Tell us about your Miller SoundClash weekend – how was the Las Vegas experience?
It was an amazing and unforgettable weekend full of first times. I got to experience many different and incredible things, starting from the moment landed at Las Vegas Airport until the time I left our hotel.
Location: Washington, D.C., USA
When you think of the American dance music landscape, cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit and LA most likely spring to mind. Yet Echostage has made Washington DC the ultimate destination for Stateside clubbers. The venue — launched in 2012 by District Of Columbia promotion company GLOW, on the site of what had once been DC Tunnel and DC Star — has steadily risen up the league table, thanks to its state-of-the-art sound, synapse-sizzling visuals and a level of production that would put most festivals to shame. Echostage has revolutionised clubbing in the US, shipping in talent from around the world and booking the biggest American artists to play both live shows and DJ sets on its mammoth hybrid stage.
Taking up over 30,000 square feet, Echostage has all the trappings you’d expect of a No. 1 venue. The soundsystem is a d&b audiotechnik V-Series with D80 amplifiers, pumping out 48,000 watts of superior sound, while the senses are further stimulated by dazzling lasers, confetti cannons and cryo-jets. The capacious, warehouse-inspired space is flanked by 60-foot bars, while a VIP mezzanine perches above the dancefloor, kitted out with a plethora of bottle-service tables. This attention to detail complements the artists that Echostage showcases: household names from across the dance music spectrum. REZZ, Armin van Buuren, Eric Prydz, Black Coffee and Claude VonStroke all played before the pandemic hit, indicating the venue’s skilful bookings across house, techno, trance, progressive and EDM styles, while the club has also hosted gigs from famous pop and hip-hop artists such as Lorde, Miley Cyrus and Cardi B.
Like most clubs around the world, the pandemic forced Echostage to close its doors to the public until recently, but it still broadcast DJ performances online during the lockdown.
“We did a couple of DJ livestreams with Insomniac, including Loud Luxury and Deep Dish, as well as a livestream with Dubfire for DJ Mag,” says Echostage’s Heather Church. “It was difficult to find talent locally since most artists live in California or overseas. We’ve been extremely grateful to host weekly live streams every Sunday with Passion City Church. It’s provided the community with much-needed strength through difficult times.”
The Mayor of Washington DC announced on 14th May that venues would be allowed to reopen on 11th June, and after being shut for 15 months, Echostage endeavoured to prepare something special for its dedicated crowd.
“With the notice of reopening, we put together plans for some renovations,” Church says. “It was definitely a scramble, with only four weeks ahead of the reopening date.” Lighting upgrades and a special 4K LED wall were added to the already jaw-dropping visual displays in the club, while celebrated local artist Chris Pyrate was brought in to paint a new mural at the club’s entrance.
Meanwhile, for the reopening itself, a spectacular array of artists was secured to ensure the return would be memorable.
“We reopened with our dream line-up, featuring two nights of Zedd, two nights of Tiësto, David Guetta, Alesso, Tchami and more,” says Church. “It was such a great feeling to walk through the doors for the first time for a real show with fans. The appetite for concerts was through the roof.”
Though 2020 was tough for Echostage and its staff, Church says that the team pulled together and found strength in its sense of community.
“It was undoubtedly a difficult year for our employees, but they returned as if they had never left for our reopening,” she says. “We are grateful and fortunate to have a staff that feels like family. Echostage would not be where it is today without our devoted employees.”
Though not steeped in the same house history as cities like Chicago or New York, Washington DC has its own rich dance music legacy stretching from the percussive funk subgenre go-go through to famous modern acts like Deep Dish, Thievery Corporation and Beautiful Swimmers. Echostage is the jewel in the crown of a thriving electronic club scene there, expertly mixing marquee names with more underground fare. The club has just booked basketball legend turned bass music star Diesel (aka Shaquille O’Neal) and trance heroes Tritonal and Cosmic Gate, and looking ahead, there will be appearances from tech-house crew CamelPhat, dubstep titan Flux Pavilion, and superstars like Carl Cox, MK and Above & Beyond in the next few months.
“Echostage is No. 1 in the world, in the capital of the United States,” Church says. “Washington DC has become one of the most sought-out places for artists to play and will continue to grow in that direction. There’s something special about being able to play in DC and then do late-night tours of the White House, National Monument and Jefferson Memorial… while still buzzing from the crazy fan energy at your show.”
From: Paris, France
Best known for: Breaking dance music in America with a string of huge hits.
