It’s 2012 and after another monstrous year of non-stop touring around the world and placing 9th on the 2011 DJ Mag top 100 for “unicorn slaying trance”, Markus Schulz has still managed to produce and release an album with 23 tracks. How any big DJ manages to do all of this, and still have a family, is beyond me and is certainly not the topic of this review. But it is a life mystery that bears mentioning as often as possible. Anyway, back to the topic at hand – Markus Schulz’s new album Scream has been released for about a month and is being declared as a solid trance masterpiece by some, and evidence of an ultimate sell-out by others. While I personally think the album is very good, it’s interesting to consider why this album has created such a controversy.
“Follow the sun
The darkness all around me
Is there anyone listening
I can’t scream any louder!”
Before diving into a further discussion of why there are some haters of this album, let’s go over a little bit of Markus’ history and background. Markus Schulz currently holds the nickname “The Unicorn Slayer”, and to my understanding he is quite proud of it. Fans of trance (and EDM in general) love him because he’s the guy that won’t go up on stage and play super cheesy vocals and uplifting corny stuff. Instead, he typically gets up there and plays an extremely energetic but relatively dark and techier set and completely destroys the dancefloor. He doesn’t let up. He doesn’t do jesus poses and he certainly doesn’t make you feel warm and cuddly inside. As some fans might put it, he melts faces.
A lot of old school fans who are more into instrumental songs and don’t like vocal tracks that sound like pop radio tend to rely on Markus to bring the ruckus. It was around 2009 – 2010 that Schulz declared that he’s not going to be one of those euphoric trance guys – he’s going to be the guy that bashes your head with bangers and none of those hands in the air 3 minute breakdowns. His 2010 album, Do You Dream, stuck with that type of sound and had a good amount of dark, twisted tunes And after that came 2 albums under his “Dakota” alias – no vocals whatsoever, just tons of dark, tech-ish progressive trance. Markus gave the fans what they wanted, and they embraced this style, expecting it at every show. Personally, while I appreciated this more intense side of Markus, I initially became a fan by listening to Global DJ Broadcast (his radio show), where I heard plenty of melodic tunes with vocals intermixed with the darker stuff, and that rollercoaster ride was always what I enjoyed. So while I appreciated Markus’s unicorn slayer direction, I did sometimes wish for a break from the relenting madness – I found myself standing on the Avalon dancefloor late into the night wishing for a break via the occasional uplifting tune. That’s right, I admit it, I have a soft side.
Cut to the end of 2011 – Markus reflects back on the year with a blog post that admits that for a while, he was angry at trance and wanted to make a statement by moving away from the cheese. But, in 2012, he says:
“But I think that it’s now maybe time for trance to dust itself down and come back fighting again. I will say this – there is nothing more inspiring to me than a good melody… I think going forward that there will be a little more balance with my livesets next year, particularly with a brand new Markus Schulz artist album coming. Some of you hardcore may have noticed already that I’m trying to fit some more melodic-driven tracks into my livesets now.”
That got me excited. The melodies are back. The balance has been restored. Long live Markus 2012. And this excitement was further encouraged by an epic night in February for the debut of the Los Angeles 12 compilation where Markus played an almost 12 hour set, going from deep and twisted to happy and euphoric. I loved it. And I also loved the first single off of the Scream album – “Caught”, with Markus’s new muse-songstress Adina Butar:
It’s exactly what I was expecting – not a ride in the cloud with the unicorns, but no dance with the devil either. Meanwhile, Markus kept creating more dark dancefloor bangers such as a reboot of “Loops n Tings” with Ferry Corsten:
And at last, right as summer hit, the tracklist of the new album was revealed and Markus began debuting more and more new tracks off the album. Which brings us full circle to the beginning of this story – a lot of haters, especially on the interwebs, began to hate. They began mourning the death of the unicorn slayer and said Markus sold out. They didn’t like ANY of the tracks and of course cries to go back to “the good ol’ days” began to surface.
I consider myself a fairly progressive guy. I started listening to EDM about 6 years ago and have followed its rise into the mainstream, and continue to enjoy everything from pop SHM and Guetta tracks to more underground hard stuff. However many people decide to get off the EDM train during the long ride, and I think this is what Markus is facing here (by the way, I admit I got on the train late, but I have listened to older dance music and appreciate it). While the man is playing solo sets at the world’s biggest club, Privelege in Ibiza, and destroying main stages all over the world while selling out Avalon Hollywood months in advance, he has to deal with haters on his forums. It’s quite fascinating really. However Markus is an artist who thinks deeply about his next move and does care about fan feedback, so he responded on his forums by essentially saying that the move back into melodies and vocals was done to get some radio play and stay fresh so that he doesn’t get sidelined by all the other DJs rising to the top.
