IN 2013, AGED JUST 25, ROBBERT VAN DE CORPUT – BETTER KNOWN BY HIS DJ MONIKER OF HARDWELL – BEAT FELLOW COUNTRYMAN AND TRANCE VETERAN ARMIN VAN BUUREN TO DJ MAGAZINE’S ANNUAL TOP 100 DJS POLL. HARDWELL’S METEORIC RISE HAS CONTINUED ONWARDS AND UPWARDS EVER SINCE. YET THE DANCE MUSIC SUPERSTAR WHO ROUTINELY SELLS OUT STADIUMS, HAS 9 MILLION FACEBOOK FOLLOWERS, WHOSE NAME IS CHANTED BY LEGIONS OF FANS AROUND THE WORLD, STILL HAS HIS FEET FIRMLY PLANTED ON TERRA FIRMA. THE CULTURED TRAVELLER INTERVIEWS THE YOUNG DUTCHMAN WHO SIGNED HIS FIRST RECORD DEAL JUST OUT OF PUBERTY AND WHO HAS NEVER LOOKED BACK SINCE.
What is your first musical memory as a child, and what kind of music was played in the van de Corput household?My earliest memory is of my parents playing James Brown music. It really stood out because it had this crazy funky vibe which, as a young kid, just had me hooked. Of course, growing up Michael Jackson was often played, and since my dad’s a big Elvis Presley fan a lot of The King’s music was played in the house. I grew up with a lot of funk in the house, music with plenty of groove and energy.
Did young Robbert play any musical instruments?Before discovering I had a passion for dance music I played the drums and piano. I started playing the piano when I was just six years old, so you could say that I connected with music at a very young age.
From what age did you know that you wanted to DJ and share your music with the masses?I was 13 when dance music really become an intrinsic part of my life. I played my first DJ show at that age and loved it. It’s a little crazy looking back and thinking how far that moment in my life has taken me.
What convinced you to take up DJing professionally and what was your parents’ reaction when you told them?I saw a documentary when I was about 12 years old about Dutch dance music which spotlighted guys such as Armin van Buuren, Tiësto and Ferry Corsten. It blew me away and I was so inspired I wanted to learn more. My parents have always support my decision. As long as the DJing didn’t interfere with my school work they were happy. In fact, my dad used to accompany me to my early shows and they still come and support me today.
Who inspired you in the early days?Growing up and because we both come from the same Dutch city (Breda), Tiësto was a big influence on me. Years later we became great friends and he mentored me in the early years. Surinamese DJ and producer Chuckie was another artist who offered guidance and support in the formative years of my career. As an emerging artist, it really helps to have supportive people around providing advice and guidance. This is one of the reasons I launched my record label, Revealed Recordings, to help new and emerging talent.
You were a teenager when you signed your first record deal in Holland at the age of 14. Did you entirely comprehend what was happening to you at that age?It was quite surreal because it was unheard of back then, but I was focused on making DJing my career. I was still at school, so kind of living a double life as an artist and a school kid, but my parents supported me and I was committed to managing and making both work. Completing my schooling was very important to me.
How did you stay grounded being a signed professional DJ while still at school?I was and always have been into this for the love of the music. I don’t want to be a celebrity, so keeping my feet on the ground has always been important to me and why I surround myself with good people.
What’s the story behind your DJing name of Hardwell?Hardwell is my surname in Latin and it was my dad’s choice.
Tell us about your first experience of DJing in Ibiza?Back in 2010 Tiësto invited me to be a guest DJ at his massive “Club Life” party at Privilege. Privilege is a 10,000 capacity Ibithincan clubbing institution and the crowd that night was wild! I remember being really nervous because I was about to play the biggest club in the world, with one of the DJs I most respected in the world’s party capital, Ibiza. It was so absolutely crazy it felt like something out of a dream.
In 2013 you achieved your lifelong dream of becoming the world’s best DJ; how did it feel to be voted DJ Magazine’s youngest ever number 1 DJ?It was a very special moment for me because it had been a lifelong dream of mine to achieve this. At the age of 13 I even appeared on a TV show saying that I wanted to become the #1 DJ in the world, so to eventually be voted by fans as their #1 DJ was just incredible.
In the same year “I Am Hardwell” was released, which charts your rise from an up-and-coming artist to an international superstar. How did the idea for this documentary come about?A lot was happening in my life at that time and I felt I wanted to capture it all on film. I’d long had the idea of doing a documentary, so when my management team and I discussed it some more it genuinely felt like the right thing to do. Obviously now I’m incredibly happy we did, because those years were crazy and it is amazing to be able to look back on them today and see, on the screen, how they unfolded.
“I Am Hardwell” not only provides a captivating view of how your career skyrocketed, but also an insight into the growth of the dance music phenomenon. How did America really getting into dance music impact on the global industry and your career personally?Exactly. “I Am Hardwell” isn’t just about me but also the rise of electronic music. Watching how the scene changed during the nearly three years it took to make the documentary is impressive to watch. Having videographer Robin Piree join me on that journey and capture it all on film was cool, since I was sharing the experience with someone who saw it first hand and got to capture it for fans to see firsthand too. America is one of the countries that has been a big part of my career the past few years. I just love playing there. Cities like Miami for example, are incredible places to visit and DJ. In my view electronic music has shifted the entire music industry’s position in the last few years. We’ve gone global and the rest of the industry has looked to us for innovation.
