Paul van Dyk Interview
By: Ashley Matthews

Paul's resume of success comprises ten years of DJing, producing, and remixing, along with the creation of his own imprint, Vandit. He can be credited with some of the most danceable tracks of the last 10 years and the sickest DJing of the times. He was born in a small German town called Eisenhuttenstadt but was raised in East Berlin. He lived under the iron fist of communism for 18 years and in almost story book form fell into his profession by fate, for the love of his art and plenty of hard work. Every time he tells his story, it never fails to evoke the feeling in me that he had a sort of cosmically guided success that's often hard to find in the current DJ cluttered times. He made mix tapes for his drives to the clubs with friends on two rudimentary record players. His friends brought his tapes to promoters and Paul was given his first DJ gig at Berlin's Tresor club. The poorly paid carpenter had just enough money to buy one record a month and promoters often gave him half of his money up front so he could afford a few new tunes for his set.

During an interview in 1992 he met freelance journalist and producer Cosmic Baby and was soon learning how to express his musical tastes one beat at a time. While finishing up tracks with Cosmic, label boss Mark Reed of the Berlin imprint MFS showed up to wish Cosmic a Happy Birthday. Two weeks later, two wicked progressive house tracks "Perfect Day" and "How Much Can You Take" were released with Paul as one-half of Visions of Shiva. After that he couldn't be stopped. His first full length album, 45 RPM came out in 1994 and beckoned those not yet familiar with his top notch producing. The melodic keyboard heavy "For an Angel" and the rushing visually breathy "I'm Comin" are dance floor survivors to this day.

Two years later, in 1996, Paul's sophomore release, entitled Seven Ways (MFS) was released. The singles "Beautiful Place" and "Forbidden Fruit" both debuted in the UK's Top 100 and "Words," released, as a single 3 years later, would break the top 50. It wasn't long afterward that he broke from MFS and, subsequently, from his best friend and MFS label boss Mark Reeder on less than amicable turns. It was his first experience with negative stardom and bickering via the media.

He immediately began his own label, Vandit, and in 2000 released the tough, breaky Out There and Back on his own label in the UK and on Mute stateside. The same year, with help from the Deviant imprint, he didn't waste any time and released an effective, magnificently chosen, dream-team collection of his remixes spanning 92' - 98'. The three CD set, entitled Vorsprung Dyk Technik, includes remixes of heavyweights and legends from BT to New Order to Inspiral Carpets.

Paul's latest venture is the recently released compilation of tracks entitled Politics of Dancing (Ministry of Sound). The two CD set is a collection of 34 remixed and reworked tracks that looks to Paul's relentless future as a top notch producer, remixer and DJ. The mix CD puts U2's "Elevation" and Paul's "Autumn" and "Out There" in good hands. Rolling from start to finish, the mix leads the listener to a mecca of candescent strobes, starkly lit stars and tops it off with a heart pumping stillness at the end of an ass-shaking journey. Iio's "Rapture" and NuNRG's "Dreamland" are the best of the bunch.

The Politics of Dancing is a classic and inspiring example of music from a man that is sure to continue to master all that he touches. He began DJing before turntables out-sold guitars and his story is one of fate and seamless introductions into a sub-culture now riddled with "The - Doing - it - for - the - Wrong - Reason - Disease" (once just characteristic of rock). There are not many DJ's that have made a dent as large in the dance floor as van Dyk.

Because of the attacks of September 11th were you apprehensive to tour the U.S.?

Obviously it was a big issue. Actually when the States started to attack Afghanistan we were even more scared. I'm not afraid of flying but it's just so irrational. We could be in danger [anywhere] because it is everywhere. It is difficult because you can not actually grab it, as like "this is the danger." There is a basic amount of fear in everyone's life now. It was a big discussion if I go [or] if I not go. I mean, basically for me, it was sort of [like] I don't want to let the people down who have been as excited as I was about this tour. I didn't want anyone to think I just sort of left them in their own mess. We did some precautions. When I was in Atlanta and the next day [I had to be] in Miami, it was the first anniversary of The USS Cole. The night before Bush said that there was an intense warning from the FBI that there would be more attacks. So out of my own pocket I paid a small jet to go down rather than taking the commercial airline because I was just scared of it. With things like this I am trying to be as safe as possible.

How did growing up in communist East Berlin shape your personality? Having so many restrictions... How did it shape you positively and negatively?

