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Nov 14

ATB – “9PM (Til I Come)”

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#829, 3rd July 1999

atb The story of breathy trance* hit “9PM (Til I Come)” begins with producer ATB bringing his girlfriend to his studio to check out his instruments. And it continues with him ignoring her and working on an awesome guitar sound until he looked at his watch three hours later and named the track. The vocals he ported in afterwards, from a TV show he was watching. The girlfriend’s response is unrecorded. (Why did he even mention her in the first place, you might ask. I’m not sure. A demonstration of the monkish dedication of the true dance auteur, perhaps?)

At any rate this origin story puts the emphasis firmly on that pitched-up guitar tone – a kind of scrubbed-chrome take on the wah-wah – and so did ATB’s immediate follow-ups. There’s a really horrible version of Adamski’s “Killer”, for instance, which he ‘makes his own’ simply by dropping that noise all over it. On “9PM” it works better – just as well, since it dominates the track. There’s a sinuosity and bounce to it that makes for a strong hook, and its clean sound compliments the huskier voice parts. Of all the dance records we’ve met – even things as minimal as “Flat Beat” – “9PM” feels most purely for the club, noises designed to cut through the acoustics of a large crowded space like light through dry ice, not linger in a listener’s mind. There’s a confidence in the power of a single sound to carry a record here, one which speaks to how dominant big, expansive trance (and its ultra-high-paid celebrity DJs) had become in European, and global, club culture.

That’s not all “9PM” has going on, though. There’s also the breakdown – an unremarkable one to my ears, of a piece with tens of other big-room dance breakdowns around at the time. But it’s the first showing on Popular of a sound that will eventually return in conquering, tyrannous form: the gradually building keyboard marches so overused in 2010s EDM. A mere formal detail here, they jump ominously out to me as a listener in 2014. One of the less memorable Number Ones in a scrappy year turns out to be the track that points most directly to the present.

*I had a Guardian column for two years, during which time I managed to rouse my readers to anger (beyond the standard grumbles) exactly once, when I innocently named ATB and other late 90s hits as trance. I’m hardly alone in this – Beatport calls it that too – but there’s a hardcore death-to-false-trance contingent out there who spent a day on Twitter calling for my immediate retirement. One asked that I promise never to write about trance music again. That pledge I have kept – until today!

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Comments

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  1. 1
    punctum on 5 Nov 2014 #

    On reflection it is remarkable that despite the interchangeable mass of Eurodance hits throughout the late nineties (Sash! had four number two hits! How is it that I can remember none of them without prompting?), the number ones tended to go to the groundbreakers, the deviants. Although “9pm (‘Till I Come)” doesn’t sound all that remarkable nowadays this is largely down to its template subsequently having being used and reused to the point of chalk marks.

    ATB was German producer André Tanneberger, and “9pm” is usually acknowledged as the first Trance track to hit number one in Britain; apart from the occasional pinched spoken female voice sample it is essentially an instrumental and more or less entirely reliant on its digitally manipulated guitar motif (apparently the result of an accidental finding, as so many innovations in 20th century music were); as with (but better than) Robert Miles’ “Children,” the notion seems to have been to slow down the Ecstatic freneticity, to pause for thought, to reflect and swim. Although I would much rather refer to my copy of the KLF’s Chill Out for such reflections (“Evil” Graham Lee of the Triffids on pedal steel is admittedly a hard act to follow), a modest doff of the cap to André is, I think, due.

  2. 2
    AMZ1981 on 5 Nov 2014 #

    I think this was featured quite prominently in Dance Anthems which at the time used to follow the Top 40 on a Sunday – the guitar tone featured quite prominently in a trailer for that show. I might be wrong but I thought that exposure played a big part in selling the record.

