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Zedd, Hardwell, Krewella lead invasion of the world's best DJs at Sunset Music Festival in Tampa

Who is the world's best DJ?

Well, that's subjective, isn't it? Forbes pegs We Found Love beat merchant Calvin Harris as the world's highest-paid DJ, earning $46 million in 2013. Rolling Stone cover boy Skrillex has one of the most recognizable faces in modern music, and he'll be one of the top draws at this year's Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza music festivals. Avicii is a Top 40 machine thanks to singles like Wake Up, Levels and the Coldplay collaboration A Sky Full of Stars. Oh, and let's not forget Daft Punk, who just won the Grammy for Album and Record of the Year.

And then there's Hardwell.

Wait a second. Hard-who?

The 25-year-old Dutch electro-house producer born Robbert van de Corput has taken dance music by storm over the past three years, culminating in his coronation as the world's No. 1 DJ by industry bible DJ Magazine, whose annual Top 100 rankings are much anticipated and dissected in the electronic music world. Previous titleholders include David Guetta, Tiesto and Armin van Buuren.

But in electronic dance music — as in most music genres — there is often a discrepancy between acclaim and fame. Modern rave culture is so all-consuming — the music, the fashion, the technology, the sheer physicality of it all — that the DJs on stage are not necessarily the main attractions. So while Hardwell may be a god in Ibiza, he's never produced a Katy Perry single, never so much as sniffed American chart success. There's an excellent chance you've never heard of him.

That could change this weekend. Hardwell will co-headline the third annual Sunset Music Festival, Saturday and Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. After drawing 22,000 neon-clad ravers to RayJay in 2013, Sunset expanded to two days for 2014, with more than 40 DJs on three eye-popping stages, performing for upwards of 50,000 people.

Booking a guy many consider the best DJ on earth was one of Sunset's top goals, said festival co-organizer John Santoro.

"It was a plan from the get-go to get Hardwell — we felt like that was the level of talent we were shooting for," Santoro said. "He just brings that level of entertainment, that connection to the crowd. It's going to be pretty ballistic."

While Sunset is bringing in several artists with huge pop-crossover appeal (Zedd, Krewella, the Crystal Method, DJ Snake), this year's lineup is still a jaw-dropper for fans of pure EDM, with a whopping 14 of DJ Mag's Top 100 DJs coming to Tampa. To get you amped for Sunset '14, here they are, starting with the world's reigning No. 1.

1. Hardwell

Maybe it only seems like Hardwell came out of nowhere. After all, he's been DJ'ing since age 12, and signed his first record deal at 14. Under the tutelage of mentor and fellow Dutchman Tiesto, he became a sensation in the Netherlands, across Europe and eventually everywhere, thanks in no small part to a wildly popular YouTube channel. A burgeoning multimedia mogul, he has a record label (Revealed Recordings), radio show and podcast (Hardwell On Air), a new documentary (I Am Hardwell) and in March he closed out the main stage at Miami's massive Ultra Music Festival. So yeah, maybe he does deserve that No. 1 ranking.

14. W&W

Who and what? Actually, it stands for Willem van Hanegem and Wardt van der Harst (um, yeah, we'll stick with W&W, thanks). Whether collaborating with other big-name DJs or releasing work on their own, the Dutch producers are among the world's premiere purveyors of the hypnotic, repetitive genre known as trance, which they infuse with their signature thudding bass and distorted squiggles.

20. Aly & Fila

Proving that dance music knows no geographic boundaries, Egyptian duo Aly Amr Fathalah and Fadi Wassef Naguib have been ranked in the Top 30 (give or take) of DJ Mag's annual rankings every year since 2008. They're superstars in the world of trance; the world's biggest trance DJ, Armin Van Buuren, is a huge fan.

23. Headhunterz

Never mind the creative pluralization. Headhunterz is just one dude, Dutchman Willem Rebergen, who spins a newer niche genre called hardstyle, which blends the propulsive thrust of trance and house music with dubstep's unmitigated aggro hedonism. Santoro said Headhunterz is "skyrocketing" and could be even higher on this list next year. The pit'll be raging for this one.

