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Paul van Dyk on Why He Dissed Madonna, His Quest for the Perfect Track, and the Growth of EDM in America

Paul van Dyk is scheduled to perform during the Identity Festival on Sunday at Ashley Furniture Homestore Pavilion.EXPAND
Paul van Dyk is scheduled to perform during the Identity Festival on Sunday at Ashley Furniture Homestore Pavilion.

There isn't much that Paul Van Dyk hasn't done during his 21-year career. The venerated German electronica all-star has won a Grammy and a slew of other awards, performed for hundred of thousands, traveled the world, collaborated with the likes of David Byrne and Wayne Jackson, and is one of the richest DJs in the world.

Despite these accomplishments, the 40-year-old isn't content to rest on his absolute wealth of laurels, however, and keeps jetting off to destinations and performances around the globe (hence the reason he's accumulated the second-biggest amount frequent flyer mileage in Lufthansa history). This weekend, he will travel to the Ashley Furniture Homestore Pavilion in the West Valley to headline the Phoenix stop of the Identity Festival.

We caught up with Van Dyk via telephone in Atlantic City, where he was appearing at a ginormous DJ convetion, to speak about his feelings regarding the recent explosion of electronic dance music in America, his desire to create the perfect track, and his recent dissing of Madonna in the press.

You've had a long and astounding career and have performed across the world, created countless hits, and are one of the biggest DJs around. What's left for you to conquer? The thing is, it's not about resting on things that I may have already achieved. For me, actually, each individual gig is the next big challenge and it's the next sort of most important thing that I have to do. When I play, I also have a very clear idea about just the music that I like to play and the fans that I like to bring across and everything else comes down to the interaction with my audience. Like I said, it's always a challenge. And when I finish a show, the next show is then the most important thing. So I basically intend on continuing to tour and play for awhile longer and there's still much for me to do?

Do you have any dream projects you'd like to do? It's always been my dream to make the perfect track. And the thing is, I'm sort of a perfectionist, and when I do something, I do it a good as I can. But probably about 10 minutes after I've mastered it, I find something that I could maybe do a tiny bit better the next time. And so, obviously, in terms of a dream project, I want to be able to really nail any track I do. In terms of people who I'd like to work with, I'm a big fan of some of the bands like Linkin Park or Placebo. I've worked with them before, but it always would be great to do something with them again.

Your music has always straddled the line between trance and house. Do you think that EDM is becoming so mixed and mashed that the idea of genres are pointless? It's always been about taking the best elements of all these different genres and creating something that, first of all, that I need to enjoy. Because at the end of the day when I play my own music, I'm in front of people and I need to be authentic and believable. So if I compromised on something beforehand then I would not be believable on stage. And that's something that's important. The other thing is that everyone has a difference in definition [about] what all those different genres sort of are. If you listen to like what peopled call house music these days, it's kind of a slower version of the cheesy trance music from the mid-1990s. So in a way, you never really know what you get when you call it trance, house, electro, or whatever.

 

Paul Van Dyk performs in Miami in 2009.
Paul Van Dyk performs in Miami in 2009.

What's your opinion of how EDM has exploded in popularity in the U.S. over the past couple years? The thing is, the first time I played in America was in '93 and I've seen the scene booming and growing throughout all these years. And I also remember playing for 10,000 to 15,000 people at big raves on the west coast in the mid-1990s. It's something that's ebbed and flowed. If you look at things like all the Chicago house and Detroit and everything, it was all dominated by the Americans. At the same time [house] became really big in mostly places like Berlin and so on where they really started to focus on the sounds. At the end of the day, electronic music really is a global phenomenon. It doesn't really matter where you come from or where you are. People are enjoying this kind of music all over the world right now.

What do you enjoy most about dance music festivals? The great thing about festivals is that you can obviously also reach out to people that wouldn't come to a pure Paul Van Dyk show. It's that what sort of makes a festival really interesting from an artist perspective. And of course, hanging out with some of my colleagues that I otherwise wouldn't get a chance to see because we're all in different parts of the world. So it's really a fun thing.

It's also a chance to network with other EDM artists and hatch potential collaborations? Absolutely. This is what sort of happens a lot. I know that Arty is going to be there as well and obviously I collaborated with him before. And that happened because we met each other in Moscow and again in Berlin and decided to make some music together.

Why did you crack on Madonna in an interview earlier this month because of her infamous Molly reference at the Ultra Music Festival? Ever since the beginning of electronic music, we always had to fight against the preconception that everybody who listens to our music is on drugs, and whoever makes our music is on drugs. We've been made out to be a drug house rather than a music of substance. Then Madonna comes along, puts herself on stage and is ruining it by voicing what she did. This is such a creative art form, with great artists involved. It is fair to say that Madonna doesn't do anything without something behind it. Her appearance at Ultra was a really clear marketing statement, for a younger audience. What's funny is she doesn't know too much about what electronic music is. She makes phenomenal pop music, and uses electronic sounds and elements. I just wouldn't think that she's an electronic artist.

The Identity Festival takes place on Sunday at Ashley Furniture Homestore Pavillion. Tickets start at $40.

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