Do you want to know what Trance is? – Element is back!

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not usually the type to run around the yard like a clucking chicken, but today I have a really exciting announcement to make, because two legends of Progressive Psytrance (In retrospect, I allow myself to call it that now, even though it was „only“ declared as Trance at psyshop.com at that time), has returned – Dieter Gerbe and Marc Engemann aka Element. And who does not remember this classic track?

And so I may already at this point reveal the answer to the question of what becomes of something good when it has time to mature for many years: Something really manifold extraordinary! Having gained so much experience over the years and equipped with new tracks that could fill three albums, they present their new project Transform and get active support with Stefan Hendrichs. Full of self-confidence, they don’t just want to pour their music into the large pool of streaming platforms, but invite their listeners to their own one. For free or for a fee – that’s entirely up to the listener. To give you a little taste of what’s in store, Transform even had their own video produced for one of their tracks.

Transform – End of Lockdown

What finally convinced me, however, is the fact that they have kept their trance and spirit inside. And you know what I mean, when you listen to this:

Transform – Wieder nicht nach innen geschaut

You can experience this and much more on Transform’s new portal. Even downloading the tracks for remixing is possible. A visit there will be more than worth it. I can promise that.

https://transform-music.com/

But now the whole story again from the beginning for the old hands and the latecomers, who are interested more deeply in the things around Psytrance. Because I met up with the guys from Transform for an exceptionally nice and cozy chat on a Sunday evening during a video call to find out who and what exactly Element was, why they suddenly disappeared from the scene, what they’ve been up to all these years and what’s luring them back on the dance stage now.

top left: Marc Engemann, top right: Dieter Gerbe, bottom left: Stefan Hendrichs and bottom right: yours truly.

As almost suspected on my part, for the immersion and production of this kind of music belongs a certain intial experience. And so I was hardly surprised when Marc Engemann told me that he was incredible electrified by the sound of Roland TB-303 basslines (like the Chicago crowd in the Warehouse from DJ Pierres Acid Tracks) when he went to his first Lunatic Sky Dance Party at the legendary club Grube near Winterberg / Sauerland in Germany the early 90s. Since that moment it was clear for him where the musical journey should go, after he had taken his first steps with Amiga computer, tracker and EBM music as an adolescent. Together with his then-companion Linus Wessel (aka Tarsis with Sebastian Krüger) they released their first EP as Acid Ocean in 1995. In 1998 he released a single together with Martin Schoenauer as Human. Their track PSI could be found on the sampler The Psychedelic Experience by the label Chakra with other artists like X-Dream, Electric Universe, Sun Project and others.

It was DJ Juan Casa (Hansi) who introduced Dieter Gerbe and Marc Engemann to each other and was largely responsible for the formation of Element and their first release Cold Cut on the Goa-Head Volume 9 sampler in 1999 followed by the single Akasha, on which Dieter already showed the versatility of a real drummer with the use of abundant percussion grooves. He enriched the project not only with his organic drumming, but also with his many years of experience as a professional musician, working in the studio as well as on stage, not only for country greats like Tom Astor.

With the first album, produced one year later and released from Global Trance Network (motherlabel: Nova Tekk), Element hit the jackpot with tracks like Willkomen, The Crow and Feel, which were not only played up and down at the parties I attended at the time, but Element could now be heard at numerous festivals worldwide. Tobias and Daniel Sun were involved as co-producers, Sebastian Krüger (aka SBK), who designed the cover and contributed to the arrangement of Willkommen and Dirk Draeger, who sang the vocals and played the guitar also on stage. So one was in the best of company. These days the Element studio in Medebach / Sauerland was one of the hubs of the central German psytrance music scene with many international guests. Certainly another plus point that helped to gain success was the aspect that Element came as a real band and performed live.

