Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike’s ascent to the top of the Top 100 DJs poll will be forever intertwined with their role at their country’s Tomorrowland Festival.
The iconic Belgian party has itself grown over the past decade to become one of the world’s most popular events, though it was in 2010 when brothers Dimitri and Michael Thivaios were first selected to pen the festival’s anthem. World domination slowly but surely followed, for both the brothers and the festival.
“Tomorrowland is for sure the biggest pillar of our success,” says Dimitri, speaking to DJ Mag just after returning from the festival’s North American cousin TomorrowWorld, where they’d played to jubilant vibes on Saturday prior to it notoriously being washed out by rainy weather.
“Even in the early days it was a local legend, it was huge in Belgium and the countries around it. I mean, we grew up just a few hundred meters from the site where it takes place! It’s been amazing to watch it turn into such an international phenomenon.”
Both DV and LM have roots in dance music that stretches back to their teens, when they both made the pilgrimage to live and work in Ibiza; first Dimitri, followed by his younger bother Mike, and both effectively changed forever by Erick Morillo’s Subliminal residency at Pacha (“You come to this island where everything is about love and peace… For us it was such a game-changer”).
Returning to Belgium around a decade ago to launch their musical partnership (“I said to Dimitri, move in with me and my girlfriend, we’ll build a studio in one of the rooms and you can sleep in the studio,” Mike laughs), their first big break came when their remix of ‘Work That Body’ caught the attention of Axwell.
However, it was their role in shaping the soundtrack for the 2011 Tomorrowland after-movie that really marked the turning point for Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike.
“We spent weeks making the perfect soundtrack,” Dimitri tells DJ Mag. “We all sat together with the team of Tomorrowland and said, ‘OK, this year we’re gonna do something next level’.”
The extra effort paid off, as the after-movie chronicling the extravagant spectacle of the three-day festival was magnificently producer — enough to attract the world’s attention. All those sweeping aerial shots, the ecstatic punters, the insane stage designs, the emotion and excitement. It represented somewhat of a dance zeitgeist moment, racking up over 70 million YouTube views to date.
The pair had several of their tracks featured on the after-movie, and their party-ready sets have since become synonymous with Tomorrowland’s main stage bombast. Mike hyping the crowd on the mic, spraying champagne from the stage, and this year stopping the music to part tens of thousands of punters in the amphitheatre, before drawing them together into a heaving moshpit.
However, their residency on the main stage of their country’s flagship festival only tells part of the story of what’s elevated Dimitri and Mike into the #1 spot of the Top 100 DJs poll.
To give an idea of the sort of crowds they’re drawing, their annual Bringing The Madness stadium shows during December in Belgium are set to shift an unprecedented 60,000 tickets across three evenings this year.
And while they’ve run their own Smash The House label (and associated Smash Artist Services booking agency) since 2011, they took things independent last year after a long-running association with Spinnin’ Records. They since enjoyed their biggest hits yet.
“Artistic control is the most important thing, and we wanted to keep it in the family,” says Dimitri, pointing to the success of Armin van Buuren and Steve Aoki, and their respective Armada and Dim Mak empires, as examples of how successful this approach can be.
It bore fruit this year with their Ummet Ozcan collaboration ‘The Hum’, a killer main stage anthem (helped a little by a suitably excessive video featuring notorious Hollywood actors Charlie Sheen and Jean-Claude Van Damme) that perfectly captures the hard kicks and heavy drops they’ve been using to blow up the main stages in recent years.
As it turns out, it’s a sound influenced more than a little by Dimitri’s early days in the Belgian hardcore scene (not unlike how Mike’s trademark antics on the mic during their shows was informed by his own early adventures in Dutch hip-hop).
“‘The Hum’, it went crazy,” Dimitri says of the track, which has inspired hearty chest-beating responses since its debut at Tomorrowland in 2014, rushing to #1 both on the Beatport and the Belgian national charts upon release. “We expected it to be a big record, but we didn’t expect it to go that crazy. We’d had the idea a few years ago to go back to my past, and we thought if we brought back the hard kicks, people will go nuts for it. And it seems we weren’t wrong.”
Otherwise, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the gentle piano house of their collaboration with R&B star Ne-Yo saw them locking down a crossover radio smash, which spent a whopping ten weeks at the top of the Belgian charts. The pair say the idea for the track had gestated for over a year, before a studio session with Ne-Yo saw it nailed down swiftly.
“We were showing some tracks to Ne-Yo, and he heard that hook and said, ‘I’m gonna do this’,” says Mike. “And boom, an hour later…”
“He wrote this amazing topline on the top of it, and the rest is history,” says Dimitri.
