Written by Mr Mayhem on 27th August 2020
Trance did a very promising start in the early nineties (1990’s) in Europe, and is currently one of the most promising and influential music genres on the music scene. Trance itself is very wide-scoped, it occupies wide territory with a lot of space and brings its influence deeply outside and well beyond its own bounds, that seem to be quite obscure. At the time, many of the currently popular groups, artists, titles of mainstream music are starting to incorporate trance sound into their recordings. Initially trance was mostly non-commercial, but trance is getting more and more publicity now, on TV channels such as Viva and MTV, and in the press. Trance becomes more popularized, thanks to talented trance music DJ’s and producers, trance music labels, and even large recording companies. Pop and rock stars are starting to collaborate with or even outsource their recordings to trance music composers and producers. An excellent example, Madonna with their mature, high-quality, semi-trance album Ray Of Light (1998), almost half tracks of which have explicitly clear trance sounding.
Perhaps the most ambiguous genre of dance music, trance could be described as a melodic, more or less freeform style of music, partially derived from house. While there is no strict definition for trance, songs of this genre are usually characterized as being accessible and having anthemic and epic and rifting and psychedelic qualities. Using that as a starting point, a basic trance track could then be described as being comprised of a particular melodic or vocal hook which is given presence over a bassline, a drum pattern, which often includes snare or kick drum rolls to mark important moments, and perhaps one or two other semi-quantified aural elements to provide texture and enhance the rhythm. However, not all trance fits that profile, and often times a song’s classification as trance has just as much to do with who is playing it as what it sounds like.
The best way to generally describe the trance genre is that of dance music based around rifts and anthems, which can be either highly energetic or very chilled out. Trance tracks often intermix major and minor chords to create “epic” sounding, similar to classical organ music. Most trance is built around the 4/4 beat, and a lot of trance can be very uplifting. Uptempo, uplifting and often euphoric energetic synthesized sounds pumped by a beat and massive hooks, often with long breakdowns building slowly to create a tension and expectancy on the dance floor. Often with driving off-the-beat basslines and utilizing major and minor chords in sequence, trance tracks can take a central epic form of commercial trance or the form of one of several sub-genres including Euro (Epic) Trance, Goa (Psychedelic, Psy) trance, Hard Trance, and Progressive Trance.
You can very well understand what trance is all about if you consider both house and techno a ‘power supply’ or a ‘fuel’ of trance. Yes, in some ways trance is derived from house and techno, but this derivation is just a matter of taking the proper power supply. Look, airplanes consume diesel oil in order to be capable of flight. They just cannot fly without fuel, yet they are not fuel! They are much more complex than plain, simple diesel petrolium oil. Now draw and see an analogy, airplanes is trance, and diesel fuel is house, that’s it. A more important, fundamental baseline of trance is derived from religious and spiritual roots of the East and ancient Eastern culture. It is astonishing, in fact, ambient, beatless form of trance has been there for ages! More information on this is forth below this page. From a pure music producer’s standpoint, the following elements build up a basic trance track on top of a solid, house-powered beat and energetic, techno-powered progressive sound:
- Rifts, rolls, breakdowns and buildups.
- Short samples often going into 16th and 32nd notes.
- Highly intermixed major and minor chords.
These are the essential elements of trance, all of them are very important as they completely change the music sound. Applying even one of them changes the sound to trance-alike. House is a mature, developed musical genre. House music can be very good, but house can never be (and has never been and never supposed to be) as uplifting and as emotional as trance. That’s because trance, by its definition, has at least some or all of the above unique characteristics appertaining to trance only, which are not attributable to house in any way. Suppose you have a good house track. Once you start adding/incorporating the above qualities into it, it no longer sounds as house, it first becomes progressive house, and then it simply turns into trance.
History & Evolution
You can arguably trace trance music back to religious roots emanating from a spiritual state of mind reminiscent of shamanism and elements of bhuddism. With this in mind, it’s very important that trance age in aggregate can be estimated as hundreds and thousands years. The actual sound of contemporary trance, however, was born as early as 1990 in Germany, and through pioneering trance labels like Dragonfly the sound started to take on a slightly more mainstream appeal during the later 90’s. Goa and Psy-trance are arguably older, with their characteristic sounds purportedly emerging in Israel and India. The repetitive nature of much of the early trance tracks provided club-goers with the ideal chance to immerse themselves in a new style of music after a period of relative quiet on what had been termed the “dance” scene.
Arguably a fusion of techno and house, early trance shared much with techno in terms of the tempo and rhythmic structures but also added more melodic overtones which were appropriated from the style of house popular in Europe’s club scene at that time. However, the melodies in trance differed from euro/club house in that although they tended to be emotional and uplifting, they did not “bounce around” in the same way that house did. This early trance tended to be characterized by the anthemic qualities described above, and typically involved a break-down portion of the song in which the beat was dropped for a few bars to focus on the melody before bringing the beat back with a renewed intensity. The trance became instantly popular in Europe and spread very quickly. Inevitably, the style was to evolve and as more and more mainstream DJ’s picked up on the sound of trance, so the sound became more commercial and more diverse often relegating the traditional trance styles into background sub-genres.