    It’s interesting that Tom described this as `one of the less memorable numbers ones from the year` as it was a two week runner (Will Smith missed out with the theme to his latest movie) and wound up the fifth biggest selling record of the year.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 5 Nov 2014 #

    it’s pleasant and well crafted – I thought it sounded like pedal steel guitar rather than wah-wah. The vocal reminds me of Enigma a little bit but there are other dance tracks that place a ‘cool’ female vocal over a lively beat.

  4. 4
    mapman132 on 5 Nov 2014 #

    This didn’t appear on the Hot 100, but apparently did appear on Billboard’s dance chart, and I remember it getting airplay at the time – or, maybe it was something else: I swear that exact guitar noise was used in another song, or maybe a remix of this with more vocals? My imagination? Either way, it does seem to be a preview of the 2010s. 6/10 from me.

  5. 5
    Alan on 5 Nov 2014 #

    I’ve seen numerous comments online (including the first youtube hit for 9pm I found) remarking on the similarity between this and a recent charting song (which I like quite a lot), Robin Schulz – Prayer In C https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiore9Z5iUg

    AGH, sorry. that’s a BUNNY! I didn’t realise it had got that high!

  6. 6
    mike on 5 Nov 2014 #

    Once you hear the vocal as “D’you like cock?”, you can’t hear it any other way. Or maybe that’s just me.

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 5 Nov 2014 #

    I like this, not because it’s trance, but because it suggests Balearic “mystique”. Not sure if mystique works if you’re an Ibiza regular, but I personally felt at the time as someone who only imagined the White Isle experience, (I had been to clubs in the UK that played non-stop trance, but never had the opportunity to experience trance in its “natural environment”) that 9pm(TIC) was existing in the space between the post-club chill-out and your hands-in-the-air Big Room monster. Neither fish nor flesh, so to speak. But I like it. I like the guitar effect and the breathy vocals. I get a warm feeling, like the Sun is on my face when I hear it. Unmistakeably summer. I’m definitely not feeling an EDM hangover, like Tom seems to be. (8)

  8. 8
    Rory on 5 Nov 2014 #

    I’d never heard this, but I’ve sure heard its descendants. And on a first listen, I like it: I’d start at 6, and could end up higher.

    “Death to False Trance” sounds like Rage Against the Machine meets the Little Book of Calm.

  9. 9
    swanstep on 5 Nov 2014 #

    Very dull (at least in its 3m 13s ‘official video/ incarnation – does anyone recommend any of the longer mixes that are floating around on youtube and elsewhere?). One keeps waiting for *something* to happen and it never does. The keyed guitar part is quite embarrassing I would have thought (dude, one wants to say, why not get in this guy ?). It needs to be Steely Dan quality to benefit from being featured so strongly and at such length, and of course it’s nowhere near that. Anyhow, ‘9pm’ is new to me, so evidently it hasn’t endured (for better or worse!) the way, say, Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ has from this period.

    ‘9pm’ got to #11 in NZ which seems more reasonable to me. It’s honestly hard for me to believe that ‘9pm’ has enough that’s distinctive or fun about it (modulo something very impressive in club mixes) to become the big, broad hit it was in the UK:
    3

  10. 10
    Doctor Casino on 5 Nov 2014 #

    Never heard this in my life, not doing much for me now, but I’m glad to have heard it – finally “get” this bit of Max Tundra’s lyric on “Merman”:

    Downstairs they’re playing trance again, that awful bendy guitar
    Up through the floor again, It’s 9 am ’til I cry

    And Time And A Word, my friend, inspires me more than guitars
    Playing in four that end… exactly how they began!

  11. 11
    tonya on 5 Nov 2014 #

    #4 I’m pretty sure this got airplay in the US, too, because I remember it. I’d like to wring the neck of the person who invented putting sexy wimmun talkin ’bout sex on dance records.

