Following the announcement of the 2014 DJ Mag Top 100 DJs back in our November issue (congratulations again Mr. Hardwell!), the Top 100 World Tour kicks off with a trip to Turkey to see Uncle Armin and new-kid-on-the-block Martin Garrix. As you may remember, our interviews with this year’s winners revealed that DJs are increasingly distancing themselves from the dreaded EDM label, which so regularly invokes scornful rants from dance aficionados and YouTube trollers alike.
In its place, words such as “energetic” and “loud” have taken up residence, whilst electro/progressive and big room house seem to be the flavour of the month in categorisation terms. Fans of abbreviated Electronic Dance Music should fear not however, that most popular-yet-hate-inspiring of sub-genres is alive and well — if just hiding behind ambiguous vocabulary — as DJ Mag finds out first hand in Istanbul. Having stood as a doorway between eastern and western culture for well over 1000 years, the former capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires seems a fitting locale when exploring the global reach of dance music and the constant argument of old versus new.
In the old city, the spires and domes of magnificent mosques, many centuries old, pierce the concrete jungle of markets, offering traditional spices and teas alongside knock off Armani jeans; what better metaphor could there be for a musical culture which bases itself around the sampling of and inspiration from the past, whilst also being unashamedly future-driven? Elsewhere an ever-increasing array of ultramodern tower blocks dominate the skyline, and tucked away in a quiet corner of this 14 million strong metropolis — in a wood that appears to have been transported straight from the Kentish countryside — we find yet another (if decidedly smaller) peak poking up into our field of vision.
Said structure is in fact a large tent; the only indication that the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs World Tour is in town, save for the queue of Turkish teenagers gradually extending down the side of the road. Kicking things off is Ummet Ozcan, the 2014 chart’s Highest Climber (up 68 places to No. 31), who immediately wins the crowd over by mounting the desk and waving a ginormous version of our host nation’s flag. All the EDM gig standards are present: X Factor stage? Check. DJ name displayed? Check. Abrasive remix of classic teen anthem (in this case Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’)? Check.
Yet as we stare out over the masses, illuminated by hundreds of camera phones (and one industrial strength laser pen), we can’t help but sense something is different. This is not the MDMA-fuelled, neondipped ruckus of main stage EDM.
For starters, the majority of the crowd appears to be under 18, and there’s a smattering of over 40s, who may well be the former’s parents, but are dancing just as hard. Our next hosts, Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano, offer much the same as their predecessor — with a remix of Eurythmics 1983 classic ‘Sweet Dreams’ being the standout tune — and before we know it, “energetic” wunderkind Martin Garrix has taken to the stage.
Rising 36 places to secure this year’s No. 4 slot, and only at the tender age of 18, Garrix has been tipped to take the title in the future. The Turks love him; “If Martin Garrix is the god of house can I be one of his angels?” reads a sign poked above the sea of bodies by one especially keen punter. We’re not sure we quite agree with this divine status but then the Top 100 is a public vote, and that is what matters. He is the peoples’ champion and he plays what the people want to hear. So where the real question lies is: why are the Top 100 DJs edging away from the term EDM if they’re all still playing it in their sets?
Well, it could of course simply be that they’re just trying to reduce the amount of flak dealt out to them by the keyboard warriors; however we have a feeling it runs a little deeper than that. Surely these superstar DJs are above the melodrama of haters? To find out, we catch up with one of the Top 100’s most revered alumni, this year’s No. 3 and five times winner, Armin van Buuren. Perched on a stool inside the sparse press tent behind the stage, Armin is passionate in his explanation. “EDM is an abbreviation for Electronic Dance Music, but right now it seems like Electronic Dance Music and EDM are two completely different things!
Which only underlines how completely silly it is to put music into styles. “It’s like you have London and Amsterdam right?” he continues. “And one day you might say this city is Amsterdam, but it used to be London, and you know what, let’s call Paris, London for a day... then everybody would be messed up! And that’s what’s happening with music a little bit … Nobody really knows what EDM is, it is almost sort of a dirty word right now. To me the whole discussion is useless, it’s absolutely silly! Nobody knows what the definition is, so let’s just stick to the tracks themselves and people can label me whatever they want.” But unfortunately label him we must, if simply to award him pride of place as the highest ranking Trance DJ in this year’s awards.
It seems strange, at first, that Armin still retains his spot in the Top 3, a decade after his first appearance; especially when trance DJs are so scarce in the chart. So what is his secret? “That’s really hard for me to answer, you’d better ask my fans. If I really had to answer, I think trance is sort of a universal sound,” says Armin, who believes his highly successful A State Of Trance radio show — which reels in over 20 million listeners — has allowed him to adapt and refine his record collection. “Part of trance is still very conservative, they want to stick to the older sound, but you can beautifully mix that with the newer sound... A lot of
people call it trance 2.0,” he enthuses. “The new guys like Andrew Rayel, David Gravel, Marlo, all those guys, they really bring something new to the table and they’re updating everything, which I think is really really exciting! You can beautifully mix that with the more conservative 138 sound, which I absolutely love still, and I think it’s really great because you can build sort of a story. Trance is not just one fixed thing, you can really build it up.” With this in mind, we head back into the mass for Armin’s set and are swiftly blown away.
The Dutchman’s ability to blend EDM (sorry Armin!) with trance, acid house and just about anything else he fancies, is undeniably impressive. Sure he spends a bit too much time with his hands in the air, and there are still a lot of tracks that test our will power to not shove confetti in our ears; but Armin does have a whole heap of talent. Rather than shun the aggressive crowd-pleasers, he harnesses their guaranteed success to rope in the whole arena, before dropping in a long trance bassline. There’s classics and fan-favourites flying left, right and centre. Darude’s time-honoured ‘Sandstorm’ still rages and Armin’s own ‘Ping Pong’ has thousands waving their arms back-and-forth in time with the DJ. Perhaps this is how we should all treat EDM, as an induction to dance, a doorway to musical exploration.
After all, few drum & bass fans can deny they didn’t at least start out with a little jump up! Some people talk about music as a religion (throwing shapes in the church of dance and all that jazz), and when witnessing how devoted these fans are to the DJs it’s hard to argue. The hymns they play don’t ask the masses to fear their gods, but rather relate back to the people. Set on a level with a deity, it’s no wonder fans reciprocate with such unprecedented love. As the ever-humble Armin puts it, he is “blessed to have so many fans”, and from what we witness in Istanbul, the fans feel pretty blessed too. BEN HINDLE
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