Monday, January 5, 2015

John '00' Fleming - Psy-Trance Euphoria 2 (Original TC Review)

Ministry Of Sound: 2009

(2015 Update:
Not as good as I remember, and that's before I get into the music itself. There's a lot of 'short-hand' writing in this review, understandable since I wrote this late into TranceCritic's run and most of the website's readers were regulars by that point. It doesn't make for a comprehensive read as is though, even after doing a few edits so it's not quite so clunky. Some of the information regarding John Fleming's previous output isn't terribly accurate either, as his
Euphoria mixes did much better than I gave them credit for. Maybe I should have actually listened to the damn things before saying anything about them, eh?

As for Fleming, he's kinda' moved on from this style of trance, unsurprising since there's more options for high-energy club music now than psy. Honestly, I didn't get into this as much as I did when I first listened to it, though I suspect it's all due to context. The regular ol' trance we were reviewing was mostly balls, and
Psy-Trance Euphoria 2 was like a breath of fresh air, presented to us from a guy with much of the same sentiments regarding that scene. With much better alternatives of late however, three CDs of the stuff just grows tedious. I still have soft spots for a few tracks on here, but the enthusiasm I had half a decade hence has definitely dwindled.)


IN BRIEF: Are you psy-curious?

…And finally, we get to Fleming. Yes, we know it’s been a long time coming. If anyone deserves recognition here at TranceCritic, it’s good ol’ ‘00’.

His career has seen several hurdles (the most prominent being surviving a battle with lung cancer), but ever so gradually he’s kept on a continuous climb. After DJing in relative obscurity throughout most of the 90s, Fleming got his break at the turn of the century when he was tapped to help put together various Euphoria and Godskitchen compilations. Unfortunately, these releases didn’t do much to stand out from the glut, as many of them recycled the same prog trance hits available everywhere else. Despite this, he still managed to develop a larger audience and fanbase.

Then, in a move that probably seemed like career suicide at the time, Fleming abandoned the mainstream aspects of trance music and started pushing psy instead. Or perhaps it wasn’t such a silly notion to do so after all. He’d gone on record numerous times regarding his growing dissatisfaction the direction trance music was going, feeling it was abandoning the communal free-for-all party ethos the early goa scenes enjoyed in favor of superstar pop concerts dedicated to a guy who played other people’s records. Seeing as how Fleming’s brush with death put him on a path that lead him to always follow his passion, a jump to the psy scene does make sense, even if it lessened his exposure.

Still, with good intentions brought more underground respect and Fleming’s brand of accessible psy garnered a steadily growing fanbase of equally disillusioned trance fans. As the Tiestin van Schulzenyonds of the world continued to disappoint with trite pop efforts, those looking for trance music that’s entrancing found a hero in Fleming. The Worthing native hasn’t disappointed yet.

Which brings us to Psy Trance Euphoria, one of the most unlikely mainstream compilations you’d have ever guessed being made. Seriously, when was the last time psy had this kind of exposure? There was Christopher Lawrence’s Live In Moscow a couple years back, but that was more about cashing in on Lawrence’s popularity than exposing the music he played. It grows increasingly sketchy the further back you go; DJ Brian’s Hardesertrance series had some respectable promotion in the States at the turn of the century, and you might have found the odd track in a Global Underground release; however, we’d have to go as far into the past as Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Fluoro to find any real mainstream acceptance of the genre. Even looking at this release, you can’t help but figure Ministry Of Sound is banking on Euphoria brand recognition rather than daring to dive into a fringe scene like psy. Ahh, it doesn’t matter – the music’s too awesome to worry over insidious corporate agendas.

Yes, the music here is awesome. Very awesome. You’ve got all the heavy hitters: Vibrasphere, Astral Projection, Ticon, Astrix, Wizzy Noise, Human Blue… Wait, there’s more. Ovnimoon, Ace Ventura, Perfect Stranger, 00.db (Fleming and Digital Blonde), U-Recken, Chakra, Sub6, Zen Mechanics, Infected Mushroom, Push… (Push…?) If few of these names are familiar to you, then get ready for a crash-course in why many of them have been earning plenty of underground plaudits. Heck, the first CD alone would almost be worth the price of admission, were the whole release not saddled with a (reasonable) 3-disc price tag.

Progressive Psy provides exactly what it advertises, although with more emphasis on the ‘progressive’ than the ‘psy’. Really, it’s picking things up where prog trance left off near the turn of the century – ample amounts of good groove, brilliant touches of melody, and plenty of sonic space so the tracks never drown in over-production. The only dip in quality comes from Chernikov’s Kerudu, which unfortunately sounds underpowered and out of place coming off a string of excellence from Perfect Stranger, Ticon, and Vibrasphere. Once prog psy veteran Human Blue comes along though, the set rebounds and finishes out with class.

The other two discs [one titled Deep ‘N Serious, the other The Fun Stuff!! (Full On)] are quite similar, though one’s more gusto than the other -the titles alone should be a clue which. The momentum of both is mostly go-go-go, with some tracks offering welcome brief lulls during the course of their playing time. Whenever it feels like the energy starts laggging, Fleming drops a track that cranks it right back up; gander at the transition from The Return to Insomnia’s 24/7 for a prime example –‘!!’ indeed. I’ll grant the lack of stylistic variation will be a turn-off for some (all psy, all the time!), but unlike other sets which lay out samey track after samey track, it works here thanks to the busy nature of the music. There’s always something new going on, and fortunately there’s enough differences between each producer that it seldom sounds like you’re hearing the same thing over and over, a common complaint where psy albums are concerned.

Though minor, the only quibble with discs two and three is the manner which they are wrapped up – considering how energetic the music’s been, it’s disappointing they finish rather limply. Actually, it isn’t so much that Deep ‘N Serious ends poorly, you’d just expect a track titled Strange World (Astral Projection Remix) wouldn’t be so ho-hum. And yes, I realize Infected Mushroom are huge stars, but Becoming Insane seems to only highlight just how awful their metal leanings sound. Why even tag such a corny track at the end, as a silly joke to end CD3? Hmm… if Fleming did intend it as a piss-take, then it worked brilliantly!

I’m sure there are a number of psy trance veterans who feel I’m being far too positive with this release. After all, there’s little innovation to be had and the producers in his track list are rather safe – he hasn’t dug terribly deep into the scene to unearth some truly unique and twisted offerings from the genre. Well, that’s because Psy Trance Euphoria 2 isn’t exactly for the vets, now is it. This is a Ministry Of Sound compilation and, in case those TV advertisements weren’t a dead giveaway, it has a broader audience in mind.

Yet, this isn’t simply a cash-grab to milk the psy-curious either (!!). Fleming also made this just as much a showcase of what the genre has to offer, and compiled three strong convincing sets of psy to reassure the disgruntled trance fan that, yes, there is more out there than what Black-Armada-Beats provides, and it kicks a whole lot more ass in the process. I’d call that success any day.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2009. © All rights reserved.


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