Interview: Solarstone

Nina Ristivojevic

November 2nd, 2023

“Pure Trance”, a concept created by British trance music producer and DJ Solarstone (Richard Mowatt), represents a distinct style and philosophy in the world of trance music. Solarstone passionately champions this movement, emphasizing the essential values and elements of trance music. Under the banner of “Pure Trance,” Solarstone produces and releases music, curates 4 record labels, hosts global events, a weekly radio show, and fosters a unique sonic identity within the trance community.

Solarstone has previously released 9 “Pure Trance” compilation albums that highlight the kind of trance music he believes truly represents the genre. These albums often feature tracks from like-minded artists who share his vision, contributing to the growth of the “Pure Trance” movement. This concept has garnered a dedicated following among fans around the world.

This year’s ADE was a perfect opportunity to catch up with Rich before his guest mix at Black Hole Pop-Up Store. We discussed the 10th edition of “Pure Trance”, Rich’s life challenges, the music scene’s ups and downs, and how to stay true to oneself in today’s fast-paced world. If you’re interested in discovering more about this milestone in Richard’s career and if you Like It Pure - make sure to keep reading.

Nina: “Pure Trance” made its entrance into the hearts of trance enthusiasts back in 2012, driven by a singular mission - to reintroduce emotions, melodies, and the authentic trance sound reminiscent of its early days. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but does this imply we had slightly lost track of the genre’s original essence over the previous decade?

Rich: Indeed, that was the idea back then. At some point, I felt disconnected from the electronic music world. The music didn’t resonate with me like trance used to, and the scene had shifted significantly that I wasn’t sure that the music I wanted to make had an audience. It seemed unlikely that DJs would play it anymore. I was facing personal and financial challenges and had no gigs. At a crossroads, I decided to create one final album (Pure) with the last track entitled “Swansong.” Then Orkidea asked me to do the remix of his track “Unity,” and he noted that it sounded like “pure trance” – (in his Finnish accent) - (Laughs).

The remix gained attention and sparked discussions online about ‘the essence of trance’. I remember when the remix came out, Tapio & I were looking at the Beatport top 100 and he commented that this was the only ‘pure’ trance track on the list – that’s when the term was born.

The concept evolved organically, and I realized I wasn’t the only one missing the emotional and melodic aspects of trance. Armin van Buuren began supporting my Pure Mixes on ASOT, which began trending on Twitter. Receiving many demos from other Artists influenced by what I had been producing led to the creation of the record labels and radio show. And that is how “Pure Trance” developed. This movement resonated with a global audience, becoming a rallying cry. For me, “Pure Trance” was life-changing.

Nina: But what was the crucial change in the trance scene that inspired you to start “Pure Trance”?

Rich: What prompted this shift was the change in the sound of Trance. It became aggressive, soulless, and digital, incorporating more & more elements from other genres - more suited to a different vibe than the one Trance stands for. Trance is about community, togetherness, and love, whereas the other sound is more individualistic and arrogant. The worst thing for me about the electronic music scene is that element of trying to be ‘cool’.

Attending ADE, it’s quite evident to distinguish the ‘cool’ producers and DJs from the rest. When you’re walking around, you see they’re all there in their black uniforms and they’ve all got their sunglasses on and observing who’s present and who’s noticing them. Trance, unlike other genres, isn’t preoccupied with being cool, and – perversely – that is what makes it cool! My entire philosophy behind the “Pure Trance” brand and what I do is rooted in a genuine love for the music and a deep desire to be part of something extraordinary, all while remaining unconcerned about trends and fads in the industry.

Nina: I love the answer! And 10 years later we now have a trance brand, a “Pure Trance” movement, widely respected and recognized by countless music enthusiasts, labels, and established artists. When you were at the very beginning of this project could you imagine Pure Trance Radio Show would gather millions of listeners every month?

Rich: My radio show has been around for approximately 15 years. It started as the Deep Blue Radio show, then transformed into Solaris International. When I rebranded it as Pure Trance Radio, we had already reached around 650 episodes. So, I’ve produced over 1000 episodes of the show, and people have been subscribing to the podcast for almost 15 years. The audience has grown steadily over this time, and many of my listeners have been with me for years, even into their sixties. I’m incredibly fortunate that they continue to tune in. I love it when people approach me and say:“ I listen to your show every week.“ It means a lot to me.

There are moments when I feel down or negative, but Paula often reminds me that the show is like a beacon of light for listeners worldwide. I received heartwarming messages from people who’ve been going through tough times, saying that listening to the show makes their world feel better and that it introduces them to great music. It’s essential to embrace the impact the show has on people, as it’s easy to become isolated in this industry. Paula always emphasizes the bigger picture and the positive influence we have on our audience.

