Armin van Buuren and Markus Schulz — leading the dance movement

May 17, 2013

They travel the world and have millions of dedicated fans. Their creativity is guided by their passion for music. They often work together and bounce ideas off of each other.

For more than 15 years, Armin van Buuren has been living in the limelight of international success. He has held the number one position in the critically acclaimed DJ Mag’s Top 100 poll five times. His weekly radio show A State of Trance has now passed its 600th episode mark and has united the Dutchman’s global following. Aside from broadcasting the show to over 40 stations as well as satellite and Internet radio, van Buuren has more than 20 million listeners and his Podcast gets more than 50,000 downloads per week.

Over the last decade, Markus Schulz has crafted the individual musical identities of progressive, trance and house music into his own unique fusion sound. His headlining DJ sets, Armada and Coldharbour label releases and highly prominent Global DJ Broadcast radio show have placed him at the forefront of the American Electronic Dance Music revolution. Born in Germany, but residing in Miami, Schulz holds the 2012-2013 DJ Times magazine reader-voted title of America’s Best DJ. He has over 150 gigs every year and has reportedly become the busiest international DJ playing out of the United States.

In The Entertainment Issue, FAJO Magazine catches up with these music prodigies in two different cities — we chat with Armin van Buuren in New York and with Markus Schulz in Montréal, ahead of their respective shows.

Armin van Buuren (left) and Markus Schulz grace the cover of The Entertainment Issue this month. Graphic design by Kalynn Friesen.

Armin van Buuren

By Nadia MK

Photography by Chris Davison and Armada Music

NADIA MK: You have a signature clothing style. How has that evolved as you’ve played over the years at different venues, in different countries?

ARMIN VAN BUUREN: I was really known for my white button-down shirt. I have a stylist now who looks after me. It’s great because she challenges me — otherwise, I would be in a T-shirt and jeans on stage all the time. It usually ends up being exactly that outfit because my clothes are usually sweat-proof and comfortable, so they don’t get in the way of anything.

Armin van Buuren.

Let’s talk about Q by Armin — the first collaboration between yourself and Quick Sports International. What propelled you to do that?

They approached us for a clothing line, so I told them what I like to wear and they said that was exactly the clothing they wanted to make. That deal is now over, though. I did one line during A State of Trance 500, and I designed my own shirts and T-shirts. I wanted to have T-shirts that had good durability and good quality.

How involved were you in the line?

I really wanted to have a shirt that had a close-up of my equipment in the studio, which was a bit nerdy but a bit funny, because I’m a bit of a nerd myself!

So what do you like to wear off-stage?

I usually look a little bit more classy — I’ll wear a shirt and chic pants, but I don’t wear [those kinds of] pants very often. My wife likes them though!

A typical performance — van Buuren loves the crowd.

Are there brands that you associate more closely with because of a similar style?

Oh yes, many. Denham is a pretty cool brand and their jeans fit me really well. G-Star from the Netherlands is very popular and has provided me a lot of clothes in the past. My wife always looks great in casual dresses that are still classy; I love the way she dresses — especially in her maternity clothes, now that we are expecting our second child.

Do you think your style will change in the future?

As you grow older, your style changes naturally. Five years ago, I would have never worn the shoes I’m wearing right now, but I love them. I’m also less likely to hate something because I may like it in a few years.

And that’s where your famous ‘Don’t be a prisoner of your own style’ quote comes from, correct?

It’s more of a life philosophy. It also has to do with people. One of the things I’ve learned travelling as a DJ is that different cultures can have very different opinions about things and we don’t have to agree. But if you understand where people come from and how they were brought up, then that is pretty great.

Van Buuren says that he likes to keep his style casual and comfortable.

You recently had your first show at the Madison Square Garden. What did that mean to you?

It was the highlight of my career: the celebration of 600 episodes of my radio show, A State of Trance, that’s been going on for 12 years. It’s a radio show that plays the latest in trance and progressive in a two-hour mix every week, and to celebrate the round numbers I do a world tour called The Expedition. To be at MSG is simply beyond belief.

What’s next for Armin van Buuren?

Well, my 650th episode is coming up, but the main focus for the next year will be my new album Intense that [was released] on May 3. It’s a pretty interesting album, and I hope people will like it.

