My Interview with Don Diablo

Having signed relatively recently to the force that is Columbia Records UK, the already greatly respected Don Diablo is
ready to take things to the next level – dizzy heights he hopes to
achieve on the strength of his International debut artist album, a
mammoth task consuming his time alongside his many other projects and
the demand for him to be on the road.

If his name is yet to ring any bells, you can thank me for giving you
the ‘heads up’ (and a needed lift in the cool stakes) – this man is far
from an overnight success. The prolific (workaholic) producer has
helped to create a plethora of original tracks and remixes for an
assortment of successful artists including Tinie Tempah, Example, Dragonette, Gorrilaz and Iggy Pop,
and it is this work as well as his conveyer belt of live club
appearances which has helped to create the mass buzz about the talented
young Dutchman. As well as numerous No. 1 spots on the Hype Machine
Chart and achieving the impressive status of music’s most blogged about
artist, he has undoubtedly had a further influx of google searches
thanks to his recent collaboration with Diplo. Their studio time culminated in the infectious track ‘Make You Pop’,
which was quite wisely chosen by Blackberry as the musical
accompaniment to their latest campaign – the low fi video is a
refreshingly far cry from the usual club hit babe-fest too!

Things seem to be going flawlessly well from the outside, but I
wondered how he was dealing of the pressure of creating his debut artist
album, particularly now that he is under the watchful eye of a major
label. I also wondered why a man with regular access to the sun blessed
destinations of the world would choose to reside under the decidedly
grey skies of London during the process. It is clear that Amsterdam and
where he grew up have had an ample influence on his work and how he
thinks about his work (and all that comes with it). It was nice to know
that despite his ample opportunities to travel and his work alongside
some of our biggest stars that his childhood home really is where the
heart is for Don Diablo.

Can you describe what today has in store for Don Diablo?

Yesterday I did two shows, so I grabbed a decent amount of sleep today and am currently going through a stack of e-mails and will finish off a remix later today.

Why have you decided to reside in London while creating you international debut artist album? Do you feel our city is having an obvious influence on its sound?

I just felt I needed to break out of my own comfort zone and meet new people to inspire me, which has already happened. I now get to work with so many amazing people who are based in London, or passing through there for a few days, I would never have worked with them if I stayed in Amsterdam. Besides that the city itself also has an obvious influence on me and my music for sure.

Hailing from Amsterdam you have been used to a certain amount of pressure when it comes to your work – you have said that Dutch music fans are highly critical. Do you allow yourself to feel the pressure when writing this album for instance?

When I’m in the studio I try not to feel pressured, because the best music is made in a very natural way. I work hard and work a lot so it’s just a matter of cherry picking and making sure I can raise that bar a bit, not just for my fans, but mostly for myself.

Do you feel Amsterdam has helped you build a thick skin? Will you read the reviews?

I generally try to avoid reading reviews about the stuff I do as much as possible, positive or negative. It just makes A. blush or B. very sad. The Dutch crowd can be a bit spoiled, that’s why a lot of the Dutch DJ’s have to be a bit quicker and more creative to keep the crowd entertained, which in the end comes in very handy when traveling to other places and playing to foreign crowds.

You have said before that you like to keep things separate – some work for listening, others for dancing. You want this album to capture who you are, so how do you intend to do this?

That’s the biggest struggle for me right now. When I do shows I want people to have a great time and work towards a very energetic climax. We have to break the place down, no exceptions. But I also love making music with a bit more depth and a more organic sound. At the moment I am just making both and will figure out how to combine everything once I have enough material. I can always do a bangin’ remix of the less danceable singles and get others to rework them as well, so that shouldn’t be an obstacle, the most important to me is that every track has a unique but recognizable Don Diablo element to it.

If you wanted to, you could be faceless in this industry – working in the studio producing and remixing. When did you know you wanted the performance element? How do you cope with having to be a personality and celebrity?

I have been faceless for a few years actually, when I started out I worked as a ghost producer for other people. The main thing I was missing back then was the interaction with the crowd. The most rewarding feeling is to actually experience a crowd enjoying your music and chanting along to your songs. The rest is not that hard to cope with it just comes with the job I guess and I take it as it comes, one day at a time. When I was a kid I never dreamed of being on stage or getting recognized, but it just became a part of me growing up in this industry and it feels very natural as I have worked hard for it for many years, it didn’t come to me overnight like a t.v. talent competition or a boy-band member.  

You gained a degree. How did people react when you said you wanted to pursue music as a career?

I do have a degree (in journalism) yes, although my parents were secretly hoping I would become a brain surgeon when I was very young, but they and everyone else around me have always been very supportive right from the beginning. I released my first record when I was fifteen and have never felt any pressure to “make a living out of music”, I just did it for fun and I still do if I look at it objectively. I have many other interests and I still want to do a lot of other things like making documentaries for instance, so one day my education might come in handy after all.

