EXCLUSIVE: Interview with DJ and producer Darude

Ville Virtanen, best known as Darude, is a Finnish DJ, artist, and producer who’s been making music for over 20 years. Although you’ve probably heard the name Darude at least once in your life, we guarantee that you’ll be familiar with his monster global hit ‘Sandstorm’, which is just as captivating today as it was when it was released in 1999.

Whilst Darude has become synonymous with ‘Sandstorm’, he is definitely not a one hit wonder. Over the years, he has released a string of successful singles including ‘Feel The Beat’, ‘In The Darkness’, and ‘Beautiful Alien’, in addition to four incredible albums. In between releasing music, he has heavily toured the world, headlining his own shows and appearing at countless prestigious festivals. Darude is a key player in the industry and is recognised by many as one of the most influential artists to emerge from the dance scene in the past decade.

Darude’s most recent release is ‘Singularity’ through Bourne Recordings. The track sees him team up with Zac Waters and Enya Angel, both of whom have added their unique spin onto the track. The result? Another incredibly infectious offering from the iconic DJ!

We recently had the opportunity to ask Darude about ‘Singularity’, his 20+ year career, performing highlights and much more. Check out what he had to say below!


We’re loving your new track ‘Singularity’. How did the track come about?

My Australian booking agency and Zac’s management are connected and when we were prepping for my Australian tour I told my manager to put out feelers if there’d be anyone interesting interested in a studio sesh while I’m there and that’s how we connected. Zac and I had a great day at the Ministry of Sound studio in Sydney! We talked ideas and listened to each others demos and sounds first. I actually did very little production wise in our initial session, I just sat back and let Zac be in the driver’s seat. :) I’m a Logic guy, Zac uses Ableton Live, which I know a good bit as well, so we decided to use it. He is so freaking quick with it, it was natural to have him be in charge of the actual manual input and such. Also, we chose as our starting point something he’d prepped earlier and then we started discussing and trying out ideas on top of that.

In this first and only face-to-face session we decided to go rather hard and straightforward in the drops and have a melodic trancy breakdown and build. I had this guitar like synth melody that I’d been saving for a good while and it fit perfectly this track and got even better when Zac re-did it with a real guitar. After that session we continued online exchanging files via a common Dropbox folder and conversing via Facebook Messenger. Zac put the basic arrangement and instrumentation together and I had my hand in the production and mixing, too, especially with the vocals and final mix and adding a bit of ear candy here, a synth layer there.

While definitely not an afterthought, Enya Angel’s sweet vocals were added in later, as initially the track was an instrumental with some small vocal samples to spice it up. The vocal makes the track way more user friendly and softens it just the right amount, gives it a real story and meaning, I’m very happy how it all came together!

I love the shared responsibility of a collab, as in most cases, like here, it leads to less stress about getting stuck or having doubts about something. When you let go a bit and let the other one tell you what they think should be done, the project goes forward all the time. Zac’s style is not something that comes to me naturally, so doing a track with him forced me outside my usual ways of working, which is refreshing and obviously opens my mind to new sounds and ideas and gives me a chance to learn new things, too.

What were Zac and Enya like to work with?

Zac is a cool guy, and very musically talented and quick with Ableton Live, my day with him was very productive and a lot of fun. I’ve never met Enya Angel in real life, but we’ve said hi online! I’m very happy to have had her on the track, and I’ve got Zac to thank for that, they knew each other already before our collaboration.

The track has a great vibe to it. What inspires you musically?

Everything! My son, my wife, our dog… Windshield wipers almost beatmatched to the car in front… Blinker beatmatched to whatever music is on the car sound system… A harmony I hear on top of a random sound in the room acoustics or chaotic ambiance of a supermarket. Adding delay to a synth sound, playing it and creating new rhythms and hearing new things in it.

You’ve had a busy year so far on the road. What do you enjoy the most about performing live?

The interaction with the crowd and the direct feedback from them during the set and the highfives, selfies, autographs and chats afterwards. I have this perhaps even naive belief in “winning them one by one”, but I’m a regular guy, I’ve just been fortunate to release music that has gone to places and taken me to places and I appreciate each and every person for their time, effort and money coming to see me live!

Recent sets include Tomorrowland and Emmaboda Festival. Has there been a particular highlight for you so far this year?

A gig in Houston quite in the beginning of the year was awesome, my NZ/OZ tour just a couple of weeks ago was great and I was very very excited to play Tomorrowland again, because it is THE festival to do and because it “forced” me to go a little harder and faster than I usually play these days. I played a good bit of early 2000’s nodding uplifting trance & hints of UK hard house and it worked really well and was so much fun! I also played 3 new tracks of mine which all seemed to work really well, so I’m a happy camper! The pure size of the Tomorrowland festival and the production quality is just next level stuff! Also the artist hospitality, the catering, rides and other organization works a treat.

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Crowd Views.

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Do you have a favourite city to perform in?

Not really, I’m happy and excited to play wherever there’s a crowd ready and willing to party!

You’ll be performing in Australia/New Zealand soon in addition to more US dates. How does the vibe vary between different continents? How do you go about picking the perfect setlist for your shows?

