Photo: Courtesy of Atlantic Records
Inside Tiësto's Pulse-Pounding Musical World: 7 Keys To His Global Superstardom & Journey To New Album, 'Drive'
On the heels of releasing his seventh album, 'Drive,' Tiësto details the secrets to his long-term success as one of dance music's biggest stars — from collaborating with artists he loves to staying true to himself.
Tiësto has been at the top of his game for the past 20 years. With a reliable string of monster hits, starry collaborations and an immense stage show, the beloved DJ/producer has been a revolutionary force that helped electronic music explode onto the global stage.
Now, the GRAMMY-winning Dutch superstar is back with Drive. His seventh album, it features all of the star's typical calling cards, from heart-pounding singles perfect for the dance floor to a cadre of buzzy artists lending their vocals (Tate McRae and Charli XCX included). Naturally, its advance singles have already collected over 3.5 billion streams.
While on a brief respite from his busy touring schedule, Tiësto took GRAMMY.com through his massive career, recounting his collaborations, inspirations and how he's stayed relevant.
Songwriting Rooted In Inspiration
When it comes to Tiësto's creative process, the producer admits "it's always different." That includes the process leading up to the inner-working of Drive, his first album since 2020's pandemic-era The London Sessions and his first conceptual album since 2009's Kaleidoscope.
"Sometimes I'll hear a sound that inspires a melody, other times I'll hear a lyric or a vocal and I know exactly what I want it to sound like," he says. "I'll start messing around and having fun with it," he says. It's that adventurous spirit that results in unique production techniques, from his signature vocal tones and pounding synths.
His Blockbuster Live Shows Impact His Studio Work
Early on in his bubbling career, Tiësto was one of the first DJs who regularly played expansive, theatrical sets which wood record-breaking masses of people. It was in the summer of 2007, during a nearly six-hour set at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, when he performed what 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," according to Reuters.
As a result, he says his stage show is always top of mind when he's in the studio. "My main goal is thinking about how the song can fit into my performances," he explains.
One performance that stands out as one of his most memorable? "Being the first DJ to close the main stage of Coachella."
An Ear For Smash Hits
Proving his status as a hitmaker, Tiësto teamed up with pop star Ava Max on Drive single "The Motto," which first dropped in 2021. The song has since reached the top of Billboard's Dance Chart and has garnered one billion streams on Spotify.
"I had the idea for the song but needed the right vocal," he remembers of the global hit. "Once I heard Ava, I knew it was a perfect fit. Her voice is just incredible, and I can't imagine the song any other way."
A Career Built On Collaboration
"It really varies, but generally I find myself collaborating with artists whose music and voice I really love," he explains. "It's all about getting the best song possible and not just putting a name on the record."
To that end, Drive includes features from the likes Colombian star and GRAMMY nominee Karol G (she lent vocals to their hit single "Don't Be Shy", which marked her first-ever English song) and British pop star and GRAMMY winner Charli XCX (the sizzling track "Hot In It.")
Disparate (And Unexpected) Influences
Considering his towering stature in dance, one would think Tiësto would cite an act from the genre as an early inspiration. But that's far from the case when it comes to two of his bigger influences. He mentions classic rockers Iron Maiden, whom Tiësto calls a "childhood favorite," and notes his love for Elvis Presley.
"Perhaps because of my connection to Las Vegas, I love the music of Elvis," says the producer, who has played several Vegas nightclubs throughout his career, most recently holding a residency at Zouk. "He's one of my all time favorites."
Knowing When To Slow Down
Even with a jam-packed schedule of nightclubs and festivals, Tiësto is quick to note that his key to staying sane on the road lies far from the club.
"There's no better way for me to unwind than relaxing with my family," says the father of two. "And when they can't be there, they are my first FaceTime after a show."
Straying From Trends
In the fickle, fast-moving dance genre, Tiësto has been a rare case of a multi-decade success story. In his mind, staying grounded is the key to that longevity.
"The industry and trends are always changing, I think it's all about evolving your craft over time but staying true to yourself," he says. "I've been through many eras in my career because I like to keep it fresh and am inspired by everything around me as well. Staying true to your sound and not being highly influenced by trends is key and how we push the dance culture forward."
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
A History Of Casablanca Records In 10 Songs, From Kiss To Donna Summer To Lindsay Lohan
As the Casablanca Records story hits the big screen with ‘Spinning Gold’ on March 31, revisit some of the hits that have defined the now-reinvented label’s legacy.
Over the past five years, some of the most famous (and infamous) stories of the music industry have hit movie theaters, from Freddie Mercury’s meteoric arrival in Bohemian Rhapsody to Elton John’s breakthrough years in Rocketman, and most recently Whitney Houston’s remarkable rise in Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Now it’s time for the big-screen debut of a name that might not be as familiar: trailblazing record executive Neil Bogart.
Bogart is the outsized personality at the center of a new biopic, Spinning Gold, which hits theaters March 31. The film tracks the monumental first decade of Casablanca Records, the larger-than-life label that Bogart dreamed up in the summer of 1973.
