No one knew how the clubbing industry would look when it returned after 18 months out of action. Producers kept releasing music at a clip through lockdown and kept us in touch with the scene - could that propel new names towards DJ fame? There had been established headliners dominating bills across the globe, but after the downtime, would there be a shift?
The answer is yes, at least somewhat. The shift hasn’t been dramatic, but we are seeing new names helm the best club booths and tour relentlessly as headline acts. Stars like Carl Cox, Charlotte de Witte, Amelie Lens, Jamie Jones and Black Coffee are still doing their thing and remain as popular as ever, but there’s also a fresh set of names appearing high up club and festival bills around the world and emerging as scene leaders in their own right. In the list below, we’ve picked out the new guard of top-tier DJs taking over the underground (in alphabetical order).
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1 AceMoMA (AceMo & MoMA Ready)
New York City has played a crucial role in the history of dance music. Brooklyn’s AceMo and MoMA Ready, or Adrian Mojica and Wyatt Stevens, are the icons of the city’s present and future. Reclaiming dance music back from the Eurocentric narrative that has developed, they are pushing an exciting mix of techno, house and jungle throughout both continents. Both individually and as a duo, they have headed up some of the most lusted-after stages in electronic since the return of clubbing this year such as the White Hotel, Nowadays, The Warehouse Project, Good Room and Unsound - thrilling the masses with punchy, electrifying selections that will both school a crowd and leave their heads in a spin. Working together, they’re truly formidable. Their HAUS of ALTR imprint has provided a multitude of incredible compilations and releases since the beginning of the pandemic, including their own record ‘A Future’ that could be heard ringing out across the newly open dancefloors this summer like a rave siren call.
It’s been a successful year for Ahadadream as a DJ, label boss and scene leader uplifting his community. He’s performed at events such as the RA x The Right to Dance (War Child) x Choose Love: Afghanistan Fundraiser, festivals such as We Out Here and Lost Village, played at Mixmag’s Lab LDN for the South Asian series launch party, and was a key organiser of London’s outstanding Dialled In festival. He’s elevated the voices of those around him and has had a successful run of shows on NTS. Ahad continues to champion contemporary South Asian talent and elevates the voices of those in the diaspora. His impact within dance music does not go unnoticed.
Manchester’s Anz has been on a steady rise to stardom this year. She’s launched her own label OTMI, released an acclaimed EP on Ninja Tune, and become a top draw at clubs and festivals, including slots at We Out Here, Riverside Festival, Warehouse Project, Wiglex Festival, No Bounds and European trips to Dublin, Tisno, Berlin and beyond. Her sets toe the line between raucous and cheeky, moving across screwface bassline and jungle to gleaming synth pop and garage. To top it all off, Anz celebrated four years as an NTS resident in 2021 as well as holding down a residency on BBC Radio 1.
[Photo: Melanie Lehmann]
Drum ‘n’ bass don Bou has had a very busy year. He’s played at the likes of Printworks, The Warehouse Project and Drumsheds, as well as monumental UK festivals such as Creamfields and Parklife. He also won an award for Best Producer at the 2021 Drum and Bass awards, and in June released an LP called ‘DNB 4 Peace’ to help raise money for those affected by the ongoing conflicts in Palestine. This year he worked with High Contrast on a track that was released on his newly founded label Gossip, which has already seen work from other prolific figures in the drum ‘n’ bass scene, including Cous Cous and Inja.
5 Chippy Nonstop
Despite lockdowns being in place for around half the year, Chippy Nonstop seemed to be everywhere in 2021. Even before clubs reopened she was found shelling it in the virtual sphere at lockdown phenomenon Club Quarantine, then as the world opened up, no dancefloor was left unturned-into-a-sweatpit as she unleashed fearless sets across Canada and Europe. Her devil-may-care approach blends fast and raucous sounds in the field techno, jungle, acid and footwork with pop edits and rap flips to dizzyingly ecstatic effect. Dancers flocked to see Chippy as she toured - and tore - through London, Manchester, Paris, Berlin and Krakow, while the Pep Rally event she runs back home in Toronto with Karim Olen Ash stands among hottest tickets in town. She also helmed one of the most popular sets in Mixmag’s Lab LDN all year, racking up more than 100k views, with thousands also tuning into her sets for RA and HÖR BERLIN.
Chippy’s success is all the more impressive considering in 2015 she was forced to leave behind a rap career in the US, where she’d lived from age 11, due to visa issues and deportation, and start fresh in Canada — getting deeper into rave music and putting out her first full-length release in seven years this May with dj genderfluid. Now a rapper-producer-DJ triple threat, there’s truly no stopping her.
At the helm of Kiwi Rekords, Conducta has shown he has the ear, talent and clarity of thought to be a figurehead leading the nu-skool of the UK garage scene. This year he dropped multiple singles and collaborations ahead of August’s compilation ‘Kiwi Boost (The Next Wave)’ to a glowing reception. With his humble attitude and eagerness to champion the scene around him, including young DJs and up-and-comers, he’s putting in the work to build on the foundations of forerunners and the dance music community is reaping the rewards. After starring on the Mixmag cover in September, he set out Coducta’s Crib: All Night Long UK tour, which saw the DJ takeover five-hour sets across the country.
