From where GQ is standing in Amsterdam's Ziggo Dome, Armin Van Buuren is nothing more than a tiny dot on the stage, backed by 50ft screens, flashing incessantly to the beat of his hit "This Is What It Feels Like" as dancers in coloured morph suits backflip on trampolines on stage. 12,000 fans pump their fists union to the sounds of a Dutch superstar, a champion of EDM long before the term was even coined.
As one of the biggest DJs on the planet, Van Buuren was asked recently to get involved with Heineken's "Dance More, Drink Slow" campaign focusing on promoting a safer experience on the dance floor. The thinking is, if the music is good, you don't need to drink as much. In "The Experiment", Heineken's video, this theory is put to the test. We see the same club on two different nights, on the first, the music is awful and the clubbers consume over 1,000 drinks in two hours. On the second night, Van Buuren plays, the crowd go crazy and consume just over half as many drinks. To explain precisely why a drinks company would be promoting consuming less of their product, we sat down with Van Buuren backstage at the Dome, to discuss overindulgence, terrible on tour purchases and why you still can't beat The Dark Side Of The Moon.
GQ: You're here promoting a campaign to encourage people to behave responsibly on the dance floor. But what is the most debauched behaviour you've seen during your time as a DJ?
Armin Van Buuren: I've seen many, many silly things. I've seen people falling off big stages. Fortunately, I've never had an incident of death at an event, but I have seen people getting hurt. I've done 10,000 gigs so far, so you're bound to see things like that. Although, I have to stress, at 91 per cent of the gigs, nothing happens. Especially with trance music, there isn't that stigma of alcohol abuse, so people are mainly there for the music. So I think it's really remarkable that Heineken, such a global brand, is sticking its neck out for such a positive message.
Recently, an event in New York was cancelled due to an incident [two people died of an overdose of MDMA at September's Electric Zoo festival]. This meant day three of the event was cancelled. I was on the ground with eight people, they'd flown in from all over the world to be at that festival. It was sold out, all my friends were there, but, due to a few stupid people, the local authorities decided to cancel day three. We as DJs need to stand together and make people aware of the dangers of overindulgence, so we can prevent things like this. There will always be stupid people, but right now the time has come to bring a positive message to these events; Dance More, Drink Slow and you'll have a better time.
Describe your worst ever gig?
It was probably this summer. The closing party in Ibiza at Privilege was horrible because it didn't happen! There was an incident with one of my workers who flew in from the Netherlands. He was critically hurt. Fortunately he's ok now and he's going to be fine. But you don't want anybody to get hurt, that's the opposite of what you want.
On the rare occasions you do over indulge, what would be your hangover cure?
I don't drink enough anymore that I need a hangover cure, but I would say that the best solution is to drink lots of water. I'm 36 now, so drinking is a little bit harder than when I was 23. Now whenever I go somewhere I take my running shoes and I get to see the city, because I'm not hungover. It's a win-win.
What music do you love that would surprise people?
People know me from trance music, and that's what I love, but I listen to all kinds. One day you might listen to Jamiroquai, then you might listen to the new Ellie Goulding, then it might be Rage against the Machine. I try to be open minded. If my wife plays Wham "Last Christmas" during the holidays and it fits the atmosphere, then I might enjoy that track at that moment. The right music comes at the right time.
What musical trend needs to die out immediately?
On a very, very personal level, I don't know if I'm happy with every commercial collaboration between electronic acts and hip hop and R&B. It's not something I would put on for my enjoyment, but it's not something I have the power to change anyway. It's a cultural movement that won't go away, whether I like it or not. I do think it opens a lot of doors. For example, David Guetta, you can love him or you can hate him, but it's a fact that he's opened a lot of doors for all of us.
What was the best record in your parent's collection?
It has to be a Pink Floyd record The Dark Side of the Moon. To this day, it's still the best sounding record I've ever heard. It was made in 1973 and if I compare it to a lot of other records it's just the best sound. It was recorded on tape and then transferred to vinyl. It adds a certain warmth. I'm a bit nostalgic like that.
What skill should every man have?
Every man should be able to cook. I have a signature dish, it's called "Pasta with spinach." [laughs] It's really nice and really filling, which is the main thing.
Have you ever bought anything on tour that you've regretted instantly?
A Yoda cookie jar the day after I had a gig in San Francisco. I was at Skywalker Ranch and I was so excited. I'm a big Star Wars fan. I still have the jar, it's great, but it was so big I had to take it onto the plane as hand luggage. I regret that because it didn't fit in the overhead bin and it was a mess.
What's the strangest place you've heard your own music?
When I worked with the Royal Dutch Symphony Orchestra on a show for the coronation of our king. I was asked to perform by the royal couple. It was an honour playing with the Royal Dutch Orchestra. Many people have said to me that they're like the Real Madrid of symphony orchestras. They would never normally play with a guy like me. I can't even read notes, so that was really special.
What's an Armin Van Buuren groupie like?
I have a lot of female groupies. You can follow them, they're on Twitter. I wouldn't call them "groupies", per se. It's not like they're camping out in front of my house. I call myself "part time famous". Sometimes I can walk the street and no one will bother me, but as soon as I arrive at a venue, people scream and shout my name. I like to have a normal life alongside being a DJ.
When were you last star-struck?
Very recently, actually: I met Giorgio Moroder at the Amsterdam music festival at the DJ Mag awards.
What's the strangest gift you've ever received from a fan?
Recently we got five massive boxes full of stuff for my two children. They were completely stuffed with toys. It was very nice but five boxes was overdoing it. It was very unusual and made my wife feel very uncomfortable. It was still very nice, but one box would have been enough, you know?
What's the most expensive thing you're wearing right now?
It's a €1,000 leather jacket which is sponsored by Denham, so thankfully I didn't have to pay!
Describe your worst haircut?
When I first met my manager, his wife told me to cut my hair and I did. Before that I looked like "Spikey Mikey" and it wasn't a very good look at all. My hair's very thin so I looked bald. That was ten years ago and thankfully I've found a good style to stick with.
What do people get wrong about you?
Nothing really. I have pretty cool fans. Obviously you get criticised. One thing is people thinking I made "This Is What it Feels Like" to be commercial. I didn't do that. I just made it for fun. It was made as an album track and it turned out to be a worldwide smash hit. I didn't plan that. You never know when you make a track that it's going to be a hit. I didn't make it for commercial success. I made it for me. I always say "Follow your heart, not the chart."
Can you recommend a good book?
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. If you could buy a human being in the shop, this would be the manual that comes with it. It's like reading a manual to your own brain. It's scary. He does experiments with you in the book. To cut a long story short, he basically says our brain has two brains: Brain 1 and Brain 2. Brain 1 is the fast, thinking brain and Brain 2 is the slower thinking brain and the balance between the two is what's important. You have to read it.
Have you ever cheated death?
Yes. We had to pull off an emergency landing in Mexico. It was pretty scary. There was a fault with the plane. I think the silliest thing to do is to die in a plane crash, right? Everyone survived; it was an emergency landing that went well, but a very scary emergency landing, nonetheless.
Have you ever been fired from a job?
No, but I did get fired from my student club. I had a night there and I was supposed to play The Weather Girls, "It's Raining Men", but I mixed it with a techno record. They weren't happy. No disrespect to The Weather Girls, but I'd rather shoot myself in the foot.
Armin van Buuren was speaking on behalf of Heineken's Dance More, Drink Slow campaign. Download "Save My Night" on iTunes or stream on Spotify here: http://bit.ly/SaveMyNight_SP