*Written by Lauren Mikkor
Here's a look at 22 of dance music's biggest stars before they got big. If you're ever struggling with anything, take a look at this list and realize that things will get better.
This Russian-born, German-raised superstar was practicing DJ poses before he even outgrew his pacifier. At the behest of his parents (his father is a guitarist and a schoolteacher; his mother is a piano instructor), he started playing classical music at age four, and at 12, he started playing drums in a band with his brother. In his late teens, he discovered French electronic duo Justice and from there, he taught himself how to produce electronic music in 2009.
With nothing more than a home computer, he started crafting his own soundscapes and began putting his compositions online. In 2011, he sent Skrillex a message on MySpace: “Hey, 99.9% of the EDM scene sucks, you’re the last bit that does not, you’re awesome and you’ll like my music.”
The rest… well that was history
2,3) Avicii & Otto Knows
There is no mistaking Avicii, even as a child. The "Levels" producer and Otto Knows were in the same class at school. Props to their teacher for doing something extremely right.
From being a youth spent sneaking into Stockholm’s underground nightclubs to the ardent support of Swedish House Mafia's assorted members, Otto Jettman was always set to be the next in a line of explosive new talent to emerge from the Refune Records stronghold. Created in the back room of the studio whilst Ingrosso and Alesso penned festival favorite "Calling," Otto Knows’ festival-favourite track "Million Voices" propelled the young producer to great heights in 2012.
Born Tim Bergling on 8 September 1989 in Sweden, Avicii began remixing and producing tracks in his own bedroom at the age of 18. "Growing up with older siblings, I've also had loads of different influences when it comes to my music taste such as Leeson MC and DJ Boonie," says Avicii. At the top of the list of Avicii’s musical influencers were Swedish House Mafia and Eric Prydz having been the artists who first got the now superstar into house.
4) Steve Aoki
Before this caking, champagne-spraying superstar was jumping of mainstages around the world he was representing an awkward high school haircut just like the rest of us.
He played on Newport Harbor High School's badminton team, attended the University of California, Santa Barbara and graduated with 2 BAs; one in Feminist Studies and the other in Sociology. His father founded the Benihana restaurant chain, and his sister is a famous model. By his early 20s, Aoki had built his own record label, Dim Mak, and developed into one of the highest paid, most recognizable producers on the planet.
Thomas Wesley Pentz, better known as Diplo, is unquestionably one of the most dynamic forces in music today. He is as much an international brand (tastemaker, spokesman, curator) as he is a musician/DJ/producer. He started garnering attention as a DJ while attending Temple University in Philadelphia, and since then, he’s proven himself to be a ubiquitous cultural figure, consistently bridging high and low, mainstream and underground, with remarkable tact and reverence.
6, 7, 8) Ferry Corsten, Tiësto, & Armin van Buuren
Ferry Corsten: Dutch music producer and DJ, published his first recording at 16, and financed his projects by washing cars and and selling mix tapes to kids in his neighborhood.
Tiesto: Born Tijs Verwest, Tiesto began his DJ career while playing for a local club called The Spock.
Armin van Buuren: Before fame, Armin studied law and worked as a DJ in Club Next, playing multiple sets a week, most of which lasted six or more hours. As his musical career began to take off he put his law degree on hold, although he still returned to graduate from law school in 2003.
9) Calvin Harris
Less than a decade ago, Adam Wiles was working the aisles of a Scottish grocery chain. Living out of his parents’ house without a college degree, he had all but given up on his dreams of making it as a musician, consigning himself to stocking food items on store shelves for the rest of his life.
These days, he’s one of the top earning DJs in the world. This is a beautiful message to keep working hard.
Joel Thomas Zimmerman was born in 1981 in Toronto, Canada. He had a knack for electronics and dissecting hardware during his childhood and eventually started working in animation and web design. In combination with his tech hobby, he worked in a cannery in Niagara Falls, which is why he told Eric Prydz in a recent coffee run that he “has no interest in ever eating a peach or pear ever again”
Zimmerman's musical moniker, Deadmau5 (pronounced "dead mouse"), was inspired by the carcass of a frozen rodent that he found in a computer he'd constructed. He adopted a helmet/mask to support the name, with the famed accessory having a variety of looks and incarnations.
He didn't set out to become a groundbreaking electronic artist. He just started making some music through his love of technology, and it happened to change the game and pop culture as we know it. It seems to always work out best that way.
11, 12) Jahan and Yasmin of Krewella
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Krewella, consisting of songwriting/vocalist sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf, have matching "6-8-10" tattoos to commemorate June 8th, 2010. It is the day they agreed to give up their careers, schooling, and any other intentions for their lives, to dedicate all of their time to the trio's music career.
