When Michael Jackson's family reached out to Afrojack to remix "Bad," the 25-year-old DJ said he was busy. He was scared and truthfully, how would you feel remixing the King of Pop's now 25-year-old single? Afrojack compared the feeling to having President Obama ask him for financial advice.
Well, Afrojack changed his mind. The Dutch DJ went to the same studio that MJ used to record "Bad" over two decades ago and put his own spin on the track, while trying to appeal to every generation of Michael Jackson fans. The remixes are part of a commemorative package that drops today, which includes three CDs, two collectible booklets, and the highly anticipated DVD release of a concert from the record-breaking "Bad" tour.
Afrojack spoke with Complex on his fears surrounding the project, what he changed about MJ's iconic track, working with DJ Buddah and Pitbull for the radio edit, and how to make it as a DJ. He spoke on his relationship with Paris Hilton and her DJ career, too. Read on for the details.
Interview by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
How did you get involved with the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Bad album?
I was asked through the label and through the estate, the actual family of Michael Jackson, because they thought that I was the perfect guy to remix Michael Jackson. I was like, ‘Well that’s really nice, but it’s Michael Jackson, you don’t just remix Michael Jackson. I told my manager, ‘I don’t know, maybe, let’s think about this very clearly.’ We told them that we were busy and they told us it was really important and that they were sure Michael would have wanted it. They said, "We’ll fly you off to LA and put you in the studio there." You can’t say no to Michael Jackson. I was excited to do it but it was really scary. It’s like you are remixing the president of pop music for the last 25 years. He just recently passed away and I have to remix his music, I’m the first guy to remix this.
I had to remix a track that’s been known by multiple generations across the globe; everyone knows that song. We had to do something that’s for the original generation, for the now generation, and for all the generations in between, and it has to have the Afrojack sound because that’s why they wanted me to remix it.
Were you a big fan of Michael Jackson as a child?
I grew up with his music. When I was a baby, my mom used to have a dance school and she used to teach classes there. We didn’t have money for a babysitter so she always brought me with her to the dancing school. Back then, I was already watching and listening to Michael Jackson for a long time. I saw him on TV when I was 5-years-old, then when I was 6, then when I was 10, then when I was 12, then when I was 15. He basically is a part of everyone’s life that's my age. He made music that we all danced to and he was the biggest media thing in the whole world throughout his entire career. I’m sure everyone else would be as excited as me to remix Michael Jackson and as scared because it’s like the President of America asking you for financial advice. You’re like, ‘What!’ That’s scary.
How did you deal with that fear? What was it like when you started on the project?
I thought about it. I could have made a happy, good remix that is only for this generation but I wanted to keep the original in tact because I didn’t want to offend the original Michael Jackson song. I was sitting there in the original studio where they recorded BAD 25 years ago and I’m 25 myself so that was pretty crazy. I had to remix a track that’s been known by multiple generations across the globe; everyone knows that song. We had to do something that’s for the original generation, for the now generation, and for all the generations in between, and it has to have the Afrojack sound because that’s why they wanted me to remix it. When I started it, it was really easy. I wanted to make a global combination of dance music right now combined with all the electro sounds that are going out and the more progressive house sounds and of course, a lot of the original with the bass lines, the trumpets and the drums. Basically, the old school dance feel like you’re in an 80s club.
You created your own remix and then you linked up with DJ Buddha and Pitbull for the radio edit. How did that come together?
Buddha helps me out a lot with radio edits and stuff. I only did the original club remix and later, they said they wanted Pitbull on it. That went through the family, the estate, the label. They wanted him to be on it. Buddha is a radio professional so he edited the original into the Pitbull radio version. I think it’s good because even though some people say you cannot put a pop star of today on the original thing, this is what the family, the estate, and the label want and how they want his legend to live on. I think it’s not that crazy and that the end result is really cool.
I think [the radio edit remix] is good because even though some people say you cannot put a pop star of today on the original thing, this is what the family, the estate, and the label want and how they want his legend to live on.
Has MJ’s family reached out to you after hearing the remix?
I went to the studio in LA and I did the whole remix and everything. I got an email a few days later from my manager saying the label, the estate, the family-everyone was super happy with it so I was happy. A happy camper!
Have you performed this remix live yet? I'm sure that will be an entirely different experience.
I’m working with my video guy right now so that when I play the song live I will actually have the original video and some of my visuals put together. Basically what I do in the clubs mixed with what he did in the clubs and around the world while performing for hundreds of thousands of people 25 years ago. It has to be a really cool look, I don’t want to just play the song, I want it to be an experience. That’s what I always try to do with my live shows.
