Dutch DJ Afrojack: 'I Want to Change the Party Scene' (Q&A)

Kyleen James

Photographed for THR's "Pop Goes the World" music portfolio, the EDM star talks about his forthcoming debut album and the challenges that come with being a major label artist.

Dutch DJ Afrojack (ne Nick van de Wall), best known for adding the EDM touch to such hits as Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything” and David Guetta’s “Titanium,” has a big advantage over his singing and guitar-slinging peers in the rock world and it comes in a small package: his only instrument is a laptop computer that rarely leaves his side.

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“My hard drive contains all my music from the last six years,” he says. “It does not go in luggage carts, nobody carries it for me, it stays on my lap, shoulder or in the overhead bin, nowhere else. I’d travel naked as long as I have that bag.” Fortunately for the stewardesses of the world, it hasn’t come to that.

The 26-year-old producer and celebrity DJ (he sits at No. 9 on DJ Magazine’s Top 100 DJs of 2013 list) scored a major label deal with Island Def Jam. A long-awaited album is due out in the spring. With a residency at Hakkassan in Las Vegas, in addition to gigs in Ibiza, Australia and everywhere in between, Afrojack only travels private now (a luxury introduced to him by David Guetta), even when it doesn’t make much economic sense.

“Private jets and first class flights [sometimes] cost more than I actually got paid, so I thought, I have to step it up … and make at least half a song every time." he says. "It was like a motivational thing."

You had your pick of several labels to sign with, why did you ultimately go with Island Def Jam?

It was funny, actually. I was on a path of hype. People were talking about EDM, and I was up there in the front. Everyone wanted to meet me, so I basically met with every major label in my studio and played some of my music. I studied psychology for a couple of years as a personal hobby, so you start learning about people and listening to your intuition, like when you you're feeling that people are not being entirely straight with you. The only person who came across like he could actually mean something was [Island Records president] David Massey. He understood my vision -- that I don’t just want to be a guy in the studio, making the music. I want to perform live, I like communicating with my fans. Even though the other people were really powerful and really good -- like [Republic Records EVP] Charlie Walk was really impressive -- everyone was busy getting the forefrontman of EDM that no one was focusing on what are we going to do once we have him. They were just, like, "Yeah, now we can say we have Afrojack. What are we going to do? I don’t know, but we have him!"

Your debut album has yet to come out, what's the hold up?

I couldn't release anything because we have to create timing so that the album has a big impact. And I want the album to have a big impact so my fans go, "Woah, look at Afrojack go! I told you he’s the shit!" They’ve been advocates for me for the last five years. Three and a half million people are going to feel sort of shameful if the album doesn’t do well. So I don’t want to let them down. But you have to keep the parties happy: the label, the managers, the financial people, whatever. And that’s the thing that almost broke me last year. It used to be just me and the music. Now, it’s me and my music and 30 other parties and everything is really important that you cannot do this, you cannot do that, you have to do something like this. In the beginning, it was kind of rocky but eventually we all found our path and I’m really happy that I’m with them. With any other label, I can imagine how horribly wrong it could go and how pissed off I would be constantly. Now I’m just happy that it’s finished. I’m pretty sure it’s going to make the fans really happy. I really love 99 percent of what's on there. Like there’s maybe one small thing…

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You were one of the early adopters when it came to the EDM scene in Las Vegas. Now, looking back, what has dance music done for the city? 

Basically, it saved Vegas. When I first came to Vegas, everyone was talking about how they had a financial crisis and didn’t know what to do. Then, EDM came along, and more and more fans, and then you saw some of those fans grow into successful businessmen. And it just grew and grew and grew and now it grosses so much money there -- maybe $10-$15 million a night -- that’s a lot for the economy in one city. ... Vegas is like a continuous Miami music week. It keeps going. There’s always an EDM artist, and a lot of other artists, performing. It made the city alive again. It opened up the door for a whole new generation. Because if this didn’t happen, and the 21-year-olds to 24-year-olds never came to Vegas, they would miss it and it would die out. If it misses a generation, financially, it’s going to crumble. I think that’s the case for any kind of genre, any kind of scene, any culture. If you miss a generation, you’re f---ed.

Where's the strangest place you heard one of your songs? 

I went to see Paranormal Activity 5 a couple weeks ago and I was buying the tickets and heard “The Spark.” So I looked up and saw the Golden Globes television commercial. Then I remembered my manager telling me [the Globes] were using it as the theme of the commercials. I was, like, "Oh that’s cool." When you’re walking down the street or in the car just listening to the radio, and you’re, like , "Oh, that’s my song." You want to say, "Hey Mom!" That never changes. 

What's in store for 2014?

I think 2014 for me is going to give me the possibility to do even bigger things than anyone has done. I want to change the party scene -- like stop just being a DJ with lights, a big LED screen and oh-look-at-me speakers. There’s way more to a party and I think everyone knows it. I want to make it special. Every song, every form of art, clothing, shoes, it has to be special. 

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin