Simon Patterson and John Askew have been around the trance scene for a combined 30+ years. Anyone who’s a fan of the darker, grittier, more underground sounds and is not familiar with them at this point is probably living under a rock. Since entering the scene, both artists have changed and evolved not only as producers but also as DJs. However, throughout their entire careers, there has been one constant, both have taken their fans on unforgettable musical experiences!
Simon took the industry by storm in the later part of the 2000s by producing high-octane, yet very melodic tech-trance. His tracks have become classics that DJs spin to this day and that fans yearn to hear in clubs. However, it wasn’t until the introduction of the Open Up concept four years ago that he finally made it big as a DJ. While I’ll go into the details of how I see his Open Up brand in more detail later in the review, the gist is very simple: blow up all genre limitations and play whatever feels right at the moment. In theory, this creates unique shows that give you a lasting memory if you’re in the right frame of mind.
However, before jumping into the set analysis, I would like to touch upon other elements in any music show. Mainly, the crowd, the venue, and the audio/visual production quality on display.
New York has been the Mecca of electronic music in North America since the early 90s. For the past 20 years, famous trance DJs like Paul Van Dyk and others were booked here on a constant basis. These bookings happened even before trance ever took off in the States. I see only be one reason as to why this would happen. The crowd is knowledgeable, passionate, and ready to experience a unique musical journey.
As I started talking to people about the current NYC fans, this idea of knowledgeable and passionate fans in NYC no longer seemed accurate. Instead, mentions of people being ungrateful were coming in from all directions. How could this be? After all, if the NYC crowd is so disinterested in music that builds itself on the principle of strong emotions and feelings, then why would there be such a plethora of shows in the city?
I have attended close to 10 show in the past year. I can safely say that this could not be further from the truth. From parties on beaches, piers, warehouses, hangars, and clubs, there has been one constant. The NYC trance crowd are real clubbers. They’re not there to dress up, play around with fancy gloves, glow sticks, or drink until they pass out. They only want to dance and be taken on a journey by the DJs. They’re passionate and understand the ebbs and flows of a set. NYC clubbers let themselves be taken away by the flow of the night. Also, they recognise the big tracks as well as the lesser known ones. Regardless of how tired these people are, the music fuels them, which keeps them going instead of sitting on the floor. In North America, this is a highly rare feat, especially given the crowd sizes that NYC shows get. You will find the same vibe in a secret club with 50 people in the middle of nowhere. Seeing over a 1000 people sharing the same mentality is much harder!
Esscala warehouse parties are all held at the same place: 23 Meadow Street, Brooklyn, NY. I’ve had mixed experiences at this location in the past. Pure Trance NYC was one of my favourite events the entire year. The schedule was well thought out. The music played took you on a ride, starting with progressive house and ending with Goa. The crowd jewel, though, was the sound system. Perfectly balanced to cater to the music. On the other hand, Kearnage NYC was the event I enjoyed the least. The musical style played for this show combined with a sub-optimal setup of the sound system meant there was significant reverb and I could never quite get into the show. Since then, Esscala has worked on making things better by upgrading to a different speaker setup. I’m delighted to say the better sound setup has massively improved the overall audio experience. Compared to Kearnage, the range is wider, the sound is crisper, and the bass is more powerful. The setup was spot on. You could hear a lot of the smaller, finer elements of songs. All of this while retaining sound quality with minimal distortion and reverb.
On top of this, the show gave us a very wide range of music styles: progressive house, tech house, techno, tech-trance, uplifting, vocals, and even psytrance. Each genre has a distinct sound design and a particular frequency usage. For a night like Open Up that showcases a wide variety of music, having a great sound setup is essential. The upgraded system was 100% worth it!
Throughout his entire career, John Askew has been very adamant about venues where the visuals are low-key. He loves it when the club is dark and gritty. Combining a dark room with a high-quality sound system results in a night where the entire focus on the music.
