At Record Time in Ferndale, Mich.
Christopher Lawrence is a techno head's trance DJ. Shying from the overly dramatic gestures that color the records favored by many of the top jocks in the business, Lawrence prefers tougher cuts that allow him to create drama of his own. Accordingly, his upcoming debut artist LP, All or Nothing (Pharmacy/Kinky Beat, 2004), is chock-full of deep, techy bass lines and free of blatant hands-in-the-air gimmickry.
Due in part to his distaste for the sweeping breakdowns and buildups that populate much of the current trance landscape, Lawrence often makes customized re-edits of new record purchases, saving agreeable elements and discarding those that aren't geared toward his dancefloor-driving sound. “I rarely play records right out of the sleeve,” Lawrence says. “Most times, I do things to them — re-edit them — to suit my needs when I'm playing out, to make it work better for me. It's not that the record isn't great; it's just that I like to put my own touches on it.”
Lawrence has been putting his signature on vinyl in the form of original productions and remixes since 1996, when he released Navigator on Scotland's Hook Recordings. A string of successful 12-inches followed, helping to garner the attention of several top European DJs. Perhaps more important to Lawrence's career, however, were the mix CDs that sold in the hundreds of thousands, planting him firmly at the forefront of America's progressive dance-music scene. Now, Lawrence stands poised to capitalize on that popularity with All or Nothing and the launch of his new record label, Pharmacy.
With Pharmacy, Lawrence hopes to provide an incubator for fledgling producers from around the country. He encourages bedroom knob twiddlers and laptop hackers to send their productions for consideration — with one qualification, that is: The music must be aimed squarely at the dancefloor. “[Pharmacy is] in its early development stages, and that's why anybody who's got stuff that they're working on should send it my way,” Lawrence says. “Also, just so people don't start sending deep house and experimental music, it's going to be music for the dancefloor, for peak time, more on the banging tip.”
The following items are some of the gems that Lawrence unearthed from the techno-heavy bins at one of two suburban Detroit Record Time locations. Those who aspire to join the roster of Pharmacy, take note: These selections and Lawrence's reviews will help to shed some light on what he looks for in a dance record.
“Divided States (Club Mix)” (Bostich)
This one's got a nice dark feel to it, very menacing. The breakdown isn't too bad, isn't too long, and it never gets cheesy. I like a darker style.
The pulsing bass line does it for me on this one. The JOOF label comes through with yet another floor filler. This label consistently puts out quality trance without the epic supertrance sound that seems so prevalent these days. This track has all the energy to move the dancefloor but also has a sophistication that would make it perfect for that perfect listening compilation.
Mr. Bennison is one of the hottest producers out there. “Absorb” is another banging floor filler minus the cheese. Big, powerful stabs are layered with wicked effects and twisted sounds. This is underground trance at its finest. I will definitely be playing this one tonight.
“Eterna” (Plastic Fantastic)
I've always liked Plastic Fantastic. They've always been consistently good at putting out the better end of the progressive sound. I like this track because it's very haunting. It has kind of a sad feeling to it. I like the bass line; it's very hypnotic. I found myself, instead of skipping through the record like I normally do, listening to this one from start to finish, which means a lot. This one will definitely not get the remix treatment. It's not something I'd play at peak time; it's something I'd play if I was playing earlier in the evening. It's quite trancey — not in the over-the-top meaning of the word, but in the proper sense of the word.
DESCENT & NICHOLAS BENNISON
“Revention (Nicholas Bennison Remix)”
And another one by Nicholas Bennison! This is definitely one of my favorite tracks of the year. I have been playing this off of CD-R for months, and now that it has finally been released on vinyl, I expect it to be in my crate for a good, long time. For me, this track defines underground trance: reminiscent of the classic Hook Recordings sound but updated and better. This one just keeps building, with no big, epic breakdown.
JOHN “00” FLEMING VS. ASTRAL PROJECTION
“Mahadeva (John ‘00’ Fleming Mix)” (JOOF)
Another excellent track from John “00” Fleming, following on the heels of “Finnished.” This track is dark and moody but full of energy due to a galloping bass line running underneath. Sweeping arpeggiated lines give it that proper trance feel, which gave trance its name back in the early '90s. Yes, there is a solid lead line, but this is a no-cheese affair — strong and emotional but extremely tasteful.
“Militant” (Fusion Technology)
You couldn't take a trip to Detroit without a dig through the techno bins. I found something here that's a little bit older but quite excellent. I've always been partial to the main sound that's in here, a filtered chord that Dave Clarke used a lot in his early techno stuff. It's kinda remained in techno since the early '90s, and this track makes good use of that. I like the power of the track, without having to be over-the-top, like a lot of the other stuff that I played, using obvious things to make up for lack of originality. I'd use it early in the evening.
JONO GRANT VS. MIKE KOGLIN
It's one of those records that starts out really good and ends really good but has a really long break in the middle and some of those epic, key-changing bass lines. I might actually get the record, but it's going to take a lot of work to re-edit it to make it something tighter that I'll play out. Again, it's got a lot of potential in the beginning and end, but there's some meandering in the bits that's going to take some work.
Once in a while, a track comes along that is so good that everyone is playing it. “Godchild” is one of those records. This track is tough, techy, housey and trancey. It's got an insane bass with a whip to it that sounds almost like it is being played backward. Brilliant techno percussion and a growling acid riff make this track irresistible.