Welcome to our first Artist Spotlight! Each week we’ll be detailing the career of one talented artist in the electronic music world. These are some truly outstanding musicians, so be sure to give it a read–and let us know what you think in the comment box below, or on Twitter and Facebook!
Musician. Producer. DJ. Technologist. Visionary. These are just a few words that apply to legendary electronic pioneer BT. Entering the dance music scene over two decades ago, Brian Transeau has continuously pushed electronic music past its boundaries, using his classically-trained music education as well as an undying passion for combining exquisite composition with cutting-edge production techniques. Discontent sticking with a single musical style, BT’s production have evolved and diversified throughout his prolific career; while perhaps he is best known for his unique brands of stunningly beautiful progressive house and trance, this artist’s body of work extends into electro, dub, hip-hop, ambient, and experimental styles.
BT’s attendance of the Berklee College of Music gave him a classical background that has undeniably influenced his compositions. Somewhat more cerebral and complex than many of his contemporaries, BT’s music tends to incorporate unorthodox and unique samples, intricate melodic construction, and impeccable production. Early single Nocturnal Transmission, featured on his debut album Ima as well as in the popular film The Fast and the Furious, is a perfect example of his unique sound’s heavy influence on the development of 1990s trance: the first half introduces samples of eastern instruments and nature sounds, while building into an inspired electronic soundscape halfway through. Second album ESCM built upon the trance influence present on Ima—particularly on club-friendly tracks like the hit Flaming June—but also saw influence from drum and bass and hip-hop.
BT – Nocturnal Transmission
BT – Flaming June (Laptop Symphony Rework)
Continuing to evolve his sound and incorporate new elements, Movement in Still Life, released in 1999, was a huge success: featuring prominent rock influence on tracks like Satellite, rap vocals in Madskillz – Mic Chekka and more euphoric classic trance on Dreaming, Movement in Still Life was by far the most interesting and varied album in BT’s repertoire upon its release. Many of these themes continued to be expanded upon on fourth album Emotional Technology; taking a cue from pop music, many of the tracks on this album are shorter and feature more conventional popular elements. Hit single Somnambulist (Simply Being Loved) helped to introduce and popularize BT’s signature “stutter edit”—a production technique created by Brian himself that warps and distorts a particular sample into a distinctively glitchy texture. Somnambulist holds the Guinness World Record for most vocal edits in a single track, the winning figure being 6,178.
BT – Dreaming
BT – Somnambulist (Simply Being Loved)
Acting as a complete departure from many of the dance-oriented stylistic influences in past albums, This Binary Universe largely consists of downtempo and ambient tracks. Recorded with a full orchestra in many of the songs, the album presented a new side of BT; 1.618 contains subtle nods to breakbeat, while the middle section of Dynamic Symmetry is a rousing jazz composition, featuring an organic drum set, an acoustic bass and dissonant piano chords. While beats remain present and important to the album’s structure, there is much less focus on being dance-friendly and more on creating atmosphere and musical complexity.
BT – 1.618
BT – Dynamic Symmetry
Despite developing a loyal fan base, BT did not generate a huge amount of success in the greater dance music community until the release of These Hopeful Machines. Perhaps his most ambitious and triumphant work to date, These Hopeful Machines, released in early 2010, synthesized the most successful elements of past releases into a double-disc, two-and-a-half hour tour de force of electronic music at its finest. Opener Suddenly, a collaboration with incredible vocalist Christian Burns, slams into existence with glitch textures and sweeping synthesizer samples, before morphing into an emotionally-charged rock song with a soaring chorus. The extended transition into the next track showcases BT’s incredible attention to detail and meticulous post-production: a breakneck display of dazzling filtered samples slowly winds down into The Emergency.
BT – Suddenly
Unhurriedly building through rain-like synthesizers and static-distorted, The Emergency’s opening piano chords float through a dense sea of atmospheric noise and gradually introduce the lead synth line. One of the most cleverly-written progressive house tracks I’ve ever heard, The Emergency is a perfect demonstration of BT’s control over the flow of energy within a track; sparingly but consistently introducing complex sonic elements, the true genius of BT’s command over melody reveals itself in the chord change at the chorus. Keeping the same basic progression as the verse while simply adding an additional base note, the meaning and feeling of the melody shifts from spare mystery to cathartic release. Perhaps the most interesting and unique part of the track occurs between the second verse and chorus: dropping all outside instrumentation, BT constructs harmony through the use of multi-tracked vocals, which warp and distort into a white noise rush before slamming into the emotional bliss of the final chorus.
