Your EDM’s history with Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike has not generally been a positive one. We had our own reasons for being unhappy with their output, but the degree to which we let our own biases affect our coverage of their career was at times over the top.
Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike are now most known for securing the #1 spot on DJ Mag’s annual Top 100 list in 2015. At the time, it sparked intense controversy from dance music fans who felt that the magazine’s poll was either “stupid” or “outdated,” or that voters themselves didn’t know what good music was. For us, we had predicted that Martin Garrix would secure the #1 spot from Hardwell, and the surprise of Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike winning surely impacted our coverage of the results.
It was at that point that it was decided that I would interview Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, not because interviewing the #1 DJs in the world would look good for our site, but because I genuinely wanted to clear the air and set the record straight. You will notice in the transcript below that I ask few questions – this is partly because Dimitri and Mike love to talk; it is also because I didn’t want to interrupt their train of thought or get in their way. This was meant as a sort of therapeutic discussion for both Your EDM and Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and I believe that is how it turned out.
That being said, I still made sure to address the two main issues that the general public has with them, that is: that they allegedly use ghost producers, and their placement on the DJ Mag Top 100. More than anything else, these two issues have been the most salient as they rose in their career; however, I also made sure to portray them accurately as much as possible, and so nothing in this interview has been omitted or edited, except for clarity.
Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike have just recently announced four massive arena shows in Belgium, which are likely to boast attendances of 80,000 – something unheard of for an EDM act. Last year, they were able to sell out 3 arenas in their hometown for 60,000 people.
This past week, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike also released a new track, “Stay A While,” which aims to show a more melodic side to DVLM than the typical main stage big room that people think they’re known for. Mike is back to doing vocals on music, following up his last vocal track, “Higher Place,” with Ne-Yo.
How did you guys get your start in music?
Dimitri: For me, it started when I was about 13 years old and I was at some kind of summer camp – not really, in Belgium, it’s a family thing with caravans and trailers. Anyway, I met some kids who were into DJing at that point. Playing with vinyls for the first time… I was like, “Wow, this is what I want to do.” And I never gave up on that dream. I was playing small parties when I was 14 years old, all of my allowance was going to vinyl. I traveled halfway across Europe with cases of vinyl, playing entertainment during the day and small clubs at night. I’m 34, so it’s been more than 20 years now.
You guys have an album coming out. Is that coming out this year, or next?
Dimitri: It’s going to be out when it’s done. We’ve already tried putting so many deadlines on ourselves, “It has to be done, it has to be done,” but we’re both really difficult guys …
Mike: I basically start hating anything after it’s six months old [laughs]
Dimitri: The thing is, we’ve been working on this album for a couple of years now and there are tracks that survive the test of time.
Mike: We’ll have an entire album ready, and then out of that, maybe one or two tracks will make the cut and move on to the next stage.
Dimitri: So at this point, I think we’re almost there. So I’m really hoping to be able to release by the end of the year around the time of our solo concerts in Belgium. Last year we did them for 60,000 people; and this year, it will hopefully be the same or more. So it would be amazing to launch the album around those concerts.
Mike: But let’s not make any promises!
Dimitri: [laughs] Because every time we say something, our fans ask, “Is it coming?” We’ve been working on it so long, it has to be perfect. We live in a time when it’s very difficult for an album to become a “classic.”
I definitely agree, there have already been some albums come out this year that I’ve sort of forgotten about.
Dimitri: Right, then why do an album, if you’re not going to make something that people in 10, 20…
Mike: I want to show my grandchildren! This is what I made! And not be ashamed of it.
Dimitri: Nobody is waiting for the next “EDM” album, but you also don’t want to be the flavor of the month album, either. It’s a very tricky thing. And Mike is doing a lot of his own vocals now, and that still needs a lot of work.
Would you say you have any significant influences on the album, from different artists and styles?
Mike: I’m very influenced by the hip hop side. I really like the Toronto sound right now, the 808s and the low end. It’s very fascinating to me. I’ve been into that for a while and I’ve been trying to incorporate that into our vibes.
So could we maybe hear some trap on the album?
Mike: Haha, not really. We’re really trying to find something that is our own. I can kind of see, in my vision right now, an older Eminem album where you have maybe skits or something that tells a story.
Dimitri: And it needs to be very eclectic kind of sound. Not all hip hop or all trap…
Mike: All the tracks with my vocals, by the way, are all very meaningful to me. They’re all about experiences that I’ve been through in the past months, years. It’s not just making music. But also in the meantime, we don’t stop producing our EDM stuff.
The stuff you’re releasing in the meantime, will it be on the album?
Dimitri: Well… “Higher Place”…
Mike: That one would make sense since it has my vocal.
