On the eve of Drumcode’s 20th anniversary, Adam Beyer sits down with DJ Mag to talk about his label, his family, and what’s possible when you believe in the power of music.
“I think the beauty of techno is that people have been saying for almost 30 years now, that someone’s going to ruin it,” Adam Beyer folds his arms and leans back in his chair, looking thoughtful. “You can debate that, but I think techno will always survive in one form or another.”
The corner of his mouth slips into a momentary smile as he shrugs. We believe him. There aren’t many people on the planet better positioned to make that assessment than the Swedish DJ/producer and boss of 20-years-running techno juggernaut, Drumcode Records.
Adam is relaxed but politely reserved, his Scandinavian manners unspoiled despite half a life spent globetrotting across raucous, nighttime environs. It is 11pm on the island of Mykonos, Greece, where he sits in front of a computer screen, blinking back at DJ Mag USA via Skype.
We’ve caught the techno titan in a rare moment of gig-free respite: he is on holiday with his family, staying in a home owned by a friend whom Adam and his wife, fellow DJ Ida Engberg, met while touring. This week, Adam’s days are filled with sand and sunshine and Greek salads – “I’ve already eaten at least 10 of them,” he admits – in lieu of his usual fare of flights and parties.
Among techno’s biggest stars, Adam Beyer is arguably its most followed, with 12.4 million listeners from over 53 countries tuning in to his Drumcode Radio Live show each week. But his modesty remains in tact. He is practical and methodical; he is reflective.
After all, it’s hard to get to the top and stay there with an impatient ego in your way, and Adam understands this. Many an artist has succumbed to the demands of sudden success: “They just burn, they burn like candles in the wind, really fast,” he says. “That’s why I think it’s good to do it slow, brick-by-brick, and learn your skill.”
He’s built his career on that ethos. And though the level of success he desired took some time to achieve, Adam says that after two decades in the game, he’s finally ended up where he was trying to get.
If 2016 is any indication, here’s what half the year has delivered thus far: a relentless tour schedule; the celebration of Drumcode’s 20th anniversary; the inauguration of the UK’s Junction 2 festival, for which Drumcode is a curator; and most notably, his marriage to Ida Engberg, longtime partner and mother of their three young girls.
It’s a year in which Adam Beyer has solidified his standing in the world, propelled forward by love and collaboration both on and off the dancefloor, with an extended global family that – much like his immediate one – keeps on growing.
KISS OF VINYL
Back in the early ‘90s, DJing was not a career move. Adam’s father, an amateur drummer with a passion for music, passed away when Adam was 13, leaving behind a son who inherited his love of beats.
“He used to have drumsticks in the house, and he was always talking about how he wanted to become a drummer but his parents, his mother, kind of didn't let him; she forced him to go into school instead,” Adam remembers.
“I was really blessed because when my father passed, even though my parents were divorced, my mother still kind of believed in it, and she helped me to pursue my dreams.”
Adam’s mother bought her 13-year-old son a set of DJ equipment with some of the inheritance money from his father’s passing. From tragedy, a new life was born – the seeds that would give rise to Drumcode, and Adam Beyer’s incredible success as a solo artist, were planted.
“It helped me to start my life’s achievement, my passion,” he explains, folding his hands and smiling. “She was always supporting me, my mother. And I think that's a big part of it, when you grow up having parents tell you, ‘Yeah, you can do that.’”
Some might argue that music still isn’t really a solid career path, given the ever-expanding pool of hopeful talent, shrinking label profit margins and market saturation.
But Adam Beyer knew what he loved before he had even reached grade school, and his mother knew it too. “I bought my first vinyl record when I was five years old,” he quips nonchalantly, “and that was of Kiss – you know, the rock band from Detroit?”
Yes, we know, we nod.
Adam remained a Kiss fan for the next four years, putting him at the ripe young age of nine when he decided to expand his genre horizons. “We moved from the suburbs to the city of Stockholm, where the kids were listening to other stuff: Beastie Boys, Run D.M.C., LL Cool J,” he ticks the names off on his fingers.
“And then there was this radio show, with a DJ manipulating the records... I listened to that every week.” By 11 years of age, Adam Beyer was bitten by the beatsmith bug. “I told my mom, ‘I'm going to be a DJ, this is what I'm going to do. Now I know.’”
And so he did. Adam began throwing parties for kids at school and wherever else, presumably, children were permitted to dance.
