Interview: Armin Van Buuren

Trance isn’t dead. Radio is the medium. And well, a few bad CDs in your collection can’t hurt if your musical interests are diverse. So what if you have The Muppets album, eh? It certainly hasn’t put a dent in the career trajectory of DJ / producer Armin Van Buuren who made #1 in the DJ mag Top 100 DJ list in 2007. The flying Dutchman alongside DJ Remy hit up Zouk’s Mainroom last year to deliver one of the most electrifying nights we’ve experienced in ages. Thanks to Heineken Music, JUICE snagged some quality time with the titan of trance before it all went down.

Text & Image Heineken Music

Why has trance music has endured?
I’m a big fan of house music, and progressive and minimal. But what they sometimes forget is to score the goal. Some people on Beatport [dance website:] are afraid to call their music trance. It seems to be a dirty word nowadays. A lot of DJs play trance but call it electronica. I’ve never been afraid to call my music trance. And I don’t think my music is cheesy or predictable in any way.

Is the scene still healthy?
A couple of years ago I said to the press that I think this is the fourth time they had declared trance to be dead. But it’s still the most popular dance music genre worldwide. So, I do not understand why there’s so much negativity. We’ve never sold so many CDs before and if you look at the DJ Magazine list it’s pretty clear that it’s all trance guys ruling the ‘Top’ lists.

When you’re making music is it more important to be technically proficient?
Nowadays, you don’t really need much more than a good computer and monitors [speakers]. The good thing about it being so accessible is that there’s a lot of good music out there. The bad thing is that you get a lot of people who put in a bass drum, a bass line and a hi-hat and send it to me thinking it’s the biggest trance record ever made. You [also] need to know a little bit about production; many of the new guys put so many sounds into one production. Less is more.

Where do your musical influences come from?
I listen to all kinds of music. I spend at least €500 a month on music and I buy everything, because that’s where you get your inspiration from. To be a good producer I think it’s very important to like music and to listen to it. I can’t think of anything more fun: whenever my friends come over to my house all we do is have a couple of beers and play CDs to each other.

What was the last CD you bought that’s stuck with you?
I’m a big fan of old stuff by Alex Paterson, The Orb, Sister Seven, that kind of sound, and on Last FM (music community website: they have a ‘if you like this try this’ button so I ended up buying the Biosphere album. It’s amazing – ambient, maybe something you wouldn’t think that I would listen to.

Is there a CD you’re most ashamed of?
Frank Sinatra. He’s pretty embarrassing but I love him, he’s great. I think I have a couple of Muppets CDs, which are amusing. (Laughs)

How did your weekly radio show A State of Trance happen?
The show started as a joke. My friend Robert Albers – Jaydee of Plastic Dreams fame – was a station manager and he said, “Come to the studio, I want to talk to you about having a radio show on station.” I thought the idea was so weird and bizarre but I took a few records with me and he said, ‘there’s the studio, good luck’. And that’s how it started. I did it because as a young kid I would tape radio shows and listen to them on my bike on the way to school. Sometimes I think those trips to school were more educational than me being at school (laughs).

Did you think ASOT would become such a cultural force?
Now, so many shows have popped up but when I started in 2001 it was just a station nobody paid attention to on cable in Holland. That was until a couple of freaks – thanks to the freaks! – started streaming the show. Suddenly the show was being listened to all over the world on illegal Internet channels. I was thinking, “What’s happening here? I’m playing my radio show in Holland, playing a few of my new tunes and people in New Zealand are talking about them.” That’s when I realised the power of radio.

How different is the experience of playing live and making the radio show?
Very different. I call them the Chair Ravers. I even made them a jingle, ‘Welcome to the Chair Raving Society’. This summer in Ibiza I recorded a couple of my sets and broadcast them as radio shows. Some people said, “But you’re just playing the same records over and over and we’ve heard them before,” but I told them, look this is live, I’m DJing for a crowd not for myself. When I play on the radio I have much more room to experiment.

Do you think too many people see the glamour and not the graft?
I think many young DJs have too many expectations. They have one hit and they ask why they aren’t playing the main stage. It’s hard work becoming a successful DJ. I’m sitting here after being on the road on an Asian tour for three weeks, playing nearly every day. It’s hard work – it’s fun, it’s the best job in the world – but it’s hard work.

What’s the best thing about the DJ lifestyle?
You get to meet so many new people. I look at my phone and I can call somebody in Australia, I can call somebody in KL and visit them. My whole vision of the world has changed thanks to traveling. When I watch CNN now I know that’s not the real world (laughs). If you want to see the real world you have to go out there. I thought China might be weird, but no. Russians, Americans. We’re all the same. I play the same goddamn music to Lebanese people as I do to people in Israel or KL. You travel, you learn and you get a whole different view of the world. It’s the best job in the world, and I realize that every day. I’m a lucky guy. J

Armin Van Buuren played for Heineken Music with DJ Remy on support on Sunday October 14 at the Mainroom at Zouk KL. This interview was published in the February 2008 issue of JUICE.