Safety Dance

DJ Tiesto puts Israel in a trance.

Terrorists really know how to fuck up a good party.

The October 12 bombing of the Sari Club, a popular Kuta Beach dance spot on the Indonesian island of Bali, was only the latest in a series of multinational attacks on discotheques and rave clubs, otherwise known in the parlance of security experts as “soft targets.” Unsurprisingly, many of the nightclub bombings in recent months have occurred in Israel. Last June, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the heart of a crowd of hundreds of teenagers waiting outside the Dolphinarium, a trance club in Tel Aviv.

Perhaps because it’s apparently the soundtrack of pure escapism, electronic dance music, especially trance, is massively popular in Israel, where per capita sales have been the highest of any country in the world since the mid-’90s. Yet after the Dolphinarium bombing, the common wisdom among the globetrotting DJ elite became to avoid Israel at all costs. Citing safety concerns, big-name DJs either announced that they were no longer available for booking in the blood-spattered nation, or flat-out canceled gigs.

The only DJ to go on with the show — not coincidentally — was, at least in Israel, the biggest-selling, biggest-drawing of them all: Tijs Verwest, better known to his fast-growing legions of fans and detractors as DJ Tiesto. The lanky, ever-smiling Dutchman has emerged as Paul Oakenfold’s heir apparent, first in line to become the next Grand Wizard of Trance. Less than a month after the Dolphinarium bombing, Tiesto played one of his marathon six-hour sets in Jerusalem at Haoman 17, a club less than a mile from the Gaza Strip, where Islamic Jihad supporters had recently danced in the streets and fired AK-47s in the air to celebrate the first casualty reports from the previous bombing in Tel Aviv. Hours before Tiesto went on, Israel’s security forces announced a status of high alert, following intelligence reports that the terrorist group Hamas was planning a follow-up attack on a dance club somewhere in central Israel.

“I have to say that yes, I was afraid for what might happen,” the sweat-soaked, grinning, Heineken-pounding Tiesto confessed during a recent post-show interview, “but I decided that, if all these beautiful people were brave enough to show up to dance, I had to be brave enough to play my records for them. And when I was finished, it was 7 a.m., and the sun was rising. The night was over, and the feeling between the crowd and me was incredible, like ‘We survived!'”

Despite the danger, which has worsened since last June, Tiesto continues to perform frequently in Israel, inspired largely by a sense of obligation to the country which first broke him. Six years ago, Tiesto, now 32, was an up-and-comer in his homeland as the resident DJ at Sprock, a well-known club in the city of Bresda. He had just put out his first mix CD.

“A big promoter in Israel heard that disc, and he was instantly a big fan, and he invited me to come to Israel to play,” says Tiesto. “Until then I was only playing in Holland, but he treated me like a superstar, with a prime-time slot in front of a big crowd.” Sales of Tiesto’s trance mixes in Israel took off like a Patriot missile, and the Dutch boy was practically adopted as a native son. “Since then I have always felt connected to the Israeli people. When I play there, they bring out the best in me. I have to go there when they want me, especially with people so unhappy there, and all the DJs canceling. Making people feel good in rough times makes me have more fulfillment as a human being, not just as a DJ.”

Like his music, Tiesto is chronically upbeat, all sunrises and rainbows and lollipops. Devotees of electronic music’s darker, polyrhythmic subgenres like drum ‘n’ bass are advised to stay far, far away from Sonic this Friday night when he makes his latest Bay Area appearance. Tiesto is all about trance — progressive trance, tribal trance, tech trance, Euro trance, uplifting trance, deep trance — trance, trance, trance, trance, trance. Look into his eyes. You are getting very happy.

This year, after collecting more global DJ awards than can be listed here, and playing the second slot from the top in the dance tent at this year’s Area 2 Festival (Moby, David Bowie, et al.), Tiesto wrapped up a three-month residency at the Ibiza version of the British superclub Cream. That gig had him jetting back to the Spanish party island every week from London, Miami, or Rotterdam, depending on his touring schedule.

“Playing Ibiza is very cool, because the entire population of people partying on the island changes every week as they come and go, so every week you’re playing to a totally new crowd,” he says.

Like a lot of top-tier DJs, Tiesto doubles as a producer, retreating to his studio every few months to churn out original tracks. Unlike most of his peers, however, Tiesto typically spins sixty to seventy percent of his own stuff in his sets, a much higher than average ratio. The end result in his live sets is mix after mix few competing DJs could ever replicate.

But originality is a DJ’s lifeforce at Tiesto’s level. The pressure to stay fresh has led him to start playing off CDs as well as records — sacrilege to purists. “I want to use only vinyl, but now I have to use CDs, because of technology going faster,” he says, his smile suddenly dimming a few watts below 10,000 for a split second. “The hottest and newest stuff, you can’t get it quick enough on vinyl. Pressing a record takes eight weeks, and by that time it’s being played all over by the DJs with CDs. If someone sends me an MP3, I can burn it on CD, and I have it in my set that night.

“I am an old-school DJ who loves vinyl, but I must adapt to having success, and the way forward to me is getting rid of vinyl. That is the only way I will be able to always play new music at sunrise.”

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