Fedde le Grand is in a happy place right now. Gearing up to release his second artist album, Something Real, the veteran Dutch DJ and producer has at last found the time to finish the project, which has been in the works for nearly five years. At the age of 38, he has been DJing longer than some of his colleagues have been alive - a sign of the current American-led millennial EDM boom, becoming a de facto resident at Ultra Music Festival and Sensation and playing some of the biggest festivals around the world.
He has acted as a mentor for some of the younger talent that has bubbled up in Holland. The small northern European country has seen DJs become one of its greatest musical and cultural exports over the past three decades and Fedde's impact is not to be understated. He counts Hardwell as an early understudy, recalling a young Robbert van de Corput coming by his house every day to hang out and make music.
Things weren't always this way for the Dutchman who got his start the way most Dutch DJs did in his era - playing for kids at school. He started doing a mobile disco with a few friends, throwing parties for fellow kids at school.
After doing this for a few years, he got his first official booking at a club in the south of Holland, which Fedde describes as "horrible." He played a bachelor party where somebody dressed up as a carrot, but "I was over the moon," remembers Le Grand, because it was his first paid booking.
Fortunately for the Dutchman, things have only gotten better. There may be people dressed as carrots at his gigs today and for similar reasons, but now the crowds are much larger and his fees are much higher.
He got his first really big break with the hit single "Put Your Hands Up For Detroit" in 2006. It would go to No. 1 in four European countries including the UK, and hit top 10 in four other nations globally. Having a big hit early on in your career can be a blessing and a curse, though. It opens up doors that, as an artist, you never would have dreamed of with labels, brand opportunities, bookings and more. However, the downfall of this comes a newfound pressure to deliver another hit of that magnitude. This can be crushing to so many artists who don't have a level head and a bad team around them.
Fedde acknowledges that the couple of years following the release of "Detroit" had their ups and downs. He was able to follow up the single with two more UK hits in two years, however those tracks created a commercial image he was looking to avoid.
"The gigs I was getting were actually horrible. I didn't want to do the super commercial clubs that expect you to play your 3 hits and hip hop in between it."
The fame also came with plenty of hate, since he was the upstart, fresh-faced, new guy on the block out there making songs that were getting played on the radio. This drew the ire of dance music purists who weren't too happy with his newfound status as a star in Holland.
"If it were now it would be a different story because back then the whole scene was really against me even though I had three really big hits. But they were like 'man who's this guy and why is he so young and he doesn't know what this scene is about and he looks like a Backstreet Boy.' So I got all those comments instead of 'great, he's got a new fresh face and he's doing amazing.' So it was a different time altogether."
As a result, Le Grand went a different direction with his music, putting out club records like "3 Minutes To Explain" with fellow Dutchman Funkerman and the glitchy "F1."
"I deliberately made a choice to make more underground stuff or more club stuff and that actually got me the gigs I actually wanted instead of the VIP clubs," Fedde explains.
The pull to earn big dollars with more pop songs was there, but Fedde stuck to his guns and avoided them. Before his first album Output was released in September 2009, he had the chance to work with will.I.am on "basically a 'Detroit' rip-off," but Fedde had no interest on doing such a track. They did eventually collaborate on "Feel Alive" that made it onto Output, but it had a very different feel from the scrapped song.
Fortunately for Fedde, his bookings quickly turned around from those bougie, sterile VIP clubs to more lucrative and exciting clubs and festivals around the world. He has become de facto residents at two of the best and biggest festival brands in the world -- Sensation and Ultra Music Festival.
His first experience performing at Ultra was as a changeover act between The Cure and Tiësto in 2007. Organizers liked his performance so much they brought him back the next year for a proper set in the Carl Cox tent and since then he has played festivals all over the world including Miami, South Korea, Croatia, Japan and Peru.
A similar type of relationship has developed with another unassailable dance music brand, ID&T's Sensation. The one-night affair got its start in 2005 in Amsterdam, so the event and Fedde's career both grew upward at similar trajectories.
He notes that it just made sense for them to team up.
"I just think my music interest just translates well in their concepts because I'm a little bit old school in those ways." I'm always aware of where in the lineup I am and I don't necessarily just always need to bang it out to the maximum so there's still air left for people," Fedde notes of his chameleon DJing ability. "I didn't want to be the one responsible for destroying the whole night."
Much like a rocket ship's ascent into space, the beginning of his career was the most tumultuous, but since then it has been relatively smooth sailing. He has navigated the trends and developed "super dedicated" fans that have been there from the get go. "I've never had any trouble with new hypes coming up and it's always been like super stable for me to be honest," remarks the Dutchman.
He doesn't bother with those who are locked in their ways and cling to a dated, nostalgic image of an artist's productions. "I don't believe in that because, the funny thing is, even if you do and people don't even recognize it as such because it's such a different time."
With his upcoming album he has positioned himself nicely as someone who can seamlessly crossover from the main stage to the underground - just like his DJ sets. Electronic music is starting to move away from the brief excesses of the American-led, EDM explosion and back to the classic club sound where the scene got its start.
"The scene is kind of coming full circle," Fedde proposes. "I think a lot of the stuff being made right now is the same stuff that I started out making, but an updated version. I think the stuff coming off my album will remind them of what I made in the beginning."
Something Real fits right in that narrative, drawing on the influences of Fedde's whole career. It reflects where he is right now -- a mainstream dance act with underground appeal. A lot of the singles that have emerged thus far like "Cinematic" and "Give Me Some" are more geared for his current live sets, more specifically those during the summer festival season. However there are those that take a step back for the longer, club sets or even draw upon dancehall, "Sorry"-like pop on "Immortal" and trap influences present on "Beauty From The Ashes".
Fedde likes the idea less as a way to cement one's legacy or leave a lasting impact on music itself, but rather a way to experiment as an artist that the single format doesn't allow you to. "It's about being creative and just trying out weird stuff." A full vocal album, this is the grandest undertaking he has ever done, collaborating with the likes of Jonathan Mendelsohn, Merk & Kremont, Erene, Holl & Rush and Denny White.
There aren't any will.i.am's in this crop of collaborators, though he does mention there was a collaboration with a female British vocalist that never worked out because he felt the lyrics were too poppy. Some DJs will sell out for potential chart-topping pop song, but even nearly a decade later, Fedde sticks to his underground roots.
Fedde has "always been fairly happy" and who can blame him. He has a family, plenty of work and a successful career. Like many of his colleagues, he is quite the nerd. "I might be nerdier than people think. I'm really into computers and computer games," he admits shyly.
Bubbling with positivity, Fedde leaves us with one final thought about his career.
"It's just been great so far. It's been a great journey."
Something Real will be released on Feb. 26. Pre-order it here.