This blog post is based closely on the review I wrote for DJ Mag Australia, which can be found on its website, here.
The worldwide celebration of trance, A State Of Trance 650, rolled into Malaysia on Friday 15 March as part of the Future Music Asia 3-day festival. And with no sign of Armin van Buuren planning to bring his annual party back to Australia, there was a sizeable contingent of Aussies flying in to join in the fun for the second year running in Kuala Lumpur.
Arriving at the Jalat Bilal stadium for A State Of Trance 650 party, we were greeted by the familiar sight of security lines and ID checks but it was a pretty smooth and well-organised entry and we were soon inside the venue. The stage was set up in the large car parking area outside the stadium itself but it was such a large area that there was capacity for tens of thousands. A strange arrangement where you were not allowed to take alcoholic drinks into the front part of the arena seemed hard to fathom, especially given how poorly it was enforced.
The stage production and sound was as good as anywhere in the world and noticeably better than in many countries I have attended festivals in. The light show on the screen behind the DJs was a fantastic 3D affair and even before dusk the lasers were playing across the smoky haze that enveloped Kuala Lumpur from recent nearby bush fires.
After a couple of local DJs got things started, it was time for the Australian, MaRLo, to open up the official ASOT650MY proceedings. After MaRLo’s set there was a fifteen minute interlude for prayers – not something that I’ve come across at a festival before!
A change to the original running order saw Andrew Rayel up next and he delivered a set true to his style, mixing popular tunes such as Zedd – Clarity and One Replublic and Alesso – If I Lose Myself Tonight together with his remixes of classics like Cosmic Gate – Exploration Of Space and Faithless – Insomnia. When he dropped his own tune – How Do I Know?, he was joined on stage by the singer, Jano, to take the crowd’s applause. He also treated us to various recent hits like Armin van Buuren feat. Trevor Guthrie – This Is What It Feels Like, Dash Berlin feat. Emma Hewitt – Waiting and Above & Beyond feat. Richard Bedford – Sun & Moon. He finished with a flourish, dropping Alex M.O.R.P.H. – For The Love Of An Angel and handed over to Omnia.
Omnia took up where Andrew Rayel left off and was soon giving us an extended and re-worked version of Omnia & Ira – The Fusion and he had everyone jumping around to his own track – Infina (but did he play it twice?) as well as a double hit of Gareth Emery, dropping Arrival, from the Northern Lights album and Emery’s new tune, feat. Bo Bruce – U.
Now it was time for Markus Schulz to spin the tunes and give Kuala Lumpur a shot of his Coldharbour style. We were treated to tracks from his new Scream 2 album accompanied by favourites from Scream, like Nothing Without You (feat Ana Diaz), standards from his sets in the last year like Fisherman & Hawkins – Apache and back catalogue classics like Markus Schulz – The New World. He even dropped the old Fat Boy Slim hit, Praise You. This was not my favourite Schulz set of recent times, but he was undoubtedly playing well to the local crowd, who responded enthusiastically.
With the screens dazzling, the lasers playing across the night sky and the sound pulsating, there was an electric atmosphere as the evening drew towards its climax. At 10.45pm, Schulz handed over to the man himself, Armin van Buuren, who gave us a tour de force of trance from his newer tunes from the Intense album, like Forever Is Ours (feat. Emma Hewitt) and The Sound Of The Drums (feat. Laura Jansen) to the latest single, Ping Pong and updated classics like Tiësto – Adagio For Strings (James Dymond Rework), Binary Finary – 1998 (Jordan Suckley Remix) and his own Communication (Faruk Sabanci Remix).
As the clock moved to midnight, he took the microphone to get everyone to stop dancing for a moment and pray or pause in thought for the passengers and crew of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. It was a poignant moment before we got back to dancing.
He gave us flavour of Gareth Emery, mashing up Concrete Angel (feat. Christina Novelli) and U (feat. Bo Bruce – Bryan Kearney Remix) and then he ramped up the gears with the Shura Vlasov mashup of Simon Patterson – Brush Strokes and John O’Callaghan – Big Sky. He concluded the set with RAM feat. Susana – Ramelia and Armin van Buuren vs Photographer – Airport Shivers (Armin van Buuren mashup). There was just time for an encore and naturally he chose This Is What It Feels Like, mixing up two remixes – the John Ewbank Classical Remix and the W&W Remix. If you can’t beat them, join them, so I sang along …. ironically, of course!
