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Trance is a genre of electronic music that developed in the 1990s in Germany. It is characterized by a tempo of between 125 to mid 140 beats per minute (BPM), repeating melodic phrases, and a musical form that distinctly builds up and down throughout a track. Although trance is a genre of its own, it liberally incorporates influences from other electronic music styles such as techno, house, pop, chill-out classical music, tech house, ambient and film music.
A trance refers to a state of hypnotism and heightened consciousness. This is portrayed in trance music by the mixing of layers with distinctly foreshadowed build-up and release. A characteristic of virtually all trance music is a mid-song climax followed by a soft breakdown disposing of beats and percussion entirely, and leaving the melody and/or atmospherics to stand alone for an extended period before gradually building up again. As a result, trance tracks are often lengthy to allow for this progression and sufficiently sparse opening and closing sections to facilitate mixing by DJs.
Although trance can be purely instrumental, vocals are also a common feature. Typically they are performed by mezzo-soprano to soprano female soloists, often without verse/chorus structure. Structured vocal form in trance music forms the basis of the vocal trance subgenre, which has been described as “grand, soaring, and operatic” and “ethereal female leads floating amongst the synths.
The origin of the term is uncertain; one theory suggests that the term is derived from the Klaus Schulze album Trancefer(1981). The earliest reference to ‘trance’ in modern dance music is British act The KLF on their 1988 track What Time Is Love (Pure Trance 1), on which the record sleeve is also annotated ‘Pure Trance’. Dance 2 Trance is also an early example of trance music, having first released single in 1991.
Psychedelic trance culture of Kazantip in 2006, showing the decorations common at trance music events.
Other schools of thought argue the name may refer to an induced emotional feeling, high, euphoria, chills, or uplifting rush that listeners claim to experience, while other suggestions trace the name to the actual trance-like state the earliest forms of this music attempted to emulate in the 1990s before the genre’s focus changed.
Some trace Trance’s antecedents back to Klaus Schulze, a German experimental electronic music artist who concentrated in mixing minimalist music repetitive rhythms and arpeggiated sounds (specifically his 1988 album “En=Trance”. In truth it was really Sven Väth, his labels and others in the same group that saw the initial releases of trance . In France, Jean Michel Jarre, an early electronic musician, released two albums in the late 1970s: Oxygène in 1976 and Equinoxe in 1978. Also a possible antecedent, Neil Young’s 1982 electronic album, Trans, bears resemblance to the trance music genre. Another possible antecedent is Yuzo Koshiro’s electronic soundtracks for the Streets of Rage series of video games from 1991 to 1994; and Wangan Midnignt Maximum Tune (series) series from 2001 up to present. It was promoted by the well-known UK club-night megatripolis (London, Heaven, Thursdays) whose scene catapulted it to international fame.
Examples of early Trance releases include but are not limited to German duo Jam & Spoon’s 1992 12″ Single remix of the 1990 song The Age Of Love., German duo Dance 2 Trance’s 1990 track “We Came in Peace”.
One writer traces the roots of trance to Paul van Dyk’s 1993 remix of Humate’s “Love Stimulation”. However, van Dyk’s trance origins can be traced further back to his work with Visions Of Shiva, which were his first ever tracks to be released. In subsequent years, one genre, vocal trance, arose as the combination of progressive elements and pop music, and the development of another subgenre, epic trance, had some of its origins in classical music., with film music also being influential.
Trance was arguably at its commercial peak in the second part of 1990s and early 2000s.