Trance and its supposed comeback to the underground.

Pictures by Bonzai Records archives

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Few genres have made an impact on the current state we experience electronic music events as big as trance. Yet, despite its extraordinary legacy, it has not been met with the greatest enthusiasm in the dance music community over the last decade. ‘Trance’ was not to be taken seriously, right? To many, the word itself equals corny 90s stadium raves in an all-white dress code. Few ‘underground’ electronic music producers would actually proclaim being influenced by it. However, in recent years that has changed. To say trance is making a comeback may be overstating it, but we have heard a lot more examples of old classics being re-used in DJ-sets by non-trance DJs. For example, techno superstar Nina Kraviz or house power duo Bicep are known to throw in unexpected trance gems at the height of their extended music trips. Then there are guys like Solomun or Tale Of Us are not shy to make heavy trance-influenced melodies in their techno productions.

Even in the non-4x4 electronic music scenes, signature elements of trance music have become a clear trend. For example, in Teki Latex’ popular “Deconstructed Trance Reconstructed” mix which was released 3 years ago, the Parisian underground king uses arpeggio loops, instrumentals and acapellas in combination with contemporary, alternative club music to create a unique mixtape unlike anything else that’s been done before. Warp’s recent signing, the Italian avant-garde producer Lorenzo Senni, is practically known mostly for his creative use of trance arpeggio’s, stripped down to the core. Or what about Kanye West collaborator and Red Bull Music Academy alumnus Evian Christ, who straight up throws events in London’s hip Corsica Studio’s that are called “Trance Party” – complete with excessive use of smoke machines, lasers, stroboscopes and lava lamps. And then there’s mysterious Soundcloud-famed producers like Doss, Ana Caprix or Life Sim, who basically make trance in its purest form, but promote and release it in distinctively non-trance music scenes.

For a genre that hasn’t been considered ‘cool’ in many years, it sure is being used a lot by tastemakers across the board.

“To be honest, I have some mixed feelings about this trend”, says Quincy Steveninck, co-promoter for the Age Of Love and The Sound Of Belgium events. “In a way I can only support the fact that these records are getting the recognition they deserve, inspiring a younger generation of music fans – but on the other hand it’s kind of annoying to see that this has become a hype for some DJs, while other veterans in the scene have been playing the old and the new for decades don’t get the same praise”. This kind of criticism is not new to electronic music, where older or exotic genres get (ab)used on a regular basis. Christian ‘Fly’ Pieters of Bonzai Music agrees. “We did the same 25 years ago with what we called classics back then. It makes sense to do this, not just for techno DJs, but for DJs across all genres”.

The next step would be to ask one of our own best examples of new generation DJs why she plays a trance track every now and then. So that’s exactly what we asked Charlotte de Witte. “With its unconventional beats and catchy melodies, trance represents the perfect middle ground between underground and commercial, uniting the older and newer generations”, answers the KNTXT founder. 

So whether it comes from an artist who educated himself on the matter or from someone who just pulled out the first result after googling “trance classic”, the once dominant genre that lost its cool has been found again by a new generation. So what does trance have that other styles don’t? The answer we got from all the artists we interviewed is uniform: emotion. “The cinematic and euphoric feelings are never far away in this music”, states Stevninck. But isn’t that the case with most genres? Isn’t any type of music a carrier for the emotions of the artists, whether they are anger (like in punk) or joy (like in disco)? “The different thing about trance is that it transmits these emotions in a very accessible way”, explains Laurent Verronez aka Airwave, a stellar name in the Belgian trance scene since the early heydays. “Trance comes from a generation of European youth that enjoyed a relatively better quality of life, than, say, the originators of Detroit techno”. Its accessibility is without a doubt the reason it reached levels of global domination, compared to the relative obscurity of other genres that were a product of their environment.

Maybe this is something younger readers don’t realize, but there used to be a time (around the late nineties and early 2000s) when trance was selling out the biggest music events the world has ever seen up until that point. Even though one of the originators of the genre, Sven Väth, is still considered one of the best DJs in the world, even though there’s still a Trance Top 100 on Beatport and even though prolific DJs, like our very own Airwave, are still doing gigs all across the globe, the glory days of Tiësto and the Love Parade are definitely over. So where has trance been in the meantime? Did it ever really go away? The answers on this question varied in an interesting way. “Excluding the retro nights, yes”, says Steveninck. “But that’s not the case for The Netherlands or faraway places like South America, where the scene is still thriving”. Verronez on the other hand sees it differently, “I think it never completely disappeared, but it was abused by many – changing the original trance sound into something very cheesy”. This perceived cheesiness is most probably what caused the genre to fall into relative obscurity. “Nowadays, any beat with 140 BPM, a corny vocal, a galloping bassline and hard synths is labelled as trance. We have just forgot about the original sound”, he continues. “A perfect example of this is ‘The Age Of Love’, one of the first and most famous trance tracks ever. It’s not aggressive, but hypnotic, melodic and danceable. All the so-called ‘uplifting’ 140 BPM stuff they call trance today couldn’t be any further from that”. This statement resonates with the opinion of Pieters, who undoubtedly receives zillions of demo’s every week. “Trance used to be something truly magical – and this is lost in most of the music many call trance now. It may never have disappeared completely, but unless big events suddenly start booking real trance acts on their main stages again, we will never see those glory days again”. In what is probably an exaggerated but heartfelt frustration, Verronez concluded the conversation with something that could make a good title for this article: “trance is no music for fairs or bumper cars”.

So, where does that leave the original question we started this discussion with? What can we expect to happen with trance when techno DJs and Soundcloud producers start reusing it again on a regular basis? Will it lead to a renewed appreciation for the genre? “Most definitely”, says de Witte. “When big artists play these tracks out, it reaches a wider audience. They are tastemakers and influencers, even role models – if they support trance in a healthy way, it will lead to a more widespread interest in the genre”. Pieters is more careful in his approach to this question. “When a few thousand ravers are dancing to the beat of Universal Nation, they don’t necessarily become trance fans instantly. My guess is that it will remain a niche market, but things can always change quickly”. They sure can. So as long as the genre is reused in a respectful and educated way, we can only welcome the new generation of artists, fans and ravers to the timeless quality trance has to offer.