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Trance music

Trance music is a subgenre of electronic dance music that developed in the 1990s. Perhaps the most ambiguous genre in the realm of electronic dance music (EDM), trance could be described as a melodic, more-or-less freeform style of music derived from a combination of techno and house. Regardless of its precise origins, to many club-goers, party-throwers, and EDM adherents, trance is held as a significant development within the greater sphere of (post-)modern dance music.

While there is no strict definition for "trance", songs of this genre are usually characterized by hypnotic elements (hence the name "trance") and "anthemic" qualities. Using that as a starting point, a basic trance track could then be described as being comprised of a particular melodic and/or vocal hook which is given presence over an uncomplicated bassline, a simple drum pattern (which often includes snare and/or kick drum rolls to mark "big moments"), and perhaps one or two other semi-quantified aural elements to provide texture and enhance the rhythm. Trance also usually features more complicated chord progressions and melodies than were found in the music at the time, including 4 chord progressions symptomatic of 80's new wave music. Trance also heavily uses sawtooth waved synthesizers more so than other genres. However, not all trance fits that profile, and often times a song's classification as "trance" has just as much to do with who is playing it as what it sounds like. Some listeners claim the music to be euphoric and evokes spiritual feelings in them.



Some sub-genre classifications of trance include:

  • Acid trance An early '90's style. Sounds of the Roland TB-303 heavily emphasized.
  • Goa trance a complexly melodic form of trance named for Goa, India. Often uses the Arabic scale. Goa Artists: Psygone, mfg, S.U.N. Project, Man With No Name, Astral Projection
  • Psychedelic trance (ambiguously synonymous with Goa trance, less melodic more abstract.) Psy Artists: Shiva Chandra, Etnica, Infected Mushroom
  • Hardcore trance The hard side of trance. Can be uplifting (light) or dark.
  • Vocal Trance Term for Trance with singing.
  • Minimalist trance
  • Progressive trance Artists: BT, Ferry Corsten, Paul Van Dyk
  • NU-NRG


Pre-trance music

Elements of what would become trance music were being explored by industrial artists in the late 1980s. Most notably, Psychic TV's 1989 album Towards Thee Infinite Beat , featuring drawn out and monotonous patterns with short but repeating voice samples, is considered by some to be the first trance album, but this claim is widely contested. The intent was to make sound that was hypnotic to its listeners.

These industrial artists were largely dissociated from rave culture, and their trance albums were generally experiments, not an attempt to start a new genre with an associated culture -- they remained firmly rooted culturally in industrial and avant-garde music. As trance became to take off in the rave culture, most of these artists abandoned the genre.

Trance begins as a genre

As a genre in its own right, trance is said to have begun as an off-shoot of techno in German clubs during the early 1990s. Arguably a fusion of techno and house, early trance shared much with techno in terms of the tempo and rhythmic structures but also added more melodic overtones which were appropriated from the style of house popular in Europe's club scene at that time. (Interestingly enough, that style of house was referred to as "club" or "Euro.") However, the melodies in trance differed from Euro/club in that although they tended to be emotional and uplifting, they did not "bounce around" in the same way that house did.

This early trance tended to be characterized by the anthemic qualities described above, and typically involved a break-down portion of the song in which the beat was dropped for a few bars to focus on the melody before bringing the beat back with a renewed intensity. The sounds used in trance tended to be produced by analog synthesizers (especially using triangle or sawtooth wave forms) (or recently, digital simulations of analog synthesizers, often called virtual analog synthesizers ), with lush "strings" providing the basis for the melodies and pads, while similar analog equipment was used to produce basic bass notes and the regimented "four-to-the-floor" drum loops. This style became instantly popular in Europe and spread very quickly. Before long, trance was spawning sub-genres such as dream trance, acid trance or hard trance. (NOTE : Goa and psy-trance are arguably older, with their characteristic sounds purportedly emerging in Western Europe and Israel as far back as 1991.)

The sound of modern (progressive) trance

The basic formula of trance became even more focused on the anthemic qualities and melodies, moving away from predictable arppegiated analog synth patterns (aka acid synth lines). Acoustic elements and spacey pads became popular, compositions leaned towards incremental changes (aka progressive structures), sometimes composed in thirds (like Brian Transeau frequently does), buildups and breakdowns became more elaborate and intense. The sound became more and more ethereal and heavenly in sound. This sound came to be known as epic trance (sometimes called melodic trance or anthem trance), and became the foundation of what the modern progressive trance sound is today.

