At this point, what else can be said of Tiësto? It seems like he’s been “the dude” since EDM was simply called “dance music,” back when it was still a taboo curiosity creeping along slowly from city to city.
The 45-year-old Dutchman is known to fans and fellow DJs alike as the “Godfather of EDM.” He’s been the highest-paid DJ in the world, and still cranks out hit tracks (as well as business ventures) with the regularity, and vigor, of someone twenty years his junior.
Yet with electronic dance music more popular than ever, why does the Godfather seem like the last DJ standing in his genre? It could be because, as dance music splinters into a vast array of subgenres, very few DJs are working under the catch-all umbrella of EDM.
“It’s kind of weird,” says Tiësto, who will be at Lavo on January 15 celebrating the launch of his new headphone line and likely playing tracks from his latest album, A Town Called Paradise. “If you go to the Beatport website, they have all the subgenres, but they don’t have a genre called EDM. I wish we could just go back to using EDM for all dance music. No matter if it’s deep house or trance or techno or hardstyle or electronic, I think EDM is the broad thing.”
All the same, Tiësto has managed to transcend genre boundaries, maintaining authorship over his musical narrative throughout a number of EDM subtypes.
In the early 2000s, when trance was still the pop of electronic music, Tiësto was spearheading the sound with tracks like “Lethal Industry” and “Bright Morningstar.” From 2002–04 he was voted by DJ Mag, in its annual Top 100 list, as the world’s No. 1 DJ. In 2004 he became the first DJ ever to perform at the Olympics, doing a set in Athens during the opening ceremony of the Summer Games, introducing more than 3 billion people worldwide to this then-obscure form of dance music.
After the experimental 2009 album Kaleidoscope, which saw him teaming up with indie-rock stalwarts including Tegan and Sara and Jónsi of Sigur Rós, Tiësto’s trance days appeared to be coming to a close. He released Kiss From the Past in 2011 under his pseudonym Allure — the disc retained a goodly amount of trance elements, but its title ultimately signaled Tiësto’s musical shift.
“I felt I had everything done in that that I could possibly do,” Tiësto says of his massive and somewhat abrupt turn away from trance and toward a sound more indebted to house, big-room, and electro. “I made all that music, and I played shows all over the world. I was looking for a new challenge for myself, and I think, it’s like, your musical taste changes over the years, it doesn’t stay the same, so I think that’s why I quit. It didn’t give me the same excitement as the other stuff.”
And just like that, it was out with the old and in with a new Tiësto, whose current, vigorous beats are at the forefront of his sets. He quickly began releasing songs, collaborations, and compilations that were in a totally new vein of EDM. His Club Life radio show, which began on the Netherlands’ Radio 538 and has now become its own channel on Sirius XM, was transitioning too.
And with the musical evolution came a shift in fan base and crowds.
“I think the whole world has changed, you know?” he says. “We’re not the same as 50 years ago. Everything has changed. So, the way we listen to music, the way we perceive music, the way we consume it, and that’s also how I play it now. I just grew with everyone else, I guess.”