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DJ Times: The first single released from the album was “Another You” [feat. Mr. Probz]. What made you select that track?

Van Buuren: It had to do with release planning with Mr. Probz, as well, because he was going to do an album later, so we had to do it first. That was the first track that was really finished. I’ve never spent as much time and money on a single track than I did on “Another You.” That took weeks to finish.

DJ Times: How did you get connected to Mr. Probz?

Van Buuren: We met at the Buma Awards, which is a ceremony a little bit like the Dutch Grammys. He walked off the stage with about six awards for his track “Waves” and I walked off with a few awards for “This Is What It Feels Like,” so we got talking.

DJ Times: You’re set to embark on the Armin Only Embrace tour. The Intense tour was so, so huge. How do you plan to step up this one further and make it even bigger?

Van Buuren: By not trying to per se “make it bigger,” just different. Embrace the album is different than Intense. It’s not trying to be better than Intense, it’s just trying to be different. The cover is more raw-edged, my logo is new, the lyrics on the album have more meaning, and the bouquet of the album is wider. What I really love about Intense is that it was so slick, so clean. I tried to move away from that as an experiment to see how that would feel. Working with [photographer] Anton Corbijn. That was all a conscious decision with the team.

DJ Times: You’re sort of always on tour. How is an Armin Only tour more physically daunting than your ongoing DJ sets across the world and how much more work goes into it?

Van Buuren: It’s Armin Only, so I’m the only DJ and have to play a longer set. That’s physically tiring, very. Second, the amount of effort that we put into the show. Financially, it’s the worst decision I could make, touring with an entire band on the road. On the last tour, we took 35 people. That’s different than just putting a USB in your pocket and flying to New York. I’m at a point in my career where it doesn’t really matter that much anymore. I don’t really need to prove myself in a sense in that I need to win voting polls. That creative freedom gives me more excitement, and that’s what you can hear on the new album. I guess an album like Embrace wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago because I would have wanted to not upset my fans. I still don’t want to upset my fans, but I’m a little bit more cheeky now.

DJ Times: You’re a bit more confident.

Van Buuren: I accept now that I am who I am, and I’m not trying to be anyone else. I’m not trying to move away from who I am, I’m not trying to come closer to who I am, I just am who I am and I’ve come to accept that now. It wasn’t always easy. If you look at some other DJs like Calvin Harris or Afrojack, they have big characters and they’re great, they’re fantastic. I mean, I wish I had the songwriting skills of Calvin Harris, but I’m not Calvin Harris, you know? His music is nice, but it’s not something that I would play in my sets, as much respect as I have for him. I’m just a different person. I’m looking more for the euphoric elements in tracks and hands-in-the-air moments, that kind of thing.

DJ Times: In your last DJ Times cover story, you were asked which trance acts you thought were on the rise. You answered Andrew Rayel, MaRLo, and Mark Sixma, all of whom have really taken off. What kind of hand do you think that A State of Trance and Armada in taste-making and curating who becomes those sorts of big artists?

Van Buuren: Armada now has a lot of power, so big that even I don’t know what released on the label so much anymore [laughs]. Armada, Cloud 9, and a couple of other companies that we house in Holland have over 100 employees combined now. I guess we just have a lot of knowledge. We have a big social-media team, product team, and A&R team. We have seven A&R managers, so these guys know what they’re doing. I can’t control everything anymore, so I think it’s just great. Lost Frequencies is basically an act that Armada built, and it sort of blew up on its own. It’s great.

DJ Times: And you didn’t really have a hand in it?

Van Buuren: No, I didn’t even sign the track. I supported the track, I like the track—it’s a deep-house track. When I heard it I thought, “Wow, it’s a really nice song,” but I never expected that “Are You With Me” would be such a huge smash all around the world. It’s gigantic.

DJ Times: Do you think there’s still a relationship between your curating A State of Trance show and potentially exposing people to the Armada releases that may blow up as a result?

Van Buuren: No. I always prioritize the show itself. The show is more important than Armada. That could mean—in a hypothetical case—that I wouldn’t play any Armada tracks in the whole show. I think you can find some episodes in the past where there wasn’t a single Armada track.

DJ Times: So they’re very separate entities in your mind?

Van Buuren: Yeah. It should all be about the show and the mix. It’s A State of Trance. It’s a different concept than Armin Only. It’s a different concept than GAIA. It’s a different thing. There’s a lot of overlap, but it’s not necessarily that I’m just having A State of Trance to promote Armada artists, not at all. I mean, I’ve signed a couple of trance tracks that I didn’t play on A State of Trance because there was no room, they just didn’t fit in the flow, or key-wise they didn’t match, or whatever. If you’re signed to Armada, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be on the show.

