Tiësto Returns With "Elements of Life," Another Crowd-Pleasing Dish of Melodic Trance. But Is The World's Biggest DJ Still Following His Muse?
No matter how you feel about him or the stature heís attained, thereís no escaping the fact that TiŽsto is probably the best-known DJ on the face of the planet right now. Along with Germanyís Paul van Dyk, Hollandís TiŽsto (born Tijs Verwest) commands the worldís largest per-show audience.
Of course, this says something about the continuing popularity of trance as a genre, but it also indicates TiŽstoís basic understanding of his fanbase. He serves exactly what his audiences crave: euphoric, uplifting, melodic trance interspersed with blazing techno. Itís a show he delivers with a consistency and a formula that global audiences continue to eat up.
His accolades and accomplishments continue to raise the bar for DJing. After years of club and radio hits like ďFlight 643,Ē TiŽsto became the first DJ to perform during the internationally televised ďParade of AthletesĒ opening ceremony at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. An estimated 3 billion viewers tuned in worldwide. His TiŽsto In Concert shows (recorded onto DVD) come complete with live musicians, acrobatics, and enough synchronized lighting and pyrotechnics to make Gene Simmons blush. At this yearís Coachella festival in Indio, Calif., TiŽsto closed out the main stage, taking the decks after the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This summer with his studio collaborator BT, TiŽsto will play throughout Europe in arenas, where audiences of 35,000 are considered ďthe smaller venues.Ē
With the release of his third artist album, Elements Of Life (Black Hole/Ultra), the 38-year-old DJ pauses to reflect for a moment before boarding another first-class flight, speaking with DJ Times about the whirlwind surrounding himónamely its ups and downs and the challenges of pleasing his audience.
DJ Times: Elements Of Life is your third artist album, one with a contrast between proggier trance tracks and vocal-based, pop-y songs. What inspired this album?
Tiësto: Well, itís really about my experiences on the dancefloor in the last five or six yearsóthatís how long Iíve been really traveling around the world a lot.
DJ Times: I hear youíre touring and doing stadium-sized shows in Europe with BT this summer, with the smaller crowds numbering around 35,000 people.
TiŽsto: Yeah, I mean, itís really incredible!
DJ Times: This certainly isnít the first time youíve headlined stadium shows. Do you feel, though, that you lose a connection with the crowd when youíre DJing for 50,000 people? How do you connect with the people on that level?
TiŽsto: No, I donít feel that I lose any connection. When I play the stadiums, I still feel they are very intimate. It can still be what it used to be like in smaller gigs, when I played them. Now, the whole showís just me playing, and I have live vocalists performing onstage with me. Itís more like everyone is focused on one thing: the sound of TiŽsto. Everyone there is watching closely what I do. It still feels very intimate for that reason. If youíre in a big festival with 20 other DJs, I think you feel less connected when everyone is on the lineup. I still feel connected when I play big crowds.
DJ Times: How did you record Elements Of Life?
TiŽsto: Actually, we recorded that album all over the place! I spent two months with BT, and he worked on three tracks with me. Then I also took tracks to Holland and finished them there. Then, I recorded vocals on ďCan You Feel MeĒ in England and worked with Julie Thompson [from Holden & Thompson]. We were really all over the place, if youíre talking about where we recorded.
DJ Times: Is there one piece of equipment, or any particular software, that you would say is responsible for ďthe TiŽsto soundĒ?
TiŽsto: Thereís not really one piece of equipment that defines my sound. Itís more about the feeling in the tracks. Every time we are working in the studio, itís totally different. Sometimes, we will start with a bassline, sometimes with a vocal. You run into sounds that inspire you, and thatís how you make new tracks.
DJ Times: Five or six years ago, you said you would play around in the studio for hours, just tweaking knobs and playing around with the gear until you found a sound you liked, and then youíd build from that sound. Do you still play around in the studio like that, to discover new sounds?
Tiësto: Yeah, the sound inspires me, so I like to play around with gear a lot.
DJ Times: Are you still working with an engineer in the studio?
Tiësto: Yes, my engineer is Dennis Waakop Reijers-Fraaij.
DJ Times: Whatís in your DJ booth these days?
Tiësto: Well, Iím not playing vinyl anymore; Iím totally into CDs, now. For the bigger [arena] shows, I perform with four Pioneer CDJ-1000s and two Pioneer DVJ-1000sÖ
DJ Times: Four CDJ-1000s? Three arenít enough?
Tiësto: Well, some are just for little effects here and there. And maybe the other one has a cappellas for me to drop in. Nowadays I am totally into CDs.
DJ Times: For your live sets, have you tried your hand at laptop systems like Ableton Live or others?
Tiësto: No. Itís great for the home studios, but, for me, the sound quality is really poor when youíre playing in a big club. I like to have the CDs playing. I also think you lose some of the feeling of really mixing records, if youíre DJing with a laptop. A CD is almost the same as mixing vinyl, with the CDJ-1000. With a laptop, you lose some of that feel.
DJ Times: Have you experimented with Serato Scratch LIVE or Final Scratch, at all?
Tiësto: No, I havenít tried that yet. A lot of DJs have switched to SeratoÖbut I am happy playing CDs, for the moment.
DJ Times: What, in your opinion, makes a good DJ?
Tiësto: The most important thing is that you have to have a good ear for music, in order to really feel the music. There are many different kinds of DJs. There are DJs like Richie Hawtin, who is really like an ďart DJĒÖ
DJ Times: What do you mean by that? Heís a performance artist?
Tiësto: Yes. Then there are DJs who play for the people, like I do. I always like to entertain crowds and make sure that everyone goes home happy.
DJ Times: Is that why youíre so expressive when you DJ? You gesture a lot.
