In collaboration with R.A. Bakr
Those who have been in the underground electronic music movement for decades have been witness to a range of dramatic changes in the industry. Not only in the way that music is consumed but in the trends within genres, with their followings which can go from intimate to enormous and back again. And with so many niches within the already relatively small community of electronic music fans, every scene has its own distinctive story. It’s a testament to the passion of those within each scene that their story continues today, with incredible credit to the leaders who never gave up on pursuing and pushing the music which drew them in when they first began. To not change your tune because of trends, to stay strong in your roots while still flowing towards the future, and to inspire others to join you on your journey is an amazing feat in the music industry today. Every community should have such an inspiration, and within the Trance community, they have Solarstone.
A founding father of the Trance movement in the late 90’s, Solarstone’s enduring influence on the genre is incomparable. Instead of abandoning the style as it mutated and melted among trends and commercialization, Solarstone remained true to himself and to the music and began a brand that would lead enduring Trance fans into a new era. While Pure Trance has evolved organically for the past 8 years, it has undeniably become the premier destination and representation for all that is Trance, with its global events, mix-release series, widely syndicated radio show, and record label group reaching millions of the Trance Family around the world.
Besides being the driving force behind Pure Trance, Solarstone has continued to expand upon his own personal legacy, with the end of 2019 seeing the release of his 3-album collection “One”, a project that had been more than 4 years in the making, and his 8th Pure Trance Compilation alongside Activa.
With 2020 just around the corner, FRISKY News caught up with Solarstone to look back on the year in Trance, and get an expert’s perspective on its place in the Underground from the past into the future.
Hi Rich! Thank you for the taking time out to speak with FRISKY News. Congratulations are in order on your new release, One. How does it feel now that this complete set is out in the world after so many years of planning and producing? What is the most rewarding part of the album release process for you?
Thanks for the invite. It was almost 4 years in the planning and execution, the longest I’ve spent on a project – a very long time in music indeed. There was a point just before the second album (the blue one) was completed that I got a little unsure about everything – things happen so fast in dance music and I was worried that I was ‘overegging the pudding’ so-to-speak, that it might be better to make the blue album something wholly separate – but Paula my manager and significant other helped me to focus and look again – she said I would regret it if I changed my mind – and she was right. I’d just been through some heavy personal stuff and was a bit all over the place psychologically back then. When the blue album was so well received it made sense again to continue. Now that the whole project is complete and out there in the world I’m so glad I stuck with it. Holding the One box in my hands and seeing how it all came together so perfectly was incredibly satisfying.
Watching on Facebook as you opened the One box set was super exciting. Everything about the box set, in my opinion, is spectacular and I personally like the extra gift enclosed – wrist bands. I understand you had a big part of the pop-art presentation? What were your intentions behind the design and how it connects to your music?
It was a great moment, for sure. We (that’s myself, Paula and Arny from Black Hole) thought really hard about what to include along with the three CD albums, but from the start I’d been heavily influenced by Erasure’s ‘Chorus’ box set from many years ago – I loved the Art cards that had been included with that package and wanted to do something similar. The wristbands were Arny’s idea – initially I was reticent about them but having them neon-colour-coded to match the albums made a potentially naff idea a more sophisticated one – and I know trance fans love their wristbands. The whole morse-code design came about via my designer Andrew Debens from GraphikArtDepartment with whom I’ve been working since the late 90s – I realised early on that there was huge scope for this in terms of branding, micro-videos and fan interaction. It’s all very Saville in terms of minimalism – but also very Solarstone. I’ve always loved the connection between records and their sleeves, ever since being a kid – so the artwork for my releases has been very important to me since day one.
What are you most excited about or proud of with the release of the Pure Trance 8 compilation? Does your work on a compilation differ from your approach to creating an album?
Volume 8 was a return to the roots of the Pure Trance concept for me, previous editions expanded to three discs covering a very wide spectrum of the sound – from very deep to absolutely banging. I loved them, but if you go back and listen to Volume 1 you’ll hear that it is more about the centre ground, the kind I thing I play in my shorter sets as opposed to an open-to-close which encompass everything. I’m also leaning more towards the slightly slower, more expressing side of trance these days too and I wanted to put together a mix of my own which concentrated more on that, hence my mixing Disc 1. Activa continued from exactly where I’d left off. If I’d been mixing the whole album and not had a guest – his Disc is pretty close to what I would have done in terms of style, tempo and melody. For me, Volume 8 is the most accurate edition of the series since Vol. 1 in terms of where I’m coming from musically.
As with all previous Pure Trance compilations, the featured artists on Pure Trance 8 are extraordinary with each having unique sounds and characteristics. How do you choose which artists appear on your Pure Trance projects?
Well you sum it up pretty well yourself – all of them do indeed have a unique sound which is instantly identifiable – something which is actually quite rare with the majority of producers and DJs fitting into neat genre-pockets. Activa has always had a very clean, warm sound – quite melodic but not overstated – and I love that. Take Factor B as another example – tough, uplifting hands-in-the-air but sophisticated – or Forerunners – deep and brooding, classy progressive – you can always tell a Forerunners track or Dj set. I choose Artists that I know pretty well musically, whose tracks I support and whose approach I agree with. Artists who do their own thing and don’t get sucked into current fads, they are the ones I respect and want to work with.
