Monday, October 12, 2009

Paul Van Dyk Lives To Party

NOW on the road again for his Volume World Tour, Paul Van Dyk will once again perform here in Manila tomorrow, October 13 at A. Venue in Makati in an event presented by Big Fish Manila and Nokia Philippines.

For two years in a row, in 2005 and 2006, he was the World's No. 1 DJ according to industry bible, DJ Magazine. Since then, Paul Van Dyk has remained one of the world's best. His artistry and political views have earned the respect not only of his DJ peers but also of other artists from other musical genres as well as the general public as a whole. It's no surprise that his latest and recent album, 2007's In Between, features features a diverse range of collaborators that include David Byrne, Jessica Sutta of the Pussycat Dolls, Ashley Tomberlin from Luminary, Alex M.O.R.P.H, Lo Fi Sugar, Rea Garvey of Reamonn, Ryan Merchant and Wayne Jackson.

Back in 2006, I had the chance to interview Paul Van Dyk during a media meet-and-greet that took place just minutes before a full-house performance at the World Trade Center. And yes, he is just as passionate about his political beliefs as he is about his own music. Below is a slightly revised version of my feature story as published by the Manila Bulletin that year.


IT was Morrissey who once declared to “burn down the disco and hang the blasted DJ because the music that they constantly play says nothing to me about my life.”

Well, DJ’s, radio DJ’s to be exact, did not have a profound effect on Paul Van Dyk’s choice of musical career but The Smiths, the influential British band that Morrissey fronted certainly did. The German-born DJ who is a known proponent of progressive electronic dance music admitted as much during his brief encounter with media shortly before a recent jampacked performance at the World Trade Center.

“What I love about The Smiths is that they have a very clear idea about their sound and about what they want to do,” Paul notes. “And when I decided that I wanted to be a DJ. I was very clear about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to sound.”

Given that Paul grew up in East Belin in a communist regime that pretty much restricted access with the rest of the world, it’s quite remarkable how this man managed to listen to smuggled mix tapes (which probably included some of those extended 12-inchers of The Smiths music) that inspired him to make his own personal mixes for friends. By the time of the historic fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, Paul has already decided on a musical career path. The rest, as they always say, is history.

Although he was already producing and releasing his own remixes including his 1994 debut album, 45RPM and slowly making a name for himself, it wasn’t until his breakout second album (no sophomore jinx for this chap) the now classic Seven Ways that he shot to international fame. With singles like “Forbidden Fruit,” “Words” and the title track, Seven Ways was particularly huge in the UK and established Paul as a pioneer of trance.

As defined in Wikipedia, trance music is “a subgenre of electronic dance music developed during the 90’s.” It could be described as “a melodic, more-or-less freeform style of music characterized by steady beat between 130 and 158 bpm and repeating melodic patterns and got its name from repeating and morphing beats and melodies which would presumably put the listener into a trance.”

In many interviews such as the one he recently granted to, Paul is not very comfortable with being identified or pigeon-holed with trance. “To be honest, I don’t call my music trance music, I call it electronic music and it’s usually danceable,” he declares. “My productions as well as my DJ sets consist of things that people call techno as much as of things that people call house, breakbeat, or even trance. I think a good DJ combines the elements of electronic music and creates something unique, and this is what I’m trying to do.”

“What I do, what I play and what I produce is not just what people call trance music, it’s much more. Whenever people see me and whenever people hear me, they agree as well. Throughout the years, I was one of the founders of progressive house at one point and I was also one of Europe's leading tech-house DJs. I was all of that at one point in my career. It is electronic music and you hear me playing a minimal techno record by Dave Clarke as much as a big trance anthem by Above and Beyond.”

Sounds passionate, doesn’t he? Well, you should hear Paul talk about his anti-drugs stance, a brave position on his part that actually endeared him more to his fans. It’s not uncommon to see people wearing t-shirts with slogans like “No Pills, Pure PVD” in a typical PVD gig. Paul himself is once quoted as saying, “There is no E in PVD.”

“People usually take drugs because they want to escape the real world,” he opines. “But if the real world is great then they don’t need to leave it. Nobody really needs drugs to get into music.”

But more than just an anti-drugs activist, Paul prefers to see himself as “a politically-active DJ” who is very conscious about what’s happening around him. The first non-American to sign up for the Rock The Vote campaign, he might as well be the DJ equivalent of U2’s Bono. There’s a reason why his most popular recent releases are called The Politics of Dancing and The Politics of Dancing 2.

“The title of the CD was a connection between the music I do, the popularity electronic music has and the responsibility I have as a person, as a representative of electronic music to push boundaries,” he explains. “Not just on the creative level with the music, not just on the technological level with the equipment I use, but also on the fact that I travel around and I see so many things that are wrong. It is the responsibility of us and the so-called Western World to make sure that all the other people that live in very, very devastating circumstances aren’t forgotten.”

Whatever Paul is doing to push the boundaries of electronic music to its outer limits is certainly working. In his World Trade Center one-night stand presented by Big Fish, over two thousand fans came to witness and groove to the frenetic beat of mixes, mostly from The Politics of Dancing 2 CD. What is more astonishing about his performance is that it actually felt more like a rock concert than a typical dance party, not only because of those laser lights and electronic rhythms but also because of two Apple Powerbooks that had Serato Scratch and Ableton software.

With the help of both software, Paul Van Dyk is capable of coming out with remixes and compositions on the fly, not limiting him to a given set list but also allowing to do some “freestyling” and in the process gives a certain degree of freshness and spontaneity. He obviously enjoyed his 90-minute set that he surprisingly came back an hour later and played some more.

But even with all the new technologies at his disposal, Paul is surprisingly not a big fan of ringtones because it supposedly violates his “idea of the art of music.”

“If you download, as kind of a reminder, a little piece of your favorite song, I don’t mind that, that’s fine with me,” he says. “But I don’t like those replayed little beep, beep, beep, beep melodies sort of thing. That’s not music and it doesn’t actually support the creative background of the track and of the artist that did the song originally.”

“I only use a normal telephone ringtone because I’d feel embarrassed when my friends would hear my own songs as my ringtone. They’d probably say, ‘Do you really have to’?”

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