Fave tune of 2020: “CamelPhat & ARTBAT 'For A Feeling’.”
Rising star DJ/producer of 2020: “I'm a huge fan of ARTBAT and I think they can become even bigger than they already are.”
What’s the greatest dance record of all time? “The best dance album ever is ‘Homework' from Daft Punk. I don’t think it will ever be challenged.”
“It’s really incredible, I think I feel happier than the first time!”
David Guetta is sat on a comfy sofa in an airy East London photography studio. He’s been having his photo taken by DJ Mag’s cover specialist Dan Reid for the last three hours, dressed in a variety of outfits, and has remained chipper and super-positive throughout the afternoon.
We’re here because David has been voted the No.1 DJ in the world again — a full decade after he last won the title in 2011. The only other time he won, Guetta said that winning the Top 100 DJs poll meant more to him than having a No.1 hit record in America. And evidently, winning it a second time means even more to him than that. “It’s interesting, cos it’s a different time,” he says. “Things are way faster now. When I won ten years ago, the reality was that I felt like it came late. The reality of the numbers when I was touring, it was already like two years where I felt, ‘Why am I not winning?’, y’know?”
This isn’t just an idle brag from the healthy-looking, self-aware Frenchman. In late 2011 he was the biggest dance star on the planet, having broken down the doors of mainstream America with a string of global dance-pop hits following in the wake of ‘When Love Takes Over’, which featured ex-Destiny’s Child vocalist Kelly Rowland. “When I won the first time, I was like ‘OK, if I go to Google search and my name is ten times higher, it should have happened’,” he tells DJ Mag. “It’s funny because ten years ago when I won, all the trance fans were so mad against me because it was the first time that trance wasn’t winning — for years. It was the beginning of that EDM era in the festivals.”
Younger readers may not remember that the Top 100 DJs poll was dominated by trance spinners throughout the ‘00s. After three victories for Tiësto (when he played trance) and two for Paul van Dyk, Armin van Buuren won four times in a row (2007-10) until Guetta claimed the crown in 2011. The Top 100 DJs awards party that year was held in Amsterdam during ADE for the first time, and a partisan Dutch crowd of Armin fans booed Guetta when he was revealed as the new No.1. “Armin is my friend, he was feeling really bad about that,” smiles Guetta at the memory.
Guetta’s first Top 100 win a decade ago did signal EDM — basically the rebranding of drop-heavy electro-house for the US market — taking over from trance and dominating the 21st century’s second decade. Guetta spearheaded a slew of dance tracks penetrating the mainstream American market, and the subsequent global explosion of electronic music gave untold people a viable career in the industry at long last. “Yeah, this is why some people were hating me!” David exclaims. “It’s funny, I was public enemy No.1 for doing this — for being successful — and also for working with people who were part of the urban community. It then became what every successful DJ/producer is doing now, completely acceptable, but I think the younger generation doesn’t even realise that when I started to do this, people were mad at me for doing this.”
Who wouldn’t want to work with Rihanna, asks DJ Mag? “Why are you not gonna want to work with a talented person? To me, it doesn’t make sense,” David concurs. “Those reactions were more coming from fans than the artists because actually all the big DJs at the time — including the American pioneers — were coming to me and saying, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been dreaming all my life to do this, how did you do this? This is crazy’.
“It’s interesting to see that the first time that I won [the Top 100 DJs poll] it was for making our music cross over into the mainstream, and for me, it was also the fight to have our culture more recognised,” he continues. “I was always feeling strongly about the quality of our music, and thinking ‘Why are we not as big as hip-hop or rock or pop? Why is the music industry looking down on us?’ I think all those hits — ‘I Got A Feeling’, ‘Sexy Bitch’, ‘When Love Takes Over’, ‘Memories’, all those records that became global No.1s — made our scene more respected in the music industry. And also everybody got more money!”
Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that Guetta lifted up the whole international scene via his hit-making efforts. Here was a guy who started out playing hip-hop and running clubs in Paris, who got into house music and made it his life for the next two decades, suddenly having mainstream success after paying his dues for many years. “When I started there was absolutely no money in this industry, and we did it for the passion and the love, y’know?” he says. “Then a few American DJs — thanks to the UK — started to become famous and charge a little more.”
