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The June long weekend saw Australia mark the Queen’s birthday with the long-awaited arrival of Armin van Buuren and his Armin Only spectacular. And on a cold, wet Sunday evening, thousands of trance devotees headed out expectantly to Sydney Showgrounds at Homebush for a night of aural and visual delight. And what a great night it turned out to be.

These days Armin van Buuren is no longer top of the pile as far as trance purists are concerned and his weekly radio show, A State Of Trance, caters as much for the fans of big room EDM as for those whose trance roots go back ten years or more. And some of his recent tracks have left many, including myself, pained at the naked appeal to the mass market. That said, he continues to push what he calls the “Who’s Afraid of 138?” sound and I was hopeful that he would play a decent amount of such music in what was billed as a six-hour set.

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After negotiating the scrum at the poorly organised entrance to the venue, we took up position near the front as Armin started proceedings with a warm-up set, where he and the DJ console were concealed in a translucent ball. This is consistent with earlier Armin Only shows, where the first couple of hours are played behind a curtain. This seems to divide opinion, with some people frustrated that they can’t see the DJ, but I feel that it does help set the atmosphere lower at the start, allowing for a build-up as he plays more progressive, less hands-in-the-air tunes and remixes. We heard Armin van Buuren feat. Fiora – Waiting For The Night (sung live by Fiora), Armin van Buuren feat. Emma Hewitt – Forever Is Ours and Armin van Buuren feat. Ana Criado – I’ll Listen.

The ball was lifted to reveal Armin and the main part of the show commenced. It was visually spectacular, with lights and images across the width of the stage and platforms to the right and left, where the live musicians performed. Dancers and trampoline acrobats added to the performance and there was never a dull moment for the eyes. Musically it was a tour through the Intense album and the Armin back catalogue, with a few trance classics remixed and thrown in for good measure. While I really don’t like tunes like Armin van Buuren – We Are Here To Make Some Noise and Armin van Buuren feat. Trevor Guthrie – This Is What It Feels Like, the crowd as a whole responded enthusiastically and they helped raise the atmosphere – especially with Trevor Guthrie singing live. There were plenty of live performances from various singers, a drummer and Armin’s brother, Eller van Buuren on guitar to make this much more of a show than a DJ set.

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Much more to my taste were tunes like Markus Schulz feat. Ana Diaz – Nothing Without Me, Faithless – Insomnia, Zombie Nation – Kernkraft 400, RAM & Susana – Ramelia, Gaia – J’ai Envie de Toi, Gaia – Status Excessu D and Armin van Buuren feat. Jennifer Rene – Fine Without You. There were moments when he played tracks of his that I’m not so keen on, so the journey still had some flat parts for me to go with the highs. But the visuals helped keep my energy high during tracks like Armin van Buuren feat. Christian Burns – This Light Between Us or Armin van Buuren feat. Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Not Giving Up On Love. As at ASOT650 in Kuala Lumpur (and no doubt elsewhere) he played his mash-up of Gareth Emery feat. Christina Novelli – Concrete Angel and Gareth Emery feat. Bo Bruce – U.

In the last third of the set, the music just got better and better to my ears. We heard Armin van Buuren – Communication, Armin van Buuren feat. Susana – Shivers, Armin van Buuren feat. Sharon den Adel – In And Out Of Love, Cosmic Gate – Exploration Of Space, Tiësto – Adagio For Strings (James Dymond Rework) and Photographer vs Armin van Buuren – Airport Shivers (Armin van Buuren mashup). Although I had enjoyed the first part of the set, perhaps rather more than I expected, this was simply fantastic and brought the set to a brilliant climax at 5am. But the best was still to come!

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After a brief pause, attention turned to the centre of the arena, where Armin was now standing above the sound engineers desk, with two turntables, a mixer and a crate of vinyl to play an hour of classics in the “after-set”. He had a few slips, with at least one disc skipping and frustrating his beat-matching, but no-one seemed to care as the music was old school trance at its finest. Opening with Push – Universal Nation and dropping all-time classics like Paul van Dyk – For An Angel (E-Werk Club Mix), Veracocha – Carte Blanche and Armin van Buuren – Sail as the lasers shone across the arena, Armin rewarded all those who had stayed through to the end with an hour of magic. The only pity was that it was just an hour – imagine what he could have done if he’d allowed himself two hours of this!

Armin didn’t hang around to take the applause at the end of the vinyl set – he disappeared as the last chords faded and we left tired but elated to face the public holiday for an extended recovery from a great night. These days I tend not to get too excited about large scale arena and stadium events, as inevitably the DJ has to play to a more commercially minded audience and I had deliberately kept my expectations of Armin Only at a low level. Indeed, I had only finally decided to go just eight days earlier. But this was a really good night, with Armin managing to find music to appeal across the spectrum and, with the addition of the lights and dancers, not to mention the fun with yellow inflatables during Armin van Buuren – Ping Pong, it was an event I am really glad I made the effort to attend. With luck, Armin will see how well the vinyl-only set went down and do a vinyl-only tour some day in the not too distant future.

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