Archive for the 'Random Ramblings' Category


Fifty Shades Of Blue – Why Genre Does Not Matter

If you are one of those people who argues about music genres then you are a moron.

I probably sound judgemental, but to be honest I’m letting you off lightly. I see no real problem with judging those who use musical genres as a means to justify their own snobbery, a means to create conflict, or who wear them as a badge of honour, or identity. As Dara O’Briain once put it so eloquently – “Music snobbery is the worst kind of snobbery. ‘Oh, you like those noises, those sounds, in your ear? Do you like them? They’re the wrong sounds. You should like these sounds.’”

Do you remember that scene from Father Ted, where Ted and Dougal are discussing the point that only priests wear truly black socks, whilst everyone else who thinks they do actually just wears very very very very very very very dark blue ones. Even if you’ve never heard the argument, you can probably imagine that it’s a pretty silly one.

Well, if you’re one of these genre terrorists with delusions of grandeur on some Genghis Khan-like crusade to raise your flag as the saviour of your music, guess what? You’re basically Father Ted, ranting about the colour of socks.

Oh no! I hear you cry. You can’t say that! How dare you! The blood is probably pumping in your ears as your rage builds, adrenalin surging as you prepare to answer your calling and defend your music from this arrogant naysayer and his twisted ideals. You’ve probably already started to compile the argument in your head as to how you’re going to shoot me down in flames, before you’ve even heard what I have to say. Because it MEANS THAT MUCH to you.

Congratulations. This means you have an actual passion about music. This would be a good thing, if you weren’t so pig-headed about it.

The effort that goes into the world’s collective arguments about music genres depresses me more than I could ever really convey here, in this blog, with meagre words. This, in itself, is a prudent point I will explore later.

You could say it’s hypocritical of me to be here at all, arguing about this whole subject, and I respect your right to think that. I suppose you could say I view myself more as a kind of Matthew Broderick in WarGames (showing my age here too, I guess) frantically trying to teach the out-of-control machine gone mad that the only winning move is not to play. I guess my reason for writing this at all is to try and draw a line under the whole godforsaken sorry business.

So anyway, think back to Father Ted, and the very very very very very very very dark blue socks. You’ve probably seen a colour spectrum before – here’s one:

– and here’s where you’d locate very very very very very very very dark blue:

Everything on this colour spectrum can conceivably have a name of its’ own. Most of them do, in fact. Simply looking up “blue” on Wikipedia lists an incredible variety of shades, at least half of which I didn’t even know existed until I looked them up on Wikipedia just now. Some of them are quite ridiculous, but what you can’t deny that they do all share a common theme. The theme of blue.

Whilst I was at university, I can remember someone asking me how I’d describe colours to the blind. I did a writing course – you get all sorts of artsy questions like that. It’s pretty much impossible anyway, because all you can really do is use a visual frame of reference. But I can remember the idea fascinating me, how someone blind from birth would even try to perceive of colour as an actual concept itself, let alone the various shades and combinations.

As any young scientist knows, the sky is blue not because it is made of blue material, but because the light waves react with the atmosphere in a way that makes it blue to us visually. At some point in human history, when language was first being developed, there will have come a time when things that were the colour of the sky started being described with the word “blue”. There will have no doubt been various incarnations of this down the centuries, and most likely there will be more of them in future too. Language does evolve, of this there is no doubt and it can be tracked and traced throughout history. The word “blue” is simply the name we currently give to the underlying concept of blue-ness, in the English-speaking world, anyway.

Tell me if you’ve heard about the “static unchanging concept” before?

The word “blue” is incidental – it’s simply a word and could just as easily be “green”, or “ski-jump”, or “coffee”. What is important is not the word itself, but that underlying concept, the visual point of reference that we have for what exactly “blue” is.

We can define it by light wavelengths, or by show and tell, but the concept of what the colour blue actually is is a fundamental and universal truth. It is its very own entity that has existed as long as the universe has in itself, perhaps even longer than that.

You can illustrate this with a little thought-experiment you can call The Blue T-Shirt Principle.

Let’s imagine that tomorrow morning, you wake to the news that aliens have landed on Earth. They’re super-intelligent, politically ethical, and generally all-around nice aliens that you’d be more than happy to welcome to Earth as your new ruling Overlords. As always though, there is just one small catch that’s a deal-breaker for them – these aliens are psychotically offended by people wearing blue T-shirts. It sounds daft but given some of the crazy shit that people on this planet believe, we’re hardly in a position to judge them. For all we know, blue T-shirts are exactly where we’ve been going wrong all these years.

Maybe it’s something in their alien religion, or maybe it’s just a personal vendetta from the ones who landed here, that’s not important. What is important is that these aliens put their best engineer on the problem, their super-super-intelligent engineer who’s as superior to his own race as they are to us.

This engineer builds an elaborate device using all his super-super-intelligent wisdom that promises to end the scourge of blue T-shirts once and for all. After a big parade with lots of pomp and circumstance, it all builds to a crescendo when the engineer presents the alien leader with the device, and the alien leader pulls the lever on the side, cackling like some mad scientist.

The device switches on, and in a single moment, everything is changed. All across the universe, the multiverse, the ether inbetween, across all temporal and special dimensions – on every single planet in every single galaxy throughout the whole of existence itself. The device reaches all these places and in this one moment, every single blue T-shirt spontaneously combusts and disappears without a trace.

Some people in green T-shirts manage to escape the horror, as do those rebellious folk wearing purple. Everyone else inbetween, suddenly they’re naked from the waist up. They look in their wardrobes for a new T-shirt to put on, but all the blue ones that were in there previously have also now gone.

Some people try to get round it by dying white T-shirts blue, but as soon as they do, the shirt spontaneously combusts. Even photographs of people in which they had been wearing a blue T-shirt have now changed so they are naked from the waist up. It’s an international scandal, quite frankly, but the human race ultimately decides that it’s a small price to pay in exchange for the benefits of having super-intelligent, politically ethical aliens at our disposal.

The Blue T-Shirt Principle really just amounts to one simple question – does any of this in any way change what a blue T-shirt actually is?

Of course it doesn’t. Even if every blue T-shirt in the universe was to be destroyed, you could still picture one in your mind, even without any physical examples to look at. Even if you’d never seen one, you can imagine it because of your combined knowledge of the concept of the T-shirt and the concept of blueness.

These underlying concepts transcend all of the petty differences of humanity. They’re like mathematical laws – building blocks of the universe that we attempt to convey into our collective understanding via the means of language. And by language I mean words, body language, facial expressions, gestures – the full spectrum of human communication.

Whilst music is a language of sorts, its purpose is somewhat different, in that it is used more for the expression of emotions than the conveyance of information. Ultimately music (and art in general) runs on a two-point principle:

1. Express emotional state.
2. Replicate emotional state within others.

You can, however, combine music with something else to make something entirely new – words, for example, which creates song. What humans love to do once a distinction like this is made is to then start giving everything a name, and then we get lost on that merry-go-round of wordplay again.