There are often differences from city to city and country to country… But in general (my) dance music crowds are not totally different from night to night, I’d say. I approach my sets all similarly, like in terms of music I usually have a backbone of 150-200 “active” tracks in bunches of 2-5 harmonically, BPM & stylewise fitting tracks from slower/proggier to faster/more uplifting/banging and a couple of other folders like “classics” or “more proggy” and “more commercial”. During the set I go through that list from A to Z choosing a track or a couple from those bunches, throwing in extras from the other folders based on the crowd reactions and vibe and in a two hour set I usually play around 35 tracks, and so two sets night to night could be as much as 80% the same (but mixed in different order etc) or as little as 20% the same, if you saw me two gigs in a row.

You’ve had numerous other hits such ‘Feel The Beat’, ‘In The Darkness’, and ‘Beautiful Alien’. Are there any key records of yours that standout for you on a personal level?

That varies from week to week or so and I’m not sure I could pick a track over another anyway… From album to album my style and skills have developed and broadened and I think the ‘Moments’ album as a whole is something very *me* even though it doesn’t perhaps have exactly what people would think is specifically a “Darude sound” all over it, but in many cases I worked on music, the composition and lyrics first, then production. I also chose to work with several writers and co-producers that I hadn’t worked with before to get their talent and vision on my music. I cared less of the style and genre consistency of the album and more of very basic feel that I had creating each and all of those tracks and somehow it worked. I was so happy when I got feedback from many of the fans who on their first listen didn’t even stop to analyze that there is my older sounding trance there, some mid 90’s nodding piano house, some dubsteppy sounds, some festival EDM etc, but they listened to it thru as MUSIC, melodies, chords, lyrics.

When people hear the name Darude, many still automatically associate you with ‘Sandstorm’. When it comes to releasing new music, has that put pressure on you throughout your career? 

It did very early on, like when JS16 and I started working on the second album, but then we decided to try and forget all that and just make music and have fun in the studio like we did when doing the first album. Also, when I started making music, I didn’t do it for sales or success, I just loved creating sounds and tracks. So at that point as the first single we decided to release ‘Music’, which was harder more clubby than commercial radio track, because we’d rather be proud of going forward with something that was made not thinking of commercial success, but just dance floor, than desperately trying to go after airplay with a more commercial track.

There HAS been many a record company A&R and such who always claim to be all about music, artist first, “I know what’s up” and the first thing coming out of their mouth when I bring a new track in is “…but it’s not a hit like ‘Sandstorm’…” or some other comparison, but that hasn’t really so much put pressure on me but just pissed me off. :)

I remember the hype around ‘Sandstorm’ when it was first released, but the track remains just as anthemic now. Why do you think this song in particular has stood the test of time?

You tell me. I don’t know. I mean, yeah, there’s something about that chord progression and the lead melody harmonising together, the lead sound itself, and the quiet breakdown and long build-up, but those are some pieces of the puzzle. Jaakko’s great final mixdown, our choices of sounds and rhythms. Plus numerous people who along the way affected the track being heard by the right people, which eventually led to huge amounts of people, who resonated with it being exposed to it, then it snowballed, but I still don’t know why. I claim some responsibility myself, too, of course, I don’t call it a total accident, but still, still I haven’t figured out why it became the anthem it did.

Having been in the industry for over two decades now, what are the biggest challenges and changes you’ve faced during your career?

Biggest change for me was becoming a dad. Even getting married didn’t do a 180° for my career, or how it feels to leave home behind for x days or weeks, but having a kid for sure did. I still tour a good bit, and my wife actually was on the road with me for a couple of years as a tour manager, so she knows exactly what this work is about, but the most challenging thing is to balance the home and tour time AND the studio time and family time when I’m home. That’s why I’m not releasing music every 4-6 weeks like some are, because I tour and make my music myself (or I collaborate with someone, but I’m the actual producer or at least the other part of the production) AND I hang out with my son, fishing, playing street hockey, taking him to piano lessons, ice hockey practice etc, AND admin the household with the wife, mow the lawn, plant stupid plants around the yard, even chop wood here and there! ;)

Outside of all that the business has totally changed in the last 15 years. No more physical sales, but all internet, and not really sales at all, but streams… Music consumers have it really good now, as you have everything at your fingertips, just type a search word in Google, YouTube or Spotify and shit pops up, pick away, turn it up!

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EDM is a thriving genre with plenty of established and up-and-coming names delivering great tracks. Who are some of your favourite artists in the field?

Joonas Hahmo, K-System, Super8 & Tab, Tom Fall, Audioventura, Lope & Kantola, Ashley Wallbridge, Luke Bond, Ilan Bluestone, Uberjak’d, Zac Waters and Orjan Nilsen to name a few.

What else do you have planned for 2017?

I’m on somewhat of a collab kick currently, as in addition to a solo track or two I’ve got collaborations being planned and worked on in various phases with Uberjakd, tyDi, Orjan Nilsen, Tom Fall and Funkagenda for instance. A couple of remixes in the works as well, some of which you can follow progressing on www.twitch.tv/Darude. No release dates or other specific public plans set yet, but looking at releasing at least two tracks this year still.

Thank you to Darude for his time. ‘Singularity’ is available now.

Let us know your thoughts on our interview with Darude on Twitter @CelebMix

Written by Katrina Rees

I'm Katrina, or Kat to pretty much everyone. I'm an editor for CelebMix, a content writer, a boyband lover and an all round music fanatic.
Twitter: @lifeofkatrina
Email: katrinanaomirees@gmail.com