Afrojack Talks New Single 'Gone' & Evolving His Sound: 'I Don't Like Boxes'

Rony
Afrojack

Afrojack has just folded his lithe, 6-foot-10 frame into a chair on the patio of a foliage-shrouded Chateau Marmont bungalow nestled high above the Sunset Strip. It’s a few days after the premiere of his pop/hip-hop/dance mash-up “Gone” featuring Ty Dolla $ign. The new track, released through Latiument/RCA Records, is the first salvo in the Dutch DJ/producer’s declaration that it’s time to do something different.

“I’ve been doing EDM for such a long time and using hip-hop sounds,” explains Afrojack, born Nick van de Wall. “I thought, wait, let me make a hip-hop song using EDM sounds. It was a new challenge for me.”

Afrojack Partners With WALL Recordings Signee Fais on 'Hey': Exclusive

That’s just one of several projects keeping the Grammy Award-winning producer busy. Known for his international hit “Take Over Control,” Afrojack has since co-written and produced tracks for David Guetta (the No. 1 hits “Titanium” and “Hey Mama”), Madonna and others. In the following interview, Afrojack elaborates on dance crossing over into hip-hop and pop, his “awesome idea” with songwriter Ester Dean (Rihanna, Nicki Minaj) and why people shouldn’t be so quick to box him in.

How did the collaboration with Ty come together?

Back in February, we’d gone together to the Clive Davis pre-Grammy gala party. We just went into the studio to work on multiple things. For me, it’s always been about the crossover, especially given the state of how close dance and hip-hop are in America. It’s never been this close. They’re best friends now. I really wanted to do something different: a radio-friendly record that had enough of both but wasn’t like full-on banging; more chilled out and hip-hoppy. We did the first take in one day.

Where will this evolution of sound take you?

I’ve always produced pop, hip-hop … all kinds of stuff. Most people don’t know that “Give Me Everything” [Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo and Nayer] was my breakthrough song even though my name was all the way at the end. [Laughs] But then I produced “Look at Me Now” for Chris Brown [featuring Lil’ Wayne and Busta Rhymes] and later contributed to Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” with Major Lazer. I have a lot of hip-hop lying around that we don’t know how to place yet, but we’re working at it.

With the growth of this trap sound and everything that Skrillex has been doing with the whole Jack U thing … it’s been really inspiring to me. I want to diversify more as the artist Afrojack instead of just the producer Afrojack. I feel more confident as my sets have diversified as well. I play more hip-hop and trap now. Because I became famous as a dance producer, my shows automatically became dance-oriented. At one point, my entire set was 128 bpm. But I didn’t grow up as a 128 bpm person. I love EDM but I do more than that. A lot of people don’t appreciate that and have tried to put me back in a box. I don’t like boxes.

Who else is on your hip-hop collaborators wish list?

I like the more out-of-the-ordinary artists. I’d love to do something for Kanye West sometime. Same thing with Rihanna. I love when artists are so out of the box that every song they make is like, what is it? It’s not describable in words. Just a weird piece of music that is a mix of all kinds of genres.

What trends do you currently see for dance music crossing over into pop?

It’s really funny because Europe and America came together over the last couple of years and now they’re splitting up again. House is key in Europe and everything in America is hip-hop oriented. I can’t say what the next thing is going to be because if I say it, everyone’s going to do it. And I didn’t do it yet. But I have an awesome idea that’s ready. I’ve been working with Ester Dean a lot in the studio and we’re doing other sessions in the next couple of months. We’ve made one record which to me is the culmination of everything going on in Europe right now and everything that’s happening in America.

How has the dance scene changed the most since you first came to prominence?

Well, it didn’t change at all. It’s just gotten bigger. It’s changed through the perception of the masses. But within the dance industry and culture, nothing has changed. Internally there is no such sense of what people have been talking about: that the EDM bubble is going to burst. It’s not. It’s the same thing with rock. Rock used to be the biggest thing and now it’s not the biggest thing. But it actually still is one of the biggest things: U2 continues to tour all over the world and sell out gigantic stadiums. A lot of people jump on the hot train. Then it’s ooh, this isn’t hot anymore so let me jump on this. For the dance culture, it’s not about hot. It’s our life. 

Do you like the term EDM?

It’s really an American term. In Europe they just say dance music. As I first perceived the term, I thought it was a certain sound. Like "Everybody f---ing jump, 1-2-3 go!" But later, I learned that EDM isn’t a term for just a sound; it’s a term for theory. So whatever you can dance to that is coming from a producer that produced it on a computer, that’s supposedly EDM. If you look at it that way, DJ Snake is EDM, Jack U is EDM, Skrillex, Diplo … everything is EDM; I’m EDM. Flume is also EDM. Like it or not, it’s electronic danceable music. When it comes down to that term, it describes the new generation of superstar producers, not just superstar DJs, and it will definitely be a dominating genre for the next 30 years.

What’s happening with your WALL Recordings label?

We just had our first pop crossover song, “Hey” by Fais [also featuring Afrojack]. The song now has more than 150 million streams. We also have a lot of DJs that are starting to tour the world: DJ Dwayne is doing his own tour; Ravitez will be coming with me on tour. And this new kid I signed, Oliver Rosa, is a genius producer who has his first single coming too.

And your residency at the Omnia in Las Vegas?

It’s been two years now and it’s still fun. For me it’s important in Las Vegas that it’s not just me playing songs. That it’s actually a show: part pre-planned, part improvised. And in combination with my lighting guy and visual guy, making sure it’s a full sensory experience. The challenge is to keep it fresh. Now I feel like there are so many people cynical of EDM that I want to show them what we’re made of.

What one key quality must a DJ possess?

The ability to mix the hits with new music. If you just play the hits then people will say, “I’ve heard all the hits, thank you” and they’re out. They’re never going to come back. Let people experience the necessary amount of hits to get them excited and then let them hear something new they never expected and would be open to liking. That’s the job of a DJ. Playing the right song at the right time but also sometimes creating the right time for the right song, especially if it’s new.

Working with Ty and Ester plus the hip-hop tracks you have lying around … does that mean a follow-up to 2014’s Forget the World is coming?

Let’s just say we’re thinking about it really hard.

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