The Lord of the Trance

Art & Lit Music

Matt Jones talks to legendary DJ and producer Armin van Buuren about the future of trance music

For any dance music fan, Armin van Buuren is a name that belongs firmly in the pantheon of dance legends.

At the forefront of the trance genre for over ten years, the Dutchman is also no stranger to commercial success – his releases regularly break the five million mark on Youtube (2008 monster hit ‘In and Out of Love’ has 136 million at the time of writing) and his weekly radio show A State of Trance claims 20 million weekly viewers, making it one of the most listened to radio shows worldwide. Add this to the fact that he’s currently the holder of DJ Mag’s ‘No 1 DJ in the world’ crown, an award he’s won five times in the last six years, and you begin to see why this humble interviewer might be a little in awe of him.

armin van buuren

Once we start talking though, it is easy to become engrossed in what he has to say. He comes across as well-educated – his English is excellent and his responses to questions are both thoughtful and insightful – and it is no surprise to later learn that this is a man who has a law degree from Leiden University. His passion for trance is also immediately evident. I ask him what it is about trance music for him that makes it distinctive and appeals to him so much:

“It’s the euphoria. The things I’ve seen on dancefloors with trance music I haven’t seen with any other dance music genre. I haven’t seen it with house, I haven’t seen it with techno. Don’t get me wrong, I love techno, but it’s music you kind of nod your head along to. The emotions that you see at a trance gig are amazing: I’ve literally seen people cry their eyes out at the beauty of a track. And the melodies. Trance draws a lot of influence from classical music. There’s something evergreen, something universally powerful about trance.”

Trance music originated in Europe in the early 1990s, and arguably reached its peak around the turn of the millenium, exploding worldwide and simultaneously becoming the biggest sound in the UK dance scene. As a result, it’s a sound that many people reading this, whether they are aware of it or not, grew up with. Does Armin look back on those days, when his own career took off, with any nostalgia?

“There was definitely a magic in that time. Gatecrasher, the Red Album, the Black Album. I was very lucky to be on the same boat as Tiesto and Ferry Corsten were at the time, it meant I could sort of jump on that wave. A very exciting time. It was new, it was fresh. Radio 1 was playing it; if Judge Jules or Pete Tong played your track you would always be sure that the next day you would get a phone call that it had taken off.”

I ask whether he thinks trance music will ever be able to recapture the magic of that golden age. He seems keen to stress that he is certainly someone looking forward, and not to the past:

“People still miss that period, and I have to agree I do miss it in a way as well. But music has moved forward. And 2013 is a very exciting time for trance music. You’ve got new talents coming through like Orjan Nilsen. Andy Moor  is still around, Markus Schulz is doing amazing stuff. I like where trance music is now. I don’t know whether it would be good for trance to be as popular as house music is now for instance. Plus, I know if trance went back to where it was in 1999, 2000 a lot of the hardcore fans would leave the scene because they would see it as having commercialized.”

Armin van Buuren’s early productions, some of the best of which were collected on his first album- 76, reflected the more ravey, four-to-the-floor trance records being put out in those early years. When I inquire whether he has had to adapt his production style and music to reflect changes in trance and in dance music generally, by incorporating more vocal tracks, he seems to draw an inference from the question. He’s keen to dispel any rumours of ‘selling out’, a danger that looms over every dance artist’s head:

“For me first and foremost, I’m a trance artist. But I’m not in the studio thinking I need to make a non-trance album or a pure trance album for that matter. I just do what interests me. I don’t want to be limited by people who say ‘you have to do this’ or ‘you can’t do that.’ Obviously I was a raver myself, and I still am in a way. Over the last couple of years I’ve released a number of tracks that still have that ravey sound. But you have to understand: making an artist album is completely different to making a DJ set or making a compilation, for example, so that’s how I’ve approached it. Tomorrow I’ll make another 140bpm banging instrumental track. The next day I might do a song.  I know some people on Twitter or Facebook have said ‘Oh you’re aiming more towards the American market with this album.’ No way, not in a million years. That’s not the way I make music. That’s not the way I approach things.”

The album in question is Intense, Armin’s new record that was released on 3rd May. The third single, ‘This Is What It Feels Like’, featuring vocalist Trevor Guthrie, is at the time of writing number six in the UK Chart. I ask Armin what the process of making Intense was like:

“I didn’t have a plan before I went into the studio and that’s a big difference compared to my other albums. This album just sort of happened. I hope you can hear when you listen to the record it was more me having fun than anything else, vibing away, jamming away. Experimenting with the violin on the opening track, the track with Trevor Guthrie. So basically just having fun. I even approached Chris Martin for the album, who said unfortunately he was too busy with Coldplay at the minute.”

It should not be forgotten that as well as a prolific producer, there is the small matter of  Armin van Buuren: the world’s number one DJ. Does he still enjoy the DJing side of things?

“I don’t think I could ever stop DJing. It gives me such a big kick to play to 10,000 people but playing to a club of a few hundred people all going to nuts to your music, wow. There’s no bigger fun in life. Life for me is about sharing great music with great people. In fact, everyone knows the feeling of being a DJ. It’s that feeling of hearing a great track. You’re exploding with excitement from this track. So what’s the first thing you do? You play it for your mum, your dad, your friends, whatever. That’s the essence of DJing- sharing great music with great people.”

As the interview draws to a close I ask Armin if he has any tips for an aspiring young radio DJ like myself (Oxide, Tuesdays 8.00-9.30pm since you asked):

“To be a great DJ, you have to do something that stands out, that gets people out of their homes – whether its your mixing style, your taste in tunes, even if it’s the mouse head you wear, like deadmau5 does. At the end of the day it’s entertainment. It really helps to have something a little bit different. I also think that aboslutely key to being a great DJ is being able to retain that initial enthusiasm.”

It’s pretty clear from chatting to Armin, and from the clear passion he retains for trance music, producing and DJing, that whatever else can be said about the world’s number one DJ, he’s certainly not lacking in enthusiasm.