My first live experience with W&W was at Decadence in Denver almost a year ago. I remember being at the set and being astounded by how high energy it was, how much the two interacted with the crowd, how into the music they seemed to be, among other things. But mostly I was struck by how they did all these things so seamlessly. Now, even after 10ish months, I can still feel the energy of that performance. So, when I found out W&W would be playing Denver’s legendary nightclub, “The Church” this October, I knew I needed to do everything in my power to chat with the two 20-something Dutch DJs who had not only grabbed my attention, but have also taken the dance music world by storm.
Willem van Hanegem and Ward van der Harst met as teenagers and bonded over a common love for trance. From their beginnings, they worked together on a number of different projects, trying to settle on a sound, but W&W was the project that ended up being the best fit. Now, seven years later, the duo is at the top of its game. Willem and Ward have played some of the biggest dance music festivals in the world, worked with the likes of EDM favorites Hardwell, Armin van Buuren, and Ummet Ozcan, to name a few, and, they have come to be known for their high-energy, room-filling sets that leave fans wanting more.
It’s 2:15 a.m. when I finally get a chance to sit down with the Dutch producers in the basement green room of Denver’s “The Church”” nightclub. W&W’s set was everything I’d hoped for – energetic, fun, varied and full of emotion. Willem and Ward played all of their biggest hits and flowed from dance music favorite to dance music favorite all while interacting with the crowd and clearly having a ton of fun themselves. This is the first interview I’ve done post-set and I’m eager to jump into my questions. Willem and Ward sit down and are immediately at ease. They tell me about how they started making music, live shows and touring, and the stories behind a couple of their current hits.
Cat sat down with Willem (left) and Ward (right) of W&W on Friday.
Cat: Tell me about how you met and started making music.
Willem: We had one mutual friend who was living a few houses away from me. And Ward added me on Windows Live Messenger, remember that program? *we all laugh* He added me on that and we were amateur producers, beginning producers and we met at a trance group when we were 17/18 years old. So we all went to this trance meeting and we all started hanging out and producing.
Ward: We were, you know, building a friendship and then we started hanging out.
Willem: Yeah! And after maybe the fourth time of us hanging out, we went to “A State of Trance,” Armin van Buuren’s party. And we decided we were going to do a trance track together. We made one called “Mustang” and it was actually the first record we did as W&W. So we decided to do W&W together and do trance. But then after four years or so, we knew we had to put all of our sounds together because W&W was the best project we’d done.
Cat: Obviously, W&W are the first initials of both of your first names, but how did you settle on that as a group name?
Willem: The funny thing is, we did that song “Mustang” and the track didn’t have a title and we didn’t have a name. So we were like, “we made this song, what are we going to call ourselves?” We just called the project W&W because we didn’t really think this was gonna be a project that would last, just a fun track we did. But we also needed a name for the track and I called him and he was in the car and saw a Mustang drive by, so he was like, “yeah call it Mustang!” *they laugh* Then I uploaded it to Armin van Buuren’s server and I had to put a group name in.
Ward: It was very last minute, it was not well thought through.
Willem: It took us a while to realize W&W was the best project we’d done. We didn’t even have a MySpace.
Ward: Yeah, it was some guy in New York who set up a W&W MySpace and it got way more views than either of our personal MySpace pages had. We ended up having to message the guy for the login details and all that.
Cat: 2015 has been a busy year for you tour wise – you’ve performed at many big name festivals and venues. What has been your favorite part about touring this year?
Willem: We just love to play the shows. A show like tonight, everybody had a good time. Of course we like to sight see and stuff, but I think the shows are my favorite.
Ward: The shows give you a lot of energy and you get inspiration from the shows as well. And it’s fun to meet so many different people around the world. We have friends everywhere. We’ve been doing this for the past four years now so we know people everywhere and it’s really good to catch up with different people.
Cat: Let’s talk about your radio show, Mainstage. How do you keep the show fresh? What is your main goal in putting on the show?
Willem: I think the main goal is to make as many people listen to it as possible of course. But to keep it fresh, I try to look at every radio show every week to see what people play and we try to play slightly different things. We play 18 songs and most of the guys play 15 or less. We play 18, so we try to play a more diverse show than others out there. Of course we play the usual stuff people know from us, the big room or slightly trancey, but we try to play all the stuff we like.
Cat: The DJ Magazine Top 100 just came out with you guys at No. 14, a four spot jump from last year. You’re also the second highest duo (only behind Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike who came in at No. 1) on the list. How are you feeling about being named in the top 15?
Willem: All the real fans vote for us. We got voted No. 14 and that means that the fans really like what we did this year.
Ward: It’s good to see because we enjoy everything and we work very hard all year and it’s nice to see some sort of appreciation from the fans.
Willem: That’s mostly what is important. To be honest, it’s not a competition to us to see who’s “higher” or “better,” or whatever, it’s about the fans and what they like and appreciate.
