At its pomp, trance ruled the airwaves and clubs alike with its emphasis on emotion-driven, slowly-built and synth-buoyant euphoria. However, it slowly became a musical and stylistic piñata that would be whacked time and time again. Many key figures in the scene such as Armin Van Buuren and Tiësto, jumped ship to explore new sounds and styles and trance became taboo. Take 'Sandstorm'. In 1999 it reached No. 3 in the UK Singles chart: it has since become the bane of ID seekers’ lives.
While Mixmag's trance editor Ellie Hanagan rightly commented that the genre "never left" for those well-acquainted with the scene, it is making a comeback on a broader scale. An increasing number of DJs, from Klock to Kraviz, have been dropping classic trance in their sets, re-introducing the genre in a new context. In a 2015 interview, Job Jobse even described the wave of melodic house released by Innervisions and Life and Death as trance.
Considering this, it is worth rediscovering the tracks that helped to define and spread the sound. Here are the 15 best trance tracks released during the genre's heyday between '93 and '97:
Energy 52 'Café Del Mar'
While the Three N One mix gained more mainstream appeal, the 1993 original laid the foundations for a classic, a power ballad in synth form that was voted the best dance track over the last two decades by listeners of BBC Radio 1. So many elements make this track what it is, but that chord-line shines brightest - somehow both complex and straight-to-the-point, dreamy yet direct. The video also features a bald man clad in Matrix-shades and a long black coat, walking aimlessly through a mediterranean landscape with a silver suitcase in hand. Trance baby.
Nalin & Kane 'Beachball'
What is it with trance videos and suited-and-booted men walking around gorgeous landscapes with a suitcase? Anyway, 'Beachball' is as sun-soaked as it gets and tailor-made for Ibiza shores, from the track title to the lyrics about beaches and oceans. There are even bird chirps thrown into the breakdown for good measure. Proper hands in the air fare.
Paul Van Dyk 'For An Angel'
It would be sacrilegious to not mention Paul Van Dyk when compiling a best of trance list. Released on the German's debut album '45 RPM' in 1994, 'For An Angel' is a bona fide classic that lifted him to staggering heights. Growing up in the heavily-monitored, East German Stasi-era, 'For An Angel' can be seen as the producer's own declaration of freedom, heard and loved around the world.
Paul Van Dyk 'I'm Comin' (To Take You Away)'
If he's nice, play him twice. While not nearly as spacious as other tracks on this list, 'I'm Comin' (To Take You Away)' still manages to shimmer with celestial shine while functioning as a peak-time roller. Not many can pull this off, but Van Dyk does.
Sven Väth 'Harlequin - The Beauty and the Beast'
Given Väth's towering reputation as a DJ and label head, it's easy to forget how prolific a producer he was in the 90s. The power of the track lies in its ability to stretch out proceedings for almost 10 minutes without losing its way. Each peak and trough is as exciting as the next, with subdued breaks and acid turns emerging from the ether. Belter.
Olive 'You're Not Alone'
A track of life-affirming proportions. While it may not be as conventionally trancey as, say, Van Dyk's work, Olive's vocals offer a comfort blanket to weary ravers in between sharp synth stabs and floaty breaks. Its trance credentials were affirmed when legendary producer ATB released a cover of the track. And while another cover of it has since been used in a dishwater-dull Lloyds Bank advertisement, the original still holds weight as a defining slice of trance.
While the majority of the tracks on this list are much lighter on their toes, 'Insomnia' is an incredibly dark trip, marrying the deranged yet engaged ramblings of an insomniac with an eccied screamer of a breakdown. It's not often that a track containing a line about dry potato makes it to No. 3 in the UK charts but we're not complaining and, by the looks of it, neither were the British public.
Grace 'Not Over Yet'
Despite being produced in 1993, the Paul Oakenfeld-helmed dance act Grace released 'Not Over Yet' as a single in 1995. Dominique Wilkins' soaring vocals steal the show and she delivers one of dance's most recognisable earworms on the hook in a storm of sonic, melody-driven madness. Silver medal goes to Oakenfeld, who smashes away at a Roland in the video. Trance anthems and their videos...
Da Hool 'Meet Her At The Love Parade'
'Meet Her At The Love Parade' references the hugely-popular Love Parade festival held in West Berlin before it was closed for good in 2010. As a result, this track functions as both a dancefloor bomb and an artefact of mid-90s Berlin bohemia. The track is propelled by a trancey chug as dynamic as any: its spiky bassline comes in and out of without ever breaking stride.
Cygnus X 'The Orange Theme'
Cygnus X's pulsating classic 'The Orange Theme' borrows the Clockwork Orange theme melody and, in true droog spirit, stabs away at an intense 148 BPM but somehow retains a galactic sense of space. This makes sense: the German duo are named after the first widely recognised black hole.
DJ Quicksilver 'Bellissima'
In 1997 the German-Turkish DJ released 'Bellissima' on the juggernaut imprint Positiva Records. It still stands as one of trance's gooiest tracks, one that is soft at heart yet big in character, its glittery melody offset by thundering drums. Despite this clash, it somehow remains hypnotic and, yes, trancey.
British producer Chicane came flying out the blocks in 1996 with his balearic banger 'Offshore', providing some much needed respite from England's summer heartbreak at the European Championships. The producer has proven to be a deft hand at crafting trance anthems and 'Offshore' is a prime example. The best bit occurs when the urgent 4x4 beat flows into soft breaks, a technique he also deploys in his 1999 corker 'Saltwater'.
Underworld 'Born Slippy .NUXX'
Gaining momentum following the release of Trainspotting, 'Born Slippy .NUXX' bangs harder than Begbie and continues to fly the flag for the harder spectrum of trance music. Karl Hyde's febrile vocals are matched in intensity by the instrumental's signature thump. Lager, lager, lager.
Three Drives 'Greece 2000'
'Greece 2000' samples Crusin' Gang's Italo house roller 'Chinatown' to create one of trance's most electrifying records, with an instantly recognisable synth line that searis into your brain upon listening. Belfast's Ejeca provided a brilliant edit of the track on his 'Trance Wax' vinyl series, a testament to the enduring appeal of the original.
Robert Miles 'Children '
Robert Miles provided a striking rebuttal to any notion of trance being labelled as cheesy and synthetic in his approach to 'Children'. The track was inspired by photographs of young victims of the Yugoslav war and a desire to relax ravegoers before driving home to reduce car accident deaths. These intentions shine through. Sadly the producer passed away last year, but he showed the world the depth of feeling trance is capable of evoking.