American DJs love doing a bit of it. The Dutch are always at it. Danny Tenaglia’s been known to have a go. And lately, if you turn up at a big festival abroad, it seems like every house/electro/trance DJ is up for a bit of the kind of MC action you’d only previously have seen at a garage or d&b rave. Indeed Belgian house duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike have based their entire CDs, decks and FX live show around that format.
“Thing is, we have a really clear barrier,” says Dimitri. “I’m DJing and he’s doing the vocals and the effects.” “Yeah,” says Mike, “I’m kind of improving what he’s doing but I never actually press ‘play’.”
“He doesn’t ever say ‘play that track or play this track’,” says Dimitri, “if he did that, we’d fight. I just do my thing and he does his. And it works together great.”
So great, in fact, that the pair sold out a solo show for 20,000 people earlier this year, in just one day. And fans are so hungry to get a taste of the brothers’ peak-time mash-up of electro beats, techy vibes and mic madness that the following morning, when they put another show up for grabs for the same crowd size, that sold out in 24 hours too.
These two shows — set to be held at the Sportpaleis in Belgium — are the duo’s first solo concerts for the forthcoming Bringing Home the Madness tour. It’s the latest instalment in a story about two-brothers-behind-the-decks that started out in Ibiza in 2003 before coming home to Belgium, and is now setting about taking over the world.
“People ask us, ‘What’s it like getting big, career-wise, so quickly?’, but we’ve been at it for years,” says Dimitri. “Yeah, we’ve had some pretty dark times — with no money, struggling to get by,” says Mike. “At one point I was living in Mike’s flat, with him and his girlfriend, and our entire studio was shoved under one of the beds in the flat, because there was no room anywhere else,” says Dimitri.
Last year Dimitri and Mike scored seven Beatport No.1 releases with their label Smash the House, and nine others that hit the top three slot. Their remix of Fatboy Slim & Riva Starr’s ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’ became the first Beatport No.1 of 2014. As well as their own name, they make music as MadFunk, NoiseFreak, TerraPlastik and MobNoiz. And to add to their headline slot at Tomorrowland in July this year, the pair have a big Ibiza residency this summer (they can’t say where, yet) and production collaborations with Tiësto, Major Lazer, Steve Aoki, W&W, Martin Garrix and Fedde Le Grand coming up, to name a few.
By the time they play at the DJ Mag Miami pool party at the Surfcomber, at Music Week/WMC this year, they’ll have put the finishing touches to their first releases as 3 Are Legend, a “fun side project” they’re working on with Steve Aoki. And that’s all happening in the wake of the news that their recent compilation album ‘Bringing Home the Madness’ just went platinum.
“Whatever we’re doing, we try to take all our different influences and put them together into something new,” says Dimitri.
“Yeah, it’s the same with our label, our live set and our productions,” agrees Mike.
“On our label, we’ve put out a single that was a collaboration by Timbaland and Missy Elliott, and that’s exactly the opposite to the kind of release us or Wolfpack would do, for example,” says Dimitri. “That’s what keeps it interesting for us.”
Back when they were growing up in a little town called Willebroeck in Belgium, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Greek immigrants Dimitris and Michael Thivaios never dreamt they’d be headlining a world-renowned festival such as Tomorrowland, performing together onstage.
“I’ve been DJing ever since I was 13-years-old,” says Dimitri, who just turned 32. “Mike, who’s a couple of years younger than me, was totally into hip-hop and we never saw eye-to-eye on music until we both ended up in Ibiza in the summer of 2003.”
Dimitri went to Ibiza first, to work in a hotel that was part of the Fiesta Group, the company that also owns Space and Ushuaia. “I had no intention of going to Ibiza,” admits Dimitri.
“The thing is, I was terrible at school and wasn’t interested in learning. I was really into electronic music — artists like Bounty Hunter and harder-edged house music. I loved everything that came out on Banzai Records. I collected a lot of vinyl and would spend all my time DJing. My mum got fed up with it and saw a job advertised in a paper for young people to work abroad in hotels. She showed me the ad, I applied and got the job.”
PASS THE MIC
Dimitri’s first hotel job was in Majorca. When he was offered the chance of working at a hotel in Ibiza in 2003 he jumped at it. “I’d always wanted to go to Ibiza and dreamed of playing at Space,” he says.
When he wasn’t working in the hotel, Dimitri spent all of his time going to clubs and eventually convinced the owners of the hotel he worked in to let him DJ in the hotel bar.
“I remember going to Pacha every Wednesday night for the Subliminal Sessions and hearing Erick Morillo play,” he recalls.
