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“I’m a Public Figure and I Have Nothing to Hide”: An Interview with Armin Van Buuren

Mother earth, crazy fans, and why Armin hates the word ‘subgenre'

Samie Durnford

Photograph courtesy of Heidiefocus

When it comes to trance music, the name Armin van Buuren stands out on its own. You can see him play major festivals, you can hear him on the radio, and you can bump into fans all over the world that will tell you he is the god of trance music.

While Armin is gearing up for his anticipated debut as Gaia at A State of Trance 650 in Miami, we had a chance to sit down with the man himself.

THUMP: So, how's your week been in Miami?
Armin: Phenomenal. I've had a lot of meetings, a lot of interviews, and a lot of press. I actually just launched my new headphones with Philips, which was really exciting. My new CD was released and that's doing really well. Also my track "Ping Pong" is blowing up. It's all going really well and the highlight is still to come when I play at A State of Trance as Gaia. I'm just really excited about it.

Speaking of Gaia—would you say that's your alter ego or was it something you've been thinking up for a while?
I think it's cool to have some sort of a synonym. Gaia is mother earth; it's where I come from—it's my basis and my foundation. Gaia is sort of more formulaic and a little bit more trancey. I just feel like it gives me more creative freedom.

You described the sound of Gaia as being more trance, but on one of your A State of Trance broadcasts I heard you say you hate the term EDM and all of the subgenres. What do you mean by that?
Well, the problem is when you go to the supermarket and you buy a jar of peanut butter, everyone knows what peanut butter is like. Right? Or you get a jar of jam or a carton of milk. Everybody knows what that is and it's very clear. The problem right now with labeling is that nobody has a clear definition of what is trance, what is techno, or what is progressive.

The problem is that when you label something as progressive, people that normally look for trance may not enjoy your record if you label it progressive. That's just people looking at labels. The discussion is very hard to win because nobody quite knows what is what.

I remember in 1992 when I started listening to dance music, everything was just called house music. That was it. It was house music and we had one thing. All of a sudden, a few years later, we had trance and techno and the vocal stuff that Erick Morillo used to play was just called house. That's my point. My motto is don't be a prisoner of your own style. That goes for everything in life. Your life could be so much more colorful if you tried and ventured over your safe boundaries and tried to have an open mind to other stuff that's going on around you.

This is not to criticize anyone or anything; it's just very hard to define what is actually trance and what is techno. That's my problem with the whole thing.

You're a DJ that likes to show a different side of yourself—we saw you cry on stage at Tomorrowland when you heard of the birth of your child. What made you choose to be more vulnerable in front of your fans?
I don't know, I just don't know how to be anyone else. I have a very hard time pretending. I have a hard time trying to be someone I'm not, I just can't. This is who I am and whether you like it or not, I'm a public figure and I have nothing to hide. I may as well show it to my fans.

When you have nothing to hide, fans are more appreciative. Every artist is criticized on the Internet but I think I don't have as much to worry about because so many people are so nice to me. Maybe because they think they know me.

Would you say that you have an intimate relationship with your fans then?
Through my A State of Trance radio show I have an ideal platform to really communicate with my fans. There's no room for misinterpretation. If you listen to A State of Trance every week then you'll know the latest in trance and progressive, you'll know the tracks that I like, and you'll know the tracks that I'm not too sure about. I use my radio show to talk to my fans and they can talk back to me via Twitter and Facebook. It's a fairly new thing and it's sensational. It's really, really great.

What's the craziest thing someone's done to try and talk to you?
So many different things! People camping in front of my house and sending me signed packages from all over the world. The other day I needed three security guards to leave the Surfcomber Hotel. [Laughs] That's a little bit uncomforting for me because I'm afraid people have an image of me and that it's somebody I'm not.

So what would you say to those fans that go crazy about seeing you?
It's strange because they like the music so much and I want to say to them: "I'm a fan too." I'm a fan first and foremost and I'm nothing special. I'm just an ordinary guy from the Netherlands that finished his law degree. I'm married, I have two children, I have a company, and I try to make a living. I do what I love and that's it. It's nothing special.

If you weren't who you are and was a regular guy, whose house would you camp outside of just to say hi?
Probably John Lennon. He's such a strange character. I'm fascinated by him and who he is. I read his book and I don't know if I'd be a good friend of his, but I like the way he looked at the world and I like his sense of humor. With some of his liners, he was way ahead of everyone. Especially when he said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making plans." That is something I really take to heart.

You have your A State of Trance shows and then you have your Armin Only: Intense shows. What do you bring to your Intense shows where it's just you playing the whole time?
I'm in full control during the Intense shows, I have a six hour set or longer. The full show is seven hours actually and we can move it to eight and sometimes nine hours. I have creative freedom and I can build from the ground up for each show. I compare it to Christmas dinner with Intense because you don't start Christmas dinner with ice cream. You start it with something light and not too tasty—yet—and you build it up towards the climax. That's what I do with Armin Only. I can really take people on a journey and really tease them. When fans come in, I try to place myself in their shoes. They come in and get comfortable, get drinks, and try to get into the atmosphere.

I think building an atmosphere is overlooked right now with all of the main stages and such. I don't think there is anything wrong with what's happening now with the EDM scene. Apparently, there are a lot of people really liking it. I'm not dissing it or criticizing it, but if you're having a nice dinner, you're not going to have a hamburger as a main course and a hamburger as a dessert. You want to be lured into the party. That's what I like with Armin Only because that's what I get to do.

I heard in an interview that you said you find music today is becoming so short; tracks are two to three minutes long and people just want to jump. How do you find the balance with your own music for trance tracks that run longer and create more of a journey?
Again, I'm not criticizing—I think it's important to state that. I just think it's good to vary. I'm not completely running away from the two to three minute tracks, I like to play with that but then I like to play a trance track that's eight minutes like Ramelia or something that takes it to a different level. I think DJing is about trying different things and building a night where you have surprises for people and you change things up. I think that's what works and makes it interesting for me and for the crowd.

You can follow Samie on Twitter: @samiedurnford

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