Neptune Project: The template for up and coming DJs
I’ve already featured Neptune Project in a couple of my show reviews. However, this marks the first time where they’re the focus of the article. I’ve been waiting for a chance like this to dig deep and give a better representation as to why I think they’re among the best trance DJs of our times. Neptune Project got their big break quite early on in their careers. Their track Aztec was played numerous times on A State Of Trance radio show in 2009. Armin played it in all his live sets for six straight months. You can’t ask for better exposure than that within a year of launching your career. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until 2014 that the group manage to create a lasting impression in the trance scene. Whereas most new DJs would play short sets filled with the same tracks that everyone receives on promo, Neptune Project went down a different path.
At heart, Dan and Jules are club goers. They discovered trance through numerous Friday nights spent attending shows from their favourite producers and DJs. This clubber DNA impregnates their DJ career. Instead of following in the footsteps of everyone else that got into the scene and perform 60-minute sets, they went against the trend. They honed their skills as Open to Close artists. They realise that trance is more than just about the latest release. Instead, knowing how to mix and match both the old and new productions gives them an edge. And in return, they’ve gained many fans that yearn to hear the songs they grew up with played out live. Fast forward almost three years, and the demand for Neptune Project sets is ever-increasing. They made an appearance at the last two Dreamstate events in California. They’ll play at the 10th Anniversary of the Luminosity Beach Festival in June. On top of that, they perform Open to Close sets on a regular basis all around the world.
What Dan and Jules are doing is certainly not new. The likes of Markus Schulz, John 00 Fleming, and Mark Sherry have performed extended sets for years. However, Neptune Project represents the first in a new generation of DJs that have been able to accomplish this feat. That is part due to an ever-widening void in how people experience music live. Festivals have had a significant impact on trance sets. Unlike other genres, trance does not lend itself easily to short mixes. That is because its quite difficult to craft a musical journey in 60 minutes. Instead, DJs are forced to keep a high level of energy by playing as many tracks as possible and crowd pleasers. This leads to similar sounding sets. The power of open to close shows is that the DJ can dictate the direction the night will go. This unknown aspect creates a sense of discovery for the audience, and I deem it important. Listening to a long-lost track can be an incredible experience. And in this area, Neptune Project excel.
Toronto: A city for the passionate
When it comes to trance destinations, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better city than Toronto. Los Angeles or New York City will get bigger events with larger crowds, but there is an argument to be made when it comes to passionate fans. Over the years, Toronto has hosted two A State Of Trance festivals and numerous other large stage events. However, to truly appreciate what this city has to offer, one needs to attend a regular club event. The one location that everyone should visit is Populus (Formerly Toika).
The place is small and extremely dark, I’d put it at 250 capacity max. You get a DJ booth at the front, a dance floor about 30ft by 40ft large in the middle, and washrooms at the back. That’s it! The sound system is modest but adequate for the task. The atmosphere is tense due to a low ceiling. Combined with the music, it makes for a unique experience. It is no wonder that John 00 Fleming calls it his favourite club in the world. You can’t get more down the rabbit hole then this!
Of course, having a club like this is only half of the equation. You also need a passionate crowd that is willing to live the experience this place has to offer. Luckily, Toronto delivers on this front as well. What Toronto crowds lack in numbers, they make up by sheer loyalty and love for the genre. This DNA traces back to the Golden Age of raving in the late 1990s. At the time, Toronto was the Amsterdam of North America. While the raving mentality has since changed, one thing has remained constant. The desire to have unique experiences while attending electronic music has never lingered.
The majority of people attending trance events in Toronto care deeply about the authenticity of the music. They form deep connections with fellow party members. Listening to trance music is not just a hobby for them. They invest time to learn about the music DJs play and understand their personalities. Their musical knowledge is without a doubt the best I’ve seen thus far. Also, there’s no discrimination against age, sexual orientation, or physical appearance. Instead, you feel a sense of togetherness every time you step on the dancefloor or the boat cruises.
It is for reasons such as these that Toronto has been one of the top destinations for trance DJs. Especially when it comes to extended and open to close sets.Pretty much every DJ that enjoys that type of show has performed in the city. It is also why I attend quite a few show on a yearly basis even though I’m not from Toronto. As a die-hard trance fan, you can’t ask for more than this!