If they sing it, it’s a song, yes. OK, but if they shout the words aggressively, what is it then, is that hip-hop? Or some kind of heavy metal? What’s that? It uses classical music as a backing track? Oh right, well, that makes it classical then, does it? What happens if they speak the words then, like Faithless? Or Shatner-style when he just reads them like it’s a weather report, is it a song then? Well, erm, no. Is it rap? I don’t think so… Erm….oh, shit, what are we going to DO?

Maybe there is a name for what William Shatner did to Rocket Man, maybe you call it a song, maybe you call it post-modern poetry, maybe you call it Exhibit A in the Case For A Shatner Intervention. But, you know what? Whatever you call it – call it “Jeff” if you really want to – it doesn’t matter. Giving it a name cannot change what it is.

Words can only do so much – they cannot provide the full picture, and to become obsessed with the semantics and definitions behind them for the sake of an argument is just futile. Where I come from, the word we use for alleyways in housing estates is a “snicket” but as little as five miles away on the other side of town, they use the word “ginnell” (pronounced either with a G or a J, depending on who you ask) If you’ve been around long enough you may have heard people from all over England arguing about what to call a bread-bun, whether it be a butty, a cob, a bap, a barm, a roll, or all manner of other weird and wonderful names. And what about all those wacky Americans who can’t tell the difference between trousers and their underwear when it comes up in conversation?

All these linguistic nuances change nothing, really. I can quite happily go across town to visit a friend and go for a walk with them through a snicket whilst in their mind they’re walking through a ginnell. Whatever we call the action in our minds makes no difference to the actual act.

The point is this – the names we give to things are ultimately irrelevant.

By now you might have started to cotton on to the fact that I’m not really talking about the colour blue, or bread buns, alleyways on housing estates, or American trousers. This is a musical website, after all.

The musical spectrum is vastly more complex than the colour spectrum. The colour spectrum has three primary colours and three secondary colours along with the extremes of black and white. In comparison, the musical spectrum, with a historic legacy of centuries of cross-pollenisation, is like some vast, extra-dimensional multiverse, the permutations of which are pretty much (although not quite) infinite.

Despite all these possibilities, as I’ve already gone into at great length, one thing that music does not do is evolve. This could be the biggest fallacy about music that there is. Musical genres do not evolve any more than colours evolve. What actually happens is that there will be a virtual cut-off point within the spectrum where blue eventually becomes green. Colour pedants throughout history will have started arguments about this, no doubt, until some helpful linguist decided that hang on, we’ll not call it blue, we’ll not call it green. We’ll call it turquoise instead. He could have just called it Jeff, as I suggested, but no, turquoise it is.

In theory, this colour-definition process could go on and on and on forever, until every single shade of every colour throughout the spectrum has its’ own name. Colour pedants still wouldn’t be happy, though – they’d probably just spend their time arguing where the cut-off point is between cyan and electric blue.

Is this evolution? Of course it isn’t. Blue is blue is blue is blue. The language we use to describe this evolves, yes. The people who observe it and use the language evolve too, granted. The colour blue, however, throughout all this, just kind of sits there, stagnant, singing the blues to itself.

Does music evolve? Of course it doesn’t. If you listen to a record that was made in 1950 it will sound the same now as it would have done in 1950, because the sonic information that it is made up of is exactly the same. If you were, say, 7 years old in 1950 and listening to that record for the first time, however – your feelings towards it then would be vastly different to what they would be if you were to listen to it now, aged 69. But it’s you that’s changed, not the music.

Sticking with the blue theme, let’s say for the sake of the example that it was a record you’d describe as “rhythm & blues”, or R&B for short. The definition of what R&B was in 1950 is very different to what the definition would be for R&B now. That’s not to say that one might not have been partially influenced by the other, of course, music being such a deep and rich meme-pool after all. But R&B has not “evolved”, all that’s happened is that two different generations have used the same name for two separate styles of music.

This is why arguing about musical genres is futile. You’re using words that in themselves might mean something different in a few years time.

As with words, musical genre names have meant many different things even throughout my own short life. I grew up listening to a diet of what was called “electro” at the time – New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, OMD, Human League, etc etc. The term “electro” now means something entirely different, being the chosen moniker for all that fashionable glitchy, techy, housey sort of style with those farty bass noises and weird FX. “Garage” has had maybe three different meanings since I was a teenager, and I’m not even that old now. Does this mean electro music has evolved? Does this mean garage music has evolved? Not at all. As bands such as (for example) Hurts or White Lies have shown recently, the musical style we called “electro” in the 80’s is very much still there and still active, it’s just being explored by a new generation with new perspectives. If Hurts’ decide that their next album with be a concept album made up of half drum & bass and half thrash metal, this does not mean that “electro” (or whatever you want to call it nowadays) has evolved again. It means that the artists have changed.

Ultimately, what this means is that if you talk about how a musical genre has “evolved” then you’re talking about how the use of a word has evolved. It doesn’t mean, for example, is that anyone who a hundred years ago was happy would now be a homosexual, just because we use the word “gay” differently.

Once we understand this distinction, we can debunk every single argument relating to musical genres that there is.

“I really used to enjoy (insert genre) music but then it all went to shit and all of it now is just rubbish.”

People with this argument invariably find that the time that the music “all went to shit” coincides with the period of their life in which they tired of it – be that the music itself or the social scene that goes along with it. Often they will illustrate this with a follow up argument along the lines of:

“I used to love (insert genre) until (insert year they got bored) and it breaks my heart to see what (insert genre) has evolved into now. Why won’t anyone make (insert genre) properly any more?”

With this argument they portray themselves as victims, Forced to abandon something they loved because those stupid artists lost their way, and evidently far too busy to consider perhaps exploring to see if there might be other artists out there that they liked. They were so down-heartened by this travesty that they stopped listening to the music they liked altogether. Completely oblivious that it’s them who’ve gotten bored, themselves who has changed and/or evolved, and that there’s plenty more of what they do enjoy out there if they could only be arsed to look for it.

Another common fallacy is to interpret trends in popularity as evolution as well. Sometimes popular variants of a style can be fashionable while the ones you prefer are underground, and hidden. This doesn’t mean the music you like has become shit, it means you’ve gotten too lazy to find it.

“(Insert artist) used to make some of the best (insert genre) but now they make this other shit music instead. Therefore (insert genre) is now dead.”

That’s the scene you’re so passionate about, is it? That scene containing only one artist who’s only allowed to make one style of music? I pity you.

This argument always reminds me of V For Vendetta – “Beneath this mask is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.” The belief that an idea can be killed by killing one man, or that a genre can be killed by the actions of one artist, is absurdly flippant. Ideas, concepts, genres – whilst we might not be able to always define them with words, you can rest easy knowing that they will all ultimately outlive the entire human race.

