zondag 1 januari 2017

In Retrospect: Rank 1 - L.E.D. There Be Light [Maxi Single]

Can you believe it's been 8 years since L.E.D. There Be Light was released? I am having trouble grasping that such a behemoth of a track that feels so close, so vivid in my memory has been around for nearly a decade already! But yes, back in 2008 the Rank 1 project was in its tenth year when Piet & Benno decided to unleash a track that would prove to be the "Airwave of their modern discography". ID&T seemed to be so impressed with it they crowned it the anthem to the 10-year anniversary of their Legendary Trance Energy event. As the track leaked online, High Contrast Recordings wasted no time and made the track available instantly as a "Special Download Mix". The likes of Tiesto and Armin had been playing it in their sets towards the end of the year with many people wondering who was behind this wicked ID. If anything this was a track destined for Greatness...

For me 2008 was a great year: I graduated from high school, went to university, got my first job... Meanwhile ASOT was kicking ass in a year categorized by Tech- and Electro Trance peaking. All-in-all I was having plenty of great (first new) experiences! Now, as 2008 came to a close, my brother texted me one December night that the new Trance Energy Anthem had been revealed and it was by none other than Rank 1! He also said "L.E.D. There Be Light" in the same text. I didn't understand at first that it was the track's name. You see, my brother has always loved playing around with silly puns like that so I thought he was being his silly self again. When I texted him in typical fanboy fashion how eager I was to hear it and I asked him "so what's it called??" I got a memorable "did you even read the first text" kind of response haha!

Anyhow! Rank 1 had finally released a new solo single (their first since the unforgetable Opus 17/Top Gear EP) and I fell so fast for L.E.D.! There is no other track of theirs I've played more in my life than this one and as such, it is with much delight that I present you with this Retrospective Review for one of Rank 1's finest pieces to date. Sit back my friends! Sit back and L.E.D. There Be A Trip Down Memory Lane!

01. Rank 1 - L.E.D. There Be Light (Special Download Mix / Extended Mix) [07:41]
A crystal clear synth gradually backed by a low end string tone as gradually more strings come into play as a beautiful melody plays out that says "all will be fine". 01:07 hits and we are greeted by a reverbed, fading clap on top of a bouncy beat with a deep bassline. At 01:45 note how one of the hihats is cut off by the clap at certain intervals whilst playing on during others. No, I did not gather this from my 1st listen at the time. Perhaps it was during my 100th, or 200th or perhaps even my 400th play of this track that I noticed that Rank 1's ear for detail is just one of many reasons to adore their music as a fan and admire them as an amateur producer. Back to the music: we have a catchy beat going on with some clever percussion. So far so good. Now pay attention to the the background as a synth stab starts getting louder before claiming all attention from 02:04 onward. It takes centre stage as the beat and bass fade at first only to slowly swell back into the fray and unleash themselves with full power at 02:34. At this point you know Rank 1 mean business. 3 minutes gone and the intro's crystal clear synth melody returns with the synth stab guiding it gently in the breakdown. At 03:30 the crystal synth is left alone with that beautiful string melody's rising crescendo. 03:59 evokes memories of Superstring and Awakening with a "telephone beep" playing the main riff before 04:15 declares a new Rank 1 era. We are now steadily taken to a climax with a magnificent drop due to the simple-yet-effective nature of L.E.D.'s riff. The synth sound for this riff sounds like a cross between the ones used in their remixes for Alex Bartlett - Touch The Sun from 2007 and ATB - Humanity from 2005 (two of my fave remixes by them!). At 05:20 the crystal synth plays on alone before a short reprise follows in which the mighty riff is unleashed once more. The massive floorlifting capabilities of this tune have never ceased to amaze me and I have a hunch it's one of the guys' favorites to play live. It's an ideal live track to exactly because it's main riff is so simple yet charming and "activating"... The track's finally phase gradually gets emptier and it allows for solid mixing into a next track. I love how it ends with a sort of synth "roar", it's present through the whole track but fits as the track's final element. After such a journey, it only makes sense that the track signs off with a final confirmation of its bad-assness. Dang.

