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Trance music

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Trance music

Goa trance music | Acid trance | Euro-Trance | Hard trance | Hardcore trance | Hardstyle | Minimalist trance | Progressive electronic music | Psychedelic trance | Suomisaundi | Uplifting trance | Vocal trance

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Stylistic origins: Techno, House, Electronic art music, Industrial
Cultural origins: Early 1990s, Europe, particularly Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and UK
Typical instruments: Synthesizer, Keyboard, Drum machine, Sequencer, Sampler
Mainstream popularity: High
Acid, Euro, Goa, Hard, Hardcore, Progressive, Psychedelic, Uplifting, Vocal
Fusion genres
Deep, Futurepop, Hardstyle, Trancestep, Tech
Other topics

Trance is a style of electronic dance music that developed in the 1990s. Trance music is generally characterized by a tempo of between 130 and 160 bpm, featuring repeating melodic synthesizer phrases, and a musical form that builds up and down throughout a track, often crescendoing or featuring a breakdown. Sometimes vocals are also utilised. The style is arguably derived from a combination of largely techno and house as well as being heavily influenced by Goa trance. 'Trance' received its name from the repetitious morphing beats, and the throbbing melodies which would presumably put the listener into a trance-like state. As this music is almost always played in nightclubs at popular vacation spots and in inner cities, trance can be understood as a form of club or house music.




Early electronic art music artists such as Klaus Schulze have proven to be a significant influence on trance music. Throughout the 1970s Schulze recorded numerous albums of atmospheric, sequencer-driven electronic music. Also, several of his albums from the 1980s include the word "trance" in their titles, such as the 1981 Trancefer and 1987 En=Trance.

Elements of what became modern club music also known as trance music were also explored by industrial artists in the late 1980s. Most notable was Psychic TV's 1989 album Towards Thee Infinite Beat, which featuring drawn out and monotonous patterns with short looping voice samples and is considered by some to be the first trance record. The intent was to make sound that was hypnotic to its listeners, this would also lead to a strain of trance known as Euphoria being developed which caused an uplifting sensation among its listeners who became somewhat euphoric during listening.

These industrial artists were largely dissociated from rave culture, although many were interested in the developments happening in Goa trance which is a much 'heavier' sound than what is now known as trance. Many of the trance albums produced by industrial artists were generally experiments, not an attempt to start a new genre with an associated culture -- they remained firmly rooted culturally in industrial and avant-garde music. As trance began to take off in rave culture, most of these artists abandoned the club style.

Trance begins as a genre

Main articles: acid trance, Goa trance

The earliest identifiable trance recordings came not from within the trance scene itself, but from the UK acid house movement, and were made by The KLF. The most notable of these were the original 1988 / 1989 versions of 'What Time Is Love' and '3AM Eternal' (the former indeed laying out the entire blueprint for the trance sound - as well as helping to inspire the sounds of hardcore and rave) and the 1988 track 'Kylie Said Trance'. Their use of the term 'pure trance' to describe these recordings reinforces this case strongly. These early recodings were markedly different from the releases and re-releases to huge commercial success around the period of the 'White Room' album (1991) and are significantly more minimalist, nightclub-oriented and 'underground' in sound.

The trance sound beyond this acid-era genesis is said to have begun as an off-shoot of techno in German clubs during the very early 1990s. Frankfurt is often cited as a birthplace of Trance. Some of the earliest pioneers of the genre included DJ Dag (Dag Lerner), Oliver Lieb, Sven Všth and Torsten Stenzel, who all produced numerous tracks under multiple aliases. Trance labels like Eye Q, Harthouse, Superstition, Rising High, FAX +49-69/450464 and MFS Records were Frankfurt based. Arguably a fusion of techno and house, early trance shared much with techno in terms of the tempo and rhythmic structures but also added more melodic overtones which were appropriated from the style of house popular in Europe's club scene at that time. This early music tended to be characterized by hypnotic and melodic qualities and typically involved repeating rhythmic patterns added over an appropriate length of time as a track progressed.

At about the same period of time in the late 1980's and early 1990s, a musical revolution was happening in Goa, India. Electronic body music (EBM) bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Front 242 came to Goa and began influencing artists like Goa Gil, Eat Static, Doof, and Man With No Name who heard the psychedelic elements of EBM, expanded on them minus the vocals and guitars to create Goa trance. Goa music is heavily influenced by Indian culture and psychedelic drugs, as seen in numerous references to both in track and album titles.

