¨I start in a womb and nobody can see me," says Armin van Buuren of his Armin Only: Intense show. And he's not being figurative. The superstar DJ/producer literally starts DJing in an enclosed bubble on the stage before emerging, surrounded by musicians, dancers, vocalists and acrobats. At the end of the night, the DJ ends up on the middle of the dancefloor for a closing set-like rave, surrounding by the audience.
The “only” part of the Armin Only show refers to the fact that van Buuren is the only DJ performing during the six-hour performance - no openers, no closers - but with a cast of supporting artists, he’s hardly alone on stage. When the tour kicks off tonight, April 11 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, it will be a truncated version due to the venue’s curfew restrictions, but at five hours it will still be a unique opportunity for fans.
“Most of my fans haven’t seen me play like this before,” van Buuren says. “We can really go on the journey together.”
In an unusual configuration, Armin Only: Intense is designed both as a live show and a spontaneous DJ set. Van Buuren says his track selection will be based on the response of the crowd, not a predetermined setlist, which means those responsible for the lighting and other stage cues have to pay close attention to what he’s doing throughout the night.
“They know what I’m going to play, but they won’t know when I will play it,” van Buuren says.
After more than a decade of releasing music, van Buuren is enjoying a run of major success. “This Is What It Feels Like,” the lead single from “Intense,” his fifth studio album, peaked at No. 12 on the Dance/Electronic Songs chart and was his first to crack the Hot 100. The track earned a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording. Trevor Guthrie, formerly of Canadian boy band soulDecision, sings on the track and will do so live during the Armin Only tour. Despite this kind of success, van Buuren is committing to his DJ roots rather than trying to write another pop hit.
“I had a track called 'Communication' that was an early hit for me in the UK and for two years I tried to write another track like that but I had writer’s block,” van Buuren admits. “Now I just do what feels good.”
Perhaps the bigger event in van Buuren’s life recently was the birth of his second child last summer, which van Buuren announced in an emotional moment during his Tomorrowland set, connecting with his fans at the festival and those watching the livestream in a whole new way. (Unlike other artists who put themselves in a womb, van Buuren’s isn’t about himself, but rather the birth of his children.)
Armin Only: Intense has made the rounds through Eastern Europe and now starts its nine-date run through North America, including a stop at The Forum in Los Angeles, where he will be the first DJ to perform at the recently renovated former basketball arena. Still, after nearly two decades of DJing and amid the theatrics surrounding him on tour, van Buuren takes pleasure in the most fundamental aspects of his job, saying simply, “I’m excited to share the music with my fans.”