A State of Trance
Neptune Project 'Aztec' (FSOE)
Armin Only: 'Imagine', Los Angeles Sports Arena
Jerome Isma-Ae (DJ); Cosmic Gate (Producer)
3 Phase ‘Der Klang Der Family’ on Tresor in 1992. How the hell did they make those sounds?!
Timing and character.
Ben Liebrand. He’s been Holland best kept secret since the ’80s and plays technically advanced sets with four DVJs.
Doing a non-stop 72-hour live marathon radio show, in April, with video stream from three different countries, with three massive parties and loads of guest DJs to celebrate the 400th episode of A State of Trance.
Pioneer CDJ-2000. It can do a lot that a laptop can but it's actually built for clubs.
Life doesn't get any better than this. Armin Van Buuren was on his honeymoon when he got the call to say that you lot voted him the No.1 DJ in the World - for the third consecutive year.
"I couldn't believe it," he says with a huge smile. "I still can't believe it. I expected David Guetta to win so I was totally blown away. This was the least expected one. I can understand that people might think that if you win it for the third time it's not that special anymore. But, for me, it's the most special."
It makes sense that this year should mean so much. Armin's rise has been unstoppable, from his first appearance in the Top 5 in 2002 to that first inevitable win. Last year was probably the biggest year of his career, with the Armin Only: Imagine concerts and his Buma Cultuur Pop Award. But 2009 has been another a solid year for the world's favourite DJ - winning this year is the purest example that real clubbers around the world hold him in the highest regard.
No artist album, just a handful of underground singles and business-as-usual gigs sees the amiable Dutchman clear up again. But business-as-usual for Armin is like a dream come true for the rest of us - he's hardly spent the year getting stoned on the sofa (in fact, he gave up booze to keep on top of things).
One of his greatest achievements has been his A State Of Trance radio show reaching its 400th episode and the celebration was every bit as elaborate as you might imagine. Setting up an internet radio station, he grabbed a handful of DJs and travelled to three countries broadcasting the whole 72-hour party. Online radio being a statistician's dream, Armin was able to measure the success of this pioneering venture absolutely and over the three days 250,000 people tuned in.
Impressive stuff, but when most online radio keeps listeners for about eight minutes and Radio 1 manages 45 minutes, Armin captured his listeners' ears for three and a half hours.
"It was remarkable," Armin says proudly. "I asked the listeners who they wanted to see. They chose Gareth Emery, Arnej, Roger Shah, Signum and W&W. The funny thing is that on MSN I've been speaking to a lot of the DJs that played over the 72 hours and they're now in the DJmag Top 100 DJs. They thank me for that, but I tell them they should thank themselves for their great productions and the fact that people voted for them. It felt really great, you could talk to me about it for hours."
After so many shows Armin says that he still enjoys recording A State Of Trance every bit as much as he ever has, although frequently doing the show while on the road is a challenge. Many labels give him exclusives now the show is so established and many of the genre's important albums are previewed.
"It keeps me on the forefront of things," he says, "and it's really exciting to hear all these new tunes. I get a lot of new ideas and a lot of new music. I still feel trance is evolving, especially the lower BPM stuff. There's a lot influence from house and minimal at the moment, which is fantastic. Really exciting times."
With about 250 tracks coming his way every day - "Fortunately I have someone in the office, Ruben, who helps me download of lot of the tracks," Armin says - there's still enough enthusiasm that the world's No.1 hits the online record shops frequently
"I still buy a lot of tracks," he says. "There are quite a few labels that don't send out promos."
Every year A State Of Trance sums up its year with a mix CD but this year it was joined by a snapshot of Armin's Armada extravaganza, 'Universal Religion'. A live mix from his Amnesia night in Ibiza, it showcases more of a Balearic sound. It's still trance but it's more vocal, more melodic, the average BPM is slower, something the big room master has clearly been enjoying this year. But with a strong Euro keeping many Brits and Americans away from the White Island this year, how was his season there really?
"I know it's standard to say fantastic," he smiles, "but it really was fantastic."
With Roger Sanchez taking to the terrace while Armin controlled the main room, the pair were able to entice over 3000 people through the doors every single week. At the party's height, in August, there were 5000 people on the dancefloors.
"The first year we did the night we didn't make any money because it's so hard to set up your own night in Ibiza," he admits. "There's so much competition. It's remarkable that we were able to grow this year."
But, despite the success, the Ibizan gigs were some of his more intimate affairs this year. In addition to many, many festivals from the Ukraine to New York and from Burning Man to Global Gathering, many of the Dutchman's gigs formed part of the Armin Only tour.
"They're massive gigs now," he says, "a minimum of 8000 people dancing to just me for nine hours. It's grown to another level - there's a massive fireworks show, a big stage, lasers and all sorts. It's very expensive to put on."
Although Armin didn't have an artist album this year he still made a dent in the charts with the remix version of last year's massive 'Imagine'. Sounding like a rather relaxed project, Armin contacted some of the remixers that he likes himself and asked them which tracks they'd like the remix.
"Nearly everyone chose a different one," he says. "A lot did it on spec, they didn't want any money for it, and we ended up with some tracks having two or three great remixes so we decided to make it a double album."
The Killers and BT aside, Armin hasn't done much in the way of remixing himself this year, preferring to work on his own productions, even if there hasn't been much in the way of new Armin Van Buuren tracks. Breaking his own rule of only using his own name, he's slipped out some more underground, instrumental tunes, most notably Gaia's 'Tulvan'.
"I know if I'd released it as Armin Van Buuren it would have sold better but I wanted to show that trance mattered and that I'm very much about instrumental electronic music," he says.
Despite these scene credentials, Armin found himself an A-list media star this year when he decided to make a Mrs Van Buuren of his girlfriend of ten years. His new wife doesn't like the attention from the newspapers and celeb magazines and Armin grudgingly says that he's "really not fond" of it either.
"I'd rather people appreciated me for my music and radio shows and my gigs than my personal life," he says without irritation. "I understand I'm now a public figure so I have to show some of it to the people, but the reasons why I decided to marry were completely personal and I don't particularly want to share it with other people."
Those interested in seeing both sides of being a superstar DJ will be pleased to know that a book revealing his experiences during his first year as the No.1 DJ in the World has just been translated into English. But there is another way to get behind the strobelights. Fans will get to play their idol in a forthcoming game for the Nintendo Wii, Armin Van Buuren In The Mix. A career game, you work through the actual clubs Armin played in himself as his career progressed.
"You don't only have to learn how to beatmatch but you also have to interact with the crowd and give a whole performance," he says eagerly.
But as keyed up as he is about the game, there's nothing as exciting as being No.1 for another year.
"I'm thrilled and deeply honoured," he says honestly and from the heart. "It feels like winning a gold medal at the Olympics."