Dance music, like universal health care, seems to be something everybody else in the world gets. While the music is popular in clubs and has found its way into commercials, it still hasn’t broken into the American mainstream the way it has in the rest of the world during the past 15 years. In that time, DJs have gone from shadowy anonymous figures to full-fledged superstars, with name recognition and fandom on par with rock figureheads like Bono or Thom Yorke.

That’s certainly the case with DJ Tiësto (born Tijs Verwest). What started as a Dutch phenomenon has quickly taken over the world. It began with a legendary DJ set at a huge rave in Holland in 1998 that drew more than 30,000 people, attracted copious local news coverage, and spawned an album that sold more than 100,000 copies there. “After that show, everyone in Holland knew me,” Tiësto said in an interview a few years ago.

Around the same time, he had begun releasing mix comps through a label he started with Andy Bink called Black Hole Records. They released a variety of popular compilations including In Search of Sunrise, Space Age, and Magik, helping spread his notoriety during the late ’90s. But it was the ginormous remix of Delirium’s “Silence” with wispy ethereal vocals by Sarah McLachlan that launched Tiësto into stardom. Released in late 2000, it was a worldwide hit and the first dance track ever to be played on daytime American commercial radio.

For three years, from 2002 to 2004, Tiësto was named by the respected DJ Magazine as the number one DJ in the world in a vote of its fans. Part of it is the Springsteen-ian scale of his performance effort. His energy is legendary. He would do six-hour solo sets at a time when a lot of big-name DJs would only spin for an hour or two at most. This was capped by a solo show in 2004 where Tiësto sold out a 25,000 person stadium in Holland and played for nine hours straight.

“I’ve played for 40,000 and 60,000 people but this night was special because all the people came just for one DJ,” he later recalled. “Normally nine hours would be tough, but that’s why you’re in front of 25,000 people. It’s pretty easy then, you have so much adrenaline, you know? You’re so hyped up.”

Even better, he then performed during the opening ceremonies at the last Olympics in Greece. The invitation came in a rather impromptu fashion, according to Tiësto’s press materials. “I was playing a gig in Greece in September 2003 and this guy walks up to me and says, ‘Hey Tiësto, I just heard you play, you’re amazing. I want you to play at the opening ceremony of the Olympics.’ I looked at him, like, sure pal!”

His oceanic, epic mixes are not as powerful or high-energy as artists such as Paul Van Dyk. He’s similar in style to sometime collaborator Brian Transeau (BT), favoring broad, pulsing, colorful mixes that feel a bit airy, but not unsubstantial, often using soaring female vocalists such as Kirsty Hawkshaw (the title track to 2004’s Just Be) or Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Charlotte Martin, on “Sweet Things,” off his new album, Element of Life. (Tiësto recently began spending part of his time in L.A.)

His fourth artist album (as opposed to his innumerable mixes), Element of Life continues to incorporate more pop and rock feel into the music. While this isn’t exactly the Crystal Method, tracks such as shadowy, throbbing “Dance4Life,” and “In the Dark,” with Inhaler vocalist Christian Burns, which sounds a bit like Depeche Mode, indicate an abiding interest in more traditional songcraft. (For his own part, Tiësto says he listens to everything from Radiohead to Daft Punk.)

Tiësto appears interested in bringing dance music back to the prominence it had here when Fatboy Slim and Moby burst onto the scene. He’s been touring the States heavily the last few years and put on some big shows, though nothing compared to what he’s got planned for this tour. He plans real “live” shows with singers, lights and visuals intricate enough to require three giant trucks and a crew of 35. For a guy in serious need of an American Express commercial, Tiësto sure doesn’t do anything understated.

“There’s going to be a lot of things that have never been done before on the technical side; it’s going to look amazing,” he says in his press materials. “It’s going to be the biggest dance show the world has ever seen.”

Coming from someone else’s mouth that might sound like hyperbole, but Tiësto has proven capable of rocking tens of thousands for hours on end. If anyone can get Americans off their fat asses, it’ll be this energetic little Dutch boy.

DJ Tiësto
8pm Mon, Jul 23
$25 (advance);
$30 (door)
Cowboys Dancehall
3030 NE Loop 410

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