Interview: DJ Ran-D Talks ‘Zombie’, Keeping Music Fresh, and Starting His Own Label

Hardstyle hitmaker Ran-D was one of the headliners at IT’S THE SHIP 2023. 
Ran-D It's The Ship 2023
Photo: Joel Lim/ZYRUPMAG

With his electrifying performances, intensely emotional sound, and grounded personality, Ran-D is a name that has become synonymous with hardstyle. The Dutch DJ and producer has been a driving force in the scene for over a decade, pushing the boundaries of the genre and helping to bring it to a wider audience. Since he kickstarted his career in 2006, Ran-D has released a steady stream of chart-topping tracks, including ‘Zombie’, ‘Run From Reality’ and ‘Hurricane’, all of which show his enthusiasm and passion for his craft.

This year, he adds yet another notch to his belt – being one of the headliners for IT’S THE SHIP, touted as Asia’s largest festival at sea. It will be the DJ’s maiden voyage on the party cruise. 

One of the hallmarks of Ran-D’s music is his use of orchestral elements and vocal samples, which give his tracks a grand, cinematic quality. But the most impressive aspect of Ran-D’s music is his signature sound, where he combines energetic, party beats with moving, emotional storylines and cinematic visuals to give the audience a multi-sensory experience. Many of his tracks are uplifting and anthemic, inspiring a sense of unity and euphoria among his fans. Others, such as ‘The Power of Now’ and ‘Suicidal Superstar,’ delve into more personal and introspective themes, touching on subjects like mental health and self-doubt. 

As a live performer, Ran-D is a force to be reckoned with. His sets are known for their energy and intensity, with elaborate visual and pyrotechnic effects adding to the spectacle. His music is innovative, emotional, and inspiring, and his advocacy for mental health awareness is a testament to his character and integrity. As he continues to evolve and innovate, he is sure to remain a key figure in the world of hardstyle for years to come.

Festival attendees of IT’S THE SHIP were treated to the Ran-D experience this year; and it was a sight to behold in person, to say the least. Prior to performing his set, he sat down with ZYRUPMAG for an interview. 

Ran-D It's The Ship 2023
Photo: Joel Lim/ZYRUPMAG

ZYRUPMAG: Welcome to IT’S THE SHIP! How do you feel being part of Asia’s largest festival on a ship?
Ran-D: Well, obviously, before signing on, I checked the after-movie, and I was like, “What the fuck is this? This is crazy!” I was hyped. It’s not every day you play on a ship like this. It’s crazy. So far, I really love it so much. I’m looking forward to the set.

Speaking of your set, what was your creative process when you were putting together the setlist?
I never really make a full set. I just throw like 50 tracks, maybe 100, into a folder. Then, I have an idea of what I want to play. I like to adapt to what’s happening. I don’t know if people will know all the tracks, so then I might play some bootlegs. Usually, I play hard at the end. I’ll include some hardcore stuff. I just see how it goes and I’ll move with what’s happening. That’s what I love also about DJs.

You’ve been doing Hardstyle music for now, over two decades. Looking back on the journey, how do you feel about everything?
Mostly happy and thankful that I’m still doing well. It’s been pretty long. When I released ‘Zombie’, after that ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Run From Reality’, my career got another boost, which was not something that you can direct or expect. It’s something that just happened. I made the right track at the right moment. I got noticed outside of the Hardstyle scene and that just gave me a good spotlight. So I’m really happy with that.

Let’s talk about ‘Zombie’ – it’s such a massive hit. Your remix of it got 100 million streams on Spotify alone. Did you expect the kind of success that it got?
No, no. I made it as a bootleg because I never expected that I could actually release a track. So I made it as a bootleg, and then we tried to clear the track and it worked. After that, the track got licensed at Armada and a lot of EDM guys picked it up as well. Hardwell played it at Tomorrowland. That was pretty unexpected.

With ‘Zombie’ being such a hit for you, does that make you want to create similar remixes with older tracks? What’s keeping you busy?
Not really. We did. I did a couple, we did a ‘The Sound of Silence’ remix, but it never got released. We did a remix of Queen. Actually, maybe I’ll play a remix of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for my set. What I’m working on now is a new live show. I’m focused on [bringing] the visual experience together with the music, and I’m going to have a mask. The show is going to be called ‘Illuminate’. It’s connected to an album that I’m hopefully going to launch at the end of August. I think people want to have an experience, to see something on stage that they will remember.

What actually inspires you as an artist or a creative?
Everything. It can be something I experience in my life. It can be a video I see somewhere or a movie track that I’ve heard in another genre. So it’s always different.

How do you balance pushing out the music that you like or enjoy versus reading the crowd and seeing what they enjoy as well?
I think it is important to stick mostly to what you like yourself. Otherwise, where’s the sense in creating it? You know, it’s always your feeling that you put out there. But I think it is important to move with some trends that are happening that you like personally. Because that’s how music evolves. I think no one wants to sound outdated. Sometimes some young guys pop up that have like a really cool new kick or a new thing that creates a trend, and everybody jumps on. But you just put your own sauce on it, and that makes it your own style. So yeah I want to keep evolving, otherwise, it’s going to get boring anyway.

Speaking of evolving and entering new phases of your career, you started your own Hardstyle label. Why did you start your own label?
Mostly because we wanted to have our own control over our music. I was together with Thijs and Adaro, and we were talking about having our own label. Then we talked to Niels from Frequencerz and Bob, B-Front. They had the same idea. I was like, “You know what? We’re from the same generation. We’ve all known each other for years, so why not do it together? We’ll have a better platform, more reach.” That’s how it started.

When you look for people to come on to the label or work with you guys, what are some of the traits that you look for?
Well, mostly originality. These days, compared to the past, there are so many presets. Everything is there. We’re searching mostly for someone that has a unique sound, that brings a track that’s like a real hit. A lot of guys these days can produce a decent-sounding track, but not a lot of guys can make an outstanding track, you know? So that’s mostly what we’re looking for, someone that has a signature sound, something new, something fresh, real big hits, stuff like that.

With the label, I’m sure you work with a lot of up-and-coming people as well. If you were to give any advice for people who want to start a career in deejaying, for example, do you have any tips that you can share?
Mostly work hard. If you really want something – and that’s something I actually believe – if you really visualise what you want, you work hard for that, you can make that. But you really have to be dedicated. That’s the most important thing. For the rest, as I said, be original. Try to make your own signature sound. That would definitely help. But the first thing is working hard and visualising where you want to be. 

Last question, just a fun one. When the ship docks in Singapore, what are some of your plans to check out in Singapore?
I’m actually going immediately to KL.

Oh! Did you at least manage to check out Singapore before coming onto the ship?
A little bit. We had a couple of hours to walk around and then we went to some bars together with the crew. We went to Arab Street, I think it’s called. It was nice to see. We wanted to go to Gardens by the Bay. The pictures looked beautiful, but it was like a 40-minute walk away, we’re not going to make that. So hopefully, I’ll get a chance later this year. 

Stream Ran-D on Spotify here. For more information on IT’S THE SHIP, visit here

This interview has been edited for brevity. Original interview by Joel Lim. Article written by Ku Jia Yi and Joel Lim.