The 21st Century has been the undisputed domain of electronic dance music worldwide. Some truly classic albums and EPs have been made in the past 17 years, and you, the well-read superfan, know all the hits – but do you know the deep cuts?
The biggest names in dance don’t become icons just because of a few successful singles. True masters prove their worth in albums that tell a cohesive story from start to finish, and that means some of those non-singles hold just as much beauty as their counterparts. Deep cuts are often the most experimental works, providing fans with deeper insight into their favorite artists’ influences and approach.
Elsewhere at Billboard, we’ve already celebrated the best deep cuts that the pop and hip-hop world had to offer this century. Today, we celebrate the 20 best deep cuts from some of the 21st century’s greatest dance albums and EPs. From Zedd to Daft Punk, Avicii to Boys Noize, these are the tracks you may have missed but definitely need to put in rotation.
20. Boys Noize, “Superfresh” (Oi Oi Oi, 2007)
Oi Oi Oi recently turned 10 years old, and it remains one of the century’s most impressive and influential works of dance music this side of Discovery. It showcases Boys Noize’s versatility greater than any of his subsequent works, which dive more into traditional acid house and techno styles. “Superfresh” is a crazed mix of textures and sounds over a killer beat that never quits. It’s hot hip-hop attitude, electro edge, disco funk, straight-up noise, and everything that made hipsters freak out over blog house in the first place.
With a vocal feature from Jhene Aiko, it’s almost insane that “Wake Up Alone” hasn’t been released as a single. Maybe its day in the sun is on its way, but you can dive deep into the cute R&B vibe of this sing-along before radio catches on. “Wake Up Alone” pushed both Jhene and The Chainsmokers out of their comfort zone, moving the singer into new dance territory, while giving the production duo a chance to sink its chops into a little trap style.
18. Basement Jaxx feat. Siouxsie Sioux, “Cish Cash” (Kish Kash, 2003)
First of all, any song featuring goth goddess Siouxsie Sioux is a winner in everyone’s book. Secondly, this post-punk rhythm is the perfect mix of bratty U.K. brilliance and millennial electro-clash swagger. If you don’t feel like stomping around in combat boots to this one, then punk is truly dead.
17. Flume – “Ezra” (Flume, 2012)
Flume’s self-titled debut album was an instant classic, with many of these tracks quickly becoming fan favorites. But “Ezra” is a lo-fi, laid-back jam that doesn’t always hit fairweather fans’ radars. It tells an emotional story without a single lyric, filling in the holes of your soul with some kind of smoky, bleary-eyed romance. Whoever Ezra is, they must be one interesting individual, and the backstory must be a good one.
16. Kaskade feat. Sasha Sloan, “Phoenix” (Automatic, 2015)
Kaskade is a man of many beautiful hits, but this raw, emotional cut from 2015’s Automatic strikes you in a different place. Sasha Sloan comes in singing hard and heavy, but she flies on a champion’s cloud on top of the producer’s airy and uplifting chorus. The echoing snaps really elevate the song’s punchy rhythm.
15. Porter Robinson, “Fellow Feeling” (Worlds, 2014)
Porter Robinson’s 11th track from his opus Worlds album is one of the most cinematically compelling songs out there. It opens with weeping strings and piano chords that seem to melt like fallen snow. Just when you’re ready to cry, a woman’s voice comes in alongside a static-filled beat. She leads you toward a great sonic plunge, one of dance music’s wildest breakdowns ever set to wax. It’s a jungle gym of sound, full of awesome obstacles with just enough rhythm to tie it all together. You can imagine a whole movie plot to this song alone.
14. ODESZA feat. Briana Marela, “For Us” (In Return, 2014)
ODEZA have always been celebrated for their cinematic style, and this closing track from 2014’s breakthrough In Return is the grand finale your life deserves. A fitting end to a beautiful album. Put the volume up just loud enough as to completely consume, and enjoy.
Caracal was full of star-powered vocal features, and somehow Miguel’s sexy, smoky coo didn’t get official single release. “Good Intentions” is one of the hottest tunes on the LP — the deep bump of the bass drum keeps your hips moving in perfect time, while the wobbly synth melody lends the sensual house tune perfect future vibes. If you can’t seal the deal with this song, they’re just not that into you.
12. Calvin Harris, “Slow Acid” (Motion, 2014)
This wild track from 2014’s Motion is one of the album’s weirdest and most wonderful. For the most part, that album feels like a regurgitation of 18 Months’ pop-crossover style, but “Slow Acid” sees Harris push himself toward fatter synths and a more trudging tempos than he’d previously explored. It blends moments of reverent beauty with harsh acid house squalls, and for that, it stands out as one of Harris’ most interesting tunes.
