Born on December 16, 1971, in Eisenhuettenstadt, Germany. Addresses: Addresses:Home--P.O. Box 460 429, 12214 Berlin, Germany.; Record company--Mute Records (U.S.), 429 Harrow Road, London W10 4RE, England, website: http://www.mute.com; Deviant Records (International), website: http://www.deviant.co.uk; Vandit Records (Germany), website: http://www.vandit.com. Website--Paul Van Dyk Official Website: http://www.paulvandyk.de.
From an unlikely start as a music-starved teenager in the former German Democratic Republic, Paul Van Dyk has become one of the world's best-known deejays. He has also worked as a producer, composer, and recording artist, with his music taking electronic dance music to new heights of popularity in Germany, Britain, and finally, the United States. Notable for his abstention from drug-taking on the Ecstasy-enhanced rave scene, Van Dyk has remained a down-to-earth personality despite his international fame. As he reminisced to DJ Mag in June of 2000, "When I started, DJs weren't in the media, electronic music wasn't in the sales charts and a DJ was the freak in the corner who provided the music while other people had fun. So to do it, you must have been a freak and a music lover. And I still am: this is still the engine that drives me."
Born on December 16, 1971, in Eisenhuettenstadt, a small town in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Van Dyk grew up in a single-parent household behind the Iron Curtain. His father left when he was four years old, and his mother moved to East Berlin, where Van Dyk grew up. Although life in the Communist dictatorship of East Germany was not as economically deprived as in the other countries of the Soviet Bloc, residents of East Berlin were well aware that life was quite different in the West. For Van Dyk, this awareness came from the radio and television broadcasts that he and his friends could surreptitiously monitor, even though the penalties for such behavior could be harsh. "We were able to see Westside TV and listen to western radio stations. We recorded the music and replayed it at our parties, because in the East we didn't have something like a club culture," Van Dyk recounted on his website. "I was really captivated by the music of the Smiths and New Order. It was very strong and emotional."
To make matters worse for the teenager, Van Dyk and his mother had submitted applications to leave East Germany, a process that took years to complete. "I used to get beat up a lot because we weren't members of the Communist Party," Van Dyk told Rolling Stone years later. "The police were constantly watching us." Finally, in November of 1989, the Van Dyks were granted permission to leave for West Germany. Although Van Dyk had been training to be a carpenter, he gladly abandoned his studies to make the move; he and his mother departed with just two suitcases and their dog. In one of the ironies of history, on November 9, 1989--just a week after the Van Dyks finally reached the West--the Berlin Wall came down. The freedom that the Van Dyks had fought to claim was now available to everyone, as there were no longer any travel restrictions between what had been East and West Germany.
Although Van Dyk had a superficial familiarity with western music and culture, life in the former West Berlin still had its challenges. The adjustment to the abundance of consumer items in the West was but one of many such changes. "Imagine that having a Mars bar is a once-a-year experience for you," Van Dyk told DJ Mag, "and going for the first time into a supermarket in West Berlin, and being speechless because fifty Mars bars are just laying around on the shelf, and nobody is fighting over them--and trying to realize that this is normal." Facing the struggle along with his mother, who had left everything behind in the East, Van Dyk quickly found his footing in Berlin's dance club scene, where techno music--especially hard-driving, industrial-oriented Detroit techno--was all the rage. From making his own dance mix tapes for himself and his friends, Van Dyk went to deejaying at Berlin's leading dance club, Tresor, just over a year after making it to the West.
Van Dyk quickly developed a reputation as a masterful deejay, able to create and sustain a soaring emotional mood on the dance floor. As he told Sean Flinn of the Choler Magazine website, "The most important part is the interaction between the DJ and the crowd. The crowd and the reaction of the crowd and the way the crowd just goes for it is at least as important as the quality of the records that the DJ plays." In addition to his deejay work, Van Dyk also began to produce his own mixes of songs in 1992 under contract with independent German label MFS. Although his relationship with the label would later degenerate into lawsuits over control of his work, Van Dyk continued to create remixes for MFS that made him a well-known deejay and producer. In 1994 Van Dyk released his first album in Germany, 45 R.P.M., which came out in England and America four years later.
Although 45 R.P.M. earned Van Dyk offers to deejay at trendy clubs across Europe, it was his second album, Seven Ways, that broke through to mainstream audiences. The 1996 release contained a number of tracks that became hits on dance music charts across Europe, including "Beautiful Place," "Forbidden Fruit," and "Words." The Toronto Star later described his music by invoking its "shimmery melodies, cosmic flourishes, an almost subliminal upward rush, the orgasmic peaks and blissful payoffs an ecstatic dance floor demands." Van Dyk agreed that the emotional content of his music made it distinct from the often sterile sounds of trance music by other artists that dominated dance floors. "In the studio, you can express yourself directly to tape. You can put your feelings and energy into a track. But then it's important to play it in a club to see how people react," he told Billboard.Elsewhere, Van Dyk expressed criticism of trance music. "I don't like labels, there's just good and bad records," he said in a DJ Mag interview. "Some of them I can't stand and, funnily enough, most of them last year got labeled trance. So obviously, I don't want to be the leader of the trance nation when all the records that I actually hate get labeled as trance music."
In the midst of ending his relationship with MFS over issues of artistic control, a new contract with Mute Records resulted in Van Dyk's first two albums being released in the United States in 1998; he followed them with a third album, Out There and Back, in 2000. By now, Van Dyk was an international, multimedia sensation, known for hosting giant rave-style concerts across Europe and Asia--including Berlin's Love Parade, an annual summertime, citywide music and dance event with more than one million people in attendance--as well as deejaying in New York City's hippest dance clubs. Van Dyk also hosted a show on German state-owned radio in addition to managing his own record label, Vandit Records.
Van Dyk kept his composure despite all of the tensions the acclaim on the dance club scene had brought on. Famous for drinking nothing stronger than a Red Bull energy drink with vodka and deejaying for seven hours at a stretch, he remained focused on the power of music to transform clubgoers. "I always try to bring something across in my sets," Van Dyk told Billboard. "And it's not just about playing the hits. That's too easy. I try to create atmosphere. In the process, I hope to educate, too." Married and living in Berlin, Van Dyk also retained his perspective from growing up behind the Iron Curtain. "It was a dictatorship so you didn't have the freedom to do what you wanted to do, or say, or sing," Van Dyk remembered to DJ Mag, adding, "I really appreciate a lot of small things much more in life, and I don't take things so easily for granted. I appreciate things more because I didn't have them once."
by Timothy Borden
Paul Van Dyk's Career
Worked as deejay and producer, 1990s; released first album, 45 R.P.M., 1994; released second album, Seven Ways, 1996; issued third album, Out There and Back, 2000.
- Selected discography
- 45 R.P.M. , Deviant, 1994.
- Seven Ways , Deviant, 1996.
- Out There and Back , Mute, 2000.
- Billboard, October 24, 1998, p. 42.
- DJ Mag, June 2000.
- Rolling Stone, September 14, 2000, p. 98.
- Toronto Star, February 9, 2001.
- "Another Triumph," Choler Magazine, http://www.choler.com/articles/paulvandyk.shtml (December 11, 2001).
- "Biography," Paul Van Dyk, http://www.paulvandyk.de/lowres/info.asp?page=4&sub=2 (December 11, 2001).
- "DJ Profiles--Paul Van Dyk," BBC Radio 1, http://www.bb.co.uk/radio1/dance/djprofile_paulvandyk.shtml (December 11, 2001).