Where are you currently based?
I often refer to myself as a citizen of the world because of the amount of travel required for the job, but I have called Miami home since 2001. I also have an apartment in Berlin, where I stay if I am playing on successive weekends in Europe.
How have things changed since your baptism of fire back in the 90s rave scene?
Oh it has changed completely. Back in the 90s the DJ booth was hidden away in the corner of a club, and there wasn’t a particular care on whether the booth was visibly lit for the audience to see. But nowadays, all of the attention is on the DJ. The booth is the focal point, and the utilisation of visuals to compliment the music has become increasingly important.
In the early days, the crowd entertained themselves. Now, the DJ and the production essentially is the entertainment.
One of the blessings of my career story was holding a seven year residency at The Works in Arizona, where I played every Friday and Saturday night, open to close. It was these experiences that helped me experiment with music; make mistakes and learn in a DJ set.
It’s one of the reasons why I love doing the open to close solo sets today, because in the right scenario – a special club, a special city with a DJ able to take you on a journey, you can recreate that rave scene of the 90s you described; particularly in the afterhours rabbithole section where the lights go down and the focus comes away from the DJ, and turns towards the party itself.
What are the greatest challenges you’ve encountered in running a label like Coldharbour for such a long period?
There are a few challenges with regards to this. I think the first is that everyone understands and accepts that music evolves over time, but the secret is that if you can maintain the soul and emotion that the label represents, then you can wrap various outer cores around it.
Another is nurturing the talent. Everyone who has passed through Coldharbour, whether they have drifted away elsewhere or is still around, has been treated as family.
To me, the most important aspect in developing the relationship between the artists and myself was introducing the Schulz Music Group management and bookings agency. Nowadays, you tend to find a lot of producers out there who will release one track on one label, release one on another a few weeks later, and another one on a different label again shortly afterwards. It’s really hard to go to bat for someone you feel you can’t invest your time and effort into, and that’s why I’ve strived to have Coldharbour as a family approach.
It’s not just about releasing music; it’s about making your releases meaningful from one to the next, spending the time advising them to make tweaks to a production, and help put the building blocks in place towards establishing themselves as well-crafted DJs in the clubs.
I think for us as a team; to be able to run successful Coldharbour Nights all over the world, on most occasions without me being on the lineup, is a testament to the strength and bond we have with our roster.
How did you get into remixing and how did you manage to collaborate / remix so many amazing artists from Moroder to Madonna?
Remixing was my first experience of making sounds in a studio.
Shortly after moving to Arizona, I was hired by a local radio station named Power 92 to do a mix show, and this eventually led to me being hired by a recording to produce a syndicated mix show that aired on over 175 stations across the US. Because of this, it not only opened doors for me to use the studio facilities at night, but also gave me the chance to do those remixes of top 40 songs. But it wasn’t from the soul. I was just trying to get my foot in the door in any way.
However, I was fortunate, because those remixes are what led to me being discovered as a resident DJ for The Works nightclub, and that is where I learned the most towards becoming what a DJ properly was about. My goal was to stick to my own sound, and develop a brand away from Hot Mix. But despite an incredible seven years as resident, there was still so much frustration, because I wanted to succeed outside of Arizona, and with the internet in its infancy, it was so difficult to feel the pulse of worldwide dance music at the time.
The turning point in my career was moving to London, and living there for two years. This is where the Markus Schulz sound was properly discovered; taking in influences from the studios I lived in on Coldharbour Lane, and watching the big international DJs perform at the likes of Ministry of Sound.
Working with Giorgio Moroder like you mentioned – that means so much more to me, because he is someone who inspired me for many, many years. That is one of those bucket list moments in your career, and I will look back very fondly on our work together on Timeless, as well as doing the remix for Deja Vu.
You are two-time winner of the DJ Times’ America’s Best DJ. What is it that you have that helps separate you from the rest?
I think it comes down to believing that the reason I was put on this earth was this sole purpose of being able to connect with people through the magic of music.