He talks about being incredulous when US house DJ/producer David Morales would speak to him about charging five-figure sums for a DJ set — “at the time that was completely crazy to me, unbelievable” — and how making things more accessible has always been at the core of what he does. “That was always my thing, since I started — even as a DJ, my thing was always to take my inspiration from the underground and find a way to make it more accessible, and more melodic, with more harmonies and stuff,” David says. “I’m a musical person, I like melodies and harmonies. Even when I was playing house in the clubs and it was more underground, I would take a more underground instrumental and play a classic house acapella on the top so that people would accept the strange beat more easily. I’m talking about the early Masters At Work days and all of this.
“I would play all those crazy underground beats at the after-parties, and I wanted to be able to play also during the normal club-nights, so my trick was like, ‘OK, I’m gonna filter down and at some point drop a famous house acapella, so that my crowd — which at the time was a very house crowd — can relate’,” he continues. “Then I would drop it again. I always loved the combination between very dark beats and soulful acapellas.”
His oeuvre became more accessible in the second half of the ’00s thanks to his F*** Me I’m Famous parties in Ibiza and releases like mournful paean ‘Love Is Gone’ and his mash-up of his own ‘Love Don’t Let Me Go’ with festival freaks The Egg’s ‘Walking Away’, teeing himself up to gatecrash the mainstream via collabs with A-listers like Akon, Rihanna, Snoop, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Bieber and more. Now he was famous — and rich. He was happy cruising along at the top of his game for much of the last decade, having monster hit records and headlining festivals, but then two or three years ago he started feeling like there was a lack of big tunes to play at his EDM shows.
“In my circle of friends, including a lot of EDM DJs, I was always complaining, ‘Oh my god’,” he says. “I was really frustrated because I didn’t have the music to play out in sets. In the last few years, the more exciting music came from the underground — it brought more to the table than EDM — but because I was more stamped ‘EDM’, people were expecting me to play EDM. So when I was playing underground the reaction was… nice, but just OK in terms of energy, because I’m playing to huge festivals and arenas, and this music is made for clubs. And then when I was playing EDM it was working but I was frustrated because I’m like ‘Oh my god’, like I’m playing the same record since three years, y’know? So I needed to create a new sound.”
Guetta had already created his Jack Back house alias, but needed some new tunes to play at his big room shows, too. Along with his pal MORTEN from Denmark, now based Stateside, he started to develop a new sound in 2019. “We developed it together, and basically we’re using a lot of inspiration from the underground — from the melodic techno scene, the techno scene, more minimal type of music also, and the emotion that you can find in trance,” Guetta explains. “Trance almost became a shameful word lately.”
With techno drums, a trance sensibility and EDM dynamics, the pair’s ‘Never Be Alone’ — featuring singer Aloe Blacc — set the template for what Guetta has dubbed ‘Future Rave’. Uplifting powerdriver ‘Make It To Heaven’ soon followed last year, but then coronavirus struck. “The confinement happened right after we started Future Rave, and my first reaction was ‘Why would I release music?’” Guetta says. “I’m trashing records, because I can’t have the support from DJs as there’s no events. Then I thought again, and the fans still need the music — people that have been supporting Future Rave. This was a heavy conversation I had with MORTEN — we should do it for the fans. We’re not going to tour it, making a record a hit by playing it in every festival, but we should not abandon our scene, which is why I decided to do the EP with it. I wanted to show even more love in a difficult moment.”
Guetta needn’t have worried about there being no live events to build a big record. His 22 million YouTube subscribers ensured that the technoid ‘Detroit 3AM’ and trance-tinged ‘Kill Me Slow’ racked up millions of streams — Future Rave was out of the starting blocks with a bang.
“It’s interesting that with Future Rave I’m bringing elements of trance, when trance is not popular anymore,” he observes. “I’m always trying to do something that is forward-thinking, that is different. So basically, it’s a combination of techno, of trance, with the production techniques of EDM. It’s that rave spirit, but maybe in a more accessible way?
“I really believe that production-wise, EDM producers are really, really advanced — sonically it’s very, very strong, it’s just that at some point I feel it became too formulaic. It became too much of a format. We’re into dance music because at first we didn’t want the format, we wanted more freedom to express ourselves with music that was different.”
A lurch back towards the drawn-out melodies of trance, and a slight shift away from the ADHD drop-filled EDM pop sound, has given Guetta a new lease of life for his big main stage sets. “I took two years to dedicate all my efforts into DJ culture without trying to do any crossover records,” he says. “So I went a little bit against the grain — when a lot of DJs are actually trying to make pop music, I did it the other way around. If I’m honest I did it for myself because I was going nuts and I made the music that was missing in my set. But I’m also doing this for the culture — for everyone. To keep my scene exciting. It makes me very happy that people appreciated this, basically.”
