There’s been much talk amongst artists and the media about an EDM revolution. The idea confirmed by the increase of electronica in mainstream pop music. However, one of the most respected figures in global dance music for the last two decades, Paul van Dyk, observes scarce innovation coming out of the purported revolutionaries. AUGUSTUS WELBY chats with the German DJ/producer ahead of his appearance at Future Music Festival on Sunday, March 2 at Arena Joondalup.
“For me, electronic music has always been about breaking the boundaries on the creative side, as much as using the latest technology,” he says. “If you look at what’s going on with the stuff that’s being called EDM in some parts of the world, that’s not really electronic music anymore. That’s just like the ever same-sounding pop song.”
Evidently van Dyk perceives a major distinction between the EDM dominating the mainstream and his own career output. “Every single thing that I’ve done actually has an importance to me. For me electronic music is a very intense, very important art form.”
Van Dyk’s artistic ambitions haven’t prevented him from gaining popular success. Since emerging in the early ’90s, he’s released six albums of original music, achieving aggregated album sales of over four million. Back in 2003, his fourth LP Reflections was the first nominee in the newly introduced Best Dance/Electronic Album category at the Grammy Awards (he didn’t take the award home, but in 2009 he received a Grammy for his work on the soundtrack to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight). Van Dyk offers his thoughts on the recent acts nominated in the Dance/Electronic category.
“To be really honest the only person in the last two, three or four years who was valuable or should have been the winner of the dance music award is the sound designer of the Nexus 2 software synthesisers, because everything comes from that machine. Everybody uses those presets – I mean everybody who’s in that EDM thing.”
Such disparaging opinions about the contemporary EDM proliferation are warranted when you consider van Dyk’s been performing and recording for over 20 years. A regular visitor to our shores, van Dyk returns to Australia for Future Music Festival and anyone who has seen van Dyk in the past will be aware that his live show is not a passive undertaking.
“I’m not just pressing play on a CD player and waiting for the record to be over. There’s so much more that I do all the time that possibly can go wrong that gives the whole thing a very intense and a very lively feeling.
“As soon as it was possible to take production elements with me onstage I did that – more than 10 years ago. Ever since, my equipment list and all the stuff I use onstage has kept evolving. I have keyboards and a computer and custom-made mixers and controllers. It enables me to actually play live so every set is fairly different…”
Van Dyk’s stage setup doubles as a mobile studio, which allows him to evade the common creative barriers enforced by being on tour. “I’m trying out things live when I play. I’m trying some riffs and seeing the reaction directly… On the last album especially and with new stuff coming out, with (the forthcoming record) Politics Of Dancing 3 as well, some of those hooks that are in the album actually came up while I was playing live. I let the basic chord play out and I had some drums and then I played a melody on top and I’m just like, ‘Wow, I really like this.’ When you are inspired by the moment, directly by your audience – it doesn’t get more direct.”
Paul van Dyk plays Future Music Festival on Sunday, March 2 at Arena Joondalup.
Get your tickets here.