It definitely changed a lot of things for me!” Holland’s Robbert van de Corput aka Hardwell is talking about being awarded the No.1 spot in last year’s DJ Mag Top 100 DJs poll, which in a rare feat of industry dominance, he’s managed to hold onto for a second year running.
“There’s no doubt it’s been a roller-coaster ride with many, many standout moments! Although I’d spent 10 years dreaming of becoming the No.1 DJ, nothing really prepared me for what would happen after that. The most notable thing was the attention it brought from a whole new side of the industry, and people from different scenes. But as anyone who’s watched I Am Hardwell will know, my musical journey is something I’ve been working on for many years now. It hasn’t been an overnight success; the documentary itself was three years in the making.”
It’s this kind of ambition that ensured Hardwell enjoyed a phenomenally huge 2014. He points to the 10th anniversary of Belgium’s Tomorrowland extravaganza as one of the year’s particularly special moments. In addition to playing a solo set on both weekends, he also played a back-to-back set with Tiësto, a moment he describes as “for the fans”. And the festival main stage sets just kept racking up alongside that. Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Mysteryland in Amsterdam, EDC Las Vegas, Creamfields in the UK and Future Music Festival in Australia.
In addition, he held key residencies at party locations across two different continents. In Ibiza he launched his I Am Hardwell concept at beachside superclub Ushuaia, as well as holding down duties at the glitzy Hakkasan in Las Vegas. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s been on the road with his I Am Hardwell world tour that’s taken him across too many countries and continents to mention here, due to wind up at NYC’s Madison Square Gardens in November
Somewhere amongst all that insanity, he’s found time to invest in mentoring the protégés he’s signed to his Revealed Recordings label, like fellow Dutchmen Dannic and Dyro, as well as locking himself up for quality time in the studio. He confirms he has an artist album forthcoming, with ‘Arcadia’ from earlier this year the first single to be lifted from it. His remix of Coldplay’s ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ hit the spot, while the earlier ‘Dare You’ went Top 20 in the UK.
“That was a great moment for me, especially because my music isn’t aimed at the charts. Overall I think I landed eight consecutive Beatport No.1s this year, so I’m really happy about that. And last month I was nominated in MTV’s European Music Awards,which was a proud moment as I’m the only Dutch artist in three different categories. My parents still can’t quite believe it all!”
While the upcoming album has been a catalyst for the evolution of the ‘Hardwell sound’, he says it’s been an organic process. “I’ve always been somebody who wants to push his sound and stay on the cutting-edge, but I’ve definitely felt my sound growing because of this album. I’ve been bouncing from euphoric ideas to a tougher, dancefloor-minded sound. I’ve always tried to keep a Dutch twist on what I play, which is a kind of fusion between electro through to progressive house. I think people will be surprised by this new album, because there’s a lot that will be a slight shift from the trademark Hardwell sound I’ve become known for.It’s been a good opportunity to experiment with new ideas and work with a wider range of collaborators.”
It’s something the world will be listening out for. He’s at the forefront of what could be called the ‘EDM movement’, in both the US and the rest of the world. As he points out, there's signs this sound will be undergoing a heavy evolution in the near future. “Like trance and house music before it, I think it’s vital for the scene that the sound of the main stage continues to evolve. We’ll probably see a split as different factions from the headline artists go off in different directions, some going for a more underground sound, others seeking out bigger melodies and a more euphoric, commercial pop sound.”
Moving forward, Hardwell makes a call for more diversity across the wider scene. “With so many producers now dominating the DJ space, we’re really in an exciting period for artists to take the whole ‘individual identity’ thing and truly lock it down, to become a fully unique experience for the fans. A few artists are really doing this to perfection but as technology and stage production grows, I’m really looking forward to seeing it become more of a main fixture in the scene.”
The implications of being the world’s #1 DJ can be viewed purely through the lens of commercial success; Hardwell chooses though to see it as a responsibility. While he might be playing on the main stages, he sees the whole of dance culture as being connected.
“I’ve only ever set out to make music that makes people happy — if my music changes people's lives in any way, then I’m incredibly honoured by that. There’s no bigger compliment for what you’re doing as an artist. I’m proud of this scene, and especially of the success that dance music and the artists in it are having around the world right now. My view is this success, and the growth and interest in our scene, has been a long time coming. If I’ve managed to contribute towards this in any way, then I’m truly happy about that. I don’t care whether you play the most underground club or have a No.1 record in the chart, as long as it's a positive thing for the scene and the artist or label in question aren’t doing it just for the money, then I’m in full support.”