Paul Van Dyk Interview | The Student Pocket Guide

What was it like growing up in East Germany before the Berlin wall was knocked down?
My memories about my childhood are all really positive because my mum really tried to give me everything which I needed, love, dedication, food. The thing is, something I learnt over the years is, something you don’t know you don’t miss. We didn’t have any fresh fruit as an example beside of apples but I didn’t miss it because I didn’t know any bananas. So therefore my general memory is a good one because I had a good child hood because my mum tried really hard to provide me with one. She also raised me as a person that’s not taking things for granted on one hand and the other thing as well is to question everything. So if someone tells you this is the way it is and you think it is wrong then question it, try to change it. Obviously we had quite a few problems with that and a dictatorship like we had in East Germany, so on that hand it was a little hectic sometimes. But then again for a teenager it’s always really cool to swim against the stream. My mum always used to say ‘It’s cool to swim against the stream’. Generally good and I think we made the best out of those circumstances.

Is it true you always wanted to be journalist?
Yeah I always wanted to become a journalist but because of the political situation and my standing of my family and stuff I wasn’t allowed to study that.

So how did you find yourself behind the decks?
After I finished school I made an apprentice as a broadcast technician and then we applied to leave East Germany. Finally we were allowed to leave so I had to start my apprenticeship and then I went to the Western and the technology, the development was years ahead compared to East Germany. My job didn’t even exist anymore. I thought what else could I do, and I started an apprenticeship as a Carpenter. Basically at the same time the whole music thing started to grow as well and there was a point when doing both was too much so I had to make a decision on what I like most and where I see a potential future. Luckily enough I decided to do the whole music thing. I never really wanted to be a DJ, the reason why I started was because in East Germany I heard about all this music and the radio and everything. I could never go to the clubs so when the war was over I went to the clubs and it was really boring and disappointing. The music was really 1 dimensional, 1 little fraction out of the whole wide range of electronic music and so I went ahead and brought records and made some tapes for myself and my friends. One of the tapes actually ended up in the hands of the people that did Tresor in Berlin. I was invited to play. When I did that I knew this is what I want to do!

You have been crowned the world’s number one DJ twice in a row. What a great achievement! Why in your opinion did people vote for PVD?
I think it’s a combination of a few things. First of all I think a good DJ has to have a very clear understanding of what he wants to bring across musically. What is the sound you’d like to actually bring across to the people in front of you? The other thing is as well to interact with the crowd. To actually feel what is going on. It doesn’t make any sense if the atmosphere is not quite there yet, to bang it out or play the big hits. It makes sense to pick them up and create a nice vibe in the room all together, and that’s sort of what I do and somehow have the talent for. The other thing is as well, I’m just a real person, there is no fake image. The person you see, the person you talk to, that is me. This is what people appreciate.

To be crowned top dog again in 2006 must have been fantastic, how did you celebrate?
I didn’t really celebrate too much because I was in London for that evening and right after I was announced I had to play for 2 hours. After that we had the first flight out at 8:00am to go to the Amsterdam Dance Event. So there wasn’t really much time to celebrate, it was really exciting, I was over the moon and happy. But at the same time I had to concentrate and I always try to give it 100% and this is what I do so there wasn’t too much partying going on at that moment.

Is there anyone breaking through that excites you on the scene at the moment?
There are lots of people constantly setting a mark as an example. There is a guy that comes from Guatemala who lives in Colombia now called Santiago Nino. Absolutely fantastic production and he’s a great great DJ. He is definitely someone to look out for. There are so many on the production side. Someone like John O’Callaghan as an example delivers and has spot on production. Many more Brian Keirney, there are a lot of great guys out there.

What is the longest set you have ever played?
11.5 hours, funnily enough it was because of Nick Warren back in 1997. Nick Warren was the guest DJ for a party we did at the famous E-work in Berlin. For what ever reason he actually cancelled the very same day. Therefore we didn’t have any other DJ booked so I ended up playing the full hours.

Toilet breaks must be an issue then?
You have to plan it slightly. It’s like in another 2 or 3 records then I really have to go. So you play a long track and tell the security guards so you can make a run through.

What do you enjoy most about being a DJ?
It’s a combination of things because first of all I see myself as an artist. My favourite music is Electronic music and this is what I produce and this is what I make. This is what I love most and my way of presenting that music in front of an audience is as a DJ. So it’s a very very important vital part of what I do. It’s the whole thing, its basically playing my favourite music in front of people. The other thing is that Electronic music is the only truly global music culture in the world. So you can go where ever in the world and you’ll find people that are actually interested in that music and love that music. So it’s a very uniting and connecting tool as well, it’s such a great thing.

How do audiences vary from country to country?
Obviously they are all different but as I explained before it’s always down to the interaction with the crowd. I don’t have a set planned out. I have a few key elements that I would like to play but at the same time it’s like the way to that key elements is always different. It depends on how the vibe is and what’s going on. It is always different. The Mexicans are rather crazy. Latin America’s sometimes difficult to even go out on the street because they all know what I look like and they are rather hectic. It’s different from place to place but at the same time if it comes down to the music itself people actually book me because they wanna listen to my approach to Electronic music and not just playing the big hits of the moment.

