Published on May 10th, 2012 | by EDMinsider0
The Miseducation of Sied van Riel: An In-Depth Interview
Sied van Riel does what he wants. He’s competitive, ambitious, and above all self-aware. He believes rules are meant to be broken and isn’t afraid of being politically incorrect and unabashedly honest. Known for opening for some of the biggest acts in trance around the globe (Armin Van Buuren anyone?), cracking jokes and listing partying as an extra curricular activity (his old Twitter description read, “Weekend 7 Days a Week”), he is an example of what the media is referring to when they say, DJs are the new rockstars. Like many artists, his road to artistry-discovery and self-awareness doesn’t come without great difficulty and significant sensitivity. After a producing block and struggling with criticism, the 33 year-old producer reset his career last year, switching management and label (to trance powerhouse Armada). Always promoting positivity in both personal and professional aspects of his life, van Riel always tries to push through that sensitivity to overcome negativity. And with the dance music scene now a worldwide phenomenon, that’s hard to do considering the media is waiting for something to go wrong at any turn. The times they are a-changin’ and while van Riel is certainly evolving with them, you won’t find him molding himself to fit the scene’s demands.
On a hot sticky Miami Music Week afternoon in the lobby of the National hotel, flocks of girls in dental floss bikinis and neon mesh half-cover-ups, meander their way to the pool party that’s happening some odd feet away. Van Riel sits anxiously in front of me wearing a shirt that says ‘Easily Convicted,’ appropriate for the debaucherous week. Oddly enough, Frank Sinatra is coming out of the hotel’s speakers and van Riel addresses the genre negativity head on. “When I was starting four years ago, people were bashing me, because I was playing house music in warm-up sets. But I’ve always thought that if the music is good you should play it. It’s human to put things in boxes – black, white – music as well,” he says. As a rising trance star, van Riel is getting the taste of what it means to feel the higher the climb, the greater the criticism. “Sometimes it hits you hard,” he says. “You’re still human at the end of the day. Every artist has an ego.”
The absence of van Riel’s production in previous years was partly a result of this criticism. “I was thinking, ‘why don’t people like me?’ I was active on forums early in my career and people were bashing me, but I knew who those people were; they would be dancing at the front row of my event and then say negative things on the Internet the next day,” he explains. “Later you realize, not everyone can like you and you learn a lot about yourself in the process. It’s just the way life works and you have to accept it.”
The scene has come so far since van Riel transitioned into a producer in 2006 and many are trying to capitalize on the “new” fashion. Like most trends, gimmicks and get-rich-quick acts pop up everywhere, which means the preservation of underground is even more critical at this stage in the game. And while it may be easier for a DJ to garner greater success at this time, the credibility should be at a higher stake than ever. But the majority of the mainstream audience doesn’t seem to care. An artist, however, should: “If you say you’re a chef, but you don’t know how to cook a steak,” van Riel says, “but you serve it out to people anyway, that’s not right. If I’m releasing a track, I want to produce it myself and know how it’s done – not sit in the back of the studio and text my friends while someone else is doing the work.”
Mainstream media is starting to take note of the rapidly growing scene as well, but unfortunately, many have taken interest in the drug stereotype associated with dance music. “There’s always going to be people that want to bash, because it’s something new,” van Riel comments, “I think people themselves should take responsibility for what they do as well. If you go to a party and take too much, then you know you’re walking on the edge. Not only do you ruin, first of all, your own life and a lot of other peoples, but also it affects the industry. Nowadays it would be worldwide news and politicians or media can say, ‘oh, you see, we were right, there was an electronic dance music party and someone is dead,’ but they forget that last night at a rock concert there were a few accidental overdoses but you don’t hear that. If you have a 1,000 people, there are going to be 20 people that have no brains. But they highlight those people and the rest of the world doesn’t see the good things and it’s such a shame. What would the world look like without music? Everyone would be depressed and on Xanax for the rest of their lives.”
At age 13, van Riel experienced the dance music up-rise first hand, but being exposed to partying at a young age is often a double-edge sword, “I did play with fire and went too far,” he explains, “but it’s not something I regret at all. It made me who I am today and I’m happy with myself.” Growing up in Spijkenisse, or Spike City as he calls it, van Riel was raised by his late grandmother. “She provided me with a safe place and a home from when I was around 6 years old,” he says. “She loved EDM and rock music. That was what dominated our house. At the age of 78, she was still jamming to tunes,” he reflects. It prompted van Riel at a young age to scope out the party scene in Holland. Night after night he grew fascinated with the DJs and attempted to learn their trade. “After I had the hang of it I started to annoy them [DJs] by asking if I was allowed to play a few tracks in the club. The answer was NO every weekend,” he remembers. But van Riel persevered and eventually became a promoter to get his foot in the door. Realizing quickly promoting wasn’t enough, his grandmother bought him his first turntables and he locked himself in a studio and learned how to DJ and later produce. His grandmother, a driving force of positivity in van Riel’s life, still remains his biggest influence. “Before she passed away she was bragging about me in the hospital, telling doctors I was playing with guys like Tiesto and Armin. I’m glad I’ve made her proud and that she got to see some of my career. She taught me well and is the reason I am here today,” he says. As far as her death starting a producing block he tells me, “When she died, it prompted a rough time. I was a wreck for a while and it was at that point I couldn’t really deal with criticism, mainly because I knew that what I was producing wasn’t up to par with what I was capable of.”
The city of Spijkenisse’s vibe matches that of van Riel’s – laid-back. He’s lived there his whole life, but says the city has cleaned up over the past 10 years. He now lives on the edge of a forest, which sounds like a fairytale, but he warns me, “don’t think I’m walking around in a white dress chasing seven dwarfs.” When talking to van Riel it’s hard not to notice the tattoos that litter his hands and arms – his name on his left fingers, the Mandarin word for courageous on his right middle finger (growing up, he was the courageous one in his group of friends) and a lot of dead people on his arms. I ask what’s next as far as his body art to which he replies, “I want to cover up my entire arms with sleeves in Japanese and other structured symbols. Everyday I look in the mirror and see my arms and I’m reminded of the fact that 14 years ago this and that happened. As a teenager, I felt I had to be reminded and show people how much they meant to me. I wouldn’t do that at this stage of my life so I need to get rid of that.” When I tell him being reminded of these tragedies every day could be building strength, he snaps and says, “yes, but I don’t need to remind myself how strong I am. I’ve accepted who I am. I do want something new to look at on my arms, but it’s not because I’m not satisfied with myself.”
Still, living in the same area you grew up in and glancing at lost loved ones makes you confront your past on a daily basis. “I can easily move to an upper class area,” van Riel explains, “but this place is where I feel most comfortable.” And as far as the friends on his arms van Riel says, “looking back can be a good thing as long as you don’t get stuck in it. You have to learn from your mistakes and move forward. I’ve always said, if you live in the past, you don’t have a future.” Surely van Riel has moved on from his own past, as his bright future is moving just as rapidly as the smoke that leaves his beloved cigarettes.
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Article by Meryl Luzzi