vrijdag 18 oktober 2013

Who Is Afraid Of A D-E-Bate?!

Scene Analysis | September 9th - October 18th 2013 |

It's time for a little debate! ...Provided you're up for it of course! If memory recalls, it’s been almost a year since Armin launched his “Who Is Afraid Of 138?!” concept. For this month’s blogpost I’d like to take a look at the “implications” of this concept. Why? Because when one tries to maintain a monthly blog and one is passionate about music, one wants to discuss certain developments surrounding ideas that more or less have an impact on the scene or the potential for it… Bear in mind that what you are about to read is purely from my perspective and the actual intentions of the concept are most likely radically different, though there should be at least a little truth in what I write.

Strategies To Please All The Fans or To Shut Up The Haters?
In times of change, people will complain and lament the old days depending on the pace of how fast changes take place as well as the degree of alienation of the present situation. Back in early 2009, Armin brought back his alias Gaia with the track “Tuvan”. Back at that time, many longer time fans that were starting to feel alienated from his productions and radioshow embraced Tuvan. It followed after tracks like Going Wrong, Broken Tonight and In And Out Of Love, tracks with very strong poppy influences. Overall, his album Imagine wasn’t received that well by these people, who had come to associate the name Armin van Buuren with non-mainstream styles of Trance and Progressive. When Tuvan was unleashed, only the most sour of beforementioned alienated fans didn’t acknowledge it: all the others embraced it. If I recall, Armin responded to the overwhelming enthusiastic and positive feedback with a tweet along the lines of “It’s all about the Trance, baby!”. Tuvan coincided with the massive celebrations for A State Of Trance #400: a 72-hour long celebration that was split between radio-broadcasted guestmixes from a ton of DJs as well as three eight hour parties in three days in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. These two concepts, the massive celebration and the revival of Gaia brought back some faith and positivity among those that had felt abandoned by the man.

Personally I felt the Gaia project lost its shine after Status Excessu D, but many Armin fans love the revival and look forward to any glimpse of a new Gaia each year. There can be no doubt however, that the Gaia project became a bit of a strategic gimmick, a so-called safe haven for those that long for instrumental AVB Trancers that he once released under his own name. Tuvan was a moment of (temporarily) winning back the disillusioned as well as shutting up those that thought he would solely be about pop from here on out. For the sake of the argument, I will completely disregard the fact that Tuvan suffered quite a bit of overplaying and overhyping throughout the years (consider it’s my Tune Of The Year 2009 yet I oppose considering it the #1 Trancer of all times, as the Trance Top 1000 2013 poll decided): back when it was revealed, it wowed, it enchanted, it restored faith (for a while).

Score: Armin (fans): 1 - “Haters”: 0.

Fast-forward 2011. The Trouse style is slowly but surely finding its way into everyone’s sets, podcasts, radioshows and of course, productions. Where most of the disillusioned fans from 2008 have left completely (people that knew Armin before the ‘00s), a portion of 2005-and-later fans remains. A portion which is wondering what happened to the Progressive part in ASOT’s the “the latest in Trance and Progressive” slogan and is slowly being led down the same path of disillusion like the former generation three years earlier. Then, out of nowhere, Armin starts dropping “warm-up sets”. I’m not sure whether it followed before or after someone asked him why he stopped dropping deeper Progressive on ASOT and in his sets. I remember Armin’s response being along the lines of “I love that stuff but if I drop it live, the crowd goes flat”, a similar sentiment voiced by Markus Schulz, roughly in the same period. Now I am referring to “Progressive” as in the soundscape (think Rex Mundi - Sandstone or Envotion - Recoder), not the prefix progressive to refer to the modern variant of a genre e.g. “progressive House”, that with which most people mean “Trouse” (SHM / Avicii sound post-2009). In any case: Armin introduces the concept of the celebratory ASOT warm-up set in which the emphasis lies on the sound of Progressive, or one could say, lower BPM bliss with deep atmospheres, sophisticated gradual layering of echoing and melodic layers… Amongst the disillusioned, these warm-ups are snapped up like a “2nd Tuvan” so to speak. “He’s still got it!” is the most common response among them. Again Armin manages to (temporarily) please the widest spectrum of his fans with another clever gimmick that became more frequent when the initial try-out proved successful.

Score: Armin (fans) 2: - “Haters”: 0.

