2021 was yet another year that tested the strength of the electronic dance music community.
Event organizers and ravers had to settle into a new norm this year, adapting to mercurial COVID-19 health guidelines in the name of public safety. And even though it was marginally better than the dystopian lockdowns of 2020, it wasn't easy.
But after all was said and done, it became more clear than ever that the virus can try to take the rave out of the person, but it cannot take the person out of the rave. Even in a vexing year for the electronic music scene, it remained as captivating as ever.
Here are 21 stories that defined EDM in 2021.
Return of Swedish House Mafia
After a nine-year hiatus and countless cryptic teases, legendary dance music trio Swedish House Mafia finally returned with new music in 2021. The group, who are releasing a brand new album in 2022 called Paradise Again, went on to collaborate with The Weeknd and announce their first global tour in over a decade.
"We had the time to pick up and start again. And we make and remake and retry and regroup and have hope and then quit again," Axwell said at the time. "And then grab that little hope that we had, bring it back, and start over and then finding something. So this whole time, the time has really helped us to have gotten where we are with the sounds and with the songs and to a place where we feel proud. We love what we have done."
Daft Punk Split After 28 Years
This one stings too much to relive it, so on to the next blurb.
Porter Robinson Releases "Nurture"
No album in 2021 had quite the impact of Porter Robinson's Nurture. The album was not only a billet-doux from Robinson to his fans, but also to himself: "[Nurture] came after a real kind of emotional and creative low point for me, where I just was genuinely feeling like I was not capable of making music anymore," he told Anna Lunoe in a poignant January interview.
Robinson was able to meet the sky-high expectations driven by fans of his debut album, Worlds, and overcome his biggest trials and tribulations as a musician while sharing some of the most deeply personal music of his career thus far. And considering the seven-year gap between his two studio albums, it could sadly be a while until fans hear a third.
Coinbase Displays NFT Galleries at EDC
2021 saw the world's leading cryptocurrency exchange adopting electronic dance music to help drive its growth prospects.
EDC's innovative partnership with Coinbase lends credence to the notion that electronic music fans and artists are on the front lines witnessing the disruptive potential of NFTs and cryptocurrency. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have frequently been heralded as a big part of the future of the creator economy, and Coinbase's role in spotlighting this medium at some of the nation's biggest music festivals served as a catalyst for NFT adoption this year.
EDC Hosts Historic 25th Anniversary Festival In Las Vegas
As Insomniac Events toiled through a tumultuous year for EDC Las Vegas—marred by a controversial postponement and explosive backlash from fans contrived by the impact of COVID-19—there was a heightened sense that they felt a need to go bigger than ever after two brutal years without its flagship festival.
And that's exactly what they did. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fabled EDC brand with its Las Vegas edition, which is prevalently considered one of the world's top EDM festivals, Insomniac managed to encapsulate everything fans love about the festival in a rapturous weekend. And it will go down as the biggest electronic music festival in recent memory.
deadmau5 and Richie Hawtin Launch PIXELYNX
Legendary electronic music artists deadmau5 and Richie Hawtin launched PIXELNYX in early 2021 with the goal to merge three of the most bullish sectors of entertainment today: digital collectibles, gaming, and virtual worlds. They went on to announce a high-profile partnership with Niantic, the company behind the profoundly successful Pokémon GO mobile game, who signed on as a key developer to flesh out PIXELYNX's ambitious foray into the metaverse.
"As we step over the threshold into extended reality, the future is truly upon us," Hawtin said. "PIXELYNX is here to support a positive and creative acceleration into this new space, collaborating with artists to empower their creativity in this new medium and with brands to develop unique digital assets that have meaning and value.”
Hardwell's Return to the Stage
As the 2021 Amsterdam Dance Event drew to a close, Hardwell threw in a twist few saw coming. The Dutch dance music icon, who is still officially on a hiatus—where he's remained since 2018—appeared with some of his Revealed Recordings artists onstage at the label's showcase event.
Fans normally wouldn't need to read the tea leaves of such a return to the stage if it weren't for Ultra Music Festival, who announced weeks later that its 2022 edition will feature a closing performance from "one of the most iconic artists in electronic music history." The artist's identity is being kept a secret at the moment, but considering his storied history with Ultra, Hardwell could be coming out of retirement for the festival's momentous return.
