- Top 100
April 14, 2012
[Armin van Buuren interview @Invasion London,Ont.]
Hot off of the massive A State of Trance 550 shows, the #1 trance DJ in the world graced London, Ont. with his presence. Attending this show was a no-brainer for myself considering he is one on a short list of DJs who have never disappointed me with either their productions or live sets. I was curious to see how the London crowd would react to an Armin van Buuren set, considering it is a city that has just recently begun to embrace electronic music on a large scale.
I managed to sit down with Armin before his set and pick his brain on a few topics that have been buzzing in my head.
Q: What are your thoughts on how quickly electronic music has risen to popularity with the youth in North America?
A: I think there are several factors that are important to mention. I think first of all the impact of social media and YouTube channels. Second, the success of dubstep is enormous. I mean, dubstep isn’t as big in Europe as it is here. That’s brought a lot of attention to EDM in general I think. Third, I guess there’s just a new generation of kids. When I grew up on the radio all you heard was pop music, you know Duran Duran, Wham; not that it was really to my liking. I was looking for electronic dance music as sort of an escape from that. Right now what we have, whether you like it or not, is dance music is now on day time radio. So these kids, they grow up listening to EDM. It’s the 2012 pop music, that’s what it is. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing but, it’s on the radio, it’s what everybody listens to. I think music is sort of a viral thing, if your friends listen to a specific kind of music you automatically get interested in it as well. That’s the way it worked with me anyway.
Q: Do you think it’s changing the sound of electronic music? Like in the way that we are seeing a bigger drive towards the big room synths, like Avicii for example.
A: I think it’s a temporary thing to be honest. I mean, a lot of people tell me like “Hey man, that’s just trance.” I’m like “No, it isn’t.” I think it’s really important for me to state that I’m not necessarily in this industry to be successful with commercial radio. I mean obviously I’d like to have the odd hit, just because it makes it easier to sell ticket numbers, but as long as it’s within my sound and within what I believe in. All of a sudden this massive attention, I mean I even did an interview in Miami for CNN. The attention is opening quite a few doors; there are good sides to it and bad sides. I think the good side is that it’s opening a lot of doors, for example corporate America will now be more interested to invest money in big shows, so we can make the shows even better and the experience for the visitor even better. So we can promote the music that we believe in. The bad side I think is the commercialization, there are a lot of people who want to make a quick buck and don’t care about the ground work that’s been done by quite a few people who are really into this music because they’re passionate about it. I want to say to those fans “Don’t worry; we still got your back.” I never want to forget where I came from, I never want to forget my fans from the first hour and I never want to forget why I came this far. It’s because I believed in a type of music that wasn’t popular at all. I had my first chart success in the UK in 1996, so here’s grandpa speaking. It’s important to state that I’m still that guy and when I made that track I didn’t make it because I wanted to make a lot of money, I wanted to make that track because I believed in that type of music. So, this is the way I view the scene.
I’m not all of a sudden going to make Avicii-like records just because I can do it. It’s a trick, I mean he’s very good at it, I don’t know if I could ‘beat’ him so I’m not even going to try. I’m going to stick to my sound. I want to make what I want to make, and I want to make the sound that I believe in, and I want to bring that across.
For me, in essence, I mean it’s nice if you can sell 2,000, 3,000, 10,000 tickets – it makes it easier for everything and you can make better shows which is a good thing. If you go beyond that it’s just cashing in and you’re not seriously looking after the music, I mean, in all honesty if I listen to a few DJs of my colleagues right now I like their sets but it’s so mainstream driven. What you have is a lot of energy when the hits come on, like people are screaming when they hear the known record. Eventually they have to play something else because they do two – three hour sets; so they have one hour of big hits – everybody’s happy. Then the second hour everybody’s pretty flat. With all due respect, they’re not building towards some sort of a climax. This is the way that I see the art of DJing: the art of DJing is not playing all of those big records in a row. The art of DJing is playing a set which builds towards something. Yes, of course with a few big records, but it’s more the story that’s important, the journey, than the actual hits that you play.
