“Do you ever feel trapped by fame?”
The question rings out in the small alcove in which DJ Mag is perched next to Martin Garrix. The Dutch DJ and this year’s Top 100 winner pauses momentarily to reflect. “Trapped? No...” he replies, cautiously. “But I do feel a great sense of responsibility. I feel like I can't do stupid shit. I don't want to be a bad role model, I don't want to set a bad example. That’s very important to me.”
It’s a refreshingly grounded view from one of the globe’s most famous youngsters. Martin Garrix shot to stardom in 2013 thanks to his hit electronic track, ‘Animals’, that he produced aged 16 in his bedroom. ‘Animals’ has been viewed an unfathomable 900,000,000 times on YouTube, while Garrix has amassed a social media following bigger than the entire population of The Netherlands. That's 13 million Facebook likes, 8.1 million Instagram followers and 3.4 million Twitter fans — to be exact.
Signed to EDM hit-factory Spinnin' Records for much of his teens, before a widely publicised bust-up over the ownership rights to his music, 2016 is Garrix’s coming-of-age moment. He launched his own imprint, STMPD RCRDS, back in January (with the backing of major label powerhouse Sony), releasing future bass burner ‘In The Name Of Love’ with Bebe Rexha on the imprint in September. It was a subtle shift away from the big room club sound that made ‘Animals’ the anthem of the EDM generation — a sign that Garrix, like any normal teenager, was growing up.
But it’s outside the realm of chart-topping Beatport singles, stadium shows and Ibiza residencies, and away from the private jets and expensive sneakers, that the real secret of Martin Garrix’s appeal lies. A mix of talent, timing, marketing and star quality has allowed a humble, bright-eyed kid from the small town of Amstelveen to become the world's biggest DJ — the embodiment of ultimate possibility for bedroom producers around the globe. The Martin Garrix story is — literally — what teenage dreams are made of.
Back in the alcove, Garrix is all smiles and bear hugs as we discuss his Top 100 DJs win — his excitement at the news is palpable. “It feels unreal to have won,” he beams at DJ Mag from the adjacent couch. “I 100% did not expect it at all. I've had an amazing year, with awesome shows and amazing fans — I'm so thankful for their support. I didn't even do a campaign, and it just shows how dope the fan-base is.”
“I never campaigned for the DJ Mag poll because I don't want it to be like...” he trails off. “You know, a presidential candidate thing. The TV is flooded with stupid campaigns for elections — it should be organic. It should be a natural win and honestly, I'm so thankful.” He shakes DJ Mag’s hand with excitement.
Flanked by a team of close to ten people in the swanky West London members club in which we’re sat, it seems like Garrix is rarely alone. As we talk all things Top 100, his PR sits a couple of metres away, as does the rest of the Garrix gaggle who are casually sipping cocktails in the candle-lit bar next door. They're forensically looking over snaps from a recent shoot of Garrix's with his full-time personal photographer — did we mention it’s close to 10pm? If there's one thing Team Garrix is, it's efficient.
Perhaps the most interesting member of Garrix's team is absent — his manager Scooter Braun is back home on American soil. Even those outside the music business will recognise the name; Braun is the man responsible for the most ubiquitous pop star of the last decade: Justin Bieber.
Famously turning Bieber from unknown YouTube teeny-bopper to billion-dollar pop royalty, Braun has also had a hand in the careers of everyone from Usher to Ariana Grande, graced the cover of Billboard magazine (twice), and is worth a reported $23 million. This man knows a golden goose when he sees one.
Braun teamed up with Garrix following his widely-publicised split from Spinnin' Records and then manager Eelko van Kooten late last year. Garrix accused van Kooten of misleading him into signing away the rights to the music he’d made during their partnership — a claim which the Spinnin’ cohort denies.
“Long story short, I've had some issues with my previous label,” explains Garrix, unprompted.
DJ Mag nods.
“I just want it all to be about music, and good vibes,” he adds, impassioned.
“Isn’t that slightly idealistic, Martin?” DJ Mag asks.
He grins again. “Well, yeah. True.”
Boyish optimism aside, Garrix is no pushover. The producer has a sense of business acumen beyond his years — from DJ Mag's first contact, it’s obvious he's pro-actively involved with almost every aspect of his brand. It’s this, coupled with his down-to-earth persona, that’s helped send him global — Martin really is a man of the people.
“I love the connection with people that being a DJ gives me, I love seeing people happy,” he says, without a shred of pretence. “It really is the best thing ever, and that's why I love doing shows. After my set, I always go down to the front row and take photos with the fans, signing stuff, whatever. It's very important to me to meet them and get to know them.”