By the mid-1990s, trance, specifically progressive trance, had emerged commercially as one of the dominant genres of EDM. Immensely popular, trance found itself filling a niche as edgier than house, more soothing than drum-n-bass, and more accessible than techno. By this time, trance had become synonymous with progressive house and both genres essentially subsumed each other under the commercial banner of "progressive." Artists like Brian Transeau (BT), Paul Van Dyk, Ferry Corsten, and Underworld came to the forefront as premier producers and remixers, bringing with them the emotional, "epic" feel of the style. Meanwhile, DJs like Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, and John Digweed were championing the sound in the clubs and through the sale of pre-recorded mixes. By the end of the 1990s, trance remained commercially huge but had fractured into an extremely diverse genre. Some of the artists that had helped create the trance sound in the early and mid-1990s were, by the end of the decade, branching out with more experimental work (artists of particular note here are BT and Underworld). Perhaps as a consequence, similar things were happening with the DJs as well; for example, Sasha and Digweed, who together had helped bring the progressive sound to the forefront, all but abandoned it by 2000, instead spinning a darker mix of the rising "deep trance" style pioneered by bands like Future Sound of London, Eat Static, and Sven Všth (as marked by the duo's 2000 release, "Communicate").

Contemporary trance culture is heavily intertwined with recreational drug use. Many of the music's characteristics such as frequent breakdowns, easily accessible melodies and fast tempos could be argued to be specifically implemented to complement or even enhance the sensations of taking ecstasy - a drug that is near-ubiquitous at trance events across the world.

At present, and as alluded to earlier, trance is as much about who plays the music as it is about what it sounds like. Many artists described as producing a very powerful trance sound (e.g., Underworld's "Cowgirl" from 1994 remains a floor-filler) have most recently released tracks more suggestive of techno (Underworld's "Moaner" from 1998); DJs like John Digweed, known for spinning scintillating trance anthems in 1996, turned to a darker, housier sound in 2000. All the while, new artists and DJs enter the fold, either taking over the vacancies left in the anthemic, "progressive" arena (e.g. DJ TiŽsto and ATB), or else introducing new forms, modes, and themes (e.g., Sander Kleinenberg and Steve Lawler). In recent years, the Netherlands have been home to leading trance DJs such as Armin Van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, Marco V , and DJ Tiësto. Tiësto has transcended the underground scene to become a figure in the realm of popular music.

For more concrete examples, check out any number of purported trance compilations; perhaps the most highly recommendable source would be the Global Underground series, including its "Nubreed" sub-series, because it captures the diversity of the genre as expressed through many of its brightest DJ talents. Also recommended as source material would be the Tranceport/Perfecto Presents... series, any of Sasha & Digweed 's Northern Exposure mixes, and any of the mixes in the Renaissance series. The Labels to reference would include 3Beat, Bedrock, Devolution, Fluid, Fragrant, Hooj Choons, Hook, Perfecto, Vandit, Armada, Positiva, Yoshi Toshi and ATCR Trance Music.

See also: drum machine

Classic (genre-defining/-representing) trance records

  • "Out of Body Experience (Original Mix)" by Rabbit in the Moon (1994)
The famous Tori Amos-sampled trance classic, even though it was produced by a breaks producer. A genre-defining tune of the epic trance.
  • "Carte Blanche" by Veracocha (1999)
This track is regarded by many as the epitome of driving, melodic, uplifting trance. An Ibiza classic.
Another breaks record, technically speaking. But many trance DJs consider this record a trance classic, even before trance became a genre of its own. The ethereal, sound of this record is the foundation of modern epic trance sound today.
A widely-accepted classic of what melodic, epic sound of modern trance should be. Composed in thirds, the structure of this tune represents the evolving, progressive structure of modern trance, and its similarity to orchestral compositions.
A progressive trance anthem at the time. This tune represents the other sound of progressive trance -- less ethereal and melodic, more progressive (in sound, not structure) and energetic, equally anthemic and uplifting.
  • "Angelfalls" (Elemental Force Mix) by Ayla (1999)
Not widely considered a classic, but this mix shows a skillful production with many layers and elements coming in and out of each other, and emerge together eventually to create an intense buildup. Also composed in thirds, it is a very good example of the progressive structure of modern epic trance. The choirs, melodic piano theme, storming synth leads, all are very representative of what modern trance sounds like.
Considered to be one of the most original and innovative psychedelic goa trance albums. Although not a representative of psychedelic goa trance at that time (Astral Projection and X-Dream are), some claim that it defines the sound of psychedelic trance music, it has been highly influential.
One of the best selling psychedelic trance albums of all time. This album set a standard for future releases in this genre.

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Last updated: 08-28-2005 23:17:25
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