R.I.P. Trance Around the World

Here is how powerful the EDM marketing strategy is: After hosting 450 weekly broadcasts of their popular radio show Trance Around the World, Above & Beyond are ending the show with their final Bangalore soiree and starting Group Therapy Radio. While this brand change would seem to effectively erase the association with trance in particular, to electronic dance styles in general, the group states there won’t be any major changes:

[T]he music policy will remain the same. Above & Beyond will continue to present 90 minutes of the best in trance and progressive, with a 30 minute guest mix from some of their favourite artists each week.

But eerily enough, it’s already somewhat difficult to define modern trance as the EDM boom waters down the essence of most styles: nothing new for big industries attempting to amass larger revenue by providing audiences with a more all-encompassing, streamlining label of the myriad subgenres of music. As usual, this seems to have created a whole new genre in the process. Quotes Sami Yenigun in NPR’s two cents:

“Everything that’s being presented as EDM falls so much within one particular corner of the scene, which is generally a more commercialized corner, a corner with more marketing muscle behind it,” says Philip Sherburne, who writes for SPIN and has covered dance music for more than a decade. “[The term has] been adopted mainly by an American audience to apply to big tent electro-house, American dubstep and things like this.” These things don’t all sound the same. […] In reporting this article I spoke to more than a dozen DJs, industry insiders and dance music journalists (and many, many more in clubs and at festivals), but nobody I spoke to could draw a clear sonic line between EDM and other subgenres of dance music that they don’t consider EDM, like deep house or techno. […] But as the ever-shifting vernacular around dance music has started to congeal, some sort of consensus has formed around its definition: EDM is a pop-driven, mostly high-energy, commercial strain of dance music.

Lest one begins to rank the positive and negative outcomes, it’s important to recognize that anything seeking to emulate a “commercial” value will itself create a highly competitive market for its own best music. While it may not be the most interesting or even challenging sound, EDM encourages a music-making pool similar to the greatest pop: making music for large numbers of people without sacrificing the care and attention it takes to craft a genuinely catchy or meaningful song.

Above & Beyond’s own shift falls under the same ethos. While Trance Around the World confined the group within a certain niche, the change opens the show to possibilities it may discover it wants to pursue. Without relishing its own status as something of a trance legacy, Above & Beyond is choosing to move forward rather than rest on the group’s veteran reputation by making a risky decision that could ensure the group’s survival past EDM’s inevitable rise and fall (which may actually have occurred this summer). Group Therapy is already a phrase I’ve evoked as a kind of otherworldly term for trance, specifically the kind that Above & Beyond are known for: it’s an all-inclusive term that acknowledges how people themselves are an integral experience of the music. Where there’s genuine appreciation, sometimes the more, the better.

Above & Beyond’s “Sun & Moon”

Above & Beyond / Sun & Moon / March 21, 2011
01. Sun & Moon

For one month in January, all of East Asia agreed: keep your head down. That the song, another take on the inexhaustible template of bad break-ups, was so popular it was performed for several weeks on South Korean music shows, translated into Japanese, hit number one on the Oricon, and then sputtered out as if it never existed, is just another demonstration of how pop music brings together so quickly and fades away twice as soon. There is obsession, followed by post-partum, followed by an even lengthier indifference. But “Sun & Moon” is not pop music. There is no moving on. There is only the courageous acceptance that you will never move on; you will never get over it.

It’s ironic that the album featuring this single is titled Group Therapy when the music video effectively exhibits how being alone with the music can take on brief, but therapeutic results. But the overarching genre of trance is meant to be played in large venues for huge crowds and it’s this ambitious title that shows Above & Beyond’s progression from helping to create the genre, to defining it. After all, in terms of function, the term “group therapy” is practically as self-explanatory as drum and bass in defining their particular brand of trance. It’s this ability to highlight the group’s astounding achievement in dance music without breaking the formula that makes “Sun & Moon” a doubly compelling narrative: if Anjunabeats had a tumblr, its tags would consist entirely of #trance for beginners, #brutally simple but effective lyrics, #oont oont oont, #dance music to cry to. Here’s another one: #dance therapy.

On my tumblr, the tags are simply #perfection, #everything I love about trance.