Trance maestro Paul Van Dyk returned to Brooklyn on November 12th for an epic night full of trance!
Paul Van Dyk. The inspiration for not just me, but millions of electronic music fans across the world. His music has moved us, both on the dance floor and the on inside, for close to 25 years. A DJ, a music producer, a philanthropist, a Grammy winner, but most importantly, someone with a lot of passion for the line of work he does. Paul has been the instrument of change regarding my musical taste for the last 18 years. His tracks and live sets have nurtured my growing need of understanding why I deem trance music to be so essential.
The electronic music fans tend to search for an outside connection when at events. They want to share their love and passion with other like-minded people. I, on the other hand, have always had a very rational approach to life. I’ve been that way from a very young age, and it’s also dictated my field of work. However, on February 28th, 2016, I couldn’t stop but put my rationality aside and let the emotions overcome me as the news of Paul Van Dyk’s fall during A State Of Trance in Utrecht got out. The initials reports combined with the three long and excruciating months of radio silence from Paul’s management team didn’t give much hope for a recovery. But then on May 24th, Paul himself gave his fans an update saying that he’ll return to live performances. In an interview with Billboard that surfaced a couple of weeks later we all realised just how close he was to not making it back.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Paul perform in small clubs, big events, and festivals for close to six years. Every single time, I left the venue with a smile on my face. I could have gone on living without seeing him again at a show. However, as I read through that interview, I told myself that I’ll try to see him as often as possible from now on as you never know what can happen in the future. Flash forward to November 12th, 2016, and Paul’s much-anticipated return to the Big Apple was my first opportunity to see him. Add in the fact that this is extended set, in a warehouse, in Paul’s favourite city bar Berlin, and the stage was set for a magnificent night!
New York City. The city that never sleeps is home to a vast list of venues, ranging from small clubs to super-clubs, to amphitheaters. Perfect for almost any type of event; except if you want more of an underground rave vibe that is! Fear not. Brooklyn, with its endless supply of warehouses and abandoned buildings, is the go-to location for those that are looking for a more minimal approach to their musical experiences. The moment you enter the Brooklyn Hangar you understand why this is. All your attention is pulled towards the DJ booth. There’s a big LED screen at the back, four sets of suspended light rails, two lasers, one on each side of the stage and two large stadium speakers. That is it! The further you are, the darker it is and the more immersive the overall visual experience. The closer you are, the harder and more enveloping the sound. While the overall presentation was very fantastic, I do have a couple of issues I would like to point out.
- I have no problem with loud sound systems as I always wear my ear plugs. However, when pushing the system to the max you can induce reverb and the base can overcome the treble and highs. When these effects come into play, they take away some of my overall enjoyment. The sound for the opening acts was perfectly balanced, and the volume wasn’t too high. You could move around the dance floor and from almost anywhere, you would have great to excellent sound quality. Earplugs weren’t even required. However, for the entirety of Alex’s M.O.R.P.H.’s set and the start of Paul’s, the volume was cranked up to 11. The reverb on the sides was very noticeable, and the only place I found to be acceptable was at the very back. I usually tend to stay near back at all shows to enjoy both the audio and visuals, so it worked out OK in the end. However, I felt that this time around I was forced to go there instead of just wondering there as the night progressed. The sound issues were resolved midway through Paul’s set, and everything was a lot more enjoyable even from closer range.
- The LED screen was suffering from some software glitches and multiple times it started acting up. The people in charge had to shut it down and fix it constantly. It usually got back up within a minute or two and overall it wasn’t a huge distraction
New York crowds are incredibly spoiled when it comes to trance events. From various big festivals to club nights and warehouse parties, there’s a show every two weeks on average. The people themselves are very educated, knowledgeable, and passionate about the artists. The symbiosis between these two elements can’t be overlooked. This connection is the main reason why the majority of NYC events I attend are fantastic. Passionate fans are supportive of real talent, both big and small, and in turn the artists love playing for such a crowd. It’s one of the few places in North America where this invisible link is so easily noticeable (the other being Toronto). By now it might be evident that I’m quite the PVD fan. I usually display my VANDIT shirt at almost all events I go regardless of who’s playing. Tonight though there were loads of people wearing VANDIT and PVD shirts which was very nice to see. Quite often I see folks dressed in a particular branded shirt just for the sake of it, but here you could see that Paul was more than just a brand; he was the reason so many people fell in love with trance and electronic music, and they were proud of showing his logo.