No one better than your self could tell us the best club in the world. If you had to name one, what would it be?
Since you trust my judgment I would say that there is no such thing. It’s definitely something I have experienced over the years of clubbing myself, playing out, being a DJ. There are great events at great venues in great clubs. But you can go to a club on a Friday night and totally enjoy it and you can go back to the same club and it really sucks on Saturday. There is no such thing as the super duper club. Of course there are some set ups which make you more happy than others. Space in Miami is such a thing. There are a few clubs in New York, there is 1015 in San Francisco, there is Zook in Singapour, there is Romp in Tokyo. There are places all other the place. As an example I really like playing the Galleria in London but at the same time it might not be the perfect set up for a club. The DJ is weirdly pressed into the corner and you hardly see the dance floor because people are right in front of you on the bass bins. It’s not a good layout of a club but it’s one of the best clubs in the country. There is no such thing as ‘the best club’. There are great moments and great events all over the place all of the time.

Do you prefer to play clubs or festivals?
I like both. Playing the Galleria in London is so full force. I just played there a week before last and it is absolutely amazing. As much as I enjoy the big festivals as well it’s a different approach to what I do but at the same time it is all about the music. It is the centre point to everything that connects it.

What is your opinion on the club scene drugs culture?
I would like to make it very clear that I am not a supporter of the idea that to listen to Electronica music you need drugs. I am a clear example that that isn’t necessary. When I grew up my first contact with Electronic music was in front of the radio. I was 14 years old and there was no way for me to even go to a club or even get any drugs in East Germany. So therefore my relationship with the music is very clean, very pure. I never needed it. I’m not telling anybody what they should do but at the same time I think it’s a responsibility of the whole society to actually educate our youngsters what they do to them selves, if they do that. I think it isn’t a problem of any specific kind of music, this is a problem of the whole social surroundings of the country. Why do people take drugs? To escape their reality, why do they need to escape their reality? Because something is wrong, so change that and people don’t need to take drugs anymore.

What is the best memory you have from being behind the decks?
The most recent memory was in Berlin last Saturday which is obviously really special to me because it is my home town. I’m also in the last phases of making the last sort of bits and pieces of my new album. So this was the first time I had played out and played heavily all my new stuff. So no one knew any of the tracks but they went completely wild. If you see that and you feel that then it is just a great feeling, it’s amazing. If you play something that is brand new, that no one has heard of and they go completely wild then you know you did something right.

What is your album called and when is it out?
It’s called ‘In Between’ and it is out the last week of June.

Could you tell us a little about it?
It has some deeper moments, some drastic moments as well. Since I’m making my music as well and not just sitting in the back while other people are making my music for me and then put my name on it. Basically the music that I make is kind of a reflection of what I play as well. This is obviously the core elements of Electronic music that I love, that I play so that what I produce as well. My musical background includes bands like Dismiss and New Order. I am also a big fan of Placebo so you will find elements of that on an album as well.

Do you have an ultimate goal in life?
For me there is not such a thing. Of course the basic stuff like staying healthy and don’t have any accidents, all that kind of stuff. I wish the same for my family and for my friends. Another thing I do is to work quite closely with some charities. So I would wish that these charities wouldn’t be necessary anymore.

What drives you to produce the quality of music and mixing that you do?
First off there always has to be an inspiration. Life in general is an inspiration. I see so many things that always somehow end up in my music. I love Electronic so much that I would like to have what I do, if its DJing or producing music sounding good as any how goes. I know I’m a little bit of a freak on that end, sometimes I work for 3 days on a damn bloody hi hat that no one else actually hears, but I do. I think it’s damn passion I think. You dedicate yourself to a style of music, you make a track, you want it sounding good and it’s damn fucking passion.

Which do you prefer, spending time in the studio or DJing?
It belongs together, for me it’s not really about taking it apart as of yet. Maybe when I’m 50 and I don’t want to travel anymore. I might end up making ambient music because it fits my feelings so what ever.

So would you say that a DJ is not a true DJ until they are producing tracks themselves?
Not at all! There are very different approaches towards DJing. You still have the guys that say vinyl is the thing; you need to have the vinyl in your hand. There are so many people using the CD DJing equipment. As an example to how I work its not even DJing to the understanding how we had it a few years ago, because I have 2 computer systems with me. So for me it’s not about playing the right tune at the right time. It’s about playing the right elements of the right tunes of the right time together, and playing something half way decent on top, that’s what my approach is. This is mine and all the others exist as well. If you look at someone like Eddie Halliwell, he made a name for himself for being an amazing talented DJ with out even having a record or a remix out. I don’t think he has ever been to the studio. He is still a big name in the UK now and people know about him and this is probably because he is the best if comes down to playing with LCD players, it’s crazy what he does. This is what people appreciate, something new and something unique. This is much more important than putting a track out because most of the time people go to the studio for the first time and I’m no exception and don’t know how it works. So at the end of the day it is most likely someone else’s music with a little bit of influence from yourself, that’s usually the first record from a DJ. I wanted to know how everything works. I learned how to play the Piano, I learnt how to play the guitar, I learnt how to use the whole studio equipment and produce music and engineer the music and all that. This is when it becomes your own music really.

If you were in charge of the world for 1 day, what would you change?
I would have a very substantial amount of the money that goes into weapons rerouted into food and educational programmes all over the world because when people are educated and have food they understand the complex situation of this planet and they don’t really need to fight against each other any more. That might sound very simple and I have just phrased it there but I don’t actually know if that would be done easily in 1 day, but this is sort of definitely the way to go!