When you’re an internationally-renowned artist who’s remixed superstars like U2, thrown down DJ sets at almost every dance hotspot around the globe and crafted a heap of top-10 club hits, what do you do next? If you’re Paul van Dyk, you turn your attention toward raising the social consciousness of your listeners, courtesy of a life-changing trip to Bombay, India, in late 2002.
“We arrived on a Monday night very late so we didn’t really see much. It was dark, we got picked up from the airport [and] driven to the hotel,” he recalls about the journey. “The next day we had to actually go to do interviews and some in-store autograph signing, so we drove from the hotel down into the city itself.
“What I saw driving through the streets was just really devastating,” he continues, his tone turning serious. “There was nothing that’s acceptable. In our so-called civilized world, we adjusted ourselves to the fact that some people have more, some people have less. But somehow, even if it’s not always fair, it’s still kind of balanced in a way. And it was completely out of any balance. Obviously, this sort of completely changed my view in the world, and therefore this had an impact on my music as well. I saw the responsibility of actually writing about issues in a certain way.”
The East Berlin native’s fourth artist album, “Reflections,” mirrors the self-discovery and desire to invoke change he faced after seeing the squalid conditions. Alongside traditional elements — an uptempo soul ode to his wife, “Homage”; the ethereal house thumping of “Connected” (also used in a Motorola ad earlier this year); the wiry beats of the title track — van Dyk expanded his sound to include a collaboration with Coldplay-esque rockers Vega 4 on the transcendent electronic/rock hybrid “Time Of Our Lives,” a shift toward pop structures representative of the album as a whole.
Fans who view van Dyk only as a purveyor of lighter-than-air trance tracks might find this new direction somewhat startling. But innovation and diversity is intrinsic to van Dyk’s career success. Releasing his first single, “Perfect Day,” as the Visions Of Shiva in 1992, he spent the next decade honing not only his remix skills (the aforementioned U2, Inspiral Carpets, New Order) but cultivating his unique version of electronic music. Hits like “For an Angel,” “Tell Me Why (The Riddle),” and “Another Way” mixed whooshing modern keyboards and beats as slick as an IKEA living room set that ooze as much warmth as they do danceability.
“It’s just a very ambitious direction, in terms of progressing further,” he says of the new album. “With people who say, ‘Yeah I know Paul van Dyk!’ and basically the only track they know is ‘For an Angel,’ they’re definitely going to be surprised, because it is different. But it would be so boring for me as an artist [to not try new things]. People always pigeonhole me as ‘the trance DJ’ and that kind of stuff.”
“I remember how many people said, ‘Oh yeah, your next record should sound like ‘Angel,'” he continues. “It’s like, ‘No.’ The track actually is based on the fact that I met my then-girlfriend, now my wife. When I write something about my relationship now in 2003, it sounds like ‘Homage.’ It doesn’t sound like ‘Angel,’ because [that was written] 11 years ago!'”
It’s obvious how much van Dyk loathes stagnation — not just musically and personally but socially as well. To that end, he is doing more than just writing music to make a difference in India. Van Dyk has become a benefactor of the Indian charity Akanksha, an organization dedicated to feeding and educating impoverished children to read. It’s in this way that he further puts a human face to his music, alleviating the misconceptions about both his own career and electronic music in general.
“I gave an interview to a radio journalist in England, and after an hour of talking about the album and all these issues, he said, ‘You know, Paul, I’m really, really inspired now to actually do something,'” van Dyk says. “And I saw this guy last Saturday in Glasgow and he said that he actually stopped drinking alcohol when he goes out to clubs and he’s saving all that money and every week he’s wiring a little bit. That really, really impressed me, and makes me feel it’s really effective.
“I also know, especially with electronic music, that a lot of people think this is kind of meaningless, worthless music, because it’s just faceless projects. But at the same time, I hope that people actually reflect on my music and what my music says. And on top of it if they [are] actually inspired to, like this radio guy from England, to sort of actually do something good because of — call it [this] message — then that’s it. That’s good.”