Trance icon Darude took some time to dive into his recent performance at Dreamstate SoCal and what his plans are for the future.
There are few names that catapult fervor into the dance music sphere like Darude. His breakthrough hit, “Sandstorm,” needs no introduction – as it remains a staple both in the dance music community and in the sports scene as a hype track – but the story didn’t end there for the Finnish producer. He never shied away from his musical chops, and strong production skills led to his success over the years. His sound – whether in pop music or the dance music world – remains rooted in a large bath of musical knowledge.
A man cannot live alone on airplay though, and as such Darude took off touring the world as a DJ. While it was not his original talent, he soon found it opened many doors to new experiences. Beyond just festivals and nightclubs, performing as a musician and competing as a producer in events like Eurovision. All of these moments combined to raise Darude from the localized to the world scene.
This year, Darude also took part in the epic that was Dreamstate SoCal 2021. He wowed the crowd with energy and even started with a meme in the form of “rick-rolling” fans with some Rick Astley for a proper debut at the festival. After the event, Darude kindly sat down to discuss what he feels trance’s lasting impact is, where he is heading into the new year, and he also reflected on his career.
Check out Darude’s Debut Set at Dreamstate SoCal 2021 on YouTube:
Thanks for sitting down with us today Darude. We had a brief moment to catch up backstage at the festival grounds, but for those who missed out on your Dreamstate debut, what was your takeaway on the festival and your performance?
It was my first outing since the 2020 Feb/March change, and I was extremely happy to get back to it with a bang, a BIG bang! The festival production was great from sound to visuals to lights and lasers and hospitality and they even brought a namesake trailer for me! Standing on that stage in front of that pulsing mass of happiness was incredibly powerful and moving for me, I had several teary-eyed moments during the set and just couldn’t stop smiling. This COVID pandemic has sucked big time and unfortunately continues to do so, but that night felt like a very much-needed breather and the crowd gave me so so much energy and strength to look at things through a little bit brighter lens. I needed it!
Backstage, it was so good to see several of my favorite industry characters and dear colleagues who I’d last seen over two years ago and also to see several of my new friends I gained over this lock-down time as it was a real-life streamer get-together, a Twitch gathering of sorts. I chatted with fellow streamers Myon, Talla, Steve/Thrillseekers, Xander & Anthony aka XiJaro & Pitch, Shahin & Neel aka Elevven, Triode, Nifra, Giuseppe Ottaviani, and quickly had a chance to say “hi” to Paul van Dyk in addition to talking with Ferry and catching his Gouryella set. Also snapped pics with Jorn Van Deynhoven, Suzy Solar, Estiva, Ferry Tayle and Fehrplay, and many others and it all was soul-healing!
When you look back at the history of trance around the world and the impact it has made on dance music, what is the key to the genre’s success with fans around the world?
[Laughs] Easy and simple questions you have… I really don’t know, but I suspect the attraction and longevity come from the inevitable emotional traction, tugging the heartstrings with these bittersweet chord progressions, uplifting melodies, and built-in energy of the production. It is universal and transcends age and generations, race and nationality, and such. Plus, it’s such a wide umbrella that you’ll find your own particular sub-genre under it whether you’re more into jumping up and down or grooving more calmly to the music. Also, most, if not all trance producers are very real people, they make and play music from the heart and the fans can see, hear and feel it and gravitate towards it.
We heard some rumblings of a new artist album and singles lining up for 2022. Would you like to elaborate on your creative process and energy with the new soon-to-release works?
I don’t have anything specific plans or timing-wise to divulge… Wouldn’t call them album plans now at all, but yeah, been working on new music, got actually quite a bunch of tracks – maybe 15-20 – in various stages of production; solo and collabs, any of which could be finalized and released pretty soon.
The key for me now is that I’m letting stuff flow organically and naturally; no deadlines, no genre, style, bpm, or other external limitations and defining factors. Got a couple of lower 120’s deep or progressive things brewing, some 124 and 126 bpm house-ish grooves, some 128 bpm “EDM-trance,” some 132 bpm “trance 2.0,” or maybe I should say “hybrid trance” tracks, plus probably will dabble in drum and bass not far from my Gabriel & Dresden remix that was released in January… and there’s a 114 bpm pop ballad-ish track/song in the works also.
