The ClubPlanet Interview:  Don Diablo

The ClubPlanet Interview: Don Diablo

by DJ Ron Slomowicz
01.26.2016

As we start to prep for Miami 2016, let’s take a look back at one of our best interviews for 2015.  The original Dirty Dutch producer/DJ Don Diablo had quite an incredible year.  Dominating dancefloors worldwide, he unleashed massive tracks (Chain Reaction, My Window, Universe, Chemicals, Got the Love) and remixed important records by Rudimental, Blonde, Alex Adair, and Marlon Roudette.  That’s not even mentioning his epic mix of Madonna’s “Ghosttown.”  We spoke to him the day after his Ultra set that got rained out.   Rather than seeming disappointed, he laughed about how this was the second year in a row that this had happened.  As someone who has interviewed Don many times over the year, it is clear that he has worked through a dark place in his life and his happiness is yielding him some of the biggest successes in his career.  Starting with a brilliant update of the Jungle Brothers classic “I’ll House You,”  2016 will be an even better year for Don Diablo.

RS: How are you doing today?
Don Diablo: I am feeling good right now; I had a pretty rough night yesterday.

RS: What happened at Ultra last night?
Don Diablo: Chaos, despair, rain and madness! No, it’s funny because it’s actually the same thing that happened to me last year. The rain started pouring down and the wind started gusting and they closed down the stage and so I didn’t play. It’s pretty sad because history repeated itself.

RS: But you did get to play at least a little bit though right?
Don Diablo: Yeah I got to play a few records but I didn’t get to play the one hour set that I prepared for and was looking forward to. I didn’t get to play all the new ID’s and premier the new records and it was sort of just playing in a dark hole. It was touching to see the people that were there and that always gets to me but it is different when you get to play a show under the ideal circumstances.

RS: How about this, why don’t you make the set that you were going to do for Ultra and post it?
Don Diablo: I was thinking about doing that and just doing the imaginary Ultra Music Festival set 2015 and making it the best set possible and making it even better than I could have done live.

RS: Today you have three sets lined up right?
Don Diablo: I do, it gets a bit crazy out here. It wasn’t planned but I feel like we have to make up for yesterday.

RS: How do you keep your sanity and your health all together with this crazy schedule of yours?
Don Diablo: I eat healthy every day. I eat fruits and vegetables for breakfast and salads for dinner and I only drink water, green tea and fresh juices and I try to get sleep, at least a few hours. I try to take my time and not let the stress get to me as much as I can. It’s never been as busy as it is now but adrenaline is the best medicine you can imagine. I have been sick a lot and actually two days ago I was playing soccer with Tchami and Snake and all of those guys and I broke my toenail. It literally ripped in half and it hurts like hell but the weird thing is that once I walk on stage, the pain just goes away. The same thing goes for when I have the flu or anything like that, it just disappears. The adrenaline and the rush from the music takes away all the pain so I guess the excitement for what I am doing right now is what is keeping me healthy as well.

RS: The opposite of the rain is the sun, when you first landed you did your set on the beach right?
Don Diablo: Yeah it was good.

RS: How did the weather affect what you played?
Don Diablo: It was really hot. It’s like when you play in big rooms, small rooms and festivals you play differently, it’s really awkward to play big room music in a small room. It’s like trying to fit an elephant through a tiny door, it just doesn’t work and there is a reason why it is called big room or small room. In Miami, you are playing a lot of short sets and you have a lot of fans in front of you so I basically just play sets with my own music now and that music is very housey. It is housey with the feel and the drive of main room festival music but the danceabilty of house music. It works perfectly for me and it’s great for big room or small room. For my set at Spinnin Sessions I played an hour of my own productions.

RS: That is incredible. So it was just your own production and your own remixes?
Don Diablo: Yes and that was a first for me. It was my dream to do that and I always wanted to and hoped that maybe one day I could play a set with just my own music and remixes and not wonder what to play. It went down well and there was still music I wanted to play at the end of the set. I think that means you are at a good point when you can play sets with just your own music and you can still rock the crowd.

