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How ‘Euphoria’ brought trance to the masses

With the release of its first edition – 'For The Mind, Body and Soul' – via Telstar Records in early 1999, the ‘Euphoria’ mix compilation series quickly became one of the most popular and prolific of its kind, launching the big-room oriented trance, progressive and hard house sounds of clubland into the CD drives of thousands. 25 years later, Harold Heath looks back on its legacy, and on how its balance of clever commercial marketing and authentic live energy enshrined ‘Euphoria’ in UK dance music history

It’s 1999, and across the UK, countless car stereos and home systems are pumping out the planet-sized synth riffs of big-room trance. Tracks by Paul Van Dyk,  Armin van Buuren and Jam & Spoon swerve into remixes of Faithless, Da Hool, Energy 52 and Age Of Love. Emotive synths soar, acid-dipped basslines wriggle, and drums thump at a reliably driving pace. For all its gloss, the mix has a raw, live energy to it; you can practically feel the lasers rush past your head as it plays. This is 'Euphoria — For the Mind, Body and Soul', the first in a long-running series of compilations released by Telstar Records, and later Ministry Of Sound, which captured clubland’s dominant sounds of the time, and launched them into CD drives of the general public. 

The concept of the dance music compilation was far from new at this time; in the UK, the likes of Reactivate, Gatecrasher and Bonkers already had a strong foothold. But it was thanks to the shrewd marketing of ‘Euphoria’ creator and lifelong industry player Edward Short that the series went on to become one of the most popular of the era, gradually branching into genres like hard house, chill-out, progressive, psytrance, and beyond. 25 years on, it feels timely to look back on a series that, at its peak, achieved immense commercial success and ubiquity, while also managing to authentically document not just the music, but the atmosphere of a pivotal moment in UK dance history.

DJ Dave Pearce, who mixed six ‘Euphoria’ compilations between 2000 and 2002, remembers vividly when trance took hold in the UK, transported home by Ibiza holidaymakers to replace the house anthems that had filled the dance charts up to that point. “Around ‘95, ‘96, trance really started coming through,” he tells DJ Mag. “But in ‘99, it just absolutely went off. The clubs were all rammed and everyone was just going mad for this music, and it was the same in Ibiza.”

It was Chicane’s ‘Saltwater’ that kicked off the summer of trance, swiftly followed by huge anthems like ATB’s ‘9 PM (Till I Come)’, Alice Deejay’s ‘Better Off Alone', Binary Finary’s ‘1999’ and Balearic Bill’s ‘Destination Sunrise’. The ‘Euphoria’ marketing concept tapped into this proliferation, but equally sought to avoid easy classification and cast a wide net for potential listeners. For the compilation’s TV advertisements, Short opted for a “don't tell them what they're dancing to” approach, insisting that they didn’t mention the word “trance” or the names of tracks included. The ad featured just one section from one song: ‘Insomnia’ by Faithless; the ‘Moody Mix’ of the 1995 hit could resonate with the club crowd and Top Of The Pops viewers alike.  

Press shot of Dave Pearce on a black background with green lasers

For the compilation’s imagery, Short “borrowed” the space-age logo slow-reveal from the opening credits of the first Alien movie, which, combined with the unmistakable pizzicato synth stabs of ‘Insomnia’, conjured up the drama of late ‘90s high street Saturday night clubbing. 

Short’s final trick was to imply on the ads that the compilation was mixed by a very famous DJ, without ever actually overtly saying so. “I played a pretty sleazy trick if I’m honest,” he admits now. “On the ad it said: ‘Includes mixes by Faithless and Judge Jules’ – because there were mixes by them on there – but we didn’t say ‘mixed by Faithless and Judge Jules’. Obviously we wouldn’t do that on the packaging because that would be illegal!”

