In the fast and chaotic protoculture growing around psychedelic trance in Japan, it is often difficult at best and futile at worst to try to get a genuine fix on the direction in which we are headed.

It’s the nature of our free-spirited sphere to defy predictability. But faced with recent developments, it doesn’t take much of a prognosticator to see that we are entering interesting times.

Half-way through 2005, the party momentum in and around Tokyo is an easy dozen light years ahead of where we were this time last year. And this time next year? Who knows? I am seeing a lot of positive signs. Let’s look at five:

#1 – Music video on DVD:

Over the past few months, Solstice Music, Vision Quest and Tokyo X-Ray DVD releases have quenched local thirsts for the next big demand in psychedelic trance – our version of MTV-quality music video. Trance we can watch, almost on demand. For the record, the following are not “movies.” They are documents of events, and are therefore documentaries.

Solstice’s “New Maps of Hyperspace,” released April 20, is a concert-format video compilation shot at its Countdown 2004 party at Tokyo Bay NK Hall. You can watch it chronologically or one track at a time. The digital video is excellent, as is the direction and editing of a six-camera shoot. Watch for some really interesting crowd shots. Shpongle’s opener “Around the World in a Tea Daze” is a must-have for anybody who has ever been shpongled, much less if you were among the 6,500 on the dance floor that night. Including the countdown sequence was an endearing touch, as was the final bonus clip of Dimitri D.K.N. with the back curtain rising behind him to flood the auditorium with the first sunshine of the new year.

Vision Quest’s “The Gathering 2004” is the third installment covering this signature end-of-summer rave. In this psychedelic video postcard from the edge, Japan’s largest organizer is proving adept at incorporating aspects more appealing to those who like an MTV-style format. Much like last year’s release, “2004” also works well as background music. Dino Psaras and Skazi are again at their comic best, but this film moves around the party a lot more. From mesmerizing performance-art video trickery to Skazi smashing his guitar during the track “We are here only for you!” “2004” plays like a big open jar of eye candy. Extra features include a Psysex Survival Kit clip, trailers for the previous Gathering DVDs and two slide-show tracks. You’ll start making plans for late September after watching this.

Meanwhile, Spy.d and friends over at Tokyo X-Ray have subtly been building an ever-improving library with their X-Mode series, featuring music video clips and interviews along with compilation CDs. Volume 8 hit stores in February. With the next one, “X-Mode Vol. 9 Trance Force,” to be released July 22, the format has been revamped to a magazine style that will play like a digest of events and interviews over the last few months. There’s even a VJ visual loop library. But even this is just an evolutionary step, according to Spy.d. Starting with “Volume 10,” X-Mode will become a 2-DVD bundle (with one disc in “10” devoted to Arcadia’s upcoming “Summer Arcade 05” festival.)

Psy-trance heads of the latest generation have been watching music their whole life. They want it visually. They want to take it with them. This will bear out an influence on the market side of our genre and culture. The new standard for DVDs – when it’s finally agreed upon – will, for example, increase the amount the amount of video and audio per disc exponentially. It’s not hard to imagine intelligent DVD jukeboxes, or megacompilations, or new “albums” of multi-angle music videos in super high-fidelity, or entire parties recorded on one DVD.

#2 – DVJ machines:

Finally: the marriage of DJ and VJ technology. What electronics giant Pioneer did with the 1994 release of its CDJ-500 — the world’s first DJ CD player with master tempo and a jog dial to control the pitch bend – it has done tenfold in creating the DVJ-X1. Now the DJ can be the VJ, or a VDJ. We are talking about an entirely new category of artist, albeit a category that must be ready to invest about 360,000 yen per player plus peripheral equipment, like a pair of CDJs, mixer, monitor and expensive stuff like that. Even then it won’t be easy, because until club owners are ready to spring for DVJs (and push aside the venerable turntable), many of these new VDJs will have to lug their pricey 7.3-kg machines back and forth to performances.

#3 – Neo-Full-On:

What’s in a name? Neo-full-on is the new vibe bubbling in the gulf between progressive trance and the slower, less-saturated side of full-on psychedelic. Or is it actually the frothy crest of a new wave in progressive? At the moment, there’s not much of it out there, so it’s difficult to tell. But if the name helps people get over the general knee-jerk rejection against “progressive,” then all the better. And why not? This part of the electronica shore has been virtually abandoned since the turn of the century, when full-on artists moved up the beach in pursuit of higher speed, fidelity and musical kicks.

So there is room for this quasi-minimal, sexy and phat, but sinuous sound in the 138-143 bpm range. Dooflex’s “Point of View” compilation was the first to tout neo-full-on, and several tracks from it have been heard on dance floors around Tokyo.

