[Review] ‘Cyber Trance Presents Ayu Trance 2’ is a timely reissue, reminder of J-pop’s once towering soft power

Do you like Trance? Do you like Ayumi Hamasaki? Are you a DJ? Then you probably know what this is. To the rest of you, this year marks the 20th anniversary of ‘Cyber Trance presents Ayu Trance‘, an official remix project commissioned by Avex to get the biggest names in trance to remix their J-Pop superstar Ms. Hamasaki. It would end up being a hugely successful and influential endeavor, leading to another 3 volumes and Ayu finding her way into DJ crates around the world. For many outside of Japan, this was the gateway into 21st century J-Pop. But also, it was the gateway for many young J-Pop fans to the world of dance music. And considering how the pop landscape of 2021 is irrevocably intermingled with electronic and dance music, Ayu Trance’s influence is still tangible.

The release of Ayu Trance is prescient timing as well. After its peak, Trance music was once considered brutally garish and distastefully kitsch to many. But in the post-minimal, post-EDM rave revival occurring all over the world, young DJs are revisiting trance aesthetics with gleeful abandon. HyperPop also draws a direct line through Ayu Trance via J-Pop in its miasma of influences. Music aesthetics are cyclical, and in the current landscape of mainstream pop and the rave underground, Ayu Trance’s time has come back once again.

The Ayu Trance reissues are of particular use to DJs because they finally provide many of these sought after tracks in an unmixed format. The original releases were presented as pre-mixed nonstop mixes, meaning the songs transitioned from one to another without a fade or pause. A cool listening experience for sure, but somewhat annoying for those looking to play these songs out. Of course, if you had the time and the resources you could go track down the low-quantity white-label pressings of some of these tracks, but before the advent of Beatport and the like, this was a daunting endeavor for most people. But now, we have clean, well-cut, full fidelity versions of some classic tracks. The casual listener might not need all four versions of “HANABI (Lange remix)” but I guarantee that some head out there does.

With Ayumi Hamasaki’s career spanning more than two decades, it can be hard to remember just how huge she was when started out in 1998. Ayu became more than just a pop icon, she became a platform, with multiple remix albums selling just as well as her singles did. These remix albums served their dual purpose as well, finding their way into the crates of renowned DJ’s all over the world, and introducing a global market to the spectacle of J-Pop. In a time before YouTube and AKB48, pop divas ruled the landscape, and Ayu Trance was a victory fanfare.

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