Often derided by electronic music purists as little more than disposable pop, EDM is the love-it-or-loathe sound that’s got the whole music industry talking over the past couple of years. Not helped by its frat-boy image and corporate-friendly stance, its artists are often called out as talentless guinea pigs, rolled out by the major label corporations with the sole intention of making hard dollars.
One such duo that we can’t level such criticism toward is Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, or DVLM for short. As genuine and hospitable folk as we’ve encountered during our time in the scene, this brotherly duo has amassed a massive following over the past couple of years, as is evident by their second place standing in last year’s DJ Mag Top 100 DJs poll. Unlike a host of their contemporaries, however, they’ve done so on their own terms.
Born and raised in Willebroek, Belgium, the Thivaios brothers share a Greek father and a Belgian mother. The younger of the two, Mike, started MCing around the turn of the century, heavily influenced by Eminem and the hip-hop wave of the time. An achingly cool dude, he wears his hair in a tight ponytail, speaks in a soft, mellow accent, sports cool tattoos and keeps his shades on for the duration of our chat.
Toned and tanned, he’s practically the opposite of his brother, Dimitri, who’s more forthcoming and chatty (“sometimes what we say gets us in trouble,” he confesses), and prefers to dress in more sensible, smart attire. Aside from a love of music, the boys share a penchant for travel, speak an impressive seven languages (“the world is your playground when you know how to chat to everyone,” says Dimitri), and are also genuinely interesting and polite to the core.
They’re also great company and are more than happy to show us around their impressive Ibiza villa, complete with vast studio, stunning views, infinity pool and lounge area. It’s pretty much the coolest place we’ve ever been to — and an intriguing insight into a world that’s far removed from the hustle and bustle of Ibiza’s resorts. The fame, the cribs and the wealth might seem like an overnight thing for many EDM superstars, but for Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike it’s anything but.
The island of Ibiza, for example, is somewhere the brothers know like the back of their hand. The boys have first-hand knowledge of slumming it over here too, doing what they could to make ends meet so they could catch their favourite DJs ever week. Mike, for instance, arrived over here as a worker when he was just 16.
With only a few pennies in his pocket and a fake ID to his name, he eked it out on the streets, using his charms to entice listeners to the clubs whilst chasing a DJ career. The little money he earned was spent in clubs like Space and Pacha, where he was particularly impressed and influenced by Erick Morillo and his Subliminal night.
The years passed in a flash, and soon enough both of the boys were working in Ibiza, this time putting their love of languages to good use by working in hotels. Aside from working and partying, they’d also been laying down tracks during that time, and they spent the summer handing out CDs to DJs they respected.
Eventually, they moved out of playing dingy clubs, bagging a gig at Space’s Closing Party in the process. The gig was received well — Mike MCing over Dimitri’s house beats was pretty novel at the time — and the boys used the gig as leverage for further DJ appearances both at home and beyond.
Even so, they’d been pretty solidly partying and making music at this point for some time now, and both their parents were beginning to grow exasperated about what they perceived as an unusual and, thus far, not very fruitful career choice. Not that the boys ever even considered giving up. Besides, the best was yet to come.
“It was in 2008, and Roger Sanchez had been playing a few of our tracks on his radio show around that point. Anyway, I think it was about 3am in the morning,” says Dimitri when we ask him about their first big break. “We were at home and I was just fooling around on my laptop. I checked my inbox and I’d got an email from Axwell’s label manager, who asked us to remix one of their tracks. I was so excited that I ran straight into Mike’s room and delivered the news there and then. We both thought it was a joke!”
It was, of course, no prank, and soon enough the boys’ remix was utterly ubiquitous in the EDM scene, with the Swedish House Mafia themselves often closing their set with it. Credits on Steve Angello’s Size label and Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak propelled their career even further, but perhaps their biggest affiliation is with the Belgian festival, Tomorrowland. Always ones to capture the moment (much like at Space), they first played the festival when it was but a burgeoning EDM showcase that coincided with the birth of the scene.
At the end of the festival and with all other stages sealed off, the boys were granted a set on a 1000-or-so capacity stage. Over 5,000 people turned up, each of them impressed by the brothers’ immense energy and intense stage presence. The owners of the festival, looking to lean on a Belgian act to spread the Tomorrowland word far and wide, had just struck gold. It’s a reciprocal relationship that exists to this day, the only difference being that Tomorrowland now dwarfs even Glastonbury as the biggest festival in Europe. That it’s done so in line with the boys’ ascendency in perhaps no surprise either.
Back to our day out at the boys’ villa, and in between our extensive chat that touches on everything from crazy gigs to dream collaborators to their forthcoming album, we’ve met the in-laws, shared a barbeque, sunk a few beers and even suam in the aforementioned pool. Unlike various other DJs — particularly those of a more underground persuasion — the boys speak with great clarity and warmth, and although they’re clearly enjoying the spoils of their new life, they’re nothing if not humble.
“A lot of what makes us work,” says Dimitri, “is that this whole thing is a family affair. We surround ourselves with our closest friends and family, and we have a trusting environment that makes things that much easier.”
It’s a welcome turn of phrase in a scene that often takes itself far too seriously, and you get the impression that just having fun and enjoying life is the overriding theme of the guys’ lives. It’s a nice position to be in for sure, but considering they’ve often been playing six shows per weekend this summer, the boys can’t be accused of not putting in the hours. So are they drained by the time their Sunday night residency at Amnesia, House Of Madness, comes around?
In typically cool fashion, Mike tells us that it’s the adrenaline that keeps him going. “Youknow,” he affirms, “sometimes I’m back-stage at gigs, unable to even lift my head up I’m so tired. But once I get to the dancefloor, I’m always ready. And when you get onto the decks at Amnesia, you just know it’s going to be a great party!”
The party ethos, of course, is central to what makes the lads tick, but behind it all there’s an impressive dedication to their craft too. Tracks like ‘Mammoth’, ‘Louder’ and ‘Waves’ (the 2014 Tomorrowland anthem) are proof indeed of their ability to conjure up big-room bangers, but recently in the studio they’ve been putting their hand to more song-based music, as is evident in recent collaborations with the likes of Ne-Yo.
“We’re musicians, so it’s obviously important we challenge ourselves,” says Dimitri. “We could easily have made an album full of club-ready tracks but we wanted to push ourselves and do something different. It just wouldn’t be honest of us to do it any other way”.
After almost three hours of hanging out in the often surreal world of Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, our DJ Mag colleague eventually pipes up on the phone, telling us he’s ready to collect us. In all honesty we’re a bit gutted to leave, not least because we could happily have spent the day wiling away our hangover at DVLM’s palatial pad, and driving home through the sweeping hills of Cala Llonga in our modest transport is an injection of reality if ever there was one.
During the drive, our colleague tells us about last year’s Top 100 DJs party, where the brothers rocked up with typical bravado. “Other DJs at the party seemed to have a legion of unnecessary assistants, many of whom went to diva-like levels to pander to their every last wish,” he tells us.
“DVLM just rocked up with a couple of bottles of vodka and champagne in their hand, and with no entourage or airs and graces. They basically couldn’t have cared less about the absurdity of the situation and were far more interested in just having a good time.”
It’s a neat story, and one that pretty much sums up what DVLM are all about: two brothers intent on working the EDM scene as only they know how.
Words: Stephen Flynn