Nina: I see how important it is for you to have Paula by your side, especially now when the eagerly awaited “Pure Trance” Volume 10 album is just around the corner, set to be released on November 3rd. First and foremost, congratulations! Can you share what the listeners will experience this time, while listening to this album?

Rich: This compilation is quite distinct from the previous ones. Being the tenth in the series, it felt like a significant milestone. Typically, I have someone else mix one of the discs, but for some reason, I felt compelled to curate the entire collection myself. I aimed to create a representation of the three labels and the atmosphere at our events. Our four labels are Pure Trance, Pure Progressive, Pure Trance NEON, and Pure Breaks. On the first disc, I wanted to capture the essence of Pure Progressive, with its deeper sound. The second disc represents our flagship label, Pure Trance, known for its dreamy melodies. The third disc mirrors the harder sound of Pure Trance NEON. To achieve this vision, it made the most sense for me to handle the entire compilation.

Admittedly, it was a colossal undertaking. I began this project about two years ago, and it coincided with various personal challenges, making me feel overwhelmed. Last year, I had to pause and admit that I wouldn’t be able to deliver the album on schedule due to other commitments and a lack of focus. When I returned to it, it demanded months and months of labor. It wasn’t just about gathering track, it was about finding the right ones, collaborating with artists to refine their music, obtaining stems, and mixing 46 tracks in total. It might sound excessive, but I suppose you could say I’m obsessed with it. (laughs)

This compilation represents my unwavering vision for the label. You’ll notice fewer of my own tracks on this one. Usually, when I mix one of the discs, I create new productions and Pure Mixes. There are new mixes of my tracks, but the focus was on the labels and the artists I wanted to feature. I did work on almost every track behind the scenes, primarily in the editing process, but the spotlight here is on the artists.

Nina: Mentioning the artists, since the project’s initiation, remarkable producers like Orkidea, Gai Barone, John 00 Fleming, Nick Warren, Factor B, Lostly, and Robert Nickson, among others have been part of “Pure Trance” albums & events. Would you like to share with us which artists are joining the 10th edition and are we going to see the names we used to see on “Pure Trance” albums before?

Rich: Absolutely. That’s a fundamental aspect of my approach. I often return to artists I’ve collaborated with before to explore new material. You’ll notice some familiar names that consistently appear, like Alucard, Robert Nickson, Allende, and others. Some, like Alucard (Pete McCowan), create music exclusively for my label, which might seem a bit extraordinary, but while I’m always on the lookout for new talent, I tend to be quite loyal. I enjoy nurturing artists’ careers, but I also don’t want them to become overly reliant on me or feel that I’m solely responsible for their success. I don’t restrict their music to my label. However, if an artist insists on releasing exclusively on “Pure Trance,” I advise against it, as I believe they should do what’s right for their career.

My focus isn’t on gathering a roster of big names just for the sake of it. What matters most to me is discovering new talent and exciting artists, regardless of their age. There’s one artist, for instance, who is a police officer and produces trance music as a passionate hobby. I don’t actively seek tracks from established figures like Armin, Paul Oakenfold, or Ferry Corsten, as they have well-established brands. Instead, I prefer to support emerging artists and those who are truly passionate about creating the best music.

Nina: Now, speaking of artists contributing to “Pure Trance”, you certainly have a knack for selecting producers and tracks for these albums and the Pure Trance label family in general. What distinctive qualities should an artist or track possess to attract Rich’s attention?

Rich: You know, there are moments that just make you go “Wow!” - like this young artist called Aquarius (Jakob) from Poland. He was 17 when I first heard his music. I was directed to a track of his on SoundCloud by a guy named Lukasz and was duly impressed. The interesting thing is, he’s not seeking fame; he’s still in college. What I find so refreshing is his pure enthusiasm and passion for music. It’s all about music for him, and I absolutely love that. I don’t really care who they are. If they have a genuine passion for music, I’ll support them. Even if it takes a whole day to fine-tune a track or provide encouragement, it’s worth it. When I first entered this industry, at 17, 18, 19 I had no one to guide me or offer advice. It was a tough journey. So, I try to offer advice without becoming a mentor, as I don’t want to become overly reliant on myself.

Nina: I think this is understandable because you provide something that many experienced artists may not have the time or inclination to offer.

Rich: It’s a delicate situation. It’s a bit like giving advice to your friends’ children, but you’re not their parents, right?

Nina: Not too long ago, you were invited by Black Hole Recordings to their special In Search of Sunset event. Could you recount what this experience was like?

