Why is your new album called Nothing But The Beat? This title kinda explains my obsessions. And at the same time, there’s one song that I love on the record, a collaboration with will.i.am, that had the (working) title Nothing Really Matters But The Beat. So there’s a connection. Then also, because this is a double album – at the same time that I’m coming with all these huge stars on a vocal record, I’m coming with an electronic record. So the title is also a statement. It’s about the beat. I’m a DJ first. I love beats.
Lil Wayne is on I Can Only Imagine (with Chris Brown) – does a rap artist like him understand your music and where you’re coming from? Yes, otherwise he wouldn’t do it. ’Cause he don’t give a fuck – about anything! So yes, of course. They all do now. This is very new, but they all do. All the rap artists see this as very cool. That’s what’s funny. They call it futuristic sound.
You also have Snoop Dogg (on Sweat) – did he have to be persuaded to let a French DJ come and help them make music? They come to me. I don’t go to them. For us, it’s been there for a while, but for them it’s a totally new sound. They wanna do this – but they don’t know how to do it. They will. Because in a year all the US producers, they will be able to do it. But right now they don’t have the techniques to do it. The same way that if I’m making a real hip hop beat, I can make it – but it’s never gonna be the same as Swizz Beats.
You’re working, performing and hanging in a world where bling is king and the bigger the entourage, the bigger the star… Where’s your entourage? Exactly! Actually, sometimes I had that, from them – “where you people at?” But I don’t need people. I don’t need bodyguards – I don’t have enemies. And I see the same people, they’re starting to act differently. Not only with me but in general. And I’m really happy about that. Because I think urban music is really incredible, but, you know, sometimes it’s good to be positive; simple. And a lot of them, although they are such nice people they had to be pretend, play a role… And I see them changing now.
Did you write this album’s tracks with individual artists in mind? Yes, but I don’t create it thinking of a person. I create it first then I go, “OK, this would be perfect for her voice, or his voice…” But I wanna be free when I make music. So I don’t like to make music [specifically] for someone - but if we are in the studio together; I play my beats and the one that they love, is what we write to.
You don’t write lyrics, you expect those to come from your guest collaborators. What else do they bring – the melody? Yes, most of the time – but my music is very melodic. They often come with the melody but it’s inside the music almost already. If you see, for example, a hip hop beat, they don’t really put melody in the music. So the people that are doing the songs, they have to really totally create it. Whereas because what I do is very melodic, that’s why they love to write on my music. The chord progressions and the melody are already pretty strong.
So you helped rappers like Flo Rida (on Club Can’t Handle Me) and Snoop (on Sweat) to sing? Maybe, but also I’ve learnt a lot with will.i.am in that manner. Because he’s doing melodic rap. That’s probably the key of the success of I Gotta Feeling.
Do you think I Gotta Feeling, and its huge success, changed both your career, and the way American listens to dance music? Yes, because now, in a second, you have black artists being played on pop radio, and dance beats that are supposed to be white being played on black radio. So it’s bigger than we think it is. It’s a really big thing. This is very, very new, and very, very important.
Tell us about Afrojack, who is on the electronic record. He’s a young producer from Holland who I’ve been working with for the past year. I was trying to help him – he’s now become huge. He made the beat for Beyoncé, Run The World (Girls). And he’s really exploding as a DJ. So I signed him actually a year ago. I just thought he was really talented. I’m trying to help him be more successful. I’ve actually been trying to learn his software system, FL Studio – it works with Windows and I’m usually working with Mac. So today I just wanted to have fun learning a new music software. And when I was doing that I made a new song. I was not trying to make a song, I just wanted to make a club beat that I can play at my next gig. This is how I started to make music – making beats that are missing in my sets. I make songs, but as a DJ I play a lot of just electronic beats as well. And for me it’s as much fun as making a real big song. Just this is way quicker…
So you can create a beat in a day? Yes, and people say, “ah, but it’s really easy – it took you only one day to make this song, it’s nothing…” So, yes and no. Because when you have a good idea, yes,[snaps fingers], the song will be finished in one day. But there are ten bad ideas for one good idea. Sometimes artists ask me for beats, or for a remix, and they’re like, “oh come, on it’s nothing for you, it’s just gonna take you a day!” And it could! But sometimes I have to struggle for two months.
When you do shows, you’re a performer, jumping around behind the decks – did you have to work at your booth style? I worked. I always loved to party and dance, but I was very shy before. ’Cause for me it’s like a love story with the people on the dancefloor. That’s the way I see it. But if you were telling me I would have to come and be, I don’t know, like a pop artist, and I would have to do a dance show – that would be terrible! Because for me, it goes two ways: I’m speaking with people with my music. That’s not making me shy. But when I have to do a TV show, I’m way more shy.
Why have you succeeded in turning mainstream America onto dance music where other DJ/artists such as Pete Tong, Paul Oakenfold, Tiësto and Fatboy Slim failed? I don't think anyone you named failed! The opposite!! They paved the way to where we are now. They were all huge in Europe first and America is only just embracing our culture in the mainstream. I think Fatboy Slim is one you could compare to me. I respect him a lot. Paul Oakenfold produced Madonna and U2; he took a risk for a DJ. Tiesto played non-dance festivals first - he closed Coachella. Pete Tong educated the scene and pushed its boundaries. But there’s different things. There’s the talent as a DJ, and the talent as a producer. So already this is two different things. Being a great DJ doesn’t make you a great producer. That’s one thing. The other thing is: I don’t wanna speak about specific people, but in general a lot of DJs are afraid to go out of the box. Because our culture is very different from any other culture. If you’re a hip hop artist and you have a Number One record, everybody respects you. It’s changing now, but in the dance culture it was like, “you’re Number One? Urhg!” No one’s gonna speak to you any more – it’s totally self-destructive.
At the same time, is simplicity the key to a good song? Absolutely. And actually my experience of working with some amazing musicians is that it’s actually difficult to do something simple. When I work on something, if I need to add more and more arrangements, it means that the original idea is not strong enough. Usually if I don’t make it within two days, it means that it’s not good enough. If you need tonnes of strings and pianos and arrangements and drums, maybe the melody at the beginning was not good enough.
Who’s next on your hit list? For me working with someone like Afrojack in the studio is as exciting as working with Madonna or Rihanna. For me it’s about the vibe of the studio and the excitement and the talent of the person. The people I have worked with are famous for a reason; they have a gift. Its real; not manufactured. I don't work with them because of their fame; just because of the magic they bring and we share.