Afrojack: Living in the world long forgotten
Dig through a pile of room service french fries for his club sandwich or spoon through tomato soup? “Bon Appetite.” Tomato soup it is.
Two dozen floors above Lower Manhattan, Nick van de Wall, the man known as Afrojack, relishes in a rare moment of silence. There’s something calming about the view of New York City — the majority of the skyline to our left, the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District to our right — stoic even compared to the background noise in the hotel room: keyboard strokes, Call of Duty and The Simpsons seeping from the bedroom to the dining area. The unspoken embrace lasts almost half of a club sandwich, before the unavoidable topic of his imminent album debut creeps in.
It’s the first of May, and New York City’s first 70 degree-plus afternoon after a horrible winter. In only five hours we’d be at the listening party for his upcoming artist album. What is the mindset of an artist who’s weeks away from releasing their debut project? In his comfort zone, shoeless, Nick is very blunt. Upfront, making no hesitation for word choice; “The nerves were fucked since I delivered it, like when I finished it and couldn’t touch it anymore,” he says, “until I presented it for over 250 people in Miami. From that moment on it hasn’t been so scary.” The fearlessness is apparent in his face, though he doesn’t even let a presumed eagerness show. Noticeably, it’s already resonated his team; the rest of the room gives off the same calming, almost sedative, sense. A true calm before the storm moment, if I’ve ever seen one.
Forget The World is different than recent albums from Nick’s peers. It’s not different in the sense of a dance artist producing a non-dance album. It’s different in an individual sense. Different in respect to the artist; proving true to the testament he’s surrounding it with. It’s more true Afrojack than it is revolutionary. “I wanted to do something that’s honest and me,” he emphasizes, “like really me.” Faced with possible directions of either club music or more radio-hit type music, it became something else, while scratching the surface of both aforementioned categories just enough. “This is actual, full-on, honest, no tricks, no bullshit, Afrojack music,” he describes. If he could think of more adjectives to describe the honesty of his music on the fly, I’m thinking he would.
The project isn’t the same sound-shifting move that artists like Avicii have made with recent albums. It even goes against that trend of electronic producers distancing themselves from their own sounds to be different. I make this half-question, half-suggestion to Nick. He doesn’t agree nor disagree. He speaks his own mind instead: “I think the trend has been to try to become as successful as possible by mutilating the Eric Prydz snare so much.” But it’s not just the snares that he finds peers ripping. “The same drops, the same kicks, the same build ups, the same sounds, the same specs and the same Sylenth presets until you have a hit,” he continues, “that’s what things sound like today and that’s what I didn’t want to do.”
Nick has more than this sort of strong opinion, albeit the language with lack of filter, he’s set on a plan of action to follow through. One word that took center stage of our conversation more than a few times: effectiveness. By its meaning in context, effectiveness refers to a track that is suited to work wonders in live settings, presumably tailored with popular sounds and an ordinary drop.
“Most importantly to me I wanted to feel like it evolved. Most of the songs I release are straight club songs that were based on effectiveness. This time I wanted to take it to another place, I didn’t want it to be the same. I try to avoid effectiveness.”
That’s just where Forget The World differs. It’s not about an artist trying to sound like anyone, well, besides themselves. It’s an artist being himself, but showing a different side. “I didn’t want to make drop-based songs on the album,” Nick notes one area where his album will differ from his lengthy track record of singles. “I wanted it to be like musical piece, not a collection of tracks. That’s why there’s basically no, how do you say, no generic drops.” On the subject of the drops, he notes that all on the album are far from his stage-ready productions, but that he’s already remixed all tracks for his live set.
Lunch has finished. The half-eaten bowl of tomato soup is now being used as an ashtray. Conversation moves quickly from the music to the messaging. Who is this album for? “I wanted it to be special for my fans and also open format for people who don’t really listen to my music yet.” Nick stares out toward the view of New York City’s Meatpacking district, deliberate and thoughtful, he begins showing the colors behind the album.
“People look at me like I’m a weird guy because I’m doing what I love. You have to remember that the only person that has to respect you is yourself. That’s the closest person you’ll have in your life, the person you have to make proud. To go for it all the way you have to forget the world, you have to forget about the world will say about you, what they will think about you, how you look according to society standards. It doesn’t matter.”