The first edition was, in fact, mixed by Moussa Clarke from dance duo PF Project, who at that time were riding high thanks to their crossover hits on the Positiva label, ‘Choose Life’ and ‘Walk Away’. Clarke remembers how he ended up with the job: “Some A-lister at the time, I can’t remember exactly who, maybe Seb Fontaine or Brandon Block, was supposed to mix the album, but for whatever reason couldn’t make the deadline and the release slots had already been booked. I happened to be in the same building as the ‘Euphoria’ team and I had a bit of momentum going as PF Project with my mate Jamie White (RIP) at the time.” 

In our age of perfectly programmed, seamlessly edited, DAW-produced DJ mixes, what happened next might sound a little haphazard, but the process of creating a DJ mix for CD in 1999 was somewhat different. “Eddie Short came and found me and shoved a selection of vinyl 12”s in my hand,” Clarke says. “I went to a local studio the next afternoon and mixed it live on some Technics SL1200s in a couple of takes. As a result, there were a couple of trainwreck tune transitions in there, but off it went to the pressing plant regardless.”  

Boosted by posters and print ads all branded with that soon-to-be iconic logo, the first edition shifted over 300,000 physical copies. 

Two photos of Moussa Clarke Djing in the early 00s and a recent press shot on a black background with green lasers

The late ‘90s UK dance music universe was a fertile, fast-moving place. The first wave of UK tech-house was peaking, while producers like Zed Bias and El-B were developing a dark and minimal 2-step sound that would eventually evolve into dubstep. In drum & bass, it was the era of Krust’s ‘Warhead’ and Ed Rush & Optical’s boundary-pushing ‘Wormhole’, while Fabio’s Creative Source label was turning out effortlessly smooth liquid. The ‘Euphoria’ compilations, however, cleverly tapped into a very different but no-less prominent section of the UK dance music market, who were much more concerned with major-chord elation and gratifying hedonism than they were gritty new bass sounds or pioneering beat science.

“This was the late ‘90s,” recalls Clarke, “so 130 BPM trance and Sasha-style emotional prog house were huge, although Defected and the like were also in full swing, along with banging Tidy Trax-style hard house. Labels like Hooj Choons and Positiva were in their heyday, and producers like Rollo and Sister Bliss ruled the dancefloor and the airwaves.” 

Amidst all that was percolating on the UK underground, ‘Euphoria’ represented the sound of major club brands like Gatecrasher and Godskitchen, and the provincial high-street club nights that were packed to the rafters every weekend. Hooking into the late ‘90s trance frenzy was a smart move, and over the next few years, ‘Euphoria’ positioned itself as the accessible-but-authentic dance music compilation. By year two it had moved into the chill-out market with the first ‘Chilled Euphoria’, mixed by Red Jerry, which matched beatless trance tracks with laid-back classics from artists like Brian Eno, Sabres of Paradise and Primal Scream. That same year, Lisa Lashes came on board, bringing her high-octane hard house sound to the series. In 2001, ‘Euphoria’ branched out into progressive house via John 00 Fleming’s compilation and bumper-to-bumper rave classics with Altern-8’s ‘Old Skool’ mix.

“The albums I did were mainly the big-room trance sound that exploded in the UK from the late ‘90s to early 2000s,” remembers Pearce. “The idea of ‘Euphoria’ was to do a mixed album that was also in the style of how you would put a set together in a club. So you start slow, gradually building it through progressive trance and gradually getting more banging. It had a real logic to it as a journey and I think that’s probably one of the reasons it connected with the audience, who were primarily clubbers — it represented what they were into.” 

Two photos of Lisa Lashes Djing in the 90s on a black background with green lasers

“Critically, the series had the ability to blend mainstream appeal with the underground ethos of dance music. The ‘Euphoria’ series stood out for its authenticity and its commitment to capturing the true spirit of dance music.” – Lisa Lashes

If the ethos of dance music exists in the pure rush of energy generated by a live DJ club set, then the first wave of ‘Euphoria’ mixes did a pretty good job of capturing it. Clarke’s first ‘Euphoria’ mix just oozes that full-on club vibe — the kind so often found in live vinyl recordings from the ‘90s. “I listened to that mix again recently,” he says. “It’s actually pretty cool how raw and banging it sounds!”

