TF Archives

Paul van Dyk - German Precision

Author: Cyclone
Monday, October 20, 2008

German trance powerhouse Paul Van Dyk is returning to Australia for the third time in two years to headline one of the Stereosonic parties being held in Sydney. 3D’s Cyclone spoke with the debonair DJ ahead of his visit.

Paul van Dyk is many people: he’s a pioneer of power trance, he’s a pop star, and he’s the conscience of dance music.

In November ‘PvD’ will headline the Stereosonic Festival after no less than two Australian tours in 2007. Van Dyk’s schedule is such that he’s unlikely to catch any of the bill’s other big names – he’s playing Adelaide and Melbourne on the same day. “I hope I get a chance to hang out with Carl Cox,” he says.

In fact, van Dyk has heard most of the electronic artists he ever desired to. “I think I’ve pretty much seen a lot of the things that I hold dear and that are interesting. It’s some of the bands that I really would like to see, ’cause this is where I don’t have so much time. I would love to see British Sea Power live or The Wombats – I’ve never seen them live, but I love their music.”

Van Dyk was born in the Communist GDR (German Democratic Republic) and raised by his mother, a structural engineer, with his sister. His father apparently abandoned them. The young dissident asked awkward questions at school in a repressive society. Later, van Dyk’s family moved to the West, briefly settling in Hamburg. (Even then, they had to wait three years before authorities allowed them to exit, falling under Stasi scrutiny in the meantime.) When the wall crashed down in 1989, van Dyk, who’d illegally tuned into Western music on the airwaves, embraced the surging rave, the soundtrack to German reunification, in his current base of Berlin. Paul emerged as one of the country’s first superstar DJs.

Soon van Dyk was producing. He teamed with Cosmic Baby for Perfect Day in 1992, but his breakthrough was the enduring For An Angel. Paul was bent on learning how to engineer his records. He’s now among surprisingly few super-DJs to handle his own production.

“I just wanted to do it this way,” he says. “Obviously, I had help in the beginning. With my first album [45 RPM], I had a co-producer called Johnny Klimek. I learned my very first steps. But I realised that, to be creative, especially in the electronic world, it’s not just about being a musician and knowing how to play instruments, it’s also about knowing how the equipment works and how to engineer the music. I think electronic music is the only music where you have to be creative on all levels. It’s not just about making it sound good; you also can shape the sound while engineering. This is where a lot of creativity is lost if, as an artist, you’re not doing it yourself.”

Today the 37-year-old boasts an extensive discography of albums, singles and remixes. Last year Paul released his fifth ‘artist’ album, In Between, spanning dance-pop, indie-rock and electro, the Gatecrasher icon determined to shake off the ‘trance’ association. He swayed a Pussycat Doll, Jessica Sutta, to sing on White Lies. But, aside from the earlier crossover hit Tell Me Why (The Riddle) with Saint Etienne, van Dyk is still best known as a DJ. He lately issued a techno-oriented Cream Ibiza double-CD, coinciding with the commencement of his seasonal residency at Amnesia.

Van Dyk the DJ is particularly hyped about the acts on his Vandit Records – chiefly Jon O’Bir. He isn’t easy to impress. While more bands than ever are liaising with dance producers, van Dyk points out that he was remixing Manchester indie group Inspiral Carpets “well before all the ‘Oh yeah, let’s get a guitar player in’ thing started.”

The veteran is suspicious of ‘nu-rave’, questioning whether the phenomenon even exists. “Looking at the festivals and looking at the clubs all around the world – I haven’t been in Australia for the last year – that sounds more like something that’s hyped-up in the media, ’cause I don’t hear anything that sounds like the early ’90s, unless it’s really badly produced. I don’t actually see people running around as crazy and stupid as we did in the early ’90s! I don’t really see a big rave culture revival. [The rave scene] developed into a very healthy, distinguished, clubbing-vibe sound – not to say industry – and the festivals are proper festivals. It’s not the crazy rave stuff that we used to have in the early ’90s.”

Van Dyk is renowned for his strong – and occasionally controversial – opinions, a reaction to his upbringing in a totalitarian state. A social democrat, he’s forceful on political matters, criticising the Iraq War. More than other DJs, he’s consistently thrown himself into activism as well as charity. Unusually for a foreigner, he participated in MTV America’s Rock The Vote campaign. Yet van Dyk, who’s also anti-drugs, has never been militant about remaining ‘underground’ like some dance types. He did remix Britney Spears’ Gimme More, after all.

Van Dyk’s next ‘artist’ album won’t materialise until 2010 as he explores film. To tide over fans, he’s just disseminated The Hands On In Between EP of remixes.

Van Dyk was recently invited by soundtrack composer Hans Zimmer to remix the theme to The Dark Knight, although he admits to not having watched it. “Hans asked me if I could remix his Batman theme, so this is what I’m working on right now – and there are some quite interesting projects in the pipeline for next year that will probably see me doing some more stuff down that line.”

Van Dyk contributed music to the Mexican film Zurdo in addition to the Australian rave movie One Perfect Day, but he’s expressed ambivalence about scoring in the past. “It is about the right project and, as everywhere, it’s knowing the right people. I got to meet people like Hans Zimmer and some studio executives in Hollywood and they have an idea of what I would be interested in now and come with the right projects. I think this is the change.”

Certainly van Dyk bonded with Zimmer. “It was absolutely crazy. We were scheduled for a one or two hour meeting and, after four hours, we’re still there listening to music,” he says. “It was really cool!”

Van Dyk might consider the once partitioned Berlin to be home, but he’s disinclined to romanticise the world’s hippest ‘techno’ city. “I always say we have a lot of software here, but it’s lacking on the hardware. We have a lot of creative talent, but the infrastructure isn’t there to actually get things done. Otherwise, I enjoy it here, my friends live here, but I’m not really bound to the city as much as people may think. If my friends lived somewhere else, or my family were somewhere else, I would be somewhere else, too.”

WHO: Paul van Dyk
WHAT: Plays Stereosonic at Home
WHEN: Friday 28 November