There aren’t many events, bar slightly off-key wedding receptions, where you’ll see people letting loose to The Matrix soundtrack, ‘Cha Cha Slide’, Justin Bieber, Kylie and ‘Candle In The Wind’. Yet at Trance Party, the all-frills-attached, Arts Council-approved club night founded by Ellesmere Port-born DJ, producer and perma-smirker Evian Christ, aka Joshua Leary, this is the norm.
Tonight, we’re witnessing the madness at London’s Corsica Studios, nestled under the heavy arches of Elephant and Castle among the uncertainty of the area’s so-called ‘regeneration’. Ravers have queued patiently, awaiting their turn to be searched and stamped before entering the strobe-lit, 500-capacity utopia within. Not too eagerly, of course, for this is London’s ‘cool crowd’; a mixture of fashion grads, club kids, industry folk and curious newcomers enticed in by Trance’s reputation and amusing promotional strategy.
Previously they’ve crafted elaborate Wikipedia pages and websites tailored to each party concept. This time they launched an equivalent to the ‘Dazed100’ list, where Rory Stewart, Toblerone and highly anticipated videogame Death Stranding took the place of trendy tastemakers. This arrived alongside an award-worthy faux feature penned by pal Clive Martin.
“[The themes] just sort of happen,” Christ explains. “I’ll have a few beers and wander about town and come up with stupid but vaguely plausible ideas. Perhaps I’ll be startled by the glow of a parked Vauxhall Vectra under the moonlight, and it will occur to me, in that moment, what a good idea it would be to do a party in a shisha bar with Lisa Pin-Up and Lorenzo Senni, and pretend its funded by Monsanto – and then I can’t get the idea out of my head unless I do it.”
For 2019 they’ve embarked on a three-city tour de trance. ‘A Decade of Euphoria’, they’re calling it. Which doesn’t really make sense, but that’s Trance Party for you. Last night they hit up Glasgow in collaboration with local promoter and frequent collaborator Hawkchild DIY. The last time they held one in Glasgow they went too hard on the smoke machine during Christ’s headline slot, and set off the adjacent building’s fire alarm. “It was a listed building as well, so it was really serious,” says Hawkchild DIY, aka Hashim Ali. “Six hundred-odd people were evacuated from the venue and three fire engines came charging down the street.”
With house and techno evergreen in their industry dominance, and Christ ‘professionally detached’ from them – his words – it felt natural for him to start his own thing. “Obviously it’s not just me in this position; there’s a pretty large group of us – people like Total Freedom, Arca, Lorenzo Senni, whoever – we share a similar audience, more or less, and we can’t easily assimilate into traditional dance music contexts so it makes sense for us to have our own night in the UK where we’re not shoe-horned onto line-ups as a token gesture to ‘experimentation’.
“I make sure we [go to] places like Glasgow, Manchester and Sheffield,” continues Christ. “It’s more difficult because the audience for this sort of stuff is much smaller, but it’s easily worth it because the people who come are usually really enthusiastic, and it’s nice to show the artists around the UK.”
Trance Party launched at Corsica Studios in 2013, the last official London leg taking place back in 2016. Tonight’s crowd is excitable. Devotees are easy to spot as they step out of their ViaVans (Christ’s ‘The Great British Trance Off Mix’ still blasting out of the speakers) clad in Progressive T-shirts, colourful football scarves and Christ-branded boxers (well, perhaps).
Seeing as it’s Trance Party’s tenth edition, tonight Christ is going all-out. But it’s far from a solo venture. We also have promoters Oscillate Wildly, aka Russell Smith and John Montoya, yer boyfriend’s favourite graphic designer David Rudnick, visual artist and lighting wizard Emmanuel Biard and artist, designer and web developer Ezra Miller to thank for shaping the party into a cult brand.
It’s nearing midnight when something musically unexpected occurs – which is saying a lot, given the circumstances. We head down the maze of a corridor that separates the outside and in, and end up in the venue’s smaller second room, lined with the hundreds of A4 posters celebrating the winners of the alternative list. Inside, the smoke is so thick it looks empty, despite the sea of bodies swaying within it. Thankfully, this time no alarms are going off.
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It’s David Rudnick and his peculiar track choice coaxing us in. He’s nearing the end of his set, and dancers are losing their minds to New Order’s ‘World (The Price of Love)’. It’s nonsensical, but it works. "How long would it last?/That’s the price of love" ear-worming its way into our brain like the final song in a John Hughes film.
