Martin Garrix on Being an EDM Superstar

Maxim talked to the 19-year-old behind “Animals” about being one of the youngest—and most powerful—players in the EDM game.

What do you do when you’re 17 years old and experience a level of monumental fame most people only dream of? That was the question Martin Garrix faced upon the viral success of his career-making track “Animals,” the ubiquitous EDM jam that ricocheted around the world—from his homeland in the Netherlands to the United States—and became a dance floor staple in 2013. In the the music industry, especially in the fickle EDM genre, you’re only as good as your next song. Garrix had the distinct danger of becoming a one-hit wonder, overshadowed by the very monster he created.

Now 19, Garrix has quickly regrouped and successfully set himself apart from the success of “Animals” with a variety of brand new tracks that are proving him to be a viable, long-term artist. With recent collaborations with Usher, Avicii, and Ed Sheeran, Garrix is earning his place alongside the giants of EDM—no doubt buoyed by his manager Scooter Braun, best known for being the force behind fellow superstar Justin Bieber. Here, Garrix talks about the bittersweet success of “Animals,” how he learned that having fun is the most important part of producing a song, and why he considers himself a computer nerd.

I know you’ve been jet-setting across the world, hopping from continent to continent. So give me a rundown of your past week.

It’s been super, super crazy since I’m doing a lot of shows. Last night I was in Germany, the day before I did a show in Mallorca, and today I flew first from Amsterdam to pick up some friends and then we went to Ibiza, where I have a residency which I’m super excited about. So I’m in Ibiza now and I’m going to Barcelona tonight, and on Sunday back to Ibiza. It’s especially busy because it’s the summer festival season, but it’s a lot of fun.

Oh my God. Do you like traveling that much? What do you do to kill time when you’re on a plane?

I just finished a new remix when I was on my flight here. Last week I spent about 50 or 60 hours on it, and yesterday it finally got into a specific direction and I finished it today. So I’m going to play it tonight.

So when you’re on a plane working on a track, what do you bring? Just your laptop?

Yeah, just my laptop and a pair of headphones. What counts the most is the melody. Later, I’ll go to a studio and then pay more attention to the mixing and how it sounds. On a plane it’s more about making rough sketches, then when I get to studio I can focus more and pay attention to the details.

I know you’ve been releasing a lot of new tracks. Tell me a little about the pressure to live up to “Animals,” because I’d imagine it’s bittersweet. On the upside it gave you a career, but on the downside you have to try to follow that up.

It boosted my career insanely—suddenly I got requested to play at the greatest festivals like Coachella, where the year before I was just a guest. For me it’s been super crazy. I’m super happy that I made “Animals,” but like you said, I had a lot of pressure after it, because I was like, “Ah, I don’t know what to do now.” To be honest, the first two or three months after “Animals” hit it big, I did not work a lot in the studio because I was doing too many shows and planning my next move. Right now, it’s all about having fun—that’s the most important thing. If I’m having fun, I’m making good tracks.

Well, what part of the process you enjoy more? Touring and commanding the attention of thousands of people at these shows, or being in the studio and creating these songs from the ground-up?

I love them both. I’m addicted to both. The cool thing about producing is that you have a bank canvas—you can basically do whatever you want. I’m a computer nerd. I spend so much time behind the computer working on new songs, but then when I finish them, I can’t wait till my next show to start playing what I made. It also depends on how I feel, though. If I’m in studio-mode, I could be in the studio for three days straight, only leaving the room to pee or get some food. But besides that I’m locking myself in there. Sometimes in the first two days I don’t come up with anything great, but on the third day I come up with something great and then it’s all worth it. But I really love both, I can’t choose.

One of your latest songs, “Don’t Look Down,” is a collaboration with Usher. It’s a great track; tell me how it came about?

Well, I had the idea for a little bit more melodic song, since I usually make more progressive, hard songs for the festivals. So I made a more melodic one that was a happier and uplifting. I was talking to Scooter [Braun], my manager in the US, and I was saying it’d be cool to have a sick vocalist on it. He was like, “Yeah, I can pitch it to some of my friends. Who would you love to sing it? Don’t think, just say whoever name you’d like to have on the song.” One of the first names that came to mind was Usher, because he did a record with David Guetta about five years ago—“Without You.” It goes…(singing) “Without….youuuu.”

I love that one.

That’s one of my favorite David Guetta songs. So Scooter FaceTimes me about an hour later with Usher and was like, “Usher wants to do the record!” Later that week we were in the studio together recording the vocals and writing some new stuff. I produced the song and Usher recorded the lyrics…it was super crazy to even be next to him in the studio. It’s like a dream. I had to pinch myself.  

You also recently collaborated with Avicii on the song “Waiting for Love,” which is another powerhouse track. What’s the origin behind that track?

He was like, “Let’s get together and make 20 ideas and see which one we like best.” We met up in Sweden and one of the ideas we came up with was the melody for “Waiting for Love.” In the end, I didn’t have that much time to finish it and he wanted to premiere it at Ultra (in May), so they put it out as an Avicii release and I’m more in the background with it. There’s nothing complete yet, but there could be another track coming up—it could be for my album and not his album.

Who’s on your iTunes right now that you have on repeat right now?

There’s a new song by Florian Picasso called “Origami.” It’s a different song—and I love to listen to different-sounding songs. The problem for me is that a lot of electronic music sounds so similar, so I’m super stoked and super excited when I hear something different.

Is that the mark of a great electronic song? Something that stands out and doesn’t sound like everything else?

Yeah, of course. If I still did the same song like “Animals” two years later, people would be bored of it. You want to surprise people and show them something new and how you’re progressing as a producer and as a musician. I honestly think that some artists now are doing so much of the same stuff and it’s stupid, because they’re in a position when they can try something new and make something new. The best thing is to surprise people and make them talk about your songs.

It’s so true, because you could make a million tracks that sound similar to “Animals” but I don’t think that would move you forward as an artist or in the genre, so spreading your wings beyond that is smart. How did your realize that?

I’m really good friends with Zedd, Alesso, and Tiesto, and they just told me, just do whatever you want yourself. You should never put out a song—don’t even think about putting out a song—if you don’t like it yourself. Music changes, your style changes, and your interest changes, and if you don’t follow that, well, you’re not a true artist.

You’re performing at all of these amazing venues around the globe, but has any show stood out from the rest as being especially crazy? 

Two situations come to mind. This wasn’t during a show, but one time when I was in Miami doing a meet-and-greet, a fan bit me on my neck.

Someone bit you?

Yeah, it was super weird. For a week I walked around with a red mark on my neck. But the other one was when I was in Asia performing at a festival. I was onstage and there were a lot of pyrotechnics being launched. During the first song, a pyro was shot off and it basically set the entire stage on fire. I was so focused on my set that I didn’t even notice it… that is until I saw my tour manager, production manager, my lighting guy, and my manager running onto the stage with fire extinguishers. Then they were like, “Martin, you need to get off stage now.” I refused to get off stage and it ended up being a super fun show. My manager said he’d never seen me so focused before to not even notice the stage was on fire!

Photos by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images