There are few people who have an impact in the global market of electronic dance music more than Afrojack. The superstar DJ, real name Nick van de Wall, needs no introduction. But if there’s one that I can offer, Afrojack is a Dutch DJ, producer, remixer, and music programmer, who has expanded from those titles and become one of EDM’s biggest most recognizable names.
From his time in the mainstream with the likes of Pitbull, Snoop Dogg, Madonna, French Montana, and more to producing club hits with dance music icons like David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Hardwell, Laidback Luke, and many more, Afrojack’s influence can be felt across the entertainment industry. His performance at Ultra Music Festival and upcoming residency coming to Las Vegas are indicators that his gravitas maintain a massive presence within the electronic dance music scene.
We had a chance to sit with Afrojack to talk about his latest endeavors, what it takes to make a set for a festival, and the gravity of the choices artists make when they decide to become apart of the music industry.
How did you prepare for MMW and for your set at Ultra Music Festival?
Afrojack: It was a lot of fun, a lot of preparation and a lot of work together with my production team. I also like the new location [even though] the shuttle thing could have backfired or have people traveling [to Ultra] bond together more. And I think that the extra effort that a lot of artists put in definitely added to the love between the people. It made for a more special experience. Not necessarily a more luxurious experience, but definitely a more personal experience.
That’s true. It will definitely be an Ultra that stands apart from any other iterations. And you’re set was part of and added to that experience. Especially the last moments of your set where you played your latest single “Sober” with Rae Sremmurd and Stanaj. What was it like for you to see the crowd’s reaction of bringing your collaborators for the closing of your set?
Afrojack: It was fun. I think a lot of the crowd were very surprised, in the beginning. But they got down to it. It’s like what I always say, “Don’t use your stage unless it’s for what you intended.” There’s always a lot of political stuff going on [in the music industry]. When you make these big singles between the labels and the music publications like Rolling Stone or Billboard, I’m very interested to see the song be performed as part of the main part of the artist. But I already knew I’m going to play at Ultra. I know that some people are going to come to see live music, but most are coming to see the real dance music stuff. That’s why I pushed the performance for the very end of the show. Even though I like it, the main part of the Ultra set is the other 85 minutes. Doing it live was a treat to have Rae Sremmurd come out with a lot of American fans as they have a lot of hype right now. I would love to give the basic answer of it was amazing and blah, blah, blah. That’s not what Ultra is all about. That’s not what that stage is about. I was just happy that I got them there. And it’s good for the press and good for the the look, but we have to be honest that it’s a nice extra for the fans who didn’t come just to see that, you know?
Right. It’s more of a bonus, but not the meat what fans are expecting, right?
Afrojack: Right. It’s also why we only did one song. It’s like people don’t come to for a full fifty minute of just that. They come to see me and my music. I love Rae Sremmurd, but if I showed up at their show and did 20 minutes of EDM, their fans would have to get used to it. I think that’s why this was the perfect combination. It was not too long and it was not too short. Just a quick special thing at the end.
That makes a lot of sense. In regards to the song itself, how did “Sober” come about between the four of you before Miami witnessed it the way they did?
Afrojack: There’s always a lot of backstory to a song. So when some asks how songs come about, they’ll never hear the full story. In this case, it’s the same. I went to Denmark where I worked with Thomas [Troelsen] on the beat and the basic demo. And then I had to go to L.A., work on it with Stanaj, and then work with a couple of other rappers, actually. Then, one day, I was in the studio with Rae Sremmurd and we recorded that version. And then, I went back to Stanaj to redo the vocals. Then, we were shooting the music video with Rae Sremmurd and changed part of the song during the video shoot. We actually rerecorded stuff in the dressing room. It may not be the romantic story of four people coming into the studio, having a fun time, and making a song. I’ve never seen that happen, actually. There’s a lot of back and forth between different locations, through different studios, and through different people.
What about upcoming music coming from you in the near future?
Afrojack: No. I’m not saying anything about it until it’s out there, you know? I work with a lot of people and, like I said, there’s a lot of politics with labels and their priorities and want to make money. So stuff gets put to the side a lot of the time, you know? Like there are a lot of songs that are fully finished, but we do not have the paperwork in place to actually release it. The same thing applied to “Sober”, which was done in September and the video was done between then or October. But we didn’t get the clearance until five days before it came out.
