Armin van Buuren's Armin Only tour has long provided one of the most notable live show experiences within dance music. For those unfamiliar with the Armin Only concept, each time Armin releases an album, he puts together a comprehensive Armin Only tour to support the album. He wants the world to become a part of his music through an immersive aural and visual experience. As the name states, Armin is the only performing DJ throughout the tour. He spins a 5+ hour set at each show, which is full of dancers, vocalists, live musicians, and other artists. With this year's Armin Only Intense tour, he truly blew his fans away.
"It's been a dream," exclaims Armin. "It's such a big thing that I put on. What I understand from the people is that everyone who visits the show has been blown away by it. We put so much into production, visuals, performances, and the music. We've spent so much time on every detail."
It's almost impossible to comprehend the level of work and commitment that went into Armin Only. He says, "We play big arenas and stadiums. We travel with a lot of equipment. It's a big investment. Financially, this definitely isn't the smartest move of my career, but it's not about that. For me, it's an investment in something creative. A lot of DJs say they want to focus on their creativity, and they end up playing hits. There's nothing wrong with hits, but for me this is such a huge creative challenge. Bringing six singers on the road, a full band, and still doing a non-stop DJ set that's different every time for about five hours. It's great."
Although the title of the tour appears self-explanatory, some fans have been confused by the concept. "Some people really aren't sure what Armin Only is. Some people tweet to me, 'So at Armin Only, what time do you go on?' I'm like Armin.....Only! The idea behind Armin Only is that I'm the only DJ," says the Dutch star.
The past Armin Only tours were extremely helpful in planning the logistics of this year's tour. The trance producer says, "We learned a lot from past Armin Only tours," We couldn't have done this current show if it weren't for the past tours. We learned a lot from our past mistakes. One big mistake from the last tour was that the demand for the stages was way too high. We traveled with movable LED walls, which was way too ambitious. We learned that not every venue can support the rig for the movable LED walls."
Without movable LED walls for this tour, Armin was able to reallocate that money to other portions of the show. "The investment in this tour really went into the visuals and the direction of the show. We've invested more into the artists and the actual content of the show instead of the stage this time. This is the best show so far. We make a lot of use of the visuals. It's been a very exciting tour."
The visuals for Armin Only Intense are akin to a theatrical performance. Consequently, it wasn't a surprise to find out Armin drew directly from theater experts for the tour. He says, "I'm working with the world of theater. It was my idea to work with Jos Thie, who's a very famous theater director in the Netherlands. He's done massive shows in futbol stadiums. He doesn't come from the world of dance music, but I happen to know him. He came to my house, we met up, and talked for hours. That's when I realized that I can still learn so much from the world of theater. Dance music can learn a lot from the world of theater."
Before any laser-obsessed EDM fans start chastising Armin, hear him out. He explains, "I'm not trying to say that dance music has to become theater. But you can learn from the lighting. With all due respect to EDM shows, they have their own unique way of lighting. If you want to bring a singer to an EDM show, it usually feels a bit uncomfortable because the attention is still on the DJ. For this particular show, we made a light plan for this. We worked weeks and weeks to design a light plan. We have 4,000 different light shots, which is a lot--even for a theater show."
The Armin Only show in San Diego was by far the best single set I've witnessed in 2014. From start to finish, it felt like I was watching a maestro, with the entire crowd in the palm of his hand. The pure artistry on display by Armin was unparalleled.
Trance might not be the most popular genre of dance music in the United States, but Armin van Buuren deserves widespread respect from the EDM community for what he's done. Aside from deadmau5, it's difficult to think of a producer who's willing to minimize their tour profits by simply producing the most engaging and interesting audio-visual experience possible. It's rare that a producer will think about their fans experience before fattening their own pockets.
San Diego was the last North American date for the Armin Only tour, but there are still four more international dates. The tour will make its way to Spain on September 20, Russia on September 27, Brazil on October 3, and the Czech Republic on October 31.
Cover photo credit: Armin Only
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