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The almost same team produced the follow-up album Full Moon (2002) only two years later released by Sprit Zone Recording and another two years later the album Alteration (2004) on Sebastian Krügers label Avalanche. So it’s all the more surprising that the combo disappeared from the scene a short time later. As life sometimes goes, Marc Engemann had to take care of important family matters that no longer allowed him to continue touring and living the lottery musician life ;). But just because of that, you don’t have to become a complete bourgeois! You can go about your duties and calmly develop your new musical ideas, let them mature and bring them to perfection.

As a former resident DJ of the club Grube and local music creator, Stefan Hendrichs (Nine) was already well known in the Sauerland Goa scene, which then led to the first live projects with Dieter Gerbe in 2012 (You can also find many more details about the band on their website) . After another eight years of maturation the reunion with Marc Engemann and their new project Transform can finally be presented to the world. Without big frills, but with a natural and authentic emotionality and spirit, carried by analog sounds and organic rhythms while reflecting contemporary events, Element returns as Transform with a wide spectrum of hypnotic electronic dance music for ears, mind, hearts, hips and feet. :)

Many greetings and best wishes for your new project from my side to Transform. Thank you so much for your time and the insights. Please subscribe to my newsletter for further articles, essays and musical analyses regarding Psytrance.

A musical obituary (in memoriam Joakim Hjørne aka Flowjob) – Part I

A while ago I proclaimed 1998 as the birth year of Progressive Trance and called for celebrating the twentieth anniversary in 2018. I hope that you have done this for me a lot during this time! At the moment of the Corona lockdowns I regret a little not to have been outside more for dancing during the last years because such a crisis makes us aware in particular of human vulnerability and finitude.

And as if it couldn’t have come worse at the end of the year 2020, Joakim Hjørne aka Flowjob, a great musician who could make the sun rise with his tracks died – much to early. I was incredibly saddened by this, because on the first of January I was listening to his music and was about to choose one of his tracks for a new musical analysis, when I went to his Facebook page to find out about his sudden death a day before. Unfortunately, I did not know him personally but only through his music, which has accompanied me since 2003 (Fluff me tender, Various – FX on iboga records). I’ve never really been a fan of a person who is in the public eye, but when a musician’s work moves and touches me in such a way, it just brings me closer to this person. Thus, 2020 marks an incredible low point for me.

This I would like to take as an opportunity to look back on Flowjob’s twenty years of extensive musical work in the field of Progressive Psytrance. He himself describes his music in an interview with beat.com.au: „I always try to bring warmth and motion in my tracks that I often feel is missing in trance or techno music. Even though its trance and party music, I think there is room for melancholic feeling. But I do like pure fresh party tunes too. […] I like warm and huge trance vibes and also fresh and funky house and techno – I guess you can hear that on the tunes I make. For those who listened to early trance you can hear that I love the planetary vibe and pureness of early Eat Static music. I don’t think that I will change that in the near future.“ And he didn’t. Until his last album Beatpolar of 2020, he has remained true to his style. He has produced eight albums since 2006 (the first two with his then partner Mads Tinggaard, who left the duo in 2009 for health reasons). In addition, there are several singles and EPs, so you can say that his musical output was enormous. In a PM sent to his friend Yannis Jaia and then posted on his Facebook, he makes a flaming plea for the perpetual raison d’être of the music album, condemning the sole and constant releaseing of singles as „true comercialism in its truest form.“

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But what made his music so warm, emotional (It is to say that emotional responses to music can never be explained by the music alone) and groovy in musical terms? What makes a typical Flowjob track? I will now try to work this out on the basis of musical examples from for me outstanding pieces, which were created in the course of his musical work. And I would like to ask you to listen fully to the tracks and pay your last respect to a great musician, because he really produced a lot of finest music to delight his audience. This is part I of my analytical reflections on his music.

In addition to the analysis of compositional form, the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic analysis of the individual musical building blocks as well as synthesis can be a valuable part of the analysis, contributing to the understanding of the piece. That is, if I can recreate a piece musically and sonically exactly like the original, then I have pretty much understood what the artist was doing. I can send one thing in advance – I can’t do it fully here. As soon as several sounds, their reverbs and delays come together, which you have not heard sounding alone before in detail in an intro or in a break, it becomes very difficult to reproduce them or to recreate the resulting groove (for me so far). But therein perhaps lies the special charm in a track (for another producer :)), when you can listen to it over and over again, because it never gets boring and you keep asking yourself, „I wonder how he did that at this or that point?“ However, an exact replica is perhaps not even necessary, because we only want to get to know and appreciate the compositional principles. Back to the the music.

