""Trance?! Does that still exist?" "You're talking about the Goan stuff, right?" "Who throws those kind of parties?"
I'm stood in the middle of a room at a birthday party, surrounded by some club kids from the 90s techno-era Berlin. People who went to all the good clubs we can now only read about in the history books. They all assure me that trance has been dead for years. Well, I thought so too, until I stumbled across a party called Half Life. They sold themselves with one phrase and one phrase only: "#TRANCE." It's that event I'm now telling my friends about. I have to give it a go, have to leave my amused and well-experienced friends behind and experience my first trance night out.
Oh, trance, that much maligned sound. Fast and hard, adorned with the schlockiest, corniest, cheesiest melodies imaginable, it was never a sound or scene I gelled with. Yet, despite my lack of interest, trance is a very, very big deal. Artists like Armin van Buuren and Tiësto are globally huge megastars, playing massive shows in fuck-off-sized stadiums, headlining festivals everywhere from America to Azerbaijan. Their music, however, is so far removed from the genre's origins, and so inherently linked to the frat-boy-funded EDM boom that veteran producer Gareth Emery was moved to create this video for his spoof group CVNT5.
In recent years, though, there's been something of a revival, borne out of the more underground end of the dance spectrum. While artists like Helena Hauff, Ana Caprix and Uio Loi have never made what we might consider traditional trance records, they're not shy to incorporate elements of it into their own work. Given that, and the parties thrown by Evian Christ in the UK, the dearth of trance nights in Berlin was a tad surprising. This, lest you forget, is a city that prides itself on partying. Beyond HALF-LIFE there's nothing.
So it was to HALF-LIFE I went. It takes place in ACUD, a club in Berlin-Mitte, a part of the city that was once housed the techno uprising, but is now dead. Which means that, ever so occasionally, people from the cooler neighbourhoods of Berlin find themselves lost around here. As we trundle near, a woman in a neon blue page boy hat flits past us, which we intuited as a sign of being near. Trance always was, after all, one of the more colourful scenes out there. We later found out that she was the girlfriend of Andy Acid, one of the night's DJs. We were on the ball.
The second we walk in we're given pills. Sadly, these red and white devils don't contain any actual drug. Unless you've got an uncanny ability to get high from consuming carefully rolled up mini-flyers which have been stuffed into capsules really carefully. And, let's be honest, if you can do that, why'd you ever leave the house in the first place? Undeterred, we gaze around. The place was full of lava lamps. One of our guides for the night, a guy called Max, greeted us, grinning.
If there's one thing you need to know about the team behind these parties, it's that they take them very seriously. At HALF-LIFE trance isn't just a plaything for Berlin's super-ironic band of hipsters. It was during a stay in Frankfurt that Max caught the trance bug. In the early hours of this New Year's Day he was hanging out with his co-host Norman, playing him a set by Frankfurter-based producer Cold Blue, and there and then they decided that what Berlin really needed was a new trance night. "The music was just so euphoric," Max remembers thinking. And that was the birth of HALF-LIFE.
When Max and Norman told a few of their DJ mates about the party, they were surprised just how many cherished a secret passion for trance. Two of those DJs are Berlin locals Linda Lee and Gabia D'Jora. They're playing at HALF-LIFE but have never played a full on trance set before. Linda's entry to the scene was via Makina, and, just like Gabia, she was super into Zac Efron's universally ignored EDM movie, We Are Your Friends. They are also really into going to the gym together and think that those two worlds—gym and trance—are a perfect fit.
"Trance is a very important part of gym culture, I think, because it's used as a soundtrack to spinning classes, aqua courses, and other workouts," Linda says. "We went to a body combat class together where the trainer was playing computer game music and hardstyle and trance. Our eyes met and we both realised immediately that this was exactly the kind of music we wanted to hear on nights out in Berlin."
The duo's set is peppered by the noises of an air-horn a friend of theirs brought to the club. Which was somehow endearing rather than horrific. I found myself nearly, nearly, entering into the proverbial trance. Swelled by the crowd's obvious enthusiasm for them, I was enjoying myself thoroughly. The highlight of their set was their self-produced track below:
As if to test out the idea that trance really is the best music to listen to on a night out, even if it's just this night out, there's a birthday party taking place next door. We sneak in to see what's going on, ignoring the "private party" sign. A couple of high school graduates are dancing to "Work" by Rihanna and Drake. And thats fine, probably good clean fun. But today that kind of fun isn't the truth. Tonight, trance rules everything near anyone.
Back in the right party, I talk to Soraya, a colleague of mine from Amsterdam. She runs Truants and was in town as a jury member for BCR's Incubators project. "It's crazy," she shouted during a short break in the music. "In Holland we could never play this kind of stuff. The crowd would consider it too commercial. In Amsterdam they all want the Berlin sound." A few moments later we're drowned out by a trance refix of tATu's "All the Things She Said."
It was that kind of night, a night to dance to "Better Off Alone" and "Sandstorm". Norman and I look upon the dancefloor in disbelief. Are we all really dancing to this music? It's as if, now we've all grown up, we can finally truly enjoy the records we knew as children. This was my kind of 90s party. From kids TV bangers to 150BPM hardcore, the musical policy seemed enjoyably fluid. DJ Dario X, one of the night's other selectors, put it well when he said that, "trance is inclusive and not exclusive. And so are we!"
We leave, dreading the outside world. Our fingers run through the delicate blossom of Japanese cherry trees. The subway hangs heavy with a sense of exhausted, depressed silence, but we still smile at each other. At home, coming down, I'm looking for my copy of "The Way I Feel" by Doss, a two year old pop-trance record from New York. The sun seeps through the transparent vinyl while I return from the borders of the night. Now I truly know that without music, without trance, the world would be a far more miserable place.