Armin van Buuren talks to Time Out about his music, originality and taking chances
It must be good to be Armin van Buuren right now. The Dutch DJ has just been voted the number one DJ in the world for the third consecutive year; he finally tied the knot with his long-term girlfriend; his fan following gets stronger every year and, if that wasn’t enough, he’s even got a law degree.
You would think that would make a man grow an ego big enough to require a separate room, but Buuren is modest, almost to a fault. ‘I think it’s maybe a combination of kinds of things, you know,’ he says about being voted number one. ‘Production, radio shows, DJ sets, my company; it’s hard for me to answer that question without sounding arrogant.’ It doesn’t mean he appreciates it any less, though: ‘It feels amazing. It feels like winning an Oscar.’
Like many DJs, van Buuren is a very private person. Accustomed to discussing his music and radio show, you’d be lucky to get a full sentence out of him about his life away from the spotlight. Ask him about his music, though, and it’s hard to get him to stop. This is particularly true when we ask about his radio show, A State of Trance, which recently celebrated its 400th episode. Having fallen in love with music thanks to radio, van Buuren says that it only felt natural for him to try his hand at the medium. But his aim of bringing trance music to Dutch radio has detractors. ‘Everybody thought I was crazy for doing a two-hour radio show every week. And now everyone has a radio show. I think it’s kind of funny,’ he laughs.
All the touring and long nights haven’t gotten in the way of the show’s nine-year streak, either. ‘Unfortunately, when I started touring I could only do the show on my laptop, so I’ve been taking my microphone on the road, you know, just in my hotel room doing a radio show. It really helps to have a good team backing you up at the same time as well,’ he says.
While he grudgingly acknowledges that he may have paved the way for other DJs to have their own radio shows – there’s the modesty again – he is more than welcoming of the competition: ‘It’s really good for the industry and people have a lot of really good shows to choose from so I’m really happy about that.’
The reclusive DJ has also had to come to terms with less encouraging opinions about his chosen profession. ‘Travelling from country to country you experience quite a lot of different cultures and different people and different opinions. Some people may not take what I do so seriously, but that’s okay. I still love what I’m doing; my fans enjoy my music and come to watch me perform. So my view of the world is different now because I’ve travelled so much.’
The cynicism about electronic music has also made it difficult for him to collaborate with different artists. ‘There are loads of artists I would like to work with: Snow Patrol, Phil Collins… but sometimes it’s really hard to approach these people because they have really busy diaries and maybe they don’t want to work in electronic music,’ he says in a matter-of-fact tone. ‘But I’ve had the good luck of working with quite a few people so it’s been very cool.’
Van Buuren’s habit of catching himself every time he says something even vaguely unappreciative makes us wonder if he missed the days when all eyes weren’t on him. ‘What I liked about the early days was you didn’t have to do anything that you didn’t feel was right. That was basically it… just having fun in the studio. Right now it’s more of a job,’ he says. And, for a second, we think he’s going to end on a negative note. But no: ‘I still really like it, it’s still very exciting for me.’
For those looking to break into the crowded DJ scene, van Buuren offers some suggestions that have worked for him. ‘I think the most important thing if you want a quick rise to fame is to make your own productions. Have the right kind of people around you and try to do something that nobody else has done. I think it’s important to be a unique person. It can be putting on a weird headset or dancing on the turntables. You’re an entertainer so you’ve got to entertain people. It can be with your music, it can be with your clothes, it can be with your style. But you’ve got to be somebody unique. You have to add something to the scene. Don’t just copy something that is already there.’
And how does he cope with all the globetrotting, we wonder? Especially during the festive season, when he’s separated from his family and friends? ‘Sometimes it’s hard not being home; it’s definitely not nice. My wife goes with me on tour and she’ll be with me on New Year’s Eve. I try to bring a lot of friends on the road, so I feel like I have some kind of social life,’ he says. But Armin’s plans don’t end at NYE; he’s currently hard at work on a new album for June 2010 as well as a new compilation. Doesn’t he want to put his feet up a little bit now he’s at the top? ‘No,’ he laughs. ‘I’m only 32, so I still have a lot of dreams.’
Peppermint Experience presents Armin van Buuren at the World Trade Centre. Tickets Dhs250 regular, Dhs180 students, Dhs350 VIP, www.timeouttickets.com