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Review: Bal en Blanc 2013 (19th Edition)

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24 hours after the 19th edition of Bal en Blanc officially came to a close, now comes the difficult task of trying to put together the pieces and fill in the blanks of what was without a doubt, one of the best Bal en Blancs in recent memory. Arriving at Palais des Congrès at 12:45pm, we were pleasantly surprised to see that unlike previous years, the line-up to get in was very minimal as was the security checkpoint for general admission. Although we went through the VIP entrance, many of the people with GA tickets that we spoke to inside commented that they were inside within 30 minutes. Always a great start to the night when you don’t have to wait hours in line.

It’s 1am as we push the heavy black velvet curtains aside to enter the venue and step into what instantly seems like a completely different world. The bass makes every hair on your body stand on end, packs of people dressed head to toe in white everywhere you look, flashing lights, the definition of over-stimulation. A roar of cheers to our left instantly catches our attention. David Guetta has just started his set in the Main Room. In desperate need of some refreshments, we navigate through the crowd into the VIP section to grab a beer and checkout Guetta’s first few tracks. Although we’re not the biggest fan of Guetta, we have to admit that the opening of his set was pretty good. In fact, we originally mistook the Main Room for the Trance Room as he opened with some pretty banging tracks. Not the typical commercial top 40 house tracks you have come to expect from Guetta. Beer in hand, we make our way our way towards the Trance Room.

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First impression of the Trance Room was “Wow”. It appeared to be much larger than the Main Room, although we’re pretty sure this was just an optical illusion due to the fact that the Main Room DJ booth was smack in the middle of the dance floor. Secondly, unlike in past years, Playground actually put some time, effort, and dollars into the décor. Behind the DJ booth was massive floor-to-ceiling, and almost wall-to-wall projection screen powered by some amazing visuals courtesy of Montreal’s very own Moment Factory; the same company responsible for the visual orgasm that was the halftime show at last year’s Superbowl. Combined with several rectangular LED panels hanging from the ceiling, lasers, smoke, and even a few pyrotechnics, the Trance Room really took ambiance up a notch this year to match its equally awesome DJ line-up.

It’s 1:15am and German trance duo Cosmic Gate are an hour and 15 minutes into their 2-hour set and the crowd is loving it! Unfortunately by this point we had already missed the live performance by Australian trance vocalist Emma Hewitt. We did hear though that it was better than expected considering how unbalanced the sound has been for previous live vocal performances at Bal. The last 45 minutes of Cosmic Gate’s set was packed with some really heavy hitting tracks and some of their greatest hits including ‘Exploration of Space’ and ‘Fire Wire’. At this point, the Trance Room is getting exponentially more packed by the minute in anticipation of Armin van Buuren’s set at 2am. By 1:45am, the dance floor is so packed you can hardly move, and the temperature is easily 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the room. People don’t seem to mind though; it’s smiles, laughter, jumping, and hands in the air all around.

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2am finally arrives and the reigning #1 DJ in the world Armin van Buuren takes over the decks in the Trance Room. The crowd explodes with cheers. Opening with ‘Omnia – The Light’, this year marked the second year in a row that Armin opened his Bal en Blanc set with an Omnia track (last year was ‘Omnia & IRA – The Fusion’). 30 minutes into his set Armin drops ‘Glender vs Klauss Goulart & Max van Voors – Rio Roots (Armin van Buuren Samba Mashup)’, a track with a really fun bongo beat that has Armin doing a little samba behind the decks. His set was jam packed with some killer mashups including ‘Armin van Buuren vs Emma Hewitt – The Sound Of Rewind (Myon & Shane 54 Mashup)’, ‘Armin van Buuren & Ferry Corsten vs. Gareth Emery – Brute vs. Concrete Angel (Armin van Buuren Mashup)’, Photographer vs. Armin van Buuren feat. Susana – Airport Shivers (Armin van Buuren Mashup), and Solar Stone & Scott Bond & Heatbeat vs. Armin van Buuren – Not Giving Up On 3rd Earth (Armin van Buuren Mashup). All in all, this was one of the best sets we’ve ever heard Armin play at Bal en Blanc. We especially enjoyed the last hour of his set, which was a lot darker and harder than the typical melodic, vocal, and commercial trance that he currently plays. Case and point, near the end of his set, Armin dropped ‘John O’Callaghan vs. Commander Tom – Stresstest (Amin van Buuren Mashup)’, a track that pays ode to the days of acid trance and was hands down the highpoint of the night as confetti shot out over the crowd whom were going absolutely wild.

