A few weeks ago I was catching up online with an old friend and our conversation quickly came to the topic of music and what we were both listening to nowadays. We soon began trading YouTube and SoundCloud links as if we were seasoned stock brokers. Soon enough, after receiving what was the 4th Drake single in 15 minutes, I ended up sending her a track that has resonated with me since it came out earlier this year: “Epikur” by David August. Unlike the more upbeat house tracks I was sending her at first, Epikur is a track that not only slows down the tempo, but also instills a mood quite different from more mainstream types of house and progressive. It is incredibly atmospheric and captivating from the get go, but it achieves such through a deep, slowly-building bassline and an eerie, haunting melody. In a single word, Epikur is most certainly ‘melancholic.’
Her response to hearing that track was unfortunately not a surprise to me. “How can anyone listen to this? It’s so boring and… dark.” It certainly wasn’t the first time I heard those words about this area of my music tastes. After all, the darker, deeper and dreamier side of trance and progressive has always been it’s own niche. Never in the limelight, but incredibly self-sustaining and prevalent in dance music’s history. It’s within reason to conclude that the darker sounds of prominent labels such as Bonzai Records, the early days of Coldharbour Recordings, Black Hole Recordings, and Innervisions – just to name a few – have had a profound influence on the growth of their respective genres.
It made me wonder: why has this sound been so prevalent over the years despite its character? I mean, it’s true, the sounds are deep, slowly progressive and melancholic – not the most popular and prominent draws to music, let alone dance music. Yet despite all of that, these sounds have shown incredible longevity and an impressive resilience in the recent EDM boom. I never before took a look at why I always gravitated towards these sounds, and why they have such a loyal following in the scene. However I somehow remembered a quote from Freud that I first read when learning about depression in a psychiatry course at school. It speaks to the role of melancholy in one’s life. The idea that we must become melancholic at times and form an internal relationship with oneself to reveal certain truths. Arguably, it may also be implying that from melancholy can certain types of catharsis and euphoria be obtained:
He must surely be right in some way and be describing something that is as it seems to him to be true. Indeed, we must at once confirm some of his statements without reservation. He really is lacking in interest and as incapable of love and achievement as he says. He also seems to us justified in certain other self-accusations; it is merely that he has a keener eye for the truth than other people who are not melancholic.
When in his heightened self-criticism he describes himself as petty, egotistic, dishonest, lacking in independence, one whose sole aim has been to hide the weakness of his own nature, it may be, so far as we know, that he has come pretty near to understanding himself; we only wonder why a man has to be ill before he can be accessible to a truth of this kind.
In no way is this phenomenon limited to trance and progressive, but within that realm these sounds certainly offer the listener a unique experience on the dance floor. Christian Loeffler’s SoundCloud biography explores this idea: “Being asked to describe his own music, Christian Loeffler states that he tries to combine melancholy with euphoria. ‘All my music is connected by a gloomy spirit, which is minted by a warm sincerity. I try to merge all kinds of different acoustic colours to obtain this feeling in my music.'”
Freud’s observation in these patients describes a phenomenon that has countlessly been observed in culture over the years and it seems that it has now managed to settle its roots firmly in the world of dance music – a genre that has quickly taken over in recent years. The forms of art that resonate with us are, more often than not, the pieces that provoke thought and self-reflection. The dark, sometimes isolated dance floor of an intimate club is not immune to this and melancholic melodies and basslines can facilitate quite a bit of emotion.
The connection that these deep sounds facilitate undoubtedly fuels the longevity of the sub-genre. The memories and thoughts they provoke undoubtedly maintain a loyal following. With the niche-ness of the sounds, the deeper, dreamier side of trance and progressive will be here for quite some time. Long enough for newer and younger listeners to find on their own as they explore. And most certainly long enough for all of us to find the truths we seek.