The Spin: Five of Ultra Music Festival’s Hottest DJs

Miami during Winter Music Conference is all about the biggest DJs, the largest events, and Ultra Music Festival. With WMC right around the corner, we sat down with Ultra veterans: Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, Avicii, Afrojack, and Kaskade to find out how they got started, what they do when they aren’t busy spinning, and what luxury means for them. Keep reading for some interesting facts about the world’s favorite DJs…


tiestio - haute living




AGE:  46

How did you get your start?
I went to a small club in my hometown of Breda in The Netherlands. When I saw what the DJ was doing and the relationship he had with the crowd, that’s when I knew this is what I wanted to do for a living. So I started small and kept building.

Did you ever dream that you’d be a DJ one day?
Yes. This is what I always wanted to do, and I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to make a successful career out of DJing.

What would you have been doing instead?
I really don’t know. I was always into music, but at first it was rock and metal, so who knows? I also love sports, so maybe I would have been doing something with that.

Did you have an “aha” moment, when you finally realized you’d “made” it?
Probably when I played a large gig in Holland for the first time. In Holland we’ve long had a great dance scene, so to be recognized at home for the first time, and on such a scale, was special.

Which of your tracks would you call your “signature” and why? Is it the favorite tune you’ve done?
There are definitely classics fans like to associate me with such as “Adagio For Strings,” “Traffic,” my remix of Delirium’s “Silence” and some more recent songs like “Zero 76,” Maximal Crazy,” “Red Lights” and my remix of John Legend’s “All Of Me.” I don’t really have a favorite because all of these tracks are part of my journey. I also like to evolve my music, so I’m always looking to keep pushing forward.

Which artists do you love working with the most and why?
Working with Hardwell and Martin Garrix is always fun. I also collaborate a lot with Dzeko & Torres and MOTi—two artists signed to Musical Freedom.

Where do you call home, or do you have more than one?
Right now I spend a lot of time in Las Vegas and New York when I’m not traveling.

What’s the best perk of your job?
I’m fortunate to travel the world, meet many people and experience so many cultures. That’s really amazing to me.

What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
I really enjoy sports. Many people might not know I have a fantasy football team.

What is the biggest luxury in life?
Time. I never have enough of it.


kaskade - haute living




AGE: 44

How did you get your start?
It was kind of a hobby. As a kid growing up in Chicago, the preferred format of buying music was vinyl. I was collecting a lot of records back then and when I went away to college I had three crates of records in my dorm room and started playing records for my friends by default. I was the guy with the great record collection.

Did you ever dream that you’d be a DJ one day?
No, I never really set out to do that. It was always just a super fun hobby for me that turned into something extremely serious. I got really into writing music 20 years ago and that just kind of went hand in hand with DJing. It wasn’t until later in life that I started taking it seriously.

What did you major in during college?
I graduated with a major in communications and a minor in Japanese at the University of Utah.

What would you have been doing instead?
I’m not really good about thinking about the future. College was something that was expected and more of a diversion from music and snowboarding at the time.

Did you have an “aha” moment, when you finally realized you’d “made” it?
A really big moment for me was when I went to Winter Music Conference in Miami [in 2002] and was booked to play a label showcase. It was my first record and “Excuse Me” was the title record of the album. It was a packed club. I put on that record, which had only just come out right before Winter Music Conference, assuming no one would know it . It just brought the house down. I was kind of like a rookie on the bill that night, but it was a huge moment: the club erupted when the record came on and I thought, “Oh my gosh. Maybe this isn’t a hobby. Maybe this is something I can do seriously.” It definitely changed things for me.

Which of your tracks would you call your “signature” and why?
“Excuse Me” is definitely a track that changed me and changed my course in life. It was a big moment in the underground. If it weren’t for a track like that, you wouldn’t know or hear of guys like David Guetta or Avicii. It changed the course of a broader sound of what dance music was.

Which artists do you love working with the most and why?
I haven’t worked with that many DJs. The most well-known guy I’ve worked with is Deadmau5. I’ve worked with the Galantis guys. I’ve pretty much worked with the guys I want to work with.

Where do you call home?
My mail goes to a home in Los Angeles.

Do you have luxury tastes?
I like nice things. I love my Range Rover. I was never a car guy but my wife bought me a Range Rover and now I don’t want to drive anything else. For Memorial Day weekend I had a lot of shows and I flew around privately in a G4, which was great.

