Across the world right now are thousands of 17-year-old kids dreaming of making it big in the gold rush days of EDM, dance music's biggest ever boom. They live at home with their moms and dads, making music on a laptop in their bedroom, posting their productions on SoundCloud, leaving links in the comments of YouTube videos and maybe even sending off the best tracks to their favorite labels and DJs. All of them dream of traveling the world and playing their music to thousands of fans.
For most, the dream will fade as life – “real life” as commonly referred to by dismissive parents – takes over. But for some of them, Martin Garrix, the Dutch 17-year-old who last year became the youngest ever entry into DJ Mag's Top 100 DJs, rocketing in at number 40, will serve as a reminder that dreams can come true.
When Garrix began 2013, almost exactly a year before we catch up with him taking a cab in Paris, where he's due to play in front of 4,000 fans, he was a relatively unknown hopeful from Amsterdam, albeit one signed to Spinnin' Records, the Dutch label that's helped the likes of Sander van Doorn, The Bingo Players and Afrojack with their rise to international success.
“I started in January,” he tells us excitedly when we ask him to recall year, reeling off the tracks he put out. “I released my track 'BFAM' with Julian Jordan, then in February I released 'Error 404' [alongside Jay Hardway] and a track with Sidney Sampson on Tiësto's label. After that I created 'Animals,' which was the track that changed a lot of things for me.”
Since “Animals” - made in his bedroom studio at his parent's house - spent four weeks at Beatport’s coveted No.1 spot, topped the charts in the UK, Ireland and Belgium and has currently sold over a million copies worldwide, his words might seem as a tad understated. But then, it should be noted that Garrix, who is barely old enough to drive a car, comes off as incredibly grounded and humble for someone so much in the driving seat. While he was breaking records with his entry into the Top 100 DJs, not doing any promo because he felt it was far too early to even consider making it in (“One of my managers is always doing jokes like that so I didn't believe it!” he says when he got the call from Spinnin'), “Animals” was also cropping up as most DJs' track of the year, which would have been remarkable enough had it stopped there. But it didn't.
Originally sent out as an anonymous promo, the power chords during the break of “Animals” are the precursor to it’s distinctive rolling, minimal melody, harking back to the early days of Dutch labels like Sidney Samson and Gregor Salto's Samsobeats. This, plus the shouted refrain of “We're all fucking animals,” ensured that it was always a club favorite. “I noticed when I played it people reacted really well and would ask me, 'Yo dude, what was that track you played with that duduluda, duduluda weird sound in the drop?' I'd say, I can't tell you.”
But after an online teaser started to build buzz, and Billboard announced that Garrix was behind the track, something odd happened. “It got picked up by a shit load of radio stations. It was really crazy. That was the biggest part that we didn't expect. The radio play has been on a lot of pop stations,” something unprecedented for an instrumental dance track.
The upshot, at least looking in from the outside, is that dreams do come true. But it's apparent when we speak more with Garrix that this “overnight success” was really a rare alchemical mix of talent, determination, timing and a great supporting team, and had been bubbling under for much longer than his tender age implies.
It was watching Tiësto, the Dutch giant who remains dominant in dance music today, DJing at the 2004 Olympic opening ceremony that provided Garrix with a glimpse into the world of electronic dance music, long before it was affixed with the EDM moniker.
“It was big news that a Dutch DJ was going to perform so my mom said, 'Let's watch him,'” he recalls. “I heard him play trance and that was the first time that I got in touch with four to the floor. From then I started saving up money to buy my own DJ set. A year later I realized that you have to produce to play big shows. So I installed Apple Studio on my computer and started messing around as a hobby.” Being that this was around age 11, Garrix already has over half a decade of studio experience under his belt.
Earning a little money on the side by that tried and tested method, playing music at weddings, his first proper show was local venue B60, where he gathered a few hundred friends. “I completely practiced at home. At the time I was really happy I could play my own tunes in front on an audience. When I hear them back right now I'm like, oh, I really don't know how the crowd responded! [Laughs].”
