Armin van Buuren has been voted the number one DJ in the world five times now, and it's easy to see why. Creating captivating music, running his own label, going on world tours, and playing at the biggest festivals in the world, trance fans regard him as the "King of Trance."
We caught up with Armin during Miami Music Week, and he talked about his new album Intense - due out May 3rd - his new single, how his "A State of Trance 600 - The Expedition" world tour is going, and more. Find out what he had to say:
It’s Miami Music Week. You’ve been coming down here a lot, so what is your favorite part about this week? What do you look forward to the most?
Well, it’s actually one of the only times in the year that I get to hear other DJs’ sets. So I get to hang out with other DJs, see how they’re doing. And I always get inspired by sets, even if they’re kids who are 19 or 20 years old, or they’re more established names like Carl Cox. So for me, it’s one of the most exciting times of the year because I get so much inspiration here. I heard so many great sets already this week, really.
Who was your favorite?
I think W&W, right now. They really feel a little bit like my guys because they were signed to my label at a very early stage, and they’re really blowing up right now. Especially in the US, so it’s pretty exciting.
And how did Ultra go?
Beyond my wildest dreams. I mean, I got to be honest with you, it was pretty nerve-racking, because I’ve been working on my new album Intense, that’ll be released on May 3rd. And this was the moment where I was going to premiere my brand new single “This Is What It Feels Like.” It was going to happen the first weekend at Ultra, on the main stage. So I’ve waited for that moment for six months, you know. And Ultra is not just a special moment for a lot of the kids that are out there and the people that like to go to Ultra, but it’s also a very special moment for a lot of the DJs. Because I know in fact a lot of the DJs premiere their tracks for the very first time at Ultra. So this is a very very cool thing. You only have 55 minutes to tell your story, because there’s a changeover and intros and stuff. So 55 minutes is very short for a DJ set. So I try to put a lot of energy into it, and I was very excited about the crowd’s reaction. Because you never know, you know, like I said, 55 minutes you have to do your whole show. You have to make sure everything happens. So I make edits of all my tracks, make them as short as possible, give it a lot of energy, build from Above & Beyond’s set to the 140 BPM that I really like, you know, the uplifting stuff. Because my heart is really with that kind of music, I just love that sound. But when you play such a main stage as Ultra, you don’t want to piss everybody off and just start straight away with 140. You want to sort of build, have a more natural progression, and then at the end you give it. So yeah, it’s very exciting, and I’m glad that it went well. We thought about it so long, we put so much effort into that show, and to see the reaction was just amazing.
Tell me about your new album. You said it took you two years to make on your radio show?
Yes. Well my last album was in 2010, called Mirage. And it was pretty well received, including the tracks “Not Giving Up On Love,” “Feels So Good,” “This Light Between Us.” So I didn’t try to top that, there was no point. So I sort of sat down in the studio and I just had fun, two years. And especially the last couple of months were pretty intense because I didn’t have a lot of time to finish everything. But I wanted it to be perfect, so I took some weeks off of DJing, which is a hard thing to do because you know, DJing is so much fun and being in the studio is actually working sometimes. The cover also represents my feeling, I really found my light in music. I found out the way life works is, everybody has his own path, and I accept it now that I’m on a different path than anybody else. I’m always a little jealous of my colleagues, some people that I look up to, and I admire them. But I learn to realize that I should not try to force myself into being somebody that I’m not, trying to follow a road that I am not, you know. This is Armin van Buuren, this is my sound, and I’ve accepted that I cannot please everybody. On the other hand, if I put all my effort into something, I know that I will please a few people at least. And that’s how life works, you know, it’s the burden of being an artist. You try to please as many people as you can, but you can never please everybody. Having said that, I think this album has something for everybody. And I think it’s a very exciting and broad range of sounds and styles. 85% of it still trance. Of course there’s a more commercial single called “This Is What It Feels Like.” It wasn’t meant to be a commercial single or to be a chart track. We just sat in the studio and this track came about, it just happened. And I’m so so excited about it. It feels really good that that’s been dropped, and people are responding to it really well, so I’m very excited. And the rest of the album has definitely more deeper stuff on there for sure.
The new single “This Is What It Feels Like,” tell us about the video a little bit. It’s got over 500,000 views on YouTube already!
Yeah, almost, it’s getting there, and it’s not even a week on YouTube, so it’s pretty exciting. I wanted to make a video for “This Is What It Feels Like” because the song is pretty heavy, so I wanted to make a contrast with that. You could either do a video that’s heavy and dark, but I wanted to have a fun video. First of all the singer, Trevor, is a very nice guy, I get along with him really well. So I just envisioned this thing of two guys being on the road having fun, you know, riding cars, chasing a girl, making fun of each other. First I wanted to have it in a casino, but it was too expensive, and too difficult. So we decided to do a road trip thing, kind of “Thelma and Louise” inspired kind of, two guys on the run, just racing with each other. So we actually had a real race, we had the police shutting down a mile road so we could film there, and we were actually racing with each other, it was just so cool to do. I had an 850 horse power car, and we were just racing with each other. And then we have Ron Jeremy making a special guest appearance. He was perfect for the role of the owner of the cafeteria. If you look at the video, you see that we had so much fun. It was three days of hard work to shoot it, but it was probably one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.
