How a Finnish DJ created a 'Sandstorm' in the SEC and across the sports world

New South Carolina coach Shane Beamer has been able to count on a reliable source of encouragement in some of the biggest moments of his career.

In need of a jolt of adrenaline? Looking for a steadying reminder of where it all started? A family rally to help land his dream job? He knows where to turn.

Sure, he probably calls his dad, Frank Beamer, the legendary former Virginia Tech coach. But he has another go-to, an old pal from Finland: A 22-year-old instrumental track by a Finnish DJ named Darude.

For Beamer, who worked under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina from 2007-2010, "Sandstorm" has been a soundtrack for his rise in the coaching ranks, from the time he was a defensive assistant in Williams-Brice Stadium in 2009, when No. 4 Ole Miss came to Columbia.

With 1:39 left in the fourth quarter, and South Carolina leading 16-10, the Rebels faced a key third-and-12. "Sandstorm" played over the stadium speakers and whipped the crowd into a lather. "A rave breaks out in Columbia," ESPN announcer Chris Fowler said as fans and players jumped up and down.

The Gamecocks' defense sacked Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead. Before fourth down, "Sandstorm" blared again. Amid the chaos, Ole Miss got a substitution penalty. Now facing fourth-and-19, Snead threw an incompletion and the upset was sealed. The Gamecocks had beaten a top-5 team at home. A new legend was born.

The atmosphere was no surprise to the coach on the losing end, who had learned not to underestimate Gamecocks fans in his first year as a head coach at Arkansas, even when playing a team that finished 1-10 -- with that one win coming in the season opener against a 1-10 Ball State team.

"In 1998, that was my first experience ever in Columbia, South Carolina," Houston Nutt said. "I thought, 'Well, they're not having a good year so the people won't show up.' And I'll be dadgum, I look up and there's 80,000 people in the stands. You talk about loyal. I said, 'This fanbase is unbelievable!' From that time on, in my 14 years in the SEC, the one thing I knew is that South Carolina, that place is gonna be rockin'."

But he still was surprised to learn in 2021 that his pain was the genesis of the tradition.

"Boy, that was a bad night," Nutt said, laughing. "I didn't know I was gonna get credit for that. I guess I gotta take it."

Eric Nichols, South Carolina's chief marketing and branding officer, deserves some credit as well. Nichols, who came to South Carolina from Vanderbilt, added "Sandstorm" to the playlist at Williams-Brice. He said he previously played the song at Vandy, and it didn't take off. He tried it again at South Carolina, and the reception was good enough that he wanted to save it for a key moment. They found it on those two plays against Ole Miss.

"We played it again, just back to back," he said. "In all my time, I've never done that before, and it just kind of kept the party going."

Beamer said it can be hard to pinpoint a cultural moment in the heat of it. But he said that one stood out.

"I'm pretty locked in on the game," Beamer said this week. "But I certainly remember thinking that was different, and was obviously blown away by the intensity of it."

It stuck with him. He confesses he watches YouTube clips of "Sandstorm" -- Coaches! Just like us! -- to get his blood pumping. And while he was assistant head coach under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, his family adopted it as a harbinger of hope after Beamer interviewed for the South Carolina job this offseason.

"We were waiting to hear and praying that it was going to work out that I'd get the opportunity to come here," Beamer said. "I'd walk in my house in Norman at night and my family would have it in there blaring. My son would have his shirt off, waving it in the air. My daughter, they'd all be waving their towels."

Now he's back in Columbia to relive the real thing with 80,000 or so of his devotees in the stands. The Gamecocks were picked to finish second to last in the SEC East in the league's preseason media poll, ahead of only Vanderbilt. Fans know the rebuilding work is just beginning after going 6-16 in the past two seasons.

But, like Nutt said, that doesn't matter. The big draw in Beamer's debut on Sept. 4 certainly isn't the matchup with Eastern Illinois. It's getting to hear the roar of a crowd after a year when that was muted with capacity limited to 20,000 fans. It's hearing the Gamecocks' other musical tradition, their entrance to the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey." It's waving towels and jumping to all 136 beats per minute of "Sandstorm" before kickoff ... and whenever else the team needs it during the game.

"There have been some electric moments when 'Sandstorm' has been played in our stadium," Beamer said. "But I'm confident when it's played next Saturday night for the first time, that one will be right up there at the top."

BY NOW, DARUDE (real name: Toni-Ville Henrik Virtanen) can't be shocked when his creation takes on a new life. The fact that the song was heard at all is its own storybook tale.

