Sunday, July 31, 2016

Various - Trancespotting

Hypnotic: 1997

This is about where I lost the plot with Hypnotic, though it was through no fault of the music within. Nay, the very idea of capitalizing on the hit ‘raver’ film Trainspotting (despite the movie having nothing to do with rave culture, beyond a kick-ass soundtrack), it rubbed me so wrong. Where had the nods to retro sci-fi gone? For sure CDs with names like Trance To Outer Limits, or Trance-2-Metropolis, or Trance Sexual were all kinds of chintzy, but Hypnotic owned it, wholly and completely embracing a future-pulp aesthetic that screamed vintage underground raves. It gave them an identity unlike few other electronic label of the American ‘90s, where most almost seemed embarrassed by the music’s lineage. All that promptly wiped away in a singular jump on a contemporary reference. I could see the end on nigh from there, my friends, the label that once guided me through my early trance explorations all too eager to fill its catalog with whatever trendy sub-genre happened by the Hypnotic office ears.

Hell, we even get a sampling of that right here in Trancespotting, with third track My Wonderful Friend from Trancemutator. No, wait, Hypnotic made another one of their infamous typos – this is Transmutator, a negligible difference sure, until you hear that the tune in question is about as big of a breakbeat as beats could big-up in the year 1997. This was also a side-project of one Romell Regulacion, more commonly known as way-‘90s industrial act Razed In Black. What any of this has to do with trance is anyone’s guess, and it doesn’t stop there. Kraftwelt’s retro-electro sound is here in Confusion, while Sunset Yellow gives us something far closer to the tech-house camps in Agent Yellow.

Alright, enough nitpicking. I said the music on Trancespotting was good in spite of the dodgy concept, and I stick by that. How can I not when the CD opens with the spritely goa trance System 7’s Hangar 84, the duo fresh off a new stateside distribution deal after their earlier “777” experiment caused too much confusion. Elsewhere, Leeb and Fulber show up under their Synaesthesia guise, giving us the closest thing to a trance track in Andromedia that they’d ever go. Astralasia’s The Seven Pointed Star and Bypass Unit’s Helium rep that old-school goa sound as fine as any act not named Juno Reactor, LCD’s Think Smart hits the acid side of psy hard, while Surface 10 gets chummy with ‘psy-tekk’ on Spotting Shmekno. And in case you inexplicably needed a piano trance fix, here’s another Omniglobe track in C’mon Yo, featuring ragga samples no less. Trancespotting, do you even know what kind of compilation you want to be anymore?

A showcase of material Hypnotic had licensing rights to, is what. And hey, this CD succeeds there, most of the acts on here having albums out on the label within the year. Still don’t know why it presented them as a lame style-bite of Trainspotting though. Hypnotic Sampler Pack wasn’t as marketable?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Various - Tranceport: Paul Oakenfold

Kinetic Records: 1998

This is such a redundant CD in my collection, the very epitome of having all the same tracks in a different order. And not a terribly good order at that, so many tunes better served on other mixes and compilations. I wouldn’t even have Tranceport, had it not came bundled with a former owner’s collection looking to offload their discs (one guess who’s!). And yes, I must qualify this review with a haughty proclamation of being ‘too good to buy Tranceport’, or something to that affect. I definitely knew of Oakenfold’s mix, hearing it circulated on dub-tapes during my Canadian Hinterlands exile. Between this and his Live At Oslo contribution to the Global Underground series, Oakenfoldmania was running wild among my circle of peers. And yeah, I fell sway too, but thanks to other mixes of his that stood out from the pack. Tranceport though? Sorry, but by the time I might have considered buying this CD, these anthems were well played out for yours truly.

Obviously, I was a minority in this, for Tranceport became infamous for not only giving Oakenfold a significant boost in the lucrative American market, but promoting the genre of trance as well. For sure it had its dedicated, underground following, especially among folks fancying the psy side of things, but the progressive sound tearing up the UK club scene? No more so than your regular rave, most media attention focused on other European exports like big beat, French house, and trip-hop. If you wanted trance CDs without paying ridiculous import prices, your options essentially boiled down to old-school German back-catalog and whatever goa compilations drifted this way.

Tranceport, on the other hand, was released domestically (thus cheaply!) by Kinetic Records, a sub-label of American institution Reprise Records (founded by Frank Sinatra; endlessly tagged on this blog via Neil Young). This isn’t much of a surprise, as Kinetic was basically set up as the sole Stateside distributor of Perfecto material, including Oakenfold’s releases. Once club music gained more traction in America, Kinetic would move on from all things Perfecto, but given just how popular ol’ Paul was growing at this time, an exclusive mix to capitalize on his fame made good business sense. Or, considering Tranceport would go on to be a running series for Kinetic, having the popular Oakenfold kick it off made good business sense. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if the latter was the case, considering how slapdash this CD comes off. “Yeah, mates,” ol’ Paul would say, “here’s some anthems for ya’ to get started. Is my contract with you now finished? Good, off to tour with U2 then!”

The CD itself? Yeah, Tranceport’s got some anthems. I’ve talked about most of them already though, and don’t feel like typing what you’ve already read in a different order. Of the tunes I haven’t discussed before, El Niño’s overlong breakdown’s annoying, Time reminds me of old-school trance, and Gamemaster is such a rip-off of Quench’s Dreams, I can’t even dignify a finish.

Various - Trancemission To Andromeda

Hypnotic: 1996

The byline for this CD is completely accurate and total bollocks. How can we know what the sound of the Future will be - educated guesses, perhaps. Ever since egg-headed Europeans started manipulating vacuum tubes and radio transistors into something resembling music, everyone figured we’d be down with that electronic sound in whatever Futurescape we lived in. Once synths and drum machines became readily available to the common man, the notion of our lives dominated by digital decibels only grew, such that you couldn’t imagine a Future without electronic music; to say nothing of what amazing sonic roads we’d explore! Yet, here we are in the Now, and popular tastes in electronic music have generally retreated to the Past rather than continue striving forward. Whatever tunes Trancemission To Andromeda proclaimed as our Future is most definitely not of our current Now, and I wonder whether it ever will be.

In a more literally sense, the byline is advertising this as a collection of NOW! Records records, which were in fact roughly three years old by the time Hypnotic put this out on CD shevles. That label also folded around the same time, leading me to suspect Cleopatra simply snatched up a clutch of cheap licensing for another quick turnaround on the compilation market. There is no Future with Trancemission To Andromeda then, only the sound of old NOW!

Compared to many other German prints, NOW! Records was practically buried among the heavy hitters of the day. Starting out in 1992, they mostly peddled in hardcore rave, acid techno, and piano trance. Lord Discogs shows me that acts like House Pimps, Source T-10, and Omniglobe were their biggest acts. Incidentally, Omniglobe is an earlier alias of Aqualite. No surprise, then, that the two Omniglobe tracks on Trancemission To Andromeda - Mental Fragment and Happy Pill Anthem - are the better cuts on this CD. Not great by any stretch, but as primitive acid trance goes, perfectly adequate.

Know who else got an early start on NOW! Records? German techno mainstay Roman Flügel; aka: one half of Alter Ego, though he and long-time producing partner Jörn Elling Wuttke were more famous for Acid Jesus this far back. They also show up here in Power Of Yoga as Warp 69, and holy cow, is this ever a cheese-ball rave tune. Faring better is Feel Alright as Pure Tribal, a proggy little acid groover that hints at a better Future for these guys.

