maandag 28 december 2009

Armin van Buuren doesn't exist

Lately a lot of people have been asking me why Armin's productions are no longer being produced by himself but by Benno de Goeij, well know from Rank 1.

Well today I can finally unleash the truth!

Anyone ever notice that you never see Armin and Benno at the same place at the same time? And if you see Benno he's always wearing either a white or a black dress shirt? I'll tell you why that is: Armin van Buuren doesn't really exist. The guy we all think is Armin is actually Benno de Goeij with a wig.

Don't believe me? Okay so on the right there is a picture of Benno and on the left we have "Armin":

This is how we know them. Now watch what happens when you take Armin's wig and superimpose it on Benno's head:

See? Spitting image! I think Benno came up with this "Armin van Buuren" alias to make some extra cash from producing cheesy pop trance tunes, which he didn't want to release under his Rank 1 name. The whole thing just got a bit out of hand :D

woensdag 28 oktober 2009

Full on Ferry – The Recession Edition

After the smashing Full on Ferry 2008 show, which was by a mile my favorite party of the year, high hopes were set for this years edition. Boy did that turn out unexpectedly different.

It’s a known fact that Ferry, despite being by far the best producer of the original Dutch super trio, is also the one who pulls the smallest crowd in his home country. His gigs do not sell out in advance, in fact they do not sell out at all. I’ve always wondered why that is. He does everything right, plays his own productions till the cows come home while jumping around and making gay heart signs, the works. And still he doesn’t even sell out the small room at Ahoy, which for the occasion was made even a bit smaller than last year by blocking off the left and right corners in the front.

Maybe it actually is a recession thing. If your flagship gig is not the hottest ticket in town then it’s also the first to get chopped when people have to save money. I mean 45 euro is up there with the big boys. But the weird thing is that last years night was so spectacular you would have expected people to show up by the busload to be part of the next one. Except they didn’t. And in retrospect, they were right.

- What happened to the awesome flying DJ booth?
- What happened to the awesome multicolor lasers all around?
- What happened to the cool lineup?
- What happened to the awesome sound?

None of the ingredients that made last years show so epic were there. Instead we got a random episode of his TIABM World Tour with some guests and a stupid MC. Simple stage, kitchen table DJ booth, big LED screen, few green lasers, the end. I mean come on guys, my local bar already has an LED screen nowadays. And they have better graphics to display on it too.

In short, 2009 FoF was a disappointment. I’ll admit it is not easy to top something as spectacular as last years, but it would have been quite easy to at least equal it. And when it’s not easy, because ticket sales and budget are an issue, then let me make some suggestions.

First of all Ferry should do his own warmup. This not only saves the wages of the warmup DJ but it also gives the crowd more Ferry for their money. Plus it gives Ferry the opportunity to have already established a connection to the crowd when the big show starts. And best of all it will create a massive amount of people banging on the door to get in at 22:00. Now everybody knows the warmup is going to be boring so people don’t bother to show up before 00:30, with the side effect of a lower bar turnover. But most importantly, Ferry fans are not interested in listening to house for hours on end. This years guy was definitely better than last years epic fail with Sidney Samson, but still I did mostly see people who were bored out of their scull around midnight.

Secondly: Bring back the spectacle! We need that flying DJ booth. As a matter of fact we need two. Two half circular booths, that fly back and forth from two stages left and right of the floor and connect halfway to deliver or remove a guest. Give them LED panels all around and mount a bunch of lasers on them. Fire a smoke cannon when it takes off again after landing. The way the show moved around the arena last year was so totally brilliant. It made everybody feel involved, because wherever you were standing at a certain point you’d be in the front. And then in the back again. Really one of the best concepts I have ever seen, making the difference between a really special night and just another night.

Thirdly: Reconsider the back-2-back concept. Ferry and his music are strong enough to carry the entire evening by themselves. If Armin can do that then Ferry definitely can. Having a load of guest DJs is not only unnecessary, it also costs way too much money. Money that would have been spent much more effectively on an impressive show. Especially when you don’t have Tiesto numbers of ticket sales top priority should go to allocating your budget wisely. Another thing about the guest DJs is the actual selection. I think Ferry should take the musical taste of his average visitor more into consideration and leave his personal preferences more in the background. Aka no people like Marco V or Duderstadt. Guys like Solarstone or Super8 & Tab are excellent choices to complement Ferry, so why not make them the lead guests all night long and make them appear 3 or 4 times? Now a small fortune is spent on multiple guest DJs, half of whom don’t even fit in the musical theme of the night and all they do is spin 4 tunes anyway.