Open to Close: A musical journey
I have already touched upon some of the aspects of OTC events in the opening section. Nevertheless, I deem it important to explain in more detail why such shows are important for the health of the trance scene. I’ll try as much as possible to do a parallel to the Neptune Project set to reinforce these ideas.
When a DJ plays for five, seven, or even ten hours, he needs to build the night from the ground up. The DJ uses multiple genres to accomplish such a journey. Some deep house and progressive will do the trick at the start. Techno and breaks can give the crowds much-needed breaks in the middle of the night. Psytrance and hard trance energise the clubbers at the early hours of the morning. Knowing how to ebb and flow between these sounds is not an easy task. If you approach it from an analytical perspective, you’ve already failed. Instead, the DJ needs to be able to read the crowd and understand what genre is best suited for the moment. It is no surprise then that most OTC DJs have plenty of experience. However, Neptune Project break the mold, two-hold.
Firstly, they are still relatively new to the DJing scene when compared to some of the names already mentioned. Nevertheless, they’ve managed to acquire praise from many people within the industry. While their fanbase can’t compete in sheer numbers with the likes of Solarstone or Ferry Corsten, they’re extremely loyal and passionate. Their small club events transform into parties with close friends. Friends that you don’t know in real life, but to which you can relate on a musical level. As a group, you end up with an intimate experience which is impossible to replicate on a large-scale event. To top it off, both Dan and Jules love to connect with their fans. It adds another layer to the experience, and they have made friends around the world this way.
Secondly, their shows stay within the realm of trance. That’s not to say there’s no variation. Progressive trance, uplifting, and even some tech-trance is usually featured. However, the key element is Classics! Most OTCs showcase new music from different genres to keep the crowd involved. However, by playing classics, the same objective can be obtained.
There are two main reasons why I always call upon to justify their presence in sets. Firstly, classic trance is simpler in structure. The songs don’t have 100+ audio channels in them. Instead, they focus on a handful of pieces that make the tracks stand out. Mainly, the melody, the atmosphere, the groove, and the drive. The other important reason why I love classics is for educational purposes. There’s no better way to learn about the history of the genre than by being on the dance floor. It is where one connects with the music the most. Listening to a long forgotten track or discovering a song you’ve never heard before can be an enjoyable experience.
Luckily, Neptune Project sets are filled with many such moments. Their admiration for Above & Beyond and the classic Anjuna sound is evident. You would be hard pressed to find a set without a few songs from their back catalogue. Nevertheless, their shows not only feature productions from other well-known producers, such as Paul Van Dyk, Airwave and Matt Darey, but also from small artists: Free Radical, Accadia and Onova. Just like many other music genres, trance is not all about the known quantities. By exploring the hidden gems, Dan and Jules showcase their knowledge and passion for the genre.
Both guys are, first and foremost, fans of the music they create and play. They grew up as clubbers that wanted to be taken on a journey whenever they stepped on the dance floor. As DJs, they want to reproduce this experience for not only themselves but also for their fans. For the most part, they do a fantastic job. For the duration of the show, you feel as though you stepped into a world where one can put aside your problems and differences with other people and let the music take you down a journey that you’ve never experienced before.
Thankfully, Neptune Project record all their shows and post them online so that everyone can share in on the experience. I’m a strong believer that there’s nothing better than being in a club and listening to the mix live. When you relisten to it in the comfort of your home or while commuting, a few elements are missing. The crowd is absent, there’s no intimacy, and the sound quality is different. Nevertheless, we can still listen to the music, and I appreciate having that chance. After all, we can’t be at all these shows all the time.
This set can currently be heard on the new Amplifyd Music platform. For those that are willing to subscribe, you gain exclusivity to all the sets for a few weeks. The subscription also gives access to all upcoming releases as well as some back catalogue productions. Other perks include merchandise and meet & greet at events. While this business model is not for everyone, it’s providing fans with a way to connect with artists on a level never seen before. And the best thing of it all is that you’re financially supporting the artists you care about most.
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Featured Photo Credit: Adele Desloges & EDM TOR