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From Trance to Tarot: The Evolution of Paul van Dyk



It starts out with the big bang, but then it also goes through different parts of the evolution of modern society, from architecture to the whole multi-media world, social structures, and then goes back to nature.

The monogram PvD means different things to different people. Depending on which dance music circles you hail from, Paul van Dyk is either a superstar, a trance DJ, or some German guy that was popular when your big brother or sister snuck out to raves. His career as a top international DJ has spanned nearly twenty years and, contrary to popular belief, he really isn’t a trance DJ anymore. If you still dabble in the underground, you won’t know or care that he’s evolved. If you’ve been following him for his long career, you’ll notice that he’s putting a lot more into the experience of his sound. To the younger generation, he might sound like a less rocky Skrillex, or a less commercial David Guetta.

Born and raised in East Germany, Paul van Dyk (Matthias Paul’s stage name, in fact) brings a certain understated efficiency to the scene. He thinks big, executes even bigger and remains loyal to his wife and business partner, Natascha. He’s terribly polite, viciously aware of global issues (not only outspoken on the topic of energy efficiency, he also started a charity for Berlin’s underprivileged youth) and, for a German, is hysterically funny in a manner that’s hardly sarcastic. None of the aforementioned qualities are common in combination. Or, as he simply puts it: “I’m not a sort of Jagermeister-drinking guy with ten girls back stage.”

That said, van Dyk is about to release his sixth studio album, Evolution (you can pre-order it here). The last was In Between, released in 2007. And with the album comes an impressive visual display, not only on stage, but each track will have a video that accompanies its release. All created by Anthony Burns, the videos are designed “to give people a chance to dive into the whole thing on a visual point as well,” said van Dyk. “Eternity” and its accompanying video released earlier this month.

I personally fall into the underground slot that is, or was before this story, largely unaware of anything Paul van Dyk does. My first foray into his music was backstage at a Terminal 5 show last winter. I met he and Natascha both, and had the privilege of watching his overwhelming visual show both in front of and behind the screen. When asked to interview him a few months ago, I was at a loss as to what to discuss. So, I figured I’d give him a Tarot reading. And I was pleasantly shocked to discover not only a German open to the unusual interview tactic, but also a greatly humorous, warm and intelligent man who—like me—enjoys taking a bite out of American governmental logic.

The visuals for your live show are impressive. Why did you choose such an elaborate set up?

I wanted to bring in something extra. There are often things like massive LED screens, at shows but often they are not connected to the music. I wanted to do something that is an overall experience. The light, visual, stage and video design had to come together in a way that was really special… while I was still allowed to play as freely as I wanted to. I’m pretty proud of it. The album is called Evolution, therefore everything you see visually is an interpretation of the different aspects of [that]. It starts out with the big bang, but then it also goes through different parts of the evolution of modern society, from architecture to the whole multi-media world, social structures, and then goes back to nature. DNA strands are in there, everything… it’s all about progress and development.

It’s not directly translated in the track titles, or anything like that, but the feeling is there. There is a German word for it: “Freitgeist.” It means “free spirit,” or “more open.” If we all agree on the big bang theory, cool. But we all have a different interpretation of what happened after that. We are shooting a video for every track as well. The same general scenario about evolution will be in each video. But when you listen to the song while watching the video, again, the idea is to bring the audience to another level, or place. First and foremost, the videos must function as art. The idea is to be [evolutionary] on many different levels.

Dance music has changed in the recent past, especially in terms of its mainstream popularity. Even your role as a former trance producer is shifting to a different place. Where do you see yourself in the shifting landscape?

I see it as now traveling down three main paths. I mean, one is very strong and what I call electronic music. Sven Väth is as much a part of it, as Richie Hawtin as I am as Armin van Buren. It’s in the center. Then there is this sort of rock-electro crossover, which is like Skrillex. We have to see how long that lasts. I mean, in Europe we had the big dubstep hype but it honestly only lasted a few months before it was boring. We have to see how much real talent rises on this path to see if has any longevity. Then there is the third, but I really don’t even see it as dance music. It’s just cheesy pop music with a danceable element to it. This is what’s on MTV and this is what’s popular and what people go for. I’m not a part of that.

