As the yearly festival circuit grows bigger and bigger, A-list DJs like Nina Kraviz, Ellen Allien and Gerd Janson have started to reach for ’90s anthems, which have been, for better or worse, frowned upon for more than a decade. Classic trance hymns like Sven Väth and Ralf Hildenbeutel’s “L’esperanza” and Energy 52’s “Cafe Del Mar” as well as rave hits like The Prodigy’s “One Love” are back in rotation and they’re setting dance floors on fire all over again. Intoxicated by the resurgence of unabashed emotions, arpeggios and wide-eyed rave shenanigans, we compiled a list of 25 early ’90s trance (and trance-infused) classics that can still sit well and hang tight in a modern record bag. Let the drum rolls begin.
Digital Excitation "Pure Pleasure" (R&S Records 1993)
What a spine-tingling intro! Can you feel the rush? The track’s title is no exaggeration. Digital Excitation goes straight for the pleasure centers on this one. It’s a majestic track in the twilight zone of techno, acid and trance.
Neutron 9000 "Tranceplant" (MFS 1992)
Mark Reeder’s MFS (Masterminded For Success) was instrumental in developing and popularizing trance from 1992 onward. This gem by Dominic Woosey and Aaron Greenwood aka Neutron 9000 is a good example of how fluid techno was as a genre back then. Classic bleeps, breakbeats, bass pressure and floating pads all get thrown together for maximum effect.
Morgan Wild "Trance Mission" (Buzz 1993)
Trance by way of New York. “Trance Mission” is off an EP called Dionysian Earth Sacrament. Do we need to say more? Probably not.
Zero Gravity "Sensorium" (Rhinebeat 1992)
“Sensorium” was released on Rhinebeat, a label started by Mate Galic—now known as the CEO of Native Instruments—and Sebastian Neuhaus back in 1992. Its motorik groove is accentuated by a swirling lead synth and waves of gliding and choir-esque pads that brush all negativity away in favor of intoxicated and empathic playfulness.
Nail "Cassiopeia" (Warp Records 1993)
This early track by Nail (aka Neil Tolliday ) has it all: a warm bassline, a gentle arpeggiated synth melody that ebbs and flows and a yearning vocal sample that can make the hair on your neck stand up. Released back in ’93 on Warp Records, you could make an argument that this isn’t trance technically speaking, but boy is it mesmerizing.
Yantra "The Birth Of Stars" (Synewave 1993)
Another curveball. Dan Zamani, Tim Taylor and Damon Wild produced this blissful downbeat track that also features all the hallmarks of a good trance tune. Back in 1993— the heyday of Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series and ambient from the likes of Mixmaster Morris/The Irresistible Force—you could find a wee bit of trance in pretty much any genre. Who wouldn’t want to come down to a track like this?
Union Jack "Two Full Moons & A Trout (Caspar Pound Remix)" (Rising High Records 1994)
Back in the early ’90s, Caspar Pound’s Rising High Records was one of Britain’s biggest forces when it came to techno, hardcore, breakbeat and trance. More often than not you could find all those ingredients in the course of one track. This makes the label quite emblematic of a time when no one really cared for purism yet. This fast paced Lil Louis referencing chugger has so many twists and turns. It drove people wild on the dance floor back then and it still does now.
Metal Master "Spectrum" (Harthouse 1992)
A list of early trance without a track by Sven Väth (and his label Harthouse for that matter) would be weird. So here’s one of his lesser-known ones: a collaboration with Harthouse co-founder Matthias Hoffmann. Distorted, drone-y pads, a repetitive organ sequence, fast beats and wide-eyed strings take you to some hallucinated desert plains and then back again.
The Martian "Star Dancer" (Red Planet 1993)
We just had to pick a track from Red Planet. As much as a lot of die-hard Detroit aficionados will probably be pissed off by seeing “Star Dancer” in this list, the track, in huge part thanks to its typical acid bassline, is a good example that every once in a while there was some common ground between the European and the US take on trance.
The Source Experience "The Source Experience" (R&S Records 1993)
Ghent’s R&S Records was a true power house in the early ’90s. The label released classic after classic from Joey Beltram to Aphex Twin and from Derrick May to Ken Ishi in rapid succession. “The Source Experience” is a piece of trancey techno heaven with soaring pads and a completely uncheesy acid bassline. If you like this you should also check out Dave Angel’s equally melodic take on techno.
Pete Lazonby "Sacred Cycles" (Brainiak 1994)
“Sacred Cycles” is an epic in its own right. Over 11 minutes long, the track takes you on a mesmerizing journey. It starts with a sample from rogue spiritual guru/cult leader Osho and then takes nearly six minutes to drop a kick drum and release all of its built-up tension. Then you fly for another five minutes before a second Osho sample kisses you goodnight.