RS: You make great music and that is one thing that you are known for. It just makes sense that after all of these years and so many great records that you would have a set of your own music. I hear that you have a remix of Madonna coming up, tell us about it.
Don Diablo: I got a phone call from New York and they asked if I wanted to do a remix. I was just #1 on Beatport for two weeks with a remix that I did for Alex Adair for a track called “Make Me Feel Better” which was the first release on my label and before that I did the Ed Sheeran mix which was #2 so I was getting a lot of requests. I was just saying no, no, no to a lot of amazing projects and then the Madonna request came in and I had literally no time. It was just before I had to go to Miami and they asked me and as always I called my mom to ask her what I should do. She said it’s Madonna, you have to do it! I said I have to do it, she is the queen of pop and it’s been on my bucket list for years and as a kid I grew up with her music. I have always been a huge fan and have several of her albums so I took the chance. I told them to send me the parts and let’s get it on. I knew that she already rejected a lot of big name producers who tried to remix that song so I was a bit shaky on that but I did it and I did it within the time that I was asked and handed it in right before I flew out to Miami. They came back to me and apparently Madonna said that it was one of her favorite remixes she’s ever had in her life. It was a big thing for me and I am super stoked and super proud. It’s one of those things that you put in your biography so I am really happy with it.

RS: Another one of your remix is also catching a big buzz; iHeartRadio-Evolution is all over the Marlon Roudette remix that you did a while back.
Don Diablo: I know, it’s amazing with that one because it is a slow grower like the Ed Sheeran remix which took a few months to grow and then MTV made a special video edit to it and they started airing my version and then it kind of grew. It was all very organic and that is the same with the Marlon Roudette one. It’s a slow grower; the original is one of my favorite songs of this year. He has an amazing voice and the hook is so big. It is one of the biggest songs in my sets and that is mainly due to the awesomeness of the original, I just added some sauce to it, baked it up and put some spices on it. I am really stoked about that one and there are some more coming up actually. I just did a remix for a group called Blonde, “All Cried Out” which is their new single, they are amazing and I love that song. I remixed a grime act from the UK called Lethal Bizzle because I wanted to do something dirty and grimy because I am doing all these slightly bigger acts. There is also a new one coming up from an indy rock band called The Wombats called “Give Me A Try.” I just level everything out, I want to do one at the end of my set for that epic feel and I want to do one that is really dirty and one that is big like Madonna to catch the ear of a wider audience and the Blonde one is really housey. It’s a great balance showing all the different angles of my sound and then mixing it up with my new single.

RS: Did you play the Madonna remix at Ultra?
Don Diablo: I did, I premiered it yesterday in the rain. The reaction was hands up in the air and I saw happy faces. It is always scary to play something the first time but I feel good about it and I am excited to play it today, tomorrow and hopefully for the next year.

RS: For lots of time. One thing that was interesting was last year you had a run of songs that all had the word time in it. There was “AnyTime,” “Back in Time” and “Knight Time.”
Don Diablo: And then after that there was “Back to Life” and “Generations” so it was all centered around the theme of time.

RS: So that was intentional? What about time has you thinking about it so much right now?
Don Diablo: Just a lot of stuff that happened in my private life, I never really got a lucky break and had to work really hard for everything and never had time on my side. I lost my father and I had a conversation with him about how precious time is and how little you get of it and how you should appreciate it. Losing him kind of changed my whole system and how I was thinking and just loosened up everything. I decided that I should spend less time stressing and enjoy more time - getting done what I needed to get done and just do the necessary and not butcher myself anymore. I used to work on records for one, two, three or even four months and sometimes a year and some weren’t even released because I wasn’t happy with them. Now I just have fun and I just make the most out of the time that I have and that is why I based it around the theme of time because it is so precious.

