The world’s number one DJ ambles into the rooftop lounge PHD at Manhattan’s Dream Downtown hotel, a soft midday light filling the clubby space that was chockablock with the city’s party-set just hours before. Armin van Buuren shoos away a fruit plate from his publicist and goes right for the coffee. He looks a tad sleepy and who can blame him? At this point, he’s on the tail-end of his massive Expedition tour—a celebration of his 600th podcast, A State of Trance—that’s taken him to far-flung locales in every corner of the globe: Minsk, Belarus; Sofia, Bulgaria; Kuala Lumpur; Beirut; Mumbai; Guatemala City; and onto his hometown Den Bosch, Netherlands.
His unconventional sojourns are by design. Van Buuren is a globetrotter, and as any curious wanderer does, he set out to discover the foreign and exotic—places he’s never been before. With his fifth album Intense set for a May 3rd release, and an ensuing North American promotional tour, T+L sat down with the prolific musician for a peek into his life on the road.
How did you want this tour to be different?
Armin Van Buuren: It’s really an expedition. Some of the places we’ve gone are virtually impossible to do an event. In Kuala Lumpur we had the biggest electronic music event [ever]; same with Guatemala. My management was kind of upset with me because they were like, if we go to Poland, if we go to Argentina, if we go L.A., San Francisco, we’re going to make a lot of money. But what we did in Kuala Lumpur has never been done in Malaysia, what we did in India has never been done in India. It’s funny, with all the stuff that’s going on in the world right now, everything that’s bad, I cannot change the world, I cannot change the [stuff] that’s going on, but what I can do is get people dancing. I play the same music to cultures that are fighting but they dance to the same music. To all the problems, everything that is bad in the world right now, dancing and connecting people is definitely an answer.
What city do you love playing in?
It’s not so much a city, it’s an island. Ibiza. That’s where I play most, every summer. This year we’ve signed up for another residency for A State of Trance at Privilege, the world’s biggest club. I really hope this year will be a success again because last year was the first year we did it and it was truly amazing.
Where would you love to play next that you already haven't?
China. Electronic Dance Music isn’t really happening there yet because they don’t have Facebook and Twitter, so they don’t really know what’s going on, but I feel like as soon as it hits Weibo, China could be the next expedition. The government is trying to restrain it, but we don’t want to harm anybody. We just want to play this music. And we don’t want to spread any political message or whatever. We’re just trying to connect people, that’s it.
Do you ever take a vacation?
I have three types of holidays that I like. I love to go skiing, which I did in February with my parents and brother. In the summer, I always go to Ibiza because I have a residency there. I really grew to love the island and I rented a big villa there for this summer. The third, sometimes I do city trips with my parents in law, but I have a daughter now so it’s a little bit more difficult. For holiday in April, we’re just going to go to a beach somewhere and chill. Rent a house and read books. I love to read biographies or psychological books.
You’ve experienced so many cultures. How has travel shaped who you are as a person and an artist?
You notice that the news gives you a very limited view of the world. People think when they watch the news or read a newspaper they understand the world, and you don’t. When you start traveling, as soon as you meet people and talk to people, you understand more. You get your own view and your own opinion. I find this one of the most fascinating things about my work. I don’t want to say that I understand the world because the more I travel, the more I don’t understand about the world, the more I learn that I don’t know anything at all. But I find it fascinating to see there are always two sides to a story. If you understand where a person comes from, where he was brought up, his religion, his food, his mentality; if you understand that, then you can understand the world a little bit better because you can understand the reference a person has. That has made me a richer person. Not that I can say that I have all the answers to the world’s problems now because I don’t. But I understand them a little bit better, why people are the way they are.
Nate Storey is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter at @StoreysTL.