The DJ Saved My Life: Armin van Buuren

No, the title isn’t an exaggeration: Armin is truly the DJ who saved my life!

At least that’s what researches that deal with the impact of music on our health say 🙂 Therefore this won’t be a full story about Armin’s life and his opus as everything is more or less known and available on Wikipedia and biography books. I also wrote a lot about Armin in my post about Benno de Goeij of Rank 1, his long-term co-producer, so as that post complements this one, I recommend that you read it, especially if you want to find out more about the beginnings of their collaboration, the story of project GAIA but also Rank 1 😉

Since Armin and Benno both are the producers whose music played a crucial part in my life story about healing but also drawing inspiration, especially together as GAIA project, in my posts I’ve highlighted the unique aspects of each of them: Benno as a musician & synth wizz and Armin as a DJ and a host of his famous show, A State Of Trance (ASOT).

This is, therefore, the story of how Armin particularly helped me to deal with my health difficulties with his DJ performances and ASOT radio show / festival, but also about how he influenced and inspired me to devote myself to drawing and to trance music. He knows the story too, and who knows – maybe my story was one of the inspirations for later ASOT’s famous Service For Dreamers!

Namely, in 2014 I was diagnosed with lung tumor, which was discovered by accident earlier that year but wasn’t confirmed. I started to feel discomfort later, the pain in my chests and was coughing a lot, so was immediately sent to X-rays, followed by CT and PET CT examination. The doctor confirmed a tumor but also noticed that there was a kind of entanglement of blood vessels that accumulated blood and which could rupture at any moment, so I was proceeded to an urgent surgery (thoracotomy) which is considered as one of the most difficult ones as lungs are a vital organ. Pathology results came back as bad news: it’s maligne carcinoid and not benigne as it was firstly thought, but the good news was that carcinoids grow slowly so being diagnosed in time was crucial. The doctors suspected that the tumor was a metastasis and that the primary tumor was still somewhere in the body. I should have already packed my suitcases and joined my husband in Ireland, but the surgery forced me to stay in Croatia and I was only able to leave after a year. Going through all that trouble, shock and the terrible post-operational pain (which you don’t even feel for the first few weeks from the sheer injections and pills), as well as a bunch of further tests, examinations and checks at various parts in hospital (forever grateful to the doctors and surgeons of KBC Rebro and Jordanovac in Zagreb, as they literally saved my life!), I buried myself in the things I loved the most and with which I didn’t think of the worst – it was music and drawing. As the surgical incision was on the right side of my body, I had to exercise my right arm so drawing was perfect for that because it didn’t require lifting heavy objects, and at the same time, I could do what I really loved since I was a kid.

The funny thing was also that my hospital physiotherapist’s name, who took care of me also in the shock room after the surgery (I was there for two days due to complications) was Armin and I would call him loudly in the halls: “Hey, Armin van Buuren!” – he would smile and we would discuss how great Armin is and sometimes listen to his music on my mobile phone during exercises. Physiotherapists are crucial after surgery as they help you and teach you to breath the right way and how to get rid of blood, liquor and everything left in lungs after the surgery.

At the time, my mom still worked in the hospital (now retired) so the fate would have it that I’ve ended up in her department, oncology, where I was diagnosed and went through various checks before and after the surgery in lungs hospital. One psychologist who deals with oncology patients was asking her regularly about my health so mom would tell her that I seem OK as I’ve found the way to deal with the current situation – with the help of music and drawing. Doctor concluded that I’ve chosen the best way to deal with the difficulties and explained that in our brain there are so-called mirror cells that reflect our thoughts and feelings on our physical health and that music is also a proven cure for stressful situations and illnesses.

Simply with the music and drawing I felt great and managed to suppress all of my fears and negative thoughts, not thinking about what the future might possibly bring me. Furthermore, the news started to get better and better over time: carcinoid was still too small and I didn’t needed chemo nor hormonal therapy, it didn’t have time to mess up my body very badly with hormones it secretes, and also, finally, it was confirmed that it was the primary tumor!

The music I buried myself in at the time, was my most favorite genre – trance music. As my 2013 and 2014 were marked by Armin’s album “Intense” (similar to “Imagine” in 2008 and 2009), somewhere in the middle of 2014 I discovered that Armin also has his own radio show, A State Of Trance, so I started to listen to it, at first without any intention to “actively” participate.

