The night I fell in love with dance music was at the Hollywood Music Hall in Rotterdam in 2002. I was 14 years old. We start going out young in the Netherlands.
Our parents dropped us all off at the train station, and my little crew and I headed out into the center of the city for this big night out. Ali G was really big at the time, so we were all wearing Fubu, and the bling and the sunglasses, too much aftershave. We thought we were so cool, but thinking back, we obviously looked ridiculous.
The Hollywood Music Hall was a really bad club. It was the classic kind of Eurotrash venue. Everything was metallic and shiny, purple neon lights blasting everywhere, the people were all super flashy and trying to be seen. At the time, though, we thought it was the edgiest place in the world!
“I became unaware of anything but the music, and I strongly remember, even today, how powerful that feeling was. You stop caring what anyone thinks and connect to the music and those around you with your body and your mind.”
I think that night was like a juniors night, because there were lots of awkward young people, all getting hammered on beers and alcopops, which were super popular for teenagers in Europe back then. In lots of European countries, teenagers can drink low-percentage drinks like beer and wine, so you can imagine this gets a little messy from time to time—particularly in a place like the Hollywood Music Hall.
So, we’re on the shiny dancefloor, dressed like little Ali Gs, getting loose and trying (and failing) to make eye contact with girls. And then, as one track comes to an end, the next one starts with:
“Push me, and then just touch me, till I can get my satisfaction.”
And I was like, “Whoa! What the f**k is this?!”
I grew up in a really musical household. My mother ran a dance studio, so we had music playing constantly, and that meant I have been dancing as a form of expression for a long time. I was also very fortunate to grow up in Rotterdam. The city has always been extremely multicultural and diverse, and that is reflected in the music you’re exposed to, as well. There are lots of different kinds of people listening to lots of different kinds of music, so this was an incredible thing to grow up around. And that translated to the dancefloor in the clubs, where rhythm had a huge influence. Hip-hop, salsa, reggaeton, all that stuff was super fresh, and everyone had this natural sense of rhythm and timing.
"There are many steps on every path, and maybe the first one isn’t prettiest, but it’s the most important."
I’d been passively listening to electronic music for a while, because it was always playing in the background of video games, but I’d never experienced it on a big soundsystem. I mean, the Hollywood Music Hall wasn’t a big soundsystem like I play on today, but it was a lot bigger than the TV in my bedroom! As soon as “Satisfaction” by Benny Benassi dropped and I heard that kick and the screwdriver synth, I was completely blown away. I remember thinking, “Oh my god! What are these sounds, these rhythms, the crazy arrangement?” It seemed to me like an advanced form of music—like something completely new and fresh that didn’t come from my parents’ generation! (I later learned that it did, of course, but it really didn’t sound like it.) I was immediately hooked on it.
I was completely losing it on the dancefloor. I became unaware of anything but the music, and I strongly remember, even today, how powerful that feeling was. You stop caring what anyone thinks and connect to the music and those around you with your body and your mind. Obviously, I didn’t know it then, but that’s such an important part of dance music culture and why this music changes people’s lives. When you have a society obsessed with what you look like, how you’re dressed, what race you are, what social class you come from, it can be a lot for a young person to handle. But I realized that in the club, none of that stuff matters. I never really fit in anywhere when I was growing up, and then suddenly I found this place where everyone fit in.
The DJ played “Satisfaction” twice that night; perhaps it was because we went so crazy the first time. He could have played it 10 times that night, and I would have been so happy!
After that, I was completely and utterly hooked on dance music—a slave to the beat. I started to piece together my DJ system. I downloaded the software illegally, the music illegally, the virtual DJ illegally… the only thing I didn’t steal was my parents’ speakers! All of it sounded like shit, but it was enough for me to learn the theory of DJing. As I got older and I made a little money, I’d rent CDJs from time to time when we had parties, but ultimately I learned on the crappiest gear. That’s a huge part of coming up.
A year or two later, I graduated to the Now and Wow club in Rotterdam, which still exists today. The first time I went there was when I decided I wanted to give my life to the night and really chase a career in music and clubbing. That club was so much better than the Hollywood Music Hall, but that’s the kind of space where you get started and learn about this music before you move on to the better clubs and learn about the finer points of dance music. There are many steps on every path, and maybe the first one isn’t prettiest, but it’s the most important.