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Armin van Buuren
Armin van Buuren

Armin van Buuren is a happy man, and with good reason. Holding firm at Number 3 in the prestigious public-voted DJ Top 100, he's making the transition from talented young upstart to leading light in the echelons of trance � and beyond. 2005 has brought two new significant awards (Best Radio Show, and Best Compilation for A State of Trance 2004 at the Miami Winter Music Conference Awards), and a stunning new artist album, Shivers, showcasing his debut as a songwriter.

Affronted by the cheesy tag that dogged it for a brief time real trance has continued to grow unabated, and the WMC awards reflect Armin's success in producing and playing quality tunes that both excite existing fans and bring new people to the scene. �I think trance is becoming a broader term for a lot of different genres; it's no longer a specific kind of music within the dance scene,� says Armin, widely credited with creating the blueprint track for the genre, Blue Fear, at the tender age of 19,. �Trance has elements of all different types of music. I play a lot of tracks that are labelled as progressive, tribal progressive, techno, trance, euphoric trance, vocal trance, melodic progressive� These days it's really hard to label a specific sound. Styles are mutating and evolving into this all-over new sound, which is basically dance music going back to its roots. There's so much good music out there and I don't want to limit myself to just one style.�

Born in Leiden, Holland (on December 25, 1976) to a musical family � his dad had a serious penchant for a diverse range of genres including punk and electronica �to get rid of the stress of everyday life�, while his brother is a prodigious guitar player � Armin indulged his passion for music from a young age, blowing all the money from his paper round on records. His mum won a computer when he was 10, �So as a little nerdy kid I was writing my own Basic programmes, and learnt about the technology from there.� He progressed from making the usual tapes for his friends, put together on a cheap set of decks that he wore out learning to mix, after discovering his uncle experimenting with different sequences on his computer. �I was so amazed at what he was doing, since that moment I've been addicted to creating music!�

In the early 90s, Holland's upfront dance scene meant that although Armin was too young to go clubbing, he knew the music inside out from listening to the radio. �I loved dance music immediately � this great rebellious sound that was so different to the �beautiful' songs of the 80s�. Citing electronic pioneer Jean Michel Jarre as a major influence (famed for his awesome visuals as well as his groundbreaking synth sounds), as well as Dutch producer Ben Liebrand, who later mentored him in his mixing and producing, Armin was soon cracking out consistently stand-out tunes that graced compilations across the globe, and his DJ bookings were looking pretty healthy to boot. But despite his music career taking off at such an early age, Armin thought it was wise to have something extra in case the DJing didn't work out, and studied for a law degree. He actually got a job offer with a law firm but says it's not really his thing, though he does acknowledge he'd look good in a suit�

The final year of his course was inevitably stretched as he juggled his studies with his increasingly hectic schedule; his meteoric rise to fame included a slew of acclaimed productions and remixes, as well as playing out to packed clubs every weekend resonating with the vibe of thousands of happy party people. He took three years to graduate, but with typical determination saw it out to the end.

Armin's Blue Fear, a Sasha and Digweed staple, previewed his signature style: divine layering of sounds, lush chords and a continuous driving beat with that intangible added extra, the unique essence that sets quality tunes apart when you hear them in a set. His subsequent productions and remixes (too numerous to list here � chuck him into a google search if you've got a day to read the resulting titles�), include Communication, Sound Of Goodbye, Burned With Desire, Touch Me, Free, Wamdue Project's King Of My Castle, Solid Sessions' Janeiro, and Solar Stone's 7 Cities, as well as high profile collaborations with his peers.

While the remix offers now flood in, Armin only takes on tunes that he really loves, and that �I wish I'd made myself!� His compilations strive to follow that precedent, always comprising the cream of his current favourite tracks and mixes. It's what keeps him one step ahead. His desire to showcase more of the wealth of good music out there, along with the number of people sending him tracks they wanted to release, led to the obvious step of starting his own label, Armada, in 2003.

