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What happened to Trance?

Posted by Chris Morgan on Thursday, July 22, 2010

People ask a lot these days - what happened to trance? Is trance dead?  I think people glance back, misty-eyed, to the late-90s and to what trance used to be, and then compare it to what we have now, and see no resemblance. Opinions are them formed on the basis that different means new, and that old means dead. I think it is important to understand that the demographic was different then.

In the 90s you had big room trance that was radio friendly, that broke into the mainstream in many cases. We in Europe had enjoyed trance for just a few years and to us it was new and exciting, and had more substance to it than the house of the time which was only just finding itself in a meaningful way. But it was almost uniquely a European thing. It was all but unknown anywhere else save for little outposts here and there. It was the commercial end of trance at that time that broke into the charts and the mainstream that found its way to the US that first lit the fires there. Ask most Americans and they'll tell you that their idea of trance is (or until recently used to be) ATB, Darude, Paul Oakenfold and the life. Even then most of them call it techno anyway! Luckily the Keyboard Cowboys are changing all that.

Today the trance scene as we know it is a far more global animal than it used to be, and for all the observations that it is "smaller" - and in the UK this is certainly very true - the actual numbers of people on this planet listening to trance has probably doubled in size since 2000. It is also much more developed. There has been a degree of fragmentation in the sound, where sub-genres of tech-trance, psy-trance, progressive trance, electro-trance and hard trance have had time to develop and take on their own sounds and personas. What we used to know as "mainstream" trance is now just the most accessible of all/most of the above genres. Anjunabeats is far more diverse and wide-ranging than it used to be. From the small acorns of ATB and Darude, the US trance scene is now massive, and it could be argued that the most exciting events, production etc is coming from there, and it is certainly true that the scene is more progressive, vibrant and all-encompassing than what we now have in the UK. Clubbers and dance music enthusiasts in South America, Eastern Europe and even the Middle East are now into trance in a big way, whereas it was not a big thing there generally in the 90s. 

Trance is not dead, but it is certainly much changed in the UK. Judging trance on how it is regarded and accepted in the UK would be a mistake. It could be argued that while the momentum for trance itself almost everywhere else is upward, in the UK trance has been very much in a downward momentum.

What has happened to trance in the UK?

In the UK the scene has changed because the UK has changed I think. The classic "trance" venues and trance nights across the country have seen a huge cull, and the ones that remain do so because of their cult following. Gallery left Turnmills and it proved to be the best thing they ever did in my opinion, whereas Serious leaving the Cross (to die) was the worst. Eyecon at the Dance Academy has gone. Trance Generation is no more. Edition sadly departed when Johnny & Sukie left for NZ. The aforementioned Gallery, Garuda at Sankeys and long-time stalwart Passion and Emporium are really the only true trance big nights left standing in the UK, and the scene seems intolerant of smaller, new nights starting up here and there, although some do exist and flourish in their own niches. 

I think what we have seen is the weeding out of the punters going to trance nights because it is "cool" when trance stopped being "cool" (whatever that means) and what we are left with are the people there because they love the music. The sad fact is that there are too few trance purists to maintain the number of trance nights we used to have. The UK guys who are still into trance are into it because, like myself, the simply cannot live without it. Crowds are smaller but just as enthusiastic and probably even more discerning. We also have some of the absolute best trance DJs, producers and labels in the world - Judge Jules, John O'Bir, Gareth Emery, Above & Beyond, Simon Patterson, Greg Downey, Tylor Leigh, John Askew, John O'Callaghan, Matt Hardwick, Andy Moor, Sophie Sugar, Ashley Wallbridge, Thrillseekers, Paul Keely, Solarstone, JOOF, Ehren Stowers, Guy Mearns, Paul Webster, Simon Bostock, and the evergreen Matt Darey to name but an illustrious few. The list is smaller than it used to be, but no question in my mind that it is much higher quality. The fat has been officially trimmed and everyone who is left is absolutely on top of their game because they have to be - the scene is too small to accept passengers these days.

I think also the drugs had something to do with it. Back in the 90s pills were the be-all-and-end-all, and were very expensive, but very effective. They really were "the love drug" and I think trance benefited more than any other genre from our collective love affair with those little Jack n' Jills. I also think that the converse of this observation was that once the pills declined as the market was flooded by crap imports that had very little in common with the little fellas everyone used to do one a night of, so too trance began to decline in the UK. There was at least a five year period where the pills were "not what they used to be" and trance was regarded in exactly the same cliché. Cocaine got cheaper and people to a large extent stopped bothering with the three for a tenner lottery every Saturday night. Booze and fags are (arguably) better for you. In its heyday there was a famous statistic that more than 2m pills were being consumed in the UK every weekend. I would reckon the number of pills being done every weekend now are about the same, but number of people taking them has probably divided up into a fifth of what it was, as people are just doing more and still failing to get the same effect. Booze, coke and fags do not have the same vibe to them and so the vibe was not the same at trance nights - leading to a decline in interest and a decline in the quality of productions from the established names. With the fat trimmed off now though, trance is certainly a leaner, creature than it was, and we are seeing a return to the community feel of old, as those that still enjoy and are involved in the trance scene continue to loyally support it, making friends as they go, whereas in its peak this was not always the case. 

There is an argument, which I think has a lot of credence personally, that all things, particularly music, are cyclical. We've seen the first indications that trance may be about to "come back" (i.e.: to the mainstream) with the return to vogue of the early 90s rave scene, and indeed, of artists very much in the vogue such as Calvin Harris and Dizzee Rascal using elements of trance sound in their new work. 

Might we see a return to the heady days of the Gatecrasher era UK, where Paul Van Dyk was everywhere on TV and radio, and trance was very, very cool indeed? 

Controversial I know but - I fervently hope not. 


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