The industry upstart defied the odds to become one of the definitive labels of the 1970s, with a highly eclectic roster that included KISS, Donna Summer, Village People and George Clinton’s Parliament. At the same time, Casablanca Records typified 1970s excess, with infamous stories of drug-fuelled parties, flagrant spending and unchecked egos — all rich material for a big-screen treatment.
Written and directed by Bogart’s eldest son Tim, Spinning Gold stars Jeremy Jordan as Bogart alongside a cast of current music luminaries in key roles, including Wiz Khalifa as George Clinton, Tayla Parx as Donna Summer, Ledisi as Gladys Knight and Jason Derulo as Ron Isley. (The hit-filled soundtrack is just as star-studded.)
After he was pushed out at Casablanca, Bogart went on to found Boardwalk Records (signing a young Joan Jett) before his tragic death in 1982, at the age of 39. In the decades since, Casablanca has had several lives, including its reinvention as a dance music label in 2012.
To celebrate the release of Spinning Gold, we’re taking a trip back through 10 of the label’s hallmark releases from the 1970s to the 2010s.
KISS, "Rock and Roll All Nite" (1975)
Neil Bogart’s first gamble as a label boss was on New York shock rockers KISS. Bogart signed the band to Casablanca Records on the strength of their demo tape, recorded with DIY grit alongside former Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer. While initially dubious of the group’s garish makeup, he backed their lean and mean 1974 debut album, KISS, even as it failed to ignite the charts.
As detailed in Classic Rock Magazine, KISS played Casablanca’s launch party at Los Angeles’ Century Plaza Hotel, bemusing the glamorous crowd to a flurry of smoke bombs and a levitating drum kit. Bogart stuck by his hard rockers, and in 1975 they released Dressed to Kill, featuring the undeniable anthem "Rock and Roll All Nite," one of KISS’ setlist staples to this day.
As the story goes, Bogart, who is a credited producer on "Rock N Roll All Nite," challenged songwriters Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons to write the definitive KISS song. Later in 1975, the band hit No. 9 on the Billboard 200 with the live album, Alive!, and their fire-breathing, fake-blood-spitting path was set.
Parliament, "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" (1976)
If KISS represented one extreme of Casablanca’s early catalog, George Clinton’s Parliament confirmed there was no rulebook. Bogart recognised Clinton’s shambolic genius early on, signing the bandleader and his funk disciples to Casablanca in 1973. After a pair of slow-burning albums, in 1975 Parliament released Mothership Connection, an outlandish concept record exploring afrofuturism in outer space.
On an album that sounded like nothing else out there, "Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" was a supremely funky standout. It became Parliament’s first certified million-selling single and gave the group the cachet to build their signature stage prop, The Mothership, which landed theatrically mid-show in a swirl of smoke.
Donna Summer, "I Feel Love" (1977)
Bogart’s circle of gifted friends included Giorgio Moroder, the Italian producer behind the hallowed Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. In 1975, Moroder played Bogart a song he’d produced for an up-and-coming American singer named Donna Summer, who was living as an expat in Munich after appearing in the musical Hair.
That song was "Love To Love You Baby," a slow, slinky disco number that, on Bogart’s insistence, morphed into a 17-minute version. In its extended form, "Love To Love You Baby" seduced dance floors and took disco into a new realm of slow-burning sexuality.
In 1976, Summer returned to Musicland Studios with Moroder and his studio partner Pete Bellotte to record "I Feel Love," released on Casablanca the next year. Still exhilarating and influential to this day, the record’s futuristic synth sound cemented Casablanca as the go-to disco label.
Village People, "Y.M.C.A." (1978)
With Donna Summer now a certified star, Bogart found his next disco hitmakers in Village People. Founded in 1977 by French dance producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, and fronted by vocalist Victor Willis, the group emerged from and celebrated New York’s gay club culture, with each member adopting a "macho man" persona and costume.
Village People’s third album on Casablanca, 1978’s Cruisin’, featured the instant earworm "Y.M.C.A.," which hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979. A winking advertisement for the fraternal pleasures of the Y.M.C.A., the song became a gay anthem and paved the way for future hits "In The Navy,” "Go West" and an actual song called “Macho Man.”
"[Casablanca] was a very trendy label," Belolo recalled to DJHistory in 2004. "Neil Bogart was known as an entrepreneur who had the guts to take risks, and he was a very good promoter."
KISS, "I Was Made For Lovin’ You" (1979)
Released on their 1979 album, Dynasty, "I Was Made for Lovin’ You" proved even KISS weren’t immune to disco fever. Coming two years after the hard rocking Love Gun album, this glam, light-on-its-feet return had some fans reeling.
Co-written by Paul Stanley with pop songwriters Desmond Child and Vini Poncia, the single sold over 1 million copies and remains a favorite sing-along at KISS shows. To this day, its detractors include none other than Gene Simmons, who never liked his pop-tinged vocal part.
Cher, "Take Me Home" (1979)
While Casablanca was founded on new talent, by the late 1970s, the label was courting already established stars. With 14 albums to her name by 1977, Cher met Neil Bogart through her then-boyfriend Gene Simmons. After a run of underperforming releases, Cher came around to trying disco.
