“The Entire Room Vibing as One”: Markus Schulz On the Secret Sauce of His Open-to-Close DJ Sets

For most DJs, performing for hours on end is an exercise in durability and determination. But for Markus Schulz, it's child's play.

With a career spanning roughly three decades, the profile trance producer remains one of the most renowned electronic music artists in the game. And his signature open-to-close NYE sets have become his love language.

Schulz annually descends on the City of Angels to DJ at the famed Avalon Hollywood club, where he rings in the new year by performing for 12 continuous hours with nary a bathroom break. This year's DJ set, however, has the feel of one of his biggest in recent memory.

"I took a few weeks off from touring in November to work on the next Markus Schulz artist album, which we’re aiming to release in the summer 2023," he tells EDM.com. "Everything I have earmarked for the album hasn’t been played out anywhere yet, so the Los Angeles faithful can be assured they’ll be the very first to hear those tracks."

We caught up with Schulz ahead of this year's NYE set to discuss the secret sauce of his open-to-close sets.

Markus Schulz.

EDM.com: This is your 9th year in a row playing New Year’s Eve "open to close" at the historic Avalon Hollywood, where you sell out the venue each year. How does it feel?

Markus Schulz: It feels amazing! I was very fortunate to be able to do it last year. That feeling of gratitude was there throughout the whole experience. It felt incredible to be together again.

EDM.com: What’s key to your relationship with Los Angeles that you keep selling-out Avalon nightclub when you play in L.A.?

Markus Schulz: My relationship with the Los Angeles entertainment scene has always been paramount in my career. When my reputation started growing outside of Miami in the early days, I got some early bookings in L.A. In the beginning, the challenge to play L.A. felt a bit daunting, but thanks to the communities of trance music fans, Los Angeles really embraced me and my sound.

Fans there welcomed me as part of their family. It gave me the confidence that, if I could connect with people there, I had the ability to do it in the other key clubbing cities around the world. Avalon was one of the venues which provided me the opportunity to bring my open-to-close experience to fans as a regular event. It’s an incredible privilege to be able to return to Avalon Hollywood for another year this New Year’s Eve! It’s not something I take for granted.

EDM.com: I’m sure there are many, but do you have one resounding memory of playing at Avalon Hollywood that stands out from all of your other New Year’s Eve shows?

Markus Schulz: For sure! It’s one of those special venues and cities I’ll be forever grateful for. The 2017-2018 New Year’s Eve show at Avalon was where I proposed onstage to my wife, Adina, so everyone in attendance that night got to share that memorable, beautiful moment with us.

Generally speaking, I’m at the point in my career now where people are starting to assess my overall contribution to the music industry. This series of New Year’s Eve open-to-close shows at Avalon Hollywood is an essential element to the story of my career as a DJ.

EDM.com: Performing an “open-to-close" DJ set is something most DJs will never even attempt. It’s not only because there’s not a demand from ticket-buying audiences for those DJs, but also because doing so is so physically taxing. A lot or even most simply don’t have enough music (or stamina) to last that long. Would you agree with that assessment?

Markus Schulz: It’s an enormous challenge, both physically and mentally. For my Avalon New Year’s Eve shows, I typically plan on playing for 12 continuous hours without a break. Mentally, I’d break that down into the role of three DJ sets: an opener, peak-hour and afterhours.

Markus Schulz.

EDM.com: Can you elaborate?

Markus Schulz: The opener, where you’re gently easing people in with deep, progressive and percussive music. This helps set the tone of the event and allows me to gradually build. There’s a slight difference with this portion of the night compared with my normal programming because it’s New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s, you obviously have that huge destination point of the clock striking midnight, so I might move through the gears a little quicker in building the energy.

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The peak-hour is where I play all of my biggest hits: big vocals and big melodies. I also throw in a few surprises that people aren’t necessarily expecting. Again, and because it’s New Year’s Eve, this part of the set would begin a little earlier so I can start building towards the big “midnight moment” around 30 to 45 minutes out.

EDM.com: Then the countdown, and… boom! The clock strikes midnight near the height of your peak-time portion.