"This is not official yet, but he’s coming, he's coming," KAAZE elatedly said on the mic as Hardwell joined him onstage at ADE. At one point Hardwell is overcome with emotion, visibly tearing up as he addressed the crowd. "I fucking miss you guys so much," he said.
Electric Forest Reveals 2022 Dates and Lineup
Electronic dance music fans fans have endured a long and windy road back to the neon flowers of the beloved Sherwood Forest. They were unable to descend upon the legendary backdrop of Electric Forest in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 and prospective attendees held out hope in 2021 as vaccine rollouts picked up steam, but the festival's organizers ultimately decided to pull the plug in the name of public safety.
But it wasn't long before they announced dates and a massive lineup for the long-awaited return of Electric Forest. The 2022 edition of the Rothbury, Michigan fest will feature performances from Disclosure, GRiZ, Porter Robinson, TOKiMONSTA, Louis The Child, Big Gigantic, Duke Dumont and many more.
Death of SOPHIE
A leading trans woman in the EDM landscape, SOPHIE built a formidable reputation as one of the genre's true trailblazers by challenging the status quo with unconventional sound design. Her music helped redefine the intersection of electronic and art pop, highlighted by 2018's Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides LP, which garnered her a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album.
Coachella 2021 Cancelled Following Emergency Public Health Order
After Coachella's organizers made the tough decision to abandon the festival in 2020, they proved that even the most powerful and influential event brands could fall victim to the impact of COVID-19. New dates were eventually announced for April 2021, but those were abruptly abandoned in January, leaving influencers to once again hang up their floral head wreaths and write "take me back" Instagram captions.
And as the number of cases of the Omicron variant continue to surge around the United States, it's sadly impossible to know whether or not Coachella's two planned weekends next April are ironclad—a notion that could apply to other major festivals in early 2022.
Disco Fries and SM1LO Drop Hedonistic House Anthem "Up Til Light"
"Up Til Light" is a future house stunner fit for the grandiose nature of New Year's Eve celebrations.
Nicky Romero to Ring In 2022 With 3-Hour Streaming Event
Romero, Wildstylez and Marc Benjamin will each perform for one hour between 11PM and 2AM CET, with Romero taking the stage at 11:55 to ring in the new year.
Music for the Mind: Researchers Develop Brain-Computer Interface That Matches Music to Your Mood
"It is meant to influence their emotional state, and helps teach the listener how to mediate their emotional states as they interact with the music system," said developer Kat Agres.
Triumphant Return of Lollapalooza
The revival of Chicago's iconic Lollapalooza in 2021 was the stimulating return that the electronic dance music industry needed. On its 30th anniversary, the festival served as a much-needed pressure release valve for artists who were anxious to make their return to the stage as memorable as possible, and the crowd was having every second of it.
Despite mercurial restrictions, leadership delivered the premium festival product fans have come to expect over Lollapalooza's storied history, and they wrote the roadmap that could allow events of similar scale to take place safely and securely in the months to come.
deadmau5 Announces "cube" Residency In Las Vegas
After teasing his jaw-dropping "cube v3" stage production in early 2020, deadmau5 was forced to postpone a barnstorming world tour due to COVID-19 concerns. The production was primed to be a tour de force of sorts for the legendary electronic music artist, featuring an intricate configuration operating from code written by the "Strobe" producer himself.
The cube is now set to make its long-awaited return in 2022 thanks to Zouk Group, the global powerhouse entertainment company and proprietor of Resorts World Las Vegas. Its flagship club, Zouk Nightclub, is one of the few—if not the only—technologically advanced venues on The Strip equipped to handle deadmau5's dazzling "cube" show.
The Chainsmokers, Disclosure, More Back Audius In $5 Million Funding Round
It was difficult to ignore the advent of blockchain-powered streaming platform Audius in 2021. Locking horns with goliath competitors like SoundCloud, the company emerged as a bona fide disruptor thanks to its unique value proposition to creators looking to thrive in the crypto epoch.
