Paul van Dyk: Global

Paul Van Dyk

The kind of techno music called trance, in the hands of Paul Oakenfold and other similar artists, is incredibly unpopular right now with a lot of critics and DJs who see it as facile and cookie-cutter and ho-hum and so-what and who-cares. It is supposed, by these haters, that anyone with ProTools and a glowstick could produce a serviceable trance track. Too safe, too easy, they say, too derivative, too boring.

But these criticisms don’t mean much to ravers in Ibiza or Goa or Milwaukee or anywhere else that large numbers of sweaty young pierced people shake their well- and barely-clad asses. To the kids in the clubs, trance is fun and cool and great, because it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it, and also because it’s got a certain ingrained Dark Side of the Moon/”Blue Monday” psychedelia to it that makes it interesting and trippy. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Paul van Dyk doesn’t really want any part of this controversy. He claims that he doesn’t make trance music. I guess I disagree, slightly, because I think a lot of his stuff sounds A LOT like trance, except maybe more layered and gentler and a good bit more beautiful than the other stuff I’ve heard. But I always want to give the artist some latitude in not fitting into little critical boxes. So let’s say it like this:

Global collects 13 van Dyk tracks, each remixed for this release by him, and puts them all together in a continuous mix twice, once on a regular old music CD and then again (in Dolby 5.1 surround sound) on a DVD, together with video footage for every single song and a whole tractor-trailer-load of extras. The songs range from interesting and cool to blah and by-the-numbers, the footage hops from self-aggrandizing and boring to beautiful and big-hearted. It’s all very precise and perfectly done, if you like that sort of thing.

Which I do, kind of. Trance is, for me, hard to hate: it’s just too genial and cute for that. Van Dyk’s oeuvre is just so . . . adorable! Things start off with “We Are Alive,” probably his biggest hit, in a majorly remixed version that takes out virtually all the content from the verses and points everything towards the ecstatic chorus. The synths punch away in modified house style, the perfectly recorded drum patterns slip in and out of Big Beat, and the heart cannot help but sing along: “We’re aliiiiiive!” And then boom, before you know it we’ve transitioned into the spacey krautrocky “Seven Ways” and nothing stops for the next 71-plus minutes.

These tracks are all pretty well overhauled, remix-wise, so they all at least sound good, and they flow together nicely, too. I’m not saying that van Dyk is incredibly technically precise because he’s German or anything . . . but damn is he on point with every single beat. Even the tracks that don’t really work for me at all are well-nigh impeccable in their structure; although “Forbidden Fruit” seems pretty formulaic and cynical in its Windham Hill-ish synth washes, you still have to appreciate the fact that the bass drum pattern replicates the typical house piano rhythm with amazing precision and distinct sound design.

What Global really proves, to me, is that it took van Dyk a while to find his true voice. All the early stuff included here, from the music box plug-and-play-ism of “A Magical Moment” to the “wow check out my computer” generic thumpery of “Words” off the Seven Days album, seems aimless and opportunistic to me — hey, just because you have a really good copy machine doesn’t mean you’re creating something worthwhile.

But the tracks from the Out There and Back LP definitely stand out. “Beautiful Place” and “Together We Will Conquer” are both kinda darkcore and Kraftwerkian in their intentions, while still pushing all those pleasure-center buttons with the throaty breathy sighs of van Dyk’s wife Natascha. I truly dig this mix of the St. Etienne collaboration “Tell Me Why (The Riddle),” which brings the disco funk and the laptop sine-wave trickle-downs for a minute and a half before introducing Sarah Cracknell’s sad little voice: “The morning comes / And snow is falling” is really probably the perfect thing for Ms. Cracknell to sing, n’est ce pas? I’m not quite sure what happened to suddenly give van Dyk a new sense of urgency with these songs, but I’m glad it did: there is a little soul here, by god, a little soul and some feel for the human emotions that can’t be found as easily in the earlier tracks.

The two new pieces bode pretty well for the future, too. On “Animacion,” from the soundtrack to the Mexican movie Zurdo, it actually gets hard to predict where the chord structure is going to go next, and those menacing little hornet-synths are fun fun fun no matter how many techno acts throw them randomly into the mix. And the fakey sitars on the lengthy breakdown are a nice Spinal Tap touch. And the album closer, “My World,” is a total decepticon track: here, it’s almost like he’s sending himself up with that initial Doris Day chipper melody, especially when it turns into an inside-out New Order tribute/homage/ripoff. A sense of humor in a van Dyk track? That could only augur well.

Now, about the DVD: it’s incredible. Splendid interface, tons of extras (including five of his original videos, interview segments with PvD and his obsessed fans around the world), easy to use, etc. But the bulk of the program consists of a 76-minute program of video to accompany every single song. Some of it — including a three-track stretch right in the middle — is largely lifted from other van Dyk videos, which allows one to actually see the beauteous and sultry Natascha van Dyk, and to get a glimpse of her husband’s bland good looks. (Think a thinner smarter version of Greg from “The Bachelorette.”) But most of the Global DVD features images shot during van Dyk’s extensive world touring schedule. Hence, I think, the name of the collection; we get to see the cityscapes of San Francisco and NYC and Bangkok and Mexico City and Miami all kind of blended together and juxtaposed, compared/contrasted, and it’s cute in an idealistic “we are the world” sort of way.

So if you think that video of wildly coiffed Japanese punker kids on the street juxtaposed with footage of PvD mixing things up at a Tokyo club goes well with nice easy little techno songs, then you’ll be in heaven. Me, I still can’t get over the whole self-aggrandizement “oh wow isn’t life wonderful when you’re a big famous DJ” thing (like in the segment for “Beautiful Place” where he starts out in Berlin for Christopher Street Day and then flies to Northampton, England, for a night gig at the Gatecrasher Festival)…but then again the footage IS really kind of cool in an easy-going way, and it’s not like van Dyk himself is going around acting like he thinks he’s hot shit, either.

Maybe he should or something, I dunno. But I think he seems pretty endearing in all his (silent) video appearances, and he’s incredibly German and earnest in all the interview segments, and none of his music would hurt a damn fly. Overall, I’m getting all kinds of nice happy feelings from this CD/DVD by PvD.

As to how many times I’ll actually listen to it or watch it when this review is over, I dunno.