"Take Me Home," Cher’s shimmering foray into the still-hot genre, unleashed her inner disco diva, which she explored further on two Casablanca albums, Take Me Home and Prisoner. While the legendary singer later strayed from disco, the lush, Studio 54-soaked sound of "Take Me Home" is testament to Casablanca’s gravitational pull.
Lipps Inc., "Funkytown" (1980)
As the 1970s ticked over into the ‘80s, Casablanca went looking for the next sound. Behind the scenes, the label was in turmoil. With Polygram now overseeing Casablanca, co-founder Larry Harris quit and Bogart was pushed out. Disco’s popularity was also waning in the wake of the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
If times were tough, you couldn’t hear it in "Funkytown," a party-starting track by Minnesotan funk/disco band Lipps, Inc. Featuring Cynthia Johnson’s peppy vocals over a perfect marriage of synths, strings and cowbell, the song was a surprise hit for Casablanca and a gentle clapback to the disco doomsayers.
Irene Cara, "Flashdance…What A Feeling" (1983)
Throughout its first decade, Casablanca was closely aligned with Hollywood — after all, the label took its name from the Golden Age classic starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. In the mid-’70s, the label even merged with a film production company to make Casablanca Record And Filmworks, Inc.
Following Bogart’s exit from Casablanca, the label struck gold with Irene Cara’s "Flashdance…What A Feeling" from the 1983 dance drama Flashdance. Produced by label mainstay Giorgio Moroder, the song is a pure hit of 1980s nostalgia, elevated by Moroder’s synth and Cara’s roof-raising vocals.
"Flashdance…What A Feeling" won the GRAMMY for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and the Academy Award for Best Original Song, giving Casablanca Records one last victory lap before it folded in 1986.
Lindsay Lohan, "Rumors" (2004)
Two decades after Jennifer Beals spun and vaulted through the music video for "Flashdance…What A Feeling," Casablanca was relaunched under Universal by veteran music exec Tommy Mottola.
One of Mottola’s early signings was "it-girl" Lindsay Lohan, who was coming off star-making roles in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. Lohan’s 2004 debut album, Speak, featured the bonus track "Rumors," a club banger with spiky lyrics aimed at paparazzi and rumor-mongers hounding her every move. A long way from the halcyon days of KISS and Donna Summer, "Rumors" is still a time capsule to a quainter era before Instagram and iPhones.
Mottola’s other mid-aughts signings included singer and actress Brie Larson (long before she was Captain Marvel) and pop artist Mika, whose 2007 album, Life in Cartoon Motion — and particularly its infectious lead single, “Grace Kelly” — was a breakthrough success.
Tiesto, "Red Lights" (2013)
After its brief mid-2000s run, Casablanca Records went quiet again — that is, until its next relaunch in 2012 as a dance/electronic imprint under Republic Records. Capitalizing on the EDM boom at the time, Casablanca snapped up Dutch superstar Tiesto and his label Musical Freedom.
In December 2013, Tiesto dropped "Red Lights," the lead single from his fifth studio album, A Town Called Paradise, released on Casablanca the following year. A surging dance-pop confection built for Tiesto’s then-residency at Hakkasan Las Vegas, "Red Lights" endures today as a three-minute flashback to EDM’s heyday.
While Tiesto is no longer with Casablanca, the label has been a steady home for both veteran and rising dance acts over the past decade, including Martin Solveig, Chase & Status, Nicky Romero, Felix Jaehn and James Hype. Meanwhile, Lindsay Lohan has remained with the label, releasing her club-ready comeback single, "Back to Me,” in 2020.
Bringing the story full circle, a resurgent Giorgio Moroder also landed back on Casablanca Records in 2016. As the story of Casablanca's glory days hits the big screen, the label's latest chapter is still being written.
For The Record: How Tiësto's 'In My Memory' Crowned A Dance Music Superstar 20 Years Ago
Released 20 years ago this month, ‘In My Memory’ recalls an era when Tiësto was proudly the king of trance
Like any self-respecting star during the early 2000s, Tiësto offered up a tour DVD to the world. Released in August 2003, Another Day at the Office follows the DJ's world tour the previous year, which culminated in a New Year's Eve set at Times Square in New York. The film captures the 33-year-old on the ascent—popular enough to be flown around the world, but still able to circulate a US festival mostly incognito.
The footage captures Tiësto jumping between international flights and limos, signing t-shirts and flyers for fans and playing gigs with a bag of vinyl records and a binder of promo CDRs. "My life in general is pretty hectic," he says early in the film, framed against New York's icy East River. "On Christmas Day, I played in Ireland and London, then the day after I flew to Hong Kong, and then a day later I'm here in New York." As he lists this sleepless schedule, the smile on his face suggests he wouldn't have it any other way.
