With a career spanning over 25 years, the mythos of electronic dance music surges through BT. The fabled trance producer's groundbreaking sonic flair gushed through the dance music sphere in the mid-90s like a tributary, pervading it en route to the ushering in of a new electronic epoch.
As BT's pioneering developments in trance music became more ubiquitous through the years, his artistry began to mutate, evolving and expanding into a litany of electronic sub-genres such as IDM, ambient, and even trip hop. As the time passed, he started to resemble a doppelgänger of himself—a completely different person with the same face and mind.
However, his latest album, The Lost Art of Longing, moonlighted as an audial time machine that transported him back to his dance roots. The record, which arrived by way of Black Hole Recordings, is an ode to all things lost, a microcosm of his trailblazing sound that yearns to rekindle the intrinsically nostalgic items of our past.
The album is essentially a collection of vignettes, all of which coalesce into a supercollider of trance, breakbeat, and electro-soul to vicariously reintroduce BT to the EDM zeitgeist. The genesis of those vignettes, though, manifested over a long and illustrious career, and his arc is one of great prestige and patience.
To celebrate the release of The Lost Art of Longing, BT has dissected the five most influential tracks of his storied career.
The time when “Blue Skies” came out is a lot different than what things are like now. This time even predates like the late-90s electronic explosion in some respects. To me, it’s not just that the story of how this track came about is so interesting but it’s understanding this within the context of the music industry, pre-festivals, and the climate of the world at the time—it’s just so different.
I was making IMA in '91 and '92. I was working on that record, and that's quite literally after I'd gone to Berklee School of Music. I went there at 15 and then I moved to Los Angeles for a hot minute, couldn't get a record deal and move back to the Maryland DC area, and was literally living in a bedroom I grew up in, making music and starting Deep Dish with my friends Ali and Sharam.
"Blue Skies" is an interesting piece of music in between the release of my albums IMA and ESCM. After IMA I was traveling to England a lot and I got signed to Warner Brothers by Paul Oakenfold and another gentleman named Ian Stanley, who's a hero of mine (he was in Tears for Fears). Here I am, a kid, making music in my bedroom at my parent's house and I literally carried that record "Blue Skies" around in a sock because I couldn't afford a proper bag and to hold my DAT tapes. That's how long ago.
IMA had come out and was a massive sensation in England and I was going on Breakfast television and Top of the Pops and all these things and nobody at home knew who I was. Again, pre-Internet, right?! The label I was signed to didn’t have a presence in America, so I did a deal with Paul Oakenfold and he brought in engineer Howie Weinberg, who’s an absolute legend in his own right. What's interesting about this is that Paul and Howie thought the instrumentals were incredible but that we need a song that we can take to the radio and make something of it.
Tori Amos and I had become friends through mutual friends in the mid-90s. And so the way that "Blue Skies" came about is this—I sent her a copy of IMA and at a live soundcheck she put on the song "Divinity," and she sang an improvisation over that song and sent it back to me. The crazy thing is that she never said the word "blue" next to the word "sky," and you know people that read this will know that I'm known for these kinds of crazy editing techniques, most notably stutter-editing and kind of micro-rhythmic editing techniques. And so, I cut that vocal up on a phenomic level… literally made words out of thin air. This became the vocal to "Blue Skies" and I removed "Divinity" entirely, and wrote a piece of music in a totally different key and mode. The song on that level alone represents a tremendous expansion of my personal toolset and is one I love playing with a band. I get to play bass on that one and it’s so much fun.
Fast and Furious Main Theme
First of all, working with Fast and Furious director Rob Cohen over the years has been just absolutely thrilling. I consider him a good friend. He's an amazing director and that score was recorded when there was still a Sony Todd AO Studios, which was a room as highly regarded (and rightfully so) as AIR Lindhurst. They literally did not clean the ceilings of that room for 30 years out of superstition. It was covered with dust on the beams because you know they'd recorded Star Wars there. So they're like, “Don't touch anything! Just leave the mics where they are, put the orchestra in there and let's go."
