Jordan Loyd for ElectricZooFestival.com
As much of the EDM community moves towards dubstep and reinvents itself to please a new crop of fans, the Dutch DJ, producer and father has stood fast to his trance and progressive roots, guiding his audiences and listeners (many of whom refers to as "chair-ravers," those listening to his music while at work) through clean, almost soothing buildups and bass drops. He hosts "A State of Trance," a weekly radio program that boasts a reported 15 million listeners in countries around the world, is now well past its 500th installment and releases an untold number of compilations in addition to his four studio albums.
Spinner caught up with van Buuren as he released the fifth installment of his 'Universal Religion' compilation series (out now on Armada). We asked the veteran producer about how he sees his music shifting to stay fresh and what he's most proud of as an artist.
You seem to stay away from big pop hits or remixes. Is this a conscious effort, or are you just more interested in a more pure trance/house sound?
I just follow my heart and do what works best for me and my sets. I don't try to seek pop hits or try to stay away from them. I just do what feels right and what excites me and what works for my crowds. My motto is and has always been "don't be a prisoner of your own style" yet I do have a style and fans and I want to give them a little bit what they want but surprise them as well.
Seeing you perform at New York's Electric Zoo Festival after Afrojack demonstrated the strong difference between your two sounds: Yours feels cleaner, more measured when juxtaposed with his -- as he describes it -- "freaky" sound. As house and EDM continues to explode in America and elsewhere, how important is it to you to maintain a very distinct Armin van Buuren sound?
For me it's essential. This is who I am. I thought about this a lot recently. I have a huge respect for all the new house guys and admire and enjoy their work but it's just not me! I try to look at it, and understand what works and what doesn't for me. I see it as a big compliment that after such a massive set by Afrojack, people really enjoyed my set too. It means I've showed people who I am as an artist.
Are you at all interested in genres gaining popularity such as dubstep?
Yes. Music is always evolving and moving. It's never "stale," even though names as "trance," "house," "techno" may sound like "peanut butter" or "hamburger" or "sushi." Food still tastes the same, but genres constantly change. Soon there will be big trance records with dubstep breaks. Just to name an example, part of the reason why the Beatles got bigger was because they experimented with sounds from other genres (the moog synthesizer on 'Sgt. Pepper'!). You always have to stay open-minded to new genres and new artists and sounds.
You're a big fan of dramatic poses and engaging the crowd through your mannerisms (as opposed to grabbing the microphone). How does it feel to have tens of thousands of people getting energy off of not just the music, but your presence?
Amazing. But again, as with the sound I play, the person behind the turntables is a guy that can't pretend like he likes trance. I am who I am. Sometimes that annoys me but I can't change that overnight. I feel I want to share this music on stage and entertain the people. The trance pose is because it just feels amazing to play this record for that many people.
What new producers and DJs inspire you to keep pushing yourself?
Every producer from every genre. I listen to all kinds of music. Recently I've been inspired hugely by guys like Orjan Nilsen, Protoculture, DNS Project, Ashley Wallbridge and Arty.
How did you hook up with Joseph Klibansky for the 'Universal Religion Chapter 5' cover?
I met him through my manager Maykel who was a big fan of him. I already saw something of his works in his office and was really impressed. The word "art" sometimes gives me the feeling it's all about "old" and dead artists like Van Gogh or Rembrandt, but art indeed is something that can appeal to the younger generation as well.
How do you choose other artists to collaborate with?
I pick the tracks because they work on a dance floor and fit the 'Universal Religion' feeling. 'Universal Religion' is a much deeper concept than, for example, 'A State of Trance.' So, the artists pick me in a way [laughs].
What's different about Chapter 5?
It's mixed live in Space Ibiza in front of a live audience and this time it's a double disc. Also, I never before did so much of my own productions for one CD!
When you look at your career -- the live shows, huge gigs, radio show, the year mixes -- what are you most proud of as a producer?
I think my Armin Only shows and 'ASOT' 500. That's where everything comes together. Everything.