Saturday Night: Forget the horse tranquilliser and have a chainsaw

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Sven Vath is a Teutonic techno god, a steel-eyed Aryan deity of dance, Lord of the Omen, the original DJ trance- master. Or maybe not, depending on whom you ask. He certainly looks the part. His head is shaved into a blond tonsure, gathered and tied in a knot at the crown. In his right nostril a silver sleeper; in his right lobe a ring of bone. A thin tuft of billy-goat beard divides his chin.

He wears an olive flight jacket; a bodywarmer embroidered with the word 'ganga'; white T-shirt; black pants of top-stitched parachute silk; black Reebok trainers with metallic blue trim. On his long, tapering fingers are various silver rings; around his wrists, silver bracelets. Veins stand out on his tanned temples. He cradles a bottle of San Miguel.

When he is not DJ-ing in his Frankfurt nightclub, or relaxing in his house in Goa, he is paid handsomely to fly around the world and hypnotise large numbers of people. This he does by playing music that stops making sense the second you stop moving - hard, uncompromising, minimal trance. Ask any of the thousand kids turned away last Friday from Final Frontier, the best trance night in London, at Club UK in Wandsworth. 'Hard as f***ing nails,' they say. No wonder suburban boys all over Europe worship him. You're a techno god, Sven, aren't you? He smiles and makes a snorting noise. 'Bullshit.'

Sven Vath has seen it all before, this adulation nonsense, having already walked away from one highly successful music career. Six years ago he was the 23- year-old front man of a German pop dance outfit, Off, touring a massive Euro-disco hit called 'Electrica Salsa'. Then came an album, followed by another No 1 single, and another album. The fans loved him, but Off was commercial pap and he knew it. So he jacked it in, bought a tacky disco, renamed it the Omen, and was reborn as DJ Sven. At the Omen, he and his partners defined the harder end of techno. It became the Mecca of trance.

After a trip to India and the customary spiritual awakening, he returned determined to elevate his work, so that he would always build 'a very special vibe, whenever I play'. To achieve this he will go to almost any length. Most techno DJs perform a standard three- or four-hour 'set'. It is not uncommon for Vath to play non-stop for up to 10 hours. If the vibe is there, he will keep going for 15. 'When I play I put energy into the work, and that is carried across to the people. Then I get the reflection back, and a feedback loop is established, and the energy spirals up and up and the trance gets deeper and deeper.'

When Vath talks about deep trance, he means it. Last year he released a mellifluous ambient techno album, Accident in Paradise, on his own label. It sold slowly until the music press started to champion it. Warners eventually released it worldwide and is eager for the follow-up, due in September. But Vath insists he will not succumb again to commercial pressures to make hit singles. 'I'm living in my own shoes now,' he says, translating a German proverb. 'Not too big nor too small, but comfortable.'

At Final Frontier, he has sweaty twentysomethings eating out of his jewelled hands. They seethe and heave as a single mass, punching the air; they burst into applause and scream and whistle whenever he drops the bass drum out of the mix, leaving the sequencers to chatter and burble across their heads. They bound around the room, like infants on tartrazine, oblivious to the spunky girls rampant at the bar, clearly on the pull. A shirtless lad, his puppyish torso glistening with sweat, lands heavily on my instep and swivels round, his face a mask of chemically induced empathy.

'If you're gonna jump on my feet,' I tell him, 'try and do it in time.' Wide-eyed, he gushes an apology and disappears back into the scrum. Kids these days, I say to myself - no co-ordination. Or maybe they lean too heavily on their central nervous systems. Vath thinks so.

'I feel angry about it,' he says, 'because I think some kids, when they know Sven is coming, they take even more drugs, because they know they can trust me, they know I'll take them on a spiritual journey, that I'll play the right music.' Vath has recently volunteered his services to a drug information programme in his home city of Frankfurt.

'They don't even get the right stuff,' he says, visibly upset at the thought. 'Somewhere out there are these ugly bastards sitting around in luxury, making more money out of the whole music movement than all the DJs and artistes put together. And they sell shit like horse tranquillisers.'

Vath is planning a tour with La Fura dels Baus, the Catalan art group whose performances - which can include the use of chainsaws, flame-throwers and heavy industrial power tools - nearly always evoke some form of hysteria. 'I want to give people something more to look at, more to think about. I'm tired of all that rave shit. It's always the same: a sound system, a few video screens, the DJ line-up. I can't live with that. This tour is going to have an impact and power. I think we will have to put on the posters 'Warning - this show is so full of energy that you don't need any drugs'.'

Leigh Bowery's musical partner is Richard Torry, not Terry, as reported last week. The fault was due to a transmission error.

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