donderdag 7 oktober 2010

A random day at the ID&T headquarters

Employee 1: Hey check this out, I just managed to book Tiesto for Trance Energy 2011, how cool is that?!

Employee 2: Tiesto? Dude he doesn't do trance anymore, he has completely converted to house and shitty hitparade music.

Employee 1: Really?? Tiesto? Damn I didn't know that.

Employee 2: Can you still cancel the booking?

Employee 1: No, I got an extra good rate by taking the no-cancellation option. Only 200.000 euro instead of 250.000.

Manager: You know what guys, we can easily solve this by changing the concept of the event. Let's just axe the trance and call it 'Energy'. Then we can get away with whatever shit lineup we want. I'll talk to Duncan about it.

Duncan: Hmzzz... Trance Energy without trance eh? Brilliant idea! Go make it happen and stop by at Personnel on your way out, you're getting a raise.

zaterdag 25 september 2010

Review: Gareth Emery - Northern lights

Gareth Emery is probably the single most successful one of the new generation of DJs that have rushed into the spotlights in the past few years. After he skyrocketed into the DJ Mag Top 100 in 2009 his schedule has completely exploded and today he is one of the most sought after names around the globe. It’s hard to imagine that this is the same guy we were hanging out with in the crowd at Tomorrowland only a few years ago, eating an ice cream and not being bothered by anyone.

What’s even more remarkable is that Gareth did it all on his own. He runs his own label and is not on the massive promo waves of companies like Armada, who in todays market full of ignorant consumers can make any talentless noone into a star DJ. Boosting his popularity by his early adoption of the Podcast phenomenon and a stream of quality productions and remixes, all laced with his very unique signature sound, him being embraced by the global audience is proof that there really is a place for real telent, next to the Tiestos, Armins and Paul van Dyks of this world.

Perhaps a bit overwhelmed by this massive career acceleration it became clear that he needed to put out a debut artist album fast. With expectations being sky high after his quality single productions and being pressed for time because of the aforementioned bizarre travel schedule this obviously was not an easy nut to crack. Yet he finished it and didn’t fall for the temptation to recycle his former releases but instead came up with all new tracks. So let’s press play and see what he made of it:

01. Stars
In between the loads and loads of generic garbage the dance music scene has been flooded with in the past few years Gareth Emery and Jerome Isma-ae are two of the best examples of new producers that deserve massive respect for their unique styles.

This track is a magical fusion between the Emery and the Isma-ae sound, which totally works for me. Really excellent track.


02. El Segundo
Well well, El Segundo. I know a guy who left his wallet there once, but that’s a long time ago. In the meantime this is a pretty nice piece of work, although sequenced right after the powerful ‘Stars’ track it lacks a bit of umpf. Still an album full of tracks like this would make me a happy consumer.


03. Too dark tonight
Hmz, this one is seriously lame. Even though working with your sibling from another genre is not entirely original (Eller van Buuren anyone?) I think as such it is a cool idea, but the result is a disappointing track. Unworthy of the album.


04. Arrival
Gareth immediately recuperates here with this track he opened almost every set with this summer. This is really one of the strongest tracks on the album and one of his strongest productions ever I might add. While it sounds actually quite simple it has a massive drive and all the great Emery ingredients. I experienced the effect of this track live a few times and it’s just the perfect set opener. Progressive, yet driving and setting you up for more.


05. Into the light
Not really into this one. In general I’m not a fan of vocal tracks, so I always try to listen beyond the vocal, imagining an instrumental version. In this case that leaves a decent but not great track, which I would rate with a 7 perhaps, but with the vocal I have to deduct. A very similar situation as with various tracks on Armin’s new album.


06. Full tilt
This is getting better again. Nice typical album track, nothing particularly special but pleasant on the ears.


07. Sanctuary
The single track that preceded the album and a great example of the smartness of the Emery sound. It really balances between trance, progressive and house which makes it a great fit in any set, and it’s really hard not to like it. Also a great use of vocal in this one, it’s nicely executed and actually adds body to the track. The only point of criticism I could think of is that right before the track gets into the chorus that annoying buzzing sound sample that Gareth also used before in his ‘On a good day’ remix is back. This sound makes me think my speakers are blown all the time. Nevertheless really liking this one. Had he put the club mix in here it would have been a 9.


08. Citadel
Great instrumental track. If only the entire album was like this it would be heavenly.


09. Fight the sunrise
The number of vocal tracks is getting rather annoying at this point. And not being a particularly good one this just doesn’t add anything. It’s too simple, the structure is borderline generic deggadegga uplifting and the vocal is seriously nagging. Will probably fit perfectly in the second hour of A State of Trance and therefore will not make it into my iPod.


10. All is now
Failed crossbreed between Emery and generic uplifting. At least it’s instrumental but as much as the collaboration with Jerome Isma-Ae did work, this one with Activa just doesn’t. Not really working very well as an album closer either as it doesn’t really leave you with any particular feeling.


As seems to be the trend nowadays CD buyers get screwed over by getting an incomplete product, compared to the digital download buyers who get bonus tracks. Let’s see what us CD heads are missing out on:

11. I will be the same
This should have been called ‘I will be the shame’. Poor track and very poor vocal. Which is rather odd, since Emma Hewitt is one of the best singers around atm.


12. Global
Absolutely great track and an even more absolute shame that this is only a digital bonus and is not on the CD. This instead of ‘Too dark tonight’ or ‘Fight the sunrise’ would have boosted the quality of the album significantly.


