Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 July 2020

Abu Dhabi F1: Exclusive backstage interview with Armin van Buuren

A quick chat with the DJ legend moments before his show at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Armin Van Buuren said it was "a big honour to be asked to play the Formula One."  Delores Johnson / The National
Armin Van Buuren said it was "a big honour to be asked to play the Formula One." Delores Johnson / The National

A five-time winner of DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs fan poll, and with more than eight million likes on Facebook, Armin van Buuren is one of the biggest electronic artists on the planet. Moments before he made history by becoming the first DJ to headline the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix’s Yasalam After-Race Concert Series at Du Arena, on Friday November 21, our reporter sat down in the Dutch trance master’s dressing room for a chat.

Congratulations on being the first DJ to headline the Abu Dhabi F1. It seems like this says a lot about the profile of electronic music today.

Absolutely – it’s something that we already knew, it just took some time [to catch on]. Dance music is still a relatively new thing, a new phenomenon. Now it’s really crossed over to radio – which some people don’t like – but it’s just what happened. It’s a sign of the times – young people grow up not listening to rock music, or hip-hop or R&B anymore, they grow up listening to this thing that some people call EDM, or whatever you want to call it.

EDM is a term I have a problem with, and I imagine you do too...

It seems to me the abbreviation for EDM – electronic dance music – has a different meaning now. Electronic dance music is a term for everything electronic, but EDM is a specific sound within that.

So if people call you EDM...?

I think the whole discussion about genres and styles is a bit overrated. Yes if you buy a jar of peanut butter you’d be pretty upset if there’s jam inside, but the point of the discussion is we shouldn’t waste too much time talking about styles, because everyone seems to have a different definition of that. At the end of the day it’s all about music.

Absolutely. Tell us about the show in Abu Dhabi – I understand it’s a one off?

This is only show – we wanted to do the Armin Only show, which is a big concert that I’m touring around the world with, but it wasn’t possible with the current stage set up. So we have a sort of scaled-down version of the Armin Only show, which is really exciting, it’s the only time we’ve done it. Unfortunately we don’t have the acrobats that we wanted to bring, but we do have a lot of the other elements from the show. I’m extremely proud that we can do this. It’s a special weekend, it’s a big honour to be asked to play the Formula One, and we wanted to bring something other than just a normal DJ set.

So are you a motorsport fan?

Yeah – I don’t have enough time to watch every Grand Prix, but when I have some time I kick back and try to watch it on my iPad, or watch it in my hotel room.

Reckon Hamilton will go all the way?

I hope so, we’ll see.

Why don’t we have more of your fellow countrymen in the sport?

I don’t know – Holland is such a small country. The son of [ex-F1 driver] Jos Verstappen, Max, is doing really well – he’s 16 years old and next year joining the Formula One circuit, one of the youngest to ever do so. So he’s the high hope for the Dutch team – fingers crossed. But Holland is a small country, we’re only 16 million souls, we’re very good at ice skating, we have some decent football players...

And a lot of decent DJs. Why’s that?

I guess it’s the culture in The Netherlands – we all grew up listening to dance music, it was already as big as it is in other countries right now, for a very long time. It’s a big cultural difference. As a teenager, the friends you grow up with and the music you listen to is very important, so to cut a long story short, that’s what influenced me. And I see that with other DJs too – there’s just a huge dance music culture in The Netherlands.

How many songs do you listen to every week to put together your radio show, A State of Trance?

Between 200 to 500 – I have a team downloading them, who put all the promos I get sent on a server – but I manually check all the music, because I want to hear everything.

What impresses me most is your work ethic, but it must be tough having a family at home. Is it true you Skype your wife six times a day?

Not six times, but I Skype her a lot. My son is one year old, and he calls the computer Daddy. If he hears the [hums Skype tone] he goes “Daddy!” Even if I’m home and somebody else calls he says “Daddy”, and I’m like “I’m here” – he didn’t make the connection yet.

You were the DJ Master on CNN’s recent talent search Ones to Watch, which aired earlier this month. Does that make you the Simon Cowell of dance music?

I don’t know if we should really go into a talent show thing. I know Simon Cowell spoke about doing a “who’s the new DJ thing”, but the problem with DJing is you can’t really make that interesting on TV. It’s really hard to judge a DJ from a two or three minute set – you can’t.

When you started producing, in the mid-1990s, it was a very fertile time for the genre, with so much to discover. Is there that scope for sonic experimentation for new producers today, and if so, what’s next?

I really couldn’t tell you exactly – I’d need a glass ball – but the word that springs to mind is diversification. Some people like to stick to the original sound, but what I find very interesting is people who dare to look over the border of their specific sound, that makes it musically interesting. If you look at the history of music, the people who have come furthest are always those who chose to come out of their safe havens and try to experiment with different styles and instruments. Dance music really is only 24, 25 years old – maybe 35 if you have the disco age – it’s still a relatively young genre and there’s still a lot to discover.

Updated: November 22, 2014 04:00 AM



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