The worries and needs of a Psytrance labelhead – Part I

Long are the nights of a Psytrance party weekend. The demanding sound, the persistent dancing, sleep deprivation and other temptations leave their mark, if one wants to stay in the Psytrance scene for years, which Andreas Linden has been supplying with fresh and new Psytrance producers, DJs and his own sound as Spekta for the last 5 years. Unfortunately the founder and labelhead of 3886records has to take a break for health reasons. Lucky for me, otherwise he might not have had time to pacify my curiosity about the hustle and bustle of his own Psytrance label, which he has founded in November 2012.

Shortly before, he got to know the organizer of the party series Bonn Goa Backstage, who engaged him as a Psytrance DJ on the turntables, even though he was musically still in Hip Hop at that time. When asked which label name should appear on the flyer behind his artist name, he spontaneously replied: 3886records. The good cooperation with the organizer earned him the job as resident DJ at Bonn Goa Backstage. Andreas understood this as an opportunity and instantly set up a label homepage, which was certainly easy for him as an educated programmer, and began to collect the first artists to produce electronic music for the label with still different genres. With ongoing bookings at Bonn Goa Backstage, the profile of 3886records was increasingly shaped into the direction of (Progressive) Psytrance, already knowing that on the one hand the softer „ass-shaking Proggy“ sound has commercial success in the mp3 portals, but the scene still celebrates the „night sound concept“ with harder and faster Psytrance music during the night. The harder gait is served for example by iDirty records from Cologne to which Andreas wanted to position his own as a musical counterpoint. So more than a dozen artists and more than half a dozen DJs (names) decorate the label homepage of 3886records, which predominantly represent Progressive Psytrance, but also have Psytrance in their portfolio here and there. Among others is DJ Quantec, who referrs to Stefan Lewin aka Magnetrixx in his biography, who decisively influenced und enriched the Progressive style with three brilliant albums during the first decade of the new millennium (Striking here is that artists like Magnetrixx, Quantec as well as Spekta, who had a musical education as children, rather seem to have a penchant for the more melodic Progressive Psytrance).

Due to the fact that Andreas works as a professional programmer, he has never had the pressure to make a living with the label and his music. That is a good starting point, because labels of this size do not generate much sales with mp3s. It is more about demonstrating presense in the big online portals like beatport and others showing that the music label is managed professionally. Financially a bit more interesting is a live performance with their own music (And that has always been like that – in every music genre – best as a non-GEMA member, otherwise you have to pay for own music!). But even a formerly well-known Iboga act like Antix stated: „We are not rich with money but feel very rich in our lifestyle.“ And that seems to be the biggest lure in the scene, because despite the high demanded professionalism, the chance of a fair financial reward is rather grim. Professionalism is what labelhead Andreas demands of his artists, because he believes that the time of the entry-level of 3886records is over. This includes not only quality, quantity, a musical development as an artist, but also reliability, because nothing is more embarrassing for a labelhead to have to apologize for a not appearing act, because he has missed his schedule. This high standard ensures a clear portfolio of artists. But it happens also that one or the other high flyer wants to leave the label and switch to an already more successful one. Another difficulty is to give label tasks to others, so that they are done with the same commitment and reliability, especially when no or only a small financial compensation in prospect. And if there is someone doing a good job, you do not want to scare him off with deadlines. That makes growing difficult, because there are so many time consuming activities you can`t handle on your own all the time: contacting and maintaining organizers, preparing the releases of new tracks and the online promotion for these, listening to demo tracks a.s.o.

Stay tuned for the second part about further musical aspects of Spektas work!

Kick and Bass at Liquid Souls Sweet Things Remix

Thanks to the producers for sharing the full length track ! I love this one and especially the very warm, round and tight kick and bass. First it is to say that the idea of my analysis here is based on a Youtube tutorial from Sonic Elysium. For me it shows that one of the strongest tools for the analysis is the synthesis!

At around minute two it is possible to extract the kick and the bass quite purely without any other sounds.

Picture 1

What you see here is a soundeditor view (Audacity) of one quarter of a bar or four semiquaver of it. It is easy to calculate the exact timings in milliseconds (ms), if you devide 60000 ms (one minute) by 138 bpm (speed of this track) what is 434,78 ms. Part A is the kick. B and B‘ are the two bass notes.

