Trance: It’s a State of Mind

in Music
Trance is the crowd-pleaser that music snobs love to hate. Repetitive and hypnotic, it’s simplicity has taken over clubs and made millions for the DJs behind it.

Previous DJ Academy pieces have shown the growth of House, Techno, Jungle and Dubstep, movements that have defined electronic music today. Trance is the dark horse that has imperceptibly grown into one of the biggest dance movements of the scene today and has, in some cases, eclipsed its darker and more musically complex cousins. Although structurally similar to House and Techno with a 4/4 drum kick pattern, core percussive elements (hi-hats, snares and claps) and melodic minimalism, at the same time Trance couldn’t be more different.

Despite all this, or perhaps precisely because of it, scores of clubbers love to stomp to its incessant beat from clubs in Frankfurt to sunset bars in Goa. Music snobs may balk at its monotony, hypnotic breakdowns, and simplistic melodies, but plenty of others find solace and euphoria in its primal elements, making celebrities and millionaires out of its producers and DJs along the way.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where and when Trance began. Some look to the 1981 album Trancefer by German experimental musician Klaus Schulze for the first use of the term. Others look to uses on album and track names by other popular 80s bands such as The KLF or even further back. And still others claim the name refers specifically to the state of induced euphoria with which the music has come to be associated. But one thing people seem to agree on is that the sound we know as Trance came from Germany, and one of its earliest evangelists was a young man by the name of Paul Van Dyk.

Van Dyk was an East Berliner who had become an avid music fan despite the difficulty of getting Western music behind the Iron Curtain. When the Berlin Wall fell, Van Dyk started DJing at the legendary Tresor and his career skyrocketed. He started the Trance ball rolling with Visions of Shiva and his seminal 1993 remix of Humate’s ‘Love Stimulation’. Other DJs took up the baton and took Trance global. With the growth of the phenomenon known as EDM, Trance has taken over dance floors at some of the biggest festivals in the world.

This form of pop-trance, though, is just one form of the genre. In many parts of Europe, especially in Germany and Holland, Hard Trance exists, resolutely dark and underground and a far cry from the vocal-led progressive elements found within the LPs and singles produced by the biggest names. Hard Trance is a closer cousin to Hard House and Industrial Techno, with faster beats and became the mainstay of nightclubs and raves around Europe in the 90s. Tech Trance, as popularised by Tiësto, takes the beat from techno and the melodic elements from Trance.

But perhaps the type of Trance most associated with the term by listeners is Uplifting, Progressive or Epic Trance – that lighter offspring of the genre known for inducing a ‘rush’ in the audience. Hugely popular still in Europe and very much one of the dominant dance genres worldwide, Uplifting Trance is the what you hear when Armin van Buuren, ATB and Ferry Corsten get behind the decks. It’s one of the dominant sounds of the moment making stars of Aly & Fila, Above & Beyond and Dash Berlin.

Trance sometimes gets a bad rap in the music press, but for many in the world it’s the sound they most associate with electronic music. The rave islands of Ibiza and Goa have helped turn all the varieties of Trance into soundtracks for their hedonistic party lifestyles. Perhaps that’s why the music press looks down on Trance – because those who love it are just having too much fun.