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Full Focus: Armin van Buuren

Dutch trance superstar Armin van Buuren talks about his switch from court room to dance floor ahead of his fifth trip to India.

Rolling Stone India Jun 03, 2015
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Armin van Buuren

Armin van Buuren

When Armin van Buuren is on tour, little else gets in the way of the unstoppable musical force that he is. Last year, he went on to perform a headlining set at the spectacular Tomorrowland festival in Belgium soon after his son was born. Says the Dutch trance producer, “I had come straight from the hospital after my wife just gave birth to a son. So I dedicated my whole set to my newborn son.” While the producer is refreshingly candid when he says, “I don’t think that trance is the most popular sound right now in electronic dance music,” the packed arenas that he plays to would have you believe otherwise. The trance superstar remains relevant because he is constantly innovating, which is why he strapped on a MYO arm band to trigger stage lights and effects during his recent shows. He says, “The Myo bracelets came from a conversation with my art director Sander Reneman. He was talking about using the Kinect technology that’s in the XBox 360. I think Skrillex was already rehearsing with that a bit too. We took it one little step further. You have to step up your game. That’s what every DJ is doing right now.” Ahead of his visit to India this month, the producer shared stories about his sound,influences and beginnings with  ROLLING STONE India.

The ”˜Armin Only’ show that you played in Mumbai last year was one of the most theatrical concert experiences in India. How is this show going to top that?

It’s going to be an intense night of eclectic trance, state of the art production and stellar line-up. I’m bringing to India the world’s first festival programmed around a radio show. It’s definitely closest to my heart as it’s one of my most ambitious trance tours. This was one of my biggest dreams. I think I’m going to be the first DJ to ever own a festival, like a proper festival, with several arenas. A State of Trance [ASOT], my radio show, will now be turned into a full-scale festival. So I will have multiple rooms in a big arena. And it makes me very proud, not because of me, but because I really have a vision now where I can help other artists to show their creativity to a bigger crowd.

Your radio show ASOT has been running for almost 15 years with over 700 episodes. Did you imagine the show to run for so long when you started? 

ASOT and Armin Only are my most important projects. I’ve always been a big fan of radio and I love being able to give new talent a stage to shine on. That’s what I love most. Don’t forget I had a lot of help in the early days from other artists and it feels great to be able to do something back. Second, I really love to connect the audience at the event with the people listening on the streams. Literally turning the world into a dance floor by spreading audio and video to anyone who cares to see it. I started off with hosting ASOT so the show will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Through my radio show I have an ideal platform to really communicate with my fans. There’s no room for misinterpretation. If you listen to ASOT every week, then you’ll know the latest in trance and progressive, you’ll know the tracks that I like, and you’ll know the tracks that I’m not too sure about. I always envisioned doing ASOT just for a couple years and then moving on, but the trance genre is currently reinventing itself.

Any new artists on the horizon that excite you? 

Mark Sixma! He’s on fire! Be sure to check out his version of “Adagio for Strings”!  David Gravell, Hazem Beltagui, Jordan Suckley, and many more! I’m a DJ and I think it’s my job to be curious as to what drives people to like certain tracks. I’m very hungry to understand that. I think it’s even my job to understand why people like “Gangam Style” even though I would never ever play that in my set. I want to understand the emotion behind it. I want to know why people like it. That’s my job. I’m curious. Most of the tracks on the Billboard list don’t really appeal to me because my heart is really with trance music. But I think it’s an important lesson to learn from every style, every genre. What pitfalls you have and what not. You have to learn.

You’ve said that you’ve been influenced by artists like Jean Michel Jarre. Do you still turn to their music for inspiration?

German techno pioneer Klaus Schulze as well as German producer Oliver Lieb’s 1999-released work “Netherworld” is something I draw inspiration from.  I was into a Dutch master mixer, Ben Liebrand. He was one of first guys in the Netherlands to mix two records together, which everybody does now while they’re cooking dinner. But at that time, in 1977, mixing two records together was very new. He had In the Mix, a very popular radio show. He made combinations of records that I found very interesting, which he used to create a whole new record, which I found so inspiring. I knew the original records and wanted to know how he did it.  My parents listened to the Pink Floyd record The Dark Side of the Moon. To this day, it’s still the best sounding record I’ve ever heard. It was made in 1973 and if I compare it to a lot of other records it’s just the best sound. It was recorded on tape and then transferred to vinyl. It adds a certain warmth. I’m a bit nostalgic like that.

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Earlier on in my career, I may have tried to really stick to a specific sound. With my last album, Intense, I think I was really able to let that go. I just go into the studio, and I do what feels right. And I don’t think about being commercial, or not commercial, or being trance, or non-trance, or making EDM or non-EDM ”” or just thinking about how a track should impact my crowd or whatever. I just make music because I want to make it and because it feels right, and I know now for a fact that no matter what you do as an artist, no matter what decisions you make”¦ whether you stick to your safe sound and your safe haven or whatever you’ve been doing throughout the years, or whether you try a new sound, you’ll always win and lose fans. The only responsibility that I have is towards myself to make music that I really like. Just as a person, I can’t do the same thing over and over again. It just bores me. I made a track back in 1999, which was a huge success, called “Communication,” and I still love that track. It’s still very dear to me. But I can’t make another “Communication.” It would just bore me.

Back in 2003, you returned to complete your graduation from law school while you were already a star in the world of trance music. Why did you think it was important for a world famous DJ to have a law degree? 

You know I never officially made the decision to become a DJ. I wanted to be a doctor because my dad was a general practitioner and I liked everything that had to do with medical stuff. But, in Holland, only 1,500 students can join the basic medical school each year to become a doctor because it’s very expensive. So I opted for law. I’m not sure if I’d go into law but never say never. I still like to talk about the subject but I think if you’re born a DJ, you will die a DJ. It’s an addiction. And if it isn’t DJing, it’s making music.

With a rigorous schedule how do unwind while on tour? 

Well thank God for Skype as I stay connected to my family. I also catch up on a lot of sleep. Very few people know that I dig autobiographies. I just can’t simply get enough of reading.

Armin van Buuren will perform at Sunburn Arena in Hyderabad on June 5th. Entry: General – Rs 3,000, VIP – Rs 5,000. Get tickets here

in Mumbai on June 6th. Entry: General – Rs 3,500, VIP – Rs 6,000. Get tickets here

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