Tiësto's newly hectic life coincided with the arrival of his debut album, In My Memory. Released in April of 2001 on the Black Hole Recordings sub-label Magik Muzik, the album confirmed the hotshot trance DJ's clout as a producer. Featuring the anthemic trinity of "Flight 643," "Lethal Industry" and "Suburban Train," In My Memory cemented Tiësto as the biggest name in his genre. Confirming his new status, he went on to win DJ Mag's Top 100 DJs poll for three years running from 2002 to 2004. The album also marked a distinct phase in Tiësto's production career as the new trance wunderkind before his evolution to a more polished sound on 2004's Just Be.
The DJ born Tijs Verwest was never idle in the years leading up to In My Memory. Starting out in the early '90s in his native Netherlands under the hardcore and gabber aliases DJ Limited and Da Joker, he soon broke through as DJ Tiësto. His marathon sets around Europe covered the trance spectrum, from delicate and uplifting to dark and enveloping. Early in his production career, he formed partnerships with fellow Dutch producers Ferry Corsten, as Gouryella, and Benno de Goeij, as Kamaya Painters.
As his career accelerated in the late '90s, he founded Black Hole Recordings with Arny Bink, launched the Magik and In Search of Sunrise mix series and collaborated twice with trance newcomer Armin van Buuren as Alibi and Major League.
In the late '90s, Tiësto also became known as a prolific remixer for BT, Signum and Balearic Bill. However his true breakout came in 2000 with the "In Search Of Sunrise Remix" of Delirium's "Silence," featuring Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan. Tiësto spent three weeks getting his version just right. "Everything has to be perfect or [McLachlan] doesn't approve," he told Canada's bpm:tv in 2001. After his take on "Silence" blew up, Tiësto put a pause on remixing to focus on his debut album.
Tiësto worked on the tracks for In My Memory at the Black Hole Recordings studio in his hometown of Breda. "Lethal Industry" was already a mainstay of his sets in 1999, guaranteeing its spot on the tracklist. (Tiësto's other big tune of that year, "Sparkles," was featured in the Ibiza-set comedy movie, Kevin & Perry Go Large.)
While the album promised purist, club-ready trance, Tiësto set out to showcase different shades to his sound with the help of British vocalists Kirsten Hawkshaw, Nicola Hitchcock and Jan Johnston. The DJ then created the Magik Musik sub-label in 2001 as a home for the album, while also finding time to put out a pair of mix compilations, Magik Seven: Live In Los Angeles and the double-disc Revolution.
Tiësto structured In My Memory as a journey towards the sure-fire trio of "Flight 643," "Lethal Industry" and "Suburban Train." Album opener "Magik Journey" expands on the classical work of Tiësto's collaborator Geert Huinink, with swelling strings and ghostly vocals driving to an explosive conclusion. The same drawn-out energy returns on "Obsession," a collaboration with Dutch producer Junkie XL, now best known for scoring Hollywood blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road and Deadpool.
Working together in Junkie XL's underground cellar in Amsterdam, the pair produced the ideal nine-minute track for an all-night Tiësto set. (On his YouTube channel, Junkie XL recalled taking the "obsession" soundbite from a Calvin Klein ad on TV: "The beautiful thing about the [year] 2000 is you'd get away with things you'd never get away with now.")
Not all the tracks on In My Memory floored the accelerator. The warm pads of "Close To You," featuring seasoned trance vocalist Jan Johnston, evokes a hazy Ibiza sunrise, while the instrumental "Dallas 4PM" finds Tiësto in expansive progressive trance mode. Title track "In My Memory" features Nicola Hitchcock's brittle vocals over a radiant melody, while the trip-hop-influenced "Battleship Grey," featuring Kirsty Hawkshaw, is the album's most surprising deviation.
The album saves its biggest hitters for last. "Flight 643", named after the non-stop service between Amsterdam and New York, is built around an unmistakable synth stab that never lets up. Following the propulsive tech-trance of "Lethal Industry," the album closes with "Suburban Train," which builds steadily over ten minutes to all-out euphoria.
The composition draws heavily on "Re-Form," a 2000 track by Dutch producer Kid Vicious (that Tiësto also remixed). While "Suburban Train" became a staple of Tiësto's sets for years to come, he occasionally reached for the vocal version featuring Kirsty Hawkshaw, "Urban Train."
In My Memory ensured Tiësto rarely slept in his own bed. In addition to his residency for Cream at Amnesia in Ibiza, he ticked off early editions of Ultra Music Festival and Coachella in 2002. That summer, Moby booked Tiësto for his Area2 festival tour of the US, which features prominently in Another Day at the Office. With trance at the peak of its popularity in 2003 (led largely by Dutch talent), Tiësto drew 25,000 fans to the Gelredome in The Netherlands for an eight-hour set captured on the Tiësto In Concert DVD.
Despite his good fortunes, Tiësto was wary of being labeled as just a trance guy. "I am definitely a trance DJ, but I try to bring people into trance," he said backstage at the Global Gathering festival in 2002. "I think of it as a journey, and in that journey, I visit the warm and harder stuff, and different kinds of music."
In his 2001 interview with bpm.tv, he shrugged off the suggestion that he was moving to a more progressive style. "I got a little bit bored about all the same epic stuff that's coming out," he reasoned. "I just like to play music from the heart, that has some sensitive elements and some powerful energy."
