Various Artists

Harthouse: The Point of No Return, Chapter 1

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Capturing many of the earliest excursions into the realm of music that would later morph into trance by the end of the decade, Harthouse: The Point of No Return, Chapter 1 chronicles the key moment when the Frankfurt camp of artists at Harthouse took techno to more epic, psychedelic extremes than ever before. A good portion of the music on this album doesn't hold up over the years, sounding a bit too extreme and dissonant relative to the trance championed by superstar DJs such as Sasha and Paul van Dyk, but this is exactly the point. Before trance became trance, it was merely an off-shoot of techno, with a larger emphasis on ornament -- acid lines, synth riffs, laser sounds, choir-like refrains -- and a lesser emphasis on rhythm, trading in the sometimes complex percussive tendencies of techno for a straight-ahead, pounding 909 drum kick foundation much in the spirit of hard house. One song in particular from this compilation, Hardfloor's "Acperiance," has consistently been dubbed a proto-trance anthem. This song's creeping percussion and slithering acid lines don't sound that much different than what Richie Hawtin was producing as Plastikman, but it is the slowly building, inclined nature of the song that differentiated it from traditional acid techno. The song builds and builds until reaching a near climax state, accentuated by the now-clichéd snare drum roll -- exactly the sort of journey-like motif that would primarily characterize the more epic styles of trance by the end of the decade. In addition, this compilation also features three mediocre tracks by Oliver Lieb as Spicelab, foreshadowing the tremendous influence he would have later in the decade as one of the genre's consistently stellar producers; Pete Namlook (as Pulsation), Cosmic Baby (as Futurhythm), and Sven Vath (as Metal Master) also count as noteworthy producers featured here. But for as prototypical as this album is, the music itself isn't nearly as timeless, making it more interesting than satisfying -- though "Acperiance" in itself makes the album worth seeking out for historical reasons.

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