“I want to keep it really true to myself and to my roots,” Nick van de Wall, better known as Afrojack, tells Rolling Stone of his vision for the debut album he hopes to release this September. The 24-year-old Dutch DJ and producer first introduced Americans to his dense, aggressive electro sound with the 2010 club smash “Take Over Control,” before becoming a mainstream chart-topping presence when he teamed up with Pitbull, Ne-Yo and Nayer for last year’s mega-single “Give Me Everything.” Afrojack is now back at home in Holland, after spending the better part of this year holed up at Hollywood’s Paramount Studio writing and producing tracks, many of which will find a home on his first full-length release.
Afrojack, whose name comes courtesy of his once-outsized hair and jacked-up beats, says the music for his still-untitled album is finished; he just hasn’t yet decided which tracks will make the final cut. Afrojack spent a healthy portion of his time in L.A. recording tracks with other artists and friends like LMFAO, Flo Rida, and Natasha Bedingfield, so he’s still mulling over which of these he will use for his album and which will end up in their respective artists’ own repertoire. “I have the advantage of choice,” he says of the enviable point he’s reached in his career. “I can do what I want. It’s nice.”
Whether he truly doesn’t know or is simply playing dumb, Afrojack is guarded about revealing which guests will appear on his album – at press time, he could only confirm an appearance by singer Omarion. But regarding what type of sound his fans can expect on his debut, he is quite direct. “Basically it’s gonna be dance,” he says emphatically. “I want to give it as much of a dance feel as possible.” Aside from a few choice singles, Afrojack doesn’t see pop songs having a place on an album bearing his name. He’s aware that this may be a bit off-putting to a large contingency of his newer fans, but he says he cannot betray the genre he’s loved since he was 13. “It’s my first passion,” Afrojack says of dance music. “I like the storytelling of instrumental club tracks way more than doing pop songs.” It’s a balancing act for Afrojack, really – keep his hardcore dance fans happy and risk alienating his newfound pop fans, or vice versa. So the DJ makes sure to add that he also loves the pop tracks he’s helped create – specifically “Give Me Everything.”
Many of Afrojoack’s poppier numbers have come about as the result of friendships. He says that his close bond with Pitbull was how he ended up on the rapper’s massive single. “The fact is he’s a really nice guy and I like his music,” Afrojack says of the Miami MC. “What kind of asshole would I be if I wouldn’t work with my own friends?”
So while in L.A., the DJ made sure his friends were always near: He rented a gigantic house in the Hollywood Hills that he shared with his crew, whom he had flown out from Europe. The hours spent in the studio were long – Afrojack estimates logging 14-16 hour days, on average – but retreating to the seclusion of his home at night served as a respite from his otherwise chaotic, oftentimes manic schedule. He greatly enjoyed the contrast. “When you’re in the house in the mountains it’s like you’re in the middle of nowhere,” he says while explaining his affection for L.A. “And then when you go down to the city, it’s crazy and everyone’s working.”
For the first month of his stay, Afrojack spent much of his time working with writers, largely focusing on tracks he had already produced. He then took two weeks to record tracks for other artists in various studios around town before returning to Paramount to write and produce a batch of entirely new songs. The one constant was his hands-on approach: Afrojack says he almost always insists on composing his own music and assisting with the writing and melodic process. “When you come up with good concepts for songs,” he says, “you have to put a lot of time and effort into it.”
This spring and summer, Afrojack will return to the States for a full-fledged U.S. tour. All signs point to it being a crowded affair: This past December, his first U.S. solo show at NYC’s Roseland Ballroom sold out in a matter of hours. “It was the most amazing experience ever,” he says. He’ll also return as a headliner to Coachella, where last year he was joined on stage by Paul McCartney and Usher. (“Paul was super nice,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting anything so that was dope. They’re both legends.”) Given his rising celebrity, this go-round at Coachella promises to be a different affair. Nonetheless, Afrojack says he still plans to dedicate nearly 40 percent of his set to new material. And it’s his audience’s open-armed reception that keeps him excited about the future of the genre. “You have all these people that are on a hunt for new music and they all come together,” he says proudly of the dance music community. “You just don’t see that [in other genres].”
Yet a looming question still remains: Will the Afro that spawned the DJ’s name ever make its grand return? “I think it’s a thing of the past,” Afrojack says, laughing and sporting a buzz-cut. “But you never know. When I don’t do my hair, believe me, it looks like a gigantic tree.”