“It was a real game-changer for me because at that point I was really into this harder music and then I started watching him playing, what he was doing with the looping, how he mixed tunes together and worked with the equipment. After seeing him for a few weeks I threw out my vinyl and started playing with CD players. I also really loved the back-to-back sessions he did with the Audio Bullys. And that kind of gave us the idea for what we do now.”
Mike, who decided to join his brother in Ibiza in the summer of 2003, agrees.
“I was 18 when I saw Erick Morillo play and those parties — the Wednesdays at Pacha — were the first dance music parties I’d ever been to. It was after seeing what Erick Morillo did with the Audio Bullys that I started getting into house music. Before that I was really into American hip-hop. I loved that late 1990s/early 2000s hip-hop sound — particularly Dr Dre. But it was the energy of those sets with Erick Morillo and Audio Bullys, and the way they used a microphone, that made me get up there one day when Dimitri was DJing and start chatting on the mic.”
That summer, in 2003, the pair did their first-ever gig at Space. “It was a dream come true,” says Dimitri.
“After that we were playing all over the island,” says Mike. “Yeah, we played at Ushuaia when it was just a beach bar,” adds Dimitri. “We were making good money and we could have just stayed out there, doing that,” says Mike. “But we knew if we wanted to take things further and achieve something — beyond the highlight of playing at Space — that we’d have to focus on making music. So that’s when we left Ibiza and came back to Belgium.”
Anyone who’s heard Dimitri and Mike perform live will know that they play 60-70% of their own tunes, re-edited. And their sets always sound fresh because they spend nearly all their time when they’re not performing making music to play when they do. The tracks they play are tunes that they’ve both produced, usually made in their studio near Antwerp in Belgium.
“We never work together on a tune though,” says Mike. “We each have our own style and our own state of mind when it comes to making music. That’s why, a lot of the time, we have very different sounds coming out under our name.”
“One track might be more him or more me but if we sit together in the studio we end up fighting,” says Dimitri.
“Dimi will always start from an idea he’s had previously,” says Mike. “But I just start fiddling around straight off, working with sounds to see what comes up.”
“Yeah,” says Dimitri, “and if I have to sit there listening to Mike fiddling around with sounds it just starts to get really annoying so I just say ‘later’ and go and do something else.”
Mike had to teach himself how to produce music after the pair returned from Ibiza in 2006.
“Dimitri was already able to work with Cubase and Logic and all that stuff, but I had to learn everything from scratch,” says Mike. “It wasn’t until the end of 2007 that we put out our first release, ‘Cocaine/Ibiza’, but we were still doing everything very slowly.”
Then, in 2008, the pair got a lucky break when the Swedish House Mafia picked up a remix the pair did of Dave Lambert & Housetrap’s ‘Work That Body’.
“That was actually a pretty basic tribal track,” says Dimitri.
“It wasn’t ingenious or anything, but it was the starting point where people were first picking up on our sound.”
After that release, Axwell asked Dimitri and Mike to do a same-style remix of Abel Ramos’ ‘Rotterdam City of Love’, for his label Axtone. Soon after that, Dimitri worked on ‘Leave the World Behind’ with Swedish House Mafia, a tune which exploded the brothers’ name into the mainstream. It was a year later, in 2010, that they got their first major DJing break at Tomorrowland.
“I’d been working doing A&R for a label called Coincidence Records and the owner of Tomorrowland, who was friends with the label owner, asked me if Mike and I would like to help out and DJ at the festival,” remembers Dimitri. “We were playing on a small stage, then the next year on a bigger stage and the year after that, in 2012, we were booked for the main stage.”
The day of their set there was a scheduling problem, which meant that the Swedish House Mafia, who were supposed to headline the main stage, couldn’t play. “We filled in the headline slot,” says Mike. “And that was it. Things sky-rocketed from there.”
Last year Dimitri and Mike scooped the No.6 slot in the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs poll. This year, Tomorrowland will be celebrating its 10th birthday and the pair will headline again. And, like every other year, the pair will produce a tune especially for the festival.
“I think we’ll make something a bit harder this year,” says Mike. “Something a bit more progressive,” adds Dimitri.
Ten years of Tomorrowland is a big landmark for them because if it wasn’t for that festival, they say, they probably wouldn’t be where they are today. They’ve come a long way in their career but the site of the festival is just a stone's throw from where they grew up, a few minutes from their grandparent’s house.
“We used to play football near there when we were kids,” says Dimitri. “We never imagined back then we’d be doing what we’re doing now.”