After two magnificent hours from Armin, it was time for Paul van Dyk to take over and bring the night to a fitting conclusion. With a set full of his own productions, such as Time Of Our Lives, For An Angel and I Don’t Deserve You, PVD kept the tempo high and the crowd dancing to the very end.
This was a magnificent day’s music for trance fans local and international coming together on the day to celebrate as the Malaysian trance family. Undoubtedly Armin himself stole the show, but none of the other DJs let the side down and all played their part in making it a day to remember.
The news broke the following afternoon that six party goers had died as a result of overdosing on methamphetamine – the details are still somewhat sketchy as I write this – and as a consequence the following day’s Future Music Festival Day 3 was abruptly cancelled by the Kuala Lumpur police. Although everyone is undoubtedly shocked and saddened that this should have happened, I can only hope that it doesn’t overshadow a fantastic day enjoyed by so many thousands.
We arrived around 11.30 and the first thing that greeted us was a long line of people waiting to get in. As long as the queue moves quickly, this is a good sign as it means the club will be busy and sure enough, by the time we got in, it was heaving. But we knew where our friends would most likely be – in the spot we all seem to have chosen as the right place to be – and sure enough, despite the packed room, it wasn’t difficult tracking them down.
We heard Oceanlab – Satellite, Giuseppe Ottaviani with Betsie Larkin – Toys, Giuseppe Ottaviani – Angel, Aly & Fila with Giuseppe Ottaviani – Brilliant People, Motorcycle – As The Rush Comes, Giuseppe Ottaviani feat. Amba Shepherd – Lost For Words, Solarstone & Giuseppe Ottaviani – Falcons, Giuseppe Ottaviani & Ferry Corsten – Magenta. And as a real crowd-pleaser he dropped his remix of Armin van Buuren feat. Trevor Guthrie – This Is What It Feels Like. Those who know me will know that I’m not a huge fan of this tune – but this is undoubtedly the best remix of it. Following that was his remix (surely the definitive one) of Paul van Dyk feat. Plumb – I Don’t Deserve You and he just had time to close with Giuseppe Ottaviani – Love Will Bring It All Around.
It was another great night – there’s no doubt than when Voodoo pulls in the crowds, there’s a real buzz about Home nightclub. Let’s look forward to more nights like this in 2014.
Many thanks to Luke Davids Photography for the photos.
Each day was dominated by one outstanding set and, particularly on day two, there were some very good others.
On the first day, we arrived during Jochen Miller’s set and also caught Tritonal before we saw Andrew Rayel. I enjoyed Rayel’s set the most of these. Although there was a fairly commercial trance feel to lots of his set – think Dash Berlin – Waiting mashed with Above & Beyond – Sun & Moon, or MaRLo – Boom, he did create an interesting and enjoyable journey through tunes like Alex M.O.R.P.H. – For The Love Of An Angel, Omnia & Ira – The Fusion, an interesting reworking of Tiësto – Just Be and his hit track with Jano – How Do I Know? Ferry Corsten joined him for some brief back-to-back DJ’ing and dropped Ferry Corsten & Markus Schulz – Loops N Tings after which Andrew Rayel played his remix of Faithless – Insomnia. Then it was time for the act I’d really come for!
Ferry Corsten back to back with Andrew Rayel, drops Markus Schulz & Ferry Corsten – Loops N Tings
The Saturday was all about Aly & Fila vs. John O’Callaghan. I’m a massive fan of both of these DJs. Fadi, of Aly & Fila, is without doubt my favourite DJ. I’ve been fortunate enough to see him play seven times in the last 12 months, including this set – in Sydney, Miami, Ibiza and Amsterdam. His brand of uplifting trance mixes very well with that of John O’Callaghan and I was really looking forward to this set, ever since it was first announced they’d be playing back to back at Stereosonic.
Sometimes when you have very high expectations, it can lead to a slight feeling of disappointment when the reality is very good, but still below the anticipated level. This was not one of those occasions! From the word go, Fadi and John were simply brilliant. I’ve heard a lot of great sets in 2013, but this was undoubtedly the best 90 minutes of pure, uplifting trance this year.