The whole visual setup at Brooklyn Warehouse consisted of a laser on each side of the booth and two light racks that went diagonally across the room. For the most part, I found the visuals great. The only slight annoyance with this light setup (in past shows the lights were either by the booth or on the sides of the room) is that the lights blinded me more often than I would have liked. It also illuminated the crowd more than I had anticipated.
I’m not directing, in any way, shape, or form, criticism towards Esscala. I simply came in with different expectations. The two previous times I’ve seen Askew for OTC type shows, I could barely see my hands, let alone the people around me! Such a situation means that my auditory senses are on full alert and it enhances the musical experience. While I wished the same for this show, I can’t complain. The visual choreography was well done. The opening hours kept a darker vibe in the room as things slowly built up. As Simon kicked up the energy a gear or two, the lights started to take more center stage. It lasted for most of his solo set as well as the B2B segment. The lights and lasers mimicked the high energy from the music. For the last 15 minutes, as John wound down the night, the room was at it’s darkest. It would have been perfect if the entire show had this vibe, but again, it’s more personal taste than a complaint.
The production, both on the audio and visual fronts, was top-notch!
Since this night had into three distinct segments, I thought it best to analyse each individually.
John Askew Intro Set:
I’m not a huge fan of tech-house and deep prog in clubs, mainly because I deem this style of music appropriate for relaxing at home or road trips. In a club, the primary goal is to dance your pants off! Despite this, I appreciate a well-crafted set and John certainly delivered.
Many people know John for his tech-trance smashers and his open to close nights in Argentina where he goes all out from the word GO (Such as his 5.5-hour set from La Plata this past March). However, classifying John as a one-dimensional 140 BPM DJ is a massive disservice to one of the greatest trance DJs of our generation. John’s ability to take a crowd from low to high energy is unique and can’t be replicated by other trance DJs. He achieves this thanks to his fantastic track selections and incredible mixing skills.
John’s 3-hour opening set remained at 125BPM throughout. Nevertheless, there was a constant impression that the tempo and energy were slowly being built up. The segment consisted of a mixture of tech house, deep house and progressive. Techno tracks were thrown in here and there to spice things up. The mixing was flawless, while the crazy visuals and live mixing elements were absent. I quite appreciated this as it left the music do all the talking. You were not supposed to dance to this segment. Instead, it was about setting a groove, preparing everyone for a musical journey deep into the night. Essentially, Opening Up your brain to sounds that you’re not always exposed to so that you enrich yourself. It a brilliantly executed mix and one without which the night not would have worked as well.
Simon Patterson Solo Set:
As soon as Simon jumped behind the decks, however, things changed rapidly. The tempo increased (a bit too fast to my liking to be honest). Industrial and Techno sounds replaced thhe progressive and groovy vibe. Out of all the electronic genres featured in sets, techno is my least favourite. I simply can’t do more than 30 minutes of techno before my interest just vanishes. I’ve come to accept that this genre is simply not for me. Luckily that night, Simon played just enough techno to keep me going before transitioning to some filthy tech-trance.
Over the past two years, there’s been an influx of trance DJs that play psytrance. I deem their track selection to be abysmal as they focus too much on commercial psytrance productions. However, Simon is one of the best at picking tracks from labels that still respect the original intentions of the genre. He also plays psytrance tracks from yesteryear. In particular, old productions of Astrix, which I always welcome! The remainder of his set was a well-crafted mix with ebbs and flows. Going from tech-trance to psytrance and back to more trance beats towards the end.
