Played Out: How Ciel Uses New Age And Trance To Make Dance Floors Move
TIME: 1-2 AM
PLACE: Sweet Pup Studios, Vancouver
I got my start in DJing through independent radio, so I’ve always been interested in a variety of genres and found attitudes in dance music about what styles certain DJs are “allowed” to play in one set to be rather restrictive. Of course, it takes a lot of finesse to mix house with trance, for example, but in my opinion the most interesting DJs are able to play diverse electronic styles and find the connecting thread that runs through each track and tie them together in a way that’s surprising and intriguing and fun. In a given DJ set or mix, you might hear me journey from early house to breakbeat to electro to bleep techno. Depending on the party I’m playing at and length of my set, you might even hear some early trance, jungle, or old-school prog house. Putting them together is the fun part, and that could be done by combining tracks with complementary key signatures, similar percussive styles or something that’s a bit more intangible, like a shared mood or—in this case—a dreamy feeling.
This particular sequence of tracks came originally from my mix for Smartbar x Hugo Ball Chicago’s Daphne series, and I developed and tried it out in DJ sets I played at nightclubs in my home city of Toronto. I’ve since played this sequence at the garden in Berlin’s ://about blank at 1 in the afternoon on a Sunday, and then at two back-to-back shows on the North American west coast at peak time (around 1-2 AM). Both times have been super fun, and the tracks really exemplify my love of 130 BPM+ ethereal bangers and how I build anticipation and groove on a packed dance floor. I find what makes them work at such different time slots is that, despite each track being quite banging, there is a unifying dreamy mood that works well inside a dark warehouse and outside in a sunlit garden.
1. Biochip C, “The Transition” (Animalized 1992)
I like to start my sets with a mood piece that has a long intro to establish the start of my set. I think all sets should tell a story with a beginning, middle and end, and I love thinking about what kind of opening I want to use to set the mood for my night. This trance acid track from 1992 is very atmospheric, starting with the sound of thunderstorms and proggy arpeggios and then moving into a driving groove with a wonderful spoken word sample on top. I’m a complete sucker for any spoken word bits about dreams, consciousness, perception, reality and psychedelic experience—especially as an opening track. This one is packed full of them, which gives it an element of New Age mysticism that I love.
This track is incredibly long and meandering. For my purposes, I’m only interested in the first four to five minutes before the track really amps up the trance acid elements, so I start mixing in elements of the next track over the current track’s driving beat and spoken word samples. I like long mixes and gradually bringing something in—especially if the melodies of the two tracks are in the same key signature like these two are. So I start off by only bringing in the hats and the lead synth loop of Fast Floor’s “Open Space”. The melody is a nice complement to the arpeggiated loops of the previous track, and the kick is almost identical in tone to the previous one, so I find it to be a logical next step in this trajectory.
2. Fast Floor, “Open Space” (Smooth 1994)
Fast Floor (a.k.a. Jack Smooth/Ron Wells) was a pioneer of the jungle techno sound. This track boasts the skeleton of a techno track with the smoked-out dreaminess of a jungle track thanks to those incredibly lush pads. It’s banging but not rushed and takes its time building momentum, which makes it the ideal precursor to the next track I mix into: “Neptunian Bliss” by Canada’s MC2 & Erra.
It’s important to play with contrasts when you DJ, and I like the tuneless, jacking intro of “Neptunian Bliss” mixed with the dreamy, melodic middle of “Open Space”. After the pads fade out on “Open Space” and the spoken word sample of “Neptunian Bliss” grows louder over the drums of “Open Space”, I’ve essentially swapped out the melody of one track and brought in the next. Kind of an easy mix, but sometimes the most obvious combos are the best.
3. Mc2 & Erra, “Neptunian Bliss” (Map 1996)
This track is taken from the best electronic music compilation I’ve ever heard, Welcome To Lotusland. It features a lot of mid ‘90s ambient trance and house from the west coast of Canada, and this cut is my favorite. I love the drums SO much; I think this might actually be my favorite kick sound on any track ever. The whispered “Let the light become you” and rhythmic bubbling sound never fail to give me goosebumps! I basically built this entire sequence around this track, because it contains all of the qualities I look for in my favorite peak time tracks—banging, dreamy, playful and New Age-y.
This track has a lot of bounce and groove and the melodies are much more subtle than some of the other tracks on this list. I find it provides a nice skeleton for the next track in the sequence, which has a similar kick to “Neptunian Bliss” but begins with a very ethereal and trance-y melodic loop. So it makes sense to bring in the melody first on top of the drums of the previous track and then slowly fade out the bass kick on “Neptunian Bliss” while fading in the kick of “Sparce Greys”.
4. Dreamlogic, “Sparce Greys” (Map 1996)
Dreamlogic was another Canadian ambient trance and house act from the mid ‘90s. This track is stunningly gorgeous and works in a variety of sets, as it begins with breakbeat before changing to a hard 4/4 kick and eventually moving into trance-y acid lines at the end. Tracks that change a lot work well as connecting pieces in a set that has a lot of styles. You could easily take this track as a transitional tool to move into acid techno realms, and in fact that’s how I usually use this track in a set. It mixes really well with Black Scorpion’s “Teknitron”, for example.
Bonus: Ciel, “Elevate (Go Off Mix)”/ “Electrical Encounters” (Peach Discs 2017)
It’s not a hard rule, but I generally don’t like to play my own music in my sets—mainly because the tracks I feel compelled to make aren’t necessarily tracks I would play out. DJing is a completely different beast compared to production. Plus it always makes me feel really self-conscious playing my own music in a DJ set! I can say that a proclivity for faster BPMs and a dreamy atmosphere permeate my productions as much as they are present in my sets, and every track on my release for Peach Discs has strong elements of that. In particular, the title track at 132 BPM is my take on dreamy electro. Although I’ve never done so, I would probably mix the previous track with “Electrical Encounters”.
There is a lot of space and watery textures on it, and liquid is a theme that’s evident throughout this sequence, starting with the sound of rain on “The Transition”. The reverb-y space of the track also kind of reminds me of “Open Space”, so out of all of the tracks on my Peach Discs release, I feel this is the one that would work the best within this sequence. The opening arp doesn’t sound like it’ll mix with the melody of the previous track, so I would probably set up a cue point around the two-minute mark where it’s just the drums and pads and bring it in so there’s fewer elements competing with the much-busier production of “Sparce Greys”.
Ciel’s new record will come out on Shanti Celeste‘s Peach Discs label soon. Shanti Celeste will play our Telekom Electronic Beats Clubnight at PAL in Hamburg on October 27. Find more information here.
Read more: Played Out columns from DJ Olivia, the Zenker Brothers, DJ Bone and more
Published October 23, 2017.