POWER OF ONE
Garrix was set to “get to know” a brand new bunch of fans at this year’s Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) in late October — he was hosting a special underage rave-up in their honour.
“The main reason we're doing the underage show [at ADE] is because I remember what it was like to be underage — and it's fucking horrible,” he says, speaking before the event.
“It sucks when your favourite artist comes to your city, but you can’t go because you weren't born on the right date. The reason I fell in love with electronic music was when I saw Tiesto in 2004 [at the Olympic Games in Athens] and I was underage. [The music] had this groove, it was biological, it triggered emotions. I had goosebumps all over me, and I honestly still feel that way now.” He shows DJ Mag the goosebumps on his arm as he talks.
“So when we got the request for the underage show, we just thought, ‘Why not?’ I'm going to play two three-hour sets — it will be a real journey!”
It's not just charming fans young and old that Garrix excels at, he is also undeniably bright. Graduating with near-perfect grades from Utrecht's Herman Brood Academie, Garrix spent much of his final high school year juggling a hectic touring schedule and music production deadlines. Luckily, Herman Brood was specially designed for kids like Garrix — the stage school has pumped out chart-topping indie bands, rappers and DJs to boot.
“I went to a school that taught us a lot about the music industry, as well as music production — about contracts and the business side of things, how to do interviews, about the media,” he explains.
It would seem much of Garrix’s past experiences have led him toward this exact coming-of-age moment — his time at Herman Brood, the Spinnin’ debacle, and an abrupt change in management all formative precursors to his 2016 Top 100 DJs win, and the new professional challenges ahead. It’s his new label, STMPD, that the young producer is most excited about — the words “sick” and “dope” are used at least ten times each as he describes his vision to DJ Mag.
“After Spinnin’ I was like, ‘I’m just going to do my own thing, my own label’, and it's been crazy how well it has been doing. I'm expanding the team and we're very soon going to start releasing music by other acts, not just me,” he tells DJ Mag.
Interestingly, it’s not only EDM that Garrix is set on signing. He’s got friends in the underground too, and he cites acts like Flume and Disclosure when we ask about current sounds that are inspiring him. Alongside mentors like past Top 100 winners Tiesto and Hardwell, Garrix also counts techno dons like Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Carl Cox and Seth Troxler as pals. “Carl and I are doing a documentary together, actually,” he reveals. “I love Carl, he has so much positive energy — I want to surround myself with people like that. I have a lot of great role models. Seth is in it [the documentary] too, I can't say too much about it yet, but it's going to be dope.”
“What I hate right now is that there is so much music out there that is just a copy of something else,” he continues. “I hate when everything sounds the same, that's why I did 'In The Name Of Love' — because I wanted to try something different. There's so much music out there in this whole EDM thing that sounds so similar. I want to make my label more diverse.”
STUDIO VS STAGE
But what of Garrix's music itself? His 2013 breakout track 'Animals' is one of dance music's biggest (and most copied) — it's still gaining widespread radio and club play to this day. Follow-up hits ‘Virus’ and ‘Don’t Look Down’ — featuring R&B star Usher — also delighted fans, alongside musical collaborations with everyone from UK crooner Ed Sheeran to Dutch legend, Tiesto.
Production-wise, Garrix's skill is impressive. The online tutorial of how he made his breakout hit in FL Studio (by music tech mag, Future Music) is currently on four million views and rising. He's admitted he's ghostwritten for other producers in the past, though he doesn't mention who, but it's his clean, pragmatic approach to production that's helped him to stand out. Garrix’s enormous kicks, sharp-as-a-tac hats and emotive, big room vocals have come to define the sound of the genre — it’s safe to say Garrix is the Instagram-filtered face of America’s EDM awakening.
Arguably the most successful act from Dutch EDM’s second wave, the foundations of the genre began while Garrix was still in nappies, thanks to early-noughties electro-house acts like Chuckie and Afrojack laying the foundation for EDM’s eventual Stateside boom. Scene veterans Armin van Buuren, Sander van Doorn and Tiesto all decamped from trance to jump on EDM’s lucrative bandwagon around 2011, while DJs like Hardwell and Avicii would go on to fill a young Garrix’s headphones from inside his teenage bedroom.
A one-trick pony Martin Garrix is not — the producer has more up his sleeve than the big room sound that first made him famous. “I have so much music, in my head, on my computer, but I can only release a song maybe once every one-and-a-half months or so,” he says, before beginning to flick through tunes on his phone.
“Okay, so what about an alias?” DJ Mag pries.
Garrix's eyes light up and he grins mischievously. “Actually, I already have a couple — I can play you one later. But I also have a hip-hop alias that's blowing up right now, and people don't know it's me. I mean, I think some people suspect because of the way it's been produced, but it's really exciting.”
