maandag 28 juli 2014

In Retrospect: Rank 1 - Beats At Rank-1 Dotcom / After Me [EP]

As we approach the summer, I feel it’s time for my annual dedicated-to-Rank 1 “In Retrospect” feature. This time I’ve decided to take our time-machine to 2004 as a certain E.P. of theirs celebrates its 10th birthday this year. And not just any E.P.: Beats At Rank-1 Dotcom/After Me was the start of Rank 1’s radical soundshifts throughout the years. For many this was a shocking turning point and with this bold move the guys lost some of their fans at that time, whilst bringing in others. I was one belonging to the latter category since Beats At Rank-1 Dotcom might have been my second encounter with a Piet & Benno production but it was my very first taste of the Rank 1 project. Hence for me, this is an iconic track and anything but “that devious noise fest that killed supersaw Rank 1”. Its flipside, After Me, was a track I encountered at the very start of 2005 but it instantly hit the spot as well with those lush strings and dream-inducing melodies…

If you have a minute, join me on this trip down memory lane as I look back at what I consider one of Rank 1’s finest and most crucial releases ever, their very last Rank 1 release on ID&T before things went High Contrast and (in my humble, biased opinion) Better Than Ever.

01. Rank 1 - Beats At Rank-1 Dotcom (Extended Mix) [06:58]
It was the summer of Euro 2004 and a pretty Greek summer at that: not only did the Greeks take the Cup right before our noses (ARGH! Scolari you tw*t!), that year Sensation White’s theme was all about the Greek gods. My brother had just acquired the Sensation White compilation and was giving her a spin. We enjoyed the typical epic intro to the CD and enjoyed the first track -The Anthem 2004- as well. The Rush boys sure knew their anthems and it’s a shame they never had a collab with Piet and Benno back then: I am pretty positive it would have been a Classic to remember! Anyway! The next track was being mixed in. And that track was B@R1DC.

A steady beat with a low pulsing rhythmic sound started playing as an echoing higher techy sound announces the arrival of the "Beats" in full effect. A crisp hihat adds the funk before more percussive layers join the ride before a very short beatstop brings a tuned down pulsing industrial synth into the mix. The percussion was slowly stacking its layers with yet another synth being given a solo part with a flat kick before the whole beatbuilding mania from the start is continued. Said synth hammers on and on until another beatstop slowly takes us into a tragic sounding breakdown: a filtered saw driven melody of mystique/sadness is revealed before a reverbed low lead started growing fiercer and louder, with tuned down drums and other percussion elements giving the background scape more body. At first, the low lead sounded far off, as if it was approaching you Down From The Deep (pun intended). Then, as it grows in velocity and ferocity it feels as if a wave of electrifying sound is approaching… The percussion joins it in the background, eager to join the swift climax when -BOOM!- That rhythmic lead/riff is unleashed with force! It soon starts reverbing even further backed only by the kick as it is reaches another short climax and is then unleashed with an extra higher layer. The energy is tremendous but what’s more, back then, during that first encounter, I was amazed at this strange, cool synth sound. It was unlike any of the Trance-related tracks I had before (the big exception being System F’s Dance Valley 2001 Theme, if I recall that was my first encounter with warm synth sounds). It wasn’t until later years that I realized that after Marco V’s Simulated, this track was one of my very first encounters with what would turn out to be one of my favorite subgenres of Trance: Tech Trance.
I’ve come to discover that many Rank 1 fans of the first hour were shocked negatively by this radical soundshift and looking at my own disappointment in many former favorite artists abandoning ship to become Trouse/Electro House/whatchamaycallit-only creators over the course of 2011, I must say I understand why they felt that way. At the very same time it made me realize how one man’s trash is another man’s gold. My first encounter with B@R1DC would lead to a fandom I had never imagined to happen back then. I must say this track has aged well despite there being a period I couldn’t listen to it at all due to having overplayed it myself. Luckily we only had the radio version/Sensation White comp rip at first and we didn’t get the extended mix until 2006 which l.e.d. to a revitalization of my enjoyment of this Tech Beast. Then, when I had my vinyl-buying frenzy three years back, this track gained a new freshness that made it greatly enjoyable again once I acquired that dark grey sleeve containing those two tasty tunes pressed on "Black Gold". All in all, I think the choice (or risk) to turn a new course was a great move by Piet & Benno and the two of them becoming Two Disciples of the Church Of Diversity was the best thing they could have done from my perspective. This was the first Rank 1 track I heard and the first Rank 1 track I really loved. And what’s best? The flipside was an equal joy to listen when I discovered it about half a year later.

