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Documentary & Report

Superstar DJs from Germany: A Global Success Story

They regularly top the international charts and headline dance festival line-ups around the world. Why are German DJs in such demand worldwide?

Watch video 42:31

Superstar DJs - Made in Germany

“We now have an established House and club scene in Germany. It’s part of our culture. German DJs are out there,” says Felix Jaehn in the DW documentary “Superstar DJs - Made in Germany”, which will be broadcast on November 25.

The list of the world’s 12 best-paid DJs now features a German: Anton Zaslavski aka “Zedd” from Kaiserslautern. The 28-year-old Russian-born music producer is no. 4 in the Forbes magazine rankings with an annual income of $24.5 million units, with a catalogue surpassing the incredible mark of one billion streams – and is far from reaching his peak.

Felix Jähn - From bedroom producer to global star (Jens Koch)

Felix Jähn - From bedroom producer to global star

Still just 23, Felix Jaehn is also acclaimed internationally as a wunderkind of the German DJ scene. His 2014 remix of “Cheerleader” by Jamaican singer Omi landed him a global hit and made him the first German artist in a quarter of a century to top the US singles charts. The hit catapulted him to international DJ stardom.

The EDM phenomenon

Electronic Dance Music is now a huge market, turning over around $7.1 billion in 2016 (Forbes magazine). EDM festivals attract tens of thousands of ravers, who are treated to extravaganzas of electronic beats, light shows and live acts.

“DJs from Germany are in very big demand,” confirms Berliner Frans Zimmer aka “Alle Farben”. The 32-year-old’s shows also incorporate live vocals and horns. His success in stats: record sales of over one million, 200 million online streams and four platinum discs.

Alle Farben’s real name is Frans Zimmer

Alle Farben’s real name is Frans Zimmer

His live set-up came to the rescue during a set at the Parookaville Festival in Weeze in western Germany; when torrential rain cut the power, a human beatbox together with a singer and a trumpet player kept the show going. The crowd played their part by singing along to the lyrics.

“Having live music on stage is always different,” says Zimmer. “It makes the gig more alive. And that's what creates that special moment, that energy.” After 15 memorable minutes, the power came back on.

“The genie is out of the bottle”

But there is another side to the DJ jetsetter lifestyle, raving around the world with a burgeoning fanbase: hard work. Success also means a restricted personal life, permanent social media activity and festival summers with no fixed abode.

“I have to sacrifice a lot of privacy. It’s gotten to the point where I say that my life now takes place on the road,” reveals Frans Zimmer. “My life used to be separate from touring, but back then I wasn’t on the road 5 or 6 days a week. Now, my life and work are far more the same thing.”

But just how long will the EDM wave continue? Is the next big thing already emerging somewhere online? David Guetta sees EDM as a major element of the music business. “Hip-hop may be back in the US, and pop and dance in Europe, but the EDM genie cannot be banished back into its bottle,” the chart-topping French DJ declared at a press conference.

Paul van Dyk has been DJing for over a quarter of a century

Paul van Dyk has been DJing for over a quarter of a century

Born in East Germany, Paul van Dyk has been voted best DJ in the world multiple times, and has never been interested in trends and earnings rankings. “I think one of the reasons why I'm still here is because I'm pretty authentic. I stay true to the kind of music that I actually believe in. I refuse to sell out or be a vehicle for trends. If you're passionate about what you're doing, it no longer feels like a job,” he explains in the DW documentary.

Shortage of DJanes

There are plenty of women in the EDM scene – albeit mostly fans and dancers, and rarely behind the on-stage mixer. So far, this year’s list of “Electronic Cash Kings” (i.e. the best-paid DJs) does not contain a single queen.

And that scenario looks set to stay that way for a while. Figures from the international musicians' network "female:pressure" show that 45 electronic music festivals held in 2015 had an average of 82.3% male performers – a proportion normally associated with the likes of the Rotary Club.

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