The sound of modern trance

By the mid-1990s, trance, specifically progressive trance, which emerged from acid trance much as progressive house had emerged from acid house, had emerged commercially as one of the dominant genres of dance music. Progressive trance set in stone the basic formula of modern trance by becoming even more focused on the anthemic basslines and lead melodies, moving away from hypnotic, repetitive, arpeggiated analog synth patterns and spacey pads. Popular elements and anthemic pads became more widespread. Compositions leaned towards incremental changes (aka progressive structures), sometimes composed in thirds (as BT frequently does). Buildups and breakdowns became longer and more exaggerated. The sound became more and more excessive and overblown. This sound came to be known as anthem trance.

Immensely popular, trance found itself filling a niche as 'edgier' than house, more soothing than drum and bass, and more melodic than techno, something that makes it accessible to many people. Artists like Paul van Dyk, Ferry Corsten, and Armin van Buuren came to the forefront as premier producers and remixers, bringing with them the emotional, "epic" feel of the style. Meanwhile, DJs like Paul Oakenfold, DJ TiŽsto, and DJ Jean were championing the sound in the clubs and through the sale of pre-recorded mixes. By the end of the 1990s, trance remained commercially huge, but had fractured into an extremely diverse genre. Some of the artists that had helped create the trance sound in the early and mid-1990s had, by the end of the decade, abandoned trance completely (artists of particular note here are Pascal F.E.O.S. and Oliver Lieb).

Perhaps as a consequence, similar things were happening with the DJs as well. For example, Sasha and Digweed, who together had helped bring the progressive sound to the forefront, all but abandoned it by 2000, instead spinning a darker mix of the rising "deep trance" and "tech-trance" style they pioneered along with producers and DJ's like Slacker and Breeder. Sasha and John Digweed might argue that their 2000 release "Communicate" not be called trance at all.

Trance in the mainstream

As trance has entered the mainstream it has alienated many of its original fans. As the industry became bigger, companies (especially Ministry of Sound) and DJs began to alter their sound to that of a more pop based one, so as to make the sound more accessible to an even wider, and younger, audience. Vocals in particular are now extremely common in mainstream trance, adding to their poppy sound.

Musicology and styles

Trance is a form of music best characterized by quarter note drum patterns, and 16th/32nd note rhythm synthesizer patterns. It has a meter of 4/4, with a quarter note bass drum acting as metronome, and quarter note high-hat hits on upbeats. This unwavering drum mechanism may be constantly tweaked with for effect, with the Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release (ADSR) all given liberal treatment. The tempo is generally around 130-160 beats per minute (bpm).

The arrangement consists mostly of a repeating 16th note sequencing arpeggio, and a bass section of whole notes usually drifting through the aeolian or natural minor scale. Harmonic structure is typically minimalist, with often no more than 2-4 chords. Iterations of the i-iv-v progression (A minor, D minor, and E minor, for example) lend a dark feel by eschewing major chords entirely. Additional rhythm sections are added and subtracted every 16 measures (sometimes 8, and sometimes 32) to add weight and anticipation to the composition. The bass chord will usually change every 4 measures.

There is a lead synth, and it will be a simple minor scale melody of 8th notes, looping every 4 measures (some have 2, some have 8. Some even have 16). Trance is produced with keyboards, computerized synthesizers, drum machines, and music sequencer software connected via MIDI. The average trance song has a polyphony of 8. The most busy will have 16.

Some sub-genre classifications of trance include:

  • Acid trance: An early '90's style. Characterized by the use of a Roland TB-303 bass machine as the lead synth.
    • Artists: Hardfloor, Art of Trance, Eternal Basement, Solar Quest
  • Anthem trance (also known as uplifting trance): Style of trance that emerged in the wake of progressive trance in the late 90's. Characterized by extended chord progression in all elements (lead synth, bass chords, treble chords), extended breakdowns, and relegation of arpeggiation to the background while bringing wash effects to the fore.
    • Artists: Vincent de Moor, Ronski Speed, TiŽsto, System F, Super8, Ayla, Paul van Dyk, Armin van Buuren, ATB, Blank & Jones, Airbase, M.I.K.E, Nu NRG, Tony Burt vs. Mat Silver, Matt Darey.
  • Classic trance: Original form of trance music, said to have originated in the very early 90's. Characterized by less percussion than techno, more melody, arpeggiated melody, and repetitive melodic chords/arpeggios.
    • Artists: Resistance D, Progressive Attack, Arpeggiators, LSG (Oliver Lieb), Union Jack, Dance 2 Trance, Jam and Spoon, Terra Ferma, Moogwai, Nostrum.
  • Euro-Trance: Euro-Trance is a hybrid of hard trance and Eurodance music incorporating hardstyle bass drums and trance elements. The trance synths at times sound like techno hoovers with trancey effects and strings backing it up. The vocals are often pitched up for the most part, but sometimes they can be heard as in normal pitch range. This is often confused as vocal trance because of its use of vocals. The lyrical content is usually pretty simple, containing an introduction to the song with usually no or little drums, and often includes renderings of classic happy hardcore anthems or melodies.
    • Artists: DJ Trancemaster, Groove Coverage, Jan Wayne, Starsplash, Rob Mayth, Special D, DJ Volume, Rocco, Sven-R-G vs. Bass-T.
  • Goa trance: A complexly melodic form of trance named for Goa, India, and originating in the early 90's. Often uses the Raga.
    • Artists: Psygone, mfg, S.U.N. Project, Man With No Name, Astral Projection, Juno Reactor
  • Hard Trance: Aggressive sounding, Originating in Frankfurt, includes influences from hardcore and hard house.
    • Artists: DJ Scot Project, Darude, JS16, Dallas Superstars, Bostik, Mighty 44, DJ Wag, Yoji Biomehanika, Cosmic Gate, Hennes & Cold, DuMonde, Uberdruck, Alphazone, Dave 202 vs. Phil Green, Marcos, JK Walker.
  • Hardstyle: Closely related to nu style gabber and hard trance. Its sound is usually characterized by a mix of gabber and hardcore like kick/bass sounds, trance like synth stabs and sweeps and miscellaneous samples. However, Hardstyle usually has a lot slower BPM (between 140 and 150).
    • Artists: Blutonium Boy, Lady Dana, DJ Pavo, DJ Neo, DJ Virus.
  • Progressive trance (aka Progressive House): Style of trance that originated in the early-mid 90's. Differentiated from the then "regular" trance by bass chord changes that gave the repeating lead synth a feeling of "progression".
    • Artists: BT, Cosmic Baby, Art of Trance, Sasha, John Digweed, ATB, Marc O'Tool, Lemon8.
  • Psychedelic trance: Better known as psytrance; ambiguously synonymous with Goa trance, less melodic more abstract and futuristic.
    • Artists: Shiva Chandra, Etnica, Infected Mushroom, Astrix, Phacelift, Total Eclipse
  • Progressive psytrance: Emerged from both progressive house and psytrance. Identified by slower BPM range (roughly between 125 and 138), deep, low bass line, similarities to house in percussion, track structure and other things as well as psychedelic trance depth and relative musical unpredictiveness.
    • Artists: Buzzmonx, Magnetrixx, Ticon, Beat Bizarre, Phony Orphants, Antix, Freq, Lish
  • Tribal: A trance derivative that took classic trance and overlaid it with polyrhythmic percussive beats, ethnic samples, bongo sounds. It emphasizes the rhythmic core of trance. It shares many things with early Goa trance and Balearic House. Tribal can also be understood not so much as a style in itself, but as a component of any other trance style that has a bongo polyrhythm to it.
    • Artists: Parks and Wilson, Etnoscope, Tarentella
  • Vocal trance: Broad term referring to trance with a full set of lyrics, which may or may not be any of the above genres. Oftentimes an artist will borrow a singer's talents as opposed to the singer herself (vocalists are typically female), or sample from/remix more traditional pop music. Note that there is some debate as to where the divide lies between vocal trance and pop or Eurodance.
    • Artists: 4 Strings, Lange, Ian Van Dahl, Above & Beyond, Fragma, Paradise, Lost Witness, Armin Van Buuren, Chicane, Milk, Inc., Lasgo.
  • Euphoric trance:
  • Deep trance:

Notable trance records


  • What Time Is Love (Original Version) by The KLF
One of the KLF's groundbreaking proto-trance recordings from the acid house era.


  • System by Force Legato
An early production of Oliver Lieb and one of the first trance tracks


  • Q by Mental Cube

Huge, early FSOL production, which helped secure the UK's dance music production credentials.

  • Techno Trance by D-Shake
A driving piece of early tech-trance.
  • Pacific by 808 State
A classic anthem from the Madchester scene.
  • Age Of Love by Age Of Love
Many DJs and fans of the time as well as trance historians consider this record a trance classic, even before trance became a genre of its own. The ethereal sound of this record is the foundation of the trance sound.


