2015 might be half a month behind us already but I´d still like to take a quick look back at a few of the names that made it such a memorable year in music for me.
Orkidea & Lowland
Orkidea released Harmonia (co-produced by Lowland), the follow-up to his 2011 album 20. The latter celebrated his (at the time) 20-year career in music and offered Trance of a high quality though I felt it was vastly underrated. Harmonia is a more diverse album sound-wise: it runs from 125 to 140 BPM and takes a few subgenre detours here and there, sometimes with a slight bigroom touch. Half a year since its release however, it has proven to be more than a worthy follow-up to 20. I found myself struggling with the abundance of potential Top 30 candidates from this album. If anything, Orkidea & Lowland proved that Trance is very much alive and that you don't always have to turn to the underground/J00F flavoured styles to find it. Safe to say, they were THE producer collective of 2015 as much as I am concerned.
Check out that beautiful album here:
A busy year for the man that has seen somewhat of a resurgence since 2011-ish? I recall reading from a big Airwave fan that Laurent faced some difficult times over half a decade ago but ever since Hello World he seems to be back in the business in full effect. Over the past years he's brought us delicious cocktails of Progressive meeting Trance meeting Breaks and he continued to deliver in 2015 with some massive singles. Sadness In Black & White delivered one of the most emotional breakdowns of the year with some beautiful piano play to go with that hair-raising flute. Dancing Desperado went all melancholic Mediterranean-meets-Arabic like sentiments + breaks on us whilst A Touch Of Grace and Gaijin embrace Eastern influences through the use of regional chanting and/or prominent tribal drums. Vega Shining on the other hand had an almost Cape Town - Proglifter ish sentiment to it with some gorgeous synthwork. And that brilliant glockenspiel in the two break moments of the track added a special touch. Then there was Lightyears Away From Here: another beautiful Trancer ala Sadness In Black & White. I also digged that Breaks-driven remix he did for Fatal Error - Angel's Arms. So yes, it's more than safe to say that Airwave had a tremendous 2015 and he demanded no less than two spots in my personal 30 favourites of the year! Without doubt one of the Champions of the underground side of Trance music. You can count on him to deliver where the mainstream side of Trance fails.
Check out his gems here:
John O'Callghan presents Henrik Zuberstein
Granted, the first Zuberstein release I heard this year was Caves, which was originally from 2014. But a few more tracks have followed in the guise of Ellicit Response and two remixes for Peter Steele - Mantra and the timeless Classic Max Graham - Airtight. Under this alias, John manages to deliver an enticing Progressive sound leaning comfortably between Progressive House and Progressive Trance. At the same time he has already been able to create a recognizable Zuberstein groove. Especially Caves and the remix for Airtight have led me into several trancey states... His Joint Operation Centre cameo was cool but Henrik Zuberstein might turn out to be my favorite alias by mr. Callaghan yet. Big respect John!
Check out his gems here:
Shadow Of Two
Doing this based on a few releases might be a bit silly but after their tremendously addicting remix for the classic Fiji, I soon found and embraced their tracks Memories, Lucir and Rezeda. The Shadow Of Two sound is Trancey, sometimes anthemic with a bigroom edge, sometimes almost Anjuna-summerish & soothing. Overall the melodies are always easy on the ears and after having had a pretty heavy House/Prog oriented year in 2014, it was fantastic to be welcomed back to the more melodic and Trancey productions through sublime tracks like these. I am looking forward to what 2016 will bring from SoT!
Check out their gems here:
Vadney had a busy year too, releasing an album (which I have yet to hear: yes I know, got some homework for 2016!) alongside various tasty productions. For me two productions in particular have stood out this year: his original Spaceman's Theme which reminds me of PPK - Resurrection and his remix for Miltos Maris - Mora Ghost. The latter is one of the freshest, and most unique tracks I heard over the course of last year! A track that is as haunting, chaotic and dramatic, as it is tranquil, beautiful and captivating. The voice sample gives it that haunted feel and especially the trumpet(?) moments make it extra unique. I have one little point of critique however and that's when those main sawpads kick in: I dunno if it's over-compression but I feel they are tuned down in a way that prevents me from really "feeling them": usually a melody/arrangement like that would instantly give me goosebumps but that effect is not achieved sadly. :/ Still, it remains an incredible production and one of the highlights of 2015 musicwise. Meanwhile Spaceman's Theme kicks things up a notch by going 139 BPM. Deploying infectious acid lines and a hypnotic arrangements throughout, this track is well worthy of the label "Trance epic". To me it doesn't feel like a 10 minute journey at all, that's how fresh it says and how deeply it absorbes you into its web! My favorite bit has to be the "phone beep" melody ala PPK - Resurrection. In case this was a tribute to that timeless Classic, I have to say Robert did a great job. But it's just as great on its own. I also love the fx that burst into the track at varying intervals... Yet another tasty piece of Trance music from Vadney's hands that is at once fresh yet feels familiar (I mean that in the most positive sense possible). Just two tracks of his found their way to my ears this year yet both have had an instant impact making Vadney deserving of a spot among my best producers of 2015!