It was sort of my return to this genre, which, after its golden days, I’ve stopped following around 2005 or 2006, except Armin and Paul Van Dyk.

In addition, Armin has become my great inspiration because of his life choices, braveness and positivity. He’s also a lawyer, but who chose his love for the music over law. Secretly, when I returned to drawing in 2013, I was dreaming about some kind of career in art, so it was natural that Armin was my role model. We are the same generation and we share a great love, apart from the same music, for biology, so Armin, like me, thought about medicine before enrolling to university (his dad is a doctor). This is why I always love to say that Armin has managed to become a “doctor”, but a doctor for the soul, with his music. He would always mention his motto: “Follow your heart and dreams!”, setting an example with his own life path. Namely, he practiced law for a short time after University (he finished law at famous Leiden University), but as the music and his career as a DJ and producer was more important to him and started kicking off – he decided to follow his heart.

And he succeeded, becoming one of the top DJs and most successful artists in electronic dance music industry, he was number 1 on the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs chart for 5 times (and still going strong being in top 4 over all of these years!) and also in 2003 launched his own label Armada Music which is now the leading dance music label in the world.

Armin has an incredible sense for business as well and likes to follow the latest trends in music and its digital milieu, streaming portals, virtual concerts, etc. Being in the music industry still allowed him to practice law in a certain way, so he became one of the leading experts in copyright and authorship law and an advisor to European Commission on this matter.

So, after my surgery, I just simply felt that I should draw Armin as he really deserved a portrait. It’s a portrait from the beginning of this story.

I started drawing it in December 2014, and two days later Armin announced a big giveaway in ASOT692: Deluxe “The Most Intense” edition of his “Intense” album which consisted of 4 CDs and DVD, noting that the award is valuable and that the listeners must make an effort in order to win it. We were asked to send a photo or a video of the “most intense” moment(s) in our life and to describe why are they the most intense ones.

Hearing that Armin was giving away a deluxe version of my currently favorite album, I made an extra effort to finish the portrait by the next show. Then I sent one photo from my wedding, as it was definitely one of my most intense experiences in life, but also a photo of my pencil portrait of Armin, saying it’s the most intense portrait I’ve ever drawn! I truly wanted the award, but as it would have been the first time I would win anything in ASOT, I didn’t have much hope. The next week, I turned on the new ASOT episode and heard Armin reading the 5 winners and my name as the last – seriously, I almost fainted and later went on to relisten the episode to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming! It was the never forgotten ASOT episode 693.

Now that I look back, that portrait really was the most intense portrait I’ve ever drawn – it was a week of very intense drawing, all day long, and I was still “fresh” after surgery. I was struggling especially with drawing Armin’s hairstyle that was modernly combed and varnished which taken me surely three or more days. Drawing hair is a special nightmare for most artists and I still admire illustrators (as famous Kei Meguro) who draw hair with such easiness – or so it seems! I didn’t mention to Armin what was happening to me in my life (I wrote it later in my e-mail thanking him) because I didn’t want my situation to affect Armin’s decision regarding the award.

But I couldn’t resist not to mention that I’m from the “oldskool” trance generation that started listening to trance in the earlier 90’s with the music of Paul Van Dyk, Cosmic Baby, Jones & Stephenson and Sven Vath. As ASOT in the meantime has definitely become my favorite radio show “to go to” when it comes to trance music and Armin was one of the few artists who managed to keep such an old genre of music alive, I’ve finished my e -mail quoting Mark Oh’s famous 90’s anthem: “Never Stop That Feeling!”, feeling grateful for the award but also for Armin’s endless love for the genre our generation loved so much! Even though Armin is actually the “second” generation of trance producers from the classic trance period of the late 90’s and early 00’s, he has an oldskool early 90’s music heart, so he would usually introduce special parts of ASOT show as Armin’s Oldskool Classics, educating the new generations about what our generation loved to listen to, from earlier trance to house music. As a tribute to that era, in 2016 he released the album “Oldskool” having his take on remix-wise on the classics such as “Dominator” by Human Resource, “Quadrophonia” by Quadrophonia (I still have their vinyl!), “Ultimate Seduction” by Ultimate Seduction, “Pull Over” by Speedy J, and many more.

