Trance is a style of electronic dance music or slow ambient music that developed in the 1990s. Dance trance music is generally characterized by a tempo of between 124 and 148 bpm, featuring repeating melodic synthesizer phrases, and a musical form that builds up and down throughout a track, often crescendoing or featuring a breakdown. Sometimes vocals are also utilized. The style is arguably derived from a combination of largely electronic music and house. 'Trance' received its name from the repetitious morphing beats, and the throbbing melodies which would presumably put the listener into a trance-like state. As this music is almost always played in nightclubs at popular vacation spots and in inner cities, trance can be understood as a form of club music.



Early electronic art music artists such as Klaus Schulze have proven to be a significant influence on trance music. Throughout the 1970s Schulze recorded numerous albums of atmospheric, sequencer-driven electronic music. Also, several of his albums from the 1980s include the word "trance" in their titles, such as the 1981 Trancefer and 1987 En=Trance.

Elements of what became modern club music also known as trance music were also explored by industrial artists in the late 1980s. Most notable was Psychic TV's 1989 album Towards Thee Infinite Beat, which featuring drawn out and monotonous patterns with short looping voice samples and is considered by some to be the first trance record. The intent was to make sound that was hypnotic to its listeners, this would also lead to a strain of trance known as Euphoria being developed which caused an uplifting sensation among its listeners who became somewhat euphoric during listening.

These industrial artists were largely dissociated from rave culture, although many were interested in the developments happening in Goa trance which is a much 'heavier' sound than what is now known as trance. Many of the trance albums produced by industrial artists 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 began to take off in rave culture, most of these artists abandoned the club style.

Trance begins as a genre

The earliest identifiable trance recordings came not from within the trance scene itself, but from the UK acid house movement, and were made by The KLF. The most notable of these were the original 1988 / 1989 versions of "What Time Is Love?" and "3 a.m. Eternal" (the former indeed laying out the entire blueprint for the trance sound - as well as helping to inspire the sounds of hardcore and rave) and the 1988 track "Kylie Said Trance". Their use of the term 'pure trance' to describe these recordings reinforces this case strongly. These early recordings were markedly different from the releases and re-releases to huge commercial success around the period of the The White Room album (1991) and are significantly more minimalist, nightclub-oriented and 'underground' in sound. While the KLF's works are clear examples of proto-trance, two songs, both from 1990, are widely regarded as being the first "true" trance records. The first, Age of Love's self-titled debut single was released in early 1990 and is seen as creating the basis for the original trance sound to come out of Germany. The second track was Dance 2 Trance's "We Came in Peace," which was actually the b-side of their own self-titled debut single. While "Age of Love" is seen as the track which cemented the early trance sound, it was with this release(as a result of the duo's name), that gave the sound its name.

The trance sound beyond this acid-era genesis is said to have begun as an off-shoot of techno in German clubs during the very early 1990s. Frankfurt is often cited as a birthplace of Trance. Some of the earliest pioneers of the genre included DJ Dag (Dag Lerner), Oliver Lieb, Sven Väth and Torsten Stenzel, who all produced numerous tracks under multiple aliases. Trance labels like Eye Q, Harthouse, Superstition, Rising High, FAX +49-69/450464 and MFS Records were Frankfurt based. 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. This early music tended to be characterized by hypnotic and melodic qualities and typically involved repeating rhythmic patterns added over an appropriate length of time asa track progressed.

Of worth to note, the album that is generally accepted as THE definition of the frankfurt trance sound, and which subsequently influenced all of the early pioneers mentioned above, was the Pete Namlook "4Voice" album. Of note, one of the studio engineers who worked on this pioneering effort was one Maik Maurice, otherwise known as ½ of Resistance D, the famed Hard Trance duo. If you are a fan of the frankfurt sound, this album is the beginning.