Most of Trancemission To Andromeda provides decent enough trance tunes if you dig the Phase 1 Era of the genre: simple piano melodies, serviceable acid, floating pad work. Some of these, like Source T-10’s Emotion and especially Lo Budget’s I Wanna Be A Cloud will give you a good ol’ gurning grin even without drugs. Unfortunately, these haven’t aged terribly well compared to the genre’s classics, coming off dated even by the mid-‘90s. Maybe worth a listen to hear Alter Ego’s humble beginnings, but otherwise for genre completists only.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Various - Tranced Out And Dreaming

Planet Dog/Mammoth: 1997

Where could Planet Dog have gone had they survived through the new millennium? The tie-in for Club Dog and Megadog parties weren’t exactly gunning for dance music dominance, content in letting other labels claim the big acts and dominate the scene. Yet those half-dozen names they signed, they made an undeniable mark on the psychedelic side of ‘90s electronic jams, gaining plenty of critical plaudits in the process. Planet Dog came across as a label that nurtured the talent they gathered, even if most of them weren’t long for this world (come back to us, Children of The Bong!). Would another unique, unheralded name have graced our ears thanks to Planet Dog’s finger the scene’s pulse? Could they continue forging their own path when homogeny became the commercially viable option? Might they have compromised their identity to stay afloat, jumping on trends and bandwagons before collapsing regardless? Ugh, that’s bleak. Let’s try Alternate Earth #2,622,673 instead, where Planet Earth became literal Planet Dog. Snoop Dogg is Canine Overlord.

But wait, maybe we have a tantalizing little look-see into one of those more practical possibilities, this here CD called Tranced Out And Dreaming. First though, that cover art. I don’t know what the Doggie folk were thinking with it, looking all sorts of cartoony and crummy. If you didn’t know the pedigree behind the compilation, you’d swear this was some chintzy world beat or New Age bollocks. Hey, maybe that’s why the label folded the year after: bad marketing! No, no, it was the demise of parent label Ultimate, ‘tis all.

Anyhow, Tranced Out And Dreaming is Planet Dog’s stab at a trance CD, as was a popular trend in 1997-o-dickety. The label had ties with the genre, Eat Static already a mainstay on the psy trance circuit, but generally skewed towards the downbeat, world beat, trippy beat, and dub beat. Uptempo goa and progressive trance were not on their radar, and even with this compilation on the market, that argument still holds true. Only Tony Hunt, who has three tracks on this nine-tracker (Katouka, Spectral, and Ionosphere), offers the most traditional of trance tropes, what with high-octane beats, soaring synths, and ethnic chants. While these cuts instantly won me over back in my trancecracker youth, I find them rather obvious and rote these days, especially compared to the other tunes here.

The opening few tracks are decent enough stabs at trippy, acid techno, but the back-half of this CD offers some absolutely mint dub action. Blissy Psilodub from Transequence will give your bassbins a proper workout, while slow groover Drift (Fruit Mix) from O.V.N.I. will have you floating through the cosmos as expertly as any psy-dub offering of the era. Astronomix’ La Danseuse Obsédante is a perfect example of the ‘technorganic’ style Planet Dog made famous, while Feel’s Nyango gets back to some chugging progressive house action on that ethnic tip. Methinks a label forgot what a ‘trance’ compilation was supposed to sound like by the end. Or not. *wink*

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Various - Trance 2001: A Trance Odyssey

Hypnotic: 1995

Possibly the best compilation Hypnotic put out in their early years, and I’m not just saying that because of the pretty nebula on the cover. Okay, that’s part of the reason too, but I do have stronger reasons for this assessment. For one thing, it’s a Music Research tie-in, so aces already. However, Trance 2001: A Trance Odyssey is a tad different from all the other Hypnotic CDs peddling singles from Talla 2XCL’s label that could. This one mostly eschews the obvious tracks and classic German trance anthems of the day, delivering a collection of b-sides from the heavy hitters of Suck Me Plasma, all in service of the spaced-out, ‘eye on the future’ theme presented in the title’s concept. Or, y’know, I’m reading too much into this, the linking theme just a coincidence, and Trance 2001 was Hypnotic simply shoveling more licensed product out into stores as quickly as they could. Either wouldn’t surprise me but I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt in this situation. Hypnotic’s early material did have a sense of someone behind the desk giving a care.

As usual, many familiar names show up for Trance 2001: A Trance Odyssey: Komakino, Sunbeam, Aqualite, D-Lay, Cenobyte, Urban Trance Plant. Even if you know these acts though, odds are these tunes aren’t as recognizable compared to their main singles (refer to previous Music Research reviews). For instance, Komakino isn’t here as Komakino, but as Final Fantasy, though admittedly their most popular track under the alias in Controlling Transmission. And what a hum-dinger she be, by g’ar: blistering acid, vintage German piano riffs, gated choir pads, and tasty tck-tck-tck hi-hats. Aqualite’s moody Wavemaker was another modestly successful track, though not nearly as much as Outback. Same can be said for D-Lay’s peppy bleepy Desire, Sunbeam’s space pulp-adventure tune Energy, Cenobyte’s brisk, minimalist acid builder Tales From The A-Side, and Retroflex’s ultra-chipper happy hardcore Feel The Vibes. Wait, what’s happy hardcore doing in a trance compilation? Accommodating itself rather well, if I’m honest. I can’t believe it either.

In fact, there are a few happy hardcore acts here peddling the serious side of their muses. Overdog’s Cloudy has a nearly three-minute long building intro, going from ambient to chugging hard dance while maintaining a flowing trance vibe throughout. J’N’M Trax’ Human Inspirations features a great minor-key melody for such a simple boshing track, and Urban Trance Plant’s Ready To Flow is… um, well, has a pretty dope climax.

Finally, for you obscuritists out there, one-off act Spice & Dune finish Trance 2001 with another mint bit of high-octane space acid on Time Traveler. Only… it’s called Snapshot here. Why? Turns out “Spice”, or Patrick Wintter, worked in tandem with several producers, including one Mario Hammer as Snapshot, which Hypnotic must have erroneously tagged here. Those names seem familiar? They should, both going on to larger success as Hiver & Hammer. Such humble beginnings here for Mr. Hiver, closing out one of Hypnotic’s best CDs.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Various - Trance V.oice 2

Beat Buzz Records: 2003

I wanted some trance damn it, but my God was the selection in this particular store ever dismal. I could find my Turbo CDs and maybe a nifty techno album or two, but where was the trance, man? Where was the trance? On compilations with a Balearic beach, or a sunrise, or a sunrise on a Balearic beach, promising the latest and bestest in Ibizan superclub anthems, all tracks that, if I hadn’t already gotten, sure didn’t want, even in a different order.

It was then I realized whatever I’d enjoyed of the genre was truly, definitely gone, with no hope of return or salvation. The only thing left was to accept it full-stop, taking it as good as the cheese could give it. I scanned the shelves for the most overblown, chintzy, gaudy, ridiculous, nonsensical piece of cover art I could find, and hoo boy did I find a doozy! Just… what the Hell is going on here? Happy hardcore would be embarrassed by how cartoony this looks, and don’t get me started on the abomination that’s a double-gendered, two-headed plesiosaur. Too cruel to exist, yet too bizarre to erase from my memory.

