Before dubstep was the subject of "Saturday Night Light" digital shorts, before the faces of EDM DJs were plastered on billboards in and around Las Vegas, before house music took over pop radio, there was Paul van Dyk. The German electronic music producer and DJ first spun live in 1991, and since has garnered Grammy nominations, critical raves and top spots on year-end DJ rankings. But after the monoculture has moved on to its next trend, there will still be van Dyk, spinning at massive festivals and soundtracking the lives of trance fans worldwide.
amNewYork caught up with van Dyk, who headlines the Beatport Riverside stage on Saturday night at Electric Zoo, to talk both electronic music and its surrounding culture.
Q: On stage, you have keyboards, computers and custom controllers -- a lot more gear than other electronic music DJs. What does that extra equipment do for you?
A: Throughout all of the years I've developed the same passion for being a DJ that I had for being a musician and a producer, so as soon as it was possible to bring production elements on stage -- maybe 12 or 13 years ago -- I did so. ? All these machines allow me to create on the fly. I'm very passionate about creating electronic music in the most intense way, so just putting a USB stick in a player wouldn't challenge me.
Q: The final day of last year's Zoo was cancelled after two attendees died of drug overdoses. How do you see the interplay of drugs and the dance music culture?
A: Everybody who's saying that people don't take illegal substances [at concerts of other genres of music] is clearly lying. People do so at rock concerts, at hip-hop festivals and at electronic shows. What makes much more sense is, instead of putting a quiet blanket over it, educate people. If people don't know how to take a certain substance, then the risk of overdosing is very, very high. ? People go out and enjoy themselves, but it's up to society to provide the surroundings for these people not to get completely wasted and lose it. Music and these festivals are there for people to enjoy themselves - to take in as much positive energy as you can and bring it to your life. It is about us, as a society, to provide that life, to give these kids something to go back to that they can actually enjoy. ? At the same time, I'm very outspoken about not doing it [myself], because to me it's the music that drives me, and I can only encourage people to feel the music as pure and straightforward as it was meant to be.
Q: Do you worry about there being a dance music bubble bursting at some point? Is the genre at its peak point right now?
A: The only things that can peak are things that are connected to hype. Yes, this "EDM" thing, this "Vegas EDM" sound, I think it already peaked in 2013, probably. But that's not the electronic music that I listen to or play or produce. This music will never peak because of the progressive, creative nature that's behind it. There will always be something interesting and new that will level it up a notch, so it will never "peak." It's ever-growing and evolving, an art form, not just some thing that passes away.