In a recent interview with TranceFamilyUK.com late last year, my back-to-back partner (Ben Dursley) and I were asked about the current state of the trance scene. Truth be told, our responses weren't all that positive.
Ben began, "Honestly? For me, I think it's struggling. There is a lot of musical elitism at the moment, and sometimes it feels like we are at the point where we have more keyboard warriors and arm chair ravers than we do actual clubbers...It's desperate for some new energy, some new blood."
I agreed, offering, "I don't think it's been a good year for trance creatively. It's feeling a bit stale at the moment. And a real BPM chasm has opened up. It doesn't matter whether the music is slow or fast, we are very preoccupied with this mysterious drop. It's all very aggressive. The music's aim is to hit you square between the eyes as often as possible. People whinge about EDM, but a lot of the bosh music falls into some of the same traps."
The American EDM boom has a lot to answer for. Even if trance pretends like it has stayed at arm's length from EDM's slimy tentacles, it has still been caught in the trawler's nets. We have lost some very unique, interesting artists to it - like Sander Van Doorn, Marcus Schossow, Ummet Ozcan and Cosmic Gate. All of trance's original "big 4" - Armin Van Buuren, Paul Van Dyk, Ferry Corsten and Tiesto - have succumbed to a watering down or a dumbing down in varying forms. More fundamentally, EDM has unconsciously reinforced the value of impact over subtly and spectacle over emotion across many areas of modern dance music.
This really is just a very concise way of summarising what is the tip of an almighty iceberg. It's an enormous area of debate, a debate that there are so many aspects to.
And so there we were. Residents and promoters, Dickinson & Dursley - a handful of weeks before Transcend's Third Birthday, with quite a significant online platform, confessing to a degree of disillusionment with the current trance scene to the world's dedicated trance public. It was a forthright assessment, particularly for a brand for whom trance music has always been a central, steadfast pillar.
Our Third Birthday at Club Reina with Manual Le Saux went on to be a tremendous success and, after the dust had settled, it became clear that, in part, it is this honesty and realism that is driving Transcend onto bigger and better things. A big part of carving out your own niche is understanding what it is you are contributing to in the first place. With each event we put on in London, the vision becomes ever clearer; we grow in the strength of our convictions. Because we know we aren't the only ones searching in the mist for that distant light of imagination.
On the surface, it's easy to paint a picture of a thriving UK trance scene. There are more promoters than ever before putting on an ever increasing number of events. The events calendar says trance is unquestionably booming. But the million dollar question is, what are these events actually offering?
For the most part, what they offer reflects both the economics of putting on events in this "post-rave" age of clubbing - an age in which clubbing has become noticeably less counter-cultural and more mainstream aligned - and, more crucially, the very ridged musical formulas and mind-sets that the genre now locks itself into.
Everyone is trying to be like everyone else. Everybody is somebody else's template - the template for "success". Want to be on A State Of Trance? Well, great - you have to sound like X, Y or Z. The line ups are the same DJs, all playing the same way, using the same tracks. The big names come to play their hits and, if there are 3 or 4 big names, where are the surprises?
But the biggest tragedy is the way we pigeonhole now - not just in terms of genre or scene, but in terms of BPM. There was a simpler age when clubbers didn't know what BPMs were. They didn't need to. They danced to good music because it was good music. They let the DJ supply the energy however and whenever the DJ thought best to inject it.
Now, everyone is obsessed with BPM. To the point that we have labels called things like Who's Afraid of 138?! and hashtag movements like #Team140. In the end, it's just another way of creating barriers and boxing things off. Another way of making everyone sound and think the same, or worse, draw battle lines against those that don't.
One of our key mantras at Transcend is that we "bring old clubbing values to the new trance breed". In today's climate, what those values are has never been so clear to us. It crystallises with every event. It's a formula, but it's our formula. This for us generates the excitement, the buzz, the fire.
More and more we are seeing ourselves as a multi-genre brand. Not just multiple genres at one event in different rooms, but multiple genres in the same room in the context of the overall journey. We have found that the best way to break out of trance's current creative shackles is to think much more in terms of mood and situation. As John '00' Fleming recently said on social media, many of the sounds that could once be found in trance can be found hiding in other genres. Bringing those sounds together is where the surprises come from.
Our recent Dickinson & Dursley set at Equinox in Leicester, which raised many an eager eyebrow, was exactly this approach - a very subtle mixture of rolling, deep, chunky techno, smooth melancholic progressive and the occasional tastier groove here and there. These combinations gave the set a unique energy.
Inevitably, striving for old values sometimes means going back to old music. All of our residents have been found delving into the past for those forgotten gems. One of our residents, Calvin Karass has a talent for pulling out old records that are impossible to pigeonhole by today's standards. This is exactly what Transcend is about - about literally transcending those barriers that stifle creativity, open-mindedness and even shock value.
Our upcoming event at Union Club on April 23rd is set to be a real melting pot. It will bring together all these ideas and philosophies like never before. We are a friendly, intimate party with the focus on being the antidote to any apathy or world-weariness that the trance crowd might be feeling. This time we've got 9 hours to really express ourselves.
Our headliner, Dan Stone will provide 3 hours of that uplifting sound - that steadfast, central pillar of our night. That extended set has become a very important part of how we take our crowd on our journey and Dan is as experienced as the come. His music retains the subtle, emotional elements, while still having the polished modern touch.
What will the other 6 hours bring? Who knows? But it could get a little bit deep, a little bit techy, a little bit chunky, and maybe even a little bit hard. It will be an expansive journey and you can expect the unexpected. It will be unmistakably Transcend.
Dan Stone (**3 Hour Set** - Future Sound Of Egypt)
Ashley Waters (Frantic / Digital Impact)
Tony Hollingsworth (Shindigerz)
Hon & Scotcha (UK Trance Society)
Dickinson & Dursley
66 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TP, United Kingdom
The full interview from TranceFamilyUK: http://www.trancefamilyuk.com/#!interview-transcend/sdrxe
Our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TranscendEvents/
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