The following is the full transcript of The Michigan Daily’s interview with DJ Paul Van Dyk.
The Michigan Daily: Tonight you’re going to be playing here in Ann Arbor. Is it interesting for you to play in smaller venues like The Necto as opposed to bigger city clubs like in New York or Chicago?
Paul Van Dyk: Well first of all there’s the connection with Detroit and the whole area. [Detroit] is a root of electronic music [along] with places like Berlin, Manchester, and Sheffield. This is where this music actually came from. Therefore it’s no so much like I’m going into a provincial area. Instead I know I’m coming back to a place I know has a strong connection with electronic music. To me it doesn’t really matter if it’s a big festival or a big club or even a small club, I always give 100% because DJing is a lot about interaction with the crowd. It’s always different and I’m looking forward to what’s coming up tonight.
TMD: Does it feel strange to be here touring in America given the current world events?
PVD: It’s not strange touring while this is going on, because I have a very clear [political] position. I make that standing very clear through my Internet site [www.paulvandyk.com] and through interviews. So in a way, I think it’s even better to be out, to have the opportunity to talk to people like yourself and to be somehow connected with people in the crowd and make them aware of what’s going on. I completely believe in democracy, and I don’t need everyone thinking about this issue the same way I do. But democracy means that the least people should do for the people in Iraq who have been killed or will be killed is get all the information necessary to make [their own] decision. Something I realize about the [United] States is there is not so much information which is available. What you see on CNN isn’t really what’s going on. The other thing is that people don’t even really want to know the background information. There was this guy emailing us in a harsh manner in a language that I thought was completely inappropriate in the situation. I took a further step because I don’t like my employees being treated in this manner. I was giving him a little bit of real background information about history because he was accusing Germany of forgetting about Hitler and all that kind of weird stuff. I was trying to set things straight and all that was coming back was him running out of arguments, and therefore attacking even more. This is something which scares me rather than being afraid of traveling around in the [United] States.
TMD: One way to make a political statement is through your music. Do you feel like it’s more difficult to make that sort of statement using the structure of dance music?
PVD: I don’t really understand how a real fan of electronic music can have a pro-war statement. The whole nature of this music, the reason why this music works is because it’s global, it’s because it’s cosmopolitan, it’s because it is respectful and tolerant of other people’s cultural backgrounds. Therefore this person [who sent the hate mail] obviously has never truly gotten into electronic music and understood it. I think to really get the full advantage and enjoyment of electronic music you have to have a certain cosmopolitan mind and be open minded, and be open for answers as well as questions.
TMD: What about the Detroit influence on your music and your interaction with Detroit when you were growing up in East Germany?
PVD: Detroit Techno made me become a DJ in a way. I heard all this electronic music even in East Germany on the radio and this was how I got really infected with this music. When the [Berlin] wall went down and I went to all the clubs it was very one dimensional – it was only Detroit-oriented techno. So basically there was just this [repetitive] kind of music, and it made me want to be a DJ [to play my own style]. So I played something completely different, but obviously there are all the [Detroit] classics. The stuff by Derrick May and others are all time classics and they always will be because they’ve been very important records in the development of electronic music. Berlin is important in this development, the UK is important, yet Detroit has its own very unique place in the whole development.
TMD: Given where dance music is now in 2003 do you ever have an urge to go back to 1988 or 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down – when this music was really just breaking through in Europe?
PVD: I’m still as excited about this music and as passionate about this music as I was back then. I’m very happy that I was able to experience [that time period], but I’m very optimistic and forward-looking person. You will never hear me say ‘The good old days were better.’ My experiences back then were totally cool. Yet the thing is it’s even better these days. So many people worldwide are connected through this music to each other. That’s something that is absolutely outstanding. The chance this music has as a uniting tool between different generations, cultures, and countries is amazing.
TMD: I’ve noticed the electronic music scene in Berlin and Germany in general these days seems very broad. People are doing everything from trance and house, to glitch music, IDM, and microhouse. Do you see your style of music as contemporary with these newer artists and the directions they’ve taken with electronic music?