Two things to mention are that there is no gap between the (visual) single parts at all. The kick is a bit longer than the duration of two semiquaver (ca. 217 ms). The maximum volume of all parts is exactly the same (see the yellow line). Listing carefully just to part A, will bring you to the conclusion that there is an additional, more gentle third bass tone. The sequenzer grid notation would look like this:

Picture 2

The track is in G min. This means that the kick could be tuned to G1 or D2 (It is a common technique to tune the kick to the root tone or use the fifth) which corresponds to 49 respectively 73.42 Hz (Here you can find a chart with all tunings). Because of the gentle bass note on the second semiquaver we just can listen to the pure kick for one semiquaver (Picture 3, only Kick).  All four semiquaver look like the green wave in average mode in the Voxengo Span. There is some additional dirt in the highs of the kick sound.

Picture 3

With this information and a lately found YouTube tutorial I go into the synthese part and try to recreate the kick drum with Kick 2 from Sonic Academy. As most psytrance kicks this is also a sinewave sweep.

Picture 4

Now I try to verify with the spectrogram analyser, the wave form and my ears to hit the right kick sound. In Picture 5 you can see above the original kick sound and below the recreated one.

Picture 5

Wherever you read and hear about the psytrance bass sound it is claimed that it is always generated with a sawtooth oscillator, and if you look to an oscilloscope it would look like this (One semiquaver note played with sawtoothwave). I altered the phase of the oscillator to get a nice klicky sound (as suggested).

Picture 6

As you can see this looks very different to the bass tones in Picture 1. An understanding of the overtone structure of a sawtooth wave will help us to reconstruct what happened. Let`s have a look at the additive synthese waveform generator from Choosing „Saw tooth“ presents a waveform like this:

Picture 7

By studying this nice online generator you can learn that the sawtooth wave is a mixture from several sinewaves and its overtones. Emphasizing e.g. the second overtone will generate a waveform like this (This could be done e.g. with an equalizer, a saturator, a waveshaper etc.):

Picture 8

Now with all this theoretical knowledge you think you have a fundamental understanding how this sound is done and you can make a perfect copy? Maybe you can, but I can`t :) I sat s e v e r a l evenings trying to recreate this!  For the bass I used NI Massive, equalizer and waveshaper. I grouped this with the mentioned Kick 2 and treated with a ms equalizer, a buss compressor and a limiter.  Compare the visual result with Picture 1:

Picture 9
Here is my audio result:
Listen to the original:
There is still some „secret sauce“ left! :)

Notes on playing electronic dance music „live“

Music just from speakers sometimes might be strange or irritating, because the originator of the sounds can’t be seen like e.g. a  violin player, where every visible musical gesture creates a sound event. That could be the reason why the DJ has been pushed into the light again, although originally it was planned that the personality of him or her just should serve anonymously as a ceremony master for the dancing crowd. But a lot of dancers always dance or look into the direction of a DJ, because they expect or need some additional entertainment respectivley they search for the sound originator. Just following the craft of DJing is not very exciting, what leads to the fact, that DJs with additional entertainment qualities got more popular than others.

For a while more and more electronic „live“ acts enter the stage to give the impression that the music is created in front of the audience. But one wonders how tons of hardware are being operated from two producers, who wave their arms in the air to animate the crowd. A closer look reveals that playing live often is reduced to a live arrangement by activating and deactivating preproduced tracks in a digital audio workstation or just editing some effect settings with an external controller.

A more valid live act for me was Element (Dieter Gerbe, Marc Engemann). They had really live elements like a drummer and a guitar player next to additional eletronic sequences.

A couple of days before I found this guy, which really impressed me, because it seems that he really is able to play his setup live and the music is being created during his session.


Elements of Progressive Psytrance

In this article I will follow another approach by looking at the base elements of Progressive Psytrance. I will explain this using different tracks to show their variations.


If you have a look at the Beatport Psy-Trance Top 100 page these days one can find a dominating tempo  for the progressive tracks – 138bpm. From a commercial point of view it seems at least that the progressive sound has gained the upper hand at the moment, because faster „classic“ psytrance pieces > 140 bpm (e.g. Planet Goa – Tristan, Trippy Trail) are heavily outnumbered.


