As Evian Christ's seminal party turns ten, we reveal the untold origins of the club night that shaped a generation.
2009. Britain was undergoing a transformation whose effects would still be felt a generation later. A decade of optimism and slow growth was coming to an end - in its place would come recession and doubt. The Conservatives, under David Cameron, were soon to come to power in a landslide election, and unemployment would peak at its highest levels for 25 years by the mid summer. In the course of 3 months, the UK would lose access to Woolworths, Jade Goody, and the boxing talents of Joe Calzaghe.
But in the playgrounds and bedrooms of post-industrial towns like Ellesmere Port, the dominant emotion for a generation of teenagers was not anger or fear, but boredom. For this cohort, coming of age in the nation’s liminal zones, the only glimpses of a world beyond Powerleague football and Pizza Express would come from whatever snatches of 128kbps MP3s they were able to grab off a schoolmate’s CD-R – or, when the family’s broadband plan allowed it, KaZaA and Soulseek.
Unbeknownst the electro establishment still lording it up at The End and Turnmills in London, this new breed of bedroom enthusiasts were making do with whatever scrappy audio they could get their hands on. The Ellesmere Port curry house-cum-nightclub XeS might have felt a long way from the multi-million pound soundsystems of Fabric or Matter in the capital, but for a 19-year old Joshua Leary, it seemed like the perfect opportunity: a way to unite him and his friends with the music they loved - an excuse to bring artists like Nero, Nuuro or iiO to their little town. Maybe, just for a night, they could pretend the rapture never had to end.
There was just one problem. He’d never booked a club night before.
Things started well enough. After some back and forth, Leary was able to persuade XeS to let him have the venue on the night of Monday, the 13th of July, due in no small part to a fortunately timed wedding cancellation. His nom de guerre – ‘Evian Christ’, a moniker that would soon be known to the world – was invented off the cuff, just one of a flurry of made-up acts he told the venue he was considering booking for the event. Finding funding wasn’t too tough, either. As incredible as it may sound to the austerity-immiserated reader of 2019, quick access to credit wasn’t a fantasy for the savvy club promoter in those days. One Santander student bank account bonus later, and Christ had a small war chest to play with – now all he had to do was convince an act to take a chance on a no-mark booker and a venue better known for its murgi masala than its AV setup. The resourceful Christ turned to the only means he had; a flurry of MySpace messages to just about every act he admired.
“Ninety-five percent of them, I’d say, just got ignored, were probably never even read,” he recalls over Skype. “I got a few nice no’s, a few not so nice no’s. I had no idea what these people would charge. Some of them took my offer of £150 pretty negatively. Jeff Mills was really polite; he actually wished me luck with the night. But all of a sudden I was ten days out from this event and had absolutely nobody on the bill.”
Then, the miracle happened.
“And that,” says Christ, his voice even today betraying a hint of disbelief that he was able to pull the whole thing off, “is when I put the flyer together.”
The evening was a beautiful cacophony of things you understood and things you never would: lazers, hazers, breakbeats; drinking, dancing, fighting; a Wipeout tournament, a fire evacuation, a 25-minute extended version of ‘Ecuador’. Fifty-two people (as per the Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service log from that night), locked inside a converted curry house for six hours of mayhem. It’s hard to know what Sash! himself thought of it all (he declined to comment for this article) but what’s beyond question is that at some point during those six hours, people’s lives entered a new phase and were fundamentally changed – forever.
In fact, it wouldn’t be over-egging it to say the first edition of Trance Party lit the red touch-paper for everything that followed over the next ten years. Among the fated 52 were three future Warp Records signees, West German visual activist Wolfgang Tillmans, notorious art-punk Hetty Douglas and no less than eleven other Dazed100 alumni. To this day, I meet many a cultural luminary quick to insist they were there at that first Trance Party back in 2009. Certainly some of them were there, but most of those I hear claim to be weren’t. I should know. I was there.
But it wasn’t just this wayward nineteen year old’s horizons that were broadened last night. It could be said that the whole country was never quite the same after Trance Party 1. In that blaze of arpeggios and breakdowns, raging beneath the dark skies of England’s industrial northwest, you’ll find the origins of Jamie xx, Radar Radio, Extinction Rebellion, even Brexit itself. Whatever accidental cocktail of cultural ingredients Christ happened upon that night would swiftly catapult him to stardom; within the year, his first mixtape would go viral thanks to a Dummy mag feature, an EP release on achingly-hip Tri-Angle records would follow, with cosigns from heavyweight cultural arbiters Sasha Frere-Jones and future Chernobyl director Johan Renck.
But it would be the foremost seer of our times who saw something even deeper. Somehow, word of the happenings in Ellesmere Port had reached Planet Yeezy. In a move only music’s greatest chessmaster could have foreseen, in that oblivion of synth stabs and fire alarms, Kanye West had found the perfect audio template for the sound of a world falling apart. Christ would soon be tapped as a consultant producer on West’s controversial masterpiece Yeezus, and it’s not an overstatement to say that his signature production was a crucial element of what can be considered the first soundtrack to [Dazed 100 Alumnus] The Anthropocene. Where Kanye led, others would follow - a generation of bored youngsters, alienated by the lies that the Lib Dems and Skins had sold them, had found in Christ’s languid euphoria, the spirit of an age.
“We’d spent our teens being told we were part of some ‘golden generation’,” says journalist George Monbiot, another member of Trance Party’s opening night alumni. “Yet by 2009, 2010, it was clear none of that stuff was going to happen. Money we’d saved for MR2s and trips to Ibiza was now being pissed away on tuition fees and Oyster cards. We were lost, listless rats, still dancing to Blair’s pied-piper siren song as we were led off by Clegg and Cameron to some other river entirely. We were desperate… desperate for something else. For me, Christ’s parties were the only thing that really captured that rudderless, fatalistic, ‘Fuck It and Trance’ mentality of the times.”
