The 30 Greatest EDM Albums of All Time – Rolling Stone
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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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30. Various, Make 'Em Mokum Crazy (Mokum, 1996)

Mokum

30. Various Artists, ‘Make ‘Em Mokum Crazy’ (Mokum, 1996)

You think dubstep is obnoxious? Clearly, you've never heard gabber, the sound of Dutch Nineties skinheads who liked their drugs speedy and their music even speedier. Gabber took hard minimal techno like Jeff Mills and blew it out to absurd disproportions with purloined metal riffs, distorted kick drums at 180 BPM and gleefully violent imagery. The Dutch label Mokum started out issuing ultra-fuck-yous like Annihilator's "I'll Show You My Gun," but eventually took a turn towards the hilariously giddy with the "happy gabber" heard on this inanely fun comp. Think Chucky dressed like Ronald McDonald and you've got the vibe. "I wanna get stoned – on thuuuh marijuana!" yips a maniacal sprite in Technohead's "I Wanna Be a Hippy." Elsewhere, you get ride-the-lightning covers of Olivia Newton-John's "Have You Never Been Mellow" and the standards "Happy Birthday" and "Hava Nagila." If you want ever to turn a children's party into a WWE event, this is your ticket.

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29. Deadmau5, 4x4=12  (Ultra Math, 2011)

Ultra Math

29. Deadmau5, ‘4×4=12’ (Ultra Math, 2011)

He may suck at math, but Canadian EDM superstar Joel Zimmerman is definitely more than just a happy dude bouncing around in an LED mouse hat. His fifth and best album shows off his ability to stretch his signature good-mood progressive house in a number of directions – from the speedy groove and OCD car-alarm melody of  "Bad Selection" to the thick Daft Punk-like vocoder-funk of "Animal Rights." "Raise Your Weapon" is a quintessential Deadmau5 anthem: slowly lapping synth waves, a gently triumphal beat and singer Greta Svabo Bech's invitation to "watch it burn," followed by a harsh blast of dervish bass that's hard but not too hard. If Skrillex is Metallica, this guy is Bon Jovi.

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28. The Orb, The BBC Sessions 1991-2001 (Island, 2008)

Island

28. The Orb, ‘The BBC Sessions 1991-2001’ (Island, 2008)

The Orb, a shifting conglomerate circling around mainstay DJ-producer-player-prankster Alex Paterson, looked back with a longing smirk at Seventies prog-rock pretensions while fully indulging in them – epic track lengths, cloud-kissing whimsy, indulgent live albums. (The sheep on the cover of Live 93 even parodied Pink Floyd's Animals.) This double-CD of their complete recordings for British radio veers from the crystalline 21-minute "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Centre of the Ultraworld (Loving You)" to the mischievous bass roll of "Towers of Dub." There's even a percussion extravaganza called "EDM," recorded years before anyone started saying EDM. Visionary!

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27. Orbital, 20 (Rhino, 2009)

Rhino

27. Orbital, ’20’ (Rhino, 2009)

Paul and Phil Hartnoll named their group after the U.K.'s orbital motorways, the system of roads that provided a network of party spots for the early British rave scene. It's ironic, then, that Orbital were one of the first acts to push the beyond the confines of that scene, prizing composition and subtlety while striving to make great albums and put on stadium-ready live shows (their 1994 Glastonbury performance is one of the festival's most storied moments). This well ordered two-CD overview showcases the brothers' knack for gracefully curvy hooks: the feather-in-the-air figure at the heart of "Lush," the neon-videogame programming of "Omen," and "Chime," whose keyboard riff is boogie-woogie headed to Mars. And with tracks like "Belfast," "Impact – the Earth Is Burning" and the serenely contemplative "Are We Here (Who Are They?)" they confounded the notion that techno couldn't have content by pondering politics, the environment and humanity's role in society.

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26. 4 Hero & DJ Marky, Kings of Drum + Bass (BBE, 2010)

BBE

26. 4 Hero & DJ Marky, ‘Kings of Drum + Bass’ (BBE, 2010)

Dubstep was hardly the first London-rooted EDM style to rely upon heavy sub-bass and twitchy beats. Drum & bass, initially called jungle when it bubbled up in the early Nineties, split its instrumentation between fast (chopped-up breakbeats) and slow (dubby B-lines), a unique dynamic that was often jittery and calming both at once. Drum & bass produced a number of fine albums – Roni Size & Reprazent's double-disc New Forms, Spring Heel Jack's 68 Million Shades – but it was really a singles medium. This double DJ set – the first half mixed by Nineties stars 4 Hero, the second by Brazilian DJ Marky, who emerged in the '00s – offers a good overview of its rough, febrile early years (on tracks by Nasty Habits, Nookie, and Terminator II, a.k.a. Goldie) and the jazzier, curvier directions it's taken since.