I guess the most famous bass phrasing is the „offbeat“ bass. You can hear this here:

At the piano roll this would look like this:

offbeat base2

While the bass drum hits are on one, two, three and four (four-to-the-floor) you can find the the bass tones beetween the gaps by counting: one AND two AND three AND four AND. This element already could be found e.g. in the track La Musica Tremenda from Ramirez (1991).

The next bass phrasing is used in more uplifting tracks like this:

A rhythm sometimes called as „horses gallop“. The basedrum and the bass tones build triplet figures which reminiscent of horses gallop.


The next one creates a nice layed back feeling:


And the faster pieces use a bass phrasing like this.

Together with the bassdrum one can here constant semiquaver notes.


Of course there are a couple of slight variations of the above mentioned phrasings and additionaly enriched with shuffle/swing,  but I would say that these are the most widely used ones.

Yahel – Atmosphere (2003)

Thanks to Yahel Sherman for sharing this mix on soundcloud. The first track „Atmosphere“ (starting 23:30) from his Album „Hallucinate – Journey Into The Unknown“ (2003/Phonokol) will be analysed here soon.

Atmos – Fill the head (2000)

Thanks to Tomasz Balicki (Atmos) for sharing this mix on soundcloud. The first track „Fill the head“ (starting 20:47) from his Album „Headcleaner“ (2000/Spiral Trax) will be analysed here soon.

Even if there are earlier celebrated tracks like „Klein aber Doctor“ or „The only process“ (both 1999) from Atmos, for me „Fill the head“ as well as „Avarage Beverage“ were the booster detonation regarding Progressive Psytrance, because the sound of this pieces seem to have a certain elaboration already. They had left the experimental state and are „full and round“.

Why psytrance is (not) shit

This video from the guys is just great, because it has an enormous portion of humor as well as true facts as well as an appeal to bring something new into this music genre.

20 years of producing has led to a write out of the musical „language“ of Psytrance so that most of psyacts sounds the same („Everybody uses the same vengeance sounds“ – Yes, I agree with this). But of course there is also an expectation of hearing amoung the listeners and dancers, who exactly wants this sound or this element, because they know it „works“ for them. For me the „Offbeat“ base is a mercy, because it gives drive to every piece using it. Yes – it starts to get on my nerves also, if it is doupled with a loud open high hat and an additional short synth „pleep“ (last hipe) all the time.

A short break which leads to the same loop in the context of Psychadelic Trance means to me that the producer wants to bring back again the focus of attention to this (unaltered) element – absolutely allowed. One of the strongest methods to get someones attention is to use human voices in a piece of music, because human nature is focused on it. But it is a necessity to process the words with effects, that they could not be understood anymore. Otherwise you would/could start to think about the statement and loose the concentration towards the music (have a look for „Scat-Singing“ in Jazz music as an equivalent).

In 1970 every small boy wanted to become an astronout. Today they want to become a DJ, but the DJs are fading away from the line-ups and „liveacts“ could be found instead. But how to become a lifeact? Buy the software Life from Ableton and tons of preproduced sounds and loops. Put together everything in no time, be a „liveact“ and sound like everybody else :-(. If you want to be this kind of producer – have a look here:

So, in my opinion everyone (concert organizer, label, musician and audience) should ask oneselve: Do we need ten acts sounding the same? Should my new album sound exactly the same as the last one? Do I want to listen to ten tracks sounding the same? If everybody is answering with „yes“, everything is fine. If not – change something!

New developments and conditions are going to lead to new sounds. But – be patient! It took 10 years to reinvent the Psytrance sound (with Progressive Psytrance) .

DNA – Think Different (Audiomatic Remix 2012)

Thanks to Benjamin Halfmann (Audiomatic) for uploading this full lenght track to soundcloud.

Now I want to analyse this track from 2013 to show a real contrast to the last one from Hallucinogen – LSD, which has been produced nearly 20 years ago.



Even if the Hallucinogen track on soundcloud is mastered for new (what I guess), you can see at the soundwaves, what happened to actual productions – they are pumped up to its limit. Compression, limiting, loadness maximizing a.s.o. The internet forums are full of tips and tools how to pimp your loadness. By the way – I really love it, if it is done very well and every drum sound hits you like a slap in the face :) So, from my point of view Audiomatic refined this piece from DNA and have made the best of it.

