Roots of Progressive Psytrance: Magnetrixx

With my article 20 Years of Progressive Psytrance last year I already gave an introduction into the history of Progressive Psytrance, which I will continue this year with a text about an important producer of the development phase. Wherever there is something to read about the origin of Progressive Psytrance, of course Atmos is referred to. From the German point of view Stefan Lewin or better known as Magnetrixx should not be left unmentioned. With his three albums Trittschall (2001), Phase Shift (2003) and Wired (2005) he had a significant influence on this subgenre during its genesis. I am a really lucky mushroom (as the German psyfraggle would say :), because I was able to get in touch with Stefan and he took the time to answer my questions e.g. what actually happened to this exceptional talent after leaving the Psytrance scene and many more.

„Imagination is more important than knowledge“ (Einstein). This quote applies only too well to Stefan Lewin, who didn`t need a profound musical nor an electrotechnical education to achieve a considerable success not only with the creation of his music, but also today with the production of electronic musical instruments. There was never a lack of musical inspiration, because all the other family members played classical or jazzy music on their home piano. But as a child of the eighties it was almost impossible to escape the electronic sounds of Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode or Jean Michel Jarre, which Stefan interpreted on the piano as well as his favorite classic composers Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff or Liszt.

Just as strong as his multifaceted musical interest was his passion for electronic tinkering and physical processes. Stefan was particularly fascinated by magnetism (I then found it superfluous to ask him how he later came to his stage name). The X in the name of Psytrance artists was then copied in the following years by an infinite number of people (But who am I going to tell? :) Unfortunately, his passions were held back by the lack of availability of electronic music equipment or electronic components at all, because Stefan lived in the eastern part of Berlin. If one had no relations to West Germany, with whose help here and there various goods were smuggled to East Germany, then most citizens of East Germany only had unhindered access to electronic (consumer) goods after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

A wonderful craft curiosity from Stefan Lewin: A sequencer in a paint bucket that drives his Korg MS-20

Like Ananda Shanti Das, Magnetrixx also started composing music with a nerdy tracker program and then worked with the most popular digital audio workstations like Fruity Loops, Cubase, Reason and Ableton Live. Continuous sound sources over the years have been Native Instruments Reaktor and a Korg MS-20, which sounds he recorded for further cutting and processing, underlining his passion for tinkering respectively composing sound. Stefan pointed to his deep interest in granular synthesis which can be found in many of his tracks – consecutive microscopic snippets of human origin.

The statement of Magnetrixx that Psytrance was well known to him since the end of the nineties with the labels Dragonfly, Flying Rhino or Tip Records extends my thesis that Progressive Trance was a further development of Trance in general as well of Psytrance, because this style had been established for years and escaped the „underground“ in 1995 at the latest. I’ll try to put it this way: The Psytrance listeners had experienced the psychedelic power in the already existing style extensively and recognized the potential in the new one. And many who were fascinated by Psytrance in a certain way, but for whom the sometimes quite fast and shrill music was still somewhat incomprehensible, were convinced by the slower and more minimalistic approach, whose melodic and harmonic turns were already best known. And so it is Progressive Psytrance! Meanwhile, also through the exchange with Stefan, I have come to the conclusion that the term Progressive was a bad choice, because one always tries to interpret this term musically in one way or another – and fails.

Recently I read something from the author Mason Curry, who examined the habits of great creative personalities. One of the points was: They didn’t have too many parties. And so did Stefan. He was at the parties and festivals where he was booked as Magnetrixx. He liked to be on stage as a live act, enjoyed to travel around the globe and to get to know different people, but he much preferred the time making music in the studio – to the point where everyone played the same sound. And if any sound is somewhat successful, then every organizer wants to have this sound on his party, even if it is not available in high quality in sufficient quantity. Normally this process heralds the end of a hype, but it should only really take off with Vini Vici in 2015, after Armin van Buuren played one of their tracks in his radio show.

When everyone wants one thing and screams „Here“ loudly because fame and money lure, one or the other turns away and prefers to do something else. With the return to analog sounds in electronic music, Stefan started to tinker again to realize his very own ideas, just as he had done with Reaktor in the digital realm before. Together with his business partner Martin, he founded his company Audiophile Circuits League in 2017, which manufactures its own Eurorack modules for modular systems. Their „System 1“, a lavishly equipped modular stereo synthesizer, has consistently received excellent reviews in the music press. If you don’t feel like working night shifts on weekends anymore and Russian hacker sites offer all your tracks for free download, this is certainly an excellent perspective.

Finally, I’d like to introduce you to my favourite Magnetrixx track (beware! taste is always subjective!) which combines many of the features that make it a Magnetrixx track. It has a few hooklines that simply have a high recognition value. A dense and sometimes „wobbly“ groove through many percussion instruments and – I love this crystal clear chord fanned out upwards :)

I would like to thank Stefan Lewin so much for his time and wish him only the best for his new profession. Hope me meet sometime!