John ’00’ Fleming on the superstar DJs killing trance

Trance stalwart John ‘00’ Fleming has been plying his trade for more than two decades. He’s watched the ebb and flow of trance as a genre while staying true to his purist tastes, and as he prepares to return to Australia this weekend for the latest J00F Editions tour (including a very special eight-hour set in Melbourne) – and in advance of his set at Earthcore in November – we asked Fleming to give us his thoughts on the current trance scene.

When we asked acid-tongued fellow trance-purist John Askew for his thoughts on the biggest problem in dance music right now, Askew was surprisingly philosophical. John ‘00’ Fleming, on the other hand, shares none of Askew’s live-and-let-live attitude, as he lets loose below.

“It’s far too obvious to state that trance is dominated by heavily marketed commercial acts and brands, and is a caricature of its former self; that’s an easy cheap swipe and something that’s already been said by many before. Here we are almost a decade later and nothing has changed, with things still heavily weighted towards the commercial spectrum of trance, and a huge chunk of the soul missing from this great genre.

There’s no hiding the fact that things are in a sorry state. Beatport’s latest genre sales figures made sad viewing: trance is now at the bottom of 4/4 dance music sales. Trance forums are dead and main stages are dominated by house DJs. Most importantly, there’s a big underground resurgence happening and I don’t see trance anywhere near it…and this won’t happen with trance’s current image.

Now let’s not confuse this with psytrance. Many people will be shouting “We have a cool underground psy scene!” at their screens. Psy has always had its own separate scene since the Goa Trance days, with separate festivals, a different sound and different acts that are predominantly underground (although recently they have suffered their own share of commercial intrusion).

This just highlights the forgotten underground scene that trance used to have, which made it one of the most credible genres on the planet; think back to the days when John Digweed, Sasha, Way Out West, Oliver Lieb, etc. all played their part in contributing to the deeper, more progressive side of trance. Yes, trance. This side has completely been erased from the genre.

The next generation has been educated by the stars of today, and these very stars are torn between wanting to be superstar DJs and wanting to be credible: they seem desperate for approval. In the process, they’re blurring the lines of the genres that built the foundation of their own careers.

Under constant pressure to keep their headline status, poll numbers, Top 10 hits and peak time radio shows, they’re producing mainstream pop music, as a commercially viable tool to appease the masses. The next generation is being taught that “this is trance music” by the leaders, and the biggest marketing machines shout louder than anyone else.

Now here’s the dangerous part. Like it or not, Beatport sets the benchmark for genres: these genres are mirrored in reviews in the media. So the knock-on effect and the education process gets more embedded. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not Beatport that places the tracks in the genres, it’s the owners of the music, so the labels and artists are knowingly placing these tracks in the genres that we all get so frustrated with.

The danger continues: if I was part of the next generation looking for a more mature sound, upon starting my journey into dance music, I wouldn’t choose ‘trance’, as it’s too mainstream/pop. For the older trance fans, when you get disappointed searching for the hundredth time, you stop looking.

The next generation of producers of what I call ‘Progressive Trance’ are placing their tracks elsewhere, so as not to be tarnished by trance’s mainstream reputation. You’ll now find this sound in melodic techno, for example. The association with today’s cartoon meaning of trance is damaging guys like me too; I’ve lost track of the amount of times that I’ve had to explain that I don’t play vocal pop music when I mention the word trance to underground promoters.

I’m at the point of starting to distance myself from trance too, because I actually have more in common with other genres that share the same ethos in quality dance music – but in my eyes I play trance. I’m starting to get tired of the constant battle… I guess big corporate companies usually win.

There are two trains of thought here. I’ve mixed views on where the blame lies – if at all. I admire people like Tiesto and Above & Beyond, who’ve admitted they no longer play trance, changed their trance branding and moved on, respecting the genre they were originally involved with. Should the likes of Beatport have their finger more on the pulse, and create a few more genres, to clean things up? Adding ‘Big Room’ would solve the problems for many genres, including Progressive House and Deep House, for starters. But would the stars of today admit they are mainstream and adhere to the new rules? I’m not so sure.

After over 25 years in this industry I’ve learned it’s a game of survival – something I’ve managed to do very well. I admire and respect all my colleagues around me: no matter what musical flavours they play, they are still human beings underneath and I treasure their friendship. It’s down to the individual to make their own choices.

I feel like I’ve been swimming against a tide of commercialism, trying to play my part in keeping the more mature sound of trance alive, but it gets to a point where I’m tired. Most of today’s generation will have no idea that trance was born alongside techno in the early 90s, and shared many of the same genes. It looks like history is repeating itself.”