Before I start to analyse the track in detail, I want to point on the (for me) outstanding and obvious element – the very artifcially designed tone colour melody (Klangfarbenmelodie). It is more a motif, because it is very short; first presented at 01:37 – 01:41. That is the clue of the whole piece for me and what makes the piece a modern one – disregarding from the digital electronic sound production!

Beats per minute and key of a track could be optained from a mp3 store in the meantime, which is 138 and Gmin. The introduction lasts until 01:10 (Falsification of thesis no. 10 „Why psytrance has become shit“ :)). During this first scene one can hear three so called „uplifters“ 00:00 – 00:07, 00:29 – 00:35 and 00:48 – 01:10 (without hall flag). After the first one (airy synthsound with a long hall flag) a deep and constant synthbass can be heard as well as the quite pulsation of the high-pass filtered bass drum. From 00:17 an arpeggio is fading in (we will take a closer look to it later) – also high-pass filtered, which is pitched upwards together with the uplifter. Not to forget to mention the downwards chord set ala Jean-Michel Jarre from bar 21 (gmin 2nd inversion, F 1st, gmin 1st; gmin 2nd, F 1st, Eb 2nd).

Bar 41 is the beginning of scene B. Very pure and powerful base drum and offbeat bass only for eight bars are following. An vocal sound uplifter and a short drum fill leading into the next eight bars, where the main Klangfarbenmelodie is prepared and foreshadowed.

offbeat baseVery common in Progressive Psytrance – offbeat bass

Another uplifter (this time as a chord and a one bar break) lead into the next 16 bar part, where one can hear the central phrase of the whole tune.

DNA_mainthemaFirst two bars of the main phrase

Ok, it is not only a tone colour melody. It is also a melody based on g min chord (g – b – d) and the phrasing of the first five notes correspond to the off beat base. The repetion of the motiv above just contains the first three notes. After this the whole 4 bar phrase will be repeated tree times. Just to make it very clear I roughly rebuild this short melody for you:


Bar 72 serves as a pickup for the following 4 bar break. The next 32 bars divided into 2 pieces by a short break are for the dancers. There is not much happening here except the representation of variations of the main phrase and the adding of additional rhythmic elements. The end of scene B leads into scene C at 03:07 which is a 32 bars large break. Also here no new musical elements are introduced, but the transition from the four-to-the-floor beat to this one (picture here) takes the energy out to relax for a moment.


Hallucinogen – LSD (1994)

Thanks to Twisted Music London (Simon Holtom and Simon Posford) for uploading this full lenght track to soundcloud.

The track LSD from Hallucinogen (Simon Posford) has been first released 1994 and shortly after this on his debut album Twisted on Dragonfly (1995). „[…]  it is one of the most successful albums releases in the genre, with a total sales over 85,000 copies worldwide […] The first track on the album, ‚LSD‘, found the most popularity and remains the defining sound of goa trance.“ (Twisted/Wikipedia) More than enough reason to lay our ear on this piece of music!

While the Beatles obnulibated their LSD experience and their expression in the music with a title like „Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds“ the title „LSD“ as well as the artistname „Hallucinogen“ does not leave any question about this. Further more one can hear a vocal sample from 00:07 by Ken Kesey from the BBC documentary „The Beyond Within: The Rise and Fall of LSD“ (1987) until 00:53 accompanied with some tones (motif: e – c- a)  played with a glittering detuned synthi sound and a string-bass sound (motif: c – d), which is the end of the intro at the same time. –> Introduction (scene A, 28 bars).

Introduced with a small crash cymbal the piece accelates with the bass line and an additional chirping modulated noise sound in the backround. Tapping the quarter beats from here leads to 137 bpm. An incredible influence on the mood of the piece exert the alteration of the fundamental tone a semitone up- and downward. At 01:06 a hi-hat pattern comes up. The bass sounds cut off frequency is the parameter of continuing modulation –> Introduction of the bass line from bar 29 – 45 (scene B, 16 bars).


