donderdag 29 augustus 2013

In Retrospect: Rank 1 - Opus 17 / Top Gear [EP]

Today it will be exactly eight years ago that Rank 1 released their first High Contrast single, a two-sided E.P. containing a set of their greatest tracks ever (in my humble opinion), each track deserving that compliment for different reasons. Furthermore, it was with this release that Rank 1 immortalized their name for me and I became the huge fan I still am today. It's not that I want to overload my blog with posts about Rank 1 tracks, but alongside The Anthem 2003, this release of theirs simply deserves my attention and praise for its instrumental role in my Rank 1 fandom (and with that, my love for Trance / Dance Music). For me Opus 17 still stands as one of the greatest Trance tracks ever created and between 2005 and 2009, it stood on top as my absolute number #1 EDM track of all time. My view on Top Gear was anything but love-at-first sight though this would radically change in a matter of weeks. Nowadays I consider Top Gear as one of the most unique and brilliant Tech Trance tracks ever. My love for this release received a new impulse two yeas ago, when I bought it on vinyl. The sleeve alone was enough to make me fall in love with these tracks all over again... So yeah, with this second August blogpost, I will verbally honour these special tracks!

Now take a seat, take a sip (of coffee or cola or whatever you like to drink) and allow me to tell you about my first encounter with both these Classics in that great summer of 2005.

01. Rank 1 - Opus 17 (Original Mix) [11:42]
My first encounter with this beautiful gem of a track must have been somewhere in mid-July that summer. My brother had just purchased the Sensation White 2005 compilation and after having listened to CD1 a day earlier, we were now getting ready to check out CD2 together. A couple of weeks earlier I had seen the compilation at a Free Record Shop store and the CD2 tracklist looked promosing with names like Armin van Buuren, DJ Tiesto, Rank 1, Marco V and others. Don't ask me why but when I saw "Opus 17" listed, I actually thought this was Lyteo (Rank 1 Remix) which we had heard during the broadcast of a Sensation pre-party warm-up. Little did I know this track was completely different from that banging Techy Remix. So my brother pressed play and we were first greeted with those typical epic ID&T intro's before we got to enjoy Armin's "Serenity", the tasty Sensation White Anthem for 2005. Unfortunately they put it on the CD extremely short which disappointed me. This disappointment was soon to be turned into awe as track 03 was being mixed in.

Following a very short "stutter", a very sad, melancholic melody suddenly filled the room through a sort of gated, echoing techy sound. A pulsing bassline was underneath guiding this melody at certain tones, but not all. This synth seemed to grow slightly fiercer and calmer throughout the increasingly intensifiying build-up. With each passing second I got absorbed deeper into the track until another stutter took us into the breakdown whilst the gated tech synth slowly faded in the background. What followed was simply one of the greatest string breakdowns I have ever heard in Trance music. Soon backed by minor percussive like claps and clicks and a tender subtle choir, this breakdown really got me when that main lead, a stronger variant of the earlier techy synth was revealed and slowly swelled to a heart-pounding climax, having a sheer three second solo before another stutter unleashed it with beat and bass at its flank. My jaw had dropped as I turned to my brother with big eyes. I can't remember whether he told me to turn back to the screen or whether he just nodded with that "all-knowing" smile of his. Anyhow, the beat then faded to give the main lead its final say backed by a sort of high violin sound, but then sounding electronic rather than organic. The beat returned with the gated tech synth from the build-up but this time it followed a monotone note pattern. This is where the Opus 17 on the compilation ended, having been cut back to 6 something minutes. The original mix reached us a couple of weeks later where I barely contained my watery eyes as the track opened with the strings from the breakdown and the end was completed with that same epic melody, this time guided by a piano. As the beat loses more and more elements towards the end, it heads into a sort of final climax in which a reversed kick effect launches the piano driven outro, back by the choir and string melody. The whole then slowly starts to fade as the track dies down. If this doesn't get the hair on your body raising...