Well before their transition from precious little girls to EDM-goes-punk-rock, Krewella sisters seemed a little more placid, and well - girly! Just shy of twenty years later and Krewella is one of the hottest, groundbreaking duos in the scene today.
13) Laidback Luke
Once upon a time, one of the world's biggest producers was just another front-row fan like everybody else. In the continuously expanding clubhouse of DJ superstars and loud-mouthed producers, it seems all too fitting that one of dance music’s original pioneers wholly personifies his own modest title.
With over 20 years of production experience and a black belt in karate, Laidback Luke has developed the ability to reach across genre boundaries and proven himself as an electronic essential. While now balancing a new-born baby, intensive touring, and producing new music, we couldn’t help but wonder exactly how Luke manages to stay so, well, laid back.
14, 15) Olivia and Miriam Nervo
Identical twin sisters Olivia and Miriam Nervo don’t just happen to be talented, accomplished and relevant. Born in 1983, this musical dream-team were Australian musicians, models, and songwriters before becoming superstar DJs. After signing with Sony/ATV Music Publishing at 18 years of age, the twins pursued careers as songwriting partners, co-writing the Grammy-winning single, "When Love Takes Over", performed by David Guetta and Kelly Rowland.
Even as babies, the NERVO twins could have been cover girls. Look at those gorgeous blue eyes!
16) Porter Robinson
Before he was selling out international shows, Porter Robinson led a very different life. He was born and raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a town with a population just under the 60,000 mark. School wasn't always his favorite place, having left abruptly in middle school to be home-schooled for a year due to not getting along with the kids in his grade.
By the time he was 17, Robinson had put the track "Say My Name" on Beatport and watched it skyrocket to #1 on the site's electro-house chart. He deferred his schooling for one more year to see how the music thing went, but by the time 12 months had passed, his parents never raised the university thing again. At that point, Robinson was crashing Beatport's servers with the release of his Spitfire EP, touring with Tiësto, and getting booked for mainstage sets at the biggest dance festivals in the world.
17, 18) Wouter and Sjoerd Janssen of Showtek
Born in Eindhoven, Netherlands, brothers Wouter and Sjoerd Janssen started producing back in 2001 as a hobby in their late teens. This dynamic Dutch duo changed styles from techno to hardstyle. Now, they've moved on to big room house, and they've blown up.
“When our parents divorced we hooked up as a team, spending a lot of time on music together. It was and still is a way of expression for us, letting everything come straight from the heart. When we started partying, going to big raves and festivals, we heard other DJs playing our songs and thought ‘Fuck we should do this ourselves!’ So it started off just with producing and then the whole traveling around the world, ‘superstar-dj-here-we go’ thing kind of happened to us!”
19) Carl Cox
A professional DJ since his early teens, a musical ambassador, a veteran of acid house, and a champion of techno. You name it, Carl Cox has been there and done it.
It was at the age of 15 that Cox was given a set of turntables and began working as a mobile DJ. “I would do my parties, and I'd play old rare groove and hip hop and soul and people would just stop. It's funny because all the people who thought I had freaked out then are the people who are making the music now."
As far as DJing goes, Cox is one of the godfathers. Rising to fame in the 80s, he has now grown to become one of the most respected artists in dance music.
Hardwell began his music career early by learning to play the piano when he was four. At 12, he spun at his first gig, a friends birthday party. It was in front of 100 people, and after the party, his dad came up with the idea of changing his DJ name from Robert to Hardwell. He did this by translating the family's last name, van de Corput, from Latin and Dutch into English.
Two years later, Hardwell got his big break when a Dutch record label recognized his talent and signed him. Hardwell went on to be named top DJ in DJ Mag's controversial Top 100, rendering him the youngest ever winner at 25-years-old.
As you can see, Moore was an emo kid par excellence, wearing his jet black emo haircut in his eyes. He favored black hoodies with the sleeves pulled over his knuckles, and his lower lip sported not one, but two piercings.
After he found out he was adopted, he ran away from home at age 16 to join a band in Georgia that he met on MySpace. That band, as everyone knows, was called From First To Last, and they eventually signed a $1.5 million deal with EMI Records. He stayed on with the group for three years and ended up pursuing his solo career in 2007. We know how well that went for him.
22) Dillon Francis
Before Diplo discovered his 2011 single "Masta Blasta" and propelled him into international stardom, Dillon Francis worked at Beverly Hills clothing store called J. Lindeberg. It was there that he developed the affinity for suits that made him frequently wear them onstage in the early years of his career, as he used to get a discount on them at the store.