Superstar Dance Music Producer and DJ

We spoke with Finnish ‘rude boy’ Music producer and International DJ, Darude to discuss life after his world conquering hit ‘Sandstorm’ and his latest release.

Darude is one of the few Finnish musicians who have broken out with global hits, his track ‘Sandstorm’ went platinum and became one of the most recognised dance tracks ever made. Often restricted by the underground nature of the dance music scene, to break out beyond that is quite a feat!

Especially hitting regions like the US where dance music took a while to hit the mainstream. Sandstorm first hit the world in 1999, so it’s over 23 years old now, but remains a common track to be heard at big stadium sporting events, and still gets airplay on the radio.

I challenge you to find anyone in the world who’s not heard that track, it went that big! We found out if Darude was sick of talking about, or listening to it!

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“Yeah, I’m not I’m not sick of talking about it. Perhaps 10 years ago, I had a little bit of a time when it wasn’t the main thing that I wanted to talk about.  I was sort craving for people to realise there’s other stuff as well. But, but to be completely honest with myself and with you or anybody else, I mean, sandstorm, and then feel the beat and that album. But sandstorm, has been the peak of my career in terms of selling and being in the charts.

I’ve come to terms with it a long time ago, I still play the track in my sets, I love every second of it. And I make new versions of it here and there. Seeing the crowd’s reaction, people go bonkers, it’s amazing. It’s an escape. I can’t even hate the fact that if they don’t know anything else other than sandstorm. Like, it takes .2 seconds to Google, Spotify, whatever search and you’ll find all of the four albums and 40-50 remixes I’ve done. But it’s kind of weird that they don’t know more. But even if they’re about the one track and if they come to my show, they pay the ticket price at the door, and then they give me a chance to show what I do now.

I haven’t repeated that same exact sound and I don’t do the same style, but I don’t think it’s a huge leap to my current style, it’s still electronic dance music, I still love energy build-ups and simple but catchy melodies. So I believe that if I get somebody through the door today, they probably will come next time as well. And for that reason, as well. Something like Sandstorm as a business card basically is invaluable!”

There are some exceptional tracks from the ‘before the storm’ album, ‘the flow’ and the j16 dark mix of ‘feel the beat’ are both bangers well worth a listen if you’re in the one track Darude listening category! How did the emergence or the acceptability of EDM in the US change things?

“I know, it was one of the few especially instrumental electronic tracks that was played anywhere in the US. It was interesting for me, I’ve toured in the US since late 2000. What I didn’t understand, because I didn’t know America like that. I just went and was always with like-minded people. The radios that would interview me would be dance radios or commercial, something that would play dance, trance house, whatever but  I didn’t see how not mainstream it was.

I just saw clubs full of people, people having great time, like everywhere else, the only thing was different was that they had tight dress codes, it was so funny to me, guys would only be let in wearing suit pants and like slacks and everybody looked like trash.  It looked funny to me because people looked so worked up by the end of the night. Several years went on, and then the electronic dance music or EDM boom, started 2007-2010. But I lived in America then and when I moved there in 2007, near Atlanta they had two stations that were main station one was very, very strictly hip hop. The other one was an alternative one. And both of them played exactly that. So alternative would be Metallica’s and then alternative rock and punk and stuff like that on a commercial tip. And then just real hip hop, the same stations.

Four years later, on the hip hop session, you would still hear Snoop, you would still hear Flo Rida, Usher, but it would be 128 EDM, it was crazy. And the alternative rock channel even would play some EDM stuff. And I happened to live there that time. And then it was clear to me then we started seeing commercials like insurance company commercials and whatnot on TV with dance music. And then only then I realised that the first 5,6,7 years that I’d known America, I didn’t even realise how not mainstream dance music was and it was mind-blowing thinking back then.

