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Talk Asia

Interview with World-Famous DJ Tiesto.

Aired January 18, 2013 - 05:30   ET



ANNA COREN, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): He's been called the world's greatest DJ. With some 18 years behind the decks, the master spinner has hundreds of records to his name, plays sold-out concerts all throughout the year, and raked in at $23 million in 2011, putting him firmly on Forbes' list of the world's most powerful celebrities.

But it wasn't until 2001 that he caught the ears of mainstream audiences with his remix of this song, by Delerium. Since then, he's worked with some of the world's biggest chart-topping artists, including Gotye. And Kanye West.

This week, "Talk Asia" sits down with the multi-award-winning artist and Grammy-nominated DJ, Tiesto. To find out what's next on his playlist.


COREN: Tiesto, welcome to "Talk Asia".

TIESTO, DJ: Thank you.

COREN: You are considered the world's greatest DJ. It's a title you've held for a decade. How do you do it?

TIESTO: I don't know, it's a nice compliment, though. Thank you. I just do my thing and travel around the world, produce a lot of music, and DJ different arenas - clubs - and people seem to like it, so, that's my life.

COREN: To people who are not familiar with your music, how would you describe it?

TIESTO: It's electronic dance music. So it has a fast beat and very melodic. A lot of vocals and it's very happy, uplifting music.

COREN: Is that how you find it when you're out there on stage?

TIESTO: Yes. It makes people smile, you know? It makes me smile and happy. It's like it's a party - party music.

COREN: Well, you are from the Netherlands. And the Dutch are known for their love of electronic music. Where does that come from?

TIESTO: I don't know. We almost embraced it from our neighbors. It originated back in Belgium, I think, in 1988. It was called "New Beat" and, I think the start (ph) of Holland thoroughly embraced it and then it got to over the whole country and since then it's been taking Holland. Like, the '90s and still going strong.

COREN: I believe that you started DJ-ing when you were, like 14 years old, at house parties. Is that right?

TIESTO: Yes, that's, you know, parties just for the students and, you know, birthday parties - play for my friends. But really, like, when I was 19 - that's when I went most to clubs.

COREN: So when did you decide that this was no longer a hobby and that you would make it your career?

TIESTO: I think like, probably 15 years ago. And I was like, you know, I can make money with this. This is crazy, because it's my hobby. And I never thought you could make money with it. And then I started my own record label and started to sell CDs and it went really well. For my first release, I sold more than 30,000 copies. And that was, for me, phenomenal. You know? And then, from then on, everything got bigger and better.

COREN: So what do you think sets you apart from the rest? I mean, what's the difference between a DJ and you?

TIESTO: Well, I think the big difference is that I'm a real DJ. You know, I know - I can read a crowd really well. I know what to play and know how to keep it interesting for them and for myself as well. Most of the other DJs are more like producers. So they become famous because they make hits and then they start DJ-ing. But I'm more from the other way around.

So, you know, I was a DJ first and started producing later. So, for me, it's easier to, I guess, read the crowd and adjust to the crowds wherever I am. I can play in Hong Kong, I can play in New York. It will be a completely different set, but both crowds will be going home happy.

COREN: What is it like when you look out at the crowd - at that sea of people and everyone is pulsing to the music that you are playing?

TIESTO: Well, first of all, I'm thinking like, "Are these guys all here for me? Wow, that's amazing". And, you know, I always, you know, look around - who is in the crowd. I really try to interact. I really see the people who I play for.

COREN: Tell me, where do you draw your inspiration from?

TIESTO: It's just a lifestyle. It's not one thing. You know, it's just like - you live this life, traveling around the world, staying in the best hotels, eating at the best restaurants, play at the best parties. You meet so many interesting people around the world. And I think that, all together, makes you make this kind of music. And then you play a set and you're like, "Wow, this part of the set went really well, so I want to make something in the style that fits there". And I always try to think about tracks I can use in my sets.

COREN: You're in Hong Kong tonight. Korea tomorrow.


COREN: God knows where after that.

TIESTO: Back to Ibiza.

COREN: Right. OK. You play for a thousand people. Up to several hundred thousand people. What do you prefer?