Cat: I’ve spoken with a few Dutch DJs, most recently Laidback Luke, and asked them the same question, but I’m interested to hear your answer. There are so many very successful Dutch DJs – what do you think it is about The Netherlands that breeds dance music producers?
Willem: I think it’s because we have a lot of role models, like Tiesto, Armin van Buuren, Forry Corsten. They were big and they’ve played everywhere. Because of them, we think, “well okay, we can do this as well.” It motivates us to be successful.
Ward: And the government has always been very supportive of dance music. We’ve been having massive parties for 30-40,000 people since 1998 or something in The Netherlands. When the rest of the world was still not into dance music, Holland was already supporting it.
Willem: Also the Dutch radio has embraced dance music since we were young.
Cat: Many people know you for your big room, progressive house tracks like “Bigfoot” and “Thunder,” but you pull influence from mentors like trance-heavy Armin van Buuren. How would you describe your sound?
Willem: I think the most important thing is that it needs to be energetic. And big room is good because we’ve always been inspired by songs that you can play in big venues. So we usually make big room. But big room is not only one style, it’s the way you produce your song. Big room can be trance, it can be house, it can even be techno. So we usually make our songs kind of big room, it all has to do with a thing called “reverb.” But it’s most important that our stuff has a lot of energy.
Ward: We try to make our music overwhelming. So as soon as something kicks in, when the break comes in and the melody breaks in, is has to overwhelm you. That’s also part of being big room music. You know, when you’re standing in a very big hall and there’s a big sound coming, sometimes it gives you chills on your arms. And that’s what we used to have when we were kids when we would go to these parties in The Netherlands and that’s what we strive for now.
Cat: Let’s talk about your new music. You released “Spack Jarrow” with Moti a few months ago. The name is clearly a play on “Jack Sparrow.” Tell me the story behind that song.
Willem: So the song is orchestral with a pirate kind of vibe. You have the pirate drums in there and the sword effects and the rhythm. We made the song and then Moti came to us. We had no real title. It was called, “Pirate Ship,” in Dutch. But we knew that wasn’t a good title. Moti said, “let’s call it Jack Sparrow.” But we were like, “no, we can’t man, we’re gonna get sued.” So we decided to call it “Spack Jarrow.”
Ward: Yeah we switched it up a little bit and decided that was a pretty cool title.
Cat: Another recent release, “The One” is getting huge playtime in the EDM scene and is clearly very close to both of your hearts. How did this song come about?
Willem: Ward made the melody in October of last year, which was really good. And we decided we needed a really soulful vocal. We were looking for Acappella tracks from Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, etc. We listened to all of them. We listened to “How Will I Know” [by Whitney Houston] and we sampled a few words and it was in the same key and it was actually really nice.
Ward: But when you use a sample from Whitney Houston, you’re like, “this sounds very nice and it’s cool and everything, but there’s no way we can make this happen, to get this released.”
Willem: Yeah, it took us a few months and then actually we got the okay and that was really special for us.
Ward: I think it took us six months for the label to clear it. But now we’re so happy with it.
Willem: That’s also why it’s so special, because we never thought it would be released.
Cat: You’ve come to be known for your high-energy live shows and positive interactions with fans. What do you try to focus on going into your live performances?
Willem: All we want is for everyone to have a good time. That’s most important to us. We try to find the perfect balance between what everybody wants. We always try to create that kind of vibe where everybody is like, “okay, I’m gonna go crazy right now.”
Ward: I think it’s a combination between the music that we play, the performance that we give, the interaction that we have with the people. We really try to balance it out well.
Cat: Obviously you guys have a very strong relationship with your fans. What does that mean to you?
Willem: It’s the most important thing to us. Because of our fans, we’re doing this. Because of them, we’re touring all over the world. So we really appreciate it. It’s crazy, because we’ll make a song in the studio and we upload it and then there’s people at our shows, finishing the verses, who all know the song. It’s insane. When you make the song, you don’t even realize the connection that’s happening and then it’s so cool to see people sing along to your tracks.
Ward: Yeah, that will always be weird *he laughs* And that’s an inspiration as well.
Cat: 2015 has been a huge year for you in regards to both touring and new releases. What can we be looking out for in upcoming months?
Willem: We have a new remix for Hardwell and Mr. Probz, a song called “Birds Fly,” coming out. We also have a new song together with Armin van Buuren. Then next year, we’re actually making a few new W&W singles. Next year we’ll have a new song with Hardwell, a new song with Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike and a song with Steve Aoki. So, a lot of music already. But right now we’re just focusing on making music and not concentrating on what to do with it.
Ward: After all, it sounds cheesy, but it really is all about the music.
Check of W&W’s latest single “Spack Jarrow” with Moti and be sure to watch out for plenty of new releases coming out soon!