The Hottest EDM Tracks of 2020
Obviously, 2020 wasn’t the best year for live music. The clubs were all shuttered, and the festivals were all cancelled, but that doesn’t mean that no one was releasing music in 2020. Even with dance parties on hold, there’s always a demand for new music, and in 2020 people grooved to new EDM tracks just as they always have—they just did it at home instead. This post is going to dig deep into the best EDM songs of 2020, and we’re also going to discuss the different sub-genres of EDM and what makes them unique. So, get out your glow sticks and let the beat transport you to another world.
What makes for good EDM?
Before we jump into the best EDM songs of 2020, let’s spend a minute talking about what makes for good EDM, and why some tracks work better than others. If you talk to an EDM producer, you might get a different answer than you would if you talked to a fan of EDM. While fans love the music, they don’t necessarily know how the sausage gets made, and so they may not be able to accurately articulate why they love a particular song so much while another song might leave them cold. EDM fans will tell you that a great EDM song is all about how it makes you feel. They describe getting chills or goosebumps from certain songs because those songs evoke specific emotions and memories. Most EDM fans are pretty clear that the reason they love the music is because it makes them feel physically and emotionally good, and being part of a big, loud performance just enhances the experience. But this doesn’t really tell us what makes for good EDM. If, on the other hand, you talk to EDM producers, they have a different take on the subject. The first thing they will tell you is that you need to make songs catchy. This is perhaps easier said than done. After all, what really makes a song “catchy?” It turns out that part of this equation is the ability to make the melody singable. So, how do you do this? The key is to create melodies that you can hum. Once you have a melody that people can hum, it becomes a melody that can get stuck in your head. Another aspect to creating effective EDM is to avoid overstuffing songs. While it might sound like most EDM songs have a lot going on, the reality is they might be simpler than they seem. Most EDM can be broken down into four basic parts: A beat, a chord progression, a bass line, and background effects to create the atmosphere. Most producers warn against layering too many different tracks in a song because it becomes more difficult for the listener to connect with any of these parts. You can think of it like any other song. If you have a four-piece band (vocals, guitar, bass, drums), and you want the vocals to stand out, you can’t add too many other tracks or you will lose focus on the vocal. EDM is a little different than other genres of music because it is meant to be listened to while dancing. This creates some opportunities but also some restrictions. Because your audience is dancing, they probably aren’t paying as close attention to the details and more minor elements of a song. After all, EDM is meant to be the backdrop for another activity rather than something you listen to without distraction. So, while you want to introduce interesting and unexpected elements to songs, there still needs to be an element of repetition that keeps the audience grounded. They need to know where things are going in order to lose themselves in dancing. And finally, good EDM creates a feeling. Good EDM musicians understand what audiences want to feel, and what types of chord combinations and melodies accomplish that. Something as simple as a shift from a major chord to a minor chord can set off a whole cascade of emotions in your audience. The key for a good producer is knowing when to make those shifts. So, let’s talk about the best EDM songs of 2020.
The best EDM songs of 2020
Before we get started, we need to address the fact that EDM is not one single genre of music but rather an umbrella of electronic dance music that covers a number of different sub-genres. We’ll cover what makes the genres different as we go along, and for this list we’ve chosen one track from each genre as the best of 2020.
House: Heart Attack by BRONSON ft. lau.ra
If you’re wondering what is an upbeat, energetic genre of EDM, house music has you covered. Our choice for best house music track of 2020 is the debut track Heart Attack from BRONSON-- a collaboration between Odesza and Golden Features. When two already established artists decide to work together, you never really know what you’re going to get. But this track is giving fans exactly what they want. Heart Attack starts off with a pulsing house beat, but the building structure of the song is more like what you would expect from a pop song. It sucks to you right in with a velvety smooth production and a sense that this track is going somewhere rather than just spinning its wheels. The other striking feature of this track is that it emphasizes a vocal by lau.ra that turns the track into so much more than just a club banger. As the song breaks towards the middle, the beat totally drops away for a few bars to allow lau.ra’s voice to take over, and it’s a beautiful, quiet moment that you want to last as long as possible. When the beat finally returns, it brings a distant synth line with it that interplays with the chords to actually move the song to a new place. Part of what makes this track one of the best EDM songs of 2020 is that it isn’t content to sit still as a one trick pony. This is truly house at its best and most mature.
Dubstep: Instance by Voltra
Instance by Voltra eschews a lot of Dubstep conventions and at times sounds more like the soundtrack to an action sequence in a Mission: Impossible movie, but there’s something addictive about the incredibly intricate arpeggiation of the synths Voltra uses against a more familiar drum tone. If it were possible for EDM artists to “shred” like guitar players, Voltra would be the Eddie Van Halen of Dubstep. And yet, as the track comes to a close, there is something nostalgically 80s about the way the synth line shifts into calmer territory. If you’re wondering: what are the trippiest EDM tracks, check out this one by Voltra. It’ll have your mind spinning for days.
Trap: You Should Run by Moore Kismet ft. Pauline Herr
You Should Run takes a little while to get started, but once it does, you realize why. There’s no way you could drop a listener into the middle of this track without some context. The intro of the song essentially tells you what the elements will be without diving in too fast. Once the beat really kicks in, the track transforms into a frenetic experience that will have you questioning the physics of sound. The pulsing of the beat, and pretty much everything else, makes the track almost feel as though it’s being played in reverse. Things feel like they’re flying past your head at lightning speed. The high ratio of the compression used on the track is almost an instrument itself; that’s how powerful it is. So, what does that mean. The heavy compression crushes the highs and the lows and squishes them into a powerful throb that makes it feel like something otherworldly is happening in your ears. At times, this compression almost makes it feel as though something has gone wrong with the track, but those are just some of the tricks that this song plays on you. You Should Run is definitely one of the best EDM songs of 2020.
