Nick van de Wall, or Afrojack, is coming back to America. That’s welcome news to his fans and also a sign of the still sizable hunger for this thing we have resigned to calling “electronic dance music.” The Jacked Tour will hit mainstays like Miami and Las Vegas while also stopping by Tucson. A massive New Year’s Eve gig in New York is also rumored to be in the works.
It’s a bit of a gut-check moment for the 25-year-old known for his signature bleepy style of production. Afrojack has not only crossed over into pop production (he helmed the boards for Ne-Yo’s “Give Me Everything,” remixed Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and has worked with Pitbull and Shakira), but also into mainstream tabloids, where he was linked to Paris Hilton, whom he supposedly dated for six months. Like many of his contemporaries and predecessors (Steve Angello, Above & Beyond, etc.), he also started his own imprint, Wall Recordings and oversees an impressive roster of fellow Dutch artists, including R3HAB and Shermanology.
But though Afrojack’s star continues to rise, he’s still not at the very pinnacle of the game. He’s not headlining Madison Square Garden, like Swedish House Mafia, or Radio City, like Avicii. This isn’t a slight, it’s something Afrojack himself brought up in a recent interview with The Huffington Post. “It’s not about being successful,” he said. “It’s about being yourself and being happy with yourself. And that’s where I’m at right now. I’m not the No. 1 DJ in the world. I didn’t have fucking 20 Billboard No. 1 hits, but everywhere I go around the world, I can share my music with people who want to have fun.”
When speaking with Afrojack, one gets the sense that he’s pretty much surprised by the amount of success he’s been able to drum up in the two years or so that he’s been a global name. There’s a certain earnestness that comes through at his live shows, whether he’s swigging from a bottle of Grey Goose vodka or politely asking the crowd if they’re “ready for some Afrojack music.” So for now, the emphasis remains on The Party. And why not, when your party takes you all over the world, with your friends and a few celebrities along for the ride?
In the edited transcript that follows, Afrojack dishes on why he’s focused on not always being responsible, what he thinks the scene needs to stay strong and reveals a collaboration with Chris Brown.
We first spoke over a year ago — That is a long time ago. Wow. I think I had just started in America like two years ago, so that’s a long time.
Right, and your life has changed quite a bit in that time. What’s been most surprising about that? What surprised me is that I’m still doing well, and still having great parties everywhere. It’s a really happy surprise, because it’s not like “hey, let’s go see Afrojack, OK that was fun.” It’s an actual connection with my fans, so we can do lots of parties and we even see the same guys at all the shows. Growing is important, but seeing the same guys is the coolest thing. And I’m really proud of what happened with the whole label and signing artists and building them up. I started with R3HAB last year and I built him up and now he’s crazy in America. Now I’m building with Shermanology, who I did my last single, “Can’t Stop Me” with. And they’re starting to tour in America and playing all the big festivals. It’s cool to see that it’s possible to have fun in the music scene and industry and to do it with your own friends or circle. Not having to make asshole or stupid decisions. Everyone says if you really want to make it you have to be an asshole. Well, apparently you don’t.
Ultra just announced that they’re doing another weekend this year, and the scene seems to keep growing. Do you think we’re at the point where we can stop worrying that dance music’s popularity in America is a bubble? I think if we don’t focus too much on being interesting — because a lot of people are like, “Hey look at me! I’m so interesting” or “This is so interesting!” — like the DJ Mag Top 100. It’s important, but not really that important. The most important thing in dance music is to remember that we’re having fun. Don’t go too crazy with shows and say “I’m going to throw the most amazing festival ever!” and have it end up sucking. The essence of dance music is that people go out to party with people who like the same people. That’s what’s so amazing about, say, [Electric Daisy Carnival] in Las Vegas, where you will have 120,000 people a day. And the second day the winds were so strong that they had to blow off half of the festival. And there were no fights, no one got stabbed. Because those people are all there for the love of the music.
I never really met a promoter in America — though I met some in Europe — who is in it for the money. In Europe I had some instances where someone would be like “yeah we’re going to make this much money tonight,” and if you don’t, it’s not good. That’s bullshit, but that only happened once or twice. It never happened in America. They just want the music scene to get bigger.
But do you think that has something to do with the way you’ve conducted yourself and your business, in that you’ll drop a song when you like, without much of a corporate mentality? The thing is, we’re looking into working with a major label to have bigger promotion for the poppy side of my music. But whatever happens, I will be the boss. I have an agent, my managers, people who work for them. I have a company of like 30 to 40 people working for me. But in my case, I give [my managers] freedom, but I’m the one who makes the decisions. If I want to put a free track on Twitter, I’ll put a free track on Twitter. Because I’m the boss. It’s my fucking Twitter. I’m Afrojack, I don’t give a fuck what anyone else says.
That’s important for me to remember. It’s not always responsibility. It is fun and I’m still Nick van de Wall and I’m still myself and living my own life. A lot of people forget about that, they think it’s just the company and we have to make our friends proud and make shitload of money because that’s cool and if you can’t to be successful, you have to do this-and-that. It’s not about being successful. It’s about being yourself and being happy with yourself. And that’s where I’m at right now. I’m not the No. 1 DJ in the world. I didn’t have fucking 20 Billboard No. 1 hits, and everywhere I go around the world, I can share my music with people who want to have fun. And that’s why I’m excited to do this tour again, in America. I get to go to all the cities and have 5,000 people in every fucking city and just have a good party. That’s our connection.
Any stops that you’re really looking forward to on this tour? I’m finally doing a show in L.A. after almost a year now. And I’m going back to Vegas, which is like a second home to me. Miami is always really good. And I think I’m going for the first time to Tucson and doing some college cities that I’ve never done. And I’m going to San Francisco after a really long time, I think two years.
And what about production? When you and I first spoke, you were just trying to get into the studio with Shakira, and now your collaboration with her is back in the news. I’ve been in the studio with Shakira but now she has another thing coming up so that’s on hold. But I’m not a fan of laying around. I have four or five productions on Pit Bull’s album, I produced a happy pop song for and I have a new thing coming for Chris Brown. It’s not finished, but I just got the stems for the acapella so I’ll finish that this week. And I signed a new guy to my label.
It must be fun to have those new guys at your shows. The thing is, I’m used to playing for 10,000 or 20,000 people. The feeling that I had for the first, second and third time I saw that many people was, “Oh my God. What the fuck.” Now that doesn’t happen anymore. I’m still happy to play for them and when they put their hands up in the air and start screaming I still feel that. But a new guy has never seen 20,000 people in one place ever. So when I see the smile on his face, when he sees 20,000 people coming together for dance music — that’s priceless.
So when you see it through their eyes it’s like seeing it again for yourself. Yeah exactly, and that’s why I like to build up other artists. I have a very extreme life, and I get to do crazy stuff. Lots of fun stuff. Everything you can imagine, like “Oh my God, that would be so crazy,” I probably already did it. And what’s better than sharing that with your friends?