zaterdag 12 mei 2012

Another 'Is Trance Dead' Controversy

Scene Analysis | May 2nd - May 10th 2012 |
This post was born from my thoughts after reading this article:

Over the few past days I've seen this article surface on Twitter as well as Facebook. As usual, everyone rushes to Trance' side with a fury claiming how the genre "is NOT dead", that it "is bigger than ever", and that we should just "look at shows like Armin van Buuren's A State Of Trance" for proof of how vibrant and alive the genre would supposedly be... What amazes me about this whole controversy is not so much the persistence of the people asking whether the genre still lives or not (old habits die hard after all), but the massive outrage it is greeted with time and time again, as if the ones defending Trance are trying to convince themselves the most out of everyone else. The use of AvB or ASOT as proof that Trance IS very much alive is actually not doing the debate any favors too, not in my eyes anyway. The same people that  hate the (may I add, wrongly categorized as) "New House Hype" are defending their Trance with a brand that has EXACTLY  started catering to that very hype that they hate so much. Anyone listening to ASOT longer than 2010 or 2008 knows  that the show's format as well as sound have radically changed over the years. This is not a purists' Manifesto to  hate on the current state of affairs, but this is a recollection of the past years of humble and passionate Tranceaddict seeing so much confusion, disillusion and discontent in a scene that was supposed to be The One To  Trancend Them All.

Once upon A Time, There Was A Show
Whereas 2005-2006 saw the moodier darker Progressive tracks slowly being overtaken by the more Electro and Techtrance driven tracks that achieved massive popularity and allegiance in 2007-2008, 2009-2010 seemed to open the way to more and more vocal-centric tracks. By the time ASOT passed its 500th milestone, its episodes started showcasing these peculiar 'Trouse' records. Now even in 2007 there were people hating the show's non-euphoric/uplifting first hour which often would often showcase more Progressive House or  Electro-Trance type of records. Heck, recently I even ran into a Tranceaddict thread that criticized ASOT's prog-format and was wondering whether Techtrance was the much needed innovation that Trance needed to get over its Supersaw inflation (read all about it here: http://www.tranceadd...286878-p-5.html). That's right, even six years ago people were giving someone like Armin a hard time about his track selection and complaining about his sound. I personally experienced the beginning of the end for former longer-time fans of his when he released 'Going Wrong'; even for someone with Armin's more vocal-centric  taste, this was a very cheesy production. For the record, these fans were not even that bothered with the newer Electro-type tracks or the Deadmau5 Revolution parallel to it.

Now back in this 2007-2008 era a whole host of artists frequently  supported on ASOT had their own unique sounds and styles. Sander van Doorn and Marcus Schossow might have been similar  in that they utulized and mixed Electro and Techtrance sounds in a (to my ears exciting) cocktail but both could be  distinguished from each other. Same goes for someone like Gareth Emery, a guaranteed mastermind behind more melodic  proggy driven Trance and Leon Bolier, who bordered between a nostalgic/melacholic sweet-melody Trance (Back In The  Days, Poseidon) and more powerful thumping techy Anthems (Summernight Confessions, Ocean Drive Boulevard). Names like  The Blizzard and Mike Foyle would never put out much a year but if they did, it would be quality melodies all over the  place. Marcel Woods, who can be named as one of the pioneers of Techtrance alongside Marco V, was slowly moving away from  his Techtrance throne and moving into a more experimental realm where he would combine his former power-riffs with more Electro-influenced beats and basses. Though I considered this experimentation as a hit-and-miss affair, he was  one of my favorite producers in that period because if he DID hit (Lemon Tree & Musical Madness (Take One) most  notably), he hit really HARD. Then there was someone like Orjan Nilsen that started off with melodic melancholic  Trance (Red Woods, Adamantica, Gobstice) and then moved to the more Techy driven beats (like in Scrubs, Black Mamba &  Vivada). But in between he made "La Guitarra", in my books the greatest Electro-Trance track ever as it managed to  create a journey within itself, kicking of with the Electro-funk, utilizing a building -synth most common in Techno (and oldskool House) and slowly  moving into Trancey bliss with that infamous Latin guitar hook. Those who were into Trance before this period (the  pre-2004 generation) will no doubt have had their doubts or dislikes in this period. But not all of them. No matter  how you slice it, everyone was doing their own thing and had their own recognizable, distinguishable sound. That's at  least what ASOT proved to me in that period.

