EDM legend Darude on 'Sandstorm', mental health and more

EDM legend Darude on 'Sandstorm', mental health and more

Whether you're a fan of dance music or not, you've probably heard of 'Sandstorm'

Released in October of 1999, the track is etched in EDM's history books. The song, which blew up worldwide, became an overnight phenomenon and has reached cult status today, with its iconic melody being used in memes. With nearly two decades of experience and a legion of young artists that the Finnish DJ has inspired, Darude has unquestionably secured his spots among the greats. 

We got to speak to Darude at It's The Ship this past weekend, where we picked the producer's brains on the current state of EDM, the on-going battle against mental health issues, and 'Sandstorm'. 

Check out the complete interview below. 


Having been in the scene for so long and having been there for the different phases of the industry, what're your thoughts on the current state of EDM? 

Well, obviously there are many sides to it but I have seen the change and growth of dance music in general. EDM as a reference to the whole genre is sort of interesting because sometimes, Electronic Dance Music is the whole umbrella term for this kind of music, but a lot of people talk about the uplifting EDM festival bangers when they talk about the genre, and that's not reflective of the entire genre.

In general, if you're a dance music producer, DJ, writer, record label or even a fan, today is the best time to be involved in the industry in some sort of capacity. If you think of it as a global phenomenon, you've got more audiences than ever. From a production and writing standpoint, you have cheaper, more advanced technology than you've ever had. With the internet, you can reach people now that you never would've imagined reaching twenty years ago. As a listener, you can find music for free, not just EDM but any kind of music really, and I think that's a beautiful thing. But at the same time, there has been this negativeness about how now everybody has access to whatever they want almost instantly and it's not just for the people who are dedicated to those things.

The way things were 15/20 years ago was that you would have 75% of an audience at a club show up for a particular DJ and a particular sound or style of music. Today, you have maybe 25% of the audience who do that, the rest of them are just party crew, they're there just to party. I'm not saying either is wrong, but there is way more mixed crowds these days. Back then, dance music wasn't as accessible so you had to go out of your way to find it, nowadays, dance music is so, I would say mainstream, so much so that it's easy to hear all the hits even if you're at a club just to get wasted, you know what I mean? That has changed the vibe a little bit, but at the same time, more and more people are finding dance music and more of them will later on starting honing in on what they actually like.

Having that chance to discover and dig into what you really like now is so much easier now than it was in the old days because it would take you literally a minute to search something up on YouTube on your phone. I guess to sum this up, I would say the more, the merrier, because it brings every one of us artists a wider range of people who we can reach. 

You’ve undeniably inspired a huge number of today’s producers. How does that feel?

It feels weird, it feels strange but it is at the same time humbling. I don't know how to say this without sounding big-headed but I take that compliment very seriously and I take it deep into my heart because I actually know how that feels. I've been inspired by those that came before me as well. I can't express my gratitude and how humbled I feel when people tell me how they started making music after hearing 'Sandstorm' or some of my other tracks and I have those people that inspired me to make music after hearing their tracks too.

I used to listen to the German band Scooter, Faithless, The KLF and I've met some of those people and I've told them that they had affected my life. I remember being on the dance floor, not being a DJ, not being a performer or anything like that yet and I remember hearing a certain track and my mind was blow, and I had happy tears. If someone gets that from my music, it's truly amazing. 

Let’s talk about the track that blew you up 'Sandstorm'. Did you know you had a hit on your hands while you were working on the song, and how did it feel to see it blow up?

I had no idea it would be that big, it just happened. When I make music, very often it's just a trial and error kind of thing because back then, I had very limited keyboard playing abilities, so I was basically moving notes with my mouse and creating drum patterns and melodic patterns, deleting a lot of it and building it up again. In fact, the lead melody from the song, I made about a year and a half before it ever became 'Sandstorm'.

I had sort of forgotten about the project and I was going through my hard drive one day, not looking for anything in particular and I came across it. I distorted it and it started to sound like the version we all know today. There was almost no goal that I had set when I was making the song, I was just making music. I sent my demo to a couple of the local DJs, I wasn't a DJ back then, I just wanted to be in a club when my song was played, that was the only goal I had. So I gave out the track to a couple of DJ friends and also, a guy who became my producer, JS16 and he was a very well-known and respected DJ and producer at the time.

