Posts Tagged ‘philosophising

22
Jan
11

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!

19
May
09

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.

20
Apr
09

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!

17
Apr
09

The Myth Of Genre Evolution

If I’d been given a fiver every time I’d heard someone say to me that trance isn’t as good as it used to be, I’d have retired from working by now and have far more time free to spend in the studio proving them wrong.

People often talk about how “the genre has evolved” since its’ early conception, without ever actually stopping for a moment to think about what they’re saying. Or maybe they’ll say how “trance was amazing back in (insert random year here) but it’s all gone downhill now.” Perhaps you’ve heard someone moan about how all trance is boring these days, or had some self-appointed sage tell you about how they “used to be into trance but prefer progressive now”. Maybe you’ve even had my all time favourite – “trance is a gateway genre into EDM but it’s just a phase before you discover more intelligent music”.

Down the years I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to have these arguments, to the point that I’ve now gotten bored of the constant frustration I’m faced with when doing so. The final one of these, concerning “intelligent music” is such a ridiculous oxymoron that I’ll deal with that in a separate topic of its’ own one day. I accept that there are some people in the world who just don’t get it, refuse to get it, and likely will one day die never having gotten it. Once this might have saddened me, but ultimately I suppose it’s their loss and not mine.

Let me try and put this in simple layman’s terms. “Trance” is not an object, or a living entity, it is a word used to describe an abstract concept that doesn’t change.

For example, if you went back 500 years you wouldn’t see as many houses as you do today, but you would see some of them. Over the last 500 years, building methods have evolved, building technology has evolved, builders have evolved, as have tenants, and the rest of the world has evolved with them. But the concept of the “house” has stayed the same. Still it is a building with 4 or more walls mainly intended to shelter people from the elements. In 1000 years from now, assuming humans haven’t evolved beyond the need for physical form yet, a house will still be a building with 4 or more walls mainly intended to shelter people from the elements.

I'm simple yet functional

I'm simple yet functional

It’s a classic misconception that musical genres change, because everything else is changing around the genre. Specifically, music producers evolve, music technology evolves, clubbers and music enthusiasts evolve, and the world in general evolves. Yet for some reason there are still people who think that everything stays the same but it is the genre that evolves around them. This modern-day flat-earth syndrome is prevalent across EDM enthusiasts and many of them ought to know better.

I'm complicated but still functional

I'm complicated but still functional

Down the years, many many many people have tried to define all the genres of music by example and description. The most famous is probably Ishkur’s version which I personally disagree with almost entirely. The truth is though, that there is no standard definition for what trance is, because it’s quite a wide spectrum, but essentially it’s made up from 3 elements – a 4/4 beat, synths, and melody. People will disagree with me on this (and they often do) but the point is that these are not the only elements in trance, they are just the essential ones. In the same way, the 3 essential ingredients to pizza are dough, sauce, and cheese – but you’ll rarely get one with just those 3 elements.

I am a static, unchanging concept

I am a static, unchanging concept

Often I get told that “pop” music can be defined the same way, and indeed there are many similarities between trance and a lot of “pop” music. However, “pop” is invariably slower in bpm, and more to the point, trance is a genre of music that revolves around the music – the orchestration, the arrangement, the tune, the melody etc – whereas in “pop” it is invariably the music that revolves around a catchy vocal. Does this mean that vocal trance is pop? Sometimes but not always – it depends whether the vocal dominates the track or not. Often trance producers use a vocal as just another instrument to create atmosphere – it’s rare that a vocal will become the lead element of the tune (and in cases where it does, they are often referred to as “cheese”). It’s also the reason why, if a trance tune wants to get into the pop charts, it will more often than not be given vocals over the top, usually to the abject horror of trance purists.

The point is though, before I go completely off topic, that the three elements of trance are the same now as they were back in 1991/92 or so when the genre was first emerging. Even prior to it emerging and before it even had a name, the genre still existed as an abstract concept, waiting to be unveiled. Stories of the emergence differ wildly – a bastardisation of Detroit techno by the Germans, natural successor to acid house, the culmination of 15 years of Kraftwerk, 80’s electro without the vocals – but if there’s anything we can be sure about it’s that the Germans who made the first big impact with it, and that it contained my three essential elements then just as it does now.

