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The 30 Greatest EDM Albums of All Time

From Kraftwerk to Daft Punk to Deadmau5, it’s been a wild ride on the dance floor

The 30 Greatest EDM Albums of all Time

Superstars like Skrillex and Deadmau5 have helped make electronic dance music bigger than ever this year – but party people around the world have been getting down to programmed beats for decades before those guys showed up. At its broadest definition, EDM can cover everything from Chicago house to Dutch gabber to drum 'n' bass to dubstep, from the visionary bleeps of Kraftwerk to the ambient blues of Moby's Play to the synthed-up indie-rock of LCD Soundsystem. With this list of the 30 Greatest EDM Albums of All Time, we've tried to hit all the high points in that ludicrously varied, constantly evolving mix.

By Jon Dolan and Michaelangelo Matos

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14. Skrillex, Bangarang EP (Big Beat/Atlantic, 2012)

Big Beat/Atlantic

14. Skrillex, ‘Bangarang’ EP (Big Beat/Atlantic, 2011)

Old-school dance heads may resist Skrillex's cartoon kicks, but that's their problem. The dark lord of U.S. EDM is only getting better. The title track from his latest EP is his loosest, looniest confection yet, a party noisemaker that weaves its vocal samples ("You feel good!") into the song's structure rather than slapping you up the head with them. And his flip-flopping low end on "Right In" and "Kyoto" is funky and cheeky. Sure, "Breakin' a Sweat" is an iffy Doors "collaboration," but it's kind of a good joke: the king of the bass drop getting down with a band that didn't have a bass player. When he gets together with fellow dubsteppers 12th Planet and Kill the Noise for "Right on Time," they throw a curveball in the form of a four-to-the-floor house track even cranky EDM old-timers might get down with.

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13. Basement Jaxx, Remedy (Astralwerks, 1999)

Astralwerks

13. Basement Jaxx, ‘Remedy’ (Astralwerks, 1999)

By the end of the Nineties, dance music had spawned a comical number of sub-genre spin offs. (Dark Wave, anyone? Sure, only if you mix it with some sweet laptronica.) Which is why the debut album from London DJ-producers Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe caused such a stir. Remedy returned to the simple, sensual pleasures of the Paradise Garage and early Chicago house while pushing those classic sounds in new, often dirtier, directions (they called it "punk garage") – from the vocoder-driven "Yo Yo" to "Same Old Show," which threaded a sample of Seventies ska revivalists the Selector over a sumptuously punching beat, to the sweat-caked euphoric of "Red Alert," in which a diva informs us, "Ain't nothin' goin' on but history." And the sound of moving it ahead a step.

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12. v/a, True Spirit, Vol. 1 (Tresor, 2010)

Tresor

12. Various Artists, ‘True Spirit, Vol. 1’ (Tresor, 2010)

"Detroit-Berlin: A Techno Alliance," went the subtitle of an early compilation on the latter city's Tresor Records, and in the early Nineties that alliance reshaped dance music into something tougher, meaner and more minimalist. The seven tracks on this sampler platter (originally released between 1991 and 1993) come at you with stark, thrilling brute force – you gotta love a techno track called "Drugs Work." Highlights include the stun-gun riffs of Blake Baxter's "Ghost" (Detroit) and the wild pitch-shifting of Maurizo's "Ploy (Strategic Mix)" (Berlin). The star is Detroit's Jeff Mills, whose "Sonic Destroyer" (recorded as X-101) and "The Hypnotist" are models of micro-managed frenzy. If Juan Atkins was ? and the Mysterians, Mills is the Stooges.

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11. Burial, Untrue (Hyperdub, 2007)

Hyperdub

11. Burial, ‘Untrue’ (Hyperdub, 2007)

Five years after this collection of crackly lucid dreams, it's amazing to think music this delicate was ever sold as "dubstep." But Burial – the moniker of producer Will Bevan – was the style's first real conduit from London to the outside world. On this even sharper-etched follow-up to an impressive 2006 debut, Burial's half-stepping skank and glutinous low end are seductively downcast. The pebbled vocal samples – "Holding you, couldn't be alone" on "Archangel"; "It could be bad, away from my heart" on the title track – tug at your heart, while gently pulling your sleeve to the dancefloor.

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10. Kraftwerk, Computer World

Kling Klang/EMI/Warner Bros.