11. Gorillaz – “Every Planet We Reach is Dead” (Demon Dayz, 2005)
U.K. collective Gorillaz are one of dance-rock’s greatest storytelling musical outfits, and “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead” is a perfect example. The music alone paints a picture in your mind of some lonely, desert place. Damon Albarn’s haunting vocals spiral down the path of hopelessness, and it leads into a jewel of a jangly guitar breakdown. Maybe it’s too heady to be a single, but it’s just right for at-home listening.
10. Avicii, “True Believer” (Stories, 2015)
Did you know this deep cut from 2015’s Stories was co-written by Chris Martin, of Coldplay fame? If you listen closely, you can hear his influence on the vocal hook, but it’s the space-age build up and plopping, Playskool melody that really makes this Avicii deep cut a must-listen. It may be one of Avicii’s cutest works to date.
9. Tiesto feat. Calvin Harris, “Century” (Kaleidoscope, 2009)
Did you even realize this deep cut from Tiesto classic Kaleidoscope featured a production assist from future superstar Calvin Harris? You do now that you could pick his voice out of a sonic lineup. Maybe that’s why it has such a funky disco groove. These two minds melded on some next-level dance floor truth. Your body can’t help but be moved.
8. Zedd – “Codec” / “Stache” (Clarity, 2012)
Okay, this might be cheating because it’s two songs instead of one, but Zedd’s back-to-back efforts from his 2012 debut Clarity so perfectly melt together, you kind of have to address them as one marital unit. “Codec” and “Stache” represent Zedd’s hard-edged roots, providing the middle of the album with well-placed bite to keep listeners engaged from start to finish.
“Touch” is more than a song: It’s a cinematic masterpiece. It opens with inspiring bleep-bloops, races through time and space and a myriad of emotions as some futuristic being tells us all about its memories of physical and emotional connectedness. Paul Williams’ vocals then come rough through a vocoder, full and strong as if he’s standing tall under the spotlight of a Broadway stage. It’s funky, it’s provocative, and at just over eight minutes, it’s one of the most ambitious compositions in all modern dance music, let alone in Daft Punk’s expansive catalog.
6. The Chemical Brothers, “The Pills Won’t Help You Now” (We Are the Night, 2007)
This closing tune from icons The Chemical Brothers helps ease the comedown at the back-end of its Grammy award-winning LP We Are The Night. “The Pills Won’t Help You Now,” but these dreamy melodies can help you drift into a part of space-time where the truth doesn’t hurt so much.
5. deadmau5, “Pets” (While(1<2), 2014)
“Pets.” They’re all the rage, but your dad says you can’t have one until you show a little more responsibility. Sooth your sorrows with a cascade of punchy key melodies and persistent kick drums. By the time this seven-and-a-half-minute electro epic is over, you’ll be filled with all the cuddly love you could possibly handle. It’s a journey every deadmau5 fan needs to take.
4. Eric Prydz, “Collider” (Opus, 2016)
Prydz is a living legend. Every festival house producer worth their salt has at least experimented with the “Pryda snare,” and most of your favorite producers have used it on official releases, but Prydz is the man for so much more than his signature build. He’s a chameleon of sound. He can fit any vibe, day or not. “Collider” is one of his most infectiously upbeat electro works to date, taken from his aptly titled Opus LP. Get to know it inside and out.
3. ?Air, “Alone in Kyoto” (Lost in Translation Soundtrack / Talkie Walkie, 2003)
Fall under the spell of this acoustic guitar. Get swept up in a current of fragrant flowers under a shimmering night sky. Escape your humdrum reality and explore enchanting worlds seeped in culture, where neon lights guide the lonely and ancient spirits protect the land.
2. Justice, “Genesis” (Cross, 2007)
If we’re gonna talk about greatest album openers of all time, we’ve got to talk about Justice’s “Genesis.” It’s aggressive, it’s cinematic, it’s fair warning to strap on your seat belt, because you’re about to ride one of dance music’s most influential albums of the century. This is a total fan favorite, and it has the added bonus of lending the French duo’s live show a second starting song. Yeah, Justice has two live openings. Deal with it.
1. Skrillex – “With You Friends (Long Drive)” (Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP, 2010)
When people say they don’t like Skrillex, this is how you change their minds. While the Los Angeles producer’s name became synonymous with his more aggressive dubstep output during his rise to fame, the OWSLA boss is as versatile as they come. Emotional and immaculately produced, his debut EP’s finale perfectly exhibits his melodic sensibilities and penchant for pitch-shifted brilliance. Don’t sleep on the more relaxed and atmospheric “Long Drive” version from his breakthrough Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP. – Matt Medved