By the mid-1990’s, trance had emerged commercially as one of the dominant genres of dance music. Immensely popular, trance found itself filling a niche as edgier than house, more soothing than drum-n-bass, and more accessible than techno. By this time, trance had become synonymous with progressive house and both genres essentially subsumed each other under the commercial banner of “progressive.” Artists like Brian Transeau (BT), Paul Van Dyk, Ferry Corsten (Art of Trance), and Underworld came to the forefront as premier producers and remixers, bringing with them the emotional, epic feel of the style. Meanwhile, DJ’s like Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, and John Digweed were championing the sound in the clubs and through the sale of pre-recorded mixes. By the end of the 1990’s, trance remained commercially huge but had fractured into an extremely diverse genre. Perhaps as a consequence, similar things were happening with the DJ’s as well; for example, Sasha and Digweed, who together had helped bring the progressive sound to the forefront, all but abandoned it by 2000, instead spinning a darker mix of the rising “deep trance” style.
In 1996, the UK became the core of the new trance phenomenon taking trance to new heights in UK clubs and out to the clubber’s island of Ibiza. DJ’s like Paul Oakenfold, Sasha and John Digweed started to open the eyes of the clubbing population to what would probably be best now described as euro trance: epic winding tracks with monumental breakdowns and uplifting lead lines culminating in the ATB and Delirium sounds of 2000. Assisted by well-known producers like Robert Miles, Sash and BT, these tunes struck to the hearts of an audience looking for new energy and excitement in their music. Just as interesting to observe is the creeping effect of trance around the world. While the Israelis and Swedes in particular continue to produce new sounds, American and the new Eastern European markets are absorbed in the trance sounds of a once frenetic European market. Meantime the UK and Canada are pushing the boundaries of hard trance with new genres cropping up like Hard House, a fusion of trance and house.
With such a diverse range of music to satisfy within the genre, it is inevitable that trance becomes a victim of its own success. We’ve already seen the likes of trance-made DJ’s like Paul Van Dyk denounce the genre and its becoming de-facto to slate the genre as old hat. However, for many true trance fans of the mid-nineties, this is ultimately leading bringing their genre back round to what it was designed to be: music for the mind, not music for the masses. The likely path for commercial trance music is either back into the “dance” fold or to once more re-badge itself, maybe as progressive, maybe as epic dance music – whichever route it transpires to follow, trance should be remembered for providing a renaissance of dance music. Currently trance continues to expand the diversity of the genre as expressed through many of its brightest DJ talents.
A central, neutral form of trance which is probably the simplest to understand. Euro trance is often very uplifting, it is usually around 140 – 145 bpm and has a lot of big rifts. The bass is generally quite heavy and it will often have a female vocal. Due to the big rifts, breakdowns and vocals this style of trance can also be referred to as commercial trance. This form of trance definitely falls into the instant “feel good” category – for many trance-heads, this is how it all started. Currently much harder edged Euro Trance is being referred to as “Hard Trance”, in many ways it is similar to Euro, with big, but usually not so “euphoric”, rifts and a bit faster, usually around 145 – 150 bpm, often using acid lines.
Goa trance is form of electronic music and is a style of trance music which originated in the Indian region of Goa. The music has its roots in the popularity of the Goa region in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a hippie mecca, although the actual Goa trance style would not appear until much later. As the tourist influx tapered off in the 1970’s and 1980’s, a core group remained in Goa, concentrating on improvements in music along with other activities such as yoga, recreational drug use, and various New Age pursuits.
The introduction of techno style and technique to Goa led to what would eventually become the Goa trance style; early pioneers included Goa Gil and Mark Allen. Many “parties” (similar to raves) in Goa revolve entirely around this genre of music; Goa is also often played in other countries at raves, festivals and parties often in conjunction with other styles of trance and techno.
Goa is essentially “dance-trance” music (and was referred to as “Trance Dance” in its formative years), and as such has an energetic beat, almost always at 4/4 and often going into 16th or 32nd notes. A typical number will generally build up to a much more energetic movement in the second half of the track, and then taper off fairly quickly toward the end. Generally 8-12 minutes long, Goa tracks usually have a noticeably stronger bassline than other trance music and incorporate more organic “squelchy” sounds.
Goa trance parties have a visual aspect as well, the use of “fluoro” (fluorescent paint) is common in clothing and decoration. The images are often associate with topics like aliens, hinduism and other religious (especially eastern) images, mushrooms (and other psychedelic imagery), shamanism and technology. Goa trance has a significant following in Israel, brought to that country by former soldiers returning from recreational “post-army trips” to Goa. A great deal of Goa trance is now produced in Israel, but its production and consumption is a global phenomenon.