Even a little chocolate bar was something very special where I grew up. So I appreciate small things still very much and I don't take things for granted. I think this has something to do with the life I am living now. And negatively.... I have some problems with communistic thoughts. I am pretty liberal and sort of all those things. No way in the whole world would I support communism. I am a capitalist. With my employees, as an example, I am always really fair, really easy going like this.

What do you listen to when you are at home around the house?

It varies all the way from Amulance, to Alanis Morissette to The Cardigans, to Dave Seaman, Nick Warren and Way Out West. Some of my favorite bands are The Go-Betweens and Prefab Sprout. For me it is just important that the music is honest and intense and I can feel the artist behind it and then it doesn't matter much. Alanis Morisette is obviously very far away from what I do but what is coming across is very intense.

Do you like Bjork?

Actually I don't like Bjork. I don't buy the passion off of her. It comes across a bit fake. I may actually be wrong. I don't necessarily want to judge her.

You are bombarded with remix requests. Who haven't you worked with that you would want to either as a producer or remixer?

There are a few people that I would like to work with. It is not so much remixing them. I think it is more interesting to do something with them because I think those people have a very strong idea about their own sound and their own music as I have as well. So these two worlds colliding in the studio would probably be very interesting. I would love to work with Martin Gore. I would imagine something interesting coming out. I have met him but we haven't done anything together. And I mentioned The Go-Betweens... This is one of the bands since the early eighties that is always with me. Cause this is the guitar side of the music as well. As an example, after [Politics of Dancing ] was finished which was like 30 remixes to do of all the tracks, I was kind of tired so I just took my guitar and played a full set of songs. It sounds like Indy Brit-Pop in a way. I would never release it under my name or under Vandit because I think it is too far away. It is a side of me that I don't think too many people would follow. The closest sound of it is a mixture of The Go-Betweens and Prefab Sprout. It is not so 80's and it is not so "Wanna-be 80's." Maybe at some point we will form a band around it, instead of producing and put those songs out live or something.

If you could cut out one aspect of your music career without sacrificing your "bread and butter," so to speak, what about your career would you eliminate?

The thing is there are so many people that don't like you "just because." And they never have met you. That is something that is really strange. I'm pretty normal the way I am. I treat everyone the same if they are famous or not. It doesn't matter as long as they are a cool person. I make the same mistakes like everyone else and maybe even more than other people. Sometimes it is weird to read about yourself.

If you weren't able to make music anymore what would you do? What did you dream of becoming as a child?

When I was a child I wanted to be a journalist. That was the thing that I always wanted to be but I couldn't because I grew up in a communistic country and I [didn't like] their guidelines. OH! And I love good food. I love all good food; Italian, Indian food and steak are all welcome. I would have made a good chef maybe.

Why did you want to be a journalist?

My mom always sort of brought me up as kind of a, strangely said, free mind. I was always asking questions and I was always sort of finding things in this East German Society which were not right. And I always sort of felt, I have to ask this question. And I was always asking those questions and I had a lot of trouble when I went to school because of me always asking questions. I think this has something to do with the fact that I wanted to be a journalist. Obviously I could never really do that because I was not allowed to study in a communist dictatorship.

When did you realize you'd "made it" as a DJ/Producer?

I think that at the point when someone is sitting down and saying "I've made it," they've already lost it. Cause you can never say you've made it. Every single gig is a new challenge. Every new event I play for is exciting so I never sort of say, "I made it." I mean yesterday [in Denver] first I had some technical problems because the sound was set up by a rock and roll guy. So they had the monitor boxes really far away and there was at least a half second delay between what I had on the headphone and what was coming out of the monitor boxes. So in terms of mixing it was kind of tricky. Every time is a new challenge so you really don't know what to expect.

Do you ever just wake up and say "Oh my God, look at my life!" with a big fat grin?

No, sometimes I wake up and go "Oh no I have to get up!" [Laughs] Just like everyone else.

Why have you decided to do this mix CD [Politics of Dancing ] considering the fact that you don't even prepare your sets beforehand but rather go off of the audience? Is there a mood from a certain club you are thinking about?

You know people say that "You are a DJ, you should do a mix CD!" So it goes "ding-dong" in my head. I'm more than a DJ. I'm a producer, I'm an artist, and a remixer and a musician as well, so why can't you combine all those elements in a CD? This is actually what is on Politics. All those mixes on the CD, all those tracks, they are special versions that are only on Politics of Dancing. And you cannot find them anywhere else because I specially made them. It was an intense project that took 2 months of non-stop work and I had it all sequenced running over in my head without being able to listen to the songs because they hadn't been produced yet. So I had to compile it. But when I got all the tracks set, I sort of analyzed them very carefully and asked "What is the regional vibe?" And it was really tricky to remix them because I wanted to keep the regional vibe and just adjust it slightly so that it fits better on the CD. And at the same time I had to keep in mind 5 tracks beforehand and 5 tracks after to keep the flow.

