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Armin van Buuren

Like '90s country artists making their bid for pop play, post-millennial European trance DJs increasingly are pushing their artist albums (as opposed to the innumerable mixes they typically author) into commercial territory. Like Paul Oakenfold's A Lively Mind and Tiësto's Elements of Life, Van Buuren's latest, Imagine, soft-­pedals trance's stereotypical oceanic washes and diva blasts in favor of more traditional verse-chorus-bridge songwriting. That Van Buuren does this while playing into trance's peak-and-valley flow and without losing the emotional thread is testament to the youngster's skills.

Born Christmas Day 1976, Van Buuren's five years younger than Oakenfold, Tiësto or Paul van Dyk, and he got his start while still in his teens. For years he suffered in the shadow of fellow Dutchman Tiësto, who collaborated with Van Buuren on his first big hit, 1999's single "Eternity." After trailing Tiësto and PVD since 2003, Van Buuren unseated them for DJ mag's coveted #1 DJ title last year. His third album, and follow-up to 2005's Shivers, Imagine, is less cerebral than its predecessor, with plenty of energy and pace, highlighted by the single "Going Away," which blends a pulsing trance vibe with gloomy British-style new wave. Between touring, recording and running a label, he's also found time to get a law degree, so don't even try to hang this DJ.

 
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