x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

One Dutch DJ delivers trance to Abu Dhabi

The famed DJ Armin van Buuren touches down on Yas Island tonight.

Armin van Buuren delivers trance music to Abu Dhabi tonight.
Armin van Buuren delivers trance music to Abu Dhabi tonight.

It is a music genre that continues to elicit extreme reactions, from diehard passion to vitriol.

But it's difficult to deny the impact of trance music when a single individual can stand behind a deck in a packed arena and simply by twiddling a few knobs produce a reaction most stadium bands would envy.

Any trance neophytes attending the Dutch DJ Armin Van Buuren's show at Flash Forum on Yas Island tonight may be experiencing some confusion ahead of the gig.

Indeed, they may have a point, as trance doesn't possess any of the traditional musical qualities such as lyrics, live instrumentation and basic song structure.

But its wide-ranging appeal, with dance festivals held from South Africa and Morocco to Australia and Brazil, allows it to be viewed as popular music in its most literal definition.

Contemporary trance may have first emerged in Germany in the early 1990s, but its antecedents can be traced as far back as the 1970s when the German experimental musician Klause Schulze used repetitive rhythms and arpeggiated sounds over minimalist beats.

In the late 1970s, the French composer Jean-Michel Jarre released the albums Oxygene and Equinoxe, which relied heavily on synthesizers and sound effects.

The albums' commercial success was instrumental in the development of the electronic music and ushered the synthesizer into the 1970s pop landscape.

Others also claim Neil Young's 1982 album Trans as an early forefather to trance, thanks to his experimental use of the vocoder.

But it was in Frankfurt clubs where trance made its first true appearance in the early 1990s, while dance music such as techno and house music was dominating UK and European clubs.

It was spawned by producers' attempts to move away from dance music's reliance on samples towards more compositional territory.

This meant reinstating the synthesizer and giving tracks more anthemic elements such as sweeping keyboards and tribal vocals drenched in reverb.

The progression gave birth to trance's enduring musical signature known as the "breakdown": where the beat is temporarily dropped to allow the melody to swell to a crescendo before the beat returns with greater intensity.

Clubbers took to the sound immediately, as it was viewed as edgier than the pop-tinged house, smoother than the percussion-heavy drum-n-bass, and more accessible than techno's slamming beats.

Van Buuren and trance music's success are inextricably linked.

Born in 1976 in the Dutch city of Leiden, he began DJing during the dance music craze in the mid-1990s and was renowned for his long sets that could extend up to seven hours.

Encouraged by his own success, he put his law degree on hold, toured the UK and the US and made his debut in the magazine DJMag's influential Top 100 in 2001 at number 27. (To date, he has topped that list three times).

After releasing successful compilations and hosting his popular radio show, A State of Trance, van Buuren took the plunge and recorded his debut album 76 in 2003. While a moderate success, 76's hypnotic keyboards and downbeat production was a direct tribute to his hero Jean-Michel Jarre.

Van Buuren's subsequent three albums expanded his musical palette, incorporating guitars and more driving rhythm that borrows freely from stadium rock.

Meanwhile, his success is part of a growing Dutch legion that includes Tiesto, who has also topped the Top 100 chart three times, and Fedde Le Grand.

Ironically, these artists have a lot in common with their rock brethren as their success lies upon delivering storming live shows. Unlike high-energy rock-sets, however, trance concerts can go on for as long as 12 hours.

Indeed, van Buuren promises a nine-hour set for Abu Dhabi, complete with a synchronised light show, aerialists and fire dances.

Speaking to the music website Sputnik, van Buuren describes a marathon DJ set as a journey of musical peaks and troughs.

"Well, the crowd keeps me up - all that energy! I'm preparing every day because I'm selecting tunes for longer sets constantly and seeing in which part of the night they could work out perfectly," he said.

"When I get to play a longer set, I can really build, play some more progressive stuff, some more house stuff, some more techno stuff, some classics, some vocal trance, and everything in between."

If that is not enough to keep your attention during the show, make sure to cast your eye on the wide range of trance-associated dance moves. The most popular is glow-sticking, a free-form dance where glow-sticks are constantly moved to create hypnotic patterns. Older punters may recognise "the shuffle", which is a more frenetic version of the old dance standard, the heel-and toe.

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