10. Kraftwerk, ‘Computer World’ (Warner Bros., 1981)

Kraftwerk were light years ahead of their time with Seventies albums like Trans-Europe Express and Autobahn, vaguely tongue-in-cheek yet still troublingly convincing hymns to the inevitable marriage of man and machine lurking just around the next bend in the info super-highway. At the dawn of the Eighties, the future had finally caught up with the German synth act: "by pressing down a special key it plays a little melody," a dinky Teutonic voice boats on "Pocket Calculator," giving EDM its very own version of Chuck Berry's "Rock And Roll Music." With their shimmering, synthetic charm and chilly elegance, Computer World classics like "Numbers," "Computer World" and the achingly pretty title track make the techno-isolation feel warm and friendly. It'sFacebook funk.

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9. The Prodigy, Music for the Jilted Generation (XL, 1994)

XL

9. The Prodigy, ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ (XL, 1994)

Essex B-boy-turned-raver Liam Howlett, along with pals Maxim Reality and Keith Flint, started out making breakbeat hardcore (the precursor to drum & bass) and evolved into a stadium act that didn't need guitars to rock you. That sound conquered the charts with 1997's "Smack My Bitch Up," but the Prodigy's real leap took place three years earlier on their second album – all snarling acid ("Claustrophobic Song") and electro blips that resonate like Gibson Les Pauls ("Voodoo People"). Most decisively, they added sonic heft by slowing down the breaks on tracks like "Poison," upping their weight class. Bonus feature: Keith Flint's multi-colored, reverse mohawk, easily EDM's greatest hairstyle ever (sorry, Skrillex).

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8. Daft Punk, Discovery (Virgin, 2001)

Virgin

8. Daft Punk, ‘Discovery’ (Virgin, 2001)

This is where a couple silly French guys in robot getups became one of the most insidiously influential pop acts of the past decade. Daft Punk spawned a zillion vocoder-pop wannabes, and their 2006 Coachella appearance is ground zero for the recent EDM explosion if anything is. On Discovery, they simultaneously parodied and honored radio cheese from the Seventies and Eighties and came up with jams to heat up your boogie nights and massage your waterbed soul. "One More Time" is as fun as a stay at the "YMCA," "Digital Love" gives Peter Frampton-style talk-box guitar a booster shot, "Aerodynamic" has astro-turf-shredding Van Halen guitar action and "Face to Face" (sung by New Jersey gospel-house wizard Todd "The God" Edwards) chops up ELO. As for "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," apparently, Kanye was a bit of a fan.

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7. v/a, Trax Records: The 20th Anniversary Collection (Casablanca Trax, 2004)

Casablanca Trax

7. Various Artists, ‘Trax Records: The 20th Anniversary Collection’ (Casablanca Trax, 2004)

Legendary Chicago imprint Trax Records wasn't the first house label, but it was undoubtedly the biggest and best, and this hefty collection (one DJ mix and two CDs of full tracks) rolls out one low-budget, louche late-Eighties classic after another. Here, outright sleaze like Jamie Principle's outrageous Prince rip "Baby Wants to Ride" and Hercules' "7 Ways to Jack" rubs elbows with the accidentally avant-garde  – see Phuture's "Acid Tracks," 13 mind-warping minutes of an endlessly manipulated 303 bass synth that begat the entire genre of acid house. Tracks like Marshall Jefferson's self-explanatory "Move Your Body (The House Music Anthem)" and Kevin Irving's freestyle-ish "Children of the Night" show that some of these guys could write great songs to boot.

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6. 2 Many DJs, As Heard on Radio Soulwax Vol. 2 (PIAS, 2002)

PIAS

6. 2 Many DJs, ‘As Heard on Radio Soulwax Vol. 2’ (PIAS, 2002)

Any good DJ should be able to play anything. But it takes a truly great one (or two) to play everything – and make it all sing. The secret of this hour-long thrill ride, piloted by Belgian bros Steven and David Dewaele of the band Soulwax, is that instead of being trippy and expansive, it's as reductive as punk – and driving and exciting in the same way. Building on a bed of early-'00s electro, the Dewaeles traverse pop history, from the Velvets to Dolly Parton, Skee-Lo to the Breeders. It remains an instant party-starter and proof that even Girl Talk has roots.

