From sitcoms to Broadway musicals to Cher, everyone wants to revive disco. Yet few seem to realize that disco never left. In the decades since its late-’70s heyday, the genre has simply assumed a number of different, electronica-associated names: house, progressive house, Miami bass. Consider recent singles by Quad City DJs (”Come ‘N Ride It [The Train])” and Basement Jaxx (”Red Alert”): Their seductive divas, unremitting rhythms, popping bass lines, and overall feeling of ecstasy (drug-induced or not) are nothing if not hallmarks of disco, upgraded for the cyberage.
To this list of techno-related progeny can now be added trance. In its first phase, about 10 years ago, trance’s long, loopy instrumentals were electronica for nouveau hippies, and some of it now feels dated. But after a moribund period, trance is back, and in a new guise. It isn’t retro-disco by any means, but the new-fashioned way it balances throbbing beats with melodic hooks and human voices has resulted in a slew of indelible singles that reel you in like the best glitter-ball anthems. Each finds the heart in the machinery, much as disco originally did.
Start with Welsh DJ Sasha’s 1999 single ”Xpander,” a whoosh of an instrumental that, like the finest new trance releases, feels simultaneously grounded and celestial. The radio mix of ”Tell Me Why (The Riddle),” a new single from German DJ Paul van Dyk, finds St. Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell wondering if she could ”open my heart again” over a mesmerizing beat. (It even sports something resembling a chorus.) Call it introspective disco, and also call it equal to Todd Terry’s remix of Everything but the Girl’s ”Missing.” The genre is so trance-sporting that it can even help revive the careers of waning pop stars. Chicane’s ”Don’t Give Up” blends Bryan Adams’ muffled rasp into stripped-down trance, and it’s far less crass than one would have imagined.
The soundtrack to the rave film Groove adds another splendid piece of trance-cum-disco to the canon. Credited to Bedrock otherwise known as British DJ John Digweed), ”Heaven Scent” is just that: heavenly, and hypnotic. Its striking refrain, which sounds like stones skipping over an electronic puddle, is as indelible as that of any classic-rock instrumental, and an array of shifting, layered melodies and hooks keeps its propulsive tribal beat from sounding dreary. Featured in the film’s climactic last dance, it’s a shimmering piece of music — although it’s best heard on Digweed’s Bedrock, where it stretches out to seven intoxicating minutes.
The continuous-mix Groove has many more overt disco references, starting with some of its song titles (Boozy and Swan’s blippy chant ”Champagne Beat Boogie” and DJ Garth and E.T.I.’s Donna Summer-on-Mars ”20 Minutes of Disco Glory”). Like a belated sequel to the dance-floor oldie ”Funkytown,” the delicious ”Girls Like Us” is propelled by a jingling, stuttery beat as singers Chrissy D and Lady G beckon us to ”give it up.” Tracks by Orbital and Libra Presents Taylor (the latter reconfiguring producer-artist BT’s trance classic ”Calling Your Name”) are similarly rhapsodic.
Just as old-school disco could grow monotonous, so do portions of the disc. Also, Hybrid’s herky-jerky ”Beachcoma” reminds me why I never fully connected with the much colder drum-and-bass. Even if such moments slacken the soundtrack, and even if trance overall lacks a star-making face or voice, the Groove companion album nonetheless crowns the genre as the new disco. Some other style will eventually snatch that crown away, but for the moment trance shakes a fine groove thang. B+