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The 25 DJs That Rule the Earth

From stadium fillers to crossover kings and beat scientists

Skrillex Tiesto Kaskade

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It's a rave new world out there! Meet the 25 party-starters, beat-droppers, headliners and underground kings who rock the dance floor from Miami to Ibiza.

This list is from the November 22, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

DJ Harvey

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10

DJ Harvey

Based In: Los Angeles
Age: 48

If Keith Richards was a DJ, he'd totally be Harvey. A libertine Englishman turned California surfer dude, Harvey has been rocking dance floors since the 1980s with his ocean-deep collection of rare disco, Pink Floyd-y space rock, off-kilter techno and anything else danceable. Or as Harvey once said, "You can't understand the blues until you've had your heart broken by a woman. And you can't understand my music until you've had group sex on Ecstasy."

Boys Noize

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9

Boys Noize

Based In: Berlin
Age: 30

In some ways, the Berlin-based DJ-producer Boys Noize (his real name is Alex Ridha) has taken a page out of the David Guetta handbook – working with artists from Snoop to Santigold and gaining fans from outside of dance music's underground core. But his serrated, buzz-saw remixes for everyone from Depeche Mode to his buddies Justice – and on his own excellent electro albums, the classic Oi Oi Oi and his new Out of the Black – are way more Daft Punk than Black Eyed Peas. His DJ sets go even harder, packed with tough, pummeling (but still funky) house and techno. "I always love to play jacking stuff and harderecho stuff," he said. "Right now, like, in the last two years, a lot of the electronic music, or what you now call EDM, it feels too generic for me sometimes and a bit soulless."

Skrillex

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8

Skrillex

Based In: Los Angeles
Age: 24

Looking back, it's hard to recall the time before Skrillex dropped the bass on our collective braincases. So let us refresh your memory: Just a few short years ago, dubstep was still an edgy sound that only people who spent a lot of time hanging out in dank East London clubs (or nerding out on dance-music blogs) knew about. Now, even Taylor Swift has some choice wub-wub-wubs up in her mix. Who made this possible? Big Skrill! The former screamo yowler, born Sonny Moore, decided in 2010 to give his poor, shredded vocal cords some much-needed rest and focus on making sick beats instead. Since then, his fax-machine-assaulting-a-dial-up-modem sound has blown up beyond his wildest dreams, scoring him invites to headline practically every festival this past summer, from Lollapalooza to Bonnaroo. "I started out playing underground clubs in L.A. – not more than 200 people or so," he says. "I can't even begin to describe how my life has changed. And I have no idea why, really. I just make music."

James Murphy

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7

James Murphy

Based In: New York
Age: 42

He might have shut down LCD Soundsystem with one of the best parties ever thrown at Madison Square Garden, but James Murphy hasn't left the dance floor behind. His label, DFA, continues to release seriously cool dance music that rock kids can get down to (check new discs from Sinkane and the 2 Bears for proof), and Murphy (often alongside LCD drummer Pat Mahoney) lights up clubs and festivals with a pleasure-principle-driven mix of classic disco jams, groovy krautrock and oddball cuts by everyone from the Steve Miller Band to 10cc. "DJing is really, really pleasant," Murphy says. "It's like having people over and making hors d'oeuvres."

David Guetta

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6

David Guetta

Based In: Paris
Age: 44

No one has done more to make EDM part of the pop universe than David Guetta. The Paris-born DJ spent years honing his skills at underground clubs across Europe, throwing unforgettable bashes like his world-renowned "Fuck Me, I'm Famous" parties in Ibiza. It wasn't until 2009 that he made his move on the U.S. pop charts – producing the Black Eyed Peas' inescapable "I Gotta Feeling," one of the hugest chart smashes of all time. Guetta has gone on to orchestrate megahits featuring Usher, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Hudson and more. You can hear his fingerprints all over tons of other artists' work, too: Whenever a Top 40 star starts singing a feel-good hook over a house pulse, they should probably consider cutting this guy a check. Things have certainly changed since those early days and late nights in Ibiza. "I remember going to full-moon parties that were free," he says. "People would take mushrooms and look at the moon and the stars, and you would have thousands of cars in the middle of nowhere. That's how it started." But Guetta isn't complaining: "Is this a huge phenomenon? Yes. Is this a good thing? It's wonderful."