And the trance. Oh dear God, the trance. Already you’re thinking we’re in for some rough vocal tripe, but maybe Trance V.oice 2 would present itself like those Trance Divas discs, a mix of the poppy euro fluff with more ‘credible’ examples of the sub-genre. Aw HELL n’aw! If I wanted something like that, I’d have gone with any dozen of generic trance CDs. I wanted the worst of the worst with this sucker, and Trance V.oice 2 fucking delivers!

The first track is DJ Sammy’s Heaven; welp, no sense pussy-footing this excrement. The next two have M.I.K.E.’s stamp on them, a Push remix of Zippora’s See The Sun, plus the collaboration Please Save Me with Sunscreen. If you like the Push sound, you’ll probably enjoy these, but as we’re dealing with radio edits, both tracks are utterly useless as examples of well-crafted trance (no time for subtlety). Fourth track is a lame hard dance cover of Supertramp’s The Logical Song from Solid Solution. Dear lord, just end this already.

No dice, Trance V.oice 2 carrying on with awful supersaws, flaccid pop, and wretched radio edits. As always, the closer vocal trance gets to euro dance, as with Futurz’ Let Your Night Shine Through and Sylver’s The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, the better it gets, but we’re at a pathetically low baseline here, my friends. All hope is gone once Trance V.oice 2 basically gives up on being a trance compilation after dropping a cover of BKS’ I’m In Love With You near the end. And the next track, Velvet Girl’s Promise U Heaven, why that doesn’t even have vocals at all! Zero out of Ten Jan Johnston Heads.

Seriously though, it’s the only decent track on here; once again Lolo provides some class on an awful CD. Respect.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Various - Trance Trippin'

DMC Records: 1997

Far be it for Hypnotic to have a monopoly on wacky trance art that screams ‘90s, here’s Trance Trippin’ from DMC Records! No, not the prestigious DMC that holds annual DJ competitions - this DMC was a short-lived print out of Los Angeles that apparently peddled a fair bit of deep house before taking a chance on trance (it was growing popular by ’97). Also, don’t go confusing this with that early-‘90s Trance Trippin’ from ZYX Records, for cover notwithstanding this one is surprisingly decent. There’s a solid gathering of names on here, with everything mixed by that smoothest of jocks, DJ ProTools.

I also can’t tell whether Trance Trippin’ is bold or daft in its attempt at linking fluffy vocal trance with smashing goa and acid. Consider: DJ Dado’s Revenge and Qattara’s Come With Me are a couple of the opening tracks, while the set’s final volley features the ‘buttrock’ of S.U.N. Project’s At The Edge Of Time and deep tweakin’ 303 action of The Pump Panel’s Ego Acid. I don’t think even Oakenfold would have tried bridging the two wildly disparate sub-genres of trance, always keeping his goa indulgences well separated from any club friendly material. This CD done does it though, using a varied assortment of trance to get there, twenty-two tracks in total.

You get an early Ferry Corsten acid production with Pulp Victim’s I’m Losing Control, something that sounds like Brooklyn Bounce from Acidphase’s We Are Back, a little chemical breaks business with Solarstone’s The Calling (Inner Peace Mix), plus unabashed Sash! anthemage with 2 Lips’ Je T’Aime. A little further along, and DJ Scot Project’s Y (How Deep Is Your Love) offers the man’s cheeky ultra-build action, then the goa hits in with a Digital Blonde’s rub of Sandman’s Coimbra followed by Electric Universe’s Stardiver. Once the pummeling acid build of X-Cabs’ Neuro hits, you’ve likely long forgotten that Trance Trippin’ opened with Anomaly (Calling Your Name)!

Eh? These tracks all sound too disparate for a smooth flowing set? Well sure – it is a CD from 1997 after all, and ProTools can only do so much for you without some outside-the-box ingenuity. Trance Trippin’ doesn’t have that though, most tracks cutting in and out after three minutes of showtime, some transitions horribly clashing in key before quickly move on. Still, admirable effort for an obscure label jumping on a bandwagon. How did I get this anyway?

Funny story that! Forced to leave Vancouver and move back to the hinterlands, I knew once there I’d be without cool underground electronic music for a long time – my final purchase from the Lower Mainland had to count. Clearly Trance Trippin's cover art caught my attention, and seeing Atlantic Ocean’s The Cycle Of Life intrigued me, but I wasn’t sure about the rest. Then my sister, hardly a fan of this stuff, took a listen, enjoyed the first few tracks, and insisted I get this. T’was the only time she influenced a purchase of mine.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Various - Trance Traxx 2

Ouragan: 1995

The first trance compilation I owned, this one. Yeah, those Music Research showcases converted me, but for a year prior my allegiance to the trance camps wavered between the euro-dance armies. I definitely knew there was this neat genre out there, having also recently purchased albums from Dance 2 Trance and Jam & Spoon. Come to think of it, seeing a J&S cut on this CD was also an initial lure, the name ‘Jam El Mar’ quickly burning into my brain as someone to keep tabs on for dance tunes that tickled my earholes (B.G. Prince Of Rap hits helped bridge that gap). Super ‘90s CGI art didn’t hurt either.

As a proper foray to the world of trance, this was a decent introduction. The Jam & Spoon track on here is their twelve-minute classic anthem Follow Me, almost a microcosm of the various attributes the genre offered in its early years. It’s got the spacey, hypnotic start, the clap-along building middle, the big PLUR-gooey breakdown, and the blistering hard, acid race to the finish. Jam’s vintage sawwave synth pitch-bends are undoubtedly dated, but surely have achieved retro charm by now. Other ‘back-in-the-day’ highlights include Vernon’s chord-heavy Wonderer, Emmanual Top’s “black polished chrome” acid trip Turkish Bazar, and Atlantic Ocean’s spritely, bouncy Waterfall.

Wait, that last one’s house, isn’t it? You bet. In fact, the early portions of Trance Traxx 2 features a Crossover Part, highlighting tunes that kinda’-sorta’ fit the trance ethos, if not being the genre itself. This includes The Ethics’ La Luna (“beat of the drum, bang; beat of the drum, bang-bang!”), Nox Alba’s Mambo White (so Balearic!), and The O.T. Quartet’s Hold That Sucker Down (Builds Like A Skyscraper Mix). Yeah, this glorious slice of early Rollo at his Rolloiest could be considered trance, but folks were still calling this sound ‘anthem house’, or ‘progressive house’. Hey, whichever floats your boat.

The reason for such a section on this CD is Trance Traxx 2 offers itself as something of a minor-concept mix, with distinct parts fitting for a traditional journey set. There’s an Overture intro, which includes Suburban Knight’s The Art Of Stalking - yes, a Detroit techno guy opens a trance compilation! The middle path, titled The Awakening Part, goes through the various trance tunes Atoll Music was looking to peddle, while the final sprint christens itself as The Speed Part (it’s definitely that). Finally, a brief Ambient Outro featuring Moby’s Myopia, and a call-back to the intro to end off. Holy cow, even modern trance CDs don’t go that far with their concepts. Trance Traxx 2 must be mint, right?

Yeah, no. I’ve spotlighted all the good tunes, but the other half of this CD’s filled with generic toss-off and unremarkable no-namers (Klima? Speed Limit? Shape Shifter? DJ Eric?? Mobydic!?). And that ‘mix’ I mentioned? Barely existent, some tracks completely ending before the next begins. Trance Traxx 2 had so much potential, but is instead relegated to the bin of forgotten ‘90s CDs.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Various - Trance To Planet X: Influence 3.3 (2016 Update)

Hypnotic: 1996

(Click here to read a bunch of words, words, and oh my God why are there so many words!?)

