In a climate where musicians tend to work towards what will make them a quick hit, few artists are willing to go above and beyond to pursue their own ideas and sounds to produce an enduring musical legacy. Yet, Dutchman Don Schipper, better known as Don Diablo, has managed to flourish through his nearly twenty year long career by following his love of music to the edge of the earth, giving his all in every production and every performance. A Don Diablo DJ set is not for the weak of heart either – his noteworthy and mesmerizing productions are showcased with stunning visuals that command your feet to move to the propulsive beats while also digging deep into your soul and reminding you of those who you most care for and love.
I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Don in Washington, DC this past Friday night (well… very early Saturday morning!) to dive into the subjects of life, his forthcoming album and changes he would like to see in the industry over cakecups from Baked & Wired. It has taken DC promoters five years to bring this notable man back to the nation’s capital, and It was only a bonus that Don played until almost 4 AM, with the crowd still crooning his name as he left the stage.
Don, I’ll start with a heavy hitter! What do you want to be known for in life?
I guess generally just being a good person. That’s all I have. That sounds weird, but I wanna be a good son, a good friend and eventually a good husband.
That’s a fantastic answer though! So, you have a very distinct sound that has developed through the years, where are you finding your current inspiration for your music?
Everywhere. It’s from movies, songs from the 90s, songs from the 80s, just music that I did myself in the past and just everywhere right now. It’s cool because everything is open right now, right? You can do whatever you feel at least. There’s a lot of new, surprising stuff on the way I feel.
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You have a very recognizable brand – we see you in the black and white all the time, your logo is on everything. Was there a point where you decided and your team decided that yes, we’re going to develop this?
Yes! There was a moment. It’s funny because there was a point where it happened… in the beginning you start off and you feel like nobody is watching and you’re just kind of doing it for nobody. It all started when I was developing a visual show with the guys from V Squared Labs and I wanted to do a different type of live show. I created this show where I would be standing behind a see-through screen that was shaped in a hexagon that would open with the A that was part of my old logo, which was part of the anarchy sign and the anarchy was part of the idea of musical anarchism, which means I can make any song I want because there was no structure and there are no rules. That’s kind of where it stems from and then I ended up just having that logo and I was like, ‘Hey, maybe that logo is just cool to use instead of my own artist logo’ – have a logo that is separate from my name so people can wear it on shirts.
They’re everywhere tonight!
Yeah, it’s like a superhero thing, right? It’s like the batman sign. It just started growing and from Day 1 I’ve been doing my own social media and always supervise my own artwork, music videos and everything else. I just do it from the heart and there’s not a big team around me, I do everything myself from a vision that I feel is very personal. I think now the brand has become really strong.
It’s recognizable anywhere. The sound mixed with the brand… it just works really well.
It’s good because before it was really all over the place. People didn’t really know who Don Diablo really was or what he stood for. Maybe just the connoisseurs like yourself, you know?
I remember Anarchy Anthems [Don’s old podcast], listening to those all the time, and I think right after that is when we started seeing that shift and that build?
Yeah. I think it was with the record Starlight.
Starlight makes me cry!
For me it was funny because, oh, I have a hit! People singing along. It’s not just me making music anymore and throwing it out there for the real fans and for the real music appreciative people. Yeah, so that was the turning point for me personally.
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The last time you played in DC was… the last time I saw was five years ago.
Wow…. you were there?
No, unfortunately I wasn’t….
But you saw that I played there?
Yeah! That venue doesn’t even exist anymore…
It doesn’t exist anymore?!
No. There’s nothing there anymore.
It was a very weird one, I can tell you that.
Can you recall any fond memories from DC from that five years ago, or…
I just remember it was extremely hot when I was there.
Yeah, that place was disgusting.
I just remember I played… I did a lot of shows a few years ago where I felt like I wasn’t really sure why I was there. That was one of them I think (laughing). I was like, ‘what am I doing here!?’ You know what it is, you think you’re at a certain point in your career, in your life and you feel like you’re doing something right and later on you look back and it turns out people didn’t give a shit about you. And yeah, that’s how I felt for the biggest part of my career. Up until the last few years of my career – now people are buying tickets, they’re wearing my shirts, you know, people are listening to my music. It’s pretty cool. The memory of DC is one of those blurry hazes of forgetfulness.
Okay, so, I’ve lived in DC for three years… and clearly you haven’t been back!
It’s weird that I haven’t been back here!
I legitimately looked back at posts I have done on your tracks and Hexagon tracks, and every single one I have at some point written, ‘DC promoters, please bring him here – What are you guys doing!?’
Well you know, what happened now – I’ve got an agent in the US now.
Sooo, now we’ll see you more! Okay, I find this one interesting. Do you think there’s a gap between European and American producers? Whether it be the mentality, skills, I know there’s a video that came out a couple days ago about Swedish musicians in general and that’s part of their culture more or less…
There used to be a big gap, but nowadays the world is becoming so small because of the internet.
The world is flat.
Yeah. I mean, Holland used to be known for Hardstyle and Trance, and now there are some other people like myself who are more House-y. I don’t know, I think it’s becoming more global. It’s weird. In Holland we have 30 DJs who are in the Top 100, apparently we are doing something right.
There’s something in the water!
I mean, yeah. Compared to such a huge country like America we have a relatively large amount of successful artists.
Yes! So, if you could change something about the industry, what would it be?
I would probably just wanna see… okay. Maybe two things.
Yeah, go for it!
