When you hear the name Tiësto, the first thing that comes to mind is EDM, but this acronym could easily mean something different to Electronic Dance Music; when describing Tiësto, the words Engaging Dynamic Mindset come to the fore. As we discuss his career, constant evolution, and latest release, Jackie Chan, his enthusiasm for music is clearly evident. With an extensive catalogue spanning over 20 years, his love for making music and DJing is clearly still coursing through his veins; speaking with him, you believe anything is possible. Constantly on the move between shows and the studio, we find Tiësto in London, after having headlined the May bank holiday weekend Creamfields show at The Steel Yard.
After being given such accolades as the ‘Greatest DJ of All Time’, and winning awards such as a Grammy, and the Edison Lifetime Achievement Award alongside such luminaries as David Bowie and U2, I ask Tiësto if he still pinches himself, and wonders how a boy from Brada got to where he is today.
“[smiles] Yeah, absolutely - every day! It’s just incredible... I feel like I can really enjoy everything,” opens the dance music icon. “I’ve done so much in my life, and I can always look back on it with a smile – and it’s still going. I played a show on Sunday at The Steel Yard for 15,000 people who were going crazy start to finish; it made me feel like I’d just started my career or something. Pretty special.”
Indeed. I ask Tiësto to regress, and take me back to his early DJ days.
“I started out at home, really - just listening to the radio, and other DJs mix records; it gave me an early interest. Then as soon as I went out and saw other people mixing records, I decided I need to do this as well,” Tiësto says, as I ask what was influencing him at that point. “It was dance music, like acid house, I think, that kind of style. I was into a lot of DJs from Belgium, and I remember going to all the Belgian dance clubs like Cherry Moon and La Rocca; the DJs playing there definitely had a big influence on me.”
Because he was so interested in how people created that kind of music, it was somewhat inevitable that Tiësto would also head into music production.
“I was intrigued,” he reflects. “It sounded so different, so I went to a random music store and bought a Roland DJ-70 sampler keyboard, which was a kind of ‘everything in one’. I started making my first tracks using that, but I realised pretty quickly that I needed to upgrade; when I started to get in contact with other producers, they told me what I should buy, and at that point, I started getting the really good stuff.”
Conversation turns to Black Hole, Tiësto’s own record label.
“I had previously released music on a label called Basic Beat, but I had this vision of melodic trance music, and no-one was wanting to put it out, because in Holland, club music was the really popular stuff,” he explains. “So I offered it to them first to release it, they said no, and then I had to start my own label. I pressed 500 CDs myself, with my phone number on the back, and just started selling; and my first release sold 10,000 copies, so it was a good start.”
Tiësto collaborated extensively with Ferry Corsten in the late ‘90s on the Gouryella trance project. I ask him how that relationship happened.
“That was a lot of fun,” he says. “I worked in a record store, and he was one of the regular visitors; Ferry would come there to buy records. He was already doing his System F stuff, and he was basically the biggest DJ house producer in the world, so I was like, ‘I want to see what you’re doing in the studio’, so he invited me over, and one afternoon, we made Gouryella.” Simple as that! What kit did you use, do you remember? “I had a Mackie mixer, and the Nord Lead [keyboard], and I was still on Cubase! It was all analogue - very different to now, with all the virtual plugins, FL Studio, and Ableton. We also used a lot of modular synths – Ferry had plenty of those!”
That collaboration was a big stepping stone for Armin van Buuren, who featured on a remix. I ask Tiësto if breaking new artists, and helping up and coming artists, is something that’s particularly important to him.
“Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been pretty much doing it my whole life, I guess, so I really like to break new artists,” he explains. “They give me inspiration, as well, so it works both ways. The biggest example is probably Martin Garrix. When I played at the Olympic Games in 2004, he was watching that with his mum, and she said, ‘that’s DJ Tiësto’. He was eight-years-old at the time, and he said, ‘I want to be a DJ like Tiësto’. Now, some 14 years later, he’s the biggest guy in the world, so that’s pretty cool! [laughs]”
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
The remix of Delerium’s Silence seems to be a defining moment in Tiësto’s career. I ask him to tell me about it.