To me, my mantra for any of my DJ performances has always been “theater of the mind”, where you take pride in your performance by delivering something special for the fans who have worked their way through the week, spent their money and feel valued and happy. It’s really not gratifying to show up in a particular city and throw out your EDC Las Vegas set, because no two places are the same. You have to respect the club and respect the city.
I never take any of this for granted, and I didn’t get into the business for the purpose of winning awards. To me the biggest award is to hear from fans, whether in person at the clubs, through email or social media is that you are inspiring, helping them through dark times and difficult moments, and helping them heal.
There are so many talented people out there who never catch the lucky break with their music, and have to give up their dreams to support themselves through this passion and seek other jobs instead. I know myself and am so grateful that I am one of the lucky ones – those who can say they get to do what they absolutely love for a living.
You’ve blown people away in every major city on Earth, playing the best venues and festivals the world over, what are the greatest challenges that you come across with such a busy tour schedule?
The two most important things are being dedicated and disciplined.
Discipline – you have to look after your body. Eat healthily, try to rest when possible, go to the gym and work on cardio. When you get to a certain level of touring, especially when summer hits and you’re combining festivals with midweek Ibiza gigs, there’s no way you can afford to take on a life of drink and drugs, because quite simply your body and career won’t survive. The travel is the hardest element of the job by far. But regardless of everything, the fans are paying their hard earned money to expect you to deliver a professional performance. You owe that to them.
Dedication – it’s a life’s undertaking. There is always the next project on the horizon – the next gig, the next production, the next radio show. Being dedicated and putting the time in is vital. You have to go in with the mindset that you have these various tasks to complete, with nearly all of them on short-term deadlines.
Once every few months however I’ll take a single day to decompress. Switch off the phone and the computer and do some relaxing things. It’s helpful for me to recharge and start the process all over again.
Throughout your career, which have been your favorite few shows and why?
There have been so many, so I guess I should mention a few.
I have been very fortunate to find myself as an international ambassador for the Transmission events. They are the premier indoor event anywhere in the world for trance, and the special thing about it for me is that it’s one stage for the entire night – everyone is there to see you perform. To be able to watch it grow over the years has been quite special. Not only is the home edition in Prague spectacular every year, but now it’s expanding to cities such as Bangkok and Melbourne.
For others, the open to close solo sets mean a lot to me, because they are my favorite type of nights. Being able to musically guide a night from opening beat to last person standing is what the art of DJing is all about. So those nights at the likes of Avalon in Los Angeles, Stereo in Montreal, Ministry of Sound in London, Space in Miami, Amnesia in Ibiza are all cherished in my soul.
And in terms of ambition, I think the 13 hours I was lucky to play from open to close at Tomorrowland a few years ago takes some beating! That was such a challenge, especially because of the heat during the daytime. But it’s something that if asked, I would attempt again.
Which area of the US do you think has the best scene and why?
If I could narrow it down to one particular state, then I think California stands out above the rest. You have Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego as big hubs, but now I am visiting places such as Sacramento, San Jose and Sunnyvale where the scene is thriving too.
When my career was starting to pick up after setting up home in Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco were among the first cities to embrace my sound and what I represented. I used to be really intimidated going to these cities, but now I feel that I am adding towards a legacy there.
Of course I have to mention my hometown of Miami too. You look at Miami Music Week and it seems to be getting bigger and bigger each year, which is incredible considering how long that has been running (as WMC and MMW). Maybe people view the city differently from me, but there is a pride and passion inside of me when I play there, built from those days building myself through the residency at Space.
And if I could be allowed to expand your question to north of the bother; I would add that Toronto and Montreal have fantastic scenes, some of the absolute best in the world.
There are very few clubs in the world like Stereo in Montreal, and we should cherish them while they are around. We lost The Guvernment in Toronto, and thankfully there’s an exciting new chapter developing with Rebel there, but the same happened in New York when Pacha closed, and it’s sad for me that we haven’t quite nailed down a special spot like that for the New York natives.