Is it correct for me to assume that “Sober” is the first single in your next and upcoming body of work?
Afrojack: Yes. That is correct.
That’s excellent. But aside from your producing and DJing, you’ve assumed a position as the CEO of LDH Europe, correct?
Afrojack: Yes, that’s correct!
How is your “new” job?
Afrojack: I wouldn’t say it’s a new job. It’s more an extension of my past job. I always worked on artist development on my label Wall Recordings. From Quintino, R3hab, and Shermanlogy back in the day, but now my skills are merging with LDH Europe. I’ve actually been allocated a team with past experiences in that side. LDH has already been doing this in Japan and now I get to do it in Europe together with them. So I have a much bigger team that’s focused on artist development than if it’s just myself. And now we’re able to sign more people. Which is why we need to Global Remix Battle. I actually have people who are talking in the office talking to the artist on a daily basis next to me too. So we have a lot more attention spread across these new artists which I hope goes into growing more successful and more stable artists in the future.
Is there a great deal of difference between how you managed artists before working with LDH and now?
Afrojack: Before it was fun with me just trying to sign some people and having them join a tour with me. But I wouldn’t really be creating a schedule for them. It was just that I would throw them in there and see what happens. But now with the whole team, we’re able to create full schedules and almost guarantee a certain level of effectiveness.
That’s incredible, especially in consideration with your experience across the European market. But you brought up the Global Remix Battle which brought five names to your fanbase and many more who have probably never heard of these new artists. Is there any news on upcoming releases from these artists on your label?
Afrojack: Yes. That’s very interesting, actually. We had 150 people sign up for the first Global Remix Battle. We’re planning the next one already. We signed Chipcat and Hiroki already. Hiroki’s stuff was so far advanced, actually, that I played two or three of his records during my Ultra set. One of the IDs that played was actually a collaboration between him and me. In terms of working with him, that went very fast. Production-wise, he is just so far advanced. And when I heard his remix, I could just hear that this guy has been analyzing how to mix and how to master for years. So when I was in the studio with him a few weeks ago after he had won, he showed me his projects and his way of working. He explained to me why he made certain kicks or certain sounds the way he did and it’s just the same way that I think. So it was very easy for us to already start something.
It’s kind of like how fans of a certain genre find out about a musician a lot of people are not familiar with and then they just start to pop off over time. But for you, you get to be apart of the process of these artists becoming known in a structured and streamlined process, no?
Afrojack: That’s what it’s about for me! I already have that stage. I could make a record that makes the people go crazy. But, I’m just going to have a lot of records and it doesn’t change anything for my situation, you know? Maybe I’ll sell a few more tickets or sell a few more records, but it’s not going to change my life. But for someone like him it’s a life changing thing. Before this, no one heard his music on such a big stage and now a lot of people are asking me about his music, which results in an experience most people will never have. That’s basically why I try to set up this whole thing. I call it “recycling my network” or “recycling my experience.” And on a personal note, it makes it more fun for me too. Although touring is fun, it becomes a lot more fun when you get to recycle that experience for other artists. So when we sell out a show in Houston or Club Glow Echo Stage in Washington D.C., it’s great when we get to sell it out again because my friends still love me, but it’s a whole different level when you get to bring a new artists and the fans get excited about that artists. But for that artist, this is their first time with the experience of seeing people know his music. I know how that was for me and that was a life changing experience. Being able to be the one to provide the life changing experience with only one phone call for other people is amazing. It requires zero effort on my end. All I have to do is call someone and say, “Yo, this guy is dope.” And then they book him and it turns out he’s actually dope. So the promoters are happy, the fans are happy, and the artist is happy. All it requires is one, simple introduction.
Speaking of touring, it has been announced that you have a residency coming up with Wynn Las Vegas which include Encore Beach Club, XS, and Intrigue. What’s the difference for you between performing at clubs versus music festivals?