Hence I can't help but what wonder: What the hell went wrong the past few years? Nearly all of the abovementioned  names -as well as others that have gone unmentioned- have turned to the so-called "genre-defying and liberating  Trouse", either in their productions, their sets or both (Schossow, SvD, Schossow, Nilsen). If they haven't  necessarily embraced Trouse, they have embraced Dubstep (another hype) or poppified their more melodic productions up  to the point that you can hardly call it Trance anymore (Emery) as the vocal and lyrical content clearly dominate the  production underneath.

Like A Virus It Spread
The problem with this Trouse fad, in my opinion at least, is that it has killed the diversity that was present in  Trance up to a few years ago: so many different producers making music across various BPM ranges with different moods  and sounds > all that have gone to make the first and best overflowing-with-kindergarten-&-gnome-land-Avicii-tracks.  And it is exactly those type of tracks that so-called "Trance Gods" like Armin van Buuren and Ferry Corsten (among  many, many others) support in their radioshows and sets. How can you say that ASOT is keeping Trance alive when you  have Omnias, Shoguns and Dash Berlins prodiving fluffy overvocalized tracks on the one hand whereas Orjan Nilsens, Tom  Falls and W&Ws are completely Trousifying the ASOT brand on the other?

Now the new superficial BlackBerry generation of 16-20 year olds may all love it, but for those of us that have been  into this music for over 7 years, this transformation of the Trance scene is hard to digest. And consider that I got  hooked on Trance when I was 13 and thus too young to have experienced much of the scene LIVE, how alienating must all these  changes have been for loyal fans that got into Trance in their 20's/30's back in the mid '90s? Not that everyone from  that era has the same opinion on Trance, mind you. There are people that can't stand any of the music labeled Trance  since '98/'99: People that call Classics by the likes of Gouryella, Binary Finary and Rank 1 "cheesy millennial  garbage". I fail to identify with this generation as much as I fail to identify with the current beforementioned "cool  kids" generation. But with everyone else in between, everyone that acknowledges Trance of the mid '90s up till the mid  '00s, I can most certainly identify with. Hence I don't think it's such a surprise people have once again declared  Trance to be dead. Be it that it's been the 1998th time or something. So what's up then? IS Trance dead? Or is it alive?

I personally believe the answer to that question has everything to do with what I wrote above: different generations. Each  generation has a slightly different idea about what constitutes "Trance". It used to define a feeling caused by a certain recognizable soundscape, but nowadays it seems more of an umbrella categorization for substyles that have emerged from it in recent years. As such, each generation is entitled to its own temporal experience of the genre and will call the  biggest hits in the scene of that time "Trance". But if one takes Brainchild - Symmetry C, pits this next to System F  - Out Of The Blue, adds Olivier Lieb - Hidden Sun Of Venus, as well as Rank 1 - Awakening and Jonas Steur - Castamara,  and you quickly have to conclude that these tracks are definitely not the same... Yet all of them are considered  Trance, in one way or another. Which isn't that strange, different as they might be, there is a similar feeling that  all of them try to evoke. And with exceptions here and there, most longer time fans will agree that all of these  tracks are exemplary Classics, and lie at the heart of what makes Trance such an amazing genre.

Sad But True...
But it's not these type of tracks that are cracking the Beatport charts at the moment, nor are they the type of tracks  that all the Pop Superstars want to lace their vocals over. No, they want the Swedish House Maffia/Avicii or David  Guetta sound, as this is the music that the new younger American teenage generation craves. The huge influential Dutch indoor festivals Sensation and Trance Energy have disappeared as the genre's most colossal stages. For years now Sensation has been about the more "House" oriented DJs in which ID&T purposefully seem to have chosen to neglect any ("real") Trance artists. Late 2010 caused an outrage on the web with ID&T announcing that Trance Energy would henceforth continue as "ENERGY | The Network". Those that visited the first edition of this transformed Tranceless Energy could see with their own eyes how all the attention (especially in terms of laser gear and stage decoration) was given to all stages but the "Trance" one. The regret that I had only experienced the 2009 and 2010 editions reached new heights as ENERGY proved that the Good Old Days were dead and new Trouse days had emerged. With both the 2006 Electro-Conquest of Mainstreamia and the SHM Virus as an effective after-shock wave, Trance Energy succumbed to economic interest. Yet people wonder why critical folks like yours truly hate hypes?