It’s his renewed attention on DJ culture that he credits for his No.1 placing in the Top 100 DJs poll this year. “It’s such a satisfaction to see a return for my efforts,” he says. “What’s interesting is that the first time I won was for ‘commercialising’ our scene, and this time I won for the opposite reason. This time you have the EDM scene that went super-pop, and I am the one who went, ‘This is too much, this is too formulaic, I’m going back to my roots’. That’s why it tastes so amazing.
“Winning because you have a hit record — or hit records — is, of course, a huge satisfaction,” he continues. “But winning for choosing to be less commercial is even more of a satisfaction. It feels like those two moments of my life have had a cultural impact on our scene. And our scene is my life, since I was a teenager. So of course it matters more than anything to me.”
When Lockdown happened for many countries in the spring of 2020, the music industry's live scene ground to a halt. With people locked down in their homes, some DJs started to lift spirits by doing live streams from their bedrooms. Guetta, meanwhile, commandeered the pool deck on top of the trendy Icon Brickell tower in downtown Miami on April 18th to play a United At Home big production fundraising set. Surrounded by people partying on the balconies of other nearby tower blocks, when he kicked off with his Sia collab ‘Titanium’ — indisputably one of the top three most impactful, empowering tracks of the EDM era — it was undeniably A Moment. “Miami, we are titanium!” he shouted on the mic, clad in his Future Rave t-shirt, endeavouring to bring hope to an uncertain populace.
“I was like, ‘We are entertainers, we’re supposed to come with big shows’,” Guetta says, somewhat modestly. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to play in my bedroom in front of nobody’, so I’m going to do it in the middle of towers so that people are on their balconies, and even though they’re kinda separated I have a crowd in front of me — and I can feed from them.”
“If you’d have seen the love, the happiness, the reactions from the people in Miami — it was insane. Unbelievable,” he continues. “That confirmed for me how important it is what we all do as DJs. Even when I stopped playing in Miami, people kept screaming and making noise with saucepans or anything they had on their balconies. I received thousands and thousands of messages thanking me for this moment where they forgot about everything. This shows how important our culture is.”
He raised an incredible $1.5m for US food bank charity Feeding America, the World Health Organisation, and other charities concerned with Covid-19 relief. “That was crazy for an online event, we did 50 million views with social media, which is like some of the biggest global TV shows — it’s insane,” he says. “But of course everybody was bored to death at this moment and didn’t know what to do, so they were watching social media.”
He did another United At Home live stream a month later up a New York skyscraper, beginning with a re-do of Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State Of Mind’ by way of an intro, and including a track — utilising Martin Luther King’s historic I Have A Dream speech — made in honour of George Floyd, the Black man whose murder by a cop a few days previously kicked off the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and across the world. “The world is going through difficult times…” Guetta said on the mic, “I really hope we can see more unity and more peace.”
It’s impossible to fault David Guetta’s desire to bring people together; to unite different cultures, colours and creeds through the power of electronic dance music. The odd big gesture of his may seem cringeworthy to some, but of all the big names he’s arguably the most humanitarian, well-meaning and genuinely idealistic. “This year I took some risks,” he says. “Of course, whenever I do something I’m a nice target, you know what I mean?”
DJ Mag wants to know if he’s shielded from any criticism, if it washes over him, or if any of it stings?
“It hurts me, of course,” he replies. “There are some mysteries around my career that I’m not sure why they exist. Like, why is it that there are some rumours that I’m playing a pre-recorded set, or all these crazy things? It’s so fucking insane!”
DJ Mag points out that his skills DJing with vinyl in clubs are well documented on film and such-like. “Man, when I was 18 years old I was doing scratch shows. It’s so weird, I don’t even know where this is coming from. So yes, when it’s so stupid like this it does affect me, and I shouldn’t be affected — it’s part of success, and with anyone reaching a certain level of success there’s jealousy. There’s people that wanna be cool, and the way to be cool is by saying that you don’t like what everybody else is liking — this is the definition of being cool.
