On promo tour for his next album ‘Balance’, to be released on October 25th, Armin van Buuren visited the Dutch talk show Jinek to talk about the release. His appearances in Dutch television are scarce and usually very honest, but who would have thought that he would open up so much? The talked about his own legacy, struggles with social media pressure, but also about a darker side of the scene.
After winning the title of #1 DJ in the World five times, hosting the radio show A State of Trance, that is being broadcast in 84 countries, building a fanbase of millions, and 20 years of playing the biggest festivals on the globe, van Buuren’s status of Legend cannot be contested. Nevertheless, it was only recently that one of his tracks reached the #1 in the charts of his own country: ‘Hoe het danst’, a collaboration with Marco Borsato, one of the most popular singers in The Netherlands.
You might think that after such an expansive career, finally achieving a #1 track on the Dutch charts may not be a big deal. But when he was asked if that was still something emotional him, he answered:
“Yes, of course. At the end I became a top 40 DJ. I was against that in the beginning, but secretly is of course cool to have that place”.
“At the beginning, dance music was counter current. In the 80s you had all the Madonnas and Michael Jacksons of this world, and then house came and that was an anti-reaction, so we were completely averse to everything that was top 40 and things like that. But nowadays you can also see that in the top 40 there is almost no song without a dance beat behind, so it is completely reversed, you could say.”
So would you say that the world has changed? Or have Armin and the DJs of his generation changed the world?
Armin van Buuren is no longer the trance DJ he was at the beginning of his career, but why should he? Since the release of ‘Intense’, the artist has been playing with different genres and collaborating with different artists in his releases. Researching and exploring new sounds has opened up new avenues of creativity, but it has also earned neverending complaints from his oldest fans, and the trance community in general. Armin van Buuren, the King of Trance, was the artist that brought the genre to the center stage. He was also the one that stayed “true to his origins” while others like Tiësto left, to make a career in the growing EDM scene. Why was he not producing the same trance anymore? The level of betrayal felt by some is huge. On the other hand, the number of fans that follow him no matter what he releases is still massive, and he keeps attracting new fans from other styles as his music evolves. After all, creative giants like David Bowie, The Beatles, Bon Jovi or Madonna have completely changed styles throughout their careers. Are we allowing the same in electronic music? Or are fans killing the creativity of the artist by forcing them to keep doing what made them successful? Armin has been thinking about it too:
“I think I have changed over the years. I am still doing a lot of underground things, like the recent ‘Gaia’ album, but I am increasingly developing myself and spreading my wings”
“If you would have told me five years ago that I would score a number 1 hit with Marco Borsato, I would probably have laughed in your face, because it could be considered too commercial. And now I just notice that that is actually the fuel to keep doing what I do. I mean, I’ve been doing this thing for 20 years and I think it’s great to play and travel all over the world, but you have to be very careful that producing and making music doesn’t become just an easy thing, and do the same over and over”.
The album title, ‘Balance’ seems to be representative of Armin van Buuren’s current state of mind. The opening text of the album quotes his mother saying, “Every day you wake up a little more.” Armin expands on that in the introduction, saying that every day you feel better about yourself because you start to focus more on what you think is important. When the journalist suggests that he might have placed too much value on what people thought of him, Armin confesses that in the early days he fell victim to wanting to please every fan.
“Yes, I still want to please every fan. Every fan is important to me. I can’t stand it when one fan says he didn’t like it at all. Somewhere it is also good because that also triggers you to get better and there is always some truth in it”.
“I suffered a lot from it. In 2010, I was the number 1 in the world, but the most unhappy person on earth.”
The constant pressure of the opinions of his fans created seems to have had a huge weight in his mental health state. His wife Erika joined Armin in the show, and when asked, commented on the fact that he thought people no longer came for him, but rather to see the #1 in the world, the pressure of the position taking away the pleasure of it.
“You are just as good as your last show; you are just as good as your last single, and I started producing only for those few fans who were critical. That felt like a straitjacket, but since ‘This is what it feels like’, I actually got rid of that, and I am still very loyal to my fans, and the new album also has a bit of the old Armin sound. I also like that sound and I still embrace that, but I noticed that I have to take those creative steps to keep developing myself.”
Armin van Buuren has always been considered a very down-to-earth, open person. He was one of the first DJs to allow cameras to record him while traveling and just released a documentary called ‘Mr. Perfect’, about the early days of his musical career. The six-episode story takes viewers on a ride through the mind of the five-time #1 DJ in the world, providing a unique insight into his life as an artist.
In the documentary, we can see a fragment were Armin van Buuren wife Erika, 8 months pregnant at that time, discusses Armin’s tour schedule with him and his manager. that would have him away during two months, right after the birth of the child, stating the effects that the absence would have on the family, and on Armin’s mental health himself.
“This is a daily discussion. It may look all shiny for the outside world, but we are daily on top of that agenda and then there is the temptation because then you have to say yes or no to a very large festival. If you go you get offered a huge bag of money and a show for 40,000 people, but yes, your son must go to football. You have to make those kinds of weird considerations.”
For someone that has gained so much success, financial compensation might not seem like a top priority, but Armin van Buuren gives a key insight on why artist keeps on touring and touring, sometimes obsessively and without allowing themselves to rest: addiction to the live performance.
“There is a book written about that by Ian Robertson, ‘The winner effect’. It is exactly about that. The kick that you get from standing on stage, from the attention, from making television… that kick that you get… he compared the endorphins that are then released in your brain to a drug. In fact, under the influence of that drug your brain changes, according to his theory, and he has proven all that scientifically. That book has become important to me. I now understand how that works, that’s why Mike Jagger is still on stage after a heart operation.”
What is the struggle at home, because you have 2 children and you want to be there too. Sometimes Erika wins, because this summer, which is the busiest period for a DJ, but it was the first time that you were able to spend 2 weeks on vacation with your family and not to be on Ibiza to perform there. How did that feel for you?
The struggle of combining this profession with family life is real. Top DJs have a yearly calendar that sometimes includes 200 gigs or more around the world. This summer was the first time that the van Buuren family took two weeks off, instead of the usual nonstop touring. The death of Avicii hit the entire dance industry like a bomb, making the downsides of the performing lifestyle visible. The continuous traveling, lack of sleep, stress, jetlags, drinking and sometimes the use of drugs, have devastating effects on their physical health. If we combine this with the difficulty to deal with the huge amount of attention artists receive when they perform, to right after found themselves alone in random hotel rooms around the world… We have a dangerous recipe.
“I do not want to be too negative again I mean the life I suffer I must, of course, be very grateful for it and it is really crazy what I can experience really super, only there is a shadow side to it and we are starting to do it more and more see. When I look around me in the DJ scene and I slowly start talking to colleagues and some have become really good friends. Secretly everyone is not doing so well at all”.
“It is a competition. At that main stage, the testosterone also flies around your ears. Everyone wants to play as hard as possible, and make the best impression possible with those people, and that is ok. That is the game you play”.
More and more DJs are openly talking about their mental health issues and struggles. But is the industry trying to figure out how to tackle it? The fact that the conversation is out in the open is at least the first step.
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