BEST DANCE RECORDING NOMINEES: THE LOWDOWN
“Never Say Never”
Producer: Basement Jaxx
Mixers: Basement Jaxx
Label: Atlantic Jaxx/[PIAS]
British house music veterans Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, the brain trust behind Basement Jaxx, were the inaugural winners of the best dance/electronic album category in 2005 for their album Kish Kash. “Never Say Never,” from their seventh studio album, Junto, was the first single worked at clubs and radio; it topped the Dance Club Songs chart in September. The shape-shifting track, which features soulful Sam Smith-style vocals by Elliott Marshall (credited as ETML), blends disco, house and R&B with a pop melody and lyrics.
Clean Bandit Featuring Jess Glynne
Producers: Grace Chatto, Jack Patterson
Mixers: Wez Clarke, Jack Patterson
Label: Daft Life/Columbia
The success of “Rather Be” began with Clean Bandit’s self-produced music video, which tells the story of a Japanese chef who begins hallucinating images of the group’s logo and its members. Since the video’s release in December 2013, it has been viewed more than 185 million times on YouTube, which helped propel the song to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although technically an electronic act, Clean Bandit takes a classical approach to dance and pop, and the distinctive strings and keyboard set “Rather Be” apart from the pack.
“F for You” is Mary J. Blige’s first nomination in the dance category, and it’s also the track that inspired her to collaborate further with Disclosure, one of the biggest breakout dance acts of the last two years, on her recently released album, The London Sessions. British brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence take a groovy, retro approach to dance music, preferring chill ’90s-era club beats over modern EDM. Their debut album, Settle, was nominated for best dance/electronica album at the 2014 Grammy Awards, and “F for You,” which peaked at No. 37 on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart on May 10, keeps Disclosure in the game for 2015.
“I Got U”
Duke Dumont Featuring Jax Jones
Producers: Duke Dumont, Jax Jones
Mixers: Tommy Forrest
British producer Adam George Dyment, aka Duke Dumont, made a name for himself by remixing pop songs by Lily Allen and Mystery Jets. Then, in 2011, he moved from London to the English countryside to focus on producing original material. His first major single, “Need U (100%),” was nominated in this category in 2013. Dumont collaborated with producer Jax Jones on this follow-up, a swirling musical confection of tropical steel drums, deep bass, piano and hand claps laced with British singer-songwriter Kelli-Leigh’s sexy soul vocals, which reference Whitney Houston‘s “My Love Is Your Love.”
Zhu, a 25-year-old Chinese-American artist named Steven Zhu, likes to shroud himself in mystery and literally perform in shadows, but this nomination should make it difficult for him to avoid the spotlight. After two previous releases — Outkast medley “Moves Like Ms. Jackson” and “Superfriends” — had the Internet buzzing, Zhu released sexy-cool, bottom-heavy “Faded” in March, along with a self-directed music video that racked up more than 30 million plays on YouTube. Zhu has signed with Columbia Records in North America, and is slated to release an album in 2015.
BEST DANCE/ELECTRONIC ALBUM NOMINEES: THE LOWDOWN
An enigmatic Cornish artist (real name: Richard D. James) beloved by the electronic music faithful, Aphex Twin’s Syro, announced on the deep web, generated a buzz similar to Daft Punk‘s 2013 comeback, Random Access Memories. A DJ since the late 1980s and one of the first artists to compose music by computer, James was a pioneer of early-1990s acid house and techno. Syro, his first official release in 13 years, stays true to his industrial roots, yet it’s a melodic, luscious and subtle blending of his influences over the past three decades, from ambient music to glitch and techno. It’s also a bit of an anomaly in today’s EDM landscape: dance music built for headphones, not the dancefloor.
The seventh studio album by the alter ego of Canadian producer Joel Zimmerman is a titanic two-disc, 25-song set (plus three bonus tracks) named after a computer programming reference to an infinite loop. The ambitious and cinematic release has been interpreted as Deadmau5’s reaction to EDM’s increasingly homogenized culture. When it does pay homage, it’s to another iconoclast, Trent Reznor, with breaks of whirring static (“Ira”) and minor-key piano chords (“Creep”). Deadmau5 also includes a remix of Reznor-fronted Nine Inch Nails‘ 2007 song “Survivalism,” but he’s fiercest when he sticks to his signature sound, as he does on “Phantoms Can’t Hang.”
Label: Loma Vista Recordings/Republic
The four-piece Swedish electronic outfit Little Dragon has been recording and performing since the late 1990s, but didn’t gain momentum until its second studio album, Machine Dreams, was released in 2009. Nabuma Rubberband, its fourth album, includes collaborations with De La Soul‘s Dave Jude Jolicoeur and Danish producer Robin Hannibal. The album has earned the group its first Grammy nomination with a glittering showcase of the band’s synth-pop approach to electronic music –– tight drums, delicate synths and strong, but never overbearing, bass. There are even strings from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra on the R&B track “Pink Cloud.” The album isn’t as dance-friendly as past projects by the group, but it’s far more musical and marks an advance into new territory.
Do It Again is a five-song EP from a Swedish musical dream team: Robyn, a bona-fide pop star, and forward-thinking Norwegian electronic duo Royksopp. The trio worked together previously on “The Girl and the Robot” and “None of Dem” in 2009 and 2010, respectively, but both songs had moderate success by comparison. The Do It Again EP reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart, and its title track ruled the Hot Dance Club Songs chart. With infectious melodies and a commanding bassline, the song satisfies both pop and dance devotees.
Twenty-four-year-old British producer Mat Zo (real name: Matan Zohar) knows how to make a good first impression. Released in November 2013, his debut album, Damage Control, quickly reached No. 7 on the Dance/Electronic Albums chart. Zo grew up in London playing drums and bass, but became interested in electronic music when he heard Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers. He began releasing music — a heavy blend of drum’n’bass and progressive house — with support from British dance music tastemakers Above & Beyond and American wunderkind Porter Robinson (who is featured on one of the album’s most synth-heavy tracks, “Easy”). With Damage Control, Zo gives house, ambient and trance equal play, but also aims to break boundaries. The album’s highlight, the unexpected “Caller ID,” fuses tribal, trap, hip-hop and drum’n’bass for a sexy sound that’s all but guaranteed to go mainstream.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 26 issue of Billboard.