He goes on adamantly and quite inspirationally about anyone being able to accomplish dreams, but speaks on work ethic as the key ingredient in doing so. Several anecdotes follow, instances of perseverance. Nick speaks of people who have followed their dreams and succeeded against odds. Olympic athletes in wheel chairs: If they can do it, why can’t anybody else. Internationally renowned cupcake bakers: They weren’t going to be happy until they started baking. Kanye West: He’s breaking the rules of music, doing that for himself. And of course, Afrojack. He speaks on himself as determined, but only getting started on his goal of impacting the world: “I want to change shit up. I’ll find my way. Everyone finds their way.”
When asked if there are any moments that he has to reset his mind, moments when he has to get back into forget the world-zone, “there’s been a lot of times,” he says undoubtedly. “Any time someone tells me I should go back to the old school Afrojack sound, for at least one second I think, maybe I should go back to the old school Afrojack sound,” Nick continues, “but that’s a mistake you shouldn’t make, listening to other people.” It doesn’t seem like the first time he’s had to mull over such criticism. He’s dead set on his philosophy towards pleasing or appeasing others.
“If I wanted to do an old school Afrojack record, I’ll do a fucking old school Afrojack record. But I will have to want to do it, I won’t do it because of peer pressure. If I’m going to live my life for other people, then I wouldn’t be who I am now, then I would be a really rich ass banker.”
He remembers thinking his options out, that he’d either be a “broke ass musician” or a “rich ass banker person unhappy with leaving the dream alone.” He jokes about his report card, going from straight F’s to straight A’s with ease. “I’m a smart kid.” He made the choice, and it worked out in his best interest. He knew what he was getting himself into when he dropped out of school. “Within one year I was DJing in clubs here and there. It wasn’t the greatest clubs, but I was DJing.” Finally, he’s raising his voice, just slightly. “I was a DJ! That’s what I wanted to be,” he says with the sort of excitement you’d imagine he felt at the very moment he’s describing. “Doesn’t matter if I’m playing for 10 people, 1,000 people, 10,000 people, I’m a DJ. I’m just as happy now as I was six years ago.”
“If I wanted to be cool right now, I’d have shoes on and sit here like I’m gangster.” Nick lights the last cigarette from his pack. The empty box joins the cold pile of french fries and tomato soup-turned-ash tray in a table setting that — for that reason of not trying to be cool — is making for a comfortable setting for increasingly candid conversation. He grows more eager in stressing that anyone can make the choice to be happy, and that choice will lead to an ultimate success. “If you see a billboard of me on the side of the road, you have to know I’m just a guy, I wasn’t born with a billboard on the side of the road,” he says, pointing back to having grown up in Holland on welfare. “I’m the fucking proof. I’m not talented, I’m not handsome, I have a little belly flop, and you see my face on the covers of shit and my music gets played on the radio.” By now, he’s driven his message home. Afrojack wants the vision to be heard by the world, for everyone to see what he’s seen, to make difficult decisions like he’s made, but to do it for one person: yourself.
“Success is not describable, it’s a feeling, it’s a proudness. That’s the whole message of the album: if you actually forget about the world and start doing what you really love, you will not be influenced by outside noise, then you’re going to be really happy — but you have to do it.”
We move away from some of the album talk, dance music talk, and conversation drifts to topics like last summer’s Yeezus and Magna Carter Holy Grail releases; trying to remember titles of tracks off Skrillex’s newest album; shooting favorite records back and forth from Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” to Richie Hawtin’s “Spastik,” Ingrosso’s “Reload” to Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be”; how it’s impossible to copyright a basslines or chord progressions because they’ve all been used so many times.
By the time we trace those back to Bach and Beethoven, formal conversation is over. Still, Nick isn’t letting the emotion of being weeks away from his debut album get the best of him. We’re now only three hours away from the release party, but next on his agenda: a quick game of Call of Duty. The Simpsons is still playing on a laptop behind us. “I always leave that on repeat,” he says, that or Family Guy, “reminds me of how things used to be.”
The moment only lasts but for so long, the 16-hour work day continues. Nick grabs a self-branded G-Star cap from his collection, his signature sunglasses that could be mistaken for goggles, and drapes a peacoat over his hoodie. It’s questionable whether or not he forgot the spring forecast or if something as simple as weather is just one of the things ignored when putting happiness first. Considering no one comments on his attire, it’s likely the latter.
Through a lengthy elevator ride and a walkthrough of one of Manhattan’s most eccentric lobbies, Nick is the most colorful of characters that could be found, regardless of being dressed in only black and white. That’s just Afrojack, a living testament to his album title, living in a world long forgotten.
Join us Friday, May 16th; Dancing Astronaut and Afrojack will be hosting a Twitter Q&A at 4:30 PM PST/6:30EST PM. Stream three of the album’s standout tracks early, exclusively via Beats Music.