IN A STATE OF BALANCE
Armin opens up about his new studio album
Words: DJ MAG ASIA TEAM
Deemed #1 in the annual DJ Mag Top 100 DJs poll five times, contributing to his seventeen consecutive Top 5 spots to date, reported by Google as one of the top trending artists in electronic music searches for all 2018, ranked #20 in Billboard Dance 100 in 2018, earned Grammy nomination for his collaboration with Trevor Guthrie ‘This Is What It Feels Like’…are some of the many reasons why he is more than enough to be crowned the “king” of trance. The “king” is also a hero in the Netherlands—which led the artist to perform alongside the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the festivities following the coronation of King Willem Alexander, and put together a special multimedia tour for Vincent Van Gogh’s exhibition at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. The trance titan has never yet stepped down from his throne, continuing on his prolific career with numerous activities this year. Alongside releasing various tracks, albums, and collaborative works, the artist has been capturing the eyes and ears of people around the world with his mesmerizing performances whilst performing his duties as the boss of Armada label, Masterclass instructor, and host of ASOT soon to be hitting its 1000 milestone. DJ Mag Asia sat down with the energetic artist to talk about his music and life.
Only at age 19 did the artist first make a name for himself with his 1995 single ‘Blue Fear’. Since 2001, he took on the role of host of the radio program ‘A State of Trance’ and discovered numerous new acts and released masterpieces through his Armada Music imprint that he found in 2013, leaving an indelible footprint on the dance music scene. His GAIA album released last Summer titled ‘Moons of Jupiter’ was praised by many, and there are so many exciting news surrounding his upcoming album ‘Balance’, which is scheduled to be released after ADE. What is the drive behind being such a prolific artist? Here we answer questions about his new album and his musical career.
Q. When did you start thinking on a new album? Why is this one a double album? This is the first time you did something like this, right?
When you’ve been in this industry for as long as I have, creating an album is always on your mind, especially if you’ve released albums before. You’re always looking for new creative directions to venture in, and albums can be found at the end of those directions more often than not. I’ve chosen to create a double album with ‘Balance’ because I wanted show two parts of the equation: the softer, more acoustic sound on one side and the more clubby approach on the other. It’s indeed the first time I released an album that is so clearly split in two, but that’s just how I wanted to present ‘Balance’. It goes well with the album title too.
Q. Why is the name ‘Balance’? Does it have something to do with the way you are living your life? You told us in Miami you just found your mojo.
It absolutely has to do with balancing your life, and not just the musical aspect of it. The principle of the album works for both music careers and family life, and it’s always about finding the right balance.
Q. If you have to pinpoint the main differences between this one and your very first studio album “76”, what would you say?
I’d say that I’ve grown so much, both as an artist and as a person. The older I get, the more at peace I am with who I am and the fact that I’m never done learning. Every song I make teaches me something new, and the next song is always a result of all my previous records, the new things I learned and the people I met. Over the years, this process – and especially the fun of creating – became more and more important to me. It’s a journey that gives me meaning and helps me learn more about my personal interests rather than focus on the recognition I get for the outcome. That’s the big difference between who I am today and who I was a few years ago. So naturally, you can also hear that when you compare ‘76’ and ‘Balance’, for instance.
Q. This one seems to be full of collaborations and some look very interesting. One with Inner City. Wow! Inner City is one of the most influential acts of dance music! How did this collaboration come to life? How was the working process with Kevin Saunderson and his group?
Working with Inner City was a dream come true for me. They were already setting the tone in the dance music scene back when I was only just taking my first steps in the industry. Working with them in the studio was super inspiring. I’m amazed by the end result, as it shows that you can achieve so much when you are open-minded and willing to get inspired by sounds, styles or genres that are different from your own.
Q. How good was it to be able to work with such a legend like Kevin? And how proud are you of the result?
Amazing! I already met him a few times before because we work closely together on Armada and handle his label. I was a bit star struck because he’s one of the legends for me. I’m super proud of how the track is doing and it’s being received on radio very well!
Q. ‘Moons of Jupiter’ was amazing too. Was the GAIA album a necessary thing? Maybe something to make the “trance purists” happy?
