Year In Tunes: Trends That Defined EDM In 2018

sparkling trails of light drawing out the numbers 2018 in glowing light to welcome in the new year

Another year has come and gone. This past year was filled with new beginnings and the highest of highs, but also gut-punching goodbyes and the lowest of lows. We saw tech-house and techno burst out of the underground and onto the mainstages, and we saw huge changes for one of EDM’s biggest festivals. Click through to see what trends defined dance music in 2018.

Tech Yes

Every year we try to track the trendiest subgenres in dance music, and without a doubt the biggest growth came in the techno and tech-house realms of dance music. The underground sound grew to immense popularity this year. Leading the charge were Ultra’s RESISTANCE sub-brand and Drumcode’s Adam Beyer.

In 2018 RESISTANCE truly came into its own and began hosting its own events outside of the Ultra umbrella. Now in 2019, RESISTANCE is taking full advantage of Miami’s 2 venue setup and growing into its own festival within a festival. Adam Beyer pushed the envelope as well by performing at practically every European festival there is and launching the Drumcode Festival. Perhaps the biggest step he took to bring techno to the masses was team up with Eric Prydz to introduce techno to one of dance music’s most die-hard fandoms. Not one to be outdone, Insomniac made a big push in 2018 to grow their Factory 93 techno subbrand in the wake of RESISTANCE’s popularity.

If you didn’t realize 2018 was the year of tech, look at the biggest tunes of the year. Camelphat’s “Panic Room” was an early hit, but 2018’s festival season was absolutely dominated by Adam Beyer & Bart Skills’ “Your Mind“. And of course, nothing signifies the takeover more than Fisher’s “Losing It“. This tech-house banger launched intro the stratosphere when Hardwell dropped it from Ultra Europe’s mainstage. The crowd loved it and the internet loved it even more- now practically everybody throws the track into their set. Tech became so big that David Guetta revealed himself as Jack Back and dropped an EP of tech-house music. Armin van Buuren has stated that his Gaia project is going to feature a lot of tech-trance as well. If everybody’s listening to techno, we’re not complaining. Sorry Eminem.

Give Trance a Chance

Where fortunes rise for some they fall for others. The subgenres of trance and techno have a lot of overlap, as they are both complex subgenres with their own niche and a much longer tradition that whatever is playing on mainstages now. Only a few years ago we were celebrating the return to trance and its explosion as a reaction to Tropical House and Future Bass. Now we are seeing a major contraction in the overall trance scene (at least in the US), at the same time as a new trance act is headlining mainstages.

In 2016 Insomniac’s Dreamstate trance brand launched with festivals in New York City, SoCal, and San Francisco. In 2017 Dreamstate expanded to EDC and other Insomniac events as its own dedicated stage. Dreamstate got a full takeover of the Circuit Grounds megastructure at first. That same year Ultra’s ASOT Miami introduced W&W’s return to trance as NWYR, Arty’s return as Alpha 9, and Sander van Doorn’s return as Purple Haze.

Fast forward to 2018 and Dreamstate has expanded into international events but abandoned NYC. Insomniac gave Dreamstate its own stage, but it has been seen largely as an afterthought in terms of size and production value. Florida’s EDC Orlando dropped its Dreamstate stage completely, replacing it with 2 days of Factory 93 techno/tech-house (and opting for some trance on an art car stage). In fact Florida’s other medium sized festival, Sunset Music Festival, similarly dropped its trance stage for almost all bass music.

If you have friends in the trancefamily from maybe 2 years ago, chances are they are listening to a lot of techno right now. Being honest, it really feels like the trance fans moved over to Techno en mass. Perhaps that is because trance has been dominated by Vini Vici‘s aggressive psytrance style. Vini Vici is fun and they are one of the few trance artists to migrate over to mainstages, but the copycatting has become overwhelming. The Vini Vici tribal psytrance all begins to sound very similar and trance has taken a step back from those ssssserious uplifting vibes fans love. On the other side of the spectrum, trance has embraced deeper proggier sounds like Estiva, Rodg, Fatum and Ruben de Ronde. Once you’re enjoying that, it’s easy to take steps into Anjunadeep or Eric Prydz. From there it’s only a few steps to reach the deep dark rabbit hole of techno. So techno has grown through trance’s contraction. Hopefully we see some re-invigoration when that Gaia album comes.

Swedes Dominate

For the first time in a long time the Swedes are once again dominating the dance music scene. We love the Dutch, but its time for some change and some freshness to reinvigorate a scene that many felt was growing stale. The Dutch have held the #1 DJ slot (on DJ Mag’s List) every year since 2007 with the exceptions of David Guetta in 2011 and Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike in 2015. Seriously the two biggest performances of 2018 were without a doubt Swedish House Mafia and Adam Beyer x Cirez D.

So clearly the purpose of this section is the epic reunion of Swedish House Mafia. Besides the wave of 2010-2013 Anthem House nostalgia that swept over dance music veterans when they took the stage, that was not the only reason their reunion is so important. They came back and played their classic hits, but mixed in with the newer music styles of 2018 in way that made it feel like they never even left. Now the long rumored world tour is on the horizon and the Axwell Ingrosso project has been put out to pasture. In 2019 we will probably get new SHM music and we still have no idea how it’ll sound, but you’re gonna fawn over every tidbit of news that the Swedes give us.

