Legendary DJ David Guetta is soaking up some rays and breathing in the smell of the salty water of Biscayne Bay deeply from the deck of Paraiso Bay, a brand new waterfront development where Guetta will soon own a condominium. He’s in Miami to play at Ultra, Winter Music Conference’s unofficial two-day electronic dance music festival, which has become as big and lucrative of a business as Guetta himself. That’s saying a lot for the festival—Guetta is the world’s second-highest-paid DJ, raking in $30 million a year.
At Ultra, Guetta is at the top of an all-star lineup, set apart not just by popularity, but also by a fundamental difference between him and some of those other DJs on the roster. He’s been in the game longer than most, since the time before DJs could be “rock stars” and electronic music was mainstream. “I have been a DJ for many years,” says Guetta. “I started working before house music really existed. When I first started, I was playing funk, and soul, and disco.”
This longevity might explain why it feels like there is a bit more depth to Guetta’s tracks than others in the EDM genre. Some of this extra soul comes from collaborations with pop and hip-hop musicians like the Black Eyed Peas, Akon, and Kid Cudi in the mid-aughts, which helped pioneer his unique sound. However, the big break didn’t happen until he merged R&B artist Kelly Roland with dance music for the 2009 hit, When Love Takes Over. From this moment on, Guetta became a household name and his career took off like a rocket. This fresh, new track with the ex-Destiny’s Child member struck a cord, with Billboard naming it the number one “Dance-Pop” collaboration of all time.
It was a very fruitful period for Guetta. “All those records I made at the same time, so it was like a very strong statement… and all of them were hits,” he says without the slightest bit of pomp. “A lot of other DJs and artists started to show a lot of interest in that style,” explains Guetta, politely referring to the swarm of copycats who attempted the same with varying levels of success.
While others have borrowed this concept, Guetta is continuing to evolve with new albums and new sounds, including the wildly successful track Titanium that featured Sia’s vocals, as well as disparate songs, such as Shot Me Down featuring Skylar Grey from 2014, and a recent reggae-tinged track with Nicki Minaj that is still climbing the charts.
The level of success Guetta has achieved was never something he thought was remotely possible. “It was impossible to imagine this,” he says, not just of his own fame, but also the dramatic ascension of the DJ to the top of the musical food chain.
“The profession has become so big that a lot of kids now are dreaming of doing it in the same way they once dreamed of becoming a football player, because now it means fame and money. Instead of learning to play guitar, they’re learning how to produce. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they have something to say musically,” says Guetta. “Some of these kids’ music sound good, but they aren’t bringing any emotion. I call it empty music.”
Guetta does find inspiration in a lot of young artists, however, and he listens to all kinds of music. “Sam Smith’s album, In The Lonely Hour, and Hozier’s Take Me to Church are incredible,” he says passionately. Clearly, the DJ appreciates the emotion there. Closer to his own sound, he enjoys Skrillex and Diplo.
“It was really great to meet Jean-Claude Biver, says Guetta of TAG Heuer’s CEO. “He’s such a perfectionist; he’s done amazing things with the brand, as well as Hublot. You can see it in everything he does, including his famous cheeses, which he sends to me.”
Biver’s prized Gruyère may have hooked Guetta to sign on as TAG Heuer’s brand ambassador. “I’m very happy to be doing this campaign with them—it’s very exciting,” he says, flashing the sleek blue-and-black TAG Heuer Formula 1 Special Edition, which he had a hand in designing. The watch boasts an aluminum, 24-hour display, helping weary travelers like Guetta track day and night.
Interestingly, the brand’s auto-racing heritage is precisely in line with his Dangerous video, which featured him living the life of a professional racecar driver. The campaign for the new watch was photographed in Miami during his stay. “You’re actually going to see Ultra in the campaign,” says David with a mischievous smile. Ultra was an interesting choice when TAG Heuer would sponsor the Formula E race in Miami a few short weeks later.
No doubt there were scheduling problems for Guetta who is nearly always on the move and rarely in one place long enough to even set his watch. For someone who moves around so much, deciding where to buy real estate can be an issue. He has to criss-cross the globe on the regular, yet still needs to make time to see his two children. “I used to live in Paris and go absolutely nuts, traveling back and forth. I was killing myself with jetlag. Now I have a base in Asia, and when I play Europe, I’m based in London,” he explains. This way he can stay with his children when he’s not working, but the rest of the time, he is allowed a more normal lifestyle. “I’ve been doing this for a few years now and feel so much happier.”
His new place in Miami will serve as yet another base for when he travels to the western hemisphere for gigs in America and South America. He’s rather excited about the rooftop penthouse he purchased at Paraiso Bay in Miami’s burgeoning Edgewater neighborhood. The project’s first tower is still under construction, but the buildings and the complex grounds are going to be breathtaking when it’s all finished.
“At first I thought this would just be an investment, and that maybe I would rent it out. But I’m thinking it might break my heart to do that because it’s going to be so beautiful.” One of the reasons for this is designer Piero Lissoni, the project’s designer. “I’m a huge fan of his,” explains Guetta, who says he learned that Lissoni was behind some of his favorite brands, like Boffi. Guetta, you see, is a bit of a design geek, and the designer’s involvement sealed the deal.
Not coincidentally, one of the things that Lissoni does best is something Guetta also does in his music—taking something ultra-modern and giving it a touch of soul. “I like modern, but I like modern design when it’s comfortable and a little warm using materials like wood or leather.”
The DJ chose Paraiso after scouring the city for a great pad. He was fixed on finding something in the Magic City. “I have totally fallen in love with Miami—it’s crazy. I have tons of friends, and as you know the French community is pretty big here. Everywhere I go I always run into friends or someone I used to work with. I have a nice gang of friends.”
Home is definitely where the heart is, and having a good network always helps—but there is even more here for Guetta than that. He appreciates all that the city has to offer, from fitness to nightlife. “Miami is the sexiest city in the world, and I feel like I can find everything here. I like a healthy life, I like to run and go to the gym, and it’s really easy here. It’s also easy to eat healthy here. There are some amazing restaurants.” All of this is a great counter balance to Guetta’s club life, which is also alive and well here in Miami. “There are amazing clubs—I play LIV and Story, and I love it. Of course I play Ultra too—it’s one of the best festivals in the world. You’re working, but you feel like you’re on holiday.”