If you were to accuse Afrojack of anything, it couldn't be of using a ghost producer. The Dutch DJ is in the studio when we call, prompting a load of back and forth texting to schedule the interview, and at one point accidentally starts blaring out a track he's been working on, causing our waveform to go a bit haywire.
The man born Nick Van de Wall laughs when DJ Mag asks him what he thinks about people who do. “I’ve had a lot of people saying, 'Ha ha ha, where’s your ghost producer, Afrojack?' I've been using the same programme and the same instruments for all my music for the last 17 years. It's pretty funny. I'm not gonna try to prove them wrong.”
On reflection, Afrojack has little to prove. He’s been having a pretty good year. ‘Hey Mama’, his recent track with Nicki Minaj and David Guetta, hit the Top 10 all over the world.
He’s been delivering his bouncy brand of hyperactive house to Ultra Peru, TomorrowWorld, Taiwan and Japan. He’s working on stuff for Rihanna. He’s just about to unveil the immortalised wax version of himself at the Amsterdam Madame Tussauds. It could be worse.
“I actually split up with my management this year, and it gave me more control about where I wanna go with my music,” he nods. “I've been producing a lot, outside of the EDM genre — I've been doing a lot of techno stuff with some friends.”
The Wall Recordings head, as well as being known for having dated a certain hotel heiress and crashing multiple(!) Ferraris, has become a household name for tracks like ‘Take Over Control’, and his collaborations with Bassjackers and Martin Garrix.
On the topic of women who mix, Van de Wall is all for the “feminine movement” that’s taking place. “I actually think that when a girl is DJing it makes it even cooler, because when a girl's DJing the guys can go, 'Oh that's so sexy', and the girls can be like 'Oh that's so awesome'. I'm pretty sure if Martin Garrix was a girl, he would still be as successful as he is now. But his name would be Martina.”
“DJing requires shit-loads of practice and I can imagine that a lot of girls just aren't that interested in DJing. I can't imagine another reason” he shrugs.
There’s that saying: find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. “The first thing I do when I wake up is work,” Afrojack finishes. “Because I love my work. It's more like a hobby. It's difficult for me not to work 16 hours a day. But sometimes I do it, sometimes I just chill out and watch a movie or something.”
2015 has been a year of metamorphosis for Avicii. Still riding high from 2013's stratospherically successful LP 'True', which included global country-cum-EDM anthem 'Wake Me Up', the producer (known to his mates as simply Tim Bergling) has kept quieter in the last twelve months, slowing down to focus on his next album.
The hotly anticipated 'Stories' arrived at the start of October in a blaze of pop/dance glory, with DJ Mag awarding it an impressive 8/10. It's a masterful follow-up for the Swede, whose debut 'True' dropped at No.5 on the Billboard charts whilst 'Wake Me Up' hit the No.1 spot in 63 countries.
'Stories' sees Avicii reveal his darker side, with some of its lyrical content alluding to his ongoing battles with global fame and a demanding schedule. There’s also a bevy of impressive collabs bulking up the tracklist with Alex Ebert, Matisyahu, Wyclef Jean, Zak Abel and Zac Brown, plus country singer Gavin McGraw.
It's widely known that Avicii's 2014 schedule was marred by reported health issues that saw the DJ miss perhaps the most important gig of his then-career — a headline set at Ultra Miami — thanks to a blocked gall bladder and ruptured appendix.
The operation would go on to affect the producer's schedule for the rest of the year, with further gigs at TomorrowWorld, XS/Encore and Insomniac's Halloween all cancelled. It was during this time that Avicii revealed that he had struggled with alcohol dependency — a direct result of life on the road.
“You are traveling around, you live in a suitcase, you get to this place, there's free alcohol everywhere — it's sort of weird if you don't drink,” he told GQ in April 2013. “I didn't expect it to last... I was so nervous. I just got into a habit, because you rely on that encouragement and self-confidence you get from alcohol, and then you get dependent on it.”
