Tiesto: The Trailblazer

by Marissa Muller / photographed by Jiro Schneider
Tiësto wears a suit and shirt by Saint Laurent, pin by Chanel and shoes by Givenchy.

Tiësto's list of accolades runs long. First DJ to play a stadium (back in 2003, in Holland). First DJ to play the Olympics opening ceremony (in summer of 2004 at Athens). Grammy nominee. Repeated appearances on Forbes' annual top-earning DJs list -- you get the idea. But for a guy who pretty much invented the aughties notion of a superstar club DJ, elevating producers to unprecedented levels of fame and pay and paving the way for EDM's chart rise, Tiësto is quick to share the spotlight with his peers and mentees. His last album Kaleidoscope, an experiment in indie-dance music as the genre was reaching its peak in 2009, featured vocals from Tegan and Sara, Nelly Furtado, Bloc Party, and Sigur Rós's Jónsi -- one of Tiësto's favorite singers -- within earshot of each other. Five years later, Tiësto is letting collaborator friends like Icona Pop, Ladyhawke, and Matthew Koma take the vocal lead again on his recently-released A Town Called Paradise -- this time with a little more heart.

"I wanted to make an album that's more song-based," the producer, born Tijs Michiel Verwest, says over the phone from Stockholm, a place he calls "his home base when he's in Europe" and also where he recorded parts of A Town Called Paradise; the rest was done in his Las Vegas studio. When he talks about the album, he stays committed to that idea, making sure to refer to the album's "songs" rather than tracks. "I never wrote songs before; I only did DJ sets," he explains. "So to really write songs, I had to listen to guitar melodies and think about how to express myself in the lyrics. It reflects who I am, what I stand for, and my lifestyle. It's closer to me than any other album I've done before."

Tiësto wears a jacket by Alexander Wang, t-shirt by Mugler, jeans by Balmain, sunglasses by Giorgio Armani

One of the tracks at the center of the album, both figuratively and literally, is "Wasted," a radio-primed slice of EDM pop that's one of the more personal songs within Tiësto's discography. Verwest wrote the song with Brooklyn singer-songwriter Matthew Koma, who he credits as "a big inspiration on the album." The song tackles an unhealthy relationship that only goes well when those involved are, like the title, wasted. On a sonic level, it also shows Tiësto experimenting even more with one of his favorite genres. "I always loved indie rock music and I think a song like 'Wasted' is me branching out to do something different," he says.

It's not unexpected that Verwest veered more towards indie rock on this album. Not only did his last one have streaks of the genre but also in his down time, Verwest likes to unwind with the soothing melodies of indie kingpin Bon Iver. "It's so relaxing because my own music is so high energy and hard and wild," he says. "For me to chill out, I want to listen to the opposite like Bon Iver, a little bit of Drake, Sigur Rós, Jose Gonzales, those kinds of artists." I ask him if he's considered going in that direction with his own material. "In the far far future I would love to make a chill out album," he says. "I'm going to do that one day when I have enough time. But for now, I still love the energy in my songs, love to party and travel, and that's the sound I want to be making."

Tiësto wears a suit and shirt by Saint Laurent, pin by Chanel and shoes by Givenchy.

Tiësto has managed to keep the party alive for nearly two decades -- to the point where he's seen a completely new generation latch onto his souped-up dance music. "Some people grew with me and others just checked out and I got new fans to replace them," he says, alluding to the moment his trance sound evolved into more rock and pop-based club music with his 2007 album Elements of Life. "I would say 50% of my fans like the older stuff and 50% like the newer stuff. It's nice to see that I can influence older fans and newer ones. I have fans who are 12 years old and I have fans who are 60. It's funny to see them together partying at one of my shows."

Like his audiences, Tiësto's dance peers span across multiple decades as well. Now he's mentoring a younger generation of dance producers, resurrecting the Dutch house music he grew up around. "It's absolutely amazing to see Martin Garrix and Oliver Heldens have number one hits," Tiësto says. "Oliver Heldens came to me with some songs and I told him, 'Do you have anything special?' And he said, 'I made this one for my dad because he's a big '90s house fan.' I heard the song, 'Gecko,' and was like, 'That's it. I want to sign that one.' Those guys call me for advice. I love to be in that world because they're the future of dance music."

Styled by Art Conn 

Grooming by Anny Kim at Walter Schupfer Management for Imperial Barber and Hourglass Cosmetics

Photo assistant: Paris Potter / Shot at The Forge L.A.


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