And trance they did. The night went from strength to strength; time and again Trance Party found itself ahead of the curve, filling bigger venues with bigger crowds and even bigger ideas. Through it all, Christ kept his mercurial gift for securing truly extraordinary headline acts; from legends of the scene drawn out of hibernation by their respect for the Trance Party brand, to soon-to-be megastars on the cusp of global renown; even booking now-notorious rap icon Travi$ Scott for an appearance at Oval Space in what would be his first international show.
Another notable attendee to the later events was the music writer Simon Reynolds, who wrote about the night in the revised 2012 edition of his seminal Energy Flash: “If you really want to burn your tongue on the zeitgeist,” he wrote, “and taste the malaise of credit crunch Britain on your clacker as you wash down another Sports Direct-branded ecto tablet, you couldn’t do much better (or worse) than Evian Christ’s Trance Party. A bi-annual festival of detachment that turns the cliches of Gen X rave culture on their head, before dragging them kicking and gurning through a Potemkin hall of mirrors – haunted by ringtones, meow meow, Kelly Llorenna and Guy Debord.’
Trance Party’s ambitions were growing, and soon the nightclub alone couldn’t contain them. Backed by a growing crowd of A-list admirers and attendees, Christ was offered an institutional opportunity to bring Trance Party’s brand to the highest tables of cultural discourse. The 2015 ’Trance War’ exhibition at the ICA, created in conjunction with Trance Party graduate David Rudnick, remains, for many, the series’ high water mark, and for me the moment at which I realised the tiny movement I’d seen start in an Indian restaurant in Ellesmere Port had truly arrived in the Culturestream. ‘Trance War’ was a monumental, ambitious tribute to the 30,000 canine victims of the widely-disputed Trance War, all played out to the anthemic strains of Matt Darey’s Ibiza Euphoria compilation. It remains the only exhibition in publicly funded British arts institution history to draw explicit links between the British handover of Hong Kong in 1995, rising property prices in London through the ensuing decade, and Binary Finary’s “1999”.
The response was a fittingly volatile clash of youthful fascination and critical condemnation. The Guardian's art critic, Jonathan Jones, infamously dismissed the event as “an infantile abuse of taxpayer money”, but Christ found unlikely allies too, with Former Chancellor the Rt. Hon Ken Clarke MP being forced to defend the repeated allocation of Arts Council funding to Trance Party on the BBC’s Question Time. The breadth of responses and opinion was an often surreal experience for the pragmatic Christ. “One of the weirdest emails I got was from [French author] Michel Houellebecq, who accused us of plagiarising Eugène Petit’s design for the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques.” That accusation was unfounded, but it did give the resourceful Christ the idea of appropriating the literary provocateur’s surname in phonetic tribute; the genesis of Trance Party 6’s introduction of their soon-to-be notorious protagonist, Trance Welbeck.
No longer just an illicit pleasure of the dance floor avant-garde, Trance was suddenly the topic of Zone 2 dinner party gossip and Christ was its evangelist. Interest came from as far afield as the Russian Federation, where Christ and Rudnick were invited to exhibit in the 2016 Moscow Biennale For Young Art, and the United States, where Christ would later establish his own Music Academy.
A record deal with electronic royalty Warp Records soon followed, and a global album rollout was planned. An era-defining performance at the 2016 Brit awards with Paul Oakenfold – one of Christ’s early heroes – seemed to cement the sense that had been building throughout Trance Party’s incredible run of success; Christ, and Trance, seemed unstoppable.
After a few years of side projects, including sister events the ‘Bloc Offensive’ and the now-notorious container series in Liverpool, Trance Party is back in its purest form – and just in the nick of time, too. With the world holding its breath amidst a fresh round of global political turmoil as we prepare to enter Trance’s second decade, the time seems right for another instalment of the world’s most vital club night.
Even better for us: there’s three of them. This year's proceedings sees the Cirque Du Mash-Up come to three different cities across an increasingly fractured Europe. In a daring return to Glasgow’s Art School, Christ will be joined by an assemblage of guests including model, rap iconoclast and Dazed 100 star Yung Sherman, fearless Chipotle crew member Total Freedom and Metacritic monster Yves Tumor (DJ set). The Élite and Destiny rooms of London’s Corsica Studios will be packed out with another all-star lineup, featuring former ACLU legal assistant Juliana Huxtable, eternal enfant terriblé Christoph de Babalon and – in an inspired act of counter-curation – both the future-facing optimism of Sybil and the habitually downcast Pessimist. Barcelona sees local muchachos Evol and Skudero join dangerous teen influencer Bhad Bhabie in an unholy trinity of Trance. Tickets are on sale via the Resident Advisor ticket exchange, with limited edition Trance Party 10 merchandise to follow. If previous iterations of the party are anything to go by, you’ll want to move quickly to secure your place at the celebrations.
“It’ll be nice to see all the old faces,” says Christ. “And all the new ones too, of course.” And as for Sash!, the artist who gave Trance Party its wings? He and Christ are still in touch: “It’s not MySpace any more, though – he mostly uses Telegram these days.” Will the Trance Party legend be back “encore une fois” with the rest of the crowd come July 19 in Barcelona?
A recalcitrant Christ shoots down the notion. “No.”
Trance Party 10: Glasgow – The Art School.
Friday July 12, 2019
Trance Party 10: London – Corsica Studios.
Saturday July 13, 2019
Trance Party 10: Barcelona – Razzmatazz.
Friday July 19, 2019