Trance, an electronic dance genre, emerged in the early 1990s in Germany, during the era of house and electro music cults. Known to be more melodic than other electronic dance genre and built around repetitive synthesized melody, trance brings euphoric and happy feelings to its listeners. It is a blend between classical and electronic music with uses of piano, strings, and organs. Although it quickly became popular among ravers who formed a “trance family”, it was soon commercialized and has now been replaced by the “big room” genre.
In the 1990s, the newly formed trance family adopted philosophies of peace, love, unity, and respect (PLUR). These ideals attracted listeners that valued equality and acceptance – members of the trance family were people of all social classes, genders, sexualities and religious views. Anybody could be part of the movement and enjoy the night at the club or a rave with friendly and loving people. Key element that connected all listeners was the love of trance music and the feelings that it brought.
Over the course of twenty years the genre has developed its own legendary producers and DJs, who have either stayed true to trance or adapted their music to new electronic trends. For example, DJs such as Tiesto or Sasha initially started their careers and gained popularity in the trance genre, but later changed their styles to house. On the other hand, Paul Van Dyk, Markus Schulz and Dj Eco are still producing and playing trance music. Armin Van Buuren, often said to be best trance DJ in the world, stands out with his exceptional commercial and musical achievements in trance music. After starting his career in 1995 and gaining wide popularity within the trance family, he proceeded to establish a remarkably successful radio show – A State of Trance (ASOT). He has remained one of the top three electronic music DJs for the past seven years as voted by DJ Mag, the world’s leader in electronic music rankings. He has also been voted world’s number one DJ five times by DJ Mag and its readers.
Armin Van Buuren is the reason I started listening to trance. The first trance song I’ve heard was produced by him and watching his documentary, One Year With Armin Van Buuren was a great experience. The viewers get to see the DJ’s life outside of the scene when he is not performing and learn a little about his personal life. Movie was made in 2012 and in my opinion it was Armin’s most successful year as his daughter Fenna was born. Although I personally knew most of the things shown in the documentary, it is a great movie for new followers of Armin Van Buuren and trance music.
As the host of ASOT, Armin Van Buuren tries to connect the internationally spread trance family with the genre’s original key element – collective enjoyment of music. Starting with the 400th episode he organizes live rave parties at different locations all around the world. Every year he brings the best trance DJs together to celebrate the radio show’s birthday with the trance family. The most recent celebration was for the 650th episode of ASOT and included the following countries: Russia, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Chile, Argentina, Malaysia, Indonesia and United States.
However, since the early 90’s trance went through considerable transformations and became increasingly “mainstream” and commercialized. Initially it was known for its high pitch synths, higher than techno and house music’s beats per minute (BPM), meaningful lyrics, and overall song complexity. The genre reached its peak of popularity in its original form in 2009, before undergoing critical changes. In 2009 the amount of commercialized trance songs was high in number, but equal amount of classic trance was being produced. Artists still had time and space to be creative because record labels were not imposing high levels of pressure.
It seems like history repeats itself as trance is following the same downright path as disco music. It started as an open minded, forward looking genre with no set boundaries but quickly turned into a commercial product and lost its original meaning. Key changes happened in 2010 when the Swedish House Mafia released a single titled “One”. The idea behind the track was amazing – it had a fantastic mixture of all sounds from three different electronic genres: trance, house, and electro. It was a complex mix of different worlds in one song, yet it was so simple that even people who did not listen to electronic music connected with it. Unfortunately, this introduced a new wave of listeners who did not know the history of the genre and its original PLUR philosophies. Observing the track’s unexpectedly wide commercial success, other artists and record labels started trying similar styles. These changes created new possibilities for blending between trance, hardstyle, house, electro and dub-step genre, increasing the number of listeners. Electronic dance music (EDM) was no longer being produced for its musical values, but rather for its financial potential.
Trance music was simplified to appeal to a wider audience and producers’ creativity was replaced by commercial interest. Record labels sought more producers to supply new tracks for almost every season and DJs could no longer play for longer than an hour at festivals. BPM of songs drastically dropped, there was minimal usage of synths and lyrics, and even songs with lyrics grew increasingly meaningless and vulgar. Commercialized trance took over the genre and as a result the big room genre emerged. As rawgoodage website describes, “The genre “big room” was born from such events, combining elements such as hard kick drums, minimal sounding synths, long build ups, and plenty of reverb.” Almost all songs being produced in this genre follow the same formula and are continuously promoted and played at all electronic music events around the world. It grew so popular that the new generation of ravers only listens to big room, which in turns means that record labels are pressuring trance musicians to produce it.
Of course there are still producers who stay true to their style. For example, Armin Van Buuren has created an alias named Gaia. Although he produces an increasingly higher number of commercial trance and big room music, his alias Gaia is devoted to classical trance songs. In 2009 his Gaia single Tuvan was voted the song of the year by ASOT listeners and number one song by Trance Top 1000 in 2013. Other producers and DJs such as Paul Van Dyk and Dj Eco, who still produce classic trance tunes, lost their popularity and are rarely booked for big festivals.Today, DJ Mag’s top 100 list has includes many big room producers such as W&W (who started as trance producers), Martin Garrix, Like Mike & Dmitri Vegas, to name a few. The original ideals and philosophies that were essential to trance music in the beginning are lost. Mainstream songs that are being labeled as trance no longer have any profound meaning. As John “00″ Flemming states, after this commercial hit trance can finally get back to the way it was and focus on what’s important.
Trance listeners tend to blame producers for their work, but in my opinion it was the wave of new listeners who dictated these changes. As it happened many times before music is evolving in to something new. It is not producers or labels fault but rather listener’s choice. Although I do not enjoy these changes and personally think that they are not for better, I try my best to follow and appreciate them.