Already in the first track I know – Fluff me tender – the preference for puns is noticeable in the title (not to mention the artist name itself :)). Certainly it is a composition of Flowjob and Elvis Presleys Love me tender. Also something that can be followed like a red thread until the last album (e.g. the title Soularsystem). In one of the few interviews available online Joackim revealed that he shared this passion with his wife.

On the album Support Normality, released in 2006 on Iboga Records, Run Baby Run is the first style-defining hit, which already bears many typical Flowjob characteristics: arpeggio festoons and riffs with chanching bass notes, billowing jazzy house chords, swinging grooves, athmospheric voices and of course melodies. In short: finest morning psygressive stuff. (B.t.w. 2006 was a really incredible year regarding music releases: Vibrasphere – Archipelago, FREq – Gosub 20). Lets have a closer look!

The piece is written in B minor, has 132 bpm and a total length of 337 bars or 10:11 minutes. The whole structure is quite straightforward. The intro is veeeeery long (123 bars / around 03:24 min), followed by part A, a break, part A‘ and the outro. Basically, at that time the pieces were not yet so interspersed with breaks and drops like modern Psytrance today. It follows more of a constant flow ;).

From the beginning to bar 85, we hear a B minor7 chord that gets its motion from a modulated band filter. This is immediately accompanied by a two-tone and a three-tone repetetive melodic motiv, which can always be heard alternately through volume changes.

Two-tone sequence
Three-tone sequence

A galloping percussive sound, very much enriched with a flanger effect, comes to the fore from bar 17 and slowly fades out until bar 25. A heavily echoed female voice is heard from bar 25 and a defining arpeggio-„festoon“ for this piece is heard from bar 30 [00:50] and then fades in further.

Arpeggio-„festoon“ (approimation)

I make a jump to bar 73 (02:14), where a little nice melody could be heard. Before that some speech samples and other effect samples are interspersed. These presented elements will recur throughout the piece and hold it together.

Little melody

This is what my approximation sounds like in the intro including the little melody from 02:14. Well, a little special sauce recarding the sounds is still missing, but it gives us a good understanding of the harmonic and melodic action in the piece.

If you add all used tones in these melodic pattern together you get a harmonic B minor scale (H, Cis, D, E, Fis, A [G is missing]). And this is the reason why we perceive pieces as warm and emotional. Because they move in a tone scale that is familiar to us (harmonic minor) and thus pilot us back into a safe harbor after an intense night. Quite the opposite of an Arabic scale like Halluconigen used in LSD.

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From bar 79 on, the intro is rhythmically condensed and increased by further riffs and patterns, so that the track finally picks up intensity at bar 113 (03:24) with the use of kick and bass. Then, while roasting out and creating these additional patterns, I kept getting lost and just couldn’t get that unique groove in Part A due to the layered patterns. I will look into this again at a later date. Any help on this is appreciated!

What can be heard very clearly, however, is that from part A‘ onwards, different 16th bass notes are played (B, E, D).

Bass-notes in Part A and A‘

The „effect“ of the different bass tones with constant riffs above them is surely very familiar to most of us from pop and rock and gives me a very homey and comfortable feeling (You can listen e.g. to Don Henley – Boys of Summer or U2 – With or without you).

From bar 159 [04:52] in Part A, we move back into familiar territory. It becomes easier to reproduce again with the introduction of a new melodic riff in the break, which was continued in the following part A‘. Listen again to my approximation here with the mentioned melodic phrase during part A‘.

From this melodic phrase you can see very well what can make a piece real groovy respectively gives the piece its special groove.

