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Dancing Astronaut’s Top 50 Artists Of 2011: 1-5

We can’t tell you who the best DJ in the world is because the word “best” is absolute and dance music is subjective. That’s why we covered our asses and decided to call it the “Top Artists” instead.

Dancing Astronaut can’t tell you who the #1 Artist in the world is because that title cannot be bestowed by one person, group, or media organization. What qualifies a person to be #1? The amount of fans he has? The size of his name on a poster? The number of people who would vote for him in a popularity contest?

We have no idea how these five artists affected you personally, but we do know that each one of our top five has shaped the global dance music scene in identifiable, concrete ways. This isn’t our attempt to guess who your favorite artists is (and by “you,” we mean “everyone who listens to EDM”).

This is our account of events that we have seen with our own eyes, heard with our own ears, and felt with our own hearts. This is how EDM made history in 2011.

Without further ado:

5. David Guetta

You may hate David Guetta, but the truth is that once his music comes through the speakers, you can’t help but appreciate his prowess. Because the truth is, you stop hating David Guetta the second you hear him speak. Despite everything you want to believe, David Guetta is not an arrogant, self-righteous man. He is humble and articulate, the kind of guy who can express himself equally well in at least three languages. He delivers a hell of a show live, and is a quintessential entertainer of the year 2011 — just see his performance from Electric Zoo if you don’t believe us.

“F*** Me, I’m Famous!”, is Guetta’s tagline, and the fact is that there’s nothing wrong with being mainstream or commercial. Even though EDM-enthusiasts may take issue with his new approach, without David Guetta, dance music would not be what it is today.

The greatest indicator of Guetta’s remarkable success came when his hands were imprinted at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. As he placed his famous fingers into the concrete and looked unblinkingly into the paparazzi’s blinding flashes, Guetta cemented his name into pop culture history.

David Guetta has paved the way — now it’s up to new names to further the cause.

4. Steve Angello

Without Steve Angello, we wouldn’t have been blessed with the likes of Thomas Gold, Tim Mason, Third Party, and AN21& Max Vangeli. As the head honcho of Size Matters, he’s responsible for organizing the finest collection of young talent in progressive house. We’re eternally grateful to Steve for discovering and mentoring these new names, and we wouldn’t be surprised if they started to outshine him one day. Month after month, Size Matters continues to impress us with its emphasis on gorgeous melodies and commitment to flawless productions. Steve Angello will hang up his headphones one day, but Size Matters will live on.

While it’s been a spectacular year behind the desk, it’s been an equally impressive one behind the decks. In 2011, Swedish House Mafia went from progressive house superstars to bonafide global celebrities. We’re not exactly sure quite what makes the triumvirate so absurdly successful, or who does what within the supergroup, but we’d like to hazard a guess: Axwell brings the heart, Seb brings the passion, and Steve brings the style. Yeah, there was #thatawkwardmoment when he was caught faking performing with his set pre-mixed, but selling out the Garden in 9 minutes and proceeding to deliver one of the most memorable nights in New York EDM history has got to count for something.

If we do have to reduce Steve Angello to a single word, it would be style. What better way to describe the red Ferrari, the slicked-back ponytail, the signature “Knas” sound. It’s been well a year, but “Knas” still sounds as fantastic as the day we heard it for the first time. Thanks, Steve. We love you.

3. Axwell

Sure, we could talk about Axwell’s gorgeous productions, his fantastic DJ sets, or the fine work of his Axtone imprint, but there’s something inherently cool about Axel Hedfors that we can’t quit put our finger on. Part of his allure has to be the special way he embodies everything we adore about the dance music scene. His signature line: “You wanna party?” His sense of humor: “For the love of God, can you just say insert woman!” His infamous disregard for the authorities and their rapacious desire to keep young people from having fun in the wee hours of the morning.

What Axwell understands is that dance music is about more than bleeps and bloops, bottle service, and bass. It’s about spiritual healing. Sometimes in life, it’s important to “Turn off the head, turn on the heart.” Because, as we all know, “goosebumps never lie.”

2. Avicii

Oooh-oooh-ooh-sometimes… I get a good feeling….

If Coca-Cola has trademarked happiness, then Avicii has trademarked joy. Pure, innocent, unadulterated joy.

Yes, we know his DJing skills are not the most impressive, and that many of his productions sound the same. We also understand that Avicii live sets can be somewhat underwhelming or repetitive — but none of that matters.