There are a lot of new elements in there; I’ve worked on it for two years. The first single is called This is What It Feels Like. I don’t like to limit myself to one style even though my heart is with trance music. It has a lot of influence from rock, classical music, house music, even dubstep — everything!

Markus Schulz

By Ada Yakobi

Photography courtesy of Markus Schulz

ADA YAKOBI: Where did it all begin?

MARKUS SCHULZ: I started off as a breakdancer. My crew and I would go to all of these breakdancing parties that I used to make music for. [One day], we were going to host our own party and take turns DJ-ing. We promoted it for a couple of months. When we got to the venue, it was completely packed. They all got cold feet, so I decided to take over and started DJ-ing — they all disappeared and I Dj-ed for the rest of the evening.

When you do something for the first time and you have this feeling come over you, you realize that this is something that you are supposed to do — I still remember it clear as day, how I felt and that feeling that overcame me. This is my life right there.

Markus Schulz.

What was the first track you ever made that you were really proud of?

There have been so many of them, back in the day I used to be a studio guy, so I made a lot of tracks and remixes for major artists. It was more for the radio and record labels. But I remember I did a track, the remix for Motorcycle — I did it in my vibe with who I was as an artist. I made it for the DJ sets and that is when my career really changed. You make tracks and you don’t really play them, but when you make tracks for your DJ sets, because you are in front of the crowd you know exactly what you want that track to do and how to move the crowd.

What inspires you?

The fans and the audience — I watch them. They give me ideas and inspirations, and when I’m in the studio I’m actually creating for them. I always say — when I am in front of the crowd, I get inspired to go to the studio and make a track and when I’m in the studio, I want to go and share it with the crowd.

There is a very big Electronic Dance Music scene in Canada – who would you say is one of the best Canadian DJs?

I’m really grateful for a lot of the residents I have played with, but one of the guys here who I have taken onto my label and is also a good friend, is Arnej. He is more of an international artist yet, at the same time, he is part of the Canadian scene. I think one of the first tracks I ever signed from him was They Always Come Back — he had originally sent it to Armada Music and they didn’t understand it. I received it and thought it was incredible. I wanted it for Coldharbour Recordings and, ironically, Coldharbour is distributed by Armada. That was the beginning — right away, I believed in him. His production is so different and it’s something that I don’t hear in many other people.

You travel the world and live in a suitcase. What is a must-have you can’t live without?

I need my 10 black V-neck T-shirts! I’m the kind of person who likes to have simple things, and because I’m travelling and doing shows every night, I like to have [high] [shirt] quantities. I try to keep it simple and I’ll go on a two-week tour to Asia with only a carry-on. I pack accessories, but make it so that if I need something, I can buy anything at the airport. I like to visit Hugo Boss [stores] and have gotten to like them a lot.

I also like John Varvatos, those are the [things] that I will go and shop online [for] and carry with me, and I like Armani as well.

Schulz likes to travel light — with carry-on only. V-neck shirts are his wardrobe staple.

You just completed the Scream Bus Tour. Could you tell us more about that?

This has been a particular dream of mine for many years and it is a DJ tour done in a very different way, [something] that [nobody] has really ever done before.

I was on a bus, living in it for just over a month and touring all the best and major cities in the U.S. I returned to some of my favourite cities that I have played in, but also new ones that I never got a chance to visit before. We brought a great production team with us to all locations, and really made each show our own.

How did the name ‘Scream’ come about?

We were describing what the album would sound like and I wanted it to sound like I am on top of the mountain and screaming out to everyone — the echo through the hills. We wrote ‘Scream’ on the wall and then we also had a photoshoot, where it just wasn’t going very well. It was one of those days and, as we were taking a break, I just kind of went like ‘Aaaah,’ the photographer snapped the photo and he was like: ‘That’s the album cover.’ The mission statement for the album just came together, the name, the album and the photo.

How do you feel about being an icon and having people look up to you?

When I was starting off, I was very intimidated by that because I didn’t feel that I was worthy of being a role model. But I started to come to peace with myself and I do it for the love of music. You start to see that people are inspired by the fact that you love what you do.

It all calmed down for me [when I had] an eye-opening moment [one day]. I never really knew my father and never had any contact with him. And then, about six years ago, he contacted me and so I met up with him. I remember before I met him, I would stand up on stage in front of 20,000 people and I would be on the line-up with other incredible DJs, and I always felt like I never really belonged [there]. And then I met my father and found out that he was a drummer in a band, and after he was a drummer he became a DJ. I never knew this because my parents split up so young. I realized that being a DJ is in my blood and it is who I am meant to be. So now when I stand up in front of all these crowds, I feel like I belong.

Markus Schulz in action at one of his shows.

What are your thoughts on neon colors, sunglasses and trends in dance music?

I’ve never been into neon, I’ve always been into black. There is enthusiasm and excitement, and it may not be the way that I envision it, but it’s this new generation and it’s their take on the scene. They’ve made it what they want it to be. There’s new energy, and I love it. Now it is all fresh and new again, it will all mature, and people will grow out of neon into something more fashionable.

It’s scattered, we call them ‘the candy ravers.’ You have people in the VIP who are dressed up beautifully, hardcore fans who have travelled the world to come see you up at the front, and then you also have your scattered candy ravers. I think that sometimes people can stereotype a scene and send the wrong message. This scene is very eclectic, when you go to one of my shows you will see everyone: doctors, lawyers and politicians having a great time, familiar faces, candy ravers.

What was it like going home to Miami and the Ultra Music Festival?

It was amazing because I got to go back home and sleep in my own bed for a change! Ultra was fantastic and I am so proud to be part of the Ultra family; to see where it started and where it is today. I think that the whole city of Miami is very proud of Ultra, and this is one of the first times I can remember that my neighbours were talking about it, and even the people at the grocery stores were talking about it.

You have a nickname ‘The Unicorn Slayer’ — can you tell us a little bit more about that?

That is something that was started by a fan actually, and I remember that a fan Tweeted: ‘If trance is rainbows and unicorns, then Markus Schulz is the unicorn slayer.’ I thought it was funny, re-Tweeted it and it caught fire. People started showing up in T-shirts with ‘Unicorn Slayer’ at my shows, there were people walking around with unicorn heads, girls walking around with flaming unicorns on their T-shirts — it caught up a life of its own.

I started out as a dancer on the other side of the DJ booth and I have never been comfortable with the whole two-minute long breakdowns with people just standing around and the DJ with the arms up, looking up into the air — to me, it’s awkward and almost condescending. I’ve always liked to keep moving and dancing, and having a good time. I’ve never been into that kind of trance, really —  it was always my mission statement to be a little more edgy than other DJs, and the unicorn slayer is just the fans take on it.

Schulz’s “Unicorn Slayer” nickname started out of a Tweet from a fan.

Any regrets?

No, I don’t regret much. I regret not taking chances earlier. I was always waiting to be discovered and it wasn’t until I focused on making music for myself that everything blew up.

My message for young people is make music that you are proud of, because I spent a while of my young career making music for record labels that didn’t understand what it is that I wanted to do. They wanted an engineer and not my take on their songs.

What is in the future for you?

Collaboration with Ferry Corsten, we are going to do about 10 to 15 shows this year under the New World Punx name, and we’re going to have a lot of fun with it!

By Nadia MK and Ada Yakobi
Photography by Chris Davison, Armada Music and courtesy of Markus Schulz

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  • Alex Yatsko said:

    Markus Schulz is one of those not many producers who remained loyal to his taste and preferences in trance music and didn’t change the style. One day I remember he was saying something like “I think what happened was people started to appreciate more what I’ve had always been doing, producing my own music and designing a unique Dakota sound!” I love Trance, love his GDJB, and love seeing his shows. You’re a hard worker, Markus! Thank you for making millions’ lives happy, including mine.

    You fan,
    Alex Yatsko

  • Jerneal Gelfman @NYCKidsbookshop said:

    Fabulous interview of both guys. I’m a fan of Markus Schulz, and before reading this article I knew he was absolutely one of a kind. The music he creates leaves me in awe each and every time. I also saw him at ASOT600NYC in the Madison Square Garden , then at the official after party. No doubt, he is “The Unicorn Slayer” :p

    Thank you for sharing your love of music with us; Trance Family, Markus.

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