Dialogue: DJ Tiesto flows into mainstream
EmptyTiesto, the world's pre-eminent DJ, performed live for a worldwide audience of billions during the opening ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. He played in front of 200,000 fans in January at Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro and closed the second night of Southern California's Coachella festival in May, following Red Hot Chili Peppers on the main stage.
On Aug. 11, the Dutch DJ performed a 5 1/2-hour set in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 15,000 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. It was the largest-ever single-DJ show in North American history, featuring full-production and arena-scale theatrics the likes of which the dance community has never seen.
While the DJ culture in America is firmly entrenched in the underground, Tiesto is capitalizing on his worldwide stature to not only bubble into the American mainstream but create an American mainstream.
As major labels renew their interest in acts influenced by electronic and dance music and the DJ culture becomes more prominent among the jet set, dance music is poised to break through in America as it has around the world. Tiesto spoke this week with Paul Gargano for The Hollywood Reporter, addressing not only his music but the emerging scene he exists within.
The Hollywood Reporter: You are the biggest DJ in the world in terms of audience and commercial exposure. Does your success worldwide make it easier to focus on America, where DJs still occupy an underground scene?
Tiesto: I think it helps, yes, but I never looked at America as one of my targets. I look at America as my little playground. What I like about America is that I can be famous when I go into a club, but I can walk here on Sunset (Boulevard in Los Angeles) and nobody knows who I am. I'd like to get bigger, of course, and make more people aware, but this is a very difficult place to achieve that.
THR: Do you think the reputations and perceptions of the DJ and dance scenes contribute to that?
Tiesto: Yes, I think that there is a lot of damage to the scene from back in the day.
THR: How do you hope to change that?
Tiesto: We need to get people to the shows ... my shows. I am the living proof that dance music has evolved, and that it's not just about drugs anymore. People are really into the music. Look at the people on the Internet; look at my MySpace page, I have numbers that are better than the most "credible" artists. I think we need to draw more people to the shows because that's how it will grow. I've noticed that there are more people coming out, too -- people are curious.
THR: Describe the impact Coachella had for you this year, closing the main stage after the Chili Peppers.
Tiesto: It was big. Not only did people stay after the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but they enjoyed themselves, and many of those people didn't know who I was. Even the owner of Coachella was impressed that there were like 75,000 people in the open field. But we're not there yet. A lot of the big-time reporters didn't even give it the chance. "Oh, the Chili Peppers are finished, we can go home now." But the people who stayed and saw the show, they were impressed. The buzz after the show was amazing, and now we're doing more festivals, as well, like Voodoo (Music Experience, Oct. 27 in New Orleans). Coachella even wants me again.
THR: Many of the world's biggest DJs don't make an effort to tour America. Is it because they're treated like superstars overseas and don't get the same notoriety here?
Tiesto: I think it's really got to do with their own attitudes. In the beginning, the first time I came to America, I played for 400 people and got $500. But I loved it, and the crowd was inspiring because it's not as developed as it is in Europe. It was refreshing to have the superstar status over there, then come here and play for less people in smaller clubs. That was in 2000. I started in 1998, and it was in 2002 that I got big in Europe. ... I've still got a couple years left. (Laughs.) You can definitely feel it growing here.
THR: Without the commercial foundation and industry support in America, how do you go about developing as an artist?
Tiesto: I think I'm just very lucky to have the Internet. American culture is dominated by a small group of people that decide everything; the same people own all the radio stations, the magazines and the record companies, so they decide what people are going to like. But I think that's changing now -- rapidly. Young bands are popping up because of places like MySpace, and music is less controllable now.
THR: How did you get started as a DJ?
Tiesto: I was really a music lover. My first music love was heavy metal -- Metallica, and I'm a big Iron Maiden fan. I made rock tapes in the beginning, then later on I made dance tapes. I would mix sounds and cut them up on tape decks. I would take tracks from Iron Maiden and make it like I was at their live concerts, with the audience, leads and the reverb, and I'd play them for my brother and tell him that I had exclusive Iron Maiden concerts. That's how I started! (Laughs.) But I like all music -- if somebody is good, they're good. Like the "Lovestoned" (Justin Timberlake) song that I just remixed, that's just a really good song.
THR: Mash-ups and remixes are the rage today, especially in celebrity party circles. Does the media focus on the different styles of DJs who aren't trance help or hurt your scene?
Tiesto: At the moment, I think everything helps, because there's nothing. I was at Area, a club here in L.A., and they played like four or five dance songs -- at least that's something. I feel like it's getting there. In Europe, hip-hop is getting stronger because we never had that culture, but it's been here since the '90s, the '80s even. People are more tired of it here, I think, and dance is becoming more popular. It attracts nice crowds, beautiful women, models. ... You see it in Vegas, dance is getting big. The crowds are changing because the people are. You have so many immigrants from Latin America and Europe, and they grew up with dance music, so that helps as well. They draw each other in.
THR: Your full production is very ambitious, and where you can perform late enough, your sets are more than five hours long. That's quite the undertaking.
Tiesto: Well, that's why I did it -- because it was difficult to do! (Laughs.) I used to play two-hour sets, and then the commercial, mainstream crowds who listened to the radio and stuff, they weren't happy because I only played four or five of my own tunes, and the core fans weren't happy, either, because they don't want to hear those tracks anymore. They want to hear new stuff and deeper stuff. ... I'm caught between being a DJ and an artist, so the first 2 1/2 hours I present the new album ("Elements of Life," on Ultra Records), you have the four elements that are the theme of the tour, then I have the one hour that I call the power mix: all the biggest Tiesto tunes and everything is synched -- the visuals, lights, effects, pyrotechnics, everything. The last portion is Tiesto the DJ, an old-school-type set with trance records and big dance anthems.
THR: In trying to juggle the mainstream crowds with more underground fans, do you worry about alienating people?
Tiesto: That is a good question. It's really hard to say because of course you want the credibility from everybody, but you can't make everybody happy. I think I always stayed loyal to my true fans. I was playing techno music not really to be mainstream, but it became mainstream. That's why I'm so convinced that if people come to this show and give it a chance, they'll see that it's not a rave, and that dance has evolved and that it is a very professional performance.
THR: Do you feel optimistic that there is an opportunity for a scene to emerge in America?
Tiesto: Yes. I think dance music has got to blow up here; it's just a matter of time. It needs to professionalize a lot more, and that's the thing that hasn't happened yet. We started with nothing in the '90s, and the new people coming up now, even the DJs, are evolving. The responses to the shows in America have been phenomenal, and I think I'll come back next year and do a proper tour everywhere, with the full production. If I can take it to the level I'm thinking of, then I definitely think it will blow up.