The night consisted of three main acts: Neptune Project, Alex M.O.R.P.H., and Paul Van Dyk. The last two should be familiar to a lot of folks whereas Neptune Project might not. Putting all my personal bias and friendship aside, I highly recommend to everyone to check out some of their sets from the past two years. They’ve played predominantly Open to Close shows in quite small venues and have made a name for themselves as excellent DJs that combine both modern and classic trance in a very organic way. While short sets don’t give a DJ a lot of liberty of expression, Neptune Project do a superb job of creating a musical journey that’s unique. From breaks to progressive trance, Anjunabeats classics, new material and of course their own productions, this set had it all despite being only 75 minutes long. Neptune Project have also been supportive of the smaller, yet very talented, artists. People like Breakfast, Factor B, or even New York’s own Thomas Datt and Eco have been heavily featured in their sets. It’s things like these that make DJs stand out in my opinion as they can play tracks very few people have heard. This mix featured three tracks from such artists. We even got a custom-made outro combining Hans Zimmer – It’s Where Were Going from the Interstellar soundtrack (An album I highly recommend to anyone that wants to experience a musical masterpiece) with the evocative and compelling speech of Alan Watts titled What If Money Was No Object?
Alex M.O.R.P.H. The man who has produced many euphoric anthems over the years while keeping his trucker image on point: Trucker cap, long beard, and of course his sense of humour! With his new album Not All Superheroes Wear Capes freshly released, you would be hard pressed not to find quality uplifting material in his sets. However, over the past 12-18 months, Alex has also started going down a darker path and has dabbled into psytrance, both as a producer but most importantly as a DJ. This route has become a common trend of many uplifting and tech-trance artists as of late. To be frank, I’m not super keen on this style of genre mixing as I find very few DJs manage to create a good flow for the set. Either you’re faced with endless genre hopping, or you get one song that doesn’t fit in because it’s so left field.
Alex is known for creating stellar intros for his sets, with the ASOT 550 taking the cake. Trance + Star Wars is a mighty combo! He kicked things off with a breakdown edit of the main track from his album before he transitioned into another breakdown, but this time being psytrance. From then on we got some Astrix and Liquid Soul to go along with a couple more psytrance productions before we slowly moved into tech-trance. The last 30-40 minutes were all about uplifting and the good old sound that Alex is known for. Between Amber, We Are, and Not All Superheroes Wear Capes, there were plenty of hands in the air moments. Overall, the flow was quite good and the genre hoping that I usually hear in these type of sets wasn’t present at all. While the start might have been an abrupt sound change, the last segment was perfectly aligned with the music that Paul loves to play. By the end, the crowd warmed up nicely, and they were ready for the main event.
Out of all the times that I’ve seen Paul, this is by far the most intriguing show. I say that because of a few reasons. The excitement in the crowd was palpable. You could both hear it and see it from the people’s behaviour. I’m sure not everyone was aware of Paul’s recent struggles, nor did I expect all of them to know. Nevertheless, it did feel like many were happy to see him back behind the decks and most importantly, in good health. And it also was evident that Paul was very glad to be back in what is, let’s face it, his second home.