All artists will take in more and more influences from a wider field as they go through life. This is due to the fact that they are people who are passionate about music and will always have an urge to seek out new material that they enjoy. Don’t judge the artists for this, it is a fact of life that should be true to all of us.

“How dare you call this song (insert genre)! IT IS NOT (insert genre)! HOW DARE YOU misrepresent (insert genre) in this way! Only us REAL fans of (insert genre) REALLY understand what (insert genre) TRULY MEANS!”

How dare you call this colour Midnight Blue! IT IS NOT MIDNIGHT BLUE! HOW DARE YOU misrepresent Midnight Blue in this way! Only us REAL fans of the colour Midnight Blue REALLY understand what Midnight Blue TRULY MEANS!

“I have a right to say whatever I like about (insert artist or genre) so fuck you, being all high and mighty with your rationality and logic.”

That’s funny – your mum actually said the very same thing to me the other night. Isn’t that freedom of speech you mention wonderful?

“(Insert artist) should stick to the genre that made them famous. Otherwise people who don’t know any better will think that all this new shit they do is actually (insert genre) when it isn’t!”

Ten or fifteen years ago, a fair portion of Americans referred to pretty much everything that wasn’t either made with guitars or had rapping over it as “techno”. “Techno” was the Stateside all-encompassing term that they used for all electronic music. For many it even still is. Eminem even once immortalised this in his attempted dig at Moby. Even the BBC did the same only a couple of weeks ago, describing Scatman John, of all people, as a techno artist. Things like this have provided the techno community eternal amusement throughout this time, but other than that, I don’t think it’s had any major effect on the techno scene. People passionate about actual techno (or whatever that genre might be called in the future) are completely unaffected by the fact that millions of musically-naïve people have bastardised the name of their chosen genre.

It seems as though people have recently developed a burning urge to educate these musically-naïve people as to all the various nuances of musical style, what all the names mean, what all the differences are, and telling them how stupid they are for not already knowing.

Here are six shades of blue:

A. Egyptian Blue
B. Zaffre
C. Sapphire
D. Palatinate Blue
E. Cobalt Blue
F. Persian Blue

If I were to show you these six colours and asked you to arrange them correctly by name, do you think you could, without resorting to Wikipedia and squinting a bit? I bet you couldn’t.

Assuming that you fail, how would you feel if I then started on a massive rant about how fucking stupid you are? How could you not know about the colour blue and all its’ variations? It’s not rocket science! Surely you’ve seen things before that are a perfect shade of palatinate blue, and don’t tell me you didn’t even know that stained-glass window is zaffre? But yet…you just call them blue! Plain old fucking blue! What kind of imbecile are you?

If I were to react in that way to your mistakes, chances are you’d think I was an arsehole. But on some level, you’d probably also develop a kind of complex relating to all the different shades of blue, having been humiliated in regards to your lack of knowledge on the subject. You’d be unwilling to delve into the subject too deeply, given that the so-called experts on the subject appear to be complete arseholes with massive chips on their shoulders for some reason.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that maybe this is why the trance scene is suffering from so much negativity? Do you think all this negativity and conflict helps to make the scene appeal to new people who might keep it going in future?

The demands that “fans” make to artists to remain stagnant throughout their careers are widespread across all genres really. Many fans do like their comfort zone and knowing exactly what to expect. Album sales and attention spans are at an all-time low.

I still don’t understand why this has come to be the case. But I do know that one of the factors that has led to it has been this compulsion to define genres and imprison artists within them. What bothers me, however, are the actions of these supposedly passionate people who claim to love their music venomously ridiculing other people whose tastes are different or simply not as refined.

I love electronic music, much of which comes under this heading of “trance” but lots of which also doesn’t. I also love lots of other non-electronic music. I’ve been listening obsessively to music for most of my life. But as a guess, I would reckon that even I’ve probably heard less than 0.01% of all the music ever made. Nobody on the planet is an expert.

As such, I can appreciate why there is a need for some vague means of classification, in order to sort through and generally identify this vast musical ocean within a group. I’m not saying that we should abolish musical genres entirely, as they do serve a purpose in this sense. What I’m saying is that ultimately, they don’t really matter.

If you insisted on wearing blue t-shirts every single day of your entire life, you’d probably be classed as an eccentric of sorts (and offensive to a certain race of aliens). If you insisted on ham sandwiches for every single meal that you ever ate in your life, they would probably start sending you to doctors at a very young age. If you make a point of only liking people of one colour, or one race of people, well then….yet some people champion their own spectacular cases of musical tunnel-vision like it’s a badge of honour.

There is more music around in the world now than anyone could ever listen to. More or less every single part of the spectrum has been explored many times over, been reinvented, been declared dead, but still found its’ way into the hearts, minds, and souls of real people. Most of it you won’t like, but the joy of finding music that you do like is one of the greatest human epiphanies you will ever experience in your lifetime.

For the first time in human history, because of the internet and other advances in technology, the world is now able to truly share in all of it – we can take our influences from everywhere. We can listen to whatever we want, whatever it’s called, whenever we want to. We’ll either like it or we won’t, tire of it quickly or even cherish it forever. If we don’t like what we hear there is more music waiting for us at the press of one button than we can even imagine. iTunes is like having the world’s biggest brothel at your disposal that caters for any fetish you can conceive of, and every trick only costs you 99p or less. That’s if you’re among the small minority who can even be bothered to pay for your music at all.

Why waste any of your time on the music you don’t like? Why stress about it, get angry about it, indignant about it, or into arguments about it? If you’re genuinely passionate about music of any kind at all then 21st century life should be like fucking Disneyland for you every single day.

Your musical taste is a subjective state of mind that is unique to you and you alone, and it is your basic human right to enrich that in any way you wish to. No-one has the right to tell you what to like any more than you have the right to tell others what to like.

You are free to imagine the underlying concepts of music into genres in any way that makes it easy for you to understand them. That is their only purpose. Because when all is said and done – the only two genres of music in your life are:

1. Music you like.
2. Music you don’t like.

In case this approach is too complex for you, I’ve simplified it into this handy flow-chart, which is the only flow-chart you will ever need that relates to music.

So, there you have it. I’ve probably rambled more than I intended to. If you made it this far I hope you at least understand the point I’m trying to make. If I lost you when I started banging on about aliens and t-shirts, making you skim to the end, hi there, good to see you. You have proven an earlier point I made about attention spans that you’ll have missed.

Isn’t it liberating? Knowing that you don’t have to worry about genres ever again? That the next time you see someone on Facebook posting Armin-playlisted tech-house and commenting “i ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ uplifting trance!!!1!” you’ll be able to just smile to yourself and move on? That the next time an artist you once liked releases a track that you don’t like it won’t push you over the edge into declaring the death of an entire music scene? Take a breath of that fresh air and smell how wonderful the world of music is for you now.

