[EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW] Markus Schulz Talks Touring, Collaborations, New Music and More
Photo Credit: Quantum Events
By: Katarina Cvetko
After yet another successful festival season, Markus Schulz headed down under for the Australian leg of his album tour, showcasing We Are The Light. The tour kicked off at Sydney’s Home The Venue with a phenomenal four-hour set featuring everything from his classic, signature tracks to new and upcoming music. Known for his flawless mixing and intuitive song selections, the first of four stops truly demonstrated his love and passion for both the music and his dedicated fans down under. We had a chance to catch up with him during his Australian tour and discuss everything from collaborations to touring and the details of his newest album.
Festival Squad: You’re no stranger to the Australian crowd and have a huge dedicated fan base down here. How has the crowd responded to your album tour over the last couple of weeks?
Markus Schulz: I really enjoy getting down to play for you guys in Australia. Because of the distance involved, you always want to try to cover more than just one weekend; not just so you can acclimatise yourself to the time zone, but also allowing you the opportunity to explore the country on your quiet days.
The shows went well, and you are right in saying that they were important barometers in gauging how the audience was reacting to the tracks from the We Are the Light album. In fact, after playing the title track (with Nikki Flores) on the first night of the tour in Sydney, I felt that I needed to change the arrangement of the song, and it got the big response I was hoping for from that point onwards.
So it’s a little thing that the fans should know – your response and reaction to the tracks during the live sets are important to us producers and DJs.
We Are the Light is said to be very different to your previous albums. What was it that inspired this change?
I think the best way to describe it is that We Are the Light is born out of a reaction to the journey encountered by my previous two albums.
The last under my own name, Watch the World, had the mindset of writing solely about the outside – the fans, the travel, and reflections on what I see. When it was released and I was doing the subsequent tour, the world was in a very bad place. It was when politically there was upheaval in various countries, and even more so, there was tragedy; the one which hit close to home the hardest being the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando.
It triggered my introverted tendencies, which led to the themed concept of The Nine Skies album, under my Dakota alias. The process in creating that was gut-wrenching and emotionally very draining because I had to reach down deep inside of me to express how I was feeling. I’m not a great talker, I’m not a great writer, so the best way I can express myself is through music. I never could have begun working on We Are the Light, had The Nine Skies in particular never existed.
More tragedy occurred with the shootings in Las Vegas. But what hit me about that incident was the resilience and determination of the responders and the residents of the city. This was exemplified further with EDC back in May. At that point I realised that ok, today’s world isn’t really that good right now; but the determination you see from the people to lead by example and be the shining light to move things forward, I think that is a powerful mantra that we can embrace together.
Your latest collaboration Upon My Shoulders with Sebu of Capital Cities definitely stands out from your other releases. Can we expect more cross-genre collaborations in the future?
To me, I see it as a sequel of sorts to Facedown (from Watch the World), because they are both inspired by the same event – Tomorrowland in Belgium.
I have had the very fortunate role in performing the opening set on the main stage during one of the festival days – the Daybreak Session. When you perform in that setting, you are essentially building up the day and building up the audience from nothing at all.
After my first experience of it, I was inspired to create Facedown, because when I was getting set up to begin my set, I looked out and could see couples out there, sitting on the grass and wrapped in a blanket. It gave me the vision about two people struggling through life; who have nothing but each other.
If Facedown was inspired by the beginning of the Daybreak Session, Upon My Shoulders was inspired by the ending – the big crescendo of a set, where the couples are having the time of their lives, and they demonstrate this bond with one carrying the other on top of their shoulders.
I had become friends with Sebu and I visualized his voice singing the song. I sent it to him asking for his thoughts on the track. He sent it back and he changed the lyrics from ‘Carrying my girl up on my shoulders’ to ‘Carrying you upon my shoulders”. And all of sudden, everything made sense.
This year has been a massive year for you tour wise. After an incredible festival season in North America and Europe followed by your Australian tour and now Asia, what has been the most memorable performance from this year so far?
Well, if I can count New Year’s Eve post-midnight as this year, then I would definitely have to include that, as it was only a few minutes into the New Year when I proposed to Adina on stage at Avalon in Los Angeles. Both of our families were there on stage, and she had just finished her live performance. So I walked out to greet her while a secret “proposal mix” of Destiny began to play, and did the deed. Thankfully, she didn’t say no!
And funnily, I’m going to mention another show where I was involved with a proposal, and this was at the Spring Awakening Music Festival in Chicago. A guy named Dusty Carpenter is one of the founders of the PRIDE festival in the city and had been with his man Sam for over seven years (PRIDE month also took place in June, when Spring Awakening was happening).
