Major Lazer, Virtual Self, Testpilot & More: The Must-Hear Side Projects and Aliases In Dance Music
Variety is the spice of life. You can't just do the same routine day in and day out and expect to grow. Even your favorite producers need a break from their usual sound to get reinvigorated, re-inspired and remember why they fell in love with the music creation process in the first place.
That's when having an alias or side project comes in handy. Whether the producers team up with another like-minded individual, crosses genre lines on their own, or just bleeps out a couple strange and exciting bloops, the freedom to explore new ideas is a well spring of encouragement. Sometimes, the side project ends up being even more successful than the producer's original gig, and a new world of touring possibilities opens wide.
Billboard Dance loves to see producers explore new territories. It's for the betterment of the culture and our dancing feet. Today, we honor our favorite side projects you need to know about. They're not just random offshoots -- they're classics, too.
What You Need To Know: Alpha 9 is ARTY taking his progressive trance roots for a long-awaited spin. The Russian producer spent nearly a decade building his sound and fan base, constantly pushing himself toward new arenas of electronic dance, but after completing his album at the end of 2017, he felt the need to get back to the sound that birthed him. Alpha 9 is his home for all those beautiful, emotive melodies.
What You Need To Know: Those little alien creatures? They're not so alien after all. AREA21 is Martin Garrix and his MC friend Maejor. The project is all about having fun and letting go of life's troubles. It's a funky, feel-good project that'll keep you dancing from sundown to sunup, and it's got a cute sound, too.
What You Need To Know: Is there such a thing as a halfway Eric Prydz fan? You're sure to know about Pryda, and if you follow the man of many names, you're most likely familiar with Cirez D, but in the case that you are not, definitely dive deep into the Swede's dark, booming techno alias. It might just become your new fave.
What You Need To Know: Destroid are coming to blow the competition away with more hard-hitting bass voltage than is legal in a residential area. That's because this devilish supergroup is comprised of boom demons Excision, Downlink and Pendulum drummer KJ Sawka, with additional production from Space Laces and Ajapai. The debut LP also features co-credits from Bassnectar, among others.
What You Need To Know: Two of the illest producers in the world come together, merging skills on the analog and electronic for total domination. Skrillex brings everything he knows about laptop artistry, and Boys Noize teaches him how to use a modular synth. Dog Blood makes bone crunching, metal-inspired disco punk. It's a rare sighting, but if you ever get the chance, see these two throw down.
What You Need To Know: A-Trak is one of the greatest DJs to ever live. Armand Van Helden is a legendary house master with funk in his blood. As Duck Sauce, they produce some of the funk-nastiest disco-sweat electro this side of the dance floor. It made a big splash with star-studded music video "Barbra Streisand." These guys have the sauce for days, and it's the sauce that makes the difference.
What You Need To Know: So you like Armin van Buuren, but you want him to go a little harder? When he gets with his buddy Benno de Goeij, the productions are hot, heavy and forever beating. Gaia gives you life with its live production presentation, which most recently hit the stage at Dreamstate in 2017.
What You Need To Know: We are giving you not one, but two Martin Garrix side projects on this list. It's the fresh-faced producer's instrumental, bouncy, uplifting big room project. These productions are always a good time, and while they do sound like Garrix, they're truer to his early sound, before crossing over into the pop world. He often brings friends along, too.
What You Need To Know: When Oliver Heldens felt caged by his funky house style, he gave himself a dark room within which to escape. HI-LO is Heldens taking on darker house grooves with harder oomph. It's his take on bass-boosted dance floor mania, and since 2015, it's been an alternative fans crave.
What You Need To Know: How many producers can start a new project and immediately tap Justin Bieber for vocals? That's some kind of star power, but when you consider Skrillex and Diplo's combined rolodex, it's unsurprising. Jack Ü was an instant success for both superstars, and while the project is currently on hold, it remains a must subscribe.
