Paul van Dyk's
Politics of Dancing
by Matt Kalkhoff

What exactly is it about electronic music that scares so many people? And why are authorities in the United States and around the world wasting so much time and money attacking rave parties and other venues where this type of music is played?

Society-at-large may not have always understood or appreciated the music that young people listened and danced to throughout the years, but it has at least begrudgingly acknowledged the music as a legitimate cultural component. But something's different with electronic music, and the worldwide crusade against the lifestyle associated with it is alienating a significant segment of society and jeopardizing the identity of current and future generations.

Growing up in communist East Germany has afforded Paul van Dyk a unique perspective on the importance of music. The ubiquitous DJ, producer and recording artist learned early on in life that music can do more than just entertain and inspire, it can also help convey important social and political messages to the masses. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 soon gave way to a thriving nightlife scene that allowed van Dyk his first opportunity to fully experience the collective power of music and the healing nature of dance. On his new beat-mixed double-CD, Politics of Dancing, van Dyk taps into this provocative energy to take listeners on an electronically-charged voyage designed to open minds, invigorate bodies and sooth souls.

"It was a very, very intense project to do," van Dyk says of his first true mix CD, "It was probably one of the hardest things that I've ever done in the studio." Citing the lack of interaction with a live audience as the main reason he's avoided doing a DJ-mixed CD for so many years, van Dyk was determined to create something extraordinary that employs not only his talent as a DJ, but his exceptional skills as a producer and musician as well. Slated for worldwide release on November 6th on Ministry of Sound's new stand-alone U.S. label, the CD features van Dyk's exclusive remixes of some of his favorite records as well as new versions of his own original productions Out There, Vega and the previously unreleased Autumn.

"It's a very different approach from other mix CDs," he explains. "I just thought, Okay, which records would I like to be on there, and I wrote them down very instantly without really thinking much about it." That was the easy part. Then, after carefully analyzing the atmosphere and essence of each track as well as the reason why he had chosen them, van Dyk began the complicated process of sequencing the entire progression in his head. He then remixed each song to fit his concept for the CD. Approximately two months and more than 30 remixes later, Politics of Dancing was born.

There's no denying its immense entertainment value, but how is this particular CD going to help change society's views on electronic music? By encouraging dialogue about the cultural importance of electronic music and its accompanying lifestyle, van Dyk hopes to promote a better understanding of the scene while inspiring others to work towards the further integration and acceptance of electronic music in mainstream media and society.

"Which other cultural movement has captured the world as electronic music has in the last 10-15 years?" van Dyk poses. "I don't know of any. As a DJ, I can go to South Korea or Japan or the Philippines and play for people with an absolutely different cultural background, yet they understand the music; they connect. It's like a feeling of unification, a sort of coming together of those different cultures." As is often the case, the actions of a relatively small number of people are to blame for most of the problems currently facing the electronic music scene. Negatively biased media coverage and a number of highly publicized incidents of admittedly irresponsible behavior has created a public perception that drug use at rave parties and nightclubs is out of control. But van Dyk believes people are blowing things way out of proportion.

"I still actually think that the whole drug issue in relation to clubbing is absolutely over-hyped by the media," he claims. "There's not much more drug use in a dance club than there is at a Hip-Hop concert, R&B show or a Rock & Roll show. Closing down a place like Twilo is basically just keeping the kids from being a part of this worldwide culture; it's just basically taking New York off the map."

But even if the drug problem is as bad as the media and authorities would have us believe, raiding venues and harassing young patrons is certainly not going to solve the problem. Instead, it will likely make things worse. Attempts to remove this vital component of worldwide youth culture have already demoralized countless participants and will no doubt result in far more serious consequences down the road. This is a fairly obvious conclusion for most of us, but somehow the message has been lost on many of the world's leaders and lawmakers. "We have to make clear to [the authorities] that if there is drug abuse going on, then it is a problem that has to be solved by society at large," van Dyk implores. "It's not only in the clubs - this is just a room where they do it, but it's not why they're doing it."

As one of the most sought after DJs in the world, van Dyk knows all too well the devastating effects of this misguided governmental crusade. One of the most recent casualties is Twilo, Manhattan's famous "temple of electronic music" that was permanently shut down by New York officials amid a media frenzy surrounding several high-profile drug overdoses at the club. Paul van Dyk last played there in April, and he's anxious to spin in New York again. "We're trying very hard to do something in New York and I'm definitely looking forward to it," he says, "But there isn't anything built up yet in New York that could fill [Twilo's] gap." He's even considered investing his own money to put on an event in conjunction with his Vandit record label, but efforts to secure a venue and the appropriate permission from the city have thus far proven futile.

Instead, he went on a 9-city North American DJ tour in October that took him to such unfamiliar destinations as Denver, Phoenix, Houston and Seattle. He'll return to the U.S. at the end of the year, though, for highly anticipated New Year's Eve gigs in Las Vegas, Phoenix and at Giant in Los Angeles. In the meantime, he's working on the soundtrack for a forthcoming feature film writing theme songs for the movie's principal characters. He'll also celebrate his 30th birthday the week before Christmas by spinning at his bi-monthly vandit party at Berlin's Casino nightclub.

It may not be a role he has consciously chosen, but Paul van Dyk has become, in essence, an electronic music and youth culture ambassador to the world. His mission to strengthen and empower a community that is too often neglected is just one of the many ways van Dyk gives back to the fans who have supported him for so many years. His latest project, Politics of Dancing, effectively underscores the many issues facing the electronic music community while delivering an exquisite and timely collection of uplifting music. Perhaps if detractors would actually take the time to listen to his new CD and make an effort to understand the cultural movement, they might just figure out that electronic music is no more of a "threat to western civilization" than the popular music of any previous era.

© 2002 Matt Kalkhoff
This article was featured exclusively in November 2001