A few weeks ago, I walked into Amnesia’s club room at Cocoon to check out Nina Kraviz. I’d recently seen her play heavy acid techno at Kappa Futur Fest, and was shocked to suddenly hear an incredibly familiar ‘90s trance melody washing through the speakers. When the breakdown was over, the crowd lost it, which set me wondering if a trance comeback was upon us.
Of course as you might well know, trance is a dirty word in dance music. A label few “underground” DJs would ever be comfortable with carrying. And while the term itself is not nearly as reviled and divisive as EDM these days, it certainly hasn’t been cool in a very long time.
Some background: The zenith of trance’s popularity came in the late ‘90s to early ‘00s, when DJs like Paul Oakenfold, Tiësto and Ferry Corsten played to stadium sized crowds dressed in cyber-kid apparel with Mitsubishi logo facepaint, in homage to the legendary pills of the era. Laced with uplifting melodic hooks, big emotional breakdowns, and acid-heavy bass lines, it felt almost custom made for dropping a good pill with your friends, reaching for the lasers and having the time of your life.
And for the most part, it wasn’t yet cheesy. But even then, as good as some may remember it (myself included), it had long been considered “over” by more knowledgeable crowds, looked down upon as an entry level style of dance music only good for keeping undesirables away from more clued-up gatherings.
Cream clubbers, image via
But what happened? This was a genre pioneered by the likes of Jam & Spoon, The KLF, and most importantly, Sven Väth, whose labels Eye Q and Harthouse released genre-defining albums like 1992’s Accident in Paradise and 1994’s The Robot, The Harlequin and The Ballet Dancer. It was the sound of Berlin’s Love Parade for years, full of techno-based rhythms and inspired musicality — miles away from the sappy, contrived, formulaic drivel it wound up becoming (and still is today).
As is all too common, what the genre gained in popularity it lost in originality, becoming a cheap copy of the original blueprint laid out by its founding members. And consequently, even as all things old school continue their unstoppable comeback, trance has remained one of the few early dance music genres not to see a resurgence in the world of house and techno — until now.
There have been hints of this coming for a while, in the trance-inspired melodies in techno that have taken hold in the last few years. Acts like Solomun and Tale Of Us have made careers out of weaving dark, emotive techno with trance-inspired melodies. But few would call it trance (other than Mixmag, who dubbed this sound “man trance”), and aside from the fact that it occasionally uses synth-based melodies and vocals, shares very few characteristics with the roots of the genre. Plus it’s usually melancholic, something trance rarely is.
Bicep, image via
But even if it’s not trance, it has opened discriminating ears to the idea of trance. So much so that Bicep even recorded an After Hours Essential Mix that exclusively featured trance, albeit slowed down enough in BPM to make it brilliant instead of offensive. It worked so well that the Irish duo have continued to push the slow mo trance sound in their DJ sets. Seeing them in the DC-10 Garden at Circoloco recently, I heard both Orbital’s classic “Lush 3.1,” and Lauer’s positively sparkling “H.R. Boss” interspersed with Dennis Ferrer and Jerome Sydenham’s Pan-African Electro Dub of “Timbuktu,” giving that track’s already radiant trance-like melody even more of an uplifting glow.
There’s nothing tongue and cheek about Russian heavy techno purveyor Nina Kraviz droppingBinary Finary’s “1998” in Amnesia’s Club Room at Cocoon, though it was slowed down from its original breakneck speed to match the BPM of her set. She’s leaped far beyond hinting at the past glories of trance, very bravely jumping into the deep end, bringing a bona fide trance classic back for a well-deserved reprisal lately. Mind you, this isn’t “Age Of Love” we’re talking about. Even the most ardent techno fan has at least recognises that timeless female vocal line, and it could be argued that “Age Of Love” is techno anyway.
Familiarity aside, why wouldn’t she bring “1998” out of retirement? It’s a beautiful track full of wandering acid melodies that raise the hair on your arms without fail.
Nina Kraviz, image via
As if to almost prove the point, Drumcode boss Adam Beyer recently published a live mix from Cavo Par Adiso in Mykonos that begins with Radio Slave’s edit of Humate’s “Love Stimulation,” a tune that fit perfectly with Fabio Neural & Fideles’ “Shamana.” The latter is out on Drumcode’s sub-label Truesoul, and sounds almost like it would be right at home in a darker Armin Van Buuren set. Well, before he started trying to fit in with the EDM crowd, that is.
Of course, big daddy Sven is still as trancy as ever. He even told RA back in 2006 that “Actually I think I play trance,” and he most certainly still does. Of course, his trance has always leaned towards the techno side of the genre. But if there’s a more euphoric techno DJ on the planet playing today, I’ve yet to hear them. It’s one of the reasons he’s long been one of my favourites, and why any return to the uplifting melodies that made trance so popular is so exciting.
Trance became the biggest genre in the world because of its raw, emotional energy and power to bring clubbers together. And now, because of a few brave techno acts, it once again is. Though at least now we’ve got hindsight’s advantage to steer clear of the cheese, and an entire genre’s worth of great old gems to choose from. Trance revival, here we come.