That wariness of being pigeonholed informed Tiësto's vocal-heavy but still trance-focused 2007 album, Elements Of Life, which earned his first nomination for Best Electronic/Dance Album at the GRAMMYs. In 2009, his new label Musical Freedom and electro-pop album Kaleidoscope clearly signaled a new era.
As the EDM boom took over the US in the early 2010s, Tiësto's sets moved towards big-room electro-house, which in turn attracted a new audience. "I think some of the old trance guys still have their following, but it doesn't feel like anyone really cares," he told DJ Mag plainly in 2014. While the occasional trance classic still turns up in his sets, the sound of In My Memory is firmly in Tiësto's past.
In Another Day at the Office, Tiësto describes the pay-off for his punishing work hours. "I love what I do," he says simply. "It's still my hobby. When I DJ, I love it." Two decades later, after thousands of shows and a few musical evolutions, the hobby is still paying off.
Damian Lazarus at Day Zero Tulum 2019
Photo: Juliana Bernstein
Damian Lazarus Discusses Day Zero 2020, Spiritual Awakenings, Meeting Tiesto & '90s London Raves
The globetrotting house music wizard dives deep into the beginnings of his magical Tulum event, cutting his teeth in the '90s underground U.K. club scene and his biggest hope for the new year
British DJ/producer/mystical event wizard Damian Lazarus' well-loved sound is much more of a mood than genre. The music he favors is ethereal, emotive and takes the listener on a journey. His parties often take place in awe-inspiring locations, from the expansive dustiness of Burning Man to the jungles of Tulum, Mexico. His DJ sets tend to last for hours, often until the wee hours of the morning.
With his iconic house and techno label Crosstown Rebels, which he founded in 2003, Lazarus has helped catapult the careers of fellow underground game-changing DJ/producers, including Maceo Plex, Jamie Jones and Francesca Lombardo, to name a few.
In addition to throwing down at major electronic music events (Amsterdam Dance Event, Desert Hearts Fest, Lightning In A Bottle, Art Basel Miami) and legendary clubs around the world (Miami's Club Space, Ibiza's DC10, Berlin's Watergate), Lazarus has been carefully curating his own beloved events, namely the Day Zero and Get Lost series.
The Recording Academy caught up with the globetrotting wizard, who called in during a rare moment of downtime in Mexico City, in between debuting a new party to close out ADE and bringing the spooky vibes to Los Angeles' HARD Day of the Dead. He dove deep into the surreal beachside origin story of Day Zero (which returns to Tulum on Jan. 10, 2020), what makes a great DJ set and more. We also revisited his teen and young adult years in London, where he got a healthy dose of club life during the then-burgeoning rave scene.
View this post on Instagram
About last night... what a night!!! The inaugural “LAZARUS” party at @demarktkantine closing out ADE. This was around 7am this morning at the end of a 6 hour session, I think my face sums it all up. Thank you everyone in Amsterdam that came and helped us make this a night to remember and special thanks to @shishibabylon and all the guys at the club for helping us make something so special
You were just at ADE not long ago. How was that experience for you?
It was really good, actually. Funnily enough, I was just at lunch here in Mexico City and saw Tiësto. I had to tell him about what I did at ADE because it was because of him that I started something new there this year. Many years ago, I was in Chicago about to play a show and the promoters said, "Oh, do you want to come see Tiësto play? He's doing an early evening thing." I'd never seen him play before, so I was really intrigued.
So we went and they took me to the green room. When Tiësto arrived, he made a beeline directly to me and was like, "You're Damian Lazarus, right?" I had no idea that I'd be anywhere on his radar. And he said, "I've got to tell you that your name is the best name in dance music. You know what it means, Lazarus, in Dutch?" And I was like, "No, I have no idea." And he says, "Well, when we go out on the weekend and then your friends call you in the week and they're like, 'What did you get up to in the weekend,' you're like, 'I got really lazarus.' It means to get really wasted."
So this year, I decided to create my own event in ADE; of course I just called it "Lazarus." Because people in Amsterdam would totally get it, but anywhere in the rest of the world, it's just my second name. That was on Sunday, so it was an ADE closing party. It started at midnight and I played all night until 7:00 a.m. That was really special. I also played Circoloco as well, which was on a Saturday.
I tend to just go in for a couple of days. I don't really go for the business meetings and stuff. I know it's very worthwhile for promoters and management but I find if I need to talk to someone or have a meeting about something, I can just pick up a phone. I don't need someone to tell me where to go and have a meeting.
I was always curious about that; is it really like the electronic music mecca that it's made out to be, or is it just a cool space to be when everyone's there?
It really is. I mean, first of all, Amsterdam is a really cool city on so many levels. They have more clubs per capita than anywhere else—throughout the year, not just during ADE. While I was there, I was polling quite a few of my friends and people in the industry about how useful it's been for them that week at ADE and everyone loves it as a business opportunity and also as a good chance to go out. It's one of the best places to go and do business but have fun at the same time.
Recently, you shared some details for your Day Zero 2020 event, which I think is the seventh iteration of it.
This will be the seventh, yeah, we took one year off.
What are you most looking forward to, especially as we plummet into this new decade?
