25. Lilly Wood & The Prick – “Prayer in C” (Robin Schulz Remix) (2014)
For evidence of EDM’s awesome/destructive power, see “Prayer in C.” The original 2010 version by French folk duo Lilly Wood & The Prick is painfully slow and achingly mournful, even including sad flutes. For his remix, German producer Robin Schulz ditched the flutes, jacked the tempo, and built everything around the tune’s snaking guitar line, resulting in a punishingly catchy tropical house track that ended up charting around the globe. It’s one of those songs you know even if you don’t know you know it — which you wouldn’t, were it not for Schulz.
24. Martin Garrix & Bebe Rexha – “In the Name of Love” (2016)
Martin Garrix’s “Animals” may have spawned legions of copycats, but the Dutch upstart had no intention of resting on his laurels. “In the Name of Love” throws caution to the winds with a bold, breezy hook that floats effortlessly over trap chants and buzzing synths — packing all the colors of the rainbow into a single potent blast.
23. Duck Sauce – “Barbra Streisand” (2014)
Caught between the last days of disco and the early days of house and hip-hop, this delirious A-Trak/Armand Van Helden co-pro (with a little woo-hoo-hoo help from Boney M) pays tribute to pop’s original diva by imagining a parallel 1970s where she turns down Funny Lady to take the lead role in Wonder Woman.
22. Fatboy Slim & Riva Starr feat. Beardyman – “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat” (Calvin Harris Remix) (2013)
“Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat” is aspirational parody, a house music shaggy-dog story that mocks — yet also honors — those hearty souls who want nothing but to dance. The electro Calvin Harris remix doubles down on the “rave” part of the formula, turning up the volume with addicting, abrasive synth squelches.
21. Disclosure – “When a Fire Starts to Burn” (2014)
Disclosure had already proven their talents at slinky 2-step garage and sultry R&B by the time they dropped their debut album. But “When a Fire Starts to Burn” not only extended their reign to encompass peak-time house anthems — it also helped introduce a whole swath of listeners to a style of dance music that favors depth over drops. With the song’s preacher-like vocals, a new generation heard the gospel of house music.
20. Deadmau5 & Kaskade – “I Remember” (2008)
Deadmau5 and Kaskade may seem like an unlikely pairing: The former crafts concussive tech house that sounds like a bombing run, while the latter uses mellifluous melodies to shoot straight for the heart. But this turns out to be a winning combination: “I Remember” features Haley Gibby’s soaring vocals dancing with darting synths atop a clobbering kick. The track merged two schools of EDM bombast when both Kaskade and Deadmau5 were at the height of their powers.
19. Marshmello, “Alone” (2016)
The appeal of EDM’s newest masked phenom is as obvious as his true identity is mysterious. More than just a silly stage prop, that puffy mask is his veritable freak flag, and with the trap-slapped synthphony of “Alone” (and its high-school-set video) he’s produced an unlikely anti-bullying anthem that makes outcasts feel like they’re on top of the world even if they’re dancing by themselves.
18. Kaskade – “Atmosphere” (2013)
Fitting for a song rife with outer-space imagery, “Atmosphere” is a shuttle launch of a track — an introspective piano reverie that slowly achieves liftoff in a blaze of light and euphoria. “When I was young, I could hear this sound,” Kaskade sings, “of melody pure and the rhythm loud.” When the high-beam synths start swirling over the heart-racing chorus beat, it feels like wish fulfillment.
17. Martin Solveig & Dragonette – “Hello” (2011)
“Hello” may be essentially an indie-dance song — not to mention the vehicle for a very clever video — but that didn’t stop it from being inescapable at EDM festivals throughout 2011. Between the instantly recognizable pianos, no-nonsense groove, and Dragonette’s chirpy vocals, Solveig came up with a song that translated remarkably well in remix after remix.
16. Afrojack feat. Eva Simons – “Take Over Control” (2010)
Before “Take Over Control,” Dutch house had been oriented toward beats — ferocious tracks with pogoing drops that set the template for much of the EDM that followed. But with this crossover hit, Afrojack proved that the genre could also produce verse-chorus songs without losing any dancefloor energy. This is especially true when the songs feature a singer with as much power as Simons.
15. Alesso feat. Tove Lo – “Heroes (We Could Be)” (2015)
Few songs reveal the promise of EDM quite as boldly as “Heroes.” With a hook inspired by David Bowie, singer Tove Lo captures the moment on the dancefloor where anything seems possible, and everyone seems to be in it together. Alesso, meanwhile, helps induce this moment by building a beat that’s nothing short of sublime.
14. Calvin Harris – “Feel So Close” (2011)
Released around the same time as his monster Rihanna jam (see: No. 2), “Feel So Close” wasn’t just Harris’ first solo U.S. hit. In hindsight, it sounds like a farewell to his indie/electro-oriented past, its steady piano-house beat entangling with discordant guitar lines. Now, when you hear Harris sing, “I feel so close to you right now,” it sounds like he’s serenading a Forbes 100 list.
13. Kygo feat. Conrad Sewell – “Firestone” (2014)
It’s funny to think now how radical “Firestone” sounded when it first appeared. Simply by slowing the tempo by about 15 beats per minute, the Norwegian newcomer forced fans to rethink what they thought was possible from a mainstage set. Almost overnight, the trend of monstrous drops and obligatory pyro gave way to a new era of airy flutes and sweet tropical breezes.