“Guys like Dash Berlin, Avicii…etc have all blown up seemingly overnight just because of radio play. Many of these “producer” type DJs are playing mainstage sets ONLY because of their radio presence. Whether or not they can even mix is irrelevant. This has made me evaluate where I am as an artist. I love the music and the scene, and I also know that the gigs will dry up if I do not evolve as an artist.”
Given this background, we can finally take a deeper look into some of the tracks on the new album. Like Markus said, he has made tracks that he is proud of, and I am completely on-board with that analysis. Already I perk up every time I hear the warm synths of “Caught”, meanwhile both Armin and Markus have been dropping “Finish Line” in their sets to get the crowd going absolutely nuts while causing mass die-offs of unicorns in the area:
If the fans of the “older” Markus don’t like this track, I must admit that even I can’t find a way that they can be pleased. There are other instrumental bangers on the album as well – Triotonic (with Komha and Elevation), Digital Madness (the melody will almost certainly get stuck in your head), Karbon, and Go. On the vocal side, Markus has amassed a solid list of new and old vocalists that contribute some great hooks to his beats. I’m a big fan of tracks like Carry On, which is a very uplifting track, Love Rain Down, and Deep in the Night. Listen to “Carry On” here:
When listening to some of the tracks that I haven’t heard in the radio shows, though, I felt a bit disappointed. Tracks like Until it’s Gone and Universe is Mine seem a little TOO unicorn-y and seem like they were put on the album just for the sake of radio-play and/or little girls singing along in their bedrooms. Many EDM DJs, when releasing albums, feel the need to show their versatility and prove that they’re not “just trance” or whatnot. I’m not sure if that’s how Markus felt here but it does feel like to get a great balanced album, a few tracks could easily be cut out. But at the end of the day, so much of the DJ world is about the club tracks, and I already know I won’t be hearing them in any livesets so it’s an issue I’m willing to look past.
As we move forward to round out 2012 and begin 2013, Markus Schulz is busy with his crazy tour schedule. And honestly, I doubt he’s checking his online forums too much to see what people think of his album. His tracks are destroying dancefloors, getting plays from other DJs, getting remixes by excellent producers, and the album is doing what it should – reminding people of Markus Schulz and his presence as a leading trance representative. This album secures his ranks amongst the trance elite, along with Ferry Corsten, Above and Beyond, and dare I say Dash Berlin and ATB (amongst my personal less-favorites). What will be next? Well that’s up to Markus – I think he certainly has potential to do some bigger venues (Palladium in LA please!) and some Coldharbour-only nights (his label) now that he’s got a stronger lineup with Mr. Pit and Komha. This will allow him to continue building his brand and spreading the unicorn-slaying love to the world while making some good money. As he admitted himself in his forums, this is a business at the end of the day. And I certainly hope the Markus Schulz stock only continues to rise in the years to come because as the stock goes up, so do the great parties and good music. At the end of the day, I sure hope that’s what we, the fans, are still all here for.
Guest Review by Misha Silin
~ A solid trance release from one of the frontrunners in the league. Markus slightly changed direction here to go with the flow of the industry but still managed to please fans of both the dark and the light with his trademark twisted instrumental stormers mixed up with happier, more melodic vocal tracks.
This is a huge album with a ton of tracks. I agree that if you cut out about four of the more “fluffy” ones, the album would be much better when taken in as a whole. “Until It’s Gone” is particularly skip worthy and sounds more M83 than trance DJ. Regardless, there is enough for everyone here, and the album does a great job of showing the many layers of Markus’ production work. Yes, there are a lot of vocal tracks, but most of them are pretty awesome. “Nothing Without Me” is one of the best vocal trance tracks released this years- hands down. And for the purists, the end is classic Schulz with “Push The Button”, “Digital Madness”, and “Finish Line”- pure evil and amazing!
Although Markus is a DJ, in this capacity you would refer to him as a producer. Also, if you’re a true fan of the electronic music scene please help ensure its preservation for the purists and don’t call it EDM.