He called me one day after listening to the demo and said "Hey man, this track sounds great, do you want to maybe get signed to my label and release it?" and I didn't even know he had a label. So we talked and a week later, we had 'Sandstorm' reproduced in his studio, with some new sounds, better arrangements and whatnot. Just like that, I became a releasing artist. I did not plan any of that but that's how it turned out and I am so so grateful for that.

A lot of people think of 'Sandstorm' when they think of Darude, and they only want to hear that song. Over the course of your career, have you gotten sick of the song from constantly playing it at every show?

Not really. I only play it once a set, sometimes I don't even play it at all. In fact, there was this false saying from me, someone took something out of of context but basically what had happened was, I had said in an interview that I had not played the original mix of 'Sandstorm' since 2002 or 2003, which is true.

Recently I've been playing maybe half of the original track, but I've always played a break beat mix that I've had, with all kinds of mash-ups and whatnot. But like you said, it's the song that everyone knows and they want to hear it the way they know it. At the height of its popularity in the early 2000s, it was sometimes played 3 or 4 times a night by other DJs so I thought of it in a way like "How many times can someone hear 'Sandstorm' a night and not get sick of it?"

So that's why I started creating different mixes of it and I would basically try to surprise people because they can hear the original version from other DJs or press play on their iPods or whatever. The track made my career and even now, in 2018, if someone comes to my show because of that track, that's one more ticket sold and that's one more opportunity to show people what I do now. 

In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of musicians give in to their mental health issues, the biggest loss in the dance music community obviously being Avicii. Being a touring musician yourself and having been in the scene for so long, how do you keep yourself rooted and maintain a healthy mindset. Are there specific things you do? 

First of all, my career started sort of late. I was about 20 when I started making music, 24 when 'Sandstorm' was released, 25 when it got big. I've always thought that luckily, I was a little older when it started, so I was already a little bit more mature at my starting point. Also around that time, while I did have a hit or two, the dance music scene wasn't as big as it is now. It wasn't as big financially, it wasn't as big touring-wise. So my beginnings were a little more humble, so to speak. I didn't get put through the ringer like a lot of the DJs today.

I didn't know Tim personally, I met him once or twice but I hugely respect his talent and I'm sad he's gone. It's a horrible thing that we need an example like that for people to start opening up about these kinds of things. Stuff like DJing, production, touring, or even if it's all kinds of artists, it's glorified and it's always thought of as this glamorous lifestyle. There's the booze and drugs and women and all kinds of vices, there's the grueling tour schedule, the constant changing of timezones and doing late performances. If you complain about that, it's often like "What're you complaining about? You're living the dream."

If there's anything positive about these tragedies that are now coming to light, it's that many more DJs who are coming out and talking about these issues. It doesn't take away from the glamour if you're real. I think I've been quite real about things throughout the course of my career and I'm a family man, so how I stay positive and sane, is that I have a wife who puts her foot down if I do something stupid, which I don't.  I'm old and boring, but it's always good to have that anchor that keeps you grounded. I also have a work ethic and if I was fucked up on shit all the time, I couldn't work and that would eventually affect my career.

Also, this is a piece of advice for a lot of the young, big named DJs out there now – it's hard to say no to paying gigs but you could think of a number that you're happy with, and plan your shows according to that. For instance, my wife and I have a deal, such that I don't do back-to-back weekend tours. I don't do longer tours that a week at a time. If you were to look at my tour calendar, I have a tour that spans two months but I still go back home for a couple of days in between to spend time with the family. I have two kids, a nine-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl and I try to be as 9-to-5 as I can in between the touring time. I understand, especially when we talk about the scale of the Avicii's and all the huge names, the hundreds of thousands you get paid to play a gig, it's hard to say no. But at the same time, if you're getting that much for one gig, you can afford to say no to a few. How much money do you really need? What's going to happen to the money after you die and you haven't spent it all? You're already making enough to put your kids through school and save up for your retirement and whatnot.

I think moderation is key. I think it's great that you have a lot more performers coming out, not just in EDM but in all of music, who are talking about depression, addiction, anxiety and all the issues on a public platform because it's something people need to hear because no one posts bad things on social media, it's all about showing the good life, but at the same time, we're all humans, just like you, we all have feelings, we all feel lonely, and tired, and sad, and happy and I think it's important to realize that we are just normal people.