Since 2012, Pure Trance has exploded into one of the most successful recognizable brands within the electronic music sphere in an organic way and continues to bring feeling of togetherness amongst the “trance family”. What were your expectations when you first began? Has anything surprised you about where it is today?
Thanks for that appraisal! When it all began I was just trying to do something different, I didn’t have any expectations at all about where it would lead – I just wanted to contribute something to the scene which was – at that time – kind of on its knees. It has grown, as you say. ‘organically’ – we’ve never tried to artificially inflate our reach in any way, we’ve just put my tracks, the label releases, radio show and events out there and let people embrace them and discuss them amongst themselves, which is why it’s grown as a subculture, as a movement within the trance scene.
What are some of the challenges you face when it comes to keeping the Pure Trance brand running strong across its various avenues?
We understand that trance is a small, niche genre – and that is completely fine with both myself and I think the fans too. It is something special that not everybody gets or understands. We always keep that understanding in mind when staging events and doing tours – I would rather pack out a small club than overreach myself and try to sell out a huge arena. The intimacy of our events contributes to them feeling ‘special’, it helps create that ‘family’ atmosphere. There’s no greed or desire on our part to be ‘the biggest’ or to cultivate some temporary ‘next big thing’ rumour. Trance has survived for so long because it is an underground sound – apart from a brief moment in the limelight back in the late 90s and early 2000s. It’s still going strong because of the fans who genuinely love the music that has become part of their lives for so long – and there is a new generation of fans too who have discovered trance via EDM. It’s perfect really.
From the underground in the 90s to becoming a major trend in music, Trance has certainly seen a lot of variations over the years. Like Progressive House, it seems like there was a point when it became a “dirty word” due to the changes in the industry and heavy use in commercialized music. Has that been or is that now an issue for you as an artist and ambassador for Trance?
It’s always been a problem, and still is. There are DJs and promoters who simply don’t understand what trance actually is – some think it is cheesy pop-dance and some are just stuck in the past. The current trend of Techno DJs dropping trance breakdowns in their sets is interesting – it’s clear to me that a lot of those guys are trance fans and that’s great. The ‘Melodic Techno’ genre makes me scratch my head a bit… I mean – trance music – the deeper more progressive side of it – is melodic techno – that’s where trance evolved from – techno productions that embraced melodies – it grew from that into what it is now. We struggle with getting some of the releases into the hands of the right DJs sometimes – you mention the word ‘trance’ and some of them just hit the ‘delete’ button without even listening. I sent out one of my own tracks a couple of years ago as a white label with no credits whatsoever via a ‘cool’ promo service – and it was supported by a whole host of DJs who would not have been seen dead playing a Solarstone record had they known. It’s very unfortunate, and more than a little stupid.
What was it that originally attracted you to that sound, and is it the same which keeps you passionate about it today?
The emotion, the melodies, the atmosphere, the tempo, the sounds – all of it. I just fell in love with very early trance music in the early 90s and have never looked back since. Danny Rampling used to play ‘euro-trance’ on the Love Groove Dance Party on BBC Radio 1 back in the early 90s and that was my port of call every Friday night for years.
This year moving into next looks as though the calendar for Solarstone keeps having something on the agenda. How do you manage to find time with writing new music, touring and promoting your new releases? What are some of your techniques for finding balance and relaxation?
It’s very hard, I struggle with it a lot. There are not enough hours in the day – I definitely stretch myself too far – just ask Paula, I take on too much and then beat myself up for not delivering things on time. The labels are very important to me as is the radio show, but they both eat into my studio time to make music which is what I love the most. I have a small team around me all of whom I love and have massive respect for – without them I would be completely screwed. Touring is great, I love the shows, meeting the fans – but I hate the actually mechanics of traveling – the flights, the hotels, the waiting around, it’s very intense. Worst when I am alone, it’s way better when Paula comes with me. I miss my son terribly when I am away and when I think about all the time I have missed with him growing up – it can be upsetting. But my Dad (a musician too) gave up his music when I was a kid and got a factory job in order to support us – and he was bloody miserable. I think it affected everything for him. When he got to 50-odd he just went for it and became a pro Jazz musician again and was ultimately very happy. So I promised myself I would not stop following my heart when it came to music – and I’m glad it worked out ok. I have a great relationship with my son and consider myself very lucky to be doing something I love for a living and try not to lose sight of that – sometimes though when I’m abroad and lonely it’s a bit hard, but everyone has shit to deal with, it’s all relative.
Looking back, how would you describe the year 2019 for Solarstone?
It was a good year! Solid releases, lots of great gigs, the release of ‘One’ was definitely the highlight for me, I’ve met lots of lovely people on my travels, had some laughs, and I’m still alive.
What do you see as the future of Solarstone & Pure Trance in 2020?
Fingers crossed it will be a good year, let’s see….