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How Dance Music Can Change the World, According to Paul Van Dyk

Paul Van Dyk believes that dance music is not just for hedonistic pleasure—it can also be a powerful political weapon.

There are two dudes holding hands against a sunset on the album art for Paul Van Dyk's latest single, "Come With Me (We Are One)"—a collaboration with his old friend Ummet Ozcan, At least, that's what I thought it looked like. So that's what I told Paul Van Dyk, when he hopped on the phone from Berlin. "Does it really?" he asks, before telling someone in his office to pull up the photo. He chuckles. "I can honestly tell you that it's a boy and a girl. But even if it was two guys or two girls, I wouldn't have an objection." Oops.


Regardless of its sexual orientation, "Come With Me (We Are One)" is a track about unity "It's an inviting, dynamic track that pulls you in—that's how the title came about," Van Dyk says.

This is also the theme of Van Dyk's We Are One festival in Berlin, which took place this year in an old fortress surrounded by water. The point of the festival, Van Dyk says, is to bring the different elements of electronic music together. "At the end of the day, it's all one thing—it's all one music."

At the same time, he has some sharp words for certain corners of the dance music world—namely, the boom-whiz-bang spectacle of commercial EDM. It would have been easy for Van Dyk to ride the EDM cash cow; some would point towards his remixes of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, his work for EA Games and the use of his tracks in ads for Motorola, HBO and Jeep as evidence that he already has. But Van Dyk insists that above all, "the responsibility of a DJ should be focused on delivering something substantial."

"DJs should not be just pressing play with a USB stick, or getting wasted and throwing cake. I don't think [stunts like throwing cake] have anything to do with connecting with your audience. To me, it has no substantial creative value—it's just a waste of food."

What separates Van Dyk from the pack is his conviction that dance music can be used not just for pure hedonistic pleasure, but as a political weapon. This is a belief he first iterated in 2001, with his first



Politics of Dancing

mix compilation. It continued with T

he Politics of Dancing 2

, with a track called "The Other Side" dedicated to the victims of an earthquake and tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in December 2004. The trilogy will be completed with

The Politics of Dancing 3,

which he aims to release this fall.

"Dance music is a cultural movement," he says. "It brings young people together from different backgrounds, they're tolerant and respectful to each other on the dance floor, and they take that energy home. That is itself a political statement."

The electronic music world has changed considerably since the first edition of Politics of Dancing nearly thirteen years ago. In 2001, the authorities were cracking down on club culture in the United States, Van Dyk recalls, because they thought it had no cultural value. Now, dance music is experiencing a surge of mainstream appeal that is unprecedented since the days of disco.

Van Dyk's belief in the unifying power of dance music has only gotten stronger in the intervening years. "I remember during the conflict between Israel and Lebanon [in 2006], friends of mine from both sides came together in Ibiza. They had a great time and talked about how they all want the same thing: a future of themselves and their children." This, he says, is proof of how dance music can have an impact, even off the dance floor.

I tell him that this is a comforting thought, especially now, when the world feels more fractured than at any other time in recent history, and headlines are endless reminders of violence boiling over everywhere from Gaza to Ferguson. But I challenge him a bit. Couldn't you say the same thing about the Olympics and the World Cup—international events that hype up their abilities to bring people together, but in reality, do little to change the circumstances of all the people involved?


"If you look at how many dance floors and festivals are happening everyday in all these different places on the planet, it's a much more substantial movement than an Olympic game," he replies. The politics of dance music are subtle—they are about creating a positive energy, and taking it back to your everyday life.

But in the end, Van Dyk recognizes that good vibes aren't enough to create real change—you have to take action. Which is why he puts in time and money into a variety of causes, from his children's charity in Mumbai to the German Red Cross. His humanitarian efforts were recognized in 2009, when the city of Berlin awarded him with a Medal of Honor.

"Music is like a spark," Van Dyk concludes. "It has to be people to make the change."


More on dance music's positive impact on the world: 
Electric Forces: America's Vets and the Healing Power of Festival Culture
Meet the DJs Against Climate Change
Richie Hawtin, Skrillex and Dixon Are Taking Dance Music To South African Townships