America doesn’t have the same radio infrastructure that many European countries do like the UK where there’s a national radio broadcast system, Radio One and we have our own in Finland and Finland is of course a small country doesn’t affect really other countries, but especially UK in Europe, then like Germany and other countries that have the national radios and dance music on those are like at least specialised programmes. Plus of course UK has had like the kisses and all kinds of dance, favouring stations as well. America doesn’t have one big radio station that broadcasts everywhere. So you have these pockets of things and some wherever you just can’t rule over country, for instance, sometimes it’s hip hop, that is the big thing and dance music stays small. But still, like now they have these EDC festivals in all kinds of dream state and whatnot and dance music is is big, which, to me is beautiful.”

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So how was the music scene in Finland growing up? How did you find your groove?

“In Finland. We’ve loved our dance music and in the broadest way, we enjoyed dance music from other countries abroad. All kinds of Euro dance not so much mainstream wise like the credible stuff like house or techno or anything like that, but we’ve loved it. I don’t know if you know these names, but like Bad Boys Blue, Modern Talking. They were German sort of pop. Yeah, but those were like pop dance in mid to late 80s. But that was like this not traditional dance but kinda like a pop version of it really hooky a lot of times about love and relationship and, but like disco, gold, European disco type of stuff. That was what I was listening to when I was 10 to 15 years old or something like that in my teens. So the scene we had discos but that you wouldn’t call them clubs. They were more like youth discos and then of course restaurants. But at that time, in Finland, as well, you needed a suit jacket to get into restaurants and you would need to be 18 in some places. I mean, the legal age was 18. But in some places only you could get in at 18. But they they would have like 22 and up cool places. But people would just go there to drink mainly, they would have a tiny dance floor. And each night would end up with a slow dance basically.  So it would be kind of this older school way of doing it.

But then, for me growing up, the youth Hall was an amazing place. Packed 2500 people. I took a bus for half an hour a little more from where I lived, and I mean we would have Finish acts and international acts. They would be German, some maybe I think we had a British acts a couple of times they would be like Swedish ones. I don’t know if you know the name Dr. Albin by any chance, a very, very famous Swedish An artist in the Nordics basically, but I don’t think he never broke out through throughout the world or like to UK. But if you look him up as well. Dr. Albin. You, you’ll hear very typical sounds of the turn of 90s, mid 90s For me, but then at the same time, I’d be listened to radio there was one speciality show on national radio at that point and this guy he would go to Sweden to London bring Germany bring records with him. He had this widest variety of stuff like German Happy Hardcore, kinda of like techno could be UK House this and that, then he could play reggae, some kind of Dancehall stuff and all kinds of things. And I loved that show.

I wouldn’t go out on Fridays and Saturdays because I would just be by the radio and ready to record stuff. And then around 15,16 or 17, I started going to actual raves it will just be like for his I remember this particular one might have been my first I’m not sure. In Roma near where I lived, it was a car dealership that was just I don’t know, they closed shop and my while I didn’t know them then but my buddies who I later got to know. They just rented it out, bought like a million black garbage bags and just covered everything. And dividers, so that you had to go to this sort of main room. And that was a rave. I mean, the rave thing wasn’t really about lights and lasers then but it was just like a place plays with some sort of sound system and, and I’ve seen a good bit of those but our country is very small, especially then with no internet, it was detached from the rest of Europe.

We had a couple of people who had been outside somewhere and then they brought stuff in little by little. And our dance scene grew, it was alive but tiny. Sandstorm was actually the first one from Finland to make it into the top 10 of the UK charts. Yeah. And that’s kind of my claim to fame being one of the first artists to make it on charts outside of Finland, like they’d been rock bands, there’d been some electronic acts even doing something like little touring, but not notably on a chart level or something that would make headlines on, you know, the, at least within a particular genre. So, and that was 2000 So up until that point, we kind of didn’t have much movement outside of Finland.”

I’d always imagined that ‘Sandstorm’ had been made in a big studio with lots of resources, but was amazed to find out it was born in your bedroom studio, and then pimped up in your friends studio.

