Friday, Jun. 7, 10 p.m., $15
The Fruit, Durham
This October marks twenty years since the 1999 release of the Finnish DJ Darude’s “Sandstorm,” one of the most culturally significant electronic dance singles of all time. A monster crossover hit of unfathomable reach, it’s been kept in circulation in sports and internet culture, partly through its popularity among video game live streamers. The four-minute instrumental’s meme status (in some online circles, “Darude – Sandstorm” serves as a generic reply to any track ID request) is strong enough that Google made it their April Fool’s Day prank four years ago.
Speaking to the INDY from Finland, fresh off a stint as a Eurovision contestant and preparing to headline the new Ephemeral party at The Fruit on Friday, Darude is completely lucid, unjaded, and funny about being trance music’s Rick Astley.
“A lot of us started as techies spending way too many hours in front of computers growing up, downloading and making music,” he says. He should know. In the early, low-bandwidth, peer-to-peer era of illicit MP3 filesharing, “Sandstorm” was one of the first viral hits, with poorly labeled versions going platinum on shady services like Kazaa and Napster.
“When I was initially pissed off at Kazaa people for stealing my song, I tried to remember that these are the same types of people as me,” Darude says. In the current streaming climate, he finds it nostalgic when his newest releases even exist as MP3s.
Darude is typically clocked as one of trance music’s golden boys. Though trance’s true origins are murky, seeping all the way back to German prog and subversive ‘80s electronic acts like The KLF, most people view it through the lens of the ‘00s commercial trance boom that Darude epitomized. A sort of proto-EDM, it was high-drama dance music, rooted in a martial 4/4 stomp and soaring topline vocals that culminated in the now-common ASMR punch of the “drop.”
For techno snobs and people who wander in irony’s endless hall of mirrors, trance’s maxed-out supersaw synths and unironic utopianism have long been an easy punchline, a playful late-night DJ set gag. Like Tamagotchi or Shibuya-Kei, it was music born of Y2K-era global-culture fads. Trendy, sentimental, soaring European dance cheese, thriving off utopian goodwill and novelty.
Darude understands the stigma associated with his output and trance music in general.
“I don’t follow American techno too closely, but a thing I’ve regularly seen is that it’s often a huge deal when an artist plays a trance cut,” he says. “It becomes an identifiable highlight of their set, but in other contexts, trance is seen as a saturated, commercial genre. I don’t think those rules are quite fair.”
He’s right, and as the twenty-year revival gap dictates, the sugary stylistic markers of trance seem to be genuinely tunneling back into acclaimed dance music again (see Ciel, Lorenzo Senni)—to the displeasure of purists who loathe the stuff. Their gripes aren’t totally without merit. Trance DJs tend to be white dudes, and the complaints rightfully drift toward scene lodestars like Armin Van Buuren and Tiësto, who fully embrace the genre’s functional, populist bent and churn out the least fashionable music in existence.
“Especially with genres like trance, people love to put the music in smaller and smaller boxes so they can dismiss it,” Darude says. “I always get categorized as a trance DJ, even though my foundation is melodic sounds, sounds that coexist with other genres, like jungle and Balearic music. One thing I don’t like about dance music in general is when people can’t see outside of those small boxes.”
His recent cross-genre output of singles and records lend his words credence. His last record, 2015’s Moments, blended a number of styles—drum and bass, progressive house, American dubstep, and others—into a sprawling, nuanced package that felt sincere and adventurous, if not blindingly original.
Tiësto jokes aside, the continued appeal of Darude and his descendants, evidenced by the EDM festival boom, is undeniable. To his credit, his initial era of crossover trance and Eurodance also ushered in a crucial moment where big-room dance music smashed through to post-grunge saturated Top-40 playlists. Courtesy of records like “Sandstorm,” dance music got exposure in markets without curated record stores or Warp-loving college radio DJs or much non-rock music infrastructure to speak of.
Look at Chapel Hill’s Porter Robinson, among the most commercially successful EDM producers. The poster boy for a certain kind of Y2K meets 2010s eclecticism, he whiled away his teenage years trawling through the hyper-colored trance and Eurodance worlds of Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania video game soundtracks, as well as the backrooms of the online message board ecosystem, where that music had a dedicated cult following. Even when he isn’t directly taking musical cues from “1998” by Naoki, you can feel trance’s euphoric sugar rush throughout his discography. On his recent Virtual Self project, he led the charge toward what he called “neotrance,” a more technical and direct homage to the music of his youth.
Darude’s appearance in Durham ushers in a new two-floor warehouse party series called Ephemeral. It hopes to put The Fruit, a fantastic space that has seen excellent use at events like Moogfest, to work as a dedicated rave zone. This initial outing was put together by promoters Morning Choir, Sugar Society, and Disco Donnie Presents, as well as local Durham promoters Party Illegal and The Floor. Alongside Darude, HEYZ, PlayPlay, Queen Plz, and thefacesblur will all be spinning throughout the night.
A final question: What accounts for Darude’s continued cultural relevance? The easiest answer might be positioning. Millennials and Gen Z adore irony, but they also thrive on nostalgia and the chasm between ironic and sincere. “Sandstorm” lives down there.
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