At about the same period of time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a musical revolution was happening in Goa, India. Electronic body music (EBM) bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Front 242 came to Goa and began influencing artists like Goa Gil, Eat Static, The Infinity Project, Doof, and Man With No Name who heard the psychedelic elements of EBM, expanded on them minus the vocals and guitars to create Goa trance. Goa music is heavily influenced by Indian culture and psychedelic drugs, as seen in numerous references to both in track and album titles. Goa trance was brought back to the electronica hubs London and Sheffield in the UK and around the world.

The original Goa sound played heavily on scientific and technological themes, overlappingwith the techno-pagan movement and the dot.com bubble. Later these influences (most notable though vocal samples dropped into the music) faded away, along with the more baroque complexities of countermelodies, leaving a more minimalist psy-trance.

Commercial trance

By the mid-1990s, trance, specifically progressive trance, which emerged from acid trance much as progressive house had emerged from acid house, had emerged commercially as one of the dominant genres of dance music. Progressive trance set in stone the basic formula of modern trance by becoming even more focused on the anthemic basslines and lead melodies, moving away from hypnotic, repetitive, arpeggiated analog synth patterns and spacey pads. Popular elements and anthemic pads became more widespread. Compositions leaned towards incremental changes (aka progressive structures), sometimes composed in thirds (as BT frequently does). Buildups and breakdowns became longer and more exaggerated, and the sound became more direct and less subtle, with a more identifiable tune. This sound came to be known as anthem trance.

Immensely popular, trance found itself filling a niche as 'edgier' than house, more soothing than drum and bass, and more melodic than techno, something that made it accessible to a wider audience. Artists like Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk, DJ Tiesto, Ferry Corsten, Above & Beyond and Armin van Buuren came to the forefront as premier producers and remixers, bringing with them the emotional, "epic" feel of the style. Many of these producers also DJ'd in clubs playing their own productions as well as those by other trance DJs. 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 had, by the end of the decade, abandoned trance completely in favour of more underground sounds - artists of particular note here include Pascal F.E.O.S. and Oliver Lieb

As trance entered the mainstream it alienated many of its original fans. As the industry became bigger, record labels, Ibiza, clubs (most notably Ministry of Sound) and DJs began to alter their sound to more of a pop based one, so as to make the sound more accessible to an even wider, and younger, audience. Female vocals in particular are now extremely common in mainstream trance, adding to their popular appeal. This mainstream trance is also known variously as commerical trance, vocal trance, euphoric trance or uplifting trance.

Eventually trance became so commercial that even Madonna and All Saints released a trance-like songs, through their collaborations with William Orbit.

Post-commercial trance

The original trance scene has largely died down, partly by having been overrun by the commercial mainstream; some would also argue that the original Goa and Psy- trance has exhausted the possibilities of its musical niche. An open question is where non-commercial trance will go next. One lively underground scene is "dark" or "goth" trance, also known as "neuromantic", which reunities the original EBM influences with Psy-trance and modern synthesizers. This music is characterized by low -- usually male -- vocals, and also borrows heavily from the 1980s new romantic and gothic movements. In the mid 2000s, other new bands like Tony Reed and Synthetik FM began to fuse rave styles of music with synthpop and new wave and use the new medium of the internet to distribute their music. The evolution of Goa trance into dark trance is well illustrated by the changing population of London's Cyberdog store, which has notably started to attract goths into its previously goa/psy culture. An alternative evolution would be to fuse trance with other stagnating genres such as drum'n'bass, various artists have attempted this but it has still to break into acceptance even in the underground. Frustrated, extreme versions of trance have mutated through gabba into violent fringe genres such as terrorcore and drillcore.

Trance and drugs

Trance developed alongside the increasing use of the drug ecstasy in the club scene. Ecstasy invokes a feeling of intense optimism and goodwill, and when taken while listening to loud trance music the feeling can become euphoric and highly energetic. The structure of trance music came to develop, deliberately or not, so that it became ever more effective at provoking these euphoric feelings. The metronomic beat, simple distorted waveforms drenched in large amounts of reverb, and long build-ups with snare rolls leading out of a breakdown all trigger a huge predictable response from ecstacy users. At the end of the 1990s, it is likely thata large number of clubbers in clubs such as Gatecrasher in Sheffield and Passion in Coalville (both in the UK) were using ecstasy. Trance songs were included in the heroin flick, Trainspotting.

