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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."