“After I do a gig, if I’m in a party mood, it’s my tour manager’s job to remind me that this is my job,” says 25-year-old megastar DJ Hardwell. “Even though when I DJ and travel it doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like a dream come true.”
Living the dream, for the Dutch DJing dynamo, involved doing 250 gigs last year. This year, he says, he’s got as many lined up. And that includes his very first “solo concert” tour that he’s calling I Am Hardwell. It’ll start in Amsterdam, at the Heineken Music Hall, on 27th April.
“It’s the next step in my career,” says Hardwell, whose CV, so far, includes his own solid-gold big room house hits, co-productions with Tiësto, an Essential Mix and hitting No.6 in DJ Mag’s Top 100 poll last year.
“It’s going to be my own show, with my own stage. We’re going to announce the dates one by one and, at the moment, that’s about as good as it gets for me!”
ROCKING THE CROWD
Before he starts his I Am Hardwell bid for world domination, the Dutch star is due to DJ in Miami, for the Ultra festival (16th March on the Main Stage), and for DJ Mag’s annual Miami Music Week pool party (20th), at the South Beach-based temple of opulence known as the Delano.
“I was at the DJ Mag party last year,” says Hardwell. “I never expected that I’d be on the line-up this year!”
And then he’s off, talking about his latest re-edits, the original productions he’s going to test out for the show and the tunes he’s A&Red for his own Revealed Recordings label (make sure you reach his Revealed Recordings party at Mansion on the 21st), that he’ll play too.
“I never play the same set twice,” he says. “I couldn’t do that. My main goal is always to entertain the crowd. That’s why I use CDJs when I DJ. I would never, ever, use a MacBook. I use a Mac and Logic Pro to make music, but I think it’s awful when you see a DJ standing there, fiddling with their laptop on stage, looking like they’re checking their emails instead of engaging with people. I want to interact with the crowd. I want to feed off their energy and for them to respond to mine.”
MAGIK MUZIK STORE
That ethos has been the same since the beginning, since Hardwell first started DJing, aged 13, playing everything from salsa to hip-hop, early house tunes and pop at a local dance school (where kids learned to tango) in his home town Breda. “I bought my decks when I was 12,” he says. “They were a set of Reloops that I got from the local record shop Magik Muzik store.”
That shop, just a few minutes from where he grew up, isn’t there any more. But, back in the days when Hardwell was better known as Robbert van de Corput, the shop was owned and run by Tiësto. “I used to go in there and buy records and I’d sometimes see him working behind the counter, when he wasn’t touring or away DJing,” recalls Hardwell.
“When I finally did meet him properly, 10 years later, I never mentioned that I’d met him before, when I was a teenager that no-one knew.”
Hardwell’s long-running affair with electronic music started way before he was a teenager. He started playing the piano aged six. As an only child, he spent a lot of time listening to the music his mum and dad would play at home. And, when they weren’t playing music, he’d turn on the radio.
“I think the tune that really made things click into place for me, in terms of electronic music, was 2 Unlimited ‘No Limit’,” he remembers.
“It was after I first heard that on the radio that I went onto my dad’s computer and downloaded a program to make music.” Using this program — Magix Music Maker — Hardwell put together his first rudimentary tunes. And, at that stage, he was only nine-years-old. “It was weird because none of my friends were interested, so I did spend a lot of time alone on the computer. It seemed like all the other kids my age were more interested in playing with Lego.”
MAIN STAGE MASTERY
From those early production building blocks, Hardwell has gone on to carve out a career that many people spend a lifetime and more trying to achieve. By the time he was 19-years-old he’d played at every major stadium gig and festival in Holland. At that age, he says, he remembers playing the main stage at Dutch festival Dance Valley.
“I was DJing to 20,000 people,” he remembers. “I was so nervous but, more than that, I was excited.” It’s Hardwell’s irrepressible excitement — he can’t stand still or stop grinning when he’s behind the decks — that makes him impossible to resist. Using just CDJs, his DJing isn’t just flawless, it’s clever too. And within the parameters of his big room, progressive house sound — playing everything from Porter Robinson, to his own tracks such as ‘Spaceman’ and re-edits (always his own) of rock tunes such as Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and Linkin Park’s ‘Numb’, he’ll tease the crowd with a cheeky acapella that he’ll weave in and out across a few tracks.
“I’d get bored if I just had to stand in the DJ booth waiting for one record to nearly finish before I brought the other one in,” he reveals. “That’s why I’ll always add acapellas and make weird cuts. I’ve always wanted to be a really energetic DJ. That’s something I had in mind since I first started DJing. I’ve always wanted to entertain the crowd instead of just playing records.”
BIG ROOM SOUND
This full throttle, flawless approach to his art is probably what draws gargantuan crowds to see Hardwell every time he plays. At his gigs there’ll be at least half a dozen people in the crowd holding banners with his name on them.
“The big room, progressive sound I play is ideal when it’s played to bigger crowds,” he says. “And when I first started playing to huge audiences, when I was around 17, it was a real eye-opener to me. That’s when I really developed my big room sound. When you play to big audiences, you can extend records more. And the progressive sound that I play, it’s more euphoric. I think it’s hard to create that same feeling in a small club.”
