RA Poll: Top DJs of 2011

RA begins two weeks of polls with the readers’ choice of the finest DJs of the year.

Electronic music is a global phenomenon, but for most of us, our perspectives are shaped by the cities in which we go raving. Tastes and trends vary from place to place, and it’s nigh on impossible to keep tabs on the scene at large (unless you’re a DJ and travel the world for a living). That’s what’s so fascinating about our annual poll of your favourite DJs: it’s a rare chance to see the broad spectrum of who people like to see in clubs. It’s like a distillation of countless parties around the world over a 12 month period: the late nights and fuzzy mornings of thousands of punters are funneled into a single list.

In 2010 we had to admit that the top DJs poll wasn’t radically different from the one in 2009. That is definitely not the case in 2011. Take spots #1 and #2, which changed hands for the first time in years. Then you’ve got the inevitable first-timers, one of whom makes his top 100 debut all the way up at #5. There are even a couple of DJs who appear twice (well, sort of). But enough chit chat—let’s scroll down, shall we?

100. Subb-an

98. DVS1

96. Efdemin
From the amount of time DVS1 spends in the booth at Berghain, you’d think they were grooming him for a residency. That would certainly make sense: with his balance of toughness, variety and emotional range, the Minnesota native is one of the finest acts in techno today.

95. Deetron
The key word with Joy Orbison is « discerning. » He didn’t play a ton of gigs outside of the UK in 2011, but every single one of them seemed to be at one of the best venues that country or city in question had to offer.

90. Heidi
It’s not easy being a deep house DJ in Paris, but Dan Ghenacia isn’t complaining. For nearly 20 years, while French Touch, filter disco and eventually nu-rave blared at most of the city’s clubs, he’s been the beating heart of a small but proud underground scene.
DC-10‘s curatorial hand and a relaunch of his Madhouse imprint had plenty to do with Kerri Chandler‘s 2011 renaissance, but it was his own stellar DJ sets that vaulted him into this list of the top jocks of the year.
From their house and bass music hybrids to their infectious sense of humor (read: the video for « LEZGO« ), Justin Martin and his fellow Dirtybirds have a way of keeping things fresh, which explains why they maintain such a special status in San Francisco and beyond.

72. Guy J
Guy J proved that prog had plenty left to say in 2011 via his 1000 Words full-length. Clubbers agreed, flocking to see the Israeli jock push his uplifting 4/4 in venues around the world.

68. Shonky

66. Ame
He’s been DJing for 20 years, but Daniel Bortz may just be the sleeper success of 2011. Despite playing little outside of his native Germany, Bortz has cultivated a following through an adroit run of sample-heavy house tracks.

61. Surgeon
More and more DJs play the type of ambient techno that Donato Dozzy is so closely associated with. But take one look at this list and you’ll realize that nobody else plays it in the same way. A master of atmosphere and touch, Dozzy is one of a kind.

59. Agoria
What to expect from a Nina Kraviz DJ set? House and techno with a nod to the past. And more than likely some mistakes. The Russian selector spread her purist message further than ever in 2011.

52. Move D
You could hardly escape Danny Daze‘s breakthrough track « Your Everything » in 2011 and, accordingly, he had some high-profile gigs in the UK to match. Expect to see him plenty more in clubs around the world in 2012.

50. Rhadoo

49. tINI

48. Steffi
tINI fully emerged from the lengthy shadow of Desolat label boss Loco Dice in 2011 with a debut album that allowed her more intricate take on house to come fully to the fore.

44. DJ Koze

42. Pan-Pot
It’s impossible to dislike Robag Wruhme. From the nonsense titles of his recorded mixes to the beats themselves, his glowing personality flows right into his music and has made him a perennial favourite.

37. Zip
After a relatively barren spell during the ’00s, home-grown house music is thriving again in the UK. Via his fresh and bass-heavy take on the sound, Bristol’s Julio Bashmore is one of the key talents of this rejuvenated scene.

35. Ben UFO

33. Raresh

31. Cassy
It almost goes without saying that bass music DJs play across the board these days—but no one does it with quite the same skill and panache as Hessle Audio co-founder and Rinse FM resident Ben UFO.

26. Dubfire
« Whether you like Crosstown or not, Damian is one of those people that just fuckin’ knows what he’s doing, » said Maceo Plex earlier this year on the subject of Damian Lazarus‘ A&R skills. The same could also be applied to his DJing.

25. Scuba

23. Magda
Chris Liebing‘s magnificent recent run of form continued in 2011, with the CLR label and its celebrated podcast series cementing its position as one of the go-to sources for the tougher end of the techno spectrum.

Diynamic continued its reign as one of Germany’s most vital imprints in 2011. Label boss Solomun had a lot to do with that, taking the imprint’s sound to clubs around the globe while also making sure that their own hometown venue Ego was stocked by some of the world’s best DJs. Celebrating an anniversary—five years of Diynamic—certainly didn’t hurt matters much either. Add one of the year’s most beloved remixes—his take on Noir & Haze’s « Around« —on top of all of this, and you’re left with the best year yet from the Bosnian-born DJ.

