When the Chemical Brothers ridiculed the term superstar DJ on their 1999 single "Hey Boy Hey Girl," the duo was undoubtedly referencing (along with Paul Oakenfold and Moby) Dutch turntablist Tiësto. Like Linda Evangelista, most well-known nightclub-and-rave performers of the late Nineties wouldn't even get out of bed (at 5:00 p.m.) without the lure of big crowds and big bucks. Things have changed much and quickly in the world of power trance, yet Tiësto has proven immune to the "superstar DJ" backlash, continuing to dominate the genre while switching his operational focus to themed releases and performances for smaller but select groups.
Like a few other Northern European DJs Paul van Dyk, Armin van Buuren, Armand Van Helden Tiësto is known for his globetrotting, yet seems perpetually to be in Miami. The 35-year-old, born Tijs Verwest, was barely visible during the recent Miami Music Conference, playing a couple of sets at private events, but he remains in Miami Beach, awaiting the April 25 launch of his latest album.
Sipping a cappuccino recently in the lobby of Hotel Victor on Ocean Drive, Tiësto spoke about lurking underneath the paparazzi radar, national identity, and the forthcoming In Search of Sunrise: Vol. 5.
"Five has a very groovy sound, all mixed in L.A. I'd say it's one of my best mix albums; it's a real blending of styles, with no cliché tracks. It's a two-disc set, but it all goes together CD 2 starts where CD 1 ends. I've been listening to bands like Sigur Rós and M83. My iPod has M83 songs on repeat," Tiësto reveals.
Applying his formulaic, accelerating organic buildup to heart-pounding electrified crescendos, he has sold out downtown Miami's Space numerous times and appeared in some capacity at almost every Winter Music Conference, and that's just in South Florida. After more than a decade as the premier trance DJ at large venues, with nary a sign of freshness date expiration, Tiësto is experimenting with smaller-scale stimulation.
"Travel and experience have influenced my productions and my sets in such a way that they keep on changing my sound so that it remains innovating. My musical style has become more grown-up during the last few years. I am playing more different styles than just pure trance," Tiësto says. "It's gentler now, more vocal. Usually when I'm doing a live set, they want you to bang out big tunes, but I wanted to do something gentler on this album."
"Big tunes" are part of Tiësto's legacy. He might be best known for his epic remix of Delerium's "Silence" featuring guest vocals by Sarah McLachlan, perhaps the most popular trance anthem of all time. And his work is frequently appropriated as ambient sonic wallpaper for television and films, most notably "Just Be," used in a commercial for Mitsubishi's citified version of an SUV.
Tiësto's stage show for extra-large adventures such as the main stage at Ultra, which he has occupied a few times, or this summer's upcoming megarave at Carling Academy Brixton outside London incorporates a million-dollar stage show complete with buto dancers, taiko drummers, trapeze acrobats, carnival showgirls, a chorus of singers, lasers, and fireworks. But his downsize is equally dazzling. During WMC, Vin Diesel, Mike Piazza, and Sammy Sosa hovered uncomprehendingly near the DJ booth for a deck-wrecking set Friday at Privé along with 300 other fans.
Sunday, taking the stage at Aqua on Allison Island from local opener Jody McDonald, Tiësto bestowed a strange sort of compliment on the Anthem regular: "That was a really outstanding set. I might get paid $50,000 a gig, but it's still great to hear something unexpected and new."
McDonald blinked, smiled, and shook his head, clearly puzzled.
As is the case for both bedroom and big-time DJs, technology has made a portable skill set de rigueur. "I get everything from Pioneer; I use a lot of Pioneer stuff. I use M-Audio when I'm recording, Ableton Live when I'm onstage," Tiësto says. "But all I have to carry with me, as opposed to the six boxes of records and reels of tape I used to, are a PowerBook and the Ableton board."
Tiësto says he plans to score more movies and advertisements in the future, and shrugs off criticism for being a sellout, especially when it comes to American consumerism, saying he doesn't think he can negatively affect stateside culture in any case.
"It seems like in the United States, you have to know how to present stuff. For example, if you look in the back of a paper here in the U.S., you'll see a million ads for escorts. Those are prostitutes, but you don't call them prostitutes," Tiësto muses. "It's different in Holland. We just call them prostitutes; they're right there in the red-light district. Gay marriage is very accepted in Holland as well. They're a little more accepting.
"Also I think the U.S. government tries to intimidate and use the fear factor to control the people. The people in Holland look up to the U.S. government, so they try to use that fear factor too, like with the personal ID badges we all have to carry, and all the security cameras."
In the midst of Tiësto's brief political discourse, a few devoted trance fans in the Victor's lobby openly gawk at the lanky Lowlander hunched over his coffee cup and then surreptitiously capture his image with camera phones. Normally the pale, brown-haired DJ blends into his surroundings, camouflaged in the international uniform of jeans and a white oxford shirt.
"I don't think I'm fully famous," Tiësto says. "I don't get mobbed on the sidewalk. I'm not like Madonna; I wouldn't want it to be like that. And so far there's no dark side to it. I've stayed in Vegas for free every time I've gone. I like it. The only strange thing that's happened is this one time, I was wearing these jeans that had a rip and a flower print sewn underneath, so you could see the flower print, and someone wrote on the Internet that I wear flower underwear."
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