“There are moments of my career, because I’ve been doing this for many years, where I feel like I’m too ahead, moments where I feel like I’m too late, and magic moments where I make music that is credible and that is also touching masses,” he continues. “That I have crossover success, and also respect from the scene. Those moments are not easy — this is the most difficult thing — because to be only commercially successful is very hard, but not that hard. And to be very respected and credible is hard, but not that hard. But to have it at the same time is the hardest thing — ever.”
He starts talking about being a huge fan of ARTBAT, CamelPhat and Tale Of Us, and how he had a lot of fun a couple of years ago playing back-to-back with Solardo at Hï Ibiza one night. “Actually I really appreciate those guys,” he says. “When I started Jack Back, I was inspired by CamelPhat and Solardo, they welcomed me and encouraged me and I’m really thankful for that. I wish there was more solidarity between the different scenes. Honestly, this exists between DJs, cos we all have the same life — it doesn’t matter if you play trance, if you play techno, if you play house or if you play EDM, we are all DJs, we are all passionate about music. But sometimes, for some reason, the fans feel more tribal and start to hate on the other crowd, and I don’t think it should be like this — especially when we’re going through such tough times at the moment. This [pandemic] shows that we are actually One, because we are all in the same situation right now.”
“This is one of the beauties of dance music — it’s about love and passion,” he continues. “In the last few years, with our music crossing over and being more successful and becoming a real industry, I’ve also witnessed a lot of new attitudes. DJs dissing other DJs — negative stuff. That was never part of our culture; it was maybe part of hip-hop culture or even rock at some point, but we were always about being One, always about love.”
When DJ Mag asks Guetta about racism in the dance scene, he gives a very powerful answer: “Racism is the most terrible thing. It’s really crazy, and so ignorant, because our scene comes from black gay clubs. Some fans, or even some new DJs, don’t know about this — they haven’t been through the struggle. I remember when I did ‘Sexy Bitch’ [with Akon] receiving tons of racist messages saying that I was a traitor to our culture for selling our music to Black people! I’m like, ‘You’re so fucking ignorant, our music comes from Black music — disco and funk, and definitely from Black clubs in Chicago and New York’. This is so crazy, so ridiculous — we were always about tolerance, love and freedom. Never about racism — this should never exist in our world.”
Guetta thinks taking divisive bad attitudes from other music genres shouldn’t be a part of dance music culture. “What is happening to us right now — being neglected by governments — is showing us again that we need to be all together to be stronger,” he says. “So that we can survive. I think it’s so terrible that all governments are completely ignoring us right now. It’s like we are nothing. I’m feeling the frustration at not being respected again, like I used to feel 20 years ago — and I really thought it was impossible to go back to that situation.”
David has been living at his place in London for most of the time in recent months — spending time with his kids, and making music practically every day. DJ Mag mischievously asks him if he shouldn’t be starting to retrain as a plumber or something, in light of what UK government ministers have said about jobs in The Arts not being viable.
“In the UK, they said it. In the rest of the world, they didn’t say it but they mean it,” he says, curtly. “It’s incredible that they would have the guts to say it.”
“This is taking me back to those moments when I started, and I really thought this time was over, because I think the new generation doesn’t necessarily realise the fight that it was at the time to make our culture what it is,” he continues. “Everyone was looking down on us because we weren’t classically trained musicians, because we were associated with drugs or gay music, or all of this. I really felt like we’d established, we’ve done the job all together to be the same as every other cultural movement, and now I feel like we’ve gone back 20 years, you know what I mean? It feels like, ‘We’ve done all of this for nothing?’ Crazy.”
He asserts dance music’s part in youth culture — “and not only youth culture, actually” — and the economic weight of our industry, and is annoyed at how the authorities in some countries seem to have forgotten that dance culture exists. “Of course, I’m a very privileged person and I’m conscious of it, that’s why I tried to help during Covid,” he says, “but there are thousands and thousands of DJs who are independent contractors — freelance — and there’s also the tour managers, the light guys, the club promoters, the security guards, everyone who is living in our industry. I feel like everyone is being helped, except our industry. For me, I can survive through this — I’m privileged because I have enough money on the side that I can go through these hard times — but I’m really asking myself how everyone else is going to be. It’s terrible.”
He then launches into a passionate diatribe about the importance of the dance scene globally. “People need to release, forget about their problems, people need to dance, people need to meet other people that are not necessarily from the same social circle,” he says. “Life is so formatted, it’s terrible. The only place where it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, if you’re Black or white, if you’re gay or straight is the club or the festival. This is the only place in society where there are no social barriers. I really feel that what we are doing is important for people to meet, and I really feel that clubs are incredibly important for social evolution. It’s crazy to say that there’s thousands of people who dedicated their life to a culture, and they now just need to retrain for something else?”