Future Bass: Nightlight by Illenium ft. Annika Wells
Future Bass is a newer genre of EDM that mixes various elements of other genres of EDM like Dubstep and Trap to form something that is warm yet aggressive. If you are wondering: what are the trippiest EDM tracks, Nightlight by Illenium is right up there. The track starts off deceptively with an airy vocal and swirling synths that feels more reminiscent of an Ellie Goulding tune, but after a minute the beat drops in with surging urgency. Again, heavy compression is on full display in this track as the beat feels like it’s being pushed into and then sucked out of your ears. Annika Wells pairs extraordinarily well with Illenium’s trademark emotional leanings, and her silky voice adds just the right amount of power to the song’s massive choruses. Perhaps one of the most fun parts of this track is the meandering and sometimes ping-ponging synth that starts and ends the track. Rather than a big wash of synth—which Illenium obviously loves—the staccato into and outro reminds you of the synth work that Jimmy Tamborello used on the Postal Service tune Such Great Heights.
Drum and Bass: Saviour by Dimension ft. Sharlene Hector
So, what are the trippiest EDM tracks? If you ask us, Saviour is right up there. Sharlene Hector’s soaring voice lets you know right away that something big is about to happen on this track. Easily on of the best EDM songs of 2020, Saviour has big ambitions, and it builds using a cinematic technique where you keep raising the pitch in small increments while scaling down the pitch at the same time. The effect is a sound that feels like it’s rising infinitely, and it’s crazy suspenseful. Of course, this is broken when the beat kicks in, but that’s where the fun really starts. This song is absolutely enormous sounding, and Hector’s voice is so powerful that it manages to stay perfectly in command even as the track keeps getting bigger and bigger. The midpoint break becomes ethereal and ominous at the same time, and then the build starts again. Truly, Dimension is a master at creating a foreboding suspense that makes the beat drop a relief when it finally happens.
Synthwave: Deep Blue by The Midnight
Welcome back to the 80s! The Midnight knows how to bring the nostalgia, and this track is no exception. The first minute and a half of this track plays out with bright synth washes with melodies that conjure memories of the Yamaha DX7 keyboard, and a smooth vocal that reminds you of Thomas Mars of Phoenix. At the 30 second mark the compressed synth drums kick in and transports your heart back to 1985 in a way that you can only understand if you were there. About one and a half minutes in, The Midnight proves an adage from the 80s: You can’t have a hit single without a saxophone! The sax on this track is reminiscent of the sax work in some of the recent tunes by M83, specifically their hit single Midnight City. But you could argue that Deep Blue takes an even more authentic approach to the sax solo because it functions only as a solo rather than a constant part of the song. You could easily drop this track into an action scene from Stranger Things, and it stands out clearly as one of the best EDM songs of 2020.
Techno: You Are Your Own Destruction by Kas:st
The opening of this track is somewhat reminiscent of classics by Kraftwerk, but then it settles into an ominous thump that takes a while to build to a climax. There are moments during that build when you are reminded of the Pink Floyd track On the Run but with a heavier beat. If you are wondering: what is an upbeat and energetic genre of EDM, look no further than techno. This song takes a more low-key approach to the genre, which is a refreshing departure from all of those techno tracks that are constantly playing at the gym. This track has something much more cerebral to it, and its subtle approach allows it to effortlessly evolve over more than seven minutes.
Midtempo: Into the Abyss by Zeds Dead and REZZ
This track starts out with a somewhat creepy, horror movie vibe that opens up into a lumbering giant of heavy reverb and square wave synth that is absolutely brutal. From there, the track explodes into a mixture of thunderous beat, swirling vocals, and what I’m pretty sure is an ocarina. The track is aptly titled as it gives you the feeling of floating away into a misty landscape of mountains and pine trees somewhere in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. There’s not a whole lot to this track, but it creates an atmosphere that is unsettling and comforting at the same time. This is easily one of the best EDM songs of 2020.
Dance Pop: Clouds by Whethan Ft. the Wombats
This track starts out playfully with some 8-bit Atari sounds, but quickly shifts into a playfully glitchy, melody-heavy tune with super dry drums that reminds you of bands like Phoenix. Unlike a lot of the entries here, Clouds is more vocal and lyric heavy, and it even features some electric guitar lines that seems to be increasingly rare these days. Mostly, this track is meant to be a lot of fun, and they achieve this goal effortlessly. The track also clocks in at under three minutes, showing the Whethan is sticking true to the concept of leaving your audience wanting more.
Trance: Afterlife by Spencer Brown and ALPHA 9
One of the more traditional genres of EDM, trance is still finding new ways to stay fresh and creative, and this track from Spencer Brown and ALPHA 9 is no exception. Far and away one of the best EDM songs of 2020, Afterlife keeps it low-key at first with a dry beat that doesn’t try to overtake the subtle analog synth arpeggios that drive the song. Honestly, this track doesn’t change all that much in its first three minutes, and it doesn’t matter because it’s just such a fun place to exist for a while. When the synth wash finally drops out, you know there’s something wild waiting on the other side of the drop. But Afterlife really takes its time building to that climax. When the drop finally happens, it’s followed by the whole track warming up as it hits higher compression levels. The result is a pulsating experience that draws you into the track all the way. Once you’ve been living inside this track for a while, you don’t want to get out. It’s just such a satisfying place to be.
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