How has the “A State of Trance 600 The Expedition” tour been going? Because you’re almost at the end now.
Amazing. Beyond my wildest dreams really, because when we reached episode 500 of A State of Trance, I sort of felt like maybe this is a good moment to stop. Because we did five massive events, five weeks, on five continents. But the fans just kept asking for more! And what I love about trance music right now is that it’s very dynamic. You have all these range of sounds. You know, from W&W, Andrew Rayel, Sied van Riel, Leon Bolier, to Ferry Corsten, Markus Schulz, and then John O’Callaghan, Aly and Fila, Indecent Noise, 138, but also the more progressive sound that I play in my warm-up set. It’s a very exciting time for trance. I dare to say that this is probably one of the best times for trance music because there are so much good tracks out at the moment, and I like to mix it up. And every event so far has been sold out, highlights being the show in Mexico City where we did 20,000 people, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where we did 30,000 people, it was just insane. And we sold out the Garden in New York City, this is beyond my wildest dreams of course. And we sold out the last show on April 6th in Den Bosch in my home country in the Netherlands, where we’re going to have four rooms and 35 other DJs, and it’s just going to be 30,000 people there. It’s just insane. And everything will be live and broadcasted for free so people can enjoy. Even if you don’t have the money or the means to travel or you have to be home for some reason, you can still join the expedition. And this is the idea, you know, we’re exploiting different sounds, we’re looking towards the future, investing in new, young talent like, Orjan Nilsen, Andrew Rayel, Indecent Noise, Juventa, all these new guys that are up and coming that I really want to give the stage to present their sound, and really move forward with this whole event. So it’s really really exciting, especially for a guy like me, who has been around for quite a few years, to be able to really help and promote new talent, and to promote the sound that I really believe in. It’s exciting, it’s really exciting.
And you’re excited to play Madison Square Garden, it’s such an iconic venue. People have performed there from Mick Jagger to the biggest pop stars in the world, and it’s next weekend! What goes into preparing for this?
Well, it’s part of The Expedition tour, so that’s easy. We have the intros and the special stage design, that’s already ready. A few tracks of course I’m going to play, like “The Expedition,” and we have some special surprises with the live performances. But I think also people know what A State of Trance is and they know kind what to expect. It’s different than an Armin only show, or different than a just simple Armin van Buuren set. It’s really A State of Trance, so it should be about trance music. So I want to stick to my roots. Having said that, we’ve got some special surprises, of course.
Are you going to be premiering more of your music from Intense at these next few shows? Because you’ve been premiering them, like the Emma Hewitt track, and now this new single. Are you going to be premiering anymore?
Maybe, depends. I’m thinking about it, because there’s a few tracks that would really fit the vibe. On the other hand, some people sometimes complain if you give too much away before the album drops. You know, I don’t want to ruin the surprise for everybody because there’s already four tracks out there. I don’t know I have to think about it, and it also depends on the mood. I only have 90 minutes to play, that’s not a lot of time. I think people are waiting for a new track, but I’ve been very productive this year. I’ve done “The Expedition” with Markus, the track with W&W, the track with Arty, the new Gaia, and now the track with Emma, the track with Trevor. And that’s all been in the matter of three months, so I don’t want to over expose myself, you know. It’s intense!
People say that 2013 is going to be “the year of trance.” Do you believe that? Do you think that it’s progressing towards that?
Yes, absolutely. Well, I think it depends what you expect from trance music. If you expect the sound from the “golden age” of trance, you know ’99/’01, I think you’ll be disappointed because the way we make tracks right now is completely different, so it’s a different sound. But the tracks are still euphoric, they’re still melodic, they’re still uplifting, and if you closely listen to my sets, you will always notice that I’m loyal to my roots of trance music. This is what I’ll always do, and this is what I’m always going to be very excited about. For me, this is the most important thing. I think what is really exciting is that there is so many different styles within trance music right now, and each style has its own following. If you listen to my radio show every week, it usually starts out a little bit more down tempo, a little bit more melodic, maybe a few more vocals, and the end is the more banging stuff, the more uplifting stuff, and it really works for me, that combination. There’s so many people playing house music right now. For me, it doesn’t really make sense to start making house music, or to promote it. My heart is with trance music, and it will always be. But, you have to have an open mind, you know. If I eat a salad, does that make me a vegetarian, you know.
What has been your most intense fan moment?
That’s actually a pretty sad story. There was this guy in Leiden, in my hometown, who was probably one of my biggest fans and he had a terminal disease. He died a year ago. And I went to see him several times in the hospital as well, and I gave him a few of my DVDs. He was in a lot of pain, but he watched my DVDs and that sort of helped him to cope with the pain. And his dream was to be me, to be in my shoes, and it still upsets me. But, this is what my wife also tells me. She says, think of it this way, you made that person have a better life because your music, and the fact that you were there made him feel better. But his vision is still engraved in my head, to this day I still think about him a lot. It really makes you feel like what you’re doing is not just making money, traveling the world, and being successful. You’re really making a difference in peoples’ lives, and it’s so much more valuable than any other thing. So yeah, that was the biggest fan moment for me. I know it’s a little bit sad story, but it made a really big impression.
Photo Credit Nicole Mastrogiannis