He was as decisive and resourceful a young boy as he is a grown man. Adam grins as he recalls his moment of conversion from hip-hop and pop music to techno: “It was my first real rave, at age 15, thrown illegally in some gymnastics hall in a suburb of Stockholm, and Laurent Garnier was playing. It was funny because he was nobody then… at least, he wasn’t Laurent Garnier as we know him today. Another party had gotten busted, and he had to throw this little illegal rave to get enough money for a plane ticket home. He was stuck in Sweden.”
We both laugh at the absurdity of the Laurent Garnier we know today, being stranded in some abandoned, Scandinavian gymnasium with a bunch of teenage ravers.
“On the way back home from that party I said to myself, ‘This is it. This is the music I’m going to put everything into now and all my cards on,’” Adam smiles. Five years later, in 1996, Drumcode Records was born.
MUSIC FOR DJS
If techno has a gateway drug, it’s probably Drumcode. If you hear it and you dig it, you’re hooked; no looking back. Adam Beyer selects music for his label that works on the dancefloor, regardless of its popularity. And his selections have been on the money for the better part of two decades.
He listens, re-listens, masters, re-masters, over and over in an iterative process that sometimes results in a new release and sometimes results in a disappointed Drumcode hopeful whose track was promised a signing but fell victim to the label boss’ critical ear. Adam has been that way since the beginning, with a stubborn commitment to “getting it 100% right all of the time, or at least trying to,” though he openly admits that he doesn’t always.
“I think that if you listen to the first Drumcode records, all the way from ‘96, you can feel the same thing – even though they were faster, maybe a bit more primitive, obviously a bit more loopy – I still think there’s that same concept of energy that attracts people,” Adam muses, shifting his gaze to a far wall as he composes his thoughts, “and it’s still very much music made for DJs.”
He turns back to face us and pointedly adds, “I’ve never had the aspiration or the intention to impress the press or journalists. I don’t really care about getting good reviews on whatever website. I’ve always just put releases out that I want to play.”
Adam Beyer’s candor is refreshing, and he states his position without any hint of negativity or resentment. It’s simply an honest declaration: I don’t care what the public thinks, so long as the music does its job on the dancefloor. It’s the code by which Drumcode was built, track-by-track.
“I try to not be too sentimental about things,” he smiles wryly, referring to his preference for moving the label forward instead of holding on to the past. That attitude occasionally earns him the ire of the old school techno heads, who insist the Swede is selling out. “But I don’t really care,” Adam shrugs.
“I’m out there playing and I’m looking at people’s faces, and for me that’s what it’s all about. Blowing people’s mind and having a good time, and presenting something quality but without too much beard stroking, you know? I hope that makes sense.” He pauses to stroke his own blonde beard and cracks a smile.
THE MOST UNDERGROUND PERSON EVER
Techno has always been about the future. Even those purists who cling to the long gone glory days of Detroit must admit: The Motor City herself was built on the shiny promise of tomorrow. And though Stockholm, Sweden is half a world away from Detroit, Michigan, Adam Beyer’s Drumcode philosophy fits right in to that picture. The label pays homage to the classic elements from which its sound was born, while continuing to push ahead.
But, as Adam suggests with a matter-of-fact shrug, “the more popular you get, the more shit you’re going to get.”
Dance music is changing, as it always has, and with change comes resistance. Production is more accessible; DJ tools are more automated; venues have evolved from basements, to warehouses, to pyrotechnic-laden festival grounds.
“People always want to judge, hating on this and that,” Adam shakes his head. “I think once you start listening to that stuff, it destroys your own creativity and your own vision.”
He tells us that he remembers the exact period in the early-2000s when he decided to let go of judgment and simply do what felt right. “That’s when I actually started to become more successful.”
The proof is in the longevity pudding. For Drumcode Records’ 20th anniversary this August, Adam Beyer released what more than one DJ has told the author of this story is “the best compilation” they’ve heard from the Swedish label to date.
We have to say, we agree.
‘A-Sides Volume 5’ is a 20-track beast that meanders its way through heavy rollers, trippy synths and far more melody than we’d expect from an imprint known for hi hats rather than vocals. Contributions from heavyweights like Alan Fitzpatrick, Dustin Zahn, Pleasurekraft and Jay Lumen sit comfortably alongside cuts from emerging talent like Boxia and Enrico Sangiuliano.
Our favorite cut on the compilation, ‘Crucible’, comes courtesy of rising star Ian O’Donovan, a Dublin-based producer who has a knack for infusing dry, classic Detroit kicks with swirling, euphoric synth patterns. In it, you can hear the influences of Kevin Saunderson and his acclaimed, late-‘90s E-Dancer alias. If techno has its own version of umami, O’Donovan’s perfectly balanced flavor of production is it.
