Trance will always have its faithful followers and relentless champions. Of all the fleeting musical trends (um, speed garage, anyone?) coming and going these days, trance always manages to be near the top of the charts. For some, this inexplicable phenomenon spells the death of commercial dance music. For others, it’s a blessing. Despite all the endless slagging, denunciations, and overt disapproval from music snobs the world over, there’s something about the sound that will keep it going for quite some time. Cheesiness and commercialism aside, the genre’s main selling point-emotional appeal-is pretty darn effective.
Take Alex Gold, for instance. A major trance DJ in his own right across the pond, Gold knows how to move a crowd. While he may not play the most cutting-edge sounds to the most musically-discerning punters, the fact remains that he skillfully manipulates trance’s heady melodrama for those in the mood to hear it. This is, after all, the man who runs the Xtravaganza label, one of the UK’s leading commercial trance imprints, and the man who made Chicane as close to a household name as any lite trance-pop electronic band could get. With Xtravaganza Mix, Gold flexes his DJing muscle and spins out a set worthy of the heaving masses at the peak of Ibiza’s holiday season.
Whether or not that’s a good thing is still up for debate, of course. Taking a quick look at the tracklisting is enough to send either warning bells or peals of joy ringing in terror or ecstasy. John ‘00’ Fleming, DJ Tiesto, Paul van Dyk, and Cygnus X all make appearances here, and one would imagine that these big names add a whole lot of cred to the proceedings. Well, in a word, NO. Gold has come up with a tiresome mix of sound-alike tracks which speak more of pandering to the masses than artistic ability. His set, though carefully timed and expertly mixed (he boasts some admirable technical skill and retains his mixes for much longer than most DJs) lacks originality and depth. Perhaps his aim was to capture a little bit of the party vibe which he apparently builds to dangerous levels every summer in Ibiza. In that case, the outlandish buildups and breakdowns contained here are perfectly fine. For home listening, however, this CD is frustrating at best, full of trite musical tricks and track after track of the same old formulaic emotional trance.
He starts innocently enough with a John ‘00’ Fleming production. Why he chose to include one of this respected producer’s lesser tracks is a mystery to all involved. Instead of selecting a characteristically high-energy and intricately layered track from Fleming’s rather impressive body of work, Gold chooses this limp, Simple Minds-sampling number. Sure, the ‘80s may be back, but the earnest sounds of that era work best in the present when tempered with a healthy dose of irony. Taken literally, the results border on terrible. “Belfast Trance” overlays lyrical, organic sounds over Fleming’s densely-constructed beats. Hearing a somewhat nationalistic flute line hover uneasily over vaguely psychedelic trance does absolutely nothing but confuse the listener. An apt comparison would be with the over-the-top Braveheart theme song trance mix floating around about three years ago.
From this point on, Gold does little to redeem himself. Rocco & Heist contribute a light, fluff-trance workout, “Rescue Me”, which is ultimately a dull little tune which rehashes the same old breakdowns and heavy, tired synth washes. Coast 2 Coast’s “Home” hardly fares any better with its trite, “haunting” vocal chorus slapped haphazardly over the usual pulsing beat. Even Paul van Dyk’s “Different Journey to Vega” gets lost in the shuffle, coming off as an unexceptional, half-heartedly emotional trance anthem. The currently ubiquitous tune by Three Drives, “Sunset on Ibiza”, does nothing to earn its high spot on the charts besides force a complicated web of synth work onto contrived, highly charged beats. Particularly egregious is Members of Mayday’s “10 in 1”, a strange little ditty which pairs relentless beats with a curious synth line that resembles the melody to early 80s made-for-TV action flick soundtracks. DJ Tiesto’s tracks also fall flat, especially his closing track, “Suburban Train”. The energy-diffusing breakdown and subsequent highly emotional buildup smack of top 40s club trance, and once the fuzzy synths and emphatic beats kick in, the only things one could possibly do is dance like a maniac or cringe as cheese literally oozes from the speakers.
Granted, not every track on this disc reeks of stinking chart fodder. “Glass Garden” by Sonorous pairs interesting atonal synth work with burbling melodic lines, and Cygnus X’s “Superstring” displays a more successful take on harder, harsher, and darker trance with its sinister beats and manic hi-hats. Still, Xtravaganza Mix lacks the sincerity and easy brilliance of quality tracks, making up for it with forceful beats which literally pummel the listener into submission. Contrived, irritating, and overly aggressive in its attempts at eliciting emotion, this CD will hold equal footing in both dumpsters and commercial progressive trance clubs.