While Finnish DJ Darude might be responsible for the expansion of electronic music into North America and the rest of the world, for most gamers he represents something much greater: the person responsible for one of the internet's most well-recognised memes.
Sandstorm has taken on a life of its own, and when that happens it usually does so in weird and unexpected ways. So ahead of Darude's upcoming Australian tour, I asked him about some of the stranger places Sandstorm had popped up. And one of those was at a funeral.
For the full effect, I recommend reading the interview while listening to Sandstorm, which is embedded below.
"I don’t know if strange is the right word, but I know of a few people who have requested Sandstorm being played at their funeral," Darude said in an interview over email. "Just recently I was told about one older lady, who had said it was her fave pick-me-up song fighting a nasty illness, and they indeed played it at her funeral."
It's hard not to smile picturing a sombre eulogy, recalling the life someone has left behind, followed by some silence and the booming opening beats of "DU-DU-DU-DU" resonating throughout a church.
The way Sandstorm has penetrated the internet lexicon is fascinating, but it's not wholly surprising. Darude was one of a few DJs that helped propel dance music - or trance - into a more popular, more commercial era. In a video with deadmau5, the Canadian DJ and producer proclaimed that Darude and others were "responsible for the influx of electronic music" into the US thanks to the popularity of Sandstorm.
Darude's music was also hugely popular amongst gamers at the time. His tracks were frequently used in frag videos for Quake and Counter-Strike and the nostalgic popularity of his music helped fuel his popularity in recent years, with appearances at afterparties for Dota 2's International and Dreamhack events.
Kotaku: Why do you think the gaming community has such a connection with your music and dance music in general?
Darude: Having been in contact with gamers during my studies and over the years online with fans who are gamers and now having been to conferences like TwitchCon and DreamHack and having my own Twitch stream, it’s become very clear that playing games and making music are not that dissimilar all in all and seem to require some similar traits, like a certain kind of ability to deeply concentrate on what you’re doing, good hand-eye-ear coordination, some finger dexterity, bunch of imagination and such, things you do when you’re creating new music or figuring out a strategy to beat your mortal enemy :) Very often electronic musicians are also very tech savvy, which most gamers are, too.
You made a music kit for Counter-Strike a couple of years ago around the time that Moments came out. How did the collaboration with the game and Valve come about – did you approach them, did Valve approach you? Is it something you might do for other games or do again for Counter-Strike in the future?
Darude: Valve first approached me about playing at one of their gaming events, TI4, and later on we started talking about their sound pack stuff as well, which was originally their idea. It’s possible I’ll do it again, it was fun to see the behind the scenes stuff a little, what goes into the music & sounds stuff, and I know doing a sound pack is just scratching the surface. I’m concentrating on my own music at the moment, but different outlets like games for my Darude productions or under other aliases and other styles is not out of the question at some point, either.
I read that you visited Valve earlier this year and checked out some of the work they were doing with VR. How’s that coming along – and what kind of VR experiences do you think work the best, especially when it comes to music?
Darude: To be totally honest, I can’t claim that I’m that well versed in all the VR stuff, but it certainly interests me a lot. I believe creating music in a form of virtual application in a 3D studio space with an array of instruments, mixers, controllers around you will happen one day. Everything in the digital world moves so fast, so I’m not sure how quickly we’ll be in the studio with just our VR glasses. I think virtual live bands and performances will become more frequent along with new kinds of fan to artist interactions – both in terms of virtual group and one on one private meetings as VR studio tech develops!
You’ve been playing at gaming conventions and events for a few years now – what do you think of the scene these days, particularly esports?
Darude: It’s incredible how big it has gotten! I’ve never been really a frequent gamer, but I spend a good bit of my time online and have quite early on come across various international tournaments and such and realized that some people are similarly fortunate as I am, they get to have their hobby as their job, too! There are similar superstars in the esports scene than there are in the music worlds or real world sports, and there are managers, coaches, sponsors, therapists, hang arounds etc etc etc ... And the prizes of these big international tournaments, WHEW!
Out of curiosity: what’s the reasoning behind Sandstorm’s name? The music video doesn’t really have a lot to do with sand or storms.
Darude: I know you’d love to know that, and some googling might or might not reveal the answer, but at this point I’m going to plead the fifth, as they say. It’s a secret. But doesn’t it sound like a sand storm coming? ;)
Australia’s had a strong dance music following for decades; there was even a film about it, One Perfect Day. Have you seen the movie – and why do you think Aussies love dance music so much, your stuff particularly?
Darude: I’ve actually watched some ten minutes from the beginning of it, believe me or not, must’ve been on a flight or something, and I’ve got a ‘to be watched’ list and it’s on it, but I haven’t watched it yet. I don’t know why Aussies love dance music so much, but I’m very happy they do! I’ve always had such amazing times down under and I’ve always appreciated the Australian openness with music friendliness in general.
Where do you see dance music heading in the next few years?
Darude: It’ll be doing the same as it always does; new styles that are too underground as is will be fused with something commercial, that then becomes known to the big general public slowly, then it will spawn some hits and everyone tries to jump on the same wave. Then that particular style fizzles out slowly, saturates and something else comes up.
Dance music is here to stay, some genres like house and trance (broadly said) will stay others will come and go, but nothing really is ever going to die out totally, just change form a bit. In general due the commercialisation of a genre, it becomes pop music and as a counter-effect someone creates something really wacky and over time it becomes not so wacky anymore and becomes part of the above-mentioned cycle.
Are there any Aussie producers/DJs that have caught your eye, any you think gamers should check out if they haven’t already?
Darude: Well, happy that you asked… :D Right around the time I’m doing my tour in August there is a fresh release available, a [collaboration] with Zac Waters with Enya Angel with the vocal duties. Track is called ‘Singularity’ and will be out on Will Sparks’ Bourne Recordings.
Some time after that there’ll be another Darude & crazy Aussie collab release coming, namely with Uberjak’d. I don’t have a track title for you to give yet, but it’s a banger, a great mix of Ben’s bounce-ish style and my trance-ish melodic touch. I hit the studio with both fellas last fall when I was on the road in [Australia], and we’ve continued the collaboration over the internet. There are of course the above-mentioned Will, then Timmy Trumpet, Feenixpawl and many others I’ve come across over the years, all fun people and globetrotting artists.
Sorry about the autoplay, but I had to make an exception for Sandstorm. Darude is touring Australia from August 2, with shows in Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Cairns. The first gig will be at Brisbane's Victory Hotel, with more details available on Darude's website.