Yet the shows continued, as did the productions. Ironically, given the fact that Garrix has been accused by a few online dissenters of having “Animals” ghost-written for him (an accusation he's countered with an online video showing exactly how he did it), it was ghost writing for an already well known DJ that garnered Spinnin's attention.
“I got to know people who gave me some warm up sets to 10 people, but then I hung around and there were other DJs who are famous in the Netherlands,” he explains. “I played some of them my tracks and a few of them gave me their emails and we stayed in touch. I was working with one of them on a track, which was supposed to be a collab, but then the track turned out to be something he really liked. He asked, 'Please can I do this solo, I need a solo track?' The track became really big and they found out in the contract that I had producing royalties and he was just the name on the release.” Just which track this was still remains a mystery for now.
Having previously sent his “dream” label demos to zero response (“To be honest, if I heard the tracks back I'd completely agree with them,” laughs Garrix), this piece of luck allowed him to enter by the back door and hook up with a team whose organization and vision has allowed him to flourish. “The team is as important as I am to the brand Martin Garrix,” he says without any trance of ego, the “brand” of Martin Garrix created alongside Spinnin' from his real name, the less English-speaker friendly Martijn Garritsen. “They make sure that the only things I need to do are make music, DJ and do interviews. They fix everything else from the contracts to the traveling.”
Indeed, in the beginning they may have even done this too well as Garrix, who has recently returned from yet another foreign festival, this time The Day After in Panama City, tells us when describing the pressure of the months following his hit.
“There was a time during the summer when I did too many shows and I didn't produce anything for two months... which is a shit feeling. I wanted to put out music, it was just after 'Animals' became really big, and I didn't have any other tracks ready. Then I finally created 'Wizard' after a lot of time in the studio and that also got picked up really well. It has over 15 million YouTube views right now.”
Another collaboration with Jay Hardway, it's drop follows an almost identical template to “Animals,” but Garrix is quick to call it a “follow up,” rather than ascribing this to his sound going forward, citing some forthcoming high profile collaborations as total departures.
“I've got a track with Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike coming up and another one with Firebeats.” While the latter of these, “Helicopter,” has already been premiered by Hardwell on his Hardwell on Air show, his team-up with TomorrowLand's rapidly rising stars is set to hold off until Garrix's Ultra debut in Miami this March.
“I've got a new track coming up with Dillon Francis as well, which I think will be in May,” he adds. “It's 128bpm, but it's really funky, groovy house. I think it's one of the coolest tracks I've done.
“He actually stayed in a hotel really close to my house and came to have breakfast there every day. We had studio time in my room. Then in the evening we had dinner with my parents. They know Dillon very well too right now! We did like four or five days in a row.”
As for a long mooted collaboration with Tiësto, “We're still looking for time,” says Garrix. “I'm playing Ultra in South Africa with him so maybe we can make a little start of a track, then work it out on Skype afterwards.”
When asked how much of a helping hand Tiësto has given him, Garrix is emphatic. “He's given me 100,000 helping hands. He's one of the coolest guys that I know in the whole industry. I started because of him, but he also supports me. I had the track 'Wizard' and we premiered it in the Ziggo Dome [a giant Amsterdam venue] in front of 20,000 people,” a YouTube clip showing Garrix standing thrilled and a little overawed behind the decks.
With Hardwell acting as another kind of unofficial mentor, providing feedback on tracks, the Dutch willingness to give one another a helping hand is partly what makes their global presence so strong. “The great thing about the Dutch scene is that everybody knows one another. It's like one big group of friends touring world wide.”
It's a chain that Garrix is continuing, already using his own influence to help fellow jockeys Jay Hardway and Julian Jordan.
“Jay Hardway is one of the nicest guys in the industry,” he says proudly. “We met on the internet, on forums. Three years ago we were just talking about our shitty tracks, teaching each other new tricks. We kept in contact and made 15 tracks together, 13 of which never got released! Right now he's my support act on almost all my shows.