Before I continue, I need to point out a few DJing tricks that make Paul stand out head & shoulders in my eyes compared to any other performer out there. Throughout his entire career, Paul has never shied away from repeating tracks in his sets or teasing the crowd with small snippets way before the full-fledged track is played. The teasing allows him to create anticipation for a particular track. He would play a 4 bar section here, another one there. Just enough so that the crowd would recognise it, but then he would rob you of your moment. And then, when you least expect it, the full track is played in all its glory! I’ve experienced this enough times, both live and in recorded sets, to know that it works wonders, especially with signature tracks such as For An Angel. However, knowing when and how to tease is an art, and very few DJs can pull this off. The teasing also has a second, less important, purpose and that is to link certain parts of the set together by making you think of when you heard it before. While this is not always effective, repeating tracks certainly accomplishes that! Many see this as a DJing error (which is the case most of the time), but if played at the right moment, the crowd’s reaction would be even stronger the second time around. Paul is a master of both of these techniques, and I’ll make reference to them a couple of occasions in the following segment. Lastly, he’s also one of the few DJs that plays live. By live, I mean the ability to deconstruct and rearrange tracks on the fly. This skill allows him to create new and never before heard versions of tracks by virtue of integrating Paul Van Dyk signature sounds (such as his high hat or kick drum) in any song he wishes. The structure of the set is homogenised by using common elements to transition between songs. The result is a central narrative that enhances the musical journey. It is also why Paul can play tracks that are quite remote from the trance genre and yet they still fit.
The set started with an ambient vocal track that turned out to be a teaser for a track that was played in full more than two hours later! The vocal was quite haunting, and it was stuck in my head for the entire set, so it came as no surprise that I easily picked it up when I finally got the chance to hear it again. The opening bar of the main lead in For An Angel was teased not once, but twice! We got our first glimpse of it during the breakdown of Time Of Our Lives, which yet again was played 2 hours before the full song. The second tease was much later, in what turned out to be a medley of Berlinition, Crush and For An Angel.
While these are signs of a great set, the first hour was not quite so fantastic. Ever since his comeback, the only available recordings of Paul have been 60 minutes, except his Luminosity set which was 110. The track selection for these mixes is similar, and so is the build-up. To be frank, this has been the case ever since he started the Politics of Dancing 3 tour. Whether it was on purpose or just due to him not playing long sets in quite some time, the first 45 minutes were odd. From a track selection perspective, there was a definite difference from his festival sets, but the few new tracks didn’t quite gel with the rest. Dissolve (Freedom Fighters remix) is one that sticks out straight away but there were others. The mixing itself wasn’t up to the level we’ve been used to either. The sound issues I’ve discussed earlier might have played a factor. Whatever the cause, the opening segment felt off somehow and I still can’t quite put my finger on why. It created a sharp contrast to the night and made the ending more powerful The best moment of the segment was when the entire crowd sang along to New York City. Paul sure knows his audience!
As we approached the second hour, everything picked up. From Paul’s tracks and remixes to new releases on both VANDIT and other labels to tracks that are 2-3 years old and a few classics, the track selection, and most importantly, the set flow was incredible. Paul is known for being an energetic DJ. He achieves this by playing at a constant high BPM and masterfully performing quite short transitions. However, at this event, we were treated to a variety of mixing techniques. Some tracks were played for 60-90 seconds, others for 5-6 minutes. Some transitions were 10-15 seconds long; others were 90 seconds. Some tracks were played in their original form without any added elements; others were full of live adjustments. This constant change kept me on my toes, and I was keen not only to hear the next track but also how the journey to it would pan out! It’s something that very few DJs accomplish and it’s a pure joy to witness live. The final hour continued in the same vein regarding mixing, with an emphasis on Paul’s productions, both brand new and older. The best moments of the night happened during this hour. M.I.K.E. – Universal Nation mixed into Hurts – Sunday (Paul Van Dyk remix), the aforementioned Berlinition, Crush and For An Angel medley and Paul Van Dyk feat. Johnny McDaid – Home as the closing track.
As is costumed in most extended sets, Paul performed a couple of encores. The last track played was Active Sight – Tears Of Joy. I found this an incredibly touching finale, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the track name speaks for itself. Paul acknowledges that he’s lucky to be in a position where he can enjoy life and all its beauties, let alone do what he loves most: entertain his millions of fans! The track title is a metaphor for his current state of being and how privileged he is to be alive. While the title evokes happiness, the track itself is in complete juxtaposition. The bassline is subdued, semi-hidden in the background, yet always present. The structure is simple. A lot of room is given to the melody, which is extremely melancholic and hypnotic. There is nothing here that will make you cry of joy. Instead, listening to this song, one can’t help but feel sorrow. Knowing that all good things will eventually come to an end. And it’s here that one realises the greatness of Paul’s talent.
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Featured Photo by PoselskiBrothers.com