  12. 12
    Elisha Sessions on 5 Nov 2014 #

    This is a touch more legit than trance – a touch. It’s more interested in the “funktional” aspects of a dance track – that shuffly and slightly raw percussion sets it apart from the glistening, crystalline structures of trance-land. And there’s an acid-house tinge to the vocal snippet – no soaring choruses, just a copy-pasted token of desire. But once the bendy guitar kicks in you’re knee deep in overpriced beach chairs and no internet comment is going to change that.

  13. 13
    Kinitawowi on 6 Nov 2014 #

    Low grade Sash and not a patch on anything Mr Lappessen ever did. And that bleepy guitar is abysmal.

    3.

  14. 14
    weej on 6 Nov 2014 #

    You can’t control which songs are going to be important in your life, and so it is with 9PM (Til I Come), on the surface a fairly standard trance* track, but which marked a watershed moment for me. I went to Glastonbury in 1999 as basically an indie kid, and joined a friend who’d brought a bag of little white pills with a mitsubishi logo stamped into them. Of the twenty or thirty bands I’d planned to see, I caught perhaps two. The rest of the four days was mainly spent dancing outside a small stage advertising an energy drink called ‘Indigo’. I still remember the names and faces of some of the other people there, and of course I can remember the track on heaviest rotation.

    Going out had always been problematic for me – clubs playing dance music seemed aggressive and unfriendly (“like being trapped in a lift at the circus”) and indie clubs in the late 90s were far from a haven of positivity. This was something else – joy, community, the overwhelming feeling that we were all sharing an experience and that everything was just going to be alright. On returning to university I found that my friends were unable to understand this (and were in fact disgusted by the idea) so I went out and found new friends, new music, new ideas. These new friends weren’t clubbers, and I certainly didn’t start listening to trance, but I’d been unhappy with my life and my friends and now I’d found that making a clean break was easy.

    And it’s all down to ATB’s (PM (Til I Come). I don’t even really like the single – it’s cut-down highlights with all the build and release missing, and that silly vocal sample is jammed up in the forefront where you can’t ignore it. this is what we danced to, and it still moves something in me, somehow. There’s a yearning for the new there, a montage of all the promise of the future, and I’m just glad to have it in my life. A 10 then – though it probably doesn’t really deserve it in the cold light of day, who needs the cold light of day anyway?

    *trance is a label like ‘prog rock’ which is used pejoratively and has no fixed meaning everyone can agree on – so call anything trance and you’ll get people arguing about it. As silly as it may sound, there was a major trance-techno split at the time, and people took it very seriously indeed.

  15. 15
    chelovek na lune on 6 Nov 2014 #

    Perfunctory, in a word.

  16. 16
    wichitalineman on 6 Nov 2014 #

    As much as that soft keyboard build sounds like a Live Lounge version of EDM, anticipating a decade ahead, 9PM looks back ten years. That Balearic (first wave) Spanish guitar, though heavily treated, is like a distant echo of Raul Orellana’s Real Wild House and the Blow Monkeys’ La Passionara. It sounds like someone trying to bottle a memory; it’s thin, but with a chirpy melancholy.

    The hook on 9PM is also a lot of fun to sing along with, slightly pained expression obligatory.

  17. 17
    Rory on 6 Nov 2014 #

    Thanks for the link to the longer version, Weej – it works better with that first 3 minutes of build and more sparing use of the bendy guitar.

    Tonya @11 makes a good point, though; double entendre has been done to death. Another reason the longer mix, with its less prominent vocal sample, is preferable.

  18. 18
    James BC on 6 Nov 2014 #

    Very curious as to what trance music is supposed to be if it isn’t this.

    In my mind trance was anything that followed the template set by Robert Miles – repeated simple instrumental hook, moody breakdown that builds to super-speed hi-hats, restatement of hook, end on a cymbal. Simple.

    I much prefer Robert Miles to this, but possibly only because he got there first.

  19. 19
    Rory on 6 Nov 2014 #

    #18 Yes, 138 BPM or close to it seems to be part of the remit. Looking into trance last night, I came across this new Paul Oakenfold track, which made me laugh given my comment on the Vengaboys thread. A cover of this 1999 original, which I totally missed at the time.

