The Evolution of Dance Music Genres in the 2010s

Believe it or not the 2010s are over. What’s even stranger than that is realizing that EDM as we know it has existed entirely within this decade. Every event, every evolution, every EDM blog all began in the 2010s. Sure dance music existed in some form (trance, techno, prog) existed prior to 2010, but it was an entirely different thing back then. In this article we trance the evolution of EDM in the 2010s through the rise and fall of various genres.

2010-2011: The Rise of Progressive House and Electro

The beginning of the decade saw EDM starting to come together as we came to know it today. David Guetta had shown the dance music world that dance music tracks could push into the mainstream. At this time Swedish House Mafia begin to make it big with hits like One and Miami 2 Ibiza. The group also released their first documentary, Until One, which capped off with the group’s first performance at Ultra Music Festival.

In the Progressive House realm, Calvin Harris was riding high with tracks like “You Used To Hold Me” and Avicii began his rapid ascendancy. Avicii was all over the XM Radio BPM and Electro channels with legendary tracks like “Insomnia”, “My Feelings For You”, and “Seek Bromance”.

Also at this time, Electro began to rise with deadmau5 releasing his 4 x 4 = 12 album. Of course, trance continued humming along with the release of Armin van Buuren‘s Mirage album as well.

2011-2013: Golden Age of EDM

The most-watched festival aftermovie of all time

This mini-era tracks the rise and fall of Swedish House Mafia. This period was the reign of Progressive Anthem House, Dubstep, and Electro. All of the biggest names in EDM rose to prominence here. Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, Skrillex, Zedd, Tiesto, Porter Robinson, Dada Life, Bingo Players, Calvin Harris, Hardwell, Afrojack, Steve Aoki, Fedde Le Grand, deadmau5, you name it.

In this period you’ll find hundreds of legendary singles, as you had tracks pumping out from big labels like Spinnin and Armada but also the labels of each of the SHM boys.

This was also the era that the EDM festival grew into a global phenomenon. EDC Las Vegas started in 2011 after its messy year in LA in 2010. Tomorrowland had its most legendary editions in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The most-watched festival aftermovie of all time is Tomorrowland’s 2012 edition. This was also the time when Ultra and Tomorrowland began livestreamining the festivals, making fans all over the world feel FOMO for the very first time.

Also within this era was the short-lived but well remembered Complextro era. This was Electro that was sped up and intensified by DJs like Porter Robinson, Zedd, and Wolfgang Gartner. Just as quickly as it rose, it fell as Zedd and Porter abandoned the sound completely after 2013.

Of course this era capped off when Swedish House Mafia announced their breakup. The final shows at Ultra 2013 marked the end of this era. Swedish House Mafia led the Anthem House movement, and things changed without them at the top.

2013-2015: The Big Room Era

The next major era of EDM began in the golden age, but through a track that was actually made earlier. Quintino and Sandro Silva‘s smash hit “Epic“, was actually released in 2011. However, the track began a new life as a festival staple when EDM festivals took off. Everybody was dropping it and the crowd was loving it every time. Swedish House Mafia famously incorporated it into their sets along with other big room tracks like Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike‘s “Wakanda“.

Big Room officially came into its own when Tiesto’s Musical Freedom label dropped a bomb called “Cannonball” onto the EDM world. This track exploded and the resulting obsession caused DJs all over the scene to emulate the style and Big Room was born. This culminated in the biggest track of the big room era, “Tremor”. This one surged in popularity years after its release and still remains a huge festival banger.

The leader of this era was Hardwell as his Ultra 2013 set catapulted him into the stratosphere. He captured the Big Room sound completely and he pushed Big Room forward more than anybody else in that era. He took the mantle of closing Ultra after SHM and his Revealed label released dozens of huge tracks.

This was the era when the undercard DJs of 2011 and 2012 began to reach headliner status. Alesso, Dannic, Showtek, Porter Robinson, R3hab, Zedd and others rose to fill the void left by Swedish House Mafia.

The growth in Big Room also dovetailed into a resurgence of trance. Beginning in 2012 trance began to flirt with Big Room sounds thanks to DJs like W&W, Dash Berlin, and of course Armin van Buuren. W&W”s “The Code” grew into a festival smash and showed the successful merging of trance and big room sounds. Then the duo remixed Armin van Buuren’s This Is What It Feels Like, and became legends. Trance grew into one of the bigger genres in this period through the Big Room sound and artists like Dash Berlin, Gareth Emery, and Cosmic Gate were playing mainstage sets.

2015-2017: Future House and Trap

By 2015 everybody had hit Big Room fatigue. The copycat movement had turned every producer into a Big Room producer, and something fresh was needed. It turned out that once again, Tiesto’s Musical Freedom label was going to launch a new artist and a new trend. Oliver Heldens became the vehicle that began Future House, which was a slightly more energetic version of deep house that focused on grooves. This sound grew and grew and became the new bandwagon trend. Everybody ditched Big Room to start making Future House. Soon, Future House led to further exploration of Deep House.