Lastly: Don’t wait a whole year with releasing a DVD of the event, do it immediately after the show. Especially when it is a spectacular show like last years. DVDs travel around the world at light speed, and not only bring in revenues, but are major free publicity for the next event as well. By releasing it almost a year too late a major opportunity to promote the 2009 Full on Ferry event was missed. As a matter of fact promotion for the event was too invisible overall. I realize advertising costs money, but it also brings in paying visitors, which in it’s turn keeps the event on people’s minds. Just look at Sensation: utter crap, yet it sells out in 5 seconds. This is not something that is easily replicated. But in the end of the day Ferry needs to decide what he wants to do. Go big or remain underground. Unfortunately this years event was neither.

zaterdag 26 september 2009

CD Review: Armin van Buuren- Universal Religion Chapter 4

Obviously I’d heard quite a few previews already and I actually was at Amnesia when it was recorded, but since I refuse to buy into the digital download scam I had to wait for the cd version to arrive to be able to give it a proper listen and write up my thoughts.

First and foremost this cd will forever landmark the breaking point in where I finally gave up visiting Armin’s live gigs. Although that is an entirely different subject, the fact that he deliberately broke off his 2009 Amnesia solo set to record this cd, and by that completely ruining the flow of the night, to me is just unforgivable and the final proof that making money now has completely taken over all priority. Screw the fans who fly in from all over the world for this special night, and because of that are forced to plan their holiday on Ibiza when it’s just too fucking full, too fucking hot and too fucking expensive. The old Armin would have never even considered doing this. I’m sorry for saying this but you really screwed up big time here. You sacrificed what was basically the last opportunity a year to see a long vintage Armin set.

That being said let’s get into the actual product that came out of this.

The cover design has been debated by many people already. Apart from it being as butt ugly as the UR3 one this time it also is a royal rip off of the logo of the Unreal Tournament game:

This really isn’t helping Armin’s growing image of being a copy cat and I think he definitely needs to find another party to do his designs. On the positive side it does fit in with the style that was already used on UR1 and 3 and consistency in that sense is something I can appreciate.

As usual 9 of the 14 tracks are Armada productions keeping the royalty flow nicely in house. I have to add though that this is not necessarily a bad thing because all big DJs with their own record company do this nowadays, and because of it their mix albums at least don’t all contain the same tracks. But that doesn’t hide the fact that the tracklist is 100% made up with commercial intentions. It is in no way a fair representation of what Armin was spinning at Amnesia during the 2009 summer, because more than half of the tracks were actually brand new and had not even been played on ASOT at the time of the recording. So once again it is a cleverly crafted piece brand marketing but at the same time totally misleading the general audience. However since 99% of the people who will end up buying it have never even been to Ibiza they will have no clue that they are actually listening to the Armada show, instead of an Armin Amnesia set. It’s one of those things artists and record companies can get away with, because the general public is ignorant. Nevertheless I will never stop to question the ethics of these practices.

I do find that as a compilation cd this is well designed. The track selection is varied yet because of the excellent sequencing it still leaves a very homogeneous impression. This is something that Armin is just really good at. Even if you don’t like the individual elements, he’s a master in piecing things together. I’ve been rather critical lately of the mixing effort he has put into his recent ASOT compilation cd’s. But the mixing of this cd deserves praise since it was done completely live. Mixing wise he was in rare form that night, the first two hours before he began recording this cd were also full of top notch live mixing.

I’ll round up this review with my opinion on the individual tracks:

BT ft Jes - Every other way (Armin van Buuren Remix)
After Tuvan easily my second favorite of all the new Armin productions of the past year. Since we probably won’t be hearing Jes with Tiesto anymore it’s great that she got involved with BT. Remarkably enough apart from in the song titles none of the remixers on this compilation are credited in the booklet, so Benno de Goeij’s name isn’t even mentioned. Which is odd because of all the remixes Armin has presented in the past year this one probably has Benno’s signature over it the most, especially because of the heavy use of LED there be light samples. It should have been called Rank 1 Remix if you ask me. Anyway good track and I hope Armin does one or two with Jes on his new artist album, because she fits a hell of a lot better than crows like Jacqueline Govaert.

