Three years ago, Holland's Hardwell barely broke onto the DJ Mag radar, coming in around 300 on the publication's fan-voted list of top DJs. A year later, he broke through to 24, and last year, he came in at number six, something he said was one of the proudest moments in his career.
At 25, he's had more than a decade of DJing experience and he's skyrocketing toward being the biggest name in the business. He's even got his own documentary coming out, though it might not be the pretty promo fest you'd imagine.
We sat down with Hardwell in the Story green room on South Beach before his big gig and got to know him a little better. Oh, and to all you aspiring DJs, make sure you come correct on your Soundcloud. Because Hardwell is listening.
Crossfade: What does it mean to you to sign this wall, at the green-room in Story?
Hardwell: Well, it's cool right? I've been in this club like two times now, I've never played here, though. I'm looking forward to being here, and I see the wall with all my colleagues and friends; Chuckie, Allesso, Bingo Players, and Dannic right now. Everybody is here. So I feel like it's about time for me to be here.
Was the last time you were in Miami for Ultra?
Yes, the last time we were here was in March for Ultra.
How was it doing the back-to-back Ultra sets? How did you spice it up, make it different for each of the crowds?
Well, the main stage was definitely one of my favorite sets I ever played, something magical happened. The other weekend I played more, I don't want to say less commercial, I want to say like more what's next, what's next from my label, more upcoming stuff, maybe a bit more underground, even though I hate the word underground. Like, more unknown songs, because if you play on a main stage, you need to tease every single body, every DJ plays more commercial.
You've had a crazy explosion in popularity; the last two years have been such a journey. What has been the most surreal moment for you on your come-up so far?
I think it's really corny to say, but I think the DJ Mag position on number six, to enter into the top ten. I never expected myself to enter the top ten of DJ Mag, especially like three years ago. Two years ago, I ended up number 300-whatever. Like, out of nowhere, I was 24 and then number 6.
What was one of your biggest adversities?
When I look back on my career, I was always really positive about my career. Everything grew really natural. And of course, when Tiësto picked me up like four years ago, that was a big boost for me. Especially in the States, because it was exactly the time that EDM blew up here in the U.S., so I was able to actually tour in the States, join him on his tour, and we did a lot of gigs in Europe. But then again, back to the question, I don't know of any negative side. The only thing I can say on this question is that in the beginning when I started touring way more, because before I was just a guy who did his gigs in Holland.
You were really young when you started performing, right?
I was 14 when I signed my first record deal, so I was 14 and 15 when I started touring in Holland, and I was 17 when I was headlining the major festivals in Holland. It's really crazy, but like, every week, I was just at home in the studio, and four or five years ago, I started touring more worldwide and that's not a negative thing, it's a really positive thing. But the negative thing was that I was missing my friends and my family. I was not used to that, so that was a bit of a negative side. But nowadays, I'm super used to that and they're used to me.
Do you ever get to bring some of your friends on tour with you for a little bit?
Out of nowhere, one of my best friends walked up to me before I went on stage at Ultra like, "I had just booked a ticket to Miami, just for Ultra." He came from Amsterdam, flew to Miami, just to say good luck and flew back.
Did that give you an extra push?
Maybe that's why the set was so magical, because that was, like, a magical moment. That was a magical moment. I never mentioned that, no one knows this.
On the flip side, with Revealed Records, what is the difference for you between someone who you find on Soundcloud that sounds pretty good, and someone who you just have to get in contact with?
I think in the first place, that's an easy question, but on the other hand, a really hard one to answer. That's originality, but what's original nowadays? You can tell, y'know. When you heard Avicii for the first time, when you heard a Skrillex track for the first time. I signed Dyro like two years ago.
You found him on Soundcloud, right?
A friend sent me an email, mentioned his name. I checked out his Soundcloud, like, two minutes before I went on Electric Zoo about three years ago. I was like, "Woah, this track is so big," and I hadn't even had the time to email him. In the cab, on the way to the festival, I downloaded his song and I played it ten minutes after I went on and it went off. It was kind of electro-house-y but something new, it didn't sound like Dada Life, it didn't sound like Skrillex, it didn't sound like Zedd, it was something refreshing. After the set, I contacted him right away and I twittered him like, 'Yo, I don't know what you're doing." The thing is, when I always search through the demos, a lot of guys make like one good track that stands out and the second track just sucks. Dyro sent me like seven tracks and all seven out of seven were incredible.
Do you do that a lot? If you think you like someone's sound, drop one of their tracks and see how the crowd reacts?
That's the first thing I do. Even tonight, I picked up so many. I was looking through the demos today because I had some time off and every demo, before I even contact the guys, I'm like, OK, y'know what, I'm going to play it out, see how the crowd reacts to it. I think it's fair.
They'll give you honest feedback.
Yes, that's perfect, the way you said it. I can sit there in my hotel room on my MacBook searching through tracks. Of course, you hear the idea, you hear the track. But you need to feel the track and every track needs an environment, like a good dance floor, and then you can see the reaction and you can feel the song. You need to feel the music. Axwell has the best quote ever: "Goosebumps never lie." When you play, and you see the crowd react, you get the goosebumps and you know immediately, "I need to sign that track."
You've also got this documentary coming out, I Am Hardwell, same name as the tour. What is the message you're trying to convey. Maybe you don't know at the time when you're just living your own life, but is an idea coming through now? Or are you even that involved in the creation process?
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To be honest, I haven't seen anything. Robin Piree, the director and producer of the documentary, is a really good friend of mine. Every single video from me, every single video on YouTube, he did that. He got a lot of footage. The only thing he told me is that the documentary is about Robert and about Hardwell. So, it's me in person and it's me. You see me backstage, you see things going wrong, you see the highlights of my career. You see everything.; the ups, the downs, the ups from Robert, the downs from Hardwell. I haven't seen anything, so I'm just curious what it's going to look like.
That's interesting because, in the past, DJs weren't so much faces. Even if you were a fan of a DJ, maybe you didn't really know what he looked like, and now DJs are becoming so much more like stars. It would be cool to see that more personable side of what somebody is going through.
He was really looking for that. That's what he told me. That's why we recorded some scenes. I haven't seen anything but, the way I want to say it is like, I don't know if I totally agree with what he recorded because, he recorded really down sides. Last year for example, I cancelled the Identity Tour here in America because my doctor told me to cancel it like "you're super exhausted, you need to cancel the tour and stay in bed." And the moment I was laying in bed, just realizing I can't come to the states, I'm disappointing all my fans, he walks in with a camera and I'm like "hey, fuck off man." "Hey, I need this for the documentary," and I'm like "fuck off man, I don't care. I'm depressed." I think that now that I'm thinking about it, I think that makes the documentary real. You see me. It's like every single step, the ups and downs, and I think that's cool.