It’s such a modest thing, that little plastic circle with its mirror backside and printed labels. Yet, these shiny compact discs, with its limits to 78 minutes of sound, were the backing track to many sleepless nights and created memories that last a lifetime.
The widespread popularity of mix compilations came around the mid-nineties, when British platforms such as Ministry of Sound, Mixmag and Renaissance started to put out their first mixed discs - mostly intended as promotional items. Ever since, compilations became an important instrument for trance artists to showcase their abilities and sound to fans outside the club. Here’s 10 of the finest trance compilations from the ‘golden age’ that truly stand the test of time.
COSMIC BABY & MIJK VAN DIJK 'TRANCEFORMED FROM BEYOND' (1992)
Arguably the first trance compilation of fame was ‘Tranceformed From Beyond’, which found the light of day in 1992. The project was initiated by British entrepreneur Mark Reeder, who ran the Berlin-based imprint Masterminded For Success (MFS) and was one of the first to coin the term ‘trance’ into the universe.
Reeder commissioned the popular German artists Mijk van Dijk and Harald Blüchel to create a continuous mix of tracks to enhance the trance-inducing effect on the listener. Sequenced together by layering DAT-tracks on top of each other during the mastering process, ‘Tranceformed From Beyond’ successfully promoted early German trance outside its geographic borders.
Featuring a total of 13 tracks by the likes of Blüchel (Boom Operators, Cosmic Baby, The Visions Of Shiva), Van Dijk (Microglobe, Mind Gear) as well as befriended artists, ‘Trancerformed From Beyond’ raised the bar for productions and compilations to come - both musically as well as aesthetically.
SASHA & JOHN DIGWEED 'RENAISSANCE: THE MIX COLLECTION' (1994)
Country: United Kingdom
Independently of each other, Sasha, real name Alexander Coe, and John Digweed crafted a name for themselves across the British territories during the early nineties with their long-stretched, winding and emotive DJ-sets. These two men helped turn deejaying into a respected art form by defining track selection and mixing skills as key characteristics.
Their international breakthrough came with ‘Renaissance: The Mix Collection’, published by the eponymous British club and label in 1994. By then, the duo’s DJ-sets were heavily bootlegged and it was clear that a mere turntable mix wasn't going to raise the stakes on what was already locked in every northern clubber's tape deck.
Covering three discs, ‘Renaissance’ created a timeless snapshot of a golden era of dance music, one that exists now only in ever-hazier halcyon memories and the delicate fraying folds of this classic collection. In addition, Sasha and Digweed made an incredibly fine job of crafting seemingly perfect blends, overlays and transitions. On ‘Renaissance’, the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.
NICK WARREN 'GLOBAL UNDERGROUND 003: LIVE IN PRAGUE' (1997)
Country: United Kingdom
By the mid-nineties, when the United Kingdom became the core of the new trance phenomenon, club life visuals provided few clues as to the faces of the artists actually making the whole scene move. It was not uncommon for original artwork to disappear completely, with brand logos taking centre stage instead. This all changed when Global Underground (GU), run by Boxed, began putting the faces of DJs on its CD covers in 1996. For the first time in its relatively young history, electronic music exited the era of the faceless DJ.
Meanwhile, GU would evolve in symbiosis with the growing international market for superstar DJs who would soon top the bill and travel the world with their record bag in tow. The series directed its efforts to so-called progressive sound that was already honed by Sasha & Digweed, and which incorporated elements from genres such as breakbeat, house and techno. It featured some of the most prominent British DJs at the time, including Danny Howells, Paul Oakenfold and Nick Warren.
Warren compiled the second episode in the series (yet is confusingly labelled as 003, while 002 never came out), recorded live at a performance he did in Prague. Featuring deep, hypnotic house, rhythmic progressive builders, tribal grooves and emotive breakdowns, his efforts here showcase the beauty of the British progressive reign during its early inception. There’s much more gold to be found within this series, yet Warren’s early contribution put GU on the right track.
Read this next: The 15 best mid-90s trance tracks
PAUL OAKENFOLD 'TRANCEPORT' (1998)
Country: United States
Paul Oakenfold is widely considered the godfather of the British trance scene. After introducing acid house to the country during the late eighties, Oakenfold soon picked up on the exciting sounds that trance brought forward (which, amongst many other things, led him to mix two episodes in the aforementioned GU-series). And he still does.
Early on in his career, Oakenfold connected to some of the most forward-thinking trance acts of their time - think BT, Man With No Name and Tilt - through his Perfecto label. His impeccable taste for tracks with hit potential is prevalent on ‘Tranceport’, a compilation targeted towards the American market - a scene that was lacking behind when it came to electronic music.
Oakenfold featured a string of to-be-classics on ‘Tranceport’, such as Agnelli & Nelson’s ‘El Niño’, Binary Finary’s ‘1998’ and Three Drives On A Vinyl’s ‘Greece 2000’. The compilation therefore feels like a simple ‘best of’ selection, yet the opposite is true. It is because of compilations like ‘Tranceport’ that these tracks - and the genre as a whole - reached mass appeal across the Northern hemisphere.
MAURO PICOTTO 'THE LIZARD MAN' (2000)
Country: United Kingdom
If Italians are known for their sense of drama, then Mauro Picotto surely added his fair bit to the domain of electronic music. Having made a name for himself through productions under monikers such as CRW, Megamind and RAF, things really took off with ‘Lizard’ (under his own name) in 1998 - a record that, for many, summed up the hegemony of the emerging trance sound.
