Label Showcase: Suntrip Records

Suntrip Records founders talk about their views on the psychedelic trance scene, changes over the past years, and label’s future work.

The story behind the label establishment goes back in the year 2000, when Marsaud, or better known by his alias Mars, met Vranken known for his moniker Anoebis, in a Psynews gathering party in Paris. Psynews website, initiated by Mars, is an online forum which aims to inform psychedelic music followers regarding various releases, events, and other information, an idea that was highly valued by Anoebis.

“After our first Goa party together we realized Goa trance hadn’t said its last word. Around 2000, all parties started to sound the same, and a lot of melodies and creativity was gone. In the meantime, we noticed on online fora; people were still craving for old school Goa. So we had two options: complain the scene sucks, or try to make it better. We took the second option. And the result was soon there.” — Fabien Marsaud (co-founder of Suntrip Records)

As an independent record label founded in 2004 by Fabien Marsaud and Joske Vranken, Suntrip, currently based in Ghent, Belgium, has continually released productions of diverse artists with a variety of sounds within the psychedelic Goa scene. Considering that they both shared the same love for melodic Goa trance, Mars and Anoebis continued to meet regularly. After two years, they organised their first event together, Psynews Summer Launch in Antwerp, recalled as one of the best Goa parties held in Belgium, the event which hosted the idea of creating a label, now known as Suntrip Records.

“The main idea was to create an analogic, creative, organic alternative to mainstream formulaic psychedelic (full-on) releases. Goa trance like in the years 1995-1998, but with modern production. Tracks with their own personality, so that when one would have finished listening to a Suntrip album, they should be able to remember each track distinctly, with the feeling they’ve been through a whole story with ups and downs and all sorts of emotions.”

We always said we wanted to release the music we’d have loved to buy. That may sound abstract and subjective, but to Jos and me it has a deep meaning, and that remains our most important value.” — Fabien Marsaud

Aiming to push Goa trance forward and sharing the same visions for the scene, enabled the label to develop naturally. Gradually, they started to travel to different festivals and events, where they met artists who would later become part of the label. One of them is Filteria, the first artist to release on Suntrip, whom they met in Samothraki Festival in Greece. Filteria released his debut album, Sky Input, in 2003.

“We soon found a courageous, tremendous tribe of people who were still taking the music for what it was: an art form conducting emotions, pure enjoyment leading to enlightenmentas opposed to just a way to drive their chemical trips. Today, the scene is still focused a lot on dark psytrance and progressive, so we believe a Goa trance niche is very welcome to create the usual madness euphoria on the dance floor!” — Fabien Marsaud

To date, Suntrip has produced over 50 Goa, psychedelic and ambient albums and compilations with more than 80 artists, some of which have become key figures in the Goa trance scene worldwide.

In the following lengthy interview, we talk through both the founders regarding their view on the psychedelic scene, label’s sound, influences, and future work. Besides sharing their opinions regarding the Goa scene and the label as an entity, one of the Suntrip’s DJs, Tobias ‘TB’ Bassline, delivers an exclusive one-hour only label mix showcasing a Suntrip retrospective from 2004 to 2017.

Founded in the year 2004, you celebrate 14 years of active work as a label, how did your sound change and shape during all these years?

Fabien Marsaud: Our sound? Well, I’m not sure it works like that. Artists produce music, they send their music to us, and sometimes we say “oh yeah, that is going to make people dream and dance and love each other.” We don’t think so much in terms of sound, rather in terms of happiness. We do our best to convey as much happiness as possible from the artists to the audience!

I’d say what changed is the quality control. When we started there was basically no more Goa, so every artist making some was like a blessing. Now Goa trance music is back even in the biggest festivals, more producers are attracted to it, and we need to make sure we’re not releasing too stereotyped stuff. That’s not an easy task for the artists because they’re stuck in a very narrow lane: music close to this of the golden age Goa trance, and yet sound modern enough.

Some artists manage to think out of the box (Khetzal, RA, Triquetra, Morphic Resonance, Filteria, etc.), and it gives awesome results. Other, usually younger artists, try to make their sound more “efficient” with a more sharp/percussive production and also features we usually hear in regular psytrance productions.

It works in the beginning, especially on the dance floor, but tracks tend to be repetitive over time, and it’s hard to them to accept production is only 20% of the job with this kind of music, and they should rather focus on giving a distinct personality to each track.

