Two money DJs: Tiësto and Calvin Harris continue their wild ride on the EDM gravy train

What does it sound like when the two highest paid DJs in the world go on tour? It’s the sound of cash registers being hooked up to the biggest sound systems imaginable


Behold, it’s the titans. For Irish followers of the superstar DJ game, this is the big one on the seasonal calendar – unless Santa and his reindeers decide to go raving.

It’s worth noting at the outset that tickets for the upcoming brace of Irish shows from Tiësto and Calvin Harris sold out faster than you could say electronicdancemusic. This is as big as dance-music box office gets.

Indeed, they’ve flogged more tickets for these shows than were sold for the repivoted Oxegen over the summer. That’s when you had Harris, David Guetta and dozens more on the same bill and it didn’t perform nearly half as well as the promoters thought or hoped it would. Maybe fans are after quality rather than quantity.

So, any way you look at it, this is the last word in big-room dance music in 2013. Let’s compare the prizefighters before we talk tactics.

In the red corner: Tijs Michiel Verwest, aka Tiësto. The 44-year-old veteran Dutch master has accumulated a rep-and-a-half over two decades of releasing tunes and packing clubs.

Know your Tiësto: He was the first DJ to play live at the Olympics. He was not, however, the first DJ to compete in the heptathlon.

In the blue corner: Adam Richard Wiles, aka Calvin Harris. He’s the fired-up-ready-to-go 29-year-old Scottish tearaway with a stunning gallery of hits to his name already, especially the one with Rihanna singing about finding love in a hopeless place accompanied by a video shot, irony fans, in Belfast and Bangor.

Know your Calvin: Forbes magazine, The Ticket for multi-millionaires, reckoned he was the best paid DJ in 2013 with $46 million to his name from gigs, albums, endorsements and what-have-you. Minted. His days of stacking shelves at a Safeway supermarket are over.

This, then, is where the sharp end of the dance music market is at as 2013 comes to a close. Thanks to the Yanks and their loadsamoney ways and means, turning Las Vegas from Sin City into Spin City in the process, the DJ trade has received a big boost and the individual DJs are accumulating more air miles than they have time off to use.

The fact that Harris and Tiësto are getting written up in Forbes (Tiësto was number two in the rankings of top earners) is down to the United States’ newfound fondness for dance music. While there were stirrings of an American rave scene in the past (Doug Liman’s 1999 film Go, starring Katie Holmes, caught some of the mood of those times), it was not on the scale we’re seeing today.

Back then, the American dance scene was a vibrant, wholly underground phenomenon with little or no mainstream engagement.

Back then, you didn’t have massive, highly commercial and usually sold-out events such as Electric Daisy Carnival or Ultra because you just didn’t have the audiences to support them. Back then, DJs headed to Ibiza not Las Vegas. The Balearic island was the centre of the clubbing world and it’s where the cult of the DJ was probably born back in the late 1980s. For many summers afterwards, it was where the DJs went to make their names, earn small fortunes and top up their tans by the pools in chi-chi fincas between gigs.

But all of this has changed. The DJs are more interested in the States than the Balearics. Aside from the huge festivals such as Ultra and Electric Daisy Chain, they head to Las Vegas, which is now full of superclubs such as Marquee and Hakkasan and superstar DJs such as Harris and Tiësto filling their boots with gusto. As Piti Urgell, the owner of Ibiza’s Pacha put it earlier in the year, “the DJs wanted more money to play less” – which is why they’re heading west.

And who can blame them? Up to 345,000 people attended this year’s Electric Daisy Carnival three-day festival in Las Vegas, for example. The mainstream are now hearing the dance acts and sounds on their radios and TVs. US pop has changed as influences from house, trance and techno have taken root. Suddenly, you’re hearing rappers and r’n’b singers with a trance whoosh under their vocals. When fans want to see and experience more, they’re heading to the club nights and dance music festivals. And a lot of people are hearing the “ker-ching!” sound along with that inevitable trance breakdown.

All of this, then, is good news for the likes of Harris and Tiësto and their mates David Guetta, Avicii, Armin Van Buuren, Skrillex, Afrojack and the former members of Swedish House Mafia. This is their heyday, their big pay-day. They’ll bang out the tunes and they’ll take the big cheques for as long as the big cheques keep coming.

So for all the drawbacks – constant travel, nagging headaches, backache, more money than you can count and the DJs Complaining Twitter account to poke fun at your latest fuming about the crying baby beside you in business class – it’s a good life. The DJs anyway aren’t really able to do anything else at this stage except play records (or USB keys, which doesn’t have the same iconic ring to it as the wheels of steel).

The biggest problem in all of this, though, is the music. The arrival of the EDM gravy train has meant that the music, by and large, has to fit certain stylistic silos. There’s little room for subtlety or nuance in this big-room boogaloo.

While there are plenty of really interesting and fascinating producers working their way into the frame or around the edges, from Disclosure to Paul Woolford to Tensnake, the main boyos stick with the lowest common dominator symphony. This is the one which goes thump-thump-thump-thump-
thud-thud-thud- atmospheric pause-mini surge-more atmos-some strings-
orgasmic wails-mega surge-thump- thump-thump-thump-thud-thud-
thud-thud. The crowds, naturally, go ape-shit crazy, chicken oriental and doobloodylally. It’s the sound of cash registers hooked up to the biggest sound systems imaginable. It’s nothing short of horrific.

And you can only blame the DJs for that because the likelihood is that they’re playing a ton of their own stuff when they step into the DJ booth. When they’re in the studio, both Tiësto and Harris seem prone to bouts of epic laziness. For all his wedge and popularity, Tiësto hasn’t produced a decent tune in decades and shows no inclination of changing that state of affairs.

While Harris’ last album 18 Months
certainly had its moments – chiefly the times when there was a superstar singer such as Rihanna, Florence Welch, Ellie Goulding or Kelis on the track – the bulk of it was as homogenous, stodgy, bland and unpalatable as mass-produced Christmas pudding. It sounded tired and trite, a burst balloon of a pop record.

There’s no doubt that these DJs as producers do have their moments. Certainly, Harris knows the right buttons to push and the right hooks to cast when it comes to shining up a tune which will become as familiar as your right hand. But in the larger scale of things, the song sounds remarkably the same again and again and again and no one shows any inclination to change this state of affairs.

Not the DJs seem to mind too much. The brace of Irish shows is a Christmas bonus for the two lads, another opportunity to top-up the pension fund and keep the bank balance firmly in the black. The 30,000 or so who’ll see them in action in Dublin and Belfast don’t want adventurous playlists or experimental sounds or anything out of the ordinary. They want music to scream and shout to – and there’s nothing in the least wrong with that.

Both surely know that these good times won’t last forever so, of course, they’re making hay while the sun shines. When the time inevitably comes and the tide invariably changes and something else or someone else grabs the attention of dance music fans, they want to be sorted. Of course, Harris and Tiësto could and should probably do better. Of course, they’re both capable of doing so. But the lure of easy money is always hard to resist. All together now one more time: thump-thump-thump-thump- thud-thud-thud-thud….