What influences your sound? Who are you listening to at the moment?
Many are always surprised when I say this, but my biggest musical influences come from classic rock. Bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zepperlin, ELO and Manfred Mann. For me, the greatest album of all time is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and I would strongly encourage any of your readers who have never heard it to seek it out and get lost in its intricacies.
I would often compliment this with bands such as U2 and Coldplay, because of the melodies they generate in their music.
On the electronic side, I admire the technical skills of someone like BT, and am constantly inspired by the likes of Eric Prydz. And I am eternally grateful for my close friendship with Ferry Corsten, and having the privilege of spending so much time in his company; listening to him, learning from him. I regard Ferry as the greatest electronic producer of all time, and I have lost count on the number of occasions where I’ve had to pause and say to him that I wish I could transplant part of his brain into my own!
Lately, I have been listening to London Grammar’s Truth is a Beautiful Thing album since the beginning of the summer. I’m a really big fan of Hannah’s voice, and the moods in their songs.
What’s the biggest way in which the record industry changed since you started?
The scene today is almost unrecognisable compared to that era. The advances in technology and the internet, along the introduction of social media, have probably made the biggest impact. It used to be the case that if you wanted to produce something, you either had to buy the hardware equipment at great expense, or hire studio time, and your production would be test pressed on to around 100 vinyl, where you would give them away to the big international DJs in the hope that they would support your track.
Nowadays anyone can learn the software, produce a track and within hours can have it sent to hundreds of DJs around the world to play in their sets, which if you sit back and actually appreciate is incredible.
With my DJ hat on, hand on heart, I do miss vinyl, because there is that special attachment to physically being able to hold something in your hand. However, with the amount of edits and reconstructions I made to tailor tracks to fit in my sets, having the capabilities to do that through software makes the musical presentation of my set more satisfying. And of course vinyl was heavy to carry around, and would often get lost in transit. But take me to an afterparty where there’s no pressure on me to perform, I’ll happily play with vinyl today until the sun comes up.
Of course sales are no longer what they were back in the day, and it is hugely difficult for the artist to make a living solely out of money made from that alone. The mindset now is that you make your albums to update your calling card, and the main income by far is through touring.
Do you have any imminent releases/remixes coming up?
Yes; very busy last few months of the year for me in terms of releases alone!
Firstly, the Watch the World chapter will conclude with the release of the Deluxe edition on October 6th; and it will feature extended versions of every track from the album, new remixes and two brand new originals – New York City (Take Me Away) with Adina Butar, and a fourteen minute long progressive piece titled Luce Prima, which I made specifically for my set on the mainstage at this year’s Tomorrowland Daybreak Session.
But the main thing I have been working on for over a year has been the next Dakota album, titled The Nine Skies, which I am hoping to put out before the end of the year. It is based on the live audiovisual presentation theme under the same name, which was showcased at the likes of Dreamstate in San Francisco, Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, and upcoming at the Transmission events in Melbourne and Prague.
The entire album is based on our journey in life to enlightenment; beginning as lost souls. The music is almost like a soundtrack to a self-help book, where it is tailored towards each sky and step in the journey. It starts off very militant and techno driven, and in the end we find ourselves in an uplifting and enlightened environment.
What does the future hold?
There is still a lot to look forward to in the final few months of this year. The Nine Skies will be the focal point, but gig wise I’m really looking forward to open to close solo sets I have coming up at Stereo in Montreal for Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, at Melkweg in Amsterdam for ADE, and back again at Avalon in Los Angeles for New Year’s Eve on the second straight year. And as mentioned, the Transmission events in Melbourne and Prague will be spectacular.
if you have been following my social media closely, many will have guessed that I am already planning my musical output for next year, and you will have seen the photos of me working in the studio with the likes of Nadia Ali. I’m working on another new concept to debut towards late spring, so keep an eye out for that.