Darude on life as a meme: “I was weirded out at first”

“song name???” Usually that’s an innocuous question, but if dropped in a YouTube comments section any time in the past few years, you can expect one response, and one response only: “Darude – ‘Sandstorm’‘’. Initially released as Darude’s debut single back in 2000, the track has climbed back into pop culture consciousness thanks to its newfound role as an internet meme, seeping into IRL dancefloors as a jokey crowd-pleaser. Such is the immensity of the Sandstorm revival, Darude has also landed on the stacked Future Music lineup alongside the likes of Avicii and The Prodigy. Currently on tour in Canada, Ville Virtanen aka Darude, spoke with inthemix about the staying power of Sandstorm.

It’s easy to forget that ‘Sandstorm’ and ‘Feel The Beat’ both enjoyed mainstream success when they were released. Do you feel like you helped pioneer that transition of dance music into the mainstream in some way?

Well the thing is, I don’t think I can say that myself. But if someone feels that, and says that, I’m honoured, obviously. I didn’t aim to do anything like that. I just made music, and was lucky enough to get signed and get it released around the world. Looking back, Sandstorm especially, and Feel The Beat, they are some of the few instrumental tracks that have made it on the mainstream radio. At the same time, I would never claim anything like being a pioneer. It’s just a chance thing to me, it wasn’t planned like that. I’m grateful that I’ve had a good run and I’m still going on.

When you were writing and recording ‘Sandstorm’, did you have any idea it would turn out to be as big as it was, even in its initial response?

I honestly can say I had no idea. I was a hobby music maker. I was a DJ at the time, making music for myself. There were a couple of buddies who I worked with, and it was just my tiny little home studio, if you could call it that. I burned CDs and gave them to my local DJ buddies and just wished they would play a track of mine one day, then being there seeing people dance to my music. Then at one point I gave a CD to Jaako Salovaara, also known as JS16, who became my producer and first signed me, getting Sandstorm to the form everyone now knows it. I call it a series of happy accidents. It just snowballed and it’s incredible, still.

There’s obviously been a resurgence of interest due to internet phenomena; when did you start to see that happen?

It’s a thing, wherever I go and play somewhere, it’s usually requested, or the promoter asks if I’m going to play Sandstorm. I understand that people do come to my shows because that’s what they know best. I’ve seen the chatter on these boards for games like League Of Legends, and gamers are a lot of the reason there has been this renewed interest.

I don’t know when it started, but seeing it online where someone asks “song name?” and now somebody always replies “Darude – ‘Sandstorm’” or all these variations, I see it all over my YouTube pages. I was weirded out by it at first, I didn’t understand what was going on. It was strange. Now I’ve actually played a couple of gamer conferences, all related to that kind of stuff. I’m cool with that, I’m not going to be pissed off about someone spreading my name and the name of my track around, whether it’s a joke, or a meme, it works for me.

Why do you think it’s been ‘Sandstorm’ specifically to take off like that?

If I knew, I would have done ten or more the same. It’s a really good question, and I honestly don’t know. It all comes back to some sort of universal thing. The lead melody is so simple, and it’s catchy. I don’t know why it is like that – it’s catchy and simple, but it’s not boring or irritating. So many tracks, after a while, no matter how good they are, people get tired of them. That’s the million-dollar question.

You mentioned before that there are these new fans that will be there to hear ‘Sandstorm’. How do you treat the song in your shows, and how do you construct a set around it?

Usually from the very first beat, someone in the audience is screaming “play Sandstorm!” I don’t remember many gigs over the years, maybe two or three out of the hundreds and hundreds, that I haven’t played it. Even then, it’s not because I didn’t want to play it, it’s because I was caught short or something. I like to keep people on their toes. I sample it in on some tracks, there are some tracks I mash some Sandstorm parts. Then near the end of the set I play the whole track. I plan the curve of the set so I can toss in something here and there along the way.

Australian duo Peking Duk played ‘Sandstorm’ at Stereosonic a few weeks ago to a huge reaction from a huge crowd. Have you seen that footage and how does it make you feel?

It’s incredible. I’m very appreciative, especially that kind of thing. It gave me goosebumps watching the videos. I know the track like the back of my hands, inside out and upside down, then seeing someone else play it and get that kind of reaction, it’s pure joy.

You’re joining the Future Music lineup amongst this new generation of producers. Are you in touch with what’s happening currently within EDM?

Yes and no. Of course I’m DJing and checking out new tracks all the time, coming across new names. I don’t know if this sounds funny or not, but if I play a track and it goes well, then I will remember the name of the producer or the act, if I play two tracks from them within a month I will remember them forever.

The important thing for me when playing music is that it translates to the dancefloor. When somebody gives me a piece of music that directly translates to the dancefloor, I appreciate it. There are a few Australian names I’ve been looking at, but at the same time, when you’re just looking at names, you don’t know where they’re from – it could be Australia, Finland or whatever – you just dig their music. With Future, I’m definitely excited to be sharing a stage with The Prodigy, I’ve always been a huge fan of theirs and I can’t wait to see them live.

How have you seen the dance landscape evolve since you began around 15 years ago?

I think that the biggest thing, especially in the past couple of years, especially in America, we’ve had this huge explosion in the mainstream. I know Australia has had a dance culture for a long time, same with several countries in Europe. I lived in the US for six years and that’s been my main market. Because the US is such a big market and a lot of places have followed, the commercialisation of dance music has been the biggest thing that has happened. That has brought a lot of these huge festivals.

And to me, that’s a good thing. The more the merrier. I think maybe the club-going crowd might have been a little bit older back in the day, but now with everybody having access to the internet – various download sites and Spotify, Pandora – the crowd these days could be a little younger, having access to dance music as well.

‘Sandstorm’ is still going strong. Where do you see the future of the track heading, as well as the future of Darude?

Because the buzz is still so strong, I might have to consider doing a re-release of Sandstorm at some point. But other than that, I’m working on an album right now, aiming to release something in 2015. I don’t consider myself too old, but I am getting older, so I don’t know how much longer my body can take the beating of being on the road all the time. But I enjoy what I’m doing, so hopefully I can still be doing it in five, ten, twenty years still. That depends on all kinds of things. This is what I do, this is what I love, and I’m grateful I am still able to do it. Hopefully Sandstorm can help me to do that for ages and ages.

Future Music Festival 2015 dates

Sat 28 Feb – Royal Randwick Racecourse, Sydney (18+)

Sun 1 Mar – Arena Joondalup, Perth (18+)

Sat 7 Mar- Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane(18+)

Sun 8 Mar – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne (18+)

Mon 9 Mar – Adelaide Showground, Adelaide(15+)

Tickets on sale now via www.futuremusicgroup.com.au.