Nic Chagall ft Jonathan Mendelsohn - This moment
A lot of people complain about this track but I actually really like it. It’s proggy and I prefer that over current trance any second of the day. Nice male vocal for a change too.

Julian Vincent ft Cathy Burton - Here for me (Mark Otten Re-Dub)
Nice track, would fit very well in a warmup set. Simple piano riffs always work for me.

Espen Gulbrandsen & DJ Julian Vincent ft Maria Nayler - Perfect sky
This is easily the weak spot in the set. Not just because it’s a very average track and the vocals are uber cheesy, but mainly because Armin gets overboard with the vocals (4th vocal track in a row). And the fact that he throws in another one after this doesn’t really help either. Both Here for me and Perfect sky btw are produced by his old buddies Adrian Broekhuyse and Raz Nitzan, who he throws a little royalties bone this way. Kinda similar to the way he keeps his old friend Remy afloat by keeping him booked on Armada events.

Cerf, Mitiska & Jaren – Beggin’ you (Armin van Buuren Remix)
Not really the best CM&J track I’ve ever heard but it’s fairly enjoyable for home use and definitely ranks above pure annoyance like Armin’s Killers remix and that new Broken tonight track. Haven’t heard the original mix so it’s a bit hard to say what it is exactly that Armin and Benno changed about it.

Daniel Kandi - Venice Beach
I’m not a fan of Daniel Kandi, but I think this is one of his better productions. That’s basically all I can think of. Oh and guys please stop naming tracks after beaches. It’s getting old now.

Gaia - Tuvan (Gareth Emery Remix)
I’ve commented on this remix before and although it has grown on me a little I still find this to be sub par for an Emery production. My main beef with it is that it doesn’t sound like a remix of Tuvan but like an original Gareth Emery production mashed up with samples of Tuvan by someone else. The base track he made for this has more potential though as it showcases his skill of putting all kinds of styles into a blender and making the total sum sound very distinctive and catchy. Gareth is one of those producers who stands out by a mile because he actually developed a genuine sound of his own. And because that sound has elements of so many styles his tracks fit in many DJ’s sets, which in it’s turn is spreading his name worldwide at bullet train speed. He’s already crashed into the scene big time in the past 2 years and imo in a few years he’s going to be one of the biggest DJ’s on the planet.

Lange & Andy Moor - Stadium 4
Not something I would expect from guys like Stuart and Andy tbh. Okay kind of track but nothing I will remember a year from now. Still think the guitar part sounds like Cliff Richard and the Shadows on LSD.

Activa, Chris & Matt Kidd - UR (Stoneface & Terminal Remix)
Like the previous one, okay track. Not great but enjoyable. And also like the previous one a track that belongs on this cd because of Armin playing the shit out of it all summer long.

Roger Shah & Signum - Healesville Sanctuary (Roger Shah Mix)
I can’t get over how great this track is, not just because of the awesome breakdowns but especially because of how it is produced. It has that awesome oldskool feel to it with extremely present hi-hats and without those overly present yakketyak riffs that make most current productions so utterly boring. Bass and kick drums are very generic, but again not overly present. This is really a work of art, a serious candidate for my favorite tune of this year.

Ram - Ramsterdam (Jorn van Deynhoven Remix)
This is probably the perfect example of why I don’t like 2009 trance and the fact that Armin can’t stop raving about it also illustrates where his and my tastes have parted ways some time ago. Nevertheless another deserving track to be featured on this compilation as this actually is one of the ones he banged out all summer.

Ian Betts - False gods
Starts out as just another example of 2009 formula trance but I do like this track because of the way mr Betts brings in those acidy arrangements halfway. Me likey acid :)

Tydi & Dennis Sheperd - Somehow (Sebastian Brandt Dub Remix)
Thankfully Armin choose the dub mix of this track, although I would have applauded him if he would have edited out those few dub samples of what easily is one of the most annoying vocals of 2009. Reminds me of that hilarious remark Solarstone made about it: a new track there from Tydi and Dennis Sheppard, although I’m not sure if it’s Tydi or Dennis who did the vocals :D

Dakota - Sin city (Rex Mundi Remix)
Personally I like Markus’ original mix a lot better, Dakota tracks don’t need to be remade into trance tracks. That being said the way it is done is quite decent and the remix is exactly what makes it fit in the flow of the compilation at this point, bringing the rhythm down slightly and preventing the set from ending with a total formula track.

