Hardwell. The name rings synonymous with some of the biggest festival performances in the last three years, from Ultra to Tomorrowland, and he’s not slowing down anytime soon. We changed the pace in this interview, looking back at Robbert’s critical accomplishments and the transformative approaches he took to getting to where he is today. Robbert’s candor and humility took me by surprise in the best way possible—his refreshing and intelligent reflection reinforced his place in the world of electronic music as a legendary DJ. All the while, he stays true to his roots.
If you were sitting across from sixteen-year-old Robbert right now, what would you tell him to do differently on his path to become the number one DJ in the world?
That’s a really good question. In the beginning of my career, I was always thinking about making the right direction and the right decisions—to the extent that I was dwelling on it too much. I think you just need to go with the flow and believe more in yourself. Just go for it. I always say, “don’t believe the hype,” just make the music you love to make. Believe in that. Follow that direction. In the beginning, I really struggled with finding my own sound. It took me almost three years to come up with a certain Hardwell sound. If I had believed more in myself in the beginning, instead of looking up to the other guys and what they were doing, that would have developed me faster.
What technical changes in electronic music do you expect in the next few years?
First off, the underground scene is getting more mainstream. The tech house and deep house guys are getting more popular; on the other hand, I think that progressive house is going to get more progressive. Catchy melodies will always exist, but progressive tracks with big electro drops are done. I’m done with it. Sure, songs like “Countdown” are all about the drop, but it’s a different drop. I hate to say this, but it’s very EDM. It’s minimalistic, but it works. It’s three different drops: the minimalistic drop, the progressive break, and the more Dutchy electro drop. It was a collab with Mak J. When he sent me the track it didn’t have the break, so I built the whole break and mastered the track. I think it was the perfection combination—I really loved the track. It’s more like a tool; it’s not like a high complexity record. It’s a drop tool. When you hear it at a festival, you’re like, “wow, this is sick,” especially with the countdown before the drop. It works—it went straight to number one on Beatport in two days.
What are the best approaches to marketing oneself as an artist that you’d recommend?
I think YouTube is still really important—not necessarily fancy or well-edited movies—a lot of kids nowadays are just listening to music on YouTube. Even if you could just put your track with a picture, do it. Everybody can use that clip or that video on their Facebook page or Twitter. I think Facebook is a big part of that. Everybody’s on Facebook, obviously, but then again, it grows by itself. In one year I went from 300,000 likes to over 2 million. It’s ridiculous, but that’s Facebook, you know? Facebook is all about the hype. You grow into the hype, and then ghost. It doesn’t matter; whatever I post right now people are going to start liking it. I think YouTube and especially SoundCloud are way more honest. If you upload a shitty track, nobody will play that.
What was the most transformative period of your career?
It all happened in the same year: 2009. One of the reasons I started DJing was because I saw a documentary with Tiesto, Armin, and Ferry Corsten. Tiesto—we’re from the same city in Holland—was always my role model and my idol. In the beginning of 2009, he emailed me saying that he really loved my tracks. Three months later, I was playing with him in Ibiza. A month later, we finished Zero 76. Four months later, I entered the DJ Mag Top 100 at 24. It all happened in one year. It was definitely the most transformative time in my year, especially when Tiesto emailed me. Everybody else could email me, but he was my role model.
Photography by Rukes.