DJ Times: Speaking of A State of Trance, you celebrated 700 episodes earlier this year with a festival. You celebrated 600 episodes at Madison Square Garden. What’s next for it?

Van Buuren: Well, we’re getting awfully close to episode 1,000 [laughs]. I think for me right now, what I’ve come to notice is that I always want to be one step ahead in a sense that I feel that A State of Trance is still a very relevant radio show. That makes me very proud. We put a lot of effort into it—I think more now than a couple of years ago. We have a lot of specials and features on the show. We feature a lot of albums from competitive labels, as well—we have a lot of specials from Black Hole Recordings, High Contrast, and Spinnin’ Records. I find it important that A State of Trance is still the show that I started before I had Armada. When I started doing those live broadcasts around the world, it was kind of a niche thing because nobody was doing it. Right now, almost every weekend there’s a live broadcast, so the live broadcasts aren’t necessarily that special anymore.

DJ Times: So, what’s that mean to you?

Van Buuren: Actually, I’ve decided two things. First of all, I’ve decided to not have five weeks in a row of festivals anymore because one complaint from fans is them saying, “It’s cool if you celebrate five weeks in a row in five different continents, but we’re going to hear five weeks of the same sets.” At that point, there may be a couple of tracks that are hot, so if you bring three times of Andrew Rayel and three times of Ben Gold, they might be playing a little bit of the same sets. Fair enough. So the first thing we did was spread out the festivals throughout the year.

DJ Times: And the second?

Van Buuren: We turn it into a festival, which is a big thing. It used to just be one room. Now it’s a minimum of two, most of the time four rooms for every festival. We record all the sets and they get broadcasted later. For me also, the live-broadcasting element is still essential because it’s a radio show, but not really anymore in that I want to broadcast every A State of Trance event. It still has to be special and has to connect fans. What I found which is interesting is that we have this A State of Trance event coming up in the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht, which is sort of the home of ASOT. Every year it pulls 30,000 trance fans. Every year that event is just about quality. I think what should do with ASOT to preserve the future of it is to invest in the event itself and the quality of the lineup. I guess the answer to your question is diversification.

DJ Times: How so?

Van Buuren: Really dig into the sound of trance itself. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to have a main stage with all the big names, then I’m going to have a stage that’s more dedicated to the 138 sound—a more darker sound. We’ll then have a talent stage where the new talents can shine, and then we’ll have a stage that could be 15 years of ASOT or maybe a legends area or live area. What I want to show to the people is that trance is such a diverse sound. For me, trance is everything from the darker stuff—Bryan Kearney, Will Atkinson, Jordan Suckley—all the way up to Arty, Above & Beyond, and everything. That’s what I want to bring to the festival as well. If you’re into the 138 stuff, there’s a room for you. If you’re into the main stage stuff, then there’s the main room for you. If you’re more willing to hear the new talent or progressive stuff, go to the talent room. I want to show that trance has evolved.

DJ Times: Who are a couple of artists you’re particularly feeling now? Who are we going to have this conversation about in 2017?

Van Buuren: [laughs] I really like Arisen Flame. KhoMha from Columbia is doing amazing. First State is going to make a big comeback. I like Rodrigo Deem from Argentina—he’s good. There’s so much talent.

DJ Times: You’ve ticked off so many bucket list items: Madison Square Garden, Good Morning America, playing for the Dutch royal family, and more. What else is there for you to accomplish and what keeps the fire burning?

Van Buuren: To be honest with you, the numbers become less important. It’s more about the content. After Intense, I really didn’t think I had another album in me. When I finished it, I had put so much work and effort into it. You don’t even want to know how much stuff doesn’t make the album. Most of the tracks I finished [for Embrace] were seven minutes, and they end up on the album as three and a half minutes. A track like “Face of Summer” was 12 minutes; we cut it down to five-something. It’s like making a movie that’s two hours and 20 minutes and cutting it down. It’s good because it keeps it interesting.

DJ Times: Definitely.

Van Buuren: I really thought I couldn’t do another album after Intense, and then it just happened. I’m not really able to answer that question exactly. I think, again, that it boils down to the fact that I had so much fun, as you can probably see. I don’t have to do anything anymore; I could just sit at home and watch my kids grow.

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