A couple of weeks ago Sputnikmusic’s own Ryan Flatley interviewed DJ Pretty Lights in preparation for his performance this upcoming weekend at the massive NYC dance festival Electric Zoo. Headlining that festival is Dutch trance DJ/producer/radio show host Armin van Buuren, who’s gearing up for his fourth album release in September by playing nearly nonstop this past year. And when DJ Magazine has voted you the #1 DJ in the world for three straight years, gigs aren’t exactly in short supply. We were lucky enough to catch up with Armin before his headlining appearance at the UK’s definitive dance festival Creamfields this past weekend.
Rudy Klapper: Being the number one DJ in the world is a pretty demanding job, particularly when you’ve been voted the best multiple years as you have. How has 2010 been turning out so far as you gear up for your album release?
Armin van Buuren: Well, it’s been really, really phenomenal. I thought last year was sort of the peak for myself but this year I’m releasing my new album, I’ve been doing a little less DJing in general because I want to focus on that. But I still toured South America and North America, some stuff in Asia. But yeah, in the summer though I’ve just been full on doing a gig almost every day and it’s been really fantastic. Now I have 21 new tracks finished and I’m very proud.
RK: I caught your headlining act at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Los Angeles this past June (well over a hundred thousand people) and you’ll be playing at the Electric Zoo in NYC this upcoming weekend. How do you like playing at these massive festivals as compared to more intimate gigs?
AVB: I think everyone would like to have a fancy dinner sometimes at a posh restaurant, and then somebody likes to have a greasy burger the other day or eat with friends another day or a home cooked meal another day. That’s how I see it; you have a different meal every day. And it’s just really, really great. I love the smaller gigs, the intimate gigs. Last week for example I played at a really small club, like 400 people, in Greece, and you can talk right to your fans, communicate with them directly. While at a big festival it’s sort of, you know, the big energy, all the big tunes in a really short time, very quick mixing, just a big party atmosphere, which is unbelievable fun I think.
RK: How are festivals in the U.S. different from festivals in Europe? Dance music hasn’t been as mainstream for that long here, a lot of people see it as “new” and “fresher;” does the crowd reflect this?
AVB: Yeah, I guess that is true, in Europe we do have a longer history of electronic dance music and it’s more in the daytime radio. I think the U.S. is definitely catching up with house music right now, especially with all the big festivals that are going on, Electric Daisy, ULTRA Music Festival, and now Electric Zoo, slowly but surely the U.S. is definitely catching up. And of course you can tell by the crowds that are starting to come out.
RK: A lot of electronic artists who will be playing at Electric Zoo, such as Pretty Lights, who we interviewed last week, utilize software and MIDI controllers during their performances to allow for more “on the fly” changes and more live remixing. Do you see yourself ever incorporating different technology into your DJ setup?
AVB: Oh for sure, I mean the gap between being a DJ and being a producer has sort of vanished anyways the last couple of years. For my type of music, trance music, people like to hear tunes unedited as much as possible. That’s my experience; there was a time in 2004 when I used to drop all types of a capellas and tunes and mixed-key and whatever not, but a lot of people that come to my gigs just want to hear the tunes and the full tunes, mixed in and mixed out, that’s it, not too many technical tricks. It depends on what kind of artist you are and what kind of music you want to represent. Of course, I have some special edits that I do and on the fly I make sure that a lot of my sets, for example when I play a big festival, that I do have live edits just to make a tune shorter and give it more energy. At the moment, though, I don’t see myself fully producing because I don’t really see the point from my kind of music. With trance, it’s basically all about the tunes themselves rather than being on the stage full on producing with a MIDI controller and all that.
RK: Has there been any particular festival this year that has stood out to you?
AVB: Yes, I played in Bulgaria this summer, which was really, really special, and one of my favorite crowds. I played until 7, until the sun came up, and that was one of my favorite gigs. I also thought Dance Valley [an annual dance festival held in Spaarnwoude, Netherlands] was really, really special. It was raining all day and then in the evening when I started to play it finally cleared up, and it was a very magical atmosphere.
RK: Speaking of huge concerts, I know you occasionally play 9-12 hour sets – I even saw one at TAO 2009. How do you prepare for something like that, and more importantly, how do you stay awake?
