A quick scan of the crowd below offered a blurry vision of bodies moving to the beat of the melody. Every so often, the masses would erupt as a familiar guitar riff would sprinkle throughout the performance, teasing fans eager to listen to the 1998 classic. Finally, after tormenting the audience for an hour, ATB unleashed the global hit rework of his nostalgic record, “9 PM (Till I Come).”
The time-honored track is a staple in dance music. However, it wasn’t the roaring cheers from the crowd when that song was played that took us by surprise as we watched over the dancefloor. Instead, it was the outpouring of emotion, sheer joy and happiness as the entire venue cried out the lyrics to “Ecstacy.”
It’s been over two decades since the iconic German DJ first came on the scene, and in his words, “it’s not a normal thing” for artists like him to continue touring the world. Yet ATB finds himself thousands of miles away from home, performing a 2004 record that resonates with the public, both young and old.
It was this sense of nostalgia and emotional connection that ATB touched on as he spoke with EDM.com in a recent interview. As he hit the halfway point of his eight-city U.S. tour, ATB reflected on his successful 2021 which saw the release of “Your Love (9PM)” and the launch of his DJ EP series.
EDM.com: First and foremost we wanted to congratulate you on becoming a new father. How has fatherhood been like for you through the global pandemic?
ATB: The pandemic has been a tragedy for the whole world but at the same moment. I’m a little bit thankful for it. I was able to spend so much time with my little son and it was right at the perfect moment for me.
On the other side, it was hard as well because as good as it was to have a lot of time in the studio, it was just as bad to not be on stage. I’m really thankful that things are getting better right now and it’s giving us the opportunity to get back on stage 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, whenever I’m in the studio and I’m producing a track there are moments in that track where I can imagine people are throwing their hands up. So when I see that happening in the crowd at that same exact moment, I’m happy and I remember this is why I do music.
EDM.com: Speaking of producing tracks that make people throw their hands up, you recently reworked your signature record “9 PM (Till I come).”What made you want to reimagine a 20-year-old record?
ATB: You know, I remember earlier times thinking to myself, “I never want to play this track again.” But having so much time in the studio through the pandemic I thought about the melody for “9 PM” and realized it’s not dying.
I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on this planet that’s listened to that guitar riff the most, but it never got boring. So I thought, let’s bring this melody back to the new generation because they love it. I know they love it because whenever I play it the crowd always screams.
EDM.com: How did you manage to create a new song while keeping elements of the old one?
ATB: I didn’t want to do 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 eventually sat together in the studio. We kept the melody and worked around it and rewrote it with vocals.
EDM.com: Why did you decide on partnering with Topic?
ATB: Because he lives 20 kilometers from my studio and he’s German [laughs].
When I listen to music, I can feel it in my head. Whenever anyone asks me for a remix, I can rebuild the remix before I’m in 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 my head 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 assumed for this track and in the end, everything turned out exactly how I wanted.
EDM.com: You recently released your DJ EP (Vol. 01), which is the first in a series of upcoming EPs. Can you elaborate on the collection and what we can expect from them?
ATB: The EPs are to show that there are actually a few different versions of ATB out there. With the EP, I want to show people that whenever I’m doing radio stuff, I don’t forget about my DJ life.
I’m shocked when people say to me, “Oh, you’re doing radio stuff now,” when 20 years ago I was on the radio with “Let U Go.” So I’ve been doing radio stuff. I’m also doing ambient, you know the really quiet stuff, really relaxing sounds. So I’m open to different kinds of stuff.
EDM.com: Does the criticism regarding your more commercial sound get to you?
ATB: You know, I’m very open for criticism, but of course, I’m sometimes sad when they write stuff like, “He’s losing his old sound” or whatever. When it comes to these things I’m very emotional, but I’m also emotional onstage and I’m emotional in the studio. They just don’t understand that I have different facets of what I’m doing.
EDM.com: It sounds like “passionate” is the word you’re looking for.
ATB: Yes, passionate is better. I’m passionate because I care about my work.
EDM.com: There are people in their 30s and 40s in the audience who grew up listening to ATB and are 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 really thankful to still be onstage because that’s not a normal thing. There are 10 people on this planet that started in 1990-93 doing music and are still here, and I’m glad to be one of them.
There’s a lot of artists out there who lose the fans or lose contact with the crowd and I’m so thankful that there are people waiting for me. That tells me I’ve done something right. I hope to be there for them for another 20 years.
EDM.com: You say that it’s not normal for artists to have a career as long as yours. So what’s driving you to continue to make music?
ATB: It’s easy: I love listening to music and I love to make new music. I love sitting in the studio playing around with melodies that turn into tracks.
You know, when I was five and 10 years old, I used to take instruments and create new melodies. It’s always been a goal for me to make melodies that survived over the years. Whenever someone comes to me and tells me that a song of mine brought them through really rough times, I tell myself, “Okay, that’s why I’m doing music.”
So this is what drives me to do more music. I can be in other people’s lives through my music and it’s a good feeling.
EDM.com: What do you think it is about your music that resonates with people?
ATB: It’s a signature sound. I can’t explain it. But if you ask an ATB fan they’ll tell you, “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. Everybody is doing the trendy thing but I don’t care about that. I know that a lot of other DJs don’t play my sound but that’s an advantage for me.
EDM.com: I ask because there are impassioned grown adults who will sing their hearts out to “Ecstasy.” Why do you think people relate to that track?
ATB: I don’t know. But I think it’s good to not be able to explain it.
EDM.com: Why is that?
ATB: Because that’s what makes it special. If we could explain it, then it wasn’t that special.