The Finnish DJ, producer and songwriter’s latest release, ‘Together’, has monster summer hits you’re going to be playing on road trips this year. Euronews Culture speaks to the European EDM legend…
European electronic dance music is revelling in a new golden age, led by one of the pioneers of the genre in his latest reinvention.
Finnish DJ Darude – real name Ville Virtanen – is back with his own record label, and a massive new album that is full of danceable beats, memorable hooks and chart-friendly songwriting collabs that crown him a worthy equal, or even successor, to the biggest European DJs like Avicii, David Guetta and Calvin Harris.
Getting out of a grandfathered record deal, where he was contracted to produce four albums, gave the 48-year-old the push he needed to set up his new label ‘Vibing Out‘ where he and his American wife – who handles a lot of the management behind the scenes – were able to take control.
“Being signed to a major label like HMV or Warner can present challenges for an artist like me, who is not a pop artist, something which Warner is very good at,” Darude tells Euronews Culture.
“I didn’t want to go to another A&R meeting and convince someone that this is not ‘Sandstorm’, but it’s still good.”
Darude’s iconic 1999 platinum-selling hit single still overshadows and benchmarks his career a quarter of a century after it was first released.
And it’s always in high demand. The new Donald Glover TV drama ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ uses the song ‘Sandstorm’ on one of its early episodes; and you can hear it on big-budget Hollywood blockbuster marketing like Mad Max: Fury Road, or TV shows like ‘Queer Eye’ or across ESPN.
The track has been covered by artists in every way imaginable from a rousing symphonic version in New Zealand, to a classical harp solo; it’s been played on Boomwhackers, on piano, on a jaw harp, arranged for Medieval lute and even reimagined for electric toothbrushes, two credit card machines and a printer.
‘Sandstorm’ truly is the track which launched a thousand cover versions – but the new album ‘Together’ looks set to capture a whole other audience.
“I think I’ve evolved, but if you listen from the first album to this one now, it’s still the same energetic dance music, that theme is there. But I think I learned along the years, and learning made me more confident to open the horizons.”
In the past, Darude has attended songwriting camps without participating much in that part of the process, but with ‘Together’ he took a very hands-on approach to both the writing and the production.
The standout track on the album is the lead single ‘Outlaws’ in which Darude teams up with veteran Finnish producer House Body and new vocalist Oskr for a summer road trip banger.
“We had fun making this track about dads with kids who don’t get out too much, and this is a nod to what we wanted to hear, the 909 drum machine, old school foundations of house music, we put some ravey stabs and a nod to the great days, and we want to make this Avicii breakdown and a melody.”
Oskr’s vocals hit the mark too on ‘Breathe’, a more reflective yet still infectious song that introduces Australian singer Bianca, and the pair carry the verses back and forth like a conversation.
“I didn’t consciously make chart music but I like a great vocal, and I like dance music so why not combine them? I’m an average listener, I like melodic and hooky stuff but I don’t like it cheesy, just great melodies. Not too poppy or too EDM-y,” he says, describing the ‘sweet spot’ on the album where he reunites with Paenda, Austria’s 2019 Eurovision entrant, whom Darude met when he represented Finland that same year at Eurovision in Tel Aviv.
English singer-songwriter Git Sedgewick also contributes tracks on an album that has more variety than most EDM artists are given credit for.
Still on the road
Like every touring artist, Darude was hit hard by the pandemic in 2020, but it was during lockdown that ‘Together’ was conceived. These days he’s back on the road and playing around 50 gigs a year all over the world.
“For me, as a dad and a husband it’s manageable. Any more than 50 gigs and it becomes chaotic. With finishing the album it’s been quite a full year, but touring-wise we are back to pre-pandemic normal. One thing that feels good now is that I’m not afraid to say hi to the fans either. I avoided that for a good while, I was a little COVID-shy,” he admits.
With a fanbase largely outside of his native Finland, Darude has played the biggest electronic music festivals in the world including Tomorrowland in Belgium, and Australia’s Future Music Festival, and remains in high demand in Europe, the US, Middle East and Asia.
In the official ‘Sandstorm’ video, viewed hundreds of millions of times on YouTube, a young Darude at the start of his career is an observer as black-clad runners chase parkour-style through the streets of Helsinki.
So what lessons would 2024 Darude pass on to 1999 Darude?
“I would tell him to hold on for dear life!” he tells Euronews Culture in a phone interview from his home in southwest Finland.
“I got to experience a music shoot for the first time, I was an innocent bystander and for the first year or two I was doing all that stuff like promotions and gigs, I was going along with everything. Do you want to do an interview? Yes. What’s next? I’ll do it. I didn’t know if it was going to last or if there would be an income for me or a career.”
Darude has hardly slowed down since that first flush of success with a brace of acclaimed albums under his belt and the new record label venture taking up his time now. In the future, he hopes to be able to sign artists directly to his ‘Vibing Out’ label and mentor the next generation of European performers.
“I could have been happy with the ‘Sandstorm’ success and not pursued anything more,” he muses. “But I somehow knew to take that chance and run with it, and now I commend myself for doing it.”
Darude’s new album ‘Together’ is out now.