At just 17 years old, Dutch DJ-producer Martin Garrix had footprints over every single dance floor in the world. Not physically – he was still a year off buying his first beer – but through his breakout 2013 single Animals, a feverish, pulsating, pop-hooked EDM track that beat Lily Allen’s John Lewis Christmas advert (Somewhere Only We Know) to Number One in the UK and soundtracked the headiest moments of an entire generation of millennials. Play it now, and I can almost smell the sweat beading on the walls of my university nightclubs and dripping off merged bodies; see the exhilarated smiles and eyes saucer-wide. The song may be nearly a decade old but played at any festival this summer and the crowd will inevitably begin to quake.
It’s clear that Garrix, whose collaborations with everyone from Bebe Rexha to Dua Lipa rack up nearly a billion streams a piece, does not make music for small moments. His just-released collaboration We Are the People with rock royalty Bono and The Edge is the official UEFA Euro 2020 anthem, and, when blasted from Wembley Stadium to 22,500 fans come the final in July – the world’s biggest post-lockdown sporting event – it will become an unofficial anthem for freedom. Add to the mix his hugely anticipated debut album from AREA21 – the duo Garrix formed with American record producer Maejor in 2016, their album five years in the making – and Garrix is likely to become a sonic fixture of 2021 altogether.
These are dizzy heights of fame for just 25 years old – Garrix celebrated his birthday last week, marking a decade of music making. His big break came at just 16 while he was living with his parents in Amsterdam, after his remix of Christina Aguilera’s Your Body bagged him a spot on her album Lotus, as well as his first record deal and one of the most formidable managers in the music industry, Scooter Braun. Braun, who now manages Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, was convinced the young Dutch DJ could break America, and so phoned up the front desk of the hotel Garrix was holidaying in by pretending he was from Garrix’s school and that it was an emergency. He got through, and Garrix broke America.
And yet for someone whose music doesn’t so much enter a sound system as threaten to splinter it into a million pieces, and who wields 15 million adoring (mainly female) followers on Instagram, the softly-spoken DJ (who wouldn’t look out of place in a floppy-haired boy band) is remarkably short on arrogance.
When he’s not travelling the world, Garrix still lives in Amsterdam. He takes his family and childhood friends on tour, doesn’t do drugs and rarely drinks. Following the death of his friend and fellow DJ Avicii in 2018, Garrix has said that one of the most frequent questions passed between DJs these days is whether they have had enough rest. And, when recently asked about any bad boy behaviour, the most outrageous thing he could think of was wearing a tracksuit to a nightclub. So here he is, the fresh-faced, electronic wizard behind our summer of fun.
Hi Martin! We’re speaking just as the world is opening back up again and you just turned 25. Congratulations! How did you celebrate?
Thank you! I celebrated with some of my closest friends in Ibiza.
Where have you been spending lockdown?
I spent lockdown in my home in Amsterdam, mainly in my studio.
How did your collaboration with the Euros come about?
The whole process of the track has been three years now. They reached out to me to see if I was interested in producing the track for the tournament. At that time they were also still speaking to other artists so it was very nerve-wracking. But we got the news that they wanted to go with me. I’m very grateful they put their trust in my hands. It’s still very surreal. I got to announce it during my Amsterdam Dance Event show in my hometown which was super special.
How did you meet Bono and The Edge?
For the creation of the song, UEFA gave me carte blanche. The only thing they wanted was a song that had a euphoric feel to match the vibe of the tournament. At some point I had a demo, and the intro guitar sounded a bit like The Edge and Bono. Then when we were discussing who we would like to be a part of the track I honestly didn’t even think about reaching out to them because it just seemed so impossible. But my team was like, ‘If you don’t ask, you’ll always have no for an answer.’ Fast forward, and we ended up sending the demo to their team and just a couple of hours later I was on the phone to Bono, talking about the song. He was singing along to the melody and I had to play it cool while I was freaking out on the inside.
"Bono has such an iconic voice; I had goosebumps during the whole session."
Do you like rock music?
