A highly energetic set led by a wall of sound, gleaming lights, lasers, video installation, and special effects. This is exactly what party people all over the world expect when Armin van Buuren is about to take the stage. All of Armin’s performances match these expectations, made possible by the smoothest of teamwork between the DJ and the members of his technical team.
Although these guys make sure that every single show becomes a success, you will never see them taking the spotlights. Not even when taking care of several shows in quick succession. This and more was made evidently clear on August 15th, when Armin was to play in two Russian cities on the same night. Make yourself comfortable as we tell the tale of the secret behind Armin van Buuren’s live shows.
The secret behind Armin van Buuren’s live shows – Well begun is half done…
All of Armin’s performances meet the same thorough preparations. It doesn’t matter if the venue is small or huge. When it comes to these preparations, Armin’s technical crew picked up where they left of when they arrived on Saint Peterburg’s airport on Saturday August 15th. Sander ter Braak, Michael Seeverens, Thomas Hillen and Cheverno Leiwakabessy (Che) flew in straight from Moscow, where they had been busy with all the necessary preparations for the second show on that very same Saturday night.
“We need to make sure that Armin can afford to arrive a few minutes before his set and leave a few minutes after, knowing that everything is taken care of and that he only needs to focus on his music. In doing so, we often travel more than the DJ himself.”
The party location in Saint Petersburg is the crew’s first stop on their way from the airport. There is no time to freshen up, even though they pass by their luxury hotel on their way to the festival grounds. That might seem pretty harsh after a long and tiring journey, but according to Michael, the first and foremost thing to remember is that work always remains their highest priority. Michael has been working as a light board operator for years and has seen his fair share of party locations. Today, an open-air event at a beach club is where it’s at, situated in one of the green and expensive districts in the center of Saint Petersburg.
The technical team has never been to here before, but they still recognize the beauty of Saint Petersburg on their ride to the venue. They enjoy the colorful views of the city from their car, while taking pictures as if they’re a bunch of tourists. The lack of time killed the option of a city tour, as today’s program consists of the sound check, a one-hour session of freshening up in the hotel, the show itself, and the departure to Moscow right afterwards. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But as it happens, neither of the guys in Armin’s team are called ‘Jack’.
The secret behind Armin van Buuren’s live shows – A piece of cake…
Despite the jam-packed schedule, there is still plenty of room for work-related fun on the go. In a voice teeming with laughter, Che explains that Armin will be performing in a cake today, massively differing from the stages Armin usually plays on. He is the one responsible for the video installation during the show. “We received this information on Tuesday or Wednesday, right before the show. The cake-shaped stage was already being constructed and nothing could really be changed anymore.”
After studying the blueprint of the stage, Armin’s crew estimates the technical possibilities and programs part of their show in advance. Even though they voice their concerns regarding the design of the stage – it does not really match Armin’s image as an artist and limits the technical possibilities of the show – they do recognize that it fits the topic of the party: the 20th anniversary of Radio Record. This Russian music radio station celebrates the milestone by throwing a set of parties in Saint Petersburg and Moscow at the same night.
Upon arrival at the venue, the realization sets in that the stage is indeed quite small and that the possibilities are limited. But both Sander and Michael know that there’s nothing to gain by arguing about it.
“The Russians have all the means to build beautiful stages, but they often lack the required knowledge and creativity to use these means efficiently. But they are always eager to learn. They take note of all of our suggestions and will have organized things even better by the time we come back. Only when the technical opportunities do not match our requirements at all, we cancel the show. Otherwise, we just do our job as well as we can with the means available.”
The secret behind Armin van Buuren’s live shows – Louder is not always better…
As can be expected, sound is and will always remain the most crucial aspect of the show. A powerful start of the set is extremely important to Armin. It’s not about the volume, it’s all about ensuring the perfect sound quality. Leaving nothing to chance, Sander and Thomas, today’s sound engineer, inspect the gear in the DJ booth. They check the controllers, wire connections, and speaker settings, simultaneously making sure that everything is installed at the right height.
In the meantime, Che and Michael find themselves in the middle of the dance floor, where they have their own bit of space. Here is where all of the effects – lights, sounds, special effect, and video installation – are gathered in control panels. Che’s work is similar to Michael’s, but still differs quite a bit. His video installations are largely produced in advance. But right before the show, Che creates a new one on the spot: “Saint Petersburg, I can’t hear you!”.
“Some video installations are linked to certain tracks. Once Armin starts playing a track, the linked installation automatically follows. It doesn’t even matter if he speeds up or pauses the record; It all happens live and depends on the music. The lights, lasers, and special effects all follow the very same basic principle. This is why Armin’s live shows are always one of a kind.”
The secret behind Armin van Buuren’s live shows – All eyes and ears for Armin only
Once the preparations are finished and Armin safely touches down in the airport of Saint Petersburg, a few hours of rest bridge the gap between the work that has already been done and ‘le moment suprême’. To the guys, it still feels weird to check in to such a luxury room for a mere hour or two, in the same residence as Armin himself. However, due to their lifestyle, unconventional working hours, and jam-packed travel schedule, 120 minutes of rest and privacy seem to be nothing short of a miracle. But after the much needed peace and quiet, duty calls again. Arriving right on time at the crowded venue, the guys quickly check all of the settings and make sure that nothing has been changed by another DJ. And then, it starts…
Sander initiates Armin’s introduction track with the “Good evening, Saint Petersburg!” visuals. And as Armin enters the stage greeting his fans, the crowd goes completely crazy. Armin works his magic behind the decks, Michael takes care of the lights, Che manages the video installations, Thomas controls the sound, and Sander makes sure that everybody is able to do their jobs accordingly. Everything falls into place; the timing between the music, lights, visuals, and special effects is impeccable. Despite using a messenger on his laptop, the crowd never even suspects that Armin is constantly in touch with his crew to fix imminent issues or ongoing troubles. They’re all eyes and ears for Armin only, invoking the undying gratitude of the world-famous, yet humble DJ: Armin van Buuren:
“A DJ must be ready to play in all kinds of places, ranging from huge festivals to small clubs. Even if you’re playing at the smallest party known to man, you should still be honored to play there. No matter the size of the venue, you owe it to them to perform to the utmost of your abilities. Besides, artists would not exist if it wasn’t for the support of their fans. I really appreciate their love for what I do.”
“You can only achieve the best quality when surrounded by the people who support you completely and whom you can fully trust. With people who are perfectionists, willing to improve and grow indefinitely. This is exactly how I would describe the members of my team. I consider myself to be extremely lucky to have each of them around. I know that in a few minutes, I can easily go on stage and do what I love to do most. And that’s all because of them.”