Alongside his alleged hip-hop alias — DJ Mag is still at a loss as to who Garrix’s alter ego might be — talk of a debut album has been swirling for almost two years. It’s a rumour he’s quick to set straight when we ask about its progress — Garrix’s next steps, release-wise at least, still appear somewhat fluid.
“There's lots of new music still to come this year — but I'm not sure if I want to do it as an album exactly,” he says, quizzically.
“There's eight or nine club songs which I've been touring all summer, so I might release them. Then there's the studio album to come, too, which might be more in the direction of experimenting with new sounds. I guess more in the direction of 'In The Name Of Love'. So yeah, that's out hopefully early next year. But as I mentioned, I have a lot of high energy, Martin Garrix-style club songs being released very soon.”
THE MARTIN GARRIX SHOW
Garrix is a great believer in road-testing his music long before its release — it’s one of the key factors that sets him apart from his (often much older) contemporaries. Garrix’s sets classically contain around 90% of his own music, including his biggest hits alongside unreleased tunes, as well as specially-crafted interludes, plus custom light cues, pyrotechnics and storey-high visuals.
Alongside high-paying headline slots at Ultra and Tomorrowland this year, Garrix has been testing his wares at his Ushuaia residency in Ibiza. It’s the second time he’s done his Multiply show at the upmarket alfresco nightclub, a venue that’s also played host to fellow EDM stars Axwell & Ingrosso, Avicii and David Guetta.
“What's cool about the Ibiza residency is that it's a real show, it’s not only about the music,” he says. “We actually film the whole thing every week, the full two hours of footage, from the front of house. Afterwards, we go through every single moment, we watch it back and brainstorm on how it can be better. That's a lot of fun for me, I like building on it each week.”
It’s no secret that Garrix’s Multiply show is one of the island’s biggest; it’s hit near sell-out level each and every week this season. “I love Ibiza — it’s a great place to chill for me,” he tell us.
For a 20-year-old with the music world at his feet, not to mention hordes of adoring fans and a near-unlimited bank balance, DJ Mag is curious if Garrix is being truthful about his lack of excess — especially on the world’s most famous party island. He’s also famously buddied up with wild-child Justin Bieber since signing with Braun, and has just announced he’ll join the pop prince on the Australian leg of his Purpose tour in 2017. Bieber has had more than a few run-ins with the press — is Garrix set to crash a Ferrari or get papped stumbling out of a nightclub anytime soon?
“So, you’re saying there’s no wild nights out in the Garrix camp, then?” DJ Mag asks, probingly.
“Well of course, I do that sometimes!” Martin replies, grinning. “I go out with a hoodie on with my three closest friends when we're in Amsterdam. I can kind-of do what I want when I’m there, it’s not a fame town like LA or New York. They really let me live there,” he explains.
“When I'm at home in Amsterdam, I'm in the studio, I'm in my happy place. For me, it’s about balance. Then I go to my parents house that’s ten minutes from where I live and have dinner with my family. Or my friends come over to my place and I play them things that I've been working on, and they say, 'That's great Martin’, or ‘That's shit Martin’,” he laughs. “It keeps me grounded.”
Finally, before we leave the alcove, DJ Mag asks Martin if he’s got a 10-year plan — he exudes a kind of quiet confidence with his response.
“I'm basically just going to produce what I want to produce. Whatever I feel like making, really. Keep going on feeling, really.”
“Do you think that might be a risk, commercially at least?” DJ Mag asks.
“Maybe,” he replies. “But it's definitely one I'm willing to take.”
Best known for
“Being a happy dude.”
What’s the next new big track? “Daft Punk & The Weeknd ‘Starboy’.”
Breakthrough producer: “Justin Mylo.”
What have been the new frontiers for you this year?
“This year had so many great moments. But closing the Ultra Music Festival main stage in Miami was one of the most epic ones in my career!”
Is electronic music taken seriously enough as an art-form?
“It definitely should be, that’s for sure. I think the negative press around dance music culture can make people outside the scene see it as less important than it really is — they’ve already formed an opinion about electronic music without experiencing it. That’s dangerous, but I think it’s slowly changing — dance music is dominating the charts right now!”
What’s the best new bit of DJ/production technology, and why?
“Well, I’ve always loved Serum — I’m not sure if that came out this year but it’s a great plug-in. And of course, I love the new FL Studio!”
If you had to switch your style to another genre, what would it be?
What can be done to prevent drug-related deaths at dance music events?
“Education and testing. You can ban drug-use but I’d rather have it controlled and tested to make sure people are raving safely. If you can prevent drug deaths, why wouldn’t you? I don’t take drugs myself but I’m not against it as long as people stay safe and look out for each other.”