Fast-forward late 2012. Even the newest of Armin fans are now complaining about ASOT being too filled with Trousey influenced tracks. The long standing division of a slower 1st hour and faster 2nd hour is sliding in favor of the former. Then one day Armin dedicates a whole ASOT episode to 138 BPM uplifting (and probably higher, forgive me if I can’t tell the difference between 138 and 142 :P). That’s like, the ULTIMATE move to win back complaining people. By now there have been two such episodes with a third one shortly on its way: a whole stage was dedicated to this concept at A State Of Trance #600 in Den Bosch; moreover, there is now even a label called WAO138, a track called WAO138 by Armin himself on his album Intense and the Andrew Rayel teamed up with Alexandre Bergheau to create “We Are Not Afraid Of 138”. Of all the previous mentioned gimmicks, this one seems to catch on the most. Those that were once Armin fans and have come to love him again for his rekindling of uplifting in ASOT will claim that it is only logical: Armin is a huge uplifting fan himself (something that’s been noticeable on the few occasions he’s revealed his Top 10 tracks of a year). It cannot be denied, the WAO138 is a homerun out of the park: it is adored, glorified and embraced on a pretty massive scale among ASOT fans. It seems “uplifting is cool again”.

Score: Armin (fans): 3 - “Haters”: 0.

This wouldn’t be the Razormane Blog if I didn’t follow a short recap of events with some side notes, would it? I would say this WAO138 concept is above all else, a very clever strategy. On the one hand you would expect it to open up a wide spectrum of musical possibilities: a lot of Trance Classics from the very late ‘90s till mid ‘00s run at 138 or higher. A lot of Techno runs at 138 or higher. A lot of Psy and Hard Trance runs at 138 or higher. And of course, nearly all euphoric uplifting (generic) Trance runs at 138 or higher as well. Technically, it’s not a bad concept. If anything, it could mean a wide arrange of things that would sit well with Trance fans of many shaped, sized and tastes.

Alas. One year since the concept began to evolve and gain prominence I can’t conclude otherwise than that it has come to embody a rather disappointing array of 138 sounds. Mostly the mass-produced generic lalala uplifting that has characterized ASOT’s 2nd hours since 2007. True, now there is also space for some +140 Bryan Kearney, Indecent Noise, Angry Man or John Askew Trance but overall it feels like little has changed the status quo regarding the past six years of Hour 2. What’s curious is that even though “Who Is Afraid Of 138?!” doesn’t mention the word “Trance” at all, it was assumed and has turned out to imply mostly generic uplifting. This omission of the word Trance is perhaps the most clever thing about this concept.

You see, it is now possible to fill the show with uplifting again but at the same time, there is no reason to cease dropping those popular mainstream noisy club tracks. You see, the reason ASOT can continue to showcase those Trousey / Dubstep / Hardstyle kick-driven tracks is EXACTLY because in its title WAO138 does not have an obligation to Trance at all. You can challenge people, asking them if “They Are Afraid Of 138?!” whilst first serving them a dose of modern hyped club music and get away with it. As always, it’s amusing to watch this from the outside: all those uplifting fanbois will praise Armin with renewed vigor, re-instating him as “THE GOD OF TRENZ” whilst those very same fanbois hate everything below 138, regardless whether it's actually melodic or even more entrancing than their stale mass-produced degga. In the meantime their “God” can fill his show with music harboring elements they so strongly deteste. I’d say, Armin is just doing his thing, or trying to please everything. But these fanbois are making themselves look stupid. Moreover, their hypocritical and narrow-minded behavior is fueled to new heights because of this concept, or its execution. What I have against the WAO138 hype? It’s not so much its actual content e.g. the stale uplifting it mass-promotes. What I don’t like about it is how it furthers… Let’s call it BPM Determinism followed by Genre Antagonism.

BPM Determinism & Genre Antagonism
Let’s say WAO138 is uplifting fans’ answer to or equivalent of Markus Schulz’ “Unicorn Slaying” gimmick or perhaps it’s their answer to “Team128”. So WAO138 manages to make uplifting (which it is assumed to represent) cool again. It needs a contrast, in this case all music below 138, to position itself as something heroic. After all, if you are afraid of 138 you are probably a Trouse coward or something similarly “uncool”. If you are not afraid, you are strong, superior, more intelligent most likely, etc. Now it's not like the "hip" 128only-DUBSTEPFTW-ZOMGPLURRAVEFUTUREISNAU kids will care or give a flying cr*p about WAO138. However, everything that falls in-between these two "extremes of modern day Trance (ahum)" are still left out on an influential platform like ASOT. Furthermore, in my eyes the idiotic Genre Antagonism that flows forth from these extremes only hurts the scene at large. Trance fanbases have increasingly become like the childish zealots known as “Beliebers”, “Directionners” and other teenage fanbases of mainstream Pop’s glorified idols. There is no more middle ground for them, you are either “138 BPM Pure Trenz ZOMG” or you are “128 Pitchbend Fart noise stabsynths FISTPUMP BRAH”. The scene is becoming more and more stupid. Here’s a quote I ran into on Youtube the other day in response to the 8455820680th video asking what Trance is:

