Armin Van Buuren has been one of the most successful people in the dance music industry til date. As a producer he has sold millions of records. As an entrepreneur he is a partner in Armada Music. And as a DJ he recently won the DJ Mag number one DJ award for the fifth time. So we are delighted to have him for an interview.
You were the number 1 DJ for 4 years. Then David Guetta took over for one year.. And now you are the number one again! In my feeling you were not really keeping busy with the thought of being number one or not to be number one. So did you actively promote yourself again through Armada and your own channels to make another shot at the number one position? Or did you merely count on your fan base? what would you say was the magic behind it?
Armin: It’s a little bit strange because there are two sides to the story. I mean, if you ask me honestly: “Would you like to be number one DJ by DJ Mag?” I think everybody would say yes. Ask any director or actor out there to win another Oscar and they would say yes. I’m not going to lie. I mean, of course the reason why I value the DJ Magazine awards so much is because it is a recognition from the fans. And it’s not some old guy sitting behind a desk saying “oh let’s make him number one.” So that’s why it’s important. That’s why I want to win it.
Then again, the whole thing is a bit strange because it is comparing apples to oranges. You know what I mean? How can you compare U2 to Coldplay? I love both bands. I think I have all albums by both bands and I cannot say I have a favorite. U2 have done amazing songs and Coldplay have done amazing songs.. And with dance music it is even more weird because with all the respect to David Guetta: how can you compare my sound to his sound? It’s just different – it’s very different and it has to do with taste of people. It’s not like you go to the Olympics and you run a 100 meter hurdles. Somebody presses the starting pistols and everybody runs at the same time and the first person to cross the finish line wins the gold medal. Everybody understands that.
So did I campaign to answer your question? I never wake up in the morning thinking how can I be number one? It doesn’t work that way. I wake up in the morning thinking like “Wow Ferry Corsten is coming over and we’re gonna do a track together!” That’s amazing. I wake up thinking “Hey I bought this new plugin yesterday which I’m really excited about. I’m gonna freak with it because that’s what I wanna do.” For me, in a way the whole number one thing is… You know the awards are in my cabinet and I’m really proud I have them.. So I’m not focused on just being number one for the sake of being number one. In fact, I tell you that I was a little bit shocked that so many trance DJ’s went house, which is totally understandable by the way – no disrespect.
Armin: I’m not mentioning any names.. I’m not gonna bad mouth anybody, but I understand why they did that. Trance was a little bit stuck in its own formula. Yet, trance moved on and I said to myself: I really admire the house guys, but I’m not gonna change my sound to house because trance music is what’s closest to my heart. And all the new guys they know how to make house music, so why the hell would I make house music? That would just be a move for me to be popular and that’s not something I wanna do. Of course I want to be popular: I want people to like my music.. so that’s what I did.
Armin: Vodka Wasters!
So you have experience with house music.
Armin: Yeah but that’s different kind of house; it’s not the house like the house they make today: the clap on the one – the big room sound.. So that’s a different time.. and I always experienced with different styles. My motto is: don’t be a prisoner of your own style.
Everybody knows you for trance; it is obviously your favorite genre and you do everything with it. But I can’t imagine that once in a while, when Armin is in the studio, he never goes back to maybe the vodka wasters mood or another kind of mood..
Armin: You know, I think there is a very thin line between house and trance. There are a lot of producers everyday that show us that there’s not really that much of a difference. I mean having said that: some house music is very different than trance music, but if you look at Eric Prydz for example: he is considered to be a progressive house guy, but a lot of trance DJ’s like him because you know.. it’s very close to trance.. It has a lot of arpeggios, arpeggiators, and synths and stuff like that. And I consider him to be partly trance because those arpeggios are being used in trance as well. It’s just that the tempo is a lot slower so it isn’t trance.. But it has elements of trance. Again, I think there is a very thin line between both. Do I experiment with house? Not for the sake of “I want to make a house record” but I like certain house records because they have trancey elements in them. If you likrat a guy called Orjan Nilson one of the young guys that’s coming up.. He’s using a lot of influences from house tracks. Yet, his tracks are considered to be trance. It’s funny because his tracks are ussualy 128 / 130bpm which is typically a house tempo, but people consider it trance. It’s just a matter of “box me and put a label on me.”
The last couple of years, Beatport pushes this genre called progressive house. The problem is that you have the oldschool progressive house and the stuff that was used to be called clubtrance under that same name or label. I know you kinda support the progressive house style with for instance the latest JOOP which was a bit more on the housey side. Can we expect more of those tracks in your sets?
Armin: No, my focus will always be trance. Don’t be a prisoner of your own style: I like to have an open mind to all genres of music. But I’ve never limited myself to everything that is labeled on Beatport as trance. I mean, with all the respect to Beatport: that is just some guy sitting in an office labeling music. And if he says it’s house, I say it’s trance. Who decides what is house and what is trance? Again the line is very thin, but I know what I want to play and what I want to bring and that is the most important.
As a DJ you experience some of the most amazing things you can experience as a DJ . We’ve seen it all in the documentary about your life which was recently released. Is there one kind of dream you still have that you haven’t accomplished yet?
Armin: The longer I am in this industry, the more I start to realize that it is only about two things: it’s the music and the fans and all the rest is just bullshit! Drugs.. awards.. money.. private jets: it doesn’t matter. You know what I’m saying? Many people are in this industry for the wrong reasons. But I still get the kick from the fans and the music. That’s what keeps me going to this day! And like I said in the documentary: I would give all my money to still be doing this. That’s what keeps me going. I think I’m addicted not to drugs or alcohol. I’m addicted to the kick from the music and the fans.
As long as you focus on that then that’s great, so one of my dreams to accomplish is to do another Armin Only tour with a new set of artists live on stage and give people the best show I can. That’s my ambition. And when that ambition starts, it’s not about how much money will I make or “will I be voted number one” – Or how many awards will I get, or how many gold records will be on the wall. It’s all fantastic – really. It’s fantastic when you get a gold record. But it is a momentum, it’s a picture. What stays is the passion from the fans and the appreciation for the music.
I cannot tell you how enthusiastic I am when I am doing a radio show. I’m going through a pile of promos that is like… disgusting. But when I find that one track – that magical track – Like wow! This is so well produced; this is so amazing.. Then I cannot wait for it to be Friday night to play that track for a crowd and THAT is what it’s all about. Forget ALL the rest. Because that is NOT important.. In my opinion.
Photo credits by Krijn Van Noordwijk and Chris Herrera.