Southern California is struggling to replace the trance heroes who skipped town for big-money gigs. DJs Sandra Collins and Taylor, formerly world-renowned residents at Irvine club Metropolis, are jet-setting and cutting trance records for big labels Hook and Platipus. If you want to see Christopher Lawrence—the "LA trance messiah"—look for him during rare Virgin Megastore promo tours or on the Spanish pleasure isle of Ibiza.
Enter Nicholas Bennison. A native of the U.K., Bennison DJed for six years before he arrived in the U.S. in 1997 to finish his education at Loyola-Marymount University. After melting LA crowds with sets hotter than the reactor core at San Onofre, Bennison was offered the rare chance to mix Arcade America's hugely popular Trance Global Nation 2 compilation. The final product sold 25,000 copies—strong sales for the small label—and established him as the new trance darling for the many fur-wearing, wide-eyed, raving youths lucky enough to hear it.
But Bennison regards Trance Global Nation 2 as tame. Arcade America presented him with can't-miss, Euro-club tracks—several of them soundtracks from popular English Saturday-morning cartoon shows.
Despite its obvious limitations, Bennison took the gig in order, he says, to get his name in front of American clubbers. And now he's using the record to spread his own gospel of electronic music.
There's a vast difference between Bennison's work on Trance Global Nation 2 and his live sets. The recording hooks casual listeners with Euro-chart-busting anthems like Paul Van Dyk's "Words (for Love)" and "Three Drives" by Greece 2000—tracks that are the trance analogues of pop's "Baby One More Time." They're predictable, contagious and danceable.
And they're nothing like the man's live shows. In clubs in the U.K., Bennison shaped his sound around the idea that a two-and-a-half-hour set ought to be seen as a single orchestrated piece rather than a collection of unrelated, repetitive, thump-thump-thump dance tunes.
When he first arrived in LA, Bennison "was disappointed to see that DJs would constantly play anthems and hi-NRG. There was no movement or dynamics to the sets that I heard. It was sad.
"I'm trying to create a more subtle sound," he said. "People don't always want to wait and see the progression in a set. They want to be instantly gratified. Sometimes it's too deep, and the crowd doesn't respond."
Bennison brought that idea to LA and, more recently, to Irvine, where he's trying to convince American audiences of the joys of delayed gratification.
Describing his music as "hard, progressive trance layered with evil and melodic sounds," he admits that rave and club crowds first greeted his live sets with some skepticism. Not anymore. Today, club promoters say Bennison is one of their biggest draws.
"Nicholas has a large and steadily increasing draw," said Cade Bourne, promoter of Club Bliss. "The people that come to see him play are there for the right reasons. They are won over by his style."
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Bennison took a break from the Trance Global Nation series, allowing San Francisco legend Jerry Bonham to man the decks for No. 3. He's back on No. 4, which arrives in stores in May. This time around, Bennison got full say over the track listing and says the album is more intelligent than his effort on No. 2.
"There is a future for this music everywhere," said Bennison. "The more people hear it, the more they'll appreciate it. Electronic music will keep growing."
He paused a moment, looked up and said, "It's always been about the love of the music."
Nicholas Bennison performs at Club Bliss at Sloppy Joe's, Irvine Spectrum, 71 Fortune Dr., Irvine, (949) 223-0272. Thurs., March 16 & 23, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. 18+. $10