  20. 20
    lockedintheattic on 6 Nov 2014 #

    From memory this was the first of a series of eurohits over the following year or so (some of them bunnied) that entered the charts on import sales alone before debuting at number one several weeks later. A quick look at Polyhex shows it charted for 6 weeks as two different import versions, so clearly lots of pent up demand driven by radio and European holidaymakers. Seem to remember this was pretty inescapable in Ibiza that year.

  21. 21
    swanstep on 6 Nov 2014 #

    I tend to identify ‘trance’ with keyboards (and other instruments) with lots of delay fx on them which ends up creating a bit of a wash of sound if you play anything at all fast. Certainly if you go into something like Garageband, certain track echo presets are called ‘trance’ and, conversely, certain synth presets with a bunch of delay on them are called things like ‘cheerful trance’ and ‘ambient trance’.

    Example: Art of Trance’s Madagascar which is a gorgeous mass of delay!

  22. 22
    Alan (is an old man) on 6 Nov 2014 #

    The main trance thing it’s missing is that ‘vogue with your hands in the air’ bit, no rhythm just washes of chords or gentle acoustic strings usually. IIRC.

  23. 23
    Billy Hicks on 6 Nov 2014 #

    To what a snobbery me would call ‘proper’ trance doesn’t quite burst onto the scene but slowly evolves from melodic and so-called dream house. So things like Robert Miles’s ‘Children’ and BBE’s ‘Seven Days and One Week’ (1996), while containing some basic elements, aren’t quite there yet despite both being top tunes.

    BT’s ‘Flaming June’, #19 in summer 1997, is a big step towards it and bridges the gap between mid-90s and late-90s dance music brilliantly. By the time of Agnelli & Nelson’s ‘El Nino’ (#21 in August 1998) we’re much closer to what I’d call trance and then the release of System F’s bloody astonishing ‘Out of the Blue’ (#14, April 1999) opens up the floodgates. Ferry Corsten was behind most of the big trance hits of ’99 and I’d argue it’s him who properly adds the missing touches that the last two posts mention.

    By the time 9pm came out you’d had all those plus Veracocha’s ‘Carte Blanche’ (Ferry again working with Vincent De Moor) and we’re a week away from Gouryella’s ‘Gouryella’ (Ferry *again*, this time with some bloke called Tiesto), all of which were much, much harder and stronger than 9pm and makes the ATB track sound almost chillout in comparison. But look at the chart positions and Carte Blanche reached #22, Gouryella #15 – they were too much for the average chart listener’s ear back then, while something a bit simpler like 9pm was big enough to stand out but not too overwhelming to cope with, so I can see how it became the first trance #1. See also dubstep’s big commercial peak year in 2011, the song proclaimed as the ‘first dubstep #1’ (while brilliant) really isn’t comparable to the sort of tracks people were dancing to in clubs by then, although the second that followed a month or so later was much closer.

    The first trance track to really sell in massive numbers came with the #4 peak of the, yep, Ferry Corsten remix of ‘Barbers Adagio for Strings’ in December 1999, then from 2000 to early 2003 it’s a regular top 10 presence.

  24. 24
    Auntie Beryl on 6 Nov 2014 #

    #23 Yes, Ferry Corsten was the guy who came to define the chart trance sound around this time. All of his singles you mention are incredibly exciting, even now.

    I was listening to a lot of the Platipus label’s output before then, though, as per Art Of Trance in comment #21. Hooj Choons too.

    For me, 9pm is a continuation of the feel of Energy 52’s Cafe Del Mar (’97 and a hit in ’98).

  25. 25
    Rory on 6 Nov 2014 #

    I should have been more explicit with my links in #19. That’s Paul Oakenfold’s 2014 version of “Madagascar” (more a cover of the Ferry Corsten mix from ’99 than the original by Art of Trance, but still ace).

