With most DJs, as with newsreaders, you can’t see their legs. At Martin Garrix’s latest shows, his are as much a part of the spectacle as the fire, steam and hyperactive video screens that are obligatory in the frenzied world of EDM. Visible through a space beneath his equipment, splayed and bouncing, it may be unclear what he’s actually doing up there with all those buttons while his music swoops and crashes, but he’s never still for a second.
In person he’s just as hyper, lying on a sofa one minute, hunched on the edge of it the next, racing to the end of every sentence he speaks. It’s a good job he has all this energy. Having just turned 21 last month, the Dutchman is currently the number one DJ in the world according to DJ magazine’s influential fan poll, and accordingly in huge demand. In the two days preceding our meeting at a headline show in Belfast, he has performed in Las Vegas, New York and Milan. Across two days this weekend he’ll be in France, Denmark and Macedonia. “The last couple of years have been the craziest of my life,” he says. No kidding.
The kids love him. Short and handsome with a flicked up side-parting, he’d be the cute one if he was in a boy band, which he looks like he could be. The crowd in Belfast looks so young that I’m worried all this dancing and whooping is distracting them from their SATs. Maybe they think he’s just like them – in 2013, aged 17, he scored a worldwide hit and a UK number one with his aggressive instrumental track, Animals. He attended Belgium’s Tomorrowland music festival as a fan and was delighted to find it was the most-played song of the weekend. “I was in the crowd, going crazy with my friends. Nearly every DJ started playing it, this song I made in my parents’ house – all my idols,” he tells me. “Then a year later I was booked to play there. It’s weird, it’s very crazy.”
His world today couldn’t be further from that of the raving masses. On the most recent list of “Electronic Cash Kings” in Forbes magazine, they reckoned he pulled in GBP12.6 million last year thanks to endless touring and a deal to advertise Tag Heuer watches. You can get a Garrix-endorsed Connected smartwatch, with a face designed by him, for GBP1,200-plus. He’s not wearing one today though. “I lost it.”
Then there are the celebrity connections. This week he was snapped in the tabloids planting a smacker on Dua Lipa, who sings his recent hit single, Scared to be Lonely. Other collaborators on his tracks include R&B superstar Usher, Dutch DJ legend Tiësto, New York pop star Bebe Rexha and, on his surprisingly restrained latest, There For You, YouTuber-turned-singer Troye Sivan. When he’s not playing headline shows, he’s been supporting his pal Justin Bieber on tour, as he will again when he’s second on the bill at Bieber’s massive Hyde Park concert next month.
“I’m good friends with Justin. We hung out all night last night,” he says. What were they doing? “Just chilling. Good talks. It was nice. Then we ended up in a club.”
Of course Bieber too became famous at a young age, albeit on a different scale. “Obviously his life is 50 times crazier, but he can give advice. We can relate on a lot of things,” says Garrix. I ask if he’d like to be as well-known as his friend and there’s a long pause. “He’s a legend. He will go in the history books for what he has done. But it’s too much. We were in Sweden once, just chilling at this house, and suddenly there was a paparazzi drone flying over.”
Garrix shares a manager, Scooter Braun, with Bieber and Ariana Grande. Just after Animals came out, Braun phoned Garrix to convince him that he was the man to break the song in America. He was only put through to the hotel room of the holidaying teenager because he lied to the front desk, saying he was from Garrix’s school and it was an emergency. “I was signed to Spinnin’ Records, this big Dutch electronic label, and Scooter has the biggest pop acts, so it was the best of both worlds,” says Garrix. “Our vision was to keep making club songs and radio crossover singles at the same time.”
So even though he doesn’t sing, he’s got powerful people behind him who are capable of turning him into a proper pop star. The DJ born Martin Garritsen in the suburbs of Amsterdam sounds like he’ll cope better than Bieber did in his wayward years. I lose count of the number of times he praises his team for keeping him on the straight and narrow. His support act on his own tour is DJ Justin Mylo, a childhood friend. “It’s very important that you surround yourself with the right people. I’ve never thought, ‘This is too crazy for me, I can’t handle it,’ because of my friends and my family and my team. They’ll tell me when I’m about to do something stupid. They’re honest with me. You don’t want people around you who are scared to say something in case they get fired.”
He already seems to have a strategy that allows him to be the life and soul of the party every night, while still remaining slightly detached from it. “I’ve never done drugs in my life. I smoke weed – I’m from Amsterdam! But no crazy shit,” he says. “Sometimes what we do, while everyone’s drinking Jäger, I’ll take a shot of cola. It’s sneaky. But I’m not gonna be like, ‘Oh I never drink.’ Whenever I have a night off, or if a show was super sick and I’m with my childhood friends and I feel like going crazy, I will. But I’ll surround myself with the right people, the ones who’ll say: ‘Take a drink of water now.’ It’s all about balance.”
He also spends a lot of time praising his younger sister, who joins him on tour when she’s not studying, and his parents, who play piano and guitar. He insists he doesn’t want to move away from Amsterdam, where he lives five minutes away from them. They’re the ones who introduced him to dance music when he was eight, by making him watch Tiësto performing at the 2004 Olympics opening ceremony in Athens. “DJs weren’t as huge as they are now, so it was a big deal that a Dutch DJ was part of the Olympics. I remember the music, there was so much energy coming from it. The feeling I got from it was really cool, so that’s when I started buying it.”
Now he’s the one emanating all the energy. Watching his outdoor show in Belfast, with its streamers, lasers, fireworks and fizzing video screen in the shape of his ‘+’ logo, is a cacophonous pleasure. He mixes his own songs with rocketing reworkings of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, The Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face and Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.
The appeal of the music is in its predictability, the many climaxes arriving just where you expect them, like a well-solved maths problem. I have no idea how Justin Bieber is going to follow this euphoric kid, full of beans, when he gets to Hyde Park.
There For You is out now on Epic. July 2, Barclaycard presents British Summer Time, Hyde Park, W1 (08448 24 48 24, bst-hydepark.com)