Groovy melodic riff from Part A‘

Of course, it is possible to quantize all notes, by which is meant to place all notes exactly on the grid, which usually gives a track a driving, rigid character (which is often desired). However, if you want to give the track a special swinging rhythm – as was done here – you can create a very unique groove by moving the notes. The notes circled in blue are on the grid and the notes circled in green are slightly behind it.

So much for a first insight into Flowjob’s compositional work. Run Baby Run is a wonderfully created work with a variety of its own rhythmic and melodic riffs that steadily rise and fall again and pull the listener and dancer into its flow. The whole thing was enriched with a colorful bouquet of various spherical voice and guitar samples and effect sounds.

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Thank you very much for your interest. If you liked the analysis and want to read further musical essays and more about psytrance from me, please subscribe to my newsletter. Stay tuned if you don’t want to miss my part II about Flowjob’s musical work.

Silence is golden – Stelios Karniotakis a.k.a. Golden Drop

Why stray into the distance when the good is so close. May I proudly introduce my label colleague at Infinity-Tunes Records Stelios Karniotakis a.k.a. Golden Drop, who only recently stood out with his latest track Synergetic, which were up to rank 62 of the best psytrance tracks on Beatport in May.

What really made me curious is the fact that Stelios released his first track in 2017, but his sound and compositions are already so sophisticated and mature. I’d like to add that his very first released track Man must explore was directly chosen as on of the best Psytrance releases of the month on Beatport. What a start! So it was probably time to get to know my colleague a little better.

After he wrote me that he works as an air traffic controller, I think I have already found the answer to my question above. Perfection rules his life. Because with the same necessary precision with which he has to direct airplanes in the sky so that they can take off and land safely, he also arranges the musical events in his tracks. But that this perfection has nothing to do with compulsion but rather with a love for detail, you will experience at the latest when listening to his wonderful melodic and harmonic pieces. So people trust this man and his music. He will let you take off and also help you to land safely again. :)

Even though his musical roots lie in heavy metal and psychedelic rock, he has also been convinced by the progressive side of Psytrance that emerged at the beginning of the new millennium. And after five years as a DJ, he was driven in 2011 to go even further and produce this music himself. The advantage he had at that time over previous generations of electronic music producers was that the production equipment was already fully democratized and digitized and you could start with a powerful computer, a digital audio workstation like Steinberg Cubase, Ableton Live or Fruity Loops a.o., a few plug-ins and and monitor boxes. In 2017 Stelios met Nick Karamalakis a.k.a. Infinity or HpsyV, who had founded his label Infinity-Tunes in 2014, while searching for a mastering service. Nick immediately recognized the potential of this newcomer and asked Stelios to release his first track with him, while Stelios was still of the opinion that his production level might not be sufficient for a release. True greatness is characterized by modesty!

Stelios is also very focused in terms of his choice of production tools (such as Fabfilter or Xfer) and tutorials (such as Sonic Academy or FuturePhonic). Here his device is „less is more“ or quality over quantity and he advises this to all newcomers who are enthusiastic about producing Psytrance. In contrast, his utterances on musical matters are almost poetic. For example, I asked him about his stage name Golden Drop and what he means by a drop. To which he replied: „A drop is like the final discussion between the elements that „speak“ to each other during the track […] and if I had to choose a colour that represents a melody, that would be the golden one.“ :)

What interests everyone, of course, in composers is his answer to the question of where he gets his inspiration from. And if you hear the light pearling of his arpeggios and the organic interaction of the many well-arranged elements in his tracks, his statement is not surprising at all that he gets his inspiration from „silence, connection with mother earth, beautifull landscapes and positive vibes“ which he will certainly find in his beautiful home on the island of Crete.

A great, creative and focused mind paired with sun, beach and good mood compressed into a handful of fantastic progressive Psytrance tracks. Ladies and Gentelman, please listen to Golden Drop. This is Psytrance of heart and soul.

Dear Stelios thank you so much for your time to help to create this article. We are curious about your new tracks.