Armin was, similarly as me, growing up in the house full of music as his dad was hi-fi and music addict who loved to play Vangelis, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd and Jean-Michel Jarre. Actually, he even did something that didn’t cross my mind (surprisingly :D) – as a toddler he took his dad’s tape recorder (magnetofon) roll and ripped the tape out because he wanted to see “where the music was coming from”. This was the cutest thing I’ve read about Armin – so (future) parents, be observational, stuff like these are a sure sign that your little one might become a very successful DJ and producer one day ;)!

Thus Armin always felt to me as a kind of a brother from another mother as we were sharing so much in common regarding our profession, the love for the music, the radio (I was a radio host and a journalist at my local radio station for 3 years during studying), DJ-ing, and many more. That kid with a bike almost fell like me – I was also always wearing headphones and carrying my walkman in the school or hanging around with my best friends, discussing music.

As for trance music, even though I belong to original, first trance music generation (but loved the genre from its inception dating back to old electronic music pioneers), I’ve actually always preferred that classic trance period to which Armin as a producer and DJ belongs. It was in this classic period that trance spread its wings and music-wise was a true delight. From the earlier harder, repetitive, hypnotic, more techno-ish sound, it became a melodic, symphonic, emotionally overwhelming music: beautiful melodies were in the foreground, accompanied by rich synthesizer sounds and great rhythm, and artists such as Armin, Rank 1, Blank & Jones, ATB , Ferry Corsten, M.I.K.E. Push, Airwave, The Thrillseekers, Tiësto, Chicane, Svenson & Gielen, 4 Strings and others have forever taken our hearts, creating a real little Empire Of Hearts that still lives in ASOT and other trance festivals, radio programs and DJ streams around the globe.

For us here in Croatia late 90’s and 00’s were more carefree times as the war was over and young people were a little bit relieved, looking forward at our brighter future and the future of our dearest motherland. MTV and especially VIVA were entertaining us with their dance music shows, and the music overaly, with CDs and the Internet, became more accessible.

Armin was always dear to Croatian fans because he was regular headliner at our Ultra Europe in Split where he would go on stage in the middle of the set and wave our flag. Our trance fans always say – nobody waves Croatian flag as Armin does!!

Armin was a headliner also at other events as at Zrce Beach or at Winter Ultra in Zagreb in 2016. Later he said in an interview for Enter ZG radio that he and his wife Erika love Croatia very much and that Erika used to spend her summers in Croatia as a child.

But let’s go back to my story of ASOT. So it was ASOT show who kept me busy with drawing and music in 2014 and 2015 and I didn’t think that much about other stuff going on in my life (and obviously didn’t want to). It was ASOT fest as well where I saw GAIA’s first performance in 2014 (online, of course) and fell in love with this project, having their music on repeat as my source of inspiration for drawing (fun fact: Armin’s portrait was made solely with GAIA’s “Humming The Lights” and their ASOT 2014 set as a background music!).

I made my first drawing of GAIA in 2015 around ASOT700Sydney festival as a special tribute to them which draw attention of the trance community as so far nobody drew them. Scroll here to the “GAIA” title if you wanna know more about this duo!

As trance stars started to notice my drawings/fan art, one by one they started to post them on their social media, such as Christina Novelli, Nadia Ali, Aly and Fila, Dash Berlin, Emma Hewitt, Roxanne Emery and many more. It was super exciting as they were also Armada’s artists and I just couldn’t believe how much they are caring towards their fans.

Finally, ASOT did it too in June 2015, posting my second drawing of Armin, which was back then an ultimate thing to me (but read further for more!!!):

One of my favorite episodes was surely ASOT 750 fanshow part 3 in February 2016, when Armin played my voice recording. Back then I asked for his and Ferry’s huge hit from 2001, System F feat. Armin van Buuren “Exhale”, which is still among my top 5 ever trance tracks. I gave him a little interesting work with mixing because, as a former radio host, I actually announced the beginning of the track with: “and now, everybody prepare for that famous scream!” after which Armin dropped “Exhale” from the beginning (the scream) and it turned out great 😀 ! It was different than the rest and it was such a hype being played in the show so of course I still remember that tiny detail! As I wanted to go to ASOT festival so much, my wish came true very soon in that same February 2016 when I went to ASOT750NL, and as the Rank 1 DJ set was announced too, my happiness had no end! The experience would have been superb if unfortunately Paul Van Dyk had not had a serious accident, but still, personally it was a big thing to me to finally see ASOT fest and some performers dear to me, especially at the “15 Years And Counting Stage” where Piet of Rank 1 performed.

