It's 10 on a Thursday night. George Acosta and his Underworld Management crew amble into Grooveman Music, the electronic specialty store in Miami's South Beach that Acosta co-owns. For the past three years, Grooveman has been an essential stop for DJs in town looking to complement their sounds with everything from breakbeats and jungle to dub house and hardcore tribal. Any given weekend finds locals from Edgar V to tour-mad heavyweights such as Danny Tenaglia rummaging through the bins.
One of America's foremost ambassadors of trance, Acosta prefers the decidedly European sounds emanating from Germany and Holland. “There's so much good music coming from all over right now, but I'm still partial to the Dutch and Germans when it comes to records,” says Acosta. “Mostly I'm concerned with a track's bass line. That's what grabs me first. Usually, I'm mixing at 140 bpm, so whatever I'm going to use has to be at or near that speed.”
Acosta's latest release, Next Level (Ultra, 2002) — as well as his recent mix CDs for Ultra, AM Edition and PM Edition (both 2001), and Ministry of Sound's Trance Nation America Two — display his preference for Northern European sounds. The discs feature mood-heavy tracks from some of Acosta's favorite artists (Tïesto, Cosmic Gate, Push, Dumonde, Angel of Death, Yakooza and Talla 2XCL), and offer a refined display of the vast space that trance covers, from the pounding German industrial aesthetic to the more ambient style dominated by female vocals.
“I'm always going through phases with my sound,” he says. “Sometimes it's mellow; sometimes hard, but it's always happy and energetic. Before I play any record, I know the track inside and out and know exactly how a particular crowd will react to it. People come up to me after sets and ask about what mood I was in and junk like that. I'm just playing records.”
To Acosta, trance is as undeniably European as house is American, and he feels that trance producers may need to borrow a lesson from house music to gain commercial acceptance. “I'm hearing a lot of tracks that have been remixed to include vocals,” he says. “It's what's needed to cross over to a larger market. If people can't recognize a track, then they can't go out and buy it. Vocals give tracks that quality of recognition. Granted, house is more suited for vocals, but trance is finding a way of incorporating it more.”
Although lately he has restricted his touring mostly to the United States (Spundae in San Francisco and L.A., Exit in New York), he still makes frequent trips to England and Ibiza. Plans are in the works to have Clear Channel Communications broadcast Acosta's live sets every Saturday from the Miami nightclub Level, his current residency. Acosta is also looking forward to playing parties at this month's Winter Music Conference in Miami. “The beauty of the WMC is the whole social aspect of it,” he says. “This is Miami — people come here to party. This is about hanging by the pool and hearing the best DJs in the world go off. Tracks can be made or broken in the clubs that week.”
Whether producing or spinning records, Acosta prefers to go by the basics. “I'm a tech freak,” he says. “I love playing around with new gadgets, but I'll always go back to vinyl. That's what makes a DJ. I have respect for everyone making music anyway they can. There's always going to be that crew of ‘technologists’ who will swear by each new thing and place all their stock in computers. But unless the airline loses my records, I'm not going to let CDs dominate my set.”
Acosta grabs a stack of records and heads to an open listening station. He's quick with the needle when testing new tracks, and his facial expressions immediately reveal if a track works or should be discarded. Because Miami is his hometown, he rarely gets through a record without dozens of people coming up to say hello. “I actually hate record shopping,” admits Acosta. “Whenever I go places, they'll have stacks of records for me to listen to, but there's no way I can listen to everything. Just let me find what I like, you know.” Here are the selections Acosta chose:
This track is one of my favorites. I like the Ratty remix, which has an awesome bass line and is just a really clean mix. I always play songs like this the whole way through to give proper credit to the artist. Too many DJs pull tracks halfway through. You have to let things develop. The way the horns grow in this is great. This track is really well-produced, as it should be, because ATB is really talented. I play his stuff a lot.
Ticienne present Alex Bartlett
This is a really cool vocal record. I have this record, but I really like the remixes on this version. In trance, you really have to filter the vocals so they don't sound too organic. This is fun and has a lot of drama in it. We need more of that. Oh yeah, this works. It's a keeper.
“Hardcore Will Never Die”
This guy is the Terminator for me. He's the man. He's like seven feet tall, looks like Frankenstein and seems intimidating but is a real nice guy. This is like my killer record — definitely something that can work in my sets. Listen to the vocals here, “They keep playing commercial, but they still call it hardcore. But I call it bullshit radio music.” I'd play this early in my set, like by the fourth song, just to shock people. It's fucked up but good. I'll play this after a van Dyk or Oakenfold tune just to watch the crowd flip out.
Armin van Buuren
I like this record a lot. This guy is one of the best producers around, and this track is really well-produced. It has a nice bass line and provides a great build-up. You could build or close with this record. This track is very emotional. It isn't the kind of track that bangs you over the head, but draws you into the mood. I've used his tracks before on my compilations. He'll never let you down.
Peran van Dijk
This is a little too commercial, but it's still good. I'd use the alternate mix rather than the original. The other mix is more progressive and has a much better bass line. It's got that Dutch feel to it but less cheese. This would be like a second record for me. Not the best record, but definitely something I can work into my set. This is the kind of track radio I would be interested in if they could water it down even more. But the core of it is good.
“East & Central”
This is nice, mellow and progressive — a really good starting track. It has a really nice build-up, is well-produced and has this cool vibe to it. Oh, yeah! This is going to be my opening record Saturday night. Wow! Then it mellows out again after a really hard peak. This is just great. I found it!
“All Your Bass”
Blutomium Records 041
This track has a nice breakdown, which is important in trance. It has a good bass line and has really good sound effects. Some guys just throw shit in to fill up space, but I prefer to be more selective in what I use to complement a track. Too much clutter kills it. Trance needs lots of space to develop the track. This is like a middle-of-the-night track. Hard, but not too hard.