Rich: It was a bit of a challenge because my brother and his wife attended the event, but she wasn’t feeling well. So I was a bit distracted by that during the event. However, I’m eagerly anticipating the next one. Anything related to Black Hole is always fantastic. I appreciate the informal atmosphere, and there was a lovely family vibe to it, like a family gathering.

Nina: Mentioning Black Hole that way, if I were to ask you to name a label (or labels) that undeniably embodies the pure trance sound, would you tell me Black Hole secured a spot on that list?

Rich: Certainly. I appreciate several labels, but Black Hole feels like home to me. They are wonderful to work with. I’ve had experiences with other labels, and it’s a very different dynamic. As I mentioned earlier, loyalty goes both ways. If you’re loyal to a label, they tend to treat you kindly.

I believe it’s not solely about money. Being a decent, kind, and fair human being and showing loyalty can lead to positive outcomes. However, I think you can only get so far by being nice.

Nina: This is what I keep saying. ☺ As you mentioned a couple of times, music lovers and festival goers today are more interested in what’s the latest, rather than what’s good. How do you see trance music evolving in the future?

Rich: That’s the way it’s always been. There’s typically a portion of the audience who attend just because they feel they should. I honestly have no clue where we’re heading (laughs), but I’ll share something exciting. There’s this new genre on Beatport: Raw/Deep/Hypnotic Trance. It’s a positive development because it indicates that trance has become more appealing to many producers who were previously somewhat hesitant and cautious.

Nina: John Fleming made that happen, right?

Rich: Yeah. He petitioned Beatport for a really long time. See ,it all trickles down from the top, doesn’t it? It starts at places like Beatport and the fact that we now have this new, raw, deep, hypnotic genre on Beatport means there’s a lot of producers and DJs who are going to feel that it’s OK to produce and play this music because it’s less uncool now. Which means that the scene is going to expand, and more people are going to get pulled into it. So, I think there may be a moment where it becomes fashionable again, which I thought I’d never hear myself saying, but I’m not sure if what I do has necessarily got anything to do with it.

Nina: But has “Pure Trance” saved the scene, in a way?

Rich: Well, I’m not entirely convinced about that (laughs). I believe “Pure Trance” played a significant role in shaping the current state of the trance scene. If it hadn’t happened, things might have taken a different path. However, I don’t want to exaggerate my contributions because all Paula and I did was bring it all together. We didn’t convince people to start producing this music again; we simply identified that something was missing, gave it a name and then let people know about it.

Nina: Added to “Pure Trance’s” already impressive portfolio, it has transformed into a globally touring Club Event concept, boasting +100 sold-out shows from New York to Melbourne, from Miami to Amsterdam, held at some of the world’s most prestigious venues. Could you give us a sneak peek at the next exciting location we should look forward to visiting, courtesy of “Pure Trance”?

Rich: Oh my God, it’s hard to say. The whole COVID situation essentially put everything on hold for everyone, didn’t it? We had numerous plans and projects in the works, but we’re now regrouping and figuring out our next steps. I’m confident that Pure Trance Volume 10 will lead to some events, but as of now, it’s a bit uncertain. The entire industry has gone through significant changes, and that’s precisely why we’re here at ADE. We want to assess the current landscape, see what the horizon looks like, who’s interested, who’s not, and determine our next moves.

Nina: So, how does the horizon look for Richard?

Rich: I’m currently in the process of creating a new Solarstone album, and we have a fresh compilation album featuring a wealth of fantastic new music. I’ve also signed a lot of exceptional tracks. There’s more to look forward to, such as an album from Lostly, new music from Proteus, and many other talented artists. Things are definitely shaping up well, and a significant part of it has to do with my mental state. I’ve been through some tough times in the last couple of years, but I’m feeling much better now.

It’s crucial not to get too caught up in what other artists or brands are doing and instead focus on our own path. We’re exploring opportunities with promoters, and there’s a lot of interest. People are constantly asking us when we’ll bring our “Pure Trance” to their country.

Nina: It can be a bit tricky, especially for emerging artists and newcomers who aspire to gain recognition in the music industry without necessarily seeking fame. What guidance or advice would you give them regarding their approach to music production and DJing?

Rich: The underground scene is incredibly small, and within that, trance is like a niche within a niche. It’s actually one of the coolest aspects of the whole underground scene. My advice would be to have patience, not do it solely for financial gain, and instead follow your heart and stay true to yourself. It’s all about music, isn’t it? If you’re creating music you love, and others love it too, you’re already on the right path. However, if you’re in it just for fame or wealth, the trance scene might not be the best fit for you.