It's on his newest album that Tim seems to have confronted his issues head on, delving into deeper and darker places than ever before. He also made his directorial debut last month, crafting not one but two music videos for two forthcoming album tracks: ‘Pure Grinding’ and ‘For A Better Day’.
Directed by Levan Tsikurishvili and Avicii himself, the video for trap-meets-swing-pop single ‘Pure Grinding’ follows the story of an industrial labourer and a disturbed bank robber, both trying to get ahead in a violent, crime-soaked world.
The second, that accompanies radio hit 'For A Better Day', tackles the issue of child sex trafficking, and features gory scenes of murder, (implied) rape and civil warfare.
When speaking about the 'For A Better Day' video, Avicii said: “The promise of a better life often traps families and children into being used as tools for some of the most despicable people on earth.
“It’s an issue about which I hope to start a louder discussion, especially now with the huge number of families on the move from war-torn countries looking for safety and shelter,” he added.
As well as his current passion for social activism, Avicii also teamed up with Swedish car manufacturer Volvo this year to create a global campaign titled ‘A New Beginning’. It was an apt title considering the DJ's tumultuous past, with the mini-movie soundtracked by Avicii’s updated version of Nina Simone classic, ‘Feeling Good’.
“I've been a big fan of Nina Simone, Etta James and that kind of sound for a very long time,” Avicii told Billboard.
“So when I found out that was the song that Volvo Cars wanted in the music video, I was really excited and happy to do something with it. I wanted to create something new, and at the same time stay true to the original.”
Whether he’s crafting No.1 hits, raising awareness for causes or staring wistfully into the distance perched on the bonnet of a Volvo, there’s little doubt Avicii is a dance music mainstay. Through his ups and downs, his production nous has remained consistently excellent — his latest effort ‘Stories’ proves just how resilient the Swedish producer really is.
“This is not irreversible at all. It was just kind of a wake-up call,” Avicii told In The Mix, when discussing his health issues. And with another excellent LP under his belt, let’s hope he’s finally banished his demons once and for all.
“It was a very busy year,” Zatox tells DJ Mag, but from what we can see, that's a big understatement. The Italian hardstyle don — real name Gerardo Roschini — has been globetrotting throughout 2015, celebrating his debut long-player, New World Order, which dropped via Holland's Q-Dance imprint this time last year.
Taking the album tour to down under at Easter, Roschini (and partners in crime, Audiofreq, Toneshifterz and Kronos) brought his musical revolution to the likes of Sydney and Melbourne, before heading home to tear up more European festivals than you could shake a glowstick at.
Unsurprisingly, Roschini names his personal highlight as Qlimax — Q-Dance's long-running, annual extravaganza dedicated to the harder end of the electronic spectrum.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Roschini has been back in studio this year too. He not only dropped a host of collaborations as Zatox via his own Unite Records, but also returned to his Wild Motherfuckers project with Tatanka for the duo's first release since 2013, 'Knock You Down' — and, after hearing it ourselves, we might not be getting back up again.
It's not easy tracking down David Guetta for his Top 100 DJs interview this year. It's not that he's fallen out of love with the poll that crowned him No.1 DJ in 2012 — we cannot imagine Mr Guetta has eaten a single sour grape his entire life — or that he's too busy or can't be bothered.
No, David currently has a far graver issue on his mind. In September of this year, his production manager (ex-Cream employee) Alan Green passed away tragically. “Respects to him and love to his family; he helped change the game and built #teamguetta which continues in his memory. RIP mate,” he eventually tells DJ Mag in an email.
All this aside, life is still hectic for the king of EDM/pop. Since dropping his last artist album 'Listen' last November (which hit No.1 on iTunes in 75 countries) — “I try to balance the hits with club beats, so have been releasing them too,” he says —
he's done a three-month residency in Vegas (XS and Encore Beach Club), curated parties in Ibiza (Ushuaia and Pacha) and toured Europe and South America, where he sold out arenas in Germany and Brazil, before returning home for three months.
