Being Darude: On the road to Eurovision

Lights, cameras, music, performance - Finland's superstar DJ and producer Darude talks about his Eurovision preparations.

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File picture of Finland's 2019 Eurovision Song Contest entrant Darude / Credit: News Now Finland

When Finland’s Eurovision duo takes to the stage in Tel Aviv on 14th May, the performance will be the culmination of a journey for DJ superstar Darude that started last September, when he agreed to represent his country at the event, which attracts a global television audience of more than 180 million people.

Darude – who introduces himself with his given name Ville Virtanen – is partnered with singer and actor Sebastian Rejman on the climate change anthem Look Away, and has had a packed diary since performing the track at Finland’s domestic selection process UMK.

It’s not the first time Darude has been asked to represent Finland at Eurovision, but it was the first time his busy calendar allowed him to say yes.

“My schedule is done for the year. It’s not all Eurovision, but up until May, yes […] I was able to schedule a release where I wanted to, and I was able to push some stuff I was supposed to this spring a little later, so time-wise it fit really well as well” Darude tells News Now Finland at a recent interview in Helsinki.

“There’ll be practices […] and some stuff with clothing and all kinds of what goes into going to Tel Aviv with practices and semis and finals, fingers crossed, but also promotion-wise I’m going to London, Amsterdam and Madrid pre-parties which are organised by the local Eurovision organisations”.

Those events are vital components of the build-up to Eurovision, allowing Darude and Rejman to introduce Look Away to local crowds of dedicated Song Contest fans – and voters.

“The most important things are the Eurovision fanatics, who are crazier than I thought!” he laughs.

Sebastian Rejman (L) and Darude (R) / Credit: Miikka Varila

“I’m sure there’ll be some people already judging you and whatnot, but nobody’s going to be a winner on those nights, it’s just a presentation of the track you’re doing” he explains, acknowledging how important these ‘campaign stops’ have become in recent years on the way to the Eurovision finals, to build that buzz for the track.

Last year Finland’s Saara Aalto wowed pre-contest audiences by performing a piano version of her own song Monsters in 34 different Eurovision languages. So will Darude and Rejman have any similar tricks up their sleeve for the promotional events?

“I’m not sure how many languages Sebastian can do, but he does different voices. He can do a Robert de Niro one, a Marlon Brando one, a back-of-the-throat opera one. Whether they would be different languages or not, that would be highly entertaining” says Darude, who adds that he thinks Saara Aalto is “amazing”.

File picture of Sebastian Rejman (R) and Darude (L) / Credit: Anton Sucksdorff, Yle

Sizing up the other competitors

The competition at this year’s contest – as always – will be tough, although Finland has been drawn in the first semi-final, where experts like Wiwibloggs reckon there’s a real advantage for someone with a strong song, as they’ll be facing a brace of other countries that traditionally struggle to get through to the final.

Darude is preparing to sit down and study all the other entries in detail, something he hasn’t yet had the chance to do. But there’s already one early standout for the DJ and producer, who scored his first global smash hit with the track Sandstorm twenty years ago in 1999.

“I watched the Melodifestivalen, the Swedish one, and boy the winner is amazing!” he enthuses.

“The background singers are amazing too, and that whole thing with him performing it, singing it was amazing. But the background singers coming into the track sounded huge, a big wall of sound”

“When I watched the Melodifestivalen broadcast I could have picked that out by a mile. But I think maybe everyone else did because it was a landslide of votes” he says of gospel-infused Too Late For Love by John Lundvik – who sings for Sweden, but also wrote the UK Eurovision entry this year.

Singer Sebastian Rejman (L) and DJ/Producer Darude (R) at the UMK competition in Turku, 02.03.2019 / Credit: Miikka Varila

Performing in Israel

The actual live performances at Eurovision have the power to make or break an act. A great song, poorly staged, simply won’t connect so well and score with audiences.

Similarly, an average song with exciting staging could pick up points it would otherwise not receive.

Many finalists change their performance radically between the national finals and getting to the Song Contest – in 2018 Saara Aalto brought something totally new to her performance in Lisbon: spinning upside down on a giant wheel, jack-booted backup dancers, an elaborate routine, a trust fall and pyrotechnics. It was perhaps too much for audiences and Finland came second last in the final.

But Darude and Sebastian Rejman are keeping things consistent. The show they performed at UMK in Turku is more or less what they’ll perform in Tel Aviv.

“I think the whole purpose of creating the UMK show different numbers were not to have to change them too much, to find a good formula for all of them. They were quite different tracks” he explains.

“I don’t know if it was the song itself, or a combination of the song and show, but it was clear which one the people wanted, it was almost unanimous. There was something good in the Look Away performance as well, in the staging” says the artist.

The pair will be listening to suggestion from their production team, and could still switch up some of the wardrobe choices. But when he hears the Iceland entrant performs in leather bondage clothing, that’s where he draws the line!

“I don’t think we should change it up fully but we can and obviously should amplify it somehow and figure out a thing or two, but bondage gear is not that thing […] am I ruling out bondage gear, yeah, I’m ruling it out 100%!” he jokes.

Ready for the Eurovision experience 

No journey to the Eurovision Song Contest would be complete without meeting new people, other artists, along the way.

It’s one aspect of the whole process that Darude is particularly looking forward to, and he’ll get ample chances to do that in the pre-contest events.

“One of the biggest things people have said is while it is a contest, and music as a contest for me is sort of a weird concept anyway, but while it is a contest it is about people having fun, the unity and music putting people together” he explains.

“Apparently the Eurovision thing is a whole big party, and I’m looking forward to that”.

Sebastian Rejman (L) and Darude (R) / Credit: Anton Sucksdorff