We didn’t check out Calvin Harris, but we did manage to walk by the Main Room when he dropped ‘Sandro Silva & Quintino – Epic’, a track that seems to have captivated both trance and house DJs. It was definitely an impressive sight. The room was absolutely packed and the crowd went nuts when the drop hit. Almost made us want to abandon the Trance Room and join in!

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Next up in Trance Room from 5am to 8am was the Montreal premier of Markus Schulz vs. Ferry Corsten (aka: New World Punx), and they did not disappoint! Opening with ‘Markus Schulz & Ferry Corsten – Loops & Tings’, they set the tone right away. Together, the New World Punx is all about high-energy tracks and big room sounds, a truly perfect fit with Bal en Blanc. Although we only caught the first hour and a half of their set, it was hands down one of the best sets of the night. Memorable tracks from their set include ‘Markus Schulz & Ferry Corsten pres. New World Punx – Romper’, ‘Binary Finary – 1998 (Markus Schulz & Ferry Corsten pres. New World Punx Bootleg Mix)’, ‘Ferry Corsten – Black Light’, ‘Markus Schulz & Elevation – Finish Line’, and ‘Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike & Moguai vs. Ferry Corsten & Aruna – Mammoth Forever (New World Punx Mashup)’.

At 6:15am we left the Trance Room to check out Nicole Moudaber in the Main Room for her first ever Bal en Blanc performance. Although we only caught the last 15 minutes or so of Isaac Escalante’s (last minute replacement for Peter Rauhofer) set, we have to say that we were pleasantly surprised. He was playing some great deep house tracks and did a fabulous job at transitioning the decks over to Nicole. After seeing Nicole play multiple extended sets at Stereo, 2 hours and 15 minutes just didn’t seem like long enough. Her set did have great progression and flow though, and her track selection and mixing were great as always. She started her set with some more down tempo tech-house and progressive house tracks, and eventually built up to the bigger heavy hitting techno tracks that she is known for. The highlight of her set was when she dropped ‘Ben Sims – I Wanna Go Back (Adam Beyer Rework)’ which is currently an unreleased track. Her set absolutely flew by without a single person on the dance floor missing a beat. Clearly Nicole felt that 2 hours and 15 minutes simply wasn’t long enough either as she inevitably continued her night (or should we say day), by heading over to Stereo to show support for her pal Danny Tenaglia.

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Next on the decks in the Main Room was a 30-minute live performance from L.A. based minimal techno producer SHADED. Not really knowing what to expect from him, we were absolutely blown away. His set was a great mix of experimental sounds and underground techno. Anyone who is a fan of Richie Hawtin would love this guy. The most memorable track of his set has to be ‘Shaded – Be My Binge’. Unfortunately it seemed as though most of the crowd didn’t quite know where to place him, and were having a hard time getting into it. Not at all a reflection of the quality of his set. We really hope he gets booked at Piknic Elektronic and/or Igloofest this year as his sound, style, and vibe are a perfect fit for both.

Legendary house/techno DJ Dubfire closed the Main Room this year from 9:15am to noon in what was his first ever appearance as a solo artist at Bal en Blanc. He came in and picked up nicely where Nicole left off, and played a solid set. He started off with some really banging, dark, and dirty tracks; the signature Dubfire sound. We would love to be able to call out a few of the top tracks from his set, however, in true Dubfire fashion, he played a lot of unknown and newer tracks that will probably take us days if not weeks to find! Gotta love house and techno music. It’s a never-ending treasure hunt.

Although we didn’t catch much of W&W’s set in the Trance Room from 8am to 10am, what we did manage to see was amazing! At that point, the Main Room was thinning out big time, but the Trance Room was still packed from front to back. Unsurprisingly, it really seemed as though there were way more trance fans than house fans at Bal en Blanc this year.

By 11am we were pretty much spent. Having felt that we got what we came for, and then some, we decided it was time to call it a night and head home for some much needed rest before eventually venturing to Stereo later that night to catch Danny Tenaglia, but more on that later. All in all, Bal end Blanc 19 was one of the best in recent memory. We have to give a huge shout out to the crowd at Bal this year who were far and away one of the friendliest, and most respectful crowds we’ve seen at Bal in a long time. Also, a huge thanks goes out to Playground for bringing in such a massive DJ line-up in both rooms and for putting on a very well organized event. Lastly, we’d like to thank Michael Chidiac and Paul Blondé for their famous event pictures! Visit their website for more Bal en Blanc pictures: www.thoriumphoto.com