You have bucked the trend and shied away from working with big pop stars like so many other famous DJs have and still do. What’s your rationale behind this?My rationale behind any musical decision is purely based on whether I believe in it or not. I’m not really interested in making music to make it into the charts, but rather make music that fits my sound and my DJ sets. I’ve worked with some big-name musicians, like American singer-songwriter Jason Derulo and British singer-songwriter Craig David, so it’s not that I won’t work with big stars of pop music or other genres, I just need to believe in the project, that’s all.
In 2014 you were voted the World’s Number 1 DJ for a second time. Did that change anything for you?I had more of a chance to appreciate the win the second time around. It was another crazy period in my life but it was fun to do it all again but slightly differently. My schedule was incredibly grueling the first time I was voted #1 DJ in the world, so I made sure to not put myself under so much pressure after that first year.
Whilst you most often perform in stadiums these days, what’s your favourite club in the world to play at and why?Because of all the incredible festivals we have today I think people sometimes forget that we’re blessed with many incredible clubs around the world. This is why I so love Ibiza. The island’s clubs are simply magical. Las Vegas also does an incredible job of putting clubs at the centre of all the action. Hakkasan at the MGM Grand and OMNIA at Caesars Palace are two breathtaking clubs. It’s hard to decide between them because they’re both so cool, but without question these venues are two of my favourite clubs on the planet and why I agreed to become a resident DJ at both.
You’re no stranger to remixing, having remixed for the likes of Coldplay, Armin van Buuren, Tiësto and Bob Sinclar, amongst others. What’s your favourite Hardwell remix to date?I love remixing and anyone who has heard my sets will know I put a lot of effort into mashups and remixes. Getting a chance to remix artists such as Moby or bands like Coldplay is cool and as a fan of their music is something I truly enjoy doing.
You are known for interacting on various social media platforms and even this interview was a dream to organise compared to most DJs at your level. Is staying in touch with your fans and being relatively accessible part of your ethos for staying at the top of your game?Social media has played a huge role in the growth of our scene. I started using it because I love people and having the chance to keep in touch with my fans via social media is something I really enjoy. I like the instant access and being able to connect with people from anywhere in the world at the touch of a button. These days you can’t really have a successful career with being connected via social media, or at least it would be very difficult to do. But for me it just feels natural because I’m a fan of Facebook, Twitter etc.
You’ve been known to perform 150 show dates in a year on top of residencies and countless unplanned gigs. In January 2017 you celebrated six years and 300 episodes of “Hardwell On Air”. How do you find time in your crazy schedule to still host a weekly radio show?It’s a lot of work but I still love doing it. My radio show is a chance for me to play out some of the music I don’t always get to include in my DJ sets. It’s amazing getting feedback from fans who don’t get to see me DJ but still tune in each week from all around the world. For them, like me, it’s a weekly opportunity to listen to music I really enjoy. Although I am the host and am heavily involved with the show, I have a team of guys who help me to run the show each week and ensure it reaches all the stations (we now have 150+ station partners) around the world.
What is your most memorable DJing moment?There have been so many, but ones that stand out including closing a sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York for the end of my first I Am Hardwell world tour. Another is being the first DJ to play a solo show at Hockenheim race circuit in Germany for the closing party of my second world tour with I Am Hardwell – United We Are.
Headquartered in your hometown of Breda in the Netherlands you set-up Revealed Recordings in 2010. What prompted you to establish your own record label and how involved are you in checking-out new DJing talent?Revealed is a home for my music but also a chance to promote new talent. We are constantly signing and supporting new artists and pushing music forwards. I am very involved in offering guidance to the label’s new artists and very hands-on with the running of the label week in week out. Revealed also runs many events around the world, has staged parties everyone from Ibiza to Miami, and hosted numerous festival arenas – from Creamfields to Electric Daisy Carnival – where new and established talent join me in the DJ line-up.
In 2015 your hugely successful “World’s Biggest Guest List” concert at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Mumbai, attended by an estimated 75,000 people, was the first ever charity event on such a mammoth scale to involve an electronic DJ. Thanks to your efforts educational aid is being provided to 20,000 underprivileged children aged 8 to 18. Please tell us more about your United We Are Foundation.The project was set up to help educate young children. I wanted to use my position in electronic music to help bring about a social change to the lives of underprivileged children in communities around the world. We started out with an objective of raising enough money to school 3,000 kids from the slums of Mumbai, but support for the Foundation has been so incredible that we managed to raise enough money to educate more than 20,000 young children. Later this year on 3rd December we will return to Mumbai to host another “World’s biggest Guest List” event which will hopefully raise enough money to educate 100,000 underprivileged children. More info can be found at foundation.djhardwell.com
What have you been up to recently with your music?I just collaborated with US pop star Austin Mahone on a track called “Creatures Of The Night’ which has been a huge hit for me. It was premiered during my DJ set at Ultra Music Festival in Miami and has been really popular ever since.
You crisscross the world non-stop all year round. How do you deal with the jet lag and do you have any in-flight tips?Keeping myself healthy is crucial so I make sure I eat well when I’m travelling. I try to keep fit and get enough rest. Drinking plenty of water is also vital because it’s important to stay hydrated at all times.
What advice would you give to budding DJs and producers reading this interview?Believe in yourself and do what feels right for you. Persistence and self-belief are very important.
Now you’re at the top, what is next for Hardwell?Right now I am enjoying touring and being back in the studio. I took some time during the latter part of 2016 to play around with new ideas and sounds, so I have a lot of new music coming up which is all very exciting. I am also on the road a lot this summer with headline shows at festivals including EXIT, Alfa Future People, Sensation White, Breda Live, Ultra Europe, Airbeat One, Untold, Creamfields, plus energising sets in Ibiza at Ushuaïa, Amnesia and new club Hï Ibiza (formerly Space). Summer 2019 is going to be very busy and exciting!