"Maykel Piron was head of A&R for Warner Music, and we always said we'd start a label together, though there was always an element of bragging! I took him to Ibiza for a weekend, and during the trip we sat on the terrace and started talking. He felt like he wanted a new challenge, and so did I". They teamed up with a third partner, David Lewis, who'd previously managed Armin, and the venture flourished. "What we wanted was a company that could offer everything for an artist: representation, a booking agency, and a record company. Artists can choose full management, or to just release a record or play out at gigs. Armada lets the artists choose what they want without telling them what to do".

Freedom is something that Armin fully appreciates as an artist, and all the tracks on his compilations are tried and tested. "Production gives you more freedom 'cos you can experiment more, it can be less obvious than DJing. Whatever - it's the best life there is! It has to do with taste. I don't often get to hear other DJs' sets, but I like that I'm not particularly influenced by anyone else. Some of my sets have influences of house or breaks, but I still have a certain sound that's my own�. He honed his sound on debut artist album, 76, for which he scored a prestigious Dancestar Award 2004 nomination (Best New Artist Album). �I'd always wanted to do an album, but there'd never been the time or the money. Scoring the number five position in DJ's Top 100 poll the previous year helped to get labels interested, and I finally got to go into the studio. Basically everything I'd learned in the past 10 years fiddling around in my bedroom with equipment culminated in this album.�

Undaunted by the stir that his first offering caused, Armin has pushed himself further with his much anticipated second artist album, Shivers (out summer 2005). The title track has already dented the charts, and the second single is the anthem for massive Dutch party Sensation White. Armin jetted round the world for collaborations with the likes of Gabriel and Dresden, with whom he recorded in San Francisco and the honey-voiced Nadia Ali of iio: �We recorded a track in New York, and I'm really really proud of it! I wanted to take things a little bit further with the album � my definition of an artist album is something you can put on at home or in the car and really listen to � so it's 10 brand new tracks that are very diverse, probably the most diverse things I've ever done. As a DJ you always have to take the crowd into account, but as an artist you have the freedom to make whatever you like, and I find that much more exciting creatively than being bound to that four to the floor or break beat or whatever. Shivers will appeal to a much bigger audience than 76, because it has a lot of rock and pop influences in addition to trance influences. 76 was almost like a �best of' compilation because a lot of my earlier works were on there - it was sort of ending an era. Shivers is the work I've done in the last two years. It was also a real luxury as I had about 20 tracks by the time I needed to finish it, and I only selected 10 � as I worked the album just got better and better, so it was like drawing a line and saying �that's it'. It's really hard to let go to be honest, to stop the creative process!�

In fact, finishing Shivers has had the opposite effect and seems more of a start than an end. Clearly on form for a third album, (�I'm already working on it� admits Armin) the experience of making this one has opened a world of possibilities. �It was particularly interesting for me as I've really raised the bar this time in terms of songwriting rather than purely thinging technically. I think technically, I know everything about trance and dance - I know how to make it, I know a lot about software and computers, but what I hadn't had time to invest in enough was actual songwriting, song structure, arranging, composing, that's something a little bit new for me. Fortunately I've found the right people to work with � I know about dance music and they know about songwriting - so it's been a perfect amalgamation of the two.�

After four years of fronting his own weekly radio show, A State Of Trance, Armin signed a deal with The Radio Department (also home to John Digweed and Carl Cox's shows) to distribute it internationally. Now online and on fm stations, his website details who is already broadcasting it � and the list is still growing. �There's more new listeners because more people can access it now. I think trance is a universal experience; it's one of the first musical genres that really showed its power through the internet, and I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for downloads!�

Post-album, Armin says he'll be �taking it easy for a bit�. Taking it easy Armin-style includes touring America (where he has a huge following) with Paul Oakenfold, who will then join Armin at his Armada night in Ibiza, a tour to promote Shivers, a huge event at the end of 2005 in Holland, and of course, the radio show, as well as focusing on new songs �when I get the time.�

"This is just what I want," says Armin. "It's not love for music, it's a passion, and it goes beyond liking, and beyond a hobby, it's about a way of living. Music is essential for my life�.

Sally Learmouth