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25. Sasha & John Digweed, Northern Exposure (Ultra, 1997)

Ultra

25. Sasha & John Digweed, ‘Northern Exposure’ (Ultra, 1997)

Good DJs take you on a journey, and English icons Sasha and John Digweed – whether working together or separately – specialized on rolling the listener through Nineties EDM's most bucolic landscapes. Their best-loved mix CD is a trippy traipse through the verdant world of progressive house, a genre with one foot in the rave and the other somewhere in the great beyond. Track titles like "Raincry" (by God Within) and "Out of Body Experience" (by Rabbit in the Moon) tell you plenty about where this music’s head is at. Also on this nature hike: William Orbit, well before he met Madonna.

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24. Justice, The Cross (Ed Banger, 2007)

Ed Banger

24. Justice, ‘†’ (Ed Banger, 2007)

French EDM duo Justice rocked the 2000s by channeling the simplest disco and cheesiest Euro-trash into piledriver tracks that made Daft Punk look like folkie wallflowers. "Stress" set swarming Psycho strings over lunging Jaws bass; "D.A.N.C.E." deployed a kiddie choir and a Chic bassline; "Waters of Nazareth" had some of the dirtiest synth squawks ever recorded, a church organ and a beat scientifically proven to lower your IQ five-to-ten points if you made it through the whole song. The Catholic imagery of their cross logo and song titles like "Genesis" only added to the mystique: these dudes were the high priests of Big Dumb Fun.

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23. Paul Oakenfold, Tranceport (Kinetic, 1998)

Kinetic

23. Paul Oakenfold, ‘Tranceport’ (Kinetic, 1998)

Founding father of British rave Paul Oakenfold was as mega as DJs got in the Nineties, opening for U2, remixing Smashing Pumpkins and selling 100,000 copies of this definitive collection – a startling sales figure for a DJ mix. If Sasha and Digweed put trance's limpid power-drive over to the dance audience, Tranceport cemented it as a new kind of pop, peaking with the sugar-rush synth peals and from-behind snare rolls of Binary Finary's "1998" and Energy 52's "Café Del Mar (Three N One Remix)." Sometimes syrup tastes really good.

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22. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver (Capitol/EMI, 2007)

Capitol/EMI

22. LCD Soundsystem, ‘Sound of Silver’ (Capitol/EMI, 2007)

LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy fused Eighties synth-pop, dance-punk and Detroit techno into a staggering work of heartbreaking genius. Earlier in the decade, his DFA label had helped get indie-rock kids on the dancefloor with songs like the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers." Here he had those same kids shuffling their Converse to the electro of "Get Innocuous," laughing their asses off to the Euro-baiting boogie of "North American Scum," and crying in their craft brews to "All My Friends" and "Someone Great," reflections on aging and regret set to gorgeously throbbing synth grooves. Sound of Silver recalled albums like the Pet Shop Boys' Introspective, which used dance grooves to explore complex feelings of desire and obligation.

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21. Madonna, Ray of Light (Maverick, 1998)

Maverick

21. Madonna, ‘Ray of Light’ (Maverick, 1998)

Madonna's heart had always been in the club – from the New York electro of her earliest hits to the full-on house groove of "Vogue." With Ray of Light, she really went nuts with the bleeps and blips, the pillow-time breakbeats and Euro-trance synth-splash. British rave veteran William Orbit provided the shimmering pulse that backed Madge's exploration of new motherhood as a spiritual transformation. The lullaby "Little Star" is top-shelf mom & bass, and the chilly ballad "Frozen" and ginormously tidal "Drowned World" made for some of her most daring pop of the Nineties. Sure, it wasn't cutting-edge dance music, but that was part of its majesty – she gave electronica a makeover, not vice versa.

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20. The Avalanches, Since I Left You (2001)

Modular

20. The Avalanches, ‘Since I Left You’ (Modular, 2001)

"Welcome to Paradise," a voice invites us at the opening of the Avalanches' debut. Yep, pretty much. The Aussie trio tapped into the Beach Boys/De La Soul tradition of all-smiles cuteness for what might be the blissiest album in dance music history. Using an estimated 3500 samples – from classics like Madonna's "Holiday" and Kid Creole and the Coconuts' "Stool Pigeon," as well as hard-to-recognize hip-hop, funk, easy-listening and cheese-jazz records – they created a concept album about getting over a breakup by embarking on an island cruise. (Call it EDM's Forgetting Sarah Marshall.) On "Flight Tonight" and "Stay Another Season" the sense of escape into something exotic, but also kind of scary, gives all the bright, swirling music a needed emotional tension, while tracks like the butterfly-light lounge pop of "Two Hearts In 3/4 Time" are perfect serotonin surges.

