Toppling the Wall, Rocking the Vote
There is something slightly ironic about a German citizen advocating that United States citizens get out and vote. But while many Americans take for granted our freedom to vote, electronic music star Paul Van Dyk, who grew up with communism behind the Iron Curtain, believes that voting is essential, and an obligation that should be dutifully fulfilled. And in joining the Rock The Vote campaign, he intends to make that point.
"I grew up in a communistic country, pretty much a dictatorship," he explains by phone from his Berlin studio. "I saw my mom being desperate of not being able to have a possibility and option for the future. You have that in the States, so I think people should take that opportunity and go and vote. ... The minimum engagement of the citizen of a country should be that you go out and vote and only some [38 percent of the 18- to 24- year-old demographic] actually went out to vote in the last presidential election. That hopefully is going to change with my involvement in Rock The Vote."
Van Dyk expresses continual amazement that U.S. citizens don't realize how much power they hold.
"I will say it over and over; it is very very important people exercise their right to vote," he says. "You live in a democratic society and a lot of people just go on and moan about the American debts and unemployment rate, that kind of stuff, but they didn't even take the opportunity to vote for somebody else who might have done something different.
"This is one of the most important elections ever for the States. The whole world is drastically changed since 9/11 and there is a new kind of enemy out there that needs to be driven out of society -- this drastic form of terrorism. It's a question of who has a better concept of doing so. Is it a good concept to actually bomb innocent countries? I don't know; I'm not sure about it. The only thing I am asking with my involvement with Rock The Vote is that people actually get their opinion to the polls."
As a boy growing up in East Germany Van Dyk had little hope that the repression would one day end. That changed when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but for nearly 30 years, those living behind the wall enviously imagined the freedoms that transpired on the other side. Van Dyk concedes that even after talking with his grandmother about East Germany, there is a lot he doesn't understand about that era. But what he does recall is that his hope growing up came via the music that filtered in over the radio from the west.
The Cure and Smiths topped the charts in the mid-1980s. This was the music that first captured Van Dyk's imagination as he dutifully did his homework every night. That this "different kind of music" came from the west added "deeper meaning." When the wall fell, Van Dyk gravitated to the West Berlin dance clubs.
"When the wall went down I went to all the clubs in Berlin but the music ... was very one-dimensional, very Detroit-orientated minimalistic techno and I knew there was so much else," he recalls. "I went to a record store and bought some records and made tapes for myself, and gave some to friends. One passed the tape to a promoter and this is how I got my first gig.
Unlike his early DJ days, when he relied on mixing the music of others, Van Dyk has become the complete electronic artist, writing, engineering and producing his own original music. Van Dyk is proud that he can also use his music to espouse political views once deemed verboten. On his current release, Reflections (Mute), he frees his political voice. He cites as his strongest statement the song, "Time of My Life," which is filled with opposing imagery and conflicting beats that somehow still manage to work together; elements, he says, that mirror many of the day to day events that shape our society.
Empowerment and instituting change are themes Van Dyk returns to again and again as he tells his story of the unforeseeable twist of fate that turned his hobby into a career.
"It is funny, really. I was doing an interview with a German magazine the other day and they were asking me what was the craziest thing that happened to me," he says with a laugh. "I thought, I am this guy -- a German -- involved in the democratic process in the United States in 2004. This is crazy. It is amazing and crazy at the same time. I would never ever have thought anything like this could happen. But here I am."