13. On a Metropolis day
Big tripple meh on this one. I’m not a fan of mashups to begin with, and even though technically this one is well executed it basically wastes two tracks that were already great by themselves. The worst part however is that every Tom, Dick and Harry DJ plus Gareth himself have been playing this thing to utter death all year long and if I hear it one more time I’m gonna puke. For real. I am sooo done with this mashup and besides being totally misplaced on Anjunabeats Volume 8 it now needs to pop up once again here. Blegh, meh and what else.

Not rated/10

In conclusion
Becoming a really popular DJ may seem cool and glamorous, but in reality it’s not an easy thing. In fact it puts immense pressure on you, because your crowd suddenly changes from just underground lovers who can ID every track you play to masses of people who come to see you mainly because they heard your name mentioned on MTV and are not primarily there out of love for the music. Once you get into the DJ Mag Top 10 your crowds will convert to 90% of this type of people and except maybe when your name is Deadmau5 and you really don’t give a fuck you will feel the pressure of going for tried and tested safe tracks and loads of recognizable vocals. Plus if you don’t endlessly keep on playing your own hits the masses will still think your set sucked.

I’ve heard Gareth perform in multiple occasions this year and unfortunately the signs of his sets turning into the typical superstar DJ ones are bright and clear. And although I still vastly prefer hearing him over Armin, Tiesto, Ferry or Van Dyk I can’t help but wanting to run when he gets On a Metropolis day or Lethal industry out for the umptieth time. I know he has to, but I hate it. In this light the collection of songs on this artist album doesn’t surprise me one bit. Too many vocal tracks and definitely no risky experiments. The average rating came out at 6.6, which is right there with my thoughts of Armin’s and Markus’ new albums. All three of them share the same hit and miss selection of really cool and rather meh tracks. The cool ones are seriously cool in this case, but gawd do I hate DJ Mag.

donderdag 23 september 2010

Armin van Buuren changes name of radio show

After the surprising decision by Dutch event powerhouse ID&T to rename their long running event ‘Trance Energy’ into just ‘Energy’ Armin van Buuren has followed suit this week and announced that effective immediately he will rename his world famous radio show ‘A State Of Trance’ to just ‘A State Of’.

“I get a lot of emails from people asking me why I play so many tracks that are not trance in my radio show”, the world famous DJ explains. “The reason is that there are many styles of music that can get me in a state of trance, and that is why I play them in my show. I can get into deep trance when listening to VanVelzen for example. Or when I write pop songs with producers that worked with world famous super stars, so I can mention having worked with them in every single interview I do. That is what really gets me in a state of trance. Actually I can’t wait to work with people like Lady Gaga or Beyonce, man that would be so awesome. I’m getting in a state of trance just thinking about that!”

Van Buuren, who is currently said to be in close competition with the ultimate cheese dance master David Guetta for the number 1 spot in the 2010 edition of the DJ Mag Top 100 poll, admits that he’s getting pretty tired of having to explain himself constantly. “Those trance lovers just don’t get it. They expect me to play trance music, just because the radio show is called A State Of Trance. I really don’t understand what they are so upset about. There is so much more great music than just trance. The other day I was in the studio working with a guy that used to have a neighbor who was the nephew of a guy who was in high school with Justin Timberlake. I mean, wow!

I hope that with this new name we can finally put the past behind us and that everybody will understand that we need progression, which means developing trance music into everything that it is not”.

It is unclear at this time whether Van Buuren will also reset his episode numbering back to 001 and if so what effect this will have on the current planning of events celebrating the 500th episode of his radio shows in early 2011.

dinsdag 31 augustus 2010

Review: Armin van Buuren - Mirage

In retrospect Armin’s 2008 album Imagine clearly marked a turning point in his career. After reaching the number 1 spot in the DJ Mag competition in late 2007 he obviously smelled the big money and like Tiesto and Guetta did before him he decided to branch out to the immensely huge amount of people populating the area between the real underground dancefloors and the pop charts, leaving his long term fans in complete confusion.

A strategy that obviously worked out fine in terms of his bank account, but also at times made him the laughing stock of an ever increasing part of his former loyal crowd. Three years later the results are clear. Walk into any Armin gig and you will see a lost soul doing 50 Jesus poses and gay heart signs per hour to a massive crowd of people you have never seen before, who think that and endless stream of completely unoriginal and generic deggadegga crap makes for the perfect trance gig and that the 27th mashup with ‘In and out of love’ at the end is the best tune ever conceived by mankind.

Unfortunately old fools like myself can cry wolf and stand on our heads all we want. The new Armin has emerged and he’s here to stay. The new Armin that is no longer a real DJ but an act, like a pop band. Traveling the world day in day out doing the exact same live set, with the exact same tunes and the exact same moves to the exact same crowd, whether it be in California, Tokyo or Appelscha. Crowds consisting of endless amounts of people who adore him like some God like being, worship the ground he walks on and will eat anything he serves them, no matter if it’s interesting and new or recycled for the umptieth time.

When artists get this popular a new album is more than anything a chance to show the world a new direction. You might run the risk of being completely misunderstood at first, but might prove to have made history later. The alternative is to stay with the tried and trusted formula of mixing some danceable stuff with a good dose of fluffy tralala trance, which will pretty much guarantee continuation of current popularity, fame and money. Soooo… let’s see what he chose to do and press play:

01. Desiderium 207
Well this is one awesome opening track. Susana doing Enya. As usual with her tracks it’s either hit or miss and this is a total hit in my book. Very well executed and such a surprise. I love unexpected opening tracks on dance albums and this is as good as it gets. Desiderium is Latin for ‘desire’ (well obviously :D), but I can’t place the 207. Maybe Susana fancies buying a Peugeot 207 from her cut?


