Right, I’ve said it before but it’s probably worth saying again before we get any further with tonight’s piece: I don’t like trance. Of all the forms of electronic music that have bloomed and wilted away over the years, trance is the one I will still cross the road to avoid. The only other genre that has created such an immediate and unwanted reaction in my brain and ears is happy hardcore, but even then I sort of appreciate why people might like it – although if you’d ever spent an evening in the company of a skinhead with the Union Jack tattooed to his sodding forehead, and who got a little lairy when anyone suggested putting something other than Hixxy and Sharkey on the tape deck, you too might share my opinion. The understanding you might actually really die for slipping on a Derrick May mix tends to strangle objectivity at the source.
Trance, though. Well. I might never have been at risk of assault from not wanting to listen to it, but that strikes me as the of faintest of praise. I can’t entirely articulate why I dislike it so much. Hate, much like love, seldom relies on logic and reason. It’s instinctual, an understanding between your body and mind that leaves little room for anything but pure reaction. It doesn’t matter to me whether it comes in a package of uplifting trance, or progressive trance, or psy or goa or whatever else, the whole lot can tie itself to a trancey rocket and fire itself right up its tie-died arse. And it can take its glo-sticks with it too.
Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest. At one time you couldn’t move without tripping over something describing itself as trance, especially once other genres began to get it on the act. Acid techno in particular – a genre that no one could really ever criticise for the over-complexity of its basic concept – seemed to take particular delight in its fast track attempts to get onboard the trance wagon. It was a dark period, friends. Dark and bloody long.
The funny thing is, most trance music isn’t really what you could ever properly describe as trancey. In fact, a lot of it seems to have got the idea a bit arse over tit. There is a lot of music out there that seems far closer to what the term implies; dark, deep music that takes you on a hypnotic and internalised trip into altered worlds where nothing is as it seems; music that creates atmospheres and moods that can only ever exist within the most hidden recesses of the mind.
Still, like a Michelin starred chefs who enjoy munching on big macs in their down time, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule. And for me that exception in Stella by Jam and Spoon, even if I’m not entirely sure why. There are elements of the track that make me grind my teeth when I hear it again after a break, such as the wee Spanish guitar part that I find as jarring as the saxophone solo in Father Ted’s My Lovely Horse. Seriously, I assume it’s there as some sort of nod to an endless Ibizan Elysium, but it makes me want to poke my ears out with a huge screwdriver.
Actually, I do know why I love this track so much. It’s all about that beautiful synth, scything its way into your conciousness, and the way it’s so hazy, lighter than air, existing as a burst of perfect light in a Mediterranean dawn. When you add in the little touches, the breathless vocals, and the drums that always seem on the edge of growing into a breakbeat you end up with that rarest of things: something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s almost untouchable, an evocation of something fragile and infinite that goes beyond melody or chords, or even sound. It’s in this, this sense of the otherness beyond, that marks Stella out as genuine trance. It’s so beguiling I can almost forgive it that guitar break. Almost.