Is Tiësto the Last EDM DJ?

*This is an unedited version of an article published by the Village Voice. The finalized article can be found here.

What can even be said of Tiësto, after all? It seems like he’s been “the dude” since EDM was called Dance music and was a taboo curiosity that was slowly, just barely creeping from city to city - because he has been. The trajectory of Tiësto’s personal and musical scope is massive, comprehensive and arguably the most impressive to date. He’s known to almost every DJ and EDM fan as the “godfather of EDM”, he’s been the highest paid DJ in the world, and he’s pumping out some of the most popular EDM tracks and business ventures like he’s 20 years old (and like he’s been doing this for 20 years - which he has).

In the early 2000s when Trance was still the Pop of Electronic music, Tiësto was spearheading the sound with tracks like “Lethal Industry” and “Adagio a For Strings” as time went on. His popularity was undeniable and he was not only considered a Trance maverick, he was named the world’s #1 DJ from 2002-2004, solidifying Tiësto’s fan base as truly enormous in the EDM community.

Just after the release of his 2004 Just Be, Tiësto performed in Athens at the Summer Olympics opening ceremony. The first DJ to ever perform at any Olympics, Tiësto introduced one of the largest audiences in the world (3.8 billion) to this obscure, bizarrely fascinating Electronic Dance Music. And it was only the beginning of the global affecter that would be Tiësto.

In 2009, Tiësto shocked the EDM world and made Kaleidoscope, an unforeseen and inventive album that was like nothing he’d ever done before…and ultimately unlike anything he’s ever done since. “I mean, the Kaleidoscope album was a switch in my career” he admits. Particularly he recalls “working with all those indie bands… it was very unexpected for everybody, I think. No one expected an album like that. And to have Sigur Ros and Bloc Party featuring on my album *laughs*. So it was pretty amazing how that went down.” Tiësto broke a lot of boundaries with that album and in many ways expanded outside of an area he’d somewhat settled into. The album was still Trance-y, but it also featured newer elements that felt bubblier, poppier.  Under the pseudonym Allure (which is deliberately used to indicate a different sound from music released under Tiësto), he released a 2011 album called Kiss From The Past, which still retained a good amount of Trance elements, but who’s title would ultimately signify Tiësto’s musical shift that was inevitably occurring.

“I felt I had everything done in that that I could possibly do” Tiësto says of his massive and somewhat shocking shift away from Trance and into a more House, Big-Room, Electro type sound. “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.” And just like that, it was out with the old and in with a new and surprising Tiësto, whose live shows were losing the perky, uplifting euphoria of his earlier sound and now overflowing with heavy bass and infectiously vigorous beats. For Tiësto personally, “…it was just a very natural switch, actually, very slow, and in the beginning I played a little bit of both - I played House and Trance and everything, and then slowly I moved further away from the old Trance sound.” Simply put, “It didn’t give me the same excitement as the other stuff”. This “slow” pace of Tiësto’s shift was mirrored by his fans, and as the Trance elements began to leave Tiësto’s music after about 2010, the more and more people became upset when by 2012-2013 his sound was basically unrecognizable.

For years fans had followed and admired Tiësto for his Trance music - it was even this original sound that had initially catapulted him to success - and now there was an entirely new slew of Tiësto fans who were astonishingly enthusiastic but decently unaware of the producer’s massive musical history in an entirely different EDM subgenre. Despite this minor dichotomy, it is undeniable that Tiësto not only made the shift according to his own desires, but in a way that was ultimately fruitful and outrageously impressive. “You actually already said it. That’s exactly how it is. Some people are happy I made the switch, some people are not, and I think in general I’m very happy. I can only play what I feel is great, and if other people like that too then I’m super lucky, you know? I can’t play something I don’t stand behind, so that’s what I always will do.” In nearly no time at all, Tiësto had gone from the superstar of one subgenre and fan base of EDM to an entirely different one, all while maintaining, nay, expanding his fan base and musical breadth.

