Music is constantly evolving, whether it’s rock, rap, dance, genres are constantly cycling through artists, time stops for no one. To achieve longevity as a musician is a tremendous accomplishment, especially in dance music, where the marketing cycle is very single driven and tastes and trends are constantly changing. One of the acts that has achieved this status has to be W&W. Hailing from the EDM hotbed that is the Netherlands, W&W has managed to stand out from the crowd over the better part of this decade.
Ward van der Harst and Willem van Hanegem were some of the early pioneers of the EDM movement that rode into the US around 2013. They produced massive tracks like “Bigfoot,” “The Code” with Ummet Ozcan, “Don’t Stop the Madness” with Hardwell, “Rocket” with Blasterjaxx, and perhaps their most iconic track, “Rave After Rave.” Through their production prowess and steady touring schedule, it’s easy enough to catch a W&W set, whether it be at EDC, Ultra or TomorrowLand.
Ward and Willem recently rebranded their label and aesthetic as Rave Culture with the accompanying title track and a slew of new releases that have seen them dabble in psy-trance and hardcore, as well as collaborate with some of the biggest names in the industry, and their close friends, Armin van Buuren and Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike. We got the chance to sit down and talk with Ward and Willem before their set at EDC Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. I talked to them about Rave Culture and the evolution of their sound, and they were incredibly enthusiastic sharing their thoughts with us. Here’s our exclusive interview with W&W:
Tell me about the rebrand, tell me about Rave Culture, what were the origins?
Willem: “A lot of things actually, we used to have Mainstage Music, and the music that we signed was pigeon-holed as that kind of sound. With Rave Culture, Rave is something bigger than only EDM or trance.”
Ward: “We have some really cool techy-stuff coming up.”
Willem: “But, like also, a lot of people want us to host the second stage, you can’t have a Mainstage second stage. We actually have like a community following, like a culture, because of them, we wanted to rebrand, to fit better. Like an ode to them.”
Ward: “They already created this Mainstage family.”
Willem: “We didn’t even know about them, they showed us all these groups, with all the songs that we’re not releasing.”
Ward: “A huge WhatsApp group, it’s also pure 100% organic”
Willem: “That inspired us also to do that, the whole move.”
That leaves you guys open to pursue new sounds, you’re not pigeon holed into one genre. Tell me about the stuff you guys have been experimenting with, I know there’s been a lot of psy-trance?
Willem: “Last year we did a psy-trance collaboration with Vini Vici, we did one with Maurice West, which is also more psy-ish, futuristic. Because with Vini Vici we did more tribal, that kind of sound, the sci-fi one is with Maurice West, to balance it out. And lately we’ve been coming back to those old EuroDance days, like when we were young, like ‘God is a Girl’”
Ward: “Very uptempo.”
Willem: “Nostalgic, here they call it techno, but for us it’s called ‘German hands-up.’ Because when we were young, those songs were played in the club. To be honest, funny thing about ‘God is a Girl’ is I really wanted to have that song when I was like 11. But it was always played in the club, and you didn’t have Shazam back then. The DJs were dicks back then, I came up to them, can you tell me which song, nope, they just ignored me. We’ve been doing a lot of hardstyle as well, last year the one with Darren Styles, they call it UK hardcore, it has the energy of hardstyle, but like a softer kick.”
Ward: “Yeah, it’s more happy.”
Willem: “So, every year we try to dive into some of the styles we like that are new, and of course, we do the energetic main stage big room and trance, that’s what we always do. We always try to change it up, we don’t want to play the same set every year.”
Ward: “We always want to be able to do a little bit more trance-y stuff, if you only work on the same kind of stuff the whole time, it gets boring, so it’s nice to switch around between all the different projects.”
Willem: “We love to produce, we can’t just do one sound.”
Ward: “After two days of producing big room or whatever you call it, its like oh lets do some trance again, and after a week of trance, like, let’s get this done.”
Tell me how you guys have come up with your schedule of collabs, there’s been stuff with Armin van Buuren, new song with Blasterjaxx, how have you guys been lining that stuff up.
Willem: “The Blasterjaxx one, they just sent to a demo to us and we were like, this is sick, let’s work on this. And the Armin one, we sent a demo to Armin for Ultra, and he was like I already finished my set, but I love this so much.”
Ward: “He was stressing out, because he was like I have no room in my set for this, I have to cut something out. I really feel sorry for the song that couldn’t make it, some guy was really excited, he’s going to play my song.”
Willem: “But, yeah, we’re all friends, and we share a lot of demos, if we feel like this has some Armin vibes we’ll send it to Armin, Blasterjaxx will do it with us.”
Ward: “The one we did with Dimi & Mike there was a tiny setup.”
Willem: “Yeah, Armin and Dimi started, looped us in and then we all worked together on it.”
Ward: “It’s all a very small community.”
Willem: “It’s not like we plan, let’s do a song together, something starts and we just share it around.”
We’re here at EDC Las Vegas, what does it mean to be playing here at the premiere North American dance music festival? How does it feel to be on that main stage?
Willem “Amazing, EDC was always one of the festivals we wanted to play when we started. There’s always a few festivals we want to play every year, this and Tomorrow Land, those festivals we want to play for the experience.
Ward “A festival like this is really hard to find anywhere else in the world, it’s just unique in so many aspects, the location, the production. When you walk around here it feels like you’re in a different world. It makes it very special.
Going back to the music, it’s very cyclical, there’s always trends. What’s the challenge for you guys as artists, how do you satisfy yourselves and the fans?
Willem: “The way we look at trends, when somebody comes up with something new, we’re always very excited, even if it’s not our type of style, it’s the production. So, we look into that artists style and we’ll re-create elements of it, but we’re not going to make that sound, because that guy came up with that sound, it’s his sound. So it’s like okay, we like this element, what if we grab that element and sequence the melody and put that into something we do. And that’s how we come up with new sounds and try to innovate. We don’t want to copy.”
Ward: “Then you’re also at least one step behind, because someone did it before, and you can never make something really original.”
Willem: “We see a lot of guys, like this is hot right now, so I’m going to make that, but that doesn’t work. Use your own identity.”
Ward: “Yeah, have your own style and then implement a lot from others.”
Willem: “Yeah, and some trends it’s like this is cool, but it’s not for us.”
Ward: “We skip on it.”
Willem: “Whatever is new, we always look at everything that comes out and analyze it. From a production point of view and also from a DJ point of view. Would we love to play something like that or no? That’s how we usually look at music.”
Also from a production standpoint, have you ever put out a track and been like, oh no, that wasn’t very good, we could have done better?
Willem: “A lot, a lot of times, half of our discography I don’t want to listen to.”
Ward: “Sometimes we’re very excited about something, and then six months later, you listen back to it and we’re like what were we thinking.”
Willem: “It happens, it’s part of the whole thing.”
Ward: “But, then there’s also stuff we’ve put out in the past that we’ve been uncertain about, and now I listen to it, and it’s like, oh, that was actually nice.”
Willem: “We don’t always look at the success of a track, sometimes we put something out and it does nothing at all, and we’re like, hey, that was actually not that bad.”
Any words or messages for the fans?
Willem: “Thanks for always supporting us, even right now, our kind of sound is not the biggest in the US, but every single time we come here, there’s so many fans coming out.”
Ward: “Yeah, we played a few shows the past few months, and every time it’s always really good shows out here.”
Willem: “We’re super happy to be back, especially at EDC!”
Check out W&W’s latest single with Blasterjaxx “Let the Music Take Control” out now on Rave Culture.
Photo via Rukes.com