Paul van Dyk
’s State of Trance festival set in Utrecht, the Netherlands in February 2016 ended suddenly when the German DJ plummeted off stage, breaking his spine and smashing his head. He doesn’t remember much about that night.
'The brain has a beautiful function in that it wipes out memories of extreme experiences,' he says over the phone from Berlin. 'I don’t really know anything. I fell into a coma.'
Having DJ-ed in clubs shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, going on to become one of the biggest names in trance, van Dyk’s career looked to have been hacked short. However, despite doctors fearing he would never recover properly, he slowly recuperated, began gigging and released his new album, From Then On, last month.
What can you remember about the accident?
Paul van Dyk: There was a stage construction that was not as stable as it should be – I fell through a gap, down six metres. I had severe brain injuries and I broke my spine twice.
What happened when you woke up?
The spine was the easy sh*t, put it that way. The brain injuries and the limitation that comes from them is what created big problems and still creates challenges every day. I had to learn how to eat, to speak, I couldn’t see or walk. The fact that I’m still here is a medical wonder.
Did you worry your musical career was over?
That wasn’t vaguely on my agenda until far later. If you can’t hold any thoughts, if you don’t remember anything, that’s a greater fear than, 'Oh, am I going to make music again?' But I had so much support from my wife and family and friends and all the medical care. It created a boost of energy that helped me get better.
How was your comeback set in Las Vegas?
We had a medical team on standby and I had tears in my eyes for the whole hour. It was painful standing upright but the thought of being able to make music drove me forward. The point of bleeding in my brain was where the brain’s speaking centre is, and next to it is the creative centre, so I was worried that I would listen to music and not be able to actually feel anything. Luckily, that didn’t happen.
How did nearly dying influence your new album?
Previously there were managers at record companies [involved], and you considered whether it’d be played on radio or whatever. In this case I didn’t care, it was straightforward: exactly what I feel, what I hear and what I want this music to be. It’s me, and it’s the only thing I can deliver.
Are you at full strength, DJ-wise now?
I still have issues to deal with and will have to deal with them for the rest of my life. But I’m looking at the positive side. I love what I’m doing and I’m back, somehow.
Glad to be back in Beijing?
I truly love it. My wife Margarita lived in Beijing for two-and-a-half years so I have the outsider’s insider perspective. In terms of the clubs and the vibe, it’s always been exciting. Apart from the bit she’s given to me, I think Margarita left her heart in China.
Favourite clubbing memories?
– that was a place where I had an amazing time. But I lost my mobile phone there.
You’ve released compilations called The Politics of Dancing. What’s the message?
It’s very simple: when people go out, especially with trance music, it’s such a positive energy and they take that smile into everyday life. It doesn’t matter which passport you hold, which god you believe in, on the dancefloor we’re all the same. A political element – a diplomatic element – is in the music.
Finally, the first song you made after the accident was 'I am alive'. Has your perspective on life changed?
Yes. You think, 'Why the hell is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?' To get back to a decent state of mind you have to drop that. I’m alive, I feel again, I’m back again.