It’s 8:45 and the Pacific Coliseum is already exuding pure excitement. For throngs of adoring fans around the world Hardwell acts as a gateway to the vast and complex realm of dance music. He is a mainstream beacon, one without a single radio hit, and as the youngest DJ ever to top DJ Magazine’s top 100 list—he is the epitome of EDM.
Donning a simple black t-shirt and jeans, Hardwell is fleshing out show details when we arrive—apparently it had been a long night partying with birthday boy Dannic after a Hakkasan gig in Vegas the night before.
After shaking hands and taking a seat, Hardwell seems relaxed, as if the interview is a brief reprieve from otherwise hectic planning. Closing a laptop chalk full of new United We Are edits, Hardwell casually takes a sip of Heineken and sighs.
He wears authenticity on his sleeve—just another twenty-something slowly figuring out his way and trying to make good while following a dream. Without a shadow of a doubt, what you see is what you get…and this is Hardwell:
Club or stadium? We figure we will start off light and easy…but the pause in the room is audible…
Vegas or Ibiza?
Robbert or Hardwell? Here we know there will be an elongated silence…but nothing, right off the cusp he has the answer ready:
Trance or Big Room?
Xbox or Playstation?
Adagio for Strings by Mark Sixma or Tiesto?
Apollo or Spaceman? Now we know we have him…
“A…Spaceman…yeah, Spaceman.”He chuckles
ASOT or Club Life?
Now it is time to dig in and find out how the last eighteen months traveling the world with the ‘I Am Hardwell’ concept has changed both Robbert and his beloved alter-ego Hardwell.
“Um, well I think for both Robbert and Hardwell it is literally a dream coming true. We never had the intention of doing a world tour we just wanted to do a special concert in Amsterdam, but at that point all of these promoters worldwide started requesting the I Am Hardwell show. I mean that is really how we started this whole world tour and from there I really learned how much I enjoyed these shows.”
“For a DJ doing your own concert is really the next step past a festival, which is also incredible, but doing your own show…where people come to see you…that is almost like an artist level type of thing. You just have so much more creative control, and travelling all over the world with your own team is just a great experience.”
But things haven’t always been sold out stadiums and fans passing out at meet and greets. Before Hardwell established himself as a progressive-electro mainstay he was crafting his musical taste amongst contemporaries in the nearly forgotten, yet incredibly important, Dutch bubbling scene. Consisting of sped up dancehall tempos and hip-hop influences, bubbling can be seen as the spiritual birth place of modern day Dutch house.
“Actually yeah, I started with a lot of bubbling beats and a lot more hip-hop. I still think in some of my tracks you can tell that I started by doing that. I was one of the first ‘EDM’ DJs that started mixing really fast with a lot of quick transitions which is a lot more hip-hop and bubbling. I can’t escape it, I think a lot of current tracks you hear now are still inspired by bubbling. Even Spaceman comes from that idea and style.”
Speaking of current EDM releases, Hardwell has been rather vocal in recent interviews, stating that dance music is becoming predictable and bland—although he is yet to say who is at fault.
“I think that EDM is just so big right now that there are just too many new DJs and producers coming up. There are a lot of really refreshing new talents, but on the other hand a lot of really lame copycat producers trying to get in on it. Now and then…really…”
Hardwell pauses, and we figure he wants to say shitty. But he glazes over it…
“…just…tracks I don’t like show up on the Beatport charts and I’m like yo what is this. My manager, Sebastian Lintz, is always tweeting about artists who buy their way up the Beatport charts and I just don’t think it’s necessary—if its good music then its good music and it will get out there. Or, sometimes you don’t expect to have a hit and then out of nowhere it happens. I mean with Martin Garrix and Animals, nobody expected that.”
“Sometimes you know and sometimes you don’t. Still, at this point in time I am really happy with the state of ‘EDM’ because a lot of things are evolving. I really liked Skrillex’ album, and anything Porter Robinson is doing right now. Even the new Knife Party album is completely different and that means we are still moving forward and keeping it refreshing.”
While Knife Party, and Porter Robinson may be holding down the creativity front, Hardwell is nearing the release date for his definitive body of work. With his debut album launching in January and the staggering statistic that over forty percent of the material on the album will be unexpected—spanning deep house, hardstyle, and big room—we have to ask if was a conscious choice in an attempt to revitalize the mainstream rut we just referenced.
“No no, it just happened. There was no intention, no desire to change dance music. People really think that my album is going to be super innovative and next level—it’s just a Hardwell album. I am not going to meet these peoples’ predictions, the album is what I like in music; my musical taste. I like basically all genres, from Reggae to Rock and everything between. Even with dance music itself like you mentioned, from deep house to hardstyle with Headhunterz—it’s just cool to play around with different styles and keep it a little bit refreshing for myself as well.”
“If you flip through the whole album it is really diverse and actually easy listening compared to if every track sounded the same. Some tracks are more poppy, like for example my latest release Young Again…but on the other hand you will have more club releases on the album as well so it really is the best of both worlds.”
All of this talk about United We Are and Hardwell’s collaboration with Tiesto hasn’t come up. Recently in a sit down with the EDM Network he confessed that the Tijs track was perhaps his favorite on the entire album—so how come it has been brought up? And for that matter, what makes it standout?
“I think the vocals really get me. Also we have been working on this track for four years. We started working on it right after Zero 76 came out and it was supposed to be the follow up, but we never finished it. Since then we have done two others tracks and Written in Reverse for Tijs album—but right before the summer season started this year I was listening to the top line when I was looking for tracks for my album and I have so many demos laying around I just happened to come across the track.”
“I texted Tijs: yo, what do you want to do with this track? He said he really liked the vocals but I didn’t like the music and I had exactly the same felling: it felt outdated. So we just kept the vocal and redid all the music: new ports, new melody, and it was way, way better than before. It just came out of nowhere. I was so happy with how it turned out, I mean you never know why a track has a certain emotional feeling.”
With time running out we would be remise if we didn’t bring up Hardwell’s I Am Hardwell grand finale at Madison Square Garden. With fans in Vancouver so undeniably excited for tonight’s show we can’t imagine how amped MSG ticket holders must be. Sure enough, with mere mention of the event Hardwell beams with pride…
“I promised my fans that I am going to play like half of my album at that show—so that is really the biggest preparation for me. I’ve finished the album, basically all of it, but I want to make sure I have club versions of some tracks…maybe change things up a little bit. I was actually just working on some edits now.”
The I Am Hardwell experience is a living testament to the unbridled passion and personality Hardwell emotes. Spanning three hours, Hardwell traverses countless classic reworks, fan favorites, and Hardwell originals—it is made to look and feel effortless, yet it is anything but. For the past two years this has been Robbert’s life. I Am Hardwell has been an extension of his character, and there is still time to join him for one last go around.
Miami & New York are calling. Don’t miss your chance.
– Ryan Hayes