Afrojack: When you do a headlining show, it’s a lot more simple to put together a good playlist or to put together a good plan for the show of what the audience will probably like because they are are your fans. You can build everything in your set around your own catalogue. But when you’re playing something like Ultra, especially at this day and age, everything’s been done before. Trying to do something that original, interesting, and reminiscent of the old times while it also speaks about your catalogue is a very difficult thing. I don’t know why, but this year to be prepared, I started preparing the set three months in advance. I started in the third week of January and I am very happy that I did. As I’m looking back at the set, it’s like the right amount of everything. Normally when you DJ without being a producer or anything else and you’re just DJing, you constantly have to play into the people’s reaction. But when you have so many years playing for the same crowd of people, you sort of have an idea what they will respond to already. Every a cappella and every instrumental mixed together was chosen to continuously spike the interest of people my own age, the people who have been listening to dance music for a long time, the people that are there for the first, the people in the VIP section of the festival, the bloggers, the press, and more. It was a very difficult preparation to make sure that my set was engaging. But, that’s the challenge of it, you know? It’s one thing, the challenge of DJing and picking the right record on the spot. But it’s a different thing to be able to do it in advance, especially when it’s at these big festivals where your set it streamed live and they stay on their channel for a whole year as a trademark of your brand. I think all these things make one set so important. I also think that seeing the responses of not just people saying that they loved my set but that they had to re-listen to certain parts of it to catch what actually happened was meeting a goal that I had with this set. It’s cool to aim for a goal and reach it. I don’t care if it was the best set or not. I just want people to see the detail of the stuff that went into it.
I feel that what you’re saying is true. At a certain point, you pulled mashups like one of “Work (Remix)” by A$AP Ferg and Kesha’s “Tik Tok” that had me scratching my head figuratively but raging. Doing wild things like that, but keeping them consistent in a set that’s true to your brand overall and currently is a feat.
Afrojack: It’s funny because, I didn’t actually come up with that mashup. That’s actually a Nitti Gritti mashup. I just added “Deep Down Low” [by Valentino Khan] and “Losing It” by Fisher. But Nitti Gritti did the original mashup. For me, honestly, it’s like the new version of the Vengaboys’ [“We Like to Party”] mashup with “Whistle” [by 4B and Teez]. I finished playing that mashup between Vengaboys and “Whistle” because everyone has already done it by now. So you don’t want to be playing that record because everyone has already heard it like ten times. The mashup that Nitti Gritti did is sick. It’s like the perfect combo and just when you think it’s about to get cheesy, the beat comes back from “Work” and just the a cappella from “Tik Tok” just makes it gangster.
God, that song is hard and I have to agree. Final question, what the craziest story you can share with us from your any show, festival, or club setting that you’ve ever helmed?
Afrojack: I think that most of my career has been a pretty amazing story itself. Some crazy stuff happened in my career and things that have appeared in the press that involve my personal life that don’t happen in a lot of people’s lives. I can’t really pinpoint one exact thing. The one thing I will say is that I’m very happy with my family situation right now. I’m in a very good state of mind that is very neutral and very clear. And that’s what I notice about other people and especially other DJs. And because your readers read to the end, I just want to say that to all the DJs who go touring or are dealing with the mix of touring with their private lives should stop whining or get a different job. We are in this thing by choice. That’s the only thing that I keep seeing is that more and more people are not happy with what they have. I think that we are all very, very happy to get to choose what we love and to get paid for it. So if you ever hear about an artist complaining that he couldn’t see his family for Christmas because he had to make $100,000 to perform at a venue at Singapore, I think that speaks for itself. Even though I see the hard part of touring, at the end we get paid and we get to do what we love as work. So, if there’s any complaints about that I have many artists in my development team that really want to take over your gigs. With Chipcat, Hiroki, and more at my side there are no worries.
In his own words, Afrojack gave his perspective on what went into his latest single “Sober” with Rae Sremmurd and Stanaj and what it takes for an artist of his caliber to prepare a set millions will be hearing for a long time. Make sure to check out the his Ultra Music Festival set here.
Also make sure to check out his latest song and music video of “Switch” with Jewelz & Sparks and Emmalyn released today. The song is a combination of dark, deep house fused with electro pop that is set to be the ideal summer jam.