"Why I do it? That is an easy question," Hardwell told me with a wide grin. As I sat down with one of the world's most recognizable DJs, it was clear to me that Hardwell was just a really nice guy on top of being one of the most insanely talented and driven people I have ever encountered. His smile was infectious and it only grew as the conversation went on.
"I have such a big heart for music. Music is my life," Hardwell said with an incredible amount of passion. He continued, "I breathe music. If it's a documentary or a radio show or running my label or working with new talents, which is so inspiring, or playing my DJ sets or producing music. I know I have like four or five full-time jobs but I love it so much. It comes really naturally. I never had the feeling in my life that I am working. The only work for me is traveling. It's the hardest part of being a DJ. Dealing with the jet lag and different timezones. That's the hardest part of my job but besides that I love what I'm doing so much." Hardwell's love for entertaining people was quite clear as he owned the Electric Zoo on September 4th at Randall's Island. Despite being the final act to take the stage, he was very humble when talking about his massive amount of success he has achieved in recent years.
"I'm really happy to be back at E-Zoo and of course New York City. It has been a while since I've played New York. Well I'm one of the headliners...in respect to The Chainsmokers who are from New York. They are the number one act in America right now it's going to be tough for me tonight," Hardwell said with a gigantic laugh. He continued, "I'm really happy that I can close the festival. I'm really excited man. I really love E-Zoo. We have a great history together. I remember if I'm not mistaken back in 2010 I was playing the small stage and six years later we are back on the main stage." The tides have turned for Hardwell as he is now the king of the world. He reflected on how his dream became a reality. In disbelief, he told me, "Back in 2010 after I finished my set...I would walk in the crowd and check out the main stage acts. I said, 'One day I'm going to play the main stage as well.' Nobody recognized me. Could you imagine if I walked through the crowd right now? So many things have changed in the last few years." Hardwell's hustle also landed him in front of a sold out crowd at the world's most famous arena back in 2014.
Hardwell rocked Madison Square Garden on November 15th, 2014. He put on a show that few artists could give. The arena felt a raw energy that was completely different at the time. The vibe was so unique that MSG gave him a silver award in honor of his incredible achievement for packing the venue with a sea of people that filled up every seat in the house. There might as well have been people hanging from the rafters. "That's definitely one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. I say that not even as a DJ but as an artist in general. Performing in the most iconic venue in the world and selling it out. It's super surreal. Still to this day," Hardwell told me in utter awe. He continued, "When I was sitting in the dressing room and I saw pictures of Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, Alicia Keys and Coldplay--they all performed in MSG and a guy from a small city like Breda selling out the same venue? That's just crazy." It is no surprise why people love Hardwell. He cannot help but keep it real everywhere he goes. His friendly nature helped him form a bond with English singer-songwriter Craig David.
When explaining why he wanted to work with David, Hardwell said firmly, "If I work on a collaboration...I don't care if it's a major celebrity artist or an unknown singer-songwriter--I always need that connection. I'm a huge Craig David fan from back in the day. I played his albums so many times. We met exactly one year ago in Ibiza through one of my soccer friends, Wesley Sneijder from the Dutch national team. He introduced me to Craig David. We had an instant connection. I told him 'Yo, I'm such a huge fan.' He went, 'What do you mean? I'm a fucking huge Hardwell fan. Let's do something together.' It came out really natural. We were recording different vocals, he sent me 'No Holding Back' and I just made the music around it. It was fun for me to do something different. I'm really happy with the track." "No Holding Back" has been a huge success for both men as party-goers have been demanding that the track be played every weekend. Hardwell has some of the most loyal fans in the entertainment business.
Hardwell was voted the number one DJ in the world by DJ Mag in 2013 and 2014. When describing his special connection with the fans, Hardwell told me "When I think about it, I've always been really loyal to my fans. I never expected to become the number one DJ in the world. Never. It was a dream. I was never working on becoming the number one DJ in the world. It all came pretty naturally. When I jumped to number 6 in DJ Mag a couple of years ago, I was the only DJ in the top 10 with 400,000 Facebook likes. The guys around me like Skrillex had 20 million, David Guetta had 50 million, Tiësto 20 million. I had 400,000. So If I was number six with 400,000 likes do you see how loyal my fans are? They voted for me. I always try to give back to my fans. Through the podcast or with free music. We always try to do innovative things to keep the fans close to who I am and what I do. It all came really organically. Actually knock on wood--it sounds weird but I'm happy I never had a major crossover radio hit. Why? Because if I cross over to the radio, I reach a lot of new fans. My social media will probably explode even more. But for now I only have the diehard EDM fans who love Hardwell for what I do. And that's my label and my music. I don't want to say that I'm cool, but I never had a hit record. So I think it's cool if you love EDM to follow Hardwell." Hardwell has no issue being an underground EDM icon. He continues to put out amazing tracks for people who genuinely love music.
"I always focus on the dance floor and never on the radio. Working with Craig David was the first opportunity to do a crossover hit but I just focus on the dance floor and the DJ sets. Everybody knows how much time I spend working on my sets for Ultra, Electric Zoo and all the big festivals. That's what I love to do man. I just love to be on stage and perform and I love that energy." Hardwell's energy cannot be explained. His zest for his craft was undeniable. Hardwell went on to tell me why he wanted to become a DJ. "I wanted to be a DJ because of guys like Tiësto and Armin van Buuren. They are both the number one Dutch guys worldwide," he said. He then stated, "To follow in their footsteps is unbelievable. There is a reason why the second the documentary is called Living the Dream. I am living the dream. Closing the festivals. It's so surreal." Hardwell cherished every memory he has been able to create. When reflecting on some of his most memorable moments in his career, he told me, "Oh man. I was always the guy that came to the festivals as soon as they opened and was the last one to go home when the festivals were over. The first thing that popped in my mind is Ultra. My 2013 set was my breakthrough moment. On the other hand...Being with Diplo at EDC Vegas. Let me tell you, we stole a golf cart and got kicked out of the festival. I have a lot of great stories from festivals. I just love being surrounded by all the other DJs, my colleagues and friends. I just have fun, have a couple of drinks and party." Knowing Hardwell, there are a lot of amazing parties he can look forward to headlining in the future.
Before he took the E-Zoo stage to send the crowd home happy, Hardwell told me that the future is looking very bright. He said with a warm glow, "I've been working on a lot of new music. I stopped working on it in June because my summer schedule started. I can't wait to get back to the studio. I have so much new inspiration right now after the whole summer. I have no clue which record I'm going to finish. I have more time in the studio. Maybe a second album. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to do a second album or release an EP. Let's see! No joke, I have 20 tracks laying around right now. In the future you can expect a lot of new music."