Ever since, Picotto’s sound evolved into an uncompromising fusion of techno and trance, which he eagerly showcased in his acclaimed DJ-sets. This energy is converted to ‘The Lizard Man’, a double compilation directed to the British market.
Featuring a mixture of his own productions, remixes for befriended (mostly Italian) artists and tracks from big names such as Alter Ego, DJ Tiësto and DuMonde, Picotto finely balances his signature sound with more a commercially appealing music - yet without turning into a cheesy affair. Recommended for those who enjoy their trance a little more powerful.
ART OF TRANCE 'PLATIPUS BEGINNERS GUIDE' (2001)
Country: United Kingdom
British imprint Platipus was a driving force behind the country’s early trance scene. Found by Simon Berry in 1993, Platipus’ early - acid-influenced - records made the label stand out due to its high quality. These offerings included tracks created under various of Berry’s own monikers, including Art Of Trance.
On ‘Platipus Beginners Guide’, Berry showcased some of the labels’ most glorious triumphs and forgotten gems, all bought together across two discs - featuring a dazzling line-up of contributors such as Albion (aka Ferry Corsten), Humate, Libra, Moogwai and Quietman.
While the first disc is a very fine ‘best of’ selection, the real magic happens on disc two. On this bonus disc, Berry mixed (mostly exclusive) chillout versions from various Platipus hits. The result is a beautiful record that highlights the deeper, atmospheric elements of the label - and a testimony that trance can be so much more than just club-oriented sounds.
Read this next: The 18 best vocal trance tracks
JAMES HOLDEN 'FEAR OF A SILVER PLANET' (2001)
Label: Silver Planet
Country: United Kingdom
Having studied mathematics at Oxford University, James Holden is not your usual trance artist. In fact, he never wanted to be considered as such. Yet, his early efforts cannot be seen separate from the genre in which he initially made a name for himself.
Holden’s first compilation, ‘Fear Of A Silver Planet’, closely relates to the eponymous Silver Planet label under which his first releases came out - including the wonderful ‘Horizons’, a track he created at the age of 19 with the help of a freeware-tool called Buzz.
Melodic and driving, dubbed out and hypnotic, ‘Fear Of A Silver Planet’ broadcasts some of the more minimal and atmospheric works into the ether - along with Holden’s own tracks, edits, remixes and a good deal of sampler wizardry. It creates for a unique blend that truly stood for the artist, after which Holden would explore more experimental terrains - most notably through his Border Community imprint.
PAUL VAN DYK 'THE POLITICS OF DANCING' (2001)
Label: Ministry Of Sound
Country: United Kingdom
Having risen out of Berlin’s underground techno scene, Paul van Dyk hasn’t left the top ranks of the international DJ stage for a good two decades now. Aside from his acclaimed productions and DJ-sets, Paul’s private record label Vandit put out a string of successful releases following its inception in 1999.
Many tracks released by Vandit are to be found on ‘The Politics Of Dancing’, which is the first in a three-part series. In addition, Van Dyk exclusively crafted own edits and remixes of tracks from artists as diverse as Blank & Jones, Signum and U2 for this mix.
These efforts turned Van Dyk’s two-disc effort into a coherent sound palette, thereby guiding the listener through his signature ‘PvD-sound’ - euphoric, melodic and slightly faster than your usual trance artist. An absolute hallmark within the genre’s more broadly appealing sound.
Read this next: The 10 best early 90s trance tracks
MICHAEL MAYER 'IMMER' (2002)
Michael Mayer has been a central figure of the Cologne-based Kompakt family, an imprint that set the trend for the minimal and melodic techno since the late nineties. With a vast catalogue that includes fine works of artists like GAS, Kaito and The Field, Mayer’s ‘Immer’ series - meaning ‘forever’ in German - found a special place under the sun during the early years of the new millennium.
Covering just 13 tracks across a single disc, ‘Immer’ is an intensely minimalist effort in many ways. Yet, it is so much more than just that. Think of it as a romantic story that is told by means of a delicate bath of lush grooves, warm pads and the odd mood swing.
Compare ‘Immer’ to a good bottle of wine. It has aged extremely well, and might even become better with time - just like it was intended to be.
DJ TIËSTO 'NYANA' (2003)
Label: Black Hole
If there is one artist who notched up the value of mix compilations almost single-handedly, it must be Tijs Verwest, better known as DJ Tiësto. His commercial breakthrough came when Verwest co-founded Black Hole Recordings, for which he curated and mixed two excellent compilation series - Magik (started in 1997) and In Search Of Sunrise (started in 1999), each featuring seven episodes.
Following these series, as well as his acclaimed releases and international performances, Verwest had turned into the face of the global trance scene since the start of the new millennium. Rather surprisingly, it was right then when he produced his finest work - a double compilation titled ‘Nyana’, meaning Sun (in Zulu) or Sunrise (in Swahili).
With ‘Nyana’, Verwest portrayed his DJ performances in both indoor and outdoor settings - thereby moving into different musical territories. The pace went up and crossovers with more techno-oriented material were elaborated. It appeared to be the starting point for a long and successful career that reached far beyond the realms of trance.
Arjan Rietveld is the author of the 332-page encyclopaedia book ‘Hypnotised: A Journey Through Trance Music (1990-2005)’. He also compiles an eponymous compilation series for Black Hole Recordings.