A regular question I get asked is: “What is Trance? What should it really sound like?”
Ask that question to ten people and you’ll get ten different answers. Out of all genres I think this question causes the most debate within the Trance scene, fueling constant arguments across social networks debating who is right, who is wrong and criticising artists work via their releases. This question gets aimed at me a lot because I was an active professional DJ when Trance was born in the early 1990s, so have first hand experience of the reasons behind why Trance was born and the ethos behind it.
Earlier this year while being driven by a 25 year old driver from Luminosity festival in Holland he was trying to tell me that the Dutch invented Trance in 1999/2000 and that he was proud of his country creating such a great genre. When I showed him YouTube clips of early 1990s Trance parties in France, Germany, Goa, UK clearly showing the wording Trance he was traumatised, in a positive way, but also questioned the music playing saying it sounded more like Techno. This just goes to highlight that every individual’s education process has been different and their perception of what Trance should sound like is different. To this guy Trance should be leaning more towards the pop world with vocals, big drops and screaming in your face melodies but to me and the people involved in creating this movement, it’s very different.
Back in the late 1980s / early 1990s the scene was predominantly mainstream, so groups of passionate music lovers created an underground movement to allow freedom of creative expression as opposed to the highly formulaic composition of commercial music. I was part of that rebellion. Myself and many others worked tirelessly putting on our own events often with no financial rewards, but the knowledge that we were offering an alternative. These events were attended by producers that stimulated a completely different part of their creative minds that in return rewarded us with new forward thinking music. As a punter you got blown away by the new futuristic musical experience.
My Trance journey began in the late 1980, very early 1990s, when the rave hardcore breakbeat scene got tired being replaced by a 4/4 structure that became what we know as Techno. This sound was a little too aggressive for me and producers like the Frenchman Laurent Garnier and Germany’s Jam & Spoon created a more musical hypnotic version. These producers designed the music to create a state of hypnotism and heightened consciousness on the dance floor, something only a skilled musician or DJ could achieve. It was pure expression of art at work in clubs, that got tagged ‘Trance’ music due to it entrancing people (as per Oxford dictionary). Trance was about experiencing music from the future, each track was unlike anything that we had heard before, music producers thrived on being released from the conforms of mainstream, and spent hours sound designing on synthesisers giving them an outlet letting them explore the depths within their minds. There were no rules. From a DJ’s perspective I had a never ending supply of musical tools allowing me to embark on musical journeys like no other allowing me to take the dance floor on new musical adventures and journeys and to create those magical hypnotic Trance moments. Again a step into the future.
The next few years we saw Trance evolve into other sub genres, Goa/Psy Trance, Progressive Trance, Melodic Trance, Hard Trance and so on, all of them keeping the same ethos of rebelling against the mainstream masses, that in return made Trance one of most credible forward thinking genres on the planet and saw it’s popularity rise. Like all things great, the corporate machines circle wanted to cash in, it’s then the dilution began. Commercial radio stations rarely play instrumental music. TV stations need videos. The big stages at festivals need to appeal to the masses. So in order to appeal to the mass corporate world some changed their style adapting to the commercial market place in return for financial rewards; Pop trance vocal songs for radio, Pop videos for TV, playing those big hits securing their slots on main stages. This all comes with a massive amount of corporate marketing that in return educates the next generation, their voice becomes a lot louder than the underground world that generally goes unheard, as per the education process from the driver from Luminosity, he only heard one side of the story.
As we fast forward to today, Trance has become the polar opposite of it’s original purpose. Thousands of people fought against the formulaic composition of commercial music, yet this is what the perceived image of Trance has become today and there’s no hiding the fact that Trance has had a tarnished reputation over the last few years of being very commercial, hence why the credible names stay well clear. Yes I admit I’ve done some rants in the past, but my personal story may spread some light on why, especially after all the hard work and sacrifices I made being apart of this rebellion to create Trance.
The natural world is a truly astonishing place, full of micro-systems that constantly repair themselves. When I cut my finger, amazingly it repairs itself after a few days. Trance is no different. Music genres need these incentives in order to keep moving forward. If it wasn’t for the commercialisation of Trance music it wouldn’t have created the mass underground movement we are seeing today that has pushed me back to that magic happy place that I experienced in the early 1990s.
History is repeating itself. Trance has an army of dedicated producers, DJs, promoters and Trance-Families around the world that are building those new underground movements rebelling against that tide of commercialism that in return has created this mass resurgence that we’re seeing today. It’s an uncomfortable ecosystem, two parallel worlds of Trance with two very different sounds and purposes, yet we need each other and fuel from each other. The underground world will continue to move things forward, the commercial world will then continue to capitalise on this and push to the masses.
There’s a general assumption that theses two world dislike each other, but for me this assumption couldn’t be more wrong. I respect people like Armin Van Buuren that have pushed Trance to the masses. Many of my fans got introduced to Trance via Armin, Above & Beyond and others, and they created an accessible gateway into the Trance world that eventually leads them to my Trance world. They also give a lot back to the Trance scene in the form of the acts they book at their events, radio support and releases on their labels.
I highly respect Tiesto, he publicly announced he had moved away from Trance making sure his new sound didn’t dilute Trance, unlike others that get frowned upon that jump from fad genre to fad genre chasing the corporate cash machines tarnishing Trances great name in the process. Chameleon DJs we call them. Sure, many disrespect these guys as they see what they are doing and see through their reasons why they are ‘returning back to Trance’. While they were gone many stayed back to clean things up and make the genre great again. Anyone welcomes producers / DJs coming back, but please leave your ugly marketing tricks in the corporate world, this takes Trance two steps back at a point when we’re moving forward.
So a very long complicated answer to such a simple question, I know! But the Trance micro-system is also very complex and something that continues to fascinate me 26 years on and the reason myself and many dedicate their careers to it. Trance is completely unique to any other genre offering a multitude styles within; Uplifting, Hard, Acid, Vocal, Psy, Progressive, Tech, Euphoric… the list goes on. Something for everyone. There should be no rules nor barriers that the forum warriors create. I’m proud of everyone involved in the Trance scene, from the forefathers that created it, to the current stars that have pushed it to the masses, and the next generation that are currently rebelling driving the underground forward.
Trance: The best genre on this planet.
– John ’00’ Fleming