Cosmic Baby "Stimme Der Energie" (MFS 1992)
Harald Blüchel aka Cosmic Baby is one of trance’s true originators. Like many good early trance tracks, “Stimme der Energie” from his first album blurs the lines between different genres. It’s as much Detroit-influenced melodic techno as it is trance. And it also has breakbeats thrown into the mix for good measure. Compared to his later tracks “Stimme der Energie” is a lot more restrained. It relies less on his virtuosic piano skills, for which he got praised and ridiculed in equal measure as the Mozart of techno. Speaking of his piano skills, this September Harald Blüchel will perform live on solo piano at Neu West Berlin for the first time in over a decade.
Marmion "Schöneberg" (Superstition 1993)
On “Schöneberg” Marmion (aka Mijk van Dyk) takes a cue from Lil Louis’ mega hit “French Kiss”. The track takes that familiar synth motif into more melodic territory. It adds layers of chords, melodies and pads on top of each other until they gel into a classic piece of early trance.
Transformer 2 "Pacific Symphony" (Sonic Records 1992)
It wasn’t just techno and trance in the ’90s that shared a blurry line. House and trance collided quite frequently too. This was the genesis of what would later become known as progressive house. Transformer 2’s “Pacific Symphony” is one of those classic tracks that would be rinsed by progressive dons like Sasha or John Digweed back then.
Transform "Transformation" (Eternity 1992)
Tommi Eckart and Ralph Hertwig had a string of big hits under different monikers at the beginning of the ’90s. “Transformation” is one of them. The infectious vocal sample sneaks up on you until you can’t get it out of your head. As a user on Discogs so aptly wrote: “This just sounds like a lullaby for daydreamers and night trippers.” Having said that, we could’ve also picked “The Beat Just Goes On And On”, which they’ve released as Perry & Rhodan on Rising High Records.
Syzygy "Can I Dream?" (Rising High 1992)
Another Rising High joint. Caspar Pound’s seminal label is ripe for a serious comeback. Syzygy’s “Can I Dream” is percolating in that sweet spot where you’d say it’s trancey rather than trance. All the elements are there, but the execution is still robustly rooted in the house and techno template.
Love Inc "Trance Atlantic XS" (Force Inc 1992)
Yep, Wolfgang Voigt. He produced many a classics as Love Inc. “Trance Atlantic XS” is a mind melter of especially epic proportion. Clocking in at nearly 13 minutes, the track is one perfectly winding and modulating rush of machine-induced trance.
Emmanuel Top "Acid Phase" (1993)
Acid and trance always complemented each other, especially in Europe. Tracks by Emmanuel Top frequently crossed over into other burgeoning trance realms like goa and psy trance (file under “Turkish Bazar”). “Acid Phase” is a good example of why. In Top’s hands a simple acid bassline accompanied by massive roaring lead synths turns into a rave track of Wagnerian dimensions.
Eden Transmission "I'm So High" (Exist Dance 1991)
If the vocal sample wasn’t in it, the track would still be the perfect musical representation of its title.
Vernon "Wonderer" (Eye Q Records 1993)
Frankfurt trance at its best. Still a million miles away from the generic peak time muzak the genre would evolve into a couple of years later, “Wonderer” is so unabashedly anthemic it still works wonders if you have a sweet spot for this sort of thing. It also shows once more that a well placed breakbeat can make all the difference.
Influx "Braineater" (Sapho 1993)
Sapho was Rising High’s sub-label (and the name of Caspar Pound’s daughter). Again, it’s the meeting of acid’s relentless trance properties with majestic strings that turn “Braineater” into a seminal rave track that’s ready to be unleashed again.
Pulsation "Transpulsation" (Harthouse 1992)
One of the many, many trance excursions by Pete Namlook. At a speedy pulse of 150 BPM, “Transpulsation” is the perfect open air track, complete with ricocheting breakbeats and an over-the-top vocal sample. It’s equally overbearing and stupendous. Now close your eyes and let the journey begin …
Liaison D "He Chilled Out" (Logic 1990)
Another early Belgian classic. Released in 1990, “He Chilled Out” came out well before trance as its own genre was defined and formulated. But if this isn’t trance-inducing we don’t know what is.
Illuminatus "Hope" (23 Records 1993)
Wouldn’t this track fit well in a Dixon set these days? Or one by Tale Of Us? It definitely has all the moody pathos required. All the drama of the human condition poured into one piece of music.
Hypnopedia, "Cario" (BOY Records 1992)
Back in the day, Bad Kreuznach’s BOY Records definitely wasn’t considered to be one of the hottest It-labels around—and that’s thanks in large part to a lot of dodgy releases. This track from Hypnopedia is one of the exceptions though.