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Go BackTHE POLITICS OF PVD - Van Dyk chat about Cream in Ibiza, the Middle East and why the majors missed the boat on digital downloads.

Posted: 21/7/06 18:23

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Paul van Dyk is the world's No. 1, according to DJ Mag, and he's certainly a DJ who takes an active interest in world affairs.

For about the past five years, Paul has used his Politics of Dancing concept to promote electronic dance music as a political movement, one that supports peace and respect.

He's seen it work, too, in places like Ibiza and with the recently revived Love Parade in Berlin, which he headlined. 
Dance music, says Van Dyk, is the world's largest youth movement, one that can enact real change. Unfortunately, it's the will of the few that often affects the many, sometimes adversely, and Paul is saddened by events currently unfolding in the Middle East

It was only a few weeks ago that he played a party in Lebanon, a country currently embroiled in conflict with Israel
Regardless, he remains optimistic about dance music's capacity to bring about peace. Over the years, he's made a few changes himself. Read on, as we ask van Dyk about the Love in Berlin, the Middle East, Ibiza, Myspace, chat rooms and why the major record labels missed the boat on digital downloads

Hi Paul. Where are you right now?
I'm in Germany right now, but I'll be heading to South America on tour right away. I'm just relaxing after playing Love Parade last week.

How was that?
Absolutely amazing. I'm still completely overwhelmed. You know, Love Parade didn't happen for two years, because of problems with the organizers' setup. Now, it's on again. I was expecting maybe 300,000 to 400,000 (people to come out), but it was 1.2 million. It was absolutely massive, absolutely exciting and probably one of the biggest statements for electronic dance music ever. 

What were the problems that prevented Love Parade from happening the last two years? If I remember reading correctly, the City of Berlin was concerned about how big the party had been getting, how it was organized and how it was run …
It was a small group of that were doing it and I'd say Love Parade was just something that outgrew them. They didn't quite grow with the size of the events. They had some friction within, stuff like that. It's not really important, because it's on now, the problems are solved and it was an absolutely stunning and amazing. 

Was it better organized this year?
Absolutely. It was a very different way of working with organizers, with the city, all the people involved, actually. It's a much more positive vibe, too. 

It seems like the kind of thing people must have missed given the turnout.
Absolutely. As I said, and I'm usually very optimistic, I thought 400,000 would have been great, a good way to start again, and then maybe we'd reach 1 million in three years. I would have never ever thought we'd get 1.2 million on the first year back. 

Before the two-year break, what were attendance figures like?
Between 600,000 and 700,000. So, it almost doubled.

Why do you think this is such a huge statement for electronic music? 
Well, first of all - especially for people in the U.K. who keep saying that dance music is dead and all that nonsense – all the majority of what the public sees is what the major record companies want you to see and tell you. Also, what you see in sales charts. The thing is, what you see in electronic music now, to say 10-15 years ago, we're selling about 10 times as much music – but we don't sell records anymore; we sell digital files to download shops and things like that.

So, effectively, there's a much bigger audience for electronic music than there used to be, it's just that the majors didn't quite get that development and they're missing out on it.
Therefore, it's not reflected in the normal sales and pop charts. So, it's no wonder they say this music is dead, as many journalists say. But Love Parade really reflects the status of electronic music.

It's a global youth culture – it's the biggest youth culture in the world. People love this music and are willing to celebrate it. 

Do you think the majors have actually tried spreading the message that electronic dance music is in fact dead because they missed the boat?
I don't think they did it on purpose. I just think they overslept the whole thing, totally. First, they didn't want to make vinyl anymore, but vinyl was still going strong with DJs. The music that's really big in the clubs isn't really played on BBC Radio One or things stations like it. Therefore, they really believed it was dead because in terms of their marketing efforts and their traditional CD formats it is. But the music itself is being heard much more and sells more than it was 10 years ago, just in very different ways.
 

I think that would surprise a lot of people, because especially in the last few years, with the advent of digital media, I think a lot has been made about piracy and the effect it's had on sales. But you say sales have actually increased?
With electronic music, I never really blamed people for downloading it illegally. Because 99% of the cool tracks only came out on vinyl. So, you had to wait for someone to rip it off of the vinyl and put it onto the Internet before you could get your favourite track. Meanwhile, and this is why there's such a high of sales now, there are quite a few good download sites now, where you can download the music legally – like a record shop.

You can go and find the latest, greatest in electronic music. Heavy metal has actually had the same development. It's specialized stores that are taking over with the real fan base. It's not really about the big record companies anymore because, like I said, they overslept.
 

I see that, too. There are so many great websites to download music from. You can even get the music directly from the artists themselves. Downloading has really eliminated traditional forms of distribution. Is there anything the majors can do to catch up?
It's a ways out, but something like Itunes, as a huge retailer, well, it's just a question of time before they start making deals with the artists directly. Itunes will actually reach a glass ceiling of financial development.

What everyone does when you get something like an Ipod, you download all the old shit you want to have again – U2 collections and whatever. Everything you wanted to have. But then you have it and if you're really a music fan of a certain style, well, I don't go to Itunes and look for electronic music; I go to the specialty stores.