02. Mirage
Desiderium slowly transforms into this second track, one of the Mirage tracks Armin has been slipping into his live sets during the summer and definitely one of the highlights of this album. It showcases those typical Armin style buildups and breakdowns, the real classical strings fit excellent and the guitar parts Eller did actually border on hardrock. Nice :) We’re off to a great start here.


03. This light between us
But just like on Imagine after a good start almost immediately Armin completely derails and starts cranking out useless pop tunes. Here’s the first one. Simple breakbeat arrangement, big, echoy over the top vocals. Yawn. Could just as well be a Tiesto production and that is not exactly a compliment these days.


04. Not giving up on love
Already out as a second single before the album came out, with this track Armin hits a new low, right down there with Tiesto and Guetta, who have turned making the same style fluffy top 40 aimed tralala crap into an art form. Will undoubtedly win him another million new fans but it’s quite clear why he had remixes made for his sets. It’s just too embarrassing to play live. Never thought I’d see the day when a Dash Berlin remix actually beats the original. A few weeks after the single release he came up with a remix of his own as well, which actually sounds better than this original mix, but still is one of his weakest productions of the year. So yes ladies and gentlemen, we have a new ‘Going wrong’ and I’m afraid Armin is gonna torture us with this is his sets for the next 2 years straight, including at least 15 different mashups using the vocals.


05. I don’t own you
After hearing the previews this was one of the tracks that I found disappointing but hearing it in full made me change my mind. Pretty decent track actually, not exactly groundbreaking in terms of structure but the arrangements are nice and the minimal application of vocal bits are the cherry on the cake, like they were in ‘Face to face’ and ‘Rain’ on the Imagine album. The perfect way to use vocals in trance in my opinion.


06. Full focus
When this track came out as a forerunner single it gave many of us high hopes for this album. Great drive, cool electro bleeps and fits in the blueprint of his two recent Gaia tracks and remixes, which I also really like. So more of these please.


07. Take a moment
But after picking up with two nice tracks for a second time we get pushed off a cliff. What a plain right horrible track this is. The contrast to Full focus could not be any bigger and I cannot for the life of me imagine that Josh Gabriel was involved with this childish piece of crap. Even Roger Shah, who is the undisputed king of cheesy tunes, would probably be embarrassed by this. Absolutely horrible, worst track on the album.


08. Feels so good
Another utterly boring Eurodance track, promoting infidelity. This belongs on a Sugarbabes album or something teeny bop like that. Total blegh.


09. Virtual friend
This is obviously Mirage’s ‘Fine without you’, except better. It’s one of the tracks that marks Armin’s desire to make diverse albums and in that way adds to the incoherence that characterizes them. But on the other hand it’s a very Armin-ish track with a rollercoaster flow and in that sense I can appreciate it. Unfortunately the vocals don’t do the track any good. The lyrics are really moody and as such fit rather well, but the way they are mixed in (too loud) and timed (too early) make the end result rather meh. I know I say this often, but this time it’s more applicable than ever: an instrumental version of this track would be much better.


10. Drowning
This one I find rather okay. At least it’s a lot better than all the vocal goop we heard so far. The rhythm and flow reminds me of the Dutch band Total Touch, also because the singer has a similar voice. The vocals are actually very well executed and contrary to ‘Virtual friend’ they really complement the track. Third Armin track this year with the siren style buildup/breakdown but he still gets away with it. Unfortunately the rather unexpected album edit ending really hurts here.


11. Down to love
Another okay track here. Loads of Gaia sounds in this one, which is a good thing in my book. Once again I would probably prefer an instrumental version, but the vocals are quite minimalistic, which makes them okay.


12. Coming home
If you listen closely you will hear that this track is a mixture of recycled sound bits from ‘Imagine’, ‘Face to face’ and ‘Intricacy’ from the previous album. And since those are actually my three favorite tracks on there one would expect this to be top. Unfortunately I didn’t find it great at all, because the main structure of the song is the standard blueprint of current uber boring generic uplifting trance. The clever re-engineering of successful Imagine sounds cannot hide that.

What I totally don’t get though is why the intro of ‘Take a moment’ wasn’t used in this track instead. I mean it’s clearly the sound of somebody arriving in his car, walking the path to the front door, opening it and dropping the keys on the table, in other words somebody coming home. That intro has nothing to do with the track it is used in now, and would have made total sense in this one. Oh well.


13. These silent hearts
Many DJ’s rave about this BT guy but to be honest I still fail to see what all the fuss is about. He did some cool stuff, but for me not everything he comes up with is pure gold, like so many seem to think. This track is a good example of that as well. It has a nice main melody and some very cool classic trance elements and as such I think I actually prefer it over Coming home, but the vocals are just total meh. Track has great remix potential though. Cut out the vocals entirely, fix the generic bits and it could be an awesome end of set banger. But this version doesn’t do it for me.


14. Orbion
Now this is a great track again, definitely one of my favorites on the album. Structure wise rather similar to Full focus, but more trancy. This is the 2010 Armin the way I like to hear him most.


15. Minack
I don’t know anybody who wasn’t over the moon when word came out that Armin was doing another collab with Ferry. Even more surprising is the outcome, an initially very weird tune but once you get into it one of the best ones on the album. It’s also very, very, very clearly a Ferry production, actually I have a hard time discovering any bits that Armin might have made. Maybe he came up with that weird rhythm shift, because that is actually very un-Ferry-ish.