Q: Do you yourself play differently to a younger crowd like you’re going to be tonight in London or do you have sort of a universal sound?
I always look at the crowd and then I decide where I go with my set. Sander is my tour manager and it frustrates the hell out of him; sometimes I decide that I want a different opening track. I look at the crowd, I mean, this is what makes DJing an art form – it’s your interaction with the crowd. It’s really hard to explain to a lot of people because people still see DJing as ‘this guy that’s playing other peoples’ records’ but, the industry is already way beyond that.
Q: A State of Trance 550 was massive; did you ever see the radio show going that far? How could you possibly make it bigger?
No, ha ha, hell no. I always told myself that I would stop the radio show if it would reach its peak. I thought 500 would be a nice number, maybe, but it just keeps growing. I didn’t actually want to do 550 at first because it’s not such a nice round number. 500 was such a big success that I was afraid we weren’t going to be able to top that but, the fans wanted it. I think it’s important to state that the radio show is a show by the fans and for the fans. What I mean when I say by the fans is that every week there is a track called the ‘future favorite’ which is the current favorite track of the listeners. There’s a classic that’s always voted by the listeners and of course I use social media to see what kind of tracks people really like and what they don’t like so much. After the show I always go on Facebook, I always go on all the forums, and I have a whole team in the office in Amsterdam that scout the internet to see what the reactions were to certain tunes. So for me it’s the ideal situation because a lot of DJs only have the possibility to test new tracks when they are on stage whereas I get to test new records way before I play them on stage. I can play a track on the radio which I’m unsure of and I can know beforehand if it will work. Sometimes the people really surprise me and that’s where I’ve learned to never underestimate my crowd. I can listen to a track and be unsure of it but know that there’s something about it, then play it on the radio and get a positive reaction from the listeners. I get educated by my own crowd; I can be testing a track and get a reaction that I really didn’t expect. It’s really great to interact, and I learn from that every show.
Q: There are many different facets to your sound, like the Gaia productions for example. What is it that makes something a Gaia production as opposed to an Armin van Buuren production? Or is there a difference?
Not really. I mean Gaia is Armin van Buuren. On the other hand, I made Gaia out of the need to escape from that image that people had. Gaia is mother earth, as you know, and it sort of represents the foundation of who I am and it represents the old school Armin sound. The euphoric uplifting mostly instrumental music, it represents the sound of trance for me personally. It’s a little bit of a gimmick to be honest; I just do a Gaia track when I feel like it. It’s not like I have to do a Gaia track like twice or three times a year. It just feels right at this point in my career. If I would release a track as Armin van Buuren instead of Gaia I would sell way more. Just because I release it Gaia it feels like it has sort of this cool factor. I just want to wave to my fans and say “Hey guys, I’m still here, don’t worry.” I’m experimenting with Armin van Buuren of course. I experiment with different styles and genres and I try to develop myself as an artist. With Gaia, I want to show my fans that I’m still a trance lover and I’ll never forget where I came from. It is the sound that I really like myself as well, but I want to move on as an artist so I wanted to do both.
Q: Are there any artists/vocalists/producers in particular you’d like to see yourself working with?
I have a huge list. If you have Chris Martin’s number I’d love to have it. I think it’s important to state that what matters for me is always the song. If the song isn’t working for me then it could be any artist but, the record itself is a product and it has to sound right. I’m not just going to work with anybody just because I can work with that name. It really has to make sense.
Q: What are your plans for the Privilege Mondays in Ibiza this summer? Is it going to be the typical Armin van Buuren sound or something more specifically aimed at Ibiza?