A bass drum and low conga pattern (sounds like TR-808 ) starts at 01:18. The gated synth melody (sidechain source: bass) played from 01:31 with a tonestock from d, es, f, a. Special is the swirling, spacy Snaredrumsound. The tonestock given before will be expanded by the following arpeggio at 01:45, which makes clear, that Simon Posford accesses an arabic scale here (and for the base line), before he turns to an arpeggio on a D min chord at 01:59 for 4 bars. After that he comes back to the arabian scale arpeggio at 02:06 for another 4 bars without bass drum and another short speach sample (scene C, 32 bars). One could indicate scene C also as scene B‘, because the bass stays the same, but scene B appears to me as a second introduction for the bass line and the piece really starts after this.

arabic_arpeggioArpeggio based on arabic scale

The following 36 bars from 2:13 are a kind of altered repetion of the foregoing scene C – so C‘, because the first eight bars contain the streched gated synth melody from 53 – 61. This is doupled by a synthetic vocal sound (also gated) from bar 85 -101. From bar 101 –  113 one can hear just the base, the synthetic vocal sound melody, the chirping modulated noise sound from scene B and another vocal femal speach sample. From bar 109 some synth tones from the introduction can be noticed. The next bars from 113 – 119 starting at 03:17 I would call scene D, because it has a character of a bridge to a different part E from 03:43. It also contains a new melody motif (tonestock d – a – b). Also here quite synth tones from the introduction can be perceived in the second half of this bridge.

part_e_sequenceArpeggio scene E

Scene E brings a new synth arpeggio, which is played for 80 bars until the end of this part at 06:04 with almost known accompaniment. It consists from mainly a D min7 and B7 chord material, which expands the atmosphere. But then at bar 165 at 04:47 one of the strongest harmonic turns (for me, because it always hits my heartstrings) he changes the base from d to b (VI degree of dmin scale) without transposing the accompaniment. The base on d and b are changing every 4 bars from now on. Several new backround elements and soundalterations keep this part diversified. The track ends as it starts from 06:18 until the end at 06:43 (see introduction) just without speachsample and with the chirping modulated noise sound from scene B.

The structure of the piece is not determined by the multiple of a unit (8, 16 or 32 bars), but rather the intuition of the composer and the lenghts of the speech samples.

Roots of Psychadelic Trance

One could start with the development of analog synthesizers and the music from Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Jean Michel Jarre,  to which many producers of electronic dance music refer over and over, because these musicians already turned to popular electronic instrumental music and were aware of the trance effect of repetative melodic machine phrases. But that would lead too far at this point because I want to give just a brief introduction :)

The first DJ who mixed two vinyls together to produce a sound continuum for the dancers was Francis Crosso from New York in the the mid of the senventies. After house and techno music has been implemented a guy named DJ Pierre from Chicago experimented 1987 with a Roland TB 303 bass phrase synthesizer and steadily turned the frequenzy and resonance knob while playing to a drum track – acid house was borne.

This sound went from Chicago via Ibiza to Britain to usher the second summer of love and the raves on tons of exctasy pills. 1988 the KLF released „What time is love?“ and labeled this as „Pure Trance“ by themself, which could be seen as one of the first trance tracks at all. It is obvios to mention, that acid house and trance has been played in Goa, too, as well as EBM and Industrial, where DJs like this mystical Laurent, supplied the dancing crowd with this latest hype, which inspired producers to further developments and led to vinyl releases in 1991 wich already strongly reflects the Goa Trance sound of the upcoming years:

Megabeat – Twin beats,  The Infinity Project – Hyperactive, Ramirez – La Musica Tremenda (already Off-Beat bass :)), Stardiver – Lifetime Mission, Komakino – Frogs In Space, Scene – The Future Of Music, The Overlords  – Sundown (listen to these tracks on youtube!)

Kai Mathesdorf (mushroom magazine) proclaims „Jungle High“ (1992 Logic Records/1997 Perfecto) from Johann Bley and Ben Watkins (Juno Reactor) as the first „official“ Goa Trance track (A comprehensive History of Psytrance can be found in the online ressources of the mushroom magazine). Musicians like Bley as well as Raja Ram (The Infinity Project), who came to Goa in 1989 inhaled the spirit and went back to Britain, where they released their tracks on the specially created label from Martin „Youth“ Glover – Dragonfly. There they infected others like Simon Posford, who became a leading protagonist as Hallucinogen in the Goa music scene with tracks like „Hallucinogen – LSD„.