“For us, it was the chance to do something different, and mainly to show people again that we release music that we love, music that we believe in… And the most important thing about ‘Higher Place’ is that it’s a song; we decided against going with a drop, because we wanted a song.”
It’s a sign of things to come — in terms of their long overdue artist album, they’ve given a tentative release date of early next year. They’ve spoken often of the experimental directions they’ve been taking in the studio, with more than a couple of mystery records sneaking into their sets, though they’ve been intentionally keeping their cards close to their chest.
“We’ve written over 70 tracks, we’ve basically finished over five albums but never released them,” says Mike. “One or two tracks survived from each of those, and we’ll make the final cut soon.”
“We wanted to do a diverse collection of music that we really love, that we’re 100 per cent behind. Is it gonna be a downtempo album? No,” says Dimitri. “But there’s a couple of tracks really out there, not linked to anything, they might even start a new genre.
And we want to have the whole story that we wanna tell completely ready. “The downside is that a lot of fans get a little frustrated because they might hear some of this music in our sets, and they want to see the music released,” Dimi continues. “But we also have this secret box of tracks, and that’s gonna be the album.”
The duo’s sound has certainly evolved in sync with the main stage during their ascent, their early remixes sporting a groovy electro-house flavour, in contrast to the EDM mayhem that characterises their sound today. While Dimitri concedes his main stage compatriots have been “playing it safe” this year, he says the next evolution is always just around the corner.
“In a sense, it’s only one track away,” Dimitri tells DJ Mag. “There’s still a lot of artists experimenting, and at a certain point there’s gonna be that track that turns everything over again. But it doesn’t come on demand. It’s the responsibility of the DJs and producers to challenge themselves into doing something different, and keep on making original tracks with the dancefloor in mind.”
Riding high at the top of the pile, party-rockers Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike are going to continue smashing the house for a long time to come.
Words: Angus Paterson
What do you get when you lock Skrillex and Diplo in a studio together? A wildly successful bass child, apparently. Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock — with a very good set of earplugs — you’ve probably heard at least one of their productions as the duo Jack Ü, whether you wanted to or not.
Their debut ten-track LP, 'Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü', was a co-release between their respective OWSLA and Mad Decent labels that smashed the streams earlier this year, peaking at the #1 spot on Billboard’s US Dance/Electronic Albums chart.
Jack Ü’s second single release off the album, a hit collab with boy wonder Justin Bieber titled ‘Where Are Ü Now’, propelled them into the iPods of pre-teens and parents alike... and, predictably, launched a fair amount of fury within the electronic dance music world.
Catchy though the song may be, making nice with one of the most loathed visitors to the island of Ibiza in the past decade — after the Kardashians, obviously — is bad enough, but making music with him is a slippery slope to navigate. Unless you’re Skrillex or Diplo, of course.
Then, you can chalk it up to Jack Ü and tell the haters to jack off after your track goes platinum in the US. Which it did. It also gave both Diplo and Skrillex their first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100… and the Biebs his seventh.
Australian sisters NERVO are big news. While some have questioned the lack of women in the Top 100 DJs poll, these DJ and production siblings have consistently placed in the upper reaches. Starting out as songwriters for everyone from Britney Spears to Kelly Rowland and Armin van Buuren, they’ve a natural knack for well-placed hooks, which pepper their productions.
In July 2015, they finally released their debut album ‘Collateral’, which features music royalty of the calibre of Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Kylie Minogue just for starters.
And while a clever pop sensibility is evident in their style, they’re not afraid of getting a little deeper musically, throwing in some groovier house during their DJ sets, which are clearly in high demand. They’ll play London, Las Vegas, Zurich and Sao Paulo before the year is out.
When he first emerged in the mid-’90s, Umek was associated with the loop techno sound. Nowadays he’s far more visible as a key resident at Carl Cox’s Space Ibiza Revolution parties, and as a headliner at countless gigs and festivals across the world.
Accordingly, there’s a house music timbre to his sets nowadays. Still, Umek remains an anomaly in the Top 100, one of the last bastions standing strong against the EDM tide.
He claims he’s returned to his techno roots this year. “I’ve really enjoyed coming back to my own 1605 label after a while, re-launching my classic aliases Zeta Reticula (electro-infused techno; check out ‘Fonon’) and Alba Patera (techno) along the way. Maybe that wasn’t so obvious but I’m really enjoying exploring electro and proper techno realms right now.”
He’s enjoyed some big back-to-back sets with Spanish selector Coyu in 2015 too, at Ultra Europe and in Ibiza at Join The Revolution, and “a never-ending world tour with approximately a hundred gigs, including some top class clubs and festivals in Europe and the USA”.
