The sheer scale of what is happening in Las Vegas cannot be understated when it comes to the EDM revolution. After all, Sin City isn't a place where early nights happen very often. It was the epicenter of the electronic music quake a few years ago, and the reverberations of its aftermath are still shaking the rest of the country to its foundations.
Parties are arties off the Richter scale, in terms of sound, spectacle and ambition. And once a year, Vegas also plays host to one of the most spectacular festivals in the world, EDC Las Vegas. Welcoming 140,000 people to its desert home last weekend, tickets sold out long before the event, EDC's reputation growing far faster than its capacity can keep up with. But what would you expect when the experience on offer is part Mad Max post-apocalyptic hedonism, part shamanic vision, people and stages glowing with trippy, other-worldly luminescence, senses overloaded by the sheer volume of information pouring in through the eyes, ears and touch.
At the heart of this swirling vortex of pleasure is Dash Berlin, the Dutch DJ whose residency at the trailblazing Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub has helped introduce a new era of trance to this Nevada nirvana, and led to him being bestowed with the ultimate accolade; closing EDC Las Vegas' main stage with a the Sunday night dawn set.
This month he added to that already deal-sealing resume by closing out the third annual EDMbiz Conference & Expo, around the Cosmopolitan Hotel's Boulevard Pool, once again lending his skills to Las Vegas' hub for industry heads.
All this sets the scene perfectly for the arrival of We Are, Dash Berlin's third album, a much anticipated treat for all Dashers, as his ever growing band of loyal followers are called.
Catching up with him on the eve of his action-packed June, it turns out our opening gambit is one that he's heard plenty of times before. “That's always a good conversation starter,” laughs Dash, aka Jeffrey Sutorius, when we inquire about the potentially confusing reference in his name to the infamous German techno epicenter. “[It] comes from the Love Parade, where I once saw all these thousands of people dancing in the streets of Berlin. It felt really liberating, spiritual almost.”
An annual street parade, which at its peak in the '90s and’00s drew thousands of colorful dancers onto the streets of Berlin, today Dash commands similarly, sized crowds. Walk through Vegas and you'll see his face on billboards next to the likes of magician David Copperfield. But while this accent may appear sudden, the unseen effort behind his current position goes back to 1995, when he first took up DJing. “DJing literally kept me alive when I lost my daytime job at a record store during the final days of vinyl,” he recalls of his earliest days eking out a living from his passion.
Till The Sky Fall Down
It was the release of 2007's “Till The Sky Fall Down” on Armada that really set Dash Berlin on his way up to the top, the story behind it revealing a fascinating aspect of his success. While the Internet is now rife with speculation about the use of secret ghost producers, and the potential exploitation of young producers trying to get exposure, Dash Berlin has been an openly collaborative effort from the outset.
“It's been in my official bio from day one, but not everybody cares or pays attention,” he explains patiently. “I am Dash Berlin, the DJ. As a music project it's a team effort.”
Production partners Eelke Kalberg and Sebastiaan Molijn, who he's been friends with since the days they used to buy records from him, had previously worked with Sander Kleinenberg (amongst others) before the trio decided to go into the studio together. “We started working together on a few trance orientated ideas, just for the fun of it,” he explains the twist of fate that would point him in the direction of his current trajectory. “Little did we know that 'Till The Sky Falls Down' would become so huge. Armin van Buuren played an important role in that scenario, because he was the first to get behind that record. The rest is history, as they say.
“My co-producers are always credited, they just don't like to DJ anymore,” he continues in regards to this mutually beneficial relationship, pointing out that Quincy Jones not playing onstage with Michael Jackson didn't take away from the fruitfulness of their relationship in the studio.
The rest of this “history,” as it relates to life before Vegas, has involved plenty of touring, including to what Dash calls some “dangerous countries,” but he's a true believer in the open-hearted nature of electronic music. “I don't drink, I don't use, I am therefore 100% for the people, before, during and after a gig,” he tells us on his willingness to play wherever there's an audience, adding that from doing charity gigs he's expanded the influence music has bestowed on him to adopt 23 orphans. “I like to believe that the human factor, which you can also hear in the music, is somehow reflecting in what people have been voting for these last couple of years.”