RS: I can see your development because there was a dark phase and it seems like you are coming into the light now.
Don Diablo: A lot of people say that and they were very unclear on who I was and my intentions and which direction I was going. Now fans are clinging on and everything is growing insanely like a snow ball rolling down a giant hill. I feel like I have found my niche and it’s a great time for me because the sound that I was doing a few years ago is now called future house. I am just jumping along for an imaginary ride. I started this two years ago and the other guys like Oliver Heldens and Tchami came up together and the sound is now the sound that everyone is trying to do. I feel like I was there at the right time and right moment. Again it’s all about being there at the right time, it all has to kind of click into each other. You can do the greatest music in the world or be the hardest worker but if it doesn’t click then you aren’t getting anywhere and people just think that you are this weird guy wearing weird clothes just walking around being weird.

RS: Well honestly you are the original dirty Dutch guy. Where do you see the sound going next after future house? Some people are saying trance and some are saying deeper progressive but where do you see it going?
Don Diablo: I don’t know I don’t generally call it future house. If you go on Beatport my music is categorized as house and that is how I see it. I see the future is house with real danceable music and not just putting your hands up. It is about getting people to dance but with the production of a main room energetic record that can still get hands in the air and sound big on a good sound system. That is where it’s going and if you want to do all of the d-tune and square based future house stuff that is going to end soon. A lot of people are trying to copy a lot of people right now which is always what happens whether it’s with trance or dubstep or future house now. I think that future is the word, whether it’s future base or future house or maybe even future trance. It’s funny because it’s actually not future, it’s looking back at the past and that is the ironic part of it. We call it future but you might as well just call it past because a lot of it is going back to the origins of the raw and basic foundation of house music and trance music. Real trance is coming back and that is what is happening right now, real house, real trance, what’s next, real gabber music from the ’90?

RS: Let’s hope not.
Don Diablo: We don’t know but it’s exciting because we are going back to the basic foundation and losing all of the stuff around it and that’s what I like about music, it’s getting back to the origins.

RS: Going back if you could talk to yourself at age 18 what advice would you give yourself?
Don Diablo: That is a great question, I would tell myself not to worry too much son. I was always a lone wolf, I never had a team or a pack and I was just running in the woods by myself and never knew where I was going. I was constantly worrying about leaving a legacy and bringing something different with every record and pushed myself to the edge. I was really hard on myself and still am but back then it was really extreme. I didn’t go out and didn’t do the things that I should have done as an 18 year old kid. I was meticulously trying to get ahold of all the information and all the know-how of how to be a decent producer. Don’t be so hard on yourself is probably the best advice that I could have given myself then.

RS: At the end of a gig which hurts more - your ears from the sound or your eyes from all the phone cameras flashing?
Don Diablo: Oh definitely the second. For me it is the worst, sometimes I am confused if I am doing a photo shoot or a DJ set! It’s cool to take a quick picture and cool for the fans to do but it’s not even that, there are always 10 camera guys walking around on the stage and making all these after movies and god knows what is going on. They are constantly up in your face and it’s really frustrating. When I DJ, I go all out and when I see the pictures I am so shocked. I have to do this and that and think about the track list, read the crowd and everything else and also think about doing my Blue Steel, Magnum look. I want to just worry about the music instead of worrying about the horrible pictures floating around. We are putting it in my contract; I don’t want to be Prince or anyone but just take the pictures from the front and from the side and let’s all enjoy the music. It is the era that we live in now, we are so scared to miss anything and everything has to be documented and has to be put together in one picture and that picture has to be perfect. Just come by and have a drink and dance and have fun and if you can’t make it come back next time, forget about pictures and movies it’s all about being there.

RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Don Diablo: To all of the fans out there right now, I love you guys so much. I owe you everything, I can’t thank you enough. You are the reason why I work seven days a week and 18 hours a day to be precise. This is a journey and I am happy to be on it with you guys. I try to be as open and as transparent as I can with the music and with the way I feel about things. We are trying to make videos and photos to share everything that is going on with you guys right now. It is amazing to be on this ride together with you. There is so much more coming up, music, videos, art, the label, radio show and this is only the beginning. Thank you so much!



Interview conducted during WMC 2015.

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