Quite rapidly, Tiësto was releasing songs, collaborations, and Club Life compilations that were in a totally new vein of EDM. His Club Life radio show, which began on Netherlands’ station Radio 538 and has now become it’s own channel on Sirius XM, was transitioning too, and with the musical shift came a shift in fan base and crowds as well. “I think the whole world has changed, you know? 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.” And not only did he grow, he propelled beyond all others into the sphere of world-famous rock star. As if his aforementioned global recognition could ever wane, in 2011 Tiësto was named “The Greatest DJ of All Time” by Mixmag and in 2012 he held the #1 DJ title by Rolling Stone.

In “growing with everyone else”, it seems that meant getting caught up in a somewhat arbitrary but ultimately affecting development. Around the time that Tiësto was changing his sound and scene, the term EDM was beginning to mean something distinctively different from what it once had, and as subgenres continued to morph and delineate and grow, the term EDM became somewhat convoluted. Tiësto says, “EDM to me is like the global word for electronic dance music, so finally we had a name for our whole genre and not just a specific area of our genre. And then, suddenly, people started saying that EDM became a subgenre instead of the whole genre.”

Since the surge of Electronic Dance Music, fans of the music have been slowly rescinding into sub-categories of what would be, simply, EDM fans. This is a natural process of course, but now to be an EDM fan does not simply mean you enjoy Electronic music, it has the same implication as being a fan of any given subgenre in EDM. “So, it’s kind of weird. If you go to the Beatport website, they have all the subgenres, but they don’t have a genre called EDM *laughs*. And I think that’s exactly how it should be. EDM is the big picture thing and within that you have the subgenres.” To put it in a less contemporary context, it’s like the term Jazz – you have experimental jazz, instrumental jazz, bluesy jazz, and then you have, broadly, Jazz, which encompasses all of its subgenres within it. EDM used to be like the term Jazz, and yet suddenly it’s seemingly become its very own subgenre. “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.”

So, perhaps Tiësto is world’s last-standing EDM DJ. His consistent ability to transcend these musical genres as a pioneer and mentor in these changing musical contexts seem to have created a sort of “Tiësto brand” that fully encompasses and even extends beyond his broad and shifting musical experience and expertise. He’s toured the world for decades with nearly 10 of his own, personal tours, he’s had global residencies in places like Ibiza, and is currently a resident DJ at Hakkasan in Las Vegas (something he just renewed with another multi-year contract). To add to his seemingly limitless repertoire, he did a kickass remix of the Mission Impossible theme song, which he performed at the launch party for Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol. He’s worked as a philanthropist, particularly in raising awareness for HIV/AIDS, in 2004 as the ambassador for Dance4Life and in 2012 with his album Dance (RED) Saves Lives in collaboration with Product Red. Are you starting to understand how irrelevant pre-existing boundaries are for this man? He’s dabbled in every business sector. As for his entrepreneurial life, he’s done partnerships with brands like 7-UP, Guess, Armani, and just this month he announced a partnership with newly budding headphone company, Audiofly.

“I was looking for a headphone company to work with because [music] is obviously my passion, so I wanted to have my own headphone line…" says Tiësto. This one worked so well because both he and the owner “clicked” over their shared enthusiasm and, well, “they sound amazing.” Tiësto will be celebrating their release at Lavo NYC this Thursday, and will undoubtedly play some tracks off his latest album A Town Called Paradise, which he released in June and is “a personal album. It’s more, like, based on my life in the clubs and in Las Vegas… it’s almost like a love song album, more happy love songs, that was more the feeling for that album.” And as if Tiësto could surprise us anymore, turns out he actually wrote most of the lyrics himself, something he’s totally new to. If you can make it to Lavo, go, and while we’re pretty sure it won’t happen, you may just hear mixed in with those invigorating, newer drops us long-time Tiêsto fans’ favorite six words: “Who’s ready for some Tiësto classics?"