Marcel Dettmann

Ostgut Ton further expanded its brand of no nonsense techno and old school-indebted house outside of the confines of its Berlin home at the famed Berghain/Panorama Bar in 2011. The techno evangelism was largely due to the work of residents Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock. While Klock largely kept his head down in the clubs, Dettmann found time to put out a solid mix CD, Conducted, on Music Man and 12-inches through 50 Weapons and Kontra-Musik. These outside endorsements further emphasize that the world has warmed up to the cold, steely techno that Dettmann loves so much.

Lee Foss

Earlier this year, Lee Foss told tracealine.com that « there will be a backlash, there’s no way around it. » As for now? Foss is riding high alongside Hot Creations partner Jamie Jones, and an imprint that helped define 2011. With two solo EPs and a host of DJ gigs, Foss was as personally responsible as anyone for the trend. But he’s no overnight success: He grew up in Chicago’s hard knock scene, honed his sound in Los Angeles and now makes his home in the UK. In a few years, the backlash will arrive. If there are more years like 2011 before then, though, Foss will undoubtedly have far more fans than detractors.

17. Sasha

God is a DJ—but he only warms up for Sasha, reads the title of Brendan Blood’s semi-biographical book on the UK veteran, a playful nod to the famous 1994 Mixmag cover story. Sasha may not command quite the same levels of reverence these days, but his latest appearance in our top 20 should go some way to emphasizing his enduring relevance. After a nine year break, Sasha got back together with Lee Burridge and Craig Richards to reform Tyrant this year, sprinkling some of that star power over the final event in our RA X series at Trouw in Amsterdam.

Sven Vath

It was largely business as usual for Sven Vath in 2011. Although when you consider that « business » includes running a club, a booking agency, a record label, a weekly Ibiza residency and visiting the four corners of the globe to DJ, you realise that there’s nothing « usual » about this. Germany’s most famous techno DJ celebrated 30 years behind the decks, and while the mythical status surrounding his marathon sets, Ibiza afterparties and general debauchery continues to swirl, remaining steadfast might just be the secret to his success.

Tale Of Us

In a year when RA’s DJ poll underwent some massive changes, Tale Of Us’ climb into the top 20 has to count as the most surprising. The group barely existed in 2010. Their beloved RA podcast, however, outlined exactly what they do in a club setting. Melodic, bouncy and pitched at right around 120 BPM, they hit at a moment when pop has been making a mighty comeback courtesy of Hot Creations and Visionquest —the latter of whom put out their Dark Song EP this year. Something tells us, however, that they’ll be around for a while: Catchy tunes rarely go out of style.

Soul Clap

DJing may appear pretty simple. Soul Clap remind us that even the simplest stuff requires an expert hand to become something greater. The Boston duo dole out classics at a regular clip. The secret is in the way that they put them together. (Head down to one of their ’90s Jam nights, and you’ll hear exactly what we’re talking about.) Over the course of two well-received mix CDs (one alongside Wolf + Lamb), they also showcased just how many future classics are on the way from friends and family, and proved that their 2010 entry into our DJ poll was anything but a fluke.

John Digweed

There’s honestly not much to say about John Digweed at this point. What’s most amazing about the progressive house king’s longevity, however, is the longevity itself. Dance music is a young man’s game, yet Diggers continues to add colors and countries to his already voluminous gig diary. Few DJs on this list have played Macedonia, Cyprus, Israel and Taiwan. He did it in the past 12 months. It’s Digweed’s professionalism, consistency and dedication that keeps him booked every weekend in clubs around the world. The music, meanwhile, is what keeps crowds coming back year after year.


Those who say that Ibiza is dead need look no further than Cadenza‘s Luciano as a case study to the contrary. After spending a second season at the helm of his Sunday night shindig at Pacha, the label boss has positioned Cadenza as one of the most surefire brands on the island (and the world). Quite simply, Luciano brings the party like few others, whether it’s via his label’s tropical house sound or a well-timed and well-known a cappella. This year saw further success at Pacha, along with a continued nod to his underground roots, bringing the likes of Moodymann, Larry Heard, Daniel Bell and more along for the ride.

Marco Carola

« I’m just expressing who I am, what I like to play and hear in the club, » Marco Carola told us this year. The Italian veteran maintains his #11 placing in our poll this time out, speaking to his continued dedication to pushing the purest forms of the music he loves. Whether it’s house, techno or something in between, there’s always something unmistakably « Carola » about his pared-down, groove-based sets. As a Cocoon resident, Ibiza was a key territory for Carola this summer, while further afield he continued to enjoy one of the busiest worldwide touring schedules of any DJ.