Sometimes people out of particular scenes aren’t aware how successful certain artists are. Does the fact your songs are being featured on a Blackberry campaigns (with Diplo), CSI, and Need for Speed work as proof of your success to family and friends?

It does help yes. Doing a certain TV-show or a big radio show helps as well. It’s just hard for people to measure success when it’s not part of the specific circle you move around in.

You and Diplo have both created work for or worked alongside some huge artists. Do fellow producers/mixers etc get competitive about collaborations? Do you also share the good and bad stories of the experiences?

I think the DJ/Producer scene is the least competitive scene imaginable, there are plenty of opportunities flying around for everyone, especially at the moment with the gigantic rise of EDM music on a worldwide scale. When I worked with Dragonette for instance, Martin Solveig was working with them as well, he ended up inviting me to play at his “Amsterdam Dance Event” party alongside him and played the track I did with Dragonette in every set. I guess at a certain level it’s not about competing anymore, it’s about trying to form a pact as a group to spread the electronic gospel to the world. It’s the slightly less successful people in the business that tend to get a bit more territorial, because they are afraid of losing what they have.

When it comes to working with someone directly how integral is it to get on and share the same sense of humour. Can good work come out of conflict and opposition?

The main thing when you work together with someone is chemistry, if there is no chemistry you can still make a pretty decent track together, but the best songs are made when you really vibe off each other and one plus one makes three in the end.

When you take on a remix job do you tend to find it easier when you have had some sort of contact with the actual artists/band rather than when everything is filtered through label and management?

That actually makes no difference to me to be honest, in some cases it can even create a creative obstruction when you have spoken to the artist or band you are about to remix extensively, because you might just want to make them happy instead of looking at the track objectively and going into the studio with a clear mind.

Your collaboration with Example came through connecting on MySpace. Do you use Twitter etc to research and contact people you’d like to work with?

Absolutely! Social media are such a great way to discover and communicate with artists you haven’t worked with yet.

Twitter has revolutionized the music world in many ways : that fans can interact with their favourite artists , information can spread quickly etc. Do you think that it is all generally positive or are there areas where you think the industry has/will suffer?

A lot of it is very positive, as it has basically given the power back to the community and the artists themselves. The downside is the fact that people get overloaded with information and certain things seem to lose their strength, because people know too much about the process behind it, there are no more mysteries.

A few years ago you started your own label called Sellout Sessions. You quickly tired of the admin side of things. How do you cope being with a label? Have you maintained enough control to keep you happy?

I have always had quite a strong vision of what I want to do and where I want to go, the labels I have been with have always supported my direction and right now Columbia is helping me with getting where I want by hooking me up with certain people, mainly writers with whom I am writing with at the moment, who are definitely a big help in taking my music to a different level.

You are an ambassador for Dance4life. As your profile continues to grow are there any other projects or campaigns you’d like to get involved with?

Right now I am supporting the Dutch Cancer Research foundation as well, as I have lost many loved ones to this decease. I would love to do more to raise money for cancer research around the world in the future.

I read in an really old interview that you use Nuendo on the PC. Have you been swayed to Mac or another alternative? Can you also describe the environment where you usually do your work? What factors are conducive to optimum creativity?

I actually switched to Mac a few years ago, I got a Powerbook as well last year, so I could try to work more on the road while traveling in between places. But I must admit I have mostly used my mobile set-up to make edits, arrange existing projects and record vocals with people I am writing with on the road. I basically work best in my home studio, because I love having big speakers, multiple screens and my mixer in front of me. A clear head is also very important and whenever I am traveling I just get overloaded with thoughts and outside input.

You have said that you get bored easily. How do you cope when you have time off from traveling the globe. Do you find yourself always finding work to do?

Hell yeah. I am constantly working to be honest, there are so many opportunities and simply not enough time. That is also the reason why I decided to take on less shows, because I need to finish off my album and work on a few other things I always wanted to do, so I can raise the creative bar inside my head.  

What is on your recently played list?

So much! That’s why I turned my own website into a blog, so I could share more music with the world outside of my DJ-sets. On my recently played list in iTunes I currently have tracks by M83, Ben Howard, Pretty Lights, Dragonette, SBTRKT, Sebastian, Bruce Springsteen and Sigur Ros when I quickly browse through it now.

You’ve won awards, traveled to amazing places, been the most blogged about artist. What are you current career goals and achievements you want to tick off the list?

Right now I just want to make a few more decent records and finish off a proper album later in the year as well as develop a proper visual show to accompany my live shows.  

Artist you’d most like to work with?

David Bowie.

Guilty pleasures?

Desserts, happy hardcore, collecting leather jackets and watching T.V. talent shows.

Something unusual that might surprise us about you...

I travel five hours up and down to the village I grew up in every single week just to see my mom and dad. If I miss a week, because I am doing a tour for instance, I feel like a drug user without his shot. It’s great to have a place somewhere on this planet where you can always be yourself and experience the healing powers of unconditional love from those who gave you life in the first place.

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