20 Questions With Armin van Buuren: The Dance Legend on Ubiquity, Balance & the Current State of Trance

'Balance for me is finding the perfect amount of time between family life, being on the road and being creative.'

Armin van Buuren's ubiquity makes him easy to take for granted. Since entering the dance scene in the late '90s, the Dutch producer helped push trance music worldwide via his longrunning A State of Trance radio show, which has been broadcasting weekly since 2001 and also boasts 14 compliation albums. 

With a global audience in the tens of millions, the show has taken the genre across borders and cultures, uniting people with the sound that van Buuren made his signature via influental album releases like Shivers and Imagine, along with his bombastic live sets, played in both clubs and all of the world's biggest and most influental dance music festivals. 

Released last October, van Buuren's latest LP, Balance, leans into hooky pop and large-scale progressive house made for any and every festival mainstage. His North American tour behind the album starts today (Jan. 22) in Boston and extends across the United States through March, with a grand finale at Ultra Music Festival in Miami on March 21. 

Here, van Buuren talks about growing up in the Netherlands, finding balance on the road and, of course, the current state of trance. 

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what's the setting like?

I’m currently working on some new music in my studio. So as for the setting, it’s all equipment, padded walls and a lot of loud music.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium? 

I didn’t exactly buy it, but it was given to me. Back when I was still in primary school, a friend of mine handed me a cassette with some of Ben Liebrand’s mini-mixtapes. I was hooked right there and then.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?

My father was a general practitioner. All considered, I think they’re really proud of what I do and how far I’ve come. They’ve stood by me every step along the way and I’m really grateful for their unconditional support.

4. What was the first song you ever made? Did you play it for anyone and if so, what was the reaction?

One of my first songs I made was "Blue Fear" in 1997, and that record became my first hit as well. I’ve got so many great memories of that track. It’s what started it all.

5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into dance music, what would you give them?

I really love the Interlooper album of Carbon Based Lifeforms. It’s ambient.

6. What’s the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as a DJ?

I actually bought a disco mixer.

7. What’s a song you're obsessed with right now?

Something I’ve done in the studio and can’t get out of my head!

8. From where to where was your last flight, and how did you pass the time while on it?

When I’m flying, I’m either sleeping or making music most of the time. My last flight was from China to the Netherlands, and that time, it essentially came down to those two things as well. 

9. You released your seventh studio album, Balance, last fall. With such a hectic schedule, what do you do to achieve balance in your life?

Balance for me is finding the perfect amount of time between family life, being on the road and being creative. I have a great team of people around me that help me with this balance, simply because I can’t plan everything by myself. It’s a day-to-day struggle, because there are only 24 hours in a day and there’s always something I want to do but can’t due to a lack of time. I made a few decisions in my life to make sure that the most important things in my life still happen, like sports for example. Having a personal trainer, for instance, motivates me a lot to keep active in the gym and to look after my health.

10. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?

I grew up in Koudekerk aan de Rijn, located in what they call "the green heart of Holland." It’s close to Leiden, so I got a bit of both ways of life -- small town life versus big city life.

11. What was the first dance music show that really blew your mind?

I remember one of my own gigs. It was my first-ever show in the U.K. in Cream in Liverpool on February 5, 2001. The crowd was so hyped up, and I never felt anything like that before. It was the same day my track "Communication" was released on a big U.K. label, so people all of a sudden knew my name and wanted to come and hear my music. That was such a great experience.

12. What's the most exciting aspect of the trance scene for you, right now? Do you think trance is in a healthy place? In other words, what's the current state of trance?

Of course, it’s the emotion in the music, the mindset and loyalty of the fans, and the way the melodies flow and build. But I think the current state of trance music also shows the scene’s willingness to grow and become even more open-minded. It just keeps on evolving, and that’s one of the reasons why I love it so much.

13. What is the first thing you do when you get back to your hotel room after a show?

It’s either to take a quick nap or to pack up my stuff so I can catch my flight to the next gig.

14. What is the craziest thing you’ve seen happening in the crowd during one of your sets?

Naked people, I guess! [Laughs.]

15. You've achieved the status of DJ Mag's No. 1 DJ in the world several times over. How did it feel to earn that title?

It felt absolutely amazing to be voted the No. 1 DJ in the world by so many fans. It’s always nice to feel valued and appreciated for the things you love doing the most.

16. What do you consider the high points of your career thus far?

Tough question. There are of course things like getting a Grammy nomination, becoming the No. 1 DJ in the world for the first time, telling the world I’ve become a father during a gig at Tomorrowland, or even those legendary seven-hour sets at Untold Festival.

As a composer and producer though, there’s a high point every time I produce a new track. Each song is the product of all the things I’ve done or experienced in the past, what I’ve learned from it and how it changed who I am. Each time, I become a better me. That’s also worth noting, I believe.

17. How do you pick yourself up when you're feeling down?

I listen to ambient music a lot. It makes me feel like I’m home.

18. One piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

Don’t ever forget that creating music has to be fun.

19. Social media -- are you into it, or is it something you try to avoid?

I’m still a bit torn on that. I love how social media allows me to interact with my fans, but I’m not fond of the judgmental nature of social media at all.

20. You've played really long sets -- upwards of seven hours -- throughout your career. How do you prepare for such a feat?

There’s isn’t really anything you can do to prepare for that. Sure, you can pick a few songs to play for maybe the first hour, but after that, it all comes down to reading the crowd and living the moment.