“I did make it first myself in my little studio with one synth. And then Jaakko Salovaara (JS16) he kind of took me under his wing, we remade it with his gear. And it changed a little bit of form. I think it wouldn’t have ever gotten where it is now without his golden touch and ears. But what’s interesting to me as a producer is that obviously I knew everything that went into it. But then we got more technology both started producing with Logic Pro and then more gear, more plugins, more everything. And it wasn’t until I don’t remember the year but maybe 10 years back now. I rebuilt Sandstorm in Logic, and I realised it has I believe only 26 sounds in it, separate drums counted as well. And laying it in Logic now using all the tracks on a Mackie 24 Channel Mixer. I often think now, what the hell am I trying to do to put as many sounds in as I can and layer after layer and look at arrangement this big and wondering why it doesn’t sound good, or why, why it’s so hard to mix. But it is hard to mix when you have a bazillion things in it. And it’s hard to control and everything.  I realised that there’s a reason why some of the tracks that just you come across and happy accidents happen, and then they sound good. They’re just simple. And you don’t need 18 layers of a synth. Because, you know, you could find a one or two good ones and go with that. And it really steered my production mind trying to simplify and even if I use layers, I would then think of them as one thing and not 18 things doing different things.”

“One thing that is also mind blowing to me about Sandstorm still so I actually have a rack that has similar gear now, here in my studio. When you hear filter sweeps or filters opening on the track, they were actually done live, There was something off with my buddies setup and the MIDI stuff he couldn’t send. So everything that had MIDI, some sort of fades or glides, or changes, filter wise and whatever we’re done in real time. So we had four hands on the rack, and I don’t remember if the second or third run through straight to that, that was always the final mix of it. And it’s quite crazy to think about that, because now we just draw on automation like it’s second nature now.”

I could definitely delve down a rabbit hole and we could talk tech for hours. But I’m gonna talk about Outlaws now and your new label. So let’s talk about outlaws. It’s a different sort of track. I mean, it’s another banger. It’s not a typically Finish vibe, but it’s all Finish musicians. Is that right?

“Yeah, it is. ‘House Body’ is a friend of mine who I’ve known since like, 2000 tour. So we, he had his own act called beats and styles with this other guy, Ali back in the day. And then they also had like a live full live band that they toured with, and we did some same festivals and whatnot, got to know especially Jakub. He’s made eight of my music videos over the years. So he’s a video producer, as well, does all kinds of 3D things and music videos and anything basically. And finally, we got to collaborate. This actually started in 2019. Already. When I was on the road in Cali, and happened, you know, he lives in near Oceanside. So I just visited him for a couple of days and, and we sat in the studio, just this one sitting, then we had the instrumental almost as you hear it now done, and then it kind of sat on my hard drive for a year and a half as COVID happened. We both decided that we wanted a vocal on it, it kind of the breakdown because there’s this couple of things is the sort of old school rave or house, a little distorted. And then there is his guitar playing in a breakdown. That’s real his electric guitar and then I had the anthemic chords. So we kind of combined a little bit of trance, and then house, rave or retro, whatever. And then we wanted this. And I hate to name names drop this here because I don’t want it to be a negative that we just wanted something exactly like that, but Avicii’esque vocals basically. And I mean, may he rest in peace and I looked up to Avicii and whoever worked with him and made all these great records but that’s kind of the closest reference we wanted it to combine this like kind of hard banging dance record with the breakdown and the vocals on top of that. And so then this was literally our like mindset and then I came across OSKR. In 2001. He took part in Eurovision Song Contest or the Finnish part of it didn’t win that but I heard him sing. And I fell for his voice his sort of aural charisma and he lives 30 minutes from me, I never knew him before that and so then contacted him he was game for trying something out and he sent me a demo of another track and I sent him this one we worked on this one first he made the vocal based on our story about wanting to build a track that be kind of listened to in a rave or want to dance to in a rave kind of thing. He nailed the vocals I pretty much wept here in the studio. I was so excited about the vocal both the tone and the lyrics. And he’s also an amazing producer. I just dropped the vocals in, did some mixing we did a couple of new takes of some other stuff and that was it really. During the pandemic, I didn’t want to put stuff out because mostly the promo is going around with touring and doing interviews and stuff like that. Starting the label took its time to figure out distribution and everything that goes in the back end of it, my wife and I were or she’s mostly running the admin stuff behind the scenes. And so that’s what took even this sort of extra year or whatever time. And now we’re finally here. And I’m so excited that I get to talk about it. And I get to see what, what we can come up with the label.”