So this CD. Can I talk in one-fifth the words used compared to my first Trance To Planet X review? Holy cow, I used up two-hundred words just detailing the first track alone. Two-hundred, with two zeroes after the two! I don’t think I could talk up Phasis’ (Norman Feller!) Visitations to such a degree now even if I tried. Okay, if I was forced at gun point by some insane old-school TranceCritic fan, who felt we betrayed our original ethos in abandoning such tediously drawn-out reviews after a while, then I probably could. I wouldn’t enjoy it though, nosiree. Also, does such a person exist in this reality? I know it seems everything has at least some micro-insane fandom attached to it now, but surely not of Early TranceCritic writings. Surely… not…

I mentioned Trance To Planet X was the last of the Hypnotic’s Influence Records showcases, a shame because there was still a few more tracks in that library worth tapping for a fourth CD. Yes, despite the fact Omnicron’s The Bushmen was used twice between this compilation and the previous Influence 2.2. C’mon, Hypnotic, why no love for Komatsu’s Input Transformer? On the other hand, if I’m to judge Hypnotic’s catalog numbers correctly, it seems their partnership with Music Research and all their sub-labels was about at an end following Trance To Planet X. I spot no further cover art fronting the label’s iconic seal, and about the only further significant release of any Music Research material is the 3CD extravaganza/back-catalog dump of Musik Non Stop. A couple ‘albums’ of Komakino and Sunbeam material later, and that’s all she wrote for Hypnotic’s association with Talla 2XLC’s print. That Outloud Records partnership, on the other hand…

For anyone fearful of wading through two-hundred plus words per track in that old review, but would still enjoy a quick summation of what’s on Trance To Planet X, here we go. This is harder trance as only the Germans could do back in the mid-‘90s, with a whole lot of acid throughout. Sometimes an epic, spritely hook comes in, such as in Wave Shaping Age’s bleepy World In Trouble, Cyberjam’s funky Alphaflight and Morten’s spacey Hypnotizing. Other tracks forego anything resembling a hook, simply assaulting you with pummeling pulsing acid (Dermatologist’s Jupiter (Omm To The Stars)), chunky muddy bosh (Analog Communications’ Wave Generator) or ear-blistering noise (Artificial Flavor’s Deep Noizer). Audio Science shows you can have clever programming with your hyper-fast acid action in the eleven-minute long Sunstroke, while Judge S.’ Brainstorm is a fun bit of space-pulp gabber. Such an epic hook in that one!

Hey, that’s so much better to read, so let me end this all on another wonderful anecdote. Okay, more a factoid than anything. I let it known that Trance Europe 2.0 was a ‘trance-formative’ (*such groan*) compilation for yours truly, but I also bought this one alongside it. For some reason though, this one didn’t sink in quite so completely. Needed more Komakino, is what!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Various - Trance Sessions

Shadow Records: 2002

This CD doesn’t make sense. Not one small bit of sense. Barely a smidge of sanity is associated with it. How does Shadow Records, a label that built its reputation on trip-hop, jazzdance, and leftfield techno, throw its hat into the big ol’ trance-tastic PLUR-poodle? Trance Sessions isn’t some coy, smirking title, where trance is but a concept for exploring the hypnotic potential of deep spliff jams. Nay, this is full-blown, hands-in-the-air, gurn-off-your-face trance, with the gated pads and the acid lines and the supersaws and the off-beat basslines and the trite vo- no, wait, there are no vocals here. Okay, point to you, Shadow Records.

That still doesn’t explain why a label that broke DJ Krush and Ninja Tune to an American audience palled about with the trance scene. Heck, wasn’t their parent label, Instinct, still in operation anyway? They’d released some trancey material back in the early ‘90s, so why not again if they’re so intent on putting out a little trance? No, wait, Instinct was dabbling in indie rock at the time – that’d be an utterly bizarre clash of scenes right there. And while big-time trance money was being made by the British superclubs and globetrotting DJs, it wasn’t that popular in the States; plus the scene was in the midst of a recession as 2001 drew to a close. Ultimately, my best conjecture is, in accordance with Shadow’s other [Style] Sessions series of compilations, the label felt it only appropriate in giving the popular clubbing music a chance. They even went all-in with the concept, getting a continuous mix from Shawn Francis, and even inserting a tiny glowstick into the spine of the clear jewel case. Because if you’re gonna’ cheese out, you may as well own it full-stop, right?

Actually, Trance Sessions gets off on a surprisingly solid start. Things kick off with Afterhours from Alphazone. No, not the supersaw hard trance mongers everyone loved in the mid-‘00s; this one’s a solo project from a Brian Castro. His track’s also rather old-school, with floating Balearic vibes, gated choir pads, and the like. Two more remarkably old-school tracks for the time follow, from a chap by the name of Bluescreen (one Anthony Voitek… more on him at a later date). Explore has a minimalist MFS vibe going for it, while Razor gets all agro with a muted acid hook. Fourth cut Avalanche from Sentinel gets (then) current with a progressive trance tune that would have fit snuggly in an early Global Underground mix. Trance Sessions is shaping up as a nifty under-the-radar collection of trance.

Then it goes completely off the rails. Boshy tracks playing one after the other, hard crossfade slam negating any sense of flow, and tunes that just aren’t that good or memorable. Jan Dexter’s Believe sounds especially cheap compared to the stronger opening salvo. Cannot deny Masters Of Balance’s Long Way Home gets some Sash! charm going for it, but it’s not enough to rescue an abysmal back-end to Trance Sessions. Shame.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Various - Trance Psyberdelic

Moonshine Music: 1997

Early Moonshine wasn’t much known for their trance output. Even their Psychotrance series leaned closer to the domain of techno than anything Germany was pumping out with abandon. That didn’t prevent the label from an occasional dip into the scene though, for when you brand yourself as an outlet that offers any and all genres under the raving sun, you’d best deliver even the most obscure ‘hard-hop’ and ‘trypno’. Right, I’ve no idea whether Moonshine deliberately branded themselves as such, though given the diversity of their early releases, they may as well have. It’s all part and parcel of that carefree California scene, where anything goes so long as the vibes stay alive.

As the Moontribe parties of the ‘90s were undoubtedly filled with raving crusties, you bet they had their share of acid and psy trance indulgences. One of Moonshine’s earliest compilation mini-series, Concept In Dance, dealt with the genre, and they kept dabbling with a CD or two in the following years. By 1997, psy trance was having something of a commercial and critical surge (thanks, Juno Reactor!), such that you’d find all manner of fractal cover art and Goa imagery plastered about the ‘electronica’ section of your major music shop. Naturally Moonshine was there to cash in, with DJ Brian premiering his Hardesertrance series, while also providing a Stateside release of Made On Earth from seminal psy print Blue Room Released. Oh, and this CD I’m supposed to be reviewing right now, that one too.

Trance Psyberdelic stands as an oddity in the Moonshine archives, a collection of psy that goes as deep into the dark DMT hole as any compilation of the time. There is a DMT hole, right? I don’t know, I’ve never done the stuff. Heard it’s one ca-ray-zee trip tho’!