Analysing composition in time: Astrix – Sahara (2018)

Most of the Youtube howto videos related to Psytrance deal with the making of genre specific sounds like kick and bass, lead or arpeggio and a lot of diverse fx sounds. After a while you have acquired one of the basic building blocks for the composition of such sounds, but the question of the distribution of these sounds on the timeline follows – the composition in time. If in a song in Pop and Rock the compositional building blocks are almost always the same through lyrics oriented parts like verse, bridge and chorus, we meet since House and Techno a free form – so also in Psytrance. And here lies the true art of composing: to captivate the listener and the dancers over a period of a few minutes before a DJ spans a wide arc by mixing all these tracks together to take them on a longer journey. Of course, these tracks can also stand for themselves, but they are usually part of a „sound continuum“ mixed together by a DJ and tied to one purpose – dance music for a club or an open-air festival.

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So, how does composing exactly works in Psytrance? I would say that there is no universal recipe. It’s a game with the attention of the listener by skilfully stringing together flow and break, continuity and surprise, rise and fall. But to learn from the best artists on the scene, I chose the title Sahara from Astrix to take a closer look. For Astrix no further introduction is required here, because with his album Eye to Eye (2002) he catapulted himself to the foremost front of the Psytrance top acts and has not relinquished this position since. And so, of course, due to the countless live performances and the experienced response to his tracks, he was able to adapt and optimize the form of his pieces again and again. So, first things first. Let’s listen to the track.

Due to the fact that nowadays Psytrance is usually composed in pattern and loops with a digital audio workstation like Steinberg Cubase, Logic Pro or Ableton Live (and others) it helps to reimport the audio file back into such a program to have a better overview of the piece.

Stereo wave in a DAW with form parts

If you zoom to the end of the track, you can see that at a speed of 145 bpm, the track has 320 bars at a total length of 8:48 min whereby the intro already has an epic length of 1:46 min. – respectively 64 bars. This one inevitably reminds with its chord progression of Pink Floyds Shine on you crazy little Diamonds, with which already a nice recourse to one of the roots of Psytrance – Psychedelic Rock – has succeeded. Some genre typical fx sounds are heard before a nice sampled violin melody gives the intro a world music character. A synth arpeggio line fades in before we get down to business on bar 65.

Now 16 bars of scene A (bar 65 – 81) follows (Why I call individual structural elements a scene can be found in the glossary). The foundation of kick and bass play driving 16th notes and the arpeggio from the intro is accompanied by a second one. On every third count of every second bar you can hear a finger cymbal. After the first eight bars downlifter fx sounds already prepare for the first break.

During break 1 (bar 81 – 89), kick and bass are continued with increasing high-pass filter for six bars accompanied by scream samples and uplifting sound fx, before two bars of a vocal passage sample and a drum flam transferrs to the next scene B. The continuation of one or more elements (here: kick and bass) of the previous part into the next, serves to connect both.

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Like scene A scene B (bar 89 -105) has a lenght of 16 bars. Kick and bass stays the same, but additional offbeat hihats and snare drive the track forward. While the main character – the arpeggio – in scene A rather generates a flow of sound, the staccato chords played in scene B create a nice contrast to the first scene, bringing variety. After four bars some long synth sounds appear before a downlifter prepares the next break 2 (bar 105 – 109) of four bars. The staccato chords continue.

The next twentyfour bars could be seen as scene B‘ (109 – 133), because the formative figure of chords played staccato is continued. The offbeat hihat is more open and louder and another arpeggio slowly fades in accompanied by some fx sounds. The last four bars are trimmed by a highpass filter. If we had a vertical contrast with scene A and B, the layering of staccato sounds and arpeggios leads to a horizontal contrast.

A previously unheard rhythmic acid-synth pattern leads through the twelve-bar break 3 (bar 133 – 145) and gets an additional layer by a traditional Bulgarian women’s choir. With the cut-off filter opening wider and wider, the acid-synth pattern is repeated for another twelve bars within scene C (bar 145 – 157). Additional spoken vocals can be heard. The last four bars of the part are high-pass filtered again.