On the other end of the spectrum, Trap music was exploding in popularity. It started out as Festival Trap, which was a trap remix of big room festival anthems. Then trap music grew into its own phenomenon, blending rap and hip-hop with EDM sounds. This scene evolved continuously until EDM began blending completely into hip-hop and even pop.

This era also began to downswing of major music festivals. We saw the bubble burst with TomorrowWorld going down in flames and bringing SFX with it. We saw a number of other festivals canceled as well, leading to a major shift in strategy. During this time we saw the rise of genre-festivals and sub-brands like Dreamstate, Resistance, and so on. By 2017 a number of mainstage DJs decided to return to trance and leave the mainstage scene.

2017-2018: Bass Music and Return to Subgenres

By 2017 the EDM world had become more fragmented than ever before. There really was no copycat genre anymore. Like the explosion of TV channels and on demand-content, there was a subgenre and a scene for everybody. Big Room and all of its remnants were gone – and the mainstage EDM sound had evolved to the point where it was very much like pop music. Artists like The Chainsmokers, Major Lazer, Alesso, Calvin Harris, and Zedd began chasing pop music stardom. They dropped most of the EDM elements from their music and focused on catchy hooks and singable lyrics.

The low point for EDM DJs chasing pop-music fame

The producers of uplifting melodic Anthem House from the Golden Era that failed to evolve were left behind. Storied labels like Steve Angello’s SIZE Records went practically silent.

Trap had grown into a fully-fledged Bass Music scene, comprising dubstep, trap, hip-hop, future bass, and bass house. Bass House (G House) evolved from Future House and was a bit more punchy and dubstep-oriented. It blew up the festival scenes, with its own stages and sometimes even taking over entire festival lineups. G-House was so big that it could take over 2 stages at a major festival or host its own events. Many of today’s biggest names like NGHTMRE, Tchami, Malaa, SLANDER, JOYRYDE, Slushii, etc all came from this scene.

Notably, you had artists like Marshmello that began in the bass music scene, gaining his “street credibility” before ditching the niche for the mass appeal of mainstage pop music audiences.

In this time trance music peaked and began its downfall. Vini Vici‘s Great Spirit dominated trance in 2017 and pushed trance to new heights. As the floor fell out from the mainstage sounds, many DJs began wandering back to their trance roots. Arty, Sander van Doorn, and W&W all began new trance oriented projects in 2017 and they all performed at Ultra’s ASOT Stage. However, the Vini-Vici style psytrance sound smothered trance music and stumped its development. This among other things led to trance’s downfall.

2018-2019: Fall of Trance and Rise of Techno

At the end of the decade, trance saw its biggest contraction since its inception. At regional festivals the trance stages were eliminated entirely and replaced by house stages. Armin’s A State of Trance was kicked out of Ultra’s Megastructure to make way for 3 days of techno. To make things even worse, Armin lost access to Tomorrowland’s Freedom Stage due to its collapse. Anecdotally, many of the trancefam began migrating to other genres. Trance continued on, but many of their biggest names like Armin van Buuren, Andrew Rayel, Cosmic Gate, and Vini Vici took their sets to the mainstage.

In its wake came the rise of underground music. Techno, House, Tech-House, and its variants grew into the dominant sound in dance music. It all began in a sense when Ultra launched its Resistance sub-brand. By the end of the decade, EDC was promoting its own Factory 93 brand to compete with Resistance. The world of 2019 for techno was like the world of 2013 was for EDM. The events were plentiful and reasonably priced, the lineups were insane and never boring, the tracks were new and unknown, and the sets actually flowed from beginning to end without stops to jump on the mic.

The rise of techno dovetailed well with the shift towards genre, label, or artist events. Sure Tomorrowland, Ultra, and EDC continued on as normal, but now there were festivals within the festivals. You have Resistance with its own section of Ultra and that mindset carried on to separate events. The smaller regional festivals were replaced by single-genre or label events. You saw Above & Beyond’s Weekender and the rise of Excision’s Lost Lands along with Armin’s ASOT Festival making new stops in the US.

The mainstage scene at the end of the decade is a bit of a mess, without any clear identity. You have your major headliners that aren’t going anywhere like Alesso, David Guetta, Tiesto, Marshmello, The Chainsmokers et al. Below them is usually a random assortment of artists that may or may not be good. The return of Swedish House Mafia did not bring about a renewed Golden Era like we all hoped, and so the mainstages have become quite stale. However some festivals like Tomorrowland are using the mainstage to let audiences sample a little bit from each of its side stages. They’re treated to Charlotte de Witte, Kolsch, Da Tweakaz, and other names you’d never see on a mainstage at Ultra.

The Roaring 2020s

As we begin a new decade the underground scene is flourishing, but who knows what time will bring. The amount of evolution in 1 decade is staggering, so we should expect just as much evolution in the next decade. Will EDM go the way of disco and stay confined to one decade? We doubt it.