An hour before performing to a jam-packed crowd in the Sahara tent at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Afrojack is still deciding which songs he should play. “I was thinking about it today. What should I play for these people?” he ponders with Rolling Stone while munching on festival-provided food in a backstage trailer. “I guess I’m gonna find out when I walk out on stage.”
Born Nick van de Wall, the 24-year-old Dutch DJ broke into mainstream radio last year with production work on Pitbull’s smash single, “Give Me Everything.” At last year’s Coachella fest, he performed a breakout set during which he was joined onstage by none other than Paul McCartney and Usher. Yet he still sees the SoCal get-together as a bit foreign. “This is a rock, hippie, real live-music festival,” says Afrojack. “It’s not dance-music based.”
Afrojack is admittedly more accustomed to playing dance music-focused festivals like Ultra or Electric Daisy Carnival. But he sees gigs like Coachella as an opportunity to convert those not already bitten by the EDM bug. “There’s 75,000 people in a tent. Fifty thousand people know what I’m gonna do or know my shit. Twenty-five thousand people are like ‘What is this! It’s weird,'” he says. I’m going to try and educate those people.”
Later that evening, perched atop a massive rectangular platform and shrouded in smoke as he fist-pumps in time to a flurry of aggressive beats and scuzzy synths, Afrojack does, in fact, look very much like a teacher – or at minimum, like some sort of revered authority figure. His set mixes traditional dance fare with poppier tunes (at one point, he drops an a capella version of Rihanna’s “We Found Love”).
Afrojack’s pop inclinations in the live setting make sense: in the past, he’s worked with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias, and he recently hit the studio with Shakira to record new tracks. “I’m gonna do something together with her,” says Afrojack.”She was really nice and open to new stuff and wanted to make nice music. (We’re) not focused on making the world’s biggest hit ever. Just having fun.”
That said, he still wants to reach a mass audience with his fall-slated debut album. Explains Afrojack, “I want my Grandma to be able to listen to it and understand.”