“I was caught off guard with the news that we’re No.1 again,” an excitable Dimitri Vegas tells DJ Mag from Ibiza, having just finished 14 weeks of a residency at Ushuaïa with his brother Mike. “For us it was unreal, it was a big surprise, to be honest. We’re super-happy.”
The Greek-Belgian duo of Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike (real names Dimitri and Michael Thivaios) have returned to the throne after first being crowned No.1 in 2015, deposing Martin Garrix from his three-year reign.
The brothers had another banner year in 2019, with an exceptionally busy gig diary. Taking their distinctive blend of EDM, trap and other genres to huge venues across the world, they mention South America as being a particular highlight, with festival appearances in Chile and Argentina standing out.
“We did the Lollapalooza tour there,” Dimitri says. “We used to play South America so much, so that was like coming home. Next year we’re going to play there way more. We really miss the people, and the shows were so crazy.”
While the tag team also enjoyed shows in Asia and around much of Europe, their DJ residency in Ibiza was special for another reason. With Ushuaïa occupying nearly the same spot in Playa d’En Bossa as a hotel Dimitri Vegas played at 16 years ago when he was just starting out as a DJ, the duo’s appearances over the summer at the world-famous club illustrate just how far they’ve come from humble beginnings.
“It was at Club Playa D’en Bossa, which was a cheap 18-30 hotel,” Dimitri says. “I was doing the sound and lights, and I was DJing at a small spot next to the pool every day. Fast forward all these years, and there I am at the same spot, but it’s been turned into one of the biggest clubs in the world — into Ushuaïa — and instead of my shitty DJ booth by the pool, we play in one of the coolest spaces in the world. Coming back to a sold-out Ushuaïa, that’s something surreal. We’ve done our residency at Amnesia too, we’ve been doing this thing for many years and Ibiza is super-special to us, but I realised that technically, I’m DJing at nearly the exact same place, but seeing what has happened to the whole world in 16 years — you know?”
Despite their hectic schedule, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike managed to spend plenty of time in the studio, with a host of tracks and collaborations surfacing through Epic Amsterdam, Protocol, Armind and their own Smash The House label. These ranged wildly in style from the vocoder-led, raucous EDM of ‘Repeat After Me’, made with Armin van Buuren and W&W, to the slick R&B pop of ‘Selfish’, with singer Era Istrefi. They also worked with reality TV star, socialite and DJ, Paris Hilton, on a track entitled ‘Best Friend’s Ass’.
“She’s a very good friend,” Dimitri says. “She was with us in Ibiza and at Tomorrowland, and she did a song with my wife [MATTN]. She’s a great artist, a lot of fun, and a very good businesswoman, so we have a lot of respect for her.”
Collaboration is something that the duo very much enjoy, and something they’re used to; as Dimitri points out, their own project is a musical partnership, which requires compromise and patience.
“Being brothers, we hardly fit in the studio together because we end up arguing,” he says. “We both have a very strong opinion or idea of what something should be, and we’ve found over the years that it’s more constructive if one of us starts a project and then sends it to the other. The other will immediately say, ‘I like it’ or ‘I think it’s terrible’, and if the other one likes it, he’ll continue working on it. From the start Dimi and Mike has been collaborative, and we love to blend our own sound together with the sounds of other people. We’ve seen some amazing things happen by working with other artists, and we’re a fan of that — we think music gets pushed a lot further with the more influences you put in there.”
Perhaps the duo’s biggest single of late was ‘Instagram’, a tune that has taken on a life of its own beyond the Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike fanbase. “‘Instagram’ has been going crazy all over the world,” Dimitri says. “It’s now the theme song of one of the biggest shows in Latin America, so it’s been amazing to see.”
In addition to their Smash The House label, which saw releases in 2019 from Wolfpack, Danny Avila, MATTN, Chuckie and others, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike focused on developing their Garden Of Madness tour concept. An audio-visual spectacular designed for sizeable venues, in November it will commandeer New York’s capacious Expo Center for the first time, before moving on to venues in Liverpool and Antwerp.
“It’s the seventh year we’re doing these concerts in Belgium,” Dimitri says. “We’ve done more than 80,000 fans in one year. We’ve beat some of the biggest acts to ever tour Europe [in terms of gig attendance], and for us, after seven years to still fill those concerts is unreal. It’s become our winter Tomorrowland. “To expand this thing, and do our first New York Garden Of Madness, and to do our second one in the UK, it’s amazing. For next year we’re planning a couple more all over the world, to see our brand become a worldwide event.”
The brothers have plenty of new projects in the works, including a lot of new singles. But their top priority is making sure they cater to their original fans, by continuing to make the hefty dance tracks that got them noticed in the first place — in addition to more commercially-minded material. “We’re not going to forget our roots, so we keep releasing a lot of club songs,” Dimitri says. “It’s super-important to keep on making that club music, even if it’s just for our show. When people come to our show, they can hear music that they can’t find online. There’s always that aspect of giving uniqueness to your show, but we also find it important that we support the scene by keeping the vibe of club music alive.”
Like Mike has been busy working on solo material, which Dimitri says is very different from what fans might expect.
“It’s focused on Mike’s voice, it’s him really experimenting for himself as an artist and a singer,” he says. “I’m impressed by the whole thing. I love it and it’s important that he does his own vision there. I support and watch from the side-lines, and I’m super-proud.”
Dimitri, meanwhile, has embarked on his own new venture into movies, and promises that we’ll be seeing a lot more of him on the silver screen soon.
“I’m focusing on my acting career. I’m writing movies, producing movies. I’ve done a couple of very cool movie parts this summer, and there’s a lot more coming, so I hope to be able to announce a lot more next year.”
Do you submit your DJ setlists to the relevant royalties collecting society?
“Yes. Otherwise, things will be divided and not really in favour of electronic music artists.”
What more can we do to combat the mental health crisis in our scene?
“It’s the responsibility of your work surroundings, the people you work with, and also your own responsibility to try to find the right balance.”
Are you personally doing anything to improve the gender balance of line-ups?
“Our line-ups at festivals and events that we do have always been very balanced. One of the artists on our roster is my wife MATTN, we’ve just done a track with Paris Hilton, we’ve worked with NERVO. For us it’s not what gender somebody has, it’s a matter of, ‘Does this person fit on the line-up and do we think he or she is a great artist?’”
What changes have you made this year to be more environmentally friendly?
“At Tomorrowland, we try to do as much as we can. We try to reduce the footprint that we make as a festival, there are more steps towards biodegradable straws and cups.”
What was your favourite toy when you were a kid?
“For me and my brother, what was a big change was when we got our Nintendo. It came with a set of rules from my parents, who were terrified by the machine, and we would sneak out in the middle of the night to play the thing.”
What’s your guilty pleasure?
“I can only speak for myself, ’cause it’s really not Mike’s thing, but I’m a gigantic comic book and pop culture fan, so I have a collection of movie replicas, props, all that kind of stuff.”