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Music |

Interview: Armin Van Buuren

Tuesday 15 April 2014

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Words Spindle

Electronic music has slammed full force into the mainstream around the world in the last few years, and it’s seen some big new names on the scene.

But none of that success would have been possible without the giants who slowly and painstakingly built that scene with passion and love and really set the stage to take the world by storm. The heroes of trance, house, techno, drum and bass, and my own beloved hardcore have been hard at work for decades building that scene.

One of these legends, and perhaps the man most responsible for the consistent strong support that trance music has scene for decades, is Armin van Buuren of the Netherlands. DJing since 1996 and producing since 1992, Van Buuren is the only DJ to have been voted world’s best by DJ Mag five times, and one of only four to have been nominated for a Grammy (last year, for the track “This Is What It Feels Like”).

Van Buuren’s weekly radio show, A State of Trance, is regularly heard by millions around the globe, and through his label Armada Music, he’s been at the forefront of creating the uplifting, euphoric sound that defines trance music.

Currently, Van Buuren is busy touring with Armin Only – Intense, which is a solo DJ show based around his most recent album. He is supported by six singers, four dancers, acrobats, and full stage production for an enveloping trance experience, and he’s been taking it on the road (for my fellow Canadian readers – he’ll be touching down in Toronto on Saturday, April 19th and in Vancouver on May 3rd). He’s in New York tonight, but I managed to snag him for a quick phone interview before he started getting prepped for the show. Read on to find out more about one of the absolute legends of electronic music!

How did you get into trance and electronic music?

All my friends were listening to dance music in the early 90s when it was already really popular, and it sort of developed around that time. And I was particularly interested in trance because my dad used to listen to the synthesizer greats – that was trance before it was called trance. That’s how I got started into it.

What are your musical influences?

Any music really. I have a weekly radio show so I have to go through a lot of new promos. That’s usually what inspires me, other people’s music and tracks. I like to listen to a lot of current music. I’ve been recently listening to London Grammar, Elbow, Carbon Based Life Forms.

What makes a song stand out for you?

Hard to describe. Good production, a good song… there’s really something magical that’s hard to grasp. If it was science, it’d be easy to make. (laughs) As a DJ particularly the melody or breakdown or idea behind a song really has to touch me. You know, ever since I started as DJ, no week has gone by that I wasn’t inspired by a track.

Armin Van Buuren

What is the single most important thing you would tell an aspiring new producer?

If your ambition is to be a top DJ and play all the big festivals, start making a track and make sure it gets played by all the other big DJs. That’s your quickest way to the top. It astounds me that a lot of DJs who want to be popular do what other DJs have been doing for years. So I try to explain the stories behind Deadmau5 with the mouse head, or Daft Punk playing with helmets on. You have to do something that stands out, give people a reason to come out of their home to come see you. If you can explain your deal to me in two sentences, you’re probably on the right track.

Describe the sound that defines your music and sets it apart from somebody else’s.

I’m not really the best one to answer this, you’re better off asking my fan. I’m really into trance music, which is not the most popular sound right now; if I wanted to be more popular I’d have to play electro house, but I’ve been following trance since 2001 when I started the radio show. I really like euphoric, beautiful trance that uplifts you. I like music with a touch of techno and electro house, but it will always be trance for me.

If you could pick just one track of yours that best captures the sound you’re passionate about, what track would it be?

Right now it would a Gaia track – Gaia is a pseudonym of mine – called Empire of Hearts.

What’s your favourite on-stage memory?

I think I have to mention my Armin Only show at Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. All my friends were there, my family was there, all the artists I worked on my last album with were there. Also, I have to mention DJing for the newly crowned King and Queen of the Netherlands on April 30th last year, I played with the Dutch Royal Orchestra and premiered my new track “Intense” with the orchestra accompanying. It was really special.

What other interests outside of music do you have?

Well I’m a father of two. Most of my time goes up to my family right now. I’m actually into gaming. I’m playing GTA 5 right now, when I have time. I don’t have a lot of time to finish it though. I like to go running as much as I can, at least three times a week, to stay fit. I really like to listen to full length albums when I go jogging, to get a feel for what the artist is thinking. I like to read books, watch movies, you know… normal people stuff.

What kind of books?

I’m really into biographies, understanding other people’s behaviour. Recently I was touched by a book by Danny Kahneman, a professor from New York. The book is called “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Another book called “The Winner Effect” by Ian Robertson, I think he’s from Ireland. It’s a bit psychological.

If you like that type of book, then I recommend Stephen Pinker’s “The Stuff of Thought,” which details how language impacts the way we think.

Oh, if you like that then you’ll have to check out the Danny Kahneman book. It’s like a manual for the human mind.

Something most people don’t know about you:

I finished my law degree, I’m actually a lawyer. (Laughs) In 2002 I did my exams, so I still have something I can fall back on. Although I’m afraid I’ll never get the chance to use it.

What’s your favourite album of all time?

Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”.

Words: Tim Ellis