The weekend’s big event was the long anticipated celebration of 700 editions of Armin van Buuren’s A State Of Trance radio show. And it entailed a trek out west to Sydney Showgrounds at Homebush and the massive Exhibition Halls. I’d been to three previous annual ASOT parties: 500 in Sydney, 600 in Miami and 650 in Kuala Lumpur and enjoyed them all, yet it was only the inclusion of Aly & Fila and Bryan Kearney on the bill that persuaded me to go along this time. I guess I’ve tired of Armin’s style of trance, where he tries to be all things to all people, whatever their dance music tastes, but ends up playing commercial tunes that really only appeal to the new EDM fans. And when he does play tunes closer to his old trance style, he has become very predictable.

We arrived in time to catch part of David Gravell‘s set in the enormous main arena. The production and sound immediately impressed, but I wasn’t really enjoying his music – even his remix of the old classic, Veracocha – Carte Blanche, didn’t really thrill me. But soon it was midnight and time for the entrance of Gaia, the act formed by Armin van Buuren and Benno de Goeij (of Rank 1 fame). Whilst Armin’s tunes released under his own name in recent years have not been much to excite real trance fans, the catalogue of tunes under the Gaia banner have been much better. And as they rarely perform together, this was something I’d been looking forward to hearing.

And I really enjoyed the hour of music that they put together using their laptops and wearing hooded capes that hid their faces from view. Opening with Gaia – Tuvan, they played many Gaia tracks, such as Empire Of Hearts, Humming The Lights, J’ai Envie De Toi, In Principio and Status Excessu D. And they finished with one of Armin’s best tunes – Blue Fear, although it was the Orjan Nilsen remix, not the timeless original.

Next up was MarLo. I’m not a big fan of his, really, but we stayed a while and listened as he dropped tunes such as Ferry Corsten – Festival Crash and Paul Oakenfold & Cassandra Fox – Touch Me (Beat Service Remix). We left to try out the second room as he dropped Cara Dillon vs. 2 Devine – Black Is The Colour, although it was mashed up with a tune I didn’t recognise.

On the other stage, we found Jorn van Deynhoven playing. I’ve always enjoyed his sets, even though he will surely never again play something as wonderful as his five-and-a-half hour set at Nevermind a couple of years ago, when he quite simply blew us away with an amazing set. The second room was much less busy and, consequently, a lot cooler. But while the visuals weren’t as impressive as the main stage, the sound was good and there was plenty of room to dance. And Jorn van Deynhoven played some great tunes: Max Graham – The Evil ID, Jorn van Deynhoven – Headliner and Orkidea – Purity (Sneijder Remix) amongst them.

Back to the main stage for the second half of Armin van Buuren‘s set and the room was now almost impossibly hot. We found a bit of room to dance near the front but to the left hand side. And Armin actually surprised me – there was no sign of horrors such as This Is What It Feels Like and he was putting together some really good tunes: Arisen Flame & Driftmoon – Live Your Dream, Simon Patterson & Matt Adey – Time Stood Still and Lange – Imagineer (Alex M.O.R.P.H. Remix).

He was now firmly in 138BPM territory and dropping tunes like Armin van Buuren – Communication (Paul Oakenfold Full On Fluoro Mix) and Dash Berlin – Shelter (Photographer Remix). Several mash-ups followed: Gareth Emery & Bryan Kearney & Christina Novelli feat. Bo Bruce – U Concrete Angel (Armin van Buuren Mashup), Solarstone & Scott Bond vs Armin van Buuren feat. Sophie Ellis Bextor – 3rd Earth vs Giving Up On Love and Armin van Buuren & Andrew Rayel vs. Cosmic Gate – EIFORYA vs Exploration of Space (Armin van Buuren Mashup).

The only odd note was near the end when he played a remix of John Lennon – Imagine, which felt completely out of place. He drew the set to a close with Armin van Buuren vs Photographer – Airport Shivers (Armin van Buuren Mashup) with everyone singing along to the words of Shivers.

I hadn’t expected to enjoy Armin’s set so much, but now I was really ready for the night to take off, as it was time for Aly & Fila. We quickly made our way to the very front, as Fadi opened with Aly & Fila vs Ferry Tayle – Nubia (Ferry Tayle The Wizard Intro Mix). As you may have gathered from blog entries past, Fadi is my favourite DJ – indeed, it was only his name on the line-up that had tempted me along. But he had just 60 minutes here to work his magic. It was undoubtedly my favourite of the night’s sets, although I can’t say it matched the heights of previous occasions I’ve seen him, where he’s had much longer to build a journey. The highlight for me was when he dropped Solarstone vs. Aly & Fila – Fireisland (Aly & Fila Uplifting Mix).

Fadi finished with Aly & Fila feat. Roxanne Emery – Shine (Club Mix) and Aly & Fila – We Control The Sunlight and it was time for Bryan Kearney to draw the night to a close. Immediately the volume was turned down several notches and although Kearney was knocking out some banging tunes, the arena was beginning to empty as I was wondering what was the reason for the sound reduction. And at about 5.25am, we found out, as the sound was turned off completely during Plumb – Need You Now (How Many Times) (Bryan Kearney Remix) and that was suddenly the end of the night.

It transpired later that the event had been shut down early on police orders, reacting to the death in the venue of a 19 year old man, reportedly overdosing on ecstasy pills, although as the post-mortem hasn’t yet been conducted, this can only be speculation at the moment. It’s not clear why closing the event down early was necessary, but after the deaths at ASOT650 in Kuala Lumpur last year, it does seem that ASOT parties are becoming jinxed (at least the ones I’ve attended recently). These large scale festival sized parties seem to attract people who have no idea how to take drugs safely, against a backdrop of authorities such as the police doing their best to make drug-taking dangerous – putting the crazy war on drugs ahead of public safety.

A final point to make is that the law against smoking indoors needs to be enforced as heavily as (if not more so than) the law against taking drugs. Then we wouldn’t get home stinking of cigarette smoke and bearing burns from people being careless with their cigarettes.

But in spite of these gripes, I really enjoyed myself at ASOT700 Sydney. Much more so than I expected, thanks to fantastic production, sound and the music of Gaia, Jorn van Deynhoven, Aly & Fila and the man himself, Armin van Buuren.