Ninety-nine percent of the music I’ve ever produced has never been put on the radio, apart from specialist radio programs. It’s just as leftfield as something like minimal techno, when you think about the overall spectrum. But as for music like David Guetta, or Rhianna, I’m sorry. It’s just not electronic dance music. But this is why we had the idea to go so far with the creative. It’s important for me to stay different from what’s on MTV.


You are passionate about world issues such as international policy and energy efficiency. Are you focusing on any altruistic projects right now?

I’m passionate about the fact that we need to leave something of this planet for the next generations. Whatever this planet needs, we need to be aware of that. We need to try to change how we waste energy. The Western world is wasting about 25% of the world’s energy. It’s all taking from the resources of the future. I think it starts with the individual. As an individual, you should just do what you can do. It’s hard for one person to make a change. In Germany, the energy that comes to our homes comes completely from renewable energies. Living in Germany makes it somewhat easy as well. We are really the most progressive country in the Western world in terms of renewable energy and waste.

How do you think mass-consumer culture plays into energy waste? I didn’t grow up in the States, and I’ve always been confused by how much there is to choose from in this country.

I had a very similar experience. I grew up in East Germany. I remember the very first day we came to the west. We were picked up by friends, and we stopped at a petrol station on the highway. I remember being speechless. There was more in the petrol station than in any bloody supermarket I had ever seen in East Germany! I remember that I took a Mars bar, and almost immediately someone replaced the gap where the bar had been. I couldn’t believe it. For me, a Mars bar was something you got for Christmas. So yes, that’s a part of it. People can be happy with less.

And to what extent do you think larger countries, like America, can get its citizens to mobilize?

It’s really up to the government to take those steps. In terms of strategic thinking, I really have to say that the American government, in the last 20-25 years, has always managed to make the wrong decisions. Regardless of the conservatives, or the democrats, whatever. Even the economic crisis we have now, it’s goes back to wrong decisions made by Bill Clinton. In terms of the Kyoto Protocol and environmental issues—the Bush Administration, and not to forget all the wars that Americans are involved in. And then if you look at Obama and how he handles what’s going on, it’s actually pretty bad.

Somehow, strategic decision making in America, on this governmental level seems to be sort of bad. People in Germany, they have changed their minds on ecological issues because of political movements. It doesn’t stem from some place like “we’re the good ones.” The government really [spearheaded] that movement. We are one of the first Western countries who is considering cutting nuclear power. The point of having government strategists, is to have people who think through certain scenarios. You need to step back from your own ego, as a country too, in order to come up with realistic solutions to your issues.

When you go into a room where there was a fight—you feel it. Imagine that in a different way. Imagine a room filled with thousands of people with positive energy, dancing. This is really what I live off of—it feeds me.

Amen. Are you ready for your Tarot reading?

I am scared!

Don’t be. First off, are you a spiritual person? Do you believe in God, or in entities, like angels?

In terms of angels, I mean, I don’t know that there is something greater than me—or us—really creating the results we get in life. If I go down and think of a time where I was at a crossroads, was there something looking down on me to help me? I would say no. I would like to think so, and that’s comforting. But I think I owe things to real people—to friends, my team, to the people who are important to me. I owe it to my own craziness, somehow. There is always something that explains [what happens] in a way.

You’re certainly a lucky guy. And most musicians have to vibration-orientated to be successful. Especially electronic musicians, because their art is so abstract.

I mean, people often ask me how is it that I can work a room—or feel the vibe of the crowd. Everybody experiences the opposite. When you go into a room where there was a fight—you feel it. Imagine that in a different way. Imagine a room filled with thousands of people with positive energy, dancing. This is really what I live off of—it feeds me. I think it’s just the power of the momentum of being able to feel, rather than some greater source.

In a way, maybe it’s the same idea. It’s a connection to a source. Take a deep breath, and think about your crowd-- or whatever—while you shuffle the cards.

I hope this is not a bad omen!

Nothing is. You can always change your direction. Plus, it’s just a tarot reading!

1. The Significator. Position meaning: Your current state of mind [*Nine of Swords]


This typically not a positive card. It indicates great stress, abandonment and grief. Since you said that nothing is terribly wrong in your life, it may be a good idea to just watch who’s in your camp as there may be someone who can bring pain into your life.

