If legends are either born or made, Paul van Dyk stands as a true mixture of both. The Grammy Award-winning superstar DJ has produced electronic music for nearly 30 years, sold millions of albums, and been named the World’s Number One DJ multiple times.
He is a regular at the biggest festivals across the globe, and his music can be found in video games, films and TV shows. And while it became a subsidiary of fellow DJ Armin van Buuren’s Armada Music in 2010, van Dyk’s own Berlin-based label, Vandit Records, has been going strong for almost two decades.
The musician and producer is also a philanthropist and outspoken ambassador for the peace-making and diplomatic abilities of electronic music — qualities he attributes to his upbringing in the last years of cold war-era East Berlin.
But van Dyk’s substantial legacy almost came to a tragic end last year. Performing at van Buuren’s State of Trance festival in the Netherlands, van Dyk fell trough a cloth-covered portion of stage. The DJ broke his spine in two places and suffered severe brain trauma.
Despite having to learn how to speak, walk, and eat again, van Dyk has made a full recovery and is back to his old ways behind the decks again.
As part of a 16-date run before hitting the summer festival circuit, van Dyk will perform at the House of Blues on Friday night. He recently discussed his first tour since the accident, as well as the current state of electronic music, by phone from Los Angeles.
PACIFIC: How are you?
PAUL VAN DYK: I’m great. Thank you.
Is this the first tour you’ve done since the accident?
I’ve had some shows before this. It’s just the first where it’s a combined tour in terms of putting the dates together with the combined markets into it. Basically, we’ll only be going out for four weeks. But I’m excited to be bringing trance to the world again.
Has your outlook changed?
Perspective after my near-death experience has definitely changed. I was never one who took things for granted before, but now it’s even more so. Those little details matter all that much more. Just being able to go outside and have a walk through the park. Those things are rather special and they now have a different level of appreciation in my life.
Electronic music has exploded in recent years. As someone involved since 1990, how do you view its current state?
It’s always from what angle you look at something. From an artist’s point of view, electronic music has always been on the forefront of everything. There have always been fantastic artists making amazing music that have developed it into the most amazing genre.
But something we’ve seen in the last, let’s say six or eight years, is that the marketing element has become more important than the music itself. This whole EDM thing is more of an audible marketing plan than an actual art form. And it really depends on what one’s definition of electronic music is.
To me, it is music that is actually done by people with passion, have artistry in mind, and want to bring something across. It’s not about copying something that we’ve all heard about a hundred thousand times before and just adding a new laser show to it when you’re on stage. That’s not what I describe the electronic scene to be all about.
Paul van Dyk
When: 8 p.m. May 26
Where: House of Blues, 1055 Fifth Ave., downtown
But you also see it as more than just music.
I see it as a diplomatic approach – if you want to call it that. It brings people together from different cultural backgrounds, different beliefs, and different citizenships. It brings them together in a very peaceful, tolerant, and respectful manner. That is a very unifying element in electronic music. It’s always been there and it always will be.
And you take it one step further into politics and philanthropy.
That probably has to do with how I grew up in East Germany. I grew up, effectively, in a dictatorship. So for me to see the democratic process happening is something that I definitely support. When you grew up in a repressive system, you develop an opinion about political movements and ideals.
I’ve always been outspoken about it and supportive to causes that I think are important. The charities are about taking care of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. And that’s something I would do to the best of my ability even without being a musician.
A lot of electronic artists have given up on the concept of the album. Why do you still believe in it?
You have to be a real fan to take the time to listen to a whole album these days. And you have to be a fan of an artist who appreciates the fact that you want to listen to a whole album. Ninety-five percent of albums these days consist of one single and the rest filling material.
I’m an artist who still believes that every track means something. And I put the same effort into what used to be called a b-side as into a proper single. I hope that the people who enjoy my music actually appreciate it as much as I enjoy putting in the effort.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got a new album in the pipeline. It’s coming out after the summer. Before that, it’s Ibiza season – nine or 10 shows throughout the summer. And I’ll be doing all of the important festivals – EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival) and Spring Awakening in the U.S. to Tomorrowland, Nature One and Creamfields in Europe. I’m very busy bringing my idea of what electronic music should sound like to the people.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos from Oaul van Dyk’s May 26 performance at House of Blues San Diego