This year’s Top 100 is filled to the brim with duos, but among the most exciting to have emerged in recent times is Firebeatz. An all-Dutch duo consisting of good friends and musical sparring partners, Tim Benjamin Smulders and Jurre van Doeselaar, the boys have left their mark on the EDM scene thanks to heavily endorsed hits such as 'Dear New York', 'Here We F*cking Go' and 'Helicopter'.
As prolific in the studio as they are on the decks, the past twelve months have also seen them team up with everyone from Martin Garrix to Tiesto to Calvin Harris. “We’ve been touring all around the world, had some amazing experiences and produced a lot of new music,” they tell DJ Mag. Their polling in this year’s poll, we gather, is the cherry on top.
Quentin Mosimann’s personal highlights of the year include officially remixing David Guetta and Bob Sinclair and making his debut at Tomorrowland. But when he tells DJ Mag that “I attend to do this job for the next 20 years at least, I'm not looking for my 15 minutes of fame,” it sums up his grounded and humble approach that has won him so many friends and fans across the world.
Mosimann also happens to be one of the few DJs to have attained true 'household name' status, having been a coach on 'The Voice Belgium'. “I didn't want to appear like a judge, because even if I have experience in the music industry, I'll learn from others all my career, for sure,” he explains.
The experience was “really a story of sharing with and between artists” and leads Mosimann to pass on some valuable tips for all aspiring DJs when he says: “I think a career is 50% of trusting your guts and 50% of learning with good advice/experiences from others.”
MaRLo sums up his sound when he tells DJ Mag that it is "basically Tech driven chunky beats with plenty of hands in the air moments."
It's this down to earth and refreshingly honest crowd-pleasing approach that has won him so many fans. "This year was better than last year in almost every way, I'm really happy and am blown away with the support I've received and the incredible shows and opportunities I've been given this past year," he says.
However, it's not all about the noise for MaRLo, as his trip to play in Canada this year had some unexpected surprises. "I had a great time at Lake Louise and Banff in Canada when I had a few days off in between shows," he explains. "I was by myself and kinda got in tune with the silence and peacefulness of the incredibly beautiful landscape."
With plans to complete his first artist album next year, the ambitious Netherlands-born DJ would also love to be able to realise his dream of putting on his own arena-style shows in his adopted homeland of Australia in 2016.
Tom Swoon only discovered Deadmau5 and Daft Punk around five years ago but his early efforts at unofficial remixes soon led to his bootleg of David Guetta & Avicii vs. Laidback Luke 'Till Sunshine' achieving around 15 million views on YouTube.
The official remixes, original tracks and massive tours that swiftly followed mean that the 22 year old is now firmly established in his own right, as his showing in this year's Top 100 poll confirms. "I sincerely feel that Bootlegs have lost a bit of the magic they had when I started... but a good bootleg always gets plays and therefore I still think it is a great tool to get noticed," Tom tells us.
"I've really had the opportunity to travel to many new countries this year and see different people, experience different cultures and simply appreciate how amazing this world truly is," Tom enthuses, and shares this tip for any aspiring promoter who wants to book him: "If a promoter takes me out for Sushi I am the happiest guy in the world!"
Next year looks set to be even busier as Tom explains: "I've been working on a lot of new music and collaborations. I am aware that a lot of touring is already in place for next year and some very special festival plays are on their way! Really excited about 2016!"
There aren’t many female DJs in the Top 100 – and there aren’t many Ukrainians for that matter, either. One such lady clearly keen to ruffle a few feathers and do things a bit differently, however, is Miss K8. A native of Kiev, this hardcore techno loving temptress is more than capable with mixing it with the best in the business.
The so-called ‘Goddess of Hardcore’ has had a pretty spellbinding year too – as is evidenced by performances on influential hardcore techno stages a la Masters of Hardcore, Dominator, Syndicate and Defqon.1. Something tells us this lady is just getting started…
At only 34 years old, Mike Candys has already positioned himself as one of the globe’s most renowned purveyors of big room progressive and electro vibes. The Swiss native burst on to the scene a couple years back courtesy of his track, "La Serenissima”, and it’s safe to say he hasn’t looked back since.
Indeed, 2015 sees Candys feature in the Top 100 for an impressive fourth year in a row. “I’ve spent a lot of the year touring over the past twelve months” Candys tells DJ Mag, “and any spare minutes were spent at home, working on new tunes”. It’s this sort of unrelenting work ethic that makes Candys’ inclusion something of an inevitably.