Ben Klock

It’s nice to know an artist as uncompromising as Ben Klock can be so widely loved. Granted, he might throw in a few more house records than some of his fellow Berghain residents, but his overall sound is techno at its most punishing, and he always has the cojones to lay it on thick, even when he’s playing somewhere far away from his home base in Berlin (which has been happening more and more). Few DJs could take such brutal rhythms and meld them into something so compelling. It’s that finesse that makes him one of the best.

Maya Jane Coles

When we featured her in the RA podcast in January of this year, we felt pretty confident that Maya Jane Coles would have a strong year. What actually transpired was nothing short of incredible. The young London house producer has gone from a talented local name to a worldwide headlining force in what feels like the blink of an eye. 2011 has seen gigs stack up across Italy, Germany, Ibiza and the US, while labels like Crosstown Rebels, 2020 Vision and Hypercolour have all played host to her classicist house sound. As for 2012? Let’s just say that there’s really no limit to how far she can go.

08. Dixon

« Drama » is the word that comes most immediately to mind with Dixon. In the catalogue of his label, Innervisions, nearly every track has a story to tell. It’s the same way with his DJ sets. Rarely does a mix go by without the Berlin-based jock leaving you anticipating what’s going to happen next. It’s almost as if the transitions are as (or perhaps even more) important than the tracks themselves. A standout mix CD for Live At Robert Johnson proved this point. If his claims that it is to be his last are true, look for his frequent club gigs to underline it on a weekly basis.

Loco Dice

Why do people always apply the same adjectives— »muscular, » « physical »—to Loco Dice’s sound? Well, firstly it avoids having to make an embarrassing fist-pumping action, and secondly these words are as close as it gets to describing something unique. See, the intriguing thing about the German DJ—and very often what sets him apart—isn’t what he plays but the way he plays. This could be to do with his hip-hop background (discussed at length with us in January of this year) but what’s certain is that Dice’s take on house and techno is truly his own.

Art Department

We described Jonny White and Kenny Glasgow’s rise as « meteoric » back in October, and for the proof look no further than their touring schedule. The Canadian duo played a single gig in July 2010; the number of shows for the corresponding month this year? 18. What happened in between was a single of the year, « Without You, » and a standout album, The Drawing Board, for Crosstown Rebels. The key difference between Art Department and so many other « breakthrough » acts, however, is that individually they’ve been doing this since the ’90s—a fact that is only too evident from their artful DJ sets.

Maceo Plex

It’s safe to say Eric Estornel had a pretty killer year. After nearly two decades of DJing and making records––mostly as Maetrik, more recently as Maceo Plex––he released Life Index, a breakthrough album that thrust him into the limelight. A month later he played at Get Lost in Miami and arguably outshone all of his fellow Crosstown Rebels. The rest, as they say, is history. Today he makes it into the top 100 for the first time all the way up in the top five, easily the highest ranking debut since the RA DJ reader poll began.

Ricardo Villalobos

It could be said that Ricardo Villalobos enjoys a cult of personality: few artists fill clubs so easily, and as a debonair artiste with a hedonistic streak, he’s underground clubland’s perfect poster boy. But that only accounts for a small part of his following. Some two decades into his career, Villalobos still has that inimitable mad scientist quality, whether he’s boggling minds at fabric or remixing modern jazz records for ECM. In some ways he’s a victim of his own success—good luck catching him in an intimate setting these days—but he remains one of electronic music’s true visionaries.

Richie Hawtin

We expressed wonderment last year that Richie Hawtin bothered to DJ at all in 2010. The same was true in 2011: Taking his mammoth Plastikman show to smaller spaces and to another technological level might’ve been enough. It clearly wasn’t, if his diary was any indication. Without three of his key compatriots— Magda, Marc Houle and Troy Pierce left to focus on Items & Things—it’s clear that Hawtin will have to be more focused than ever in 2012. Judging by his work ethic, we’d be surprised if he weren’t up to the challenge.

Seth Troxler

In 2009, Seth Troxler told Little White Earbuds that he’d « retired » at age 16 when he quit his job at The Palace in Detroit (they wouldn’t let him work with dreadlocks). Now 26, he hasn’t held a « normal » job since, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t put in the hours. 2011 was a dizzying year for Troxler—starting a label (Visionquest), founding a charity (Red Dot Relief) and playing at countless parties around the globe. His class clown persona might make it seem like he doesn’t take any of it seriously, but nothing could be further from the truth. Seth Troxler is one of most driven DJs out there, and it pays off.

Jamie Jones

« The chillest bro in dance music. »

That’s the way one RA staff member described Jamie Jones earlier this year. And while that may be true behind the decks, the rise of the Hot Creations boss is more down to hard work. By our count, Jones was billed at 142 gigs in 2011, which means he nearly averaged a set every second day. Couple this with a lauded fabric CD, a whole host of remixes and the expert co-curation of a label that came to define the sound of clubland in 2011, and you’re left with a simple equation. The hottest tracks + the most gigs = the #1 DJ of 2011.