Armin van Buuren (Interview): 30 March 2013 - New York

Armin van Buuren at the interview. Photo credit: Sachyn Mital

Armin van Buuren sat down for an interview before his sold-out New York City "'A State of Trance 600" show, where compatriots Ferry Corsten and Markus Schulz would be debuting their project New World Punx, to discuss Intense.

Armin van Buuren

A State of Trance 600

City: New York
Venue: Madison Square Garden
Date: 2013-03-30

The many global fans of trance music may find no reason to listen to anything else. These ardent individuals bring such immense passion to the fore for this electronic dance music [EDM] sub-genre, that their enthusiasm is at a level rarely seen en masse outside of EDM. People live and breathe for trance music. These ravers wouldn’t be surprised to hear that trance DJs, Armin van Buuren, Ferry Corsten and Markus Schulz sold out the storied Madison Square Garden in New York. But non-EDM fans may be astonished to know that these superstar DJs could have easily sold out venues with two or three times the capacity of NYC’s crown jewel arena. But a performance at the Garden is a watershed moment in a career and is one these men won’t soon forget.

But it was only recently that electronic music made inroads at this hallowed arena. Toward the end of 2011, Swedish House Mafia became the first electronic/DJ act to sell out the Garden. The excitement, and more likely the revenue, that a DJ event stirred up at the arena must have made a lasting impression, as more and more electronic producers have been performing there.

Frequently ranked the #1 DJ in the world, Armin van Buuren had the chance to show off his chops on March 30th with his production "A State of Trance 600 - The Expedition". Primarily a celebration of the success of van Buuren's radio show, the event also allowed Corsten and Schulz to premiere their collaborative project, New World Punx.

Sitting down with van Buuren before his gala, PopMatters had a chance to discuss some of his favorite gear and his forthcoming artist album Intense.

* * *

What has been some advice you have received that helped keep your show going?

It's most important to say that "A State of Trance" is not a show for the fans only, it’s a show by the fans as well. It popped into my mind to stop at 500 [episodes] but seeing the show grow and progress like it has is all because of the fans. The fans keep the show alive. That's the reality of things. I'm really overwhelmed by the support every week online and the love from the fans for this music. It's just amazing.

How exciting is it to be performing at Madison Square Garden tonight?

It's a milestone. It's also pretty nerve-wrecking knowing the legends that have played there and how important that venue is to the US. [But] I think that the message from my fans is that I should just be Armin van Buuren and play my sound. It's not, because I'm in Madison Square Garden all of a sudden I should become a different person. The message from my fans is 'Armin, we want to come to your show at Madison Square Garden because we like your sound'. So I think it's a big step. It's not for the sake of getting more success or that I want to have Billboard success with "A State of Trance". It shows you that there is such a big community and such a big following for this sound that it's amazing. That's what it tells me.

There will be a big stage production correct?


How restrictive is it to go in knowing you have preplanned visuals and possibly a general outline of your set? Is it restrictive or is it liberating?

I think you have a misunderstanding. There is nothing prepared. The only thing we've got prepared is the intros.

My set is definitely not pre-prepared. I think that's the essence of DJing. What's the difference between an artist, like a singer or a rock band, and a DJ? It's that the DJ makes his decision based on crowd reaction. An artist usually has a setlist prepared. So you can either like the concert or not. I can adjust my set based on what I see with the crowd. Then I decide where I want to go. Yes there are a few tracks I want to play and that we have prepared with visuals. But I send that timecode to my front-of-house, and that's why I use my laptop on stage, and I tell them which track I'm going to play. So I make my decisions based on what I feel tonight at Madison Square Garden. This is my DJ lifestyle.

That's great to hear.

If you Google 'Armin van Buuren Future Music', there is a Youtube clip where I explain how I use my decks. I saw some DJ's commenting on me, saying 'When he has visuals in sync with his music, he cannot be DJing live'. That's the biggest rubbish. I prove with that video that it's still possible to DJ live, make live decisions of your tracklist when you are on stage. It's not pre-prepared. Of course I will admit [there are a few] tracks I want to play tonight. But the rest is not set.

Is one of those tracks going to be your new single "This Is What It Feels Like" from Intense?

Very likely.

Speaking of gear, what are your favorite hardware or software tools? Is there a specific piece that you like to go back to in the studio or live?

Well software, its Logic Pro and Ableton for me. And hardware, well the UAD card is something that I really use a lot. I mean it's software related but you have to have the card. I think if I have to say something its my UAD card – Universal Audio.

In one of your earlier interviews you were speaking about Bach or Beethoven -- what sort of artists or musicians are you listening to outside of the EDM genre? Is there anything you are drawing inspiration from that is not EDM?

I'm a DJ and I think its my job to be curious as to what drives people to like certain tracks. I'm very hungry to understand that. I think it's even my job to understand why people like "Gangam Style" even though I would never ever play that in my set. I want to understand the emotion behind it. I want to know why people like it. That's my job. I'm curious. Most of the tracks in the Billboard [charts] don't really appeal to me because my heart is really with trance music. But I think it's an important lesson to learn from every style, every genre. What pitfalls you have and what not. You have to learn.

You do live albums and you do studio albums. When you are creating a studio album, how does that differ from the live album?