This CD is also being announced as your first mix CD but you did a 60 - minute mix for Muzik Magazine. Why did you do that?

The reason why I did it is, first of all, that same year I did win The Best International DJ Award blah, blah, blah... And everyone who was winning that award did [a mix]. As well I was on tour together with Faithless and it was a Musik Magazine Presents Tour and it was to support the tour and stuff like this. And it was also a non-profit thing. It was a giveaway with the magazine and it was sort of done in short notice. It wasn't a conceptual thing like Politics of Dancing. It was basically checking my box saying "Okay. Which records could we [license] to put on there?" and it was only 60 minutes as well. And that is why I am not referring to it as a proper album. It is kind of like a very quick snapshot of something.

Why didn't you release Politics on Vandit instead of Ministry of Sound?

We actually could have done it but we don't go around saying we can do everything and anything. The compilation market is very different. It took some investigation. We are not able to do a very good job on a compilation. So we looked into to it to see who was a good global player. This is when we called Ministry of Sound, we said "Listen, this is the plan and this is what we want you to do. Are you interested? And these are the other conditions." And this is actually how this came about. Many people have this weird image about Ministry of Sound. Like they are running around with their checkbook and signing things. It certainly wasn't the case with [this] because it was the best partner for us to work with on the compilation market.

Did you sign a two album deal or..?

Maybe there is another one coming up. There are some ideas circulating. There is no contract for it. We have to see how this compilation does. If people don't like it at all it doesn't make sense for us to do another one.

Do you think it will do well?

I don't know. To be honest, this is the part of the business that I am not really interested in. Even with Vandit artists. I am not really interested in charts or DJ chart positions and such. At the end of the day, when I am in front of the crowd, it doesn't help me if I am DJ #1, #4, #5 or whatever. I am in front of the crowd and I have to get on with what I am doing. And no one is helping me because I have just "Top 10'ed" in the UK. So this is not really interesting for me. So I let other people sort of take care of this part of the business.

What is you're A&R like for Vandit? How do you go about selecting?

We choose based on just the records we like, and the legal aspects, if we can actually sign them. My favorite record of the year, we have the rights for the whole world but not for Germany. That is the record business for you.

Do you think high profile DJ's have an obligation to be more politically present? Or also involved in some sort of charitable cause or educational purpose?

I think everyone is sort of responsible for their own output musically as well as verbal. I just sort of do it the way I feel comfortable with it. I don't sort of present an image or something. It is just what I am. I am always doing some beneficial things. Doing some charity stuff. The thing is, if you do something you have a certain level of people knowing you. People, at the same time as when you do something good, say "Ah, he is just doing it for press or promotion." This is actually why I am not playing a big charity thing for The World Trade Center. In relation to the CD release [Politics of Dancing] people probably would have said "Ahh, yah, that is why he is doing it." I do a lot of other things on the side and at the end of the day [it is better] than playing a World Trade Center event.

Do you think that what has made you so successful is your resolve to play what comes from your heart?

I think that people sort of realize that what I am doing [is] 100 percent. I'm passionate about what I am doing. I think the reason people get hooked onto me, and also judge me, is because I am so passionate about what I am doing. It hurts twice. I'm not doing it for success. When I was first DJing, the DJ was the freak in the corner while other people had fun so there wasn't anything about interviews and travelling around the world.

Do you wish it could go back to the underground?

No, of course not, because the thing is it is not because I am travelling and I see a lot or something. It is because I love this music so much and I'd like to see as many people as possible listening to it. My stomach is smiling when I am dropping the records and everyone is like "YAH!" [Arms Up] It is pretty intense.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When I do a [track] I burn a CD of it and check it out in the clubs. Before that at some point I just sort of stop working it on it and say "Okay...now." Just before I went on tour I finished a track that I started working on, actually on the 11th of September. I burned it to play it on CD and it was by far the biggest track of the tour. People actually enjoyed it and liked it. And I realized by playing it out that the bass drum is a bit too heavy so when I get back I will do some readjustment on that.

What is the weirdest thing you have ever done in the studio to get a sound?

Putting a normal cable into a guitar pedal...guitar distortion. From the distortion to the chords and from there to the flanger and then into the sampler and when you sort of touch the other hand you get this "Exxchgggh!" [Laughs]

It didn't electrocute you though?