24. Zedd

Russian-born, German-raised Anton Zaslavski is lapping the field when it comes to writing EDM hits. From his breakthrough crossover single Spectrum to his Grammy-winning Clarity, from his gigantic Stay the Night with Paramore's Hayley Williams to his Divergent soundtrack contribution Find You, Zedd seems relentless in his pursuit of pop stardom — and so far, it's working. Zedd's concert at the Ritz Ybor last September sold out well in advance; those who did score a ticket were treated to an eye-popping light show and a setlist that read like a Top 40 chart. All of 24, he's easily the top candidate to become the next David Guetta or Calvin Harris — if he hasn't surpassed them already. "He is the complete package," Santoro said.

28. Andrew Rayel

A landlocked Soviet Bloc republic about the size of Maryland, with the lowest per-capita income in all of Europe, Moldova is no one's ideal party-weekend destination. Can native son Andrew Rayel change that? Well, he's certainly got confidence. His website describes him as a "modern day Mozart ... the pride of Moldova ... the unofficial heir to the throne of trance." Bold talk, but the music he creates is massive, dramatic and unapologetically over-the-top. At just 21 years old, he's one to watch.

32. Paul van Dyk

Hardwell may be DJ Mag's current No. 1 DJ, but German-born Paul van Dyk, below, is a two-time titleholder, scoring the top slot in 2005 and 2006. Born Matthias Paul, he's regarded as a forefather of trance music, but atmospheric singles like Forbidden Fruit and Let Go are as big and sweeping as anything by U2 or Depeche Mode. Arguably Sunset's fifth headliner, he'll headline its trance stage Saturday before playing the first official after-party later that night at the Amphitheatre.

44. Krewella

The EDM world tends to catch hell for being a boys' club, but few DJs, male or female, can throw it down quite like Krewella. One of the few repeat performers from Sunset '13, the Chicago trio — singer-songwriter sisters Yasmine and Jahan Yousaf and producer Kris "Rain Man" Trindl — have undeniable pop chops, blending pianos, synthesizers, teen-queen vocals and sinister bass drops into their own signature sound. Their smash hit Alive was only the beginning; follow-up singles Live For the Night, We Go Down and Enjoy the Ride are just as sugary sweet.

49. Orjan Nilsen

Though he's been making music almost his entire life, babyfaced Norwegian Orjan Nilsen, 31, is a relative newcomer to the EDM A-list. His 2013 album No Saint Out Of Me features some darker instrumental tracks, but it's the strong, melodic hooks of his vocal tracks — such as In The Air with Owl City's Adam Young — that could position him for pop-crossover success.

55. Tommy Trash

Australian electro house producer Tommy Trash (nee Olsen) made his name producing high-energy tracks like The End and All My Friends, and has the respect of some of the world's best EDM artists. He's remixed tracks for the likes of Zedd, Swedish House Mafia and Timbaland, and his mix of the Deadmau5 hit The Veldt was nominated for a Grammy.

71. Blasterjaxx

Surprise, surprise: More Dutchmen. What are they putting in the water in Amsterdam? (Wait — don't answer that.) Thom Jongkind and Idir Makhlaf are Blasterjaxx, two eclectic, forward-thinking, yet crowd-pleasing dudes who cite Tiesto and Hardwell as influences. Hardwell's recent mix of their single Fifteen propelled them to another level on the EDM circuit.

74. Dannic

It's all in who you know, isn't it? Like Tiesto, Hardwell and W&W, electro house producer Dannic hails from the relatively small city of Breda in the Netherlands. And just as Tiesto mentored Hardwell, Hardwell has mentored the man born Daan Romers, signing him to a record deal and taking him on tour. That should bode well for Dannic in 2014.

80. Cosmic Gate

Collaborators since the late '90s, Germans Nic Chagall and Stefan "Bossi" Bossems are gearing up for the June release of their sixth studio album, Start to Feel (check out the distorted synths of lead single Falling Back on YouTube), but maybe they'll regale us with their triumphant 2000 remix of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. They also have a strong local following, Santoro said, having played this area several times in the past three years. "Every date in Tampa is a home run," he said.

89. Benny Benassi

A well-liked and -respected EDM veteran, Benny Benassi has achieved a unique career double. In 2008, he won the Grammy for Best Remixed Recording for his mix of Public Enemy's Bring the Noise; four years later, Skrillex won the same award for remixing Benassi's song Cinema. The Italian producer's versatile skill set and resume has yielded a decade of club hits (like 2003's Satisfaction), but mainstream fans may know him for co-writing and producing Chris Brown's soaring single Beautiful People, or for his work on Madonna's album MDNA. Santoro calls him "my personal favorite."

