Exclusive Interview: Hardwell on Ushuaïa’s DNA and the changes in his music direction
“You have got to think about what’s really important in life and the most important thing about having success and being popular is that you’re in a position to give something back to the world.”
Powerful words from an electronic music trailblazer that has tirelessly worked to push the boundaries of not only his artistic integrity but his social responsibility. We’re talking of course about Robbert Van De Corput, better known to his fans as Hardwell. Meticulous, charming, and personable are just some of the words we could use to describe Hardwell. As a two time winner of the infamous DJ Mag poll, Hardwell is one young man who may have the world in his hands, but his feet are set firmly on the ground. His dedication to his fans, friends and family are evident in the way his eyes light up when talking about his love for music and people close to his heart.
After a countless amount of successful singles and collaborations, documentaries, tours, and even an action figure the young hit-maker shows no sign of slowing down. This summer we were fortunate enough to be a part of an evening at Hardwell’s DNA – his third season-long residency at the magnificent open-air club Ushuaïa Ibiza. The residency ran each Tuesday over summer from 28 June until 13 September. Joined on the famous open-air stage in 2016 was whole host of top talent including Kill the Buzz, Funkerman, Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano, Yiva, Chocolate Puma, Alok and many more. We talked to Hardwell about his residency in Ibiza, finishing the ‘I am Hardwell’ tour and much more.
The concept of ‘DNA’ was certainly a step forward for the DJ and he was delighted with the latest production by Ushuaïa:
“I’m really happy with my residency at Ushuaïa. It’s my third year as a resident here and this is by far the best year we’ve had so far. I love how the stage looks and everything went pretty flawless this season. I love Ibiza and I love Ushuaïa. I think it’s the best club in Ibiza. To have my residency here – I’m really happy to do this every year. With DNA I wanted to do a more futuristic concept. With that being said I wanted to have a concept even line-up wise that’s more open minded compared to the other years. DNA. No matter what your DNA is – you will always have a great time. And with DNA I mean your music taste. I think it’s time to show the world more diversity in dance music. There is so much great music on this island and that’s what Ibiza is known for. Ibiza is the greatest place on earth when it comes to discovering dance music. I wanted to be a part of that. Especially as one of the guys of the new generation – I think my younger fans definitely have a great time listening to DJ’s that they don’t normally listen to.”
High-energy festival sets do a lot for the atmosphere of the crowd but its shortcomings definitely lie in the lack of flexibility an artist has when performing. With such a short set, an artist is expected to play their hits, which leaves little time for any kind of improvisation musically. Ushuaïa’s event set-up and 2 hour set time allows for more musical exploration by the DJ which in turn gives fans a unique opportunity to hear the other sides of a DJ – of which there are many when it comes to Hardwell.
“When I get booked at a festival and I only get to play for 60 minutes people expect me to play my biggest songs and the biggest hits of my label, some new releases and that’s it. That’s why I’ve decided at Ushuaïa to play for 2 hours and I can basically play what I want. I always go a little deep and then in the end I bang out my hits and everybody has a great time. I think as a DJ I am really open minded and I try to play as many different things as possible. I’m really happy with this line-up as it shows the diversity of the night and people are since the beginning of the night more open minded.”
It was recently an end of an era as Hardwell finished his long running ‘I am Hardwell’ tour. The tour was a source of many fond memories and experiences for the young Dutchman and Revealed colleagues:
“It was bittersweet. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever played in my life. I played for 3 hours and 20 minutes because I had to stop (laughs). Amazing crowd, amazing location. It was really emotional as well because I really closed down a chapter of my life. It was a really great show. One of the best shows I’ve played in my life – my friends and family were there. It was great to see so much support and so many fans. I couldn’t have wished for more.”
Musically, the Dutch superstar is clearly branching out. With a more pop-y Craig David collaboration and a return to his beloved original sound with the new track with Blasterjaxx – Hardwell is clearly exploring different sounds.
“I’m going all over the place. 3 months ago I released my first hardstyle track. When it comes to the Craig David track I was really open minded. I was always stuck in one certain sound and I was thinking ‘Why should I be caught up in the studio with one particular sound?’ I want to do everything. As a musician (because I’ve been playing piano for over 10 years), I just want to do different things and I want to show the world my diversity when it comes to music and in the end good music is good music and if I believe in a record it doesn’t matter what genre it is – I think my fans will believe in that. It’s working out you know. I love to make different kind of tracks. The track with Craig David is more pop-y and then you have ‘Wake Up Call’ which is a hardstyle track. The collaboration with Blasterjaxx is a track you exactly know me for. I keep it always in between. I will never give up on my own music style. I will never give up on the EDM sound but at the end I don’t want to be a prisoner of my own style.”