Markus Schulz: Yeah. Then later is afterhours, which is where my “Down the Rabbit Hole” themed sets this year have been derived from. This is the point in the night when I have the entire room vibing as one. Here’s when I can start moving the music towards a darker, more twisted tip. The bright lights get dimmed and we’re fully on a euphoric techno exploration. I go in, before heading into the morning and coming-up out of the darkness and into the light, musically speaking.

EDM.com: You’re constantly responding to the crowd as you’re playing, so it’s never like you can pre-program a set, right? All you can do is prepare for it. How do you organize your music so that you don’t get completely lost searching for music during a marathon set?

Markus Schulz: When I’m gathering new music, I typically categorize tracks that’ll connect with me into specific folders that match those DJ-roles I’ve just described. There’s a lot of planning involved! You’re essentially topping-up your music folders with new content every week, all year long, and as the show date moves closer, in my mind I can start to piece things together towards the journey I want to take the audience on.

EDM.com: That’s a glimpse into what you do on the mental side—preparing meticulously with your track selection. What are you doing to prepare yourself physically for such a marathon?

Markus Schulz: Physically, you also really have to prepare well. I do a lot of cardiovascular workouts in the gym during the week, year ‘round. On the day of the show, I’ll eat quite lightly and get in a disco nap before heading to the venue. The golden rule is not to consume any alcohol while performing, in order to prevent dehydration. So, plenty of water while performing, and in case I need an energy boost, I’ll also pack some nuts and fruits in my bag.

Markus Schulz.

EDM.com: What’s the toughest part of your open-to-close sets?

Markus Schulz: To be honest, I find the hardest point of the open-to-close sets is getting to sleep afterwards. The reason I say that is, while you’re physically drained, mentally you’re still running at a million miles-a-minute because you're constantly reading the room and having to musically react to ensure they stay with you throughout the journey. It's the reason why I'll typically stay in L.A. for a couple of days after New Year’s Eve to recover and relax.

EDM.com: What can clubbers expect this year that's different from your previous New Year’s Eve shows?

Markus Schulz: Well, I took a few weeks off from touring in November to work on the next Markus Schulz artist album, which we’re aiming to release in the summer 2023. Everything I have earmarked for the album hasn’t been played out anywhere yet, so the Los Angeles faithful can be assured they’ll be the very first to hear those tracks.

EDM.com: Besides preparing for your New Year’s Eve set, how did you spend the last few months of 2022?

Markus Schulz: Following the release of the Dakota EP, Odyssey to the Netherworld, which was released this past summer, the second half of 2022 has been devoted to my collaborative "X" series. For that, it’s been great working with a collection of old-friends as well as new, upcoming talent. 

The latest release is “Prestwick” with the legendary BT. The reactions to it have been great so far. I have a couple more finished that’ll be releasing in early 2023, so they’re sure to be showcased during my New Year’s Eve set, too.

EDM.com: As a globetrotting DJ and producer who routinely circles the Earth performing for people of all cultures and nationalities, how do you personally feel about New Year’s Eve?

Markus Schulz: I’ve always thought of New Year’s Eve as a night when everyone goes out to celebrate the incoming year, even if they don’t go out regularly or on any other night of the year. Being around people as the clock strikes midnight is an amazing and perfect way to create optimism for the new year ahead. That’s why—even if you haven’t gone out in a while—you’ll find other like-minded people who are also out for the first time in a long time.

The atmosphere at midnight, there’s nothing like it! Being part of a group celebration and witnessing the spectacle of confetti, music and cheering is something you don’t forget. As the DJ playing a full house on New Year’s Eve at Avalon Hollywood, remember that I’m having a blast, too.

You can get tickets to see Markus Schulz on New Year’s Eve at Avalon Hollywood, Los Angeles here.

Follow Markus Schulz:

Website: markusschulz.com
Facebook: facebook.com/markusschulz
Spotify: spoti.fi/3jeWkwC
Instagram: instagram.com/markusschulz

Tagsterms:Markus SchulzDJingInterviewBy Jason Heffler

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