According to popular opinion, German DJ and producer Paul van Dyk essentially invented the genre of electronic music known as trance, with his 1993 remix of Humate’s “Love Stimulation.” The roots of trance — techno, house and the U.K. rave scene — existed before that, but it was van Dyk who created fresh magic with his use of tempo and melody.
25 years later, and van Dyk put out his eighth studio album last year, From Then On. He’s still one of the most respected DJs in electronic music, perhaps because he’s now at a point in his career when he doesn’t feel a need to please anybody but himself. He’s always looking forward, while keeping the past in his peripheral vision. He’s a pioneer, and he’s proud of the part he played in the creation of trance.
“Obviously it has a long history, and that history consists of a lot of amazing talented artists, musicians and DJs making music that’s passionate, intense, energetic, real, and has a lot of artistic substance despite all the fun and engagement of the audience with the music,” van Dyk says. “Then we have the now, where we can actually see that it still has not lost any of its inspiring element. It’s still up to date, and it’s still to me the most exciting part of electronic music. Obviously because of our record label and the nature of my job, I’ve listened to a lot of music that’s going to come out in the next six to nine months. I can tell you there’s a lot of amazing stuff waiting to be released. It’s just the most exciting music to me in the world.”
After a quarter-century in the biz, van Dyk has continued to soak in his surroundings, to learn and tweak his sound. But the biggest impact on his evolution has been the development of his own confidence. Nowadays, he trusts his own ears.
“When you grow up and become more mature, you have more experience, and you also know a little bit more about what’s real and what’s not real in the world,” he says. “The same is true from an artistic perspective. I think I’m much more confident doing exactly what I like. At the end of the day, I’m an artist. This is what I’m actually releasing into the world as my art. In the past, there have been A&R at record labels who said, ‘Why don’t you try this, why don’t you try that,’ and it motivated me to do things that are not 1,000 percent me. Now, I stand 1,000 percent behind the music I make and play. I reach out to my audience in front of me in the venue by releasing my music, but I would not bend over and do something that I’m not standing behind.”
It’s an approach that worked on From Then On, and van Dyk says that the favorable response the album received vindicates the directions he took on it. It also helps that the album seemed to coincide with a resurgence in the appeal of trance, although van Dyk is keen to point out that the music never really went away.
“I was always within the trance scene,” he says. “I constantly toured around the world. It didn’t slow down because of trance not being in the public eye. It always had a very loyal fan base and it still has. What we see right now is, a lot of people came to the electronic soundscapes through the normal pop radio EDM. They looked deeper for something else, into what electronic music was intended to be. Some discovered the minimal techno element of things, and another big chunk of the audience actually discovered the substance of trance and what trance has to offer. That’s why you can see an increase in the popularity of trance music in the U.S.”
Van Dyk performs at the Academy on Saturday and, having previously lived in Los Angeles, he’s always excited to get back.
“I have a lot of friends there,” he says. “It’s always special. I know the city, I know my way around, and in terms of the shows, they’ve always been amazing. It’s a very passionate, straightforward and up-for-it crowd. I’m looking forward to it.”
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The set, he says, will pull mainly from From Then On, though there will be some older crowd faves for the longtime fans. This summer, van Dyk will throw himself into the Ibiza summer season. And then, he starts all over again.
“I’m working on a new album, so there’ll be new music before the year’s over,” he says.
You just can’t stop this guy from working.
Paul van Dyk plays with Alastor and Omair at 10 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, at the Academy.