16. Youtopia
This one is a bit of a grower. At first it sounds as out of place as the other pop tracks on the album but on second listen it turns out to be a really nice pop track. Great melody, nice lyrics and the overall feeling is just very loving. And in that way I guess it works well as an end track, because it leaves you with a smile.


So there you have the 16 tracks that make up the regular CD version of Mirage. Now originally this was the part where I would be ranting about Armada ripping off their CD buying customers by releasing bonus tracks only as a part of the full iTunes download album, but to my surprise I found out that 2 weeks before the release date Free Record Shop announced the release of a limited edition 2CD version that includes all the bonus tracks. So thumbs up for that, although it won’t necessarily do people abroad any good.

At this point I still wondered why Armin didn’t make Mirage a double album to begin with. Apparently he made enough tracks to fill 2 CD’s. Personally I love double albums, actually some of my favorite albums of all time are doubles, like Prince’s ‘Sign of the times’, Earth Wind and Fire’s ‘Faces’ and Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Out of the blue’.

Anyway, let’s listen to those bonus tracks:

17. Breathe in deep
This track is a total carbon copy of Gaia 'Aisha', except now with vocals. Ripping off other people’s tunes is the hip thing to do nowadays in trance, but Armin brings it to the next level and simply rips off his own tune. I like the ahhh ahhhh Enya style vocal arrangement, and I like 'Aisha', but the useless and poppy vocals kinda ruin it and it wasn’t very original to begin with.


18. Take me where I wanna go
OMG! If you agreed with me that ‘Take a moment’ was the lowpoint of this project than you haven’t heard this one. I never would have expected this but Armin actually managed to make an even cheesier VanVelzen track than 'Broken tonight'. He deserves a Golden Gnome Award for that, because that is quite an achievement. Uber boring track with mega fail vocal. As the Dutch would say: Mag ik een teiltje?


19. I surrender
Yawnnnnn. Another very uninspired and boring track and the umtieth variation on the standard tralala uplifting theme.


20. Love too hard
This is what you get when you try to hard to be a pop star. Terrible.


21. Virtual friend (acoustic mix)
I think the vocals come out much better in this acoustic version. Nice to listen to but completely out of place on this album. Better save it for ‘Mirage Unplugged’, which could be a great idea to milk some more sales out of the project in 2012 after the sales of all the album versions, all the singles and ‘Mirage Remixed’ have died out.

Not rated/10

My main beef with this album is that I was expecting a lot more in terms of collabs and stand out tunes. Armin is always ranting in interviews that his #1 status opens doors to working with big artists that otherwise would never be accessible for him, but I still wonder what artists he actually means by that. Ana Criado? The world famous Laura V? Superstar Chris Jones? VanVelzen perhaps? Working with the guy who was the neighbor of the guy whose nephew served coffee in the studio where Robbie Williams once worked is not all that special imo. Okay I might be exaggerating here regarding Guy Chambers, but my point is when you keep saying stuff like that I expect collaborations with Seal to actually happen. Or with Jean-Michel Jarre. Or Quicy Jones. Or Nile Rogers. Or Giorgio Moroder. Or Underworld. Or Daft Punk. Or Chris Martin. Or Robbie Williams himself for that matter. I think Armin is too easily impressed when working for example with someone like BT, when in reality it's BT who should be impressed by getting a chance to work with Armin and getting exposure he could never dream of achieving just by himself.

So... is Mirage Imagine Part II? Well, yes and no. Yes in terms of unimpressive collaborations but in many ways I find it to be more similar to Markus Schulz’ recent artist album. It has the exact same completely incoherent mix of hit and miss tracks, with no buildup or flow as a whole, and it is very obviously designed to please as wide an audience as possible. So in that sense the average rating of 6.4 that I came up with doesn’t really surprise me to be honest. Mind you that rating is based on the official 16 tracks, because that is how Armin defined the album to be released on CD worldwide. And judging by the awful quality of the bonus tracks I think in hindsight he made a very wise decision there.

As with Markus’ album, cramming 16 tracks into 80 minutes means having to resort to album edits, which sortof reduces the consumer value of this release for the die hard fans, since most of them prefer full length versions and now will have to wait and see if those ever even get released. On the other hand, had Armin gone for a 10 track selection out of the 16 he had left (like he did on Imagine), then I’m quite sure he would have axed some of the tracks that I like the most in favor of the ones I dislike. So because of the album edits Mirage actually offers more good tracks than Imagine, notwithstanding that the not-so-good tracks actually hit an absolute new low. And since the problem with Imagine was that Armin kept releasing it’s cheesy vocal tracks as singles and playing them in his sets till the cows came home while in comparison never ever playing the good ones, I’m afraid we are up for more of the same in the upcoming 2 years.


After a few weeks I have slightly altered my opinion about some of the tracks, so time for a little update.

09. Virtual friend
I’m still finding the vocals equally meh, but the base track itself is getting cooler by the day. Many people have already noticed, this production just oozes Gabriel & Dresden and that is always a compliment, especially since they weren’t involved at all. Still points deducted for the vocal, but nevertheless going up to 7/10.

10. Drowning
This track is getting tiresome really fast. I’m downgrading it to 5/10.

13. These silent hearts
Another grower. I’m sticking with my original comments, but I’ve heard this on a big club system now and it sounded pretty tight. It also really brought atmosphere to the party. Gonna upgrade this one to 7/10.

zaterdag 31 juli 2010

Analysis of a Swedish House Mafia gig

(Recorded live @ Tomorrowland 2010)

Start. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Transition. Kidsos. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. One. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. Transition. Boink boink boink. Sample of some old pop tune. Filter flanger echo. Boink boink boink. End.

zaterdag 12 juni 2010

Review: Markus Schulz – Do you dream?

