Tiesto: “It’s difficult to know if I should play my classics”

Tiesto doesn’t know ‘normal’. The Dutchman tipped by Forbes as the world’s most lucrative DJ is no expert on the 9-to-5 grind, but he can tell you about private jets, playing to crowds of 100,000 people and having “everything taken care of”. As the Stereosonic headliner told inthemix before stepping up at Sydney Showgrounds, he wouldn’t still be in this position if his sound hadn’t shifted. This week, Tiesto will open the inaugural Electronic Music Conference with an in-depth discussion, so we broke the ice with these questions.

You’re back at Stereosonic two years after your last run with the festival. What’s on your USB sticks this time?

There’s a lot of new stuff on my discs. When I came in 2010, I played a lot of old and new together. I think that was in the middle of my evolution of my sound. Now I think I’m evolved into electro and progressive house. Basically I am going to play a lot of new things and a couple of bangers and some festival tracks. It’s going to be a very nice mixture of Tiesto in 2012.

So 2010 still felt like a transition time for you?

Yes, a little bit. In some cities then I still played Adagio For Strings and a couple of those old Tiesto tracks, and I think I’m going to pass on those this trip. [Laughs].

How can you gauge if people want to hear those classics or not?

You know, that’s been the most difficult thing for me, to really know if I should play those or not. Every act has to play his biggest hits, right? But I feel like those tracks I’ve been playing for seven, eight years; they sound dated. To remix Adagio For Strings for 2012 is almost impossible for me. I can’t make it better, so why not just leave it? But I think it’s better now, you know. Everyone has to evolve and my sound went a different direction and most people grew with me.

Well, I guess Adagio For Strings doesn’t represent you anymore.

Yeah. If you look at other big DJs who were with me back in that time and stayed stuck there, where are they now? I don’t really see them. It felt very natural; it’s not like I started playing differently and the room emptied. It’s the opposite. I play differently now than I did in 2010, and it seems like people love me more than ever.

I know you like to arrive early and hear what the DJs before you have played. This time, it’s Calvin Harris and Avicii. Is there much crossover there?

Not really with Avicii. He plays a lot of his own tracks. Calvin as well does that, but he sometimes plays some things I need to be aware of. I have so many records with me though. Even if he plays ten records I was thinking of playing, I’ll pull out another 20.

Do you see that as a trend now: guys like Avicii who have come to mainstages through producing first and approach DJing as a production showcase?

That’s the difference. You have producers and you have DJs. Some can do both, some can’t. Some DJs have to learn on the job. I think Avicii has done well over the years. He started DJing with me in Ibiza and he barely knew how to do it. I think his manager Ash and I taught him a lot about DJing. I think he’s doing good now. You need a couple of years of experience with crowds.

The doco you did with Annie Mac was interesting. You must have a sense that the life you live is not ‘normal’ by most standards.

Yeah. My life is crazy. You arrive in a city, you go to your hotel, everything is taken care of; I don’t think I know what a normal day is. Most people go to work, go home, watch television, eat, then sleep. I don’t even know how that is. So it is weird.

Do you feel you’ve had to sacrifice things?

Yeah…every life involves sacrifice. It doesn’t matter what life you live, as long as you’re happy and you enjoy what you do. If people are happy to have a 9-to-5 job and be free on the weekends, then fine. I could’ve been happy with that too I guess. I just took this path.

But you’re built for it.

Yeah, I guess I am. I can’t complain.

Well, how do you keep that enthusiasm up? We talked before about guys you used to DJ alongside, who’ve now faded away.

Well, I think I’m in it for the right reasons which is why I’m still around. People still love what I do, because they see it’s real. Like I said in the documentary, it’s not work for me.

But if you hadn’t changed your sound up, you probably wouldn’t still be loving it.

No, exactly.

I saw you in New York at the Electric Zoo festival this year, and there are 18- and 19-year-olds just going mad for Tiesto in the U.S.

Yeah! But it’s not just America. I think the new generation of kids out there love dance music and are open to it. I went to Finland and Sweden and Germany; I saw this whole new generation ready for dance music. It’s a misconception it’s only in America, but it does get the most attention.

There’s also a part in Annie Mac’s doco where you go back to the club you used to DJ in five nights a week. Casting your mind back there, what did you learn about the dynamics of DJing?

Well, I was really happy back then as well. I thought that was the best club ever and my life couldn’t get any better. So the feeling hasn’t changed for me much, except for the travelling. I think the way I think about DJing and music is the same.

Tiesto’s Club Life is just one of the highlights on the Electronic Music Conference program on Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 November. See the full rundown here.