In the end, we’re bound to “go with the flow” of the artists’ community. We’re lucky there are always new talents and ideas to push boundaries, renew the genre and make it evolve. Sometimes we also release very different music (remember Ka-Sol, Electrypnose, Mindsphere ambient, Jagoa, K.O.B) that we’re taken with, and that showcases different facets of psychedelic music.

How does the selection process go when you compile releases?  Do you first collect all the tracks that interest you on a certain theme of the release or do you instruct the artists to make stuff specially created based on the theme of the release? How do the artists take the advice?

FM: We never make up a theme before the selection process begins. We start by collecting new tracks, either spontaneous promos, promising guys we’re already following on Soundcloud, guys that have caught some of our DJs’ attention, or submissions when we announce we’re preparing a compilation. We listen to them, give them marks, and send feedback as much as we can. Say, we can easily narrow a 500 items playlist into a 30 track selection. Then Jos and I (and other DJs sometimes) cross-check our selection. Believe it or not, when preparing a compilation, 9 tracks usually, we very often have 6 or 7 in common. It’s even surprising to us.

Then, we try to make a story out of them. Surprisingly, most of the time, a theme pops up. Our compilation Aurora Sidera is the perfect example: the acidic ambience was never intended in the first place. Eventually we “fine tune” our common selection with a couple of tracks from the remainder of our selection. It appears we’re a peculiar label because we’re always in sync with the music selection.

Golden rule: don’t ask artists to work a certain way or against a given planning. Artists usually have better ideas than us, and given the fact, Goa trance music needs to be surprising and inventive, there’s no way there can be a unique recipe. Else, we were compelled to give deadlines just a couple of times. Though, we don’t hesitate to tell artists when their music becomes too formulaic. They take it in various ways. Most of the time it’s “yeah, but it’s my style, my signature you know”, or “well it’s a matter of taste.” Indeed. So we give the two of us more time to test the tracks on the dance floor and think about it. Usually, it works. Other artists, often those who gave all they had in their previous album and have trouble finding new inspiration listen to us, investigate and find new ideas that overcome our wildest expectations.

It’s a lot about communication and finding the right words after all!

How do you think Suntrip Records has influenced the psychedelic trance scene?

FM: In retrospect pretty much I guess. Oh, it must sound terribly arrogant to say that!

When we started, only Kagdila Records was scarcely releasing melodic music, and since they were in the US, they had little impact on Europe/Israel psytrance’s nervous system.

At Suntrip we had this vision that there was still an audience for Goa trance and that the genre itself had not given its last word. But we could have the best intentions in the world; we were no match for the huge full-on wave that was all the rage back then.

What we didn’t know—nobody knew—that we had the best asset in the world, Filteria. This guy makes incredible music and is also deeply charismatic. He caught the attention of the whole scene; he blew away even the most indifferent audience. In just two years he had managed to get invited to no less than the… full-on festival, exclusively thanks to his music. Then a lot of countries, the Aurora Festival two years later, and all the way to the Boom Festival where he has played three times now. He also managed to evolve and grab more attention (think of tracks like “Dog Bays Bliss”), without losing his early fans. This guy acted like a propeller, a catalyzer for the audience, the very heart and lung of the resurgent Goa trance movement.

It’s safe to say, I guess, that we were at the right time with the right people and the right music. And after us, several others jumped on the bandwagon, thankfully. DAT records, for example, helped put the spotlight further on Goa trance music with their killer releases.

Recently we heard several people say that festivals like the Z.N.A in Portugal or Connection in Spain wouldn’t have existed in their current form if labels like Suntrip or DAT hadn’t been there in the first place. There is probably a bit of truth into that, but if these courageous promoters weren’t there and didn’t make all the efforts they do to make their events unique, our exposure wouldn’t be the same either.

There is the attitude too: we’ve always been upright, paying artists decently, for instance, and they talked with one another, which gave us more opportunities. We’ve always been striving to gather energies rather than getting into a competition. We don’t do drugs either. That’s a whole state of mind that we hope others follow.

What are the most memorable events during these 13 years of Suntrip?

Joske Vranken: This is a very hard question. Last 13 years I (Anoebis) literally played on hundreds of parties, often with other Suntrip artists, all over the world. It’s impossible to name thé most memorable event, but I think the 10 years Suntrip tour a few years ago was the best experience for me. We played in over 10 parties in the world, and for 1000s of people, it was their first contact with real Goa trance. For me as a DJ, the best experiences are usually in Belgium or Israel. The crowd is incredibly energetic, and they love Goa as much as we do.