That's a good point. I just look at it as 2020, I haven't really thought about making a big statement with the new decade. Well, Day Zero began at the end of the Mayan calendar, which I saw as the beginning of a new opportunity as opposed to the end of the world. This time in the world is very difficult, there's a lot of unrest. I think for people in our world to gather together as a community, to celebrate with a backdrop of this beautiful jungle and incredible music—Tulum is a really an incredible place to create a joyful experience for people.
Every year, my mission that I set before my team is to make the next event even more impressive than the last. So we're in the planning stages at the moment and we have a lot of fresh ideas. After every event, we're fine-tuning the minutia of the experience. There's so many things that we plan out at this event. Everywhere you look, everything you smell, everything you touch, everything you do, every place that you go has been well considered by us before you get there, because we want this event to be a full sensory overload. We take pride in it and work very hard on it. So, I'm looking forward to this year.
I would love to hear a little bit more about the origin story of Day Zero and what throwing the party each year means to you, to be able to share it with people.
I had a very spiritual awakening back in 2012 on the beach in Tulum. A medicine man I'd seen earlier that day suggested I stand beneath the moon and stars and raise my arms up towards the moon at a certain hour that night. He wouldn't give me any more information about what I should expect to happen. Fortunately, I remembered to do it later that night and I had the most incredible energy—force field—connection with the universe. It was like a physical being.
You know that feeling when you're young and you try poppers for the first time? Not saying that that's a good thing to do, but imagine that feeling for like 20 minutes; nonstop connecting to the universe. So I had this incredible experience and I took that as a signal to create something that I had rolling around in my head. I'd been going to Tulum for many years; I've been going there for well over 15 years now.
I was playing in Playa del Carmen two years before the BPM festival began there. I'm very connected to that area. But I'd always refrained from DJing in Tulum because it felt like a very beautiful, pristine, secret place that maybe shouldn't open its doors to parties. I knew that the first time I would play music there and bring electronic music to the natural beauty of the area, I wouldn't be able to stop. So I prevented myself from doing it.
And then a couple of people started to come see the area and ask me to play it. But then I had this experience and I could see that I was really fighting against the winds of change. More and more people were discovering Tulum and the hotels, the restaurants and bars were building up. I could feel there was something coming. So, the Armageddon was supposed to be coming on the 21st of Dec., 2012, so I started to plan Day Zero then as a way to reset and recharge, and, like I said, gather people to create a very special experience.
Sharing the experience means the world to me. This has been by far the most thrilling ride that I've been on in my career creating parties and stuff. And now we just started to open it up outside of Tulum for the first time this year. We just created Day Zero Masada at the Holy Mountain in the Dead Sea area. We had 15,000 people there for an incredible first show, I was very happy with how that went.
So now we're looking up where to go in the future. The idea of Day Zero is to get the best electronic music, forward-thinking, future music with ancient civilization. So we like that juxtaposition of the two things going hand in hand. For seven years now, we've been connecting with the Mayans in the ancient area of the Mayan jungle, complete with the
Cenotes underground. We delve into the Popol Vuh, which is the creation story of the Mayans, and work out performances around these ancient Mayan stories and connect with Mayan spiritual leaders from that come and join us.
We really try to show the new young generation the differences in historical background to how people used to live and the stories and the influence that these people have had on the world. But the thing is to not do too many because each event takes about a year in advance to plan. So yeah, so we have two running now, Masada and Tulum, and we'll see where we go in the future. And the Get Lost events which are really big as well. So yeah, it's a little bit busy.
Damian Lazarus at Day Zero Masada | Photo: Karim Tabar
Your sets are known for having a journey element to them. When you're DJing, say at Day Zero or in other special places, do you feel like you're connecting to something?
Oh yeah, 100 percent. Well, at my events, when I start playing there's an extra buzz around the place because it's like, "What's he going to do? What's he going to bring?"
You've set the bar high for yourself.
Yeah, I do. Every year I try to make it better and I spend a lot of time trying to find some music that is really going to make people go bananas. Of course, over seven years, it's difficult to continue to find those records every time, but I work very hard at that. I never plan a set, I never know what I'm doing from one track to the next, whether it be at Day Zero or anywhere else. When I'm DJing, I kind of tell myself I'm playing Sudoku or chess, so I'm always thinking two, three or four moves in advance.
So, I'm telling a story but I'm thinking about them throughout the whole experience. Of course there's some records that work really well together and you want to throw them together a few times. I like to think that I save my best work live at Day Zero or Get Lost. Of course I love to play at sunsets or sunrises. And the beauty of throwing your own event is you get to choose when you play and work everybody else around you. [Laughs.]
View this post on Instagram
thank you everyone. After the initial amount of tickets sold out in literally milliseconds, we added another bunch, which also sold out in record time. Please give us a day to regroup and we will announce the line up and put the remainder of tickets on sale on FRIDAY 18TH OCTOBER (5pm GMT) Tickets of Trust for DAY ZERO TULUM 2020 will go on sale this WEDNESDAY 16TH OCTOBER (5pm GMT) >> http://bit.ly/DayZero2020 General Admission tickets will be available shortly after following the announcement of the amazing line up. Tickets of Trust are limited to 500 and are first come first served. We can’t wait to share this Day Zero with you all. Ticket link in bio
What has been one of the most powerful moments from your Day Zero events?
