Dutch DJ Hardwell is the world's number one and he sees greater things ahead
Dedication to his craft has put DJ Hardwell at the top of his game and he sees no limits for electronic music, writes John Moser
Dutch DJ Hardwell says he never wants the music to stop. As one of today's most popular purveyors of electronic dance music (EDM) - voted by readers of DJ Magazine as No 1 in the world for 2013 - he says he wants to help make sure it doesn't.
So Hardwell says he's trying to help open the genre to all types of stylistic changes with his record label, Revealed Recordings. And he's trying to evolve the role of DJ into a more traditional artist who, rather than remixing the music of others, creates his own, and builds a fan base that will support those changes.
Hardwell says that after topping the dance charts for the past four years with his remixes, he's halfway done with an album of his own music and expects to release it in September. "I think the album thing always is the next thing to do," he says, calling from a tour bus between stops in Columbus, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York. "And so far so good, you know. I'm really enjoying the process of doing it."
He declines to talk about the musical direction of the album, but says: "It really changes how you think. I had so many single releases, and I never thought about making an album." But he says it's the next logical move.
"I think the biggest thing you can achieve as a DJ is to take it to the next step, as an artist would do, like a band. We're playing arenas, like really big shows. We're playing all the big arenas like Beyoncé and all the superstars. And for a DJ to achieve that point, I think that's the next big thing."
It's hard not to believe Hardwell when he says he will be among those who will keep the music going. The 26-year-old has a YouTube channel that's had more than 70 million plays. His label is ranked by Billboard magazine as one of the top dance labels in the world. He also has his own radio show and podcast, Hardwell on Air, on Sirius XM radio.
Asked about his rapid success, he points out that he's been a DJ for nearly half his life. Born Robbert van de Corput in The Netherlands, he was signed to a record label at 13 and performing professionally by 14. He had to be chaperoned by his parents because he was too young to be in clubs on his own.
In 2006, when he was 18, his remix of The Underdog Project's Summer Jam spread through the clubs in Europe. He worked as a record company talent scout, but says he became disillusioned with major labels when he couldn't seem to crack them with his own work.
"Every time I would send a record to a major label, they were like, 'No, not commercial enough. You need to put a vocal on top of your instrumental track and make it more radio friendly'," he says.
"I never aimed for the radio, you know? I'm a DJ - I want my records to be played by all the other DJs in the clubs.
"All my records were dance-oriented, and all the hassle with major labels about changing my records, release dates, videos - everything was out of my hands. I always had to deal with somebody else, and I had a different perspective on a lot of things."
So in 2010, Hardwell formed Revealed Recordings. Within a year, he was collaborating with Tiësto, who is from his hometown (Breda) and is another of DJ Magazine's No 1s. Their collaboration single, Zero 76, was one of the biggest club tracks of 2011 and topped the American iTunes dance chart.
"He's kind of my big brother, seriously," Hardwell says of Tiësto. "From the start, we had a really great connection, and we shared a lot of studio time and did a couple of world tours together."
They have two more singles due out this summer. In 2012, two more of his remixes - Rihanna's Where Have You Been and The Wanted's Chasing the Sun - reached No 1 on Billboard's dance chart, and MTV chose him as an EDM artist to watch.
Asked about the secret of his success, Hardwell responds: "It sounds clichéd, but I think it's just my dedication. Day in and day out, working on my set, trying to make new sounds, making new singles, working on remixes. Every single day I'm working really hard to keep where I am right now.
"So I think that's maybe what sets me apart from others. I'm not saying the others don't work hard, but I think my fans can tell how dedicated I am."
The designation as No 1 DJ was especially satisfying because it was chosen by fan votes, he says. "That's even more important to me, 'cause a lot of fans took the opportunity to vote for me, and that's incredible. It was always a dream for me as a kid to become the No 1 DJ in the world. "And to step in the footprints of my role models, Armin van Buuren and Tiësto, that's just crazy."
He concedes that the popularity of EDM helped him succeed. "I don't know if it's one particular thing that really made me popular, but I always say my music, it worked really well for me," he says. "A lot of people like my music … and I've been touring for the last three years, like crazy, including all the major countries in the world … It has made me who I am today."
Now, Hardwell says, he wants to help other artists. He has signed several to his label. "If I talk to the DJs who are on my label and the producers, I never tell them what to do," he says. "And they all say the same thing - 'We don't have a record label, we're not signed to a record label.' We're like a platform, or a family. We're really good friends, really close friends. We help each other out with music. It's a different thing, a different vibe.
"When it comes to EDM, I'm always really open, especially with the releases we have. We have more deeper tracks, more electro, as well. We do, like, everything.
"EDM will always evolve, in a certain way, but it will always stick around. Dance music has been around for the last 20 years. It's never gone away. Inside of EDM things will change. Dubstep [with its heavy bass] was more popular than it is now. You can tell that deep house [which fuses house with 1980s jazz-funk and soul] is getting more popular right now.
"All those different genres, they will come and go. But EDM overall will always stick around."