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19. Underworld, Anthology, 1992-2002

Cooking Vinyl

19. Underworld, ‘Anthology, 1992-2002’ (JBO/V2, 2003)

It's no surprise that Underworld would get tapped to do music for the opening ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics. When it comes to being awesomely grandiose, few can beat them. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith were London house music DJs who impacted their tracks with an arena-rock grandeur. Yet even when they used rock instrumentation (as on the harmonica driven "BigMouth," which opens this greatest-hits set), they never tried to push their sound beyond EDM's essential building blocks: the God-touched keyboard stabs, a stomping four-on-the-floor groove and Hyde's bullhorn chant-sing vocals. It all came together best on the totally over-the-top "Born Slippy," a drunk's inner dialogue over a Balearic-Brontosaurus beat that got used brilliantly by Danny Boyle in the final scene in Trainspotting.

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18. Michael Mayer, Immer (Kompakt, 2002)

Kompakt

18. Michael Mayer, ‘Immer’ (Kompakt, 2002)

As rave culture began to dip into a lull during the early 2000s, the gauzy, loving feel permeating the releases of Cologne, Germany's Kompakt Records was the logical next step for longtime partiers pushing into their thirties. On this 2002 mix album, Kompakt star Michael Mayer crafted a lush, haunting suite. Unlike many DJs, Mayer never lets his mixing overshadow the tracks themselves, so the music flows organically and goes where it may – even when it verges on goth during Superpitcher and Tobias Thomas's remix of Phantom/Ghost's "Perfect Lovers." Mayer understands that melodrama is just one of the many things a dance floor is good for.

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17. Aphex Twin, The Richard D. James Album (Warp, 1996)

Warp

17. Aphex Twin, ‘The Richard D. James Album’ (Warp, 1996)

Warning: dancing to this album can cause headaches, temporary loss of appetite, blurred vision or swollen bladder; if symptoms persist, please put on a Jewel CD. Cornwall, England native Richard James is electronic music's great restless innovator, a prolific mad scientist blurring the lines between dance music, ambient and avant-garde composition, influencing a generation of "intelligent" dance music artists, as well as everything Radiohead did after OK Computer. His self-titled 1996 album might be the height of undanceable dance music, setting lush Victorian string arrangements and pastoral keyboard textures over brutally hard, quadruple-time breakbeats and toxic electro squelches. There’s loopy novelty (the slide-whistle driven "Logi/Rock Witch"), sonic terrorism ("Inkeys") and abstract whimsy ("Finger Rib"). The album's centerpiece, "Boy/Girl Song," combines all those things to sound like the world's meanest jungle DJ playing a tea party at Downton Abbey.

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16. v/a, Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story (2006)

Rhino

16. Various Artists, ‘Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story’ (2006)

New York disco and house temple the Paradise Garage, opened in 1977, is often considered the greatest club of all time. Its resident DJ, Larry Levan, perfected the role of DJ-as-shaman well before rave or EDM were glints in a dilated pupil. Every weekend until the Garage closed in 1987, Levan performed alchemical feats with a gargantuan, free-ranging assortment of vinyl, from classical etudes to the Clash and Talking Heads to his own beautifully teased-out 12-inch remixes of Taana Gardner's "Heartbeat" and Inner Life's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Both are on this superbly chosen and sequenced two-CD compilation of Levan favorites – some he mixed, many he didn't – which captures the DJ's loose effervescence and flair for high drama. Dance culture as we know it today begins here.

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15. Fatboy Slim, You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby (Astralwerks, 1998)

Astralwerks

15. Fatboy Slim, ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’ (Astralwerks, 1998)

Spike Jonze's brilliant, guerilla-style video for "Praise You" – in which a motley dance troupe does an impromptu routine in front of an L.A. movie theatre – perfectly mirrored Fatboy Slim's ability to take dance music to new corners of the American pop marketplace. With his second album, the former bass player in Eighties indie-pop preppies the Housemartins became the first EDM artist to enjoy genuine U.S. Top 40 success, and he did it by being a DJ who made like a screwball comic. Songs like "Gangster Trippin," "In Heaven" and the massive hit "Rockafeller Skank" bounced like old-school hip-hop at its most outrageously buoyant and were paced with the zany energy of a Benny Hill skit. In the U.K., they called the rocktronic style Big Beat. In America they called it "the only rave music my six year-old niece has heard." And "Praise You," which built a bubble-funk hymn out of a sample of Seventies spoken-word poet Camille Yarbrough, proved he could throw in some soul, too.

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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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