AVB: *laughs* Well the crowd keeps me up, all that energy! I think I’m preparing every day because I’m selecting tunes for longer sets constantly and seeing in which part of the night they could work out perfectly. For example, when I play a festival I have to play all my big hits and my latest productions because that’s what people expect me to play, that’s what they want me to play. But when I get to play a longer set I can really build, play some more progressive stuff, some more house stuff, some more techno stuff, some classics, some vocal trance, and everything in between.
RK: Your fourth album, Mirage, comes out September 10th, of which I’ve already had the pleasure of listening to a few tracks. What would you say your goal was with this album and do you think it turned out as you originally perceived it?
AVB: Well, mainly, the quote for this album that really works is “life is what’s happening to you when you were busy making other plans.” I had a big plan for this album and it turned out in a completely different way *laughs*. And I really didn’t mind, I was just making music in the studio and I really found the fun again in the studio. I really felt pressure a couple of years back after the success of Imagine, I was like “Okay how am I ever going to top this?” I had a really big hit, “In and Out of Love” was #1 in three countries, and I really had a lot of pressure for a follow-up. And I found that I just went into the studio and had fun, that’s what music is all about, and without actually noticing it I’d produced twenty-one tracks, brand new tracks, and that’s the most I’ve ever done in one year. So it’s the biggest project I’ve ever done, working with classical orchestras, working with a real rock band, working with loads and loads of live acoustic stuff, working with excellent writers like Guy Chambers, working with the Nervo sisters, you know, just having fun. I didn’t really think about – I mean, of course I had an idea for Mirage when I set out, but for me, it didn’t happen, the album just came about in such a great way in its own way, and I just had so much fun in creating the album.
RK: Mirage has a number of guest spots, including [English singer-songwriter] Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Owl City’s Adam Young. Is there any artist in particular you would love to collaborate with that you haven’t had the chance to?
AVB: Oh yeah, they’re loads of artists that I admire and I’d love to work with. I’m a big fan of Seal, his voice is amazing, or Enya, or Bjork. But I think what I want to stress for me is not so much the collaborations that inspire me, for me it’s the songs at the end of the day. When I talk about my new album I notice that a lot of people talk about the collaborations, but I want to stress that half of it is still an instrumental trance album, and I know there’s not really much you can say about something if it’s not a collaboration or something, but at the end of the day, for me music is always number one. No matter who you work with the song should always be involved; let’s say if I could ever have the honor to work with, say, Madonna for example, I would still want the track to be good, I don’t want the track to be finished just because it’s Madonna, just because it’s somebody really famous who would look good on the album. I want the music to be the best.
RK: Nowadays blogs are a very convenient way for people to discover new music, particularly in the dance and techno genres. Although the artist may be losing money in record sales, it’s often outweighed by the promotion and publicity. How do you feel about people using blogs to find new music, even if it is sometimes illegal?
AVB: I don’t know, I think it’s hard because you have to make a living one way or another. If you go to a restaurant and you leave without paying, that’s just something you don’t do, and I think that is really important to stress. This last album is the most expensive album I’ve ever made, paid out of my own pocket, and people downloading it and putting it online, they just don’t realize the damage that’s being done, not just for me but for everyone who works on it. Now on the other hand, I do love the fact that music is so easy and accessible for people right now. I think what should happen is we should find a solution for people to be able to access music very easy, very quickly, because I think the Internet is a wonderful thing and it’s so great to find new music. On the other hand, artists do need to be paid. I don’t want to be really rich on my music, I want to be able to make music and be able to make more music, that’s all I want. I don’t want to be involved in just selling new music to sell it. I think what we should do, with YouTube now and all the commercials, the way YouTube is selling money for each commercial click, I think new advertising streams like that online are going to be happening more, like when an artist posts a new track there will be advertising with it. I think, not only for myself but also for other artists, what you really notice is that people do really need money, to pay rent, and to make a living and keep on making music.
RK: Lastly, I was searching around YouTube the other day and came across a clip of you DJing a celebration for the men’s World Cup team, in honor of their second place finish this past summer. What was that experience like, being able to celebrate such a huge moment in Dutch history with all your countrymen?
AVB: It was amazing, I mean unfortunately we did lose in the finals, but it was still an extraordinary achievement for such a small country, I mean Holland is only 16 million people! *laughs* But it was amazing, and I gotta be honest with you, the whole show was basically unplanned. I was supposed to play from 4-6, and I wasn’t supposed to be on stage, and then all of a sudden I had to play they pushed me on stage, and there I was, live on national TV! Just a fantastic experience.