When Afrojack materializes via Zoom he’s posted up in the kind of casually luxe surroundings we expect of our superstar DJs. In the background one can see a few barge-sized massive couches, floor-to-ceilings windows and a very large television, all bathed in the warm glow of tasteful low-light.
The producer born Nick van de Wall is beaming in from the Belgian headquarters of his label, Wall Recordings, where today he’s doing a series of interviews and tending to business admin in between. When we’re logged on, he takes a few minutes to finish an email — “I’m typing a deal between Tomorrowland and Wall,” he notes — before settling into to discuss two of his business’ current areas of focus: David Guetta and Eurovision.
Both have been on the radar lately, with van de Wall and Guetta releasing their latest collab — the dance-pop single “Hero” — late last month. Van de Wall calls the French dance titan his “best friend,” and certainly the two have winning chemistry, having co-produced major hits including the 2016’s “This One’s For You,” the 2014 Nicki Minaj collab”Hey Mama” and the 2011 EDM-era defining”Titanium.” (In a 2018 interview with Business Insider van de Wall said that not putting his name on this latter track, because he wanted to preserve his underground credibility, was the biggest mistake of his career.)
In the seven years since “Titanium,” van de Wall has traded vanity for self-actualization, casually listing the self-help books he’s been reading and noting the transformative power of positive thinking. This Saturday (May 22), he’ll help uplift the estimated 200 million viewers of the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest — which kicked off today (May 18) in Rotterdam — with a performance during the event’s Grand Final. Featuring fellow include Dutch artists Glennis Grace and Wulf, along with an orchestra made up of young artists, the event promises no less than to “connect Rotterdam to the world through music.”
Having been off the road since the start of the pandemic, such unity is something van de Wall is keen to tap into. Ahead of that performance, he here talks about quarantine, his BFF Guetta, the complications of the “EDM” label and why electronic music is about to get really (like, really) good.
1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?
I’m in Belgium in the living room of the new Wall Recordings compound. I take care of my artists.
2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
The Offspring single “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” on a cassette tape.
3. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?
Daft Punk, Homework. It just shows you the versatility of dance music and how many different approaches there are to electronic music.
4. What’s the first non-gear thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?
A TV. A big, big, big TV. They’ve gotten bigger and bigger over time.
5. What’s the last song you listened to?
Probably The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears.” I love that song. I think it’s like, one of the best songs written in the last ten years. Shout out to Max [Martin’s] team. Insane.
6. Have you listened to the Ariana Grande remix?
It’s okay. It doesn’t make it better or something. It makes it more interesting because of course you have the female [voice] — and of course it’s great for the record because now everyone loves it even more — but the song was already great before that, I think.
7. What is the last great book that you read?
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achore. I read a lot of books. Before that it was From Good to Great.
8. Any key takeaways?
Positivity is expensive and more difficult than negativity, but it’s definitely the key to happiness. Negativity will never lead to happiness. Impossible. It’s a scientifically proven impossible route.
9. You and David Guetta have been friends for a long time. Want to give me a classic Guetta story?
When he sent me “Hey Mama” to change the beat, I sent him the beat back and he completely lost his s–t. He said like, “Oh my god this is a monster,” and I didn’t get it. I was just like, “Cool man, cool. Okay.”
We have this a lot, because he has a certain vision, and I have a certain vision. I have the vision for the dance floor – and now with Future Rave he definitely also has that vision – but before he had more the vision for the radio. To me, when I make like, a hip-hop beat for “Hey Mama” — for me it’s just a hip-hop beat, but for him it’s the biggest thing. And he’ll make a dance beat and I’m like, “Oh my god, this is insane” and he’s like “Yeah it’s cool.” We’re like opposites in that way.
10. Obviously you two have made some massive, era-defining hits together — “Hey Mama,” “Titanium.” What’s the secret to your chemistry?
I think because we’re best friends. I think that’s very, very important. We both have the biggest motivation as the music. Music is priority one, and priority two is positivity, with no ego, no bullshit, no politics. That’s not accepted. That’s the most important thing for us.
11. What’s something David does on productions that no one else does?
I think he just does things very big. He always wants to do big things. He loves doing big things. And I just love doing cool sounding stuff. I never think about big or small, I just think about “Wow, that sounds so damn tight.” That’s my thing.