Swedish House Mafia are not the only Swedes to dominate 2018. In fact, the best show you could see in 2018 had to go to another pair of Swedes we can call the Swedish Techno Duo – that is Eric Prydz and Adam Beyer. Adam Beyer x Cirez D was, without question, the most transcendent and hypnotic musical experience of most people’s lifetimes. The two complimented eachother perfectly with dark and foreboding techno that reverberated in your soul for 3 hours. It would be hard to find another B2B combination that could even come close to this level of quality. As if Miami wasn’t enough, the shows continued in LA and an amazing Brooklyn warehouse. The duo is returning in 2019 and you can’t miss it.

Condos In, Nightclubs Out

It’s been an incredibly tough year for the nightlife world, as we’ve seen the sudden closing of multiple iconic nightclubs across the world. Leases renewals have been denied, buildings have been bought with plans of replacing with expensive condos or restaurants, and legends in the nightlife world are shut down in the blink of an eye.

2018 has seen announcements of doors closing on San Francisco’s Mezzanine, who’s been a heavy contender for one of the best venues in the city since they opened 15 years ago. New York said goodbye to Cielo and Output, Chicago and Denver lost Mid Chicago and Beta Denver respectively, and Miami lost Heart, Ora, and Electric Pickle. Ultra Music Festival was booted from Miami’s Bayfront Park, and Toronto’s Uniun shuttered too.

Deborah Jackman, owner of Mezzanine, explained about the closure:

“I was disappointed that the owners of the building didn’t give me an opportunity to renegotiate a new lease. I was further disappointed that my request for a three-month extension, so that we could close out 2019 was rejected. What I find most disturbing is that Mezzanine, like so many other cultural institutions, has fallen victim to corporate greed and commercial development.”

The closures are painful for the community and have come as a shock to most of us – so many of these venues have held some of the best nights of our lives. But at the end of the day, the money that has entered these cities with hopes of creating their own selfish, fruitful ventures do not care about the community’s passion for music and culture. These legendary venues are being taken away by the need to build more, make more, fit more. Culture is being killed by corporate selfishness. Institutions that we’ve grown up in, that we’ve developed tastes in, that we’ve gotten lost in – they’re gone. In 2019, we can’t imagine that it’ll get any better, either.

Forest Festivals Had a Tough Year

Clubs aren’t the only EDM venues going through massive changes. The festival market continues to change in interesting ways, some positive and some not as good.

First off we have to talk about Ultra. The same forces closing nightclubs around North America actually took down one of the world’s most iconic festivals. The locals in Downtown Miami have always hated Ultra, most notable in 2013 when it expanded to 2 weekends. However, nobody ever expected the city to cave to their cries and boot Ultra out – even when the festival was experiencing attendee deaths and security guard tramplings. In 2018 the expensive condo community finally encroached enough to force the local politicians to pull the plug. By now the story is well told, and Ultra is embarking on a new chapter in a new venue further away from the bustling downtown. We all fear that at some point Club Space will be next. The same forces took down Solomun’s Diynamic Festival in London after locals complained.

In 2018 the marquee festivals like Ultra, EDC Vegas, and Tomorrowland continued to dominate, but the medium-sized and/or less prestigious festivals took some major hits. Australia’s Stereosonic successor, FestivalX, was cancelled before it even started. For some reason forest/nature camping festivals had a really rough year.  Insomniac’s Sacred Valley festival concept and Above & Beyond’s extremely expensive Anjunabeach Riviera Maya. In the US, Florida’s Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival went the way of TomorrowWorld. Medium-sized festivals that didn’t get cancelled had to significantly cut back, as Electric Forest went back to 1 weekend and festivals like Tampa’s SMF cut back on their lineups. Just this past weekend Dirtybird Campout East Coast was cancelled for 2019 as well.

At the same time the super niche events continue to thrive, so we saw Insomniac’s Factory 93 grow this year and launch their Secret Project techno festival in LA. Dreamstate Festival continued on in SF and SoCal along with its international stops and RESISTANCE is growing into its own powerhouse event worldwide. As these niche events thrive the medium sized festivals decided to drop trance or other genres and unify around bass music and techy sounds. Europe, already home to plenty of techno, saw brand new techno festivals sprout like Drumcode Festival and CONNECT. It’s only a matter of time before one of the techno festivals hops the pond. Now Insomniac is about to try something super niche with its PLAY Festival, and we will have to see how that goes.

DJs Focus on Mental Health

While 2018 was a year of new beginnings for Ultra and Swedish House Mafia, it was one heartbreaking end that forced the entire community to take a new focus on mental health. We will touch more on Avicii‘s tragic passing in the next section, but through that painful loss the dance music artists became much more open to talking about mental health and hitting the pause button.

In the wake of Avicii’s passing SiriusXM hosted a range of DJs coming on to talk about their own struggles with the touring life and how it can take a toll on a young mind and body. We heard from Armin van Buuren about how he fought his own demons years ago and learned that he needs breaks every so often to refresh. Laidback Luke penned a heartbreaking editorial about his warnings for Avicii and the need to slow down.

As the year went on, Hardwell decided to hang take an indefinite hiatus for some of these very reasons. Known to be a workaholic he wanted to take time to just have some fun, relax with family, and be a regular person. We know he’ll be back. Skrillex similarly made mention on social media that he needed these past few years to lay low and be a person for a little while before he splashes back onto the scene in 2019. Countless other DJs like slushii, deadmau5, Max Vangeli, and even Carnage had their own dealings with mental well-being issues.

Heartbreaking Goodbye

As 2018 had us riding high on the new beginning for Swedish House Mafia, our world came crashing down on April 20, 2018. On that date we were forced to close a chapter in dance music history and say goodbye to Avicii.

Click here for our President’s own personal send-off for this dance music legend.