Not forgetting, of course, Ultra (Miami and Japan)... the usual, yes, then David? “OMG. Where didn’t I play?” he adds. “This year live has been the best yet.”
In 2016, we can expect more of the same from Camp Guetta — “more tours, more music,” he says — but most notable is his appointment by UEFA as official musical ambassador for Euro 2016 in France. “I will be making the anthem and playing the opening party at the Eiffel Tower,” he adds. “Another wish coming true.”
“I think it’s a really odd phenomenon,” Armin van Buuren says matter-of-factly down the phone line. We’re talking with the legendary trance producer about ghost production — an issue that Armin feels strongly about.
“For example, everyone remembers the whole Milli Vanilli scandal, how cheated people felt. I think it's wrong if someone puts a name on a track they had nothing to do with, that they weren't even in the studio for. I've never used a ghost producer, I can firmly say that,” he states.
It’ll come as no surprise to any Armin fan that the industry champ crafts his own tracks. He’s been releasing music for nigh-on two decades through his imprint Armada and radio show/label, A State Of Trance. It’s not just with his tunes that Armin has garnered fans worldwide — he’s adored for his spectacular stage shows too. His 2014 Armin Only tour took 35 people on the road, including a theatre director, trapeze artists, dancers, singers and musicians, with this year’s Intense tour going even bigger.
“It was probably the worst decision for me to do this tour financially,” he says, ruefully. “But the best choice for me personally. It was the best time of my life!”
“It's so sad when it’s over because I won't get to see my Intense family anymore, we’re a really close team,” he finishes, passionately.
Armin’s Intense tour crossed the globe from corner to corner, with the DJ visiting the Ukraine, India, Russia, the USA, South Africa and Australia — phew! As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Armin also held down his usual residency in Ibiza this year, spinning every Thursday to his loyal legion of White Isle trancers. “Ibiza is always fun, this year was really excellent. It feels like a home-coming when I play there,” he says of lush Ibiza venue Ushuaia, which he moved to following many seasons at Privilege.
So after another successful year as trance’s leading man, with his sixth studio album ‘Embrace’ set to drop on October 29th, is Armin van Buuren still in love with his day job? Absolutely!
“To be a great DJ you need to be able to read the crowd, to read the room, and track selection is obviously the most important thing! That's why it's so special to be one. I’m still really excited every time I play a set.”
CHARLOTTE LUCY CIJFFERS
“Maybe you won’t believe it, but it’s my 10-year anniversary in the DJ Mag Top 100!” gushes Sander van Doorn. We can believe it alright. Sander is worldly-wise. While some of his contemporaries get stuck in a rut musically, van Doorn knows just when to switch it up.
Never content with one genre, he’s made a name for a shape-shifting sound that flits between big room electro-house and trance, collaborated with such diverse names as Underworld, Robbie Williams, Mark Knight, The Pet Shop Boys and Martin Garrix, and had a prolific hit-rate with his label DOORN, as well as with many other imprints.
In 2014 he minted the fresh tech house track ‘This’ alongside Oliver Heldens, and has six new releases out in 2015 already. There’s no standing still for Sander.
Last year, Kaskade’s management made a song and dance about him answering a few simple questions for our poll. This year, they went one step further — insisting the main man was too busy on tour to answer the questions we put his way.
He’s not the only one, but all things considered this LA-based DJ/producer is fast becoming as notorious for his potty-mouth as he is his musical output. Last year, for example, he famously told us that “Anyone over the age of 30 is suspect in a nightclub” (Kaskade is 44), while this year he’s been taking pop-shots at rock royalty in the shape of Sir Paul McCartney.
To give you a bit of background, at this year's Lollapalooza Festival, the sound bleed from Kaskade’s stage meant that it interrupted McCartney’s acoustic guitar during a tribute to John Lennon.
“I intended this,” McCartney joked as Kaskade’s bass crossed over to his stage. “It's like a crazy mash-up of this song and whatever they're playing over there.”