One of the most anticipated albums of the year for me turned out to be an unexpected surprise. Here’s my rundown:

01. Alpha state
Beautiful dreamy intro, that sets the expectations about this album even higher than they already were. Maybe too short to be called a separate track but it works perfectly and the transition into Away is top. (9/10)

02. Away (ft Sir Adrian)
Initially I wasn’t that impressed with the vocals on this track but I have to say they have really grown on me in the past few weeks and remarkably enough this song has turned into one of my favorites on the album. The pulsating bassline is Markus at his best. Without the vocals it could easily have been a Dakota tune. (8/10)

03. Rain
Not a brilliant composition but a pretty decent track nevertheless. With special thanks to Dillweed Lewis Productions (Markus booking agency who never announce any gigs in decent time for people who need to make travel arrangements) I missed Markus gig in Club Rain in Vegas by a week, so unfortunately now I will never know what it is that is so great about this place :( (7/10)

04. Dark heart waiting (ft Khaz)
From here the album really turns into a rollercoaster. I still totally fail to see what Markus was thinking when making this track. Totally simple and cheesy production without any soul. Usually I support male vocals but this one doesn’t do anything for me. The video is ridiculous too. This track is the ultimate proof that Armada is prepping Markus to succeed Armin as the #1 overhyped DJ, which in my opinion really is the last thing we need. (4/10)

05. Not the same (ft Jennifer Rene)
Omg this is going totally wrong now, another uber cheesy melody without any of the special Markus touch, this could have been produced by any no name bedroom producer. The vocals are beyond horrible, even worse than on Fine without you. I totally don’t get why so many people like this. (4/10)

06. Do you dream? (uplifting mix)
Markus goes deggadeggadegga generic uplifting. How awesome. I kinda like Do you dream as a track but this Aly and Fail style mix really sucks. I guess it figures that this version was chosen to be put on the album. (5/10)

07. Last man standing (ft Khaz)
Definitely the better of the two Khaz tracks on the album. I actually like this one, although I would have sequenced it as the last track. It has that same vibe as Cause you know that so brilliantly closed down Progression. Now it sortof breaks the flow. Cool track nevertheless. (8/10)

08. Surreal (ft Ana Criado)
After the little pickup with Last man standing here we go down the drain again with this boring track and nagging vocals. A perfect example of everything I hate about vocal trance. (4/10)

09. Unsaid (ft Susana)
Please repeat after me: pop charts, pop charts, pop charts. What a horrible horrible horrible production. By far the worst on the album. What on Earth is happening here? Why does Markus have to make his own Going wrong? Why, why, why? :( (1/10)

10. Lifted (ft Angelique Bergere)
And another disappointing track here, both musically and vocally. Simple 4 to the floor straight as she goes production. Doesn’t do anything for me. (4/10)

11. Perception (ft Justine Suissa)
It’s kind of sad that one of the two best tracks on the album isn’t even an original Markus composition. But that doesn’t make this track any less awesome. I usually really have no connection to remakes at all but this one is so flawlessly done and Justine’s vocals fit so well it is almost beyond awesome. Every time I hear this track it moves me to tears. Because of its timeless beauty, its flawless production and because I’m so sad about so many of the other tracks on this album. (11/10)

12. The new world
Obviously done and dusted but still one of Markus best productions ever so I’m glad he included it in this album. (9/10)

13. Lightwave (ft Angelique Bergere)
Holy camoly Batman what the hell is this? I’m not against experimenting a bit out of genre, but this is just plain awful. I have no other words for it. (3/10)

14. 65.4 Hz
Like I said before this album is such a rollercoaster. After the umptieth disappointing track Markus once again shoots back like a rocket with this BOMB of a track that we have been enjoying in his sets for so long. Together with Perception the highlight of the album and proof that we are still talking about one of the most talented producers on the planet here. (9/10)

15. What could have been
Amidst so many disappointment this actually comes back as one of the better tracks of the album. Quite simple in terms of composition and structure but it has all the sounds that make you wanna dance and the absence of nagging vocalists for two tracks in a row is such a relief. (7/10)

16. Goodbye (ft Max Graham & Jessica Riddle)
Not sure what to think of this song. It sounds to me like a Solarstone track and not a Markus track at all. I like it, even though it sounds really out of place here. Like I said before, Last man standing should have been in this spot as the last track. (7/10)

So I guess there you have it: one rollercoaster of an album and I hate to say it but in my book by far the most disappointing effort by Markus to date. I still can’t believe I’m writing this. Markus is one of my all time heroes, of every 100 tracks he selects I usually like at least 99 of them. This album however turns out to be his version of Imagine. A few totally brilliant tracks, that unfortunately drown in an ocean of mediocre cheesy goop topped off with wayyyy too many vocals, which are mostly of seriously poor quality as well. What I also really don’t like is that all the tracks are edits and in more than one case flat sounding “album versions” instead of the full blown dance floor mixes that undoubtedly already exist or are even already in our possession. This is an old practice that was designed in the 80’s by record companies in an effort to sell as many additional singles as possible. From a commercial standpoint I can see why but the tradeoff is that you get an album full of disappointing versions, even of the tracks you really like and which therefore quickly ends up on your cd shelf, never to be played again.

So what could have been? Well had he left out Dark heart waiting, Not the same, Surreal, Unsaid, Lifted and Lightwave this could have been an album with 10 extended tracks ranging from at least pretty decent to completely brilliant and it would have been a lot easier to qualify it as another highlight in Markus’ production career.

