Distilling the dance music world with Paul van Dyk [Interview]
“We’re all worthy of a brighter sun, and everyone needs love.”
The words ring out over the crowd. It’s day two of Dreamstate with just over an hour left of the festival, and the energy at the main stage is positively electrifying. The song reaches its crescendo, breeding even more fervor as anthemic saw-synths cut into the audience’s psyche. They’re left with little choice but to dance together in a mutual embrace.
Fueling this ardor is none other than a living legend, and the leading creator of the audio experience unfolding in front of them: Paul van Dyk. The track is his new single “Everyone Needs Love,” and it proved the perfect ending to the hour of pure euphoria he’d just served fans. Primarily, its message is one that he feels is more pertinent than ever to pass on: “We have all this hate that we’ve seen recently that has to be overcome,” he explains about the track’s inception. “This song is about tolerance and loving one another – we only function when we work together.”
Messages like these are highly characteristic of Paul van Dyk. After all, he’s known as one of the most outspoken electronic musicians in the industry, which makes sense given his background. “I grew up in East Germany – a dictatorship, where you weren’t allowed to speak about what you were thinking. There was simply no freedom of speech. You couldn’t do what you wanted to do,” he describes.
Such an oppressive background gave way to his staunch belief of using his popularity as an artist to stand up for various personal freedoms. In this case, we see a need for unity in “Everyone Needs Love.” In another case, the first Politics Of Dancing mix album in 2001 was inspired by police crackdowns of club culture in New York.
Aside from politics, the topic Paul is most outspoken about is what he holds most dear — music itself. “I was always a freak when it comes to music, and I still am,” he states. His animated tone when discussing anything around it indicates just how monumental it is to his life. “When you wake up in the morning and you hear a song you like that makes you feel happy, the whole day is better. This is that amazing feeling it creates.” He goes onto make a valid point about its unique power over fans, describing how excitement over an upcoming show alone can “drive a person’s momentum.”
Dance music, of course, is the genre he holds closest to his heart. Having been an intrinsic part of it for over 20 years, Paul recognizes how revolutionary electronic music has been since its fringe beginnings on the outskirts of society. It’s a globally unifying phenomenon, he believes. “I’ve seen places such as Israel where people are enjoying the music and having a great time together. In Ibiza too. Music draws these people together and fosters a friendship that’s beyond any sort of political boundaries. Ultimately, we are all similar, and that’s what it’s all about.”
“When you look at the characteristics of electronic music fans, you’ll see they’re so open-minded, so cosmopolitan. The people that go to, and love and really understand this music have it almost implemented into their character. So they are open, and they are able to understand the other side and therefore, there’s an element of respect and kindness towards each other. It’s always peaceful.”
These effects are amplified within the trance scene, where he’s resided the vast majority of his career. The “trance family” is one of the more overtly zealous, tightly bound groups of the electronic spectrum, and Paul van Dyk is a beloved figurehead. When asked what makes trance in particular so special, he responded that “it asks much more of you as a listener – it’s not just a catchy melody you hear on the radio. It’s music that goes a bit deeper, that leads you to evolve as a listener.”
Moreover, soundscapes existing in a trance composition “provide somewhere to lose yourself, to dream in a way.” All these factors combine together to elucidate a powerful reaction from listeners, one he deems is special to watch. In addition, it’s why the “people that love this music are so passionate about it and can tell you for hours about why they love it” to a degree rarely seen anywhere else within the electronic sphere. “It is unique,” he finishes.
Trance was also there for Paul van Dyk in a notorious profound way this year. On February 28, during his ASOT Utrecht set, thousands of people around the world watched the live stream in horror as he suddenly disappeared from the screen and was later announced as having endured a life-threatening fall from the stage. During weeks spent with a sole focus of survival, the global trance community at large united for his well being, reciprocating the years of love he’d given the scene with an outpouring of support in the form of messages, videos, and gifts. Their love, paired with the strength from his family and fiancé, helped fuel his triumphant recovery.
Van Dyk’s own passion and determination to get back into what he loved expedited his healing process internally. “The pure fact of actually being able to make music, and find myself and music again was very important in helping give me a direction,” he recalls. Sadly, he still has a ways to go, and things will never fully be the same. “The diagnostics from the doctor already state that if I would be able to do 50%of what I used to, it would be considered a huge success.”
That said, he’s refusing to let this disappointing outcome take over him, and instead is focusing on doing as much as he can in what he loves given his new limitations. In fact, he feels as fortunate as ever for the level he’s at now, given things could have been far worse. He emphasizes the impact felt by all the support he received from those close to him and the music world: “The overwhelming and amazing good that I experienced in people, and the surroundings that I had, is something that will be with me forever.”
The optimism, in his words, is inspiring. He adds: “I’ll definitely keep doing and making music, general. Let’s put it this way – we’re in the good part.” Of course, his fans are beyond grateful for his continued presence in the dance scene, and their immense loyalty to him was certainly observable at his most recent performances at the Southern California and Mexico editions of Dreamstate. It’s safe to say that being granted the opportunity to see him perform after potentially losing him was as moving of an experience to them as it was for him.
Paul van Dyk in turn has always been there for trance as well. His core artistic values have remained unchanged since 1991 essentially, where he distinctly remembers the rush he felt on the Berlin subway holding “the first S-pressing of my first record in my hands.” Integrity and authenticity are his primary laurels. “When I’m making my music, I’m making it as passionately as I can. And I’m not offering my music either. People either enjoy it or they don’t, but I’m not making any compromises with it,” he states.
His music is thus a pure extension of his character. He asserts, “I have to be completely believable with what I do, and it has to come from my heart, from my soul. It can only come from there.” This steadfast attitude toward his music is palpable in all of his productions, and is precisely why to this day he remains one of the most respected and admired figures in dance music. Not to mention, his humility is incredible. Of being invited to play at Dreamstate, for example, he feels “just amazing as an artist to have the honor to be there and play.”
As his performance at Dreamstate wound down to a close, his audience was left with a lingering, unforgettable feeling of awe. Watching him navigate flawlessly through his signature, complex live set up was truly surreal given what he’d been through. His own joy was infectious, fusing with that of his fans to spark a multifaceted display of emotion erupting from the stage’s confines. Without saying a word, his steadfast confidence in the face of tremendous trauma is enough to effectively communicate that as long as he’s able, he will never stop giving his all to the music he loves.