In designing the next two scenes, Astrix again uses the technique of contrasting. While in scene D (bar 157 – 172) a flow is created by means of a continuous arpeggio figure. This flow is again broken with individually distributed sounds in scene E (bar 174 – 190). And again a contrast takes place through a fade in of another arpeggio. Both parts are almost equally long. Scene D has 15 bars and Scene E has 16, separated by the two-bar vocal sample (break 4, bar 172 – 174) we already know from break 1.

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The following break 5 (bar 190 – 240) spans 50 bars and can be divided into three subparts. After the abrupt reduction of kick and bass, it seems as if the track simply fades out, but this leads to a complete dissolution of the rhthm due to the overlay of the metre-less midle east string instrument sample playing (bar 190 – 210). Then a long riser builds up (bar 210 – 233) consisting of a new arpeggio, low-pass filtered kick, snare drum and some fx sound to end in the legendary quote by Timothy Leary. A delay effect provides the transition by steadily repeating the last two words „drop out“ and inserting them in as an element in the next part.

In a larger context, the following two scenes could be seen as a compromised reduced repetition of the first three scenes (scene A, B and B‘). However, because no other elements are repeated except the kick and bass, scene F (bar 240 – 260) can be declared as independent. The next scene (bar 260 – 284) is a repetition of scene B‘, because not only the striking staccato string chords, but also the contrasting arpeggio comes into play here again and also the lenght of 24 bars stays the same.

I regard the remaining bars as Outro (bar 284 – 219), which was divided into three subparts. The spoken columns of numbers 540540616109014 comes from a transmission of a number station, but from my point of view this seems to have nothing to do with the track (This information was sent to me by a friendly reader of this article. Thanks Warren!).

All in all a wonderful composition that simply has everything. The length of the scenes and breaks are very different and variable and follow a musical flow. Before completely new figures are introduced, existing ones are viewed in a different light by contrasting them. This allows the producer to be economical with the material. The transition from one part to the next takes place with convincing continuity. By setting reference points (vocal sample during two breaks, repetition of a beginning part at the end), the piece is tied together very well. Last but not least, Astrix can be credited with a successful selection of samples that give the piece a nice touch of world music. With a reference to Pink Floyd and Timothy Leary, he clearly positions his music within the psychedelic culture.

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!

Psytrance and Spirituality: From the life and music of Ananda Shanti Das

To describe the phenomenon of psytrance, one would be too short-sighted to look only at the music. After all, it is composed, mixed, mastered and played live or on CD (or sometimes even on vinyl) by humans. Not to forget the decorative artists, the dancers and the other lovely people who turn such a party into a psychedelic and extraordinary music event.

Even a scene as colorful as the psytrance scene brings out its stereotypes. For example, is there any sampled text passage that could add anything new to the topic of drug use? So the message of Ananda Shanti Das as a Psytrance producer stands out, because he promotes to practice Bhakti Yoga and Mantra meditation instead of taking drugs to achieve a higher level of consciousness. I welcome this attitude deeply, because in my eyes the use of LSD, MDMA, Ketamin, Psylocybin, Meskalin, Ayahuasca a.o. is too much hyped just by the use of always new sampled text passages in the tracks (Have a look at https://www.psydb.net).

Ananda is a middle-aged guy from Berlin, Germany and belongs to the first generation that grew up with computers und whose sturm-und-drang-time took place at the same period as the development of house and techno music. Instead of spending the entire time playing computer games, the creative mind uses such a device as a musical instrument. This was also the case with fourteen-year-old Ananda, who began to produce his first pieces of music with the tracker programs available at that time. While many musicians have developed a real addiction for hardware equipment (at the moment analog, vintage and modular gear is incredibly popular again), Ananda still limits himself only to his computer/laptop, corresponding software and a few monitor boxes in order to be able to travel between the Canary Islands and Germany with as little luggage as possible.

