During his prolific 15-year career as a DJ and producer, Armin van Buuren has become a true legend. He has earned many accolades including being named the number one DJ in the world by the prestigious DJ Mag Top 100 poll four years in a row, won numerous IDMA awards, including five just this year alone, and the produced some of the biggest tracks in EDM history.
His Armin Only show on New Year’s Eve 2008-2009 managed to draw a crowd of 35,000 into the Los Angeles Sports Arena for one of the most magical nights in Los Angeles electronic music history. Not to mention, Armin’s weekly two-hour radio show, A State of Trance, reaches an incredible 25 million listeners world wide, and he has just released the A State of Trance 2012 compilation.
But, what truly stands out about Armin van Buuren is his passion for dance music. His love for his art is an undeniable force that resinates in the hearts of his adoring fans around the world, in his presence you cannot help but to be captivated by his spirit.
Armin van Buuren sat down to speak to me after the Beyond Wonderland leg or his ASOT 550 tour about A State of Trance, his very first radio show, controversies surrounding DJ rankings, and the infamous cancelation of his Armin Only LA show and of cours his love of trance and electronic music
How was Beyond Wonderland/ ASOT 550?
AvB: I can’t believe it! Last night was so surreal. A Dutch comedian once said, “Only the crowd makes the night,” he said, “I was here at 7 o’clock when the doors weren’t open yet; there was no atmosphere but now I’m here and I think it’s nice that you guys are here.”
I think it’s important to realize as an artist that you’re nothing without your crowd, and I think the LA crowd is one of the best in the world, there’s something in the air here and there’s just so much passion for trance music here. That’s why I was trying to do something special, something really big for the LA crowd. I know there was a lot of anticipation, people were expecting something big. We flew in a whole crew from the Netherlands to make ASOT 550 at Beyond Wonderland a really good show.
What did you think of all of the other artists sets on the ASOT 550 stage?
AvB: I give my hats off to every DJ, the sets were completely different Arty played more house stuff, John O’Callaghan was banging it out, Aly&Fila had more vocals, Gareth Emery was playing house and trance mixed up. I even thought the controversy with FeiFei was interesting, it shows you that some people are very narrow minded. So, I give my hats off to her.
Do you consider that the whole world is listening during these ASOT broadcast?
AvB: I try not to think of it. When I do a show like this, I do it for the trance family. Obviously flying in such a huge crew brings high costs. If I looked at it from a financial point of view or just to sell CDs or tickets, I shouldn’t fly the crew in because it costs a lot of money. I want to show the people that I’m trying to give something back for all the support that I’ve gotten. That’s why I broadcast all the shows, that’s why I put in the effort to make a 12 hour radio show.
How planned out are you sets?
AvB: Not very much. I usually know what track I’m going to start out with. It makes my tour manager crazy because I always change it up at the last minute. I investigate a little bit on the internet to see if there is a specific tune that people really want to hear. I’m not a jukebox, I don’t play exactly what the crowd wants to hear, that doesn’t make sense. But, I do look at people requests. At the end of the day, they are the ticket payers and they are the ones that come to the show. If I played music that purely entertains me, I’d play very weird music.
AvB: Like ambient stuff, and some trance is in there for sure. I like all kinds of EDM. I have a very open mind. People see me as a trance DJ and I don’t mind that, I love trance, thats my biggest passion.
You are promoting female DJ’s on ASOT 550. Why do you think there is a lack of top female DJs.
AvB: I don’t know. I’m actually making a point to have at least 15% of the top 100 DJs be female. What I don’t understand is, if you don’t have females on your dance floor the atmosphere is going to be really weird. Women appreciate music, women are more attached to vocals, women bring a certain atmosphere, so they’re essential and they understand music. Thats why in ASOT 550 in Den Bosch, I will have a room that’s all female DJs. I want all the staff in that room to be female, the bar staff the VJ, the stage manager and I just want to see what happens. I don’t want people 20 years from now to say I didn’t support female DJs.
You also seem to support everyone within the EDM community
AvB: When I do something like Together As One, I did a 9 hour set but I played other peoples music, and that makes me look good but I don’t think that’s completely fair. I get too much credit for the great tracks that other people make. Thats why with ASOT I try to give something back to those producers like Arty or Shogun. Shogun is an LA guy who’s doing amazing, he’s signed to my label, and he did the track “Skyfire” which is huge. I think its amazing that I’m in a position where I can play this track for him on the dance floor and look good because I’m playing his track, but also giving him a chance to shine at an event. That means I’ve done my job. And I think that if you are truly passionate about music…just the music…then this is something you should do. I see a lot of DJ out there that enjoy the DJ lifestyle and its fine, I don’t criticize them, but I think we should all make an effort to make EDM bigger
You still seem very much like a fan
AvB: I’m very much the crowd myself. Im a fan first and foremost and there is no difference between you and me in that sense. I love a good track. “Sun & Moon” from Above&Beyond is an amazing song…end of story…done. When an amazing song like that is made, its my job to promote that for it to be heard.
Have you ever thought of reaching ASOT 1000?
AvB: I really didn’t expect to come this far with ASOT. I’ve always thought that when the show reaches its peak that I’d stop. But it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. And fans just seem to love it and honestly that is the reason to keep going. The real truth is, I didn’t want to do ASOT 550. I thought 500 yes,amazing! Let’s do 5 big events, 5 continents, 5 weeks, and it really made sense. But 550 is not such a nice number. But its not about numbers, its about the fans.