Well, it wasn’t for the Trance purists, because I wouldn’t call it Trance. The ‘Moons of Jupiter’ album was a very special project, one that Benno (my production partner) and I spent a lot of time on. The sound of GAIA is the sound that inspired us to start producing music ourselves, so it’s rooted deeply in who we are. That’s why we wanted to put it out there. Not because it was necessary, but simply because it felt right to us.
Q. What was the process to create that album? It was such a big album and all the tracks seemed to work together perfectly! Was this something that you mapped out in advance?
We wanted to make a live show because we wanted to create music live on stage rather than playing pre-mixed and arranged music. It’s a different dynamic as opposed to DJ-ing. So we set out creating the album with that in mind. It wasn’t necessarily mapped out in advance, but it was something we kept in the back of our minds while in the studio.
Q. We should talk about ASOT. ASOT is celebrating episode 950 next February. Can we go back a little to the first episode? What was going on back then? Why did you start something like this?
I simply started ASOT because I had managed to find all of this amazing music that I wanted to share with the world. It was all fueled by a drive to discover new music and let the world enjoy it with me. When I was young, I wasn’t old enough to go clubbing myself, so I discovered dance music though radio. The idea behind radio is still very powerful.
Q. Were there that many podcasts from DJs?
I don’t think there were that many at the time. There were mixtapes of course, but it took a while for DJs to start with their own podcasts. But you did have a few mix shows in the Netherlands that were popular and everyone was listening to, like Rave Radio, Krapuul De Lux, For Those Who Like To Groove.
Q. How did the celebrations develop? When was the first time the episode became a show to celebrate? What do you remember about that moment?
The first celebration we did was episode 100 on the beach in Bloemendaal. It was a very special day; it was sunny and we celebrated all night. Fans brought cake and everything. It was 2003. Little did I know it was only the start! Haha!
Q. With more than 41 million listeners in 84 countries, ASOT is truly extraordinary. Is there a moment in your career when you realized that you have developed such a strong brand?
It has always been more of a gradual realization, but I must admit that there are moments that get me completely blown away by it. When I perform at ASOT and see all of those people from all over the world sharing their love and passion for Trance music with each other, words can’t describe how proud I am.
Q. Why do you think ASOT became this big?
Since the very beginning, A State Of Trance managed to bring people together, to unite people from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds. The love for Trance music brought them together, and that part of ASOT has never changed over the years. I think that that’s one of the main reasons.
Q. You’ve held ASOT 600 and ASOT 650 at Malaysia in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Do you have any plans on doing your ASOT tour in other parts of Asia?
Every year, it’s tough to decide where to take ASOT. I’d love to visit every single place on earth, but it also depends on a lot of things that I can’t control. I’d love to go back to Asia with ASOT, but we’ll just have to wait and see what’s possible.
Armin excitedly shared his love for his fans in Asia when we met him in Miami last March. Like how he stated in the interview, he was so excited to hear about the massive popularity of dance music in China, mentioned how trance music is big in Japan and expressed his love for the people there. His love for Asia is also present throughout this year’s ADE. We have also asked his thoughts about ‘My China by Armin van Buuren’—the conference that he organized —as well as his upcoming gigs during ADE.
Q. You’ve told us on our last interview that if there were to be the New Year’s on the calendar of EDM, it would be the Winter Music Conference. Seven months have passed since then, and ADE is just around the corner. What does ADE mean to you?
As with any of those super-big dance music conferences, ADE shows how far dance music has come since its early days. Back then, few people ever expected that dance music would attract hundreds of thousands of passionate fans to a single city, but here we are. I think it shows that everything is possible, and I love how dance music conferences like ADE inspire budding/aspiring producers to follow their dreams too.
Q. You’ve prepared number of interesting programs for ADE. As an editor at DJ Mag Asia, I am especially thrilled to hear what you are going to talk about during ‘My China by Armin van Buuren’. Could you give us a little snippet of what you will be sharing with the guests during this conference/session?