Plainly referring to DJ Mag's Top 100 DJs poll, in 2010 Dash Berlin rocketed into the rankings at No.15, the highest new entry, while last year placed him in the top ten most popular DJs in the world.
Despite this public mandate, taking him on at Marquee three years ago was still a risk as Sol Shafer, Director of Special Operations & Music, explains. “The trance sound in Las Vegas has been somewhat of a challenge over the last decade, but with constant education, as well as the overall format slightly changing to be a little more commercial, its been catching on and really getting some traction. Dash, amongst a few others, has really helped educated this city.”
“Everything comes in waves, it's a constant musical dialogue between styles,” continues Dash when we ask him about the apparent sea change, which is welcoming back more melodic styles of big room music. “After the thunder storm comes the blue sky, but the blue sky never really went away, it was there all the time, waiting for you to discover it again. That's the story with trance.”
The key to this, Sol believes, is the universality of Dash's music. “I have always been attracted to sounds that are emotional and his productions are such that they grab the soul, squeeze tight and do not let you go - which to me, is exactly what I truly love, speaking from a musical standpoint. Also, his performance and the way he engages with his fans is next level. Every show from Jeff is always 110 percent, and that is crucial for me.”
Having succeeded in packing the club out night after night a mutual respect has been firmly established, with Dash calling the partnership “something special” and praising everything at Marquee from the crew to the acoustics. “What we do at Marquee is special, because we did not follow any trend. We did our own thing and people starting noticing. We never followed and now we are leading.”
Special mention also goes to the crowds that have supported this transformation, and specifically Jeff's traveling band of Dashers. “No Dashers, no Dash Berlin, that's the bottom line,” he admits on their importance to the atmosphere of his shows, adding that their fanaticism stretches to “a lot of marriage proposals and hotel room numbers from female fans on Twitter, which is weird. The craziest thing though has to be this one fan that actually tattooed my autograph.”
ELECTRIC DAISY CARNIVAL
This pales, though, when held up to the madness unleashed during Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Speedway. “I don't think I've mastered the English language well enough to describe it in a way that does justice to what you feel when you are a part of that,” falters Dash when attempting to convey his experiences there over the last couple of years, instead heaping praise on Insomniacs Events, both for their passion and their lineage when it comes to putting on events. “Closing the main stage, with a sunrise set in that beautiful environment with all these thousands of people, is simply unforgettable,” he says, suddenly finding his expressive voice. “This is what it is all about, this whole dance music revolution. It's about coming together to celebrate our short lives on this planet. We're the new hippies.”
It's emblematic of Vegas' ever-growing importance that EDMbiz, a two-day conference which DJ Mag attended last week, now precedes this journey into the desert. “After all these years of WMC it is certainly a welcome breath of fresh air, which is good for everyone,” he reflects on Vegas shaking off its reputation as merely a place to party. “I've been on the artist panel, played at the official parties, and I've officially opened and closed it. It's very exciting.”
These shows will, no doubt, also serve as a preview of We Are, which is being released by Armada in two parts over the summer. “It's trance, but the kind of trance that will inspire, a sound that is not stuck in the past, but a sound that has the ambition to move things forward,” Dash tells us when – in lieu of a copy of the finished album – we ask him to expand on how this project sees him developing as an artist. “I'm also opening up the album as a vehicle for other talent to shine, artists that I believe in and am inspired by.”
This includes young bloods Syzz, Disfunktion, 3LAU, Jay Cosmic, Alex Popov and Michael Brun, as well as undisputed tastemakers and pioneers Scott Storch and Armin van Buuren.
“We Are is about all of us,” he goes on, “it stands for DJs, VJs, promoters, fans, bloggers etc. because we are all connected by the music, that is the message and the concept. It is by far my most ambitious project till date and I am really proud of it.”
With a world tour rolling on from the album's release, Dash's onwards and upwards journey looks set to continue, his fanatical band of Dashers growing with each new city the passes through. “After all the hard work, the most fun is to unleash all the new music and to see the crowd react,” he grins at the thought of what is still to come. “That's the whole idea behind what I love to do so much - being a DJ.”
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