Questions and Answers: Tiesto – Interview by

Tiësto, Mixmag’s #1 DJ of All Time, doesn’t rest easy even with titles like that. His College Club Life tour has been roaring through American universities for the past couple of weeks and climaxes this weekend at Home Depot Stadium, a 26,000 capacity venue, with the event billed as the largest single DJ headline show in U.S. history.

After a whirlwind year that included being on the cover of Billboard magazine, with a eye-popping yearly salary routinely deployed by journalists to demonstrate the still growing draw of dance music, Tiesto took some time to talk with Mixmag about his career changing club experience, social media, and if he’ll ever make an album of minimal techno.

You’re playing to 26,000 people this weekend. Even after doing this for so many years, what goes through your head when you first go onstage and actually see 26,000 people waiting to see you?

Well, it never gets boring. I’ve seen it many times, but it ’s always a whole new crowd, and this is a whole new thing for America as well. America isn’t used to Djs playing stadiums. This is the first one. It altogether makes it very exciting.

How have the crowds on the current tour acted different than in the past considering the tour caters specifically to American college students?

The difference is that they are a lot louder, a lot more energy and open to everything I play. They’re super enthusiastic about the music and it’s inspiring.

Fans talk about trance with terms like “epic” or instrumental “grandeur.” What feelings or emotions are you trying to evoke with your music?

It’s just the whole life feeling, living in a club. But it can be outside as well, of course, but it’s more like a distinct package, a way of living. The lyrics, the melody, the rhythm, the energy. It’s just about good vibes.

How would you approach a set differently playing in a club versus a stadium?

Club would give me more time to do a softer approach to the music. I can have more patience, where for a big outdoor show I always play two hours, sometimes three hours, and I am for more big tunes. Bigger melodies, bigger vocals. In a club you can be more intimate.

Your music has changed over the years. What events in your life took place, personal or professional, that contributed to the evolution of your style

Quite a lot actually! I was going out to clubs a few years ago. And when I was there, I heard the DJs play and they were playing more of everything. It wasn’t just one style of music they played, they played all kinds. I really liked that approach, so it’s my goal to become more like that myself. I don’t want to say an open form DJ – that sounds weird – but to get influenced by other stuff outside of the trance world. More indie vocals, electro DJs, and house music. It was a big eye-opener for me and my production started to shift to where I’m at now.

Is there anything that inspired to start to do more vocal-based productions? So much of your music the past few years is vocals-heavy compared to earlier work.

I think it’s just important in my sets because I like to have lyrics in my sets nowadays. But I also still make instrumental ones. ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’, ‘Maximal Crazy’. So those instrumentals are still out there as well.

Speaking of ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ and ‘Maximal Crazy’, those are titles that blatantly encourage hedonistic partying, having a great time. How do you like to party when you aren’t behind the decks getting 26,000 other people to party?

I would be front row in the crowd! I would be right there with them, jumping and screaming and singing along.

Are you still able to go out and see other DJs?

Yeah, if I have time. If I can, I also see DJs. I love dance music, so like at festivals, I always am backstage watching other DJs. That’s my favorite part. You meet everybody, talk about music, listen to each others sets. Like at an Electric Daisy festival, or Creamfields in England. They’re always a few of the highlights in the year because you catch up with the other DJs that are playing.

You mentioned you like putting vocals in your music because they work better in your shows. Do you have any plans to go further and try to penetrate the American pop mainstream in the way someone like David Guetta has?

No! I don’t have that desire at all, actually. I feel like I’m more of an underground DJ compared to the pop/mainstream world. My music for some people is commercial type music, but in general it’s not radio friendly. I like where I am. I don’t need to be in that more poppy arena, it doesn’t fulfill me to be honest. I’d like to make a great track and have people love it, but if it’s number 1 or in the top 100 or lower, it doesn’t matter to me as long as when I play it out, the reaction of the crowd loves it as if it was #1 for them

You’re as underground as you can get while still playing to 26,000 people, I would say.

Yeah, exactly. But what do you call that? Am I commercial underground?

What do you think has led to the American dance scene exploding into the mainstream the last few years? Electric Daisy Carnival and the events like that.
What do you think are the factors? You’ve been playing to huge crowds in Europe for years now.

I think the whole exposure through social media helped a lot. Three or four years ago, people wouldn’t really be exposed to dance music here. All they’d hear is the radio stuff and MTV, but MTV here only had reality shows. It’s called “music television!” But it was all that reality crap. But with Facebook, and with Twitter, and others over the past few years, it’s easier to pass things around. You can put up a video of electronic music you like, and if your friends love it then it’s a snowball effect.

And there’s been such a large segmentation of dance genres as people discover it. Is there any specific type of electronic music your fans would be surprised to know that you listen to?

No, not really. Because whatever I like I can play, nowadays. Even if I like a dubstep song. I used to like a Skrillex remix of ‘Cinema’ by Benny Benassi, and I loved it, so every big show I started playing it in my sets every chance I would get. It probably wasn’t the most exciting things for the fans, I think, but in general if I like something electronic it ends up in my sets or my radio show.

Do you think your fanbase would be closed off to the idea of you making, say, a minimal techno record? What restrictions have come with your level of success in terms of the audience response to risks you take?

Well, I think I would prove to them that I took a huge risk with the ‘Kaleidiscope’ album. Because when that took place, when it was initially released, everybody was shocked. It was not trance, people couldn’t place it, there was no pop music. It was an album a lot of people had to get used to. And for me it was a milestone in my career that took me in a different direction. I would play it after it’s release and people loved the style. And it’s being growing the last two years. I’ve been producing a lot of new music and playing it. I feel like after ‘Kalediscope’, for the next album I could do whatever I want. If I wanted to release a minimal techno record and I believed in it myself that it sounded great and could be a success, I would do it.

Mixmag readers voted you the #1 DJ of all time. You were on the cover of Billboard. After so many years of DJing, what meaning do those sorts of accolades hold for you anymore?

Well, it’s a nice compliment, really. It’s nothing overwhelming. It’s nice, but it’s not about the hype, it’s about playing for people and hearing a response, and that’s how feel no matter who you are. You could be the smallest DJ in the world for ten years but still sell out clubs or venues. What is that title really worth? It’s all about people listening to my music, or the reactions I get from my Twitter when I play, that for me means the most.

Before you play to that huge crowd this weekend, what’s your pre-show ritual and what’s the first thing you do when you get offstage?

My pre-show ritual is very routine. I’ve been preparing for my set the past few weeks testing out stuff. During the day I’ll listen to all the tracks and get a sense of my set, and about an hour before the show I’ll watch the other Djs before me, maybe have a few drinks, meet a few people. More relaxing time, I don’t think about a lot of stuff before the show. After the show is the same thing. I go back to the dressing room and hang out for a bit, think about the set, talk about it, meet more people, meet the promoters, and then go home. It’s very simple, actually.

What do you think you’ll do when this tour ends? What are your plans for 2012?

2012? Well, I think the first six months will be doing some different stuff. I’m not going to do many gigs, just a couple of club gigs here and there to stay in shape, but in general I’m going to focus purely on production. I want to make more music over the weeks and explore other stuff. I have a lot of plans for next year, but not necessarily DJing.

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  1. What do you think you’ll do when this tour ends? What are your plans for 2012?

    2012? Well, I think the first six months will be doing some different stuff. I’m not going to do many gigs, just a couple of club gigs here and there to stay in shape, but in general I’m going to focus purely on production. I want to make more music over the weeks and explore other stuff. I have a lot of plans for next year, but not necessarily DJing.

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