Yesterday, Italian trance DJ Robert Miles passed away in Ibiza after a battle with cancer. The 47-year-old was most known for his 1995 hit, "Children," a soaring, piano-driven anthem with one of the most recognizable trance melodies in music history (second only, of course, to Darude's "Sandstorm"). The single topped the charts in more than 12 countries, including the Euro Top 100 for thirteen consecutive weeks in 1995. Today, "Children" is widely credited for sparking trance's popularity through the rest of the 90s and into the next decade. As it turns out, the downtempo track also had an unlikely social mission: preventing people from dying in car crashes.
In an interview with Tokafi.com, Miles shed light on the track's unlikely inspiration. In 1994, his father had just returned from an aid mission to the former Yugoslavia, and showed him images of child victims from the Balkans Wars.
"Every single track I produced in my life has been the product of an experience I had in that particular period," Miles explained. "'Children' was done after my father showed me pictures of child victims of the war in Yugoslavia." Troubled, Miles hunkered down in a small, soundproof bunker studio he'd built in a converted garage near his family's home—and it's clear that the producer's raw, emotional reaction to these devastating images seeped into the deeply melancholic song he ended up writing.
According to Armada Music, the first time Miles played "Children" in a DJ set, he was extremely anxious at how the ethereal, instrumental song would be received by clubbers, who used to hearing more hard-hitting rave tracks on the dancefloor.
"I opened my DJ set with 'Children,' feeling both scared and excited... the DJ just before me had ended with a very heavy piece," he recalled in an interview with Armada Music. To break the existing mood… could have simply cleared the floor. The people in front of me stopped in their tracks, their eyes fixed to the console almost in annoyance. I felt my blood run cold and I remember lowering my eyes in fear."
"The record reached its soaring climax. From the floor came a thunderous noise," he continued. "I lifted my gaze and saw a sea of hands reaching up high and a smile stamped on every face. A girl approached me in tears. "What music is this?" she asked me. I don't think I shall ever forget that moment, when I realized that my feelings had been conveyed through my music. My dream turned into reality."
"Children"'s gentle, downtempo quality—the full-length version evan began with the sound of a thunderstorm—ended up being an essential part of its success. In Europe in the mid-90s, especially in Italy where Miles lived, car crashes over the weekends involving ravers driving home from parties were becoming a huge problem, according to a 1996 Billboard article. In fact, the Italian media even had a name for it: stragi del sabato sera, or "Saturday night slaughter."
The same Billboard article notes that the track became a favorite last record for DJs to play at the end of the night in an attempt to chill out ravers before they headed home, and its release was welcomed by both Italian authorities and parents. Per Billboard, Miles hoped that by playing the track at the end of the night, it would help punters calm down before they got behind the wheel, thereby preventing fatalities.
While Miles is now gone, "Children"'s will be remembered as a track that paved the way for the popularity of chill-out and downtempo music within the rave scene, with an additional twist: a song inspired by the cruelty of death ended up saving lives.
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