Trance production

Trance employs a 4/4 time signature, and has a BPM of 130-160 beats per minute, somewhat faster than house music. Early tracks were sometimes slower. A kick drum is placed on every downbeat, a snare or clap on each second beat, and a regular open hi-hat on the off-beat. Some simple extra percussive elements are usually added, but, unusually in dance music, tracks do not usually derive their main rhythm from the percussion.

Trance is produced with keyboards, computerized synthesizers, drum machines, and music sequencer software connected via MIDI. The 909 drum machine is widely used to create the drum sounds. The unwavering drum mechanism may be constantly tweaked with for effect, with the Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release (ADSR) all given liberal treatment.

Synthesizers form the central elements of most trance tracks, with simple saw sounds used both for short pizzicato elements and for long, sweeping string sounds. Rapid arpeggios and minor scales are common features. Trance tracks often use one central "hook" melody which runs through almost the entire song, repeating at intervals anywhere between 2 beats and several bars. Much, but by no means all, trance music contains minimalist vocals.

Trance records are almost invariably heavily loaded with reverb and delay effects on the synth sounds, vocals and often parts of the percussion section. This provides the tracks with the sense of vast space that trance producers tend to look for in order to achieve the genre's epic quality. Flangers, phasers and other effects are also commonly used at extreme settings - in trance there is no need for sounds to seem in any way authentic, so producers have free rein.

Like much dance music, trance tracks are usually built with sparser beginnings and ends to the tracks in order to enable mixing more readily. As trance is more melodic and harmonic than much dance music, this is particularly important in order to avoid dissonance between tracks.

