Electronic dance music is more than all the rage.
It's the chi of America's nightlife. It's the soundtrack of youth's most unforgettable moments. It's the persistent beat that pushes kids through their lowest times, the heavy drop that gives them something to break, and the chill groove perfect for just kicking back with your crew.
But a lot of people in this country are still all, "What's EDM?"
Well, you could spend a few years going to shows and clubs, sifting through blogs, reading terrible comment threads, and having lots of 4 a.m. conversations to get to the heart of the matter.
Or you could check out Crossfade's list of ten EDM albums to hear before you die.
The Prodigy's Fat of the Land
This third studio album from English alt-beat industrial-boom duo The Prodigy blew the lid off of what dance music could be all about. A whole generation of kids more interested in rock music and heavy guitars began to see that drum machines and synth ruckus was just as fierce and biting as metal. Fat of the Land debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. It's gone double platinum. It even got inducted as the fastest-selling UK album in the Guinness books. With singles including "Smack My Bitch Up," "Firestarter," and "Breathe," it remains a source of inspiration and the standard for all future heavy producers.
AK1200's Fully Automatic
Dave Minner is a legend, a pioneer of the drum 'n' bass sound, and he happens to be from Sunny Florida. So go, us! His prolific career spans decades, and his collaboration with fellow DnB heavyweights DJ Dara and Dieselboy, known as Planet of the Drums, is one of the most exciting acts in the genre. He released this debut mix back in 1997 at the height of drum 'n' bass's first explosion, and the incredible tracklisting and mix quality makes it a favorite of AK1200 fans from start to finish.
Tiësto's Just Be
Tiësto is the richest man in EDM, and one of the biggest and most recognizable figures in dance music. Why? This second album from the Dutch mastermind might clear some things up. Beautifully orchestrated, the ten-track emotional journey captures the listener right from the start and pulls them through highs, lows, hard, soft, pain, love. It's the whole PLUR thing totally encapsulated in one perfect trance record. Plus, the closing track "Adagio for Strings" is sure to please even those who don't consider themselves Tiësto fans.
Chemical Brothers' We Are the Night
The Chemical Brothers are living legends. Everyone really should listen to their 1997 album Dig Your Own Hole, a monolithic classic that our good buddies over at Rolling Stone named the second-best EDM album ever. But we here at Crossfade included the Brothers' 2007 record on our list because it showcases a variety and musicality you won't find on many EDM works. It won them a second Grammy for Best Dance/Electronica Album, becoming the only group to enjoy that distinction. It runs a gorgeous gamut between dirty filters, alien synths, driving drums, hip-hop rhythms, interstellar grooves, rock 'n' roll sensibilities, and general artistic bizarreness. All in all, it's just one second shy of the best hour you'll ever spend listening to music.
Pendulum's Hold Your Colour
If AK1200 and Planet of the Drums encapsulated what drum and bass was all about, then Pendulum came and turned that bitch inside-out with a chainsaw. This debut full-length knocked bitches on their asses in 2005. And it was so hot that a reissue came out just two years later. Hold Your Colour took the beloved hyper drum 'n' bass booms and injected them with a fat and lethal dose of hard melody. Tracks "Slam" and "Tarantula" are just a couple of gems on this record that get dance floors moshing, even to this day. Some purists saw this as a moment DnB got infiltrated by less-than-desirable elements, but it's just fact that everyone fucking loves what Pendulum was selling. We say, was, because the pair recently called it quits to focus on the next game-changing, across-the-board appeal project: Knife Party.
Sasha and John Digweed's Northern Exposure
DJs Sasha and John Digweed cemented their place into the annals of dance music history with this double-disc concept mix. Groundbreaking for its time, Northern Exposure was the second release from the superstar duo, issued in 1996. The two slabs embark on two separate journeys; one being "North" and the other "South." A crown jewel of '90s progressive house and trance, Northern Exposure is a timeless classic that remains a benchmark for EDM fans and mixmasters.
These Daft Punk protégés are quite honestly the reason any "hipster" listens to EDM. Their debut album was co-produced by Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. And yes, this record's title is just a symbol. Pronounced "Cross," it initiated the reign of electro-house in 2006 and 2007, inspiring a generation of music nerds to fill the Internet with dance music blogs. You can tell just from the opening track, "Genesis," that the album will open you to sounds, grooves, textures, and rhythms unlike any that came before it. See: The breakdown in "Phantom."
In the first 30 seconds of the "Woo Boost" music video, Rusko grabbed America's attention. One second later, he ripped his way through green-screen effects of death as if to say, "This shit right here? This is dubstep." Nothing was ever the same again. For real, though, this dude had been putting in stateside work for years, representing for the genre he helped build in the UK since 2006. O.M.G.! came even before Skrillex's scene takeover, helping cement Rusko as the gatekeeper of the genre for many tapped-in beat freaks. This 14-track album is both funky enough for the uninitiated and true enough to dubstep's roots keep the purists hooked.
Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Richard D. James must have one crazy-ass brain, because all his music sounds pretty much like nothing else. It can be beautiful, light, majestic, spastic, crunchy, driving, sometimes even horrific. But with 1992's Selected Ambient Works 85-92, he produced what has been hailed a "watershed." With unpronounceable yet poignant tracks like "Xtal" and "Ageispolis," this album moves at a chill and steady groove, occasionally broken up by bits of insanity like "Green Calx."
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Daft Punk's Alive 2007
It's really hard to pick just one Daft Punk album that you should hear before you die. So we won't. Instead, we'll offer up this live release from the French duo's second and last tour to date. As a musical document, Alive 2007 offers a complete and comprehensive look at Daft Punk's illustrious career, mixing hits from all three studio albums into a single body of work which perfectly exemplifies the pair's taste, style, edge, themes, and attention to detail. We didn't know it before, but Daft Punk's music goes best when paired with more Daft Punk, and this is the essential mix.