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DJ Chris Cox
DJ Dave Dresden
What, precisely, is trance? Or progressive? It’s hard to keep apart the ever-mutating sub-genres of dance music. An avid clubgoer may like trance yet not even know it by name. Even a devoted connoisseur would be hard-pressed to put into words the difference between trance and electronica or house and techno — especially when DJs push boundaries and blur distinctions.
And so we find Daft Punk’s “One More Time” kicking off a compilation album said to feature the “absolute biggest trance hits.” To further confuse us, this compilation, Provocative Trance, comes from Thunderpuss’s DJ Chris Cox, known for neither trance nor electronica, the sections where Daft Punk is most commonly parked at ye olde neighborhood record shoppe. Anyway, what’s Daft Punk’s big hit from early last year doing on a brand-new compilation? It’s one thing to program “old” songs on a disc that have rarely if ever seen the commercial market before. But Daft Punk’s has, of course, as has Gigi D’Agostino’s “I’ll Fly with You” and Delerium’s “Silence,” featuring Sarah Maclachlan. Been there, heard those years ago. Next. Even this summer’s biggest Billboard-pop chart dance hit, “Heaven,” while not old, is very near overexposed.
Perhaps since he’s not clear on it himself, or he aims to be
provocative, Cox sidesteps the difficult task of trying to define trance, the smooth, pretty, emotive, loopy sound most associated with raves, teenagers and illicit drugs. Trance can be a thrilling roller-coaster ride for anyone, of any age and any condition if given a chance. And people are increasingly chancing trance: Tranceheads are worried that the music is losing its uniqueness, its reason for being, as it becomes mainstream, merging with other dance styles. In many respects, this compilation confirms their fears. Maybe trance is effectively dead, reincarnated as progressive. Ah, but what’s that?
A press release issued with both Cox’s CD and a sister compilation, Provocative Progressive, identifies trance and progressive as “European-flavored dance music.” Yeah, that clears it up. Thanks for trying. Based on the Progressive album, mixed by Dave Dresden (of Gabriel & Dresden), progressive seems to be a cutting-edge, contrarian and, yes, Euro-influenced variant of house, all done up in a trance-y, atmospheric sort of way. Got that? Where most house CDs begin and end with bombast, Provocative Progressive opens with leisurely held, heavenly organ notes accompanied by darting space sounds, and closes just as quietly. Most house CDs juggle sounds sweet and sassy in dramatic fits and starts, but this one strikes an even-keel, measured-pleasure tone throughout, not unlike “traditional” trance.
The taut, ’80s post-punk synthesized sounds of New Order are all over this CD, though only directly represented once, with last year’s hit “Someone Like You.” But the omnipresent Felix da Housecat has clearly emulated New Order in creating his, hmm, progressive style. From its marvelous remixes sprinkled throughout here, the remixing duo Gabriel & Dresden is clearly the pacesetter of progressive. The duo is worthy of far wider acclaim than it’s had thus far. If this is the sound of the future, as its spacey effects seem to suggest, we better wear shades.
Provocative Music is a new dance-record label founded by the aforementioned Cox and Jeff Johnson. Because of Cox’s track record, and because of the phenomenal Provocative Progressive album, future offerings from the label are to be eagerly anticipated. Let’s hope they signed Dresden to a multiple-release contract. And they avoid “trance” altogether; it’s just too provocative.
It takes hubris to be a DJ, obviously. The Riddler is riddled by self-serving exaggeration when he speaks of his passion for music that has taken him “far into the music industry.” Haven’t heard of him? Funny, that. New York may be the epicenter of dance music, but its leading denizens who rarely venture beyond the five boroughs don’t become household names simply by association.
The Riddler is an established New York radio disc jockey, and he’s an up and coming mix-CD DJ. His latest, Dance Mix NYC — Vol. 2, is an infectious collection of melodies and up-to-the-minute dance floor numbers, all blended into a seamless mix. Amazingly, of 15 songs there’s only one real stinker: the insipid, 11-year-old “You Gotta Believe” by Fierce Ruling Diva. Why burden us with that, when what we want is more delightful, early-house-sounding ear candy like Oris Jay’s “Trippin,” sung by Delsena? Even those not-so-new songs have not worn out their welcome (yet). And “We Get Together” certainly is welcome. This Hex Hector-Mac Quayle (HQ2) production, sung beautifully by Kim Sozzi, offers a timely, make-love-not-war sentiment. “If we get together, we can change a thing or two…I’d rather spend all of my time trying to make things right.” Like Afghanistan. Or bike rides that actually aid AIDS organizations.
The Riddler (a.k.a. Rich Pangilinan) can’t help adding his own pseudo-commentary at the start and end of the disc, as is his radio DJ wont. As if he were with you in a New York taxi, touring you around the latest sights in dance music-land, The Riddler warns, “Don’t forget to get a receipt from your driver.” It’s a strange conceit, but at least you won’t want a refund. This meter system is scrupulously fair and pleasant. And the music keeps you movin’.
ABBA has refused every offer to regroup, leaving us pining for days gone by and settling for pale imitators. The latest, Alcazar, makes you long for Ace of Base. You may care that the pretty boy in the newest Swede group is gay. But it doesn’t make you like it. Casino is to music what Vegas is to culture. Put in a quarter and you’ll get a show but no class, and no promise of riches. Alcazar is the poorest of the poor in talent. Almost two-thirds of the album centers on just three songs, presented in their original productions and then each remixed twice. And every other song is a virtual computer-generated remake, or features melodies lazily copied from other songs.
The group’s most popular song, “Crying at the Discoteque,” [sic] sounds as if it had been stuck in a time capsule, just released after twenty-some years, worse for the wear and a little unhappy about the whole situation. Could someone get Alcazar some Red Bull before they sing again? Maybe throw in some vodka, for feeling? “Paris in the Rain” features the same keyboard and bass riff as Janet Jackson’s “All For You” — it, too, derived from a previous hit — and that’s the only pleasing part of Alcazar’s tune. “Don’t You Want Me” makes you appreciate the talent — and you probably never thought that before — of the Human League, the original group behind the song.
Alcazar is all American Idol earnestness and preening; none of the fun and playfulness of ABBA, another woefully underrated talent. We’re all crying at the discotheque now.