“I don’t think you can protect music from changing, or from getting big. I think it’s the wrong way of looking at it,” Adam insists. “You have to search out the music that you like and then go and listen to it.
"And if you don’t like what’s being played in a big parade, then don’t go. Just go and buy your vinyl and sit and listen to it where the whole world can’t hear it. Invite your friends and play the track in the basement once. You’re going to be the most underground person ever,” he chuckles. “And that’s fine.”
Adam Beyer’s eldest daughter loves dubstep. And vocals. And modern, chopped up big room sounds. She doesn’t like techno. Recently, she’s begun to make comments. “She told me, ‘I don't really like your music. You just go boom, boom, boom’,” Adam laughs and throws up his hands in mock defense as if to suggest this outcome wasn’t his doing.
That’s fine, we assure him, because she’s five – still time to come around, little one. But her father smiles and says he doesn’t hold anything against the more commercial music his daughter favors. “It’s some good stuff, actually,” he admits. “I mean I don’t play the shit stuff. But there’s good things in all genres.”
He plans to bring his yet-to-love-techno daughter to a festival soon – with ear protection, of course – but in the meantime, he’s happy experiencing the wide spectrum of music at the festivals he frequently headlines.
“You can be the most underground artist ever, or you can be on the stage in front of 100,000 people playing a mega mix that’s pre-mixed with effects and I respect that, too, because there’s a lot of work going into that as well.”
Adam recalls a moment a few weeks’ prior at Tomorrowland, when he wandered over to the main stage after his own set to see fellow Swedes Axwell & Ingrosso play. “I was blown away by the level of production and pre-production, and how much work they’re putting into that,” he exhales, raising his eyebrows. “I mean, people think they just press a button. Maybe they just press a button on the night, but they probably spent two months to prepare that gig.”
At the end of the day, all that matters is the vibe, Adam insists. He’s right, of course.
We suggest that part of what makes his own vibe so special is the unique relationship he shares with Ida Engberg, his partner both onstage and off. The two DJs have been a couple for nearly seven years, and have had three children together in as much time – now aged five, three-and-a-half, and one-and-a-half – whom they notoriously tote around the globe with them.
Earlier this year, Adam and Ida officially married, with Adam announcing on Facebook, “Yeeeeeeeeees!!!!! Just got married to the woman of my dreams! All is full of love!” Naturally, the reception was held at Berlin’s techno mecca, Berghain.
But surely a techno power couple, overbooked and jet-lagged, headlining festivals together with three children in tow, is a statistical anomaly. One in a billion, by some unscientific measurement.
“You can’t really plan those kinds of things, can you? I mean there’s quite a few things that need to fall in place,” Adam agrees. “You need to have two people and they need to fall in love, and they need to like the same music. There’s so many factors...”
In the beginning, he and Ida met with strong resistance from their management, who suggested that touring together as a couple was a disastrous idea. Adam disagreed. “I was like, ‘But don’t you see? This is the most brilliant thing ever. If we manage to get this across and people believe in it, it could be much bigger than me solo because it has something else. It’s a unique thing that not many others have,’” he recounts.
“And I was right. We’ve gone to places I almost couldn’t imagine.” These days he and Ida play together; not back to back but rather, Adam says, “almost as one artist.”
His face lights up when he talks about his wife. And though Adam admits he’s used to hearing people marvel at what he and Ida have managed to build together, he chalks it up to the simplest thing in the world; the same thing that took him so far on his own, long before he met her: “If you just believe in stuff, instead of being skeptical – just believe in love and the positivity of it, and that you can spread something great – it will happen. That’s how things are. You just have to believe. It sounds cliché but it’s actually that simple. That’s what it’s all about. It’s something I learned since I met Ida, and since I had my kids.”
When Adam Beyer speaks, his speech is measured; deep baritone with a steady cadence. His voice is a sonic reflection of his practical, methodical approach to both work and life. The hyperbole Adam lacks in verbal communication is channeled into his music – a heavy, slamming, single-minded beat that’s impossible to ignore.
Just ask Ida Engberg, or his yet-to-love-techno daughter, or the 12.4 million fans that tune in to Drumcode Radio every week.
“I think you grow as an artist when you play with other people. Unexpected things happen and you create something that you maybe wouldn’t be able to create on your own,” Adam says. Indeed, Drumcode’s success is a result of that creation, and of the undying belief of a young kid in Stockholm that techno was the best thing to place all his cards on.
Words: ERIN SHARONI
Pics: DANIELLA MIDENGE, TOM DOMS, JOEP VAN AERT
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.