While most of the mainstream media has finally began to recognize the dubstep phenomenon that has taken over the country in the past year, another genre of electronic dance music has slowly regained its momentum in the past few months. Trance music is back, and it’s slowly converting the newer dance music fans one music festival at a time. Tents curated by trance superstars like Armin van Buuren and Above and Beyond at festivals like Ultra, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Electric Zoo have been some of the most anticipated and well received at each event, showcasing trance music’s biggest superstars to tents full of soon to be fans.
Back in the early 2000’s, it seemed that trance dominated the electronic music scene. Superstars like the above mentioned Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Paul van Dyk, and Ferry Corsten set the standards for legendary marathon sets and artists like ATB produced hit singles that broke into the mainstream. For a while, it seemed like trance music was synonymous with electronic music. But then something happened – guys like Deadmau5, David Guetta, and Swedish House Mafia led a charge that would blow up the electronic music scene. These electronic music festivals, which once felt like underground communities, became destinations for trendy college kids. House music had taken over the world, and it seemed like the trance superstars were nearly overshadowed. Tiesto even acknowledged at some point that his style had become more progressive house.
While all this was happening, a UK based DJ named Gareth Emery began to make a name for himself on an interational level. His self produced tracks started getting picked up by the legends, he started his own label, Garuda, which released tracks from other likeminded up and coming artists, and slowly cemented himself on the international festival scene. In 2010, he released his landmark album ‘Northern Lights’, which, on the strength of mega hit ‘Sanctuary’, climbed to the top of the iTunes dance chart and cemented him a ranking of #9 on the DJ Mag top 100 list, the highest for a UK based artist.
That all brings us to today. Gareth’s style of trance consists of heavy bass and catchy vocals and melodies, in addition to the classic dominant synths that define the genre. This perfect storm of style creates a brand of trance that is easy to get into, even if traditional trance isn’t your style. It’s almost the perfect gateway drug into six hour marathon sets many trance DJs are known for. The heavy bass, which keeps the familiar beats that are common in house and dubtep, is predominant. It’s almost shocking how loud the music at Governor’s Island bumped – the bass lines rattled the entire beach, and you could feel the synths shake through your body. While there are definitely many aspects of the more classic trance sound still involved, Gareth’s sound is really more of a rounded electronic music experience, drawing from multiple genres and influences to create two and a half hours of music that shifts from melodic synthesizers to rock and roll party music seamlessly.
Gareth had two and a half hours on stage at Governor’s Island, and really pulled out all the stops for what was clearly a special show to him. While Gareth is no stranger to playing in front of giant festival crowds, this show was broadcast in both audio and video worldwide. In a perfect example of trance’s ever expanding reach, Gareth definitely found new fans through mixing between his own favorite trance cuts as well as clever mash ups and a variety of hits from other genres. He dropped several tracks by Pryda, including a mash up of ‘Pjanoo’ and Rihanna’s ‘Please Don’t Stop The Music’. Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ made a clever appearance mid set. There was really a little bit of everything – a perfect mash up of Ellie Goulding’s ‘Lights’ with Basto’s ‘Rave On’ perfectly exemplified this new direction – the familiar song was matched up with light trancey synths, before driving the crowd wild with a bass fueled electro drop. This tactic continued later in the set, dropping Ferry Corsten’s ‘Live Forever’, with synths that almost sooth the soul, before completely switching gears straight into the drop of Dada Life’s ‘Kick Out The Epic Motherfucker’. It’s quite a dynamic change of pace, but it completely works.
Still, all in all, Gareth Emery is a trance DJ at heart, and despite the somewhat unexpected heavy drops (think: Zedd’s remix of Skrillex’s ‘Breakin A Sweat’), there was still a healthy dose of the traditional trance music we’ve come to love. In between the hard electro tracks like Tiesto’s ‘Maximal Crazy’ and Knife Party’s ‘Rage Valley’ was a healthy dose of some of the biggest tracks in the trance scene, including songs from Markus Schulz, Paul van Dyk, Armin van Buuren, Above and Beyond, among others. And of course, Gareth didn’t forget to include a healthy dose of his own music, enough to remind us exactly who we were watching on stage, including Sanctuary, Concrete Angel, and DUI before closing up with a now classic mash up of his own ‘This Is That’ and Delirium’s ‘Silence’.
The crowd, packed from the front of the stage to all the way back to the edges of the beach, was no less than amazing, taking the initiative of Gareth’s music to erupt into an all out party. The mix of trance hits with electro drops made sure no one was bored; there was always something new happening. You began to expect the unexpected. Suddenly the heavy dubstep inspired electro womps of Knife Party didn’t seem so out of place in Gareth’s set. Why wouldn’t he drop Skrillex at that point? With some of the traditional conventions of trance broken, we were treated to two and half hours of blissful party music, put together by one of the best in the world. Good music is good music.