DJ Lisa Lashes mixed a grand total of eight ‘Euphoria’ compilations, including two alongside hard house legends Tidy Boys. She remembers going to the studio “armed with a bag of vinyl and a selected playlist” one day in 2000 to record her first edition, ‘Hard House Euphoria Volume 1’. “The initial recordings were raw, a direct reflection of the live energy I wanted to encapsulate,” she says. This blend of authenticity with accessibility, together with shrewd marketing coalesced into that most elusive thing: a credible, commercially successful dance music compilation. “Critically, the series had the ability to blend mainstream appeal with the underground ethos of dance music,” Lashes adds. “The ‘Euphoria’ series stood out for its authenticity and its commitment to capturing the true spirit of dance music.” 

Lashes also points to an overlooked but important aspect of the compilations’ legacy. “A particularly notable aspect of the ‘Euphoria’ series was its role in cultivating a strong female following in a scene that was, at times, predominantly male,” she says. The ‘Euphoria’ series was vital in showcasing the talents of the Tidy Girls — Anne Savage, Lisa Pin-Up, Rachel Auburn and Lisa Lashes — at a time when DJing was far less accessible to anyone who wasn’t male. It might not seem like such a big deal now, but moves like this contributed to a more welcoming and inclusive clubbing environment, as well as providing female DJ and producer role models. “Our first releases were featured on the very first album I mixed,” says Lashes. “This was more than just a platform; it was a statement, highlighting the diversity and dynamism of female talent in the electronic music scene.”

selection of artworks from the euphoria compilation series

In the busy four years after its launch in 1999, the ‘Euphoria’ series branched out further, with ever-more abstract variations on the theme including ‘Total Euphoria’, ‘Extreme’, ‘Absolute’, ‘True’ and ‘White Label’. The 30th mix in the series, Jay Burnett’s ‘Deeper Shades’, was the last to arrive on Telstar; the company went bankrupt in 2004 and Ministry Of Sound took over the brand. This second wave of ‘Euphoria’ comps maintained its trance and hard house foundation, while expanding into hardcore, psytrance and hard dance, and releasing new ‘Euphoria’ variations including ‘Tried & Tested’, ‘Frantic’, ‘Infinite’ and ‘Beyond’. Mixes came from the likes of Ferry Corsten, Judge Jules and Anne Savage, with a total of 65 editions being released between 2004 and 2017. But, over time, as minimal and tech-house became the soundtrack of choice for Ibiza and trance’s global popularity became more contained, the series came to a natural end with ‘Euphoria Classics’.

Looking back, Short has only fond memories of the series: “It was a hedonistic playground of beautiful dance music. I’d go through my pile of records, just pick what I thought would fit in. And I was getting paid for it. People were buying it and following it so I could take that following in a few different directions. You’re lucky to have moments like that in life, and I had one.”

The global success of trance has, at times, left its soaring melodies and hands-in-the-air energy to be perceived as less credible than other genres. This attitude, along with the fact that the series was released on Telstar — not a label traditionally associated with underground dance music — has perhaps affected the legacy of ‘Euphoria’ over the years, especially compared to their more fashionable contemporaries like the Reactivate Series and Ministry’s Annual — ironically. 

But for a certain demographic of dance music fans, these compilations did and still do mean an awful lot; Pearce still gets occasional requests at gigs to sign a ‘Euphoria’ CD. “For some clubbers of that era, they definitely hold a special place,” echoes Clarke. “I still get ravers of a certain age reaching out online to tell me how much they dug the first comp.” For many clubbers, 25 years after reaching for the lasers to the sounds of big-room trance, those sounds remain as dear as ever — nourishment for the mind, body and soul. 

Want more? Read DJ Mag's feature on Tony De Vit, Trade and the infinite energy of hard house here

Harold Heath is a regular DJ Mag contributor and freelance music writer. Follow him on X @HaroldHeathDJ