The stream sets are different from live sets at real events, there’s a much wider range of music that I’ve played and that’s definitely opened my ears to a wider range of production as well. It’s not like I haven’t been open to that before, but live shows several weekends a month steer your productions towards what you want to play in the sets. This is not a bad thing and is practical, but by nature perhaps narrows the variety a good bit. So if there’s a silver lining, it’s that the pandemic steered and enabled me to think broader and it’s actually brought back some excitement in the studio! Keep your ears peeled! If you’ve frequented my Friday VIBING OUT streams or heard my Dreamstate set, you’ve heard some new stuff of mine!
While America does not have a contest on the scale of Eurovision, can you describe how working on the contest as a country representative back in 2019 felt and what, if any difficulties, you had to overcome during the process?
It was one of the prouder moments in my career, and sort of one of the braver moments, too. It was not obvious for me to take part in that contest, nor my country to pick me as a representative as it’s traditionally not really been a platform for club-style dance music. I “had to” think of the music creation process a little differently, for starters due to strict 3-minute song length limitation and also because it’s specifically a SONG contest, so the song had to be an actual verse-pre-chorus pop format song and the actual vocal performance is done live with live background vocalists.
I enlisted my trusted friend and a great singer and performer Sebastian Rejman who I already had worked with on my Moments album to do it with me and it was a huge undertaking, but also an amazing ride! I started by going through my own existing demos and developed a couple of new tracks myself, then also asked my trusted writers and producer buddies for demos and track ideas for “a Darude project.”
I didn’t want the idea of Eurovision colour, their style, choices, but I wanted my starting point to be as “Darude” and as EDM/house/trance as possible so as not to make “Eurovision songs” from the get-go, but to first come up with ideas and sounds in practice that would be “me,” then possibly tweak them to fit the format. Out of 30 or so demos, I narrowed it down to 3 songs: “Release Me,” “Superman” and “Look Away,” which all were released on Armada. The last one was chosen by the Finnish people and an international jury after live performances on Finnish national TV to be our representing song at the Eurovision Song Contest that in 2019 was held in Tel Aviv, Israel, as an Israeli artist and song won the year before.
The whole thing took eight months from start to finish and was pretty intense as I first had to figure out the music writing and production in late 2018, then the spring of 2019 was filled with promo and rehearsals for the Finnish TV show and the main event in May in Tel Aviv. There were tons of people involved starting from our amazing background singers Heini, Matti, and Petri, and our dancer Etel ie. Mother Earth on stage to choreographer to visuals creators to lighting and camera directors and operators, make-up artists and PR people and project managers, and so on.
It was at times overwhelming and tough to coordinate as I had other gig engagements in 2018, and also there were tons of things, big and small, that Sebu [our national broadcast company representatives] and I didn’t see eye to eye with the organizing side, so there was some navigating there as well. We always got everything sorted eventually and it was an amazing learning experience to see and do the things going in the making of this kind of international level production.
The only bummer is that we didn’t make it to the finals, but still got to perform on the biggest live music TV show in front of tens of millions of people and made new fans and friends around Europe (and Australia, as they’re part of Eurovision, too). Also, as a side note, I’m fairly sure I’m the first ESC partaking artist who has remixed other contestants’ competition entry while the contest was still ongoing! I really took a liking to Austria’s Paenda’s song “Limits” and made a trance version of it that she loved and she and her team wanted to release it officially. Check it out!
Finally, aside from your commercially successful tracks “Sandstorm” and “Feel The Beat” back at the turn of the millennium, and the aforementioned Eurovision single, what track are you most proud of today and why?
Hmm, wow, there are many, and it’s really hard to choose one… “In The Darkness” came together really quickly and effortlessly it felt. I had some piano chords and melodies about sorted out when JonnaEmilia aka Jo Angel came to my studio and listened to that foundation for maybe half an hour, maybe an hour, then had the lyrics written and we recorded the first demo takes with which I developed the track, then she re-sang them later better recorded, but pretty much otherwise the same.
Originally, I made a softer Trance Mix including the piano stuff and harder Tech Mix with some rougher sounds in it and there is a gorgeous Mike Shiver remix and a banging Ocheanos remix on the single. Then in 2012, I made a 128 bpm tribal-y progressive house version that is still not officially released, but I shared it first to my DJ colleagues and also to everyone on SoundCloud. I have stories, influences, angles, moments of frustration, and enlightenment with about every track, and whether they end up becoming radio or dance floor hits or not, they’re all meaningful successes for me.