“Thing is if you think about it, SLOW BPM = Slow brain activity, it's more likely that someone with a SWAG cap and "WHER'S MOLLY" T-shirt to listen to House than Trance, in fact if somebody ask me what music i like and i say trance they make this weird face, then i smile and think to myself, "this guy has is stupid". As you notice, i hate house and dubstep. Not only the music but the community.”

Really? Is this the level Trance fans have sunk to in the past 7 years or so? Look, I know there will always be genre elitists and as far as Trance is concerned, these have existed since the ‘90s. I also know that Youtube lures society’s biggest fools to share their unrivalled opinions (anonymity is a b*tch eh?). But honestly, this comment just reeks of a narrow-minded oblivion that makes my insides turn upside-down. And it’s not just here. It’s all over Facebook, Twitter and (as far as that still applies) the few active Trance-related forums you can find on the web. So many people that claim to be Trance fans nowadays and that claim to reach the most beautiful higher states of bliss and existence through this genre prove to be the most foul-mouthed, negative, angry-driven individuals it almost makes you feel like you wished you had never set foot in this scene. The way I see it, WAO138 fuels the fire of not only the real Trance fan that’s in it for the music in and of its self, it also fuels the fire for these people that have poisoned the scene with their timebomb-attitudes. Just a little deviation from the formula they expect and BOOM! Verbal abuse, ahoy!

Score: Trance Scene: 0 - Idiocy: 138

But What About Prog?
Now let’s head back to an earlier gimmick. Ask yourself this: what about the celebratory ASOT warm-up gimmick? What about that sound? How come there is no Who Is Afraid Of Progressive concept? Why haven't there been episodes that support this blissful lower BPM Trance and Progressive counterpart? I mean, if you place WAO138 against. Warm-up Prog, both are equally enjoyed live at underground parties, and both are equally overshadowed by Trouse at mainstream parties. So how come this gimmick isn't given the wide attention that WAO138 does get? Is it that hard to launch a digital warm-up compilation series instead of the nth “Best Of Armada Trance” with the same old same rehashed releases and artists? How come Markus Schulz, declared as a “Bigroom Destroyer Of Trance” by some uplifting fans manages to deliver a BEAUTIFUL Afterhours FM Progressive Day set, devoid of modern club noise as well as a GORGEOUS (annual) Sunrise set whilst Armin doesn’t dedicate more than (half) an hour to Prog?

In my opinion, Who Is Afraid Of Diversity would have been a better concept to include all these different genres that have been overshadowed by the combined popular might of Trouse, Dubstep and Electro House hybrid tracks. For them to be given an influential platform like the ASOT brand could ultimately lead to those “forgotten” styles being remembered again and to educate today's newest fans. Heck, if anything, the format of the show has changed so drastically due to the support of those noisy short 5-minute-max genres that nowadays there will be no fewer than 28 or 30 tracks(!) spread across two hours of ASOT. Since Armin himself seems to be tired of “extended mixes nearly shorter than radio edits” [https://twitter.com/arminvanbuuren/status/389807620460400640], it’s curious to see whether this development will ever turn around for the better. Consider that both uplifting and prog are loooooooong genres in the sense that at the very least, they are 6:30 minutes or longer. All in all, you could say I’m overthinking things. But I firmly believe there is a ring of truth to these developments… In the end, everyone is free to decide on their own what this concept means to them but I think it’s a loss WAO138 doesn’t cover more than uplifting fun with increased genre tensions as a result. Aw well.

No matter how you look at it, the impact of the WAO138 concept is a fact. Now if only it could be harnessed alongside a wider spectrum of 138 BPM driven music + an addition of the warm-up sound to create more quality diversity in a rather monotone scene and teach today’s Trance fans that it is OKAY to love any BPM and style without losing your touch with Trance… I ask you: Who Is Afraid Of A Future Trance Scene Like That?!

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