While you were sucking down hot dogs and ice-cold brews in the name of American freedom this July 4th, Afrojack was across the Atlantic chasing a different independence.
“It’s basically the only week of the year I’m not focused on music, and I get to drive fast cars,” he says. “I’m not supposed to drive them really fast, but why not?”
For the third year in a row, Afrojack hopped into a top-of-the-line sports convertible and lived his race star dream in the Gumball 3000, an annual, international motor rally that sees A-list celebrities tearing up 3,000 miles of public streets. It kicked off on Saturday and will continue glitzing up a course stretching from Riga, Latvia, to Mykonos, Greece, until this Saturday, July 8 — time the Dutch DJ and producer will put to good use.
“It gives me a chance to listen to a lot of the music I’m working on,” he says. “I bring about 50 to 100 songs, so I can listen back to everything and see which one really sticks with me, which one really represents what I’m doing right now. This gives me a good week to make a selection.”
There’s no better way to test a new tune than on a high-powered system in a high-octane vehicle, especially when you make the kind of raw-energy house anthems Afrojack is known for. Hits like “Take Over Control,” “No Beef” and the Chris Brown-assisted “As Your Friend” are the stuff of surefire workout playlists your Zumba instructor builds their life around, but man cannot exist on heart-pumping, sweat-it-out bpm’s alone. These days, Afrojack is out to explore as many new avenues as his fans are willing to walk down.
“I grew up on hip-hop,” he says, “and I used to be a breakdancer, but to actually come out with it and say, ‘Yo, these are the sounds that I love, this is what I represent,’ that’s a big step … I was in the studio with O.T. Genasis a couple weeks ago, and it was fun. We are not afraid to experiment, and when you’re working like that, you come up with the best stuff. Same thing with Ty Dolla $ign.”
While there will always be that one YouTube commenter who never wants anything to change, most of his fans seem to dig the new direction. In March, his collaborative single “Good Life” with Cesqeaux and O.T. introduced his fans to a dirty, crunching take on trap rhythms, all at once reflecting his hard Dutch house roots with a touch of popular future bass style. It was a raw, gritty follow-up to modern R&B feels he first explored on the Ty Dolla $ign-assisted “Gone,” which dropped in October and sits shy of 8 million views at press time.
He reinforced these hip-hop roots when he brought Rae Sremmurd out for a live take on “No Type,” “Swang” and “Black Beatles” at this year’s EDC Las Vegas. The hour set showcased the DJ’s inner-mind, mixing rap hits and beats with bone-crushing dubstep, breakneck trap, hair-raising electro and future bass. His blend of Lil Uzi Vert‘s “XO Tour Lif3” into Marshmello‘s “Alone” was particularly eye-widening. The clear message? Afrojack is down to mix anything, as long as it throws you on your ass when it drops.
“Music has been going in every f—ing direction over the last couple of years,” he said to the crowd mid-set, just before dropping his remix of Linkin Park and Kiiara‘s “Heavy.” “It’s all one f—ing thing, it’s something that makes us feel at f—ing home.”
Afrojack tries to apply that homegrown feeling to everything he touches.
“The artists I work with, they don’t talk about vibes or whatever. They’re just like, ‘Yo, let’s make some music. Let’s have some fun,’” he says. “Working with those people that are so free and careless about it, they’re not aiming to have a No. 1. They’re just aiming to have a dope ass record.”
Case in point: Frequent collaborator David Guetta. The power duo have come together in the studio for more than one major hit, teaming up on Guetta’s Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit “Titanium,” featuring vocals by Sia, as well as on “Hey Mama” with Nicki Minaj and Bebe Rexha. They even won a Grammy for their work on Madonna‘s “Revolver” remix in 2010.
The besties came together once more for latest single “Another Life,” a tune that’s more future bass than hip-hop but still beat-heavy, featuring warm vocals from one of Afrojack’s favorite singer-songwriters, Ester Dean.
“I think the greatest thing about David is he makes great coffee,” he laughs. “He picked me up all the way in the beginning, when I just started getting a little bit of shine. He really took me around and showed me a lot of the industry. He also taught me a lot about making songs, and we’ve been working together for a long time. He’s more like a brother to me, like my best friend [rather] than just someone I work together with. To be able to work with someone you can trust so much and actually see as family, that makes it a lot of fun.”
Afrojack tries to pay that forward to the artists on his label, Wall Recordings, as much as he can.
“On the one hand, it’s really a lot of fun to give someone their dream,” he says, “but also, sometimes it’s really difficult when you have a lot of experience with something and they are not listening, when you tell them to do something that will be better for their career. Like, ‘I wanna go left here.’ ‘Yeah, I know you wanna go left, but you should go right. It’s gonna hurt if you go right.’ ‘Yeah well, I’m still gonna go left.’”
You can’t control young artists the way you control a speeding Lamborghini, but after more than a decade in the industry, Afrojack has learned how to pick his battles. He’s far more interested in celebrating than he is in nitpicking the details. He’s pumping about 70 shows into his summer schedule, a feat he’ll get back to as soon as he exits the vehicle at Gumball 3000, but not until he’s finished playing sets for that, as well.
In true party-monster fashion, he’s got something big planned for his birthday, coming up Sept. 9 of this year. It’s a homecoming, balls to the wall event in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and tickets are on sale now. It’ll be his chance to do what he loves best, play loud music for the people who get it most.
“The way I see it, I have my ups and downs, but I’m always going to be around,” he says. “I’m always going to be doing something really great, or sometimes really not so great. It’s my choice to keep going. I have a lot of fun making music, and especially the free ability to expand my own sound. It’s inspiring to me to have such loyal fans that they allow me to drift … Just keep an eye out for new music. I have a lot of stuff coming.”