“I’m Not Just The ‘Sandstorm’ Guy”: Darude Talks Love-Hate Relationship With His Biggest Hit & Playing Music “For Himself”

Finnish DJ Darude (real name Ville Virtanen) is a legend of the electronic music scene. Having started in music production while still studying at school, he spent much of the 1990’s producing and releasing demos of tracks to radio stations.

In 1999 he gave the demo for a track called ‘Sandstorm’ to his producer, and the rest, as they say, is history… except it wasn’t quite that simple. ‘Sandstorm’ certainly propelled Darude to international fame, but the strangest part of his career was when, in the early 2010s, the song burst back into the public eye and became an internet phenomenon.

Its return to public consciousness has seen Darude tour relentlessly, reborn as an artist, taking his incredible live show around the world for the past few years, proving to audience after audience that he’s much more than a one-trick-pony.

We caught up with the ageless Fin mid-way through the Australia/NZ leg of his current world tour.

Music Feeds: It’s great to have you back in Australia and New Zealand. Feels like you’ve only just left but you’re back already. How have the first few shows been?

Darude: The shows have been great. I did … Actually it nearly killed me, I flew in from Finland via Hong Kong.

MF: Yeah tight schedule wasn’t it?

D: I did four gigs in 24 hours in Australia, after which I flew to New Zealand, so lucky we had a couple of days off and I actually did a long studio day, after which I slept for 16 hours in a row. But the gigs have been really good. The Aussie ones were good and then yesterday in Queenstown was great. People are in very festive Halloween mood and today I am in Christchurch and just did a soundcheck, now i’m eating and sitting down with the crew and looking forward to coming back to Australia too.

MF: It seems like you’ve been here every year for quite a while now. Why do you think Aussies love your live shows so much, keeping you coming back every year?

D: You know what? That is a very good question. One thing that I do know, obviously in practice and in all honesty, it has to do with ‘Sandstorm’ and it has to do with the resurgence of ‘Sandstorm’ because of the internet meme stuff.

There’s been several sort of these happy accidents and things that bought ‘Sandstorm’ back … I never really stopped my career or went anywhere but between 2000 and … I don’t remember when was last time in Australia. There was almost like a seven or eight year gap for me coming to Australia but then after Future Music in 2015, I’ve been coming back pretty much twice a year now.

The thing that I love about Australia is people are very open-minded and when I got to come back for Future, I think that showed people that I’m not just the ‘Sandstorm’ guy. When I play music, I play what I love to play and I observe the crowd and I interact with them and I’m there as me, a true music lover as well as a DJ and I think that shows. Maybe that’s why people remember me and want to see me play again.

MF: Your live shows and those sets seems to encompass a pretty diverse range of styles and genres of music, from dance, techno, a bit of house, bit of trance, everything in between. It’s some of your music, it’s some of other people’s music, almost feels like a bit of a time capsule in styles and stuff. What do you want your live show to give to people?

D: Well I’ll first start with what I don’t want it to be… Actually you know what? What I wanted to give to people is exactly that… I’m not just a one-track guy and I’m not locked into one genre either. Not that I play like rock and roll or jazz or anything, it’s definitely all dance music, but I like all kinds of dance music and there’s a time and a place and a mood for all kinds of things.

So depending on the venue and set length and all that stuff, I can go from just brand new stuff that was released on Armada or Garuda or or whatever song from last week, to something that is five years old or something that is 20 years old. It all is about the situation and how it strings together and how it flows nicely.

I’m lucky in the way that, forgive me, but I pretty much play for myself. I play music that I love, but it seems to resonate really well with the people. I don’t really follow top charts of the moment but I do get new tracks and when I find new tracks that are good, I play them. It’s not about what’s new and what’s recent or hot, but it’s what I find good, that I play.

MF: You mentioned before that you were in the studio whilst you’re on tour. Are those the two sorts of things that go together quite a lot for you? Are you often writing new music whilst you’re touring?

D: Well I have to. I’m lucky I have two amazing kids and an amazing wife, and when I’m home, obviously I do have a good studio and proper one in Finland where I live. I have to prioritise my time between the studio and the family and so when I’m on the road, I’m basically just surviving from gig to gig and then whatever downtime I have, I try to make it a studio day or studio session.

Yes I write a lot on the way, sometimes even produce stuff that I can try out that night when I play. That’s the beauty of modern technology and nice headphones and stuff, that you could just throw stuff together with your laptop and just a mini keyboard and stuff like that. I do that a lot. You get ideas travelling and sometimes the late nights and early mornings gives you delirium and you’re in a very good creative space as well, as long as you remember to record what you’re thinking.

MF: Obviously the new track ‘Timeless’, we’ve got to talk about that one. How does that fit into the whole Darude discography and vibe and feel? What were you going for with that one?

D: Well the cool thing is, that I’ve known Gareth, and recorded while I played a lot of his stuff and then I’ve known Ashley Wallbridge as well who are the two owners of Garuda. When they new released or re-launched Garuda, a while ago, I got to release a track called ‘Surrender’, with Ashley and singer Foux last February and that was sort of a transient record. It’s 132 bpm and uplifting vocal trance and this ‘Timeless’ track sort of continues from there.

I didn’t really go away from trance but it’s definitely returned to an actual trance sound for me, and I’m liking that direction. It’s a 134, very uplifting trancer and features vocals from Jamie, and the process of creating that was really fun and easy I heavily relied on the Garuda idea and sound and also I spoke a lot with Ash about this new track as well, because I just wanted it to be in line with ‘Surrender’.

MF: It must be great to be able to play to a group of people and have your music span across the best part of 20 years and I know you’ve answered questions about ‘Sandstorm’ to death, but now that that’s all happened, is that the strangest thing that’s ever happened to do you, do you think? That that has propelled itself back into the public eye?

D: Well ‘Sandstorm’ has, since it’s beginning, been my gift and my curse but I don’t see it as a curse anymore. There’s been some ups and downs about my own thinking about it but since… If in 28 years and somebody comes to the show because of that one track, then that just gives me a chance to update their view of what I actually do and what I play, which is not that far from what I used to do back in the day. So that’s just made the whole thing happen for me, and start for me, but obviously I also don’t rely on one thing and I think when people come and see my show, I would love to think that they hear other stuff that they like as well. But it’s sort of in line with everything I do.

Obviously ‘Sandstorm’ changed the course of my life. I would still be making music, but I don’t know if I would have become a professional performing artist and touring artist without that track, or if it would have happened 10 years later or something. My career is sort of like this string of happy accidents. Once I got going and my career actually started and I realised that was going on and whatnot, then I started realising too that I might be a dreamer but I think you work hard but you can also try and create those happy accidents. You can try and create conditions for them. So when you work hard enough or believe in stuff you do, then those happy accidents also start happening more.

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