Yes absolutely! I listen to all kinds of music and don’t limit myself to a specific genre.
What is your best memory from making We Are the People with Bono and The Edge?
Just being in the studio with them has been a surreal experience. I flew to Eze to record Bono’s vocals and just being in the studio next to him singing was crazy. He has such an iconic voice; I had goosebumps during the whole session.
You’ve said you’re a huge football fan. What is your most vivid memory from the last World Cup?
What I love the most about these tournaments is that basically the whole country is watching the same thing. Everyone is coming together, watching the games, celebrating. Some of my best memories include just getting together with friends and watching it.
What’s your biggest hope for the tournament?
That The Netherlands are going to win of course!
Your AREA21 album has been of huge excitement for fans this year. What’s one surprising thing about the album you’d like to reveal?
I can’t reveal too much. It’s me and my friend Maejor and the project is basically about two aliens that crash on planet earth. Upon their arrival they don’t understand that there are borders; they don’t understand the division. It allowed us to look at the world and be like ‘what are you guys doing?’, but in a fun and playful way. We have an amazing animation team behind us who help animate the journey of the aliens. The music is very different from the Garrix stuff. I play guitar, I’m singing background vocals and Maejor is rapping, singing, and playing drums. We have a lot of stuff releasing in the coming months so that’s very exciting. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
You haven’t played a live show for over a year. What do you find the most addictive part of live performance that you’ve found yourself craving over lockdown?
Just the adrenaline from being on stage and seeing the fans, I really miss that. I think the first shows back in front of a full crowd are going to be so, so, so crazy. Because everybody’s been saving up their energy and I feel like everybody needs a way of letting go. People go to a festival or to football to be in the moment and to forget whatever’s going on in the back of their head. They want to live in the now, and I feel like in the last year, people didn’t really have the chance to do that. The first shows back and the first games with a crowd are going to be such an explosion of adrenaline, excitement, love, and euphoria. I think it’s going to be really, really beautiful.
What was the hardest thing about lockdown for you?
I would say not being able to play any shows. Next to that, it has been difficult for me to make those high-energy Garrix songs because there are no festivals. It felt weird for me to make that type of music and not be able to test it out at a festival, to get the response and go straight back with the adrenaline and excitement from the show to polish it. But on the other hand, it’s also been exciting because it has allowed me to try out new things.
What was the best thing about being out of the public eye for over a year?
Of course I’ve loved being able to spend so much time with my friends and family. During the first lockdown I had my parents staying with me, so that’s definitely time I cherish.
You became so successful so young. What advice would you give to young rising stars about the pressures of fame?
Really try to stay true to who you are and surround yourself with people you can trust and who have your best interests at heart.
"You have to stay true to who you are and surround yourself with people you can trust..."
There’s been much debate about how the music industry needs to better support artists, following the documentaries about Britney Spears, and the deaths of stars such as Avicii and Lil Peep. What change would you like to see in terms of the welfare of musicians?
Honestly, I’m really grateful for my friends, family and team who have always stood by me and really guided me through everything over the past years. I think it’s definitely important that artists get a better support system.
Your sets are always brilliant – but surely something must have once gone wrong behind the scenes. Can you tell us about your funniest on-stage disaster?
This was a long time ago, but I once played a show and during the show my headphones fell off because I was sweating. The headphones ended up landing on the power button which made everything go silent…
You’ve just become a global ambassador for JBL – what’s a song you recently played on your speakers you’d like to recommend?
Yes, super exciting, since I have been carrying their products with me for years already. I love being able to play music in good quality audio wherever I go. We recently chilled in the middle of the mountains on Ibiza and brought one of the big JBL speakers with us. I recommend you guys to check out our new STMPD RCRDS releases, so many talented artists.
You have collaborated with everyone from Dua Lipa to Bebe Rexha. Who would you like to collaborate with next?
I have a lot of artists I would love to work with – Shawn Mendes, for example.
Amsterdam will be top of many people’s post-lockdown holiday list. What is your insider tip for where to party?
You need to experience the Amsterdam Dance Event at least once in your life – parties everywhere!