If it’s Wednesday it must be Latvia. Tonight Tiësto plays to 15,000 dance enthusiasts and music fans in the Baltic State. Already this week the legendary Dutch DJ has wowed the Balearic masses at his summer-long Monday residency at Privilege. Tomorrow he’s off to Italy. The day after, Greece.
This is very much business as usual for Tiësto, the ultra-busy DJ who turned the playing of trance music into an artform and whose achievements are unsurpassed.
Inspired by the likes of U2, he invested heavily in the live aspect of his sets, employing his own sound, light and visual crews, creating arena-friendly dance music spectaculars. In 1997 he formed his own label, Black Hole Recordings, to release both the records he made himself and ones made by likeminded electronica visionaries. He has been nominated for a Grammy, had worldwide hit singles (his remix of Delerium’s Silence featuring Sarah McLachlan; Dance4Life featuring Faithless’s Maxi Jazz), performed at the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics with music he composed especially for the occasion, wowed the rock festival crowds at Coachella, and remixed the likes of The Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bloc Party. He is, in short, the biggest DJ in the world.
‘Because people care,’ is Tiësto’s response when asked to account for his huge success, ‘and they see that I care. I’m very honest in what I do. It’s not an act or a gimmick. It’s pure, it’s emotion.’
When you see me DJ you know I feel it and I love what I do. The real thing. When you see me play you know you are seeing someone who plays not because he has to but because he loves it. For this champion of the people, it’s not just about his undeniable ability to create a party in any venue, large or small, in any place in the world, but also about how the music moves people. Makes them feel something. People write letters saying, ‘I was going through a bad period but your music and your show made me feel good.’
But 2009 is also very much about business as usual for Tiësto. After a run of four top-selling electronic artist albums, the electronic pioneer has made Kaleidoscope, an artist album in the truest sense: a stunning collection of songs written and recorded in collaboration with a variety of music talents from the worlds of dance, pop and rock: Jónsi Birgisson from Sigur Rós, Kele Okereke from Bloc Party, Nelly Furtado, Calvin Harris, Emily Haines from Metric, to name a few. Having made the DJ performance an artform, Tiësto has now made the dance album an artform.
‘The starting point was to work with different artists that I liked,’ Tiësto explains, ‘it was as simple as that. ‘Sigur Rós make beautiful music. Bloc Party are fantastic and exciting and innovative. But the hardest thing initially was to get those kind of people to collaborate. They don’t work with dance artists as a rule, and especially not a dance DJ, but when we started producing these tracks, I was surprised at how well the styles work together.’
Once the artists had seen YouTube clips of Tiësto’s crowd-wowing performances, like the one of him playing in front of 250.000 people on the beach in Brazil, and once they’d heard the tracks he’d been writing, they all jumped at the chance.
First on board were Tegan and Sara, the Canadian indie duo and twin sisters. Tiësto had remixed their single ‘Back In Your Head’, and in June 2008 they met in Vancouver. ‘I realised what great songwriters they are – I gave them a track to write on and they did an amazing job.’ In his home studio in his hometown of Breda in Holland, Tiësto set to work finessing the collaboration. ‘Feel It In My Bones’ is the result, an epic, shimmering floorfiller.
Soon the songs were pouring in. Nelly Furtado and Tiësto started off as mutual admirers, but after making her way to Tiësto’s performance at the 2008 Miami Winter Music Conference (she’d come along with her producer Timbaland) Furtado instantly agreed to be involved, and a few weeks later she gave Tiësto an idea for a song that would become, ‘Who Wants To Be Alone’. Next to sign up was Emily Haines of Metric. She caught the thrilling Tiësto DJ Experience in Ibiza last summer and again, didn’t hesitate – ‘Knock You Out’ is a euphoric tune that will cause floorquakes in the Balearic isles and rock festivals alike.
Securing the involvement of Kele Okereke, singer with Bloc Party, was initially more of a challenge. ‘Kele’s voice is so powerful on a dance track – I did a remix for Bloc Party, of the band´s new single ‘One More Chance’, and it really worked. Kele was a hard man to pin down. I was supposed to sit in the studio with him in Miami during this year’s WMC, but he got sick and had to cancel last minute. But I had written this weird piano track, an offbeat thing, and he really liked it, so we hooked up in London one Sunday afternoon a few weeks later. I played him the song and he just started singing with his guitar, mumbling a little bit then suddenly words came out of his mouth… and suddenly we had a track! It was amazing to see how this guy made something cool and creative right on the spot.’
The album’s lead single, meanwhile, is ‘I Will Be Here’, a hook-up with huge-selling Australian band Sneaky Sound System. It’s a big, bold party tune with a stirring house-diva vocal – and a song whose infectious immediacy reflects the instinctive manner in which Tiësto wrote it: he crafted the entire production in less than week.
Creating Kaleidoscope, the song that gives this colorful, shapeshifting album its entirely appropriate title, was more drawn-out. Tiësto had his heart, and his ears, set on securing the services of Sigur Rós singer Jónsi Birgisson. Tiësto flew to Chicago to track him down, then did the same in Brussels, before finally spending time in Amsterdam discussing what they might do together.
‘It was a crazy idea,’ he laughs. ‘If you listen to Sigur Rós you can’t imagine any relation to Tiësto. Maybe the melancholy of it, but that’s about it. Their music is so different and I think that Jónsi is one of the most creative artists in the world. But the funny thing was, I met him at a couple of times at shows, and there’s a lot more in common than I thought – Jónsi told me he used to be a big Iron Maiden fan as well, like I was! Then I noticed that he makes a lot of dance music at home on his own. So he’s not that far away from what I do, really.’
The result is a huge, progressive trance song, soulful and uplifting. ‘And Kaleidoscope is a great title for the album too. We’re mixing shapes and colors together to make something new.’
Say hello to a new Tiësto. Yes, he’s the world’s most popular DJ. But the ceaseless desire to innovate that has pushed Tiësto to the top of his game, propelled him to seek out some of the best musicians around, wherever in the world they – or he – happened to be. ‘I’ve worked with these handpicked artists because they´re people I admire hugely, and because they make my music better. It’s more fulfilling for me to work like this, but a lot harder and more challenging.’
In the end, admits Tiësto, he’s unsure how people will react to Kaleidoscope. ‘It is completely different to what I did before,’ he says cheerfully, adding that this is one of the reasons he´s set up an appropriately named new label, Musical Freedom, to release the album. ‘I’m introducing more and more flavors of what people know as Tiësto. This is a record you can enjoy at home, not just on the dancefloor. But what is very important to me, is that every single track on the album will work when I play out too.’
He’s not the world’s greatest DJ for nothing…