Secrets behind the beats of EDM stars Hardwell and Nicky Romero

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Secrets behind the beats of EDM stars Hardwell and Nicky Romero

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Nicky Romero, Hardwell [ULTRA KOREA]

When the first group of artists performing at this year’s Ultra Korea was revealed, fans rushed to buy tickets to witness what they dubbed the “best-ever” line-up that the festival has had since its inception six years ago.

It included names of popular DJs such as Alesso, Tchami, Nic Fanciulli, Hardwell, Stebe Angello, Tiesto, Nicky Romero, meaning that festivalgoers were in for diverse sets from some of the genre’s biggest names.

But for those making it to the festival for the first time, it may come as a surprise that there is more than one genre that make up the world of electronic dance music and that DJs are more than someone just spinning and scratching records behind laptops and soundboards.

To better understand the electronic dance music scene that has been taking over the world, the Korea JoongAng Daily interviewed two DJs, Hardwell and Romero, who each have their own unique styles, via email. Here are some edited excerpts.



Q. Is it important for DJs to have their own specific style?

Romero:
Electronic music is very crowded these days with a lot of varied and original talent. To be able to stand out in the crowd I think it is important for a DJ to find their own unique identity and sound. But it is also important for DJs not to get stuck in one box, challenging oneself to try new things and evolve as an artist.

Hardwell: Yes. I believe it’s important for every artist to be unique and give the fans something different.



Can you each tell us about your specific style? Romero’s style is often described as ‘progressive house’ while Hardwell’s music is often dubbed as “big room house.”

Romero: Progressive house is quite a wide genre these days, stylistically. A track by Martin Garrix is very different to a track by Eric Prydz. But I would describe progressive house as taking the listener on a journey by building up and scaling down melodies and rhythms, evoking feelings of elation and joy. I do experiment quite a lot in my music and don’t restrict myself to genres. I frequently mix it up by adding guitar and more pop and rock influences to my songs.

Hardwell: As an artist I don’t see myself in any one genre but rather always moving from genre to genre as my music is always progressing forward. The notion of big room house is really referring to a scene and not specifically a sound, at least that’s how I have always viewed it.



Recently, Korea has seen a boom in the popularity of EDM. Why do you think this genre of music is taking over Asia?

Romero: The EDM scene has exploded in Asia in recent years. I’ve have been playing there a lot recently and the crowds have been amazing, some of the best I have experienced. I think it’s due to more countries opening up to the music and making it a more global scene. This is also why I’m excited about performing at Ultra Korea this year. Korean EDM fans have helped build Ultra Korea as one of the most prolific EDM festivals not only in Asia, but in the world. There are increasingly more talented artists coming out of Asia now too, like Raiden from Korea. EDM is a type of music that can be enjoyed by everyone and bring people together. I think Asia has really embraced this and taken it to their hearts with a passion.

Hardwell: Dance music is fresh and gives fans something forward thinking. It also brings people together and it’s about having a good time. People love the music and they love the culture and from that you have a great scene. What is happening with dance music, or EDM if you want to call it that as well, is that “our” scene is now picking up global interest from fans all around the world. It’s unstoppable now because of the passion of the fans.



How do you, as already a successful DJ, practice? Moreover, what skills are important for a DJ to have? Is it the ability to handle DJ decks or having a large library of music in your head or simply a good musical sense?

Romero:
I have been DJing since an early age, so I am now quite confident with the technical side of DJing. There is a constant rotation of music in EDM, so I have to stay up to date with new releases that would be great to work into my set. I like mixing things up, which means having to work out what track fits where in the set and how the transitions go together. The most important part is probably a combination of all, being able to choose good tracks, knowing the flow of the set and doing smooth and original transitions.

Hardwell: All of those elements that you mention are important. To be a great DJ you have to be able to mix well, know your music, have a big music library and be able to read and give the crowd what they want, plus many other elements. I spent 10 years working on my career before I made it to number 1 and those 10 years taught me a lot about being a DJ and an artist. My advice to new DJs is always to take your time and learn your craft.



How sensitive are DJs to the responses from the audience?

Romero:
I would say a lot. I feed off the energy of the audience. It fuels me to deliver a better performance. I also try to adapt the music I play and read what kind of crowd I’m performing for. For example at a festival I might be playing more of the euphoric hits, while if I’m in a club I might go a little deeper in my track selection.

Hardwell: Very. But this is a good thing because it helps you give the crowd a better experience of your music on the night.



Correct me if I’m wrong, but DJs usually produce original work, collaborate with other artists and also do remix work. How much of each kind of work do you do? What’s the ratio?

Romero:
It’s an even split between the different formats, maybe less remixes for me these days. I want to focus more on exploring my own sound and developing my label. But I do enjoy them all equally. I love doing remixes of already great tracks and trying to tweak them by adding a personal touch and flare to the production. I have been fortunate to be able to collaborate with some great artists and producers who have inspired me. With original work, I get to push myself and try to achieve new sounds and experiment more with sounds and styles.

Hardwell: I am an artist who does all of those. I don’t rate my music output in percentages because it’s about creativity and not something I want to measure as a business model. Just follow your heart and do what makes you happy and something you believe in. There is no secret path to making it successful. It is all about hard work, vision and following your heart.



I noticed that many DJs create their own recording companies. You each have your own. Why?

Romero:
Protocol Recordings gives me and my labelmates the freedom to express ourselves without any restrictions. We get to release music that is of the highest quality and is directed towards our fan base. The motivation was never financial gain, it’s all about creating a great brand and platform for me and other talented artists to showcase our music. This year we are celebrating five years of Protocol Recordings, so there will be a lot of exciting releases and special events in the next months!

Hardwell: For me and my music it was about creating a home for me to release my music on without having some out of touch A&R guy telling me what I was doing right or wrong. I also wanted to create a platform for other artists to release their music on with the trust and faith in the label.

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

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