“If there’s anyone to do this right now and to try to change the scene a little bit, it’s us.”
Their relationship is actually like a day in the life of a parent. It’s unpredictable, but it gets better and better with age.
Guetta and Afrojack have linked up more times in the last decade than breakups and ice cream. And each time seems to give rise to a different kind of sound, triggered by an innate propensity to take risks. They’ve now joined forces once again to test the waters of a risky sonic direction—albeit a familiar one.
Afrojack and Guetta today released “Hero,” a soaring progressive house track that turns back the clock to the early 2010s, when the genre dominated the festival circuit à la Alesso, Third Party, and DubVision. The new single features Brooklyn songstress Luxtides and flaunts a formidable team of songwriters and record producers: Ellie Goulding, Stargate, Ryan Tedder, and Jamie Scott, who—along with Afrojack and Guetta—have a combined 28 Grammy nominations.
“What we’re doing, it does not make sense,” Afrojack tells EDM.com via Zoom. “But we love this sound. We’ve been advocates and presenters of this sound for a very long time. We both love underground but we also love festival music, and this is our passion. If there’s anyone to do this right now and to try to change the scene a little bit, it’s us. But I don’t know if it’s going to work.”
It worked in the past. Rapturous, vocal-driven bangers like “Ten Feet Tall” drove legions of ravers to music festivals, promising an empyrean serotonin rush that other genres just couldn’t induce. However, that euphoric sound eroded as the streaming industry blossomed, its sandcastles stomped by algorithmic playlists that favor pop-centric dance music.
But after a brutal year devoid of live music thanks to the fury of COVID-19, many ravers have found themselves nostalgic, desperately clinging to memories of simpler times in the throes of solitude. Afrojack hopes “Hero” can serve as a time machine.
“This type of music is on Spotify, but it’s not in the curated playlists. It’s not on the radio,” Afrojack lamented. “It used to be, so we’re trying—and we hope they will play it and we hope the people will like it, of course—but this song is a hit or miss. To me, it’s still a beautiful, great song.”
He remembers “Another Life,” a collaborative track with Guetta and Grammy-nominated artist Ester Dean. Released back in 2017, the song represented a departure for the electro house titan.
Afrojack’s fans adored him for his distinctive “Dirty Dutch” style, a quirky, electrifying brand of house music that took the US club scene by storm as iconic Dutch compatriots Sidney Samson and Chuckie helped blow up the sound through their own stateside tours. So when he and Guetta dropped a melancholic future bass track, fans from Miami to Amsterdam scratched their heads.
“When we did [“Another Life”] we had no idea what to expect,” Afrojack admitted. “And the thing is, even though we both love [“Hero”] and we think it’s gigantic, this is not the current industry. The current playing field is not what we’re doing. But that kind of makes it very exciting, you know?”
“It used to work perfectly,” he continued, speaking through smiling teeth as he notes his penchant for “the element of surprise.” “If it were to continue to work perfectly… we’re about to find out.”
Considering the horsepower behind “Hero,” it shouldn’t come as a surprise if lightning strikes twice following Guetta and Afrojack’s Hail Mary. The contribution from Goulding, an electropop superstar and contemporary music lynchpin responsible for a number of generational dance anthems, is an early indicator of a hit.
The beloved artist—celebrated for her timeless vocal performances on electronic cornerstones like Seven Lions’ “Don’t Leave” and Calvin Harris’ “Outside”— sung the original demo vocal of “Hero.” But a stacked release schedule thwarted any intention of releasing it. “We couldn’t work it out with her release schedule,” Afrojack explained.
“So we ended up going with Luxtides, who has an amazing voice and has an amazing performance on this record,” he continued. “Of course I thought it would’ve been dope if Ellie sang it, but I just want to make sure the record goes out and everyone is fully behind it and everyone had the time to rock on it and promote it. Luxtides is a pretty new artist. I think it’s also a very big podium for her to be singing this song, and I hope we can do more in the future.”
The team of Afrojack, Guetta, Stargate, Tedder, Scott, and Goulding had multiple women take a crack at the topline of “Hero.” And after much trial and error, it was Luxtides who dazzled. “It’s a difficult song to sing right. There’s very difficult melodies to sing, especially the hook on the drop,” Afrojack said. “And Luxtides just killed it.”
After Afrojack started working on the track, he sent it to Guetta, who had a similar reaction. “Oh my god, this is huge,” he says in a raspy impression of his longtime friend and fellow Grammy-winning dance music pioneer.
As one of their earliest collaborations, “Lunar,” approaches its 10-year anniversary, Afrojack says his chemistry with Guetta is just as strong as it was in 2011.
“It’s exactly the same. Nothing’s changed,” he said. “I slowed down a little bit… David is still David, he didn’t change anything. He just started looking younger over the last 10 years.”
“The music industry is two things,” Afrojack digresses. “It’s knowing exactly what the fuck you’re doing, and not having any clue what the fuck you’re doing. And that’s this song. We know exactly what we’re doing, but we have no idea what we’re doing pushing this song out. So let’s hope it works.”