Number one, I feel like people who don’t make their own music should be a little more respectful. Sometimes it’s frustrating to compete for billing and set times with artists who just buy other people’s records. It’s fine if you want to cheat the system, but I despise the fact that some real talent out there doesn’t always get the chances they deserve because of this situation. It just makes me want to scream. I feel some organizations should pay more attention to what’s really going on out there. That’s one thing. The other thing is related to that. What I think would be really cool is if we started going into a direction where every artist plays 90% of their own music when they DJ.
I say this all the time!!
Because, why not! We go to a festival, Alesso plays Alesso music. Don Diablo plays Don Diablo music. Tchami plays Tchami music. That’s like concerts. Rock bands do it, rappers do it. Why can’t DJs do it?
We’ve become artists. But for some reasons we all need to play the same hits, and yeah. If I could change one thing, it would be that. But we need a big movement to make that happen.
Thank you, boom. Walk it out. See you later. Also yeah, we should move away from DJs wearing all black now. It’s not funny anymore (Laughing).
Add some white!
Yeah, add some white touches. Do something!
Tchami has the little white preachers collar.
Yeah, you know.
Okay. So what’s the favorite? This is probably like picking a favorite child, but what is your favorite track that you have produced?
Mine’s M1 Stinger.
Yeah, mine is M1 Stinger too.
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It’s weird. It’s my most listened to track on Spotify.
I think that might have been how I found you. With that track.
It’s the track that came to me most natural when I was writing it. And that kind of music is the kind of music I most personally love to make. There’s also the song I wrote for my father, called, ‘The Artist Inside.’
I love that one.
You know, it doesn’t get more personal than that. I don’t know, those two records are very special to me.
We’re the same person.
(Laughing) But you can’t always play them in your set. For me, there’s a world beyond the club. I like to make tracks…I don’t know… there’s just music for different times and different moods, and I actually just decided this yesterday that I’m going to be working on an album again!
Are we allowed to talk about this?
Yeah, we just decided, so. I’ve been working for three years on creating a club profile so I could just go out and play my own songs for one and a half hours. But now I feel like it is time to do a proper album again. I’ve already made two tracks for it, now I’m just talking to collaborators. There will also be some stuff in the style of M1 Stinger on there.
Okay, so. What does your ideal promo email look like?
Ooh… That’s a really good question. Ideally it’s not a lot of text. It’s a streaming on Soundcloud link that is downloadable. Not different links, definitely not a WAV file, keep it to a high-quality MP3 and don’t send too many tracks in the same email. Preferably just the one. Remix packages: just do one big remix. When I do a remix, I kind’ve go in and ask them if I can be ‘the’ remix or at least get my remix released earlier than the rest. But sometimes it’s like: ‘Here’s our track and here’s nine remixes!’ And, what was wrong with the original? I haven’t had a remix for one of my songs in three or four years, I stopped doing remixes because I felt like you need to be you and the hope of having someone else make a big remix of your track and kind of benefitting off that. I dunno… I feel like that wasn’t something I wanted to do anymore. And now I do actually enjoy doing it the other way around, I have been doing remixes for others that have actually been helping my profile. Even the last one, the Tiesto remix, I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. But now I just heard it’s number one on 1001tracklist of most played tracks of the last four weeks. So I am happy I did it in the end. But it’s funny, it seems like the less effort you put into something the more naturally it comes and the more successful it will be. I think that’s with everything in life, if not at least music.
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Okay. My last question! Since ADE is coming up….
Are you coming?!
So what am I going to do over there, you want to know?
I know when you’re playing! But let’s talk more about what’s going on at those gigs…
It’s going to be dope because it’s my only club show in my own country. I haven’t done a club show in my country in almost two years and it’s dope because it’s very intimate low ceiling. Loud sound system – Funktion One.
Any ADE tips, hints. What should be covered, what shouldn’t be covered for first timers? Anything for the festival?
I think you already know, knowing you, you know exactly where every cupcake store is, which DJ is playing where – I think you know more than I do. You should probably guide me! I’m going to do a seminar where we do a session of three hours, in depth of where we talk about where the scene is going. I was also going to do an Under 18 show but it’s for some reason not happening anymore I think. But I’m doing a cool show as well in the Ziggo Dome. It’s a show I’m curating with a Dutch TV presenter and we wanna bring the dance back as in, people dancing rather than just jumping. Sister Sledge is coming, KC and the Sunshine Band. Oldschool dancing. Not just CO2 and LED screens, it’s really about that groove…and having a good time. It’s in Amsterdam, but it’s not during ADE. For my night, what I decided to do was you have all these line-ups with 25 names on it.
Yeah, these line-ups, they give me headaches.
Yeah, we were talking to a lot of artists and they were like, ‘Yeah, I’m exclusive this and exclusive that,’ and we were like, ‘Okay, why don’t we just do Don Diablo, that’s it.’ If you want to see me, come by. Trust me, I will have some great guests. You can kind of guess who I have been working with, who can potentially be coming by (wink wink, nod nod). So, I think that’s cool. Those people have not played in small clubs for years, so it’s going to be something you want to be at. It’s not that big of a venue, so all I can say is, be there or be square. But yeah, for the rest I don’t know. It depends if you like talking, going to the conferences. It’s really up to you. The only thing I’ll have to say is don’t go too hard on the ‘Amsterdam’ stuff – people die. That’s probably my best advice – Don’t die. What doesn’t kill you brings you back next year – try again next year!
All right, thank you so much!