As people in the East London photography studio start clearing up around us, talk turns to the return of events and how this is going to be possible. Guetta reveals that he chose not to play any shows over the summer, but hopes there will be a way back in early 2021. “Let’s work on a way to make it possible,” he says. “I went to Berlin last week, I had a test and I had the result after one hour. I am absolutely sure that people would be ready to wait one hour to get inside a festival. What would be the problem with that? My concern is: we can afford one year, but we can’t afford two.”
Most DJs get a buzz out of playing to a crowd in the flesh — has he missed that feedback immediacy? “Yes, terribly,” he replies. “Of course, of course. Everybody is different, but I’m definitely all about interaction with the crowd. As much as the virtual shows are really cool — and I was really happy to be there for Tomorrowland, because I’ve been there with them since day one, they’re always forward-thinking — the reality for me was that I was in front of a green screen. I really believe that DJing is about the energy moving around, not only from the stage to the people. It’s also from the people to the stage.
“When is it going to come back? Oh my god, I miss it so much. The people who don’t know about this don’t know how much people are missing it.”
Guetta starts talking about 2021, and how he looks to a positive future whenever he’s feeling a little bit down. “It’s happened to me a few times, that electricity would turn down when I’m in the middle of my set in a festival or a concert,” he says. “When I was a beginner I would feel, ‘Oh my god, this is a catastrophe, everyone is going to leave’. The reality is that when people have to wait and it’s coming back, the party is ten times better. So I’m hoping that 2021 is going to be the biggest party year in history! I’m visualising one whole year of non-stop partying. Imagine when they’re gonna press the button and we’re gonna get the green light? It’s gonna be so insane!”
“I was caught off guard with the news that we’re No.1 again,” an excitable Dimitri Vegas tells DJ Mag from Ibiza, having just finished 14 weeks of a residency at Ushuaïa with his brother Mike. “For us it was unreal, it was a big surprise, to be honest. We’re super-happy.”
The Greek-Belgian duo of Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike (real names Dimitri and Michael Thivaios) have returned to the throne after first being crowned No.1 in 2015, deposing Martin Garrix from his three-year reign.
The brothers had another banner year in 2019, with an exceptionally busy gig diary. Taking their distinctive blend of EDM, trap and other genres to huge venues across the world, they mention South America as being a particular highlight, with festival appearances in Chile and Argentina standing out.
“We did the Lollapalooza tour there,” Dimitri says. “We used to play South America so much, so that was like coming home. Next year we’re going to play there way more. We really miss the people, and the shows were so crazy.”
While the tag team also enjoyed shows in Asia and around much of Europe, their DJ residency in Ibiza was special for another reason. With Ushuaïa occupying nearly the same spot in Playa d’En Bossa as a hotel Dimitri Vegas played at 16 years ago when he was just starting out as a DJ, the duo’s appearances over the summer at the world-famous club illustrate just how far they’ve come from humble beginnings.
“It was at Club Playa D’en Bossa, which was a cheap 18-30 hotel,” Dimitri says. “I was doing the sound and lights, and I was DJing at a small spot next to the pool every day. Fast forward all these years, and there I am at the same spot, but it’s been turned into one of the biggest clubs in the world — into Ushuaïa — and instead of my shitty DJ booth by the pool, we play in one of the coolest spaces in the world. Coming back to a sold-out Ushuaïa, that’s something surreal. We’ve done our residency at Amnesia too, we’ve been doing this thing for many years and Ibiza is super-special to us, but I realised that technically, I’m DJing at nearly the exact same place, but seeing what has happened to the whole world in 16 years — you know?”
Despite their hectic schedule, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike managed to spend plenty of time in the studio, with a host of tracks and collaborations surfacing through Epic Amsterdam, Protocol, Armind and their own Smash The House label. These ranged wildly in style from the vocoder-led, raucous EDM of ‘Repeat After Me’, made with Armin van Buuren and W&W, to the slick R&B pop of ‘Selfish’, with singer Era Istrefi. They also worked with reality TV star, socialite and DJ, Paris Hilton, on a track entitled ‘Best Friend’s Ass’.
“She’s a very good friend,” Dimitri says. “She was with us in Ibiza and at Tomorrowland, and she did a song with my wife [MATTN]. She’s a great artist, a lot of fun, and a very good businesswoman, so we have a lot of respect for her.”
