For the duration of the 90s, pop music was super weird. Alongside a strange but understandable mix of Britney Spears, Pulp and Shaggy, the charts - and their corresponding Now That's What I Call Music compilations – were packed with club bangers containing nonsense lyrics about castles and people with a chimney on them. And these strange songs were just as ubiquitous as the more obvious hits from pop stars that endured the decade, too, becoming mainstays in both the zeitgeist and mainstream. Your mum may not be able to refer to 2 Unlimited's "No Limit" by name, for example, but press play and within 1.5 seconds she will identify it as "that song that came on during aqua aerobics at the leisure centre – for three entire years."
What of the women who sung the overwhelming majority of these tracks? This was an era before the producer as a persona, remember. This was pre-Skrillex and Deadmau5 – when dance music meant the producer had absolutely no right to be on stage and every Top of The Pops performance involved the featured vocalist surrounded by some dramatic choreography. These women sung the entirety of Europe's clubbers through the highest nights of their lives; through the nineties; the noughties; and even through the odd demi-retro house party in Deptford today. The wonder of the one hit they sung may live on, but what happened to them? Who were they to begin with? Who is Toca and why does she need a miracle? Is the icon with the major lip-fillers in the Wamdue Project video the actual vocalist and is she aware she is quoting Freud?
In order to put these important questions to rest, I went on the hunt to track down the creme de la creme of "featured vocalists" from this beautiful bygone era. I should say, almost every one of them was approached for comment, and absolutely none replied. My best guess is that they are either about to emerge from a massive skull on stage with Judge Jools somewhere in Malaga, or they've stopped, dropped, and rolled away from the fire that was the dance and trance scene of over a decade a go. Let's investigate…
Fragma - "Toca's Miracle"
Vocals: Coco Star
THEN: Back in 2000, DJ Vimto, good old DJ Vimto, had the genius idea of mashing Coco's a-cappella vocals with the kinda-successful Fragma track "Toca Me". Born was the iconic, long reigning "I Need a Miracle". After the nineties, it would indeed take a miracle to get everyone off a decade long comedown, and there was something about the desperation in Coco's voice that seemed to strike a chord within the hearts of the late-nineties nihilists.
NOW: Since her iconic stint as the face of dance-based miracles in 2000, Coco Star has gone solo. She is still writing, recording and producing music. Her new-track is called "Get Over You" and it is worlds away from from "Toca's Miracle". That said, her Facebook header is a photograph of the plaque Fragma got when "Toca's Miracle" went platinum, so… let's just say she still thinks about it.
Alice Deejay - "Better Off Alone"
Vocals: Judith Pronk
THEN: It is a universally acknowledged fact that there's no emotional stone that Alice Deejay's back catalogue leaves unturned. Technically credited as "DJ Jurgen presents Alice Deejay", the Dutch pop-trance duo formed an unstoppable bond which saw them take over Europe. In a kooky rejection of actual music, the duo's first and only album, cheekily entitled Who Needs Guitars Anyway?, reached number two on the UK Album chart. When fame got too much, lead singer Judith Pronk (or Alice) stepped back from the lineup, never to return to the spotlight again.
NOW: Alice as Judith as Alice is now a freelance make-up artist living in the Netherlands. With an Instagram bio which reads "Creative / art-director, mother of Olivier, nr 2 in feb2017, in love with Bastiaan and living life to the fullest!" it sounds like Alice really is better off alone, without Jurgen and the pressures of fame. Unfortunately, her personal website is offline, but this fan-made work of utter vision will sate all Judith Pronk related needs.
ATB - "9pm (Til I Come)"
Vocals: Yolanda Riviera
THEN: ATB – or Andre Tanneberger to friends – is best known for breaking it big with the unforgettable 1999 Trance smash "9pm (Til I Come)". The story behind the song is that the super-stud that is Mr. TB was showing his girlfriend round his brand new studio at home in Germany, when he got so inspired by a melody he'd dreamed up that he ignored her until 9pm: producing the first ever trance track to reach a UK number one. Bad for the girlfriend, good for the fans, essential to life. The lead singer is in fact not a singer at all, but the Spanish model Yolanda Riviera whose vocals were lifted from a Spanish TV show that she had appeared on earlier that year.
NOW: ATB is still releasing trance tracks and is in no way clinging onto the the days when people were actually non-ironically into trance music. His recent 33 track album is a real testament to Andre's ability to exercise restraint in his output. He's touring the world, and continues to spike his hair up with wet-look gel. Yolanda Riviera has retired from music and modelling, and is pretty untraceable on the internet. If you're inclined to being lathered up by the suds of trance, then you can tune into ATB's radio show 'Synthesis' here.