So do I dream? Yes. I dream of extended single releases so I can compile an extract of this album that I will truly enjoy listening to. But most of all I guess I dream of another Dakota album.

zaterdag 1 mei 2010

Thoughts on Apple's thoughts on Flash

This week Apple published an open letter by Steve Jobs explaining their inexcusable refusal to allow the use of the Adobe Flash plugin in their mobile operating systems. While reading it I couldn’t fight the impression of a big propaganda machine, disguised as the protector of the digital wellbeing of people, but in fact with a totally different agenda of his own, which mainly revolves around corporate profit.

Jobs uses 6 anchors to explain Apple’s refusal to allow Flash in Apple’s mobile products. But all six of those can easily be reversed in the same propaganda style manner as they are presented to begin with. Let me show you:

#1 Openness
Apple claims Flash is a closed application, controlled solely by Adobe. So? Name one Apple software product that is not. This is really the most ridiculous of all the arguments mentioned, especially coming from the company that has raised closed software and business models to unprecedented levels. When is the last time you installed an application on your iPhone without it being approved by Apple first and the installation process not being completely controlled by Apple? Or used the iPhone on the network of your mobile provider of choice for that matter? This retarded statement about “openness” is what made me write this blog entry. It’s a free market and Apple is free to design their products and services the way they see fit, but by calling the kettle black they are making a complete ass of themselves.

#2 Full web
The entire Apple staff can stand on their heads for all they want but there is no and I repeat no way to deny that without Flash their mobile products only can display 75% of what is available on the interweb and that therefore seriously reduces their usability. No matter how much you hate Flash and it’s devilishly unadvanced characteristics it is out there, has been there for years and will there be for many many years to come. By denying your customers access to it you are selling them a half baked, incomplete product.

On iPods and iPhones this is something that can be lived with, because they are only side products when it comes web browsing. Nobody uses them to browse normal websites, because the screens are simply too small for that. I guestimate that at least 95% of the webuse of iPods and iPhones is through optimized specialty apps. On the iPad however this is a totally different thing. The iPad is designed to replace the use of a desk- or laptop computer in certain locations in the home or on the move. In this environment the full web experience is a must to make it work. Without Flash it simply doesn’t and is therefore useless. I want to use the iPad while laying on my couch, not having to get up to my desktop computer afterall every time I land on a website that uses Flash components, because Steve Jobs and his beloved shareholders want to make more money.

And the same goes for all Flash based entertainment that is available on the web, whether it be free or paid content. I want the freedom to use that whenever I see fit, without having to switch to a real computer. Apple’s counterclaim that there are over 50.000 alternative games available in the Apple App Store is completely irrelevant in this regard and only proves what everybody has known for a long time: Flash based content on the web is in direct competition with their ability to make profits on selling those apps within their closed system.

#3 Performance
Jobs says Flash doesn’t performing well on mobile devices. What he should be saying is that it doesn’t perform well on the lame ass low performance processors they put in their top of the marked priced products, to save money and make more profit.

#4 Battery life
Then he rants on about Flash using too much power and therefore reducing battery life. What he should be saying is that he knowingly cut out worldwide standard software functionality to make the general public believe Apple mobile products have great battery life, when I fact they don’t. Something that wouldn’t even be a problem if they designed their products to have user replaceable batteries, like every other product in the world. But that obviously would cut into their highly profitable ridiculously overpriced battery replacement services.

#5 Rollover functionality
The next argument is that most Flash based web content uses rollover functionality to display hidden content, menus etc and that that is not “touch compatible”. Apart from the fact that this is only a small part of the Flash functionality of current website content, what he should be saying is that Apple itself knowingly and willingly left out rollover functionality from their touch interface protocol to be able to attack Flash and make it look incompetent. It is not Flash that is falling short, it is the Apple touch protocol that is. And mind you hovering and tool tips in essence are the exact same thing and have been an essential part of standard html since it was invented. So what Apple is basically saying is that html is incompetent as well.

#6 The third party barrier
The closing argument is a complex story about Flash being a 3rd party layer between the OS and the application and therefore a barrier that prevents Apple and their loyal followers from developing cutting edge innovations in the mobile user experience. This must be the biggest load of hogwash I have heard all year. It’s just a freakin’ plugin. Noone is holding a gun to anyones head to actually use it. The Flash plugin being available in the mobile browser has absolutely zero influence on the ability of Apple or their associated software developers to continue creating cutting edge developments.

So there you have it. Six arguments all cleverly presented to be in the best possible interest of the digital consumer. All from a company that always has the best interests of the digital consumer in mind and therefore changes the power connector layout and the video out connector architecture in their mobile products, so all previously purchased converters, docks, sound docks and in-car interfaces become useless and have to be purchased allover again. A company that deliberately changes the architecture of its video output connectors, so they can only be used in combination with proprietary 5 times normal market worth cables which have to include an Apple licensed pass thru chip. A company that sells billions of useless lousy bitrate and resolution and DRM riddled audio and video files and then makes their customers pay extra to replace them with what they should have been in the first place. The company that forced all other hardware manufacturers to embed their proprietary audio and video compression formats, because the world standards were not good enough and consumers had no clue why on Earth their iTunes purchased music wouldn’t play on their car stereo.

Apple may be on the forefront of pushing computing and entertainment hard- and software and they deserve all the praise that’s due for that. But don’t be blinded by them, because at the same time they also will decide for you what you are allowed to do and what not. And as innovative as they are, they are also the biggest, most profit hungry monster in town. Steve Jobs may look like the friendly fellow technology geek, but in reality he is the ultimate corporate shark, dressed in jeans and a turtleneck.

