Just When You Think You’ve Scene It All…

The trance scene is dead.

People have been telling me this for at least the last 15 years, therefore it must be true. Except, none of these people know what they’re talking about. There’s just no convincing most of them though, unfortunately, believe me I’ve tried.

Many anal chin-strokers like to argue about the emergence of trance as a genre of music and try to pin-point exactly where it started, which is very nice for them. Cosmic Baby over here, Jam El Mar over there, a well-Fierce-Ruling-Diva-were-quite-trancey gets the tempers flared, leading to an oh-what-about-this-early-Orbital-track, then it’s well-hang-on-a-minute-what-about-this-early-KLF-bootleg, until someone points out Vangelis, then someone else retorts well-if-you’re-gonna-be-like-that-then-how-about-Jean-Michel-Jarre, until eventually everyone has a collective circle-jerk reminiscing about how great Kraftwerk were before they were all born. Then some other knobhead will mention Philip Glass and all hell breaks loose again.

"You just HAD to go and bring up Philip Glass again, didn't you."

The truth is that it doesn’t really matter how, when, or where the trance scene “started”. It simply matters that it did.

What confuses people today, now that trance is such a universally widespread phenomenon, is their inability to differentiate between the conflicting elements that make up what is referred to as “the scene”.

Quite simply, trance has a music scene, and trance has a club scene. At least, this has almost always been the case up until very recently, where a third scene has emerged to influence both the club and music scenes. That is, of course, what can maybe best be referred to as the social scene. In the beginning, as it were, there was only the one scene, the music scene, so I guess it follows that if a second one can emerge later on, a third or maybe more could still do later on.

The music scene came first, of course, there’s not really any chicken/egg philosophising to be done about that, but what can’t be denied is that trance probably owes its popularity now to the club scene. The early parties are what gave it that initial status to create any word of mouth to begin with, and in the 1998/99 period it was a combination of the legendary music of course but also the legendary parties too (Gatecrasher in Sheffield especially, though of course I would say that)

If you've heard the legends, they're all true

What can’t be denied is that the club scene for trance has certainly changed since then. Many say it isn’t as successful as it was, but that’s more of a navel-gazer’s point of view. In England it’s certainly true, but from a global perspective, there are trance events going off now in countries that barely knew it even existed until relatively recently.

Similarly, the music scene has changed (although as I discussed previously, trance as a definition itself hasn’t) as there are things possible now in computer processing power, studio technology, sound engineering, etc, etc, which just couldn’t be dreamed of even ten years ago.

I remember saying to someone back in late 1999 or early 2000 during one of my own anal chin-stroking moments, how such a high proportion of the decent trance around at that time came from only six different producers – Ferry, Armin, M.I.K.E., PvD, Tiesto (we didn’t know about his engineer back then), and someone else who I probably daren’t remember now (probably Oakey, knowing me). It’s a horribly naive thing to have come out with, I’m the first to admit that, but in fairness they were all very consistent at the time and between them still make up a very decent portion of the tracks you see on those classics CDs that still infect the store shelves continuously.

Must include tracks you've heard many times before or you won't buy it...

But nowadays, that scenario simply couldn’t be true. There are, I’d guess, maybe 1000 times as many people making trance music right now than there were ten years ago. Try as I might, I can’t come up with any reasons as to why this is a bad thing.

The most common complaint I hear nowadays is that there is so much shit music around. That’s actually the case for people I know who like every genre of music rather than trance. It’s true, of course, but that’s because there are infinitely more people making it than there used to be, some of them learning their way, some of them finding their feet, and tragically many of them talented but destined to remain unheard of forever.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff as a percentage, musically, I don’t reckon there’s been that much change down the years. There was a lot of terrible trance around in 1998/99 as well that people thankfully forget about. The only difference between then and now is just in sheer volume, but that volume has allowed that other important development within the music scene – specialisation – and with specialisation comes the territorial instinct kicking in, which changes everything.

When I was first listening to the electronic stuff and finding my way with it, I was still in school and managed it via a combination of pirate radio (a local hardcore FM station broadcast from a block of flats that used their metal staircase as an aerial – ingenious, to say the least) Radio 1 on a Friday night (from that fateful evening at the end of 1990 that saw Jeff Young’s Big Beat give way to some random called Pete Tong) and scouring the obscure shelves of my local record stores (six of them in total, makes you weep about the modern-day high street) for the weird electronic section, checking the labels at the back to see which of them had German addresses (a tactic that eventually brought me to Logic Records, for what it’s worth).

Twenty years later, it’s conceivable that someone could quite easily spend an entire fortnight on YouTube alone, sat continually playing trance videos over and over and never hear the same track twice.

"OMG I can't believe it was 8 days before I even discovered Ace da Brain!"

