Armin Van Buuren, one of the top trance artists and producers in the world, is at the forefront of the revolution to reclaim quality dance music.
Born in Leiden, Holland (on December 25, 1976) to a musical family – his dad had a serious penchant for a diverse range of genres including punk and electronica “to get rid of the stress of everyday life”, while his brother is a prodigious guitar player – Armin indulged his passion for music from a young age, blowing all the money from his paper round on records. He progressed from making the usual tapes for his friends, put together on a cheap set of decks that he wore out learning to mix, after discovering his uncle experimenting with different sequences on his computer. According to Buuren, “I was so amazed at what he was doing, since that moment I’ve been addicted to creating music!”
In the early 90s, Holland’s upfront dance scene meant that although Armin was too young to go clubbing, he knew the music inside out from listening to the radio. “I loved dance music immediately – this great rebellious sound that was so different to the ‘beautiful’ songs of the 80s”. Citing electro pioneer (famed for his awesome visuals as well as his groundbreaking synth sounds) Jean Michel Jarre as a major influence, as well as Dutch producer Ben Liebrand, who later mentored him in his mixing and producing, Armin was soon cracking out consistently stand-out tunes that graced compilations across the globe, and his dj bookings were looking pretty healthy to boot. But despite his music career taking off at such an early age, Armin thought it was wise to have something extra in case the djing didn’t work out, and studied for a law degree. He actually got a job offer with a law firm but says it’s not really his thing, though he does acknowledge he’d look good in a suit…
The final year of his course was inevitably stretched as he juggled his studies with his increasingly hectic schedule; his meteoric rise to fame included a slew of acclaimed productions and remixes, as well as playing out to packed clubs every weekend resonating with the vibe of thousands of happy party people. He took three years to graduate, but with typical determination saw it out to the end.
Armin’s Blue Fear, a Sasha and Digweed staple, previewed his signature style: divine layering of sounds, lush chords and a continuous driving beat with that intangible added extra, the unique essence that sets quality tunes apart when you hear them in a set. His subsequent productions and remixes include Communication, Sound Of Goodbye, Burned With Desire, Touch Me, Solid Sessions’ Janeiro, and Madison Avenue’s Don’t Call Me Baby.
With remix offers now flood in, Armin is selective about taking on tracks. His compilations strive to follow that precedent, always comprising the cream of his current favourite tracks and mixes. Armin started his own label, Armada, in 2002.
“Maykel Piron was head of A&R for Warner Music, and we always said we’d start a label together, though there was always an element of bragging! I took him to Ibiza for a weekend, and during the trip we sat on the terrace and started talking. He felt like he wanted a new challenge, and so did I”. Armin and co. went the distance, teaming up with a third partner, David Lewis, who’d managed Armin, and the current number #1 and #6 djs. “The market’s changed so much. What we wanted was a company that could offer everything for an artist: representation, a booking agency, and a record company. Artists can choose full manaagement; or to just release a record or play out at gigs. Armada lets the artists choose what they want without telling them what to do”.
His three year old radio show, A State Of Trance, goes out every Thursday, 8-10pm on ID&T. Armin modestly puts this obviously successful venture down to a happy accident. “A friend of mine [Jaydee, of Plastic Dreams fame] was radio director and he asked me to have my own show. I was stunned! I went to the studio to talk about it and took some records to do a demo; that became my first show! It was great, it’s given me a chance to experiment with stuff, and it’s all about a universal party feeling, a warm up for your weekend, as opposed to being about me… I want people to enjoy the show without thinking it’s some sort of Armin love-in…”
Add to that his current status as No. 3 in DJ Mag’s Top 100 Poll – behind Paul Van Dyk and Tiesto, with whom he regularly shares the bill at clubnights around the world – and it seems things couldn’t be looking rosier for the trance scene or its young protégée.
Armin refuses to be constrained by the labels of genres, and says the spirit behind his brand of trance has stayed true to its origins – “I was playing proper trance before it became diluted and commercialised, before it became a dirty word!” It’s this total commitment to his music and making sure everyone has the best clubbing experience possible that make him a leading force in this exciting and burgeoning scene.
“Trance for me as a genre refers to the old Oakenfold sound, the warm melodic driving music, not the euphoric cheese with vocals, predictable breaks and drumrolls that you hear now in the charts. There are a lot of different definitions of the genre, but to me it’s just warm electronic dance music, anything from progressive to techno. Don’t be a prisoner of your own style, is what I always say; don’t get caught up in the bullshit of your own creativity!”
Armin honed his sound on his debut artist album, 76, for which he’s just scored a prestigious Dancestar Award 2004 nomination (Best New Artist Album). “I’d always wanted to do an album, but there’d never been the time or the money. Scoring the number five position in DJ’s Top 100 poll the previous year helped to get labels interested, and I finally got to go into the studio. Now basically everything I’ve learned in the past 10 years fiddling around in my bedroom with equipment has culminated in this album – it’s a great feeling!”