I truly believe L.E.D. is a special track, even if the guys never intended for it to be so but... Listen closely to every aspect of the production. It's almost as if the three and a half years preceding L.E.D. were a testing ground to find the right elements to piece together the ultimate comeback to Trance with a revitalized, new form of the genre. The percussion and distorted effects used in Top Gear/After Me/ Life Less Ordinary & the Lyteo/This Way/Love Kills/Analog Feel/The Future/Touch The Sun Remixes morphed into this interesting dynamic between claps and hihats where one cuts of the other... The main lead synth sounds of the Humanity/Touch The Sun remixes find their ultimate form in L.E.D. iconic and immortal main riff. The gentle string play used in Life Less Ordinary/This World Is Watching Me add that organic touch to an otherwise electronic masterpiece. The synth/riff play in the Electro-driven And Then... lay the foundation for the power of L.E.D.'s climax... It's as if nearly four years of eclectic experimentation and thinking-outside-the-box were merely to create this one track that says "Rank 1 has been around for 10 years and we are more relevant than ever". But you know what? If you were to ask Piet & Benno whether any of this is true, whether all these preceding tracks and remixes were indeed just the route to an ultimate statement, they would tell you "they just wanted to try something different and didn't even give it all that much thought"... Isn't that the sign of Pure Genius though? When you don't even GIVE all that much thought to something brilliant? L.E.D. There Be Light declared the era of a so-called Bigroom Trance where short, powerful melodies and riffs were central. I feel they inspired many next-generation producers to make cool tracks. For a long time I could take my enjoyment from that style. Rank 1 however proved to be the most adapt at this genre as it just fit their general sound more. They proved it with the L.E.D. follow-ups Symfo and The Great Escape, a trio of consecutive singles that still delight me to this day and which I deem among their previous impressive Quartet of Beats At/After Me/Opus 17/Top Gear. We are now 8 years ahead of that winter evening I first heard the original L.E.D. and in those 8 years it has refused to lose any of its charm, its energy, its euphoria or even its freshness! It could have been released today and it would still sound delicious... Rank 1 really outdid themselves here imo.
02. Rank 1 - L.E.D. There Be Light (Single Mix) [02:33]
Kicking off with the mighty L.E.D. riff in its opening seconds, the Single Mix is evidence for me why Radio Edits can be really cool: the track gets to the point much faster and the ability to "summarize" a long track in an effective manner is an art form in its own right: since I create tracks myself, it's something I am eager to master as well. Chopping a 10-minute progressive track to 2 or 3 minutes is pointless, true, but doing the same for a 7 to 9 minute Trance Anthem is actually fun! Anyhow, digressing again hehe... Some 40 seconds in, the build-up merges with the strings from the breakdown in a smooth manner: I love this bit! When we hit the 1-minute mark, the riff is unleashed just like in the original albeit it climaxes much faster and its main part is collapsed within itself resulting in a rush.  

I can imagine that if the original never existed and it was just this Single Mix to be out there, people would feel it was too short, but it's a nice alternative version that manages to capture the power of the original in a compact manner. I feel Rank 1 have generally tended to do more with their radio mixes than just cut an original short: note how the Radio Edit to Awakening has a synthline not present in the original and note how the Radio Edit for The Anthem 2003 uses live mixing effects not present in its original either. It goes to show they tend to put thought to something I've seen a few established Trance producers complain about and that is just another thing in which I consider Rank 1 as an example to aspire to.

03. Rank 1 - L.E.D. There Be Light (Laserlight Rework) [08:23]
It starts off with a feint kick, which deceives the direction it is about to take. Shortly after the beginning, a sort of distorted white noise effect alongside a "lasershot" sound lead into  the opening phase of the track as percussion slowly swells in velocity in the background. The bassline also swells, first sounding heavily filtered but as it gains "beef" you can tell it's an electrifying one! At 01:40's it's unleashed at full strength on top of the now-fully charged kick. This Laserlight Rework is all about setting the dancefloor ablaze alright. At 02:09 Rank 1 present us with a Techno synth lead, and it's exactly that kind of Detroit Tech synth I'm a complete sucker for! After three minutes we reach the first of two "breakdowns" in this rework. L.E.D.'s iconic lead is presented nearly the same way as in the original, albeit shorter the first time around. A sudden drop follows in which that crazy bassline and the Techno synth lead the track. At 04:25 the second supposed breakdown follows but they play around a bit with the loud-soft dynamic from the original. The track heads into its biggest climax yet and another drop follows... As I write this I realize I've never heard this track live at an event... Deffo something I need to try experience sometime! As we head towards the 6th minute mark, the beat fades and the Techno synth starts building into a climax of its own for the track's final drop. Afterwards it slowly breaks off into less elements. In its final minute, the mighty bassline reverses the process it stars with in the beginning of the track and ends with a filtered stuttering effect that slowly vanishes into the background... 