Why? Because everyone — yes, everyone — likes Avicii when they hear his music for his first time. His tracks have a timeless, universal quality that seems to affect people regardless of their age, gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, favorite sports teams, political ideology, or any other affiliation that we humans use to divide ourselves. Heck, have any other songs in DA history ever passed the Mom Test? He’s become so wildly popular that even his flannel has a Twitter.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, Avicii makes you feel good. We would know, since we saw him an absurd amount of times this year — from coast to coast, to the beach, to backstage in Sweden.

Somehow, Avicii has managed to transcend himself. It’s about more than watching him DJ, it’s about the way in which Avicii’s music has infected the hearts and minds of thousands of people across the world, lifting us when we are sad and comforting us when we feel alone. It’s about how a skinny, pasty Swede somehow tapped into the inherent human desire to be happy. It’s about how whenever Le7els plays, whether you’re at a Starbucks, a shitty dive bar, or EDC, the energy level ramps up another notch.

If you still don’t believe us, here’s a simple test. At the next social gathering you attend, wait till the guests have had a chance to meet, mingle, and have a few drinks. Wait till a few brave souls have ventured out on to the dance floor. Wait till people are laughing, smiling, and ready to have a good time. Then turn “Le7els” up to full volume, and watch the magic happen.

1. Tiësto

When Tiësto abandoned his roots in uplifting trance, many viewed it as a betrayal of sorts. The elevated BPMs and swirling, ethereal melodies were unceremoniously dumped in favor of a more progressive/electro style. For lesser artists, this may have been a career setback, but Tiësto wasn’t thinking short-term. He wanted to conquer the final territory, the one place that was resisting dance music’s global pull — the US of A.

In a way, Tiësto’s change of heart was emblematic of a larger trend within EDM — or perhaps it started the trend. You’ve probably noticed that our list is light on trance and heavy on progressive. That’s an indicator of American tastes, as well as a reflection of the subgenres that have gained traction in 2011. If you’ll allow us one sweeping generalization, it’s that the current generation of American EDM fans were converted fairly recently. Progressive and electro lend themselves naturally to newcomers, particularly when compared to trance and techno, which require a more patient, disciplined ear. Call it the “David Guetta/Tiësto” effect, but the time when trance ruled the world is over. Even Armin van Buuren has been ousted from his perch atop the DJ Mag Top 100 — a list that’s typically full of trance gods who are boosted by their huge followings across Europe and parts of Asia.

Our genre is steeped in history, beginning with Paul Oakenfold’s EDM education on the beaches of Goa and the White Island of Ibiza. It’s time to update that history. It’s time to recognize the power of progressive and electro to rise up from the underground and occupy the mainstream. We’ll remember 2011 as the year in which dance music officially (re)arrived in the United States — a cultural development for which Tiësto deserves much credit. If Vegas really is the new Ibiza, we can thank Tiësto’s lucrative residency at the Joint (as well as Kaskade’s run at Marquee), which emphatically demonstrated that EDM DJs are worth the investment. Is there any better way to end a weekend in Vegas than by leaving Tiësto’s residency at 5AM, completely energized?

As we mentioned at the start of this list, these rankings aren’t speculation. They’re based on our account of actual events, events that we chronicled right here on our beloved blog. Tiësto’s seminal moment came when he performed to 25,000 rabid fans at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. We can debate whether any other DJ would have been able to pull off a gig of that size. But only Tiësto had the balls to attempt such a spectacular event and the star power to actually pull it off. The man is an icon.

For more than a decade, Tijs Michiel Verwest has been rocking audiences around the world. His childhood nickname has become a valuable worldwide brand, a powerful entity that resonates wherever and whenever it’s heard. If you’ve never heard the name “Tiësto” in your life, that’s entirely your fault.

It’s very hard for an entertainer to deliver on massive hype — just ask LeBron James. But Tiësto never fails to impress. His name on a poster is a set-in-stone guarantee of a good time. While much of the Tiësto’s overwhelming popularity can be attributed to savvy marketing and a fantastic publicity team, that doesn’t detract from the core point: the man always throws down. A Tiësto gig never fails to keep its promise. It’s the real thing.

We’re not really sure why EDM fans have to defend our love for this music to outsiders, but for some reason, we do. “It’s not real music,” people like to proclaim. “Anyone could do this, anyone with a laptop and some time.”

What’s the best way to win over the haters? Take ‘em to a Tiësto gig and let this Dutch deity blow their minds.

See the full lists here: 50-41, 40-31, 30-21, 20-11, 10-6

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