by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
How big is Paul van Dyk? He's enormous! Consistently ranked amongst the top 10 DJs on the planet since 1998, this eye-catching German is a superstar in electronic music and continues to pack concert venues from Vilnius to Kuala Lumpur to San Diego. With a new album, Evolution, set for release later this year, van Dyk is introducing material from it in select cities with a stimulating live show that arrives here on June 10 at The Showbox SoDo - visit www.showboxonline.com for tickets. Reached at his Berlin digs, the Grammy-nominated artist spoke with me on the phone articulately in English (with a semi-thick German accent). And here's what Paul van Dyk revealed inside The Music Lounge.
Albert Rodriguez: You've played here several times. Do you just like Seattle, or do you have a big following here?
Paul Van Dyk: Yes, I hope I have a following in this area. At least it seems to be because I always get invited back. It's a great city. I like the sort of Northern atmosphere of it. It's rough and it's beautiful, it's tough and it's weak, and it has all these elements a great city needs to have, and it's a very creative place as well.
Rodriguez: You have quite a unique stage experience you're bringing with you. Tell us about it.
Van Dyk: In the album that's going to come out in September, called Evolution, I wanted to bring something more with me than just me being there and jumping up and down, so I was reaching out to some very, very good people in that field - they have, for example, worked with Muse for their last show and we developed this whole sort of visual concept about evolution, so it starts with the nebula, then the big bang, ghosts, and all those different phases. The whole video, stage, and light design is all synched with each other. That creates a really intense visual and audio moment.
Rodriguez: What's changed the most in electronic music since you first began recording and touring?
Van Dyk: The biggest thing is that it developed from a small subculture to the biggest youth culture in the world. The DJ was the freak in the corner while other people had fun. Now, there is big staging, big production involved. So, it's become more focused on the person creating the music rather than just playing it. I don't have any vinyl or CDs with me anymore, I have a complete studio setup on stage that allows me to play live, remix live, and recreate everything on the fly according to the vibe in the room, and this is something that makes it much more intense in terms of experiencing electronic music.
Rodriguez: Did you start by playing at any of the Gay clubs in Berlin or East Berlin, where you're originally from?
Van Dyk: I never actually DJed in East Berlin. For me, it all started when the wall came down and I went to all the clubs. We have a very famous Gay club here - which is, funnily enough, run by an American - called GMF because there was a very famous club in the early '90s called WMF and Sundays used to be the Gay night & and it's probably the longest [running] club night in Berlin. I play there at least once a year and we always donate everything to the AIDS foundations here in Berlin, to make sure people who are infected with that disease get help and support.
Rodriguez: Wasn't electronic music played at Gay clubs in its underground phase before it became mainstream?
Van Dyk: It's always a question, "What do you include in the term of electronic music?" To be honest, I wouldn't even say this mish-mash sound in the pop charts right now had anything to do with our scene, our music. It sounds danceable, but it's awfully cheesy dance music that has nothing to do with our vibe or what actually was, indeed, intended and paraded in mostly Gay clubs around the world.
Rodriguez: "Crush" is my favorite Paul van Dyk track, from your Reflections album. Do you still rotate it into your sets?
Van Dyk: From time to time. One of the things people always do, like on the social networks, is request things. I see all that and I get the information, and I try to incorporate that into my set because at the end of the day I have a clear idea about the sound I want to play, but at the same time it's all about the audience in front of me, it's all about the interaction. Therefore, when I know this is something they requested, I play it.
Rodriguez: Is Berlin a good city for an artist to be based?
Van Dyk: Berlin is a place where we have a lot of little creative hotspots that enable artists from all over the world to come here, to be inspired and take something back into their own artwork. In terms of creativity, something that a lot of people outside of Berlin don't know is that the arts scene is much bigger than just the music scene. When you look into painters, photographers, and design, it's even bigger than music over here.
Rodriguez: I've been to Berlin once and it was a quick trip. If I were to go back, what should I not miss? What clubs, restaurants, or areas should I check out?
Van Dyk: Well, there's one thing Berlin has in common with New York: it's too quick to say; something I would [recommend] might not be there next week. We have great places, restaurants that open up in weird, trashy environments and are closed two weeks later. The same goes for clubs and venues.
Rodriguez: What parts of the city do you like hanging out in or recommend people go to?
Van Dyk: One of the things that makes Berlin rather special is we don't have one city center. We have a lot of little centers and there's a German word for it that is only used in Berlin, so you can say it's a Berlin word, it's kiez. We have a lot of these sort of mini-districts and they all have something very different. So I would suggest, in order to really feel Berlin, to get to as many of these kiez as you can. Go to Friedrichshain, go to Mitte, go to Prenzlauer Berg, go to Kreuzberg and Charlottenburg. If you've been to all these places, you can say, "I saw Berlin."
Rodriguez: What do you really like about America?
Van Dyk: I have some of my best friends in America. It is a big, big country with a lot of different feels and vibes to it, and to be able to travel within one country and experience so many different lifestyles, I think is just great.
Rodriguez: Gay marriage is a big issue in America right now. Is it in Germany?
Van Dyk: No, because we have it. You can get married here. It was brought on the table, I believe, 10 or 12 years ago. It was not an issue for the society, it was agreed. Here in Germany it's not an issue that people are against. The mayor of Berlin [Klaus Wowereit] is Gay, so this is, in a way, how open-minded we are. For us, the respect and the tolerance for the person is what counts. I don't really care what they do at night in their bed.
Rodriguez: When you play here in Seattle, how long will your set be - an hour, hour and a half? And will you play a varied set list, music from all of your albums?
Van Dyk: It's probably more like three hours. There's going to be a big chunk off the new album, which is produced already. You like "Crush" and I'm pretty sure people will request that, and I'm probably going to play that and a few other classics like "For An Angel," "Time of Our Lives," and probably "Home."
Rodriguez: Maybe "Kaleidoscope"?
Van Dyk: Um, maybe I could. [Laughs.]
Rodriguez: Do you like what's coming out of the U.S., in terms of pop music like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Kanye West?
Van Dyk: Not everything from these people. But there are some tracks of Lady Gaga that I like, some I think are really not that good. In the beginning, I actually really liked Katy Perry and then it became a little [makes a bored sound]. I never really dove into the R&B and hip-hop world. For me, music has something to do with feeling, something that's reaching out to me. Unfortunately, if someone is just cursing and calling each other "nigger" and "bitch" and whatnot, that's not my kind of music, that's not my kind of reflection of emotions.
Rodriguez: For anyone just starting out who has the idea to pursue being a DJ, how should they start?
Van Dyk: You mentioned the word "idea." The first step is to believe in your idea, and when you believe in your idea you develop that forward. And then you find ways of making that happen. These days, it's so much easier than 15 years ago. These days we have Facebook, we have MySpace, Twitter, and it's so easy to send your favorite DJ your track. And imagine the DJ likes it and starts playing it, then within a matter of a few weeks, you have a worldwide club hit.
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