Tiësto: I try to listen to what the crowd wants and then give it to them. Donít forget that Iím very enthusiastic about the music I play, too. I am enjoying myself when Iím DJing. I am having a great time when Iím DJing!
DJ Times: Whatís the worst part of being so successful?
TiŽsto: [pause] Itís allgood! [laughs] No, really, I canít think of anything bad about itÖ
DJ Times: Címon, thereís got to be some downside, no?
TiŽsto: I travel wellÖ I always fly First Class. I eat wellÖ Thereís really no downside. Not at all. [pause] Although, maybe a downside is that after you become very popular, people expect more of you, and they always expect the same things as they know from the past, so itís very hard to evolve in your sound. People always know you for what you did in the past, and if you come up with something new, people say, ďThatís not TiŽsto.Ē Or ďHeís not the same anymore.Ē Yeah, that would probably be the only downside.
DJ Times: So, people identify you with a particular sound and theyíre not always as open-minded as youíd like them to be when youíre trying out new sounds?
TiŽsto: Yes, but I also gain a lot of new fans when I expand my sound. You have to evolve as an artist and as a person. If you donít evolve, you are cheating yourself, and you donít feel what you play anymore.
DJ Times: You play some really banging techno tracks during your sets, and your tracks ďLethal IndustryĒ and ďFlight 643Ē are among my favorites of your techier tracks. Do you still consider yourself a trance DJ?
TiŽsto: I think so. I think Iím still a trance DJ. The die-hard trance fans donít see me as a trance DJ, but the people deep into the scene still consider me a trance DJ. [laughs] My sound became so global and international, I feel like Iím a resident DJ of the world. In my sets, I play a little bit of house, I play trance, I play a little bit of technoÖbut I play mainly melodic music. Melodic music, thatís my sound.
DJ Times: Your sound has always been uplifting, euphoric, big-room and epic.
TiŽsto: Iím really happy with where I am now. If I just played trance music, Iíd end up where a lot of people donít like it anymore. I have to keep myself inspired. Nowadays, big DJs play a bit of everything. But people like to put me into a box.
DJ Times: What is Dance4Life?
TiŽsto: I named a track ďDance4LifeĒ on Elements Of Life, and it is my [non-profit] organization to help make people more aware of the HIV and AIDS problem in the world. The concept is, we give educational classes to let kids in the rest of Europe and in Asia learn about HIV/AIDS. In Western Europe, they raise money for the poor. We make the HIV/AIDS educational classes fun. Students get to go to a party if they succeed in the educational class. At the party, I play there for free. We try to make the education part fun.
DJ Times: Youíre utilizing your influence with the international community for a positive result, and trying to make learning about it fun.
TiŽsto: Exactly, and itís been really successful. In Europe, a lot of schools are joining the project because itís a fun project. Itís educational and entertainment at the same time. If you entertain kids the whole day and talk to them about awareness, it will stick with them. This program is for 13- to-18 year-olds. You can get more information about it on the dance4life.com website.
DJ Times: Who are some of the new crop of DJs you feel enthusiastic about, right now?
TiŽsto: Some new DJs like Sander Van Doorn and Serge Devant, Iím really excited about.
DJ Times: There seems to be quite a bit of buzz around Sander Van Doorn.
TiŽsto: I think heís great! Heís an awesome DJ, and he has a typical Dutch sound. He can grow big, if he continues to work hard. Thereís a lot of new talent coming through. I believe it is time for new DJs to come in. I donít really care anymore to be No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 [in the DJ polls]. I canít go any bigger. The only thing I can do now is bring these new guys up.
DJ Times: How are you supporting the new DJs coming up? Are you signing them to Black Hole Recordings, or taking them on tour?
TiŽsto: I play the shit out of their good tracks! [laughs] Thatís what happens with Carl B. from Sweden, Sander Van Doorn, Matthew DeKayÖIíve been hammering their tracks in my every set! I donít do any favors, but if someone is good, theyíll be successful. Because so many people hear me play, it helps new DJs or producers when I play their tracks a lot.
DJ Times: What advice would you give aspiring DJs trying to break into the scene now? The industry isnít the same today as when you first started.
Tiësto: I would tell them that itís difficult now to break through.Ē I would tell them that you should make a lot of records and produce lots of tracks. Iíd tell them to try to work for a record company, to get a job in the music industry, to do your networking more. Try to get a residency in a club. Thatís very important.
DJ Times: Are you playing any residencies?
Tiësto: My residency is a radio show on XM Satellite Radio on Saturday nights. Itís two-hours of a full presentation where I talk about the records. Itís not a straight mixshow. I have a ďFifteen Minutes Of FameĒ segment, I have the ďTiŽsto ClassicsĒ segment, I have the ďRemix Of The WeekĒ segment. Itís a real, proper show, and it takes a lot of time to do every week.
DJ Times: If you could change one aspect about the dance-music industry today, what would it be?
Tiësto: One thing about the industry now that Iíd change a bit, is everyone should just lighten up a bit and try to be more professional. The whole dance industry has always been a bit shady and darkÖthereís always been a lot of shadiness going on. Everyone should just be more professional. Think about your performance when youíre DJing. There are too many superstar DJs on drugs or drinking too muchóitís just not cool. Everyone should be more professionalópromoters, DJs, everyone.
DJ Times: How do you feel about the dance-music scene in the U.S. at the moment?
Tiësto: I feel that the dance-music scene in the U.S. is very promising! You can already see itóitís growing so fast. My shows are growing fast in the U.S., and Iím doing 5,000-to-6,000 person festivals in the U.S. I closed the main stage at Coachella on the Saturday night in April after the Red Hot Chili Peppers! All of the other stages were closed by the time I got onstage, so everyone came over to me. That says a lot, that a dance DJ can finish the main stage at such a big festival.