Markus Schulz Talks The Dakota Project, EDC and the EDM Scene in Exclusive iEDM Interview
EDC was a truly magical festival and for the over 400,000 fans who attended, it was a weekend of memories that would last a lifetime. But the fans aren't the only ones who had an incredible weekend. The producers who flew into Las Vegas from all around the world had special experiences of their own.
iEDM recently sat down with trance king Markus Schulz to talk about his Dakota project, his experience at EDC and his thoughts about EDM in general.
iEDM: You’ve played festivals all over the world, do you have a favorite festival/venue that you’ve played at?
Markus: EDC for me is right up there because it has generated so many significant moments and career highlights. When I am planning my annual calendar, one of the first things I enter is when EDC weekend is taking place and highlight it with priority, because that's when you want to ensure whatever big thing you are working on in the studio is ready for that show. EDC does so much for the scene in North America and I am grateful for that.
And along with it, of course, I have a very special connection with Transmission, where they host their annual home event in Prague every year. The special aspect of Transmission is that it's one arena and one stage. Everyone coming to the show is there to see you, and the production standards of the event gets even more spectacular as each year passes. We have a huge Transmission coming to Australia in September, so the trancefamily supporting the event is expanding.
iEDM: EDC is one of the biggest EDM festivals in the US and the world. How did it feel to play the stage at Quantum Valley?
Markus: It is a privilege to be able to play a small role in the overall presentation of EDC year after year. I think it's the biggest and most important event in North America every year, it's our Superbowl.
When Insomniac moved the festival from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, many in the industry were really skeptical and thought it would fail, because you have so many people coming in to the city for the show, and in Vegas, you have to be at least 21 to book a hotel. But I go back to that first edition at the Motor Speedway in 2011, and I regard it as a watershed moment for dance music in America. I moved to the US and spent my teenage years living in an era where hip-hop ruled the world, so to see electronic music turn into this vast spectacle was incredible.
And now in 2017, what I appreciate is that the festival caters way beyond mainstream EDM. If you're a techno fan, you have a fantastic lineup that entices you to go. And for us in the trance industry, Dreamstate has been a key catalyst in the resurgence of the genre among the wider circle. For me to play a tiny role in that, it makes me proud.
iEDM: You’ve described your Dakota project as representative of your introspective side, what made you decide to present Dakota at EDC?
Markus: I am at the point in my career now where the importance of leaving a legacy increases as each day passes. With something so personal such as The Nine Skies, marrying that with EDC was an easy decision in truth, because I wanted the fans there to feel that in the days, weeks and months after the event itself, that what I presented left them with a memory that will last for a very long time.
The Nine Skies was a year in the making. I had just finished the Watch the World album which was quite an exploratory chapter of growth for me, delving into the world of songwriting. However, when I started touring with the album, there was a lot of tragedy in the world, and everyone felt a sense of unknown and fear due to everything that was happening, politically or otherwise. When the mass shooting happened at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, it absolutely shook me to my core, that something so terrible could happen in an environment that I could well have been in myself; and in a city very close to home in Miami.
At that point, I pretty much went dark on a personal level on social media and left my team to get the word out about upcoming gigs and releases - because, to me, I couldn't feel comfortable with embracing this party and good vibes atmosphere when the world around us was suffering every day.
I did a lot of reading and studying in my downtime, taking on board a lot of Reiki influences. The story of a person finding themselves as a lost soul, but find the right pieces to set themselves on the journey towards enlightenment is something that essentially applies to my own life, and something I hope that can inspire others as well.
iEDM: EDM means many different things to many different people, what do you love most about the electronic music scene?
Markus: To me I love the sense of community, and how we are all part of it together, whether we are DJs, promoters, or fans. There isn't a day that goes by where I count my blessings in the knowledge that I am in a privileged position of not only being able to do what I love for a living but also a position where I can entertain, inspire and even heal, helping people get through dark times through music.
There are so many DJs out there that people can hang their hat on, so for those out there who do it for me makes me eternally grateful.
I've said this about trance fans, in particular, they are the most loyal of any genre. You wouldn't believe how many DJs from other genres have remarked that to me. And it's true. Many people on the outside see trance as this stigma of being for antisocial and introverted people, but the truth of the matter is that the people who have trance in their lives love it with every ounce of their being. The melodies mean so much in their lives. That to me is why being in this position and doing everything with passion and love for the art is so important; whether it's an album or a gig or doing Global DJ Broadcast every week.
iEDM: Do you have any advice for aspiring producers?
Markus: For producers, it’s absolutely critical that you harness a sound and style that makes you uniquely identifiable. We are in a copycat scene - where if one person makes something unique that turns into a hit, you have 500 replicas on Beatport within a week. But if you have a sound that stands out as being different, the biggest names in the industry will be attracted to your work. My advice is to have lots of varying influences, take little bits from each, and make them a hybrid of your own. And they don't have to necessarily be influences that are exclusive to dance music. You can study the technical skills of someone like BT, and weave it around the melodies of a popular band like Coldplay.
On the DJ side, learn the intricacies behind the art of a DJ set. Study the sets of your favorite DJs and understand how the sets are constructed, and how each individual piece contributes towards an overall flow and story of an evening. The biggest asset you can gain is the ability to read a room and react accordingly. So many of the new generation of DJs show up with a festival set for every club in every city, and more often than not it doesn’t work, because no two clubs or cities are the same. Take every opportunity you can to learn, even if you are DJing for 5 or 10 people in a coffee shop, you are still learning; you are still reading an audience. If you have this experience, it will help you a very long way if and when you break with a production.
And most importantly of all, you have to dedicate your life to this, and you have to absolutely love what you do - because quite simply if you are doing something you don’t love or enjoy, you will burn out very quickly.