After a brainstorm between friends five years ago, Trance Unity was born. The all-trance event in Montreal features three rooms of different sounds of the genre and offers a simple, 90s rave experience. As I prepare to attend this year’s edition at Circus Afterhours (over the moon about seeing 4 Strings!), I had the opportunity to chat with one of the masterminds behind it. Read on as Ramy Bargz talks about the beginning of Trance Unity and his background with events, how lineups are determined, the attendee experience, and his advice for aspiring event promoters and producers.
The first Trance Unity was in 2015. How did this event get started?
■ It’s actually really interesting how all this came to happen. In summer 2014 I had decided to retire from the scene. Having spent the better part of 2010 to 2014 booking trance DJs, I noticed after I retired the scene was drying out. In December 2014 I found out that, for the first time in 20 years, Bal en Blanc would not have a trance stage and I felt I had to come back in some capacity. I sat down with some of my closest friends and started brainstorming, and Trance Unity was born — an all-trance event dedicated to a unique branch of electronic music where we would have three different sounds of trance in each room. Heaven room being the more melodic euphoric uplifting trance, Hell room the darker, techie, more edgy room, and Earth the classics room. The event has really developed since the first edition in February 2015. We’ve tried different formats from having a three-night show our first year, to focusing on one main event which has been the formula the past three years.
Tell me about your background with events. When and how did you get started? What have you been working on from then to now?
■ Back in 2010 I desperately needed a job, and although I was very active in the scene and loved it, I never thought I’d be working in it. Through my contacts I approached the talent buyer at Circus Afterhours who was Jean-Louis Labrecque at the time, and told him I needed a job. He knew me from always being out there at different shows meeting different people, and after a few meetings he gave me a shot; I started as his assistant and learned everything I needed to be successful in this industry through him. Since then I’ve worked directly or indirectly with so many events and venues, starting with Circus, Black & Blue Festival, Beach Club, Bal en Blanc, IleSoniq, New City Gas, and so much more. In 2014 I was taking on so many projects that I went through a burnout, and as mentioned before, I decided to retire. Come December 2014, I returned with the announcement of Trance Unity thinking it would be a one-time gig but it sparked a fire. Shortly after, a friend — Chris Hammond — reached out to me and we decided to join forces. In August 2015 we launched Monkey Buzinezz.
What does your role of Talent Buyer & Operations Manager for Monkey Buzinezz entail? What’s the most difficult part about working in this industry?
■ As we launched Monkey Buzinezz and in order for me not to go back into a burnout, Chris and I decided to split the roles. He would take care of all logistical, PR, and marketing matters when it came to our shows and I would take care of bookings and operations of shows. As talent buyer, I basically have to identify the artists who are worth bringing to the city. Although talent-wise a lot of these artists might deserve a chance, as a business, we need to weigh in the demand factor. It’s a combination of figuring out who sells tickets in the city but to also find that balance in introducing new, lesser-known artists to the city. It really takes a lot of planning and thinking, especially when it comes to the trance scene as it’s not as popular as some other genres in Montreal. The most difficult part of the industry is really adapting to change. You need to be quick on your feet and firm with your decisions. There are so many punches right and left that are thrown at you and if you put your hands down for one second you will be knocked out.
What goes into deciding who to book for Trance Unity and the other shows you’re involved with?
■ It starts with artists that I like musically. This is an event I really hold dear, it’s my baby so first and foremost I will never book an artist I do not like musically. The other step is listening to our fans. I often ask who they want to see, which gives me a better idea of who can do well in the market. Sometimes through our fans I even discover new artists. Following that, the process I normally go through for Trance Unity is write down a list of about 25 DJs who I feel would be a good fit, of which I try to diversify the sounds to make it a journey, trying to cover the progressive sound, the tech sound, the uplifting, euphoric, etc. Then I try to include new names on the show to make sure it stays fresh and it’s not always the same names who come back. From there and depending on the artists’ availability, the lineup is born.
What’s the demo look like for Trance Unity in terms of where people come from? Is it mostly Montreal/Canada? Is this a destination event for people outside of Canada?
■ The bulk of our crowd is from Canada of course, but we’re happy with the demographic reach we have had, especially in the last three years. Last year’s numbers were 40% from the province of Quebec, 30% from Ontario, 20% from the US, 7% from the rest of Canada, and 3% rest of world. We’ve had people from as far as Australia come to the show which is really humbling.
What’s the goal for the attendee experience?
■ Simple. Experience a rave like in the 90s. It’s a different experience than anywhere else. It’s dark, it’s sweaty, there are no big productions, just a good ol’ 90s rave. We don’t record any of the sets and we do not allow any pictures or videos on the dance floor. This also allows the DJs to be free in what they want to play and can play all their secret unreleased gems without having to worry if a video would be leaked. It’s really very rare to have the same experience anywhere else.
Why do you do what you do? What’s the most rewarding part?
■ I do it because I love it. A lot of people are surprised when I say this, but this is a hobby for me. This is not my job; I actually have a full-time job and I do this for the simple pleasure of doing it. The most rewarding part is definitely connecting with all the people. I’ve met so many amazing people and some of my closest friends would not be in my life had it not been for this.
What’s your best advice for an aspiring event promoter/producer? How does one work their way into a position like yours?
■ It’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of grind, but it’s one of the most rewarding experiences you can have even if you experience it briefly. The scene is all about contacts. If you want to break through and get involved in the industry, you should know the industry. Go out, support the events, and network. Meet the people, especially when it comes to smaller shows. Don’t just go to the big festivals. Get to know who the players are and then introduce yourself and your aspirations. You might be surprised by the opportunities you get, and if you do get an opportunity, you need to be ready to work your ass off because to succeed you need to learn all the ins and outs and you can only learn by grinding and working hard.
Ramy is also playing a set in memory of his best friend who passed away almost eight years ago. “He had always wanted me to play but I never did until this year. A classics set playing his favorites tune will be fitting.”