In a widening sea of celebrity DJs, what is it about Van Buuren that summons such sweeping popularity? He’s fun to watch, for one. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the top 10 — namely Carl Cox, Tiesto and Paul Van Dyk, who are emotionally subdued while working the DJ booth — Van Buuren works the crowd. He spent the evening fist-pumping his headphones and singing at fans.
He is also steadfastly consistent. Despite occasionally sampling other genres such as orchestral, minimal and ambient rock, he is a loyal minister of trance.
In keeping with the nature of Euro-rave music, Van Buuren’s shows seemed designed to conjure feelings of euphoria (a wise tactic for a genre that appeals to the chemically enhanced). His tracks typically feature soprano vocalists who ethereally sing and hum over pulsating beats, while his video screens project images of windblown words like “LOVE” and “DREAMING” that colorfully flash to the beat.
Thursday was no exception. Drawing heavily from his most recent album, “Mirage,” released last summer, the evening’s highlights were new tracks: “Not Giving Up on Love,” a collaboration with British singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and “Drowning,” featuring Laura V.
The only elements that fell flat were his incessant pauses, which seemed to slightly irk the audience. The breaks look something like this: After building momentum, he freezes the song in a high-pitched pause and cranks the lights behind him, standing celestially with his arms spread as the crowd fawns below. While this may work at massive festivals, it doesn’t translate into small nightclubs, feeling at times interruptive and excessive.
A Netherlands native, Van Buuren sprang on the British trance scene in the late 1990s while pursuing a law degree. His golden ticket, though, has been his wildly successful radio show, “A State of Trance,” which boasts 30 million weekly listeners. Now in its 10th year, the free two-hour show highlights new trance music and has even spawned a second program, “A State of Sundays,” a 24-hour program on Sirius XM.
Van Buuren, 34 and still boyishly handsome, is busier than ever. After spending the first half of 2011 continent-hopping to celebrate the show’s 500th episode by hosting five raves on five continents — his North American stop was at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in March — he will wrap up this tour in time to make it back to Europe for festival season. It’s good to be on top.