EDM.com proudly publishes four installments of annual year-end coverage: Industry Leaders, Performances, Music Producers, and Songs.
To honor their creativity and seminal influences on the live music industry, we’ve recognized 10 of the year’s best performances and DJ sets from around the electronic dance music sphere.
Back in April, of the scene’s most under-appreciated artists was given a chance to showcase his inimitable performance capabilities to a massive audience in a prime-time slot on Porter Robinson’s virtual festival, Secret Sky.
Swardy’s performance at the fest was one of sheer originality and imagination. He blew the lid off of what fans could expect from virtual performances with nearly 35 minutes of virtuosic live instrumentation, like in his brilliant renditions of “Here On My Own” and “The Gold Line,” among others. All the while, he intertwined the music with quirky puppets, spellbinding visuals, and a variety of costumes.
The final result was one of the most feel-good performances of the year during a time when the dance music community needed it the most.
Live at Avant Gardner
Skrillex didn’t perform much in 2021, but his show at Brooklyn’s Avant Gardner on October 27th will go down as one of the most memorable of his career.
While the EDM community toiled through a revolving door of trite livestreams and not-so-immersive metaverse DJ sets thanks to the pandemic, Skrillex threw down in New York City for the first time in three years. In what was a “you had to be there” kind of night, his performance represented the quintessential Skrillex set. He dropped a slew of never-before-heard songs while simultaneously igniting the nostalgia machine with some of his most prized hits, like his remix of Benny Benassi’s “Cinema,” which saw Benassi himself take the stage alongside the dubstep icon.
It was one of countless surreal moments in a performance akin to a fever dream. And considering the relentless nature of COVID-19 and its impact on live music, it’ll take some Inception-like wizardry for a show like this to happen again any time soon.
EDC Las Vegas
In the midst of a bona fide breakout year, Moore Kismet became the youngest artist to ever perform at Insomniac’s storied EDC Las Vegas festival. But it seems no one told the electronic music prodigy, who threw down with the unassailable gusto of a seasoned vet and proved there is no moment they cannot meet.
Kismet’s stentorian EDC set was the eruption of a career that had been broiling under the surface. At only 16, they took EDM’s biggest stage and etched their name into it with an hourlong set chock full of ferocious drops and signature, hypnotic bass music. The performance showcased not a starry-eyed teenager, but an authentic artist who belonged there—and who represents the future of electronic dance music.
Live at Abu Simbel, Egypt for Cercle
The stars aligned for WhoMadeWho’s performance at Abu Simbel, an ancient temple complex in Egypt cut into living rock by King Ramesses around 1264 BC. On the carefully chosen filming date of February 22nd, the dawn sunlight illuminated three of the four statues inside the sanctuary of Abu Simbel. Only the statue of Ptah, the god of the underworld, remained in darkness.
Cercle’s fantastic cinematography, WhoMadeWho’s electric chemistry, and the surreal backdrop of Abu Simbel culminated in a jaw-dropping performance. The Danish trio brought forth their full live band setup to play an all-original set, grooving on drums, singing tenderly, and experimenting with synths and percussion.
It’s a rarity to see underground dance music so beautifully filmed in a historic location.
Serbia’s EXIT Festival made headlines this year as the first major music fest to return to Europe since the start of the pandemic. Leading the pack of its top-notch performances was Belgian mainstay Amelie Lens, who celebrated the event’s 20th anniversary with a heart-pumping techno set.
Immaculate transitions and transportive selections powered her riveting two-hour performance, which was rife with unbridled energy thanks to “L’Obscurite,” “Raver’s Heart” and “Space Program,” among other Lens originals. DJ sets like these are exactly what the doctor ordered after a long 18 months in quarantine, and Lens’ delivery at EXIT reigns supreme.
“Nurture Live” at Secret Sky
Nothing sets the electronic music community ablaze like a new venture from Porter Robinson.
Just a few days after the release of his long-awaited—and breathtaking—sophomore album Nurture, Robinson debuted a stunning live set at his curated virtual fest, Secret Sky. Featuring live edits of fan-favorite Nurture cuts as well as classics like “Sad Machine” and “Shelter,” the spine-tingling performance was brought entirely to life for the first time—something fans will never forget.
Live at the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
After performing a stunning set atop the Grand Canyon Skywalk last year, Kaskade reaffirmed his commitment to taking dance music where it hasn’t gone previously.
Like the former livestream set, Kaskade’s latest destination performance from a bird’s eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge was captured in top-quality and from multiple breathtaking angles. Soundtracked by the warm and inviting sounds of Kaskade’s classic house hits, viewers float comfortably through the famous San Francisco fog for an immersive experience which shines a whole new light on one of America’s most photogenic landmarks.
Venus EP Release Livestream
Yula writes relatable music that tugs at the heartstrings, and his intricate work is entirely produced by himself. He is a master at being able to manipulate sound to fit any mood and genre.
Ergo, Yula’s musical abilities have launched him into the spotlight as a formidable live artist and attention-commanding performer. His March 2021 livestream—held in celebration of the release of his Venus EP—was a performance that showcases his robust live palette. Yula bounces between guitar, piano, vocals, and electronic drums, all of which are used to perform poignant live renditions aided by jaw-dropping stage production and visuals.
“Trilogy” at Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas
The breakneck ascension of ILLENIUM’s career reached a peak milestone in 2021 when he hosted “Trilogy” in Las Vegas.
Taking place in July at Allegiant Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, the momentous night found the Grammy-nominated superstar performing for just under four hours in what he called his “biggest headline show yet.” ILLENIUM’s “Trilogy” performance comprised three different sets, each one turning back the clock to his first three albums: Ashes, Awake, and Ascend. Unlike typical concerts, he performed on a towering cylindrical stage at the epicenter of the venue, with the crowd spanning 360° around him.
ILLENIUM’s “Trilogy” spectacular ultimately became one of the largest headlining electronic concerts of all-time. And as the first-ever show at Allegiant Stadium, it allowed the EDM community to thrust a flagpole into a mecca of Las Vegas entertainment.
“Miami Open Skies”
Longtime fans of iconic German trance duo Cosmic Gate have bared witnessed to the evolution of their sound, from their origins in hard trance to a more progressive route. Shifting gears yet again, their 2021 album Mosaiik showcased a darker, more techno-influenced sound and their “Miami Open Skies” DJ set in March moonlighted as the opening act to those new sounds. Featuring tracks by Franky Wah, Cristoph, ARTBAT, Grum, and Tale of Us, the performance and its brooding undertones perfectly match the darkening Miami skies behind Cosmic Gate.