A 4.5-metre cavity in the stage had been covered as if it were a solid surface. The German DJ's girlfriend was told that van Dyk may never speak or walk again.
Just a year and a half after the February 2016 accident at a festival in The Netherlands, van Dyk has not only recovered but has recorded a new album, “From Then On,” which comes out Friday.
The 45-year-old, one of the key creators of the fast, free-flowing electronic style that has become trance, has brought to the album a new appreciation for life – and determination to be his own master.
“I was in a coma and when I woke up I wasn't able to do anything. So whatever I do now is to me a miracle, a gift,” van Dyk told AFP in New York, where he recently premiered a visual-rich live show.
After cheating death, van Dyk will also no longer suffer the recommendations of managers. He said that every sound on “From Then On” is “1,000 percent how I want it to be.”
“I don't want to waste my talent – or call it whatever – on somebody else's idea of how my music should be,” he said.
“I am closer to myself and to my music than I have ever been, simply because there is a certain element of myself that sees life very differently.”
Hidden scars remain
As he sat in a hotel suite with a postcard-like view of the Manhattan skyline, little appeared different about van Dyk, who conversed in English with no trace of trauma.
But van Dyk said the scars were present, if invisible. His legs still go numb and he gets tired after two hours in the studio, whereas once he could spin for eight hours straight.
“When I'm on stage with the adrenaline and the energy of music – because this is what I love to do – people don't see this, but as soon as I'm off stage, plfff!” he said, making a noise as if collapsing on a couch.
Van Dyk, who broke his spine in two places and bled inside his brain, was in a coma for two days and later had to relearn the motions of speaking.
But van Dyk did not lose long-term memories, nor did he need to relearn how to make music.
The album stays true to van Dyk's style of smooth synthesizer melodies that crescendo into climaxes. But the music of “From Then On” carries a new scale of drama and urgency.
“While You Were Gone,” the album's first track, starts with more than three minutes of melancholic piano before the rhythms kick in.
The tellingly titled “I Am Alive” opens with piercing, solitary beats before escalating into a refrain of self-affirming joy.
The album's first single – “Stronger Together,” written with Namibian DJ Pierre Pienaar – similarly layers on keyboards to project a transition from loneliness to community.
An accompanying video shows young people striving to find one another in an ultra-hi-tech city of the future. (The city is unnamed, although the street signs intriguingly are in Tibetan script.)
Van Dyk said “Stronger Together” reflected how support from others helped him survive.
Told that “Stronger Together” was also the slogan of Hillary Clinton's ill-fated presidential campaign, van Dyk was visibly surprised.
The song has no connection to Clinton. But van Dyk – whose previous “Politics of Dancing” series united DJs from around the world – said there was a political subtext.
“I still seriously believe that in the big challenges of this planet we can only pull through together as humans. The Americans can't deal with climate change alone, the Europeans can't, the Asians can't,” he said.
Van Dyk voiced outrage that the far-right Alternative for Germany – “a party that is not distancing itself from Nazis, from racism” – won parliament seats in the recent election.
Like US artists since the rise of Donald Trump, van Dyk, who was born under communist rule in the former East Germany, vowed to be more politically outspoken.
“It's really about taking a stand and making sure that the achievements of the last 40 to 50 years in the free world aren't reversed by some dickheads.”