New craze entrances and infuriates

The Independent (London)/Evening Post - 10 February 2000

Some love it, some hate it. But trance is the first truly global pop music and it's not going away.

Wherever you were in the world on January 1, the chances are that on a beach, in a forest or in a warehouse somewhere near you, they were getting down to a serious session of trance.

In Cape Town, 10,000 people danced for four days in what was billed as "the biggest electronic music festival ever organised". On top of a cliff in Ibiza, the dawn of the century kicked off a three-day party attracting the island's entire alternative community.

There were raves in Bali, Brazil, New York and New Zealand, not to mention Disco Valley in Goa, the spiritual home of trance music and the cyber-hippie lifestyle that surrounds it.

On the beaches of Thailand it was hard to get away from the pounding music and writhing bodies, moaned one traveller.

Most sensible people have little time for trance. Music critics almost universally loathe it. That is hardly surprising when you consider that this form of electronic music lacks most of the traditional attributes of pop music, including lyrics, voices, instruments, verse-chorus structure and artists you might recognise as such.

But whatever anyone's opinion of it, trance is not going away. Love it or hate it, it is in fact the first truly global pop music, leaping boundaries of culture, race and language with athletic ease. Trance music and attitudes are making converts in countries as little associated with a vibrant youth culture as Mexico, Russia and Israel.

The origins of trance are not well understood, though essentially it seems to be a child of acid house and a second cousin of techno. It fist emerged in Europe during the early 90s, fruit of a strange marriage between German obsessions with Kraftwerk and Seventies progressive rock and the psychedelic music played at full-moon parties in Goa. It soon picked up a New Age, mystical dimension that distinguishes it from the harder-edged, more urban sound of techno.

For a long time trance was underground music. But in the late 90s there was a sudden creative lull in the dance-music industry, which looked around for something to fill the gap; 1998 was promptly christened the year of trance, making chart hits out of trance-inspired tracks such as Greece 2000's Three Drives On A Vinyl.

Clubs such as Gatecrasher in Sheffield, pioneers of the new streamlined trance sound, were thronged with teenagers for whom acid house was something their parents danced to, waving fluorescent light-sticks and guzzling Ecstasy by the handful.

The underground trance scene looked on all these developments with mixed feelings. Unlike most of the other dance trends of the 90s which quickly embraced the profit motive with open arms, purist trance has always retained a determinedly anti-commercial stance.

Musically speaking, the basic recipe has remained fairly constant. Take a fast four-four beat, add synthesised snare drums and sizzling high-hat. Underpin the rhythm with a rumbling, echoey bass and something softly pulsing in the middle. Then add billowing Wagnerian harmonies, minimal melodies, solemn electronic mantras.

Where to hear the stuff, then? Few of us have the time or the consitution to seek out the nearest three-day trance party. The mere thought is enough to induce a profound tiredness in anyone over 35. Take away the drugs, the didgeridoos and the fluorescent decor, however, and trance becomes an uplifting soundtrack to an after-work boogie round the kitchen.

Little children also love it. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, because trance is in some ways the most infantile of all current musical forms, requiring no intellectual or emotional response other than euphoria.

In the wake of last summer's trance boom, the bargin racks are currently full of double CDs. Try one. You may like it and agree with millions of young people the world over that this is the soulful dance music of the 21st century - the disco of our time.

Or you may think it nothing more than a load of repetitive, drug-addled rubbish. If that is what you think, there may be one over-riding reason: you're too old.

Paul Richardson, The Independent (London)
carried by the Evening Post, 10 February 2000

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