Passion, perseverance, and youth have seldom converged more persuasively than in the form of Breda, Netherlands producer Hardwell (aka Robbert Van De Corput). Still in his early ’20s, and boasting main-stage appearances at almost every major dance festival on offer, his strong will to succeed and his reluctance to sell his sound short with cheesy pop collaborations has made Hardwell an unsuspecting beacon of awe and jealousy to aspiring producers and industry heads across the globe.
But behind the boyish charm that has made his face so easy to deploy on posters across the globe stands a sound not only powerful enough to lure in hometown peer Tiesto but also the worldwide masses. Armed with a tough yet universally digestible production style far from that of the typical bleeps that his nation has come to commandeer, his ascending presence on top DJ lists and eclectic run of singles for Toolroom and his own Revealed Recordings lends proof to the belief that for all his youth, Hardwell has invested some sleepless nights in mastering the craft of giving the global dance explosion a prominent soundtrack.
Having hit Beatport’s #1 spot once again with latest single “Apollo,” Hardwell sat down with us to talk about his final single for 2012, the makings of a universal champion, the “can-do” days of electronic music, and why dance and pop will never be the same.
With pretty much every major festival under your belt and a significant slew of landmark releases, 2012 seems to have treated you pretty well. How are you feeling as we prepare to sign off on one of your most prolific years to date?
2012 has been an absolutely crazy year for me. The festival presence was an absolute roller-coaster ride throughout the summer, and to tick off main-stage and headline slots for so many of them was just unreal. It was also incredible to see “Spaceman” become such a major success for me, and an honor to reach #6 in the DJ Mag Top 100. My profile generally seemed to rise and I don’t think it could have been much better in hindsight.
Between the consistent releases and sold-out showcases, such as Escape at Amsterdam Dance Event, it seems fair to say that the Revealed Recordings label has gone from strength to strength. Talk us through the concept and how it feels to see your own imprint succeed at such a brutally competitive time for electronic music?
It is funny because last year when Revealed was two years old, we did [Escape] in a small club—300 people. This year at Escape it felt like a whole new level—the tickets sold out immediately and the show itself was insane. We premiered my new track, “Apollo,” there, and the energy was just perfect for that track to see the light of day. I am proud of the concept as, for the most part, it is just a label that is putting out good dancefloor tracks from people who deserve the platform and opportunity. The reaction and success to date is completely overwhelming. To be in complete control of that is priceless, and it is amazing to be able to do it with passionate and like-minded people.
Talk us through the current roster you hold at Revealed Recordings, and what has kept you so enthusiastic about the young and like-minded talents you remain so closely associated with?
DANNIC, Dyro, and Jordy Dazz are three guys who are really inspiring me in everything they do or touch at the moment. Since each of them first appeared on my radar, the results they have been achieving have been pure fire for the dancefloor. All the tracks they make hit the spot, and it is so good to work as a team for Revealed rather than alone; together we have produced some really good and meaningful music. We are great friends, like a family. We enjoy every moment and I believe that atmosphere is reflected in the energy we bring to our parties.
Over the past couple of years, we have seen you cross a huge range of styles within your releases. Is there a conscious effort on your behalf to mix it up both for the fans’ sake and your own?
The way I compose my tracks just feels completely natural to me. There has to be an element of love to the sound you pursue, and I cannot think of anything worse than being associated with a sound that you personally do not believe in. I know that to some people the vocal remake of “Spaceman” sounded commercial, but it felt natural to me and I enjoyed making it as much as I do listening to it today. It never felt wrong, and the vocal line was constantly stuck in my head, which is always a good sign. I never wanted to score a mainstream hit out of it. If that was what I wanted out of my career then tracks like “How We Do” and “Three Triangles” would not be out there.
“Apollo” saw you combine uplifting vocals and peak-time energy to a significantly strong surge of enthusiasm. Tell us about how you approached the follow-up to “How We Do,” and whether there was an intention to hit the best of both worlds between radio-friendly and peak-time dance music?
“Apollo” was premiered in Amsterdam at the label’s ADE party, and I am thrilled that it became another Beatport #1 for me. Australian vocalist Amba Shepherd did a small but incredible vocal spot for the second breakdown, and to me I feel like it hit a nice middle ground between a huge club track and a radio-friendly single. I think it stayed clear of the more commercial style of dance music that has been really popular this year while maintaining a universal edge that still works amazingly on the dancefloor. For me, these balances are essential. The club is where it all started for me and I will always honor that!
The boundaries between popular and dance music have been consistently blurred throughout. Given your reluctance to collaborate with huge pop artists, how do you feel their involvement in the industry translates in terms of musical quality?
Where pop music is concerned, to me it is just pop—there is no dance music involved. The second you collaborate with a huge artist whose influence shifts that sound outside of the edge of dance music, then you are making popular music. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing or bad-quality music, but people seem to get unnecessarily tangled up in the terminology. Dance music has its own culture and ethos, and is enjoyed by people in clubs. That is the way it is and has been since the late ’70s. Adding Lady Gaga or Rihanna makes the whole ideal of music for the club impossible; their popularity and artistic dynamics make it impossible for a track to ever truly be a “club” record. It has its place, but if it isn’t on the dancefloor then it can’t be called dance music.
Whether you see it as all positive or partially negative, the mood and reach of dance music has considerably altered over the past couple of years. Having witnessed it happen firsthand, what do you believe have been the most important factors of this all-embracing shift in popularity?
What has happened in electronic music boils down to a few key developments for me. Daytime radio stations are finally playing dance music and while there is a lack of underground music on the airwaves, people have found a universal middle ground that unites the world with this music. Avicii is a good example of this—he makes music that even my mum can understand and relate to, and I think that awareness and understanding is another huge social development that has helped. The underground culture simply didn’t speak to the vast majority of people; to me it feels like since the boundaries have opened, the music has become a lot more digestible to bigger groups of people all over the world. There is something very beautiful about that.
You’ve made breaking into the electronic music industry look pretty easy. Have there been any significant challenges for you as an artist over the years, and is there still a degree of pressure to what you do?
Getting the most out of myself is still a challenge, and putting out the best record is one that far too many people seem to overlook. Every time I make a new one, it feels better and that is essential—you want to ascend rather than stay on one line of results, whether it is music or sports or whatever. Topping your personal best and redefining your own standards in this industry, because the second you lose your edge there are 100 other artists who will try and overtake you. That sort of pressure is vital because it makes you value your own performance and success a whole lot more.
For producer yet to hit 25, your achievements are sure to have inspired a huge number of young fans and aspiring talents alike. What do you consider to have been your biggest and most relevant industry achievements to date?
Beside all the festivals and sold-out shows, I felt like “Zero 76″ was a huge achievement. To be honest, though, I never expected to see the tracks I make explode in the way they have and entering the DJ Mag Top 100 out of nowhere was a huge honor, let alone rising into the Top 10 this year. When I snuck in at #24 it really surprised me, so this year’s results felt like a huge leap forward for me. I had a really good year and had a lot of visibility. Doing it with such loyal and dedicated fans both old and new has been an achievement I could never overlook.
Having set the bar so high for 2012, what can we expect from you in the new year?
This year it felt like there was a slight lack of original tracks coming for me. That is going to change for 2013, for sure. I want to produce new records throughout and maintain a more consistent presence on the digital market. On top of this, I am developing a huge new show that brings together a whole load of elements to create what I believe to be an upfront clubbing experience that represents the music I make. 2012 was so good to me that I am ready to make the new year count on every possible level.