X Games Aspen: Martin Garrix on headlining opening night at Buttermilk
You may consider concerts at events like the X Games and the Olympics a sideshow to the main attraction of athletic competition.
Don’t tell that to Martin Garrix, who headlines X Games Aspen on Friday night.
The world’s most popular DJ, Garrix says he owes his career and his life in music to one such performance.
As an 8-year-old in Holland, Garrix watched a televised set by Tiesto – his fellow Dutchman – spinning at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Seeing that concert changed his life.
“That was my first encounter with electronic music and I was hooked,” Garrix, now 21, said via email during a break from recording in his Amsterdam studio. “I started playing around with music in my room, playing at small parties and organizing my own parties in my hometown at some point. That’s how everything started.”
After seeing Tiesto, he downloaded some DJ software and got to work. By the time he was 17, he was in his bedroom crafting “Animals,” the breakout track that would make him world famous. A pounding, party-starter of a trance track in the European tradition, “Animals” went double-platinum and, as of this writing, totaled 1.1 billion YouTube views. Garrix never expected it to be one of the most-heard songs on Earth.
“I made that track in my old bedroom and never thought that in the end so many people would be listening to it,” Garrix said.
Since that introduction to the world, things have only gone upward for Garrix. He soon found himself working with Dillon Francis and Afrojack and his hero Tiesto. He’s collaborated with vocalists on infectious, inescapable tracks like “In the Name of Love” with Bebe Rexha and “Scared to be Lonely” with Dua Lipa. He’s collaborated with pop musicians like Usher and Ed Sheeran, toured with Justin Bieber, and played with The Roots on ‘The Tonight Show.” At age 20 he was voted DJ Mag’s top-ranked DJ in the world. He has a DJ residency in Ibiza and his own record label, STMPD. All that and his chiseled looks and easy smile made him the face of Armani Exchange last year, so now he has a modeling career to fall back on if this DJ thing fizzles out.
“I never expected everything to be like this when I started,” he said of the runaway global fame he’s earned. “I just wanted to make music. It was hard to often be away from my family and friends because of touring, especially in the beginning when I wasn’t able to fly them over.”
Friday night marks Garrix’s Aspen debut. He’s expected to play some unreleased tracks along with the hits and recently released songs like his collaboration with David Guetta, “So Far Away.” The new song is a straightforward pop ballad, with vocals by Romy Dya and Jamie Scott and epic bass-dropping bridges by Garrix in-between. It’s the latest entry from Garrix in a prolific run of releases that have showcased an elastic creativity that spans genres and EDM styles and keeps the young producer’s fans guessing at his next swerve. Another recent hit, “Pizza,” is an elegant progressive house instrumental.
Garrix keeps an open mind when choosing collaborators, he said, paying little attention to genre or style and instead focusing on a personal relationship.
“I don’t have any conditions when I want to collaborate with someone, as long as I can connect with them and there is a good vibe,” he explained.
Some hardcore EDM fans may scoff at his stratospheric stardom or his frequent forays into pop music working with the likes of Bieber. But Garrix focuses on the creative side of things, he said, and doesn’t worry about factions of fans or genre purists.
“I won’t say that I focus on a specific territory,” he said. “It’s just that I want to make music based on my ideas and creativity at that moment when I’m in the studio. I don’t want to limit that process by thinking about genres.”
An avid snowboarder, Garrix is hoping to spend some time on the mountain this weekend. With his jet-set DJ lifestyle these days, he said, he doesn’t get to ride much but he did get some laps in last month in Schladming, Austria, where he played during World Cup competitions.
This weekend in Aspen, Garrix is playing to the festival crowd at the X Games venue at Buttermilk for what’s expected to be crowd of about 6,000 on Friday night. That’s relatively small by Garrix’s standards these days – he headlines arenas and festival where crowds top 100,000. On Saturday, he gets the increasingly rare opportunity to play an intimate club show, headlining a sold-out Belly Up in front of less than 500.
In the festival setting, with a shorter set time, he said, he tends to craft a high-energy sonic sprint from start to finish. When he has some more time and a cozier club setting, he said, he likes to play around with pacing – slowing things down a bit between the crescendos. Either way, he shows up prepared to improvise and follow the crowd’s energy.
“I do prepare lists of music that I think will be cool to play,” he said, “but it’s always a surprise what I’m going to use when on stage. I adapt this to the vibe I’m getting from the crowd.”