It’s been a decade since Dutch DJ and Producer Don Diablo released a full-length album. His last album, Life Is A Festival, came out when the artist was 28 years old, which puts him closer to 40 than most DJs care to admit but it’s clear that the time spent growing his sound and brand has served him well.
His latest release, Future, came out on February 9th to mixed reviews. Billboard’s Kat Bein said it “radiates good vibes” and “if you need a little sunshine in your life, this LP should do the trick,” while fans have complained that the album is lighter on his typical future house sound and went too wide in its reach. Talking to Billboard Radio China backstage at Creamfields Guangzhou, Don took on those criticisms and explored his own take on the world, his role therein, and the very concept of future.
Over the course of the last 10 years, Don Diablo’s music has grown and changed, but his place in the industry has as well. Talking about the decade it took between albums, he discussed his growth as a musician and role in the future house world. “It felt like, back then, I didn’t really have any fans and there wasn’t any future for me because I spent most of my youth growing up and … getting older going through a lot of disappointments until I discovered this whole new sound and there was a surge of this more futuristic style of house music. You had a couple of people leading the charge; I took the exit of the more melodic House-y version of it where it still has the energy, you can play it on a big stage, but it also has this subtlety so you can play it in a club which was what I was looking for. As the years grew in the last five years, I did everything I could with that genre, most people just copied the sound, so I felt like I needed to move forward and just implement all the production techniques that I learnt into different types of futuristic music so future bass … or even future pop.”
On the album itself, Don takes a longer reaching view than what is typical of many other artists. Seeing the album as more of an expression of the self, he explains that it was important to have a real message and concept behind Future. “It’s more of a motivational record, I would say. I think a lot of people see dance music as just “throwaway” music but I wanted to make something that I could be proud of, a message that I would believe in ten years from now and that’s why it took so long to make an album because I didn’t see any point in it. There isn’t really a point to making music in general, and there isn’t really any point in DJing I would say, so I tried to find a reason why I’m doing this and what’s my function within all of these guys just pressing buttons and trying to fly around the world making money.”
It’s money that turns the conversation from a typical marketing spiel into something much larger than that. Clearly, Don’s years of experience working towards international and professional recognition have helped him develop a much more empathetic, outreaching mindset. “Last month, I played a whole month, I just played 16 shows for free. I just said to my management ‘I don’t need money in my life’. It’s like, what do I do with it? I already have enough, I want to give other people money or give them away… You know, going into Tomorrowland or these big events, it’s very expensive and not everybody is able to afford that. So, instead, let me just do a tour where I play for free and if somebody wants to pay for a ticket then we will donate that money to the [Dutch Cancer Society]. The tour was called A Better Future because I want people to think about a better future.”
Going further, Don issued a challenge of sorts to the rest of the industry, saying he wanted to encourage other DJs to find ways to give back to the community in ways that would be beneficial, eschewing the easier option of a one of charity fundraiser show. He admits that doing these shows was a challenge, possibly one of the biggest of his life, because “not everybody wants to give, a lot of people just want to take.” This was about more than just playing shows though. Don explains that for him, “it’s more about growing and just keep pushing forward things that I believe in.”
It’s clear that Future comes from a place of genuine reflection and growth for Don Diablo. The album is as much a message to humanity about our places in the world as it is a fun way to get some sunshine into your life. There’s much more to unpack within this interview, more than could be possibly explored in a short write-up, so head over to the full audio to check it all out. The most interesting admission from Don? He’s so unconcerned about money, he doesn’t even know how much of it he has.
Find the full interview and more at Billboard Radio China.