Collaboration is something that the duo very much enjoy, and something they’re used to; as Dimitri points out, their own project is a musical partnership, which requires compromise and patience.
“Being brothers, we hardly fit in the studio together because we end up arguing,” he says. “We both have a very strong opinion or idea of what something should be, and we’ve found over the years that it’s more constructive if one of us starts a project and then sends it to the other. The other will immediately say, ‘I like it’ or ‘I think it’s terrible’, and if the other one likes it, he’ll continue working on it. From the start Dimi and Mike has been collaborative, and we love to blend our own sound together with the sounds of other people. We’ve seen some amazing things happen by working with other artists, and we’re a fan of that — we think music gets pushed a lot further with the more influences you put in there.”
Perhaps the duo’s biggest single of late was ‘Instagram’, a tune that has taken on a life of its own beyond the Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike fanbase. “‘Instagram’ has been going crazy all over the world,” Dimitri says. “It’s now the theme song of one of the biggest shows in Latin America, so it’s been amazing to see.”
In addition to their Smash The House label, which saw releases in 2019 from Wolfpack, Danny Avila, MATTN, Chuckie and others, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike focused on developing their Garden Of Madness tour concept. An audio-visual spectacular designed for sizeable venues, in November it will commandeer New York’s capacious Expo Center for the first time, before moving on to venues in Liverpool and Antwerp.
“It’s the seventh year we’re doing these concerts in Belgium,” Dimitri says. “We’ve done more than 80,000 fans in one year. We’ve beat some of the biggest acts to ever tour Europe [in terms of gig attendance], and for us, after seven years to still fill those concerts is unreal. It’s become our winter Tomorrowland. “To expand this thing, and do our first New York Garden Of Madness, and to do our second one in the UK, it’s amazing. For next year we’re planning a couple more all over the world, to see our brand become a worldwide event.”
The brothers have plenty of new projects in the works, including a lot of new singles. But their top priority is making sure they cater to their original fans, by continuing to make the hefty dance tracks that got them noticed in the first place — in addition to more commercially-minded material. “We’re not going to forget our roots, so we keep releasing a lot of club songs,” Dimitri says. “It’s super-important to keep on making that club music, even if it’s just for our show. When people come to our show, they can hear music that they can’t find online. There’s always that aspect of giving uniqueness to your show, but we also find it important that we support the scene by keeping the vibe of club music alive.”
Like Mike has been busy working on solo material, which Dimitri says is very different from what fans might expect.
“It’s focused on Mike’s voice, it’s him really experimenting for himself as an artist and a singer,” he says. “I’m impressed by the whole thing. I love it and it’s important that he does his own vision there. I support and watch from the side-lines, and I’m super-proud.”
Dimitri, meanwhile, has embarked on his own new venture into movies, and promises that we’ll be seeing a lot more of him on the silver screen soon.
“I’m focusing on my acting career. I’m writing movies, producing movies. I’ve done a couple of very cool movie parts this summer, and there’s a lot more coming, so I hope to be able to announce a lot more next year.”
Do you submit your DJ setlists to the relevant royalties collecting society?
“Yes. Otherwise, things will be divided and not really in favour of electronic music artists.”
What more can we do to combat the mental health crisis in our scene?
“It’s the responsibility of your work surroundings, the people you work with, and also your own responsibility to try to find the right balance.”
Are you personally doing anything to improve the gender balance of line-ups?
“Our line-ups at festivals and events that we do have always been very balanced. One of the artists on our roster is my wife MATTN, we’ve just done a track with Paris Hilton, we’ve worked with NERVO. For us it’s not what gender somebody has, it’s a matter of, ‘Does this person fit on the line-up and do we think he or she is a great artist?’”
What changes have you made this year to be more environmentally friendly?
“At Tomorrowland, we try to do as much as we can. We try to reduce the footprint that we make as a festival, there are more steps towards biodegradable straws and cups.”
What was your favourite toy when you were a kid?
“For me and my brother, what was a big change was when we got our Nintendo. It came with a set of rules from my parents, who were terrified by the machine, and we would sneak out in the middle of the night to play the thing.”
What’s your guilty pleasure?
“I can only speak for myself, ’cause it’s really not Mike’s thing, but I’m a gigantic comic book and pop culture fan, so I have a collection of movie replicas, props, all that kind of stuff.”