Long before the marketing ploy called EDM became entrenched in mainstream pop music, churning out the stereotypical build-ups and drops that we’ve come to associate with the name, electronic music was, and still is, music, in all its purity, made electronically. Blending compositional brilliance with advances in engineering in the form of synthesizers and drum machines, and made by artists who were (and still are) driven by passion rather than money, these tracks pushed the boundaries of music itself, with many being played by orchestras despite their electronic origins. This article showcases works from decades long gone that did not see much mainstream popularity, but are still revered in the underground independent music scene, from a time when people looked forward to Fridays for the fresh releases that the nearby record store had to offer, and the music was all about creating soundscapes that you could get lost in, as you put your hands up and reached for the lasers above. After all, when words fail, music speaks.
Paul van Dyk – For an Angel
This 1994 track by Grammy-nominated producer Paul van Dyk is characterised by van Dyk’s signature synthetic plucks and an unmistakable uplifting piano melody. Reworked in 1998, with the updated version, called the E-Werk club mix, taking it to even greater heights and eventually becoming the best-known rendition of the track, For an Angel remains van Dyk’s most famous work till date.
Super 8 & Tab – Helsinki Scorchin’
One of the earliest releases on the Anjunabeats record label, this track by the Finnish duo Super 8 & Tab blends a warm bassline, soaring pad synthesizer chords and vocal chops (sliced vocal notes that are used in the same way that a melody is played on an instrument, as opposed to complete lyrics), creating a vibe that instantly makes your day. The original vinyl release of this track in 2006 contained this track on side A and Alex MORPH’s darker, more energetic take on it on side B, with this release bundle carrying into the track’s release on today’s digital platforms.
Sasha – Xpander
A track so unique that fans and artists alike swear by it, and maintain that it should never be remixed, this release from Sasha, named after the synthesizer that its legendary lead riff was made on, was the soundtrack to the memories of an entire generation, and elicits roars of applause as well as tears of joy when it is played at shows even today.
Rank 1 – Airwave
Voted number one on Armada’s Trance Top 1000 poll in 2011, this 1999 track by the Dutch duo Rank 1, was one of the pioneering efforts to create the synthesizer sound now known as the supersaw. Featuring the classic Euro trance bassline, and a serene breakdown leading to the glorious lead supersaw sound, the track hasn’t lost its charm in the slightest, even after nearly 20 years.
Oceanlab – Satellite
This track from the 2004 album Sirens of the Sea by the band Oceanlab, is the perfect blend of Justine Suissa’s unique voice and Above and Beyond’s euphoric arpeggiated synthesizer riffs. The loudest sing-alongs by crowds at the Luminosity Beach Festival in the Netherlands and other trance music festivals around the world are often to this track, every single year since its release.
Armin van Buuren & Jan Vayne – Serenity
A collaboration between trance legend Armin van Buuren and classical musician Jan Vayne, Serenity was the anthem for the Sensation White festival in 2005 as well as the final track on van Buuren’s 2005 album Shivers. Featuring the best of the electronic and orchestral worlds, the swirling strings in the breakdown leading to a gritty, distorted synthesizer riff piercing through the brief seconds of silence that follow continue to be a reminder of the power of music in all its glory, causing goosebumps, sending shivers down the spine or even jerking an involuntary tear, be it at a live performance or at home on headphones.
You can find these classics here: https://tinyurl.com/y7zvqqye