Hailed as one of the forefathers of the rave movement, John OO Fleming is extremely well-respected on the trance scene. A pioneer of Goa trance in the 1980s, he then moved on to hard trance and psy-trance, producing under the pseudonym OO.db. After a successful career spanning 24 years, it may come as a surprise to learn that he’s only just about to release his debut artist album Nine Lives on August 15. We spoke to him to find out why it took so long in coming and what he thinks of the trance music today. Read on for his interesting insights…
You’ve said that “trance” has become a dirty word – what do you feel is wrong about trance music nowadays?
In today’s world you say “trance,” and people think super stars, cliché vocals, arpeggiators all laid down with a generic template. Today’s generation of clubbers have no recollection of the history of trance. They have no idea of the ethos behind trance music and why it received its tag. Today’s superstar DJs used the “trance” tag many years ago to keep themselves “cool,” otherwise they would simply be commercial DJs. The next generation of clubbers have been educated by these superstars telling them this is trance music, so that’s the end of the debate to them.
Some blame Euro-trance artists like Basshunter and ATB for making the scene too cheesy – would you agree?
I’m no purist. I think every music lover on this planet has an open palate when it comes to music. I enjoy all styles of music, even some pop! Having all styles of music out there is great; if you feel like having a super euphoric night of big tunes, then ATB will do the job perfectly. The following week you could be in the mood for something more serious and get your head down to, say, Jeff Mills. The more on offer the better.
I think where it goes wrong is that many of these superstars are earning a fortune – they can afford to employ huge marketing companies that force-feed to everyone that they are bigger and better and must listen to their music. They ensure they get in the various DJ polls, get various awards and hold trophies. Because they can afford to do this, does this make them better? The sad thing is, some people won’t go out unless a club has an award-winning DJ on the lineup, and there lies the danger. So many local or up-and-coming DJs will never get booked or supported. The superstars have set these new rules.
How would you like things to change?
Trance music used to be the most credible genre in EDM and attracted the best producers and DJs out there. Great detail was put into every production or DJ set. It took years to acquire this skill, specially programming sounds that would put the dance floor into a trance (hence the name). It was a real art form, something that only skilled people could do. I’d love the quality control to come back, and for people to take a nod back to that history.
Also, it’s time for people to go back into clubs to start listening to music again.
Stop staring and pointing your camera phone at the celebrity DJ – let’s go back to the roots and hide the DJ in a corner, get a huge sound system, make it dark and let people get back into dancing again without any distractions.
Do you think that trance artists like Above & Beyond (who’ve recently crossed over into the mainstream) have altered their sound to suit the masses, or is it that wider audiences have become more sophisticated in their tastes because they now have more access to different types of music?
Everyone, DJ or producer, has a different agenda of what they want to achieve; if they didn’t, the world would be a boring place. I admire guys like Above & Beyond because they have achieved so much. Imagine how many DJs in the world are dreaming to be like them? Well, one day a few years ago, Above & Beyond sat down together, planned that dream and made it actually happen. There’s a mean feat right there.
The bigger you want to get, the more commercially viable your product must become. National FM radio stations won’t support instrumental tracks, hence why vocals are added. Radio won’t support tracks longer than 4 minutes, hence shorter versions. They make videos to reach MTV and YouTube etc. Their products become more commercial.
Myself, for instance, I just play and make club tracks, so I have no need for videos or radio versions. My music is aimed for underground clubs.
Sander van Doorn has helped to make trance music more credible – what do you think of his work?
I’ve always had a soft spot for Sander and used him as a great reference point for many years. I’d say his earlier work was more related to trance, today I’d say it’s more electro or house influenced. Sander seems to have a unique sound of his very own, which is great.
You’ve said the market is saturated with people who can’t DJ – have you lost faith in new DJs?
Again, it’s another generational thing. The last decade we’ve seen people worshiping superstar DJs. These guys have a certain way of keeping energy high. Their shows are like mini concerts – people go there to hear them play their own hits mixed up with mash-ups and anthems. That’s what people in today’s world think a DJ is? The business model of the scene has also changed. Due to Torrent sites killing sales, gone are the days where a producer could make a living from selling music. So producers become “DJs” in order to make a living. The simple fact is, they can’t DJ. They play a string of their own hits all pre-programmed in mixing software.
It takes years to acquire the skill of a DJ. How to open a room properly, keeping the dance floor interested in your musical story, watching the balance of males and females, finding music for your sets and understanding and respecting the other DJs that play before and after you.
If you look at today’s superstars, they just play all their own releases and tracks from their own labels; it’s all about marketing their own “brand.” The next generation try to copy this and the cycle starts again.
Are there any new artists right now who you feel are really doing something different and pushing the scene forward?
It’s really difficult for new artists to try to break through and push new boundaries because the media won’t support them. Again, where the scene has gone wrong is that magazines are fighting for sales or hits on their website, so they head to the heavily marketed superstars to keep their sponsors happy. Many new producers will feel that pain and frustration of not getting any coverage whatsoever. It’s a shame. In the good days, if someone made a good tune it would be supported in ink.
On a more positive note, what tune can you not stop listening to at the moment?
Anything by Trifonic.
You’ve said that when you make music you look to fill a gap in the market, but how would you most closely describe your sound?
It’s more a case of filling a gap in my DJ set. I find it really hard to find music for my DJ sets as it takes hours of sifting through generic nonsense in order to find a few tracks. If I have a musical gap, then that dictates what my next production will be.
How long did it take to complete your debut artist album?
Far too long! I’m a busy guy flying around the world to gigs each and every weekend. I have short weeks at home and in that time I must dedicate at least two days to my DJing, finding music and practicing mixing my new tracks. I’ll always admit that I’m a DJ first and take this very seriously. I completely understand why other guys use engineers or ghostwriters to write their tracks for them, due to time restrictions, but I couldn’t do that. I envision weird and wonderful ideas in my head for tracks, so I’m the only person who can get them out of my head into a musical form. That’s why it’s taken me this long in my career to make my first solo album.
What’s your favourite track from the album?
I’d say “Finding Ganesha.” I love India and the people. They are simply happy people with the lives they have. I’m fascinated with their history and beliefs from the past; Ganesha was one of them. On one trip to the country, I was there as they celebrated the birth of Ganesha and I witnessed many street festivals. The promoter bought me a Ganesha carving, which I put in my studio and he watched me as I wrote this song.
You’ve said a lot of inspiration for your upcoming album stems from India. Trance music has its roots there, but what do you love about the country?
Yes, the good old Goa trance days. I love everything about Indian music; it has a certain sound and feel to it. I think the Goa trance days were the best days of trance music and I take a lot of inspiration from this. The people and the parties are next to none, outstanding. They just have a love and passion for music with no care for who provides it, as long as it good. Amazing. If you’ve never been you should check out the Submerge events or Sunburn festival in December.
What have you got coming up for the next few months?
We’re working hard on my JOOF Editions club nights, where we return the underground vibe back into clubs. I’ve had enough of ranting and I’m getting on with the job of changing things for myself. The project has been a huge success. People are filling the clubs we’re taking it too and are all sharing the same view. We’re a room full of fellow music lovers in one place.
Also look out for a new label that I’m starting with my good friend Airwave; it will be something very special.