bal en blanc 2012: review

montreal’s annual “white party”, better known as the bal en blanc, has been home to some of the biggest names in commercial electronic music for the past 18 years. bal is one of the biggest indoor raves in north america, and anyone who has ever braved the bal en blanc will tell you that it’s a party like you’ve never experienced.

image via thorium photography

bal en blanc is definitely not for everyone; the true underground techno mafia will not be at home in a world where partiers are decked out in body paint, glitter, feathers and in my case, a pink wig and bunny ears. but BEB is an easter tradition for some, myself included, and for me the novelty of bal en blanc never quite wears off. no matter how commercial, no matter how predictable, bal is one of the only electronic music events that just wants to make you happy. confetti falls from the ceiling, light shows flash their love for montreal and the crowd just never stops.

let me preface this article by saying that the underground scene has gotten darker and harder to come by, while the commercial has gotten cheesier, fluffed up and a whole lot tackier. some of the biggest names in house and trance get the craziest audience: DJs like tiesto and david guetta have played at bal a handful of times, but often their sets are the least impressive, and easily the ones that give BEB a bad rep. although DJs like danny tenaglia and markus schulz are by no means “lesser known”, their music speaks for itself. the biggest names out there are simply too busy being big names to keep up.

all of that to say that bal is the kind of event you have to embrace to enjoy. maybe the “commercial” isn’t really for you, but at one point, it probably was. none of us is born into the underground electronic scene, and you’re lying if you say you didn’t like it oh-so-cheesey at one point or another. you’ll see and feel things you never thought you would, and i mean that in the best way possible, for the most part. i’m not idealizing it – or maybe i am. but so what, it’s bal, isn’t that what it’s all about?

this year was bal en blanc’s 18th edition and my fourth consecutive year shutting it down. here’s a look at some of this year’s highlights:

armin van buuren

image via thorium photography

inarguably, armin is one of the world’s biggest (and best) trance producers, and one of the few who never ceases to impress me (even after witnessing him in action 5 or 6 times by now). well accustomed to playing big room beats, armin opened with omnia + IRA’s “the fusion”, leading in to a typically high-energy set. he worked it so hard up there, it’s easy to see (and hear!) why armin is the reigning king of trance.

armin never disappoints! i have seen him play live at many different festivals including several BEBs. i met him once in miami at WMC week and he confirmed how much he loves to play at bal en blanc. his sets are always energetic and a mix of classic trance with some new, fun tracks mixed in. you will always have a great time at the party if he is on the decks
davida syne, circus afterhours promoter

markus schulz

image via thorium photography

what can i say about markus schulz? often, he’s overlooked by bal-goers because he’s such a regular, even i was a schulz skeptic my first couple years at bal. BEB 2011 really emphasized why schulz gets a spot every year – talented to the core and always, always cohesive, schulz is a phenomenal DJ. this year’s set was dark and dirty, with a raw bassline that wouldn’t quit. bizzarely enough, it may have gotten a little slow at times, but schulz knows better than anyone how to keep it interesting.

schulz defines engulfing trance that lives up to the name of the genre: it puts you in a trance and you can’t pull away.  at bal 2011, his set had moments of light and moments of driving darkness so serious it almost felt industrial. you can tell he plays with his whole body. does that sound sexual? whatever! he blew every other DJ at bal out of the water!”
DJ jackie spade

“in the trance room, things got a lot darker when markus schulz hit the decks. schulz played after the undisputed trance master,  armin van buuren – it’s a tough act to follow, but schulz threw down his signature brand of hypnotic rhythms and played a set that was dark and mysterious”
annibale romano, music director

ferry corsten

image via thorium photography

it’s no secret that ferry corsten used to be my one true love, a couple years back when trance music was the only thing i knew (my roommates can attest to the fact that i played “because the remix” on loop for about 3 months straight a couple years back). he still definitely holds a special place in my heart, but i have to say, i haven’t entirely kept up with his music. his set at bal this year was just as good as i remember it being when i was 18 – positive, inspired and upbeat mixed in with a driving force that made the set seem like one long song. that may not be a good thing for everyone, but for trance-lovers, it’s literally music to your ears. although i was disappointed in not hearing any old favourites for the hour or so that i stayed at his set, i will say that i was glad that everything good about his music could still be heard.

fedde legrand

image via thorium photography

contrary to popular belief, it’s actually not “freddy” but “fedde” – come on guys, you’re better than that! on a serious note, i don’t have a lot to say about le grand except that he was easily the DJ i was the least excited for. i hadn’t looked too far into the le grand disco but from what i knew (pretty much just that “hands up for detroit” track), i hated him. when i decided to check him out, i was actually impressed: he was more than the commercial bullshit people make him out to be. nice and housey, pretty clean; it was decent and i’m sorry i doubted him. that being said, le grand was greatly overshadowed at bal, not only by other more interesting sets, but by the man that everyone was waiting for, danny tenaglia.

danny tenaglia

image via thorium photography

danny t’s was undoubtedly the most anticipated set of the night. all night, at every other set, you could literally feel the excitement as people counted down the hours until he got on decks. i had heard mixed reviews – some friends had said he blew their mind, redefined house music for them or taken them on a journey they’ll never forget. others said that tenaglia was overrated and doesn’t live up to the hype. i went in with no opinion, and i’m glad i did. for 5 hours, tenaglia threw down a set that was non-stop bumpin’, effortless, power house music. track after track, he really gave us the “danny tenaglia experience” that everyone was raving about (pun intended). his set was at times a bit tribal, at times deep and progressive, but always full of flavour. i was bummed to hear that danny tenaglia announced his retirement from music just a couple weeks ago – clearly, he gave it his all at bal, for what was one of his last sets ever.

i expected danny tenaglia to be soft, because of the nature of bal en blanc. but he actually blew me away with his music. i just couldn’t leave – i think he surprised everyone with his musical choice but it really fit the mood of the party. i wouldn’t change a thing about his performance”
amir kuba, EMAC president & productions playground head promoter

i’ve heard danny t play stereo where he hands down just impressed me, not only with his musical journey, but with his endurance and being able to wow us! he was a perfect ending to bal en blanc. he did exactly what we knew he was going to do! he played every style of music, trance, electro, house, deep house, tech house, techno….all in the danny t way! i loved it, my crew loved it, and i wouldn’t change the ending of bal, not one bit!
kosta bolontzakis, stereo montreal promoter

can you find me in this one?? image via thorium photography

image via thorium photography



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