Berlin’s superstar DJ Paul van Dyk has his feet on the ground – remarkable really, since he spends much of his time jetting around the world to his next gig, such is the demand from adoring fans hungry for his immaculately blended trance music.
And it’s van Dyk who pulls the crowds more than most, a fact borne out on his appearance at the very top of DJ magazine’s annual poll of the top 100 DJs.
As he took the rare chance to kick back at his Berlin headquarters, musicOMH asked him for his reaction to the award.
“Well I was honoured, and it’s definitely a great thing. At the same time I felt very thankful for the support of the loyal people that come out to see me. When I received the award I was actually speechless, it was such a great thing for me. When it was announced, though, I said I don’t see it as a competition. Every DJ that can play and produce music that they love is a winner. So many DJs, they have to play bullshit music they don’t like, and this list represented the DJs that are able to break the boundaries of music. What I’m saying is there wouldn’t be a number one without the hundredth or two-hundredth or two-thousandth in the list. It’s an amazing thing, but the honour should go to everyone.”
Van Dyk is one of the trance music stalwarts. Already popular in his home country, he began to make waves in the UK with his Seven Ways album, released in 1997, and cemented this success with a series of big Ibiza singles – For An Angel being one, the Sarah Cracknell-fronted Tell Me Why (The Riddle) another.
He recognises his style has undergone considerable development since then. “I’ve definitely progressed further on, although I still learn something new about the studio every day. Since Seven Days of course, it’s nine years ago nearly now, and you grow up, you get more mature, more self confident to touch certain things. I wouldn’t have written a track about poverty or taken on political things then.”
Paul is heavily involved in politics, not only in his homeland but worldwide. And yet he does this work in a relatively non-confrontational way. “The most international involvement I’ve had was in the ‘Rock The Vote’ campaign leading up to the presidential election in the United States. I never really told anyone who to vote for – after all, a German shouldn’t tell an American what to vote – but I wanted to make the point that for a strongly democratic society it needs more involvement, raising a voice on political power. It’s like saying if you see something’s wrong in your neighbourhood, try and change it.”
He then shifts closer to home. “We’ve been involved in a review of the copyright law here in Germany, and I’ve been advising the government as part of a small team of advisors. Often the biggest economic problems are made by a link missing in the education system. I also campaigned for the Democratic Party in the run up to the German elections, and I’ve been involved in charity work as well.”
- Paul van Dyk’s down to earth approach to political change
Van Dyk is well known for an anti-drugs stance, or rather a ‘non pro-drugs’ stance, since the DJ prefers once again not to ram his views down the throats of punters or fellow clubbers. “Maybe you have to be a freak like me, but this music fucking kicks my ass and I don’t feel like I need anything else! I also don’t tell anyone what they should do but I at least ask people to be aware. People take drugs relative to all sorts of experiences, not just electronic music. Most of the people when they overdo things, it’s to escape reality, not to change the way the music affects them.”
A major talking point of current affairs has been the change of the licensing laws in Britain, with drinking establishments extending their hours of business. “It’s difficult for me to quote on it but in Berlin we don’t have any of those laws. To some extent I even think it makes it safer when there’s no clubbing time, people leave when they are ready. One of the best – or worst – examples is in Ibiza, as ever since they made a strict rule that everyone should close at 7am it has become very, very dangerous, with everyone leaving at the same time.”
Having recently released his second Politics Of Dancing double mix album, and with his top 100 award in the bag, recent focus has inevitably been on van Dyk the DJ. His current set-up allows him plenty of scope to incorporate new technology, but isn’t it tempting to rely on this too much? “No, if anything it’s the other way around! It’s so easy for me to put a record on, to wait for eight minutes, and then bring the other one in. No, we’ve proven that we can beat mix records. With all this raw technology electronic music is always about breaking new grounds, so to me we should embrace it. I’m tempted to do even too much rather than less!”
Van Dyk goes on to describe the format of his DJ sets. “Typically at the moment I have two computers, both running systems through the same interface, and I can interact with both and make some crazy stuff. I can remake and rearrange the tracks while they’re playing, and that’s the new way of using the possibilities of the technology, making it part of the set.”
- Paul van Dyk on superstar DJ life
Paul’s approach to DJing is very much about the love of the music. “I totally believe that if I wasn’t on this side of the mixer I would be on the other side, jumping up and down. When I start on set I have a very clear idea about my own sound, the interaction with the crowd, always checking where the energy level’s at and how I respond to it.”
Van Dyk the producer has also been busy. “I’ve been working with the Babelsberg Studio Orchestra, which is rather like the German version of Hollywood. We worked on a concert together where we played a lot of my tracks. I was interested in doing something very creative, so I sat with an arranger, and we made it so that we left enough room for the electronic music. The concert was on radio and TV and it was a huge success, but a huge effort too! It took a lot of time. We did the big tunes – Nothing But You, For An Angel, Time Of Our Lives. It was brilliant! I’m always looking for interesting things. I probably wouldn’t have come up with this idea but the chief of the orchestra, Klaus-Peter Beyer, he thought of it, and we took it from there.”
Elsewhere van Dyk is “working on a couple of remixes, and on material for the next artist album. I also circle the world once more this year – it’s really crazy. South Africa, back to the studio, then Rio, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Shanghai, Taiwan, South America…all fixed commitments with tiny open spaces!” Clearly he is a man with a lot of energy, as his “tiny open spaces” bashes still accomplish more than most people achieve in a lifetime’s music. His last three days of 2005? Gigs in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. You can’t ask for much more than that…