When we did the Fast and Furious, it was like a passion project for me, for Rob, for the actors, for Vin Diesel, for Paul Walker, et cetera. It was thrilling to visit and hang out on that set, watch them film, sit in the cars, and get inspired in general. It was literally a passion project as the studio and executives did not see any large market or potential high ROI for this “little movie about street racing." We all knew there was a massive underground racing scene happening and that many folks in the community happen to love hip-hop and electronic music. I felt very aligned with this community. The actors, Rob and I were all truly invested in telling the story of this cultural movement. The studio, if we're being honest (and if they're being honest) didn't get it at all. They were like "we'll put up this much money to do this but we're not really gonna market this movie much" or whatever, and all of us were like, "We don't care, whatever, we know how awesome this is."
I remember when we had our first test screening in LA the studio got the cheapest theater they could get which was like deep into Orange County in the middle of nowhere and, you know, they didn't think anyone would show up. Rob was nice enough to send a car for me since we all worked for pretty much nothing. At the same time, the main theme had yet to be written. Okay, so I have recorded a ton of the score, but I haven't cracked that main theme, yet, so it's a very important piece of the story I’m about to tell.
Rob sends me a car I'm freaking out like, you know, go down to the theater, and I get there and I'm not joking you, there were 8,000 people in the parking lot. There were low-riders with UFO lights on them. There were like girls dressed up like Harajuku girls in Tokyo, and the vibe and energy in that parking lot there was literally straight out of every Fast and Furious movie to come. Walking into that movie theater (no way everyone can fit in in the theater, nor did everyone have tickets) was a crazy feeling. There were about 150 people in there, and again there were thousands of people in the parking lot, applauding and freaking out like Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was nuts. And at the end of the whole thing they did the test scoring and the movie screened 100 out of 100. Universal didn't even send any representatives to see the screening, so they didn't really even believe us and they thought like we cooked the books or something. They've never had a movie screen 100. I think the highest screening score they've ever gotten was a 97. They literally tested this thing three times and it screened 100, all three of them, and they were like, “Oh snap maybe we'd better spend some money on this thing, it seems like it's a big deal!”
Anyway, I was so fired up, seeing everyone there at the first screening and the reaction to it, that in the car on the way back, I got an idea for the theme. I was panicked because I didn't have an instrument so I literally took out a piece of paper in my pocket and figured out the theme (it’s in 6/4 which is an odd meter). The next day I called Rob and I said, "I need three of the car wrecks." And he was like, "What in God's name.” “I need three of the cars that you've already wrecked,” I said. And he's like, “This is nuts but, I trust you so okay."
So they sent three of the cars over to the studio. I got pictures somewhere, and I had three friends that are orchestral percussionists come over and I wrote parts notated on the percussion staff for Grand Cassa, piattes, and other traditional orchestral percussion instruments. The difference was that we played them on car parts. That gives that feeling of momentum and motion to that theme, and then we recorded the beautiful orchestra stuff over at Todd AO and that's kind of how that whole thing came to be. It was a really special experience so that's why I wanted to share that one.
I was spending a lot of time in England when I wrote "Flaming June." I was visiting my friend Guy Oldham, who now works for Apple and is a lovely guy who used to DJ back in the 90s. I owe a tremendous amount to Guy because he was the first person who invited me to England and I got my record deal.
So I was visiting Guy in Manchester, and I was recording at a place called Planet Four, which in the 90s became one of my favorite places to work in England—this is before I ever had a nice studio of my own. I had some gear but it was always crammed into a bedroom or something, you know. Humble setup, not a critical listening environment at all. And so getting to go into a recording studio for me in the 90s was, you know, a really big deal and still is. I love going to record live orchestras or drums or whatever is just amazing, bigger things we don't have room to do here.
The coolest thing about Planet Four is that it was owned by Factory Records, so it's where like the Durutti Column, New Order, I mean some of my favorite bands, ever of all time, Happy Mondays, all recorded there. I think it was a commercial studio but you kind of had to be friends with the Factory Records people to record there and they didn't just let everybody do it, and the control room for it was packed with vintage synthesizers. So it was like a mix, kind of like what I've tried to emulate with my room now, which is basically like a central workspace and listening position area. In there they had a mixing board, and then just packed with synthesizers so it's like my dream place to go.