You’re welcome.

Now, what to do with all that spare energy? Here’s an idea – why not go and listen to some music? Maybe even something you’ve never heard before? You never know, you might secretly enjoy it…..


Interview for Pumped Audio (10th May 2012)

For once, someone’s actually asked what I think about things! 🙂

Check out the full interview from our good friends at Pumped Audio here:


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!


Music That Doesn’t Exist

I can hear music that doesn’t exist yet. To me, this is probably the most amazing fact about the universe that there is.

As a keen fan of astronomy, physics, and the like (Michio Kaku allowed me to rationalise life in ways you wouldn’t quite believe) I can promise you that there is a hell of lot about the universe that’s amazing. But think about it. I can hear music that doesn’t exist yet.

If I could hear voices that didn’t exist, rather than music, you’d probably feel quite differently about me than you do, and would probably like a minimum of a ten-foot buffer zone just in case I happened to hear a voice that said KILL EVERYBODY. Not to worry though, I don’t hear voices. Well, except when I do, that is. 😛

Moving swiftly on, the point is that I hear music, and it’s this fact that has, throughout my life, gradually pushed me more and more towards the music industry. You probably hear music too, like when you’re thinking about your favourite song being on the radio and you absent-mindedly start singing or mumbling along to it. You don’t hear it as such, but your brain processes the information in more or less the same way as if you did.

There’s probably some fancy neurological explanation for all of this, perhaps one day some random supergeek who knows about these things will read this and enlighten us with their wisdom – in fact I really hope they do. Because I’d love to know where it comes from.

OK, theoretically speaking I do understand and accept that because there are a limited amount of notes in the octave there is a finite number of combinations in which they can be arranged, as well as a finite number of sonic frequencies that can make up the sound that they make at that note, and therefore it is absolutely undeniable that there is a finite number of tracks that can be made. Given that the majority of these combinations will be hideous to the human ear, you could argue that any “music” that I “hear” in my head is just the result of a highly advanced calculation going on in my brain at a subconscious level. I think I’ve already proven that my brain is quite happy enough to spend its’ time thinking about these things after all 😉 If I’m honest, a lot of that time has been whilst I’ve been mixing all the sets you can find on this website!

Anyway, you could still argue that because the potential for this combination already exists mathematically, the music I hear does already exist. But I still can’t help but feel this is a kind of soul-less explanation that somehow devalues the whole thing, rather as if I was saying that Shakespeare wasn’t special because one of those infinite number of monkeys with the infinite number of typewriters would have gotten there eventually.

Thankfully I don’t appear to be the only person in the universe with this musical version of schizophrenia. It’s quite a widely documented phenomenon, and I’ll wager that most songwriters, musicians, vocalists, composers, producers and the like, all have some variant of the same condition, and have gotten to where they are by translating this into actual music that does exist. Chances are I’ll also wager that it never quite sounds like they expect or want it to.

So either we’re all hearing things from the same meme-pool or we’re all calculating the same equations in our heads. But the thing I always come back to is that the music doesn’t exist yet. Not until we make it. But yet it does exist, otherwise we wouldn’t make it to begin with.

Sonic architecture is one thing – I confess it doesn’t interest me that much – which is very important in the act of actually producing music in the studio. It’s a vital part of making real music that does exist. But the music I can hear in my head involves none of that messy, technical process – after all, how could it, when it doesn’t actually exist yet?

If we assume that the music that I hear does not exist, it needs to be rationalised another way, and try as I might to do this, I think it all comes down to that it is the manifestation of the creative urge. My muse if you will. After all, it’s probably the reason I’m a DJ, the reason I sought out and eventually discovered trance, the reason I became a producer, and the reason I spend a lot of my free time running a label too. By contributing to the scene I’m not just satisfying my muse, I’m helping to define who I am. Because the music I hear is as much a constant in my life as anything else I can imagine, and in that sense it’s absolutely a part of who I am. From this, the only logical conclusion seems to be that being a part of this scene is something I’m supposed to be doing with my life.

Trance isn’t the only music that I hear – you probably wouldn’t believe some of it. When I was 13 I wrote a track in my head that at best you’d probably describe as industrial hardcore (it sounds a bit like a band called Cubinate I discovered later on), but I’ve never since been in a position to make it in the real world. It’s as real to me as any other track in my music collection, but I’m the only person in the world who’s ever heard it. Once when I was about 19 I was drunk and wrote a country and western song which just happened to occur to me over the space of about ten minutes – I still have the lyrics in my filing cabinet upstairs. As country and western goes, I still think it’s rather good. The problem is that I’ve no interest in the country and western scene, I don’t know any country and western bands, and nobody I’ve ever met has ever even admitted to listening to it. So how on earth would I ever be able to make it? But again, that’s another track which is still very real to me yet which doesn’t actually exist.

I read about string theory and M-theory, which demonstrate the idea that there are extra spacial dimensions in the universe (or multiverse, if you prefer) which our pitifully evolved beings aren’t able to see, manipulate, or prove exist (yet). I wondered if there was something you could also call memetic or conceptual space, where ideas and potential exist in their own realm, which we as homo sapiens occasionally access by accident without knowing how. After all, I’ve gone over the idea of the static, unchanging concept already in one of my earlier ramblings.

Cynics would point out to me (and they often have) that I shouldn’t over-analyse music and just enjoy it for what it is. Over-analysing things is, I believe, my life’s greatest failing, as I have an incredible ability to over-analyse the fun out of just about anything. Realising this, however, doesn’t change a thing. Because just like the music that doesn’t exist, over-analysing is just a part of who I am.

The universe itself is amazing, as I’ve already said, but I also find it quite humbling. How anything could possibly be so vast and so complex, so brutal and yet so beautiful – simply knowing that I’m a part of that makes me appreciate it all the more. And knowing that I’ll never understand it – even pedantic, little old over-analysing me – doesn’t bother me at all. With music, it’s much the same thing.

I don’t understand intricate music theory, or the techniques of advanced sound engineering. I’m baffled by the biological processes involved in the human ear, and there’s not anyone alive who understands the brain or why it processes the information in the way it does. None of that matters to me, because simply being in a universe (or multiverse) where music exists is enough.

If you believe in God, you could conclude that I’m this way because God made me this way, and hence I should pursue the music I can hear as if it were a gift from God. If you were a scientist, you could conclude that it’s partly my genetic potential and mainly the result of random chance. Either way, it seems to point towards the fact that being involved with music as I’m now doing is what I should be doing.

Every day I’m humbled by the comments of people on this website and others who say they love what I do. I’m eternally grateful for knowing that I’m able to bring people pleasure simply doing something that I love. This website is a testament to that, and I owe it to all of you who’ve ever listened to one of my sets or one of my tunes.

I do all of this for you, and I do it for myself too. I never thought I would be able to share it with other people who love it as much as I do.