Back in 2007, the Trance  scene was flooded with Deadmau5 style tracks with the 8th note chop. In the beginning I experienced this as VERY  annoying as it got repetitive very fast. But soon people realized that being a copy cat isn't that much fun so they started using that note trick, not as the end in itself, but as a means to an end: to enhance their own sound. They started using it NEXT to other sounds and soon this DM5 hype became quite enjoyable to my ears. Some believe this will eventually apply to Trouse as well: as soon as people start giving their own twist to those over-sized short stabbing hi-piano  riffs, it will become enjoyable music. They point at the "Deadmau5 Revolution" as proof. However, the big difference  between 2007 and 2011 is that Deadmau5 did not collaborate with Pop Superstars back when his sound took the scene by storm. The Trouse sound on the other hand has penetrated not just EDM, but Pop as well. Its influence reaches much farther than the Mau5 sound did and it is much firmer too. If Trouse is making/dictating the Dance and Pop charts alike, and the result has been that  many former-Trance associated champions have turned to the Hype Side COMPLETELY, then I can't blame people for calling  that Trance has died. Again. Now I personally believe that this time, the dramatic Call Of The Fall is more justified than in previous years, since no other supposed "new"  sound many former Trance-only creators turned to in the past has been as pervasive as this Trouse Mania. But despite  understanding the urge for this dramatic statement, I tend to disagree with it.

I disagree with it, partially because I am a stubborn piece of (...), and partially because if one looks beyond the dreaded Beatport charts and beyond former Trance heroes like Paul van Dyk, TiĆ«sto, Armin van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, Rank 1, Gareth Emery, Leon Bolier, Orjan Nilsen and others, one will find the likes of Menno de Jong and Orkidea that both maintain a Trance sound in their productions and sets. Whereas Menno has chosen to produce his tracks in the Classical Trance style (Turtle's Paradise + Never Lose The Magic), Orkidea manages to keep a  contemporary freshness to his tracks without selling out on track progression, BPM or melody. If you ask me what  Trance in 2012 sounds like, I will most gladly point you to the excellent Radio Unity #040, provided by Orkidea last month. One hour of "real" contemporary Trance, non-generic, just for you! Now some might think: "but's that's just one radioshow and it's only monthly". Valid point, but that radioshow features tracks from labels: Since Google is your friend, as always, look up those labels! Discover their artist roster and dive into their production history! What will you find? Trance! In the end, Trance is as Dead Or Alive as you want it to be.

You forgot Team 140!
"Why didn't he mention Future Sound Of Egypt? Or Soundlift? Or Aly & Fila? Or Sean Tyas? Or Neptune Project? WHERE ARE THE TEAM 140 BPM REFERENCES????"

Why I didn't mention them? Because unlike what Menno and Orki do, I don't consider what these people/labels do to be good Trance. If anything, this "emotional" roster has provided me with nothing than a generic/mass-produced/empty style of Trance that to me serves as evidence that Trance IS dead. For me, what they produce, is a failed a attempt to reproduce and relive the euphoria of the old days. They have created a standardized formula of "Trance" which has remained EXACTLY the same for over five years now. If you take a '95 Trance record and compare it with a 2000 Trance record, there will be some significant differences! If you put that 2000 Trance record next to a 2005 Trance record, there will be yet more differences. But if you take a 2007 Aly & Fila record and place it next to a 2012 Aly & Fila record, they will sound like only one month apart, rather than a whooping half decade(!). How dare I say such a thing? Do I not experience the emotional melodic beauty in a track like "We Control The Sunlight"? Quite simply put: No. If anything, it has the reverse effect on me. Whereas the Classics Trance era I got educated about showcased some great diversity without losing coherence, I can only attribute the latter term to this specific style of Trance. Coherence. Or perhaps that should be laziness or lack of imagination? The same old plucks, the same old "Tyas-kickbends", the same old minor acid layers in the build, used over and over with the same predictable piano breakdowns, summarized in the same old generic love, female-name or heaven related themes. If anything, this sound is "Trance-light" for me. And as with all things I consume, I can't be arsed with the lower quality "light" variants. I want The Real Deal. This paragraph is not intended as a hater's bashing rant towards a genre he despises. Though I despise this bit of "Trance" every bit as much as I dislike the cheesy Trouse style or the poppified "vocal Trancers", this is not an attempt to degrade the artists I have mentioned here. This is simply my passionate point of view in which these artists are failing to provide a style of Trance I can appreciate. Despite this euphoric movement having legions of fans, I remain unconvinced of this sound. They might have set the goal to revive the 2003-2004 sound which was massively displaced by the rise of Techtrance in 2005-2006, but as is evident by now, in my eyes they have failed.

