You may know every word to every track by Hardwell. You may know he’s been named the No. 1 DJ in the world two years running. You may know he’s one of the biggest stars to emerge out of a new EDM scene, and that he produces songs that go on to become festival anthems across the globe. But how well do you know Hardwell, the man? How well do you know Robbert van de Corput?
See also: Where EDM Is…and Where It’s Going
Robbert van de Corput grew up in the Netherlands and has been surrounded by the music that’s inspiring him today since before he hit puberty. Between his label, Revealed Recordings; the plethora of bangers he’s put out since his infamous 2009 Be vs. Satisfaction bootleg; and this new “I Am Hardwell” tour (coming to Madison Square Garden on November 15), Hardwell has been launched into the forefront of today’s EDM, in particular one that’s come to stand for a newer EDM culture defined by youth and fast, hard beats.
Hardwell first appeared on the DJ Mag Top 100 DJ list in 2011, the same year one of his biggest hits, “Spaceman,” was released — he came in at No. 24. In 2012 he came in at No. 6, and by 2013 Hardwell was the world’s No. 1 DJ, passing the likes of five-time winner Armin van Buuren, pop-man David Guetta, and even his mentor, “Godfather of the DJs” Tiësto.
“It feels awesome being appreciated by your fans and everything you have done in the past year, and to actually have fans that followed me again [to] No. 1,” he says. “That feels really awesome, you know?”
Hardwell’s genuine gratitude isn’t a put-on, and it speaks to a larger love for and desire to connect with his fans — he currently has a YouTube channel, Hardwell Q+A, where he answers his fans’ online questions about touring, recording, and producing. His charisma comes not just from that intriguingly weird accent, but a genuine humbleness and appreciation for how far he’s come.
“I started DJ’ing when I was 12 years old, and I signed my first record deal in Holland when I was 14,” he recalls of his early DJ’ing years, when he would actually have to bring his parents to the club with him to get in, something he still does today, even though he no longer needs to. “I brought my parents to TomorrowLand in Belgium, and they’re actually coming for my Madison Square Garden show!” The support of his parents, says Hardwell, has kept him in touch with his roots. He’s therefore able to maintain a level of realness that has escaped a lot of DJs who have reached an equal level of recognition.
Despite all this hype, Hardwell still has yet to put out his first album, which will be called United We Are and is due in January 2015. He has a massive repertoire of singles, EPs, and collaborations, but as for his still-unreleased album, the process and end result may surprise us. “Normally, when I worked on singles, all the singles were completely dance-floor-minded, you know? Since I’m always performing on big stages and festivals, every song I released had to work on the stage and on the dance floor. And with the album, I felt, more, like, musical freedom, and more time to explore different music styles and explore even my own sound more, you know? Try and develop new things, come up with new ideas, and that’s actually what I did for this album.”
This means a completely new set of sounds, a lot of which will likely come from Hardwell’s personal music preferences. “I’m a big fan of every single genre. I listen to a lot of deep house and techno, myself…a lot of hip-hop and r&b…I listen to a lot of genres! I just thought, you know, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I explore my musical tastes and try and combine that with my sound?’ I try to find the best of both worlds.”
As Hardwell has grown into the massive DJ and producer he is today, he has become a kind of emblem for a newer generation of EDM fans, ones who were introduced to the world of 4×4 beats and synthesizers only a few years ago here in the U.S.A. His music is representative of the now-mainstream electro big-room sound readily pouring out of speakers across music festivals and nightclubs everywhere, and he has become a figure for this new generation.
“What is mainstream? I hate to name particular genres ’cause in the end it’s just dance music, and I like to think out of the box and if it’s underground or mainstream I think nobody should care. You should just go listen to whatever you like. I think if something is moving in the mainstream, something is moving in the underground, and if something big is happening in the underground it also affects the mainstream, it’s a back and forth,” he says.
Hardwell is well aware of the never-ending shifts in EDM, citing the realities that a lot of kids “will look further,” in turn allowing them to explore the endless array of sounds and subgenres in the EDM umbrella. Perhaps he is the perfect platform for the EDM youth of today, a means of allowing them to, as he says himself, “actually explore whatever they like in dance music.”
As for Hardwell himself, he is still pinching himself every day. Since his 2011 DJ Mag debut, he’s not only on the radar but standing tall ahead of some of the most famous and most successful musicians, let alone DJs, ever, the most obvious being Tiësto, whom the current No. 1 DJ says will always be his No. 1. “To me, he is like the godfather of the DJs…my No. 1 will always be Tiësto.”
Hardwell was actually discovered by Tiësto, and has been under his wing, so to speak, ever since. “[Tiësto] definitely helped me develop my sound, how it is nowadays. Like, that’s something [where] you have you pinch yourself, and actually think about it twice, that it actually really happened, you know? To actually meet up with your role model and after four or five years being like, really close friends, it’s super cool.”
Hardwell performs Saturday, November 15 at Madison Square Garden.