7 DJ Lag
DJ Lag is one of the best ambassadors for dance music in the world. Having helped pioneer the gqom when he was just a teenager, he’s since gone on to hit international fame, Everyone wants a piece of him, from working in partnership with Beyoncé to the infamous plagiarisation from will.i.am. 2021 saw the first singles drop from Lag’s debut album ‘Meeting with the King’ and with it a new direction, wanting to highlight the gqom and amapiano that is making his native South Africa one of the most exciting focal points of global club culture. All the while slots at The Cause, Boiler Room Festival, Goon Club Allstars and Amsterdam alongside Scratcha DVA and Culoe De Song during ADEhave allowed him to spread the good word. Hyperdub boss Kode9 described his sound back in 2016 as: “like being suspended over the gravitational field of a black hole and lovin’ it,” which is as good a testimony as any.
[Photo: Travsy Owen]
8 Eris Drew
Nobody does it quite like Eris Drew. The High Priestess of the Motherbeat had been touring regularly pre-pandemic, and judging by the crowds flocking to her festival sets and club nights since lockdowns ended, she was clearly at the top of many people’s list of the DJ they most wanted to see when restrictions lifted. Intelligently shifting between old ‘90s rave records, hip hop instrumentals and newer club creations, Eris has the rare talent of being able to surprise us every single set with just how incredible she is at DJing. Her empathetic, instinctive sets hit the sweet spot whether they are taking place within a tiny 200-cap venue in the Midwest or the headline stage at a massive European festival. This, alongside the release of her critically acclaimed debut album in November, has really made 2021 Eris’s year.
[Photo: Rae Tilly]
French DJ, producer, and former Mixmag cover star Folamour played a solid 140 gigs in 2019. He welcomed some time off the road in 2020, redirecting his energy into sharpening his music-making skills. Refreshed and improved for 2021, he released his exceptional third album ‘The Journey’, then quickly got back on the path to clubland domination. He’s been all over the US and Europe, with his huge fanbase making him one of the most sought after ticket-sellers in the game. Masterful sets that move through Italo disco, house, soul, Afrobeat, and more, are the reason why he’s so well-loved.
Australian-born, UK-based HAAi is a DJ we’ve seen everywhere in 2021 from playing fabric’s reopening weekend, Lost Village festival, All Points East and even the Richie Hawtin-curated Prada techno party in the Tate. Her sets can be hard and pulsating as well as bouncy and melodic, mixing contemporary sounds alongside cuts from her queer dance music forerunners that laid the foundations for these sounds. While working on her music, HAAi has also been growing her record label with Alice Pelly named Radical New Theory, with a focus on putting on new artists and cultivating the culture.
[Photo: James D Kelly]
11 Hidden Empire
Branko and Niklas of Hidden Empire returned earlier this year with a brand new album ‘Lost Spirits’ before closing the year out with a new single ‘Pont de la Caille’. 2021 has been busy on the touring front for the German duo, as they’ve been seen across the world in countries such as the UK, Switzerland, Turkey, Armenia and even an adventure down to Colombia. Their stirring sets mix soaring house and techno that hypnotises crowds into movement. Since the latest single ‘Pont de la Caille’ was released, live streaming service Cercle teamed up with the DJs for a project combining cultural heritage and landmarks with electronic music, including a performance on the French bridge the single is named after.
12 Jayda G
Jayda G has had an impressive year, both as a DJ and a producer. After being nominated for a 2021 GRAMMY award for Best Dance Recording for her song ‘Best of Us’, it’s only gotten better and better for the Canadian-born, London-based star. She’s played many of the year’s hottest festivals, including GALA, AVA Belfast, Homobloc and Rakastella, as well as a historic set at Liverpool pilot event bringing clubbing back to the UK in April. In May she released her instalment of the revered DJ-Kicks mix series alongside a hit of a single ‘All I Need’. Jayda is one of dance music’s brightest stars and she has continued to shine throughout 2021.
[Photo: Felix Gaertner]
13 Major League DJz
As amapiano has taken over the global dance scene in 2021, Major League DJz have been a driving force behind the sound. The Johannesburg-born twin brothers were raised amid the sounds of Kwaito and Afro house, and are now figureheads for this new dance phenomenon emerging from South Africa. Their tandem sets showcase the synergy you’d expect of twins, moving in unison as they explore deep rhythms, suspenseful beats and rousing vocals. Following Mixmag’s series of The Lab Johannesburg events in 2019, Major League DJz made history this August playing the first ever amapiano set in The Lab LDN, which has racked up 300,000 plays and counting. Their international appeal is evident with tour dates at huge venues all over Africa, Europe and the US selling out instantly.
No DJ works the decks like Manara can — they don’t call her the Queen of the Blend for nothing. Her sets are rip-roaring excursions around the globe with everything from Bollywood to pop to grime to house hitting in a flurry of banging sounds. Her daring sets keep fun at the forefront with cheeky edits a staple: see her Lab LDN session with its drill remix of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and putting a donk on Charli XCX for one example. This style has made her Cousins night one the London’s best parties, while sets at Dialled In and a four deck b2b with A.G at fabric have also stood out in 2021. This year she’s also held down a three-hour weekly slot on BBC Asian Network with her Pure Spice residency, bringing blends for days.