As I’ve already said before, the only advice I can ever offer anybody about life is to be who you are. So if like me, you can also hear music that doesn’t exist yet, don’t let it go. Be who you are.


It’s Music, But You Can’t Dance To It, And It Doesn’t Make You Intelligent

About three years ago I received a friend-request on MySpace from a band – normally I ignore these as I have a bit of an allergy to spam, but they nonetheless piqued my curiosity.

The band (I wish I could remember their name) said that they based their compositions around a rhythmic translation of Shakespearian sonnets, using a complicated algorithm to deconstruct the language and rebuild it in the form of music. In the section of their page that describes their genre, was my least-favourite acronym in the music industry – IDM. For those not in the know, IDM is the snooty older cousin of EDM, and stands for “Intelligent Dance Music”.

He wishes he was alive today so he could be making crappy music that he could upload to his MySpace page

He wishes he was alive today so he could be making crappy music that he could upload to his MySpace page

I played the tracks in their MySpace player, expecting to have my mind blown, to have the walls of misunderstanding crumble around me, allowing the truth of the world outside to be seen for the first time. Visions of playing the music to my dad, a life-long Shakespearian connoisseur, swirled inside me – finally here was a way to bridge his world to mine! Here I could disprove the notion that my musical hobby was worthless and shallow – after all, this was the musical equivalent of Shakespeare!

The tracks, as you might imagine, were terrible. Perhaps you might imagine that I built them up too much, that they couldn’t live up to my expectations, and I would have thought that anyway. But trust me, they really were terrible. They sounded like my early experiments with a ZX Spectrum 48k when I discovered the BEEP function, and if the tracks had been mastered at all (which I doubt) they sounded like they’d been mastered from the middle of an underwater cave.

When I grow up, I'm going to be a Roland XP-30 signed by Activa...

When I grow up, I'm going to be a Roland XP-30 signed by Activa...

Normally I’m not one to slag off anyone else’s music. I fully accept that musical taste is a subjective thing, and that no-one has any right to tell anyone else what it is that they should and shouldn’t like. I’ve always felt that I can appreciate a good example of any genre, even if I don’t particularly like it per se. But I’ve never quite gotten on with the whole idea that any genre of music is intrinsically “better” than any other.

I had this argument with James, my former house-mate at university, a fellow student of philosophy. I was in my usual role of devil’s advocate, whilst he was trying and failing to convince me that the works of Beethoven were “just better” than the works of the Spice Girls. I simply continued reiterating my point that any value that music has was placed on it by subjective individuals, and that objectively, music has no value at all.

If I'd been alive today it would have been Geri's singing that made me deaf

If I'd been alive today it would have been Geri's singing that made me deaf

Even the term itself, “better” doesn’t have any recognised increment of measurement. “Better” might mean more popular, it might mean that it made more money, it might mean that it’s been successful for a longer period of time, it might mean that it took longer to be produced in the first place, or that the production techniques involved were more advanced and technical, but usually it means that it’s been more warmly received by the critics and the music press. These are the people who decide what’s hot and what’s not, and it has nothing to do with objective and subjective truth. But like all journalists, they’re at the mercy the PR people and have a need to keep their contacts in the industry sweet, especially those with whom they deal with the most often. As a result, this “public opinion” that they kick-start may often have been pre-scripted and not even bear any resemblance to what they actually think.

“Intelligent Dance Music” is the kind of term that was invented by these same music journalists. I can even understand why they named the genre this way, and I can easily identify the music. What I object to is the actual term itself.

Music is not intelligent. Music can be many things – emotional, colourful, danceable, relaxing, thought-provoking, yes. But music is not intelligent. If music was intelligent, the human race would have been conquered years ago by armies of marching semi-quavers and treble-clefs, beating us down and hitting us over the heads with major chords. Once you look beyond the words themselves, what is actually meant by the term IDM is that this is music that can only be appreciated by intelligent people.

For me, the logical choice is µ-ziq or nothing at all

For me, the logical choice is µ-ziq or nothing at all

There’s something so profoundly patronising about this that I’m amazed the term even caught on in the first place. It’s like it’s supposed to be post-modernist EDM or something, which would explain why I detest it so much. My experience of post-modernism down the years has been one of general disdain, I admit, for the very same reasons. I’d defy anyone to attend the lecture I had to at university entitled “Semiotic Imagery and Post-Modernist Symbolism” and not be aghast at the sheer idiocy I was subjected to there by the tutors. We’d been studying a play by David Hare called “The Secret Rapture”, and in one scene, a character called Isobel enters the room wearing a long mackintosh. To my dying day I’ll never forget my English lecturer trying to justify his view of interpreting this as being symbolic of Jesus returning from the wilderness.

Perhaps the mistake is mine, perhaps it is me that is lacking something, and perhaps I am the philistine in this situation. I’m open to that being the possibility. But post-modernism in general, to me at least, seems to be best described as “art for art’s sake” rather than “art for inspiration’s sake”.

I can admit that there is a certain technical skill to Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake”. A stream of consciousness inside someone’s head for a full day, nonsensical words, random sounds, thought tangents – yes, it’s impressive that someone can translate that to paper! My point is that there is none, if no-one is able to read it. I could write a book in a language I invented if I wanted to, but no-one would be able to read it. I could bake a cake with nails and screws in it if I wanted to, but no-one would eat it. So is there any point at all in demonstrating that I can?

Don't be predjudiced! I might be delicious!

Don't be predjudiced! I might be delicious!

Thinking about it, post-modernism is like a dive headlong off the end of a cliff – not for any purpose, but just to demonstrate that one can. Whilst I can appreciate that this methodology might occasionally push some boundaries and discover new techniques, on the whole it is mostly pointless.

The rebuttal to me on this topic usually revolves around the fact that post-modernist art is usually appreciated “on a different level” to the norm. Or, to be less polite, it means that I’m too thick to understand it. This is another reason why I’m turned off by all things post-modernist – there’s an insufferable air of smugness about it all.

Before I discovered the forums at DJ Source, I knew nothing about this new fangled genre-terrorism. I wasn’t even aware that there was a “genre-hierarchy” which has trance quite near the bottom. I didn’t know and I didn’t care, nor do I now. This genre hierarchy, whilst unwritten, is a central theme of so many EDM enthusiasts that it would probably make me weep if I obsessed about it too much. The fact that IDM is often at or near the top of the very same hierarchy, is too depressing to contemplate.

See the bottom of this hierarchy? That's you that is, trance. You're excretion you are.

See the bottom of this hierarchy? That's you that is, trance. You're excretion you are.

I’d consider IDM to be like a musical equivalent of Ulysses by James Joyce – the well renowned novel that, it’s estimated, fewer than one in every 2000 people who start it manage to finish. Yet still it does well in the “best book of all time” polls that come out occasionally – as it has become one of those books that people lie about having read, and probably lie about having enjoyed. All for the purposes of making themselves seem more cultured, more intellectual, and hence more worthy of having an overall opinion.

