Photo by Rudger Geerling
By Paul Salfen
It’s amazing that Paul van Dyk is still with us. Last year at A State of Trance festival, the legendary trance DJ fell through a gap in the stage and had to be airlifted to a hospital. He’s spent the last year recovering from a spinal injury as well as severe brain injury.
Finally recovered enough to work on music and tour again, the German musician, 45, has just released a new single, aptly titled “Touched By Heaven” and is going on tour, which hits Dallas this week. His influence can be seen in current electronic music and the pioneer has previously won a German GRAMMY and was one of the first electronic artists to be nominated in the category in the US. Since his start in Berlin in 1991, van Dyk has been releasing music to an adoring audience since his first EP in 1994. His music has also been heard on numerous film soundtracks, TV shows, and video games.
AMFM Magazine: Your new single is called “Touched By Heaven” and that seems pretty appropriate considering your accident.
Paul van Dyk: Yeah, absolutely. It was rather close. If you listen to the track closely, it starts kind of with a rough pop and drops into this musical nirvana and this beautiful heaven-like melody, at least for my taste, pulls it back into reality.
AMFM: You’ve had a long road to recovery. How are you feeling now?
PVD: Well, it’s still going to be a long way. The doctors projected that it’s going to take four or five years until I’m at the point when I don’t actually feel any effects as such. At the end of the day, I’m still only going to reach 50% of what I was able to do before simply because of the injuries to the brain and to the spine.
AMFM: Is it harder to tour now?
PVD: Well, let’s put it this way: it takes much more. It’s much more exhausting and everything is more stressful in a way because the process was under attack. So that’s a bit of an issue and the whole neuro system was impacted, I’m still on a constant pain level. The great thing is that I’m still alive first of all, and that’s the most important thing and the other thing is that I can still make music and I’m very, very grateful for that.
AMFM: Music has a way of healing as well, too, doesn’t it?
PVD: Yeah, but I have to say, it was kind of scary. I pushed the first moment in the studio further and further away because my speaking system that’s in the part of the brain that’s responsible for speaking was impacted by the injuries and obviously the creative system was right next to it so it wasn’t clear if I was able to make music so I pushed the moment further and further away until the last second and I was mentally, creatively, and artistically able to still make music so that was good.
AMFM: So it looks like we might get a new album this year?
PVD: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s almost finished. It will come out after the summer. It’s not properly scheduled and doesn’t have a proper name yet so I know these would have been some of the questions right away but I will definitely play some things while I’m in Dallas so if you come to the show, you’ll definitely get a glimpse at what the next album will sound like.
AMFM: You’ve got so much great music to choose from. How do you pick what goes in a set?
PVD: Obviously there’s new music I want to play but I constantly get requests on Facebook and Twitter to play this and that. Obviously everyone asks to play “For An Angel” and “Time of Our Lives” and obviously “Everyone Needs Love,” which was very successful for us last year. So out of this it kind of becomes a set list and it’s kind of a cool thing for me with the setup with the computers and keyboards and controllers, it makes me able to be really impactful live and therefore I can play a song you might know but play it very differently so it’s even better to the moment I’m playing it in the set. That’s something that makes every show different and special.
AMFM: Are there DJs you like now – maybe some that are up and coming – that you think are doing it right?
PVD: I think he’s from Dallas – Leroy Moreno. He’s an up-and-coming…well, not even up-and-coming anymore – we’ve already released, like, five of his records on Vandit [van Dyk’s label], but there are some amazing “new on the block” artists shall we say like James Cottle, Leroy, Simon Peters, Alex M.O.R.P.H., the guys from Heatbeat – people that love the genre of trance music and always did that kind of music because they love it and I appreciate it as a clear artistic signature in a way rather than changing a style for whatever is more popular at the moment.
AMFM: The kids have it so easy these days finding new music and ways to get it out there! When you started, the Berlin Wall was up and you had to listen to forbidden radio stations and find mixtapes.
PVD: Yeah, well, and the music we know now as trance music didn’t exist. When I started making music, there was no one around making something slightly similar so I was the only one making that kind of music and I loved it and those were the roots of our trance music. Colleagues of mine were not even around at the time when we started this.
AMFM: You were one of the first to get a GRAMMY nomination for electronic music when they first caught on, but 14 years later, things have really changed for the genre.
PVD: Well, you know, the thing is which angle of electronic music are you looking at? From an artistic point of view, I have to say that electronic music has always been very strong but obviously what we saw in the last 7 or 8 years is that it’s not so important anymore to a lot of people what the music sounds like, which is more like an audible marketing plan what you’re throwing at people or the latest laser. It was completely not important what you were playing because they all play the same ten tracks anyway so it didn’t make any sense. I don’t really think much of what’s called “EDM” to be honest. To me, this is a complete marketing-driven jungle. There is no artistry in it. There’s not drive in it, no creativity in it. There’s nothing that I, from an artistic point of view, look at it and say, “Wow. Huge success!” On the other hand, there are musical genres that have been true to themselves, like trance and what people call “techno” and all these kinds of things where it goes further and progressed on its own genre and involving other interesting elements from other things but staying true to the artistry rather than becoming a vehicle for some management company.
AMFM: We’re really looking forward to the set. Sounds like a great mix. Anything else we should expect?
PVD: At the end of the day, this will be straight up what trance has to offer: very intense, very straightforward, driving, positive music that actually gives you something more than the night you go out. You take that positive feeling home and I think that’s something that’s essential and longer lasting than just the immediate impact.
AMFM: DJs have been looking up to you for years. What do you tell them when they ask for advice?
PVD: Well, the thing is to have your mindset right. You have to know why you do what you do. The foundation of a lasting career has to be the music. You have to have a clear idea of what your music should sound like and you should follow that, even if 100 other people tell you, “Oh, do something else. Blah.” You should be convinced about it and you will be successful at some point because it is about convincing your audience at the end of the day. If you are there and you are playing the music with all your heart and you’re passionate, you will reach them. But you’ll never do that if you just play something that’s just a half-hearted fake.
Paul van Dyk plays South Side Music Hall in Dallas on Friday, April 28th. 7pm. $35. 18+