  • Lock Up by Zero B: This UK hardcore techno / rave piece spelled out exactly how the big, uplifting trance / dance breakdown should (and would) go for years to come. They didn't get bigger than this, and still struggle to do the same. The central riff is a trance classic, the rest of the track pure rave - all ahead of its time by years whichever angle you observe it from...
  • Papua New Guinea by Future Sound Of London
A classic rave-era, UK progressive breaks track that also defined a huge part of trances later sound, direction and high prooduction values. FSOL were established at last.
  • Go by Moby
Moby's most famous track before he found fame from his album Play.
  • No Fate by Zyon
The first successful trance release on Eye Q. One of the most renowned tracks of the label.
  • We Came In Peace by Dance 2 Trance
The classic trance record which very probably officially gave a name to the genre in Germany, where the sound was first emulated and produced by subsequent German artists, and played in underground clubs and raves; never alone, but always with another genre of electronic music, as the DJ's back then never played only one style of music.


  • Perfect Day by Visions of Shiva
Cosmic Baby and Van Dyk sure started on a high with this piano-fuelled-delicacy-turns-monster...
  • Liquid Is Liquid by Liquid
This is a prime example of atmospheric "old skool" trance, with its continuous arpeggios and haunting sound. One of the first tracks to enjoy anthem status. 11 years later it was revamped by Scooter in their album The Stadium Techno Experience.
  • Rave Generator by Toxic Two
The title says it all really, as to which direction this first true commercial trance track took... 'generates the ecstacy in you', anyone?!?
  • Stella by Jam and Spoon
A classic Balearic trance track.
  • Pacific Symphony by Transformer 2
Big rave / trance hybrid piece from 1992, epic strings with cheesy vocals.
  • Camargue by CJ Bolland
Strings, chords and elegant techno-trance from the ex-hardcore man who would bring the darkside in 1992's 'Mantra' and the seminal, groundbreaking 'The Fourth Sign' LP (1992)


  • How much Can You Take? by Visions Of Shiva
Cosmic Baby and Van Dyk get deeper, darker and more driving with this highly musical track.
  • Love Stimulation by Humate
The Paul van Dyk Lovemix is easily considered a defining moment in art of remixing, giving an otherwise plain tune "classic" status.
  • Outface by Komakino
Outface is in the middle of the road between techno and trance and serves as a perfect guide in order to understand the evolution from one genre to the other.
  • Abduction by Eat Static
One of the very first Goa trance artist albums. This album set a standard for future releases in this genre.
  • Cafť Del Mar by Energy 52
Has become one of the most well known trance tunes of all time. Remains one of the most popular and energetic trance records to this day sprouting off numerous remixes.
  • The First Rebirth by Jones & Stephenson
Perhaps the first hard trance track, at least the first well known one, with a very deep bassdrum and possibly one of the most recognisable melody lines in trance music.
  • Vernon's Wonderland by Vernon
A huge hit back in the day, this track has become a cornerstone of trance music.


  • The Milky Way by Aurora Borealis
A fast and hard trance track, originated in France
  • For an Angel by Paul van Dyk
An early trance classic it defined a style and a sound that continued for a decade. Paul van Dyk continues to play it.
  • The Orange Theme by Cygnus X
This Cygnus X (aka A.C.Boutsen) classic continues to be played even today and has been remixed countless times. It is notable for the number of scales the main theme is played.


  • Oasis by Paragliders
One of the last major classic-style trance tracks before the progressive sound emerged.
  • Twisted by Hallucinogen
Considered to be one of the most original and innovative psychedelic goa trance albums. Completely representative of psychedelic goa trance at that time (others such as Astral Projection and X-Dream are typical of a slightly later sound (1996 onwards)), and some claim that it defines the sound of psychedelic trance music, it has been highly influential. This was one of the first Goa Trance albums to sell over 50,000 copies.
  • Mahadeva by Astral Projection
This is considered by many the greatest ever goa trance track. Mahadeva catapulted Astral Projection to the top of the genre and brought to prominence the Israeli psy-trance scene.
  • Children by Robert Miles
A powerful dream trance/house hit that has received acclaim from critics both inside and outside trance. This is a song which has introduced many music lovers into the world of dream trance and is widely considered one of the greatest trance songs of all time.


  • Flaming June by BT
A widely-accepted classic. Example of progressive trance. Composed in thirds, the structure of this tune represents the evolving, progressive structure of mid-1990s progressive trance.