Simon Patterson B2B John Askew Set:
Before I jump into the Back 2 Back set, I do like to point out that I’ve been fortunate enough to see Simon through each stage of his career. From playing uplifting centric nights to tech-trance mixes. I’ve heard his techno only ventures, and of course, the Open Up shows. I’ve come to appreciate him as not only a talented producer but also as a great DJ. However, it is important to understand since the Open Up brand launched, you can’t expect Simon to play what you always want. The basic idea of Open Up is to remove all genre boundaries. This concept allows Simon the freedom to craft different experiences for different nights. At an Open Up show, you won’t always hear “Miss You” or “Us” or any of his earlier productions. Instead, you will always have a sense of mystery as to what you’ll listen. Having said that, I fully understand people may get upset at not hearing some of Simon’s classic tracks live. I’ve simply come to embrace this idea that if I go into an Open Up show without any expectations as to what music the DJ plays, I will have a fantastic time.
Having said that, I’ve struggled to find the right words to explain this set. Not because it was mediocre or strange, but because it was incredible! Back 2 Back sets rarely work outside of short stints because you can’t quite tell a story. DJs switching every other track means you can’t get into a rhythm. The sets don’t have a flow. Instead, it’s more of a showcase of new music. There’s a reason why I appreciate the approach John and Simon have. They prefer to play for 30 or so minutes at a time. This structure allows them enough time to craft a series of short stories that, when put together, give you a complete journey.
From the first song that John played, you knew that you went down a new path. There were a few elements at play here. The track selection for the entire night was impressive, both from Simon and John. With such a vast back catalogue, there were surprisingly very few old tracks played. Instead, there was a lot of fresh material showcased, especially by John. New originals and remixes from the guys on the VII crew, as well as from other artists. I loved this show because I knew that I was among the very few to hear so much new music live! It’s so rare nowadays for DJs to play a significant chunk of their sets with unreleased material.
Throughout the night, there was a sharp tone and pace difference every time John and Simon switched. Simon focused predominantly on the darker sounds. He played a lot of psytrance intertwined with his recent releases. He also added some unexpected trance tracks just when you least expect it. I found myself on my toes, and I always love it when that happens. The best experiences I’ve had in clubs where the ones where I couldn’t predict what type of track would come next.
On the other hand, John, in typical Askew fashion, displayed a myriad of genres. His constant usage of breaks, driving techno, and minimal tracks to break the rhythm of uplifting and tech trance is virtually unmatched in the scene. Extended mixes are not always about constantly building up the energy level. Instead, knowing how to bring it down, or better yet, break the rhythm before building it up again, can be much more efficient. I know of only two other trance DJs that can achieve this feat: Paul van Dyk and John 00 Fleming. It’s no coincidence that Paul van Dyk, John 00 Fleming, and John Askew are my top 3 DJs.
I have one other topic of interest, the mixing. Here as well, I found a sharp contrast between the two. Simon played far fewer tracks, his transitions were much longer, and the energy level slowly increased with each segment. It was clear that his mission was simple. Wreck as much havoc on the dance floor as possible. In contrast, John’s mission was more delicate and complicated. Ensure that the crowd had enough energy to finish the night while also playing within his known style. His mixing varied, playing some tracks in full, while he heavily edited others. He even teased a few tracks for 30 or 60 seconds, preparing the crowd for the drop or the riff, but he would switch to another track altogether. While this can be irritating, it is also refreshing to see DJs take such risks. This is what makes John stand out from ordinary DJs who simply play to please the crowd. Instead, he plays to deliver something unique and keep you guessing as to what and how the next track continues the journey. He showcased this variety in his transitions as well. Some were long; others were short. There were even some straight up cuts, which most DJs simply get wrong. Here, though, they were executed flawlessly!
I found this night to be one of two tales, in many respects polar opposites. One was relentless; the other had peaks and valleys. One was dark; the other was uplifting. At times, you were pushed to dance, at others, you were allowed a chance to feel. To truly appreciate this set, you need to be able to combine these two different experiences into one. Only then you realise the genius behind Simon’s and John’s work. This show could have easily focused on banging trance the whole time and showcasing the tracks that every fan wanted to hear. Instead, the DJs took the crowd down a path that was more risky and challenging: One that offered a unique point of view.
Given banging trance or a unique perspective, I know precisely which one I would have every single time!