Ballroom legend and Qween Beat label head MikeQ has continued to shine in 2021. His House of Vogue parties have made a successful comeback after lockdowns and he has continued to provide unbridled support to other ballroom artists who are wanting to come up in the scene. He’s also continued his work as the DJ for HBO’s Legendary, a hit TV show about the ballroom scene, with Season 2 releasing in May 2021. In October MikeQ performed sets all over London at events such as Little Gay Brother’s Halloween party and Mixmag’s Lab LDN, before heading north to Edinburgh and Manchester then onto Portugal.
16 Patrick Topping
Hardworking DJ Patrick Topping affirmed his position at the very top of the UK tech-house scene this year, drawing massive crowds and reactions at his Trick events in Belfast, Mint Festival and Newcastle Arena, as well as touring extensively across the US. Ending the year with an all-day long event at fabric, Patrick blew us away with an eight hour set. He also released a few singles and a brand new three-track EP. One of the other most notable factors of his output is his charity work. Back in July the DJ raised £24,000 for domestic abuse victims when he took to the decks on 'Freedom Day' and chose three charities to donate the club night takings to. Patrick described the event as one of the best atmospheres he has experienced in his career. Top stuff.
17 Paula Temple
Paula Temple’s sets are nothing short of mind-blowing. She deals in hard, fast, industrial techno, often slamming three or four tracks together, or adding new layers to create live remixes with a hybrid live-DJ approach. The result is transcendent techno trips that are as utterly relentless as they are thrilling. Bookings all over the Europe and the US in 2021 are in indication of her standing as one of the best in the business, with promoters from New York to LA to France, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, Hungary, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Slovakia, the UK, and more, clamouring for her skills at their party.
[Photo: Nicole Fleiner]
18 Sama’ Abdulhadi
Jordan-born, Palestine-raised Sama’ Abdulhadi spent the latter half last decade rising from a figurehead of the Middle East’s techno scene to a global star. Her surging career looked set to hit even more stratospheric heights last year before the lockdown came: when caught up with her in 2020, she’d just been forced to call off an Asia, Middle East and US tour, including dates at Coachella and Movement Detroit. In 2021 Sama’ has picked up where she left off, taking her melodic and powerful sets around the world from Medellin to Marseilles, including slots at fabric, Shelter and sharing a bill with Jeff Mills in Barcelona. Sama’ now ends the year with a new BBC Radio 1 residency which she takes up alongside the likes of Scratcha, LCY, and Goldie. The Palestinian DJ also uses her influence outside the DJ booth for good, advocating for human rights and awareness of the situation in her homeland, as well as fundraising for Beirut following last year’s disaster.
19 Sef Kombo
There’s no stopping Sef Kombo right now. Tthe figurehead of London’s Afro house scene started this year with a bang. despite the lockdown. In January he announced his new label Sondela in partnership with Defected, launching it in February and starring on the Mixmag cover in the same month alongside party partner Kitty Amor. Their Motherland event remained hugely popular upon clubbing’s return this year, and they also debuted in The Lab LDN - with Sef showing off his mixer wizardry - then returned for our massive Lab 10 Years Party, slotting in between Pete Tong and Shimza. Sef’s also brought his rousing sound to festivals such as Strawberries + Creem and Defected Croatia, and is currently in the midst of a tour around Africa, where he’s been playing in clubs and forming musical connections across countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar and South Africa.
[Photo: Esme Surfleet]
It’s difficult to not get excited about the meteoric rise of SHERELLE. Her exhilarating blend of jungle, footwork and hardcore is enough to keep us on our toes, and itching in anticipation to hear her play. But SHERELLE’s clear devotion to her mission: rebuilding and shifting dance music into a place of accessibility, diversity, and fairness - all the while having so much FUN - has positioned her as a clear voice for change this year. Both her work behind the decks and behind the scenes as a label boss helming BEAUTIFUL and Hooversound Recordings (alongside NAINA) have shown her commitment to uncovering the hidden gems that UK underground music has to offer. A superstar DJ you can really get behind, big ups SHERELLE.
[Photo: Eddie Otchere & Remy Boourdeau]
To watch Polish slam expert VTSS’s career pivot this year has felt like watching the makings of a superstar. As a DJ, she’s long held a reputation for daring her audiences with leftfield selections - educating the masses in an array of IDM, techno, hardcore, bass, and dubstep. Repping all things fast, hard and furious has earned her a loyal and devoted band of followers all over the continent - becoming the name to have on every line-up. This year has seen her hit up the hallowed halls of Berghain alongside gracing the fashion parties of Milan, all while holding her own as a progressive voice for the future of dance music. The highly-anticipated release of her ‘Projections’ EP due on Technicolour in February 2022 will see her move from the Queen of the club to a household name, and we can’t wait.
[Photo: Marta Michalak]