[Laughs] No. That probably was one of the weirdest things I have done in the studio. Actually one of the sounds I became quite famous for is "dahntdahnt...diuutle diuutle dahnt dahnt" [Laughs] That is actually done that way.

And have you ever gone outdoors... to a farm or something to record a cow or ...

[Laughs] No. Actually the first track on my second album, [Seven Ways] is called "Home" and the reason why it is called "Home" is because I recorded, for an hour, what is going on, on the street. And the street background is in there the whole time.

Now that Twilo is closed do you have any more US residencies? And where are your current residencies in Europe?

I'm more like a regular guest at Gatecrasher. Because I think that a residency is playing there at least once per month. And you know I am not even playing in Berlin once per month. I'm a regular guest in places like Space in Miami; which is one of my favorite clubs in the world. And Gatecrasher and Cream, all these sorts of places are really fun.

When you go clubbing, who do you go see?

To be honest...I'm not going out so much to see a DJ. Mainly I am just going out with my friends. And if we enjoy the music then we stay. If not, we leave. We're not going to argue too much about it. We never say [to the DJ] "Ah. You are shit or whatever." We respect what they are doing and just leave.

Any thoughts on the new New Order album Get Ready and any plans to do a remix?

About remixing... I don't know. I have too many things in my head. I'm thinking about issues when they appear really. I'm a big fan of New Order however, no question. I like a few things on the new album. And there are things, which I don't like. You can hear that they are trying not to be 80's and they should stick to [the 80's]. I just sort of do the things because I like them. Just with any other thing, I don't think this is too trance or that is too techno. I just sort of put it in. The track has to come across…the main idea behind it. You know, it is a great album, definitely. But I will always be a New Order fan anyway. It doesn't matter.

Were you brought up with any religion?

Not at all. Absolutely cosmopolitan, free-minded sort of things. The main thing is the tolerance between people and if we sort of tolerate each other then we don't need any religion anymore and we don't need any weird way of believing in something. You can be really fortunate and really lucky because you can do whatever you want to, along as you understand the borderlines before you step into someone's private or personal concerns. As long as people tolerate each other, there is no war and everything is fine. My mom actually brought me up like that.

She sounds like what we call a hippie...

Well, she would have been a hippie if I'd grown up in the states [laughs]. We would have been in California running around with flowers and shit...

What was the last record you did with Johnny Klimek?

The last thing we did is a movie in Germany. They used the track "Tell Me Why." We remixed it about three years ago. The name of the movie is "Schlarassenland." It's basic translation would be something like, "The Land of Milk and Honey" and it is basically about these five skaters that get locked into a huge shopping mall over a weekend and do whatever they want to.

Sounds like the theme of a movie we have over here...

It could be. Sort of a teenage dream isn't it? [Laughs]

In a Rolling Stone Magazine interview, you talked about how you had never done drugs because you really didn't need to go mental in front of the radio. Now is that still the case and how do you feel about everyone that is really fucked up at your shows?

Well the thing is ... I don't really believe that everyone is really fucked up. There are obviously people that have different opinions about different things, but the thing is that, I still think it is the minority of people going to events. I truly believe that it is much more real than saying 100% of everyone involved with electronic music is always off the hat. It is certainly not working that way and the thing is if I were to do any drugs when I play I could never do the next gig. [Laughs] I just have too much to do to get messed up. I have to be able to get up halfway in the morning and do everything that I have to do the next day.

I don't think people have to do them to get into the music. I think it has a lot to do with maybe insecurity and things like this. And maybe for a lot of people, this is a chance to escape their real world. I don't have an opinion about if people should do that or not do it. That is down to an individual's decision. Some people can take it and some people cannot take it. And I think they should be very well aware of what they do with themselves. To solve any sort of drug problem in club land or anywhere in the world, it has to start with education. When people are aware of what they do to themselves then they might be more careful and take one E instead of three or four. I think that is very important for the whole thing.

What is your favorite natural escape? What do you crave in the natural world?

It is a combination between nature, supernatural and humankind. I have been a lot of times to Mexico. They have a lot of sites, but when you go about an hour north to Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula it is absolutely amazing. I am not one of these mental freaks running around with candles everywhere, but I can remember when I went there for the first time. The first time I was there it felt like ten minutes but we were there for eight hours. And the thing was as well; you know when your arm is tingling? When there is tickling within the arm just before it falls asleep? I had this feeling when I was there. It was really strange. It was like being connected with some weird energy or something. This is something which is absolutely amazing; that there is many more places like this all over the world. And hopefully I will make it and check out more things like this.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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