"This feels surreal," says Armin van Buuren, now back on top of the DJ Mag Top 100 after a year off to let David Guetta keep his throne warm. This is the fifth time he's been voted the world's No.1, now streaking ahead as the DJ to have swiped the title the most times. Whichever way you slice it, it's an impressive achievement.
"I thought that was it, and house music was taking over," he says of Guetta's triumph last year, briefly breaking the proliferation of the Dutch trance master. "I've been really impressed by a lot of the new house guys, and I've been to a lot of house gigs over the summer. All that new energy that they're bringing, I thought 'OK, this is the future'." Brave words, but that's not to say van Buuren was mulling a change of direction.
"2012 has been one of the best years ever for trance music," he says. "Maybe that's because the focus has been on house music. It feels that trance is somehow more free." The likes of Nicky Romero, the Dutch boy-wonder, were among the people turning his ear towards the dark side this year. "What he was bringing was completely different to what I do. It's apples and oranges, but the raw energy... I was really impressed. It's not so much house music as I remember house music, it also has elements of trance. There maybe should be a new genre for it." He says that not winning last year took the pressure off, allowed him to do his own thing.
"I didn't wake up at 9am and think, 'How can I beat David Guetta?', though I do respect his music," he says. "Being No.1 again feels like being in a warm bath, there's so much love out there it's great. Almost suffocating! I'm so thankful for it. If you ask Steven Spielberg if he'd be happy with another Oscar, I think he would." So why has 2012 proved such a great year for van Buuren, and for the trance community?
His own celebrations to mark the 550th instalment in his A State Of Trance radio show appear to show a scene in rude health. Van Buuren went to London, Moscow, Kiev, LA and Miami, winding up with a massive show at the Brabanthallen in Den Bosch, where he drew 30,000 people. "That was incredible," he says. "They came from everywhere, all corners of the world. Almost religious. People who feel their life's purpose in this music. It's really heartbreaking to see." Those who joined him made up a who's who of trance; Paul Oakenfold, Max Graham, W&W, Heatbeat, Markus Schulz, Cosmic Gate, Gareth Emery, Ferry Corsten and Sander Van Doorn.
But while there have been those who have publicly abandoned the sound, notably Tiësto who quit playing trance in 2010, van Buuren sees progression, talent filling the gaps and pushing things forward. "Of course, I 'm jealous of some other DJs and their sound, but I can't change my sound. It would be too far away from my heart. I can't do something I can't love. "You see guys like Orjan Nilsen, Andrew Rayel or Matt Davey, there's a whole list of new artists coming, and they're all bringing something new to the table," he says. "Some guys like W&W are playing a more house-based strand of trance, and all the styles are merging.
Some people call Swedish House Mafia trance. But people are still experimenting with the harder edge of trance. It is not just one sound." Indeed it isn't. One surprise success for the producer this year came from an unlikely source, and was quite the departure from his usual sound. The track was called 'We Are Here To Make Some Noise', an abrasive electro house tune that emerged after messing about with a vocoder in the studio. It wasn't even supposed to be released under his name, but a track-listing error on a compilation album blew his cover. "My radio station in the Netherlands, Radio 538, was looking for a track to promote the European Championships and the Dutch team," he says.
"I was afraid of what people would think. But people seemed to love it. It was Top 20 in Holland and a few other countries." But it's van Buuren's other major project that is most anticipated; the follow-up to his 2010 album 'Mirage'. He says he's about 70% of the way through it, and he's aiming to release it in May 2013, but the fine details he can't yet reveal. Contracts with other producers and vocalists are still under discussion, but the project appears to be forging ahead at a solid pace. Those expecting van Buuren classics might want to brace themselves, however.
And if you're a die-hard fan, it's possible that you've already heard some of it without knowing. "I'm really curious how my fans are going to react because it's very different," he says. "There are a few more safe tracks, and I've been road testing a few of the more trancey tracks off the new album, but making an artist album always allows you to experiment a little bit more.
It's the best thing about my job." Meanwhile, things are already ramping up for the celebrations around A State Of Trance 600, the 600th episode of his radio show. A quick search online finds countless Twitter accounts set up to try and lobby Armin to bring his travelling show - more like a festival, in fact - to their city next year. Minsk, Zagreb, Dublin, Mexico City, the Baltic States in Latvia, Sydney, Moldova, Chicago, Istanbul... the list seems endless. For whoever misses out, the shows will be streamed live on YouTube for free. Whether or not house music is taking a bite of the trance cherry, he still packed out the sprawling Privilege in Ibiza every Monday through the summer.
The closing party was broadcast live, and trended as a worldwide topic on Twitter for four hours. "We had 120,000 people tuning in - in Argentina alone!" he says. By the time DJ Mag goes to press, he will have confirmed ASOT 600 shows in Mexico, Holland, Miami and Beirut. This level of hysteria should be nothing new to him. But still, he seems to find it bewildering. "2012 opened new doors," he says. "David being No.1 last year, the popularity of Avicii, Swedish House Mafia and Afrojack, for dance music, it's amazing. It was great that David got it last year, to show dance music is evolving and it's still exciting." But for now, the king is dead. Long live the king.