HARDWELL, Tiesto's Heir


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In his childhood bedroom, a dream became an obsession: Robbert van de Corput wanted to become the best DJ in the world. He has succeeded. Today, people from Las Vegas to Ibiza know him only as Hardwell. We visited the number one before a set at Ushuaïa.

  • Author: Knut T. Jordaan
  • Photos: Hardwell/ DJ Marketing and Communication Ltd.
  • Video: DJ Marketing and Communication Ltd.

Many boys dream of becoming astronauts, soccer stars or musicians – and then, long after having become men, end up in an office instead. Dreams change. Maybe parents steer them in a different direction, maybe the fear of failure kicks in, or love. Often, the talent simply isn’t there.

Robbert van de Corput has talent. And tenacity. He has remained loyal to his dream since childhood. He worked day and night to attain it, as if obsessed. He broke down in exhaustion only to stand up again and keep going. Ultimately, he met his goal, that of being the "best DJ in the world.” For the second straight year, van de Corput stands above all others, number one of DJ Mag's list of the best 100, voted to the top by fans. Robbert van de who? Around the world, people only know him by his other name: Hardwell.

Every few days, a new time zone

“Hello, I’m Robbert,” is how he introduces himself after all. Van de Corput steps into the small, red-lined studio in Ushuaïa, shakes hands and smiles. He has the pink face of a boy, even at 27 years of age. His outfit is simple: black shirt, black pants, black sneakers. He doesn’t have a big entourage with him either, with only his tour manager following him into the interview. He is not the kind to show off, that much is already clear. In two hours, he'll be deejaying his first of 12 appearances at Ushuaïa this summer. Nervous? No, not at all. "It will be great here, I'm extremely excited for it to start." He's only a bit tired, he says, because he just flew almost 10,000 kilometers from the Mega-Festival EDC in Las Vegas directly to Ibiza. Hardwell sits down on a slightly worn brown leather sofa, leans forward and types into his smartphone. He does look quite tired. But he's used to it. Every few days, a new time zone. Now, it’s Ibiza.

Ushuaïa is located directly on the Playa d’en Bossa, and, 5 years after opening its doors, has become famous for having the best open-air parties around. Hardwell's new show is called Carnival, and will fill the open-air club with beats for 12 Tuesdays. "Every carnival around the world is about the fun and forgetting about the normal life. That's why we chose this concept," he says. Entry costs €50, a concert price for a party. But even now, the line to get into the club is getting longer and longer. Tanned young women in see-through dresses, bull-necked musclemen with colorful sunglasses. Brits, Germans, Spaniards, people from France and the Netherlands. They’ve all come for him.

Hardwell stares out from banners hanging on the outer walls of the club and from posters plastered across the entire island. People are wearing T-shirts with his name on it – he is touring around the world with his album, "United We Are," and playing as a headliner on the biggest stages of the biggest electronic-music festivals. He has arrived at the top.

On the turntables at age 10

The road to this point started 17 years ago, in his childhood bedroom in Breda, in the province of Noord Brabant in the Netherlands. A report about the Dutch electronic scene and its stars is playing on MTV: Armin van Buuren, Ferry Corsten and Tiesto, who also comes from Breda. Tiesto becomes Hardwell's role model, and later his supporter and friend. The idea of playing music that you yourself like while thousands of others listen transfixes young Robbert and never lets go. He wants to do that too. At the age of ten, he gets his own turntables and spends his allowance on records — in the record store that Tiesto opens in Breda. He locks himself in his room, practices smooth transitions and the right mixes. He’s already been playing piano since the age of four, so he now begins to produce his own tracks. He plays at friends’ birthday parties, wins turntable competitions and begins mixing at the bigger clubs in the Netherlands. Always with him: His parents. “I wasn’t allowed to go into the clubs by myself until I was 18. For four years, my parents drove me to every appearance, and accompanied me into the club. My parents supported me incredibly," says Hardwell. What he doesn’t say is that, even today they still wait for him backstage. While others go crazy behind the scenes, he has his friends and family along.

But this dream of becoming number one, isn’t that the kind of story that you invent afterwards, because it is easily marketable? Not in this case. There is this segment from Dutch breakfast television, in which the 16-year-old Hardwell sits. His dark blonde hair is gelled upwards, his facial features more youthful than they are now, a hoodie under his jacket. He talks about his first record contract and his first productions. He says that DJs can do more than play records. Nobody in the crowd knows him or has heard a song of his. And then, the host asks him what his dream is for the future. "I want to become number one in the world," he says, like a shot out of a cannon. The other talk show guests begin to laugh. But Hardwell isn’t rattled. He says: “In ten years, I want to fill stadiums, just like Tiesto does it today."