Overall 7/10.

zaterdag 28 maart 2009

Armin vs Tiësto: Too close to call

Contrary to popular belief that by winning both the 2007 and 2008 DJ Mag title Armin van Buuren is now for a fact the most popular DJ in the world I would dare to dispute that that is actually the case.

Clearly Armin has performed a great sprint to catch up with Tiësto, the guy who personally brought DJ worshiping to the highest level in recorded history. But has he really passed this icon of DJing in popularity?

This week the highly regarded IDMA awards were handed out in Miami at the annual Winter Music Conference. Armin won 4 of his 6 nominations:

- Best European DJ
- Best Radio Mix Show DJ (A State of Trance)
- Best Progressive House/Trance track (In and out of love)
- Best Video (In and out of love)

Tiësto however also won 4 of his 6 nominations and not exactly the small potato ones:

- Best Global DJ
- Best Full Length DJ Mix (In Search of Sunrise 7)
- Best Podcast (Tiësto's Club Life)
- Best Artist

This again confirms how popular Tiësto still is and how mega close the race between him and Armin has been in the past year. The organizer of the DJ Mag award has admitted (in Armin's book) that the difference between Armin and Tiësto for the 2008 DJ Mag title was less than 100 votes. On a total of 350.000 votes that is extremely close. Add to that the fact that Tiësto recently took the Mix Mag Best DJ award and now also the IDMA Best Global DJ award and it is pretty clear that Armin is not a mile ahead in popularity as a lot of people so often seem to think. He has done a great job in catching up, but in terms of popularity they are currently equal at best.

I am not writing this to dis Armin or promote Tiësto for that matter. I’m simply trying to look objectively at what's going on and how people are rating these guys. Personally I am quite critical about Armin's current live sets, but I will still take his over Tiësto's every day. Same goes for his radio show, although this poll does show that Armin's podcast format simply doesn't work and is unworthy of his position, something I've been saying from episode 1.

In terms of the other awards, there are a few that don’t really don’t mean anything to me. Tiësto best artist? What artist?! He hasn’t been an artist for 2 years, just a DJ and a remixer. Best (Progressive) House/Trance Track for In and out of love? That must be a joke. And the Best Video award for that same track should immediately be forwarded to Ne-Yo, because Armin’s vid is an utter ripoff of the one Ne-Yo made his track Closer in early 2008.

I would agree to ISOS7 being a better compilation than ASOT2008, however both fail miserably compared to something like Sasha's Invol2ver. Unfortunately the popular majority yet fails to see the sheer genius behind that compilation and the way it was produced and mixed. I do hope that these guys one day will see that they are wasting their energy and talent on all this endless worldwide touring, doing the same boring live sets over and over again. They would serve their musical legacy and their fans a lot better by spending more time and energy in the studio creating masterpieces that will last forever, instead of blowing it over and over on one night stands for a limited amount of people. I know that that money is a lot greener, but when is green green enough?

Oh well. Looking ahead it will be interesting to see how this develops during 2009 now that Tiësto has broken up with his manager. His gig list looks quite empty atm, but that could also have to do with him wanting to focus on his new artist album. But then again just like Armin's upcoming album it will most likely be too late to be of influence on the 2009 DJ Mag poll.

dinsdag 3 februari 2009

Review: Armin van Buuren – Imagine the Remixes

A new phenomenon that quickly seems to have become the norm in the dance music industry is releasing a “remixed” version of your artist album around 9-12 months after the original release. Whereas I am a rather fanatic opponent of commercialization I do actually like this concept, especially since due to the ongoing demise of the cd single a lot of cool remixes never see the light of day on cd anymore.

Armin of course couldn’t stay behind and therefore now presents us a collection of his Imagine tunes that have received new treatments by a variety of fellow producers. A few of the tracks are already well known from major support in his live sets, but since so far only 3 singles have been released (the 3rd actually one only one week ago) most of them were commissioned for this specific release and weren’t even available as a digital download before. And in a way I think that shows; quite a few of these remixes sound like they were made just for the sake of having a remix, not because their producers spontaneously saw the light and decided to lift the specific track to a new level.