It’s a very instantly recognisable track. It’s a familiar track almost, as soon as you hear it, you know, there’s, there’s just a comfort with it. I think it’s going to be a massive hit, I think it’s got huge potential to get out there. Moving on to your label though. Obviously modern distribution channels open up all sorts of doors to circumnavigate some of the big labels. But it also comes with its own pitfalls, as well as a lot of competitiveness around, you know, getting on playlists getting heard, you’ve got a fairly good door opener in the fact that you’re Darude! How are you approaching the label? And what’s your plan for it? Is it to release your own material? Are you planning to collaborate? Or are you bringing on your own artists to come under your wing? What’s the plan?

“I started the label, because a lot of times, I was frustrated. I haven’t been kind of screwed or anything, but, but when you are dealing with, especially a major label, they always look for the hit record, not anything else, you bring them coolest dance record that would make the dance floor groove for hours, they’re not interested, or they don’t get it because it doesn’t have directly dollar signs on it. Without dissing my former partners too much at all, because they know, and I’ve been frank with them, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to start the label. And like you said, it has its pitfalls as well, because nothing is set in stone. And you have to kind of find the right partners, the playlist stuff is really, really complex, or at least if not complex, it’s difficult and to get on the right playlist, and, and then as a small label, honestly, we have to think really hard, what kind of advertising campaigns and how much money we put into that and which track deserves but needs that push or benefits that push. One of the things about the label is, my own stuff is coming out on that and, but I’m also flexible if I collab with somebody who needs it on their label or a sign to a major maybe we can do a collab releasing through that I’m not tied by anything right now, other than my own label, and I can decide whatever I want to do with that.

An artist doesn’t necessarily need a hit record for their career to continue nicely. You know, do touring, do promo, do gigs, for the money of it, really. And then if you’re relevant enough, either with your records or you’re playing around enough, or the combo of all kinds of things, interviews, maybe you do sample packs or whatever, that generates enough interest, then you keep on touring, and that’s how your career goes. But try telling that to a record label boss who wants streaming in house. And wants a bazillion streams. Absolutely. Obviously, I want to swim in money at some point, but at the same time, my career will work just fine if we just put music out. If we get the label going with other people as well, and basically widening the network and the exposure that way, and I guess that’s the thinking behind it for me, or my career, and then I don’t know, I’ve actually said it out loud, because that ensures that I can’t backpedal with it. But I also want to be a transparent label, like I, I’m fed up with my own experiences, in some cases, but then also a bazillion stories where people have been screwed over. Yeah, they’ve been stuck in a contract for ever not able to do stuff. Or they signed contracts where they basically after the fact found out, he didn’t know about a hidden in plain sight clause, you know, them being not experienced enough to either understand it themselves, or take it to a lawyer, as you always should, with a legal contract.

Or, like, in my case, again, not shitting on anybody, but back in the day contracts were different than they are now. And you know, at one point, if you had an old contract from 20 years ago, streaming, for instance, didn’t really work in that context at all. And now you’re stuck with a tiny, tiny fraction of a percentage, because it wasn’t a consideration back then. And it was just like, then it was translated to apply to modern streaming. And now you can do whatever you want and generate a bunch of money for your label, but not exactly you.