  26. 26
    wichitalineman on 6 Nov 2014 #

    Dear FT. Wasn’t Sven Vath ‘Trance’? And stuff on Eye Q? It may have become known as Hard Trance or Tech Trance or somesuch later, but I’m pretty damn sure people were calling it Trance in 94/95. Or is that not Proper Trance? Confused, N6.

  27. 27
    Tom on 6 Nov 2014 #

    Volume’s sister mag/compilation about dance music was called Trance Europe Express, the KLF called their original 12″s “Pure Trance original”, so the word’s in currency well before this – those are just the incursions of it I noticed in early 90s indieworld.

    (The actual music on Trance Europe Express was mostly progressive house, though, if I have my genres right.)

  28. 28
    Alan Sedgwick on 6 Nov 2014 #

    Amazed at the lukewarm response to this – a very easy 10 for me (and I wouldn’t have given many so far), an utter slice of pure summer.

  29. 29
    mrdiscopop on 6 Nov 2014 #

    Why 9pm? Not exactly the most mystical hour of the night. It’s either happy hour in Magaluf, time for a panel show on BBC Two or (and I suspect this is most likely) the placeholder file name ATB gave the song on his disc drive.

    It got me wondering, though – is it possible to create a 24-song playlist for every hour of the day?

  30. 30
    Shiny Dave on 7 Nov 2014 #

    Been waiting for this one a while now!

    I was closing in on 13 when this hit the top, and although I could never (and still can’t ever) go out clubbing – can’t handle strobe lights, for a start – my mum did, the local nightclub her Saturday night haunt of choice as she unsuccessfully sought a new partner following the collapse of her first marriage. She bought a number of dance music compilation double CDs, they’d play in the car on the school run sometimes, I liked them a lot, and I recall being particularly drawn to trance.

    I listened to the charts for a while at this point – the only time I’ve constantly done so – and this was the first song I actually cheered getting to number 1. Two months later, I actually bought Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone,” my first single purchase (at 13! I made it through my pre-teens without buying a single!), largely to try and get that to the top as well. As you can tell by the fact I mentioned the name rather than invoking the bunny, it didn’t make it, in favour of – well, we’ll see in a couple of months.

    Nostalgic urges sent me scurrying towards Spotify to listen to it again recently, knowing it was coming soon on here, and – oh dear goodness I hated it. The guitar hook was there, of course, but the drum programming sounded utterly insipid, to the point of ruining the whole song for me. This was not the song I danced to on the radio, or playing the Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems compilation (where it kicked off CD1, which is entirely consistent with AMZ’s comment #2.)

    Then of course, #14 with Weej pops in, and that’s what I danced to, or to be more accurate stimmed along with. Considering it’s driven by the digitised guitar hook, it’s amazing how much the different drums make a difference – and I’m sure that those drums existed in at least one radio edit, or at least the version that led off that Dave Pearce CD (which I’m sure was a radio-length edit too). Sadly, the original mix is not on Spotify, at least not credited to ATB…

    In retrospect, perhaps the drums making such a difference for me reflects how I was listening to and enjoying the harder, synth-echo-led trance – it was the sound of ’99 for me, to the point where I genuinely forgot that garage was remotely prevalent that year too until Shanks and Bigfoot got unbunnied. Besides the already-mentioned songs in this thread, credit goes to Binary Finary’s “1998” and its later incarnation “1999,” and above all to the Gouryella remix of the latter. If they were shooting for an instant classic that would entrench itself through the “Millennium” Eve parties – well, like I said, I wasn’t there for any of those, but the fact there was a “15th Anniversary Remixes” collection of 1998 pretty much tells you this got established as a classic of the genre.

    I wouldn’t even give the Spotify version a 5 now, but the extended mix is worth at least an 8. Can’t settle on a single mark, won’t even try.

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