It’s hard to give an overall score to this compilation, because the elements vary in quality from brilliant to extremely poor. Unfortunately the average and poor ones form a majority. Because of the wide variety I decided to rate the tracks individually.

Face to face (Martin Roth Remix)
Now let me start by saying that I would consider an invitation to remix Face to face the challenge of the year, as it is by far my favorite track on Imagine and it is simply perfect as it is. I just love the drive and the overall oldskool feel of it. If Armin could only make an entire album of this kind of tracks I would be in heaven.

In current dancefloor reality however it doesn’t seem to work and maybe Armin feels that way too. Because apart from the first Imagine show and the MixMag CD party in the UK I never heard him play the track live anywhere. In Utrecht it just didn’t fit. Maybe it was because he put it in the wrong slot (it was at the end of the too long warm up set when you could feel that people were getting bored) and it didn’t match with the mainly progressive sounds he played till that point. The fact that he was already reducing the volume to prepare for the big sound opening didn’t help either.

Now as was to be expected initially I didn’t care for this remix, because like I said to me the original is perfect as it is. But upon second hearing I saw what Martin has done to it: he made it dancefloor suitable. With its seemingly slightly lower tempo and nice progressive bassline it will now fit in much better in the beginning of a live set and as such I look forward to seeing that happen. So hat off to Martin Roth for making this a very functional remix. Nevertheless the original will always be my favorite and I hope one day Armin will risk dropping that one at the end of a trancy night. Because I’m convinced then it actually will work :)

Score: 8/10
iPod resident: Yes

Hold on to me (JOC Remix)
One word: Terrible. This is the ultimate example of what I dislike about the unified generic JOC/Aly&Fila/etc sound of 2008. I already disliked the original, mostly because it was just a cheap Big sky follow up, and this remix doesn’t do anything for me either. As someone on the Armin forum so strikingly said: Adding your generic bassline to a track doesn’t make it a remix. I wholeheartedly hope this is the last we hear of this done to death JOC sound and that he now continues to make more tracks like Surreal, because that one is an absolute gem.

Score: 3/10
iPod resident: No

Unforgivable (First State Smooth Mix)
As the title says a smooth remix, that has been hammered by Armin since the summer. Still very enjoyable to listen to, as is the “Rough Mix” which is not included here but is currently available on the single release of Unforgivable.

Score: 8/10
iPod resident: Yes

Unforgivable (Stoneface & Terminal Vocal Mix)
Quite okay attempt by the German trance duo. The production itself is very slick and with the quality of the original song and the brilliant vocals by Jaren it results in a nice listen. The first half seriously lacks originality but after the break they get quite a bit more aggressive and the track really picks up from there. Should work nicely in a club.

Score: 8/10
iPod resident: Yes

Imagine (Paul Miller Remix)
Another extremely boring Paul Miller production. Generic trance bassline added, some of the piano work replayed and that’s basically it. The original track is one of the bombs of the Imagine album and has a unique sound, structure and atmosphere, which this remix totally destroys. I have no clue why it was made in the first place, it doesn’t even come close to the quality of the original, it has absolutely no novelty and therefore serves no purpose.

Score: 3/10
iPod resident: Hell no

Never say never (Myon & Shane 54 Remix)
Not outstanding but definitely above average remix. Functional for the dancefloor and better than the original, but this song will just never become a favorite of mine because it’s way too poppish for my taste.

Score: 7/10
iPod resident: No

Never say never (Omnia Remix)
This one really sucks. Not because it doesn’t sound nice (it actually does), but because it is a total rip off of the signature Blizzard sound. I really hate it when producers copy each others styles, especially when it’s something as fresh and unique as The Blizzard’s. This remix should have been refused for lack of originality. And if I were Lars I would be pissed.

Score: 4/10
iPod resident: No

In and out of love (The Blizzard Remix)
Lovely Blizzard style remix that didn’t get the attention it deserved because Armin played the shit out of his Durand/Miller mashup. Unfortunately I am rather done with this song after having heard it a million times everywhere, making me realize that I am also sortof done with pop chart oriented vocals in general.

