Afrojack talks music, moments, and the importance of being gone

by Ian Randolph

"My grandma helps me also. She's 83. Usually if she doesn't like I song I make, it's probably not right."

Learning to forget isn't that torturous of a process. Especially for Afrojack. He's generally a happy man who makes happy music. Simple, right? But in a grey world filled with labels and doubts, he's learned at a very young age how to leave this world behind by breaking through the smoke and mirrors to create his own.

He is many things, Netherlands-born Nick van De Wall who's been working on music professionally as a DJ/Producer/Graphic Designer since the age of 11, an international hit maker who's co-writing and producing credits include Pitbull's #1 single "Give Me Everything" (featuring Madonna, Ne-Yo, and Nayer), Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now"(feat. Lil' Wayne and Busta Rhymes), and David Guetta's "Hey Mama," not to mention the recipient of a high-profile residency in Las Vegas's Ominia club. But what this man isn't is an afro samurai, electronic DJ, and a turn up ambassador... or is he?

Learning to forget is about accepting the good and the bad. Aside from the physical and verbal accolades, the Grammys and countless "Bruh, your music is dope" commentshis goal is beyond what words can describe. Rather than be defined by praise, he would rather be remembered as a man who leaves you with a sonic painting that will remain in your ear canals even when you're not listening. Instead of creating a brand—something a lot of artists are pressured to do—he wants to create moments through his work that doesn't need a name or word to describe it. It's just a feeling.

Much like his music, he avoids being pigeonholed and has continued to create massive chart-topping hits with a wide range of top notch collaborators without any immediate recognition of who he is. Without political correctness, he wants his music to be a raw and ever-growing experience that will cater to the masses with inspiration.

We met with the strategic and outspoken artist in Los Angeles to talk about his process when ascending through music without getting too lost in the hype.

Where does your name originate from?

Really it's from experiencing house music and making it my life. Yes, when my hair grows out it does become an afro. I went to the hairdresser recently because it was getting taller again (laughs). Jack is a term for what's happening in your body such as to "jack your body," do the wiggly worm, old school 80's shit. Needless to say, I had many name before it. Before I was a producer, I went by DJ Black, DJ Ultimate, and DJ Plant in a Glass. You're fucking around and making music for fun, so you see whatever happens. Then later I made a track under Afrojack, took some tracks to a label and they said "Oh! I like this song! What is that?" and I said this is Afrojack-In your face, Afrojack’s my DJ name...that's basically how it happened (laughs).

What a confident approach!

They said it was a nice and catchy name. It just worked out. If they liked DJ Black, I would've went with that. Although I don't think they would've said "DJ Plant in a Glass… that's catchy."

That's what's so cool about the ambiguity behind a name. It's always good to surprise people by not necessarily associating a name with a look. It creates more intrigue.

Yeah, I think at one point any musician’s brand becomes bigger than their music. Like, you don't put a face to it anymore. You see the experience more than you see the face. When you think of Nine Inch Nails, you think of underground gritty stuff. You don't think Trent Reznor, but the idea of his music. Artists don't necessarily have to be a person, but a representation of a certain statement.

With the residency you have now in Las Vegas, how does that experience differ from anywhere else in the world?

It depends… well, usually when I perform it's a place where people are on vacation and trying to have the time of their lives by seeing their favorite artist whether it's festivals or whenever. When people come to Vegas, they're trying to have the time of their lives and if someone is playing there they're like "Oh great, I'm going to see Afrojack because I love his music." In Vegas, people tend to be more open and honest about who they are because they don't have any attachments to society in that sense and leave it all behind, but it doesn't really matter because it's always the same setting. People are gathering to listen to their favorite artist in an intimate setting. Whether a festival, concert, bigger crowd or smaller crowd, it's still an intimate setting. Wherever you go and perform, the people are trying to leave who they are for a second and enjoy your music.

Do you think your environment plays a key in creating and performing music?

I don't believe in that bullshit. I make all kinds of music in different kinds of places on my laptop. Mostly on a plane or in a car and usually finish it in my studios in Amsterdam or in L.A. for mixing. Some people need to travel to certain locations around the world to get their creative mind activated to make a song or an album, but I'm a firm believer of learning to control that part of your brain and just work wherever by envisioning being somewhere and capturing a moment without actually being there. You just have to allow yourself to be free.

That's a pretty mature response coming from someone who's been doing this since a teen. What your thoughts on EDM's current influence on all genres? From Pop to Country, it seems like there are traces of EDM in it's DNA.

While touring a lot you come across so many people. Especially at festivals. You'll have like over 50,000 people come there because they like your music or David Guetta's music or Skrillex music. It all falls under one big moniker. It's dance music. I don't even call it EDM anymore because it doesn't particularly have to sound electronic. Technically, most music now is made electronically, whether it's rap or rock, they record everything on a computer, so names don't matter what act is playing because everyone will move the same if it's good. With that said, there really isn't a moniker or genre to describe good music. Either you like it or you don't.

Do you think "dance music" will continue to evolve and influence all music or eventually fade out?

