SUPER EGO Say what you will about trance: it happened.
In fact, it happened two ways. The first, in all its flaming-poi-twirling, shaman-transcendentalist, goa-gamma-psy-matrix glory, is rooted in underground dance movements of the 1980s, and still provides a few subversive, head-pounding kicks. For a local taste, check out the Tantra tribe's omnipresent DJ Liam Shy (www.liamshy.com), Skills DJ crew honcho Dyloot (www.myspace.com/dyloot), and the new Club S weekly, benefiting SF Food Bank (Thursdays, 9:30 p.m., $3/$1 with nonperishable food item. Paradise Lounge, 1501 Folsom, www.paradisesf.com). This strain of trance gets props both for its hyperactive dedication to melting far-flung cultural influences into its obliterating 155 b.p.m. bam-bam-bam and its surge of female power behind the decks. Holy neon dreads of Gaia, it even has its own store on Haight Street! (Ceiba, 1364 Haight, SF, www.ceibarec.com).
Then there's the other kind. "Popular trance" ditches the wonky metaphysics and morphs the progressive Euro-house template of build-breakdown-build into a numbing, arena-filling formula that somehow took over the 2000s and gifted us with visions of Ed Hardy dudes spazzing out in Glo-Stick necklaces. Queasy. No one is more representative of this slicked-up genre than Tiësto, the 40-year-old Dutch DJ and producer who started as an underground gabber and rose with laser-like ambition to claim the title of "World's Biggest DJ." Tiësto's my favorite "supastar" punching bag the Reebok shoe, the knighthood by Queen Beatrix, the video-game ubiquity, the sigh-raising "Adagio for Strings" redo, the agro cloud of spiky-haired, wraparound Gucci wannabes. It's a tad much.
But beating this particular bugbear's too easy. As his ruthless marketing onslaught suggests, the guy is really on top of his game. Worse, he's actually quite charming infectiously enthusiastic about his scene and quick to praise up-and-comers. Although avowedly apolitical, he's used his clout to raise funds for HIV/AIDS awareness through the Dance4Life project. And with his new album Kaleidoscope (Ultra), Tiësto shows he's suitably self-aware to know when enough's enough.
"My brand of trance has evolved," he told me over the phone from Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he was preparing to slay a stadium of Canadian fanatics. ("Canada is 10 years ahead of the U.S. I don't have to scale down my tour here," he said.) "It's kind of freaked me out. It's not about the drugs or the old communal feeling so much, it's about this big urge to party. My shows are like rock concerts now crowd surfing, moshing, singing along. I realized I couldn't do the same thing I used to, just these long trance sets. It was time for something different."
Kaleidoscope shows a definitive turning away from extended jams. Loaded with guest collaborators and indie darlings like Calvin Harris and Bloc Party's Kele Okereke, most of the songs are less than five minutes long and stick to a classic pop template. None of it's particularly mind-blowing Tegan and Sara number "Feel It in my Bones" is the definite standout but there's a refreshing sense of risk and a few nice hooks.
"I've been listening to a lot more indie and rock lately, so this transition is a personal one, too," Tiësto said. "I don't consider myself underground. I'm a pop artist now. I'm even writing songs on the road that could be called Tiësto R&B," he added with a laugh. "But it's just the way the music is going, toward more pop structure. You can see that with David Guetta's chart success this year.