"When I achieved my dream of becoming number one DJ in the world ... 24 hours later I was like OK, what's next? What are we going to do?" says Hardwell, reliving the moment he was voted winner of DJ Mag's scene-defining Top 100 DJs poll.
“It’s really weird to work on a dream, and to then fulfil the dream you’ve worked on for 10 years. It’s one of the most beautiful things you can do in life.”
That was in 2013 — and he took the title again a year later.
But last year, Hardwell was knocked off the throne, now sitting in second place, behind duo Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike. Still, the DJ known to his mum as Robbert van de Corput says he is simply not bothered.
“That’s not my focus. At this point, whichever number I am, I’m really happy and grateful that I can travel the world and make music,” says the 28-year-old. “Being number two, nothing’s changed.”
He’s right. Hardwell’s time at the top has run almost concurrently with his never-ending I Am Hardwell tour, an intense, euphoric bubbling sound-and-light show in which the Dutchman is behind the decks for three straight hours at a time. Nearly three years after launching the tour in Amsterdam in April 2013, the EDM juggernaut finally rolls into the UAE on Friday, with a 15,000-capacity outdoor gig at Dubai’s Meydan.
Naturally, things have evolved over those 34 months – this edition showcases “50 to 60” per cent of the DJ’s only studio album, United We Are. The rest, Hardwell promises, is largely spontaneous.
“The tour has been quite a journey,” he says. “Everything has developed a lot – the way I DJ, the way I make my music, the way I approach my audience. It’s really hectic – I really like it, but it’s hard to time every record at the right moment, for three hours.”
Hardwell’s last gig in the UAE was in early 2013 when, on the verge of superstardom, he stopped by for a DJ set at Nasimi. It’s an experience still seared into his memory.
“I love Dubai,” he says. “I remember the first time I came, what really surprised me is that because Dubai is so modern, I didn’t expect the crowd to be so modern when it comes to dance music. They were super-educated, they knew every record I played – and that’s why I decided to come back.”
However, Hardwell says the very best crowds are found away from the glitz and glamour, in countries that are embracing dance music for the first time.
“A lot of countries in South America are really great, and India – I think the poorer countries are really beautiful to play in because the people are not spoilt, they’ve never seen a DJ show,” he says. “I bet if you Google Calvin Harris, he’s playing tonight somewhere in America. If you look at a country such as Guatemala, it’s really hard to see electronic dance. And the moment you go to a country like that, people really appreciate it – you can tell by the energy and how enthusiastic they are.”
The celebrity DJ, whose estimated worth is more than Dh80 million, put his money where his mouth is with a recent show in Mumbai, opening up “the world’s largest guest-list” to host a free concert for an estimated audience of 90,000 fans. He also founded the United We Are Foundation which, he says, has already pledged educational support for 40,000 Indian children, and will be launching more projects across the world.
“It was definitely one of the best shows I’ve ever played in my life,” says the DJ.
“I came up with the idea because the first time I brought my show to India, I was driving to the concert and I saw homeless kids seeking shelter from the rain underneath my billboard. That broke my heart, literally broke my heart. And I said to myself: ‘The next time I’m coming back to India, I want to give something back to this country’.”
It’s always refreshing to see rich celebrities embracing humanitarian causes, but one wonders whether EDM – the global youth music of 2016 – has a special part to play. Hardwell thinks so.
“100 per cent, dance music is one of the most universal languages that exist,” he adds. “Why? Pop music, no matter which artist you are, if it’s a hit song or not it depends on the lyrics. That means the whole world has to speak English, or whatever language it’s in.
“Dance music is, in general, instrumental, it’s just a certain feeling that goes through your body. No matter which culture you’re from, no matter which language you speak, you can relate to the feeling that dance music has and the energy that comes from it.”
• Hardwell is at Meydan, Dubai, on Friday, doors at 6pm. Tickets are from Dh400, visit www.iamhardwelldubai.com