I did it once before in the Bay Area, really close to San Francisco, in a really big coliseum but it was a crazy party when I was playing with Tiesto and some other DJs. I was closing down the first night and we did it for the first time and I wanted to keep it really exclusive so we never did it again. I think MJ actually started that when he started touring with all of the crazy dancers and visuals and fireworks. I’ve never been to one of his shows but I’ve watched some on YouTube and they’re all really impressive.
Speaking of live shows, you recently wrapped up your Jacked tour.
The tour was insane. I did one and a half months in the US, I think 52 dates, and I’m doing another in October and November.
You also performed at Jay-Z’s first Made In America festival over Labor Day weekend, too.
The funny thing about that festival is that Jay-Z is one of the legends of hip-hop, maybe one of the biggest even. At first they asked me to actually host the stage but I’m careful, I don’t want to act bigger than I am. I’m going to perform but you have to have someone else do the stage. I felt really happy to do that.
I always try to DJ and perform a show at the same time. I do everything live, all the lights are live, everything with me is live. If you go live you can make errors but I don’t really give a crap about that.
The "Bad" remix is your fourth single out right now. You’re everywhere.
Yeah, it’s quite crazy. I always like to be everywhere. Last year, I had Beyonce’s “Run The World,” “Look At Me Now.” I also produced “Give Me Everything” and “Take Over Control.” Now, I did the remix for will.i.am.’s “This Is Love” and “Can’t Stop Me” featuring Shermanology which is going on all of the radios. “Rock The House” is an instrumental track which is the first single coming off of my album. It’s fully instrumental. There’s a lot going on, but I like it. I like keeping it interesting.
You’re involved with so many types of music. How have you found success with DJing?
I’m a DJ and a producer at the same time so outside of performing as an artist, the most important thing for me is the show but as a DJ, I don’t want to just do a show, I want to make it interesting, special, I want it to be an experience. I always try to DJ and perform a show at the same time, it’s all going really well. I do everything live, all the lights are live, everything with me is live so sometimes, it fucks up a little because if you go live you can make errors but I don’t really give a crap about that. I think it’s important if you go live, you can make it really powerful and the crowd feels really close to you. I think if you do a pre-recorded set it can look really cool but I think you lose the personal feelings you can have with the crowd.
How did you start DJing?
I went to a club the first time when I was 15 and I saw the connection between all the people and the DJ and the music and lights. I was like, ‘Holy shit I want to do this.’ Everything just faded away and that’s what I wanted to do. I was already producing music back then just for fun but then I wanted to DJ. People told me if I wanted to be booked as a DJ, I'd have to give a reason for people to book me. They said, ‘You have to produce.’ I did produce so I started producing even more so I could DJ. More and more, it became a combination. I got DJing gigs and now it’s my life. All I do is produce music and DJ and do interviews with people on the phone.
I want to create a whole new version of pop music. I want to change over the radio sound.
Who haven’t you worked with yet that you hope to in the future?
I’ve been thinking about a lot of projects to produce. I was thinking about working with Lady Gaga, not “Born This Way” but more her old stuff that she did with RedOne from her first album. I think that would be really fun, a cool combination. I think also with will.i.am because he’s really creative, he’s not just the front man of the Black Eyed Peas but he also wrote most of the stuff and produced it. I want to create a whole new version of pop music. I want to change over the radio sound.
How do you plan to change the sound of radio?
Like I did with “Take Over Control.” I think there should be more openness with radio music. It’s not so bad to have an 8-second drop it in, just a drop to build up a little more emotion than the song. These days with club music getting so big, people will start to understand more about the experience of music-the build-ups, the extra crazy feeling, the feeling you get from music-and combine it with myself. I think you can have a hit and a cool piece of music at the same time, a refreshing piece of music. Like “Give Me Everything” it’s just a happy song but there’s bleeps, there’s a build up and that’s basically what I want to do.
EDM has really grown in the past year or two in the mainstream. Do you have any advice for other musicians getting involved in EDM?
Do it. But do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it for the pussy, for the money, do it because of the love for music. That’s why all the big guys around the world are doing it. That’s the only reason. It’s because of the connection you get with the crowd. If you’re playing for 80,000 people, you’re not playing for them, you’re performing with them, you’re partying with them. That’s the reason we all wanted to do this because we like making music, we like connecting to other people and we do that through dance music.
Do it. But do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it for the money, do it because of the love for music. That’s why all the big guys around the world are doing it. That’s the only reason. It’s because of the connection you get with the crowd.
