There are very few artists that requires no introduction and ARMIN VAN BUUREN is definitely one of them. The Dutch DJ and producer has been hailing success at the forefront of one of dance music's longest standing genres: Trance. At the young age of 14 he was already making music. Now at 41, he is still one of the most widely respected and sought after talents around the world. Before his sold out performance at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco CA, we got a chance to meet the legend himself to discuss his latest music, label, radio show and more.
How has the touring been so far? You have a big show with Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano at Hï Ibiza.
Yeah we have a wicked production this year. This is the second year we are doing it because it's a brand new club. This show is always something different. It's my only residency this summer. I think it is my 16th year as a resident on the island.
Talk to us about your recent release “Therapy”.
I didn't write the actual song. Normally, I'm involved in the actual writing process. This was just a track that I came across. I met JAMES NEWMAN at a writing camp in May when I was in Italy last year. Funny enough, when we were shooting the video for “Sunny Days”, we met and clicked immediately. He's a super nice guy. He was sending me vocal ideas. So he ended up sending me the idea for “Therapy” and he actually wrote that with a guy here in the Bay Area. So I started working on the production and sending the track back and forth. What's amazing is that this song is actually written about lost loves. He just broke up with his girlfriend. I was really inspired with the song because he told me sometimes when you're so in love with somebody and you start idolizing everything about that person. I remember this from my own childhood when I was in love with this girl who didn't want me because she wasn't interested. I saw everything as a sign between her and me. Lets say we had the same color lunch box. That would be a sign you know. So the video is inspired by that thought.
What’s the story behind “Blah Blah Blah”?
It's a fun little track. I'm good friends with BULLYSONGS. He's a singer that I toured with on the Embrace tour. I wrote “Caught in Slipstream” and “Freefall” with him. Both singles did really well and we performed together quite a few times. Around the time that we were playing together, he had a track out with Galantis called “No Money”. When I heard it was like how can that be you because it sounds like a child's voice. He said that's actually my son, Aiden. I was like wow that was very well done. I was impressed by the song. I said I'd love to do something like that but different. So add a children's chant but then on a psy-trance triplet drop...you know something that has been happening a lot in dance music these days. Just for fun you know. So we started sending each other ideas on WhatsApp. He was like, what do you want to be the song to be about? Taking my kids as inspiration, my daughter comes home with these nasty songs that she learned in school. I guess I was the same when I was her age. So she learned all these dirty words, like cursing on the school yard. So I wanted a chant that's like four or eight lines. Something repetitive. Like what kids would do like tic-tac-toe here-we-go, blah blah blah can't hear you, etc. It actually took him a year to get that together because he was busy writing a lot of songs and working together with a lot of different artists and producers. I remember I was in China and I had a big tour in March because of Ultra coming up. We had these long shifts where we would be waiting in hotels. And I hate waiting in hotel rooms for my next gig so I myself productive by producing, making mashups, doing a lot of studio work in my hotel room. I was texting him and I was like hey man where's your idea? He was like I got something, I got something! Literally 24 hours later he sent me the first draft of the vocal. So he sent me the Logic stems while I was still in China. I flew back to Holland and on the plane I finished the entire track. Mixed it down in my studio in The Netherlands. 2 days later I hopped on a plane to Miami for Ultra. So the version that you heard in my Ultra set is the unfinished version. It was funny because I saw quite a few comments from people saying that it's a message to my haters or something because Blah Blah Blah you know. That's not true, it's not a message to anybody. It's just a fun little track. You know I like to do stuff like last year I produced “This Is A Test”. It was sort of joke. I also had a track called “Ping Pong”. So it's among those lines. I think if you go to see a good movie, give me the outline of a good action film. Usually you have a romantic moment, car chase, emotional moment and funny moment, moments that people can relate to. I like to approach a DJ set a little bit similar to that. It has to be entertainment for everybody. Of course the core of my set will always remain trance. I just released a lot of the uplifting stuff this year like my track with Shapov on “The Last Dancer”, “Just As You Are” with FIORA...there's some more stuff coming this year. But I also wanted to do something silly so it was sort of a joke about getting out of hand a bit.
You recently released the remixes for “Therapy”. How do you decide who gets to reinterpret your records?
That's management's decision usually. We usually try translate the song into different styles and genres. We want to make sure there is a mix for everybody. Throttle's remix is for the more house and club approach. We got the more EDM kind of mix by Leo Reyes. There's a bunch of other mixes coming like Super 8 & Tab did a great mix. I like to have different versions so I have some variations during my set. I think that's super cool. Sometimes I have to play a set that's 20 minutes and other times it's for 8 hours. I want to have a mix that's suitable for that.
Your radio show, A State of Trance, has been a longstanding favorite for almost everyone in the world. How do you decide what belongs or doesn’t belong on the radio show?