For Fabien, the Rise of the Phoenix party was amazing. It was the first appearance of Filteria in Belgium, in 2004. People went totally nuts. A few “Old Is Gold” parties, also in Belgium really stood out too as we managed to create parties with a great mix of new names and retro acts. It was also a blast to have so many of our artists featured in the different editions of the Connection Festival and people enjoying so much with them. And naturally seeing Crossing Mind, Anoebis, and Filteria play on the main stage at Boom Festival in front of more than 10000 people… man, that was breathtaking!

Is there another particular label which you appreciate for its musical orientation?

FM: Yes, DAT Records. Not only do they release previously unreleased gems, but they also have this initiative to preserve unreleased music and live recordings, which are, for most of them, still stored on DAT cassettes and are in danger of being definitely lost. I have seen what they do with my own eyes, and this is a tremendous work. On top of this, they are at the origin of the Mind Rewind compilations, which have allowed to donate £10000 to the Mango Tree foundation to build schools in India.

We also like the music of Zion604 from Israel, Goa Madness from Belgium, and Ultimae, the famous ambient label from France. They are all so sweet. Neogoa from Croatia, Melusine from Romania, Goa Trance Music, Timewarp Records, and Global Sect also put a lot of efforts into keeping our dear movement alive.

What do you think of the current psytrance scene worldwide? How do you think it’s evolving?

FM: Unfortunately, most of it is pretty much stereotyped. Sometimes it’s like you’re listening to the same track over and over again, for hours. And thankfully, the dreadful triplets trend is dying… but, there’s the occasional artist that puts a lot of love into what he’s doing, and, for a moment, he enlightens the dance floor.

The psytrance scene should be focused on the story told by the music rather than its technicalities. We also think the scene is becoming bigger and more professional, and sometimes even commercial, with big scale events and booking agencies. This may not be so underground/roots, but with the revenue from albums sales plummeting, gigs are now the best way an artist can make money. And having a movement more serious, more organized, more transparent, will help getting authorizations to promote new events and help those artists make a living.

Is psychedelic trance music a tool for higher states of consciousness? How do you look at it in this aspect?

FM: Yes, definitely. Just look at the photos taken at the Z.N.A. Festival this year, on some days, the crowd was dancing for hours, gathering energy from pure happiness and love, as one. People smiling at everyone, arms taut towards the sky, in communion with one another, the music, nature and the universe. There may be several ways to reach that kind of state (devotion, drugs…), but Goa trance is obviously one.

How do you see the psychedelic festivals and parties? Do you personally go for a bigger purpose than just having fun? Is there some remedy of some kind in these gatherings?

FM: Yes, we love to have fun, we’re the kind of label owners you’ll meet on the dance floor, and we like to be in sync with the crowd. For Anoebis, it’s important to feel the music he is playing while dancing.

We also come to play naturally (watch out for Anoebis DJ sets), but we also meet many people and share ideas. I usually come back with many Google keep stickers full of ideas and album titles.

Meeting artists in a festival is also a solid way of starting new projects. For instance, Morphic Resonance accepted to work with us at Connection 2014, Shakta at some Old Is Gold party, and we got a deal for the recently released Astral Projection EP at Connection 2016.

JV: You’re so right to talk about a remedy: aside from the higher states of consciousness, I think Goa trance can unlock parts of your brain, and solve some of your issues more efficiently and faster than with a psychologist. While listening to the music, you may sometimes confront yourself, and often find answers to important questions about life. I (Anoebis) love the music on a higher level. When you feel bad, or you have some issues, the music and the dance is pure therapy.

How are the French and Belgian scenes nowadays and what did change and what did stay the same? How was it like back in the days when Suntrip Records still didn’t exist?

FM: The [French] scene used to be awesome in the nineties. Incredible parties, you had to be there to believe it. Then came the minimal wave, boring parties, and fights between organizers. The crowd wasn’t much tolerant either. I got tired of it, and then only partied in Belgium and other countries for more than 10 years. It would be easier for me to talk about the Belgian scene, which is just fantastic!

The only event I came to in France since 2006 was “Cosmic Train” in Paris last summer: Denshi Danshi, Merr0w, Proxeeus were playing, the crowd enjoyed, and it was mind-blowing. This organization is doing it again with Morphic Resonance and Total Eclipse, and we are really looking forward to it. It took 15 years, but at last, thanks to them, Goa trance is back to France!