The fact is though, that EDM generally was emerging from the late 80’s in a big way, in various different forms, and it’s entirely likely that no one person or artist is responsible. The major change was the availability of electronic synths and other forms of electronic music production in the 80’s, when the keyboard became the new guitar. I can remember the Pet Shop Boys appearing on TV in the mid-80’s and they always had a big wall of machines behind them to make their sounds, machines that doubtless became as obsolete as the 1960’s supercomputers that used to take up an entire room but would nowadays be out-processed by a mobile phone.

I laugh at you, 1960's supercomputer

I laugh at you, 1960's supercomputer

EDM today is vastly different to the EDM of 20 years ago, that much is undeniable – but the evolution has been a technological one and a personal one. However, musical genres remain static and unchanged. Jazz is still jazz, classical is still classical, rock is still rock, and trance is still trance. All genres have been interpreted differently down the years, with various offshoots and tangents to the originals, but this is not evolution, this is reinterpretation.

The difference is subtle but vitally important. Many artists have combined genres, split them, or done their utmost to remain undefined by them, and in doing so, many have created genres they can call their own. Robert Miles, for example, was widely imitated, and when he first emerged, was described in the music press at the time as “dream house”, though history now defines him as trance. In the mid-90’s, there was a spate of what you could probably define as “epic progressive” trance from the likes of BT, Sasha, Digweed, Blue Amazon and so on, when 15 minute tracks made a comeback (many DJ’s described them as “toilet tracks” – not because they were shit, but because they were ideal to put on if you needed to rush away from the decks to go to the toilet). Nowadays though, none of them make music which could be described as “epic progressive trance” in any sense of the word. This is not because EPT has died, or evolved, or become something else – it is because the producers have moved onto other things. Anyone could turn around today and make an epic progressive trance tune, and the definition of what it is hasn’t changed.

The fallacy is perpetuated by the insistence of people to define producers by a musical genre, rather than tracks themselves. Invariably, music producers are wildly obsessive music enthusiasts in general, otherwise they wouldn’t have spent so much time and money down the years in trying to make music. But music enthusiasts are such that they appreciate a wide spectrum of music, of many genres, and as such will take their influences from a huge field. Thus it follows that anyone obsessed enough to lock themselves away for days and weeks on end in a soundproof room trying to turn the noises in their heads into reality will not just constantly repeat themselves throughout their careers. Similarly anyone with a wide appreciation of music in general will not stick solely to one narrow element of music.

So it is natural that music producers will evolve, just as it is inevitable that music technology will evolve. So why is it hard to grasp that producers can move from one genre to another? My favourite artist album of all time is Moby’s “Everything Is Wrong”, where in the space of 13 tracks he managed to cover opera, rock, thrash metal, trip hop, classical, happy hardcore, ambient, trance, and then some. The strangest thing about the album though is that all 13 tracks have the distinctive Moby sound to them, which although indefinable is probably true for every track on every album he’s ever made (and I have them all).

I believe that it is this kind of distinctive artist “sound” that confuses people into thinking that genres evolve. If Simon Patterson turned round and made a tune with Nine Inch Nails, the chin-strokers would marvel at the rock/dance “fusion” and once again prophesize about the death of dance music as they have been doing since 1987. NIN fans would probably be horrified but secretly enjoy Patterson’s snarling basslines, whereas Patterson’s fans probably liked NIN already. “Isn’t it incredible about how trance has evolved?” people would say, “From obscure German bleepy noises to the modern mainstream, collaborating with real bands”.

Hi Trent, you wanna make a choon?

Hi Trent, you wanna make a choon?

Yet throughout this whole time, “trance” will have remained the same. Just as “purple” would remain the same, “house” would remain the same, “pizza” would remain the same, and so on, and so on.

