A Brief History Of Trance (2014 Edition)

(This is a repost/expansion of a post I did last year at EDMTunes. Give them some love & help me thank them for giving me the opportunity to yell in long form on the internet about music people don’t listen to anymore)

As fans of Armin Van Buuren, Paul Van Dyk, Tiesto, Ferry Corsten and others can tell you, Trance has been around, but it’s been a while since it’s been at the forefront of the dance music consciousness. But how long has it been around for, and how did it get here? I’d like to take you on a brief trip, from Trance’s humble beginnings, through its boom around the millenium & all the way up to New Years 2014.

It all started in 1990 when a few tracks that focused on regular 4/4 time, 32 beat phrases and kick drums started seeping out of Germany. It was slightly faster than house music but it built much more slowly. One track, “We Came in Peace” by Dance 2 Trance, stood out as an example (below).

The genre began to grow in popularity, spreading to other countries in Europe and eventually making it to the UK where Manchester Trance parties became the stuff of legend in the mid-90’s if you could find them. Tracks that lasted half an hour with nine minute builds began to overpower the house & techno drenched clubs & raves. In 1993, Paul van Dyk released a remix of Humate’s Love Stimulation with the genre later coalescing around that kind of driving, positive & almost transcendent (you see what I did there?) sound.

The genre grew slowly but irrepressibly with popularity mushrooming through the late 90’s, with Lost Tribe – Gamemaster released in 1997 (a personal favorite), it being added to the classic compilation that made Paul Oakenfold famous the world over, Tranceport, in 1998. In 99, as the millenium came to a close, two major events pushed the genre forward. Darude released Sandstorm, which you’ve heard if you have functioning ears and live on this planet, which went on to sell 2mill copies, and settle in as the anthem of the Jersey Shore to this day. DJ Tiesto released the first edition of his In Search of Sunrise compilation. This CD series would bring the classic euro trance sound to the world & turn DJ Tiesto into one of the first super star DJs.

While the rest of us were jamming to Eiffel65’s “Blue,” Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone” & DJ Sammy’s remix of “Heaven,” serious artists were deepening their sound. Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki were 3 growing artists who decided to combine their efforts to form Above & Beyond. Their sound became emblamatic of the triumphant, euphoric, uniting vibe that trance became known for, the world over. Paul van Dyk released his first “The Politics of Dancing” mix compilation, which were backed up by his penchant for playing 6-8hr sets if you were lucky enough to catch him on one of the dozen beaches these sets were played on across the world. 8 hours of trance off the beach in Miami? Yes please.

Also in 2001, Armin van Buuren began a small podcast where he pushed out a stellar 2hr mix every week, pulling from the best of trance, progressive, uplifting and hard, as the genre had slowly begun to fracture into different sounds. This has been one of the only constants over the years, with Armin’s A State of Trance exploding in popularity over the last few years (we’ll get back to that a little later). Some DJs had been pushing trance harder and faster, chasing after the 90’s Happy Hardcore scene in the UK and creating rough/edgy tracks. Others stayed more on the progessive & euphoric end, which always seemed a bit too wussy for some of the hard dance fans that the genre had begun to attract from Asia & Northern Europe. This infighting kept the genre from continuing to grow its international following in the early oughts (or zeros or whatever), until Sensation rallied all the different gangs under its two flags: Sensation White & Sensation Black.

The party, which started at the Amsterdam Arena, was one of the first that understood that the dark and menacing trance/beats away from the euphoric ones. So instead of going from one style of music to another in the same evening, as previous events had done, they just made them happen on consecutive Saturday nights. When you see 50,000 people all dressed in white, then another 50,000 dressed all in black, you can imagine that it adds quite a bit to the euphoric or dark feels of each. This festival became the Mecca for Trance fans world-wide. Artists like Ferry Corsten, Yoji Biomehanika, Svenson & Gielen (also known as Airscape), Rank 1 and a dozen others blew away audiences of tens of thousands of people every year, with music that sounded so completely distinct from the previous techno & house music that Europeans had cut their teeth on.

The development of Sensation and the creation of Ultra Music Festival, among others, signalled a shift away from the classic sound, to a more modern, diffuse vibe, that allowed people from all over the world to enjoy Trance without needing to wait around for the nine minute builds. DJ Tiesto, after pushing into the Trance sound so heavily that he was actually chosen to spin the opening ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens Greece (below), sadly, was the first to move away from this epic sound that seemed to be his trademark.