We recently had a chat to W&W about their chemistry with Hardwell after a myriad of successful collaborations. The Dutchman definitely reciprocated the many positive feelings his friends Willem and Ward had about working together and even brought them along to the show:
“We have exactly the same vision when it comes to making records. We can make pop records and we can make EDM records but we have exactly the same vision. We’re looking for the same emotion in tracks, the same euphoric feeling, the same vibe, the same energy. We work so fast together because we have so many different ideas. I come from a completely different direction. I am a hip-hop kind of guy and they come from the trance world and we blend everything in between and that’s the success. Besides that we’re best friends. There’s a reason why they’re here tonight with me.”
One of the most admirable projects the superstar DJ has ever been a part of is the ‘World’s Biggest Guestlist’ in India where Hardwell and his Revealed colleagues organised a massive free show that not only provided Indian fans a unique opportunity to see their favorite DJ but will also benefit the community for years to come.
“It was amazing. I always got asked the question – especially one year ago and the year before when I became the number 1 DJ – ‘What’s next for you?’ You have got to think about what’s really important in life and the most important thing about having success and being popular is that you’re in a position to give something back to the world. That’s the most beautiful thing you have. If you have success the most beautiful thing you can do is share that success with other people in the world. So I started with the idea to start my own foundation ‘United We Are Foundation’ and give something back to the world. That’s when we came up with the idea of the ‘World’s Biggest Guestlist’ in India. There were over 100,000 people in that stadium and we raised enough money to send more than 18,000 kids to school for the next 10 years. It was an amazing charity event and we are definitely going to do some more of those charity events in the future in different countries.”
It came as quite a surprise to fans when Hardwell did a ‘Diplo & Friends’ guestmix recently. Fans of the star were in for quite a shock when the young star played a style named ‘Bubbling’. A sound that’s quite familiar to Hardwell and goes back to the roots of the young hit-maker.
“Bubbling beats was a concept in Holland that I started with Chuckie and it was like EDM. It was a name that covered raggae, dancehall, hip hop, reggaton, all the genres in the urban style. I played a lot of dancehall back then – a lot of hip hop. I know Diplo from that time. Diplo knows me as a hip hop dancehall DJ. A year ago he asked me to do a ‘Diplo & Friends’ guestmix but only in my roots. So I did it. A lot of people were surprised saying ‘I’ve never noticed this side of Hardwell that’s playing straight dancehall.‘ I started out as a hip hop DJ, a dancehall DJ and everything in between. The reactions were great though. A lot of people were surprised. But then again hey, it’s for Diplo – I can’t say no.
The upcoming Amsterdam Dance Event is one that both fans and industry professionals are patiently anticipating. As with every year Hardwell has an action-packed show in store.
“It’s already close to being sold out. What I’ve said about being more open minded is that this line up is a perfect example. We have Kriss Kross Amsterdam opening the night. Then we have a set of Kill the Buzz and Thomas Newson playing b2b. Afterwards, Dannic is going to play. Obviously he’s one of the Revealed residents. Then we have Knife Party in front of me so you know I want to make my Revealed fans more open minded. Atmozfears is closing so you have hardstyle at the end of the night. I want to bring all the fans together and make people more open minded and blend different styles and see how it goes.”
With such an impressive musical résumé behind him, it’s hard to not be curious about whom he sees as the up-and-coming producers of the future. Aside from supporting a fellow label mate, surprisingly Hardwell thinks the talent is in short supply at the present time.
“Kill the Buzz – obviously he’s one of my artists at Revealed. He’s one of the guys to really blow up in the near future. I was really surprised by his Spotify playlists in the last 3 months. It grew from a 100,000 to over 2 million. He’s really blowing up on Spotify and even when I look at my gigs he was always my opener. Before he goes on people start shouting ‘Kill the Buzz’ right now so he’s really ‘buzzing’ to make fun of his name. He’s definitely one of the guys. I have to say that there aren’t really that many (in my opinion) talented guys right now. If you asked me this question a year ago I could name you 20 guys but all these guys broke through in the last year and a lot of my guys on my label are doing really well.”
Having finished his Ibiza residency and already looking forward to the action packed ADE in October, Hardwell is happy to take a rest from the world tour to re-group and look ahead:
“I’m taking it easy for now definitely but in the off time I’m definitely thinking about the new ‘I am Hardwell 3.0 show’. I have no clue when we’re going to start with that. Could be 2018 or 2019 but we’re definitely going to do another world tour somewhere in the future.”
Ushuaïa Ibiza Photographs: Roberto Castaño