“The same thing with Julian Jordan. I have one new track with him coming up but I'm also going to be taking him with me to a lot of new shows in the future.”
If Garrix has his way, this alliance is just the beginning for the trio. “My dream is to have one big headline tour of festivals and arenas with the three of us, just like Hardwell is doing with Dyro and Dannic.”
First though he's making his way over to take on the States, leaving to start his debut headline tour just two weeks after we speak. “I'm looking forward to everything,” he says, blown away by the prospect. “I'm playing Hakkasan on Superbowl Sunday. Of course, the WMC is going to be one crazy week. I was there last year and there were so many friends about. I was at Ultra in the crowd as a visitor and had the dream of coming back to play there. Then, one year later, I got booked! I want to premier all my new tracks for the second half of the year there. I'm playing at LIV as well. And of course, I'm really looking forward to Coachella.”
Amidst all of this, it's hard to imagine that he's still a conscientious student – finding time to do homework on the road, even if he's rarely in class. Fortunately the Herman Brood Academy, which he began attending last year on the advice of Jordan, another student, isn't your typical school, set up specifically to help producers and musicians – a sign of the growing normalization of EDM as a viable career choice.
Although his parents were initially shocked when he asked to transfer from his previous school, Garrix emphasizes his tuition goes beyond production to cover, “the background of music, contracts, labels, how to handle interviews, they deal with everything.” It was there that he wrote “Animals,” something that's been rightly recognized with extra merit. “I jumped from the first year to the third year. I'm almost done with school, so then I can spend more time fully touring and in the studio.”
After the shaky start, he's now reaching the perfect balance between this and a social life. His parents, sister and friends often join him on the road, to soak in what is undoubtedly his moment, while three-week blocks of time off are being scheduled in – although high profile gigs in 2014 are already starting to creep into the weekends amongst these.
In fact, with a tour in Australia preceding Ultra and another “really, really, really big collaboration, but I can't tell you about the artist,” life couldn't be much sweeter right now, which leaves just one chink in the Garrix armor.
“I'm going to be honest, I really like to read comments,” he says, going against the advice of his management to face the barbed tongues of online trolls. “I'm just curious what people think, and how they react to the tunes I bring out. There are 99 good comments about a track, and then there'll be one comment saying, 'I fucking hate this track, my ears are bleeding,' but that's the one you remember!”
Having been reassured by Hardwell and Tiësto that there will always be a small minority like this, whatever his achievements, these attacks are already stating to lose their power. “After I did 'Animals' it was like, 'one hit wonder.' Then I came out with 'Wizard' and it was like, 'Two hit wonder. What, you can only do the same trick?' I was like, dude, listen to my other 20 tracks. But then I realized you can't do anything about it, it's just how people are today.”
If anything, these haters are driving Garrix on to further prove his production chops. Following the ghost writing accusations around “Animals,” he's now recording every production session on a GoPro for when the next hit arrives. But this is also part of a bigger plan, which shows Spinnin's long-term commitment to artist development. “We're bringing camera men to as many things I'm doing in daylight as much possible to show the contrast between school and the shows,” he explains, “then putting all the footage in one big safe. In five years we can open it and use it.”
It may turn out they won’t even have to wait that long to make the Martin Garrix documentary, but it’s hard to say what the future hold. Perhaps one person knows what’s to come. Calvin Harris, when he bumped into Garrix at MTV's EMA awards, assured him that “Animals” would be a number one in the UK. Ten minutes after the record’s release, it was on top of the iTunes chart and the rest, as they say, is history. So if Harris really does have psychic powers, what would Garrix most like to find out about the future?
“I'd ask where the whole dance music thing is going and where is it going to end up? At the moment there's such big hype around it, I'm really curious how everything is going to work out.”
We might very well wonder the same about the seemingly unstoppable Martin Garrix.