Thursday, September 19, 2013

Markus Schulz - Ibiza '06 (Original TC Review)


Moist Music: 2006

(2013 Update:
Are these the same CDs? Yeah, the problems I bring up in this bloat of an old review (1500 words - you've been warned) are there, but they aren't as big of a deal as I remember them. Was I really so burned out on trance that year? Perhaps, as McProg truly
was stale by the end of '06. It's not much of a surprise almost all the jocks, including Schulz, were moving on to other things within the year. Yet after hearing Ibiza '06 out of that context, in the here and now, I find there's a lot more to enjoy than I initially gave it credit for. Maybe that's all it takes, eh? Let an overplayed genre of music sit fallow for a few years, then return to it with fresh ears and (hopefully) matured insight. Then, and only then, can you properly take the music on its own merits, not weighed down by excessive marketing but as the original producers intended. Yeah...

Nah, this stuff's honestly just of higher quality than all the side-chaining, electro, 8th notes, and noise that followed in McProg's wake. If anything,
Ibiza '06 can be regarded as the genre's last gasp of glory. If you enjoyed the stuff but passed this by because of genre fatigue when it first hit the streets, maybe take another look. After all, it's not like you're gonna be getting anything new in this style.)

IN BRIEF: Pleasant atmosphere, but little else.

We passed an anniversary of sorts this last week. Prior to November 2005, TranceCritic was still a relatively low-key review site with a small but consistent reader-base. We’d cause a stir here and there with some of our more opinionated reviews, but nothing drastic. That all changed though, when one of our writers, Cobalt, gave a less-than-favorable review on the debut artist album from Miami-based DJ Markus Schulz.

The aftermath of this review resulted in a slew of hate mail from Schulz’ loyal, dedicated, almost cult-like fanbase, a flaming the likes we’ve yet to see since. Of course, for a fledgling site such as ours, that kind of publicity did wonders to increase our profile, and in a weird sort of way, we owe some thanks to The Cult Of Schulz for that. Therefore, it seems fitting we should sit here with a new release from Mr. Schulz a year later, this time in the form of a DJ mix.

Much has happened in clubland this past year, and Schulz’ profile has diminished during this time. For a DJ who was apparently on the road to superstar status, this comes as a bit of a shock. After all, he’d done everything required to be amongst the big players: solid underground reputation; unique accessible style of music; popular internet radio show; cult-like fanbase to preach the Gospel of Schulz everywhere they went. What went wrong?

Two things, by my eyes. Firstly, the aforementioned debut album tanked at a point when a solid release would have cemented his status in clubland. It chased away his underground following and was met with apathy from casual folks, leaving only his newer fans to enjoy the results. Naturally, he continued pandering to this new fanbase, but it lead to the second problem: popular tastes were rapidly changing. His brand of feather-light prog was wearing thin by the end of 2005, especially with dirty tech the burgeoning hot sound. All the hype surrounding Schulz’ rising star faded away, the Swedish House Mafia now the topic of discussion.

It’s safe to say all the momentum his career had been building significantly slowed down this year. Obviously, he still has plenty of tour dates and the Cult of Schulz remains as loyal as ever, but one gets the impression he’s reached a crossroad in his musical direction. Should he carry on with his ‘McProg’ sound that helped him gain all that momentum in the first place, even though it has grown stale? Or might it be best to search new avenues, taking his old ideas along with him?

Ibiza ‘06 is this year’s annual mix from the Schulzer, representing the sort of music he played at his residency on the island this past summer. Additionally, he’s decided to showcase mostly new talent here rather than make a mix with obvious anthems, which as the head of a label (Coldharbour, d’uh) is always smart business practice. If Markus has moved on or stayed the course, we should find our answer here. Into the player goes Disc 1.

And judging from the opening chunk of tracks, Schulz is still playing his ‘twinkle’ prog (heh, there’s a million-and-one terms for it). If you still haven’t heard of it, McProg tends to have heavy grooves, airy sweeping effects, and, the clincher, little melodies that sound like they were sampled from ballerina toy boxes. It makes for pleasant music but doesn’t have the depth of other forms of prog. The fact most of it is similarly arranged like epic trance (lots of long unnecessary breakdowns and builds) has caused many of the progressive elite to disown the sound altogether. Still, it is charming music when handled well.

And Markus does handle this sound very well for the first half of disc one. Benya’s Mimas may have you rolling your eyes, mind, but after that we are taken into some nice, grooving tracks with deep, immersive soundscapes. Progresia and Francis Blaid offer synthy hooks as well in their tracks for those who like something to hum along to.