Anyway, the cover art has a charming-tacky mid-‘90s CGI thing that seems more like a Hypnotic release, but there’s nothing cheesy about Trance Psyberdelic, presenting us with the ‘serious’ side of the scene. The music within comes from the likes of Prana, Slinky Wizard, Tristan, and Syb Unity Nettwerk, featuring tons of sci-fi lasers, hard-to-the-floor heady beats, acid-drenched acid, and nary a melody that’ll stay in your noggin after the CD finishes. Except Koxbox’ Stratosfearless, holy cow, for ten minutes they do such amazing, diverse things with an incredibly simple hook! Pete Martin, who also compiled the CD, crops up twice, first as U.X. with one-time Juno Reactor and Killing Joke member Kris Kylven (he’s also that Syb guy). Martin’s other, more familiar project of Slide, also appears. Yes, as in ‘Cass & Slide’. What, you didn’t know one of prog’s biggest darlings started out in the psy camps? Don’t worry, easy mistake, that.

Eh? Oh yeah, I did say Trance Psyberdelic doesn’t stick in the brain much after. It’s a fussy sort of psy, sounding fine as it plays, but lacking the soaring thrills this genre often has. Except that Koxbox cut, that’s fun!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Various - Trance On Earth: European Electronic Dreams

Hypnotic: 1995

Cleopatra Records set itself as a purveyor of most things industrial and goth, raiding the lands of Europa in search of distribution deals for American shores. Among these labels was Zoth Ommog, one of the seminal prints of Germany’s EBM scene, which is all kinds of bizarre when you consider trance tastemaker Talla 2XLC founded the print as an early part of his larger Music Research empire. He kept the ravey stuff on different sub-labels though, which Cleopatra must have had equal access to thanks to the Zoth Ommog deal, hence their early stabs at the ‘trance compilation’ market. I assume it worked out reasonably well for them (Hell, I bought two!), enough to establish this spin-off print Hypnotic, where they could distribute all that ecstasy-driven club music without alienating their harder, morose followers of the cybernetic revolution. Or whatever it was the gothic EBM crowds identified themselves as in the early ‘90s.

I’m almost certain this is information I’ve discussed in previous reviews, but I bring it up again to put Trance On Earth: European Electronic Dreams into perspective, this little CD among the first in launching Hypnotic. Most of the earliest Hypnotic releases were album re-issues for the likes of Ynos (Komakino), Synaesthesia (Frontline Assembly/Delerium), and Norman (Terry Lee Brown, Jr.), but with so many acts on Suck Me Plasma only doing the EP deed, the label instead brought them over via a tsunami of trance and ambient compilations. If you think what I have in my collection is a bit much, check out the entire Hypnotic catalog from 1996 alone.

As one of the first Hypnotic trance compilations, Trance On Earth is also either one of the best, or one of the most redundant, depending on how many other Hypnotic CDs you have. The Suck Me Plasma pickings were plumb for these initial discs though, many big hits of German hard trance finding their way here. Sunbeam’s two breakout singles make the cut, and though I’ve got a whole LP of early Sunbeam, I’ve no problem hearing Outside World or High Adventure again. Komakino’s ultra-uplifting Feel The Melodee (Technoclub Mix) is also on here, as is another of those seminal ‘galloping choir pad’ trance anthems in Aqualite’s Outback. Really, Trance On Earth is primarily made up of such tunes, including D-Lay’s The Dreamer, plus one-offers Infusion Impulse’s Paralyser and Lesamis’ No More Worry, though only D-Lay’s tune holds its own against the aforementioned classics.

Filling out the hind-sighted ‘redundant’ portions of Trance On Earth are Semisphere’s acid-drenched Raveaktiv, Cenobyte’s sinister Destination, and D-Lay’s ultra PLUR-gooey Don’t Stop The Motion, all which appeared in some fashion on the latter 3CD Hypnotic release Musik Non Stop. The remaining stand-alone is closer Tuna from Norman, sounding more stripped back, minimalist, and groovy compared to all the hard trance on here. It’s almost as though Mr. Feller’s coming up with a fresh new genre, combining house and techno, a ‘garage-tek’ thing, if you will. Nah, that’ll never catch on.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Various - Trance Mission: Leon Bolier & Mike Shiver (Original TC Review)

Cloud 9: 2008

(2016 Update:
Hey look, it's me returning to that 'rip-on-trance' shtick our little website had gained a reputation for. Not that I desired a return to that, but this came out in an off-month, and me being a sucker for any sort of title that brought up
old-school flashbacks, figured this might be worth a listen-over. Sure beat giving the boys at Armada another chance, though I can't say this was much better. Listening to this again, it really throws a spotlight on how directionless the trance scene had become by the late '00s, trying and adapting any trendy new sound to stay relevant; heck, I even mentioned as such in this review, though I neglecting bringing up the short-lived '8th note' micro-genre. And Bolier's mix remains the more interesting of the two, the tunes at least trying to come up with an original style, despite some of it full of fail.

I touched on Leon's career trajectory in my update of his debut album
Pictures, but what of Mike Shiver? How has he held up? He jumped on that 'trouse' bandwagon along with the rest of them, including producing a track called Trouse. Look, his mix here was already filled with quickly dated trendwhoring tunes, so of course he'd keep doing the deed in the new decade. Guy's got a label to run, radio shows to promote; can't be left behind when there's bank to be made on the festival circuit.)


IN BRIEF: Now I remember...

When we were compiling our annual Worst Of TC list back in January, I was surprised by the outcome. Not the tracks themselves, as they all deserved their place in our Hall of Shame, but whereas my writing compatriots J’ and Will had a slew of dodgy epic trance in their choices, I offered none. At first I figured it had more to do with the odds, as I did review quite a range of music, exposed to material far worse than teeth-rotting trance (especially so in the ‘electro fart’ camps), but when I looked back on what I had covered, I was surprised to find mostly positive reviews of the genre. So then I thought perhaps epic melodic trance as a whole had gotten better, despite the odd sour tomato that makes its way to the top (Anthem, anyone?). Or could it be me? Had I maybe grown beyond gut distaste of this particular scene? Maybe I had achieved that mythical ‘post-jaded’ mindset.

After listening to this new double disc of trance titled Trance Mission, the real answer was given: I was just lucky. But more on that in a bit; first, some background one what exactly it is we have here.

So what we have here is the debut commercial DJ mixes of a pair of producers long time fans of melodic trance should be familiar with: Leon Bolier and Mike Shiver. I suppose the best way to describe their status in the trance echelon is ‘third tier’: both are certainly recognizable names, but neither have produced anything most would instantly be able to recall; also, in just about any popularity poll, they are typically mired in the middle of the pack. Fine if you’re content to remain at such a point in your career, but perhaps they’ve been chomping at the bit to take their careers to the next level, and doing a DJ mix for growing dance music distributor Cloud 9 certainly is a step in the right direction. Let’s find out how their first efforts are then.

Mr. Bolier gets dibs on the first disc, and takes off in fine fashion with Moonbeam’s catchy I Love Mornings. A couple pleasant trancey numbers later, and his mix takes a turn for the poppy. Very poppy. In fact... Heck, y’know friends? This is eurodance! Granted, Lange has always had an ear for that side of dance music, but just listen to what Schössow does in his remix of Beatitude (the peak after Kirsty Hawkshaw’s naff bit of singing). That bouncy hook is straight out of the big book of mid-90s euro; all that’s missing is a white ragga MC. Heh, it’d be quite interesting to see what Bolier would do with this sound if he decided to resurrect it somehow.