02. Rank 1 - After Me [07:06]
It was ID&T compilation time again in January 2005! My brother had bought the Innercity 2004 as well as the Trance Energy 2005 compilations and as it was becoming a tradition by now, we went to check them out together. Both “claimed” to have some new Rank 1 material, the Innercity CD2 containing After Me and the TE comp claiming to contain “Johan Gielen vs. Rank 1 - Dreamchild” (it later turned out this was a track listing error: even though Benno and Piet are mentioned in the credits for this track I read on their old message board that they had given the track to Johan who then completed it with Jim Hermsen a.k.a. Outback. But enough about that!)

As it kicked in
an interesting bassline backed by breaks was introduced with a gentle pad revealing hints of the magical melodies that were to follow, be it in an interrupted pattern. I remember that my brother commented years later that the slightly techy percussion used for the beat might have lied at the basis of Top Gear: The reverbed effects and techy sounds were already present in AM. Ahum! Anyway! Beautiful strings are revealed as slowly the breakbeat fades and a male voice starts singing "All I can feel is the truth (or truce?) coming after me, and all I can find is the love". Though in later years I would grow quite a dislike for male vocals in Trance based tracks, After Me's vox worked surprisingly well with the melody. Slowly we heard a sort of pluck melody filtering in the background and as the vox stretched the "looooooooooove" part, a quick snare play unleashed the beat, bass and pluck melody into a great melodic whole that sent me off to images of the sun setting and the sky turning into a colourful mix of yellow, orange and red. The melodic magic of this Rank 1 Masterpiece got me right away: an instant fave! To my great joy, that Innercity 2004 cut had parts missing: so when my brother got the full 7 minute version, there was still some interrupted strings play after the main part: yummy!

For years I had wondered who was behind the vocals until I ran into an iVibes article some time ago where it was speculated that Benno himself was behind them. It was then that I started paying attention to his voice-overs on Radio Rush when it hit me that it HAD to be him. When I discovered that (about two/three years ago), I was amazed at how he managed to execute the vocals to match the track so smoothly! Who knew mr. De Goeij had vocal talents? Big up, Maestro.

One Heck Of A Homerun-E.P.
Though these two E.P. tracks had reached me throughout the space of about half a year, they easily became back to back favourites of mine and were at the foundation of my Rank 1 fandom long before I had even heard the Symsonic album (or Opus 17 for that matter). Looking back at all the releases that have followed since I am glad that they’ve always maintained one basic thought behind them, or perhaps two:
1.    “As long as we like it…”
2.    “Eating potatoes everyday gets boring”
It’s a logic I wish was more widespread. I know the purest of elitists will claim that Rank 1 is no different from other artists out there but I feel they’ve never churned out strings of bandwagon-releases like I’ve seen a lot of others do over the years. Sure, you could say B@R1DC, the Lyteo Remix and Top Gear were conceived in an age where Trance Land was increasingly getting rawer, harder and techier but if you take a close look at how especially the latter [take a REALLY close look here: sounds, they didn’t just copy-paste any random Tech Trancer out there: they made something entirely unique that fit with that current era at the same time. But that’s just my opinion of course: and I am biased as hell! :D All in all I think this vital E.P. has aged well and in a way it’s surreal to consider it’s over a decade old: by January 2015 I will have known both tracks for so long. Buying the vinyl a couple of years ago definitely helped to revitalize plays for it (especially Beats At). Isn't it curious how a hardcopy of one of your favorite tunes can nearly make you experience them all over again? I love the flexibility of the mp3 but its shapelessness steals away a crucial dimension to the overall experience...

Sometimes I wonder what Rank 1 would have been like if they held on to the Supersaw mania that made them so (in)famous to begin with. But the more I think about that alternative scenario, the more I grow convinced that they might have passed me by completely had that been the case. And if I had not run into them, I might not have loved Electronic Music as much as I ended up doing… Of course, my love for this music was not just shaped by Rank 1 but they have been the most consistent factor in that journey nonetheless. We can never know for sure but for myself am I really glad these guys walked the path they did: they might as well have chosen to solely make tracks for the sake of harvesting fame and money and have been gone and forgotten by now. They outlived their original Dutch Supersaw Anthem Trance era and though they might not be a Paul van Dyk or Armin van Buuren or Martin Garrix, I think they are managing the modern times just fine, in their Own Unique Way.

 | In Retrospect Feature | May 22nd - July 28th 2014 |

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