That's a good question. I take pride in that fact that it's still the same formula. A State of Trance, to put a long story short, is the latest in trance and progressive put together in a 2 hour mix. That's what it is. That's what it was when Episode 1 aired. That's what it still is at Episode 868. I take pride that it's still the one stop shop for everybody that loves trance. It's a tough decision because I remember when starting the show people said I was crazy for doing a 2 hour radio show every week. There's simply not enough tracks out was what everybody was telling me. I guess they were right. Nowadays, everybody send me their new tracks. I swear to God, every week I have at least between 30 to 70 tracks to play every week. I could easily do a 3 or even 4 hour radio show every week. It's not possible because it takes too much time and I have to hire staff. So I have to be realistic about it. It's a great thing because it's a direct way to communicate with the fans. I'm sitting right in the middle, in between all this great music that gets sent to me. It's actually a big responsibility you know because a lot of people depend on a play on ASOT. I got through the promo lists because usually they send me the tracks as well. I'm not saying that the show is perfect. Sometimes I miss out on a track that ends up being number one somewhere, where I didn't even play it or hear it. But that doesn't happen that often fortunately. It's a great way to cater to the real fans.
Photos are great but videos are better. For anyone following someone they look up to, it’s so rewarding to feel like he or she is your shoes being there in a day in the life of Armin. What inspired you to record and share these moments with people?
It's actually a very selfish argument because there's so much stuff happening in my life. Everyday my life flies by. There are so many great experiences like right now I'm in San Francisco, last night i was playing at The Gorge Amphitheater, day before I was in Chicago, etc. I get to travel the the world and meet so many great people. And I forget easily. Sometimes I would look back on the vlogs because it's like a living diary. For one year I actually wrote down what I did. You forget all these beautiful moments and these great people you meet. Also, it's 2018. Everything is YouTube, Facebook, etc. People want to know what's up behind the scenes. I have nothing to hide. The only thing I hide is my family because my kids didn't choose a dad that has this job.
Trance has been such a classic genre for electronic music for decades and it is still around and popular. What do you think keeps a genre alive?
People are always looking for that emotion. It's very emotional music. The second most important reason is the feeling of community and bonding with a lot of people. The trance family as they call themselves. They take pride in coming together and celebrate a feeling of unity in that scene that I absolutely love. There's no false arguments other than the music. People connect through the music which is something very powerful. Something that I haven't seen in a lot of other genres. No disrespect to other genres. People outside the trance world they kind of don't get it. If the whole world would be a trance family than it would be a very different world. I think it would be a lot more positive because it would revolve around our love for music.
It’s awesome that you sort of give a head nod to a records that pack more bass, tempo, etc. with Who’s Afraid of 138. Where did the idea come from?
Actually it came from a criticism from one of the fans saying that I remember some DJs all of sudden abandoned the 138 bpm. It was massively popular with a lot of DJs who played that kind of sound and tempo up until 2008. Then all of a sudden some of the DJs just dropped the tempo to 128 bpm. I never really understood that because in my opinion a good trance track that has multiple and different bpms has some sort of a flow. Like tonight, I'll definitely play more a flowish kind of set. I like to do that. I like to tell a story in my set, especially in my longer sets. The amount of bpm, vocal tracks, etc. depends on the reactions of the crowds that I get.
You are constantly at the forefront of everything that you do, whether it’s producing a new record, curating a new playlist, managing your record labels, planning for your tours, etc. How do you find your work life balance is there one? Careers like these can easily be a lifestyle commitment.
It is. It's not a job, it's really a lifestyle commitment. On the other hand I have a great team of people here. You're staring at my crew that's helping me out. Doing everything else that I don't need to pay attention to. I just walk on stage and play the music. I focus on the fans and the interaction with the crowd. That's it. All the rest gets taken care of by a massive team that help me out every week. I take pride in that as well. I've been touring with these guys for almost 10 years. I'm not stressed out before a show anymore. I used to carry my own bags, plugging in my own headphones, etc. which is great because I've done the ground work before. I'm super happy that they look after me so well. Don't give me all the credit. I have an amazing with me. Right now under Armada there's close to a 100 employees. We have an office in New York, London, Amsterdam, my radio studio, etc. It's great because it's a community of a lot of young people. The average age in our office has actually lowered because we try to focus on young talent. Dance music is pretty much still a young thing. We have to be aware of that. The new staff we hire is like 22 or 23 and sometimes even younger. A lot of the interns stay and they get jobs. It's fun, I love it. My life is going to the office to play music. That's better than that?
Did you think Armada was going to be this big?
I could have never dreamed that we would become one of the world's biggest independent labels but at the same time it's never been about that. I can also speak on behalf of Maykel. Of course we take pride in what we do. I guess we're just a different company than other labels. The philosophy of taking pride in developing artists and building long term relationships rather than signing one-off's. Like trying to live off the big hits or licensing third-party tracks and trying to bring them to radio. There's many companies doing that which is fine. I'm not criticizing but we prefer having a close relationship an artist and try to build that relationship. What you see is that we've been managing and working with artists for a long time. Artists don't really leave our label as well. Of course there's a few exceptions but when we say yes to an artist we usually go in-depth with that person because we believe in his or her style. Just this week we released a Super 8 & Tab album. They come to the office and do all the little things that matter a lot. Guys like Orjan Nilsen, Andrew Rayel, MaRLo, etc. they're all super nice and hard working guys. They take their job very seriously and they have their own unique fan base and their own sound. I guess that's what we're looking for with Armada. Although I'm kind of more trancey side of things, but Armada is way more than just a trance sound now. I think we have 7 A&Rs right now in the office. Half of the music we release on the label I don't even get to hear because there's so much. I've always dreamed of being a label that is open to a lot of artists and having a lot of creative stuff going on. We have a great hit with Loud Luxury on “Body”. It's massive right now and it's great because it really fits the Armada brand I think as something that is completely on the other side of the spectrum.