The internet has been quite an amazing feature of the expanse of the trance scene in recent years. The digital revolution has been both a curse and a blessing to the scene in many ways generally, but for allowing the sheer accessibility to the music the impact has been enormous.

My digital revolution tale of conversion was the Strange Case Of The Rebirth Session 123, when Dario Lupo (check out his new album btw folks) arrived in the chat during the live radio broadcast and sent me a link to his new track which I downloaded, burned to CD, and then played later in the very same show.

Like it or not, the digital revolution happened and we have to make the best of it, which to me means focussing on its’ good points and trying not to get depressed about the bad points. Similarly, I think we have to look at the changes in the trance scene in the very same way.

With the advent of the internet has come the rise of the social network. Previously, clubbers at trance events would generally only ever meet up at weekends, but with the internet, forum banter, collective suicide-Tuesdays, and everything else, the mystique has gone a bit from the weekend club family, which perhaps might have been a factor in the decline of the club scene in England. Combined with that territorialisation brought on by people being able to specialise and super-define the style of trance they like, it’s become a source of conflict, something to argue over, which is a shame.

You don't want to argue with this man or he'll pwn your a$$

Compared to forums, social networking – Facebook, Twitter, and the like – allows people to control their own social circles and block people they don’t like, a luxury forums (sadly) don’t offer. People are always saying forums are dead these days as well as trance. This is probably one of the reasons why.

It’s really quite difficult to have a decent argument with long-winded witty insults and amusing pictures and scathingly dry retorts on Twitter, and although it’s slightly easier on Facebook, it’s generally more trouble than it’s worth. What is much easier, however, is for people to find other people who like the same kind of trance as they do.

The true love of trance is borne not simply from the music itself, but being able to share it with like minded people. With specialisation changing the definition of “like-minded” all the time, geographically, these cliques are still have become too far and wide to make a club scene successful, at least for now. The #trancefamily movement on Twitter is only just over a year old but is growing exponentially, the #tatw350 hashtag for Above & Beyond’s recent event trended worldwide recently too, only serving to baffle much of the Twitterati in the process, many of whom probably wouldn’t until then have even known what trance was until they googled it later on. Soon #asot500 will probably do the same.

The simple fact is this – anyone now, if they want to set their mind to it, can use the internet to find an abundance of incredibly good music that they like, or even love. Anyone who says they can’t is either lying or isn’t trying hard enough. Thankfully, many people (a minority, still, sadly) do seem to bother to do the searching, and it’s inevitable that in doing so, you’ll happen upon other, similar people finding their way through that whole same musical minefield.

This is what the general consensus regarding Darude looks like

Given enough time, these groups of people will grow. They will share. They will develop that same love in a different way to how clubbers did before them, but they will develop it all the same.

People have often commented down the years that I don’t “put myself out there enough” musically. But I hate spamming people for two reasons – firstly because I hate spam myself, and secondly, because I’ve never felt it’s my place to tell people how great I am, as that’s not really for me to decide. People will like my sets or they won’t, it’s no skin off my nose really. Looking at the music scene universally across all genres the vast majority of people won’t like my sets even slightly. So going round giving it the old “listen to this, you’ll like it” just strikes me as a bit daft because most of the time it won’t be true. But if I lost any sleep over any of this I’d have been put in an asylum before 2005. I do all these sets for only one reason, which is that I love the music.

The fact that anyone else out there likes trance at all seems somewhat of a miracle to me as I can remember only too well when it seemed like I was the only one. Because of social networks, that will never be the case again. People now who put their minds to it can catch up on the history of any genre of music they choose to more or less infinite ends, and none of them are alone any more. In a way, that’s kind of beautiful.

With the social scene has also unfortunately brought with it the file-sharing scene, meaning that the financial value of trance, at least, has pretty much evaporated. It’s a crying shame but again, this has two opposing effects on how the trance scene progresses into the future. On the one hand, it can go commercial to appeal to a wider audience, and move into the live performance arena. This is essentially what the club scene is in the process of developing into now. DJs go on tours now, haven’t you noticed?

"Hey now, you're a rockstar, get your show on get paid..."

On the first time I took my lifelong (and rock-music loving) best friend to Gatecrasher back in April 1999, his first remark on difference between there and “other nightclubs” was that everyone on the dancefloor was facing the DJ, as if it was a gig for a band, rather than a nightclub. That sense of the DJ being the focal point of things is very much the same now, but on a much grander scale.

On the other hand, this commercial world is rather cut-throat, and so producers who are in it all for commercial reasons often don’t last. Artists form cliques amongst themselves, mutually supporting each other, and can succeed as part of a collective, but others will move on. Meanwhile, the rest, who are left, are to me the most important part of this trance scene of all, and the second opposing result of this financial drought in making trance music. People who produce it purely for the love of doing so.