Constant activity means constant pressure

Few people share his kind of focus. "I simply fell in love with dance music. I always kept at it. I always wanted to improve as a DJ and a producer,” he says. “The feeling of standing on the stage and educating the audience with new sounds, showing them music that you like yourself – that was and is a dream for me. I’ve never thought about anything else.” Just five years later, a mash-up of his goes around the world: He superimposes "Show Me Love," by Robin S over the instrumental “Be” by Steve Angello and Laidback Luke, and DJs from Miami to Seoul snap it up. And Hardwell’s life accelerates, throws him into the charts and around the world. He ends up in DJ Mag's top 100 chart for the first time in 2011, at position 24. It won't do, so he continues. Weekly podcasts, own label, productions, bootlegs – constant activity that turns into constant pressure.

„I learned from my breakdown“

Everything for the big goal. To be number one. Free time? Not a chance. Vitamin tablets instead of real food. Fish oil in capsules to maintain Omega-3 levels. But it’s not enough to stay healthy. Stress. Exhaustion. Collapse. At 5 a.m. one morning, Hardwell shows up at his parents’ door. “I have to get on a plane, but I can’t keep going.” Burned out in his early twenties. His mother sends him to bed, his manager cancels appearances. He sleeps two days solid, the doctor prescribes rest, but after a short period he can’t stand sitting around anymore. Back to the studio. To become number one. In 2013, it happens. Not even ten years after his appearance on breakfast TV, fans select him as the best DJ in the world. For a while now, he's been filling concert halls, garnered countless prizes – and recording songs with Tiesto. The role model and his heir. If you can dream, you can do it. That’s Hardwell’s motto. To give it all for your dream, sometimes a bit more.

“I learned from my breakdown,” Hardwell insists. “Producing music is what I enjoy the most. I now spend more time with that, and less time on tour. That way I get more rest.”

What he calls rest, however, others would still consider stress. Ibiza. Planning a world tour for 2016. And lots of new music. "At the moment, I just want to produce tracks that I want to play myself – and that's very different stuff. Fit for radio, and fit for the club. I don’t have any deadlines and can work however I want.”

He can’t reveal much. The song “Survivors” is soon coming out with Dannic, and there’s a collaboration with Afrojack. And his favorite for the Ibiza summer hit? Not one of his own. “Axwell and Ingresso with 'Sun is Shining’ is definitely my summer jam this year. It’s the best song that they’ve ever done.”

A quick schnapps, and then out on stage

There is just a half hour left before his appearance. In the dark-tiled backstage room, there are pompous sofas with striped upholstery and black lounge chairs. Hardwell sips a beer. He shows no signs of nerves whatsoever. His mother sits with a glass of bubbly in her hand, his father stands next to her in flip-flops with a couple of friends. Speakers quietly play the music from the stage. W&W are still on, themselves in the top 20 on the best DJs list. A last trip to the restroom and a round of Spanish herbal liqueur. “How do you say ‘cheers’ in Spanish,” Hardwell asks, plastic cup in hand. “Salud!” And then, accompanied by security guards, he heads out. Behind the stage. Mobile phone screens blink in the darkness as fans call his name. An animated film is playing on the stage’s huge screen, a trip from space to Earth and into a circus tent. Behind the first red curtain, and then behind the second. And suddenly, without any great special effect, Hardwell takes the stage. “What’s up Ushuaïa, make some noise!” And Ibiza makes noise. Hardwell pumps “Eclipse” from his album “United We Are” out to the audience. Flashes of light criss-cross the crowd and the party explodes. The stage shoots fire, fog and lasers. With his hands at the mixing console and in the air, Hardwell sets the beat, takes the occasional sip of beer and grins with the joy of a child. For two hours, the fans worship their hero. They don’t dance, rather they hop, with hands in the air — and push forward to the gate surrounding the stage. DJs are the new rock stars.

After exactly two hours, silence falls. Hardwell sits behind the console. “What a sound.” His manager joins him, as does his father, extending his hand for a high five. “It was unbelievable. We’re so proud,” says his mother.

He is still her boy. And he is living his dream.