To many EDM lovers, one of the most appealing things of the genre is how much of an umbrella electronic dance music really is. Electronic dance music stems into countless subgenres: house, techno, garage, and, of course, trance. Though not as popular as it once was, Trance is still a foundational subgenre of EDM, especially in Europe. It has a rich history behind how it developed into the sound we know and love today. Let’s take a look back at its beginnings.
But first, what is Trance?
There are a few staples of trance that set it apart from other kinds of dance music. Firstly, the tempo is very fast paced, somewhere between 135-150 BPM. If the song you’re listening to has a melodic, ‘trance-like’ lyric that gets repeated throughout the song, you’re probably listening to trance. Another key identifier is that there are 1 to 2 peaks or drops in the song, moments of climax followed by a beat drop and a lot of percussion.
Typically, the vocals of trance music are done by a mezzo-soprano to soprano female soloist. Two classic examples of trance songs that check all these boxes are “Silence” (Delerium featuring Sarah McLachlan) and “Concrete Angel” (Gareth Emery featuring Christina Novelli). However, trance does not always have to have vocals, such as in “Café Del Mar” (Energy 52). There are also many great examples of a male vocalist fitting a trance track perfectly, which is the case with “These Silent Hearts” (Armin Van Buuren featuring BT).
The Origin of Trance
Two regions are traditionally pinpointed as the origin of trance, Britain and Germany. Beginning in the late 1980s, trance built upon Germany’s techno-heavy music and Britain’s new-age music and rave culture.
European DJs began to incorporate electronic and psychedelic sounds into their music, most likely a result of the recreational use of psychedelic drugs that was commonplace in the counterculture of the 80s. The music was meant to induce a euphoric feeling to listeners, especially in a club or party setting.
Classic Trance Tracks (just a sampling)
Veracocha - "Carte Blanche"
Motorcycle - "As The Rush Comes"
Above & Beyond & Gareth Emery pres. Oceanlab - "On A Good Day (Metropolis)"
Milestones in Trance
There are several noteworthy releases that fast tracked trance’s progress to becoming one of the top dance genres. Here are some examples:
“What Time Is Love?” – the KLF (1988)
Many consider this to be the very first trance track. It is definitely an example of early trance, when the genre was still in the process of being defined. Fittingly, the KLF released multiple different versions of the single between 1988-1992, some with vocals, others adding additional instruments. It is clear the single almost served as a test run for trance.
By the late 90s, Trance had a distinctive sound and a fast-growing audience. Selling over 2 million copies, Darude’s lead single for his debut studio album Before the Storm is a key event that catapulted Trance into its peak years. It was initially released in Finland, but several months later re-released in many other European countries. It was uploaded to MP3.com, exposing it to a global audience.
The song is cemented in history, and last year, over 20 years after its release, “Sandstorm” was certified Platinum in the United States. Its popularity in recent years can be attributed to its usage in sports and in internet meme culture.