Funnily enough, Ananda and I were infected with the psychedelic virus at about the same time, around 1995 (One track from that time I remember really well is Sugar Rush from Man With No Name). Shortly afterwards Ananda, who had already been spiritually influenced by his aunt, who was herself president of a Buddhist temple, met his spiritual teacher, with whom he went into teaching. Thus Ananda became a devotee of Krishna in search of attaining a higher consciousness and lived five years in Vaishnava hindu-temples around the world. After this experience he became again a worldly to produce Psytrance, make his living as an independent software developer and help with the construction a temple in Gran Canaria.

Ananda is a constant creator. There are four official EP releases with 3 or 4 tracks each from 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 on GOA respectively Ovnimoon Records. What has remained from the previos years is the deep connection with Krishna, which is already evident in a lot of the tracktitles („Krishna Es El Supremo“, „Krishna is black“, „Krishan is the orginal source“, „Have you ever thought about Krishna“). Other Hinduism terminology like Kundalini, Hanuman u.o. or expressions dealing with consciousness somehow can be found. One hears here as one would expect no quotes from drug reports but rather sentences of a purely spiritual nature such as „Krishna is your friend“ or passages about the meaning of the third eye.

Ananda’s tracks almost all have the same basic speed of 140 bpm. He doesn’t even stop at more recent developments like triplets, strong swing, constant stops and starts or especially pronounced drops to produce a hands-in-the-height entertainment psytrance, but here music is produced for a higher purpose, namely to put the dancer into a trance state. When asked about his musical ideals, he offered a list of psytrance producers who can be clearly assigned to progressive psytrance like One Function, Symbolic, Cambium, Faders, Vertical Mode, Circuit Breakers, E-Clip or Outsiders.

Ananda’s music is based on it, but he likes to condense or enrich his music with additional elements e.g an often used rhythmically accentuated und modulated fm lead melody, which reminds of the good old Roland TB-303 here and there and brought him already the comment on Facebook „keep up the good old acid sound“ :). This gets things moving and pushes the whole thing a little further in the direction of Full-On. But that’s enough words now, because it’s time to enjoy some of the fine sound from Ananda Shanti Das, whom I would like to thank at this point for the time he took for an interview from which this text came. Good luck for your further musical and spiritual way!

20 Years of Progressive (Psy)Trance

Just as we celebrated 20 years of Psytrance in 2011 (GOA – 20 Years of Psychedelic Trance) , 2018 could be declared the 20th anniversary of Progressive Trance due to the releases from Atmos – Rebirth Of Cavanaough (1998) or Shiva Chantra with his second long player Positive (1998). While the pieces of his first longplayer still contained the typical Goa arpeggios, the second one clearly shows the strong minimalistic approaches with already heavy use of the off-beat-bass (listen to Shiva Chandra – Platic, triplets during the intro!). Shiva Chandra already participated in the gradually burgeoning Psytrance scene with his first album Spicy Moments (1996): „Being back in Germany there have been small private parties in the forrest and i got more into it.“ Later on he distanced himself from the overloaded Psytrance sound: „I never liked such trouble sound and my music had been minimal all the time.“ Atmos, who was musically unknown when he hit the Psytrance scene, made clear that his music was not a further development of Psytrance for him, but a further development of Trance in general. „I don’t think I’m producing any psytrance or ever done. The shit we are doing is just trance or deeptrance.[…] Since I don’t really like psychedelic music maybe I can write some other stuff that i like instead.“ [But he is familiar with X-Dream und Michael Kohlbecker]. Also Son Kite who came up with their debut album Minilogue (1999) statet: „Digital Structures [one of their two labels] is into a trance sound that we would call progressive trance. With this we mean an approach to the old trance sound merged with techno beats.

The way of Progressive Trance into the Psytrance scene has been made transparent by Kai Mathesdorf („The Psytrance Labels“ in: GOA – 20 Years of Psychadelic Trance). The new manager Cass Catbush of the famous Psytrance label Flying Rhino, who just tried to lead the label out of the crisis through reorientation, signed Atmos as new artist and their Vinyl release from Atmos – Klein aber Doctor (1999) as well as their CD compilation Slipstream (1998) were a great success and marked the start of Progressive Trance within the Psytrance realm. It should be noted in passing that Cass naturally also produced this sound :) Don`t miss to listen to this epic track from Cass & Slide – Perception (1999)!