TIESTO: That's what I love about it. You know, it's never the same. You know, I can play sometimes for 500 people. A very exclusive party or a guest party or, you know, a private party. And then sometimes you play for 60,000 people in Miami or even more. And that's what I like about it - it's always different and I like both ways. Very different setting, different energy. But it's both very nice.

COREN: Do you get nervous before you go on stage?

TIESTO: Yes. Yes. Not really that crazy nervous, but you do get, like, you know, the adrenaline pumping. Like you feel like, OK, you know, I've got to deliver.

COREN: What is the greatest gig that you've played?

TIESTO: I think one of the greatest gigs I've played - I have many, but to play the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 was pretty special, you know. Because it's such a bit deal for the whole world and the whole world is watching. So that was definitely one of the special ones, but you know, like I said, I had many.

COREN: You were the first DJ to play at an Olympic Games. I mean, that must have been amazing recognition.

TIESTO: Yes. Not just for me, but for our scene. And I think we definitely started something there, like in 2004, 2005 - people recognized the dance music more than before. And especially with me playing at the Olympic Games, that was a big story. You know, it was a headlining story everywhere. So it was amazing to be part of that.

COREN: I read that you once performed a set for 12 hours in Amsterdam.

TIESTO: Yes. It was an experiment, you know. They announced that people will party from 10 in the evening to 10 in the morning. So I just wanted to give them the whole journey. So, but I wouldn't do that again.

COREN: No? Why not?

TIESTO: It was very tiring. It was a lot of fun, but you know, to play for 12 hours straight - it's very tough.

COREN: You have a lifestyle that people only dream of. You travel around the world in your private jet. You hang out with the beautiful, the rich, and the famous. Describe a day in your life.

TIESTO: Well, like I said, every day is different, you know? One week I did three, four parties, and played in Ibiza. I played in Bulgaria on the beach. I played Mykonos until seven in the morning. I played with Kanye West, you know, on a private party. I met the super model, Kate Upton. So many, you know, I forget the names. But that's just one week. You know, every week, something else.

COREN: I mean, did you come from a privileged background? Or is -



TIESTO: The opposite, actually.

COREN: Right.

TIESTO: I came from a pretty poor background. So, to make it all the way here is simply spectacular. Like the American Dream.


COREN: There are plenty of women who throw themselves at you. At least they throw their underwear at you on stage.

TIESTO: The girl who just threw her bra at me - what are you going to do with that? "Ah, thanks. Let's get married now".




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The greatest DJ in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is your Led Zeppelin. He is your Bon Jovi. He is your U2.

TIESTO: Today we play in two different continents. I play in Europe - Paris. And Marrakesh, in Africa. This festival ends at 12, so we leave here on the jet at one o'clock. And it's a three-hour flight plus two-hour time difference. So we arrive there at two-thirty, three o'clock in the morning.


COREN: You star in the YouTube series, "In the Booth". And your life certainly looks very glamorous. Is it?

TIESTO: Yes. I think it's very glamorous. And, I think, "In the Booth" shows you how much fun I have. You know, it's all very natural. I mean, just travel around and have fun and play parties.

COREN: But is there hard work involved?

TIESTO: Of course. You know, I work day and night. I mean, I'm always on the road, always traveling. Always working in the studio or working on the - do my gig. So there's not much spare time, indeed.

COREN: You must be nocturnal, because it is ten-to-one in the morning as we're doing this interview.

TIESTO: You know, for me, I came from Spain. So I try to stay on the European time zone. So I went to bed today at two p.m. and I slept 'til nine. So, for me, it's actually morning. So, good morning.

COREN: It's past our bedtime. But for you we are willing to stay up.

TIESTO: Thank you.

COREN: How often do you see daylight?

TIESTO: Well, pretty often. I play 'til daylight sometimes.

COREN: Drugs, obviously, are a big part of the dance music scene. Has that been a part of your life over the years?

TIESTO: No, it's never been. I mean - no, it's never been a big deal. And I must say, though, I think the drug scene was more in the '90s. I think, like, more into, like, in the beginning of 2000s. Because there's a lot of Hip-Hop kids taking Ecstasy when I go to a Hip-Hop show. So it's kind of rock - rock people take cocaine, probably. So I think it's the same with our genre. It's probably a part of it, but it's not the upper tone any more.

