Does trance appeal to you at all in terms of its associations with extra-terrestrial life, time travel and spirituality – all the things the early hippies and crusties were into, or do you think that imagery is part of the thing that began to blight the term?
No, despite what I said about ‘healing’ music, that stuff doesn’t appeal to me at all and has descended into cringeable cliche that turns the vast majority of people off. I can understand where it comes from, though, and a big part of that is down to looking back to the 60s and Timothy Leary et al. and the fact that a lot of ex-hippies who had missed punk and had been waiting around for 20 years for something interesting to happen jumped all over the dance scene and tried to inject their old ideas in to it. However, the early 90s did feel akin to how the late 60s must have felt in that it genuinely felt revolutionary and as if it was the dawn of a new age, but really it was a false Utopia and the drugs were a big part of the equation. Oddly though, I also felt it quite strongly at the time too and I wasn’t really taking any drugs.
I think a lot of that came from the newness of it all, the power of hearing loud electronic music for the first time, youthful optimism and naivety but also most importantly because people from different backgrounds who would never have previously encountered each other were getting to know each other in clubs and being introduced to powerful ideas they might never have encountered otherwise. It was definitely an eye opener for a lot of people who came to see that life didn’t have to be lived the way they thought it did, even if that was mainly quite transitory. I do, however, often hear from people who used to come to nights I did in the early 90s who say it genuinely changed their lives.
It genuinely felt revolutionary and as if it was the dawn of a new age, but really it was a false Utopia and the drugs were a big part of the equation.
So why do so many people hate trance? Why is it so divisive?
Because the term is tainted by commercial trance and psy trance. Obviously millions of people love mainstream trance but a lot of people, myself very much included, think it’s audio torture.
Critically, trance never seems to have been highly rated, but in real terms those who make and play it have had the busiest DJ diaries, play to the biggest crowds… why is that do you think? Why did it become so… not mainstream, but, accepted, especially it seems in places like Israel and eastern Europe?
Because it’s easily digestible, easy to make and easy to market? Most people aren’t searching out interesting music for all sorts of reasons so tend to gravitate towards lowest common denominator forms or like what everyone else likes so often the bigger something gets, the bigger it continues to get as critical mass is reached. It then becomes the norm for a lot of people and is all they know or are inclined to get to know with regard to electronic music.
It was interesting having a residency [at Glasgow’s Optimo (Espacio)] for so many years as quite often someone would wander in either by accident, out of curiosity or because they knew it was a ‘dance’ night and assumed all dance music was exactly like the dance music they liked and they’d obviously be a little confused and would often come up and ask if we were going to play some huge trance track we’d never heard of. They would be genuinely shocked that we had no idea what they were talking about and we’d assume that would be the last we’d ever see of them. But, often they’d come back week after week and become regulars which leads me to believe that people are a lot more open minded and open to different music than one might think and it’s just that all they’ve experienced is the more commercial end of it.
Is trance actually a thing in and of itself or is it more a sort of modifier like kosmiche and ambient, do you think? Is it something that can be applied to any genre?
It can be applied to all sorts of genres.
Is it just for electronic music or would you apply it to bands too?
Absolutely. There’s trance in all sorts of music using all kinds of instrumentation. From African tribal drummers such as Burundi drumming, Fela Kuti and lots of other African music to heavy, heavy Jamaican dub, oodles of krautrock and freak-out psychedelia and even old blues, folk and gospel can be very trance-inducing. Gamelan music, Tuareg music, Tuvan singing, a bunch of Kodo drummers, Arvo Part, Dervish music, Erik Satie, Javanese Gamelan, Master Musicians Of Joujouka, The Velvet Underground, Hawkwind, Oum Kalthoum, Sunn O, The Boredoms, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, some noise artists, some stoner rock… the list of trance music is endless and in absolutely no way limited to electronic music.
Do you think trance is still a part of a lot of electronic music or has the world been put off it by Paul van Dyk et al.?
I think Paul van Dyk made some OK music early on but then it went a little astray for my taste. I actually haven’t heard anything he’s done since 1994 so it’s perhaps unfair for me to pass judgement on his music but he’s certainly responsible for a legion of copyists who created a global trance nightmare that shows little sign of diminishing, or progressing. I also think there are a fair few ‘cool’ new producers who should possibly know better whose first exposure to electronic music was those huge trance chart hits of the 90s and they can’t seem to help themselves seeking inspiration from it. A major lesson in why nostalgia can be a dangerous thing?
A few 'cool' new producers can't seem to help themselves seeking inspiration from it. A major lesson in why nostalgia can be a dangerous thing?
Why did they spoil it do you think? Did they just boil it down to teary chords and repeat ad infinitum?
They injected a gigantic dose of lowest common denominator into it along with oodles of formulaic cliche and more cheese than the EU produces annually. Synth and VST manufacturers are also majorly guilty for creating so many bad trance presets. The reaction against it was also negative to my mind. Just as the ‘drop’ is a cliche many producers will now avoid, so the breakdown became anathema to a lot of producers. In the mid to late 90s that partly led to a glut of linear loop techno and dull tech-house which was anything but transcendent in the majority of cases (a major exception being Basic Channel, who were closet trance gurus).