Oh my god. There's so many. But you've got to remember that I'm the kind of person that can't just rock up an hour before my set. I've got these events that I run from beginning to end every year and I generally am playing at the end. So I'm spending 16 hours running around the festival site showing my friends around, having fun, experiencing it for myself and making sure everything's working properly. And then I have to start playing.
It all kind of blurs into one. I could tell you that the magical moments are many. But I actually take more pride and enjoyment in reading other people's comments and what people react after these events, especially after Day Zero events. People do find them quite life changing. I've had people meet on the dance floor there and they're married within 12 months. There's people that write to me and tell me that they literally had their life changed. They were going through some trauma, and the energy that they felt at Day Zero helped them kind of rearrange and reorganize their life and their thoughts.
You never know how much of this is actually true. But if someone's going to take the time to write to me and tell me a story like that, then I want to believe it. So I think that's really the best thing that comes out of it for me, the fact that I get to make so many other people happy and that's the main focus.
I love that. What do you think is essential to a great DJ set?
Well, obviously the ability to read the energy in the crowd. Many times I've walked into a room and I feel that there's no vibe, no energy. And I think to myself, it's not that difficult to change this, you just need to be aware of it. Really focus on what music is going to lift people's spirits in time. I think it's important to be innovative but not too overly technical. Of course, it's important to mix and blend your music perfectly, because no one likes to hear dodgy mixing.
And I think there's a very fine line between showboating and really being into what you're doing. I like to think sometimes I'm a performer, but only realize that afterwards, when I let myself go, because I was really feeling the music in the booth.
Last year, you released Heart of Sky with your Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons project. Can you talk a little bit about that album and creative group?
Basically what happened was when I first made the first Ancient Moons album back in 2015, Message From The Other Side, I worked with so many different musicians from all over the world. I'd been touring and finding amazing musicians from Egypt, Pakistan, New York. I somehow managed to record all of these amazing people and I was making the new Damian Lazarus album. But once I realized that I had all these incredible other voices and musicians on this record, and it felt very cinematic and it also felt like I could perform this live, I realized that I should create this fake band name, which was The Ancient Moons.
Once I decided to take the project live, I actually had to put The Ancient Moons together. So when it came around to making the second album, I started to work with the band that I found from the first time. So we actually then did become a band making music together. Whereas the first album, I made it with a producer and some guest musicians.
I think that The Ancient Moons project's some of the best creative work I've ever done. But it's not something that I could just knockout every time I'm in the studio. Right now, I'm not working on any new Ancient Moons material but I'm focusing on doing a little bit more kind of straight ahead Damian Lazarus club music right now.
In fact, I've just made this track with Diplo and the band Jungle, which we're still trying to decide what to do with. I've just done a couple of remixes. I just worked on a remix with Teddy Pendergrass. And I did a remix for Art Department. I just did this really killer remix of this Rosalía track. I'm just waiting for her to listen to it and see what she thinks.
But yeah, so that's where we're at. I mean, maybe next year I'm thinking about some Ancient Moons material probably towards the end of the year. I'm already kind of pretty hectic for 2020. I'm already a bit busy for the first half of the year. And I have family at home as well. I need to prioritize my kids right now. So yeah, quite a lot going on.
And then with Heart Of Sky—
Heart Of Sky is actually from the Popol Vuh story. Did you see the film that we made? It's called "Heart Of Sky," by Jessy Moussallem, an amazing film director from Beirut. It's a 15-minute film that we made in the fields of Lebanon where they make Lebanese hash. So it's all the families of the community of people that are making hash. They've never allowed themselves to be filmed before. Obviously, the soundtrack is music from the album.
That's super cool. Zooming out, when did you first start getting into music?
Music was always kind of around in the house. My mother, in the '60s was involved in the the [Rolling] Stones scene, and hanging out in Carnaby Street and stuff like that. And my dad was more kind of into Motown and soul, Isaac Hayes, James Brown. So I had a really good combination there, but my grandfather really was the most influential person for me because he was proper East Londoner, really into the show tunes and musicals. He and I used to have a lot of fun with music together.
But it wasn't really until I was about 11, 12, that I started to buy music and be obsessed with listening to the radio and finding new music that I liked. By the time I was 14, I'd persuaded my parents to let me buy some turntables and a mixer. And I got myself a Saturday job in a very cool record store called Groove Records in SoHo, Central London and then just went on from there.
I did a gig for Pirate Radio, and then went to college and started making parties there. It wasn't really until around 2001 when I had the City Rocker record label that people really started to take notice of me. I always knew I wanted to be a DJ but I wasn't very good at it. It took me ages to work out how to mix properly, but maybe that was because there were so many different styles of music that I was into. So by 2001, I managed to really hone in on and focus on it.