PVD: The thing with Berlin is that it never had it’s own sound. Frankfurt Germany had its own [stylistic] sound, and there’s a certain sound from Manchester in the UK. The new styles were coming from places like that, not from Berlin. The reason is that we have a lot of very talented, passionate producers and DJs that all have their very own unique idea about music. I have my own idea, someone like Jan Driver has his pumping house style, there’s DJ Westbam who has the whole electro thing on his side. There’s so many different [genres], and it’s all on a very high quality level. I won’t even say we influence each other. This is one thing Berlin has is – very strong, clear ideas.
TMD: Do you think it’s a very separated music scene then?
PVD: No, it’s all together. We hang out all the time, but I would never actually make music like DJ Westbam. Jan Driver would never do a song the way I would do it. It is sort of separate, but not in a cut off way. We talk to each other a lot, hang out, but we all do our very different style of music.
TMD: What do you think about some of the legal restrictions they have here in the U.S. – early closing hours for nightclubs, tight control over substances, compared to the nature of nightclubs in Europe?
PVD: I have German passport so it’s not my place to judge the lawmaking in America in terms of closing times. Some people probably have their reasons why they think it has to be that way. The only thing I can address is the drug issue because I think it is a worldwide problem, and I think it’s approached totally different. When they close a club down, it’s not preventing kids from being attracted to drugs. What would make much more sense is to actually inform them what they actually do to their bodies if they take something. Taking away the glamour to it [is crucial], like “I’m taking an E!” so they know what’s happening to them. That way it’s not becoming normal, but they will know what’s going to happen so they don’t die or have health problems after they do it. The other thing to ask yourself is from an idealistic view, and that is why people take drugs. They take drugs to get out of their real world. Of course it’s fun on the weekend to escape for a few hours and jump up and down. The real problem is when they never come back, and they continuously engage in this behavior. The real question there is why are they trying to escape their real world? This problem lies in the social system of the country. If you give people options and possibilities in their life they will never get caught in this drug spiral that’s become so problematic.
TMD: Have you heard of the legislation they are proposing here in the U.S. called the RAVE Act? The Act makes it illegal in some cases to have parties because they are associated with drug use.
PVD: That would be the same as if you say driving a car is illegal because you could run someone over. That doesn’t make any sense, but in that regard, they teach people how to drive a car. They control the process of learning to drive a car. As absurd as that sounds I think it’s a good comparison. There’s some danger involved, but in the driving situation they’re taking precautions and making people aware of what’s going on. In the drug issue they don’t – they just basically don’t want anyone to ‘drive.’
TMD: What things make you feel optimistic about the future of electronic music?
PVD: The great thing is that because of the open character of this music it is able to absorb all the experiences, atmosphere, and different cultural elements. Therefore it’s always developing further, and there’s always something influential coming along, and this might influence someone who has nothing to do with it. This person is coming back with completely different angles and coming up with something even more interesting. This is what makes it so exciting, and this why I never say it was better in the ‘old days’ because obviously the world [now] is much more open in terms of having this cross-cultural interaction with other cultures and people. In terms of looking more generally at the scene, I believe that despite the ‘censorship’ in American media that is happening these days, there is something like the Internet, where you can get the real information. You find so much information about what is really going on in the world. This is what makes me feel optimistic, even if there is the Bush administration that obviously treats democracy very badly. There are many people who have this open view on things, and there are many people who understand that the best way to actually bring democracy to Iraq, for example, is to give the people education, food, and options for their life. [People] refer to Hitler, and there was a war necessary to end his regime, but I refer to something else. There was a very peaceful revolution at the beginning of the 1990’s. There were no weapons involved, and the whole continent of Europe got rid of communism with no American soldiers involved. This is what we look forward to, because this is democracy, this is what we as a civilized world should be, and not running into a country and bombing it down.
TMD: Is there anything that makes you feel cynical about where dance music is at or where it is going?
PVD: Some of the cheesiest bullshit is called electronic music right now, rather than what it really is. There’s all these 80’s cover versions that are like danceable pop music but have no roots in the clubs. I could imagine that someone living in Detroit getting really pissed off with music like this because [Detroit] used to be underground rock and roll, and suddenly you hear Don Henley. This obviously makes it a bit cynical, but in general it’s a very positive thing, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.