Instead, we are quickly courted off to the realms of decent-but-unremarkable progressive trance for a very long stretch. There’s little here I’d call awful (Jennifer Rene’s over-emoting on Invincible aside) but not much that gets the blood stirring either. Trouble is Bolier’s track sequence is quite dry, with too many unnecessary breakdowns lined up one after the other (the one in Extensions is particularly useless, not to mention Wardt’s use of glitchy percussion isn’t nearly as clever as it tries to be; nice moody tone though), with tracks that are timid in ratcheting the energy up after such downtime. About the only two that make standing impressions are Breakfast’s cascading white-noise synths in Dancing In The Moonlight, and Bolier’s own collaboration with Sied van Riel in Malibeer, an effective hard stomper (shame about the track resetting all that built-up energy at the end though).

On the other hand, perhaps this was intentional on Bolier’s part. After all, the track that lifts his set out of this middling funk is his own Ocean Drive Boulevard, an epic anthem that delivers on all fronts. And by following it up with a dark grumbler in Prominent and the energetic First Light from Bart Claessen, you have a final sequence of tracks that literally gallops with gusto towards the finish. It definitely paints his own music in a positive light, but still is a shame he didn’t dive into this material sooner, as Bolier exhibits some fine DJing sense here.

Ultimately, Leon’s a quality DJ when he bangs it out (or indulges in eurodance) but is hobbled by all the mediocre prog trance he seems insistent to play. How does Mike Shiver compare then?

Frankly, not at all, as his CD is quite different. Shiver’s delivered a set that highlights all that has gone wrong with trance this decade: the grotesque breakdowns, the insipid vocals, the melodic tripe, and, more recently, the cringe-worthy attempts at jumping on the ‘electro’ bandwagon.

For instance, what on earth is Sami Saari doing here? His lead hook is so terribly hokey, I can’t help but burst out in laughter at how much of an attitude try-hard it is. Even nu-skool breaks never came up with anything that corny; it’s like the shirtless barstar that wanders into a rave, hooped up on ecstasy and with powder on his nose, hootin’ and hollarin’ over how “phukin phat that shit is” while he tries to hump your girlfriend (and complains about the lack of PLUR when you tell him to fuck off). And Nic Chagall once again shows us how to utterly kill the momentum in a set with a remix of Cause You Know, where his limp rhythms actually have less playing time than all the nonsense he indulges in during his wank breakdowns and builds.

There’s plenty more I could rag on here, but let’s deal with the few positives instead: great bassline in Mat Zo’s remix of Music Is For Rich People; lovely remix of Helsinki Scorchin’ by Michael Cassette (an alias of two guys, for the record); solid beats in Marksun & Brian’s Saterday. These are some great moments, and I feel rather embarrassed for them to be surrounded by so much turgid fairy trance.

How there’s still a market for this Anjuna-like stuff is beyond me. The early lame ‘electro’ excursions aside, little on Shiver's disc sounds like it couldn’t have been produced during the last five years, and this sound’s always been ‘heard one, heard all’; it’s depressingly scared to shake the gravy train. Sure, it appeals to people without a penis, but even the most over-sentimental femme-pop isn’t this sappy (the ultra-produced uplifting synths really lay it on thick). At least Bolier’s disc was mostly self-aware during its cheesier moments; here it’s far too po-faced to be any fun.

As for Mike Shiver: The DJ, there really isn’t much to be said. His set’s perfunctory and lacking in surprises (Saterday being a clear exception); he’s essentially an Anjuna promo-bot, as nothing here stands out from all the other Anjuna/Armada/etc. DJs, although the ‘electro’ at the beginning suggests he’s perhaps recently dipped into the blow as well (and come away none the better for it).

So yes, I was indeed lucky in the year of 2007. Producers like Stephen J. Kroos and DJs like Menno de Jong had me believing the epic melodic side of trance was showing potential redemption in the wider world of club culture, and so long as guys like them continue to push ahead in their own way, it does. With tracks like Prominent and Saterday, Trance Mission itself offers glimpses of such too. However, Bolier and especially Shiver have also shown the genre still has a long way to go before all credibility is restored.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2008. © All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

EDM Weekly World News, December 2013

Little behind in my TRANCE! journey, so here's another classic bit of gossipy news reporting, filled with commentary, thinkpieces, and debates on the state of the scene. Only the most detailed analysis with this rag, by g'ar.



Seriously, are we still on this shit?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Ambelion - Trance Experience

JRC/Offshoot Records: 2006/2016

When Psychonavigation Records promises electronic music on a retro bent, I’d never have believed that’d include honest-to-God ‘90s trance. Who even makes this stuff anymore? None of the so-called vanguards of the genre, that’s for sure. This isn’t one of those ‘neo-trance’ things either, where a techno producer makes techno with looping, hypnotic arps and minor-key pads. Ambelion’s crafted a collection of tracks with sounds straight from the vaults of Paul van Dyk, from the exhibits of Eye-Q, from the museum of MFS, and nothing form the ditches of Dutchiness. This album is such a throwback, I think my spinal column snapped.

From the opening track Cyber Sky, if your old-school nostalgia triggers aren’t flashing from hearing that off-beat bassline and vintage Lieb klaxon call, you may as well skip out on Trance Experience altogether. No, wait, come back here damn it; you’re gonna’ get yourself some knowledge, son. Second track Your Flower is more of a techno cut with Balearic soundscapes, but such was enough to get the trance tag on any number of compilations back in the day, so it’s all good. Third cut Space Work comes straight from the lab of Ima-era BT, while fourth jam Effects Of Stars gets in on that uptempo van Dyk business. Boy, am I breezing through these tracks so fast. I know my detailing of music’s grown concise over the years, but this is as though each cut is super short or something. Oh indeed they are, seldom breaking even the five minute mark! What kind of trance lasts only four minutes?

Radio edits for one, but these don’t come off like that. Rather, each tune gets right to the action, doesn’t dawdle with DJ friendly intros or outros, and only uses breakdowns as a lull, forgoing the use of build-ups altogether. Wow, this really is retro trance! Unfortunately, this also leads to a very bite-sized experience of an album, running barely forty minutes long. Once it becomes apparent these tracks aren’t gonna’ develop much beyond their base components, the nostalgia wears thin and I feel the need to reach for a lengthy Spicelab excursion for a proper meal. The feel is definitely there, but ultimately Trance Experience is but an appetizer of the genre.

Still, gotta’ give some credit to Ambelion for having a stab at something like this, and especially Psychonavigation Records for even giving a throwback trance album a chance. What else has this Aleksandr Kovalenko done? *does the Discogs Digging Dance – it’s highly effective* Oh, wow, Ambelion’s made quite a few albums these past fifteen years, of all sorts of genres across at least a half-dozen labels. House, ambient, acid techno, including an ongoing series called Retro View. Seems this excursion into trance was just a one-off lark for Ambelion though, a lone entry on the Ukrainian print JRC… from 2006. Wait, Trance Experience is a ten year old album of twenty year old trance? Of all the obscure reissues Psychonavigation’s done, this one beats all.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Various - Trance Europe 2.0

Cleopatra: 1994

I’ve mentioned this CD in passing before, how it was a transformative disc in the development of my musical tastes. Why, you might even say it was… trance-morphing! Or even- no, that’s all I got. Obviously timing was a critical factor, Trance Europe 2.0 finding its way to my ears just as I grew bored of generic euro dance of the day. Here was something a bit similar (all those hard German beats!), but with an edge to it; trippier, energetic, delicious acid sounds and galloping choir pads. The general lack of vocals didn’t hurt either, Teenage Sykonee having grown quite tired of trite pop lyrics.