12. Your newest collaboration with David is called “Hero.” Who are your personal heroes in life, and why?
My mom, because she let me do my DJ thing without questions. And also because she showed me that you can be happy and healthy doing what you love, even though it might not be the most financially smart decision. Also David, for showing me the positivity that’s possible within the music industry and that it’s not all hate and egos and politics, which you see a lot.
13. You’re performing as part of the Eurovision Grand Final. Can you give people in the U.S. some context as to why why the Eurovision Song Contest is such a big deal?
So, if you have Burning Man or Coachella or the Super Bowl, it’s like a moment where everyone that has a certain passion comes together. The Super Bowl, all sports fans come together to watch. Burning Man, all lovers of freedom and a free state of mind and this type of lifestyle come together and celebrate. Coachella, general music lovers do this. Ultra Music Festival, dance music lovers do this. EDC, ravers do this. It’s all a coming together.
Eurovision is basically all songwriters and composers that are usually active locally, which is a gigantic amount in Europe because we have so many countries. They all come together to celebrate music. These are people who don’t sing in English — they usually sing in their native tongue — which is why they’re less well known. But when you put that altogether, it still amounts to 250 million people watching. It’s like the epicenter of local musicians and songwriters coming together and battling it out basically. It’s like the Super Bowl of European songwriting.
14. What does “EDM” mean to you?
Ha! It’s such a variable definition to so many people. What it means to me is, how do you say, the skeptics’ way of looking at dance music. Unfortunately the load of the title “EDM” is considered the cheesiness of the bubble of 2012, basically. So back in 2012 when everyone was talking about EDM, that was the cheese bubble of everyone jumping on the EDM train, forgetting that most people were already doing it for a long time. Even when The Chainsmokers came — like they sort of came post-EDM — it wasn’t even EDM anymore, it was more pop.
Now looking at the current state of house music, especially in America, I’m very happy this is blowing up. House is definitely making a comeback, and that’s very cool. But the moniker EDM — I don’t know what that means in modern day music. It’s very complicated, because it automatically refers to the big room sounds of 2012 to a lot of people. That’s what it refers to to me.
15. Finish this sentence: the most exciting thing happening in dance music right now is _____.
The music. That’s it. The music is on another level right now. Everything that came out in the last two years was very safe because of Covid, because [producers] just tried to make money through Spotify streams. The music I’ve been hearing recently as stuff is opening up, people are not giving a s–t about rules anymore, so you’re hearing these very weird songs coming out that are very cool. They’re garnishing success, because everyone is tired of the same shit. The Fred Again and the Blessed Madonna track, “We’ve Lost Dancing,” is a prime example.
16. What’s been the hardest part of being off the road during this time?
Not DJing. The road thing doesn’t really matter, it is what is with the flights and stuff, but I really miss dancing with people and making music with people. I really miss that a lot.
17. And what’s been the best part?
I got to get closer to my management and label team. Everything is in-house, so we do everything together and really got closer. I got to spend a lot of time with my wife. I got married! And I got to think more about the future. When you’re on tour, you never get time to think about the future, you just have to wait and see because you’re so busy touring. When someone offers you a pile of money to do what you love, you’re never going to say “no.” You could, but what sense does it make? Like, “You want some money to do what you love?” “No thanks I have to think about my future.” What the f–k is that? That makes no sense at all.
So now, because no one offered me to play anywhere, it actually gave me the time to sit down and think about what I want to do with the future. I’m very lucky. I know it’s been hell for some people, and I really feel for them, but for me it’s been perfect timing.
18. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?
Instead of trusting professionals, turn the people you trust into professionals — that’s the biggest investment you can make. Because trust me, you can’t trust the professionals. They’re there for them; they’re not there for you.
19. One piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Nothing. Everything I experienced taught me so much. I would not want to change anything. I’m really happy with all my experiences: the good ones, that bad ones, the winnings, the failures. They taught me everything I needed to know to get where I am today. Not necessarily as an artist, but more so as a label manager being able to sign artists and develop their careers. If I didn’t go through that, I would have no right to speak about it.
So, I’m happy I had a falling out with my old manager. I’m happy I had a tax incident, because I had people telling me the wrong things. All these types of things, all of the bad things that happened to me, and all the good things, taught me about what is the potential and what is possible of the music industry. If you only win, you can never know what can go wrong, and if you only lose you never know what can go right. You either become a super optimistic or super skeptical, and neither is a realistic depiction of the actual industry.
20. Anything else you’d like to say?
Yes, Wall Recording is open. We’re signing new artists in to development, so if you’re a producer, please send your portfolios to firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe we can party together.