Around the year 2000, what really brightened up my Friday evenings was MTV’s Dancefloor Chart, an all-club-music selection show mostly consisting of house, trance and “dance-pop” tunes (but with Eurodance, Britpop, Italo disco and tekfunk also present). The best among a slew of MTV Europe “dance” shows (Party Zone, MTV Dance and Club MTV), Dancefloor Chart and its subsequent CD releases saw the rise of the superstar DJ, featuring iconic electronic tracks and accompanying videos which sometimes took full advantage of the “late night” format. The songs were so influential that they were reworked, remixed, covered and sampled for two whole decades after their air date and are still celebrated by many DJs today.
Who can forget the pure highs of those blissful, time-stopping, immensely immersive trance leads? Who wasn’t, at the time, listening to Chicane’s seminal Saltwater or watching Wamdue Project’s Ghost In The Shell-inspired video for King of My Castle? Feeling the pure thrills of Puretone’s Addicted to Bass, or wanting to follow Alice Deejay’s Judith Anna Pronk in her enlightened journeys? The celestial peaks of Aurora’s Ordinary World or the eroticism permeating Fragma’s Toca’s Miracle? The life-affirming We’re Alive by Paul van Dyk? How about the video for Vengaboys’ Shalala Lala (which was, in their own words, “so cheeky it was banned by the good old BBC”)? Or the fact that David Guetta was active as far back as 2007 with Delirious?
In the Dancefloor Chart era, the DJ was an almost mythical figure, one who would embrace sounds, technology, culture and new trends in order to make (or break) a night out with friends, with a lot of song titles actually referencing that “cool DJ” attitude. The show’s standout selections shaped the pop music sound of the ’00s, and they were an important step in the evolution of the more mainstream side of electronic music.
On the downside, some podcasts which revisit those long-lost days speak of the silence around the long-term ecstasy use at rave parties, MTV bribing officials with Coca-Cola and jeans and the fact that some of the shoots themselves were extremely controversial or even dangerous (because that information was never vetted, though, you should take all of the above with a grain of salt). What we can safely say is that today’s EDM has very little in common with that era (although artists like Alison Wonderland and Flume are perfectly able to conjure up the feeling). [EDIT: some of the videos of that era can actually be pretty offensive too, so it all depends on how critical you want to get – although in my honest opinion, lobbing any sort of criticism towards the 2000s in music is like flogging a dead horse]
Eventually, the show began to incorporate UK grime acts and and even drum & bass (UK music just took everything by storm for a while), while a new generation of trance artists emerged and took the sound to new peaks (and stadiums). Artists like Gabriel and Dresden, Kate Ryan, Lasgo, Nadia Ali and Cascada, together with superstar DJs like Tiesto, Morgan Page, James Zabiela and Armin Van Buuren (in his curator-mode for the A State of Trance show), managed to preserve the art of trance, vocal-driven house music and the pure ’00s nostalgia wave surrounding it.
Among all electronic artists who (partly) embody that particular nostalgia, Sublab, hailing from the German electronic music scene, is perhaps my favorite recent find. His music blends trance leads and blissful drops with melodic trap and future garage sounds, and if MTV’s show and the culture around it were still the same today (Wikipedia lists the show as being back since 2013), I can safely say his music would be the best personification. Featured on the Trap City Youtube channel with a remix of a Juelz song, with vocals definitely reminding me of Oklou’s masterful experimentations, Colours was my first contact with the artist, and I was immediately hooked.
Noticing the trance vibes of the remix, I was curious to see whether Sublab has made any vocal trance songs of his own, and to my huge surprise, I discovered Castles In the Sky (feat. Seven), a song which has an unmistakable ’00s sound with the airy vocals and pads, the juicy trance leads and even the beat shift around halfway through the track, with the chorus and drop remaining, however, in “melodic trap” territory. Castles is one of my favorite Sublab tunes, and he has also been featured on AEB’s favorite Youtube channel with another Seven collaboration, One Night, a song which drifts into a more chillout/future-garage direction.
When it comes to live shows, Sublab doesn’t disappoint either, his Circo Lab 2021 mix managing to transport the listener to an ecstatic and exceedingly seductive, timeless age, with absolutely every song being a standout selection: with titles like Unbound Passion, Ride To Infinity and Love Architect, Sublab’s mix always keeps the tension and energy levels just one inch away from overflowing, and when his music does explode, it always makes you reach for the ceiling. However, what amazes me the most is how simultaneously nostalgic and forward-thinking some individual segments manage to be on subsequent listens, as well as the sublime, mystical production quality.
Two of Sublab’s mixes, titled ༺∴☆*｡｡sky-high.NRG*☆｡｡༻ and *+✧༺c os m icc __ 🖤EMpaTHY༻✧+*, showing two different sides of the German producer, are also available on his Soundcloud page.
Youtube channel spacewalker has posted a “best of Sublab mix”, with some more great collabs and a decidedly less nostalgic vibe – if you want to hear the more modern side of Sublab, this is one of the fastest way to do it (not even a track called “Stuck in the Past” has much to do with nostalgia – instead, these songs feature peaceful piano interludes, deep-chilled bass sounds and frozen beats).
Of course, it was Sublab who made me decide to revisit some of my favorite MTV Dancefloor Chart tracks of twenty years ago, and with the help of the Internet archives, I made a playlist which features them and the aforementioned artists who picked up the mantle and furthered the sound (and the aesthetics) in the years to come. The playlist is here, and you can listen to it below (a word of warning: heavy nostalgia might makes its way in).
Featured Image is Ella 02 by Margaret Morales
About the artist (source: margaretmorales.com)
Margaret Morales was born in Manila, Philippines where she grew up surrounded by nature, hence, the recurring theme of animals, flowers, and plants in her art. At a young age, she always loved drawing, writing stories, dressing up, and creating character designs from books or anime.
The interest in art never left her, and she changed her Communications degree in college to pursue Fine Arts. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of the Philippines, Diliman with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, Visual Communication in 2012. She worked as a Graphic and User Interface Designer for 5 years before pursuing her art full-time.
Margaret prefers watercolor as her primary medium due to its unpredictable nature, and the variety of textures it creates. Her art is known for its semi-realistic female figures in surreal settings with flowing lines and vibrant colors. The theme of her evolving art is rooted in her love of art nouveau, mythology, fantasy, natural elements, Japanese/manga art, and fashion.
Other Works by Margaret Morales
Reading Material: The evolution of vocals in electronic dance music
Listening Material: A State of Trance, 2022 Edition, Mixed by Armin van Buuren