How Armin van Buuren's sky-high performance at Burj Khalifa came together

The Dutch DJ played a 40-minute set from the 149th floor of the skyscraper to promote the first Untold Dubai music festival

The performance was shot in 4k by 18 cameras, including panoramic views captured from a helicopter. Photo: Untold Dubai
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Armin van Buuren has scaled many heights in the electronic dance music world.

As well as topping the prestigious DJ Mag Top 100 list five times (he is currently in fifth place), the veteran Dutch DJ’s latest feat involved a sky-high performance at Dubai's Burj Khalifa.

The 40-minute set took place on the 149th floor of the skyscraper and was shot in 4k by 18 cameras, including panoramic views captured from a helicopter.

Released on YouTube on Wednesday, the recording will serve as promotion for the music festival Untold Dubai, taking place at Expo City Dubai in February.

While the dates and full line-up have not yet been revealed, van Buuren confirmed to The National that he will be performing at the festival alongside other DJs and international and regional pop stars.

The National got a taste of what’s to come after witnessing van Buuren’s performance at The Big Slap Festival in Malmo, Sweden. More than 30,000 people danced along to the Dutchman’s signature trance tracks, including All On Me and This Is What It Feels Like – which blend throbbing basslines with emotive synths and vocals.

While the Dubai gig is still far off in the distance, van Buuren says he is already excited at the prospect of returning to Expo City Dubai. After all, this is the same location where he performed a 2021 New Year’s Eve concert as part of Expo 2020 Dubai.

“That was such an amazing event and what really excites me is that next time it will be for a full music festival and I do think that’s amazing for electronic music in the Middle East,” he says.

“This part of the world wants to become an important stop for this kind of sound and to see that happen over the years has been great to see.”

Van Buuren knows what he is talking about.

A frequent performer in the Middle East, including spectacular shows at Jordan’s Wadi Rum in 2005 and Saudi Arabia’s MDL Beast festival last year, one of his fondest memories is his first UAE show in 2006.

“My first gig was in the Fairmont Hotel in Dubai and it was in the large lobby-like room and the crowd was great,” he says. “So, to keep coming back and really witnessing the growth of EDM over there is a real blessing.”

Expect van Buuren to return with fresh tunes to play courtesy of his new album Feel Again, such as Computers Take Over the World – a taut festival anthem that's a wry take on artificial intelligence’s effect on music composition, the tongue-in-cheek lyrics performed by a virtual assistant.

“Let me prove we can create music by ourselves now,” the monotone female voice states. “You need a beat, you need a clap. Put in some hats and you need some bass.”

Describing the track as a bit of fun, van Buuren says it's too early to gauge how AI will affect fellow DJs and producers.

“I really can't answer how it will affect us and the future will eventually tell how it's going to be,” he says.

“At the moment, I am just using AI as another tool in my kit.”

One thing van Buuren is sure of, however, is that electronic dance music is in a healthy place.

He has been recording its progress on his hit online radio show A State of Trance.

Launched in 2001 on Dutch radio station ID&T, the show has grown from a cult following to each episode amassing, according to the official website, an estimated 40 million listeners across more than 80 countries through YouTube and 100FM radio stations.

A State of Trance also helped pioneer the wave of radio shows hosted by dance music acts including Hardwell (Hardwell on Air), Above and Beyond (Group Therapy) and Jacked Radio by Afrojack.

“I can play 16 or 17 songs on the show each week and there are still some great tracks that I can't fit in,” van Buuren says. “The fact that I have to disappoint a few producers every now and then by not putting their song on just shows you that there is a lot of good music out there.

“I feel lucky with the success of the show because it gives me the opportunity to be the lucky guy in the middle who gets the music from all these producers and DJs and passes it on to the audience. It's a great way of communication.”

Updated: August 17, 2023, 5:00 AM