A couple of weeks prior to the show he asked the promoters if he could get in touch with me and let me know with regards to his plans, with the intent of ensuring that the proposal would be a secret. So we set the wheels in motion where they would begin watching my set at the side stage, I would wave them over, and during Destiny they would have their special moment.
Being able to play a small role in such an important moment in their lives means an incredible amount. The connection we have as DJs with fans is an honor.
Your performances vary from standard festival sets to your recent 4-hour show in Sydney to your famous open to close sets. How does the length of the length of your set influence the way you perform?
I think both the short festival sets and the long club sets each have their own distinguishable charms.
With a festival set, you’re competing for the attention of thousands of fans who haven’t necessarily come to see you, and you’re competing against top-tier DJs for attention, across different genres. So at festivals, you tend to play a lot safer; with emphasis on your big signature and tried + trusted tracks. Because of the short set length, you don’t particularly have the time to explore into the unknown, and if you make a programming mistake, you could lose the crowd very early.
But with a club set, particularly with an open to close solo set, you essentially get to showcase the full spectrum of your sound. And because you tend to choose cities where you have a loyal following of fans, the trust is there from them to allow you to explore, and play material that can sometimes sound rough and unfinished.
The best way for me to describe my affection for solo sets is that I need them for my soul. It is creatively and personally very gratifying for me to do, because I believe, respect and adore the DJ art.
How are you able to maintain such a high level of energy throughout your shows, in particular, your extended sets?
It is a lot harder than it looks, particularly mentally. I have a lot of difficulty getting to sleep after doing a solo set because my mind is so active during that period; reading the room and reacting on which tracks to play as a result. It’s one of the reasons why I think you couldn’t resort to doing all night solo sets only if your tour schedule is extensive and there is a lot of travel involved.
The rest and preparation is key. I always try to sleep for a couple of hours in the early evening. Then I will have a light meal in the hotel before heading to the club. The golden rule is never to drink alcohol during the set since it would only dehydrate you.
And of course, when you are up on stage performing, the adrenaline rush from the music and the crowd reactions are a big help too.
With a hectic schedule and having to deal with frequent time zone changes, how do you stay mentally and physically healthy while on tour?
This job has such a different life rhythm from many others. Sleep deprivation can take an enormous toll on you mentally, with the stress and anxiety forming as a result. As you can guess, the travel is the toughest aspect.
I do love my job, and I wouldn’t change it for anything else in the world, but even I’m not an emotionless machine. I too have gone through periods of stress and anxiety, largely brought on by a lack of rest.
Living a healthy life is absolutely vital, especially if you want to make a living in this industry beyond the initial 3-5 year burst. The dangers of burnout are very real.
Looking after yourself physically is very important too – eating healthily, and making use of the hotel’s gym facilities when you can. The saying that working out in the gym makes you feel better is true, and when you feel better, you feel you can push yourself on those nights where you maybe haven’t had enough sleep.
And of course, when you get home, rest is paramount. You need those days to mentally get off the grid.
In the lead up to your album release, you recently gave fans a preview of the track We Are the Light. How was the process of working with Nikki Flores to create this track?
Obviously, we struck up a relationship as a result of working together on Leaving LA (on Watch the World). Knowing that we were on the same frequency musically at an early stage; collaborating again was going to be inevitable.
With it being the title track of the album, the expression of the message we wanted to deliver was so important to get right. I would encourage everyone who likes the track to take the time to listen, learn and absorb the lyrics.
When she first sang the “dream on, dream on” line, I got goosebumps. I knew with that delivery, that we were creating something that fans could gravitate to and embrace. I’m proud of the end result and proud of Nikki’s performance. Her voice is incredible on the track.
With the album completed and launching in a couple of weeks, what can we expect to see from you in the future?
The focus of the next few months will mainly be on touring the album. I’m intending on bringing some of the singers on the road to enhance the live experience. But between now and the end of the year, there will be so many big events complimenting that tour.
We have ADE coming up again in Amsterdam, with the solo set at Melkweg, and then the annual Transmission festival in Prague, of which of course I am proud to have played at them all for over a decade, and am responsible for this year’s theme again, which is the opening track from We Are the Light, titled The Awakening.
In November, I am making my return to Marquee in Las Vegas for the first time in a few years, and I’m excited to be playing the Southern California edition of Dreamstate for the very first time. And for New Year’s Eve… watch this space.
Musically, the singles from the album will continue to roll out, and there are still two editions of the Four Seasons series to come on Global DJ Broadcast before the year ends – the weird and wonderful of the rabbithole in Afterdark on October 25, and the nostalgic journey of the Classics Showcase on December 27.
So much to accomplish. I will be glad to get a little break after New Year’s Eve!
We Are The Light will come to life this Friday the 12th of October. Preorder it here today.