In September, Audius announced it had closed a $5 million funding round in partnership with some of the contemporary music scene's most popular creators. The Chainsmokers, Disclosure, Steve Aoki, Katy Perry, Jason Derulo, Pusha T, Mike Shinoda, and many others threw their weight—and their cash—behind Audius, helping to grow the platform's footprint in the streaming economy. The high-profile capital infusion represents a powerful endorsement from the creator economy for the decentralized future of music.
Ultra Music Festival Announces 2022 Return
To the delight of the electronic dance music scene at large, one of its most popular festivals punched its ticket to 2022 after a string of controversial postponements.
The journey to the return of Ultra Music Festival was officially underway in October, when organizers announced the first wave of artists to perform in 2022. The exciting lineup announcement arrived after a tumultuous year for Ultra's organizers, who found themselves navigating not only the pitfalls of COVID-19, but also a contentious class action lawsuit filed by disgruntled ticket-holders.
Return of Nero
Nero's edit of "Emotion" is nothing short of breathtaking. The group managed to construct an aching dance number using the bones of the original, interpolating radiant chords and fluttering arpeggios with Daft Punk's vocoders in dazzling fashion. Nero beautifully oscillated between half-time and double-time with elegance and finesse, catering to longtime fans seeking the cadence of one of their iconic dubstep tracks while paying homage to the robots, who infamously split in February.
The Rush to the Metaverse: Sensorium Galaxy Recruits "The Chosen Ones"
As the music industry raced to the metaverse in 2021, no one made more strides than Sensorium Galaxy, who adopted EDM on their quest to revolutionize live music experiences as we know it.
Sensorium's jaw-dropping PRISM portal, which the company has called "the world's most advanced metaverse," offers a glimpse into the future of virtual concerts and music festivals. It's here where a number of the most renowned electronic music artists in the world, such as Eric Prydz, David Guetta, Charlotte de Witte, and Black Coffee, among others, will perform in VR as part of an Avengers-like DJ team dubbed "The Chosen Ones."
ILLENIUM Releases "Fallen Embers"
When his nonstop touring schedule came to a halt last year, ILLENIUM took to the studio with the goal of creating something truly remarkable. And after tying a bow on a triptych of albums in 2019—offering up only a handful of singles in 2020—Illenials were left wondering what was next.
He went on to release his fourth album, Fallen Embers, which marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter in his career. The stunning album eventually garnered ILLENIUM his first Grammy nomination in the category of Best Dance/Electronic Album.
Over 70,000 Party In Dutch Streets for #UnmuteUs Protest
On August 21st, hundreds of Dutch music organizations carried out the #UnmuteUs protest through six cities. Hoping to make their voices heard amid a lack of clarity from the government regarding the future of music festivals, over 70,000 people marched in protest of the COVID-19 restrictions impacting music festivals and the arts sector at the time.
Protestors partied in the streets, dancing behind a convoy of trucks, DJs, and sound systems blasting electronic dance music. "They can mute our festival, but they can't mute us," asserted one DJ.
Iconic Stockholm Concert Venue Renamed After Avicii
The partnership between the Tim Bergling Foundation and ASM Global's Stockholm Live transformed the venue into a symbol of the #ForABetterDay initiative, which focuses on helping young people with mental illness and suicide prevention.
3LAU Sells Record-Breaking $3.6 Million NFT In First-Ever Tokenized Album Sale
In record-setting and groundbreaking fashion, electronic music producer 3LAU sold a collection of limited edition NFTs for $3,666,666 back in February. The dance music vet and cryptocurrency pundit also broke the record in non-fungible token sales by selling 33 unique items for a total of $11,684,101.
The sale took place on 3LAU's custom-built website developed by the team at Origin Protocol. To commemorate the three-year release of 3LAU's Ultraviolet album, the winning bidder won a platinum-plated vinyl record NFT version, which is redeemable for a custom song by 3LAU, as well as access to unreleased music and a bonus physical vinyl.
Elon Musk Hosts "Rave Cave" Event at Tesla Gigafactory
In October, Tesla's Berlin Gigafactory hadn't been producing vehicles yet, but it did hold its first rave. CEO Elon Musk, who also changed his official title to "Technoking of Tesla" in 2021, had previously quipped that he'd been considering installing a "mega rave cave" at the complex.
With Giga Fest, he made good on his intentions. The rave drew in an estimated 9,000 attendees and Musk, a one-time EDM producer himself, also attended.