  • Open your eyes by At the villa People
a venerable club classic, At the Villa people came from the rather underground club "At the Villa, which at this time was located in a church in Belgium, the original location, which was a true villa, had burned down.
  • Desert Storm by Desert Storm
originated from Germany, a slow paced, heavy bass tune, very long, and very deep. Originally released in 1994, but re-released in 1997 on the At the Villa compilation maxi bundle called "At the Villa Laurence, Music from the Club".
  • No Access by Hondy
The Salone Margherita mix, at this time played often by Pete Tong on BBC Radio 1 is a key example of trance at its peak demonstrating its amazing symphonic and anthemic qualities.


  • 1998 by Binary Finary
An epic trance monster that took Binary Finary (producers Matt Laws and Stuart Matheson) worldwide within a year and became an all time classic overnight. Famously influenced by goa and psytrance.
  • El NiŮo by Agnelli & Nelson
The famous trance track popularized by Oakenfold's album "Tranceport". A genre-defining tune of epic trance.
  • Someone (Slacker's Rolling mix) by Ascension
Massive epic trance club hit, which heralded in the use of female vocals and vocal trance which would soon come to dominate the mainstream aspect of the genre. Initially popularized on Paul Oakenfold's seminal Tranceport mix CD, which featured the superior "Slacker's Rolling mix" of the track.
  • Words by Paul Van Dyk
Another widely accepted classic of Paul Van Dyk's. Considered by many to be a stronger track than even his ultimate classic "For an Angel."
  • Madagascar by Art of Trance
This track from the Platipus label was composed by Simon Berry and has been remixed several times since its first release.
  • Purple (Sasha vs. The Light mix) by Gus Gus
One of the first breaktrance tracks ever released, and still a highlight of the genre for its distinctive layered melodies. Also famous as the track to popularize "cut-up" vocals in the genre.
  • Greece 2000 by Three Drives
Widely considered to be one of the greatest anthems of progressive trance, as well as a perennial favorite in Ibiza. Still played by many DJs to this day.


  • Sandstorm/Feel The Beat/Out Of Control by Darude
This track blew up on the Finnish, UK and US club scene and helped bring recognition to Hard Trance. Darude originally found fame as an online unsigned band on the now demised site. As well, reletively unknown musically, Finland also became prominent on the Dance music scene with JS16 producing this track and the subsequent album in 2000, Before The Storm.
  • Better Off Alone by Alice DeeJay
A UK #2 and a debut hit by Dutch Trance act Alice DeeJay in July 1999. The track and and the band are similar to Finnish act Darude. It was a big headline hit for Dance festivals that summer.
  • Another Way by Paul van Dyk
An amazing and awe-inspiring journey through the mind and beats by one of the true pioneers of the genre.
  • Universal Nation by Push
Belgian immortal trance and club classic by Push aka M.I.K.E.
  • Carte Blanche by Veracocha
This driving epic trance track was produced by Vincent de Moor & Ferry Corsten and is regarded as one of the tracks that defines epic trance.
  • Out of the Blue by System F
This track has become a huge success, giving trance a big popularity boost.
  • Saltwater by Chicane
This uplifting, epic track was produced by the British DJ Nick Bracegirdle and is widely regarded as one of the greatest trance singles ever.
  • Ayla (Veracocha mix) by Ayla
A high energy trance classic remixed by Veracocha.
  • Barber's Adagio for Strings (Ferry Corsten Remix) by William Orbit
This Ferry Corsten treatment of William Orbit's rendition of the Adagio For Strings by Samuel Barber, has been one of the most successful marriages to date of classical music and trance.
  • Xpander by Sasha
This track is probably the highlight of Global Underground 13: Ibiza, arguably the best GU album that was released at the height of popularity of progressive trance.


  • Urban/Suburban Train by DJ Tiesto
This is a widely regarded classic released by Dutch DJ Tiesto at the height of his career.


  • Ligaya by Gouryella
A relatively recent track that has been an important addition with its euphoric and emotional melody to any dj's sonic arsenal.


  • Music/Next To You by Darude
Finnish trance artist Darude does it again with his new album Rush in which his two most popular singles, Music and Next To You brought about the same popularity of his 1999/2000 offerings Sandstorm, Feel The Beat and Out Of Control. It is widely stated that the Bostik Radio Edit version of Music from the Rush album is considered to be the best version, even over the original album version.

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