>n the example above though, the chances of a Patterson/Reznor collab being a trance tune is pretty slim to non-existent. It would, in all probability, be another genre of music altogether that may already have a name or not. However, because of Patterson’s history from the days when he did make trance, it’s likely that trance fans and DJs would wind up playing the tune as a result, and lazy journos from the music press will probably describe it as such. The irony is though, is that had it been made by a producer with no reputation, however, it would more than likely pass them all by, and would not be referred to as trance.

OK, just promise me it won't be any of that trance shite!

OK, just promise me it won't be any of that trance shite!

Chances are that I will discuss the matter of genre in more detail in the future. I’d go into it more now only I’d probably just keep going until WordPress gave up or you died of old age. Suffice to say I do think about these things a fair bit, often whilst I’m actually mixing or am in the studio. I probably think about trance as often as I think about sex, which I suppose is quite scary when you think about it…

16
Apr
09

Greetings And Salutations

I don’t have a website. I had one once but I had neither the skills nor the means to keep it updated, and I can’t afford to pay someone to do it for me. Being married now I can’t offer sexual favours to anyone to do one for me either.

Enter the joys of WordPress, when it suddenly struck me that I could post tracklists and download links to all my shows and sets here, without the need for an actual domain, website, or afore-mentioned skills!

It also gives me an excellent opportunity to occasionally spout my nonsense into the bottomless pit that is the blogosphere. Maybe people will even read it, perhaps it will even change their lives and perspectives on things, but I doubt it. In fact I’m sure it’ll only just demonstrate to people who might not otherwise be aware just exactly how strange I really am.

So my random ramblings will likely be occasional rather than regular. This site is all about my love affair with trance.

My love affair with electronic music in general has been long-winded to say the least, and I won’t bore you all from my first post by reciting 20 years of influences. But suffice to say that once I found my way to trance I never left it, and so more than half a lifetime later I’m still here, still obsessed, and (finally) no longer just some weirdo who makes people suspicious because he likes “computer music” instead of “real instruments”. Thankfully there is now an entire planet full of weirdos just like me.

I was taught to mix in 1999 by a guy called Andy Woodward, whom I lived with at the time, during that crazy summer that shall, for me, be forever Gatecrasher.

It will always be with me

It will always be with me

I’d pre-empted my purchase of a CD player many years earlier by starting my CD collection before I had one, so that when I finally got around to it, I had CDs to actually play. Similarly, I began to collect my own vinyl before eventually acquiring my own decks and mixer in 2003.

I’d make demo mixes onto an old tape-cassette recording deck. It was quite amusing in that my first decks used to play records slightly fast, and similarly, the tape deck would record things slightly fast – so my first few demos generally headed around the mid to high 140bpms. I was the guy who kept the 120 minute cassette tape industry going for a while until I eventually harnessed the power of the PC.

In early 2004 I managed to blag my first gig at a night called Energy at Club Zero, alongside the now relatively famous name of Kane Nelson, who was claiming his second gig that night. I’d always sworn that playing in a club was something I always wanted to do once, but admittedly, that night had a profound effect on me in the sense that it made me hunger for more.

A few weeks after the gig I spotted a post advertising for DJs as part of an online-radio station called DJ Source Radio, part of the now defunct but legendary DJ Source forums. As the station was in its infancy, as was the general state of internet-radio at the time, I was able to get myself two weekly slots on the schedule.

When asked what I wanted to call the two shows, I had no idea, and hadn’t given it any thought at all. But as I DJ under the name Lazarus (a story I’ll get to another time) and I’d drunk a couple of vodkas at the time I received the email, I was able to brainstorm the two show names in a couple of minutes. Just as well I didn’t get three shows as I only came up with two suggestions.

The shows were called The Rebirth Session and Back From The Dead, and for nearly five years now, I’ve been doing both shows periodically on various stations, since DJSR took its’ final bow.

In the early days it was all about fun and playing for a handful of people (sometimes 1 or 2, occasionally over 30) but with club gigs so hard to get it was the next best thing, and certainly preferable to playing records to a wall.

I guess this site is the story of everything since then really! Enjoy 🙂




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