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Paul Van Dyk will be returning to Governors Island on Sunday, August 11th, and to get our readers stoked about his upcoming visit we set up an early interview with the man himself. While we have no clue as to what he will surprise us with at his show, we did manage to find out that he will be dropping some tracks from The Politics of Dancing 3, his latest compilation mix album. Ranked The World's No. 1 DJ by DJ Magazine's "Top 100 DJs Poll" twice, we’re really excited to see what he has to offer this time around. In addition to briefly discussing We Are One Festival, we also asked about his thoughts on the patterns of trance, and the tendency for today's DJs to identify across different genres. If we took anything away from this interview, it was that art is passion, and music is PvD's first love.
If you haven't already, be sure to enter our contest to win a pair of tickets to Paul's show.
You’ve got a rich history growing up during the Cold War era in East Germany. In what ways would your music be different had you grown up elsewhere?
My music itself wouldn’t be different, but my approach towards music would probably be different because the thing is, I was lucky enough to live in East Berlin, to be able to listen to the best Berlin radio stations, so I heard everything that was out, but at the same time I could never go to any record stores and buy the records, or buy any magazines and see, you know, what my favorite artists had to say. So for me it was purely the music, not what they looked like or what they had to say. It was just the music. And I kept that approach. I don’t really care how famous someone is, I care about musical outcome, and if I meet the people, I care if they are nice people, and not if they are famous or not.
What are your thoughts on DJ’s and producers now, versus 10 to 15 years ago?
Well, there’s still a lot of amazingly talented musicians and producers out there that release fantastic music everyday. And I see that as my part of the job as a DJ as an example, and as a way that presents it to filter through all this music that’s out there. And then try to find the stuff that actually means something, and brings us closer to the people that don’t have the time to listen to a thousand tracks a day.
As one of the most legendary trance DJ’s out there, what do you have to say about the “come and go” pattern in trance’s popularity over the years?
It’s always about, like, certain terms — you know, how people are being called and labeled. For me, it’s electronic music and yes, there is a big “trancey” element to it, and that’s what I like. I think it’s about musical substance. I think it’s about something that actually you can’t bring across as a DJ that’s offensive. I couldn’t really be believable playing cheesy house music because that’s not what I feel; this is not what drives me. So, in a way, it is more about that. You know, I’m not changing my style of music in regard to what is the on-and-off trendy thing.
Lately, DJ’s have been steering away from being categorized as one type of genre — what is your take on this?
Well, you can read interviews from ’94 where, for me, it’s all about electronic music at the end of the day. It all comes from the same soup. It comes from the roots of what electronic music is, and that’s kind of like, you know, the movement in the mid to early 80s in Chicago and in Detroit. It has to do with all the use of electronic musicians like Kraftwerk here in Germany. And that combination, you know, created DJs like amazing producers and vocalists. This is what creative house music is, and this is where all this is coming form. This is where minimal techno comes from; this is where trance is coming from. Even this is where the radio-friendly EDM pop is coming from, to some extent.
Since you have a good mix of vocal and instrumental records, do you prefer one style of production over the other?
No, I like both actually, but the thing is, I’m not just using vocals to have a more accessible track. Vocals need to, first of all, have a meaning. And also, it needs to be part of the music. Like, I don’t like the stuff when you feel, “This is a really cool track. But the vocals were just put on top of it.” You know? It needs to be part of it; it needs to be in it. An additional element of art in the piece.
What are you most looking forward to when you return to New York in August?
I have such a long history and I feel so connected with New York. I kind of started my international career in New York, by playing at Disco 2000 and at Limelight in the mid 90s. And then of course came Twilo, and Central Park, and the Pier. There are so many things that, I don’t know, make me feel almost, you know, be like home. And this is why this it’s always a special show for me, and it’s always something that I’m really looking forward to. The other thing is as well, is that I know that my audience that actually comes to my shows in New York — they really know about electronic music. They’re really educated and they’re very passionate about it. They share the same passion about it really, and this is sort of what makes it also like, kind of like a mix of gathering of friends in a way, together. I don’t know how to bring it across differently but this is what it is. It’s always a very special show.
Could you talk a little about how you and Arnej were given the opportunity of creating the official Anthem for We Are One Festival?
We met in Miami, at WMC. We just hung out a bit and we just decided, you know, let’s do some music together. Just easy as this.
And this was the first year We Are One was a festival, correct? It was a lot bigger of a deal than it was in 2010 when it first began.
In a way, the We Are One Festival that we did to begin with was kind of like a variation of different things. It was like a joint venture production with a big arena here in Berlin, and it was a great festival; it was a great show, and I’m happy that we did it. What we’re doing now, is much more our festival. We’re doing something that doesn’t really exist here in Berlin. We’re doing something that basically starts in the afternoon. It’s in an amazing, outside location, and it finishes in the evening. So it’s not kind of, you know, competing really with ever growing, amazing nightlife that Berlin has. People are actually offering something completely new and this is sort of what’s so exciting about it. You stand a very successful one this year, and I’m very excited to put it on again next year again.
Aside from the constant traveling, what is the most difficult part about being a DJ who is wanted all over the world?
Well, the thing is, I really, really enjoy what I do. I’m not looking, actually, for something to find negative about it. Of course, when you travel a lot, and being exhausted…it’s something that takes a lot of energy away. But at the same time, as soon as I’m on stage, I’m wide awake and get so much energy back, and I get so much power from the music that at the end of the day, I’m just very lucky and very happy about everything.
What is the most important insight you want fans to get out of your new PvD TV series?
I’m in this really fortunate position that I can travel around the world and see many places. And, I think it’s kind of like an interesting thing to see on one hand how people party on the other side of the world, as well as giving a little bit of an insight about maybe the history, or just like a little bit of a glimpse of what it looks like there. Plus, of course, a little bit of backstage in essence. People, probably, when they watch it and when they hear me talk — they learn a little about me, and this is something that hopefully people enjoy. And from the response so far, everything is really, really positive. So I think we’re on the right way, and of course there’s always things we can do better. Maybe in the future there will be more backstage stuff and real-life sort of things. As for now, we’re focusing on showing people things about the places where I’m going.
I think that on Facebook and Twitter especially, we see this “brotherly love image” among a lot of DJs, but we don’t hear much about rivalry and competition. Do you feel like you have competitors and, if so, does this competition drive your success at all?
I really see it in a very different light. I don’t see another DJ particularly as a competition. I see it as someone else who loves electronic music as much as I do, just maybe has a different take on it. And all I can say is, I hope that all of the DJs share this same passion that I have for the music, and love it as much, and do everything they do because they want to do that for the music. That’s the only thing. I’m not really thinking about competition this-and-that. For me, it’s like an art form, and I remember that Harrison Ford once said, in regard to the Oscars, that he doesn’t believe in competition in art. And he is right. How can you compare if one DJ is better than another one? It’s not possible, because we all play different tracks. We all play in a different way. We all play different music. And of course, there is a certain amount of my colleagues that play the same ten tracks on and on and on, but even then, they play it in a different way from each other. So how can you say that this guy is better than another? The only thing you could say is that at a particular point, that DJ had a better response from the audience. But even so, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a better DJ. Because if he’s playing a cheesy hit, then of course, he might get a better response than someone who plays actual electronic music with a certain depth.