Of course. You often hear about certain things being just "hype," but it's really hype unless you're a person who doesn't appreciate it because they see it get big and then it goes away. It doesn't necessarily disappear or is dead when the media stops talking about it. Like all these acts from different genres are still touring all over the world, no matter what. Like when people say "Rock is dead." U2, Madonna, even Lionel Richie, and Earth Wind and Fire are still touring sold out shows all over the world. And they’re doing big shows, so I don't believe in genres dying. Music always continues to grow.

Do you feel that artists should take responsibility for their influence on people in general?

Yes, but one should stick up for the other. That's the reason I call my music Afrojack music. 5 years ago I would always say at my shows" Are you ready for some Afrojack music?" because I never wanted to place myself in any genre because I like a lot of different shit. If you listen to some of my songs, could you describe it? Is it trap? Is it pop? Is it R n B?Dubstep?. No, it's a mix of some of those things. That has always been my thing. Crossover music. I want people to turn up without saying "turn up". You know, a strong, positive feeling that can only be described through a facial expression like "Oooo!"

What has been your most turnt experience?

Not long ago, I went to La Reve in Las Vegas and that was fucking mindblowing. But what really gets me "turnt" is watching new shows from artists and fellow DJ's. Even movies, like Inception or the Conjuring films. I love scary movies. Love Sacha Baron Cohen and South Park.

I'll know it because I tend to do this thing where if I really like something I'll get up and I'll run in a little touchdown circle and sit back down. I do the same thing when I'm the studio with a certain artist. Like a Rammstein show, moments like that make me think "How the fuck did they come up with that? It's genius" and that really excites me.

What did you think about the ending of Inception? Did you think Leo was still dreaming?

After I watched the film for the first time,I watched the film 20 times to wrap my brain around it and keep up with it only to find out that I didn't really care about the ending because it's not about that. It's just a great film. In films and shows in particular, I like stuff that emphasizes what's going on in the world right now and show it's absurdity in a serious or humorous way.

Funny you said that because like some of the music out there that does deliver this strong positive feeling, I feel like it's been misrepresented by being deemed "Turn Up Music" especially in club culture.

That's the idea. With a song like "Gone" I wanted to create an idea of turning up without doing it in the actual music. Like in the chorus, it builds up and when you think it's going to drop towards the end, it drops smoothly which throws people off because they end up turning up in a smooth way.

The element of surprise.

I just try to make all my songs good, so the fans, radio or whoever have to accept the new shit, get use the new shit and ultimately change what they call "genres" over the years.

In that sense, do you feel like your music is misrepresented or even exploited due to the over-saturation of so called "genre bending" music over the years?

It's normal. It's like if you go to a restaurant and eat something that's really good.You're probably going to go home and try to learn to make it. It's only human. On the other hand, if I kept doing the same shit, pressuring myself to make hit after hit, I'd probably wouldn't be doing this interview. But for me, it's about creating a new sound. Right now I get inspired by people like Skrillex and everything that Flume did over the years. Seeing and learning ways to crossover where people can understand it on the radio too. To me that's an interesting thing.To use a part of that or other influences to create a new genre. Creating what doesn't exist. That's what really excites me and that's what I always strive for. To make people say listen and say "BRUUH!"

Sounds like a new side project in the works.

(Laughs) With all the bad shit in the world, how can you have more than thousands of people join up, buy a ticket, and walk through the gate for an awesome experience? Like EDC Las Vegas. How can you have all these people and not one fight breaks out? I DJ and see my friends or other artists I like perform to people who are having the time of their lives. And if it's not good in front of these thousands and thousands of people, I'm pretty sure fights will break out. I'm not saying I'm political. We just have to pull our own weight and support each other. It's not just the people higher up, but the everyday people as well. So I’m always wondering how we as artists can use our music and platforms as a message to come together and think about the good things.

Your music has this all-encompassing way of combining both aggression and grace that connects with everyone and brings them together. Where do you find that balance musically?

It really comes from a subconscious level. Music is such a diverse thing. It's something you can't explain with words… like one piece of music can say so much by just one chord or melody. My grandma helps me also. She's 83. Usually if she doesn't like I song I make, it's probably not right. It could be one minor change, but if it's not right, it's not right because even if someone doesn't understand the lyrics or beat to a song, whether it's dance or rap or whatever, the music should still make them comfortable.

You have an impressive resume of music throughout the years. With hit collaborations ranging from Madonna to Ty Dolla $ign. How do these collaborations comes about and creatively, what's your approach to these songs you work on with your collaborators?

Luckily, I have a great team and they always introduce me to inspiring new music. So when I hear these new artists I always wanted to work with and get the opportunity to work with them in the studio. It usually can as simple as a response as "dope". It may sound funny, but the word "dope" means a lot coming from me or the other artists because it tells me these arrangements are the perfect combination for this, this, and this, you know?You don't have to overthink or explain it because as musicians, really don't have to explain what we do. That's why our music explains what we're trying to do.

The show and prove theory.

Yeaaaah. These collaborations don't come from paying people just to work with them. There's an understanding and appreciation for each other's music and my job is to make songs that not only make you think "damn," but also have the potential to show genius in the artists I work with. We're just here to help create something for the masses, so they can understand and appreciate it also.

Can we expect a follow-up to your last album Forget the World anytime soon?

We're thinking about it...

That's the perfect answer (laughs).