The folks at Warner Brothers, Perfecto, Paul Oakenfold’s label, had paid for me to be there for some time, and I had this melody running around in my head for weeks and weeks and weeks I'd been over in England. It was summertime, and I was playing festivals—Glastonbury-type festivals—and I was sleeping on the couch because Guy's house had no guest bedroom. It's really uncomfortable. I woke up half-crippled, went over to the studio, and did some work. I'm sitting in the cab and the driver hears my American accent and stuff and we're talking, and there's kind of a lull in the conversation and then he said, "'Flaming June' planing June," and I was like, "Huh, that's a cool name." And I'll never forget that and I walked into planning for that morning, and I recorded the melody that I had for, you know, walking around with it for weeks and weeks and starting to sketch together that track. We're recording to tape this time, and the engineer said, "What's the name of the song?" I simply said, "Flaming June."
"Simply Being Loved"
At the time, I had been working with guys who have been coming out to a bunch of shows. The band was incredible musicians including now Guns N' Roses guitarist Richard Fortus. My tour manager at the time thought it was really funny that Justin Timberlake and JC would take their private plane to come watch my show at the House of Blues in Orlando after they sold out Madison Square Garden. But that's kind of how I got to know these guys as fans. At a point, I became more friends and worked together and hung out. I'm asking my friends, you know, should I do music with these guys, and a lot of my dance music friends are like, "Oh, it's like cheesy boy band music or wherever". And I'm like, "But they're so freaking talented."
At any rate, on my own volition at that time, I decided to do some music with them and Justin came over to the house. I'll never forget this time as it was around when I was working on "Simply Being Loved." Justin was over and took one of my guitars down off the wall, and just started singing and playing guitar, and I'm like, "I could care less what anybody says, I know God-given ability when I see it." These guys are ridiculous. I started working on music with them and they really wanted to do something with these kinds of hyper-edited, micro-rhythmic Stutter Edit type things I’m known for. They would always reference the hip-hop phenomenon. It was like one of their favorite songs. While working on this, I worked on pop with them and it’s known for having this sort of Michael Jackson in a blender, hyper-edited vocal sound.
So "Simply Being Loved" is in a way me saying, “I'm going to top that." I got so excited by and interested in this idea of vocal editing around that time and it's almost like a surreal kind of vocal editing where it's clearly a human voice, but there are so many interesting treatments and edits and changes all the time.
Living in Los Angeles at this time, I had this great sound system in my car. I wrote the demo for "Simply Being Loved" and I went—it was a truck— to my Escalade. And I played it in the car, and I went for a drive and ended up picking up a bunch of friends. And we all listened to it like 10 times in the car and they were like, "This is frickin' crazy, you have to finish this track."
I went back to the studio and I recorded a rough vocal and then I spent a full month just doing vocal edits—all these different treatments from the Roland VP-330 vocoder to software treatments to hand stutter editing, all kinds of crazy and esoteric sound design. Then eventually post-release, Guinness Book of World Records heard about this and they approached me about a vocal editing record. This song ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most ever vocal edits in a recorded piece of music, which is 6,178. The irony of it is, is I've broken that personally probably 100 times since. At any rate, that's a song I'm really proud of compositionally and from a production vantage point, it was really well received.
"No Warning Lights"
It's just kind of unbelievable how much music I write, so I'm constantly posting little tidbit ideas, things that I might write in literally 30 seconds or I might sit down at the piano or synth and just play something. And I'll post them to Facebook or Instagram or whatever. I posted this thing of me playing a felt piano, a Spitfire felt grand piano, and posted it to Facebook. And then we got an email from Anthony (Emma Hewitt's manager) and he said, “Oh, my God, Emma's written this crazy vocal idea over top of this Facebook clip of yours," and Lacy and I were like, “Okay, cool. Which one?" They found the date and sent it to my wife Lacy. So, we looked into it and Lace came out to the studio and we went and watched this Facebook post and I'm like, “I threw that out. I literally just played it.”
I do this all the time, so I literally had to remake that idea and send it to Emma so she could work on it. Then of course we fleshed out all the lyrics and the vocals, et cetera, and Emma came out and we recorded together, which was magical.
Another final but cool factoid about that song is it's the first time I really used my Fairlight on a piece of music, which is an instrument I've wanted since I was quite literally a little boy mowing lawns to get synthesizers. I have been fortunate enough over the last couple of years to get a busted one and can fix it up. There aren't many of them still working. Actually less than 25, so it was the first thing that I really got to use my Fairlight on. It's a really special song for sure.