2. The Crossing. Position meaning: What opposes you [*Two of Swords]


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Another name for this card is Peace. The woman sitting in the middle of the two crossed swords is blindfolded, which reflects Lady Justice in a way. It’s about taking opposing agendas and bringing them together. As it’s crossing the only other swords card in your reading, which card is one of strife, in this case what opposes you is a good omen. If there is a seed of unhappiness in your life, there lies the ability for you to make peace of it, to stand up for what you know is right and keep your own counsel.

 2. Foundation. Position meaning: The origin of your question [*The Lovers]


There are two ways of looking at this card. Because I know you work with your wife, this bodes well for your relationship with her and its success. It’s also a card about making a choice either between different decisions (usually two), or resolving to make opposing ideas work together. Again, this card reflects the Two of Swords in that respect. But generally speaking, it’s also about love. In the card you see Adam and Eve right at the moment where they’re about to eat the apple. The angel above them is Archangel Raphael, whose purpose is healing.

4. Recent Past. Position meaning: Events and influences coming to pass [*The Empress]


This is the third card with a strong feminine influence in it in you’re reading, so I’m going to again say that your wife is a very positive influence in your life. This card has many meanings, but its essence is one of a person who’s like honey to bees… a universal attractant, if you will. Always busy. People always taking up their time. It makes sense for someone like you to have this card. It’s also a card of strong, positive feminine influence, productivity, fertility and great wealth.

5. Crown. Position meaning: Your current issues and what may come to be [*Wheel of Fortune]


This isn’t a surprising card, given the title of your album. It’s about revolution, the cycles of nature and luck turning. It’s a positive card in general, but the outcome is unknown. The best advice to give with this card is to stay centered as the wheels turn around you. As I had mentioned before, keep your own counsel. If you’re going to share any final decisions, your wife is the person with whom you should be sharing.

6. Near Future: What may happen [*The Hermit]


I don’t know if you meditate, but this card cautions you to—again-- keep your own counsel. And keep quiet. This is the card of a man who taps into the wisdom of creation by keeping to himself. There are just strong indications to go with your gut feelings and keep a low profile as your project unfolds. We’ll get into the project in a second, because it comes up. But again, it’s about you—and your wife—and nobody else in the end.

Note: Natascha calls.

7. You: Position meaning: The card that represents your emotions and feelings in the reading [*Knight of Pentacles]


I’m surprised this card isn’t a higher suit, given where you are in your career, but this is a card of hard, deliberate work that will eventually yield a great return. If you look up at the advice card—the Eight of Pentacles- both have a sort of slow, practical cadence to them. You get to where you need to be financially by taking calculated steps—and working very hard.

8. External forces: Position meaning: The influence others have on you [*Five of Wands]


This card can sometimes be read as negative, but I don’t get that sense here. The wands are the suit of creativity, and in this you can perceive what’s happening as people battling ideas back and forth… Getting into creative arguments, bouncing ideas off one another and trying to reach a creative goal. It’s usually a smaller team of people, and you said you have about 10 people working together on Evolution’s visuals, so that makes sense.

9. Advice: Positional meaning: What to keep in mind as you reach your outcome [*Eight of Pentacles]


This card means, plain and simple: HARD WORK. Nose to the grind; bang out whatever it is that needs to be done. But it also cautions a bit against alienating yourself fully from your friends and loved ones in the process.

10. Outcome. Positional meaning: What may happen should you stay on your current course [*Judgment]


This is always a good card. It’s an image of people waking up from a trance (no pun intended), and integrating the lost elements of their soul’s desires. As your effort is collaborative, and you did say you are worried about the reception of the album, this is a good omen that all the moving parts will… come to life. The angel above the souls coming out of their graves is Gabriel, the archangel of communication. Expect his horn to be blown, heralding in a new era of existence for you and those close to you.

Generally speaking, it’s a good reading. But take caution. If nothing is wrong in your life to cause you grief, beware of jealous people around you, or a snake in your Garden of Eden. Your wife is a very positive force though. I’m glad she called during the reading! And good luck with everything, of course.

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