Score: 7/10
iPod resident: No

In and out of love (Richard Durand Remix)
The fact that Armin had to mash this one with Jochen Millers Lost connection track to make it work basically proves where this remix falls short. Although it was already included in ASOT 2008 that mashup should have been the one included here, if only for history sake. Markus Schulz’ relatively unknown instrumental mashup of the same two tracks would have made a nice addition, since that’s the one I like the most actually.

Score: 6/10
iPod resident: No

Rain (W&W Remix)
Now with Rain definitely being one of my favorite tracks from Imagine and finding most W&W productions likable (albeit a bit repetitive) I was looking forward to hear this. Big mistake though, this remix is really terrible. It doesn’t add any new structure to the song and the replacement bassline is too predominant and has no soul whatsoever. When I first heard it live it sounded like a bad mashup between the original and Arena. After listening to it again a few times I can safely conclude that it basically is a bad mashup of the original and Arena. Doesn’t belong on this album.

Score: 4/10
iPod resident: Definitely not

Rain (Cosmic Gate Remix)
Now this one they should have called the Cosmic Gate Bloody Awesome Remix. OMFG how brilliant is this?! Remixing as an art form, taking the signature elements of a track and building a totally new foundation underneath. I think this is absolutely brilliant and makes it worth buying the cd for just by itself.

Having said that I just can’t believe this one didn’t make it to CD1. Oh I forgot, Cosmic Gate is not signed to Armada. Nevertheless W&W: you guys sure are talented, but take a good listen to these old farts: THIS is how it’s done.

Score: 10/10
iPod resident: Hell yes

Fine without you (Sied van Riel Remix)
I remember ElSandro dropping an early version of this remix way back mid last year. He said that is wasn’t finished at the time. Somehow listening to the first part it still gives me that same feeling. It sounds a bit like a mashup between a Sied van Riel track and the acapella version of Fine without you; the vocals just don’t really blend in with the track itself. But when halfway the whole thing lifts up and Sied starts to freak out all of a sudden it really starts to work. Overall I like this remix, but mainly because I really dig that deep dark sound that Sied has been perfecting over the last year and also because it couldn’t be more different from the rather terrible original version. This remix screams for a dub version though. Hopefully we will see one in the undoubtedly following stream of digital only extras.

Score: 7/10
iPod resident: Yes

Going wrong (Alex Morph Remix)
I guess I am well known for hating this song, not just because I think it’s way too commercial and pop chart oriented but also because it turned out to be the kickoff to a disappointing turn in Armin’s musical direction. So whoever they commission to remix it and whatever they make of it I doubt I will ever like it.

That being said objectively I can’t say that I am very impressed with this remix either, it’s basically nothing more than an altered bassline and some semi acapella vocal parts, with the bassline being of the generic trance type that I so royally dislike nowadays. People have been asking about it for months so I guess it’s good that it finally is released, but it’s definitely not my thing. If I do have to listen to this song I’d still rather hear Armin’s Universal Religion Mix.

Score: 5/10
iPod resident: Not a chance

Going wrong (Sean Tyas Remix)
Rather similar to the Alex Morph remix, but more polished in the well known Sean Tyas style. I am not at all a fan of his work, it’s all too similar for my taste, but in this case he definitely did the better job of the two. The arrangements are quite heavily altered which makes for good remixing. If he had left out those terrible vocals I might have actually liked it a little bit. Anyway I’d much rather hear his excellent new track Melbourne.

Score: 6/10
iPod resident: No

Intricacy (Thomas Bronzwaer Remix)
Equally disappointing as Paul Miller’s Imagine remix. Absolutely nothing new except a slightly altered more generic bassline and a very small restructure of the break. It’s 90% the same as the original, yet has managed to lose a lot of its power. Waste of space.

Score: 3/10
iPod resident: Absolutely not

What if (Arnej Remix)
One of the better originals on Imagine and therefore a handful to redo. I have to say Arnej showed his qualities here. He basically redid the entire song and yet managed to preserve some of the dark atmosphere of the original. Good work.

Score: 8/10
iPod resident: Yes

What if (Ohmna Remix)
Doesn’t reach the level of Arnej’s take, doesn’t offer anything unique stucturewise either but nevertheless pleasant to listen to. Slightly above average production, in the midfield of this collection.

Score: 7/10
iPod resident: No