Armin van Buuren is one of the biggest names in dance music. A regular visitor to China, here AVB shares his thoughts on the importance of the country's market for music, what he makes of the rise of 'EDM', and how playing festivals still makes him nervous.
You’ve been coming to China for some time now; how have your experiences playing here changed over the years?
I think the biggest change comes down to the growth of dance music in China. Each time I return here, the dance music following seems to have grown exponentially, with more and more people getting on board and the show production becoming bigger. I always look forward to seeing how much more alive the scene has become since my last visit and that already makes for a great experience.
We’re seeing an increasing number of big festival brands turn their focus toward China. How important is the China market to you personally?
I feel I have the responsibility to see as many of my fans as I possibly can and I don’t want to leave a particular group of fans wanting because the region or country they live in isn’t 'interesting' enough. That being said, I see an enormous growth in the amount of fans from China and this means that it’s automatically extremely important to me to play here, at least every once in a while. I do, however, think that China is a very important market for dance music as a whole and I hope I can reach even more people with my music there in the coming years.
How do you think most producers and DJs view playing in China compared to touring in the US and Europe?
The main difference is that dance music has been thriving much longer in the US or Europe than it has in China or Asia as a continent. I think many DJs and producers are still looking toward the world’s biggest festivals, such as Ultra, UDC and Tomorrowland. But as you can now see with Ultra in Shanghai, China is already catching up big time. I’ve even done an Armin Only show in China myself. I don’t think it’ll take long before China will be on par with Europe and the US in terms of size and spectacle.
Being a major headliner at a festival brings certain expectations. Do you find that limiting?
There’s always a good deal of pressure I have to deal with whenever I take the stage. But it’s not so much being a headliner that makes me nervous. I feel like I have to give the fans what they want, because it may just be a once-in-a-lifetime happening for them to see me play. I do get the same feeling when I’m doing a solo show, but in that case, I’m even more nervous to start with because it’s a very personal product of mine. The pressure does not limit me and can actually be very inspiring, but it’s also a bit nerve-wrecking sometimes.
Given that the Armin Only shows were partly born out of a desire to play longer, more creative sets, is it difficult to adjust to playing a festival again after those gigs?
Playing at a festival isn’t necessarily harder or easier than doing a solo show. It’s actually nice to switch it up once in a while. The thing with solo shows is that they make it easier for me to tell a story with my music, to take my fans on a journey. I really enjoy doing that. Also, it’s good to mention that the crowds at festivals tend to be different from those at my ‘Armin Only’ shows. They’re looking for different kinds of sets and I try to give them what they want. Playing at festival and playing an ‘Armin Only’ show are just two different parts of my repertoire, so I don’t necessarily find it difficult to adjust.
What does the EDM tag mean to you?
In its essence, EDM is simply Electronic Dance Music. Many people think EDM is the big-room, blazing-synth stuff that dominated festivals a few years back. I don’t agree. As far as I’m concerned, Electronic Dance Music is everything from Dubstep to Techno to Trance to House. This means that Borgore is EDM, Carl Cox is EDM and I am EDM. So yes, I can proudly say that I’m quite comfortable with me being labelled as such.
How does it feel to be headlining the first ever Ultra China Festival? Are those kind of brand names important to you?
I’m honored to be (among) the first to headline Ultra China. I think it proves the steps Asia – and in particular China – has been making in terms of allowing dance music to gain a foothold. And of course, Ultra China is a great addition to my DJ résumé.
Who else are you excited to see – or who should festival-goers be making sure they don’t miss – at Ultra China?
I’ve got to say, I’d love to check out the Sasha & John Digweed set. I think it’s going to be very special.
If you were putting together your dream festival line-up and could choose any musical act from any period of history, who would your three headliners be and why?
I honestly can’t choose. There are so many talented artists out there who each bring something special to the table. But if I really have to choose, I’m going for Jean-Michel Jarre. Him headlining a festival should be epic!