When I DJ, I play tracks from myself and tracks from other people. When I do an artist album, I've produced every track myself. So I go into the studio with singers, writers, guitar players, violin players, everything and create everything myself. A DJ set is really based on what you feel. It's really on the spot. It's like it's that kind of crowd so I'm playing this and this and this. It's more catered to the actual situation. When I'm in the studio, I don't have reference with the crowd. I don't see a crowd in front of me. I'm just sitting back relaxed, enjoying making sounds and soundscapes and trying new things with music.

Before we wrap up, would you care to share something about Intense?

Intense is my new album. It's my fifth artist album it will be released on the 3rd of May [The 7th in the US]. It’s a very varied album. It's a trance album but I've listened to a lot of other styles as well. There is a theme behind the album, if you look at the cover where I'm holding the light. It's sort of a metaphor to say that I've found my own road. I didn't try to force anything with Intense. I was just in the studio having so much fun creating music.

* * *

PopMatters didn't get a chance to speak directly to Markus Schulz or Ferry Corsten about the debut of New World Punx, a play off of their songs ("The New World" and "Punk" respectively) that the seemingly some fans came up with. However we did overhear a lot of other people's conversations where the excitement these two DJs spoke with for playing Madison Square Garden was practically palpable. Schulz said "The cool thing is that it’s such a legendary venue, growing up and seeing all of these amazing things that have happened at Madison Square Garden, and being able to debut this project there is what makes it really special. It’s Madison Square Garden, it doesn’t get any more famous than that" to Vibe. Very special indeed for Schulz who hadn't even been inside the Garden before that day.

They also shared their thoughts on collaborating on a set for such a special performance saying that special mixes were in the works and describing New World Punx as 100% trance. It would get people to "move from epic moment to epic moment so no one stops on the dance floor". Amidst the tight interview schedule, Schulz also enjoyed some side banter, joking before an interview with Travel & Leisure that Corsten would "take all the travel" while he "will take all the leisure".

Who could blame him for wanting the leisure? The celebrity DJ life can be very demanding, as these trance artists are in such high demand that they regularly spend countless nights spinning into the wee hours before having to move onto the next city or even the next country.

When I arrived at the Garden to witness the spectacle, I was amazed to see how vibrant the trance community remains as row after row of people in neon attire rocked out to New World Punx already on stage. My own excitement for this set derived from my enjoyment of Corsten's supercharged debut artist album Right of Way. That album, and van Buuren's 76, came out in 2003, so maybe you'll sense that my trance knowledge is a bit dated.

Anime versions of them projecting from behind them, New World Punx had a set which included a couple of those 'classic' Corsten tracks "Rock Your Body Rock" and they teased his song "Punk" throughout the night before finally dropping a remix version of it near the end of the set, getting the audience cheering and moving wildly.

It seems implausible that any crowd could be tireless, but the EDM crowd sustains their energy through far greater caches of endurance than I possess. We still hadn't seen the headliner and I was running low. It wasn't until around 11:30 pm when a voice announced the achievements of "A State of Trance" including "turning the world into one giant dancefloor" (the show was simulcast online) and welcomed out van Buuren.

It took a while for me to get into the groove, probably because I didn't know many of the songs. But it seems van Buuren realized there was an indie rock fan in the crowd because my ears picked up when he remixed Band of Horses' "The Funeral" into his set. After this (relative) halfway mark, I sensed the music was being dialed up as there were several stretches during which uplifting sensations built up. Though I remained unfamiliar with the songs, I did hear a tune with Sophie Ellis-Bextor and knew van Buuren's song "Shivers", the final enjoyable stretch began surprisingly with the very familiar Karl Hyde on Underworld's "Born Slippy".

For his epic conclusion, after thanking the audience for making the "legendary" event possible, van Buuren brought out Trevor Guthrie to sing the new single (as was hinted in the interview). The crowd cheered on Guthrie as his singing "Oh-oh-ohhh-oh" served as the build-up for the beat drop. And as the night came to an end, the audience understood that this is what it feels like to be part of something special, leaving the Garden with the promise of trance fulfilled.

Schulz and Corsten (New World Punx). Photo Credit: Carl Scheffel

AvB. Photo Credit: Carl Scheffel

Schulz and Corsten (New World Punx). Photo Credit: Carl Scheffel

New World Punx. Photo Credit: Carl Scheffel

Armin van Buuren. Photo Credit: Carl Scheffel

Armin van Buuren. Photo Credit: Carl Scheffel

Armin van Buuren. Photo Credit: Carl Scheffel

Armin van Buuren's Intense North American Tour Dates:

5/3/2013 Palladium Los Angeles, CA

5/4/2013 Marquee Dayclub Las Vegas, NV

5/4/2013 Vancouver Convention Centre Vancouver, BC Canada

5/5/2013 Fox Theater Oakland, CA

5/7/2013 Rimac Arena San Diego, CA

5/8/2013 Fillmore Auditorium Denver, CO

5/9/2013 Ampitheater Tampa, FL

5/10/2013 Festival Pier Philadelphia, PA

5/11/2013 Sound Academy Toronto, ON Canada

5/23/2013 Stereo Live Houston, TX

5/24/2013 Marquee Las Vegas, NV

5/25/2013 Electric Daisy Carnival Chicago, IL

5/26/2013 Ocean Club Quincy, MA

Armin van Buuren's Intensestreaming via Spotify:

New World Punx set from MSG:

Armin van Buuren's set:

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