Laser-guided melodies: Why trance is back in the ascendant in 2017
© Samuel Smelty / Red Bull Content Pool
The artists, labels, DJs and club nights driving the euphoric party sound's return to relevance.
Twenty-five years have passed since Frankfurt production duo Jam & Spoon took The Age Of Love, a 1990 track by Italy’s Age Of Love, and spun it into what many consider the first trance record. Veteran tranceheads might argue the roots of trance go right back to the acid and ambient sounds of the late ‘80s. But this record was undoubtedly a watershed. Its beats were beatific, and its vision was epic. It opened-up new motifs of stadium-sized breakdowns and hypnotic arpeggios, leading to a trend of trippy anthems played in sweaty warehouses and beaches from Great Britain to Goa.
Come the early ‘00s, trance had drifted away from its roots in Germanic techno and taken a turn of the commercial, with the big hits of the day filling shelves in the form of garish compilation CDs. From the beginning, the sound had been rooted in hyper-emotional melodies and deep sound palettes. But increasingly, the music was beginning to sound sentimental, saccharine even. As Paul Van Dyk put it, “a generation of kids has grown up thinking trance is the shittiest music since country and western.”
To claim that trance ever “died” out would be ridiculous. Nearly 40 million people listen to Armin van Buuren's radio show A State of Trance every week, and DJs like Tiesto and Sasha draw small cities of worshippers to stadiums across the world. But, paradoxically as its commercial sound grew, underground selectors were less inclined to give it airtime, and it became a caricature akin to happy hardcore or Brostep.
In the last year or so, though, it feels like there’s been a shift. You'll likely have heard the Roland JP-8000's supersaw slice through soundsystems. Not only have more DJs been returning to trance classics, but more producers have been creating new old-school productions. It's a combination of the retroactive and the retrospective, drawing from the past but also understanding it better through the present.
I’m more into trance that is more acid-based and hard-going, and a little bit of psytrance here and there
Aside from her wicked combination of hard techno and acid, Nina Kraviz has been championing classic trance sounds in her sets, surprising tech-heads with the odd play of Binary Finary and the Age Of Love. “My personal tastes are more for a particular type of it,” she says. “I’m more into trance that is more acid-based and hard going, and a little bit of psytrance here and there.”
She balks at the word ‘revival’ (“I think it never went anywhere”). But she does talk of “this very interesting energy” that comes from mixing old records with new. “What I love doing is to explore and go through various sounds from previous eras where there’s supposed to be some kind of juxtaposition – acid techno, trance, hardcore, etc – and finding that shared DNA with the music that gets made today. It’s really incredible when you’re playing current tracks, and then you drop a 20-year-old track alongside it, and not only does it click, you have this 19-year-old who was not alive when this stuff came out, and they go totally go wild for it.”
Perhaps, then, we are experiencing less of a premeditated revival and instead have chanced upon trance again. In doing so, producers and DJs are morphing it into new things, transmogrifying its arpeggios into progressive hooks and reinterpreting the overwhelming into the underground. It's become a guiltless pleasure, and a lock and loaded weapon for DJs to mix-up the musical journeys of their sets. Here are some of the best new explorations ready to put you into a trance.
THE TUNE MAKERS: BICEP
Aside from the fact that "unreleased Bicep" has almost become an idiom worthy of a dictionary entry, the Belfast duo have made waves through their melodic soundwaves and expansive sets. Released in September, their debut LP twisted progressive house sounds to the point of trance, with tunes such as Orca revolving around gorgeous emotive synth hooks.
THE INNOVATOR: LORENZO SENNI
Italian producer Lorenzo Senni produces what he has called 'pointillistic trance'. In the same way that Paul Signac painted with tiny little dots, the Italian producer delicately teases apart trance arpeggios to make something new. Its hyper melodies are almost reminiscent of PC Music, but achieve novel, euphoric sounds without relying on irony. Have a listen to this year's Warp Records single The Shape Of Trance To Come for a delectable triad of past, present and future sounds.
THE PARTY PLANNER: EVIAN CHRIST
Enigmatic figure Evian Christ has been putting on trance parties for the last few years, swapping its psychedelia for posters made for the vaporwave generation. His most recent party was called 'Trance Welbeck vs. Progressive Welbeck' (adorned with images of the titular footballer) and he's also done a Great British Trance Off. Yeah, we don’t know either.
THE THROWBACK FILM: TRAINSPOTTING 2
Trainspotting, like many other '90s films, were built around ecstatic trance backgrounds. Most notably, it's connected with Underworld's trance classic Born Slippy, and its sequel this year turned it into Slow Slippy, a downtempo version for the modern trance generation. It's a literal breakdown of the original trance sound, slowing its original bullet train pace to something that's just as stimulating, but in a different way.
THE COMPILATION: TRANCE WAX
A playful reversal of trance's commercial compilations, Eject has been putting out stunning re-edits of classic trance tunes under the titles Trance Wax – Trance Wax 1 and so on. The beauty lies in its minimalism of design and title, modernising original classic tunes without being wanky.
THE CLUB: EGG
Trance Sanctuary may sound like some sort of new age retreat, and I guess it is: but only for those who are healed by 150bpm beats. It's on at Egg in Elephant & Castle every other month, showcasing the best in new trance talent at their daytime raves. Look out for an eight hour mind-bending, acid-squelching event on New Year's Day.
THE COLLECTIVE: VII CREW
The VII Crew are a seven-strong squad creating futuristic tunes, complete with on-point branding and a Latin motto (adde parvum parvo magnus acervus erit, meaning "add a little to a little and there will be a great heap", for fellow people that don't know Ovid from an Oreo). They only release tracks that the crew have created, and touch upon trance offshoots from progressive to psy.
THE RADIO 1 DJ: WILL ATKINSON
Part of the VII Crew, Will Atkinson has a regular residency on Radio 1 promising to bring 'the underground to the arena' by providing a platform to new trance sounds. He's got an enviable CV, having worked with Tiesto and Paul Van Dyk and frequently sliding into the holy Beatport trance charts.
THE RECORD LABEL: KEARNAGE
Founded by Irishman Brian Kearney, Kearnage has been making soundwaves for its manifesto of making tunes that are 'a little bit crazy and out there'. As well as an arena-sized catalogue of tunes, it's boasted sold out events at Trance Sanctuary and a global radio show. Oh, and it's got that cool trance font that makes you feel like you're in the Matrix.
Now listen to Logos' trance mix on Top Flight with Chal Ravens
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