It was the first song he ever released, created as a hobbyist after going out to clubs in Southern Finland and trying to see if he could make similar music himself. So in 1997 or '98, he set up shop in the kitchenette of his studio apartment and started tinkering with free software he'd downloaded.

"I had a Pentium 2 PC in my kitchen," Darude told ESPN. "I had one synthesizer. I created samples and loops and melodies with shareware. That was the thing at that time. It was very sort of DIY-type of stuff and I was basically just having fun and messing around."

In 1999, he took a melody he had created a couple of years before and married it with a new beat. He named it for the startup message that loaded on his Roland JP8080 synth, a line on the LCD screen that said "Sand Storm." He uploaded it to MP3.com, and two weeks later, it was being played in the same clubs that he was visiting.

"I don't have classical musical education or anything like that," he said. "So earlier, I was quite limited when I was making music. I think some of the stuff comes from it being simple enough. You can remember it and you can hum to it, you can whistle to it. So it was kind of like a layman making music for laymen."

It has continued to find new cultural relevance year after year. Despite being released in the height of the internet music-sharing era -- including being initially posted as a free download by Darude himself, "Sandstorm" went gold with more than 500,000 sales in 2010. In January 2020, it went platinum, topping the 1 million mark.

Darude went through a phase where he got tired of being known for only one thing. "Play Sandstorm!" became the Finnish version of "Play Freebird!" But he realized that one thing gave -- and continues to give -- him a life he never expected to be able to have.

"I had a period at some point where I was just so fed up with everybody always asking about the track," he said. "I wasn't publicly telling anybody to piss off or anything like that, but it was a little bit of a thing for a while. But then I just decided that, now 20 years later, and back then maybe like 10 years after the release, if they come to the show, because of that, that's just a good thing."

He has seen the song become a pop-culture phenomenon, show up in unimaginable places and become a national treasure in his home country, including being the first Finnish music video to air on MTV. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finland's independence, the country rang in 2017 with Darude playing "Sandstorm" live with synchronized fireworks.

The most popular comment on the video: "This should happen every day at midnight."

Such snark is sometimes genuine, sometimes a nod to the comedic levels of enthusiasm the song commands. On the 20th anniversary of the song, Billboard magazine wrote about its use as a punchline.

"This doesn't mean people are laughing at 'Sandstorm' whenever they hear it, but perhaps they share a knowing wink. Those winks don't even account for the two greatest ironies of the song's fortitude: that a club track found its greatest success outside the club, and that music once disparaged as foreign is now embraced by the core of American culture."

Daedelus, a DJ and producer who is a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston and teaches courses on electronic music, said the song's iconic status is warranted, particularly as a sports anthem.

"I think it actually deserves the legacy that it's found," they said. "There is an earworm aspect to it that is unrivaled. It is kind of the definition of a 'jock jam' where, in a very short period of time, it can transmit a full feeling, synonymous with triumph or with victory. It's just a kind of a hype song, it is that visceral feeling of going up. There are just a handful of songs that you hear in a stadium and you know what to do."

That's why it's a playlist fixture in sports venues across the world. Darude said it was surreal to see Michael Phelps warming up to his song before gold medal races in two different Olympics. One of his favorite hockey players, Finnish legend Saku Koivu, led the Montreal Canadiens onto the ice as team captain to "Sandstorm."

It played a role when pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura made the leap from Japan to sign with the Boston Red Sox in February.

"Back in 2013 when the Red Sox won the World Series, [Koji Uehara] was coming out of the bullpen from Fenway with 'Sandstorm,' the entrance music," he said at his introductory press conference. "That was a really cool moment for me, so I started using the 'Sandstorm,' the same music, in Japan."

The song was the trademark walk-in music for MMA great Wanderlei Silva. Kansas State adopted it, then banned it after fans started their own tradition of chanting "F--- KU" during basketball games against Kansas. (The school has since tried to reintroduce it). It's hugely popular in NBA arenas and on power plays in the NHL.

Sir Foster, a DJ for the Atlanta Hawks, has seen it change the course of games.

"It works," he said. "Whenever we go to it, it works. That's what great art does. Once you make it and the world gets it, it's gonna take on a life of its own."

Darude can't pinpoint why the song produces such intense reactions.

"There's something in the lead sound that somehow makes a lot of very different people resonate in a good way and I don't know exactly why," he said. "It's not like I planned to make that exact sound. I was just messing around and that sound came. If I knew, I would have done 10 or 20 more."

