Digital Alchemy

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Digital Alchemy is the debut compilation from Concept In Dance, one of the very first UK imprints to specialize in the emerging sound of Goa trance. It was a major release at the time, particularly since it was promoted by Paul Oakenfold, who wrote the liner notes and featured four of these songs in his legendary Goa Mix broadcast. Far from being a comprehensive introduction to the genre, this release focuses on a small number of British artists, primarily Man With No Name (who contributes five original tracks to this release and mixes four more), Ayahuasca (an early group formed by Joti Sidhu, Dino Psaras, and Steve Ronan), and Voodoo People. The sound profile is classic UK Goa trance through and through, with most tracks chugging along around 135 BPM, laying down pumping kicks while hypnotic melodies whirl overhead. Some of these tracks sound rather dated but several have held up remarkably well over the years, leaving its classic status unchallenged. All old school Goa trance fans should have this in their collection. Highlights: Sugar Rush, Evolution, Deliverance, Voices, and Propella.

An examination of the influence and impact of Digital Alchemy would not be complete without expounding on the involvement of one of the most enduring icons of electronic dance music: Paul Oakenfold. As Matt Schantz wrote in a now-vanished Resident Advisor feature, “[t]he Paul Oakenfold of 1994 was captivated with the then-new sound of Goa trance, and set out to share it with listeners everywhere.” Undoubtedly the most noteworthy relic of this effort would be the infamous Goa Mix, originally broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in the early morning hours of December 18, 1994. Oakenfold’s involvement did not stop at merely promoting the release on the radio; he also wrote the introductory text found in the liner notes, reproduced here:

Goa, a beach centred community on the west coast of India. Yet in global terms, and with particular reference to the worldwide dance scene, the attitude and approach to life it has spawned has had a massive influence on peoples approach to dance music. The cosmopolitan nature of the town and its ability to bring together varied cultures from around the world in a party atmosphere, has led to the exchange of positive musical ideas which in turn have been used creatively in the studio. They meet in Goa, with fluorescent lights in the palm trees and even more colour in their clothes and souls. The results are moving.

The influence is truly global. We are witnessing its development from the techno winterlands of Frankfurt, to the sun-soaked beaches of Melbourne, where Ollie Olsen is championing the Goa philosophy through groups such as Third Eye and Zen Paradox. In Britain, the Goa style party is leading to the return of positivity within the club scene. thanks to the likes of The Infinity Project and Ian St. Paul.

It is these same parties and progressive attitudes which inspired and brought together the talent featured in Digital Alchemy. Man with No Name, a major influence on the ‘Acid House’ scene in the late ’80s, Ayahuasca, putting Brighton finally on the ‘Goa party’ map through their member DJ, Dino Psaras, Voodoo People’s Paul Jackson, who despite his youth, has already established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the more culturally mature dancefloors, and Us (Universal Sound), whose dedicated mission it is to spread the new musical message across the cosmos.

The Goa sound spreads and where better to experience the feel and attitude of this truly magical place than on this album, which brings together some of the finest exponents of the sound at the moment. It’s a wonderful package which aims to break all barriers.

With widespread distribution in the major record stores, support from one of the biggest DJs in the world, and a considerable amount of hype from the emerging dance music press, Digital Alchemy was almost bound to be a commercial success. It became one of the first releases to truly catalyze the movement as it brought the Goa trance sound to the masses. Several vintage reviews poached from TRiP, one of the earliest online psytrance forums, attest to the significance of Digital Alchemy:

“Digital Alchemy” was my first experience on Goa Sound, and I had never heard such a POWERFUL techno release.
— Astral Ben

This album and the yellow compilation from TIP are the ‘dark side..’ and the ‘sgt. pepper..’ of goa trance.
— Michael

This is a CD that started it all for me. The ONE that lead me to goa trance.
— Skim RN

Close your eyes and imagine your’e on the beach with strangely unfamiliar new friends and dance…..
— Green Complete

The journey begins with Voices, a simple melodic Goa trance tune that establishes Man With No Name’s recognizable style. The wobbling analog bass lines and pleasantly melodic acid riffs are sure to inspire a sense of nostalgia inside anyone already familiar with the Martin Freeland classics. A sample from Star Trek: The Next Generation says it all: “I’ve never felt anything like it; it was as though they were calling to me.”

Syn System is smooth and sinuous, rippling with intricate hints of melody and cosmic atmospheres. It was written by Voodoo People (Paul Jackson) with some production assistance from Iain Rive of Universal Sound (and later Semsis and Cydonia). It also features an excellent sample from The Dead Zone (1983): “You are either in possession of a very new human ability, or a very old one.”

Ayahuasca was a short-lived project consisting of Joti Sidhu, Dino Psaras, and Steve Ronan. Together they produced a handful of songs in 1994 before Joti went solo. Ayahuascan Chant, the first of four from this seminal group, is full of the exotic spiralling melodies and flute lines that would become the hallmark of the Goa trance style in the years to come. It is a decent tune, although the ending is poorly conceived—it simply trails out, as if they weren’t sure how to finish the tale.

Deliverance is perhaps the most mature Man With No Name production on the compilation. It has a class and charm that has not been tarnished by the passage of years. Epic melodies and delicate cinematic atmospheres flow together to create a timeless vision of trance. Beautiful!

The next four tracks trend toward harder and more distorted kick drums. Ayahuasca’s squelchy Heliotropic Twist heralds the transformation toward aggressive rhythms that reaches zenith with the pounding robotic beats of Psychopharm. Universal Sound (Iain Rive and Jason Lake with a little help from Paul Jackson on this tune) conjure an atmosphere of inscrutable mystery on Storm while Man With No Name drills into energetic hard trance with The Far Side, which now sounds quite dated. The middle section of the compilation ends with a key sample from Flatliners (1990): “Loved life so much that we imagined ourselves immortal. Overwhelming the powers that be with our passion for science, or maybe we’re just fucked in the head.”

The “Raw Cane” mix of Sugar Rush is predictably saccharine, although the rough kick remains. This sweet song was one of the first trance tunes I was ever exposed to, so I feel a certain nostalgic twinge whenever I hear it. An absolute classic—although a far better version of this song appears on Man With No Name’s debut album Moment of Truth.

Evolution is the other really great Man With No Name song on this compilation. It sounds quite similar to Teleport in several respects, as Freeland employs evocative choral voices, cinematic atmospheres, and rippling acid riffs to promote a feeling of traveling through space and time. This is the pure undiluted essence of Goa trance!

Voodoo People’s Co-Incidence sounds absolutely archaic. There seems to be something wrong with the mastering of this track—it is muddy and indistinct, with an audible hiss of noise in the background. Despite the technical problems, the spirit of the song is intact, and the melodies are moving, reminiscent of simpler times.

Ayahuasca completes the odyssey with Propella, perhaps their best tune. Soft waves of hypnotic melodies flow across a simple tribal rhythm while wistful atmospheric pads drift with melancholic grace for seven blissful minutes. This ancient artifact does a very fine job finishing the compilation.

Digital Alchemy is entirely deserving of its status as a classic of Goa trance but not all of it is equally timeless. Production value varies between tracks, and some of these arrangements now sound a little bland, but the listening experience is no less authentic despite these technical qualms. This is a piece of electronic music history—one of the very first major releases from the dawn of the golden age of Goa trance. The samples employed by this small group of artists helped to shape the emerging culture; widespread distribution ensured that their message was carried across the world; and an entire movement surged forward in its wake. Digital Alchemy was a portal into a deeper dimension of electronic dance music for countless listeners. I wholeheartedly recommend this compilation to anyone curious to hear how it all began.

Styles

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