Many other artists like Ticon, Antix, Magnetrixx, Freq, Vibrasphere, SBK a. o. didn`t release any Psytrance tracks before. This means that the new style was not a subgenre of Psytrance at first, but only subsumed, because it arrived and worked well at the Psytrance parties and was distributed through the same channels. The question that now arises is to what extent these two styles have merged, which is to be clarified elsewhere by means of one or more analyses.

These new insights for me were made possible also by the valuable interviews of the crew of psynews.org, discography collections at discogs.com and Kai Mathesdorf. Many thanks for that!

3886records // Progressive Psytrance: Walking the thin line – Part II

The musical development initiated by Atmos and others in the expiring millennium has existed to this day. It`s a bit slower and more earthy than „ordinary“ Psytrance and it uses more conventional melodic and harmonic turns – certainly a reason for the commercial success during the last time. The bandwith of this subgenre is very narrow, because with the reduction of speed and a bit of shuffle you find yourself in Deep or Progressive House easily and with the use of a longer chord progression and sweet vocal melodies one serves pop clichés very quickly. 

Never is was easy to use vocals in Psytrance, because there is always the danger of entangling the dancer with it more deeply. On the other hand, of course, man is shaped by the perception of voices and this can be a wonderful musical element, if you use them skilfully. The more I was surprised from this truly classic theme Andreas Linden and Robin Gesell took on: „Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. What if antimatter is all we are?“ Often the Progressive Psytrance leads you back into the next morning where the afterhour party starts and the one or the other might have asked: „So, what is all about. Where do we come from and where do we go?“. A wonderful speculation everyone likes to strip off right away, because where could one find the answer to this? „Beyond day and night, beyond death and life“ The answer eludes the earthly. But that seems certain: „While bodies stay, minds travel far“. Here the core of all religions is taken up: Somehow it will continue. And with that they bring the previously possibly disturbed mind already safely back to the landing. Perfect psy lyrics in my eyes! There are several more tracks from Spekta with vocal elements, but especially with this he has managed a real coup in my eyes.

The track itself (Spekta – Antimatter) is solid progressive psytrance craft. 138 bpm, offbeat base, minimal – the bass never leaves the D. But that’s not enough. The remix of Vaas Maro refines the ideas of his label colleagues in a condensed, crisp version. He makes elements appear again in a different light by changing the bass  and shows new perspectives by experimental handling of the vocal recordings. A track that really deserves the label „Progressive“, because he brings in fresh ideas in unconventional dealing with the bass. Unfortunately, unpublished until now. Therefore, this title should be mentioned again at this point:

Spekta told me that often Psytrance tracks are like phantasy journeys and that most of the time his tracks reflect his actual mood while composing them. His pieces are not only fantasy but also time travel, what you can hear in his tracks Comet and Lambda Core. Anyone who has seen the science fiction series Captain Future on television as a kid in the 1970s has a high chance of not having missed Anne Clark and Our Darkness in the Eighties :). Listen to Lambda Core and you know what I mean!

The off-beat bass has been cultivated strictly until the Kronfeld Remix, where a bit of variety came into play and with the Comet track the psy gallop broke completely for the first time. With Unstable Psysotope he left the major / minor melodic scales towards arabic ones to intense the psychadelic mood.  The tracks Level to Level and Eine Ahnung already play in the darker realms of Psytrance.

It’s a pity, because that’s where the story about Spekta and maybe also 3886records ends, which I have seen as a truly authentic approach to progressive psytrance.  Perhaps the last tracks of Spekta reflect not only his own mood and at the same time the attempt as a musician to move more into the eye of the storm of „real“ psytrance parties, but also a movement of the entire scene, which flees into more extreme musical currents of psytrance to escape the mainstream.  „The underground feels threatened and reacts by making the music harder and more monotonous.“ (Oliver Koletzki #fuckedm)

3886records // 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 meettechniek.info. 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! :)