Electro & trance-y house had begun to grow in popularity, allowing DJs to take people on journeys as lush and imaginative, but in only an hour. This made slotting them into festivals so much easier. This allowed more and more DJs to fit onto lineups, which drove people to attend these festivals which started growing in attendance outside of Northern Europe & the UK for the first time. Ultra Music festival drew big name talent, but trance never made it to the top of the bill. For example, Paul Oakenfold was one of the reasons to be in Miami at Ultra in 2006, but everyone who you asked said they were there to see The Prodigy, who followed Oakenfold. Oakenfold’s mixer dying in the middle of his live set didn’t help. Some of the younger fans mocked the genre, as they labeled it too slow and out of touch with more “modern” dance sensibilities. This was the same year dropped one of the best Essential Mixes of all time.

Tiesto had pivoted into a mix of house, trance & electro the next year with his Club Life radio show, following in the footsteps of Armin Van Buuren. However, Above & Beyond were still going strong. That year, they played what is considered to be one of if not the largest party ever, performing for an incredible one million people on Barra Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Trance continued to surge independent of the USA & the UK. Sensation branched out into cities around the world, with other events like Trance Energy & Transmission sprouting to give the people what they wanted. Undiluted trance, massive bass & pretty lights.

Back in the USA, some-trance continued. Groups like W&W, Tritonal and others blended elements of half a dozen styles to create their own signature sounds, that wasn’t stuck within a single genre, and Armin’s ASOT brought electro’y tunes into the mix. The rise of these groups did quite a lot to signal boost for the general electronic dance music sound state-side, though no one could have predicted the impact of Skrillex on the sensibilities of the average American listener.

While the rest of America was listening to dubstep, the world was sliding into a golden age for Trance. Armin Van Buuren’s A State of Trance 500 performance/stage at Ultra Music Festival re-asserted itself as a force to be reckoned with. The new class of Trance warriors, including Andrew Rayel, Shogun & Alex MORPH were backed up by stalwarts not mentioned previously, like Gareth Emery and Markus Schultz. This global band of merry trancers ensured that the last several years have been jam-packed with some of the sounds we’ve been missing for almost a decade. Some of the best highlights of this modern sound include Above & Beyond’s Group Therapy 50, the A State of Trance 600 world-wide tour (The NYC show included the debut of New World Punx, the superhero team up of Ferry & Markus, just saying) and trance-related events in every country.

Two personal favorites are Armin Van Buuren’s “Trapped by the Windstorm” B2B set from the ASOT booth at Electric Daisy Carnival 2012 & his 2013 set from Tomorrowland. His EDC set was this insane 4hour set that he dropped back to back with Markus Shultz, W&W and Cosmic Gate after the event was canceled for the day. Best consolation prize ever. The Tomorrowland set was also very special as it was performed just after the birth of his son, and the crowd went absolutely wild for it, dancing in the dark, pouring rain.

Some of what’s going on in trance recently include Paul Oakenfold’s TranceMission tour and the slow growth of no-nonsense, 4-to-the-floor hard trance sounds. Aly & Fila, John O’Callaghan, Jorn Van Deynhoven and others have begun to blaze a path back to that classic sound, except this time, with modern technology. Gone are the days when the tune sounded miniscule, or you were at a party where the bass didn’t really back up the production values. These guys can push out some serious bass to go along with the gorgeous chromatic chord progressions & angelic vocal samples. With Armin’s “Who’s Afraid of 138” hard trance side projects growing each time he pushes them into his podcast and Oakenfold currently selling out venues coast-to-coast as he brings that classic sound back to more intimate venues, it’s a good time to like trance. And if you don’t believe me, just check out Deynhoven’s 2013 End of Year mix.


2014 saw Trance continue to rise. Not only was it a presence at all major festivals, there were a couple of events in NYC alone that really captured for me, just how far it’s come. Future Sound of Egypt 350 obliterate Hammerstein Ballroom, while Above & Beyond sold out Madison Square Garden.

Not to put a fine point on it, but that’s the whole enchilada folks. When a trance artist, in fact, THE euphoric/progressive group of our time, sells out MSG, I think we’ve made it. There’s so much good stuff going on, so get out there, and get into the trance (10 points if you can name the song that’s quoted from in the comments).


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