A quick scan of the crowd below offered a blurry image of bodies moving to the beat of the melody. Occasionally, the crowd would explode as a familiar guitar riff sprinkled through the performance, teasing fans eager to listen to the 1998 classic. Finally, after tormenting the audience for an hour, ATB unleashed the worldwide hit version of his nostalgic record ‘9 PM (Till I Come)’.
The time-honored song is a staple in dance music. However, it wasn’t the roaring cheers of the crowd as that song played that surprised us as we looked across the dance floor. Instead, it was the outpouring of emotion, pure joy and happiness as the whole room screamed out the lyrics to “Ecstacy.”
It’s been more than two decades since the iconic German DJ first appeared on the scene, and in his words, “it’s not normal” for artists like him to continue touring the world. Yet ATB is thousands of miles from home and plays a record from 2004 that resonates with audiences, both young and old.
It was this sense of nostalgia and emotional connection that ATB touched upon when he spoke to EDM.com in a recent interview. Halfway through his eight-city US tour, ATB thought back to his successful 2021, with the release of “Your Love (9PM)” and the launch of his DJ EP series.
EDM.com: First of all, we wanted to congratulate you on becoming a new father. What has fatherhood been like for you during the global pandemic?
ATB: The pandemic is a tragedy for the whole world, but at the same time. I’m a little thankful for it. I was able to spend so much time with my son and it was just the perfect time for me.
On the other hand, it was also difficult, because as good as it was to have a lot of time in the studio, it was just as bad not to be on stage. I’m very grateful that things are better now and it gives us the chance to get back on the podium and do what we really love.
EDM.com: What did you miss about not being on stage?
ATB: If you’re a musician, there’s nothing like standing in front of a crowd and getting a reaction and seeing their smiling faces, without masks [laughs].
You know, when I’m in the studio and I’m producing a song, there are moments in that song where I can imagine people raising their hands in the air. So when I see that happening in the crowd at that exact moment, I’m happy and I remember that’s why I make music.
EDM.com: Speaking of producing songs where people raise their hands, you recently reworked your signature record “9 PM (Till I come)”. Why did you want to reimagine a 20 year old record?
ATB: You know, I remember I used to think to myself, “I don’t ever want to play this song again.” But because I had so much time in the studio during the pandemic, I thought about the tune for “9:00 PM” and realized it’s not going to die.
I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on the planet who listened to that guitar riff the most, but it never got boring. So I thought let’s bring this tune back to the new generation because they love it. I know they love it because when I play it, the audience always screams.
EDM.com: How did you manage to create a new song while preserving elements of the old?
ATB: I didn’t want to make a cover version. I wanted to write new lyrics and I didn’t want to do it alone. When I met Topic, I talked to him about the melody and we ended up in the studio together. We kept the melody and worked around it and rewrote it with vocals.
EDM.com: Why did you decide to partner with Topic?
ATB: Because he lives 20 kilometers from my studio and he is German [laughs].
When I listen to music, I feel it in my head. When someone asks me for a remix, I can rebuild the remix before I get to the studio because I have it in my head. And it was the same when I listened to his song “Breaking Me”. It was a sound that can translate to the guitar melody.
The result was exactly what I had in mind before. I didn’t want to do it too trance-y, or too house-y or whatever. This “Breaking Me” sound was exactly what I imagined for this song and in the end everything turned out exactly the way I wanted.
EDM.com: You recently got your DJ EP (Vol. 01), the first in a series of upcoming EPs. Can you tell us more about the collection and what we can expect from it?
ATB: The EPs should show that there are actually a few different versions of ATB. With the EP I want to show people that when I do radio work I don’t forget my DJ life.
I’m shocked when people say to me, “Oh, you’re doing radio stuff now,” when I was on the radio 20 years ago with “Let U Go.” So I’ve been doing radio stuff. I also do ambient, you know the really calm stuff, really relaxing sounds. So I’m open to different kinds of things.
EDM.com: Does the criticism of your more commercial sound appeal to you?
ATB: You know, I’m very open to criticism, but of course I’m sad sometimes when they write things like, “He’s losing his old sound” or whatever. When it comes to these things, I’m very emotional, but I’m also emotional on stage and I’m emotional in the studio. They just don’t understand that I have different facets of what I do.
EDM.com: It sounds like ‘passionate’ is the word you’re looking for.
ATB: Yes, passionate is better. I am passionate because I care about my job.
EDM.com: There are people in their thirties and forties in the audience who grew up listening to ATB and being passionate about your music. What do you have to say to your adult fans who have followed you throughout your 20-year career?
ATB: First of all, I’m very grateful that I’m still on the podium, because that’s not normal. There are 10 people on this planet who started making music in 1990-93 and are still here, and I’m glad to be one of them.
There are many artists who are losing fans or losing touch with the audience and I am so thankful that people are waiting for me. That tells me I did something right. I hope to be there for them for another 20 years.
EDM.com: You say it’s not normal for artists to have careers as long as yours. So what drives you to keep making music?
ATB: It’s easy: I like to listen to music and I like to make new music. I love playing in the studio with melodies that turn into tracks.
You know, when I was five and ten years old, I took instruments and created new melodies. It has always been a goal for me to create melodies that have lasted over the years. Whenever someone comes up to me and tells me that a song of mine has taken them through really hard times, I say to myself, “Okay, that’s why I’m making music.”
So this is what drives me to make more music. I can be in other people’s lives through my music and that’s a good feeling.
EDM.com: What do you think it is about your music that appeals to people?
ATB: It’s a distinctive sound. I can not explain. But if you ask any ATB fan, they’ll say, “That’s typical ATB.” But they can’t explain what it is, you know? [laughs].
I don’t care about the trends right now, and that’s a very important ATB thing. Everyone’s doing it trendy, but I don’t care. I know a lot of other DJs don’t spin my sound, but that’s an advantage for me.
EDM.com: I’m asking because there are passionate adults out there who will sing their hearts out to “Ectasy.” Why do you think people feel connected to that number?
ATB: I do not know. But I think it’s good not to be able to explain it.
EDM.com: Why is that?
ATB: Because that’s what makes it special. If we could explain it, it wouldn’t be so special.