You forgot Unicorn Slaying!
What about Markus Schulz then? Surely he must be the savior of the scene, especially with his serious pounding beats and devastating riffs and pitch bends? It is obvious he has taken a stance against vocalized Trance as well as the uplifting I described above. His answer to these Fluffy Trance trends has been the "Unicorn Slaying" dogma, which seemed to be an attempt to breakdown said corny fluffy image. Has he succeeded? Though in a way I admire his stance, I can't help but admit that this "cool Trance DJ" act is every bit as pathetic as the "ZOMG we luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuv Trenz, it zo emoshunalllllllllll kiss kis kiss <333333333333" people he is criticizing. But the image thing can be ignored if you turn off Twitter and Facebook. What this image-rebuilding of his has done is spawn a variant of Techtrance which is claimed to be deep and pure, whilst it has actually turned the genre nearly as generic as the teams 140 BPM have done to uplifting. I am referring to the so called Pitch Trance Bigroom music as released by the likes of Klaus Goulart and Grube & Hovespian, among other Coldharbour residents. Tracks which are built completely upon the premise of pitch bending synths, rather than more monotonous Techno-style melodies or distorted riffs. An effect once used to enhance a track's tension and strengthen its climax suddenly becomes the main element to form a supposed "new genre". This has led to the emergence of what I would like to call the "Noise paranoia doctrine" > every single track with a minor pitch bend element, even if only up to 25 seconds, is considered a "Noisy Pitch Track". Even if those 25 seconds are its only moments of pitch on a total of 7, 8 or more minutes. One could say that some people have oversensitive ears but I agree about their annoyance that pitch bending gets increasing attention within tracks, up till the point that you could almost say it has indeed become a new genre. In Markus' defense, he has admitted this Pitch fad was fun but not the way forward (at least not for long): in one of his blog posts earlier this year he hoped for the return of the Melodies. His Global DJ Broadcast Radioshow this year has shown much of that actually, at least for the most part. His sets however, remain centered around the noisy Pitchies. As such, he is undoing the good (playing proper Progressive on his show) with promoting the noisy Techness (through his live sets). As such, I find it hard to call Markus a savior of the scene. I don't believe in (one-man) scene-saviors to begin with, but if I did, I would at least demand some consistency in what you propagate in your blogposts and what you decide to spread with your live gigs.

Nice Try But I'm Not Convinced!
Now I can fully understand that people remain unconvinced that Trance is still alive, even if they HAVE heard Orkidea's Radio Unity #040, even if they would throw all the "fake" or "light" versions of the genre away, especially since big Trance events seem non-existent nowadays. On this matter I am not that well informed so I am hoping that there are other countries than the Netherlands where decent Trance events are being organized nowadays. Of course there will be people reading this who don't understand that I didn't mention the massive milestone Celebrations of ASOT in Den Bosch or Electronic Family as examples of big Trance events. If one takes that music Orkidea provides in his show as real Trance, both these events offer NOTHING of the sort. At their core, these events are massive self-promotional platforms (how many own productions did Arty play in his set again?) for both new and already-established names alike, in which vocal-driven mash-ups with own singles are dropped back-to-back with reworked Classics which are  in turn combined with Trouse... Otherwise generic cheesy uplifters are played hours on end whilst one stage further ravers are being bombarded with so-called "unicorn-slaying" abstract (read: noisy) pitch-laced tracks. If you look at it from the Bright Side Of Life, at least there is diversity at these events, right? If you look at it from the realistic side of life however, it's not the sort of quality-diversity it could (should or used to) be about...