By no means does this version beat the original but this rework fits with this particular eclectic era of the Rank 1 sound and personally I've always enjoyed this solid alternative. In fact, I quite miss the "alternative Rank 1 Mix" nowadays... :( Benno explained to me in 2013 why they stopped doing it but part of the reason I loved Life Less Ordinary, And Then..., L.E.D. and Symfo so much was because all of them offered a different take on their tasty originals. I recall The Great Escape was to have a non-Trance Rank 1 version too at first but sadly this never materialized in the end. Regardless, cherish what you DO get and I most certainly cherish this rework. :)

04. Rank 1 - L.E.D. There Be Light (Wippenberg Remix) [08:37]
Wippenberg took this remix down a dancefloor oriented route, much like the Laserlight Rework, though he did it from a Housey rather than a Techy angle. He loops and stutters the main lead throughout the build-up, with a short "teaser" two minutes in, in which he allows the riff to have its way. In the next two minutes you can clearly hear Housey percussion and sound effects alongside the looped background riff. It isn't until we reach 5 minutes in that Wip slowly incorporates a breakdown similar to the original's. At 06:08 he unleashes the drop which is deeper than any of the drops of the other version present on the single.

It's a typical deep "other genre" approach to a melodic original in that it does not present extra or new melody approaches to what it already takes from the mix it's based on. You can hear it's a Wippenberg tune (especially when comparing it to e.g. Chakalaka) but I get the idea he didn't go all-out with this remix... He kept the original's most important parts intact and didn't really twist them all that much. I think it's a nice effort at a L.E.D. remix. Next to the original, I obviously prefer the Laserlight Rework but when I hear this version come by somewhere, I like it. Kudos to Wip!

05. Rank 1 - L.E.D. There Be Light (Marcel Woods Remix) [08:14]
Earlier in 2008, Rank 1 remixed Woods so now Woods had the chance to repay Rank 1 with a remix of their single. Woods kicks off with the original "phone beep" variant of the L.E.D. lead and a variation on its string play. One minute in we are greeted by a typical Woods bass & kick from those days. He uses some of the original's sounds altered throughout the build-up as teasers and adds an own synthline on top of the beat. Two minutes in the track starts sounding very Woodsy, with a fierce synth leading us towards the breakdown. The mighty riff reveals itself at 3:38, it sounds slightly different from the original though. Woods starts chopping said lead and uses it to climax halfway through the 4th minute mark before the drop hits with a monotone chopped variant of the main lead and it isn't until 05:14ish that he drops the lead in full again. At 05:42 the lead changes its last few chords which sounds pretty cool. Eventually a short reprise follows and it isn't until there's less than a minute to go that the track slowly breaks down into less elements, the phone beep subtly guiding us through in the breakdown, doing the same chord trick near the end.

It's hard of course, to topple a tune like L.E.D. but of all the version on this single, I find Woods' mix the weakest. It feels like he wanted to stay true to the original too much structure-wise. It follows the same intro-build-break-drop-reprise logic but he tries to distract from that by adding some trademark Woods stabs and sounds throughout the build-up. I expected more from the guy behind such timeless gems like Cherry Blossom, Advanced & Muscial Madness (Take One) to be honest, but at the same time I feel it would be unfair to expect anyone to topple the original L.E.D. right? I can at least commend him for trying. And well, he "owed" them a favor so yeah...

I've had the joy to hear L.E.D. There Be Light during many of Piet's gigs I attended AND I've had the privilege to hear it performed LIVE during their High Contrast Stage performance at Trance Energy 2009, their Dance Valley 2010 live act, Benno's live cameo during the final end of Armin Only 2010 and of course their memorable performance at Back In The House in 2013. It does not matter where or when I hear this track, it ALWAYS gets the crowd going and it ALWAYS puts a smile on my face and brings relief to my soul. Without exaggerating, this is really one of the greatest Trance tracks I've ever heard and I hope to still enjoy it as much when I am over my 50s...
The motivation for Rank 1's continued quest to do the unusual and take the harder road music-wise has been their perfectionism. If they considered L.E.D. to be a perfect track, it would have been their last release. The fact that they have kept going on since then says they are far from done. I am not sure if L.E.D. IS perfect... But of all their Rank 1 tracks, this one has come to hold the greatest significance for me. It has claimed a special spot it is not willing to give away. The likes of 7 Instead Of 8 and especially 13.11.11 have come to challenge its place on top of that Mighty Throne. Only Time will tell if they ever overtake it. But until they do, this beautiful piece of music will always be ingraved in my heart as one of Rank 1's finest ever moments.

| In Retrospect Feature | December 21st 2016 - January 1st 2017 |

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