Shortly afterwards, I sent my portrait that won “The Most Intense” Deluxe edition to Armin, as well as my second GAIA portrait which was done in color, using mixed technique (graphite pencil, acrylic paint and markers). Armin firstly surprised me with a shout out in the show as I told him there is something on the way to him, then with the photo of my portrait on his Snapchat and finally an amazing photo where he holds both portraits, later saying these portraits were one of his top 5 favorite gifts fans ever gifted him! I was so happy, I just couldn’t believe my eyes what he did, and so proud about both the photo and that he took the special time to make it, but also that these portraits were among the top 5 gifts Armin ever got from fans! I had really special moments in my life regarding drawings and gifting them to my idols but this one will surely stay as the most epic ever!! And this very photo stands proudly framed above my working / drawing desk.

Armin has proved that he has a really special and unique relationship with his fans – he never forgets them, always tries to give everyone his well-deserved 15 minutes (of fame) but also shows them that he’s deeply touched by their personal stories, as mine was. I saw Armin (finally!) the first time performing live in 2015 at our aforementioned Ultra Europe, and although Dash Berlin and Armin had great sets, full of old and new trance / dance music hits (especially Armin, who once again impressed us with his ability of smooth mixing), I felt that Ultra (due to other DJ sets, as Garrix’s who was back then EDM’s frontleader, but also the crowd in general) was not for me, but for “some new EDM kids” (“EDM” here stands for bigroom loud festival generic music).

On the other hand, ASOT festival fully met my expectations – although it was a bit influenced by the bigroom back in 2016, trance was still very dominant, the crowd was older and a couple of years later, when fans were fed up with this new bigroom sound coming in, it succeeded to squeeze “EDM” out fully and bring back the old trance sound and the stars we loved so much to the mainstages once again. As it was impossible to see them in Croatia back in the days, seeing Rank 1, Paul Van Dyk, Signum, Cosmic Gate, Andy Moore and Push at ASOT fest for the first time was surreal to me! That feeling, watching my favorite artists, couldn’t be replaced by anything, so later I went to the next editions of ASOT, but also Electronic Family by Alda, where I finally saw live The Thrillseekers, Ferry Corsten, Talla 2XLC, Chicane, Ton TB (Three Drives), Johan Gielen, Airwave and many more trance legends from the old days.

So, in fact, Armin’s “The Most Intense” portrait started a true little avalanche of events, such as following ASOT show regularly, drawing portraits of trance music DJs and vocalists, going to ASOT festival and other trance events, and even leading newly named Trance Family Croatia (formerly ASOT CRO) thus connecting with our domestic and global trance music community, including trance music artists themselves. That’s also one of Armin’s dreams coming true: to turn the world into the global dancefloor and to unite trance lovers around the world! This is why Armin always makes sure that each and every Armin fan outside trance music gets (sooner or later) drawn into trance music and that also each and every Armin and trance fan outside ASOT (as I was back then) gets drawn into global ASOT community, which is the biggest “trance music hub”, in order to keep our beloved genre alive.

In 2021 Armin and Ruben shocked me and made me so happy by having my portraits of Armin that I’ve gifted him the whole time on Armin’s table during ASOT 1045 and ASOT 1051 (famous ASOT portrait that ASOT published in 2015 and personally delivered Armin Only portrait by me to Armada Music in 2017):

Armin was in quarantine due to covid when episode 1051 was recorded but was hosting the show remotely, so it was kind of an unique episode – luckily he was OK, the symptoms were mild.

I wasn’t sure if to put as a headline “God Is a DJ”, quoting famous Faithless track (I don’t even have to mention that Armin is usually referred as a “Trance God” in trance community), or “The DJ Saved My Life”, paraphrasing famous Indeep’s track “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” – but in Armin’s case, both would be the truth! As for my own case: after 6 years it was finally confirmed that I’m clear of everything and healthy!! But the big scar on my body will always remind me of my fight and that life is precious – and also that in these certain times we always reach almost unconsciously and naturally for the things we know they will help us. In my case it was music and drawing, even more intensified with happiness which Armin and Team ASOT / Armada’s trance artists were giving me with their extra attention to my talent and passion!

And in fact, my Armin collection didn’t stop on previously mentioned portraits – I’ve actually made a whole portfolio of portraits devoting them to my idol and I’m so proud that he owns already many of them!