The world’s top DJs are basically demigods of the turntable, packing arenas and wowing electronic dance music (EDM) fans everywhere around the globe.
But for those unfamiliar with their work, featured at parties in Vegas or Dubai or popular music festivals like Coachella or SXSW, these so-called “electro house musicians” may be entirely unknown.
A few top-earning DJs sat down to spin tales about their younger selves, before life on the stage.
Hardwell (Robbert van de Corput)
First job: Laser-tag attendant
My first job was working at a laser game center, in Breda in the Netherlands. Besides my love for music, I have always had a passion for gaming, so I found working there a lot of fun – even if it wasn’t the most challenging work.
I was hired as a marshal, and my main role was to welcome the groups and then give them instructions on the rules of the game. The game was played with a lot of dry ice to create a fog environment. When the doors were closed we used to go crazy with the machine, and fill the rooms until you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. It was utterly ridiculous. I don’t think the owners ever knew.
Getting into DJing when you’re in your teenage years is not the cheapest hobby. Turntables alone cost a few hundred euros, plus everyone mixed on vinyl back then. I was beginning to make my first steps into production around the same time. A few bits of studio gear, like my first synth, and my first proper studio speakers, I bought using the money I made from the laser center.
I learned that working hard for your goals does eventually reap rewards. Hearing my music through those speakers that very first time is something I’ll never forget.
Afrojack (Nick van de Wall)
First job: Video rental assistant
I rented DVDs in my old hometown back in the Netherlands. I earned about 20 euros per day, which I usually spent on food and video games.
What I learned from that job is that work sucks. Even so, I would definitely do it all over again. Doing something like that was what taught me to focus on doing something fun with my life.
Steve Aoki, two-time Grammy-nominated DJ and producer
First job: Onion peeler
My first job was through my brother. I think I was 15 and he was already 25, and he was following in my father’s footsteps. He had already gone to hotel restaurant management school, and he started managing a Benihana in Dallas, Texas.
One summer he said ‘Come out and work for me, you’re going to learn the ropes.’ So I went out to Dallas, and I was so excited. It was my first job and it was working for my brother.
I thought it was going to be so much fun. I thought I was going to be up front, entertaining the people coming in, hosting everyone. And then I got there and he was like, ‘Steve, you need to learn from the bottom up, just like I did.’
He hands me an all-white uniform with a white cap and a white apron and he’s like, ‘First thing you have to do, here are six bags of onions. There is a small closet you can sit in, and you gotta peel all these onions by 12 noon.’
And I would peel onions - over 460 onions every morning. So I realised how hard the restaurant business was from peeling onions alone.
I went from peeling onions to dishwashing, then to de-shelling the shrimp, and then I started getting to the fun stuff. I started playing with the knives and cutting things up - but that was only the last two weeks of my three-month time working at Benihana.