Wamdue Project - "King of My Castle"
Vocals: Gaelle Adisson
THEN: Surfacing on the global stage in '98, American producer Chris Brann mastered the genius "KOMC", featuring the honey-toned Gaelle Adisson. The main melody, which sounds like a guitar being played in a puddle, is one of the most instantly recognisable sounds of the nineties. Who knows why it was so ubiquitous? Was it the iconic model in the video with the lip-fillers and leather bandau top? Or the fact that the song is subtly referencing everyone's fave trashy chick-lit author: Sigmund Freud, and his theory of the unconscious? "Das Ich ist nicht Herr im eigenen Hause" ("the ego is not king of its own castle"). A clear favourite passage for the dancefloor, if ever there has been one.
NOW: Lucky for her, Gaelle Adisson escaped the nefarious clutches of nineties dance singer fame by never actually featuring in the video or on tour with Wamdue Project. Damn, girl. Instead, she maintains a low profile, and recently released her debut record Transient via her own label 'Naked Music'. A mix between Mary J. Blige and Roisin Murphy: on paper a hellish combination, but surprisingly soothing on the ear.
Sash Ft. Stunt - "Rain Drops"
Vocals: Molly Smitten-Downes
THEN: The comeback single from everyone's favourite SASH!, the German DJ decided that instead of writing a new corker, he would marry together his incredibly famous "Encore un fois", with the iconic vocals of Stunt's "Raindrops". In theory that's lazy, but in reality a work of genius was born. A late addition to the world of ultimate club tracks, SASH! rode back onto the scene in 2008, under shelter of visionary dance artists such as Swedish Cascada, or French Kate Ryan (must see).
NOW: Clearly written by himself, SASH!'s bio explains,
"SURELY, IN THE POP-UNIVERSE, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE…
…but that someone from Viersen near Mönchengladbach starts a world career is a little bit unbelievably but true! That a boy from the Niederrhein produces pop melody`s who are going around the planet through clubs and charts is one of the big success stories of German pop music. After now 21 years of big success and 22 million international sold CD's SASH! is still rocking the dance floors all over the world."
As for Molly Smitten-Downes, she went on to go solo. But just when you think late naughties dance fame can't take you any higher, 'Molly'—as she is now mononymously branded—went on the represent the UK in the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest (!!!!). Singing the glorious anthem that is "Children of the Universe", a song she wrote to "break down political barriers", it's hard to think of a more desirable career trajectory. From hard trance, to hard balling politics. Legendary.
Rui Da Silva - "Touch Me"
Vocals: Cassandra Fox
THEN: Rui Da Silva's biggest track—"Touch Me"—is arguably the most 'transitional' of the set from this era. No other song can take you from pre-drinks, to mid-club come up, to make-out session, followed by an all night one night stand back at the Playa De Palma hotel block. There's something about the London born Cass Fox's vocals that were mellow enough to ease you into the early hours of those 2007 mornings better than a doner-meat and chips. "Touch Me" was the first ever song by a Portuguese artist to reach number one in the UK.
NOW: Cass Fox is surprisingly hesitant to step away from the days of "Touch Me". Now genuinely on its fifth reinterpretation, the totally acoustic "Touch Me" formed the central part of her latest album Come Here. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
N-Trance - "Set you Free"
Vocals: Kelly Llorena
THEN: Nobody did 90s dance featured singer better than Kelly Llorena. It takes an innate skill that to genuinely pull off a pinstriped trilby and kitten-heeled ankle booties and still look like you deserve the main-slot on the main-stage at Pacha. This track is the ultimate in feel good music. The lyrics were written in memoriam of a night out lyricist Kevin O'Toole had at club Hacienda in Manchester. Fun fact: the thunder sounds were added in to mask the sound of cheap records cracking, and the lyric 'as the storm beats down on me' masked this secret cover up shrewdly. A work of utter dance genius, it's a shocker this song only reached a mere number two on the UK singles chart.
NOW: Kelly has recorded numerous bangers since the days of set you free (Tell it to my heart!!) and is now the front-woman of the little known, 2011 formed band Freak Asylum. With songs as questionable as the band name, Llorena is far from the form of her N-Trance days, and an album is yet to emerge from the project. It doesn't really matter though: Llorena is as Llorena does, and what she does is goddamn brilliant. #longlivellorena. #longlivetheiconicdancesingersofthe90s.
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