JV: The scene in Belgium was more varied as France between 2000-2004. The scene was very small, and most DJs did not follow the international trends yet. So we had a portion of all kinds of music between 1996-2004. I started to do pure Goa events since 2000, and I have seen rising popularity for sure. The scene was splitting more and more because of different directions the music took. But, around 2006-2008 there was a pure old school Goa scene in Belgium, next to other scenes. This scene is still thriving today, and the atmosphere is amazing. The influence of Suntrip was surely there, but as usual, it’s a combination of factors—labels, organizers, DJs, etc.

Considering the drastic change of the audio medium, which ones do you actually prefer? Do you ever tend of plan for a vinyl release?

FM: My father was playing classical music on vinyl when I was a kid, and I really like the warmth of the sound, but I grew up as a CD guy. I think it’s the perfect mixture of music and graphic art. It’s also easier to bring and play in a DJ set. But to be honest, I’ve been buying CDs for years only to make sure the artists would be correctly remunerated (as opposed to what happens with digital stores), and immediately ripped the music to listen to it on my computer and smartphone. Let’s say I love to fiddle with CD booklets and listen to digital music.

JV: My favourite is also CD. I started to listen to the music around 1998-1999, and back then everything was released on CD. I simply got used to it, and it’s still my favourite one. I do have a decent vinyl collection as well, and I love the sound. Digital releases… I still did not take the “big” step. I almost never hear them, and I hope I don’t miss too much good music.

This renewed interest in vinyl today also influenced us for sure. Our first vinyl is already released, Astral Projection’s Let There Be Light EP is on the shelves since the end of September.

What can we expect from Suntrip Records in the future?

FM: Since the Astral Projection release, we are working on 2 new releases. One of them is a compilation of rare and vinyl only music of Australian classic Ray Castle, and the other one is Triquetra—two awesome Belgian twins are making acid Goa trance like in the ‘90s. Smashing!

Then we have plenty of plans: Merr0w, Celestial Intelligence, Cosmic Dimension, Mindsphere, Ethereal maybe, and Morphic Resonance are all working on new albums for us, and on top of that, a special compilation to celebrate SUNCD FIFTY is in the works.

We have plans to replace our 10-year-old website, but we haven’t found the time for it yet. 604 bookings, our bookings agency, is also working hard, so our artists are playing as much as possible and in the best conditions.

And last but not least, we will be (co-)organizing the Apsara Festival, to be held in Romania (on the ex-Transylvaliens Festival land) between the 8th and the 12th of August 2018. After 13 years providing music, organizing Suntrip & Old is Gold / Fractal Gate events, Suntrip teamed up with some of the Transylvaliens Festival team to present something unique: A festival for Goa trance loving people with a psychedelic mindset.

Our vision is and was always the same: bring all facets of Goa trance to you, and there is no better way to do it than at a festival. What can you expect from us? Beautiful natural surroundings, a valley inside a forest where you can camp, and of course, the best music you can imagine. We make sure you will hear tons of your favourite artists. Some unique, some more well known, some old school, some modern. Ranging from pure melodic Goa to darker night acid trance. From early forest influenced music to pure euphoria. Each music has its moment, and we’ll make sure all lovers of this kind of music will reach bliss.

Line up: There will be two dance floors: the “Main Valley Floor” and the “Ambient Forest” and we’re disclosing one artist every week. You can expect several surprises in the next weeks. As of mid-November we’ve already announced Mindsphere, Filteria + K.O.B, Encens + Ominus + Aeternum, Battle Of The Future Buddhas, Cydonia + Semssis, Mystical + One Man Game, Afgin, Agneton…

Be sure to check every update on our website.

What is the idea behind the mix? How did you choose the records in it?

The mix was created by Suntrip DJ Tobias ‘TB’ Bassline, here’s what he says about it:

“The idea was to make a Suntrip retrospective from 2004 to 2017, one track per year. Although extremely difficult to choose, I tried to pick the very best track of each year.”

Tracklist
01. Artifact303 – Beyond Lightspeed
02. RA – Predator
03. RA – Gateway Eight (Cosmic Dimension Remix)
04. Khetzal – Bells Of Sarnath
05. Daimon – Codex
06. Mindsphere – Fly High
07. Astral Projection – Let There Be Light (Filteria Remix)
08. Ka-Sol – The Light
09. Filteria – Navigate
10. E-Mantra – Approaching Nibiru
11. Aerosis – Contorsion
12. Mindsphere – Tears Of Goddess
13. Skarma – Naltayada
14. Mindsphere – All Alone

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