Still, plenty CDs of the mid-‘90s could have given me a similar knowledge drop; heck, this wasn’t even my first collection of trance. What Trance Europe 2.0 did, however, was convince my impressionable young mind of what trance could be, what sort of scene the genre was cultivating across the Atlantic. You mean to say this spacey, hypnotic dance music is enjoyed by bizarre, hedonistic individuals painting themselves in elaborate costumes while consuming mind-bending love drugs? Holy shit, screw the guido clubs ‘techno’ was catering to, sign me up for that! While Sven Väth’s parties at Omen were reportedly of similar stock, I doubt Cleopatra had that in mind, rather going with the ‘techno-goth’ theme many of their early CDs ran with. You do you, Cleo’.

All of which has little bearing on whether Trance Europe 2.0 is worth your time here in the dire year of 2016 (God, just end it already). Probably not, most of the memorable tunes easily found elsewhere. Komakino’s big breakout hit Outface (G60 Mix) kicks things off, but the exact same track kicked off their album Energy Trancemission too. Beyond Your Dreams is also on here, another track from the Outface single. Their Final Fantasy alias also crops up with the track Sometimes, a blistering slice of German acid. And in case that wasn’t enough Fritsch and Hastik action, they also get a producer’s credit on the Shorty Bone cut Trancemission. Oh man, this track’s bonkers, hard trance with a clunky, tribal techno rhythm; sounds like an early Influid tune.

A few tracks on the obscure side round things out. Tranceformer was more known for cheese-ball vocal tunes, but their instrumental b-sides were surprisingly decent in their simplicity, two of which grace Trance Europe 2.0 (Hypnotized and Magic Mushrooms). Morpheus 7 had but one single, the fluffy, happy cut Follow Me Into My World (Orgy-Nal) receiving the nod here. Ravesign by Vector was also a one-off, yet got a little more compilation duty than others (including an appearance on a Techno Trax, apparently). Sweep! was more of a rave-house guy, but Glowflow is trancey enough for this CD. And Norman Feller makes a requisite appearance with old-timey track Drift Away from his Trance-House single. And yes, I adore all these tunes! It wouldn’t be such a seminal, taste-changing CD for yours truly if I didn't, yo’.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Various - Trance Divas 2 (2016 Update)

Water Music Dance: 2005

(Click here to read a bunch of silly metaphors for love.)

So these CDs. I’m not sure why I kept a copy of them. Almost all the dance pop I reviewed for TranceCritic was quickly deleted from my harddrive, yet I still burned me some Trance Divas 2, even printed up the cover art. Considering how expensive ink jet cartridges run, that’s all sorts of daft for a pair of discs containing music I spent more time mocking than enjoying. Did I have some left-over need from my AudioGalaxy days of burning everything I could to CD? Might that desire for a big-yuuge show-off collection have clouded my impeccable musical judgment? Nah, most likely I felt having a back-up copy of Trance Divas 2 prudent for future reference, and as my computer of the time had a whopping 2.3 GB of memory, I sure as shit couldn’t keep it there. Little did I know I’d have to listen to these again for review, eleven years in the future. (holy cow…!)

That old review finds me soapboxing about ‘bad trance vocals’ and how they ruined the genre and a bunch of other dumb-ass nonsense that gives me serious cringes, folding me up into a fetal position of shame. Still, despite the rambling, my point remains that vocal trance – at least as found on Trance Divas 2 - is essentially where euro-dance of the ‘90s evolved to. The fact this compilation has equal shares of pure euro pop fluff with the ‘serious’ anthems from Very Important producers like Above & Beyond, Kyau & Albert, and ATB (*chortle*) only confirms the theory. And lo’, we even hear sprinklings of euro pop’s next evolutionary morph on here, that of the hardstyle knock-off genre ‘hands up’. Haha, I’m right, I win, Sykonee rules! *inexplicably drives off cliff*

Hey, here’s something I never talked about in that original TranceCritic review, the history of Trance Divas, the series! For instance, did you know there was a volume before this compilation came out? ‘Tis true, Water Music Dance releasing a first one just the year prior – how did 2005 Sykonee not mention that? The style of music is mostly the same, ‘serious’ vocal trance anthems mixed in with euro pop parading in eurotrance clothing. Quite a different roster of names in the track list though, including BT, Milk Inc., Matt Darey, Soda Club, Sinéad O'Connor, and Delerium. Yeah, Silence is on there, because of course it would be. Tiësto shows up twice more too, including his remix of Lost Witness’ Did I Dream, and his own track 643 (Love’s On Fire), the latter coming with a rub from… Oliver Lieb? On Trance Divas!? My head hath a’sploded!!

In case you care, a third volume of Trance Divas also made its way to the stores. This features such famous trance producers as Fabio Nobile, Paul Richard, Dutch Agency, Chris Nasty, and Rene Ablaze, and has no entry within Lord Discogs’ archives. Clearly no one wants to admit they own a wretched compilation like Trance Divas 3. Haha, hah.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Various - Muzik Presents Trance Classics

Muzik Magazine: 2002

Yet another trance classics CD, but wait, not all is as it seems! This was a free CD from Muzik Magazine, whom at this late point in the rag’s lifespan was among the UK’s biggest shittalkers regarding the genre. They believed in trance, once upon a time, singing the praises of the hypnotic, melodic side of techno back when so few other prints gave it attention. They promoted the hell out of Dragonfly Records, Platipus Records, Hook Records, and maybe even a mainland Europe label or two. They wrote charming articles regarding the ‘ABCs Of Trance’, and shot a critical eye in the direction of the ‘Crasher Kids phenomenon, sensing the ensuing rot that would bloat the scene to ridiculous levels of caricature. As the year 2002 came to a close, Muzik Magazine realized the battle was lost, their once underdog genre now an entirely different beast, filled with laser-soaked gurning punters with no recollection or care of trance’s history prior to the year 1998. They only had small measures of joy taking snarky potshots at the latest bit of bilge floating about their office for review.

No, wait, that’s not right. In this very same issue, they respectfully give props to Lasgo, marking them as one of the frontline shock-troopers of ‘ecstasy pop’; aka: vocal trance. They just can’t deny the kids like it, eh? Damn it though, they outta’ learn some of that history, so here’s a cheeky free disc of ‘proper’ trance classics that they can listen to while reading up on that Lasgo interview. Clever bastards.

Right, of course all that above is supposition, though makes for a fun little narrative when put in context of Muzik’s history. What more likely happened is Trance Classics comes from an aborted project that was intended for storewide distribution. Remember that [Genre] Muzik Classics series? In conjunction with Beechwood Records, the magazine released a few volumes highlighting the best/important tracks of major genres/scenes, including techno, d’n’b, and, erm, ‘Ibiza’. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had a Trance Muzik Classics in the works before cutting ties with the dodgy print, but man, what to do with all those licensed tunes you got? Save ‘em for later, I guess; maybe a free CD down the road.