Check out his gems here:
Rank 1 vs. M.I.K.E. Push
2013. Elements Of Nature. BANG. Instant fan-favourite and future Classic.
2015. Juno. Zenith. BANG. Massive tracks for the ASOT and GDJB related sets, events, radioshows, etc. Zenith took my preference over Juno but in its own right I enjoyed Juno a lot too. Juno has an electrifying build-up that so gradually increases in intensity, that by the time it reaches its breakdown you'd actually wish for it to climax already (at least I do). Call me weird but for me the highlight of this track is actually said build-up, combining a powerful raw bassline with a captivating "second-in-command" lead. The actual main lead is catchy but it's not the mindblowing lead I had expected to find after such an intense build-up. That said, the main lead manages to be interesting enough to carry the track's main part though imo said part could have been a wee bit shorter. There is a reprise in it, which is nice, but had that main lead been more powerful, that reprise could have been even better. In the end Juno turned out to be a solid Trancer, MASSIVELY hyped by Armin. I was annoyed to find out it only managed to reach #39 in the ASOT Top 20 voting. Aw well. Juno was nice but Zenith was awesome. 1001tracklists revealed Markus Schulz' addiction to this track, he played it over 10 times in GDJB related events in the past two months! And I thought I was a Rank 1 addict... :') Anyhow, Zenith leans a wee bit more towards the Bigroom vibes than its big brother Juno but its overall arrangements and main melodies are executed in a more captivating manner. Whereas I really like Juno for the energy it holds, I praise Zenith for the emotion it invokes in me. Like I said in my review for it, Zenith gives me the feeling that "everything will be alright". Some will argue the melodies are rather "cheesy/corny" compared to Juno but for once "cheesy euphoria" actually got me moving so, well, shut up. In the end this epic pairing of Legends managed to deliver two solid additions to an unforgetable 2013 debut. Needless to say I am looking forward to a fourth collaboration!
Check out their gems here:
Now the above producers were either new artists that impressed me throughout 2015 or artists I've been supporting throughout the years who have managed to keep me glued to my headphones, as I kept replaying their productions over and over. However, 2015 revealed another category of producers: producers I used to admire some time ago but that kind of lost me over the years as their later soundshifts just didn't bring forth the kind of tracks I wanted to hear from them. Now I can safely state that they have slipped unto my radar again, I will DEFINITELY be keeping my eyes on these guys over the course of 2016:
Leon Bolier presents WSTLNDR
Leon was one of the most badass producers for me back in the 2006-2011 period. I never felt he was a typical Trance producer since he made so many tracks that bordered between its subgenres... If anything he was truly the child of an epic generation at the time with other ecclectic masterminds like Sander van Doorn, Marcus Schossow and Orjan Nilsen. Of course, when it came to productions, Rank 1 was #1 for me, Leon however, took a well deserved seat at #2. Sadly for me those days came to an end at some point. Me / You / Us just didn't do it for me. And gradually Leon drifted further and further of my radar until he was gone. Thank God for friends though as one of my music buddies shared a WSTLNDR EOYC set with me at the end of 2014: turns out Leon was launching an alias with a deeper twist to it and he was piecing together an album for 2015. Over the course of last year I got my hands on this album was well as some remixes to go with it. And guess what? As swiftly as it drifted away, Leon's sound found its way back into my musical preferences. That is to say, his WSTLNDR alias. I still don't feel much for his main project but WL seems to bring a more sophisticated, minimalistic Bolier sound that I can very much appreciate. Especially since those typical Bolierain melodies from his Trancier days seem to live through in this side project. I could go into detail on all these tracks but I want to offer you the joy of discovering for yourself what amazing soundscapes lie hidden behind Leon's new sounds. Dig in!