Mind you, the only reason that people (including me) accept all this hypocrisy and still buy Apple mobile products is that they are nothing more than mobile products. Relatively insignificant byproducts that will do when there is no real computer at hand, be that a PC or even a Mac. But if all the above is such a huge problem dear Steve then I dare you to show your balls and remove Flash from all your operating systems, including the Mac OS. Oh no wait, now that would actually stop people from buying Macs and hurt your profits. Oh dear.

Lastly a word on progression. Obviously Apple has it up big with development of the web platform, supporting html5 and the like. There is nothing wrong with that. Just don't fight your technology battles over the backs of your customers. They are more than able to decide for themselves whether they want their batteries drowned, their security breached and their operating systems crashed by these so called terrible Flash apps that apparently have turned browsing the internet into complete misery. It's very simple Steve: there is no need to rescue us from a problem that only exists in your own head. And besides, if Flash really is as bad as you claim, then evolution will render it extinct automatically. Darwin never needed any boycott from hardware manufacturers and neither do we.

maandag 19 april 2010

Review: A Sate of Trance 2010

Like every year Armin van Buuren and Armada serve their audience a new double compilation under the State of Trance brand. Although Armin’s take on the current state of trance has drifted further away from mine than ever before I still find it interesting to dissect these productions, if only to reevaluate where I stand versus Armin’s take on what music is timeless enough to become part of his eternal catalogue. So here we go…


1. The Blizzard & Omnia ft Susana - Closer
Well what can I say, okay track I guess. I think Susana’s a lovely person but to be honest I’m not really a fan of her voice and on this particular tune it doesn’t really do anything for me. It also sounds like it is timeshifted slightly behind the actual music. The track itself is decent though, very calm but pulsating and bassline oriented. It doesn’t really have a melody imo. What it does have is a bunch of rather weird little sound effects which most of the times that I listened to it made me feel like there was something wrong with my speakers. I’m glad to see the Blizzard guys have resurfaced though. Not sure what they need this Omnia guy for, since all he has done so far is copy cat their sound. Also noticed that Armin’s old mates Raz Nitzan and Adrian Broekhuyse were involved in this production. That’s a lot of guys for making one track :D

2. Luigi Lusini - Who we are
Pretty decent track, nice filler and the Spanish guitar adds a nice summerish flavor.

3. M6 - Days of wonder
This is good stuff, low tempo, firm progressive bassline topped off with a nice summer flavor. Sounds a bit like Roger Shah when he was still fresh.

4. Mat Zo - Near the end
Another progressive tune, not as catchy as the M6 one but still pleasant on the ear.

5. Monogato - Sincere
Okay tune, but not really memorable. The compilation is getting rather monotonous at this point, all the tracks so far are very similar.

6. Ron Hagen & Al Exander - Last minute
Another Roger Shah clone track, okay but nothing memorable. Weird transition from the previous track. Understood that Ron made this track with his brother, which is a nice touch.

7. The Thrillseekers - Savanna
Hard to believe this track is from Steve, it doesn’t sound like him at all. It’s a bit schizophrenic as well. One one hand there is the fat bassline and the oldskool synths. But on the other a rather unfitting Spanish guitar, which is getting rather old at this point in the compilation anyway.

8. Ørjan Nilsen - Lovers lane
Oh wow yet another Spanish guitar, fourth time within 36 minutes. I am now getting the impression that there was an error at the CD factory and that this is actually Roger Shah’s upcoming Magic Island Volume 3 compilation with the wrong label on it. Very generic track btw, rather boring and definitely a disappointing successor to La Guitarra.

9. Beat Service ft Emma Lock - Cut and run
Okay finally done with the Roger Shah impersonations now and on to something a bit more powerful. The track itself is starts with a really nice drive but the trancy break in the middle is rather blend. When it finally picks back Armin cuts it off and throws in the next track. The vocalist sounds more like a nagging housewife than a singer. Ugh.

10. Tenishia ft Aneym - Stranger to myself (tenishia burnout mix)
Boring track, with by far the most horrible vocal I have heard all year.

11. Andy Moor ft Carrie Skipper - She moves
Finally… a really cool track! As is to be expected from Andy Moor, but in this compilation it works extra well after the string of average at best tracks that preceded it. Carrie Skipper is what most of those other wannabe singers are not: powerful, melodic and oozing self confidence. What’s also brilliant about this track is that because of its sound design it fits in almost every DJ’s set. A talent that Andy shares with Gareth Emery. By a mile the best one on this disk. Andy Moor has become one of my favorite producers lately.

12. DJ Governor - Shades of grey
This track has that boring generic deggadegga bassline but it is cleverly hidden by the melody line and other sounds. It works here, but mostly because the first 40 minutes were so slow.

13. Myon & Shane 54 ft Labworks - Ibiza sunrise (classic dub)
Back to okay level here, I’m usually not a big fan of these guys and this is one for me is in line with their previous productions. Not great, but not bad either. It doesn’t give me any Ibiza sunrise feelings whatsoever though. The extremely thin melody line is nicked as usual, this time from an old Alan Parson’s Project tune from the 70’s.

14. Andrew Bennett ft Sir Adrian - Run till U shine (cosmic gate remix)
This is a track that doesn’t really know what it wants out of life it seems. It starts really progressive but all of a sudden it wants to be pop and then eventually it decides to be techy. Too much Rank 1 copycat elements to be interesting, although that might very well be the Cosmic Gate touch. The vocal is again a complete fail and would have best been left out. The end sounds like a cut off Twitter message.


