Trance – you love it or you hate it.
The rich combination of melody, harmony and repetition of sound continues to bring smiles to people across the world – and undoubtedly had a significant influence on future electronic music to come.
Here are ten record labels that brought you some of the trickiest trance pieces from the early days.
Want to know the most influential techno labels of all time? We have you…
Without too much attention, independent record labels played a crucial role in the development and popular appeal of trance music during the 90s. Hailing mainly – but not exclusively – from northern Europe, a series of imprints steered the genre towards different shifts and turns. These labels balance the positioning of a strong brand at a time when globalization and technological innovations are going faster than ever.
Certain imprints have particularly stood out in their contribution to the genre due to their prolific production, unique approach to sound, and ability to bring the genre to a wider audience. Proving the breadth of their vision and their long-term relevance, most of the following labels are still active in the industry today. And the end is nowhere in sight, as the sound of trance has magically resurfaced in recent years.
This is a guest post written by Arjan Rietveld, the author of the definitive guide to trance titled ”Hypnotized: A Journey Through Trance Music (1990-2005)”.
Activity: 1997 – Current
After their first experiences of clubbing in Belgium, the Dutch Arny Bink and Tijs Verwest (alias Tiësto) launched themselves into the field of trance through their label Black Hole. With Tiësto’s “In Search Of Sunrise” and “Magik” series of mix compilations becoming Black Hole’s flagship products, the label released a large volume of 12” singles, artist albums and compilations from mix since.
When trance became a less dominant musical force at the end of the zeros, Black Hole successfully redirected its efforts to meet the needs of the digital market. The label has continued to expand its always impressive and diverse artist portfolio, which includes regular contributions from notable acts such as BT, Cosmic Gate and Solarstone.
Activity: 1992 – Current
Born in 1992 out of the back of a DJ shop called Blitz in Antwerp, Bonzai has earned a solid reputation in the more complex divisions of trance. Featuring the iconic bonsai logo on its records, the imprint has pushed talented local artists such as Airwave, CJ Bolland, Jones & Stephenson, MIKE and Yves Deruyter.
Like many other labels at the time, the digital revolution in the music industry after the turn of the millennium hit Bonzai hard. The imprint’s parent company went bankrupt, but the label eventually restarted. These days, the imprint publishes early-day classics and new material in a variety of styles.
Activity: 1995 – 2006
Originally established as an Italo label in 1992, BXR’s history is long and diverse. The original platform was short-lived, with only four releases to its name. Everything changed when Gigi D’Agostino, an up-and-coming Italian artist, took over the reins in 1995. Under the new brand name BXR Noise Maker, D’Agostino introduced the so-called “Mediterranean Progressive” sound to the world.
When D’Agostino left the label in 2000, BXR signed a new batch of Italian artists such as Mauro Picotto, Mario Più and Joy Kitikonti. He successfully experiments with crossings between trance and techno. Despite its series of commercially successful records – of which Picotto’s productions are the most notable – BXR was forced to close in 2006.
Activity: 1992 – 1997
Sven Väth occupies a special place in the history of trance. Early in his musical career, the Frankfurt-based artist launched the Eye Q imprint with Heinz Roth and Matthias Hoffman in 1991. Balancing on the border of techno and trance, EYE Q – along with its Harthouse counterpart – have prolifically raised the bar for electronic music in many ways.
Along with releasing Väth productions, the imprint highlighted timeless gems such as Icon’s “Desire”, Java’s “Cosmos” and Energy 52’s “Café Del Mar”. 90, Väth ventured into different musical territory and pulled the plug. It meant the end of an era that brought some of the most avant-garde trance plays. You’ll be hard pressed to find cheese on EYE Q.
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Activity: 1991 – 2003
Versatility and open-mindedness are undoubtedly the qualities that best describe the early trance powerhouse that was Hooj Choons. Founded by ‘Red’ Jerry Dickens and Phil Howells – who left soon after – in 1991, the label emerged when house music was the sound of choice in the UK. Soon after, Hooj Choons took the new progressive house sound to new heights.
Hooj Choons has helped shape and guide the tastes of a generation of DJs and dancefloors around the world through his successive style shifts over the years. His most successful record was arguably Energy 52’s reissue of ‘Café Del Mar, which found its way into the electronic classics hall of fame. After releasing more than a hundred singles and a dozen compilations, the label announced its dissolution in 2003.
Activity: 1991 – 2007
Founded by British entrepreneur Mark Reeder, Masterminded For Success – or MFS – was born shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Initially backed by former East German state label AMIGA, MFS made good use of the distribution opportunities of this partnership while introducing the sound of trance and techno to a wider audience.
The imprint was arguably the first to coin the term “trance” with its “Transformed From Beyond” compilation, mixed by German artists Harald Blüchel and Mijk van Dijk in 1992. MFS was also the first house of Paul van Dyk , the Berlin resident who would eventually become one of the superstars of the global trance scene. After fifteen years of operation, the imprint said goodbye in 2007.
Activity: 1989 – Current
After a series of trips to Ibiza in 1987, Paul Oakenfold brought acid house to the UK almost single-handedly, subsequently becoming one of the genre’s leading advocates and star representatives. It wasn’t long before Oakenfold created Perfecto to showcase their fuller view of electronic music.
The Perfecto platform was designed to harness the potential of upcoming artists while neglecting no corner of the electronic music sound spectrum in the process. Over the years, Perfecto released essential works by artists such as BT, Tilt and Carl Cox before focusing more on the realms of psytrance – something it still does gracefully today.
Activity: 1993 – Current
Platipus’ beginnings were humble. Simon Berry established the label in 1993 and initially operated out of his small apartment. Berry only wanted to expose the music and artists he loved to a wider audience. Platipus’ early tart releases made the label stand out from the crowd. Its output was initially limited to Berry’s projects, including Art Of Trance, Clanger and Union Jack.
Everything accelerated for Platipus after Berry heard a Children’s promotional track at a club one night and immediately signed its producer, Robert Miles. Boosted by this coup, Platipus would eventually sign more popular acts such as Libra, Moogwai and Quietman, and Praha – resulting in various chart successes. A series of concept compilations followed over the millennium before the label went out of business in 2010 – only to resurface with mostly digital reissues in more recent times.
Activity: 1998 – 2007
Created in late 1997 by Ferry Corsten and Robert Smit, Tsunami represented the Dutch trance anthem sound in all its glory. The imprint stood out aesthetically thanks to its iconic covers, which featured a digitized version of “Under the Wave of Kanagawa” by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai.
In addition to promoting befriended artists such as Ronald van Gelderen, Nick K., and Matti Laamanen, Tsunami showcased some of Corsten’s finest work – particularly his monikers Gouryella and System F. Common Denominators Across Tsunami’s sixty-year-old record catalog is energy and harmony – virtually every track on the imprint instantly puts a smile on your face.
Activity: 1999 – Current
With its signature deep blue sleeves with black and white stickers, Vandit showcased the fast, sharp, melodic sound of trance that has become synonymous with its founder, Paul Van Dyk. This signature sound resonated perfectly with the broader appeal of the genre after the turn of the millennium.
Since its first release with van Dyk’s productions, “Another Way” and “Avenue”, Vandit has released numerous successful releases from high profile acts such as Alibi, NU NRG and Ralphie B. Although the market for trance has changed significantly since the beginning, Vandit still applies the same quality standards to its production.
Arjan Rietveld is the author of the 332-page encyclopedia ”Hypnotized: A Journey Through Trance Music (1990-2005)”. It also compiles a self-titled compilation series for black hole recordings.