Armin van Buuren’s performance as part of Expo 2020 Dubai's New Year’s Eve celebrations will be an opportunity for reflection.
The event comes on the back of the Dutch DJ and producer releasing the final 2021 episode of his radio show of 20 years, A State of Trance, and the annual release of an accompanying compilation of tracks tracing trance’s music evolution over the past year.
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“The show and the compilation, which I mix, gives me an opportunity to analyse and deconstruct some of the tracks to really see what has been going on with the music,” he tells The National at Riyadh’s Soundstorm festival last Saturday.
"Considering we had no real music festivals to play in, it has been a good year. There have been some new talent and also some reworks of old classics, which I am not really a fan of generally, that came out amazing."
Van Buuren refers to Tinlicker’s exuberant remake of 1995’s Children by Robert Miles and veteran Paul van Dyk's modern reinterpretation of the 1999 club anthem Energy 52 by Cafe Del Mar, both of which are included in the compilation.
Beats and memories
Van Buuren, 44, is not surprised by the popularity of the remixes. He says a sense of nostalgia is driving both artists' and listeners' tastes as a result of Covid-19.
"The streaming of dance music tracks, in general, went down by one third across all platforms and that's rough for everyone involved. Interestingly, however, when it comes to myself it is my older tracks such as Blah Blah Blah and This is What it Feels Like that are streaming much better,“ van Buuren says.
"My take on that is people who love dance music link it with memory, such as the amazing festival that you went to and where you saw that beautiful person as the sun came up.
“Without those memories that festivals provide, many of the tracks will be hard to swallow. This is why people are hearing old songs again and artists are revisiting older tracks, it's about rekindling those memories until the festivals return.”
The DJ says he's seen proof of that theory across his festival sets this year, including the UK’s Creamfields in August, last month's Electric Daisy Carnival in the US and his debut at Soundstorm in Saudi Arabia on December 18.
A seasoned performer in the Mena region, he sees no reason why the crowds at Expo 2020 Dubai would be any different.
“I have seen the trance music community develop in the Middle East because I have been performing in that part of the world for more than 10 years, from Wadi Rum in Jordan to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and now Saudi Arabia,” he says.
"It has been interesting in that trance music is really appreciated over there and there is that same pride in it that I see in certain parts of Eastern Europe, Argentina and Australia. This is really special considering the music is not as popular as other forms of electronic music today, such as EDM."
A pioneering radio show
A reason for that enduring appeal is A State of Trance, a two-hour weekly programme hosted by van Buuren, where he plays a mix of new and interesting tracks emerging from the genre.
Launched in 2001 on Dutch radio station ID&T, the show grew from cult following to each episode amassing, according to the official website, an estimated 40 million listeners across more than 80 countries through YouTube and 100 FM radio stations worldwide.
The programme not only elevated trance music artists to festival headliners, but launched van Buuren’s career globally.
A State of Trance also helped pioneer the wave of artist hosted radio shows by dance music acts including Hardwell (Hardwell on Air), Above and Beyond (Group Therapy) and Jacked Radio by Afrojack.
“It really began with this dream of having my own radio show. That where I first heard trance music because I was too young to go to clubs,” he recalls.
"So the show really began for people who couldn’t go to clubs and it grew to become this amazing global community and having its own dance music festival.
“Also, looking back, this was really the time when the internet and social media weren’t really as big so it was a perfect marketing tool for me because I was speaking directly to my audience.”
While trance music’s popularity receded from its golden decade between 1998 to 2008 – a time when the genre spawned popular hits, and artists such as Tiesto, van Dyk and van Buuren dominated the top spot of DJ Mag Top 100 DJs list – the chart topper says the music remains in a healthy place.
"It is niche all over again. It has this comfortable feeling where artists don't have to try to find a popular sound or style and just be themselves,” van Buuren says.
“Trance music used to be the most popular sound in dance music. It's not anymore and I hope it doesn't become again. Where it is now is just perfect.”
Expo 2020 Dubai's New Year’s Eve celebration begins at 3pm on December 31. More information is available at expo2020dubai.com