Afrojack is putting in the work to prepare for his biggest performance of the year on Saturday.
After the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of 18 months of his headlining shows at European and US dance music festivals and residencies, the Dutchman – real name Nick van de Wall – has been making a steady comeback before he takes the decks at Soundstorm, formerly known as MDLBeast, the mammoth four-day EDM spectacular in Riyadh beginning on Thursday.
These included a run of well-received club dates in North America, followed by a private UAE show last weekend at the Global Citizen Forum in Ras Al Khaimah.
So how does it feel to be back on the road after the enforced absence?
“I was scared as hell at the beginning,” he tells The National. “My first shows were in the US and it was after a year a half and you do ask yourself things like ‘Do the people still love my music?’
“I remember hopping online and seeing how people were responding to techno in these small parties so I started to over-prepare things and by the time I went on stage, I played a techno song first, followed by a house track and then my own material and they responded to that the most. So after that, I just went back to my own set and it went well.”
A star boost
The temporary dip in confidence aside, Afrojack echoes many peers in describing the unintended career benefits of the pandemic.
“It did give me the break I never knew I needed,” he says.
“For the past 12 years, my life has been a non-stop roller coaster and I never really thought about what am I going to do after. I am 34 years [old] now and it made me think where I am going to be when I am 44.”
That newfound reflection resulted in Afrojack taking a keener focus in his label, Wall Recordings, and forging stronger ties with MDLBeast, the Saudi music company behind Soundstorm and fledgling in-house dance music label MDLBeast Records.
Both interests were combined on To the Floor, the lead single from MDLBeast Records’ first official release, the compilation album Soundstorm, Volume 1.
A vibrant house music remake of the 2010 hip-hop hit No Hands by rappers Waka Flocka Flame and Roscoe Dash, the track is a collaboration with Black V Neck, a Miami duo signed to Afrojack’s label.
“They only came on to my radar because they were recommended by the team at MDLBeast,” he says of Black V Neck.
“You can tell that the team over there in Saudi is so passionate about what they are doing. They have the enthusiasm and the heart and I wanted to give them a shot to get the label off the crowd.”
The relationship stems from Afrojack’s keen interest in the growing Saudi dance music scene, which he witnessed first-hand with a pair of 2019 shows in Jeddah and the inaugural Soundstorm festival.
It’s all about the fans
As someone who also spearheaded EDM’s entry into China five years ago, Afrojack is familiar with the kind of excitement and hunger EDM lovers have in an emerging market.
So his advice for fellow superstar DJs making their debut in the kingdom as part of Soundstorm, which includes British techno pioneer Carl Cox and Dutch trance music star Armin Van Buuren, is to take it easy and create a memorable, feel-good set.
“It will be amazing but you do have to guide the crowd a little bit because they are not used to being able to just walk out of the door and party. So you really have to adjust your set-list to give everyone a first-time experience,” he says.
“There is no need for complicated remixes. As a DJ, you have to realise that many fans are getting to see you for the first time in their home country, so you really want to play the classics and the hits.”
Afrojack performs at Soundstorm on December 18. The festival runs from Thursday to Sunday, December 16 to 19 in a purpose-built location in Banban, Riyadh. Tickets are from Saudi riyals 399 ($106), which includes a shuttle bus from various locations in Riyadh, and go up to Saudi riyals 8,999. Doors open from 3pm. More information is available at mdlbeast.com
Scroll through the gallery below for pictures from MDLBeast in 2019: