(Disclaimer: This review is not for electronic dance music purists, so if you are one, I’m pretty much sure you’d disagree with many of my observations)
Jakarta is fast becoming a destination for the world's top DJs to perform, with several of the truly great ones playing in November-December, and that included Armin Van Buuren (AVB), John Digweed, and my most favorite DJ of all time, Sasha.
First off, I really have to admit that my review of any Armin show is almost certain to be biased. He had me at hello with my first encounter of his brilliant performance almost a year ago in Jakarta, and I have been hoping since then to have another chance with him to take me through ridiculously fantastic voyage that only a heightened state of senses could ever experience. So if you cannot stand extremely saccharine love-fest review, I'd suggest you stop reading now.
Now that I have honestly admitted my infatuation with AVB, both as a person and as a DJ (a ridiculously great one at that), I am going to share my MAGNIFISOUND journey at Bengkel (a very large arena in the Sudirman Central Business District) last Saturday night. I also wanted to see if my first musical crush (or otherwise .. *blush*) with the smiling Dutch DJ was not just a phase.
I have not really been following closely latest trend in trance music recently, although AVB's weekly radio shows "A State of Trance" occasionally find their way to my ears whenever I feel like getting the rush of high BPM quality music. So I was not quite sure how what kind of act he would deliver this time.
This year he has released a pretty good mix album (“A State of Trance 2008”) and his third artist album (“Imagine”) which confirmed his status as a top ranked trance music producer. In my most humble opinion, “Imagine” provides proof he is going into the direction of vocal rock trance, exemplified by working with unlikely artists such as Sharon den Adel, the female vocalist of the Dutch gothic metal band "Within Temptation". So it was no surprise that he was voted as world's #1 DJ for second year in a row through international survey of more than 400,000 voters by the influential DJ Mag magazine.
Largely in acknowledgment and out of respect to AVB's legendary Sensation White parties in The Netherlands, yours truly and big group of friends decided to wear whites.
I know what you are all thinking: wearing all-whites to big parties in Jakarta is pretty stupid idea, knowing that drinks will spill over the outfits, not to mention stray lit ciggies burning holes into the clothes and occasional dirt finding their way from the ground or somebody else’s shoes to our backsides. But hey, we were going to one hell of a party, so who cares about getting a little bit sweaty and dirty in exchange of unbridled fun shared with loving friends and friendly strangers alike?
From the outset, the AVB show looked well-organized. It was quite easy to find parking spot, and getting into the venue was very smooth. Getting drinks were also no sweat. However, we found out a serious shortcoming later on when venue became so packed with people and the inadequate number of AC towers (the organizers should have added cool air mist blowers you normally find at outdoor raves) made it pretty hot and got us all sweaty. Luckily, we'd reserved in advance a big sofa table for us with an adjacent AC tower that made it a lifesaver in taking some rest in between euphoria-induced constant dancing.
As for the venue, Bengkel is not really ideal. It has been abandoned as a club since early 2000s. It may be the largest indoor club arena in Jakarta, but the acoustic is a pretty sketchy and the air circulation is not good.
When we arrived at around 11-ish, some of Jakarta's well-known DJs have finished playing (I think Bobby Suryadi of Stadium club was still playing, so we missed DJ Altuna’s and DJ Deny’s sets). Bobby turned out excellent easy opening act followed by DJ Remy Unger (a highly accomplished DJ who worked with Digweed and Sasha in the 90s), that served to warm up the atmosphere. His set was far too short to really show what he’s capable of, and anyway I was not yet paying that much attention as I know exactly who I came for to see that very night. At maybe around 130 am the superstar DJ himself, Armin Van Buuren took the stage.
From the moment he put on his headset until he descended from dance music heaven throne at something past 5 am to personally greet his loyal admirers, I was transfixed, entertained, feel loved, and gripped in his mesmerizing, playful skill of his great command of high energy DJ-ing act. There may be many other great DJs whose mixing skills and flow construction/track selections are as good if not better than Armin. There are also others who over many years have continuously reinvented and pushed the he boundaries of electronic dance music such as Sasha. But Armin is in a class of his own when it comes to combining his musical ability, technical skills and his innate grasp of understanding his adoring crowd, to feel them, which he deftly employs to create his musical magic. He really treated his fans like we are his own beloved creation.
For more than four hours, his fantastic musical landscape truly transformed the senses and emotional well-being of us mortal folks inside Bengkel arena. He lifted us up to elevated imaginary planes that most would never have thought were possible. Compared to his show last year, his current choice of playlist is quite different. Last year he was gentler by choosing plenty of classic melodic trance, albeit still "kenceng" (a Jakarta slang for speedy). Last year there were frequent peaks and throughs and valleys. His second Jakarta gig repertoire included most tracks from “Imagine” (a common practice for top DJs in order to promote their own albums) and plenty from “A State of Trance 2008”. This time, he clearly took it up a notch with more tracks that are harder and barely gave us the chance to breathe.
Later, he showed some mercy by throwing in some of his vocal trance classics such as "This world is watching me" and "Burned With Desire (Rising Star Remix)". Whenever Armin played vocal trance tracks, the VJs projected the song lyrics onto the large visual displays, prompted most of tranceheads to sing along in unison. This instantly transformed Bengkel into one gigantic Inul Vista ;-)
When Armin played “Burned With Desire”, he lowered the master volume to hear the crowd sing the tune..... It was really awesome
Other standouts vocal rock trance tracks were Jochen Miller vs. Armin Van Buuren Featuring Sharon Den Adel - In and Out of Connection (Armin Van Buuren Mashup) and the track that whipped out the crowd into frenzy was Ferry Corsten vs. The Prodigy - Smack My Radio Crash (Armin Van Buuren Mashup)
However, I wished there were less frequent words appearing on the visual screens intended to promote DJs/sponsors/promoters on the visual screen. For example, “Armin Van Buuren” logo appeared far too often. Did we need to be that frequently reminded that we were there for the Armin show? Otherwise, the visual graphics were good, with more industrial designs rather than hallucinogenic, reflecting the edgier tracks.
There should also have been more screens (and bigger ones) around the dance floor. Bengkel is just so large that the size and number of screens that are normally more than sufficient in other venues seemed a little inadequate. The lighting and laser show were very good though.
Back to Armin performance; He really whipped up the crowd. Everyone had a good time enjoying Armins tunes and Armin himself looked to be having a good time as well, he was dancing all the while and waving at the crowd regularly. He clearly loves what he does and he’s very expressive in sharing it with everyone. I like how livid and how happy he looks behind the decks, i like how he smiled throughout his gig, i like how he communicated with the crowd, how he cared for it and just loves doing what he does. even when the music stopped three times later on because of some problem with electricity, he was unfazed and did not appear upset at all.
At one time, he used his hands and fingers to create the symbol of heart/love. It was so totally cute. My heart just went totally mashed up, melted in such warm fuzzy state of all around love. And his constant SMILE! Such a beautiful smile. I was going to scream: “Armin, please marry me!”, but I had no guts and was too shy and embarrassed to scream it out. Maybe it was for the better that I didn’t. :-)
I went ballistic when he played “Amsterdam” later towards the end of his set. It is one of my favorite trance tracks of all time, and I even wore a T-shirt with the word “Amsterdam” emblazoned, hoping he would play the track. The sense of euphoria from the music almost made me cry.
When he finished his set, the crowd were giving him the longest applause and pleading with him to play some more music. And he did! Three times he continued to play some more. What a lovely, humble person he is, on top of being an amazing star. His last year’s act was so good that it was almost impossible to top it off. Our expectations for his bengkel show was already that high that I was afraid that I would be disappointed. But I’m so happy that not only he did not disappoint, but he surpassed it all.
Armin’s Bengkel show was that good that he converted many of my friends who do not normally like trance music at all. One of my friends even confessed that he was going to change his religion into one whose God is Armin.
DANK U WEL, ARMIN!
SEE YOU SOON BACK IN JAKARTA OR ELSEWHERE.