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5. Moby, Play (V2, 1999)

V2

5. Moby, ‘Play’ (V2, 1999)

The album that soundtracked a jillion car commercials: After being the biggest presence on the US rave scene throughout the Nineties, Moby enjoyed an unlikely mainstream breakthrough by marrying ambient beats to old gospel and blues samples. Tracks like "Honey" and "Natural Blues" evoke a Delta speakeasy with a Genius Bar, and "Porcelain" unfurls easy-listening mastercraft. Moby even shows off his sense of humor on "South Side," an empathetic song about white kids trying to fake it real on the rough side of town. The genius of Play came in Moby's ability to transfer the grandeur and scope of rave to dinner parties and bedrooms. Play was one of the first big pop albums to sound like it was built solely on an iMac, but its soul and beauty, its steady-rolling piano flow and 3 a.m. come-down introspect are timeless.

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4. Carl Craig, Sessions (K7, 2008)

K7

4. Carl Craig, ‘Sessions’ (K7, 2008)

For many dance artists, the real mark of acceptance isn't headlining a huge festival like Electric Zoo, but getting a Carl Craig remix. Maybe the most consistently brilliant and widely respected of Detroit's many great producers, the multi-aliased Craig is startling in his range and longevity. Few early-Nineties producers were exploring breakbeats and jazz with the sly facility of his "Bug in the Bass Bin" (recorded as Innerzone Orchestra), or transforming disco samples with the toughness of "Throw"(recorded as Paperclip People, and later covered by LCD Soundsystem) – never mind roaring back to life the way Craig did with a stunning string of mid-2000s remixes for Rhythm & Sound, Theo Parrish, Junior Boys, and X-Press 2. Sessions is a double-fistful of goodies (the CD is mixed, the digital has full tracks – your choice), and an ideal intro to a producer who never stops surprising.

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3. Juan Atkins, 20 Years Metroplex: 1985-2005 (Tresor, 2005)

Tresor

3. Juan Atkins, ’20 Years Metroplex: 1985-2005′ (Tresor, 2005)

Techno was born in the mid-Eighties in Detroit, where visionary producers Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May fused Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa's electro and Chicago house with a sci-fi futurism to come up with a sound that reflected the austere decay of post-industrial Detroit just as Motown's bright, assembly-line grooves had reflected the city in its optimistic prime. Throw on this survey of Atkins' foundational techno label Metroplex and you can watch the music come into its own – from the interplanetary funk odyssey of Model 500's "No UFOs," which journeys light years beyond Bam's "Planet Rock," to Cybertron's "Clear," where the vocals sound like George Clinton crossed with Darth Vader. Decades later, the coolly percolating blips, Casio salsa-setting grooves and robo-B-Boy vocals still sound like a freaky alien landing.

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2. The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole (Astralwerks, 1997)

Astralwerks

2. The Chemical Brothers, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ (Astralwerks, 1997)

Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons' game-changing second album had a simple conceit: what if dance music hit as hard as the fiercest hip-hop and rocked with the visceral force of your favorite guitar banger? And they nailed it. The gut-punch bassline on "Block Rockin' Beats" is up there with the riff to the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" in the Ass Kicking Intro canon; "Setting Sun" (featuring Noel Gallagher) kicks the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" into the 21st Century; "Where Do I Begin," with vocals from alt-folkie Beth Orton, matches Ren Faire whimsy and South Bronx beat science. Throughout, the Chems prove themselves master composters, crafting songs that dip and slide with a corner-hugging, rollercoaster intensity – whether it's the nine-minute trance-out "The Private Psychedelic Reel" or the three-minute low-end rattler "Elektrobank." Now, it sounds as much like classic rock as classic EDM.

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1. Daft Punk, Homework (Virgin, 1997)

Virgin

1. Daft Punk, ‘Homework’ (Virgin, 1997)

Daft Punk's debut is pure synapse-tweaking brilliance. In the Nineties, when artists like the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim were bringing in guest-star vocalists and sampling rock records, and ad executives were strip-mining club beats, French duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo proved that techno and house could be as elastic, catchy and, at times, as funny as the poppiest pop without diluting its hypnotically driving, acidic essence. Homework had standout hits – like "Da Funk" and the anthemically bloopy "Around the World." But it was paced like a great album, weaving hip-hop and funk (and, on "Rock N Roll," even some Seventies glam) into the mix, with pauses for oceanic contemplation (the guitar-washed "Flesh") and hip-hop influenced skits like "WDPK 83.7 FM," in which a French-accented robo-DJ promises "the sound of tomorrow and the music of today." Considering how their thick, Euro-thwump has transformed R&B and pop music during the last decade, that absurd brag now sounds like truth in advertising.

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