This is what the term IDM does to people – it allows them the luxury of sneering at all other aspects of EDM as being less worthy. Other than this, I see no purpose in it at all.

Not that genre-terrorism is a new phenomenon by any means – after all, half a century ago or so I’m sure the advent of rock & roll drew scorn from many areas of society for a number of reasons, mainly revolving around the general idea that the music didn’t deserve to be successful as it was undignified or some such, and that it was the end of the world as we knew it. Even now, I’m sure that classical music purists consider the entire spectrum of EDM as some kind of nonsense fad, whilst my experience of the “but they don’t even use real instruments!” retort from the rock community dates all the way back to the late 1980’s.

Who says they're not real instruments?

Who says they're not real instruments?

The truth is that I, like most people, consider their chosen genre to be superior to all the others – I guess it’s a form of territorialism. After all, our musical taste is a major factor in defining who we are and how we live our lives, and as such it follows that people consider their choices to be “correct” or the best. But what I don’t understand is why people can’t grasp that everyone’s tastes are different?

I’ve long subscribed to the idea that the main purpose of art is to create emotion – and that this can work both positively and negatively. Just as there are movies that are intended to make people weep, make them angry about a cause, or make them recoil in fear, the point is that music and art in general is there to make people feel something.

All the music I like, whether trance or otherwise, I like because it provides me an emotional sensation. My favourite tune of all time (Humate – Love Stimulation (PvD’s original love mix) simply sums up everything that I feel about life. Note the pivotal word in that sentence is feel. But how does “IDM” fit into this definition? What does IDM make me feel? Very little, if anything at all, if I’m honest. I can appreciate it on a technical level, on a sound-engineering level, but what seems to emanate from it more than anything else is a sense of smug superiority. The same condescending sensation you’d receive if you sat down on a train with a copy of The Sun opposite someone reading Tolstoy.

Sure, sir, you can sit there if you like!

Sure, sir, you can sit there if you like!

The best term I’ve ever heard used for a lot of what gets defined as IDM is “Leftfield”, possibly in honour of the pioneering artists themselves, but more likely a result of the fact that its’ general approach, as they say, “comes from out of left-field”. IDM in itself is an oxymoron anyway, since dancing is often impossible due to either slow BPM’s or lack of beats entirely. And what’s the point in calling something Intelligent Dance Music if it’s not intelligent and you can’t dance to it?

Even the Wikipedia page for IDM doesn’t do us any favours, it just makes it sound so pretentious. And the awful thing about it is that I know and love nearly every single artist that they name on that page, and nearly all of them are shamed by having to be associated with such a patronising terminology.

You can’t generalise all IDM under one umbrella because it is all so random, and so diverse – it’s just a one-size-fits-all sort of useless expression really, perpetuated by the superiority complexes of those who choose to follow it. It could be drum & bass (which I once hilariously heard referred to as “intelligent jungle”), breaks, ambient, progressive etc – anything really. It’s not even a genre of music in itself at all, it’s just a means of grouping various genres together under one common denominator – the smugness of the artists themselves or their fans. The producers love to experiment, yes, that’s the whole point – they don’t continually make the same kind of music, so why group it all together in some patronising pigeon-hole? Can you not just enjoy the music for what it is?

I've got an IQ of 207 and I listen to drum & bass

I've got an IQ of 207 and I listen to drum & bass

Trance fans could quite easily have redefined a section of trance as “ITM” or “Intelligent Trance Music” at more or less any point during its’ history if we’d wanted to – but we didn’t because the priority for trance fans is not to feel intellectually superior to others, it’s to enjoy the music and the way it makes you feel.

Which leads me nicely onto the only conclusion that can be drawn from all of this. If no one kind of music is objectively superior to any other, then the music that we like is, in itself, irrelevant. What is important though, are our reasons for liking the music that we do, as it is this that defines us, not the genre itself. After all, if you are a person who likes their favourite music because of the fact that it makes you feel wonderful and emotional, it follows that you’re probably a sensitive and considerate person capable of deep emotional connections. However, if you are a person who likes their favourite music simply because it makes you feel more intelligent than or superior to others, well, this probably says more about you as a person than I ever could.


Spirit Of Sacrifice – I Am DJ Competition Winning Mix (18th May 2009)

Some time around the turn of the new year, someone over at the Matt Hardwick forums mentioned the idea of everyone on the board doing their own version of the Essential Mix. It was an idea that aroused some interest, the debate being whether or not to have it on a weekly rota, or as a competition.

Shortly afterwards, coinciding with the release of Matt’s single, “I Am DJ”, the competition was announced. Whilst I’m not always enamoured by the idea of forum mix competitions (the catalyst behind some insanely bitter arguments back in the DJ Source days), the idea of doing my own Essential Mix was irresistible.

The problem, it soon turned out as I began to plan the mix, was how on earth I was going to do everything that I wanted to do. The answer, naturally, was that I couldn’t. But I especially wanted an introduction to the mix that would stand out, and I had so many wonderful tunes that I had used as intros to mixes before, all of which I wanted to use in the mix itself.

Eventually, it struck me that I could use different elements from lots of different tunes to create something entirely new. I set about working out all the ones I wanted to use, burned them to CD, and started playing around with them all on the decks. After about a week of this, it became obvious that although I could definitely do this and make it work, the structure of doing it was too complex and the timings were too crucial – one split second too early or late and suddenly everything would be out of key. Such is the fun of attempting harmonic mixing without any beats to go by 😀

So instead, I thought I could use Cubase, to produce the intro as I would any other tune – it also saved the need for using multiple CDJs, and I could make my timings and volume changes much more precise.

The intro started at 4 minutes, became 6, and eventually 9 before Trailblazer kicked in. I would have made it 20 minutes if there hadn’t have been a deadline, and I’m still a bit haunted by some of the tunes I was unable to use in the end. But what I love about it is that I can tell a story about every single tune in that intro and what it means to me 🙂 To be fair, most tunes in the eventual mix itself I could tell a story about, which is what I wanted to convey really. In the unlikely event I ever did get offered the Essential Mix, it’d most likely only ever be the once – so you might as well make the most of it 😉

Which is also why I redid all three mashups that I’d used on my 100th episode of Back From The Dead – I’d known they all needed a little work, and this competition was the push I needed to get it done. Having my own exclusive mix of Trailblazer done by then too was also handy! I’d made it especially for an epic intro to a set so it seemed like the right thing to do 🙂

Spirit Of Sacrifice – I Am DJ Competition Winning Mix (18th May 2009)

