Published Dec 01, 2001Though itself an offshoot of techno, over the past decade trance has become one of dance music's base genres. Long the favoured whipping boy of the electronic cognoscenti, trance has roller-coastered from a nearly forgotten fringe genre to world domination as "the new house" to a feverish backlash with DJs like Sasha turning their backs on the music that made them superstars. But despite its recent fall from grace due to an influx of over-the-top Euro-cheese, trance retains healthy, diverse scenes throughout the globe.
Trance was born in the early 90s mixing techno with the hypnotic whooshes of ambient and the 4/4 beat and 303 bass lines of acid house to great emotional effect. Its goal, through the use of trippy synth lines and minimal rhythmic changes, was to recreate a spiritual experience that put dancers in a trance. Labels like Belgium's R&S Records and Germany's Harthouse led the initial charge but trance soon faded from the European radar to set up shop in the developing world. Despite a continuing cult following, there was little hint that it would evolve into the dominant sound of global club culture by millennium's end.
Key Listenings: CJ Bolland "Horsepower" (R&S, 1991); Hardfloor "Hardtrance Acperience" (Harthouse, 1993); Sven Väth An Accident in Paradise (Warner, 1993)
Goa Trance (Psy-Trance)
In the mid-90s, trance was picked up by backpackers in Asia, becoming the soundtrack to legendary full-moon parties. Adapting to the region's neo-hippie aesthetic, it morphed into Goa trance named after the counterculture-friendly Indian coastal state. Goa kept the pounding 4/4 beat but upped the psychedelic sounds to appeal to the local preference for acid over ecstasy. Since vinyl melts in hot weather, it wasn't written to be mixed, instead including an intro, climax and outro over a ten to 15 minute track. There is a tendency to fill the entire sonic spectrum with dense, complex and at times contradictory melodies held together by the steady kick drum. Samples of tribal instruments and South Asian motifs are common and there is a strong belief in the consciousness-raising possibilities of the "trance-dance experience." Being born from a party scenario, Goa trance further breaks down chronologically ranging from shockingly dark late-night minimalism to uplifting, buzzy morning music to mid-tempo afternoon chill-out.
Key listening: Hallucinogen Twisted (Twisted, 1995); Various Return to the Source: The Chakra Journey (Volume, 1996); Astral Projection Dancing Galaxy (Transient, 1997)
This is the strain that took over the world. Maintaining the euphoric hypnotics of the old-school, progressive incorporated the smoother, commercial sounds of Eurodance and crowd-pleasing anthems. Known for epic unending, hands-in-the-air breakdowns in DJ sets and diva vocals on commercial radio, this form was flogged to the masses by pretty much every superstar DJ from Paul Oakenfold and Pete Tong to Sasha and Digweed. It soon pushed house out of the main rooms of England's super clubs like Ministry of Sound and scored several radio hits. Even North America got into trance, thanks largely to the work of American Christopher Lawrence and Canada's Max Graham. But as with any trend, increasingly cheesy and predictable tracks such as Darude's "Sandstorm," which even cracked the American top 40 stirred an anti-trance movement that pushed hard trance back underground and ushered in progressive house.
Key listening: Paul Oakenfold Global Underground:Live in Oslo (Boxed, 1997); Ferry Corsten Trance Nation, Vol. 1 (Ministry of Sound, 2000); Darude "Sandstorm" (16 Inch, 2000)
While reclaiming the title for the house nation, progressive house is, in essence, "the new trance." While originally progressive house incorporated any revolutionary house record, it eventually took on more trance aspects until the remaining progressive trance DJs escaped the backlash by putting out "progressive house" records. Quite often the two terms are used in conjunction and DJ/producers such as Paul van Dyk could really be included under either category. However, while maintaining a hypnotic trance vibe with four-on-the-floor beats and high-hats, progressive house is slower, softer, less anthemic and much, much less obvious.
Key listening:Leftfield Leftism (Sony, 1995); BT IMA (Warner, 1996); Paul Van Dyk "Another Way" (Mute, 2000); Sasha + John Digweed Communicate (Kinetic, 2000)