Defining Pure: What trance means to Solarstone [Interview]
Rich Mowatt, better known as Solarstone, is just stepping into his role as an emerging leader of the trance scene. A fan of the music from its beginnings, he witnessed, and was deeply affected by, the change in trance as it began trading in its old identity for one that coincided with electro, house-fueled trends dominating electronic music during its second commercial boom.
Reverting back to his roots as an artist, Solarstone inaugurated the concept of “Pure.” Presenting what he felt was a raw, unadulterated form of the genre, Mowatt took the helm of what evolved into an international movement aimed at preserving trance in its rightful form. Its momentum led him to California to perform his first open-to-close set on the West Coast, where we caught up with the luminary beforehand to discuss the Pure ethos and why so many are drawn to it.
Photo credit: Solarstone
Mowatt’s love for trance was sparked just as the genre was branching off from its techno cousin into a more melodious fare. He points out two factors in particular that inspired him: “The first proper clubs I went to were gay clubs, where they used to play an early form of trance. That’s how I first kind of got into it.” Danny Rampling was another influencer, whose legendary Love Groove Dance Party on Radio 1 switched to a trance direction around 1995/96. “The first electronic music was all very…sloppy; like the breakbeat scene for example. When people started getting into trance, it was always very precise and meticulously programmed, and I loved the fact that trance was very melodic and classically influenced.”
Beyond trance’s tight programming and mastery of melodic placement is the intense feeling of connection fostered by it. Staring off in the distance, a sly grin crossed the corners of his mouth as he reviewed its strengths — “putting a smile on your face, hands in the air, and memories of a happy holiday…that feeling of togetherness that you only get from trance. That’s why you have the Trance Family.” His words struck with perfect precision.
“It’s the sense that ‘we are one,’” he described further. “It connects people; it’s incredible, really. There’s no other type of electronic music that does it. Trance is the reason why people get up in the morning, or why they get over a relationship. People fall in love to it.” The music promotes a comfortably overwhelming sense of unity and acceptance, a phenomenon that as an influencer of the scene, he wishes to preserve and amplify.
While Mowatt is currently using Pure to aggressively champion trance within the electronic scene, the concept of it ironically materialized out of what he thought was the end of his career. He reminisced on the decision to make his final album four years ago. “I’d go through promos I was being sent, and there was very, very little in there that resembled trance as I knew it. It was all kind of house influenced, or techno influenced. I realized that there was nothing for me to play.”
Trance was no longer the genre Solarstone fell in love with; after failing to book gigs and enduring financial hardship, he was ready to concede to defeat. So, he decided to go out with dignity: “I said ‘enough’ and decided to make just one more album of the music I really loved and just leave it there.” He titled it Pure, bidding adieu to it all with “Swansong.”
What ensued developed organically, according to Rich. Not too long after Pure’s release, his friend and Orkidea asked him to make a remix of “Unity,” the Finnish producer’s widely revered classic. “I thought I’d produce it to what I thought was a pure form of trance. You know, go back to my roots, do what I really, really loved. And he really loved that – I called it the ‘Solarstone Pure Mix.’”
The idea caught on quickly with his manager. “…She said ‘well this is what you do. This is pure trance, so why don’t we use that phrase?’” That summer, he gave an interview at Luminosity where he poured out all his feelings regarding the current state of trance. “It seemed to really touch a nerve with people,” he explained. “I realized I wasn’t alone, and the feedback was great.” Thus catalyzed a movement behind the concept.
Photo credit: Ozmosis Photography
Pure is less of a specific sound than it is an attitude, a feeling. It seeks to evoke the emotional aspect prevalent in classic trance through the canvas of new, forward-thinking music. Simply put, the message is to, “be proud of what makes you feel good.” Artists Solarstone works with are located all over the trance spectrum, but share the same attitude toward it. He asserts they are the ones who “stay close to their roots.” He goes on: “They make the music that they want to make. They’re not influenced by what’s currently cool.”
The dichotomy between volumes 3 & 4 of the Pure Trance compilations embodies the universality of this ideology. Bryan Kearney, who embraces harder trance, was chosen to guest mix Volume 3. Volume 4 experienced a drastic change in direction with the lush, progressive expert Gai Barone. Beyond their musical differences, both DJs manage to convey the raw sentimentality that defines Pure with acute accuracy.
“I think the trance scene is amazing at the moment. It’s on fire. There’s a resurgence going on all around the world – I think it’s amazing and everyone’s doing a good job.”
The movement exudes a palpable, loving energy, unveiling one of the major reasons why fans are attracted to it. Mowatt believes it comes from an honest, positive place: “We’ve never set out to diss other trance genres, or say that Pure Trance is better. We’re just saying it’s authentic, credible.” Ultimately, he sees it as a rally cry for listeners who are tired of commercial tropes infiltrating and disrupting the flow of their beloved scene. He declares confidently, “I don’t think people who like trance listen to it because it’s the cool thing to do. They do it because they love the music.”
As a brand, Pure provides a safe haven of sorts for people to vocalize their passion for retaining the genre’s true nature. “To a lot of people, trance was a dirty word. But when you put “pure” in front of it, then it’s okay to like it,” he observes. “I think that’s one of the reasons why the events do well, is because promoters feel like they’re selling something.”
Photo credit: Connect Ibiza
Most importantly, Pure restored Solarstone’s faith in the trance community, proving what he had known all along but came to doubt over time. Reminiscing on the campaign’s infancy, he reveals, “I knew from my experience that millions of people around the world were familiar with music like I was. I thought to myself, ‘surely they all can’t have changed their minds!’ There must be an audience for this out there somewhere; do you know what I mean?”
He realized as soon as people began catching onto Pure’s ideology that he had a chance to leverage their adoration and carve out a space once again for his beloved trance sound within the contemporary dance space. “There was a big boulder there, and somebody just needed to push it over,” he remarks while illustrating his decision to “make a fuss” about the state of current trance and the potential he knew existed for it beyond mainstream influences.
United under a simple word with a profound meaning behind it, Solarstone and his followers are pooling together admiration and support for the revival of trance’s roots to reinstate its importance as a genre. Infectious energy surrounding the message Pure conveys is breeding a new generation of dedicated fans, unaffected by media-induced negativity that forced trance into obscurity over a decade ago. He knows they “see trance for what it really is as a form of beautiful music, and embracing it.”
“The only people that say trance is dead are journalists in their 40s who are too stupid to understand what it is, and where it is now.”
Their collective activism is rejuvenating the scene, coaxing the music back toward originality that defies status quo and makes us realize just how it connects us all. Rich finished our conversation on an optimistic note: “I think the trance scene is amazing at the moment. It’s on fire. There’s a resurgence going on all around the world – I think it’s amazing and everyone’s doing a good job.”
Indeed it’s on fire, and Pure Trance is certainly fueling the flames.