Sunset Music Festival

The festival runs 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday in the north lot of Raymond James Stadium, 4201 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. Open to ages 18 and up; ID required for admission. Two-day tickets are $149 for general admission, $219 for VIP; single-day tickets are $94-$134. Web-enabled LED "Glow Motion" bracelets, which pulse and change color to the beat of the music, are available for $17. the For more details, including a long list of acceptable and prohibited items, see smftampa.com.

The lineup by day

Saturday: Zedd, Benny Benassi, Paul van Dyk, Chainsmokers, Borgore, Cosmic Gate, Aly & Fila, Headhunterz, W&W, Orjan Nilsen, Andrew Rayel, Adventure Club, Deorro, Digital Lab, DVBBS, Firebeatz, Brillz, Candyland, Luminox, Yellow Claw, Arnej, Ben Nicky, Sied Van Riel

Sunday: Hardwell, Krewella, DJ Snake, Blasterjaxx, the Crystal Method, Tommy Trash, Cash Cash, Dannic, David Solano, Zomboy, Cookie Monsta, Dirtyphonics, ETC!ETC!, Funtcase, Kill Paris, Koan Sound, Let's Be Friends, M4SONIC, Alex Metric, Brodinski, David Heartbreak, Solidisco, Tchami, Treasure Fingers

Security

Safety and security at electronic music festivals is always a hot topic, due to the massive crowds and drug use that have become synonymous with the genre. At Miami's Ultra Music Festival in May, a security guard was critically injured by a trampling crowd, prompting city officials to briefly consider banning the festival. The last two years, Sunset has managed to avoid any major incidents, thanks to a coalition of law enforcement agencies and private security firms working in tandem, including Tampa Police, Tampa Fire Rescue and a firm contracted by the Tampa Sports Authority. "It's a layer upon layer upon layer of safety entities and standard operating procedures, and they're pretty in depth," said co-organizer John Santoro.

After parties

Trance legend Paul van Dyk will headline the first official after party of Sunset '14, performing at the Amphitheatre, 1609 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City, between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Saturday. Tickets, if they're still available, are $20 via eventbrite.com.

Dutch DJ duo Blasterjaxx will headline Sunday's after party at the Amphitheatre, which also runs 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Tickets, if available, are $15 at eventbrite.com.

DJ Snake's Turn Down For What cohort, Lil Jon, will perform a DJ set along with Sidney Sampson on Sunday at Hogan's Beach, 7700 W Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa. The party runs from noon until 3 a.m. Tickets are $21.50-$40 at ticketfly.com.



Pop to the beat

Electronic dance music has exploded in popularity in the past few years, but that doesn't mean every beat-slinging bro on the 1's and 2's is automatically a household name. But even if you've never attended a rave in your life, you might have heard of these guys.

DJ Snake

The biggest eruption of the Sunset Music Festival might take place when DJ Snake drops the intro to Turn Down For What, his dirty, slithery smash with Lil Jon (who will be in Tampa this weekend for a party at Hogan's Beach, so hey, you never know, he might show up at Sunset, too). It's the country's biggest club track right now, and is lingering near the top of Billboard's Hot 100.

The Chainsmokers

This year's Harlem Shake is the Chainsmokers' #SELFIE, a goofy, blatant attempt to capitalize on a hot social media buzzword. Guess what? It worked. Built around a deliberately obnoxious club girl's spoken-word ramblings ("Can you guys help me pick a filter? What should my caption be?"), #SELFIE has become a huge viral hit, even though it's probably the worst song you'll hear all year. #realtalk.

The Crystal Method

If you don't like electronic dance music, (A) what are you doing at Sunset, and (B) you probably still dig the Crystal Method, a veteran Vegas duo known for big-time movie, TV, commercial and video hits like Busy Child, Trip Like I Do and Name of the Game.

Borgore

Do you love Miley Cyrus' edgy new Bangerz persona? You have Israeli dubstep DJ and producer Borgore to thank. Cyrus sang on his 2012 single Decisions, and pops up wagging her tongue in the video, which came out a full nine months before her twerk-tastic performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.

— Jay Cridlin

Zedd, Hardwell, Krewella lead invasion of the world's best DJs at Sunset Music Festival in Tampa 05/21/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2014 9:35am]
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