"Sandstorm" captured a new generation by becoming a meme in the internet era, especially on Twitch during esports streams. If the question is, "What song is this?" the answer is always, always, "Darude -- Sandstorm," no matter the actual song. On April Fool's Day in 2015, any music search on YouTube returned the message, "Did you mean: Darude -- Sandstorm by Darude?"

Darude admitted he was "weirded out" at first by his place in internet culture, but now rolls with it. He was an early adopter on Twitch, where he's still very active, and loves shocking fans in streams.

But in sports, he's divorced from that interaction and even sometimes that cultural connection. Imagine creating something in Finland, and it becoming a part of the cultural fabric of SEC football? At South Carolina, the song is a deeply held connection among alums, even at weddings. If there's a gathering of Gamecocks, expect to hear "Sandstorm."

From 2004-2014, a local celebrity known as "Boombox Guy" would walk around South Carolina's campus blasting cassette mixtapes on his portable radio. "Boombox Guy" said of all the songs he played, nothing got the people going like a little Darude in the middle of the school day.

"Every time 'Sandstorm' came on, the boombox people would get excited, and its energy would change their entire day," said JJ Shepherd, who only stopped the music to become Dr. Shepherd, a computer science and engineering instructor at South Carolina. "It builds until the beat finally drops, and it's go time. People would abruptly stop walking and start dancing. It's no surprise it's considered U of SC's second fight song."

Darude said that while he often hears from South Carolina fans, and like Beamer, has seen all of the YouTube clips, he hasn't spoken with anyone with the school.

"I find it sort of peculiar that I have been such a big part of their games and I've never heard a peep from the organization," he said.

Unlike per-use music royalties for radio plays or streams, "Sandstorm" is included under a blanket stadium license agreement, meaning venues can pay a fee based on the number of seats or expected spectators and use the songs as many times as they'd like.

"I definitely am so, so excited and happy when I see any stadium going nuts during a game to my track. That side of it is really, really cool," Darude said. "If we look at it from a business standpoint and being serious about it, yeah, I wouldn't mind having that income come my way. But at the same time, I don't want to sound not grateful, because I am happy that it's played in any case."

And he wouldn't mind seeing a frenzied Willy B stadium crowd himself.

"Obviously, I would love to catch that kind of crowd, playing for them live," he said.

LIKE NUTT, OPPONENTS have learned to expect noise in Columbia. In 2010, the Gamecocks upset Kentucky in basketball, and "Sandstorm" played incessantly. The next season, before a game in Columbia, Kentucky player Jon Hood said the song can be a predictor of momentum.

"They only play it when they're up," he said. "They only play it when they're coming back. If you stay away from 'Sandstorm,' you're pretty much playing well."

In 2014, after a 38-35 loss to South Carolina, Georgia running back Todd Gurley II lamented the state of his eardrums.

"This place has one of the most crazy environments I've ever been in," he said. "Once you give the fans something to get excited about, it's hard to shut them up. I hope I never hear ['Sandstorm'] again."

Gurley didn't have to worry about hearing it in Athens. Foster, the Hawks DJ, also serves in the same role at Georgia's Sanford Stadium.

"I've never played that song at Georgia. Ever," he said. "South Carolina is one of Georgia's division rivals. They have specifically said, 'Yo, we don't want that song.' So, you will not hear 'Sandstorm' in Athens. It works at Hawks games. It's great. Anywhere but Athens, it's awesome."

Beamer is just fine with that.

"You hear that song and immediately -- I do, and I'm sure most people do -- think of South Carolina football," he said.

At its root, it's quite a journey for a trance song created in Darude's kitchen to a proud American university tradition.

"A Finnish producer and South Carolina are now entangled forever," Daedelus said. "It's one of the most beautiful parts of sport, that we don't really care where things come from. We just care what they're putting up on the scoreboard."

Nichols said someone from Darude's management reached out in the past when he was on tour near South Carolina, but it was short notice and the timing didn't work out. He can see a future where Darude and Gamecocks fans could finally connect.

"We have what's called a celebrity starter, where we have a different key figure come back and lead the Gamecocks cheer prior to the team coming on the field," he said. "It would be fantastic if he did that."

"If somebody suggests something it would be interesting," Darude said.

For now, Nichols is just counting down the days until he can hear the roar of a packed house after a year when we learned not to take such things for granted. With an enthusiastic new coach in place who was there for the first true "Sandstorm" experience and fans eager to get back to games, Nichols knows what will happen at Williams-Brice when the play button is pushed on Sept. 4.

"The first note always gives me chills," Nichols said. "But I think that first 'Sandstorm' of the season will be like a release of pent-up emotion and unbridled enthusiasm that will be felt across all of Gamecock Nation."