Underground dance music is defined by its futuristic approach, a passion for staving off artistic stagnancy by exploring bold and new sounds. Year upon year, artists emerge into wider consciousness and inspire us with their revitalising approach, keeping the dance scene dynamic.
There are the fresh DJs who tear through clubs in a flurry of perception-shifting sets, the hard-grafters who have stayed true to their vision and are duly winning deserved recognition, the innovators who are cultivating new genres, and the future superstars whose popularity has soared through their ability to guarantee crowds a rollicking good time.
See our picks for the top 20 breakthrough DJs of the year below.
The artist FKA DJ Shiva has been honing her craft for decades, playing regularly around the US Midwest. As her moniker implies, she takes no prisoners, channelling the fury instilled by worldly injustices into blistering, defiant sets. In 2017 she toured Europe and picked up bookings at top-tier clubs across the States.
Playfully balancing the off-kilter with the straightforward, Willow has established herself in a big way. Her knowledge and execution in the booth have made her a regular with The Hydra and Warehouse Project as well as getting her slots at De School, ://aboutblank and Rex Club.
NYC Downlow is one of the best clubs around, and Gideön, its fearless leader and resident, has broken out in his own right. A purveyor of the finest house music heard on the floor, the selector made stops at Croatia’s Love International, Ibiza’s DC10 and Berlin’s Berghain.
A resident for Hot Since 82’s breakout party at Pacha this year, La Fleur’s melodic mix of house and techno has seen her support Sasha and Digweed at Privilege as well as Pete Tong at Blue Marlin in Ibiza. She also brilliantly warmed things up for Detroit Love at Space ahead of Carl Craig in Miami this year.
The Tel Aviv via Berlin DJ almost doubled her bookings from last year. With a predilection for acid grooves and cosmic techno, she took crowds at Berghain and in Macedonia on wild rides this year before transferring her talents to London for a residency at Oval Space.
Lauren’s LOLiFE party has become one of the North-West’s most respected house nights, and her fluid and jackin’ house sound has won her high profile sets at Warehouse Project, Hideout and more.
First coming to our attention as a producer in 2012, France’s Hermione Frank has since moved to Berlin and ploughed a deep furrow at Panorama Bar, Tresor and around the world. Her ‘Thoughts of an Introvert’ EP landed on Don’t Be Afraid in November 2017.
Byron the Aquarius burst onto the scene this year with a flurry of worldwide appearances. His debut at Dekmantel this year was one of its highlight performances and the Alabaman’s twinkling, instrumental house gained him stops in Italy, Switzerland and a heralded show at Output NYC.
As Nabihah’s reputation as a solo artist grows, so does her status as a selector with formidable knowledge and a keen sense of fun. In the last 12 months she’s played in Russia and Tokyo, put her Nice Touch party on the map and continued to programme the most interesting show on NTS.
Previously one of London’s best kept secrets, DEBONAIR is now the talk of the UK thanks to searing performances at Fabric, Wire, Patterns and The Art School (not to mention appearances at Panorama Bar and Lux). An inventive radio presenter and powerful club selector, she’s leading the art of the DJ into the future.
It was all about Ibiza for Archie: a standout at Hyte x Fuse at Amnesia and a surprise inclusion on Carl Cox’s Pure roster at Privilege, the long-time Fuse resident more than held his own alongside the very best house and tech artists in the business. His weapons of choice? Groove and acidic rhythm.
Her club sets are bassweight explosions that nigh-on blow the roof off parties she plays, which this year have included De School, MUTEK Montréal and the London legs of Optimo 20 and Hessle Audio’s 10-year tour. On NTS Radio, she explores experimental tangents, weaving broad influences into spiralling yet coherent musical tapestries.
Over the last year Saoirse has become somewhat of a DJ's DJ. She's been backed by some of the world's finest selectors, so much so that she's played back-to-back sets in 2017 with the likes of Midland, Call Super, Craig Richards, Sonja Moonear and Objekt. Now based in London, highlights of her skyrocketing DJ career (playing groove-laden house and techno) include stops at Fabric, AVA, Love Saves the Day and Concrete, not to mention her own 'All-Night-Long' tour around the country.
Part of the all-female Brooklyn party collective Discwoman, Volvox, aka Ariana Paoletti, opened the year with a strong reputation for fierce, murky, evocatively dirty techno sets. Word spread further, following nearly a hundred hard-working gigs across the US, Europe and Australia.
Straight out of Durban, 21-year-old DJ LAG (Lwazi Asanda Gwala) is the poster boy for gqom, the rough-edged and distinctly South African fusion of house and hip hop. This year has sent his sound global, most notably at the London To Durban Special alongside Hyperdub’s Kode9 back in July.
Having honed her diverse style at her own Meine Nacht parties, this was the year Derry-born, Liverpool-based Orlagh Dooley earned a Warehouse Project residency. Check out her b2b Lab LDN with Scuba back in April 2017.
Kristensen emerged from seemingly nowhere to become one of the most talked-about young DJs of 2017, embarking on a debut North American tour and playing high profile European dates at Unsound, Berghain, No Bounds and more. Her techno-heavy sets are intense textural explorations that enthral and surprise. In the words of Tresor founder Dimitri Hegemann: “deeply refreshing”.
In her home town of Copenhagen, the Ectotherm label boss has long been held in high regard. But in 2017 her hard-hitting techno devastated crowds at Panorama Bar, Concrete, Sub Club and De School. Her slot at Sónar, alongside Avalon Emerson, cemented her as a future star as the pair sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Josey Rebelle’s Rinse FM show is something of a haven for music lovers. Her ability to effortlessly move between house, techno, rare groove, jungle and whatever else she fancies playing has made her one of the most effective and interesting DJs on air, and increasingly in the club.
The breakout stars of the post-Burning Man ‘desert house’ sound, the NYC duo’s Saga night in Ibiza was the story of the island, while their homecoming show at Output sold out in 10 minutes, with trickets changing hands for $hundreds at the door. Check out their barnstorming Lab NYC on Mixmag TV to see just how much of an impact they've had this year.