Ferry's brigthest moment was without doubt his Anahera though many will also point out to his Hello World EPs: he released three of them with sixteen tracks between them, meaning he put an album-amount of tracks out in one year, which is pretty impressive. Of those EPs the third one in particular stood out through its synth-driven fatal bomba's Follow You & Voema. The former has a vocal sample that I personally find more suitable for (Progressive) House tunes (think Yotto for instance) but bar that, the track's lead is full-on-Trance-Ferry... The lead arrangement is really fit for a stadium setting and would no doubt blow the roof off! This is Anthem Trance at its modern-finest. The track has a captivating vibe and the melody is just too good. Its sibling Voema might even be slightly better though: one minute shorter perhaps but its rougher and heavier. It slightly reminds me of Radio Crash and throughout this feels like a Ferry-at-his-best kind of track for it harbours that rougher side to his productions that made his L.E.F. sound so tasty. Rather than funky electro sounds Ferry deploys a range of heavy and lighter synths with some white noise sweeps and snares here and there. If Follow You is captivating because of that epic melody, Voema is captivating because of its energy. A much simpler melody but one that really gets me going. I can't remember the last time I was so hooked on three Corsten tracks in one year. Anahera takes the crown of course but these two show Ferry in a simple-but-effective way. I like that Ferry!
Get a load of these choons:
Sander van Doorn
Back when 2014 was coming to a close my twitter feed presented me with Get Enough by SvD. I was amazed that, modern bigroom influences aside, it has very much the drive, punch and rawness of the old Sander in it! It made me curious if he had more tasty stuff lying around as I had given up on Sander after 2011. I ran into THIS: equally tasty. So as 2015 came and went I kept my ears and eyes open for Sander's productions once again. And in the end, he didn't disappoint: Rage, Ori Tali Ma and the best SvD I've heard since Reach Out: Oh, Amazing Bass. Rage has an annoying breakdown imo, the synth chosen to play that melody rubs me the wrong way. But Rage is not about the breakdown: Rage is about that post-climax angry bass synth. It's the sort of short melody typical for the old Tech Trance of 2006-2008 that I miss SO MUCH these days... It is more evidence of the old Sander that seems ready to burst away from that cheesy-Chart-song-selling-Sander, indeed, the old Sander that was King. Ori Tali Ma seems much closer to Get Enough, it has a pretty Tribal / Techno driven vibe to it that's instantly captivating. Funny coincidence that it uses the same vocal chants that Orkidea - Nana has too, though it uses more. Great track though, and very "SvD" imo. Now, I didn't save best for last for no reason. Oh, Amazing Bass, despite its silly title, is Sander at his best using Techno piano synths, rolling, swelling basslines and building tension constantly before unleashing a phat drop (not in the bad way). If there is one artist that is "back" for me, it's Sander. And no, it's not that I like every release inbetween those listed here. He still puts out stuff I really dislike. But unlike most he has brought a consistency in regards to stuff I DO like so from now on, I will make sure to keep track of his new releases as they are worth it.
Check out them out:
Well, since I got Vadney in through two tracks I'd like to spend a few words on mr. V here too. Once a champion of an unrivalled Tech Trance sound, V too went through an Electro and later Progressive phase to ultimately end at Bigroom > a familiar development for most of that golden ID&T generation. The last track V put out that I really enjoyed were his 2009 album tracks and his 2010 singles featuring Benjamin Bates on vocals. Ever since he lost me though. Until I heard My Trip and shortly after that, Africa: the only downside about both is their length imo but other than that I have been enjoying them a lot. My Trip is that sort of raw Techno-meets-Bigroom kind of style that Sander seems to be keen on a lot too atm, and well, I've been enjoying it too so this was an instant win for mr. V in my books. Africa on the other hand reminds me of his 2009-2010 sound albeit a bit rougher. Can't go wrong with African chant/song samples imo. A bit of a straightforward tune perhaps, but it does what it should: make me bop my head and tap my foot. It's good to have you with us again, mr. V ;)
Check out those tracks:
I would like to thank all the above-mentioned producers for their contribution to a great musical 2015! I look forward to hearing more good stuff from you all in 2016! Groove on *raises glass*