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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.