What’s the best perk of your job?
Meeting interesting people. I’ve traveled all over the world for the last 15 years and have gone places people only dream about going to. From standing in Cape Town to hanging out in Singapore, I’ve seen and experienced so many amazing things because of music.

When you’re not spinning, what are you doing in your free time?
I don’t have a lot but I like to be outside, and to be active. I enjoy running, surfing and snowboarding. I like to be doing things.

What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
People are always surprised to learn that I can speak Japanese. I lived in Tokyo when I was younger.

How would you describe yourself ?
I’m extremely happy and very satisfied with where I am in life. I’m always trying to enjoy the moment and not get caught up in what should have or could have happened. I have a lot of happiness. I’m very fortunate.

What is the biggest luxury in life?
My biggest luxury is having time and moments with my family. I’m married and I have three children, so being able to make sure that we get enough time together is a luxury.

What is your personal motto?
Enjoy the moment. [People get] so caught up with everything around them that they forget to enjoy the journey.


afrojack - haute living




AGE: 27

Did you always dream of being a DJ?
Not always. I actually used to go to graphics school; I dropped out halfway through to become a DJ. When I was 15, I went to a nightclub for the first time and was like, “I want to spend the rest of my life in this place.” Music sets people free. People go to nightclubs or festivals to experience that feeling of freedom where the world doesn’t matter for a second.

How did you make your dream of becoming a DJ happen?
I’m from a really tiny city near Rotterdam and most people [from my area] are hustlers—so that’s what I did. I went to the clubs Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, just meeting people. I was making websites for DJs so I could get close to them. I would ride my bike to the subway, subway to the club and walk for 15 minutes to the club because I couldn’t afford a taxi. That’s what I did for a year so I could learn about music, hear more music and just be constantly surrounded by the celebration part of life instead of the serious part of life.

What do you love about working with David Guetta [who you collaborated with on the track “Hey Mama” with Nicki Minaj]?
I met David for the first time six years ago, and he was really excited about my music. He said, “Let’s work,” so we sat down and swapped a couple of tracks. We then made music together and partied together. That’s how a lot of the best tracks happen. We’ll come back from the club or we’re hanging out in the hotel room drinking, and someone runs with a crazy freestyle so we’ll set up the mobile mic and a laptop and start rocking it. That’s how a lot of those big hip-hop songs get recorded—people just having fun.

Who would you love to collaborate with?
Prince! In terms of DJs, I’m actually trying to get some tracks together with Kelvin. We’ve been talking for a long time. I like his music and he likes mine, but we haven’t done a track yet. David Guetta and I work together a lot, and I’ve started working with Avicii and Martin Garrix.

What are your favorite luxury brands?
I love G-Star and Audemars Piguet. I like watches [because they] are expensive, but also because they’re an investment. I’m not really saving money. I’m like, “Have fun; work hard.”

What is your biggest indulgence?
Most DJs don’t fly private jets because they think it’s stupid expensive. I do, but I fly 330 days out of the year so I basically live on an airplane. The first time I took [a private jet] was with David Guetta. I was like, “Oh my god, this is awesome!” No security, no passport control; they even had sushi on the plane. It was ridiculous. I said if I make enough money to take private jets, I’m going to take private jets, so now I take them almost everywhere.

What’s your motto in life?
Never give up on your dream. You only get one life, so why not try your absolute best to make it your dream life? You’re going to be happier doing what you want to do in life than doing what you think you’re supposed to do because that’s what society tells you. That’s why I called my last album Forget the World. The world tells you to be honest, but [it doesn’t mean it]. It’s difficult sometimes in this fucking business, but I have no complaints.

What is the greatest luxury in life?
The real definition of happiness and luxury is getting to live your dream. [In terms of material goods], I own 350 pairs of shoes; some of the shoes don’t even fit because I see a pair that I like and they don’t have my size—I’m 15.5. I have a few houses and five cars—a Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, a Lamborghini Aventador SV, a Ferrari 458, a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe and an Audi RS6. I like to race cars, and I’ve made the mistake of not always doing it in the daytime. Fast cars are meant to be driven fast. Financially I feel like I’ve hit the lottery. I’m not here because this is a phase; I’m here because this is my life and this is what I’ve always wanted to do. This is my dream life.


avicii - haute living




AGE: 25

How did you get your start?
A friend of mine showed me FL Studio, and I was hooked from the moment I started using it—I would spend almost 12 hours a day producing. When I met my manager, Ash, I continued to focus on producing. DJing was something I kind of held off at first, because Ash wanted to make sure I was completely comfortable behind the decks. Luckily, I started off with pretty good gigs almost right away. Then, once I started touring, I never really slowed down until this past year, due to medical reasons.

