Hardwell responds to his critics as he prepares to take on Madison Square Garden; ‘The haters are the motivators.’
As I sit in my New York City office eyeing my brightly lit laptop screen, somewhere across the virtual sphere sits Robbert van de Corput, a 26-year-old hailing from the Netherlands, predominantly known as Hardwell. Skype’s oddly familiar incoming call ringtone sets off, and Justin, Hardwell’s publicist, is on the line. I accept the call, only to find Robbert on the third end as he enthusiastically exclaims, “Hi Lizzie!” Hardwell, the world’s number one DJ for his second consecutive year, knew my name before I even had a chance to formally introduce myself.
Naturally, I can’t help but to commence our question and answer session with a discussion of the final leg of his ‘I Am Hardwell’ world tour. More than a full year after the tour’s inception in April 2013, van de Corput is finally making his anticipated rounds in North America, hitting major cities like New York, LA, San Francisco and Chicago. While at first glance it may be difficult to discern between an ‘I Am Hardwell’ show and your typical Hardwell gig, Robbert paints a clearer picture of his upcoming performances: “If I compare my ‘I Am Hardwell’ show to the gigs I normally do at festivals – because at festivals I only play like an hour, hour and a half – now I have three hours to fill up with my music. Besides the visuals and the lighting and all the CO2 stuff, it comes down to the music.”
“It’s more like a Hardwell showcase of everything I’ve been working on in the past, like a musical journey – a Hardwell journey.”
Robbert describes the show as more of an “indoor festival” or a “concert” than anything else. I feel the eagerness in his voice while he confers with me on the stage design that will be transported to each arena he visits this Fall. While the tour will maintain its core principles for its North American leg, Hardwell explains that everything before his MSG performance is a bit of a trial period: “Even with the album coming up, on this tour I’m gonna test out all the new tracks and based on the crowd’s reaction, I’m going to decide which tracks will make it to the album and which ones won’t. For a Hardwell fan, this is definitely the biggest experience.”
“Biggest” may just be an understatement, as Robbert is about to take on his Madison Square Garden debut following in the footsteps of fellow dance music icons like Above & Beyond, Bassnectar and Eric Prydz. It is an opportunity that he has rightfully earned. When “Spaceman” was released in early 2012, Hardwell pioneered a new sound that has since been emulated by countless artists while also helping pave the way for dance music’s progression as a thriving genre.
When asked what his plans are for his debut studio album, due for release in 2015, van de Corput said that it will “explore other music styles.” He elaborated: “I think it is really diverse, especially if you compare it to a normal Hardwell set. All the records I’ve done in the past are dance floor records. But with my album, not every song keeps the dance floor in mind. Some songs are just to listen to and relax, and other songs are exactly what you would expect from a Hardwell album.”
The album goes from more underground dance tracks to even the hardest styles of dance music – almost hardstyle. It’s everything in between; I don’t like to think in boxes. I think the album is more out of the box than any Hardwell song you’ve heard before.”
Hardwell’s approach for his full-length release is looking to be all over the map. He’s already lined up a collaboration with Headhunterz while fans of the “old” Robbert will find solace in new collaborations with Tiësto and Amba Shepherd – a fond revisitation of his “Zero 76” and “Apollo” days, respectively.
Speaking of which, the Dutch DJ is not too enamored by the “I miss the old *insert DJ name*” judgment that has noticeably crept its way into social media by the “haters” and “snobs” of EDM. “When an artist is getting popular, for some reason he is a sellout and his new music is nothing compared to what he did in the past,” he articulates, clearly frustrated. “I feel like [hating] is the trend now. No matter what track you upload, no matter which artist it is, it’s really cool to hate on everything another person is doing. In the end, if I look into the EDM scene and at all the hate, people are always hating. If something turns out to be more commercial, the guy is a sellout.” Ultimately it’s a critique all too common not just within dance, but all genres of music. It is the one denunciation that many artists fall victim to, perhaps because it is too easy for fans to begin pointing fingers once the feeling of abandonment has set in.
“People forget that they are the ones that made him who he is today and you should appreciate if an artist is turning out to be successful, you should be happy for him rather than calling him a sellout. The haters are the motivators.”
Might Seth Troxler be categorized as one such “hater”? Robbert confidently points out that EDM is not exclusive to big room music. “Deep house is also EDM. No matter what genre it is. As long as it has a synthesizer and a four by four beat, that’s EDM. I respect every single genre within it and I think everybody else should do the same.” As such, one would hope there to be an abundance of love and respect for one another, but this isn’t quite the case. Troxler stunned friends and foes earlier this month at Amsterdam Dance Event after delivering a speech outlining the relationship between EDM and the underground, stating, “We are different cultures, and we should stay different cultures…And after all the commercialisation of the past few years, I think people are really coming back to the idea of real truth in music, the deepness of that. That’s what will sustain it in the future.”
I ask Hardwell how he would defend what he refers to as the “dirty term,” “EDM.” “I think it’s always good to have a commercial side of music and an underground side of music because they keep each other alive. A movement on the top is indirectly also a movement in the underground. When you’re young, you’ll automatically start listening to the mainstream songs but then you can explore different kinds of music. There is no particular culture, you know? Dance music is a culture. EDM is a culture.”