There have been few occasions in which a track moved me to tears when I first heard it in its complete unmixed state. Opus 17, alongside Airbase - Escape and Super8 - Get Off have been the few tracks to achieve this. Claiming to be a Trance fanatic I wonder if that makes me an odd case as I always read tons of people tweeting, facebooking or forumposting how so many "emoshunal GOdZ Uplifting" makes them cry all the time... I've rarely cried when listening to Trance but I know that for me, these three achieved what few tracks could and that is touch my musical heart deeply. As I type this whilst Opus plays, I feel that same strong emotion welling up inside, though this time around it can be attributed to pure nostalgia. This track is simply tied to so many memories... As the summer progressed, I listend to it endlessly. It enhanced my reading experience of a Fantasy Trilogy by Raymond E. Feist, one of the most epic trilogies I've read to date. Backed by the symphonic perfection that is Opus 17, the images in my mind reached a new dimension. By the end of September that year, we had a school trip to Malgrat de Mar in Barcelona. One of the possible activities we could choose from at one point was to climb the Montserrat. When we reached the top and had a short break, I took out my mp3 player and put on Opus as I enjoyed the view. By the end of 2006, I had to spend two weeks in the hospital, having undergone surgery for kidney problems that had bothered me for half a year. 2006 was a dreadful year for me personally but luckily on the last day of the year, I got to spend NYE at home with family. Things could only get better from now on. As I sat down in the living room, I put Opus on and let my frustrations out. And the list of memories intertwined with this track goes on and on...

With Opus 17, Rank 1 earned my unwavering loyalty as a fan. Ever since that summer in '05 I've hoped to hear this track in a live performance one day. The downside of so much having passed however, is that I now understand how unlikely that is to happen. A live performance isn't something that works with every track in their discography and some tracks are very hard to perform. Regardless, I now owe this track in WAV, mp3 and Vinyl. I can listen to it any time I want. And eight years later, I still enjoy this track so damn much... This is as beautiful and memorable as Trance can get. This is simply An Immortal Track! Here are two quotes from fellow forum friends that show the kind of deep impact Opus 17 can create on people:

"When I first heard it in my 14 or 15 (6 years), I felt in love with TRANCE music. Because of it´s emotional depth, pure sound coming from heart/head/every single part of their body. It wasn´t created to bring riches to its authors. Big cultural gift from two human beings to the rest of the world... They can catch you, put you in the prison, steal you your liberty, kick you, punch you, they can do everything with your body, but they can´t destroy your inside-mind...where you´ll have your music as well. I´m passing this tune to state *promotion/the hymn of trance*"
- Greek999 (for his awesome Progressive/Techno/Classics mixes go here:

"Opus 17 for me is a extremely emotional and even hard-to-listen-to at times track: It's so complex, so "on another level" and can I even say, divine? My mind is blown as to how Benno and possibly Piet came up with this. It's got some great beats, great and powerful bassline, but everything else is just kind of... sad. It's like a track that combines all the pain and suffering in this world with a glimpse of divine hope and righteousness. Used to listen to it in my car but it really got me into some mild depression and sad mood at times, that I prefered to exclude it from my playlist since that's not really helpful especially when you drive and you can definitely use some Top Gear behind the wheels, haha!"
- Simo (nearly as big a Rank 1 fan as I am!)

02. Rank 1 - Top Gear (Original Mix) [09:18]
As much praise and love I had for the A-side of this single, that's about as much disappointment and disgust I had for its B-side. Which is a surprising to read, coming from me eh? :D My brother heard an interview with Piet on the radio in which the latter spoke about Top Gear. He clearly said that you'd best not expect the usual from them with this one. He expected that some people would love it and some would hate it. Despite this initial "warning" (especially after having heard Opus 17) nothing could prepare me for the pure, raw, abstract Techness that was Top Gear. I don't remember exactly whether my brother recorded it from the radio or that I heard it live while being broadcasted: all I remember was that when I heard Top Gear for the very first time I was bitterly disappointed: I hated it. It was just random noise! There was no melody in it whatsoever... Where I had loved Beats At Rank-1 Dotcom, I couldn't stand this track. Whereas I am not exactly the most patient person alive, I decided to give this track another chance after my brother told me to give it another shot. Unlike me, he did like the track, EXACTLY because it was different from the usual stuff. A full week passed as I listened to Top Gear every day. And slowly my aversion for it decreased. True: I didn't love it, but there was something about it... At this stage even I had to admit that. Some time earlier my brother had acquired Armin's Sensation White set which we listened to a lot. Top Gear was in it too and through this set I gradually started to like it. Then, when Opus 17 and Top Gear were finally released weeks later, my brother bought the release and we sat down to listen to both tracks. When we finally heard the full unmixed version, I could no longer deny that this was a really cool & badass track!