I think the most important thing about dance music is the connection. If you put 80,000 people together, no one knows each other and once the music starts, everyone loves each other. That doesn’t happen with a lot of genres. If you go to a hip-hop club, it’s not like when one songs comes on that everyone suddenly loves each other. I’ve been touring all around the world and I’ve been playing my music all around the world. I think I’ve done 400 gigs in the last two years, maybe 500. I think, maybe, I’ve only seen one fight during my performance. So one in 500 shows, one little fight. I think the love and energy of dance music is great.
As you mentioned, I think there are people that are getting involved with the DJ and EDM scenes for the wrong reasons. You saw that firsthand with your association with Paris Hilton starting her DJ career.
Even though it’s maybe a little more negative take on EDM, it's not. That’s not EDM. Telling everyone that they can go out and DJ...there’s a difference between just going up and playing some records and actually doing it right. The EDM DJs, they don’t just go there and play their own records, they create an experience. It’s like a movie, it’s not just action, action, action, cars exploding and shit. There’s a lot of parts exploding but you make a combination of cars exploding but also one of the main characters dying or feeling really sad or getting dumped. It’s a combination of emotions.
Sometimes you have a really melancholic song and you have to build it and put it in a certain order for people to understand. If I start DJing and I start with a really emotional track, people aren’t going to cry, there’s no reason to cry. If you watch a movie and someone dies in the beginning, no one really cares. You have to build a certain story and if you do it right then at the end of the night, people will hold hands and start crying and do all sorts of crazy shit. I had that before and it’s one of the most beautiful things to see and get those emotions out of people through music.
It seems like you truly have an emotional connection with the experience that you create through music. But back to Paris, did you teach her how to DJ? What was your involvement in her DJ career?
[Paris] is a good friend of mine-well, let me rephrase it, used to be a good friend of mine-we were working on music together but she never said anything about the whole DJ thing so I didn’t really have anything to do with it.
She’s a good friend of mine-well, let me rephrase it, used to be a good friend of mine-we were working on music together but she never said anything about the whole DJ thing so I didn’t really have anything to do with it. I didn’t know about it until the press release. It’s funny but I don’t care.
Would you consider working with her now?
Basically, what’s more important than music to me is family and friends and I will always be open for family and friends. Even if, for example, you. You’re interviewing me right now, you come to Philadelphia, we do another interview, and we’re like ‘Oh my God’ and we become best friends. Then you say, ‘I want to become a producer.’ An interviewer turning into a producer, people will say, ‘Yeah that’s impossible she’s a journalist’ but if you’re my friend, what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t help you? On the other hand, if we’re friends and you don’t ask me for my help or anything then you start talking about how I taught you-well, I didn’t. Then I’m pissed off, that’s not nice. Don’t bullshit me.
It was a weird situation but I don’t think it should get too much more attention, I’m pretty sure it was a one time thing and it happens. Personally, we’re still okay. I don’t have anything to do with her whole DJing thing and I have to say that if someone says, ‘Oh Afrojack taught me how to DJ’ and you can’t DJ, that kind of sucks for me.
You’re going on tour again, and you mentioned you have an album coming out next year as well. What's it like being so busy?
I’m going to do the tour in October and November. I’m going to do some big stuff. I’m going to be all around America in December, January, February, and March. I’m going to spend a lot of time in America over the next year because I really like it there and I like the energy and the people, especially the crowds. I have a good connection with people from America that come to my shows. It’s more the American culture. I like the culture so I want to spend more time there and make more friends and have some fun.
Everyone that’s featured [on my album], I’m putting them into my world.
My album is coming out next year and I’m working on some really big stuff and there are going to be some really big features. I can’t say any dates yet but it will be in the beginning of 2013. There will be some big features but I don’t want to put the focus or attention on the features. It’s my first album and I want people to buy it for me. Everyone that’s featured, I’m putting them into my world. When I feature people on my album, it’s going to be my shit. If I feature Chris Brown on my album, he’s going to be singing a song that I think is cool that fits to EDM and fits my world. I’m going to pull all these artists into my world and have them do something they wouldn’t expect.
I understand a lot of people, a lot of fans, are like, ‘Wow you’re so special and you’re so talented that you got this far.’ But I always try to give the message that you don’t have to be born special or anything. I grew up in a really small city in Holland, didn’t have anything to do with music and I just wanted to do it and I went for it. It’s not just believing, it’s also doing. I’m trying to get that message across to all the little kids that want to get into music, too.