ideas of set arcs or rhythm structures at the door, and prepare for a paradoxical anarchy helmed by the decades-spanning heavyweight artist.
Sometimes what makes a DJ special is how different they are, and few out there could claim to sound anything like Lena Willikens. Her roots in infamous Düsseldorf club Salon des Amateurs and affiliation to Matias Aguayo’s Cómeme label are both indicators of a left of centre attitude, but Willikens’ brand of sonic sorcery is very much her own.
Quite how she manages to seemingly shun the well-trodden tropes of dance music while being eminently danceable is anyone’s guess. Should you find yourself in her presence on the decks, the chances are you’ll wind up shaking involuntarily to sounds you would have struggled to imagine before they come unfurling out of the speaker with the same spectral quality as the smoke that lingers at the end of one of Willikens’ cigarettes. Indeed, her tobacco habit adds to the noirish fantasy that her music spells out, where arcane incantations coax their way out of errant synthesisers and non-conformist rhythms.
What makes Willikens’ performances so alluring is their existence outside of time. The best dancefloor experiences happen without a shred of clock-watching, and with the curious and mysterious selections she is able to conjure up, it’s hard to know whether you’ve been transported back to a Genesis P-Orridge-approved hoedown in the late 70s or a low-key Bunker Records party in The Hague in the 90s, or somewhere else altogether. It would be pointless to try and pin genre tags onto her style, but between those two reference points and drifting out to more exotic climes is where you’ll find Lena, beguiling, spooky and supremely fun.
Few DJs stir up as much excitement with each new mix drop than TJ Hertz – and for good reason. While often a chaotic listen due to numerous changes in BPM, his sound is characterised by a hurtling velocity and breathtaking palette of music. Technically on point and a seamless vinyl DJ, his selections frequently go past the point of safety into wilder textures or, at the other end of the spectrum, into the occasional shameless pop-drop, for example Run DMC sauntering into his latest Freerotation mix and somehow passing through unscathed.
As a DJ, his talent also lies in the quick pace of his selections: tunes are often only afforded a few minutes in the mix, giving his sets a relentless vitality often more associated with bass music. On recent production smash Needle and Thread this side of his character was explored further with its broken beat leanings, making it one of the liveliest tracks of the year and entirely symptomatic of his DJ focus – rich in variation and constantly moving.
Objekt represents a strand of British DJ talent who academically hunt records old and new to create stunning explorations within DJ sets, no matter how risqué.
You’d be hard pressed to find a DJ who captures the spirit of contemporary DJing quite like Ben Thomson. For too long it was assumed that an artist was only worth booking if they had a raft of hot tracks behind them, but his rise to prominence as one third of Hessle Audio helped usher in a new era of respect for DJs who just DJ.
While his co-conspirators Pearson Sound and Pangaea were fully locked into the later mutations of the dubstep zeitgeist with their head-spinning productions, the man best known as Ben UFO studiously built up a formidable arsenal of house, techno, jungle, garage, grime and just about every corner of deep-cover electronic dance music going.
It didn’t take long for Thomson to be recognised independently of his Hessle mantle, and since then his name has become something of a byword for undisputed quality. His dedication to digging may have helped encourage this status, but equally important is his style of DJing. Instead of mining one particular sound he treats each track as an individual set piece, and makes staggeringly light work of moving from one vibe to another without ever sounding stilted.
That’s what makes Thomson so much fun to listen and dance to – simple, unfussy segues from one killer, mostly unfamiliar, tune to another. No doubt it helps that he has access to unreleased wares from some of the finest in the scene, but he’s just as likely to be playing a mind-bending cut from the mid-90s you never heard before, and that’s what makes a world-class DJ.
There’s no mistaking a Helena Hauff set. Lesser DJs might reach for the same tracks, digging into her signature seam of acid-fried electro, grubby techno and boot-stomping EBM, but few can recreate a dancefloor in the sweaty grip of Hauffmania. The Hamburg DJ’s unstoppable rise has come with zero concessions to mainstream tastes; since making her name at the legendary Golden Pudel by mixing obscure minimal wave with tough-as-nails throbbers from artists like Front 242 and Luke Eargoggle, she’s made the leap to festival headliner without diluting her style one bit. And in a world of try-hards and self-promoters, Hauff’s edge of eccentricity actually seems to ring true: she claims to have never bought any records as a teenager. She lived off white bread and cheese for months to afford her Roland drum machines. She’s not on Facebook and she doesn’t have a credit card. Her entire existence seems as refreshingly analogue as her record collection.
But all that would just be PR fluff if she wasn’t one of the most reliably banging DJs around. Hauff delivers her sets like intravenous lightning, sparking even the most jaded raver into life with her unpredictable manoeuvres between 303 squelch, neck-snapping electro and absolutely rabid techno. In the booth you’ll find her knocking back whiskey as she pulls out white labels, totally absorbed in the music but having a shitload of fun while she’s at it. Look out for those tell-tale squares of blue light as desperate Shazammers try to crib her style – but trust us, those tracks never sound quite the same at home.