True To Yourself: An Interview with Paul van Dyk
Paul van Dyk. Photo: Christoph Köstlin
Since the 1990s, German artist Paul van Dyk has experienced the touring life more than most. In fact, he’s considered to be the second most traveled touring musician. Bringing his passion for trance across the globe, van Dyk has been able to cultivate his audience and leave them wanting more with each new release. In 2003, his hard work had payed off when he victoriously won a Grammy Award, not to mention he’s been named DJ Mag’s No. 1 DJ three times. Prior to his show at Stereo Live on Friday, van Dyk spoke with Free Press Houston about touring, new material, and the importance of good music.
Free Press Houston: First off, congratulations on the new video for “Touched By Heaven.” I really enjoyed the animation. Who designed that? How long does something like that take?
Paul van Dyk: The video is done by an artist collective based in London. It takes a lot of time as the whole world needs to be designed and animated before making the actual video.
FPH: Your YouTube channel has consistently been uploading “VONYC Sessions.” What exactly is that, and how often are you planning to have those released?
van Dyk: VONYC session is my weekly radio show which features what I think is relevant and important in the field of electronic music. We introduce both new music as well as some throwback tunes. There’s a guest featured on the show every week.
FPH: They remind me a bit of those BBC Essential Mixes, which you are no stranger to. In fact, you have recorded more of those than most others I can remember. Are you aware if you have the record for the most of them?
van Dyk: No, I’m not actually sure! Well, that is pretty cool, I guess. I’m honored. The concept behind VONYC is rather different than the Essential Mixes, but it is similar in the sense that I am featuring music that I believe is essential and important right now.
FPH: Do you have a favorite Essential Mix of a different artist? For me, I think that the Massive Attack one is really well put together.
van Dyk: I have many favorite artists from all kind of musical genres. At the end of the day, I am a massive music lover and listen to music, as it is as much fun as it is inspiring.
FPH: So, welcome back to the touring life. It’s been a little longer than a year since the infamous fall. Did you start planning the details for your shows as soon as you were able to again, or was there hesitance, perhaps even doubt, on touring again?
van Dyk: I wouldn’t really call it an “infamous fall,” as I suffered life threatening injuries from that accident. To be honest with you, after the accident I wasn’t even thinking about making music again. In the beginning, I had to completely re-learn some essential parts of life; like eating, speaking and walking, for example. It took a long time for me to even be able to think about what the future might hold, let alone making music. I am still in the recovery process, which will take a few more years, at least. But making music again is what drives me and makes even my worst days a little better.
FPH: So you were in Houston four years ago at the same venue. Do you remember the last time you were here?
van Dyk: Yes, I do, and I’ve actually been here since that show 4 years ago. I think Stereo Live is one of the best venues in the US and it’s always fun to play there. The audience knows about music and is just as passionate about it as I am.
FPH: In general, things seem to be a lot different now than they were many years ago in various aspect. You were apart of the “Rock The Vote” initiative several years ago. Were you hoping to do any of that again for 2016?
van Dyk: My involvement in the “Rock The Vote” campaign was 12 years ago, but you’re right, a lot has changed since then.
FPH: Perhaps for other countries around the world too? Have you done anything like that in different regions?
van Dyk: I am very active in social and political projects in my home country. I think there are still many issues to address in Germany that I would like to be involved with before focusing on the politics of another country.
FPH: But the politics that really matters is the Politics of Dancing. That record was released about two years ago. How much unreleased work do you currently have? Is an upcoming album getting closer?
van Dyk: Yes, there is a lot of new music and there is an album in the making that is due out later this year. I can’t reveal too much about the new record just yet, but I can tell you that it will feature my new single, “Touched By Heaven.”
FPH: Going back even further, you’ve mentioned that “Evolution” was about the evolution of electronic music in general. Where is it right now, to you? To me, as someone who is not the most familiar with the music, there seems to be more separation than say something like metal. Do you think it’s necessary? I guess I’m asking if the select groups that are currently the forerunners are making an accomplished DJ like yourself proud.
van Dyk: I am not quite sure if I understand your question correctly, but let me try to answer it.
The popular danceable pop-sound that you hear on Top 40 radio stations, that is called EDM and has absolutely nothing to do with the electronic music scene, in my opinion. So if you are referring to them as forerunners, I can only say, they are not forerunners to me and there is not much to be proud of, as these sounds are missing creativity and inspiration. On the other hand, the music scene I refer to as electronic music is releasing countless pieces of amazing audible art every week, and this is the scene that I am very proud of to be part of.
FPH: You’ve been at it for decades now, in a occupation that seems to be more limited than a sport like basketball. It seems to me that DJs have to give it all they got and then they just lose their place in relevancy as they age. You, however, have a following larger than some of the most acclaimed newer acts, despite being at it since the ’90s. With your releases, do you ever fear that you might not fullfil what you set out to do, or perhaps not get ahold of the younger demographic?
van Dyk: Well I think it’s all about the artistry. The key is being true to yourself, always being authentic. I am not making music to please someone, I make music because this is my language, and this is my artform and therefore I am not afraid to pursue it to the fullest. On another note, great music has no age, and neither do the artists in that respect.
FPH: Are there any artists that you are genuinely surprised did not do as well with the younger crowds? For me, I was in a really big Basement Jaxx stage for awhile and was disappointed that none of my friends around my age were familiar with it.
van Dyk: I try not to categorize my audience in age groups. There a lot of people who care about and enjoy music with meaning and depth despite all the fun and that is regardless of how old you are. I became a massive music fan when I was 12 years old, and my audience, luckily, consists of all ages.
FPH: But I imagine touring now is a completely different thing than the early days of electronic music, with the huge lights, festivals, etc. Are you having more fun now than when you were first starting out?
van Dyk: I still have the same passion as I had in the beginning. Despite the big production, the most important to me are always the audience and the music.
FPH: So you play Houston again on May 12. For those who weren’t there last time, what can they expect to experience at a Paul van Dyk set?
van Dyk: The setup I use on stage is basically a mobile recording studio which enables me to be as interactive as possible. Even if I play a song you might know, it’s probably very different than the recording and directly inspired by what is going on in that very moment. That means no set is ever going to be the same.
Paul van Dyk performs on Friday, May 12 at Stereo Live (6400 Richmond).