Tell me about the start of ASOT
AvB: It’s very funny, it was a station in the Netherlands called Slam FM, it was only on cable radio. When I was 16-17 I wasn’t old enough to go clubbing myself, but fortunately in the Netherlands there were a couple of radio shows that were playing live from clubs or DJ that were playing at clubs were invited into the studio.
In ’92-’93, I was at that age when I was looking for my identity and thats when I found dance music and I really fell in love with it. It’s made me who I am today. It’s never left and it’s never going to leave.
So, I rode my bike to school always recording those radio shows- Rave Radio, For those Who Like to Groove- those are just some of the radio shows I use to listen to. I still have those cassettes, I still listen to those tracks, and they still inspire me.
In 2001 when I got that opportunity I was invited by the station manager, and he said, “How would you like to do your own radio show?”
I told him he was crazy because I didn’t have DJ experience on the radio I don’t know how to liners, I don’t know how to present. But, he was sure that I could do it. So June 1st 2001, he invited me to the station to talk about this show and I had my records from a photo shoot I did earlier, so he told me to play. I was put on the spot and that was the first ASOT. It wasn’t even planned, well, he planned it. Back then it was called Into Trance, and after episode 4, I asked him if I could change it into ASOT. And I remember a lot of my colleagues at that time thought I was crazy for doing a two-hour radio show every week. Those same guys have their own radio shows now.
Anyone you want to mention?
AvB: Just look on the Sirius/XM lineup. I remember my manager Dave Lewis, he told me, “I don’t know why you are doing this radio show. Why is it so important to you?”
So it took off from there?
AvB: Well, something strange happened. ASOT was only on Dutch cable radio, it was not on the air, you had to pay a subscription. But these kids were streaming my show on the internet, and I didn’t even know what streaming was. So then I had a tour in New Zealand and there were people holding up signs requesting a tune that I played on Thursday. They couldn’t have heard it anywhere else because it was my track. I was like, how do they know this track? And that’s when I realized, wait a minute, this is working. And nobody else was doing it, so I decided to continue. That’s where the numbering came from. When I was on show 50, I asked the listeners what I should do and they said I should keep counting. Now everybody does it.
Any low points for ASOT?
AvB: The show had its downs, on episode 186 IDNT Radio stopped the show, they said we don’t believe in ASOT, we think trance is over. There was this company in London and they took me on board but didn’t pay anything. Which was ok because it was promotion. Then a few stations signed up for my show, then it was a virus. Before I knew it 10 stations were broadcasting my show every week and it just grew from there. Then the station that kicked me off eventually took me back on a few years later.
What else do you have going on right now beside ASOT?
AvB: I’m working on my artist album, its actually getting somewhere, I’m really proud to say. I have some really smoking new singles. I just released my new complication, that was a lot of hard work. I knew I needed to do a new compilation and I wanted to do a couple of new tracks for that. The problem is, I have too many ideas in my head and not enough time in a day.
Now lets talk a little controversy. What are your thoughts about DJ rankings?
AvB: We as a people we have a strong need to categorize everything. We put labels on everything and it’s a totally understandable need because we are animals and we need to understand order and where to fit in. I was voted the number one DJ by DJ Magazine four years in a row and a couple of other lists, but I always thought it was silly that you have DJ lists. How can you say The Beatles are better than The Stones? I just depends on taste.
So should there be a ranking system?
AvB: I think that its good that there is a ranking, the discussion is good. If people compare me to David Guetta, they are probably going to go see David Guetta then they are going to come see me and compare us.
But it’s comparing apples and oranges
AvB: That’s exactly what it is. But what I think is very essential and what we want is for people to come out to our shows. We want people to celebrate EDM, because that’s what David and I believe in. I don’t know much about David, I don’t know much about his style, I don’t know much about his career, but what I do know is he wants to try and promote dance music. Whats good about the debate, and whats good about people talking about DJs is that they come out to see these DJs.
So its lives and it breathes it enhances the hype, that’s the good thing about DJ lists. I don’t want to slide off the DJ list, but on the other hand people shouldn’t make it bigger than it is. It is just a list.
Another controversy was the cancelation of the Armin Only show at Monster Massive last October
AvB: Well, let me tell you that I’m very sad about what happened. To make a long story short, we got screwed and the fans got screwed. I still feel guilty about that. I really shed a tear. It’s the worst thing that can happen to you as an artist. Especially because Armin Only is an investment, our equipment was already here in LA, we had a container shipped. For us, not being in LA and not being based in the US it was a hard lesson. Some people in this industry are not in it for the right reasons. I learned from it.
What did you learn?
AvB: Music and money don’t mix. You can mix everything with music except money. I, myself, as a DJ depend very much on promoters for my shows, a lot of people want me to come to this country or that country but I always tell them I need a local promoter to help me out with this. Out of the thousand shows that I’ve done, there have been only 5 that have been canceled
So you will be back?
AvB: I’m creating a new show right now, first I want to finish my album then we can write a new show. I have to say again that its such an expensive show to do. Armin Only is even bigger than ASOT, for example we fly in like 40 people, its a whole crew, dancers, and entourage. You don’t even want to know how expensive a show like that is, its a big risk. But, the fans want it and I will do everything in my power to make it happen again, especially in LA. Maybe I should do the kick off on LA?