12. Lana Del Rey vs. Cedric Gervais – “Summertime Sadness Remix” (2013)
For the first couple years of her career, the idea that Lana Del Rey might ever have anything to do with dance music seemed laughable, if not ludicrous. Then French DJ Cedric Gervais got his hands on “Summertime Sadness,” and that all changed: It turned out Del Rey made the perfect singer for EDM, with a low, smoky voice that cut like a dark red laser through Gervais’ entrancing production.
11. Martin Garrix – “Animals” (2013)
In one of Obama’s less publicized executive orders, the president required every DJ to play at least a portion of Martin Garrix’s “Animals” at every set in 2013. That’s how it felt, anyway, when Garrix’s towering banger became a staple not just of EDM festivals but certain Latin and hip-hop parties as well. The song’s hollowed-out breakdown remains one of the genre’s great achievements.
10. Alan Walker – “Faded” (2015)
The Norwegian wunderkind’s breakthrough post-rave ballad recently crossed the billion-plays mark on YouTube and, really, it’s no mystery as to why. From its mournful piano intro to the teardrop synths to Iselin Solheim’s crestfallen vocal, it’s just as well-suited to a lonely night spent crying over an open laptop as swaying your smartphone in the air with the festival masses.
9. Skrillex feat. Sirah – “Bangarang” (2012)
With “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” Skrillex changed the rules of dance music, using chainsaw-like bass to carve out a space that simply hadn’t existed before. With “Bangarang,” he proved that there was no way in hell he was going to let himself get backed into a corner, even one of his own making. Without losing an iota of his previous songs’ energy, “Bangarang” rearranges itself along a four-to-the-floor axis, then leans hard into vocal chop and metal-shop bass riffs, sounding like the mutant offspring of big beat and extraterrestrial heavy metal.
8. Zedd feat. Foxes – “Clarity” (2012)
Zedd didn’t come from the world of electronic music; before the budding producer won a string of remix contests, he played in a post-hardcore band. But “Clarity” sounds like the work of someone who was fated to do what he does. With its buzzing harmonics, high-energy drums, and unstoppable melodic uplift, it essentially established the mold for pop music’s merger with mainstage EDM, a marriage that has dominated pop culture for nearly half a decade.
7. Swedish House Mafia feat. John Martin – “Don’t You Worry Child” (2012)
If Let It Be had gone as planned, it would have been “Don’t You Worry Child.” The track, Swedish House Mafia’s Homeric goodbye, opens with a simple key riff, then builds into a synth-backed power ballad with lyrics that describe both divine will and a Rosebud-like memory about “a hill across a blue lake.” The group even ended their farewell tour by reprising the song on acoustic guitar.
6. Avicii – “Levels” (2011)
“Levels” is pure candy, a sugar high that’s constantly cresting and never breaks. Based around a simple chord progression and a subtly complex series of sonic effects, the song announced Avicii as a major star and crossed over to the pop charts even without vocals. Then again, vocals are hardly necessary when a soulful Etta James sample — “Sometimes I get a good feeling” — says it all.
5. DJ Snake feat. Lil Jon – “Turn Down for What” (2014)
Here, maximal EDM meets its match in minimalist trap, with Lil Jon holding court ringside as if he were doing play-by-play for a WWE SummerSlam at Ultra Fest. Between the machine-gunned builds, Jon’s fire-breathing holler, and the power-drilled morse-code melodies, it’s liable (as its cautionary-tale video illustrates) to turn twerking into bloodsport.
4. Avicii – “Wake Me Up” (2013)
EDM’s Dylan-goes-electric moment came at Ultra 2013. After playing “Levels,” Avicii stopped his headlining set, invited Aloe Blacc to the stage and, yes, he went acoustic. The result was “Wake Me Up,” a collaboration that also included contributions from Incubus’ Mike Einziger, country singer Lee Ann Womack, label head David Geffen, and actress Aileen Quinn, best known for playing Annie in the 1982 film of the same name. Together, they created a soaring folk-house jam able to define EDM while also transcending it.
3. Jack Ü feat. Justin Bieber – “Where Are Ü Now” (2015)
With “Where Are Ü Now,” Skrillex and Diplo introduced the world to the “dolphin” — that’s Sonny’s term for the lithe, slippery processed vocal melody that serves as the song’s central hook, and which quickly spawned imitators throughout pop and EDM, a trend that has yet to let up. They also more or less singlehandedly managed to make Justin Bieber, well, cool — a task that, in 2015, required infinitely more finessing than any plug-in could handle.
2. Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris – “We Found Love” (2011)
On top of heralding RiRi’s transition from R&B diva to dance-tent queen, the most ubiquitous, euphoric song of 2011 functions as an eternal metaphor for the festival experience itself. The line “We found love in a hopeless place” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when you’ve gleefully spent the day smothered in mud and now must embark on a fruitless late-night search for a clean Port-a-Potty.
1. Major Lazer & DJ Snake feat. MØ – “Lean On” (2015)
Major Lazer and DJ Snake didn’t invent bringing slower tempos to the rave. They also didn’t invent trap drums, and they certainly didn’t invent the globe-trotting pastiche that has helped earn the video for “Lean On” more than two billion views. What they did do was combine all of those elements into a side-winding pop package that sounds as incredible on the speaker of your iPhone as it does pouring out of a speaker stack that’s 10 feet tall. But it’s really MØ, her voice harmonized in a way that brings goosebumps, that owns the whole damn song. Whatever that chorus is supposed to mean — “Blow a kiss, fire a gun” — she sounds like a warrior princess poised to lead us all to a brighter world.