Diplo

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5

Diplo

Based In: Los Angeles
Age: 33

Diplo is a tastemaker's tastemaker – the ultimate sonic curator, gathering cutting-edge sounds from the farthest corners of the galaxy and bringing them straight to your radio. Since getting his start throwing Philadelphia's all-night Hollertronix parties, the DJ (born Wesley Pentz) has made countless major contributions to humanity's supply of cool-sounding stuff – introducing Brazilian baile funk to America, helping discover M.I.A., getting down in Jamaica with Snoop Dogg when the rapper went Rasta and more. Today he's one of the most in-demand producers in the game, furnishing beats for everyone from Lil Wayne to Justin Bieber. "I don't know what I'm doing half the time," he says. "When people come to me, they just want to sound like something from the future."

Kaskade

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4

Kaskade

Based In: San Francisco
Age: 41

The veteran San Francisco DJ is riding a huge second act with his Deadmau5-ish multimedia blast of a live show that hit America's biggest amphitheaters all summer. Playing his own bass-tilted tracks – and collaborations with buddies like Skrillex – Kaskade represents an intensely positive side of dance-music culture. "People know my lyrics, they know the stuff I've written, and it's all about life, love, happiness and these big euphoric moments," he said. "It would always bug me when I'd go to a club and they're playing some chick on a stripper pole on the monitor behind me. I'm like, 'So that's not what I do, that's the other guy.' "

Avicii

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3

Avicii

Based In: Stockholm
Age: 23

If one song sums up the current moment in commercial EDM – a world where DJs earn six-figures-plus for an hourlong set and Madonna shows up in the booth to make clumsy jokes about Ecstasy – it's the young Swedish spinner's Etta James-sampling "Levels." The 2011 tune, which seems to magically trigger a huge, instant serotonin surge, is such total ear candy that Diplo admiringly tweeted, "i h8 how much i love levels makes me feel gay inside." But beyond the music, the baby-face DJ sums up the scene in all kinds of other ways, from marketing opportunities (he's the face of Ralph Lauren's Denim & Supply label) to bringing dance music to grand old venues (he rocked Radio City Music Hall this fall).

Swedish House Mafia

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2

Swedish House Mafia

Based In: Stockholm
Ages: 29 (Sebastian Ingrosso), 29 (Steve Angello), 34 (Axwell)

Why is the Scandinavian supertrio at Number Two on this list? Because they're bigger than Ikea and Abba combined! And now that Steve Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso announced they're retiring from touring together next year, things have gotten ridiculous – including a Grateful Dead-like four-night arena run in New York next March. Since forming in 2008, the Swedes have conquered the planet with their super-high-gloss brand of progressive house – combining widescreen, heartbreakingly earnest pop hooks with devastating four-on-the-floor beats that stomp everything in their path, Godzilla-style. "We're just enjoying it at the moment," says Ingrosso. "People go, like, 'Your job must be exhausting.' I saw Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel. My job is fucking nothing."

Tiesto

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1

Tiësto

Based In: Breda, Netherlands
Age: 43

Before DJs were superstars in the USA, the Dutch trance legend (born Tijs Michiel Verwest – try pronouncing that with a pacifier in your mouth!) was a U2-size draw in Europe – dropping more-epic-than-Avatar synth bombs everywhere from Ibiza to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Now he rules just as large here – rocking festival mainstages with a sound that's evolved from shiver-inducing trance spirals toward chunkier electro-based grooves. And even though he makes a reported $20 million a year, he's not settling for the bajillion fans he already has. "Skrillex has a completely different fan base than I have," says Tiësto. "So I can win fans from him or other DJs. They know the name Tiësto, but they don't know what I spin!"

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