COREN: And what about DJs? I mean, are there other DJs that you've worked with?

TIESTO: I think that the new generation DJs is very clean. Very focused on the work and focused on the careers. And you can't afford to do drugs on stage. You know, there's always the exception, I guess. The Amy Winehouse of the DJs somewhere. But, I think, in general, it just doesn't work like that. You know, people - DJs know they have one chance and one chance only, so they have to make the most out of it. And yes, you can't let that go to pieces with drugs.

COREN: Now, you mentioned a little bit earlier that you don't have a lot of spare time. So I'm wondering how this affects your social life. You've dated some beautiful women. You were engaged briefly. What is your relationship status at the moment?

TIESTO: That's the only downer about it, you know? It's very hard to have a social life. And yes, I focus on my career, so everything else got dropped for that. So, yes. Hopefully, in the future, I can get it together - my social life. But at the moment, it's very tough.

COREN: Is marriage and children part of the plan for you?

TIESTO: Yes. For sure. I mean, I would love to fall in love and get married and have beautiful children. That's one of the goals in life, I think, to have. And it's a beautiful thing. My sister has kids and all my friends have kids. They show me their, you know, their report cards. And I can show them my sport car.


COREN: Well, I know that there are plenty of women who throw themselves at you. At least, they throw their underwear at you on stage.

TIESTO: Yes, bikinis - the underwear, sure. But you know what, that's just a different thing. I mean that's just more fun and - I don't see that as something realistic. You know, I could never date, you know, a girl who's just thrown her bra at me. I mean, what are you going to do with that? "Ah, thanks. Let's get married now".

COREN: Keep it as a souvenir.


COREN: And the other question that I'm intrigued to know the answer - obviously electronic music is what you do. But what do you listen to other than, you know, dance music?

TIESTO: I listen to a very variety of music. Like I love Kanye West, for example. But I love rock music as well, like The Maccabees or I love Sigur Ros - very beautiful music. Anything that comes in my path. Like Santigold - I love Santigold's new album.

COREN: Now, according to my research, you earn something like $250,0000 a gig. Forbes claims that you earned $23 million last year. And that you are in the top 100 list as far as world's highest-earning celebrities go. That's not bad for a DJ.

TIESTO: That's not bad, eh? Yes, it's great. I mean, I'm glad I can make so much money with what I love to do, you know? I would do it if I make one percent of that - I would still do the same thing. It's a nice bonus. I mean, I guess it comes with the job, but it's amazing.

COREN: But how have you made it so lucrative?

TIESTO: Yes, I have a management who does that for me. You know, I have very good people around me who see business opportunities and they bring it to me. But I'm very strict with that, you know? I always say, like, it has to come very naturally. I could not do, like, and endorsement deal with something I don't care about or something that doesn't fit me as a person.

COREN: So tell me, what do you spend your money on?

TIESTO: I don't.

COREN: You don't?

TIESTO: Well, I don't have really time to spend money, to be honest. Because I'm always working. But -

COREN: But if - you know, nice things. I mean, you have a private jet. You have your own jet?


COREN: That's not bad.

TIESTO: That's not bad.

COREN: What about cars, yachts - you know?

TIESTO: You know cars -

COREN: Entertain us, tell us.

TIESTO: I think yachts, you always need to rent. I rent yachts.


TIESTO: That's easier.

COREN: Expensive ones?

TIESTO: Expensive ones, yes. And clothes - I spend a lot of money on clothes. And houses. But -

COREN: How many houses do you have?

TIESTO: I don't know. A lot. I should count them.

COREN: You should.

TIESTO: But the best part about being in this position is that this year I'm going to start my Club Life Foundation. And it's my foundation for charity. And we're going to connect the clubbers with the less fortunate. And, you know, tries to connect people and raise as much money as possible. And every year I'm going to pick a few different projects to help with that. And I think that's the nice thing I can do, finally, to give something back to the community.