Well, I was the first DJ with a big solo show in China in 2016 with ‘Armin Only: Embrace’. I’ve seen the scene grow and change a lot ever since my first stop in 2004. Last NYE, I played a big festival in Sanya and I was blown away by the energy of the crowd. I love how unique the scene is and how several talented Chinese artists are now coming through.
Q. To quote you on your last interview with us, you’ve said “I don’t know what’s happening there but dance music seems to be exploding in China, right now.” I am amazed that you’ve announced “His Love and Strategy for China” in such a short period of time. Could you share some of the special experiences that you had on the stages in China during the last 7 months?
The love from the Chinese Trance Family is really something else. I see them in China, but they even travel to most of my shows in other countries too. I guess the trance sound is really loved in China and it warms my heart to be greeted at the airport every time I land there.
Q. We are looking forward to seeing/hearing you play at ‘AMF’ and ‘Celebrating 15 years of Tomorrowland’. Have you prepared a special set for either one of the festivals?
I may have prepared a few surprises, but I don’t like to spoil anything before the moment is there. Obviously though, I will try to uphold the standard of AMF and pay homage to those amazing 15 years of Tomorrowland.
It takes more than just musical talent to stay at the top for 20 years. The artist has received Order of Orange-Nassau medal for his contribution to the promotion of Dutch music and the music economy through his imprint Armada Music. He is also praised as a ‘sharp artist’ by the audience of music conferences and Masterclass. What is the drive behind his creativity? Armin shares his story about the life of an artist that he pursues and his message for his close friends and the future generation.
Q. In this day and age, trend is constantly changing and expires so quickly. What are things that you do to study or catch and stay relative regarding the musical knowledge, flow of trend, and technical progress?
It’s mostly the collaborations with other artists that allow me to learn more and more. You can learn from everything and everybody, old and young, as long as you’re open to it. You just have to build on that. Always.
Q. Do you still deal with purists that want only just one piece of your musical approach? Is this something that somehow affects you when it comes to produce and release music?
People will always have their own opinions, and that’s OK. Without all of these different views, music would be rather boring. Those different perspectives allow for music to stay completely creative. But I’ve also learnt that you can’t please everyone. And that’s why it’s important to always stay true to yourself and create what inspires you.
Q. You’ve stressed the importance of having a signature sound in the previous interview. Of course, it’s not an easy task. Where do you find the energy and get inspirations from?
For me, it’s all about discovering new things or sounds. That creative journey gives me the energy to do what I do, to keep going. It’s different for every artist, but that’s what does it for me.
Q. With your overflowing schedules and excessive workload, one is bound to get tired and make mistakes to let others down around oneself. But you, as the world’s top DJ, you are known to be humble, well-mannered, and genuine to the people around you. People also respect you outside the musical realm for your family-oriented ideals. What do you do, if there is anything extra, to do your best to the people around you?
That’s a good question. I’ve been taught to respect people for who they are and what they do, even if their views are different from my own. Live and let live, so to say. But I don’t think there’s anything extra I do. I just try to be me. Thankfully, that seems to work just fine.
Q. I am aware that you have kids. Do you see any one of them or maybe both of them pursuing a career in music later on? There are teenagers who aspire to be the next Armin van Buuren. Could you share a realistic guidance for those future DJ superstars?
Although I’m sure my kids love what I do, I don’t see them pursuing a career in music any time soon. And they don’t have to. As a dad, you only want your kids to be happy. That’s the only thing that counts. But if they did want to get into music, I’d advise them to work hard, stick to what inspires them and surround themselves with people that can help them find the right balance between it all.
TOUR DATES FROM AVB TIMELINE:
- November 15 – Superface (Shenzhen)
- November 16- Creamfields Xiamen (Xiamen Shi)
- November 17 – First X Shanghai (Shanghai)
- November 19 – Super Monkey Changsha (Haikou)
- November 20 – Miami Xian (Xian Shi)
- November 21 – First Changzou (Changzhou)
- November 22 – One Third Hangzhou (Hangzhou)
- November 23 – Sir Teen Beijing (Beijing)
- November 24 – Myst Suzhou (Suzhou)
- November 25 – Illusion Zhuhai (Foshan, Guangzhou)
October 29th, 2019