When we were running City Rockers, we started this party called 21st Century Body Rockers in London. We did it for 10 weeks, every month during 2001 or '02. We had DJs like Soulwax and I was the warmup DJ. It was there that my friends said to me, "You're actually getting quite good at this. You should think about it as a career." It wasn't until I got friends and loved ones telling me that that I really thought I could make a go of it. And within a couple of years, I was playing at Circoloco [at DC10 in Ibiza] for the first time, and the Sónar festival [in Barcelona]. I guess the rest is history. [Chuckles.]
I started Crosstown Rebels in 2003 and it was pretty much seen at the forefront of underground electronic music since then. So that always kept me at the front of people's minds, I think, because I was always working with a lot of cool people and discovering new talent and putting on great parties. I guess my DJing skills improved. Things started to get better and better.
Do you have any photos from these 2001 parties? That would be amazing.
I'm not sure they're really for GRAMMY.com. [Laughs.]
Did you have a favorite club or place that you went to when you were younger in London?
There was one club that was really influential for me and helped shape my wide range of appreciation for music. It was called That's How It Is. It was every Monday night at Bar Rumba in London and was run by James Lavelle and Giles Peterson. They were playing anything from all the early Mo Wax stuff to rare groove or funk to jazz to techno. And then they kind of started to discover the jazziest end of the drum and bass sound. It was just this melting pot of all these amazing new, fresh sounds, like Massive Attack, all that stuff coming out at that time. I was on the dancefloor every Monday for a good few years.
But then, you know, I also went to Rage, which was the primary kind of early jungle party in the U.K. There was a couple of things I went to New York as well when I was young. But yeah, so many places have influenced and inspired me. And they still do. I sometimes think back to various places I've been to and I think how I can create something like that.
"One positive thing is that in times of economic hardship, you tend to find that's a really good time for underground music to really come out of the cracks."
What is your biggest dream that you hope will come true in 2020?
A few. I don't know. The world's fked right now really. It's starting to really get people down. But one positive thing is that in times of economic hardship, you tend to find that's a really good time for underground music to really come out of the cracks. I think it's been getting a little stale, a little safe. I think we've lost that kind of punk and DIY attitude in electronic music right now.
As a label owner, I'm finding it really hard to find really unique, new voices in electronic music. I mean, I do have a few people that I've discovered recently that I'm really excited about, but I think that something needs to happen.
I think that maybe the current state of the world and the climate crisis and everything else hopefully will take music more underground because people are struggling, I think, mentally with figuring out how to deal with all the issues that we face. When keeping your eyes open and not walking around with your eyes closed, you can't escape the fact that the world is fked. So I'm looking forward to some exciting new musical trends to come through.
Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images
EDC 2019: Alison Wonderland, TOKiMONSTA, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond, Tiësto, More
The world-renowned EDM fest has released the lit roster of over 240 artists for its 23rd annual event, set to return to its ninth year in Las Vegas from May 17–19
Today Insomniac, which hosts the now-global Electric Daisy Carnival and other major EDM events, announced the highly anticipated lineup for its flagship Las Vegas fest, set to take place May 17–19 this year. EDC 2019 is positively stacked, featuring GRAMMY winners Diplo, David Guetta and Tiësto, plus GRAMMY nominees TOKiMONSTA, Paul Oakenfold, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond and Kaskade.
Deadmau5 will be making his first return to the fest since 2010, bringing his new "Cube 3.0" stage setup, and Guetta will be back for his first time since the 2012 event. Australian singer/songwriter DJ/producer extraordinaire Alison Wonderland, plus GRAMMY-nominated rave icons Steve Aoki, Armin van Buuren will also bring fire to the three-day event.
Unlike a typical music festival lineup, EDC lists theirs alphabetically by day, giving way to a treasure hunt to the many gems across the lines of names. Underground techno queens Charlotte De Witte, ANNA and Amelie Lens will all perform at the event, which has eight(!) stages, along with fellow techno heavy-hitter Adam Beyer.
South African DJ/producer and underground house legend Black Coffee will also perform, as well as fellow house heavyweights Green Velvet, Patrick Topping and GRAMMY nominee Eric Prydz. Green Velvet will be offering two sets, one as Get Real, his project with Detroit legend Claude VonStroke.
Several artists will be hopping on the decks together, including Topping, who will be doing a B2B set (a.k.a. back-to-back, or collab set, for those not up on the rave lingo) with fellow British DJ Eats Everything. U.K. dubstep stalwarts Skream and Rusko are on the lineup for an "old skool dubstep set," which, as Your EDM put it, is "absolutely unheard of."
But wait, who are the headliners? Pasquale Rotella, CEO and co-founder of Insomniac, believes that headliners are everyone that attends the festival, spreads the love and makes all the magic possible.
"Being a Headliner means looking at the world a little differently, and seeing beauty and inspiration everywhere you look. It’s about lifting up the people around you and making time for your family and friends. This is a journey we all take together—always connected and committed to one another," Rotella said in a statement on Insomniac's website.
If you want to get your dance on and check out the carnival rides, interactive art and plenty of lights and lasers with EDC in Vegas, you're in luck; tickets are still available. Check out EDC's website for more info.