But it’s not all about the DJing. For each set he plays, he’ll bosh out a fresh batch of re-edits. He put together his Nirvana re-edit and another he did of Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ in four hours apiece. And he’s also well-known for his mash-ups. His ‘Show Me Love vs Be’ bootleg, he says, was one of the “milestones” of his career so far.
“That was the first track I’d done that got picked up by all of the DJs that I really looked up to,” says Hardwell, who made the bootleg in 2008. “Erick Morillo, the Swedish House Mafia, Tiësto, Armin, Fedde — everyone seemed to be playing it. At that point, when I made it, I didn’t think it’d have that impact. I did it as just another edit for my DJ set.”
The booty, an edit of Steve Angello & Laidback Luke’s ‘Be’ that Hardwell had segued with Robin S’s classic ‘Show Me Love’, spread like a virus during the summer of 2008. But it wasn’t his only career milestone. In a period over just over a decade, Hardwell’s had many magic moments to note, in production terms. When he was 17, it was his remix of Portuguese house tune ‘Cre Sabe’ that won him chart success across Portugal and led to him DJing in Lisbon to his first big crowd — a party for 10,000 people.
He’d released his first remix aged just 14 but within five years, he was already penning productions to be proud of. The first, ‘Guess What’ (a collaboration with Chuckie), never got an official release but, via the internet, became a cult underground hit. “You can still hear it on YouTube now, but it really doesn’t sound like me. It’s very techy and minimal. Nothing like the stuff I make now.” Later on, his own tune ‘Voyage’ ended up being his route to properly meeting his hometown hero Tiësto. “After hearing that, in 2010, Tiësto asked me for some more tunes to listen to,” says Hardwell. “I sent him ‘Molotov’, another track I made around that time, and he said he loved that too. It was after that he invited me to open up for him for his gig at Privilege in Ibiza.” Hardwell clearly remembers the date, 19th August 2010. It was his first big gig in Ibiza. And, after that, he went on to do warm-up slots for Tiësto all over the world.
“We clicked straight away,” says Hardwell. “I don’t know if it’s because we’re from the same town, or just have the same idea about music.”
Tiësto, for a long time, was arguably the biggest DJ in the world. If Hardwell’s momentum continues at the pace he’s currently working at, he could knock the more seasoned DJ off that top spot. “We don’t look at it like that,” reasons Hardwell. “Really, we play different sounds, and there isn’t any competition.”
And that collaborative, rather than competitive spirit stretches across Holland. Dutch DJs definitely dominate the global dance music scene and Hardwell thinks it’s this spirit of collaboration — as well as the fact that there are so many venues to DJ at across Holland — that is the reason why.
“We do all support each other,” says Hardwell. “But also, on one Saturday night you can play four gigs in Holland alone. It’s so small, that you can drive from each one to the next really easily.”
Hits such as his own ‘Spaceman’, ‘Encoded’ and ‘The World’ don’t stop Hardwell from wanting to collaborate with other producers. More famous co-productions include ‘Zero 76’, penned with Tiësto and ‘Move It 2 The Drum’, co-produced with Chuckie. But he’s also currently in the middle of a collaborative project with Diplo, of Major Lazer fame.
“I met him about four years ago, in Miami. He asked me to DJ at his Mad Decent party and we decided to try and make a tune after that. He quite often plays the trap remix of my tune ‘Spaceman’ in his Major Lazer DJ sets. And he’s played my ‘How We Do’ tune too, the collaboration with Showtek. Diplo says he loves the energy in my music and we have been working on a tune together.”
Both Major Lazer and Hardwell were on the bill for two-day beach festival Zoukout last December in Singapore. They played on different stages, on the same night.
“We were supposed to work on a track together the next day,” says Hardwell. “I didn’t see Diplo in the hotel in the morning, but I knew we were on the same flight the next morning, so I walked onto the plane with my laptop open and ready. Thing is, he fell asleep. By the time he woke up, about four hours later, I’d put together a whole plan for a tune. It will come out eventually, and it’ll be a Major Lazer-style thing.”
Hardwell’s energy is unquenchable. His skill is unquestionable. He knows what he wants, and how to get it. And he hits at it from all angles — his DJ sets, his radio show, his productions, his re-edits, his record label, his own tailor-made concert show.
“I love it all equally,” he raves. “All the different parts feed into each other. People keep asking me if I’m going to make an album, but I don’t want to at the moment. I think an album slows you down. You have to stop, spend time in the studio. I think my sound has developed so much because I make track after track. I don’t want to be locked in a studio for six months. I don’t want to stay still.”
Hardwell misses his friends and family, but because of his DJ schedule, he doesn’t often get to see them. He lives in Breda, but he rarely spends time there. The places he sees most, he says, are airports and hotel rooms.
“When I got my first gigs at Hollywood, in Rotterdam, my parents would have to take me to the gig and stay with me in the club until I’d finished,” admits Hardwell. “They had to keep doing that until I was 18. They have always supported me and I wouldn’t be here today without them.”
As huge as the hype currently is around Hardwell, he’s not about to start believing it. And that’s probably what makes him so special. You can see it in his face when he DJs. He’s the same age as most of the people he plays music to and it’s clear that he loves every single tune he plays.
“You asked me if it’s a job,” he says. “It is a job. But it’s the best job in the world.”
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.