Paul van Dyk: EDM Evolution

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In the four-and-a-half years since DJ Times last interviewed Paul van Dyk, the EDM scene in America has undergone a dramatic and positive transformation.

To a veteran of the scene like PvD, however, the real culture of clubs hasn’t changed all that much. It just took awhile for America to catch up. Firm in his opinions on the state of dance music (and its mainstream popularity) in the U.S. at the moment, it’s long been van Dyk’s way of speaking in straightforward and brutally honest tones. Just don’t call him an esoteric or an EDM purist.

What Paul van Dyk is is true and genuine in the way he feels about this music. To him, EDM is empowering, liberating, equalizing and freeing. His earliest musical influences came from listening to pirate radio as a youth growing up in East Berlin and he tapped into those seminal experiences as he built a wildly successful career, playing the biggest festivals and the most-respected nightclubs. Van Dyk may be one of the world’s most-popular DJs, but electronic dance music is not something he takes lightly—and he wants today’s newer fans to know what it really means to love this music.

Does PvD consider himself a DJ? Well, he used to be one. Now, he considers himself a musician whose favorite music just happens to be created using computers.

So with the release of his latest artist album, Evolution (Vandit), and a new round of U.S. gigs—including select dates on the 15-city Identity Festival tour this summer—DJ Times sat down once again with the Berlin-based van Dyk to discuss the perspective of a DJ who’s been at it for two decades.

DJ Times: Just listening to Evolution, I was struck at how it instantly conveys that signature Paul van Dyk sound. It’s been quite a spell since you released your last album. The obvious question would be, where have you been and how have you evolved?

Paul van Dyk: A lot of things had to be done. That’s good. This is what every producer is aiming for. Regardless of how diverse the thing is you do, it ends up still having a signature that people recognize. It’s something I’ll always keep, because I have a definite idea how things should sound. That’s a good thing that’ll stick with me. But at the same time, coming to evolution and development and stuff, when you grow up, you have more experience. It makes you more self-confident. When you’re an artist that applies to the art you do. The most obvious thing is that it’s very intense…

DJ Times: How so?

PvD: The album is very to-the-point of what it is. If something is banging and housey, it’s banging and housey. But at the same time, I tried not to make an album that you can categorize. There are many different sub-genres. There’s trance in it and there’s also house, also techno and electro with creaky noise and stuff. It comes from all different directions. I try to put everything in place and establish something. I always say: In the DJ world, it’s not about just playing trance or house—it’s about electronic music. To make something unique that still sounds like Paul van Dyk in the end.

DJ Times: The last time we spoke, you were saying that the term “pop music” was not a bad thing because that meant your music was popular and liked by many people. You saw that as a positive. Considering the explosive growth of EDM at the moment–just listen to commercial terrestrial radio, for example–do you still hold that point-of-view?

PvD: Well, it’s a question of how you define it. There’s good and bad pop music. There’s also good and not-good electronic music. What most music people refer to as really big and “Top-40” has not much to do with electronic music and where it came from. It’s the Top-40 artists that suddenly do a danceable sound. It doesn’t mean Rihanna and Usher are dance acts! This is what these guys do—whatever’s trendy, they make music according to that. It’s not sticking to that because they really enjoy dance music. What they really enjoy is selling multi-millions of records.

DJ Times: So do you like those artists for what they’ve done before?

PvD: I was always a big fan of Usher when he did “Yeah!” because it was different. It was great R&B and soul. The stuff he’s doing now has nothing to do with what I do or how I feel about music. This is not electronic music. A lot of people have mistaken electronic music from what’s really… just because you have a 4/4 beat under what Rihanna’s singing does not make it an electronic record. If you just take it from a physical point-of-view, it’s done electronically, yeah. But to you and to me, electronic music means much more! This is something that’s very dear and important to us. There’s so much more to what we do, how we live and how we think.

DJ Times: What do you think about Simon Cowell’s reported attempt at making a DJ-competition show for prime-time television?

PvD: He’s gonna ruin it for the wider audience that’s now consuming cheesed-up, pop-dance music. I don’t think anyone who’s believing and loving and going to clubs will watch this show more than once to get, like, “What the fuck are they going to do? Oh, it sucks.” I don’t think the “winner” is going to blow our minds! [laughs] There are two different approaches. One thing is the DMC thing, which is more performing than DJing. Then there’s DJing that you can’t judge after a two or three-hour set—so how are you going to put this into a TV show?

DJ Times: Exactly.

PvD: I’m pretty sure people are gonna watch it, but it’s not how I approach my music. I’m not out and about to catch any of those cheesed-up dance lovers, because it’s not what I’m about. If you look at the Grammy Award Show, you saw a pop act onstage, an electronic crossover act and a rock band performing together. That’s not really new, but thumbs up to them for pulling it off.

DJ Times: Your DJ setup has evolved over the years as we’ve spoken to you. What’s your latest DJ incarnation, gearwise?

PvD: I’m using the Xone: DB4 [mixer], the latest from Allen & Heath. It’s got two side wings attached to it. It’s a bit like the one I had before. This mixer is absolutely crazy! You have so many built-in effects in there, you hardly need to use a sequencer, as well. Then, I have my keyboards, two computers running Ableton Live on one and [Apple] MainStage on the other that give me more depth and the ability of creating sounds and numerous smaller things. I have an Akai that allows me to trigger things.

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