As Trance Classics was curated by a British magazine, you’re damn right this is su-u-u-per biased to their homegrown talents. Simon Berry gets three tracks alone (you know which ones), while Enervate and 1998 (Binary Finary Remix) make their requisite appearances. Germany does get a look in with Metal Master’s Spectrum (Hoffmann and Väth), plus Paul van Dyk’s rub of Qattara’s Come With Me. At the harder end of the trance stadium, a lesser-known Chris Cowie hit crops up with X-Cabs’ Infectious, while Trade anthems Shinny from Elevator and Are Am Eye? from Commander Tom round things out. And finally, no Dutch nonsense, which makes this Trance Classics a zillion times better than ten volumes of A State Of Trance Classics.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Various - Trance Central - Return To The Classics Vol. 4: Jørn Stenzel

Planetary Consciousness: 2002

We’re flooded with ‘trance classics’ collections these days, but at the turn of the millennium… eh, they were still common. Any popular genre with enough history will have scores of tracks available for easy licensing, and with a solid decade of action behind it, trance was no less filled with handy tunes for quick cash-ins. Most often this was handled by major labels with financial clout raiding labels for their CDs, but you were lucky if such a release had a curator who put some actual thought into it. Who’s got time for carefully considered representations of a genre when the easiest path is regurgitating the same ol’ anthems everyone’s familiar with, amirite?

Seems the folks behind short-lived German print Planetary Consciousness thought differently, aiming at a DJ mix series that properly delivered on its byline of ‘returning to the classics’. Helmed by label everyman Hardy Heller, Trance Central – Return To The Classics promised no modern anthems, strictly tunes that defined trance in its early years, no matter how liberal you could go with the definition. Yeah, there was just as much progressive house and techno on these as anything else, but so it went in those days, hard borders still fuzzy in the early genre wars. Mr. HH also only did three CDs worth of mixes before moving on, after which one Jørn Stenzel took the reins for a fourth before Planetary Consciousness was swept into Daredo Music.

Okay, enough blah blah, yakkity bore about details. D’eez jams, then! How dope be this trance classics set when you got names like FSOL, Spicelab, Resistance D, Jam & Spoon, and Nikolai on it? Ah, it’s pretty fine, though not without its issues either. The CD opens with The Age Of Love, because I haven’t heard that song enough already. Then we go through DHS’ techno chant House Of God (“the house of God, God… house of God...”), Rejuvination’s groovy piano house Requiem (Part II), and pseudo-EBM cut Running from Tyrell Corp., another early alias from the Abfahrt posse. It’s about as rough a run of tracks as you’d expect from such early records, more a showcase of overlooked tunes than an actual piece of set construction. Nay, this CD doesn’t really take off until Satoshii Tomiie’s prog rub of Papua New Guinea. Oh, did I mention Stenzel occasionally uses (then) modern remixes of classic tracks? Some might call that cheating, but Human ‘98 is great regardless, and hearing Eternal Basement take Stella down such a sinister route gives some extra life in the old girl.

Overall, Stenzel’s set has two major highlights. First, the transition from Peyote’s (re: Dance 2 Trance) ode to Chief Josesph’s stirring “I will fight no more forever” speech into B-Zet’s rub of Dissidenten’s Jungle Book Part Two. It’s positively stirring, your heart breaking at hearing those words melt into the melancholic, floating space chords of the latter. Second, Spice Is A Fulltime Occupation is glorious old-school Oliver Lieb unleashed. They definitely don’t make ‘em like that anymore!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Chris Fortier - Trance America (2016 Update)

Engine Recordings: 2000

(Click here to read a bunch of hyperbolic gushing passing itself off as 'jurnarlizm'.)


So this CD. It’s still one of the best prog mixes I’ve heard, especially for such an obscure release. The label it came out on, Engine Recordings, has but three entries in Lord Discogs’ archives. This includes a DJ mix from Mr. C called Subterrain 100% Unreleased, and the Stateside copy of Layo & Bushwacka!’s debut Low Life. Lord Discogs also informs this print was a subsidiary of Will Records, which apparently mostly dealt with indie rock. If Will was taking a chance on that trendy ‘electronica’ at the turn of the century, they sure didn’t bother sticking with it for long. How Chris Fortier got involved with the label for a ‘prog’ mix titled Trance America is anyone’s guess; except for Chris, because obviously he knows firsthand. He did put out a ‘trancey breaks’ mix a couple years prior on StreetBeat Records, a print that got its start peddling that Miami bass business. Maybe Mr. Fortier just enjoyed bucking convention? No, that can’t be right. He’s behind Fade Records, the label that practically defined ‘prog’ before it became Bedrock’s genre du jour. Was there any style of dance music that sounded more conventionally traditional than ‘prog’? Whee, oxymoron!

See, 2004 Sykonee, see? That’s how you’re supposed to do a review. None of this ultra-long anecdotal nonsense about Trance America being “trance’s redemption”. A few actual nuggets of information goes a long way, especially when dealing with something as obscure as this CD. Not that it’s difficult to find on the used market, nor does it command a high price. Nay, its obscurity lies in how overlooked Trance America remains, an easily missed release due to its awfully generic title. Plus, despite his skill behind the decks and the acclaim he earned before and since the year 2000, Mr. Fortier never broke free of the scene that nurtured his career, forever just another DJ and producer that Sasha & Digweed liked. Hey, that’s not such a bad distinction, not at all!

If you’re a prog completist, Trance America does feature a number of one-offs in its tracklist. Hyper-X never released anything else, not that it matters since its Steve Porter’s remix that gets the glory here. Tranceiver didn’t do much else either, while Memnon and Devol faded a couple years after. 3 Monkeys only had the mint single Crazy People, though its members – Anthony Pappa, Alan Bremner, and Barry Gilbey – were incredibly prolific with other projects (Brothers In Rhythm, Mara, superstar DJing, etc.). And we all know the fates of Steve Porter and Max Graham, early progressive trance darlings that went in completely different directions once ‘prog’ fell out of favor.

Not that 2004 Sykonee knew much of this. Discogs was still skint in its early info’, still becoming a Lord That Knows All. Plus, who’d have thought ‘prog’ would completely die so soon, its tastemakers scurrying to the safety of trendier genres? Certainly not I back when. Maybe exhaustingly detailing the music was for the best. Yeah, no.

Friday, July 1, 2016

ACE TRACKS: June 2016

Guess what! I’ve reached the ‘Tr’s of my epic, endless journey through music I own, so you know what that means: it’s time to kick off a Summer Of Trance! Okay, ‘summer’ is pushing it some, but at least a July’s worth, especially if we include items through ‘trans’. Finally though, all of my trancecracker glories and fails will come to light, everything I own that’s trance. Except for the releases that started with ‘Goa’ or ‘Psy’. And all those In Trance We Trust mixes too, I guess. Plus anything that had ‘trance’ in its title, just not the start, come to think of it. Hell, even some releases that didn’t have ‘trance’ at all, like A Day On Our Planet or Dreamland or Ideas From the Pond or Rendezvous In Outer Space. Fine, this upcoming bundle of trance is but a fraction of the total amount floating about my stores of CDs. Trust me though, after a month of this, you’ll be begging for variety. Gangsta rap, psychedelic rock, minimal derp-haus, anything! Or hey, whatever’s on this ACE TRACKS playlist for June 2016. Yes, nailed the segueway!



Full track list here.


MISSING ALBUMS:
Various - Toronto Mix Sessions: Kenny Glasgow
Various - Trade: Past Present Future

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 2%
Percentage of Rock: 34%
Most “WTF?” Track: The Archies - Sugar, Sugar (how do I suddenly have diabetes after listening to this song!?? …but seriously, another Dronny Darko piece is the answer)

Not quite as eclectic as these past couple months, as I mostly spent June wrapping up backlog before carrying on with ‘T’ albums. Heavier on the folky, alternative, and indie rock than anything else, but also got into familiar territory again with trip-hop, d’n’b, techno, and Neil Young. Really not much else to say about this playlist, because TRANCE is coming, man! TRANCE!
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