Addictive brings the rhythmic intensity up, and it seems this mix is ready to be taken to the next level. Then, the breakdown hits; and, God, is it awful. Seriously, that wailing... guitar, is it? Who knows, but it’s terribly hokey (but probably will be a smash anyway) and the complementing trancey hooks in the build are so rote, it kills the mood in an instant. A shame, because Monakhov’s follow-up Feels Lonely is an interesting track, with a nifty grumbling bassline. It certainly would have segued better from Mystery than Addictive.

From here, this mix goes absolutely nowhere. Oh, there’s some nice sounding tracks to be had - Benz & MD’s Turning The Curves is a wonderful euphoric trancer, and Technology & Computer is a decent groover - but Markus seems interested in showcasing songs rather than making any kind of thematic set. If there is a theme, it’s the running amiable atmosphere these tracks provide. Unfortunately, many of them contain lackluster hooks, most of which you’ll forget after the disc finishes. Well, maybe Chuck Luis’ Collision will be remembered, but only because it’s such a laughable try-hard.

Most telling though, is the second half doesn’t contain any of Schulz’ trademark sound. It would appear he’s moving into standard van Buuren styled trance, although with a thicker groove and slightly less emphasis on the uplift. How does this affect discero numero deux, then?

By going all trance, it would seem, but don’t run away just yet. Ormatie establishes a deep atmosphere, and Joonas Hahmo brings us the groove with a charming hook, which opens the second CD promisingly.

Some pleasant deep tracks go by, including a little bit of twinkle in Glimmer if you still crave it, but these are just warm-ups for YearZero, which is vintage Andy Moor: chopped-up vocals, angelic pads, twinkly melodies, and body-movin’ rhythms. Well, Orkidea has a hand in this track too, but folks will be thinking Moor all the way here. He might have become predictable as fuck, but Andy’s style does work, and YearZero makes for a nice peak in this mix. Achems [sic?] Razor from Kenneth Thomas works nicely as a follow-up, with a simple, pounding lead and mechanical sound effects.

Markus pulls a surprise in throwing down some techno from Roland Klinkenberg, which for a moment made me think we were going to see a completely unexpected tangent from the Schulzer. Alas, it’s not to be, but it does change the focus of this mix, leading us into deeper pastures where lots of floaty pads and minor melodies dominate. It’s an utter bore though, with rudimentary hooks, placid rhythms, and very little sticking in your mind. Sure, I enjoy some atmospheric soundscapes in my trance, but when it’s done in a DJ set, it had better lead to something, and none of these tracks do. It’s just track after track of similarly arranged tunes, and no interesting flow at all.

Even more damning is the fact the final stretch suffers from ‘too-many-breakdowns’ syndrome. This isn’t an energetic set to begin with, so you’d think excessive breakdowns wouldn’t be a problem. Yet by the time Markus’ own First Time hits, it’s become annoyingly predictable. A couple of interesting sounds will briefly draw your attention (Sassot’s Where It All Began probably the best of the lot), but most of it will fade from your memory by the end. Altogether, not a remarkable finish.

It is quite clear Markus has shifted his musical focus, as much of his old sound is absent. While I respect his decision to change, he could have chosen something better than what we have here. Instead of a unique, if simple, form of prog, Schulz seems to have been converted to the Armada trance sound, and most of Ibiza ‘06 follows their manifesto: airy, melodic trance without an original idea in it that hasn’t been aped from the year 2001. In this regard, Markus just sounds like a slightly slowed-down mellow Armin, which isn’t going to do him any favors if he wants to make a bigger name for himself.

Ultimately, there’s very little on Ibiza ‘06 that distinguishes Schulz from the Armada pack. There’s a bit more emphasis on groove and atmosphere, but it’s still Armin’s style of trance, which has been stale for ages. Markus doesn’t bring anything new to the table here, and if he continues down this road, he’s going to be stuck in van Buuren’s shadow for a long time to come.


ACE TRACKS:
Lens - Dusk Till Dawn (Alex Stealthy Remix)
Benz & MD - Turning The Curves (Original Mix)
Andy Moor vs. Orkidea - YearZero

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. © All rights reserved.


3 comments:

Rami Dahud said...

While McProg was largely on its way out by the time this compilation was released, I don't think it was on a stale note inasmuch as it was a bloated, almost self-caricaturized one. I had to roll my eyes just as much at the climax to 'Mimas,' which represents just how much McProg in general had pushed the twinkly sidechaining well beyond the limits of good taste.

I think the sound of the previous edition- Miami '05- represented McProg at its precarious sweet-spot.

Rami Dahud said...

I also love how we're using such an incredibly facetious and snarky description of a sub-genre in a completely straight-faced, matter-of-fact way.

Sykonee said...

Sometimes a term so perfectly describes a genre, that it sticks in spite of any derogatory or facetious origin. There's quite a few genres like that: clownstep, IDM, futurepop, etc. Heck, I think 'progressive house' (not to mention the all-encapsulating word 'prog' much later) was initially coined with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

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