The same thing happens later, when ears collectively prick up across the club. Someone is playing crowd favourite ‘124th’ by Mssingno and it’s going off. Bodies rush into Room Two, the excitement palpable. Most, however, are unable to get inside – it’s just too busy. This is to be expected. Trance Party is a popular night with a stan-worthy following. And in the five-plus years since its first Corsica outing, perhaps it’s outgrown the venue.
We head outside, squeezing onto a bench next to a wide-eyed redhead dressed in black, right down to her 6”-heeled patent leather boots. She’s here, she tells us, fingernail tapping the side of her can in time with the music, to enjoy a night with her extended friendship group. Many of whom, she adds, made cross-country pilgrimages to revel in a genre that peaked while they – like most here – were infants.
Trance is omnipresent tonight, but it’s far from the only sound on offer, with everything from pop to rap to hardcore explored. The likes of Total Freedom (who keeps energy levels high during his Room One set with an effortless fusion of trap, baile funk and brain-pummelling edits) and Juliana Huxtable play alongside Bristol’s Pessimist, SIREN co-founder Sybil, German veteran Christoph de Babalon and YEAR0001’s Yung Sherman. So for every ‘Pretty Green Eyes’, ‘U Sure Do’, ‘Rave Nation’ or ‘Not Gonna Get Us’ edit there’s the likes of Cardi B’s ‘Money Bag’, Yung Gordon’s ‘Finna Hit My Walk’ or Toxe’s ‘Honey Island’.
Techno/jungle fusioneer Pessimist may have been the most unexpected booking. Yet his set, filled with hardcore, breakbeat and enough d’n’b to rival a Sunday at Blue Note, does wonders to revigorate a 3:AM crowd. “I could tell from reading the line-up that anything goes,” he says after. “It gives you that freedom to play as you wish. This was a great opportunity to play the music that’s influenced me and my sound the most.”
“The programming is quite particular. We tend not to think in terms of genre but in terms of ‘energy’ or something,” says Christ. “I know that sounds very Marianne Williamson, but I don’t know how else to put it. As long as it’s fast, hard, dense and a bit rough around the edges it works for us – so that can encompass everything from Altern8 to Juliana Huxtable.”
Trance Party, despite its euphoric nature, isn’t immune to those cynics who dispute its wry humour or its Arts Council connection. In all honesty, it just doesn’t seem like the crew want to be ironic for the sake of it. Rather, they’ve no qualms whatsoever about embracing all the mainstream has to offer, with authentic appreciation. If anything, it’s the connotations of ‘underground’ they seem most reluctant to be partnered with; Elrow perhaps a more suitable affiliation thanks to a shared love of themes, pomp, confetti and inflatables. “I’ve never punched a blow-up beach ball into the crowd in all the years I’ve been gigging,” admits Pessimist. “Until now.”
In essence it’s all a bit silly, and it’s extremely overwhelming in an out-of-body, inherently escapist kind of way, but Trance Party is funny, it’s danceable (for the most part) and it’s planned and produced to a T – something of a rarity outside of festival season (“I’m a bit like Nick Knowles on DIY SOS – I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I like the idea of ‘transforming spaces’ so I have a crack at it,” says Christ. “Emmanuel does his best to make sure we don’t kill anyone.”)
It’s this meticulous, adventurous and entirely absurd attention to detail that’s guided this party right through to TP10. With “You goin’ Trance?” now standard industry lingo and expectations unshakeably high, it’s impossible to say where Christ will take the brand next. But wherever it goes, his disciples are sure to follow.
“Someone, somewhere, one hundred years from now, is going to be stood behind a DJ booth playing that Mathew Jonson song to a room full of people dressed head to toe in black,” muses Christ. “Nobody is going to be playing my edit of Cardi B and Pessimist – and I’m fine with that.
“Trance Party I think exists in the here and now and will sort of explode and dissipate like a firework, or a fleeting romance,” he adds. “But then again, it’s been ten years already so who knows. I’ll probably keep going until people get bored. Techno will continue long after. It’s not a problem – and in some ways, it’s more exciting that way.”
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Jasmine Kent-Smith is Mixmag's Staff Writer, follow her on Twitter