Since his DJ debut at age sixteen, EDM’s youngest megastar, has continued to top global charts, sell multi-platinum records, accrue billions of video views, and headline festival main stages world- wide. The thing that keeps Garrix grounded, despite having taken “something like 20 planes in the past month,” including a trip to San Francisco for our photo shoot, is the town that nurtured him, The Netherlands. The turntable master works hard to stay connected to his roots while traveling the world at breakneck speed. Garrix has been famous for a quarter of his short life, but he remains steadfastly modest. The 21 year-old Dutch wunderkind opens up about the way he creates his massive dance hits, the things that inspire him, how he juggled homework on a private jet and how he remains innovative in the ever evolving and truncated electronic music world. Read on for a glimpse into his process.
What got you interested in DJing at such a young age?
I saw Tiësto perform at the Olympics in 2004 and the music style just triggered something in me. From that moment I started buying compilations and CDS. I fell in love with music and then I started playing/practicing guitar and writing my own songs and one day I decided to try and produce electronic music and that’s what I did.
Did you teach yourself how to conduct electronic music and learn the software on your own?
I just downloaded the software and watched a load of tutorials
and taught myself everything, and then after six years, I went to producing school. Where I [learned] a lot more super helpful things, but the nicest thing was the environment. I would have a class with eight other guys who loved to make music, we had the same passion and instead of talking about football and stuff when we had school breaks, we would talk about production stuff .
Did you first get signed to a label right after you were done with school?
I was still in school, that was the crazy thing. I started really touring while I was in school. So I would be doing shows on the weekend -- one weekend I would be doing a show on Saturday, and Sunday. I would travel back to the Netherlands to be at school Monday morning. So it was very weird. I would be in Ibiza on Saturday or even Sunday and then travel at night and Monday morning I would be at school again. I had to do my homework on the plane. It was very crazy.
You’ve traveled multiple times all around the world, do different locations ever trickle into your songwriting or influence your sound?
Yeah, I love creating music on the road. For me I get inspired in every different continent and every place I travel to. I get inspired by different cultures, by meeting different people, and in general I get inspired by people and their energy. In Asia they were super polite and completely different culture than here in Amsterdam. But I’m also influenced by where I grew up, I’m who I am because of the people here. I get very inspired with where I am and who I’m surrounded with. Also something that inspires me a lot are movies.
What inspires you about movies?
The music, it’s is such an important part in movies, so whenever there is a very good movie, it usually matches with very good music. So to me that’s also very inspiring. I also want to produce or score my music myself. I’m currently looking at several options, so there will definitely be one soon.
Do you have a particular movie genre that you would want to score?
It can be any type of movie. Martin Garrix is very happy music so whenever I am in the studio making a Martin Garrix song, it’s a happy song, but in movies there’s sad scenes and adventure scenes, so I’d get to check out some other music possibilities. I like completely different sounding songs. There is endless possibilities, that’s what I like about making music. Just make music and then after we see what we will do with it.
When you are making a song, do you have a recipe or blueprint for creating a song that you know will get people to dance and feel happy?
When I am in the studio I don’t have a process, it just happens organically. Every time I start a song, it starts differently. Sometimes I start with a kick drum for a couple hours until I am happy with it, then I start adding percussion and coming up with the melody. Sometimes I start with a cool melody and then I will go and find the right sound for it and sometimes I accidentally bump into a cool sound that thats the song. Or I just grab my guitar and start messing around with it until I come up with something. But the fun thing for me about making music is there are no rules, you do whatever feels good. at’s what I like about it.
I think if artists try to follow formulas and create a song that they think will be mainstream, it doesn’t have the same authenticity as someone who just creates a song naturally--
Yes--100% and it also kills the creativity. If I think I have to do this a certain way or if I think too much about what I’m going to do, it kills my creativity. When I’m in the studio I do whatever feels good and afterwards I’ll see if it will work out or not.
Do you write your own lyrics mostly or do you mostly collaborate with outside songwriters and producers?
It depends. Some songs I write them, some songs I co-write them.
Like with my new single with Troye Sivan [ There For You], we wrote the bridge together. So it depends. I’m the guy who is always behind the production of the melodies and beats, but with lyrics, I work with the artist or I send a demo to the artist that I did with some writers.
How was it working with Troye?
It was fun. What’s very important for me is to have someone in
the studio who has good energy and when I’m in the studio with Troye, he’s a happy guy and it feels great working with him. He is very excited about the song and he’s extremely talented, a very good songwriter. When we were in the studio, he was just so enthusiastic, he was so happy. If everyone around me is happy, I’m happy. I don’t want to work with people if I don’t connect with them.
Speaking of collaborations and connecting with people, do you generally collaborate with someone after you’ve met them or do you seek out someone if you’re a fan of their work? Or do you happen to just meet someone and have the instinct that you want to work with them?
It’s a combination of all those three things, for example with Dua Lipa, I had never met her in real life and I had this song called ‘Scared to Be Lonely’ and I really wanted it to be a duet because I loved her voice. Actually I’m in the process of doing another song with her. I really got to like her and find that she’s amazing and super dope, she has great energy. There’s also been times where people are recommended to collaborate with but I don’t really connect with that person. The writing process is the most important thing and if there’s not a great vibe in the studio creating a song, then it’s not worth staying in the studio.
