Armin van Buuren: "My career isn’t based on the desire to achieve greatness"

Armin van Buuren: "My career isn’t based on the desire to achieve greatness"

Armin van Buuren. There’s a reason why he’s one of dance music’s most enduring stars: hitting the top spot on DJ Mag’s 100 Top DJ’s for an unprecedented five times in total (and four times consecutively); a Grammy Award nomination in 2014; holding the record of most releases to feature on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart in the US. The proof is plain as day.

The superlatives could keep coming, but to save us the trouble, Armin has instead revealed an immersive new event that opens up the vaults on his life and career. This Is Me marks 25 years at the top for Van Buuren, in a retrospective celebration that combines all facets of his artistry from his days as an imaginative trance wunderkind, to the icon that took his inclusive brand of dance music worldwide. After a quarter of a century, he’s offering his experience and expertise out to his adoring fans, firstly to enjoy on face value, but also to inspire the next generation of dance music DJs. 

But in no way should you be suspicious of Van Buuren taking his foot off of the proverbial pedal, as the Dutch master’s powers and popularity continue to peak. That’s because, in his own words, Armin expresses that music to him “goes beyond liking, and beyond a hobby. It’s about a way of living.” It’s likely why you’ll see him selling out arenas the world over, and headlining a swathe of major festivals this summer such as Tomorrowland, Ultra Europe, and Creamfields. He’s unwaveringly dedicated to his craft and his continued progress as a creator, and a father.

In an exclusive interview, we caught up with dance music titan ahead of his most revealing run of shows to date, as he readies himself for a long overdue reconnection with his fans and the next era of his career.

So, after a record-breaking career over a quarter of a century, you’ve announced 'This Is Me'. Why do you feel like this was the right time in your career for a moment of reflection?

‘This Is Me’ is about staying true to yourself as you mature as an artist and person, and that has been a very important topic for me over the past few years. I think that also makes it the right time to reflect on the past twenty-five years and to draw from all of those previous experiences for all endeavours still to come. 

'This Is Me' will be an all-encompassing show, drawing from your early days as a trance prodigy, your State Of Trance radio show, Armin Only, and countless major festival and arena performances throughout the years. Do you ever sit back and think: “what else can I achieve?”.

Actually, not often. That answer might surprise you, but my career isn’t based on the desire to achieve greatness or become the biggest, most-loved or most-streamed artist in the world. Everything I do is because I’m passionate about dance music and love connecting people from all over the world.

Of course, I’m very proud of my achievements and humbled by the way so many people feel about me or my music. But it doesn’t limit me in a way that makes me feel like there’s nothing more to achieve. It actually makes me push ever harder to bring my music to even more people, hoping that it can brighten their day and lift their mood when they need it to. 

Interestingly, you’ve decided to schedule these exclusive shows before your run of festival dates this summer, where you’ll headline the likes of Tomorrowland, Creamfields, and Ultra Europe. What made you want to lay everything bare to your fans at this moment in time?

Well, the shows unfortunately had to be postponed for quite a bit because of the global pandemic, and I didn’t want my fans to wait any longer than they already had to. So to be honest, I just wanted to slot it in at the first available opportunity, and that happened to be right before lots of festival gigs. I felt I owed them that.

What is it that drives you to connect your fans to the significant moments of your incredible life and career? Was it always an intention of yours to create an event along the lines of 'This Is Me', or was it spurred on by the dislocation the pandemic caused?

I believe 'This Is Me' follows the natural progression of my development as an artist. If you look at my most recent albums, Embrace was about being open-minded and inclusive of other genres, whilst Balance was about balancing the new with the old. ‘This Is Me’ is about staying true to myself as an artist and therefore is the logical next step to me.

But, you’re not wrong in saying that it was spurred on by the effects of the pandemic. During that time, I really missed connecting with my fans, and that definitely gave the concept an extra push as well.

There have been numerous unforgettable milestones in your career, and announcing the birth of your son Remy at Tomorrowland in 2013 has to be up there as one of your most memorable. As Remy and Fenna grow older, how important is it for you to introduce your music to both your children, and younger music fans in general?

I do think it’s important for Remy and Fenna to listen to or otherwise connect with music, but it doesn’t have to be my own music. If they like something that doesn’t have a trace of dance music in it, that’s perfectly fine with me. You can’t force musical taste, and even if you could, I wouldn’t want to.

As for younger music fans in general, I do want kids to have access to my music. That’s why there’s also a 'This Is Me' show for all ages.

Looking back at your life, if you could pinpoint one crucial moment that helped influence you to become the global success you are now, what would it be?

That’s a difficult question, as there wasn’t just one moment that catapulted me to global success. I think it’s a combination of several moments, such as the early success of ‘Blue Fear’ and ‘Communication’ in the trance scene, the mainstream success and Grammy nomination of ‘This Is What It Feels Like’ later on, and the steady growth of my radio show. There are definitely more, but I believe these are key moments, or developments in my career.

Creating music and strengthening the bond with your fans is clearly your lifeblood, even after such a long time at the top - your unbelievable 8-hour set at Untold Festival in 2018 proved that. But since starting a family, have you learned when to pull yourself away from the studio, even though you’re a self-confessed perfectionist?

I absolutely did, though it’s not really a matter of ignoring my inner perfectionist and pulling myself away from the studio when I’m in the middle of something. It’s mostly a matter of planning ahead and freeing up time for quality time with family and friends. And I also have an amazing wife that keeps me grounded, which definitely helps! 

You offered out your secrets and expertise in the MasterClass series a few years back. How important is it for you to encourage fresh talent, and offer your experiences out to your peers?

Very important. I had my own mentor back in the days, and I know how much of a difference that can make. There’s so much talent out there looking to make it in the music industry, and while not all will succeed, I definitely feel it’s important to pass on knowledge and help those talented individuals reach their full potential.

Equally, what kind of new energy do you get from artists that have likely been influenced by you? For example, working with Shapov on your recent collaborative EP, Welcome Home.

I love how I learn something new each time I collaborate with an artist. This can be anyone and from any genre, because their unique perspective is what makes magic happen. I’m always really excited to hit the studio with new people, because it inspires me and reminds me that you’re never done learning. 

After a monumental 25 years as one of the world’s most foremost DJs, what does the next 25 years hold for Armin van Buuren?

Hopefully lots of amazing music, lots of happy fans and, one day, happy retirement. Because let’s face it, I’ll be pretty wrinkly once the next 25-year period comes to an end.

Armin van Buuren headlines Tomorrowland, Ultra Europe, BBF: Barcelona Beach Festival and more festivals this summer. Click here for the full list of his upcoming festivals


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