Markus Schulz as Dakota explores the path to enlightenment in new album ‘The Nine Skies’ [Album Review]
Markus Schulz and Dakota may be one in the same, but sonically they could not be more different. A euphoric and optimistic trance producer, Schulz revealed his Dakota alias when he struggled to find an outlet for his darker side amidst the trance and commercially relevant Schulz releases. Where Schulz fans thrived on fast paced chords and enamoring vocals, Dakota’s releases projected ominous undertones with a more progressive feel.
‘Dakota’ was born in 2009 with the release of Thoughts Become Things on Armada Music. The alias garnered an enthusiastic following and turned out to be the musical counterbalance Schulz was looking for. The German-American’s paradoxical career has led to six albums as Schulz and now three as Dakota with his newest album release titled The Nine Skies.
The Nine Skies is out now under his Dakota alias, and it is the inverse of Schulz’s feel-good hits embodied by his last album (as Schulz) Watch the World. This is his first return to Dakota since 2011, and it explores all of the darker feelings and thoughts Schulz’s smiling face belies when performing for expectant faces looking to hear upbeat hits and at his energetic shows.
“I always say the Markus Schulz stuff is a reflection of my fans. I write music about my fans for my fans, but the Dakota stuff is what I am writing for me. I kind of block myself out from everything and just go and write about what is inside of me and what I am feeling.”
Dakota’s writing for himself makes it apparent to the listener that he is, simply put, a complicated man whose striving to turn inner darkness into light. Dakota spoke with Dancing Astronaut about his inspiration for the album, which stems from the pain and confusion he has internalized in response to the state of our current global affairs. The Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 is one moment the producer notes that really sticks out to him as a moment where he really re-evaluated his outlook on the world. This, in addition to his recent fascination with Reiki, came together as the catalyst for the album and the live show.
The compilation depicts suffering, growth, and the journey to enlightenment through different phases. Its journey is explored by eighteen distinct songs, and it takes only a brief listen of The Nine Skies before it becomes abundantly clear that this is not an album that was thrown together to achieve a few radio hits. Tracks range from two to seven minutes long, and each one has an incredibly unique sound. The one thing linking all of these songs together is how intricate the productions are. While each track is deserving of its own story and description, that is what the live show sets out to achieve. A few highlights are detailed.
“Bravo On The Go” is the perfect example of Dakota in the midst of the darkness phase. It has commanding chords that propel the darkness forwards with mystical vibes interlaced throughout.
His interpretation of “Cafe Del Mar” opens to 90 seconds of trance chords that smoothly give way into orchestral undertones. Suddenly, high pitched synths break through the calm, leading to a pulsing bassline and a deeper vibe that rebuilds into the high pitched synth breaks. It can easily be broken into three thematics, which Schulz masterfully combines into a whole, and is indeed a refreshing take on the original anthem.
“Changes” is more reflective of the Schulz style versus Dakota. Catchy vocals serves as the entry point for the track, but techy trance synths make this incredibly energetic track the perfect feel good song to induce total euphoria.
“Follow Me” is less trance more electro with throwback 90s electronica chords that are upbeat and accompanied by breathy vocals. This is the ultimate club track, and has the capacity to energize any room.
“Mota Mota” is one of those tracks that trance fans hear a lot of at shows and festivals, and for good reason. The mysterious thematic and commanding chords are engineered for a live performance.
While the album came out on December 8th, Schulz unveiled the entire project in May of 2017 at Dreamstate San Francisco. He originally planned on keeping the project to nine performances so as to keep it special, but after performing The Nine Skies live and seeing the incredible crowd reactions, he notes that he may want to continue to share the experience. Fans will have to wait and see if the tour is extended into 2018.