Life After 'Animals:' Martin Garrix Reflects on His Dizzying Rise to Dance Stardom

Martin Garrix at Tomorrowland 2014
Matt Medved

Martin Garrix photographed backstage at Tomorrowland 2014 in Boom, Belgium.

There's a clown in the crowd at Tomorrowland, and no one knows that it's Martin Garrix.

The young Dutch dance star ducks and weaves through the masses, clutching a cocktail and a shattered iPhone. A black handkerchief and backwards Spinnin' Records hat frame the painted plastic clown mask that shields his identity with a red-lipped visage of absolute exuberance.

Making a beeline towards the main stage for Avicii, Garrix draws the ire of a denim-clad festivalgoer. The man sneers, oblivious that the clown that just jostled him was on stage a few hours ago. When we finally reach a lofty perch on the lawn, the façade falls, revealing piercing eyes and photogenic features.

"It hurts my nose!" Garrix exclaims. His cheeks are nearly as rosy as the mask's.

Much has changed for Martin Garrix since his festival hit "Animals" became a crossover chart-topper. His dizzying rise to fame has earned him entry to the ranks of dance's elite, as well as its accompanying enemies. The teenage star was beset by Internet rumors of ghost production and trolled by Deadmau5, whose much-ballyhooed "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" edit of "Animals" took center stage at Ultra.

But those who write off Garrix as dance music's Justin Bieber do him a real disservice. The 18-year-old artist may be a fresh-faced fast riser managed by Scooter Braun Projects, but he exhibits none of Bieber's tone-deaf swagger or sense of entitlement. His humility and openness may one day succumb to a bad interview or slowly fade to the scripted trappings of dance stardom, but for now, Garrix sports the friendliest face at the festival. Clown mask or not.

"Last time I was here, I was part of the crowd," he says. "I was watching other DJs with my friends and I wasn't even old enough to be in here. This year I'm getting booked as an artist on the main stage. It's crazy. It's hard to realize how much has happened in just a single year."

The fact that Garrix must now hide his face to rejoin the crowd he so recently belonged to illustrates the rapidity of his rise. He can't walk his hometown streets anymore without being mobbed. When he traveled to Panama for a show, security guards had to hold back an eighty-strong throng waiting outside his hotel while his mother fearfully looked on. A female fan even bit him on the neck during a recent event in Italy.

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The toughest change, however, seems to have been the time spent away from his former life and friends. Garrix brought four of them along with him to Tomorrowland this year, and he breaks into a broad smile when I mention meeting them.

"Sometimes I miss birthday parties, which sucks," he says. "We have a group chat and when they go out, I receive all the pictures and then I'm traveling all by myself. Of course, you miss some small things, but I'm not gonna complain at all. I get to see so many amazing places. I meet so many amazing people. There's a part you have to leave behind."

Expecting a canned answer, I ask Garrix if he feels his newfound fame has changed him. Instead, I receive a contemplative pause. "It's a hard question to answer yourself because the people around you know it better," he finally says. "I'm trying to be normal but it has a lot of influence on my personal life. There are some things that I just can't do anymore. My parents say I have to look out for my health."

To that aim, Garrix has received support from some who can best relate. He cites Tiësto, Hardwell and Nicky Romero as artists who have reached out to offer advice and anecdotes on their own adjustments to the rigors and routines that accompany the ascent.

"It's nice because there's no competition in this scene at all," says Garrix. "Everyone supports and helps each other. The legends like Tiësto and David Guetta witnessed everything. It all happened to them as well a long time ago, and they help me and make sure I don't make the same mistakes they did. One of them had a burnout and they tell me, 'Take your rest please; don't do every show you can do. Don't only think about your fans but also think about yourself and your condition, because in the end you're the one who must play every show, and if you're sick in hospital you have to cancel it anyway.'"

Garrix's team has been careful to construct his schedule in blocks to avoid burnout, allowing for ample studio sessions and rest time. He just returned from a two-week vacation to Mauritius that he credits with recharging his batteries before the forthcoming festival tilt. He's really looking forward to returning to the studio after the next series of shows to complete ideas conceived on the road.

"I like making all kinds of music, it really depends on the moment," he says. "Sometimes I feel like making a weird trap song and sometimes I can't even attach a track to a genre. Right now I've got Martin Garrix for house and I've also got some side projects I'm working on which nobody knows about."

Garrix is tired of talking about "Animals." He even seems reluctant to drop it in his main stage set, teasing the melody and chords repeatedly before cutting away to other tracks, like "Tremor," that he prefers playing. Given his forthcoming studio sessions with Ed Sheeran and Tiësto, and new collaborations with Afrojack and Dillon Francis being readied for release, how can you fault him for focusing on the future?

"I'm bored of playing it out," he admits. "But I still have to play it because people come to my shows because of that track. I got so many tracks besides 'Animals' and of course every DJ gets tired of playing his own tracks if he plays it so much. I worked on 'Animals,' and every interview I do is about 'Animals.' I'm super thankful for how much that track has done for me, but I'm just super excited about the other stuff coming out."

The Internet critics who doubted that he produced "Animals" genuinely hurt Garrix, who hasn't yet built up the thick skin of older artists. Having been discovered by Spinnin' Records while ghost-producing tracks for others, he was quick to correct his doubters in an hour-long video explaining each of the hit song's specific elements.

"Of course I was pissed," he snarls. "I'd just graduated from a two-and-a-half year academy to get my producer degree. The first part I did myself and then I did an audio engineering study to learn more, and then some idiots on the Internet say, 'Yeah he's ghost produced.'"

While Garrix's past year contained no shortage of high points, it also had its share of lows. One of his closest friends and former collaborators perished aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which was downed by a missile over eastern Ukraine last month.

When I broach the subject, Garrix's voice drops to a barely audible whisper and he averts his eyes. "He was on it with his whole family and I cried a lot because he was so young," Garrix says. "He was studying medicine and I made one of my first tracks together with him. I posted that to Facebook as well. It's at moments like that you realize how blessed you are and how crazy and how fast unexpected things can happen. He fucking disappeared. It makes you realize, holy fuck, enjoy every day."

Never spotted without a smile at Tomorrowland, he appears to have taken this lesson to heart. It's too early to tell what lies ahead for the kid in the clown mask who's laughing on the lawn, but for now he's enjoying the ride.

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