Life at the top: the world’s number one DJ tells us success didn’t come overnight
Before 2010 Robbert van de Corput, aka Hardwell, was virtually unknown outside of the Netherlands – and now he’s widely considered the world’s number one DJ. It may seem like a slingshot to fame in a few short years, but Time Out learns the Dutch DJ has definitely paid his dues. “I was 14 years old when I signed my first record deal”, explains Hardwell, 26. “I mostly played hip hop and '80s [records]." Hardwell was a regular name at clubs across the Netherlands for years, but it wasn’t until five years ago, when he decided to focus on producing his own music – predominantly big-room European house – that his status in the world of dance music was elevated.
The music he makes has been called progressive house, electro and ‘EDM’, but Hardwell has his own term for his winning compositions: the “Hardwell sound.” Whatever it is, it works. Last year he was voted DJ Magazine’s World #1 DJ, jumping ahead of his long-time friend, mentor and previous number one DJ Tiësto (45-year-old Tijs Michiel Verwest, also from the Netherlands).
Hardwell and Tiësto’s friendship blossomed around eight months after the young gun’s first international club tour with Ministry of Sound. (Long-time fans may remember him at Ivy in January 2010 supporting Afrojack and Wolfgang Gartner.) Tiësto took an interest in that ‘Hardwell sound’ and invited him to play at his residency at Privilege in Ibiza. “That moment I will never forget,” says Hardwell. “He had picked up some tracks from Soundcloud; he loved my songs and wanted me to give him more.” In early 2011 they co-produced ‘Zero 76’, Hardwell’s first single in the charts, followed by a run of US stadium shows where Hardwell warmed up for Tiësto. As Hardwell says: “The rest is history.”
Helping him rise to the top of the bill at dance music festivals across the world (Australia’s Future Music; Miami’s Ultra; and Belgium’s Tomorrowland) is Hardwell’s three-year-old record label Revealed Recordings and his globally syndicated radio show, Hardwell On Air. Having his own label makes it easier to release his own music and some of his favourite up-and-comers; having his own broadcasting medium means he can debut releases and share what he likes to listen to.
Hardwell's live shows are not as elaborate as clubbers might expect. “A lot of DJs go all the way with visuals and fireworks”, he says, “[But] music is the thing that connects the people, and so I always focus more on the music than the show.” Hardwell tours two types of DJ sets: festival gigs like we’ll see at Future Music Festival and his three-hour stadium show, 'I Am Hardwell' that tours Australia in October (Melbourne Oct 4). Hardwell says in a festival setting he “just bangs out [his] biggest songs”, whereas his stadium show is more of a musical journey. “[In a stadium show] I feel free to play whatever I want. I’m a bit old fashioned as a DJ – you need three hours to take people on a musical journey.”
EDM stands for ‘Electronic Dance Music’, but the once umbrella acronym has taken on a life and genre of its own. Here are five tracks that have given EDM a new meaning
‘Le7els’ (2011) Avicii ft Etta James
This sample introduced Avicii to the masses.
‘We Found Love’ Rihanna ft Calvin Harris
The pop princess’s highest-selling single to date.
‘Titanium’ David Guetta ft Sia
This man is a chart-topping machine.
'Clarity' Zedd ft Foxes
Like a paint-by-numbers 'EDM' track.
‘Harlem Shake’ Baauer
The trap track that broke the internet in Jan 2013.