Some Sub-Genre Classifications Of Trance
Name Of The Sub-Genre Description Noticeable Artists
Acid trance An early '90's style. Characterized by the use of a Roland TB-303 bass machine as the lead synth. Hardfloor, Art of Trance, Union Jack, Eternal Basement, Emmanuel Top, Solar Quest, Kai Tracid
Anthem trance/Uplifting trance Style of trance that emerged in the wake of progressive trance in the late 90's. Characterized by extended chord progression in all elements (lead synth, bass chords, treble chords), extended breakdowns, and relegation of arpeggiation to the background while bringing wash effects to the fore. Vincent de Moor, Ronski Speed, Tiësto, System F, 4 Strings, Ayla, Paul van Dyk, Armin van Buuren, ATB, Neo & Farina, Blank & Jones, Marco V, Matt Darey
Classic trance Original form of trance music, said to have originated in the very early 90's. Characterized by less percussion than techno, more melody, arpeggiated melody, and repetitive melodic chords/arpeggios. Dance 2 Trance, Jam and Spoon, Sven Väth, Oliver Lieb, Cosmic Baby
Euro-Trance Euro-Trance is a hybrid of hard trance and Eurodance music incorporating hardstyle bass drums and trance elements. The trance synths at times sound like techno hoovers with trancey effects and strings backing it up. The vocals are often pitched up for the most part, but sometimes they can be heard as in normal pitch range. This is often confused as vocal trance because of its use of vocals. The lyrical content is usually pretty simple, containing an introduction to the song with usually no or little drums, and often includes renderings of classic happy hardcore anthems or melodies. Also some of the middle 90's happy hardcore producers started to produce tracks in this style. Jan Wayne, Nemystic, Rob Mayth, Milk Inc., Special D, Starsplash, Mark'Oh, Pulsedriver
Goa trance A complexly melodic form of trance named for Goa, India, and originating in the early 90's. Often uses the Raga. The Infinity Project, Transwave, Man With No Name, Astral Projection, Juno Reactor, MFG
Hard Trance Aggressive and faster trance sounding, Originating in Frankfurt, includes influences from hardcore. This style has its first tracks in 1993 and decline in the late 90's. Pascal F.E.O.S., Resistance D, Legend B, Nostrum, Gary D, Genetic Line, The Hooligan, Flutlicht, Mat Silver & Tony Burt, Jones & Stephenson, Yves Deruyter, Cosmic Gate, S.H.O.K.K., Mauro Picotto
Hardstyle Closely related to nu style gabber and hard trance. Its sound is usually characterized by a mix of gabber and hardcore like kick/bass sounds, trance like synth stabs and sweeps and miscellaneous samples. However, Hardstyle usually has a lot slower BPM (between 140 and 150). Lady Dana, DJ Luna, Trance Generators, DJ Isaac, Blutonium Boy
Progressive trance Style of trance that originated in the early-mid 90's. Differentiated from the then "regular" trance by breakdowns, less acid-like sound & bass chord changes that gave the repeating lead synth a feeling of "progression". BT, Humate, Sasha, John Digweed, Sander Kleinenberg, Slacker, Breeder, Narcotik
Pizzicato Trance This style of trance that originated in the mid 1990s. It's a Progressive Trance variant with pizzicato violin sounds from the late 1990s, especially 1997 and 1998.[citation needed] Faithless, Sash!, Dj Quicksilver, Brainbug, Future Breeze.
Psychedelic trance Better known as psytrance; ambiguously synonymous with Goa trance, less melodic (also focuses less on eastern melodies) more abstract, metallick and futuristic. Also while goa tracks can be even slow as 130 bpm, psytrance tracks' speed rarely goes under 140bpm (except Progressive Psytrance tracks). Shiva Chandra, Etnica, Infected Mushroom, Astrix, Absolum, Total Eclipse, Hallucinogen
Progressive psytrance Emerged from both progressive house and psytrance. Identified by slower BPM range (roughly between 125 and 138), deep, low bass line, similarities to house in percussion, track structure and other things as well as psychedelic trance depth and relative musical unpredictability. Magnetrixx, Ticon, Phony Orphants, Son Kite, Atmos
Tech Trance A merge of techno and trance, Tech Trance is a fairly new genre that originated in the late 90's and early 2000's. Marco V, Carl Cox, Randy Katana, Marcel Woods, Ron van Den Beuken
Tribal A trance derivative that took classic trance and overlaid it with polyrhythmic percussive beats, ethnic samples, bongo sounds. It emphasizes the rhythmic core of trance. It shares many things with early Goa trance and Balearic House. Tribal can also be understood not so much as a style in itself, but as a component of any other trance style that has a bongo polyrhythm to it. Tarrentella, Etnoscope
Vocal trance/Epic Trance Broad term referring to trance with a full set of lyrics, which may or may not be any of the above genres. Oftentimes an artist will borrow a singer's talents as opposed to the singer himself or herself (vocalists are typically female), or sample from/remix more traditional pop music. Note that there is some debate as to where the divide lies between vocal trance and Eurodance. 4 Strings, Lange, Ian Van Dahl, Above & Beyond, Fragma, Lost Witness, Armin Van Buuren, Oceanlab, Chicane, Lasgo.
Electro trance This style has been influenced by electroclash and takes some elements from Uplifting Trance. Originated around 2004. Ferry Corsten, Elevation, Marcel Woods, Gabriel & Dresden
Ibiza Trance/Chill Trance/Ambient Trance This style has been influenced by various relaxed music genres, especially linked to Ibiza's ( Spain ) chill-out style of life parallel with the huge rave scene that is present in the islands. Very melodic and mellow, sometimes with ethnic features, it often samples seaside elements like seagulls and ocean waves. Also known as balearic house. Chicane, Solar Stone, Chiller Twist, York, Miro, Salt Tank
Deeptech Trance This style has been influenced majorly by breakbeat. It is a chilled out blend of reggae beat matching and more notably the use of excessive synth pads, blended to create an almost euphoric state of relaxation. Chicane, Shifted Phases
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