Did you ever dream that you’d be a DJ one day?
Producing always came first for me, and it still does. It wasn’t until I stepped behind the decks that I knew I’d want to actively pursue a career as a DJ as well. You get this incredible rush. When you drop the track and the crowd just goes fucking nuts…that feeling is indescribable.

What would you have been doing instead?
I honestly have no idea…I never really had a chance to think about it!

What other DJs do you admire?
There are many, but I’d have to say [I admire] Eric Prydz [the most].

Where do you call home, or do you have more than one? If so, where?
Definitely more than one! I’d have to say Los Angeles, since I spend so much time there, record there and have a house there. Las Vegas and Ibiza, because my summer residencies there are always incredible, and Sweden, because it will always be my home!

Are you a watch guy? If so, what’s your timepiece?
Yes, I am! At the moment, I’m wearing an Audemars Piguet.

What’s the best perk of your job?
I’d have to say the traveling. It can be exhausting, but it’s incredible to experience so many different cultures, and perform for my fans all over the world.

When you’re not spinning, what are you doing in your free time?
I recently got into photography. I have a Canon EOS 5D, which I love. I also like to work out, go out to eat and hang out with my friends!

What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
My guilty pleasure is gossip magazines.

What is your biggest luxury in life?
I think my biggest luxury is that I’m able to do what I love for a living, and that I’m able to put everything into my music and focus wholeheartedly on what makes me happy.

What is your personal motto?
To do what you love, and keep on keeping on!


armin van buuren - haute living




AGE: 37

Did you ever dream that you’d be a DJ one day?
I was always a fan of dance music—all my friends were listening to it. When I started listening to dance music, it was completely unthinkable to DJ outside of The Netherlands, but right now it’s become this big thing. [Back then] here wasn’t room to dream to have a residency in Vegas.

What would you have been doing instead?
I’m a lawyer; I finished my law degree, but I don’t see myself in a suit sitting in an office anytime soon.

You’re the fourth trance artist ever to be nominated for a Grammy. How did that make you feel?
It’s just amazing making music for so many years. I don’t even know what the hell I’m doing, really—I’m just following my heart—and to get nominated for a Grammy is quite spectacular.

What do you enjoy about playing festivals like the Electrid Daisy Carnival [EDC]?
It’s just a kick to play for such a big crowd. I can’t really believe what’s going on. I think [EDC] will be as big as The Beatles playing Shea Stadium or Woodstock, because this is what’s happening. It’s a cultural phenomenon.

What’s the best perk of your job?
The fact that I’m my own boss and I don’t have to answer to anybody [as well as] seeing the crowd going crazy, creating a tune in the studio with other people or alone, and seeing that tune rocking a crowd is just the best feeling. It makes up for all the jet lag, all the delays, all the airports.

Who do you love working with?
I’m always open to working with anybody. I don’t have beef with any other DJs. The most important thing for me is the song. You can work with Chris Martin from Coldplay, but if the song is not good, you won’t have a hit. Having said that, if Chris Martin sings something, I’ll make sure that I’ll record it.

When you’re not spinning, what are you doing in your free time?
I can only relax if I’m with my family. When I’m traveling I’m always in work mode.

What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
I have a life-sized Darth Vader in my game room. [I haven’t been to Star Wars conventions] yet, but I would if I had spare time!

How would you describe yourself in a phrase or a sentence?
Overambitious, perfectionist, family man.

What is your personal motto?
Don’t be a prisoner of your own style. It goes for everything in life: life is much more interesting if you’re open to everything it has to offer.

Do you have one place you call home?
Home for me is Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

What is your You’re a Christmas baby. What would you say has been the biggest gift you’ve given to the world, and the biggest gift the wold has given to you?
My biggest gift to the world would be the music, or my radio show [A State of Trance]. My biggest gift from the world would be appreciation and love. Maybe the answer to both questions would be love.