Now enter a new release from Flow Records, Yotopia’s debut album, “Point Blank” (in stores), and behold the new edge of progressive. We got a taste of Yotopia, Jonathan Rimon and Tomer Dayan from Tel Aviv in Flow’s “Echoes” compilation, but it wasn’t nearly this delicious. If you can, bump up the speed by three beats (2.1%) and you’ll see how close “Point Blank” is to neo-full-on. Check the samples, then repeat after me, “This is the new sound of progressive trance.” Think of it as an aspirin to get you through this summer’s full-on hangovers.

#4 – Collaborative tributes:

Trance’s inspired answer to the vanity-packed mainstream “greatest hits” concept. Invite your artist friends to pick one of your tracks and remake it. Respect the original, but have fun. Or something like that. GMS scored huge two years ago this month with “The Remixes.” Now in stores is Psysex’s “Remixed” (Hom-mega, Vision Quest), celebrating an amazing seven years and three albums by one of Israel’s dominant psychedelic acts. From Brazil, Britain, Spain and Israel, eight close friends of Udi Shternberg (DJ Goblin) and Yoni Oshrat got in on the fun. Psysex themselves remixed “L.S.Dance,” a 150-BPM brain-burner that’s getting a lot of play around Tokyo. We’ll see more of these, but hopefully only where truly deserved. In the meantime, we have examples of other excellent collaborative projects like Space Tribe’s “Collaborations” that should be exploited. (The Psysex CD also includes a cool sticker of the cover art and a DJ sleeve with the BPMs listed.)

#5 – Nagisa Music Festival (April 10)

It’s been a while since the Tokyo crowd could truly count on a solid April open-air party to start the season. Since Harukaze 2002, it’s proven difficult to get anything of scale going in Yoyogi Park – noise, litter, congestion, confusion. After two trial runs, BNM (brand new made) Inc. appears to have wrested away the mantle for opening next season and beyond with its evolving Nagisa Music Festival concept. Seven dance areas to experience different kinds of music, sound systems powered exclusively by solar energy, a strong emphasis on harmony with the planet, as well as food stalls, a flea market and nearly 12,000 people. Yeah, it was incredible fun as far as the eye could see, which was not too far when the wind picked up in the afternoon – Odaiba Open Court lacks trees to break the wind off Tokyo Bay and grass to help hold down the dust, which temporarily overwhelmed at least three of the stages. Swift work by the stage crew got things pumping again and the rest of the festival witnessed a memorable increase in energy. Domino’s closing set under the evening sky with the futuristic Fuji Television looming in the background is a dance I will long remember.

And one more – The new PTX album:

“The scientist” Patrick Chen (PTX) has finished his experiment in sound. Although long in coming, “Participate in the Xperiment” is a creation that’s going to bend the timeline. Chen, 29, has a degree in sound engineering to go with about eight years’ experience as a DJ and three as a live act. His resume includes a three-year stint in Japan, where he headed up Vision Quest’s Osaka operations.

Psychedelic trance is loaded with former classical musicians, punk rockers and even rock ‘n’ roll singers, but few if any certified science types. As I understand it, Patrick didn’t get his nickname because of the degree, but on a reputation borne of long uncompromising studio sessions.

For a debut album, “Participate in the Xperiment” is beyond impressive. It’s also about a year ahead of it’s time. The soundscapes that Patrick created in his “laboratory” are as varied as they are vast and intricate, and interconnected by ultrafine sonic threads. There are elements in these tracks that you simply won’t be able to catch the first, or even second time around because of all the other breathtaking distractions

According to Bionics Records, we can expect PTX to play in Japan sometime by autumn. Patrick Chen also appears in an interview on the upcoming “X-Mode Vol. 9 Trance Force” DVD.

New Releases:

“Electric Behaviour,” Orion (Solstice Music, released July 6)

Thank the muse who stuck with Jean Borelli in the creation of his third Orion album. “Electric Behaviour” is one disc I’m going to be reaching for a lot as summer heats up. Borelli has really shaken things up in this release, and thankfully spared much of the dark “cinnamon” flavor that permeated and darkened “Artificial Frequencies” (September 2003).

“Electric Behaviour” is still an Orion-style deep-space adventure, but bolder, brighter and with an exhilarating sense of journey. The title track, an invigorating array of high-low shimmering crescendos riding a funked up galloping bassline, is a perfect example.

The first nine tracks offer cool new choices for DJs in the 141-146 BPM range, while number 10 is a beautiful ambient score. Listen up for “Sleepwalking (Alien Project remix)”, serving up a clever new twist on a familiar “Waking Life” sound byte.

Something tells me that this album is going to play big at Solstice Music Festival (July 22-24), although not nearly as big as either Alien Project’s “One Good” or anything from the 1200 Mics debut album at SMF 2002. (Wow! Remember that?)

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