Goa Trance effectively morphed into psychedelic trance during the latter half of the 1990’s. Both styles are generally non-commercial and underground compared to other forms of trance. The goa sound is more likely to be heard at outdoor parties and festivals than in clubs and places like Ibiza. For a short period in the mid-’90’s it enjoyed significant commercial success with support from DJ’s like Paul Oakenfold. The artist man with no name probably came the closest to being a goa trance “star”.
Psychedelic trance (often referred to as psy trance) is a form of trance music, developed in the late 1990’s. Trance has a fast beat, in the range 125 to 150 beats per minute (bpm), compared to ambient trance music and other forms like house and techno. It has a strong bass sound that beats continuously without change and is overlaid by many other rhythms. This type of trance is popular in the UK, but is a truly global phenomenon, and interestingly there is an underrepresentation of American artists, although Israeli artists are well represented. As of 2002 many Japanese artists have started to take in this genre from the influence of UK DJ’s.
The club and dance scenes worldwide have been using psychedelic trance in performances along with Goa trance, ambient trance, progressive trance, and minimalist trance. The mixture of Goa and psychedelic trance music is the popular kind of trance performance to many trance listeners. Psychedelic trance can be considered an offshoot of Goa trance. Popular artists that make psychedelic trance include Astral Projection, Space Tribe, Infected Mushroom, Atmos, Total Eclipse, Cosmosis and Simon Posford. Psychedelic trance is often played at outdoor festivals. People at these festivals sometimes consume psychedelic drugs like LSD, ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms. The festivals often take place over a few days with music being played 24 hours a day.
The precursor to Progressive Trance, Ambient Trance is a dreamy, hypnotic and intelligent style of trance, mostly German, that utilizes atmospheric pads, epic melodic progressions and occasionally symphonic arrangements. It is not to be confused with commercial, mainstream trance from artists such as ATB or Darude. At times borrowing elements from the earlier acid movement, such as rezzy 303 leads and minimal percussion, but based more on the spiritual experience that Goa Trance has since trademarked, Ambient Trance is an often-forgotten but extremely influential style that took rave music to a higher and more profound level. Sometimes called “Oldschool Trance” because it has since been left behind for the harder styles popular today.
Ambient Trance is not as much a specific genre as it is a period in the history of dance music’s most notorious style. When The Orb and other early dance pioneers were mixing ambient records with current club-oriented sounds, many producers and DJs in the UK and Germany began taking notice. As early as 1990, German musician Harald Bluechel (aka Cosmic Baby) was experimenting with classical piano and synthesizer melodies contrasted against techno rhythms, and in 1993 released one of the most popular trance songs of all time, “Cafe del Mar” (under the pseudonym Energy 52) which is still being remixed today.
Perhaps the most prolific figure in trance, then and now, is Oliver Lieb. Recording under the aliases Paragliders, The Ambush, Spicelab and LSG, Lieb remixed almost every trance producer of note during the 90’s and continues to do so today. His albums spanned entire genres, from tribal, ethnic fusion to spacey trance to rough and tough techno. Considered by many to be one of the gods of trance alongside Paul van Dyk, Lieb was a huge reason why the style remained powerful and important in dance cultures around the world.
As with all styles, Ambient Trance eventually morphed into something different and by the mid 90’s, it was almost entirely abandoned for harder and more progressive sounds. However, a few producers of that time still remain today producing intelligent trance, among them Humate, Salt Tank, Lieb and Paul van Dyk, albeit in a more modern setting. But most fans of dance music will fondly remember the early and mid-90’s as the “good old days” of trance, with some of the most beautiful and profound tracks produced during this time.
This trance is generally more laid back than Euro, it tends to be a lot deeper and has a less commercial edge. It is also usually slower (130 – 140 bpm) and has a wider variety of sounds – many progressive tunes use a lot of tribal techno and breakbeat sounds. The rifts in progressive music are much more subtle than that of Euro and never as uplifting. Progressive music relies more on subtle builds and drops guided by the DJ throughout the night, whereas Euro builds and drops in each individual tune. Recently much progressive trance has moved towards deep tribal sounds and breaks. This is often referred to as “progressive house”.
Hard Trance, as the title suggests, blends traditional trance sounds and structure with harder elements more reminiscent of Acid and Techno. The tempo is generally increased to between 145 and 155 and the kick drum and bass is usually a focus for a clubbing audience.
- Platipus, Kinetic, Ministry Of Sound, Dragonfly, Perfecto, Bedrock
Trance DJ’s & Producers
- Paul Van Dyk, DJ Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, Paul Oakenfold, John Digweed, Ferry Corsten, Rank 1, Sander Kleinenberg, Deep Dish, Delerium, Humate, Nick Warren, Blank & Jones, BT, Chicane, Kai Tracid, Sasha, Carl Cox, Christopher Lawrence, Yahel
And remember… Trance can give you feelings you never forget!