Global Communication – 9 25
Moby – Everything Is Wrong
Future Sound Of London – Her Face Forms In The Summertime
Chicane – Early
Crescendo – Are You Out There
Salt Tank – Eugina (Pacific Diva)
Art Of Trance – Kaleidoscope
Swandive – Exit 101
Jam & Spoon – Two Spys In The House Of Love
Orbital – Halcyon & On & On
Underworld – Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream Of Love
BT – Quark
Hallucinogen – LSD
Union Jack – There Will Be No Armageddon
Fluke – Bullet
Faithless – Salva Mea
Hybrid – Finished Symphony
CMED – In You
CJ Bolland – The Prophet
Magdelayna & RMG – Back To The Stars
Leama vs Madonna – Frozen Waterdrop (MDB’s Forgotten vocal mix)
Defcon Audio – Trailblazer (Lazarus breaks everything mix)
Tearrain – Sleepless Fall
Lange featuring Marcie – Loved Up Angel (XiJaro mashup)
Oceania vs First State – Always Falling (Gomez92 bootshup)
Nick Thompson vs Mike Shiver & Elevation – Hurricane Spice (Lazarus mashup)
Hawk featuring Sasja vs Mark Arbor – Emerald Worlds (Vexilium mashup)
Super8 & Tab vs Aerium & Jes – Suru, Dolphins, and Everything (Lazarus mashup)
Luminary – Amsterdam (Super8 & Tab vs Smith & Pledger remix – Luke Blanc mashup)
Robert Nickson – Spiral (Lazarus edit)
Akesson vs Barack Obama – Sunchaser (Lazarus Spirit Of Sacrifice edit)
Ilya Soloviev – Sunwaves (Static Blue remix)
Summerchannel featuring Fisher – 1000 Miles (George Acosta remix)
Tuomas J – Life Goes On (Lazarus vs James Alexander remix)
The Faithless Green Martian – Industrial Insomnia (Lazarus mashup)
Nev – Battery Man (2008 rework)
Med – In You
Oxid Project – Before You Go (Likuida remix)
Pervading Call Two – On My Mind (Ace da Brain remix)
Oceania – Never Forget (Arctic Moon remix)
Darren Tate – Fall From Grace

Soundcloud link:

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The mix didn’t exactly turn out as planned, as you can see from my crib sheet:

Yes, I'm a geek. Sue me.

Yes, I'm a geek. Sue me.

I realised during the mix that the thought of not having any Ace da Brain or any Dario Lupo (Tragida/Likuida) was scarier than not including Sacrosanct. I also soul-destroyingly passed on using Med’s awesome rework of Another You Another Me. Note the stars against Nyctalopia and Spiral as well – Spiral made the cut (though I edited about 2 and a half minutes from the original first) but Nyctalopia didn’t.

The sheet also gives insight into my colour-coded method of cataloguing my CDs, for anyone interested. I used different coloured pens to write on the CDs what they are, numbering the CDs too. So I memorise tunes by their colours – with vinyl I used to memorise the colours of record sleeves when searching for the one I wanted, with CDs I can search 4-times quicker through my CD wallet by only looking at the CDs of the correct colour ink! The numbering is also a secondary mnemonic for me, though I’ve changed my method this year so it works chronologically instead.

But enough of that, the important thing was that to my ultimate surprise, the mix won the competition! I was stunned and honoured to win, I was outwardly hoping I might make the top 6 if I worked at it, but some of the other mixes entered were truly exceptional. To receive 19 votes from 88 was staggering and I owe every one of them a pint or two! 🙂

This competition is what led to my great honour, a fortnight later, to fulfil my long-standing ambition to play a set at Digital Society. I’m also now of the opinion that it possibly is my favourite of all my mixes to date!


The Unappreciated Art Of The Mash-up

Plagiarism is the worst crime that any artist can be accused of (in an artistic sense, of course). In the music world, however, the lines of ownership are blurred and the middle ground remains a chalky grey. In all genres now, sampling is as rife as it is a natural part of the creative process, and updating past classics in new ways is as common if not more so than actual original creativity.

Mash-ups are, I suppose, the ultimate extreme borne from the rise of sampling as an artform – in that mash-ups are, technically, samples and nothing else. By rights, I should hate them, as many music purists do. After all, they are kind of patronising to the original producers in the sense that someone is trying to improve on their work. They’re kind of patronising to DJs as they’re dictating the tunes that should be mixed together instead of allowing the DJ to choose themselves. They allow people with no production influence to take credit for the work of other people. And worst of all, the copyright law regarding mash-ups is vague at best.

In my early days, suspicious of the oncoming digital revolution, I was of the opinion that pre-made mash-ups were “cheating” on the basis that they were doing the DJ’s job for them. After all, I can remember the days that DJs would play Coco – I Need A Miracle alongside their copy of Fragma – Toca Me and get the Toca’s Miracle effect using two vinyl decks and a mixer, surely using a pre-made CD of it just takes the biscuit?

Originally though, in the late 90’s, mash-ups were few and far between and often done quite well. Chicane – Offshore ’97 (the vocal version) was another example borne from vinyl play that became an official release. But since these early days, the producers and the sound engineers have moved from their shadowy realms in the background to take front and centre stage. With the onset of CDJs and Ableton, Final Scratch etc, you no longer need the dextrous fingers, the virtual split down the centre of your brain and the ability to listen with one ear or the other instinctively, or your inbuilt bpm counter. Nowadays you need your technical skills to do all the hard work for you, and with a small bit of practice, anyone can beatmatch and produce a club-worthy set without nearly the same complications you had 10 years ago.

To say that the DJ market has been saturated over the past decade is a massive understatement. As a rough estimate and in the trance genre alone I would guess that the supply of DJs actively seeking gigs has increased something between 12 and 15-fold. Compare this with the number of club-nights which has dropped dramatically since the turn of the century, and considering that club-night longevity has also plummeted, you’re left with a really bad case of “Too many cooks”.

This change in the inertia of the scene has had many wide-reaching consequences regarding the overall culture. No one factor is responsible for the changes but all factors have had their part in it. Ten years ago in a nightclub of 1000 people you’d have maybe 30 people who could DJ and 970 people who loved the music. Nowadays the split would be something like 350 DJs and 650 people who love the music.

My go on the decks next!

My go on the decks next!

Don’t get me wrong, not all the changes over the past 10 years have been bad – there are many benefits to the digital revolution. Cost, convenience, efficiency, ease, creativity – because of the massive supply of DJs fighting for position, one thing that’s certainly become a far more important factor now is studio prowess. It would be unheard of now for any DJ to make a breakthrough without first having production success, as Eddie Halliwell did. These days, club line-ups are often a three-pronged attack of 1) Big Name, 2) Resident and 3) Latest Star Producer (who can hopefully mix).