After ‘Animals’ was a huge success a lot of producers started copying that sound--you could have ridden that arc but in- stead you changed your sound and evolved. How do you stay an innovator and set trends rather than follow them while still retaining mass appeal?
For me it’s pretty important to just stay true to my sound. When ‘Animals’ blew up, I didn’t know it was going to be that big--it was a club song I wrote in my bedroom at my parent’s house. When I released the song and it became huge and afterwards I had two options--I could either copy and do the same thing and know it will work--or I could try to reinvent my sound--not completely switching it up, but at least try to add something new and keep surprising people. Because if you don’t surprise people with every new release you have, it will be predictable and you don’t want to be predictable or at least I don’t want to be predictable. If I release a new Martin Garrix song I want people to be shocked. If you do what people predict or expect you to do, it works a couple times, but soon people will be bored because they already knew what you were going to do without even listening to it. I have a chance to keep renewing my sound to keep things fresh and keep being unique. I don’t want to be the guy that keeps doing songs that are just going to sound like his last one. I feel it’s very important for an artist to evolve, if an artist doesn’t evolve, which happens to a lot of artists, there will be newer guys who will do something different and have the courage to try something new and to evolve. Music is a very quick changing industry.
Record labels can put certain pressures on an artist to create the same kind of hits they’ve done before, but you have created an environment where you don’t have to answer to anyone. You first signed with Spinnin’ then created your own label and now you are with Sony. What has it been like going from signing with an indie to doing your own label and then going to a major label?
I signed to Spinnin’ which is the biggest independent electronic dance label and long story short, they fucked me over, so I decided I was going to start my own label and I did that. Right now I am still releasing all my music from my own label, I’m just licensing it out to Sony. So some songs I will only keep on the label, for example, the ‘Scared to Be Lonely’ song. I have total musical freedom so I can do whatever feels good. Having the label release it and help it expand, feels very good. Of course I have people who give me advice and feedback and I have an amazing deal with Sony where we are really on the same page with my music and that’s the most important. If you work with a label that you trust with your music and with your brand name, it’s very important to be on the same page and Sony and I were from the moment we started together, it’s been amazing.
Let’s talk about performing and touring. How involved are you in the visual production of your shows?
I’ve decided on everything. In the beginning, for my first shows, it was just me and my tour manager. Now we have expanded the team to I think 35 people. We have been rehearsing and preparing a lot. It’s amazing because I make a song then I go and sit with the visual guys and figure out what’s a cool visual mood for the song. en we create mood boards for different visuals for different songs. So we create lighting looks and then piece by piece it comes together. It’s like a puzzle. When I’m on stage we have all these songs that we created lighting content for to choose from. I have an amazing team that I have been working with for a long time and it doesn’t matter what order I play the songs or what songs I play, they can adapt to the situation, to the set I’m playing and that’s what I like so much. Every Martin Garrix show is different and is way more than just music. It comes with visuals, lights, music, lasers, pyrotechnics and I’m really excited with how the show’s looking right now.
When you’re creating music for a smaller club environment versus huge arena or festival, how do you approach or curate your set di erently?
Well my shows are always very high energy and I always like to build my show, I like to keep some big Martin Garrix songs for the last part of the set. Also my live versions are different than the ones I release, structure wise. I try to approach my live shows as what
I want to hear myself if I was in the crowd. I went to Ultra Music Festival five years ago in Miami and I was in the crowd there in like a rave and a year later I played there at Ultra. I just prepare a set as if I’m in the crowd with my friends--what would I want to hear that would make me go crazy.
One of the amazing things about a concert is there’s all
these different lives coming together and intersecting with one thing in common: the music. The energy of the crowd when it intersects with the music is kinetic. When you are up there in front of all these people who are connecting to the music, how does that feel and does that energy fuel your song choices?
Yes! There is one song that I 100% know that I will start my set with and that’s the intro. That’s before I am on the stage and after that I have no idea. That’s what I like so much about DJing, it’s all about feeling the energy and feeling the crowd and seeing what we are going to do for the next song. If every set was the same, it would get boring for me, but I love it so much because every show is different. Also the feeling on stage and feeling those people is incredible. Like when I am at Coachella I couldn’t see the end of the tent and it was, still is, the craziest feeling ever. Like every show the moment I get on stage I have goosebumps everywhere until the moment I leave the stage.
Let’s talk about another important component of what you do, which is music videos-- ‘Animals’ has a billion views which is quite an achievement--are you really involved with the direction of your music videos or do you hire a director to come up with the idea?
I will send out the song to multiple directors and then for each individual song there might be up to ten to thirty different storyboards for music videos. Then we pick the one we like the most and we talk with the director about the idea itself and then polish it. I make sure we are all on the same page before we start to shoot the video. For me it’s fun and it’s something that people will see along with hearing the music, so it’s a very important thing. Because people will see it on YouTube or MTV, etc, you want the video to be matching with the song. The video is an extension of the song. I love creating all the elements, not just the songs. When it all comes together, that is the most incredible feeling.
Style Assistant: Corey Weston