Trance is a genre of music that is all about bringing people together and uplifting the spirits of its listeners. There is one maestro that reigns superior in this genre and he is known as the “King of Trance” and that man is Armin Van Buuren. With over 20 years of experience as a producer, his music is truly magical and creates a feeling of bliss and harmony amongst listeners.
Armin also does a fantastic job of keeping his fans on their toes. A prime example of this was displayed on Saturday, March 30th at 9:20pm at Ultra Music Festival. Festival goers from all over the world excitedly awaited to see Armin Van Buuren take to the stage for his headline performance. As he entered the stage, joining him as a surprise performer was the legendary Van Halen frontman, David Lee Roth. He took to the stage for a powerful performance of his iconic hit song ‘Jump’, which has been remixed by Armin Van Buuren and is set to release soon.
Before all of this took place, I had the opportunity to sit down with Armin and get the answers to questions we all want to know. The following transcript has been edited for readability.
FMF: Hello, this is Nadine here with Fresh Music Freaks. I am sitting here with five time DJ Mag Top 100 winner, Grammy nominee, Mr. ASOT and Mr. Armada; Armin Van Buuren.
Armin Van Buuren: What’s up? How are you? How are you liking Miami?
I’m great and I love it. I’ve been going every year for the past five years. I love it here. So, I’ve named off a few accomplishments that you have achieved. I think one of the reasons why you’ve achieved those accomplishments is the fact that you keep your sound different in all of your tracks. How do you keep it fresh in the studio?
Just by having fun really. As much as I am proud of my past successes, I can’t really repeat myself in a way. Having said that, I will always be Armin and will always be the trance guy. And I love trance as you know. I’m a really big fan of that sound but I want to do it different every time. As you know, for me it would be very easy to open the project to ‘Burned With Desire’ or ‘In and Out of Love’ and just remove all the basslines and melodies and get sort of a similar tune, which I know some of my fans would like. But that would be boring to me.
What I found out for myself is that I have to be that diverse guy to keep it exciting for myself rather than anything. There’s no commercial reason for it, there’s no other reason for it. It’s just about having fun in the studio. I really was at a writer’s block when I was sort of trying to recreate what fans were expecting me to make. I thought a little bit like, I’ve done that. I’m proud of that track. I love it, but I have to move on. Some artists get away with using the same kick drum for 20 years. No disrespect, but that is not exciting to me. This will mean that I take a little bit more risk and I’m not expecting people to like all my music equally because it’s not possible. But I think as artists we are here to shock a little bit. Sometimes you’ll hear a set that you’ll think it’s amazing. Then another time you will hear a set you’ll be a little bit like, nah. But that’s because I’m experimenting. I don’t want to repeat myself because that will be the death of everything. Right?
I completely understand that and I appreciate the variety myself. You also are credited for keeping the trance genre alive; you and A State of Trance. You do make a lot of classic sounding tracks, like ‘Saint Vitus’ and ‘Just As You Are’. But obviously they don’t sound the same as all your old ones. What motivates you to create those classics sounding tracks?
I guess because my father was a massive influence to me. He listened to the early trance sounds when it wasn’t called trance. It was like Jean-Michel Jarre, Klaus Schulze of Tangerine Dream. So that melodic sound with electronically produced melodic sound all started with Walter Carlos – ‘Switched on Bach’, which is basically the starting point of electronic music. He actually gave me the vinyl to that. You have to look it up. It’s amazing. You can’t find it digitally anymore. But I recorded it from vinyl to a file because I wanted to have it because it’s such an iconic piece and I grew up listening to that. I guess it’s in my DNA to have that melodic background. I think when I’m 70 years old, I swear to God, if I ever make that age; I’ll still be making electronic music melodic.
I feel, for me, what makes trance, trance? It’s the melody, right? The vocals? Great, but that’s actually the exception to the rule. With house, the groove is most important, right? With techno, it’s the beat and the pulsating sounds. But with trance, the core sound is the melody and there’s something about that. I was already making trance when it wasn’t called trance. ‘Blue Fear’, when I released that in 1996, I remember going to the record store and seeing it labeled as “house.” I was like “What? This is house?!” It was trance before it was even called that. Label it whatever you want, but let’s call it melodic music. It’s something I’ll always want to make because I get emotional about it. It’s in my DNA. Does that answer your question?
Yes, absolutely. And I can say the fans get emotional about it too. Speaking of ASOT, you’ve got the Bay Area show coming up.
That has yet to be decided. I want to, yes. It’s all up to my work if I can get the vacation time off. That’s going to be a monumental show. It’s going to be slated as one of the biggest trance shows in the US. Tell us about that.
I think it’s actually because of the marriage between Insomniac and ALDA events, as well. I’ve been building A State of Trance for 18 years and Insomniac purchased part of ALDA. Everybody knows that. We’ve already been talking about bringing A State of Trance to the US for a long time because the relationship with Pasquale and everybody was a really good one. It’s been seven years since we’ve had the last ASOT on US soil. The Bay Area has always had one of the biggest trance followings, so it’s a logical choice to do it there. Insomniac asked, “Would you be up for doing the Oakland Coliseum?” And I’m like, “What?! Of course they’re very careful about their business decisions because it’s a big risk they’re taking as well. And I said, “You know, if you’re down.”