It starts off with a rather faint kick, without the assistance of the bassline with this strange mechanical like roaring / stuttering as if a machine is in standby mode. Percussion is slowly added as well as a simple but firm bassline. At 1:23 this faint background "melody" joins in as the percussive department gets ever more intense before a mechanic howl stops all the action. The mechanic stutter is now the only thing you hear. It starts playing faster and faster at an increasing pace, backed by an extra monotone Industrial synth which grows fiercer and fiercer... Boom! The beat returns! 02:57 > The synth goes completely haywire when the mechanic howl returns. In the background opening mechanic stutter continues playing in its renewed speed. Years later my brother would remark how brilliant it was that even though the track itself focused on one BPM, several of its inner elements did speed up! The faint melody from the beginning returns as the Techno synth slowly moves to the background as it is overtaken by the before-mentioned mechanical howl which now sounds like a more solid synth rather than a fading sound. If you disregard the inherently industrial sounds and take a moment to listen to the subtle layering and replacements of sounds, you can't help but marvel at the pure genius of this track. The whole then stretches as the beat fades and starts... How to stay, stuttering with long intervals before it is delayed in a weird but cool effect whilst a subtle delayed pitch sound joins in. There is a lot of tension in this climax and I can only imagine what kind of "Dancefloor Rage" the party crowds of 2005 and 2006 must have gone through every time that climax reached 06:16 minute mark and the beat returned in full force. Over the course of the seventh minute, the track gradually starts breaking down into mere percussion and effects as the bass keeps pulsing and the kick keeps pounding. All the while you hear all sorts of strongly delayed techy sounds fill up the track. As the track slowly dies down, you don't expect the ending, the very last two seconds, to contain that howl once again...

Phew! What. A. Rush! Top Gear is about as Industrial and Techy ambiguous as it gets! I've always had trouble classifying it as purely Tech Trance. If one was to label it purely by sounds, I would sooner call it a sort of very Industrial Techno. Then again, it doesn't have the same sort of heavy-duty percussion or continuity. Structure-wise however, I believe Top Gear IS Trance, the sophistication and logic of its layering is something very common to the genre. Eight years since I've first heard it, I must say I appreciate Top Gear more than ever. I mean, tell me this: how many insanely unique, weird, crazy and cool tracks have there been made since then?? For me this track is yet another testimony to the brilliance and diversity of the Rank 1 project. I am truly grateful I was never an "Airwave generation fan" (I guess this is the only time I can actually be happy that I was too young to have been part of something hehe). Why? It probably would have meant me being too addicted to their Supersaw Sounds to ever appreciate something like Top Gear or their other less/non-Trancey work... Now, I like Airwave and I fully understand its impact and importance for the Dutch Trance sound but for me, Top Gear is vastly superior since it has no equal. And even if someone would, by any chance, have made something similar to it: within the Rank 1 discography it is one of, if not, THE most most unique track they've ever done. Though in my opinion, they are more than welcome to make something even weirder, even crazier, even cooler than Top Gear anytime... No pressure guys! Just sayin'!

So there you have it! A two-track E.P. with some of the greatest +20 minutes of EDM you will ever hear. I know a lot of former Rank 1 / Trance fans will never accept Top Gear for what it is but if you can appreciate music for its logic aside its sound, I truly hope you will give both tracks an equal chance if you've never heard them before. If you do know and love them, I'd say this is a nice opportunity to indulge yourself in their Eargasmic Qualities once more, for old times' sake. ;)
 | Single Review | August 26th - August 29th 2013 |

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