A list of the tunes they played barely does justice to the magic they weaved and they had a packed arena absolutely buzzing for the whole of the set. We heard Veracocha – Carte Blanche (Sneijder Remix), Paul van Dyk feat. Plumb – I Don’t Deserve You (John O’Callaghan Remix), Chakra – Love Shines Through, Aly & Fila – End Of The Road, Solarstone with Aly & Fila – Fireisland, Motorcycle – As The Rush Comes, RAM – RAMelia, Aly & Fila – We Control The Sunlight, John O’Callaghan & John Askew vs Nadia Ali – Stresstest Rapture (Shura Vlasov Mashup) and John O’Callaghan – Big Sky (Signum vs. RAM Remix). And when Ferry Corsten joined them on stage for the last fifteen minutes, he dropped his classic from 2008 – Radio Crash and Fadi dropped Binary Finary – 1998.
Ferry Corsten, back to back with Aly & Fila vs. John O’Callaghan, plays Radio Crash
I was utterly blown away by this amazing set. The highlight for me being when Fadi played Above & Beyond – Home … in fact, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it as I write this.
Aly & Fila, back to back with John O’Callaghan, plays Above & Beyond – Home
On Sunday we saw MaRLo and Heatbeat as well as wandering into the next door arena to listen quickly to Mat Zo and then Gareth Emery (we beat a hasty retreat on both occasions as we didn’t like what we were hearing).
The best set of the Sunday was undoubtedly Solarstone’s, although Bryan Kearney gave him a good run for his money. No one does trance quite like Solarstone does – the Pure way. A succession of great tunes from his past as well as present: Solarstone feat. Lemon – Lovers, Lemon – We Can’t Fly (Solarstone Pure Mix), Solarstone – Solarcoaster, Solarstone – Please, Armin van Buuren feat. Emma Hewitt – Forever Is Ours (Solarstone Pure Remix), Solarstone – Seven Cities, Solarstone – Love Theme From Bladerunner (Pure Mix) and Young Parisians – Jump The Next Train. He also dropped the tune of the moment: Reorder & Ian Standerwick present Skypatrol – Folding Your Universe.
Solarstone drops Armin van Buuren feat. Emma Hewitt – Forever Is Ours (Solarstone Pure Remix)
It was a wonderful set and though the room was not as full as it had been on Saturday, the crowd lapped it up and enjoyed it from start to finish.
Coming on next, Bryan Kearney dropped great tunes like Adam Ellis – Napalm Poet, Craig Connelly feat. Christina Novelli – Black Hole, Markus Schulz feat. Fiora – Deep In The Night, Paul van Dyk – For An Angel, John O’Callaghan – Find Yourself, Sneijder & Bryan Kearney – Proper Order, John O’Callaghan – Big Sky and Solarstone with Clare Stagg – Jewel. Kearney had to cope with a more sparsely filled room, as Above & Beyond were drawing many people towards the main stage, but he kept the energy level high and left everyone who stayed wanting more.
Bryan Kearney drops Paul van Dyk – For An Angel
After Bryan Kearney, Giuseppe Ottaviani wrapped up the evening in the trance arena (which metamorphosed into the hard dance arena for the last 75 minutes of the festival). I felt he took some time to get going, but the last three-quarters of an hour was pure Ottaviani brilliance. We heard his remix of Tiësto – Adagio For Strings, 4 Strings – Take Me Away, some of the songs from his new album, Magenta – Love Will Bring It All Around (feat. Eric Lumiere) and Brilliant People (with Aly & Fila) and he wrapped up with his remix of Paul van Dyk feat. Plumb – I Don’t Deserve You.
There was just time to head over to the main stage to see Armin van Buuren playing to tens of thousands of people. It was an awesome spectacle, but the music wasn’t doing it for us and we decided to head off before the rush. I discovered later that he dropped some great tunes at the end of his set, such as John O’Callaghan & John Askew vs Nadia Ali – Stresstest Rapture (Shura Vlasov Mashup) and Armin van Buuren vs. Photographer – Airport Shivers (Armin van Buuren Mashup), which would have sounded fantastic on the main stage sound system, which was as good as any I’ve ever heard at an arena of that size. But we were happy to be heading off for some well-earned rest after two days of great music and dancing.
All in all, it had been a fantastic festival – Aly & Fila vs. John O’Callaghan the undoubted highlight, but Solarstone, Bryan Kearney and Giuseppe Ottaviani all excelled too.