Utrecht was an immense success. Madrid was an immense success. We had 14,000 sold tickets and now I think the Bay Area has so many fans.
I want to bring Driftmoon to showcase his new album because it’s great. I just want to be there to promote trance. I’m going to bring the guys in the studio and let them shine and build their own careers. I have no direct interest in promoting Driftmoon because he’s not on my label, he’s not in my management. But I think he’s a great trance artist, so he deserves that. I think that the only way for ASOT to survive is if the fans see that it’s real what we’re doing. Amen.
You’ve also performed across the globe at clubs, festivals, everything, you name it. Have you ever experienced what it’s like being on the other side of the rail?
Yes. I was at an Above and Beyond show recently. I’m a fan. If anything, I would love to go more to festivals myself. I was at Awakenings last year. I just went as a fan. I’m a huge techno head. Not a lot of people know this, but I put a cap on and I was just raving to Adam Beyer. I’m a massive Adam Beyer fan. I love it. I love that sound. Having said that though, as an artist, I embrace the fact that I’m the trance guy. So, I will never leave those roots. But forgive me for having musical tastes that are a little bit wider. That’s also where I get my inspiration from. So I think it’s essential. And you know what? My biggest regret that I have at ASOT Utrecht is that I wasn’t able to walk around the crowd, which is what I love. What you really have to do as an organizer; you have to buy a ticket, you have to go through security, you have to go buy a locker, you have to get your coat, and you have to walk around to actually feel how a person experiences that festival. I’m no different than you guys. Honestly, I’m not different. I know I’m the guy that plays the music, but I’m enjoying it just as much as you guys. Honestly, hand on my heart.
That’s awesome. And speaking of techno. As you know, I was at your Gaia show during ADE. We know that there’s a couple of things coming up soon with Gaia. Can you tell us about that?
We’re finishing the album. It was a very, very, very, very experimental thing. I’m going a little bit against the grain with that. The core sound of Gaia will always be trance/techno because that’s where Benno and I come from. There will be no vocal tracks. There will be no collaborations. We just want to keep it as two guys with two hoodies on and loops. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but we first done the live show and then we’re doing the album. Normally you would be in the studio creating all the tracks, compile them, here’s my album, then you go on tour. We wanted to shake that up and not do that. It’s a very slippery slope we’re walking on and it feels exciting because the rules are not set and we want to break them a little bit. We have no finished Gaia tracks as we speak. I only have like 60 loops and Arpeggios and beats and everything and we’re throwing it together live. We’ve done the live set four times without an audience and one time with an audience. Those five sets were completely different. That’s what I love because it’s way more exciting.
Playing from a CDJ is obviously great, but it’s very safe in a way as well because you know what you’re going to play. With Gaia, there is no way to be safe and I need this to fuel my other stuff that I’m doing. I love to do the commercial pop stuff one day and then the next day do a really obscure Gaia track and trust me, it happens. Then on the same day we’ll be working on a really, really deep Gaia track and on a pop song. And that’s what I live off because it’s so exciting. One day I’ll walk into the studio with Benno and we’re like, you know what? Today we’re just going to do a Gaia track. Let’s do it, open it up. And then we’re like all about the techno stuff. And I think you need to do that because I don’t want to be predictable in a way. You can have a lot of criticism on me and I take it to heart. But one thing you can’t say is that I’m predictable.
You have had a lot of recent tracks and released a couple of IDs that I’m excited about. I hope you play those IDs at ASOT this weekend. But you have released ‘Turn It Up’ and ‘Lonely For You’. What else do you have for 2019? What’s in store for us?
A lot of really strange collaborations. I’m going to do one with Lucas and Steve, which is obviously more of a radio single. I’ve got a few more underground collaborations coming up. I took two months off to be with my family. It was great. I really found my mojo in the studio then. Because now I have to take my kids to school every morning. I have to feed them and have to bathe them and take them to school. I get back in the studio back home at quarter to nine in the morning and then I make some music. Before it was just me and my wife and we would get up until 10am. Then we’d have breakfast and read the paper and had lunch at noon. I’d get in the studio at 3pm and basically your day is done. So it’s ironic how now that I’m a dad, I’m more productive than ever and I feel more free in a way.
Obviously the opinion from the fans matters a lot to me. I’m not gonna lie. I read everything and sometimes it hurts. But I think I also accept the fact now that I am Armin Van Buuren. I’m not Above and Beyond. I’m not this artist or that artist. I have to embrace who I am. And it’s exciting as well because like the track with Above and Beyond. I think that was one of the greatest things I’ve done last year. It was so exciting to work with them and it’s also great to see it work. We were all like, we love this track, but is the crowd going to love this? It was exciting and that’s what I mean. I think the most important thing that I’m doing right now is I just want to have fun. If I’m not having fun, if I’m not feeling the music anymore, then I’d better stop. I don’t want to become predictable. Even though sometimes it’s great to play predictable track.
See you again soon freaks!
*Featured image via SNDR*