Various – Anjunabeats Vol. 9: Mixed By Above & Beyond

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The key thing many of the trance scene’s big players have struggled with in recent years is keeping a grip on their underground appeal as they’ve shifted gears and played to bigger and bigger crowds – arguably, there’s been too many creative compromises bundled in as part of a package deal.

Somehow though, UK trio Above & Beyond have remained immune; while some questioned the mellow platitudes Tony, Jono and Paavo explored on their Group Therapy artist album last year, in club land they’ve remained hugely consistent, due in no small part to the talent they continue to recruit for their Anjunabeats label (not to forget the increasingly popular Anjunadeep offshoot). Returning in the business end of last year to unleash their annual label showcase, Anjunabeats Vol. 9 sees these high standards maintained.

Kicking off the first disc with a soft instrumental intro courtesy of Above & Beyond themselves, they gently welcome our arrival in traditional Anjunabeats style; setting the tone with a mellow, progressive vibe that’s allow to build further with Parker & Hanson’sAfterthought, as well as a floaty, whimsical, deep tech number from the enigmaticBreakfast. Sliding into some tougher electro vibes from Cramp, the melodic trance bubbles to the surface for the first time as we slam into the tune’s main melodic hook.

There’s some serious excitement with Anjunabeats’ studio prodigy Andrew Bayerputting aside the avant-garde of his It’s Artificial album, and entering the ring in ‘club mode’, throwing down the progressive gem In And Out Of Phase, brimming with some shimmering emotion that meshes nicely with the sparkly, tightly-engineered sonic sheen Bayer is known for.

It joins nicely with Bloom, a new single from ‘so hot right now’ US newcomers Norin & Rad. Turning up the techy vibes a tad, but keeping that distinctive bottom-heavy rumble they brought to the trance scene last year, it’s the mix’s first proper anthemic moment.

Kyau & Albert transform Above & Beyond’s You Got To Go into the slamming, tech-infused vocal anthem it arguably should have been in to begin with; however, the true peak of the mix comes when our hosts drop arguably their first ‘proper’ club track in years with Formula Rossa. First heard on their award winning Essential Mix last year, it’s an electro-tinged bomb that’ll delight anyone who might have grown a little tired of the uplifting sentiments that characterised Group Therapy.

It’s a proper no-bullshit stomper in the fashion of Air For Life or Buzz, opening with a glitchy, boucing bassline that rolls right into one of 2011’s most genuinely euphoric breakdowns; before bubbling into a roaring, rollercoaster ascension of a peaktime 3am blast. It’s merely a warm-up though for Maor Levi & Bluestone’s brutal On Our Own[listen below], a frenetic bassline-driven thumper that explodes in a cacophony of carefully crafted white noise. Its incredible production polish brings it a real savage power, and placed alongside Formula Rossa, we’ve got two of the finest trance tracks heard in 2011.

The second disc packs even more unexpected punches, though. The most exciting development in trance last year was cheekily referred to by Tony McGuiness when introducing their Essential Mix as ‘Trance 2.0’; “The new groove-driven variant of our core sound.” With much of the dance underground still hypnotised by the rolling rhythms of tech house, it’s hardly surprising we’ve seen the bassline play an increasingly bigger role in trance. So it’s also fitting that the second mix gets off to an extremely techy start with a double shot courtesy of UK prodigy Mat Zo.

Representing a further evolution of Zo’s already hugely unique sound, he’s maintained his fusion of layered tech house grooves with the traditional Anjunabeats melodies; this time however, he’s thrown in an extra dash of bigroom house for some heavy-duty results. New singles Bipolar and Frequency Flyer see him flirting with crossover appeal, and there’s already been accusations of the dreaded ‘trouse’ thrown around; but this isn’t crude, populist dance music. His tunes are often so techy that it’s a surprise when a melodic hook kicks in again, revealing it to be another one of his genre-busting favourites.

This hardly sets the tone though, as we’re whipped all over the place in a mix that pleasingly refuses to settle into a particular groove or sound. Myon & Shane 54 deliver a pumping, tightly-honed remix of another of the vocal tracks off Group Therapy, whileJaytech brings a different kind of euphoric, summery energy on New Vibe.

Andrew Bayer struts in again to this time try his hand at an actual vocal anthem withKeep Your Secrets; beginning again as a more progressive number, it gradually builds into an explosive peak. If Bayer is the wildcard of the Anjuna family, he’s pulled off something truly impressive here; he might even win over the cynics totally exhausted by the creative swamp that a lot of vocal trance has sunken into, and it’s exhilarating in the most unexpected ways.

Maor Levi’s grinding remix of Super8 & Tab’s Slow To Learn demonstrates exactly how bigroom trance should be done, while euphoric stalwart Nitrous Oxide tries his hand with one of those contentious ‘trouse’ style melodic hooks; by grounding though it with a devastatingly heavy baseline, he eschews the cheesiness and makes a better job of it than even Ferry Corsten could manage. And after the grandiose bass monster that wasRebound earlier this year, Arty and Mat Zo reunite for another predictably brain-bending tune with Mozart [listen below]. While it’s proved a divisive release for those in the trance community resistant to genre cross pollination, it’s also undeniably one of the most surprising and unique trance releases heard in quite some time.

Considering how much creative energy was bubbling away in the scene only a few short years ago, last year was a particularly tepid year for trance, but this only makes it all the more impressive how adventurous and cutting-edge Anjunabeats Vol. 9 turned out to be. Though it definitely places the focus on energy over deepness, its sonic freshness means it stands tall alongside the very best of the series, and it’s hands down the best trance compilation of the past year. Winner.

Anjunabeats 9 is out now through fabric/Balance Music. Distributed by EMI.