COREN: You said that you can only remake songs that you like. Are there big artists out there who have approached you and you've had to say, "Sorry" -


COREN - "I can't do business with you".








COREN: You have collaborated with a number of artists from different genres. Gotye, Coldplay, Kanye West - you mentioned before - Katy Perry. How do these collaborations come about?

TIESTO: Well, basically, it start off as a remix. You know, that they listen to my tracks and they ask me to give my vision on their track. So it's always very easy because I can only do it with tracks I really like. So yes, I was very flattered when Kanye asked me to remix his song. And the Gotye song is amazing. Because the original was a big hit. And then my version went to number one as well in the U.S. And that was pretty spectacular to have the same song in a different version go to number one.

COREN: You said that you can only remix songs that you like. Are there big artists out there who have approached you and you've had to say, "Sorry"?


COREN: "I can't do business with you".

TIESTO: Many. You know, I can't say any names, though. That would be unfair. But I get approached weekly by artists to remix. But, you know, I say a lot of times, say "no". Because I want to work on my own stuff and I want to do, like, you know, nice stuff. But that I can play - that helps me in my sets.

COREN: You mention you work on your own stuff and you have four studio albums. How do you think your music has changed over the years?

TIESTO: It changed dramatically. It's such a big difference now - like what I play now or even five years ago. Yes, the more quiet groove - it feels like I'm a bottle of wine, you know? The older I get, the tastier and it's just different.



COREN: The mainstream audience was introduced to your music when you remixed Delerium's "Silence", featuring the amazing vocals of Sarah McLachlan. What was that like?

TIESTO: That was amazing. That was one of my groundbreaking moments in my career. You know, that track went to number one in more than 40 countries. So that was a special moment. And, yes, I think after that, I think the whole scene went more underground, actually. And it only made a comeback, like, two years ago. So when I remix now, like Coldplay "Paradise", the Gotye remix - I feel I'm in that position again. What Delerium did back then is what Coldplay and the Gotye remix are doing for me now.

COREN: Why do you think it went underground?

TIESTO: Basically, because the radio and television didn't support it at all. You know, we didn't have any support from radio and television. And now we have Twitter, Facebook - the world is so open - there's no censors to stop anymore. You can find anything you want. Music via internet. And that's what helped our scene a lot.



COREN: Well, you are big into social media. You have a million twitter followers, 12 million Facebook friends, a huge following on YouTube. How important is this to what you do?

TIESTO: It's very important. You know, it's - I love it. I love Twitter. You know, I try to read everything I can on Twitter. You get so much nice feedback about stuff, you know. You just put out a sentence and everybody laughs or everybody's just sending something back. It's amazing, same with Facebook. You know, I'm a lot on Facebook. And it's just amazing. And YouTube, of course, as well. You put on the video and you read the comments underneath. And it's so strong nowadays. Like, yes, I'm really happy that I'm so big in the social media world.

COREN: What would be y our advice to up and coming DJs?

TIESTO: It's like becoming a famous model, you know? There's millions of beautiful women out there, but what makes that one more special than the other one? It's a bit of talent, a bit of luck, a bit of dedication, hard work. And the same for DJs. You know, it's not just about being a good DJ. It's about the right music. Fight for every chance you get.

COREN: You are 43 years old. How long do you see yourself doing what you're doing? Can you see yourself doing this when you're 50? 60?

TIESTO: That's a good question. I have no idea. I have no idea. It could be one year, it could be six months. Or it could be five year - I'm very spontaneous. So I just play it by ear. It could be ending soon, I think.

COREN: Really?


COREN: Why is that?

TIESTO: Well, you never know. You never know. I think if - as soon as I don't like it anymore, I will do something else. Life's too short to do something I don't like anymore. And I have opportunity to do a lot of different stuff. So I might just change my career soon. But -

COREN: If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

TIESTO: I would be a fashion designer. Because I love fashion and I love to make clothes and I love to dress people. And, you know, I just did a collaboration with Guess and we designed a whole line together, Paul Marciano and I. And I really like it. It's so much fun to do.

COREN: Tiesto, lovely to meet you. Enjoy Hong Kong.

TIESTO: Thank you.

COREN: Thank you.

TIESTO: Let's party.