This is the potential of the specialty stores to have this kind of impact on the market. I think at some point a company like Apple, with Itunes, will come along and buy up all the specialty stores. It will be a lot like the music industry, say, 15 years ago when the majors started to buy up all the indies. I can imagine this happening, but I'd guess it's still about 10-15 years down the line.
 

Do you still buy much music online?
Well, I get a lot of stuff sent to me. And we've actually created our own specialty site: www.vonyc.com. I was thinking, "What would I like to have as a customer ?" First, I'd like to be able to listen to the best electronic music 24 hours a day. So, what we did is put in an online radio station and if you like a track you're hearing, you can click on it and buy it. 

I've read before that you've almost regarded your development as a producer and a DJ almost as if it were an accident. Now, you're involved on more of a business level. Does that surprise you, the various roles you've undertaken?
In terms of being a DJ, producer and musician, that all kind of comes together – it's a combination of what I do; it isn't separate. The whole idea with Vonyc it's like, you sit there, see a problem and nobody is doing anything about it. You couldn't blame anybody for downloading electronic music illegally, because there was no other way to get the music – you even had to buy a turntable before you could play a piece of vinyl.

Obviously, that's very outdated. That's all I was thinking. I wasn't going into the project thinking about business, just as a customer. And that's who we provide for and our success rate is amazing. We're really proud of the whole thing.
 

Another great thing, which might not seem so great for a record label, is that you don't need to have a label to send us your music. If you're a kid making music and you'd like to get it out there, we have a team, a music editorial sort of thing, that will see if there's potential.

If it's quality music, they'll put it on the site. We have quality as much as we support young talents. And if a release sells stron on Vonyc, it will make it even easier for them to get a deal with a record company.
 

How long has Vonyc been going now?
We had a test phase for about a year and we've been fully online since December 2005. 

You're obviously familiar with Myspace. What do you think of that?
I think it's a great community communication tool. Chat boards are really good for people to throw shit at one another, because it's all so anonymous. But in Myspace it feels friendlier, the whole exchange of information. I definitely have a Myspace page, but it's funny because even with all the stuff I've said about Vonyc and stuff, I'm not really that big of an Internet freak. With my computer in the studio, I don't go online because I don't want to get any viruses.

Even when I'm on the road, I don't use a computer for the Internet, either. I get all my e-mails on a Blackberry, and that's about as much as I use the Internet (laughs). Of course, we have a team of people that provide for our websites. I know exactly what's going on with my Myspace site (www.myspace.com/paulvandyk ) even though I'm never on there.
 

I know you were voted No. 1 DJ by DJ Mag last fall. Do you think remaining as reponsive to your fans as you have been is part of the reason you've achieved that status?
I wouldn't quite put it like that. The thing is, I don't have a fake image; I'm just the way I am. When I play the music, I'm just passionate about what I do. And I think that's what comes across; it's very believable. That's probably the reason people appreciate what I do and support me, which makes me really thankful, of course. 

Certainly, you're regarded very well as a DJ and producer, but you've also undertaken a lot of political causes and tried to heighten people's awareness of certain global issues …
To be honest, I don't think that has much to do with it. Something like my involvement with Rock the Vote… that was in 2004. If that had played a role, I probably would have been No. 1 then.

It's funny, because a lot of people say I should shut up about the political things because they just want to hear my music, that they don't want to hear what's going on in the world. When they read an article about me, they just want to read about music.

Other people are like, "Great, you opened our eyes to something." You always have both sides. Some people are more ignorant and others are trying to help, as well.
 

The reaction from people who say they don't want to know what's going on, that kind of surprises me. I always thought dance music has prided itself on open-mindedness and wanting to explore new ideas.
Really, I'm only aware of one guy who actually said anything like that to me. It was back when the U.S. started to invade Iraq. I think I was in New York and I had a T-shirt on that said "Make peace, not war." And one guy said to me, "Hey, you know, I don't want to have all that bullshit when I go out. I just want to let loose" and bleah, bleah, bleah. It was in that vein. 

Were you surprised by that reaction?
Yeah, I was. I believe that in order to get electronic music completely you have to be, as you just said, a very open-minded, tolerant and respectful person. However, every other person in the venue really appreciated it, me making a mark by wearing that T-shirt. I mean, it was just one guy in 5,000, so it's really not something to get upset about. 

Can you talk about your Politics of Dancing concept?
It goes back to 2001. Even with all the fun that electronic music can bring, it also developed into a global youth culture, a very peaceful and huge society. Palestinians are dancing with Israelis. Lebanese people are dancing with Israelis – without war, without anything in their minds other than treating each other respectfully. That's why dance music is a political and diplomatic tool that could be used. That's why I called it the Politics of Dancing back then. Of course, after that, we had the war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq and not to forget 9/11. 

And now more trouble in Middle East…
Yeah. I just came from Beirut; I played there last Saturday. It will probably be the last event they'll have and that makes me very sad. Over the last few years, it's become clear to me that democracy is by far the best concept for us to live in peace. There's still a lot of things wrong, no question, and a lot of things that could be done better. But it's still the best concept. My philosophy is that if you see something wrong in your neighbourhood, go ahead and change it because that's what's going to make a better society. This is what we need. 

