vrijdag 1 augustus 2008
Although still in the middle of the show’s world tour Armin van Buuren has already released a DVD edition of his Armin Only Imagine performance as recorded at the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht on April 19th 2008. Here’s my impressions.
The double DVD comes in a foldout cardboard box. Not exactly my favorite packaging as it is very fragile, but it is finished in the well known glossy black Imagine theme and as such very well executed and nicely in line with all the other Imagine and Armin Only related productions. The first DVD presents a selection of the live show, the second one contains bonus materials.
This is one of my two main beefs with this release. At the live show Armin played 96 tracks of which 23 were his own productions and 2 mashups partly containing own productions. That’s a self-promotion rate of 25%, which is high, but not uncommon with nowadays superstar DJ/Producers. Now since you can’t squeeze 9 hours of music into one DVD obviously a selection had to be made. However when that selection turns out to be 30 tracks of which 20 are own productions, that all of a sudden makes for a 67% self-promotion rate. And in all fairness that isn’t a genuine representation of what a 9 hour Armin Only 2008 set stands for. Of course the Imagine tracks are heavily featured and so they should. But the additional abundance of older Armin tracks really brings the value of this production down. What we ended up with here is basically a combination of the Imagine and 10 Years albums disguised as an Armin Only show, taking the “only” part out of it’s original context and painting a rather incorrect image of Armin as a DJ. Among his fans the reactions towards the “Sound of Armin van Buuren” classics hour during the show were already very mixed, but in this DVD release it is really out of place. Anyone who wants to see older Armin tunes played live can always go back to the Armin Only 2005 and 2006 DVD’s, so I truly fail to see the need for these reruns taking up 1/3 of the entire DVD and clogging up space that could have been used for an additional selection of the epic new 2008 tunes by other artists that were played during the night.
Sound quality, editing and polishing
According to Armin a lot of effort was put in the sound quality and 5.1 mixdown and that indeed shows in flying colors, because both are excellent. Another thing that is done very well is editing the selected songs together. For example the way the end of Fine without you flows into the official show intro is brilliant. If I hadn’t been there and knew it was different in the live show I would immediately believe that is how it was performed.
Unfortunately there are also a few flies in the soup and some of them could have been prevented. Since all audio was recorded on a multi track all separate channels of music, live instruments, live vocals and audience were available separately, which allowed the studio engineers to polish up any little mistake that might have happened. In some parts this was done very effectively, for example the horrible intro crash of MC Stretch was completely removed and Eller’s guitar solo in the Imagine intro (that was faded in too late in the live show) is now nicely restored. The sound of the crowd however has been cut back so much that it really reduces the "live" feeling that the original TV broadcast did have. Also a lot of the live vocals have been doctored drastically. Actually Jennifer Rene, Audrey Gallagher and Elles de Graaff’s live vocals have been completely replaced by the original studio acapellas. They did apply different reverb settings and left out second voice vocals to make it at least sound a little more live than just replacing the entire track with cd recordings like was done on the previous Armin Only DVD’s, but still it’s fairly obvious that this is not the real thing. Personally I’d rather hear Jennifer Rene sing a little off key live than the doctored up fake live performance we see now. The woman broke her hip only two months before the show for crying out loud and she was already back on stage dancing and singing. Much respect for that.
As there seems to be some sort of unfortunate curse resting on live performances at Armin Only shows in my opinion the only sensible thing to do is simply cut the bad performances out. Audrey Gallagher for example, sweet girl, but her performance was sub-par and should therefore have been cut, simple as that. But instead they decided fix it up with studio vocals. They also left in Going wrong (which was a complete fake playback performance to begin with) and then on top of that they cut out the brilliant performance of Jaren doing Unforgettable. Why all that was done is really beyond me. Another sorely missed performance is Sharon den Adel’s In and out of love. Supposedly this has to do with herself not being satisfied with her performance, but to be honest I think she is the only person on the planet who thinks that, because literally everyone I talked to thought it was absolutely great.
One last remark concerns the volume of the overdubbed vocals. In the Tuschinski preview I already noticed they have been mixed in slightly too loud, making them sound a bit too thick on top of the rest of the music. Initially I thought it had to do with the theater’s center speakers perhaps being set up incorrectly, but on my own system I still hear the same thing, albeit less intrusive. There is actually a noticeable difference between 5.1 Movie and 5.1 Music mode. If your system allows these different modes make sure you choose the 5.1 Music setting for optimal sound quality.
When I saw the TV broadcast back after coming home from the live show I was already impressed with the camerawork and the way the whole thing looked on TV. And since this DVD is based on the same footage this part is equally impressive. Could have done with a bit less boob and butt shots imo but other than that very cool. Sharing the costs of a large camera crew with a TV station was a bright move and it obviously paid off. The shots of the Jaarbeurs building that were used to create the opening scenes are simple but very effective and even a little arty. Very nice.
Overall I think the bonus DVD is a very nice package. The menu design is again strongly in line with the theme and comes off even better than on the main disk because of the higher number of menu options. The rotating sunrays are a nice touch.
Behind the scenes documentary
This is simply excellent, it’s coherent and there’s a good timeline. Sound quality is absolutely ace.
Unfortunately this part is very poorly executed. It doesn’t display any release prior to 2004, it doesn’t show any single releases and there are multiple faults in terms of years of releases. By far the most sloppy part of the release, and rather embarrassing for Armada Music to be honest. Things like this could have been easily prevented if more attention had been put into testing and evaluating the final beta master.
Obviously a lot of effort has been put in this production and it easily surpasses for example what Ferry Corsten made of his Full on Ferry DVD. I also think it’s more relaxing to watch than Tiesto’s Copenhagen production. However as a reflection of a major Armin Only event I think this release is disappointing, mainly because of the over the top Armin-centric track selection and the botched up live performances. The nice bonus DVD makes up only partly for this. As a production it seems to be designed to please the masses and squeeze out the maximum amount of royalty money, instead of being another milestone in Armin’s DJ career, which it easily could have been. Come the time I want to reminisce that night in April I will most likely grab the DVD’s I made of the TV recording. It’s like having the choice between fake breasts and makeup or pure and natural; the latter might have it’s imperfections but it feels much better.