When it comes to fashionability, Trance is down there with mullet haircuts and line dancing – about as unhip as you can get. It has a reputation of being as cheesy as a roomful of over-ripe brie, and as predictable as a rainy day in Glasgow. With its fairly high tempo, identikit synth arpeggios and helium voiced divas, it follows a rigid pattern that doesn’t seem to have evolved one bit in ten years. This together with its associations with super-clubs and superstar DJs, these days Trance is afforded all the musical respect given to an X-Factor winner.
Wikipedia defines Trance as music “generally characterized by a tempo of between 130 and 160 BPM, featuring repeating melodic synthesizer phrases, and a musical form that builds up and down throughout a track. It often features crescendos and breakdowns.” As a musical term, it was used by the KLF back at the start of the 1990s, but what we recorgnise today as Trance grew out of German techno, with a lush symphonic feel at odds with the brutal minimalism coming out of labels like Tresor. Sven Väth’s “An Accident In Paradise” was one of the first popular records recognisably of the idiom. It was issued in 1992, the same year as Jam and Spoon’s remixes of Italian house classic “Age Of Love” by Age Of Love. These were records that combined the high tempos of acid house with a lush, euphoric feel tempered with a dash of minor key melancholy. They sounded fantastic in a club setting, but equally good at home. In a way it was party music with an emotional resonance that didn’t require a crowd or a bellyful of E to have an impact.
As dance movements are wont to do, trance fractured into a myriad of micro-genres very quickly. There was Goa and Psychedelic Trance for the vegan crusties, Dream House for the dinner party set, and countless others. There was also an awful lot of formulaic dross. But a surprising number of the best records of the period still sound fresh.
It was around 2000 that I bought my last Trance record. By that time, everything I heard just sounded like a rehash of stuff that had gone before. It had become production line dance music, as formulaic as Stock Aitken and Waterman or Oasis. Labels like Hooj Choons shut down as the music lost its underground appeal, and many of the better artists associated with it moved on to different areas. Today it’s a music ossified and stuck in a late nineties time warp. But its influence can still be heard in some contemporary, cutting-edge electronica. “Raver” from Burial’s Untrue isn’t a million miles away from a euphoric Trance tune.
Here are 15 of my favourites from the genre:
Age Of Love – The Age Of Love (Watch Out For Stella Club Mix) (from the Jam and Spoon remixes, React 1992)
Ascension – Someone (Perfecto 1997)
Art Of Trance – Madagascar (Platipus 1998)
Atlantic Ocean – Waterfall (Eastern Bloc 1993)
BT – Flaming June (BT & PvD Original Mix) (Perfecto 1997)
Chicane – Offshore (Xtravaganza 1996)
Grace – Not Over Yet (BT’s Spirit Of Grace) (Perfecto 1995)
Salt Tank – Angels Landing (Ffrr, 1998)
System F – Out Of The Blue (Essential 1999)
Three Drives – Greece 2000 (Hooj Tunes 1998)
Transa – Prophase (Hook 1996)
Paul Van Dyk – Forbidden Fruit (Deviant 1997)
Sven Väth – An Accident In Paradise (IQ 1992)
Way Out West – Ajare (Deconstruction 1996)
X-Cabs – Neuro (Bellboy 1995)
That’s my street-cred in tatters!