Persistence And Clashes
You know, maybe the biggest problem with Trance is that once it exploded by the end of the '90s, the names and events associated with that boom were  assumed to carry the genre on their shoulders for all eternity. It is as if Trance only existed at the mercy of those things and persons that gave it its millennial recognition. The moment these people abandon the genre, the genre is declared dead. But why should this genre only exist at the grace of those Dutch, German or English pioneers? Trance is older than '99 but also continued to exist beyond that magic number, be it through different producers/artists. Without trying to appeal to the "Cool Underground Purists", most notably those that hail JOOF as their "God Of Trance" (hey, be honest and admit you do it as much as the AvB groupies do so to him), I can't say it enough: dig Deep and Thou Shall Find. Yet people persist in seeing the millennial movement as the bearers of the genre. Unfortunately for some people, these Pioneers/Legends have proven that they don't want that role, despite some claiming to still do so under the infamous guise of "never being a prisoner of their own style".

Hehe. This quote worked for me as long as Trance mixed with other genres within EDM. The moment it started to mix with stuff  from outside EDM, I lost faith in this Once So Sensible Truth. The moment you take that statement too far, you are  basically dismissing difference and variety within the musical spectrum (which is exactly what makes music so amazing  to begin with: the fact that it is so diverse, that it can offer anything for anyone across a wide reaching spectrum. YES it has boundaries, but why is this a bad thing?). If you will allow me to be honest with you, I find that a naive and stupid stance. Trance = Trance, Pop = Pop, Jazz = Jazz. This is not to say that you should hate Jazz  because it isn't Trance. You know, this is how I originally understood the infamous statement: as a means to respect other  genres, even if they weren't for your taste. But as the Rising Star began Trancending the scene itself with a four-time crowning of The DJ Mag Top 100's #1 Award, I saw a noble & respectable statement turn into a strategic excuse to  annihilate musical roots, to dismiss musical history, to deny music that characteristic that makes it one of  humankind's greatest attributes ever and finally, it became a strategic excuse to cater to the new excessive Pop-hit  hungry teen generations of the USA, as well as elsewhere in the world. Mind you, this goes for all the Champions Of The Old Days, not just the now Established Star.

The problem with holding on to these names is that their DJ Mag achievements dictate the state of the scene, whilst at the same time everyone claims to not take "The Poll" seriously. In the AvB case its peculiar that his newer fans use his four time winning streak as evidence of him being the Greatest DJ Of All Time but the moment Armin had to step down for David Guetta, they were overtaken with feelings of rage, injustice, agony and The Lord knows what else. Suddenly, the DJ Mag wasn't as legitimate as it was before. I shake my head at this. Why the double standard? Trust me, I despise Guetta and what he has turned EDM At Large into with all my heart but the double standard newer fans often maintain when arguing is sad (though quite amusing at times). Their arguments often include nonsense like how you shouldn't criticize DJ X "because X is a really great guy". Surely that does not make a track more or less emotional/enchanting/innovative/energetic? Or another of my favorites: "if you don't like X or Y, then just quit the scene!" I might very well repel that argument and say that if you can't stand criticism, "don't surf on the web" and if you only want to read/hear like-minded opinions, "join a fanclub, don't like a Facebook Page/follow a Twitter account/join a forum". It's quit simple; older and newer fans alike are part of this scene and everybody wants their slice of the cake. As a result, everyone will make the boldest/most dramatic or childish of statements to be heard. If you are tired of either side, the solution is simple: dig deep and EXCLUDE yourself from the internet madness. For though the internet has undoubtedly contributed to Trance' immense growth and popularity in recent years, it has started tearing down this newly established mammoth scene with as much vigor as it helped it grow.

As a Trance fan in this cyberspace era, I have to conclude that these clashes, flamewars, debacles and overall disagreement will continue for as long as there is anyone to remember the word "Trance". In the end I believe The Question is not whether Trance Is Dead or not. Rather, the question should be: how are you as a Trance Fan going to deal with all these forthcoming Death Declarations? Are you going to contribute to their spread by making wall of text posts about them, leading to more discussion a.k.a. giving it attention and bringing it to the Public Eye? Or will you just turn your head the other way as you nod to a Good Classic or Two and suddenly realize that if you combined that style of appregiated riff with a tubular synth echo at the background and stretch the melody across your BPM range, you could...? *Eureka!*

It's Up To You, really.

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