“Yes, definitely a defining moment in my career. It was at the very start of my career, too - some 18 years ago – and that was really the start of everything, because Paul Oakenfold started playing that remix, and it became a Top 10 hit everywhere. After that track, I started getting bookings from all over the world. I had just done two remixes for a label in Belgium called Muse, then they said, ‘we have another one for you’. I was just about getting on a roll with remixes; I’d done one for Balearic Bill, and another one, and they said ‘would you like to remix Silence?’ And I loved the vocal, for a start - it’s an amazing vocal – and said ‘yeah, sure’. I just did it, and that was that. I remember it was for about €2,000, something like that. They made some good money on that track! [laughs]”
“I really like to break new artists; they give me inspiration...”
Tiësto is constantly evolving musically, having collaborated with artists such as Calvin Harris, Flo Rida, and a whole host of others. This is another part of his career that he feels is very important.
“I mean, that’s how you evolve,” he says, very matter of fact. “Calvin Harris is a great example. In 2009, I made the Kaleidoscope album. I worked with only indie artists like Sigur Rós, and Kele from Bloc Party. Calvin Harris was another game-changer in my career; that was like Tiësto 2.0! [laughs]. After that, I never looked back; I just kept moving on, and that’s something I’m very proud of.
“At that point [in 2009], I had to approach everybody, because what I was playing live, and how people knew me, was not necessarily what I was listening to at home, so I really wanted to combine the two.
“When I approached Sigur Rós for a collaboration, the guy was like, ‘wait, what, Tiësto?’ He had no idea, but I’d been a huge fan from the beginning, and I went to many of his shows, hung out backstage, and thats how we got to know each other. So he realised I was a real fan of his music, and then he was like, ‘OK then, it’s cool, I’ll do it’. Normally, he would have never done a collaboration, and he never did after! [smiles]”
I am intrigued to know what other influences Tiësto has outside of the EDM scene.
“I listen to everything, and I think Spotify really helps with that; you’re more exposed to different bands and music, and that’s how I discovered Post Malone, who I collaborated on [my latest single] Jackie Chan with, so it’s just completely different.
“It’s totally different to Silence! [laughs] I think in life, everyone evolves, and everyone changes. Your personality changes a little bit, too: what kind of food you like, for example. And it’s the same for music, that’s the beauty of it. If you can stay kind of relevant, and be part of the whole scene for so many years, that, for me, is something I’m really proud of.
“For Jackie Chan, we were in the studio together - there is another version with different verses, and only one part of Post [Malone]. Preme played it for us in the studio in LA, and we wanted to do something with the track; we loved it right away.
“Then we came up with a little guitar riff at the beginning, and that changed the complete vibe of the track; we thought it should be a single release, because it’s so good, and different to anything else out there.”
“These days, you get a studio session, they write five songs, send them to you, and you pick the best one, change the music completely underneath, and then you find a new vocalist, and then it all comes together,” Tiësto reveals, adding that his world is very much digital when it comes to music production. “It’s all plugins, really, and I’m working in either Ableton or Logic. It’s not much analogue anymore, as almost no studios have the kit.
“If there is one bit of kit I couldn’t do without, it’s Ableton; I like it a lot, because you can put down ideas very quickly, so it’s a good starting point, and then you can easily just take it over to a bigger studio later on.”
Tiësto recently headlined at Creamfields in London. I ask him how it was, and what can we expect from him next on the live scene.
“The London show was incredible,” he enthuses. “I was extremely happy with the turnout, and the crowd sang along with every track. The second track I played was a new one, and that isn’t even out yet, yet everybody was singing along! I was really surprised about that
“The English crowds are always really good to play to – they’re very well educated about dance music. I have a long history here, as I started playing here a long time ago in the Gatecrasher days, and at Creamfields. I have been coming here forever; it’s a yearly thing which I love being a part of; it’s just incredible!”
More than ever in today’s industry, an artist really has to build a brand. Tiësto has featured in DJ Hero, and was recently involved in a project with Armani. What next for his brand?
“I’m always looking at stuff,” he says. “I’m definitely working with a fashion brand; not just to put my name on it, more to collaborate, so that’s going to happen after the summer. I’m also working with some big beer brands, and that’s always good, because they can help you with the production. I like to work with brands that can bring something extra to the table, not just for the money, but to get people a nice experience; and that, I think, is very important.”
Nice to hear. It appears there really is no stopping the train that is Tiësto, with his genuinely unique EDM mentality.