Armin van Buuren talks Vegas venues, musical trends and his dream club

Full-body experience: Armin van Buuren controls the mood with his music—and his bracelets.
Aaron Garcia
Deanna Rilling

No one brings trance to the masses like Armin van Buuren. While his contemporaries shy away and pretend it was something that never happened in their careers, van Buuren continues to innovate and push the myriad of dimensional sounds and subgenres, welcoming new members into the #TranceFamily.

You were a staple at Marquee for many years. What prompted the move to Omnia? I used to work with the people that run Hakkasan Group. In 2003 I was a resident for a club in Birmingham called Godskitchen. Those people set up shop here, set up Hakkasan ... They called me up and said, “We’re starting this new club in Caesars and want to talk to you about a possible residency.” That was when I still had a contract with Marquee. I’ve loved Marquee, but I’d already been playing there for three years and had a good time there. It was time for a new step and a new move. So I was one of the first residents to sign on for this new venture. [Editor’s note: He was a Marquee exclusive for four years.]

I have my crew with me, they’re five people. We have a special show that other DJs don’t have with LEDs, side screens, my Myos that I use—the bracelets that I use on my arms to control the lights. When they were setting up the club, they bought the technology that we needed for my special show. I signed a two-year deal and I’m going to be a two-year resident at least and see how it goes from there.

A lot of the top DJs switch up their sound in favor of more commercial music in Vegas. Do your sets in Vegas differ from elsewhere? It used to be more of a difference a couple years ago, but now I don’t think the difference is too big, to be honest. Vegas has a very mixed crowd. There’s Armin van Buuren fans here and there’s a little bit of a poser crowd as well ... with the drinks and everything. So yes, I always adapt to the crowd that’s in front of me, but then again, they’ve booked Armin van Buuren, so I’m like, “You get what you order.”

As someone who has played Vegas for many years, what have been your observations about the evolution of electronic music here? It was funny to see Vegas embrace dance music in the way that it has. I remember the first time I played at Mandalay Bay in 2004, and then I played at Ra in Luxor, then I played at Ice quite a few times—even before the Godskitchen crew took over there. Vegas had some time adjusting to the new sound, and right now it’s everywhere. You see the DJs on big billboards. I remember when I saw that happening, I was like “Whoa. Okay.” Vegas will always be a funny place, but if you look at it, it is the capital of entertainment and especially with the growth of dance music, it’s only logical that there’s so much dance music here. I think it’s a good thing.

When or why did trance become the bastard stepchild of electronic dance music? It’s always been like that. People have always been hating on trance, then there’s a massive #TranceFamily of people who’ve been loving trance. … It’s very important to understand that I was already making and playing trance before it was called trance. … In 1994, I was making tracks that were labeled in the vinyl stores as “club music” or “another club track from Armin van Buuren” which later became a “trance classic.” I’ve always had a little bit of a tough time with these genres discussion fights. I’ve never been a big fan of any genre name, for that matter. I think we should not forget that it’s just a label you put on something. If you have to put a label on me and put a gun to my head and say, “What are you?” I’ll say trance and I’m proud of it. … There’s so much beauty in it and that’s what I’ve tried to represent for almost 15 years in my radio show, using that as sort of a hub to promote trance and all of these new styles and genres.

Who’s Afraid of 138?! is a favorite of fans. Talk to me about the impact that the movement-turned-imprint has had on the scene. I felt that some DJs all of a sudden moved from the 138 (BPM) sound, which was kind of strange because those were the guys who put that on the map. I felt like a couple of producers who were really in love with that sound fell into a big gap. I sort of picked up those producers and said, “Look, I’m going to promote you.” I believe in that sound and I love that sound. It’s the sound that I really grew accustomed to. Having said that, it is a little bit the sound of the past, but the new psytrance guys are reviving it. I have a big love for psytrance right now and even at [the] State of Trance [Festival] in Utrecht we booked a couple of the psytrance guys.

If you could design your own venue for Vegas, what would it be like? There’s this club in Greece in Mykonos called Cavo Paradiso [overlooking] the ocean on a mountain and you see the sun coming up. I love that magic. I love to dance when the sun comes up. People always think that I’d be disappointed playing smaller parties, “You probably only play the big gigs.” They’re so wrong. I love playing big venues, I love playing one-hour sets at big festivals, but I also love playing an 8-hour set for 200 people going crazy. I’m sure those days will come back again.

My ideal club would be something raw ... I mean, this [Omnia] is almost too perfect. But it’s Vegas. This is like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, super cool, and I love it. But for my ideal club, it’d be something on a beach. Something raw with not too much production, purely about the music.

Armin van Buuren June 26, 10 p.m., Omnia, $30+ women, $50+ men.

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