Dimitri: But the big EDM bangers, no. They might be an extra at the end. At this point we have so many extra tracks it’s sort of A&R’ing the album out of that. People are waiting for tracks from 2 or 3 years ago. And for us, it’s all about moving on from a sound and staying current. We also like to bring a show that’s unique to you, and I think at some point, people forgot about that. It’s come back recently, a lot of artists are just playing their own music. We never operated like that. We loved to play music from a lot of different people, but we also wanted to have stuff that was our own. And of course a lot of those special sounds got really famous because of the Tomorrowland aftermovies and people have been waiting a long time for us to release them. A lot of them never even got to a finished product. It was just one break, one drop, an idea here, an idea there. It was our responsibility every year also, “Hey guys, we’re doing an aftermovie.”
Mike: Boom. Start working. Six months beforehand. It basically was like making an album at the time, especially the 2011 one, the one that has “Mammoth” in there, it was all made for that aftermovie.
Dimitri: It was always like a mini-EP. So in that sense, we also want to surprise people. Because we also realize, you cannot win. We do an album with all those songs, people will be like, “Hey, it’s all the old crap on the album.” And if we do an album without those songs, they’ll say, “Hey where are those songs??” So I guess we just have to go for the sound that we feel is right.
Mike: And if you don’t like it… [makes obscene gesture]
Dimitri: The thing is, we also don’t want to forget that we still want to make music that people can party to.
Mike: That’s where Dimitri comes in, haha. I get lost in too much melody and emotions, he’s more dancefloor oriented.
Dimitri: I think it’s very important that people experiment and try new sounds. But we can also try to experiment in festival sounds, too. You know? People still need to party their ass off at a festival. It’s gonna be interesting to see where we end up but I’m really happy with what we have so far.
Since you brought up the Tomorrowland aftermovies, I wanted to ask how you got involved with the festival in the first place, considering you’re managed by the festival or its partners.
Dimitri: I think it was 2009?
Mike: We’d heard of them in Ibiza when we were there, you know, “I heard about this crazy festival.” But it wasn’t international back then.
Dimitri: It was about 5 minutes from where we lived, on the actual grounds where we used to play as kids. We used to find dinosaur bones and things like that. And now it’s a nice nature park, but when we were younger, it was all dirt and mud – a dream paradise for kids to find fossils.
Mike: I came back to Belgium … to go back in history, we used to work in hotels. We didn’t really like school that much.
Dimitri: I left school when I was 17, Mike must have been 15 or so. We left Belgium to work abroad. We weren’t focused on school, I was still focused on music. We also didn’t grow up in the best neighborhood, so at a certain point my mom came with this advertisement about working abroad. It was from a tour operator asking “Do you want to work in Majorca, Greece and Ibiza?” And I said, “Ibiza? Of course!” So I went for the job and I got it, mainly because I spoke a lot of languages.
Mike: I followed the year after. I also didn’t have a very bright future ahead of me in Belgium so my mom was like, “Okay, go to your brother.”
Dimitri: And that was good because in the day we were working hotels, and at night —
Mike: That included doing sports with people who were on holidays, and in the evening we did shows for people… like Grease and Saturday Night Fever, musicals… it’s how we got used to being in front of crowds. We did the We Will Rock You musical, which you can still hear in our sets.
Dimitri: For a teenager, it was a very interesting time. We got to learn to take care of ourselves, not even 18, making money and paying rent but in a good way.
Mike: And in the meanwhile, he was trying to do the DJ thing. Back that, I wasn’t involved that much yet. My background was more in hip hop, I grew in the time of Eminem, Dr. Dre, early 2000s. That was my thing, I loved it. I started writing in Dutch, I wrote about 3 rap albums in Dutch, I also did the beats and started learning to produce a little bit.
Dimitri: The first wave of producing I learned in actual studios, because back then if you wanted to make a song you needed an actual studio. The laptop environment didn’t exist back then. So you’d have to find somebody who wanted to spend the time teaching you and producing with you because back then it was very expensive to work in a hardware studio. The good thing was that I learned a lot, and [Mike] learned a lot from me.
Mike: It was definitely a brotherly competition, like, “Okay, I want to better than him!” and I worked harder and harder and harder. And somehow, now it’s an addiction. When I wake up at 5 in the morning, first thing I do is boot up the computer, eat breakfast, and go to work. But anyway, that’s when I decided to return to Belgium; I was kind of done with the whole working abroad thing. I found a girlfriend in Belgium, stayed there, started going out a lot in Belgium and also got a couple of jobs in factories, things I didn’t really want to do. I really wanted to stay in the nightlife, so I started DJing in Belgium. I spent all my money on vinyls, I sort of knew how to play because [Dimitri] taught me, but I wasn’t a “DJ,” you know? I was basically like, “Boom! I want to be a DJ.” I started buying supplies, I don’t know how much I spent. Two big cases of vinyl. I started going around the clubs, “Hey, I’m from Ibiza.” I started playing here and there. Then Tomorrowland came into place again that year and I went. I told [Dimitri], “Wow, I went to this festival and it was pretty crazy. You have to come home and see it.”