Beirut, as an example, the one thing I really don't understand about this conflict … I know Israel and Lebanon. I've been to both places a few times. The majority of people in both places are friendly and open-minded. They're befriended with Europe and the U.S and they could be the closest allies there. So, if Israel is being attacked by a terrorist organization and they're actually shooting from Lebanese soil, the best thing to do would be to contact the Lebanese government and supporting police force in order to drive Hezbollah out of the country and into non-existence instead of bombing the infrastructure of the country next to you. It only gives more room for the extremists to grow. I just don't get it. 

That's exactly what's happened in Iraq.
Yeah, exactly. This makes me very sad. I have such a strong connection with the Lebanese people. When I played there the first time for these same promoters I was talking about, it was just a few months after the assassination of (Rafik) Hariri. Because of the bomb blasts, I told the promoter I didn't want to go down there. I didn't want anyone to be killed, put at risk. The promoter told me to come because there was a very young democracy. Nobody was actually trying to kill anyone; it was just an effort to scare them off. So, I went. 

The whole event was a turnout of about 10,000 people by the beach. An absolutely amazing event. It just became about us and the music supporting this young Lebanese democracy. And then I was there last Saturday in an even bigger venue, 12,000 plus, the promoter said. Again, it was a celebration of being respectful to one another, peaceful living. And then two days later, these same people get attacked by the Israeli army force, which completely overreacted. It's crazy. The first question should be why are two Israeli soldiers on Lebanese soil, anyway? The whole thing to me looks utterly set up and I'm not a fan of conspiracy theories. But that looks really set up. 

Do you ever lose your sense of optimism?
No. There's always downfalls here and there. That's normal; not everything always goes between the lines. I just hope the whole U.N. will see the reality of the situation in this particular case. It just doesn't make any sense to bomb your neighbour because of the actions of one terrorist group. The thing with Hezbollah is that they're not just in Lebanon; they're also in Syria. They're based in that triangle and that's where they carry out the terrorist threats from. That's why it would make much more sense to support the army and police forces in those countries to get them out. 

Israelis could say that those forces aren't working, though, that they haven't done enough.
I agree. But Lebanon is a country that's only had a democratic structure for about a year, since the Syrians left. What Lebanon doesn't have is good financial backing to support a strong police force that could actually go up against Hezbollah. Look at the U.S. – it's putting up billions and billions against the war on terror and they're not even managing to get the job done. Lebanon just doesn't have the resources, neither financially nor the people to do it. This is why they need U.N. support. They don't need to be bombed by Israel. 

What form do you think that support should take?
It would be good to have U.N. forces in the area and then try to find out where the weapon camps actually are – and then to push them out of the area. That would be the best thing. Then we need real peace talks between Lebanon and Israel. It's crazy that I need to have two passports because if I have a stamp from one place or the other I'm not allowed to go in either country. It's absolutely crazy, totally nuts and it isn't understandable. The U.N. has already waited far too long to do something and what the G8 people just said that they blame it on the extremists.

That's right, but why is Israel bombing Beirut's bridges and power plants – why aren't they bombing the extremists? Why are they killing innocent people in Lebanon?
The thing is the Hezbollah are not the Lebanese people. I have many good friends in Israel as well and I know they all live with the threat of attacks every single day. I can't even think what it's like to live like that. At the same time, things need to be in proportion.

With a terrorist threat, you can't blame a whole country. The people in Israel that were killed were killed by an extremist group. Now there are Israeli soldiers killing innocent Lebanese people. It's wrong.
 

On a more positive note: On a  place like Ibiza really is a melting pot of cultures (pheww, not an easy transition hu?), a place where come together to celebrate. You're playing at Cream this summer. Can you talk a bit about playing there and what it means to you?
Funnily enough, the first time I played at Cream, I didn't really like it at all. I was musically sandwiched between other acts. So, I spoke to the guys running it and told them to put on whoever they wanted before me and to let me play until 4 a.m. to the end.

Ever since, the numbers grew every year. We've gotten more involved every years. Last year, was my label sessions at the club and this year it's the Vonyc Sessions, so we have some insight into who gets booked. Cream gigs are some of the best ones I have over the summer.
 

What do you like about Ibiza?
To some extent, I like it because it is such a big melting pot. I actually once had my Israeli and Lebanese promoters partying together in the same venue and they were having a great time.

That's just an example. People from all over come together to celebrate life and peace and happiness together. Ibiza is a bif construction area right now, but there are still some nice, quiet places where you can explore the Mediterranean.

Who are some of the guest DJs you have coming this summer?
Gabriel & Dresden, Marco V, Eddie Halliwell and many more. The best thing to do is to just look on the website (laughs). 

If you can´t catch Paul in Ibiza at his exclusive Cream residency, dont panic he will be performing at this years Creamfields festival on Saturday 26th August, info: www.creamfields.com

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Words by Yuri Wuensch