A: I always adjust to the atmosphere that I’m in whether it’s consciously or not. What we want to do with Privilege is we want to bring a State of Trance to the island. I wanted to do it with Space last year but they didn’t want to drop their Wednesday event. Privilege offered me the opportunity to do A State of Trance every Monday and it felt right. Especially with all of the house guys being so very successful, and hats off to them. It just feels like the right time to come out and promote trance music again. We’ve been overwhelmed with the positive reactions for this choice so it just feels like the right thing to do. Bring my radio show, which everybody knows, to the biggest club in the world on Ibiza. It’s an experiment at this point so you’ll have to ask me next year if it’s going to be a success or not, we’ll have to see. I’m very excited about it and I’m very open to suggestions that people may have. If I were to just do another year at Space or another year at Amnesia it would just be another year at Space or Amnesia. This is a new thing and it’s kind of really exciting, so ask me after the summer is over.
With that it was time to rush over to the Western Fair District so that Armin could make his 1 a.m. set time. I was waiting with baited breath to see if my hero would hold true to his words and play the Armin van Buuren style that I love, or go the route of many of his peers and play the big commercial house tracks that this crowd desperately wants to hear. The crowd was running incredibly high on energy and it was time for the show to begin.
Armin of course stayed true to his sound, and played a multitude of my personal favourite tracks, below is a list of a few of the choice songs of the night.
(This track has seen massive support from all of the kings of trance since it’s release; it is the perfect opening track for a quick energy build which is how Armin used it.)
(This was the anthem for all of the ASOT 550 shows, it blasted through the crowd and had everyone on their feet.)
(One of the greatest vocalists in trance music, Emma Hewitt’s voice evokes more emotion from a crowd than anyone else’s.)
It was during this portion of the set where the crowd was really involved, there were lots of vocals to sing along to including a remix of Mr. Brightside by The Killers. The crowd was surprisingly rambunctious and pushy which is uncharacteristic of a trance show in my experiences. It was at this point that Armin moved into a more heavy and dark section; this is my favourite part of Armin sets. It noticeably had the crowd confused. I was hearing people say things like “I wish he’d play something more upbeat.”
This is where we get to the point that I wanted to touch on with this review. Armin detailed in his interview that many of his peers have begun DJing in such a way that they play one hour of big banger hits. This is what this crowd has become accustomed to and with no real knowledge of electronic music, have come to expect from every artist that comes to town. Armin played a phenomenal set worthy of any stage in any city which was overall left unappreciated by about half of the crowd. After the music started getting darker, the crowd began to get more sparse.
I think this is where we are starting to see the development of a spectrum in live sets. You have sets which are incredibly commercial and just slightly more satisfying than what your local top 40 DJ will play. On the other side of the spectrum you have live sets which are loyal to the art of music, technical skill, performance and production. I am not saying that Armin’s sets fall entirely on the artistic side of this range, but it was obvious that it came closer than the live sets that the London crowd have seen. I think this is where you will start to see a line being drawn in the electronic music scene in North America as a whole.
Many artists who have seen their rapid rise to popularity in EDM are teetering on the edge of what we can collectively agree to call pop music. This is not me bashing on pop music; it’s popular, people like it, I get it. I am just saying that I see EDM taking a turn in which those who appreciate it as an art form start to separate themselves from those who see it as a party aide. That being said, many of the latter half of the crowd had cleared out at this point to leave more room for those who stayed to dance. The end of Armin’s set had incredible energy and had everyone in the building on their feet.
(It was fun to hear everyone in the crowd to sing along to this track.)
(Everything that Alex M.O.R.P.H. turns to gold – fact.)
Armin closed out with the Kris A mashup of Beautiful Things by Andain with Ashes by Sebastian Brandt, and then his own mashup of his trance classic In and Out of Love with John O’ Callaghan’s Raw Deal.
The crowd managed to pull Armin back to the decks for one more track which a favourite from the Mirage album – This Light Between Us ft. Christian Burns.
Overall, it was an incredible set from one of the greatest DJs in the world. The people who did stay until the end of the night and were there primarily to see Armin van Buuren instead of primarily to party were treated to a full three-hour long set in true Armin style. With surprisingly little echo in the warehouse and lots of space to maneuver at even the height of the night, it was a night to be remembered and a true statement of the real meaning of trance music.