01. Velvetine - Safe (rank 1 remix - avb intro edit)
A remarkably nice track from the studios of Myon & Shane 54. Unfortunately already being played to death everywhere. This track does everything right though, nice melody, nice vocals (seriously processed!) and Benno perfected it with an excellent remix. I have never heard of anyone who doesn’t like this track.

02. Faithless - Not going home (armin van buuren remix)
Good to hear Armin and Benno producing something different and more techy for a change. The track itself obviously already belongs to the better part of the Faithless catalog, but this remix adds some serious beef to it. As expected it sounds awesome on a big system. Love the effects, the break and the buildup after that. The vocal effects are a bit over the top imo, they would have been better left out. Maxi Jazz’ hypnotic voice is strong enough by itself. Overall though one of Armin’s best remixes of recent years.

03. Gaia - Aisha
After the massive euphoria about Tuvan last year obviously people were very much looking forward to a successor and despite their current focus on the new artist album Armin and Benno delivered one. Reactions are mixed this time, but personally I like it. It may not be as catchy a tune as Tuvan was (if you ask me to hum the melody by heart I would fail) but this still is nice stuff and I will take 100 of these over one Broken tonight every day. Armin should do a complete Gaia album. That would create a lot of goodwill with the fans he lost by selling out with fluffy pop trance tracks. Gaia could easily develop into what Dakota is for Markus Schulz. Anyway nice track and for me one of the highlights of this compilation.

04. Arnej - The strings that bind us
I’m a big fan of Arnej’s productions so far but this is the first time he disappoints me. Rather unremarkable tune in every aspect.

05. Eco ft Lira Yin - Love (dub mix)
A bit simple but rather unusual track and I can dig that. Not sure who this Lira Yin is but he or she ain’t singing much on this version that’s for sure.

06. Roger Shah & Signum - Ancient world (roger shah long haul flight)
I’m not gonna waste much words on this. Extremely disappointing successor to last year’s smash Healsville Santuary. Cheesy, extremely generic and boring. Just like his new “Found” track. Roger Shah is off the rails at the moment it seems.

07. Jer Martin - Ten minutes to midnight (club mix)
08. Dreastic - Spirit
09 Ferry Tayle & Static Blue - Trapeze (daniel kandi emotional remix)

Seriously I had to rewind these tracks a couple of times to hear the difference. Initially I thought Ancient world was still playing when I suddenly recognized the vocals of Sun in the winter. To my amazement I read in the cover info that another 3 tracks had passed in the meantime. Pristine examples of todays generic uplifting all the same deggadeggadegga garbage.

10. Max Graham ft Neev Kennedy - Sun in the winter (alex morph remix)
This is such a beautiful tune but why the hell did Armin feel the need to use the Alex “King of Deggadeggadegga” Morph remix? He completely ruined it :( On top of that there is a very noticeable out of key speed increase about halfway the track. The sound of a rush job.

11. Sebastian Brandt - 450
Initially I didn’t really care for this track, as I basically never do for Sebastian’s work. But I must say it has grown a bit on me. Still borderline generic, but the melody is actually quite nice which makes it at least kind of enjoyable amidst all the other noise on this cd.

12. Thomas Bronzwaer - Collider (jorn van deynhoven remix)
Bronzwaer and Van Failhoven combined in one production are a written guarantee for uber generic uplifting deggadegga crap and this one is no exception.

13. Ehren Stowers - Ascent
I must admit I never even heard of this guy but it turns out he has delivered quite a list of productions already in the past few years. Then again considering what this one is (more deggadeggadegga) I am not that likely to have heard of him, since I usually tune out of ASOT when this stuff comes on.

14. Robert Nickson - We won’t forget
Well I will, and very quickly too.

15. Simon Patterson - Taxi

You probably won’t be surprised that I rate this 2010 edition (and I’m putting it mildly here) my least favorite in the ASOT series. In his video introduction of the compilation Armin explicitly mentioned that he used more instrumental tunes this time, which I definitely see as a positive gesture towards the many people complaining about his overuse of vocals in his live sets and compilations. But while that is a nice development as such it is still in the track selection where this album falls on its face. Hard. It grossly lacks outstanding tunes and the few ones that do are simply not able to mask the flood of below average productions that are featured in between. Like I said before CD1 could almost serve as another episode of Roger Shah’s Magic Island series, most of the tracks sound the same and except for Andy Moor’s She moves none of them really stand out. CD2, after starting with three great tracks, almost immediately degenerates into a mega boring uplifting deggadeggadegga crap fest, which could just as well have been released under Daniel Kandi’s or Cheese Berlin’s name. I guess for me this compilation is the ultimate confirmation of why I have fallen so much out of love with Armin’s music selection.

The mixing is flawless as usual but completely unexciting as well. Once again Armin did not make any effort to make it special and the whole thing sounds like it was recorded in a day, just like any other ASOT radio show. Which according to his Twitter updates actually was the case indeed. There is no special intro, no additional production or gimmicks. Anyone with some experience in Ableton can basically do the exact same mix nowadays. I have to add that this is not something that is unique to Armin, if you listen to the latest compilations by any of the big names you will hear the same uninspiring straight forward mixing and lack of special treatments as well. I guess I will keep dreaming of a time when these guys finally realize that in the long run there is more satisfaction to be found in creating true musical legacy than in wasting all your time on constantly flying around the world to play the same boring live set over and over and over again. Oh well, we can always have dreams I guess.