It’s certainly still a promoter’s market out there – only recently I learned of the widespread use of the tactic for promoters to sell tickets that owes a lot to the writing world’s “vanity press” scheme. “Vanity press” involves those adverts you sometimes see in newspapers asking for writing submissions for poetry/short story collections by private publishers. What happens is, upcoming writers submit their poems/stories to the publisher, who then publishes a collection of them – only a small run, mind, you don’t get to see them in Waterstones or anything. But the publisher does then write back to everyone who submitted a story/poem, offering the book for sale. Upcoming writers want to see their names in print and get their families and friends to buy copies as well – and hence will order several copies each. Publisher covers costs, writers get published. No royalties, no fame, no multi-million dollar movie deals, just a self-sufficient industry based on mutual benefits.

There are now some, possibly many, club promoters (not all, I must stress) who offer gigs to DJs on the basis of them selling so many tickets for the night, rather than any technical DJing ability. Only in a market so saturated would this even be possible, and I suppose you can’t really knock the promoters for it, as they’re just reacting to the slow clubbing market, covering their costs.

But I still believe it shifts the moral compass of the whole process. I’ve always believed that being booked for any gig is a privilege on the same level as someone inviting you into their home as an honoured guest. Whilst I’ve only ever been paid for one of my gigs I do them nonetheless because I love the music and I love playing it to people. Often I turn up at clubs for gigs on my own as my own personal entourage have grown tired of clubbing or simply grown up, as I’m often told I will do one day! But DJs should respect clubbers for being invited, just as promoters should respect clubbers for demanding the night in the first place. As such, I’ve always believed DJs should only attend one gig on a night and attend the night as they would if they were a clubber themselves.

However, I digress from my original point. The point is that DJing is no longer simply a case of learning the skill and then transferring the skill into a club and learning to read a crowd. The technical skill of DJing was only ever about 10% of the process (IMHO) – crowd-reading is something that only comes through practice (which is the other 90% of the process). But being the best crowd-reading, technically skilled DJ on the planet is now irrelevant without the means to promote yourself. Originally you did this bit by bit, through reputation, word-of-mouth, regular and consistent gigs, building a following, taking a chance here and there, defining your sound, always leaving them wanting more.

Nowadays, you just need to make a tune. Or two, or three, or a few, and get them play-listed by some top DJs. If you can do this, you’re more likely now to get gigs than anyone else – and here’s the true irony – whether you can actually DJ or not.

So, what’s our average ordinary everyday aspiring DJ to do to raise themselves above the parapet? Well, hours upon hours of slaving away over Cubase, Logic, Reason, Ableton – along with the purchase of studio equipment and VST’s. Alternately, you can pay for someone else to engineer your tune for you (costs around £250 a day). Both these choice are hard work and/or expensive, which leads us nicely onto magical option number 3…

Mash-ups! You could call it production on the cheap. You could call it extreme sampling. You could call it sacrilege (and people do). BUT!!! If you do it right and manage to make one that’s excellent, you might just have a shortcut for yourself into the playlists of DJs everywhere. It’s easier than making an original tune because there’s none of the midi engineering or the hours spent hunting through sound samples, and similarly, the tunes you use are more likely to be known by your audience already.

Technically, there’s not a lot different from making a mash-up to making an actual tune – it’s still very fiddly, very time consuming, and you still need to EQ properly, time-stretch the samples and so on – there’s still an entire creative process involved. And you’re still arranging sound samples where you want them to be, blending them as you would when producing an original tune, and so on. Technically you’re still placing original samples onto a “blank canvas” in order to create something greater than the combined sum of its’ parts.

No, they don’t always work, and yes, when they’re done wrongly they actually sound painful. But it wasn’t until I realised that the ratio of mash-ups that I found didn’t work was probably the same as the ratio of original tunes that I don’t like, which I happen upon during my shopping expeditions. On average, I’ll like about 1 in every 10 tunes I listen to when shopping, and I might buy 1 in 15 or so – following which maybe half of these will wind up in one of my shows, and fewer than a quarter of those will wind up in my demo mixes. Likewise, with mash-ups, I might listen to 50 of them over a month or two and a couple of them might wind up in a demo.

What I like about them is the approach to the tune from an entirely new angle, which other DJs and clubbers/listeners might not have had before. Whether it’s something as simple as putting vocals from one tune over another original, or whether it’s a complex web of interlinking chords and sub-melodies between the two, the ultimate aim of a mash-up is to produce something that is better than both original tunes on their own. Or at least as worthy.

Mainly I think I like them because so many DJs are still adverse to playing them. I confess I have a soft spot for any tune ignored by the rest of the world, just as I’m less likely to get obsessive regarding a tune that everyone has played and gotten bored of within a fortnight. But sometimes I just don’t understand why mash-ups aren’t more popular than they are.

One of my favourites so far from this year is Oceania vs First State – Always Falling (Gomez92 bootshup), which is essentially the vocals from Falling over the Stoneface & Terminal remix of Always. Originally I found both tunes very unsatisfying – the original of Falling combines glorious soaring vocals with a total anti-climax of a breakdown and none of the remixes came remotely close to fulfilling its’ potential. Similarly, since Oceania’s first tune Never Forget was my favourite of 2008, their follow up was always going to be a let-down for me. Stoneface & Terminal’s mix is good, functional, but lacks a certain emotional punch during the breakdown. However, when the two tunes are combined in Gomez92’s bootshup, suddenly both originals find and surpass a potential I knew was there already. However, to date, I think I’m still the only person to support the bootshup, whereas the originals of Falling and Always both are still widely supported in their disappointing forms.

Could the same effect as the bootshup still be made by using the two originals and mixing them live, in the old-school method? Probably, yes, if you had the technical skill. The truth is, I’ve never tried, and therein lies the underlying truth behind the digital revolution.

Humanity seeks efficiency and ease in order to secure the maximum return for the least amount of effort. It’s how we invented capitalism and how we managed to not get killed by predators on the African savannah thousands of years ago. It’s why I write this blog using a big chunk of plastic and microchips instead of a printing press the size of a car. And it’s why, when faced with a saturated DJing market in which the high standards are always being raised, that DJ’s will turn to the likes of Ableton to perfect their sounds rather than our hands, ears, and constraints of real time.

I fully accept that in 20 years no-one will DJ in the traditional sense at all any more. This makes me kind of sad but equally kind of lucky to have been around at a time when I could do it. I’ll always love the fact that I learned to DJ with vinyl and then moved onto CDJs, rather than just learning on CDJs. In 20 years though, I still expect that people will be making mash-ups, and I still suspect my ratio to be about the same as it is now!

People sneer at mash-ups normally, I think, because most of them are rubbish, or badly made, or badly conceived. But it wasn’t until I realised that the same was also true for original tunes that I looked at mash-ups differently, and began to appreciate that they are a valid art-form in themselves. I only hope that in time, others can learn to see them the same way, and perhaps the unappreciated genius of the likes of XiJaro, Victoria, Rob G, JACS, Gomez92, Vexilium, Le Grand Renard, MDB, Luke Blanc, and all the regular masher’s I love to support, might find some of the success they deserve!

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