What You Need To Know: If you like drum'n'bass, you no doubt love live band Pendulum. When d'n'b DJs all started slowing their tempos and injecting more womps into their work, dubstep became king, and Pendulum -- or, at least two of them -- became Knife Party. It took no time at all for fans to crossover with them. "Internet Friends" request accepted.
What You Need To Know: If you take three funky parts and stick them together, what do you get? A trippy, off-center sonic experience that'll have you staring at your hands for hours. Labrinth, Sia and Diplo are the master minds behind this strange groove. Are you feeling it yet?
What You Need To Know: No doubt Diplo is a famous fella, but we'd venture to say his side project Major Lazer is the real cash cow. It started out with him and Switch making wildly experimental dancehall-style jams and morphed into a dance-pop crossover consisting of Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. The trio is a bona fide smash, but we'll always remember the Skerrit Bwoy days with love.
New World Punx
What You Need To Know: Two masters of uplifting melody come together under one glowing roof to bring next-level feel-good vibes to a dance floor near you. Markus Schulz and Ferry Corsten are legends of the trance community, and here, we get high-energy house served hot and ready for the hands-up masses.
What You Need To Know: Afrojack is the man with the nastiest builds and drops in all of Dutch house, and he brings it somehow even harder as his alias NLW. It's his take on underground sounds, but you can still pop a bottle to it if you get the feeling.
What You Need To Know: Richie Hawtin is a techno god, the leader of the genre's second generation and an avid student of sound and design. Plastikman is his most popular moniker, of which he has more than a few. Plastikman makes chill, stark techno beats you can get lost in for hours. The live shows are quite the fan-favorite experience, too.
What You Need To Know: Back once again comes Mr. Prydz, this time for his best-loved alias and the figurehead of that progressive house build the entire world has come to know, love and use for its own purposes. The Pryda snare is inescapable and all around us. You've heard its rushing ascension more than a million times, to be sure. Shout out the innovator who never sleeps.
What You Need To Know: You may ask yourself, "wait, RL Grime is a side project?" Yes, it's been a while since we heard anything from Clockwork, but that's the original moniker of one Henry Steinway. The LA-producer has gone on to do huge things with his trap alias, even working with Miguel in 2017. He's moving the subgenre forward and aiming his sights on pop crossover, too.
What You Need To Know: In the late '90s, Gouryella first made its appearance as a majestic duo consisting of Ferry Corsten and Tiesto. The project went dormant for about a decade, between the early 2000s and 2015, but Corsten came back with love and affection and even hit the road in 2017, celebrating trance's past as a means to inspire its future.
What You Need To Know: The world yet waits to see what Silk City will do, but knowing the duo consists of Diplo and Mark Ronson, we're almost 100 percent sure it will be fantastic. Prepare yourself for the live debut at Governor's Ball in New York City: It's a show years in the making that comes to fruition on June 2.
Swedish House Mafia
What You Need To Know: Does this really need any introduction? Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello came together for about three years of the most hype big room electro house the world has ever known. Swedish House Mafia were the poster boys for the international electronic dance music explosion, and their reunion at Ultra in Miami March of 2018 was a moment to remember.
What You Need To Know: You know deadmau5 for his gritty progressive house, electro and trance tunes, but he has a techno side project that made its debut at Movement Festival in Detroit in the summer of 2017. He continues to bring Testpilot to special stages around the globe for rare, dark, rumbling sets that set fans on fire.
What You Need To Know: Top-notch producers Hudson Mohawk and Lunice make up TNGHT, one of the hippest and most talked-about side projects on this list. The duo took trap to a new level of cool, and even got picked up by Kanye West for use on his Yeezus album. Fun fact: Alison Wonderland has a TNGHT tattoo.
What You Need To Know: This is the side project your favorite producer wishes he invented. Porter Robinson looked deep into his personal past to find the new voice of the present. It's a throwback to early 2000s trance, happy hardcore, d'n'b and more. The only rule is that is has to bang. It's an audio-visual experience you don't wanna miss.