The name Armin van Buuren is synonymous with the trance genre. The Dutch superstar has had a massive career over the past two decades which has included his A State of Trance radio show, tour, and record label, the Armada label, five DJ Mag #1s, six studio albums, and a lot more. When trance was at its peak popularity, there was no name in trance greater than Armin van Buuren.
However, as the EDM boom caused electro house to take center stage, and Hardwell to dethrone Armin van Buuren, trance entered a tail spin. Some artists continued along the straight and narrow, splintering off into sub-genres like “pure trance” and “uplifting trance.” Others abandoned the genre entirely and became techno and house producers, and others tried to blend current trends with their own music to produce “trouse” which was met with disastrous results to some of the genre’s most dedicated fans.
For a while, it seemed like Armin was above trends, and continued to hammer trance to his millions of fans worldwide. He released more albums, made the ASOT tour bigger and bigger, and revived his Armin: Only show for a world tour, too. While the Armin empire continues to be physically uncontested by any other DJ of any entire genre, the music has encountered misstep after misstep. And it leads me to pose the question: is Armin van Buuren still the King of Trance?
The numbers say yes, he is. Armin finished #4 in this year’s DJ Mag Top 100 poll, and continues to be the highest Trance DJ on the list since he dethroned Paul van Dyk to win his first title in 2007. A State of Trance is currently the longest running dance music show at 737 episodes on 47 different radio stations world wide. And on Friday, Armin released his sixth studio album Embrace, which is already topping the charts. Still, in the court of public opinion, Armin is met with constant criticism, as the music itself doesn’t always sound like trance.
Embrace opens cinematically like his previous albums – a beautiful orchestral piece that warps into a fast-paced trance track – but immediately the next track “Another You” changes pace and sounds like a progressive house tune. This flip-flop plays out over the entire course of the album, with more genre-straddling tracks like “Strong Ones” ft. Cimo Frankel and “Make It Right” ft. Angel Taylor contrasting against “Face of Summer” ft. Sarah deCourcy and “Hands to Heaven” ft. Rock Mafia.
Then there’s “Off the Hook,” the infamous collaboration with Hardwell that fans were able to hear last month before the album’s official release. This electro-trance track was a total head scratcher, causing fans to panic that Embrace was going in a frightening direction. After hearing the entire album, this track stands out even more than it did on its own, as none of the other 14 tracks compliment its sound (especially not the ballad “Looking For Your Name” ft. Gavin Degraw that closes the entire album).
Now don’t get me wrong, Armin van Buuren is still one of the best producers/songwriters in the game. “Looking For Your Name” is the most beautiful ballad I’ve ever heard from an electronic artist though, unfortunately, it’s not trance. Most of Embrace isn’t.
So to revisit the question: is Armin van Buuren still the King of Trance? My answer is no, he’s not. But that doesn’t mean he’s not still a king, it just means trance purists need to stop putting him on such a high pedestal. It is his right as an artist to make any type of music he wants, regardless of genre. Though he has spent a career dedicated to trance, that doesn’t mean he has to continue pidgeon-holing his music just because it’s what the fans demand so vocally. Armin and his empire will continue to reign over all of dance music until someone can mirror his success, and since I doubt someone will be able to do that any time soon, I say long live the king.