For Dutch producer Don Diablo, 2014 has been a massive year with numerous releases throughout the year. But aside from the future chart topping hits, Don’s music this past year hold a deeper meaning, as the tracks were dedicated in memory of his late father. The music videos each depict Don’s life on and off the road, while the music itself stems from a single inspiration — his father. Hear Don’s emotive story about his father and the musical theme of “time,” and truly get to know the man behind the music.
2014 has been a huge year for you with a bunch of new releases. Your tracks this year cohesively tie into a theme around time and life, and your music was centered around your late father. What was your intended theme, and how was your father an inspiration?
When my father passed away two years ago, it literally made me realize the value of time. I had this inspiring conversation with him at the end of his life and felt like I needed to express these emotions through my music. The concept of “time” was introduced at first with “Knight Time,” closely followed by “AnyTime” and finally “Back in Time”. The cool thing about this was the fact that these three records became a bonafide trilogy, and people really grew into the whole symbolism of the time theme. The time records also introduced a fresh sound from me as a producer, allowing me to get a more defined character as an artist. Shortly after that everything shifted into a different gear for me, and everything went next level. It really felt like I took something negative and turned it around into something positive which made the world seem like a more logical place to me. My dad’s passing literally gave me this insane work drive and purpose, which still makes me feel grateful every day I wake up.
Your tracks from this year are energetic (future) house hitters with big room appeal. Throughout your production process, how did you translate your emotions and thoughts of your father into the actual sounds of the music itself?
I tried to let my feelings inspire my workflow and determination more than the actual production process as I already expressed my true emotions before in another song called “The Artist Inside.” This song felt like the purest form of expressing myself at the time.
You also made an emotional video for “The Artist Inside.” Could you tell us a bit about the video and the lyrics?
I wrote the music for this song while waiting in the hospital for hours on end. The lyrics are based on a letter I had written for him to express my gratitude for everything he had given me in life. Unfortunately he passed away before I was able to give him this letter, so I turned it into a song that I just intended to play at his funeral. In the back of my mind I hoped he would still be able to hear it somehow. For his funeral I wanted to make a “trailer” of his life, so we could all remember and honor him for the amazing, courageous and inspiring person that he was. The video footage consisted of material I had been filming and collecting from when I was a little boy till the final days of his life. In this video you can see him taking care of me in the beginning of my life and then the roles reverse at the end of his life. The circle of life so to speak, but also a universal story, not just a story of my dad and me.
Shortly after that the video and the song fell into the hands of the Dutch Cancer Foundation, who ended up asking me for permission to make it the theme song for the annual “Get Up Against Cancer” TV broadcast on national TV. What happened after that was a huge emotional roller coaster. The song hit the Top10 and became an anthem for people dealing with similar situations. My mailbox got flooded with heartfelt letters of people telling me their stories and it felt like my dad’s passing actually resulted into something beautiful that created a positive ripple effect throughout the whole country. The song also became one of the most played records at funerals and that to me was the greatest honor I have received so far as a musician. It is great to have your records played out at raves, but to truly be a part of someone’s final goodbye is something I will always hold very close to my heart.
I’ve read that you initially wanted to become a film director, and several of your music videos from this year seem to tell some kind of story or message. How much involvement in the music video-making process do you have? Do you usually have an idea for what the video’s storyline or visuals will be as you’re creating the track?
I always executive produce my music videos and come up with the concepts for it myself. In some cases I also produce the video, do the styling and / or direct and edit it myself. The “AnyTime” video for instance was a very personal project, I literally made that video by myself, collecting and editing footage while was on the road. Making that video gave me as much joy as making the actual song, especially when I saw the amazing reactions after the release of the video.
You see your father as a hero, and the hero motif is apparent in your music video for “Black Mask” and the ending “Knight Time,” which is reminiscent of Batman looking over the city. Given that your 2013 track “Origins” was for the new Batman video game, did “Black Mask” and “Knight Time” have any connection to the Batman theme?
Absolutely! I love the symbolism behind Batman and loved the idea of creating this imaginary world in my music videos as well as on my social media for instance. I feel like everyone likes to escape reality, so why not make this world a little bit more magical and interesting?
You featured a ton of artist/celebrity cameos for the “AnyTime” music video, including Tiesto, Nicky Romero, Oliver Heldens, Krewella, Laidback Luke, Nervo and even Lana del Rey. How did you end up getting everyone to participate in your video? How long did it take for you to get everyone’s videos and create the music video?
I had been collecting random footage for over two years. A big part of the video consists of a very up close look into my personal life. You see me doing studio sessions with people like Alex Clare and MNEK as well as hanging out with my best friends and more familiar faces like Lana and Ansel. Most of the actual lip-syncing footage was shot two weeks before the release of the video, which was a monstrous task by itself getting all the material in. I personally reached out to everyone in the video as I have built a personal relationship with each of them in some way or another over the years and I felt like they all needed to be in this video. To complete the video I also wanted to add some of the fans into the video, so I got them to send in their homemade videos as well. Editing this video felt like a never ending story but somehow I managed to finish it and was happy to see it explode after sharing it with the world!
The “Back In Time” video similarly documents your time on the road, but it calls out specific cities and timestamps. What drew you to choose those cities for the video? Were there any particular memories or sentiments tied to them?
The main objective for this video was to make me realize how fortunate I am in life. I get to express myself creatively every day, travel the world and be a part of people’s lives around the globe. I always work non stop and never really take the time to look back on the past and the amazing experiences I am experiencing day after day. So instead of making a few aftermovies left and right I decided to film over 40 shows over the course of two years and cram them all into one music video to make a bigger impact. This is once again a very up close and personal look into my life on stage and off stage.
The video for “Back To Life” takes place in 2068 with a future you about to hit the stage, and ends with you back in present-day at one of your live shows. What was the idea for creating a video that portrayed you way in the future?
I simply wanted to experience the feeling of being an old man. The video was shot in Los Angeles at the Avalon where I did a free (last minute) show. Nobody actually knew I was going to be disguised as an old man that night, most of them actually weren’t even sure if it was even me, so that definitely made it a special show. I thought about my father who never made it to this age and wanted to take a leap into the future so even if I die young I at least experienced being an old man for one night.
“King Cobra” is the only track from this year that doesn’t feature you in a music video, as it’s all animation-based, and aside from “Black Mask,” is the only track that doesn’t have an obvious theme of time in its title. What aspect of your theme or your father did you want to express through this track?
None honestly, I created this track together with Yves V as one of the anthems for Tomorrowland and this tracks stands alone in that aspect, there is no bigger picture behind this other than the title, as “King Cobra” is actually one of the older batman villains.
You closed out the year with “Generations.” The video for the track features women of different ages and backgrounds and shows clips of them on horseback, which conjures up the image of a knight, which seems to tie back into the hero/knight motif again. What message did you want to put out through this track and video?
I simply wanted to make an ode to the beautiful creatures that make our existence possible: women. The women in this video all have their own story, from being abused to kicking drug habits or being a single mom, they are all fighting for their place in this world and I wanted to show them to the world instead for once instead of making another video filled with half dressed naked models dancing in a club or on a beach.
In one sentence, how would you sum up your career in 2014?
2013 was practice, 2014 was the warm up, 2015 is game time!