As I said before, changes happen, and the secret is to make the best of them when they do, so in this instance I think it’s absolutely these people who should be championed. Successful artists these days do well as a result of marketing campaigns, relentless PR, protectionism, and all manner of other things on top of their skills in the studio or behind the decks, and to be fair most of them work very very hard to make a living out of it for themselves, if they even manage to do that at all, so good luck to them. But the people who need us most are the ones who would otherwise be unnoticed beneath all the commercial noise, plugging away, doing what they love, searching for the others like themselves.

The club scene will not die, though it will probably one day grow very very infrequent, but it won’t die. I sometimes amuse myself thinking of the prospect in decades to come of the places on earth still untouched by social change, but that one day might even have a trance revolution of their own if it ever reaches them at all. The thought of a futuristic world where the first descendants of lost Amazonian tribes one day discover glowsticks and Ferry Corsten is a wonderful image to ponder. Maybe in 200 or 1000 years they’ll be reaching for the lasers too, who knows?

"Our favourite track is Lost Tribe - Gamesmaster"

Most importantly though, the music scene will not die, if anything I think it will become something we can barely even imagine at the moment. The technology for it is now at a stage where it is accessible and the techniques are there to be used – even just the ones we know about already. I remember getting a Spectrum 48k when I was 8 years old and marvelled at the machine. The thought of 8 year olds today getting their heads around Cubase, Ableton, Logic, and all the VSTs you can imagine – especially at a time in life when they are highly receptive to picking up information – makes me anticipate the future eagerly.

Already there is a new breed of producers out there waiting to be heard, but in a mass market it’s very difficult to get noticed, especially when you’re up against commercial marketing powerhouses. And beyond them, another generation is already learning things that will one day change the shape of the music scene to come.

In the future, it’s the social network that will probably drive trance forward again, although a club scene revival is certainly not impossible. But the thing is that there has always been that distinction between people who listen to a certain music for pleasure, and others who get pleasure mainly from the club scene that goes with it. This was illustrated by a number of my former Gatecrasher cohorts turning their attentions to funky house in the early 2000’s, as this was the club scene that was really thriving at the time. Trance clubbing has certainly declined in popularity, but thankfully there have always still been some good club nights throughout that time keeping things going.

Trance is music that can be enjoyed socially and live – but it’s easy to forget that it’s also music that can be enjoyed simply by being listened to, on your own. The pleasure of listening alone might easily be the new growth area for the trance scene in general (in fact I already think it is) except we don’t have to be alone any more. Social networks can connect more people than one club night ever could, and if one of these networks can grow big enough, it could in theory one day take the club scene into a new direction as well. Imagine for a minute what the legendary M25 party organisers of the late 80’s/early 90’s would have been capable of had they had access to Twitter.

"Follow the #m25orbital hashtag for news on tomorrow night's event!"

So many people mistake the ebbs and flows of a club scene for an ebb and flow in the music scene. The whole “trance isn’t as good as it used to be” nonsense has plagued the testosterone-filled keyboard-warrior forums for years and years now, where each of them form their personal opinions based on their own personal ebb and flow with the scene and/or the music. The truth is that trance has probably never been their love and was simply a tangent on their way to finding that love, which they may not ever get around to doing if they’re lazy enough to dismiss a whole diverse massive music scene as being dead purely on the basis that they don’t like it as much as they used to.

In the future, anything is conceivably possible. If we started with the music scene, then along came the club scene, and now the social scene making the holy trinity, who’s to say that another variant on this might not emerge in years to come? Virtual reality clubbing, perhaps? It sounds silly, but then when I was a kid, 3DTV sounded silly.

If there’s one thing about which we can be certain for the “trance scene” is that it will continue to change in all of its areas, and hopefully, we can continue to make the best of those changes. But I’m confident our next-generation trance artists aren’t going to let us down, not at all. In fact, I’d wager we’re probably all going to be amazed, and personally, I can hardly wait.

The trance scene is dead. Long live the trance scene!

5 Responses to “Just When You Think You’ve Scene It All…”

  1. January 22, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    this article put me in awe – well said and well set. really enjoyed the read man.

  2. 2 Ash Prendergast
    January 25, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Quite interesting little read.
    Pictures are well chosen haha

  3. February 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Cheers for the kind words guys 🙂 And yes Ash I spent a while trying to find some of them but I’m glad it was worth it lol

  4. February 9, 2011 at 7:22 am

    Very well written and timely… I think the club scene has affected the music scene a lot, changing the way tunes are written – whereas I’m sure in previous years, the music was just made purely for listening pleasure (for the love of it) and it also happened to work well in a club. The bit on exposing a people/tribe to FC & glow sticks was hilarious – if I was rich I would do a documentary on that! Thanks for keeping the trance scene alive! (I trust in your mixes!)

  5. 5 JoDo
    February 9, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Also I would recommend you add a Like button or something to your website – http://developers.facebook.com/docs/plugins/ – since you’re speaking about the future 😉

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