For eight consecutive months, Adrian Wiltshire tackled his DJ sets in a crisp three-piece suit, a bold Hermès belt, custom black and gold Michael Kors watch, and a pair of silver studded loafers. As the official DJ for Ariana Grande during her 2015 world tour, The Honeymoon Tour, Wiltshire's flashy attire was just one part of the lavish pop affair. "When we started, she'd never had a band or DJ before," says Wiltshire, who performs under the stage moniker DJ Dubz. "The creative directors wanted to use a DJ to create a different vibe. They wanted to hype the crowd." It may seem peculiar that a DJ of only five years could rise to such an esteemed role so rapidly, but gargantuan concert stadiums are a familiar space for the former dance choreographer from Brooklyn.
"I wanted to make people feel like I felt when I was dancing," Wiltshire says about his shift from dance to DJing. As a choreographer, he's worked with some of the most celebrated acts in the entertainment industry. He's the mastermind behind Pharell's Oscar-winning "Happy" dance, creator of the routines for Major Lazer's on-stage dance crew the "Lazer Girls," and was featured in movies including Dream Girls, Step Up 3D, and Stomp The Yard. But a career in dance is exhaustive, and after a decade of carefully matching movement with rhythm, the 33-year-old felt it was time to move on. "If you love something so much, you can and will fall out of love with it," he says.
Thankfully, Wiltshire's high profile and artistic versatility quickly landed him gigs in his new role as a DJ. "I got my first tour with Cheryl Cole, she's like the Beyonce of the UK," he says. Although he admits that his past experiences as a dancer were what initially helped prepare him for the job, he was held back by a lack of technical skills. "I'm not ashamed at this point to say my set was pre-recorded at the time," he says. "It was not live at all, but it's still a performance."
Four years later, an unapologetic Wiltshire is adamant that he's progressed well beyond his days on tour with Cole. "All my other stuff has been live," he says. "All my Ari stuff is live." Throughout the 88 stops of the tour, Wiltshire also served as co-musical director of the production, created new remixes of Grande's biggest hits and, from time-to-time, even impersonated Nicki Minaj. "When the raps would come on, I would do them," he explains. "For 'Bang Bang,' I did Nicki Minaj's voice."
THUMP reached the new father—his son was born a few days before The Honeymoon Tour began—at home in Los Angeles, and he gave us a peak behind the curtain of what it's like to spend eight months performing with one of the world's biggest pop stars.
THUMP: What is Ariana's most requested song?
DJ Dubz: She would always have the most random requests, one day it was Spice Girls. Then when Justin's song came out it was "What Do You Mean?" which she also started performing at our shows.
Has she introduced you to any music?
I've started listening to a lot of other pop artists in her same category. Ariana loves Whitney, she loves Madonna. Ariana's soul is so old, she has so much music knowledge.
What your relationship like with her now?
I don't have the same relationship with her as someone that's been around for years, but I love her, and she loves me too. Can I get on the phone and call her? Yes I can. If I have a track that I want her to check out, of course I can show her. She invited me over for Halloween. She keeps in touch. It's very cordial.
You've only been with Ariana for a year, were you a fan of her before?
I was always a fan of her because I love real artists. She sings, she writes, she's a performer. I wasn't like a super fan of hers, but I respected her. I love the camp that's around her. I've known [her dancers] Brian and Scott my entire life. I used to take their [dance] classes and they used to take mine.
Cashmere Cat opened the North American leg of The Honeymoon Tour. Did he inspire you in any way?
I like Cashmere Cat because his [collaboration with Ariana] inspired me to do the remix. Do I like my "Adore" better than his "Adore?" Of course, it's mine. Do a lot of people like [my version of the song] better than they like his? Of course.
What would you try and do differently if you were to tour with her again?
I think the challenge for me would be for her to use every [remix] I give her and no one else's—which is kind of selfish. That is what I'm gearing up to try and do now; I'm really working on my production.
Having started your career playing pre-recorded sets, do you ever worry that it could cause you to lose credibility?
I'm pretty sure a lot of people get backlash, but I'm a creative director. I didn't feel guilty about it. I understand the importance of a performance. You do run the risk of the machines malfunctioning, something can always go wrong. When you're doing a stadium show, certain things cannot be done by a live band. But at the end of the day, everything I'm doing is live.
If you weren't DJing for Ariana Grande, who would you want to DJ for?
Myself. Unless Michael Jackson comes back from the dead.
Rebecca is on Twitter.