So I want all of that being very transparent. And then also, I don’t want to just pick any tracks for the label and push anything and everything, but I want to I need to know that it’s something that I’ll play myself. And also that we feel the track is something that we can help push. I don’t want to promise anybody really anything other than we’ll do our best because it’s our own interest. But I don’t just want to take a thing that I think might be good, but if I don’t know who to go with at first, or how to start strategizing around it, then I probably won’t sign a track. There’s room for everybody. I am not like definitely not discriminating. It’s all about if the music’s good, and if I’m sort of digging it and we’ll go from there. And I’d lie if I said that we have a clear path for the next couple of years.”

Imagine you’ve just woken up in a parallel universe. It’s almost identical to this world, but Trump has actually taken over the world and stamped out all fun (apart from golf, obviously). But he’s closing down all the nightclubs, all the venues. But there’s a chance for one last gig before they will go away. Where do you choose? What tracks you start off with?

“All right. So I would choose I would choose to play in the middle of Helsinki, there’s the square of the citizens, which is in front of this amazing library, quite a new library. And it’s the same spot before the library was actually built a couple of years ago, where I got to play in 2016 New Year’s Eve. So that same place and I would start with my little cheeky bootleg of Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, which I’ve dubbed Never Gonna Do Do Do.”

I didn’t know about that! We touched a lot on Sandstorm and obviously, sandstorms become further immortalised through the internet subculture in the gaming contingent, as well as Rick Astley’s Rick Roll. And I did wonder what you know what bastard child you and Rick Astley would come up with you know if you were to if you were to collaborate sounds like you’ve already been there and had a crack at that one.

“Yeah, I’ve actually done that. I grew up with that song. And it’s kind of insane seeing that being you know, taken a life of its own, like it has but then I’m often I’m not trying to put myself in the same great category with Mr Astley on the song, but I’ve often been compared, you know, because of the meme. Meme power of Sandstorm has had as well. And honestly, I don’t know if him and the label are happy about my little rendition but it’s just a bootleg and obviously not commercially available or anything like that. So there’s no harm or, you know, anything meant. And it uses it’s just a house beat behind it. It’s a little beefier than the original. But it definitely did a raise some eyebrows in the crowd. I was excited playing it the first time.”

What’s the rest of your day look like?

“So there’s another track that I made with Oscar and I’m in the process of figuring out a dance version of it. Because the original, which I don’t know if we’ll release as is, or not it’s more towards Lewis Capaldi than traditional Darude. Yeah, because of the writing. But I already have a breaks version of it and I’m in the process of making a four-four version of it as well, and we’ll see which one is going to be released. And or first or, you know, that’s interesting, but I needed version of it to play my in my sets anyway, so that’s what I’m trying to crack today.

And how do you get to that point of deciding which one takes centre stage?

“In this case, the team is basically my wife and I, and then we have a trusted circle of friends who would just do kind of test listen, you know, and there are people in the industry that are brutally honest, plus a couple of people who are just music listeners too. Both of them are meaningful and important. So if a listener says, this is better, there’s some weight to it as well.

But then we’ll also have to figure out if everyone were to go with say the more pop version or the more slower version that is not dance floor. I’d have to think about the strategy a little bit, but I might just put out that anodized live version at the same time, or at least serve DJs with the dance version of it because we are a dance label after all!

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Darude is back on tour, and will be at Biggest Disco 2023 in Dublin and at Restricted Forest in Blackburn UK – Check out https://www.darude.com/ for more info.

Darude Facts:

  • ‘Sandstorm’ has garnered 330+ Million Spotify streams, 246 Million YouTube views (600+ Million streams in total over all DSPs) and has been certified Platinum (multiple times) in the U.S, UK & his native Finland
  • Darude has won 3x Finnish Grammy Awards for ‘Before the Storm’
  • ‘Feel the Beat’ reached #1 in Finland & Top 5 in the UK Singles Chart
  • Darude has performed at: Tomorrowland, Parookaville, and Dreamstate SoCal, Ministry of Sound, Radio 1’s One Big Sunday, Dancfestopia, Future Music Festival and many more
  • In 2019 Darude represented Finland in the ‘Eurovision Song Contest’

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