From his early raves to massive club shows, Tiesto has spent the past 20 years guiding the ebbs and flows of each audience. He finds the connection so intimate he has a ready comparison.
“Basically it’s like having sex,” he said.
Tijs “Tiesto” Verwest, who is the world’s second highest-paid DJ on the list of Forbes magazine, made his name in the trance scene of the 1990s, with his tension-building synthesizer flows and mid-tempo beats working sweaty crowds into literal trances.
Electronic dance music, or EDM, is no longer just for ravers. It is a constant on mainstream radio, with pop stars from Katy Perry to Enrique Iglesias setting their voices to electronic beats.
For Tiesto, the dance subculture has evolved rather than ended, with the EDM on the radio remaining distinct from DJ sets at festivals.
“I think a lot of DJs adjust to pop music. The stuff on the radio is still pop music; it’s not dance music as we know it at the festivals,” he told AFP in Miami.
“It’s a good balance between DJs making pop music and then in the live sets they have different drops and make it more for the festivals,” he said.
The Dutch artist was visiting Miami for the Ultra Music Festival, a premier electronic music party that runs from Friday to Sunday. He is taking advantage of his visit to open a pop-up store in Miami Beach.
Tall and youthful for his 48 years, Tiesto spoke at the store that sells knapsacks, caps and T-shirts bearing his signature, as fans pressed their faces against the window to get a look at the world-famous DJ.
“Music and fashion and merchandise are more one than ever before,” said Tiesto, who has a residency in Las Vegas and became the first DJ to play the Olympics at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
– Not too quick or too slow –
DJs, according to Tiesto, have a unique relationship with crowds as they mix in front of thousands of people in joyous, fast-changing motion.
“I think that the only art in the world that gives you that with the audience is pretty much the DJ. Because there’s always the surprise factor,” he said.
“You never know what you’re gonna get from the audience, so that’s why I think there is a very special feeling.”
But how can he manage the lows in each performance, bringing audiences down a level so they can take a breather rather than keeping them constantly on overdrive?
“You’ve got to feel it out. That’s an experience you learn with DJing over the years,” he said.
Like sex, “it has to be the perfect timing for everything: you don’t want to be too quick or too slow.”
Tiesto laughed and blushed a little bit. “It’s a very magical feeling,” he said.
– Changing sound –
In the world of EDM connoisseurs, Tiesto has generated controversy with his shift from his trance roots to a more mainstream house sound.
Tiesto was hesitant when asked about his sound but acknowledged his rising success. He said his break started in 2009 with his collaboration-heavy album “Kaleidoscope” and then “Red Lights,” his 2013 radio hit with acoustic guitar off his album “A Town Called Paradise.”
“I just always follow my gut feeling. I do what I like and I just play what I like,” he said, without elaborating on his changing style.
As for picking music to sample in his sets, Tiesto said he had diverse tastes from indie rock to R&B to soul, although he admitted he was less interested in hip-hop.
Nonetheless he said he could sample everything from rappers Kanye West and Drake to alternative rockers The Killers or more obscure indie bands.
“My tracks always start to build from the underground. And then if they become mainstream that’s a bonus, but I’m not focusing on it,” he said.