Kaskade’s response? “I love that!
There’s something irreverent about electronic music, that it’s very young and youthful, so the fact that I pissed some old guy off is very funny. Life achievement unlocked.”
Douche. He might be big business in Vegas and a regular fixture in the Top 100, but with this sort of outspoken carry-on it’s surely only a matter of time before this man’s antics relegate him to a bin marked ‘obscurity’. Kaskade, please, stick with the day job, mate.
While at one time Major Lazer seemed destined to be a Diplo side-project devoted to futuristic versions of Jamaican dancehall, made alongside UK producer Switch, it’s become very much the Mad Decent founder’s primary concern these days.
Three albums deep, the most recent of which ‘Peace Is The Mission’ dropped this year, Major Lazer may have lost Switch along the way but have since become a fully-fledged band, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire now permanent fixtures.
Diplo’s restless inquisitiveness has seen him explore many forms of the world’s electronic music, and similarly the sound of Major Lazer has expanded in recent times to take in fizzy EDM, more contemplative sounds as on the quietly anthemic ‘Get Free’, and the pure pop of ‘Lean On’ with DJ Snake and MØ, lifted from the new record ‘Peace Is The Mission’.
That record also has guest spots from mainstream chart-pop singers like Ellie Goulding and Ariana Grande, as well as former Clipse MC Pusha T. Clearly on a creative run, Major Lazer have already suggested that 2015 might yield a second release with the title ‘Music Is The Weapon’.
The fact the band have hit the Top 100 in addition to separate showings from bossman Diplo and also Jack U, his duo with Skrillex, suggests that they’ve become a hugely popular entity in their own right. Diplo might generate headlines for his controversial comments, but Major Lazer have clearly got it going on.
What sets Shogun apart from other US DJs is his work ethic; Andrew Chen is known to spend 12 hours a day in his studio, and that hard work and dedication brought him to the attention of some of trance’s biggest names including Ferry Corsten, Above & Beyond, Paul van Dyk, Markus Schulz and Nadia Ali.
Despite falling in love with the industrial sounds of Nine Inch Nails, Filter, The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers, Chen was eventually drawn to the epic melodies of Armin van Buuren and Gouryella in the early 2000s.
Fast-forward to 2015 and Shogun has become a permanent fixture in the Armada family, featuring heavily on Armin’s A State Of Trance radio show.
But it’s been his own productions that have really propelled him into the upper echelons of the trance world, including his recent album ‘Dragon’ – which took four years to complete. This saw the producer touch on a range of styles including trance, progressive and electro — ranging from vocal bangers like ‘Underwater’ to fierce, beat-driven tunes like ‘Laputa’.
“This year has been amazing!” Shogun enthuses. “I released my album 'Dragon', and the response has been incredible. I toured in different parts of the world, and had a blast playing at festivals like Stereosonic.”
The past 12 months have seen brothers Sjoerd and Wouter Janssen, aka Showtek, capitalising on their hard work over the past few years, as they transitioned from their early dominance in the hardstyle scene into a broader main stage EDM act.
They've now worked with some of the industry’s biggest names, including their collaboration with David Guetta this year ‘Sun Goes Down’. They point to the launch of their 'Crazy Collabs' project a few years ago as the start of what pushed them towards where they are today.
“We started 'Crazy Collabs' back in 2012, because it was a great way to work with other artists from different genres in the studio,” they say. “It’s really cool to create an opportunity to work with artists like Tiesto or Hardwell, especially because a lot of people wouldn’t expect it from Showtek.”
The duo say the greatest compliment is that these artists want to work with them, and in 2015 they’re widely respected as elite studio magicians.
“Showtek has always been a music-driven act. Producing music made us who we are, and working with names like David Guetta allowed us a broader spectrum. Our music is well known throughout the industry, and looking back on the past, we've always been shifting styles and implementing different kinds of genres. We plan on continuing to surprise people with new ideas.”