Three Hours with the “24 Hour DJ”

by Jeremy Breningstall Friday 03 December 2010

“Trance has a fast paced tempo that ranges from 130 to 140 beats per minute, (compared with an average of 80-100 for Hip Hop), and tends to be layered with domineering synthesizers. It is a genre typically associated with dancing…” -National Public Radio (NPR)

“Trance music gives you a full journey, and I feel that some other dance-music styles don’t do that; they stick to one sound… You can get away with playing anything as long as you are taking [listeners] on a journey.”
-Armin van Buuren, Time Out Chicago

I arrived at M2 at 12:30 Saturday night to catch Armin van Buuren, billed by DJ Magazine four times in a row as the world’s No. 1 DJ and famed for his three- and sometimes 12-hour sets. U.S.-based NPR dubbed him the “24 Hour DJ.” Twenty minutes in the coat check line and I was through the door. The opening DJ was just finishing his set and the audience was crying out, “Armin! Armin!” in anticipation. People on the floor wielded blue glow batons. The evening sessions began. Van Buuren danced to the music, smiled to the audience, stretched his arms out wide, threw a hand up, dipped into a prayer motion, reached out to shake an audience members hands before security pushed the audience back, then circled back into the same routine. For a several songs, seductively clad dancers strolled out onto the runway midway through the club. Despite the cold air outside, the dance floor was a sweltering pit. My City Moments business cards were soon soaked in sweat.

Here was van Buuren’s formula as I saw it:

1) Act like you enjoy your job. From the beginning to the end, van Buuren looked and acted like he wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world.
2) Don’t stop the music. Van Buuren did not interrupt his show to give any seminars or call out any mantras.
3) Play music that is original but pleasing. The songs were all catchy and dance-able but Van Buuren shied away from saturated pop hits. He mostly kept the pace moving fast throughout but settled in for a ballad or two later on in the show.

After a few hours of photography, it was time for a drink. I flipped through the Moscow M2, a kind of blend between the Moscow Mule and mojito (vodka, ginger ale, mint leaves).
At the bar I ran into a guy who said he just arrived from Amsterdam, where he saw van Buuren perform in front of 17,000 people. “I don’t know what you’re doing besides for work,” this fellow said. “Be an artist. Take pictures of daily life. People back in the West really appreciate that.”
Turning to van Buuren, my newfound friend said, “I’ve got a lot of respect for this guy. He still lives in a normal house. He built a studio in the basement. He has kept the same friends.”
By now it had reached 4 a.m. and van Buuren had outlasted me. I had work to do the next morning and did not stick around to see if he lasted for 12 hours.

If you missed his set, you can always catch van Buuren through his radio show (see for details).

Van Buuren said of the show, "In all honesty, music — and radio — is just trembling air, nothing more nothing less. But its what that trembling air does to you and me as human beings is what's interesting to me. Music is essential for our lives, and when you listen to radio the focus is purely on that medium. Radio really gets to your soul, and that's what I like about it."

Also check out the pictures I took from that night (see

Jeremy Breningstall

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