BT & Andrew Bayer – The Emergency
JES collaboration Every Other Way showcases impeccable production with exquisite songwriting. Exploring the addition of minimal dub and glitch textures, Every Other Way is a charming postmodern love song, chock full of passion and beauty. BT’s classical training is heavily present in lead-off single Rose of Jericho. Beginning as a spare, minimal melodic loop, Rose of Jericho builds energy throughout the track using a version of the thematic variation technique: as the track progresses, various harmonic additions are added, until it reaches critical mass and finally explodes at the final drop.
BT ft. JES – Every Other Way
BT – Rose of Jericho
The mainstream success of These Hopeful Machines was immense—even enough to garner a Grammy nomination. Perhaps the truest marker of the album’s immaculate songwriting is its ability to be remixed—and in this sense, These Hopeful Machines was a home run: remix album These Re-Imagined Machines, released in May of 2011, was another double album of even greater scope. Featuring remixes by industry legends like Armin van Buuren, Chicane, Adam K & Soha and Josh Gabriel, the remix album also featured up-and-comers like tyDi and Funkagenda offering unique and beautiful interpretations of nine original album tracks. The biggest standout is undoubtedly tyDi’s remix of The Light in Things; adapting melodic elements from the original track, the remix is a more straightforward trance interpretation in contrast to the experimental wandering of the original; spearheaded by another incredible vocal courtesy of JES, tyDi’s remix incorporates plenty of robust textures, an incredible balance between vocal and guitar, an unforgettable, spine-tingling drop halfway through, and a thick, emotional atmosphere throughout.
BT ft. JES – The Light in Things (tyDi Remix)
Appearing on Morgan Page’s hit track In the Air with Angela McCluskey, BT rounded out 2011 with the late release of Tomahawk, a collaboration with Adam K. A true giant created by two industry heavyweights, Tomahawk is one of BT’s most triumphant songs to date. With a captivating melody, impeccable flow and plenty of sub-bass goodness, Tomahawk stands as a genre-busting testament to the power of experimentation in electronic music. Standing at a crossroads between atmospheric progressive house, euphoric trance, and heavy electro, Tomahawk alternates chillingly beautiful melodic progressive sections with satisfyingly beefy electro-dub drops—and gradually building throughout the track, the energy peaks at the final massive trance drop.
BT & Adam K – Tomahawk
Announcing several new projects at the beginning of 2012, BT’s discography continues to diversify and grow in impressive ways; a follow-up to This Binary Universe, If the Stars are Eternal So are You and I, coincided with experimental ambient Morceau Subrosa to introduce another significant departure from BT’s dance music records. You can read our review of these albums by clicking here. Aside from those records, BT announced a collaboration with Christian Burns called All Hail the Silence; a far cry from anything BT has put together before, All Hail the Silence is a synthpop band “straight out of 1983”. Lead single Looking Glass channels the gloom of Depeche Mode, Joy Division, and even The Cure, evoking the sound of a by-gone era with a fresh, modern perspective.
All Hail the Silence – Looking Glass
Of course, many fans are eagerly anticipating the EDM follow-up to These Hopeful Machines. BT has announced that yet another new album will be hitting the dance music world this summer; lead single Must Be the Love, a joint venture between Russian up-and-comer Arty and famed vocalist and producer Nadia Ali, debuted a few months ago on Armin van Buuren’s A State of Trance radio show, and BT played another new track with JES during his set at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. Also slated to appear are collaborations with Adam K, tyDi and Andrew Bayer.
BT & Arty ft. Nadia Ali – Must Be the Love
Famed for his sweeping, epic, emotional compositions, BT has stood strong through over twenty years of the evolution of electronic music, and has consistently produced top-quality music with meticulous attention to detail and flawless production value. Aside from music production, BT was at the head of a software development company named Sonik Architects (until its acquisition by iZotope in 2010); a logical extension of his use of the stutter edit as a signature sound, BT’s devotion to developing new production techniques is essential to his continued evolution as a musician. As technology continues to evolve and become more and more limitless in its capabilities, BT’s music is sure to follow suit.