There is always that one musician whose music is so important to us – sometimes even crucial. And for me personally it’s Benno de Goeij – electronic dance music producer and sound designer, mastermind behind various musical projects but above all piano and synthesizer wizard and one of the rarest live performers in dance music nowadays, very well known and respected by trance music fans all over the world.
Trance fans knows Benno as a member of legendary Dutch trance duo Rank 1 together with Piet Bervoets but also as Armin van Buuren’s long term co-producer who, together with Armin, stands behind the most mysterious and unique trance music duo GAIA as well – check out my special tribute post to Armin here!
Since it’s impossible to write about Benno without writing about Rank 1, Armin and GAIA, and if you are a fan of them as well, you will certainly love this post!
Benno started making music back in 1997, mostly with Piet. They met at a birthday party that year and started producing together. Benno didn’t have much experience in producing back then but he was a keyboard wizz (he finished Musical Academy, piano). Piet was impressed by his skills and taught him dance music production tips & tricks as he had already released few very successful tracks (check Viktor Kidson’s interview with Piet who talks about it here). They’ve been producing under various monikers as Pedro and Benno, R.O.O.S., A.I.D.A., Bervoets & de Goeij (as a remixer duo), Two Disciples, Chiqeau, Gualagara, Precious People and ultimately Rank 1, their most successful project which is considered as one of the originators and pillars of classic trance music in late 90s and early 00s, famous for its supersaw synth sounds and beautiful melodies.
They sometimes worked together with other producers as DJ Misjah (Jonah, SPX and Tritone), Michel F. W. Keijser (MAC J and System Eight) and Tiësto (Control Freaks).
Benno’s solo aliases were Benno, Benicio, Hidden Sound System, Secilia, San and legendary The Quest and Dutch Force. The Quest’s „C-Sharp“ and Dutch Force’s „Deadline“ are considered to be one of the biggest trance classics and the most known version of Rank 1’s „Airwave“ is the Dutch Force remix.
In 1998 Benno teamed up with Tiësto under the project Kamaya Painters. As both Tiësto’s (solo) and Benno’s career (with Piet as Rank 1) skyrocketed, the duo disbanded shortly after. As trance producers love to remix their tracks, considering it a special honor and an ode to this beloved and never forgotten trance duo, their releases as „Endless Wave“, „Northern Spirit“, „Wasteland“ and „Far From Over“ still rock the dancefloors and airwaves.
Benno and Piet were signed to Karma Records as Pedro & Benno so when ID&T wanted to sign them, they couldn’t use the same name. This is how they came up with the name Rank 1. It was their insider joke as they thought it would be cool if they made a hit and end up ranked one on the dance charts. But the joke came true with their second release, famous “Airwave”, which become number one on European Dance Chart (it was also the first Dutch track on that chart that hit the number one spot). It was released in 45 countries around the world, reached number 25 in US Billboard Dance Club Chart and was voted as number 7 Trance Classic Of All Time in Trance Top 1000 Poll. “Airwave” was actually made as an anthem for 1999’s ID&T event Innercity which catapulted Tiësto to stardome.
Music genres production range
As Benno is a big fan of not only trance, but also acid, techno, electro house and breakbeat music in particular, his productions and co-productions are always fully packed with blends and cross-overs of these genres with trance. The range of styles he produces and co-produces is actually huge and goes from hardstyle over bigroom to ambient and chill out, often involving other musicians and even the whole orchestras.
One example is the intro for Sensation The Final show “Sensation’s Classics“, a fusion of classical and jazz music with electronic dance music, which he composed together with orchestral music writer Tom Trapp. It was performed live by Sensation’s resident DJ Mr White and Dutch’s multiple Grammy winning big band Metropol Orkest, a one of a kind orchestra which plays classical and jazz, but also rock and pop music. I was there and it was definitely my personal highlight of the night!
The King Of Synthesizers
Although a passionate vinyl lover and a „DJ culture“ fan, Benno never liked DJ-ing himself. Synthesizers, studio stuff (producing, writing, composing and sound design) and live performances were always his thing. He was one of those math and science child prodigies what almost lead him to choose electronic engineering studies (electronics is now his hobby, what he mentioned in GAIA interview – namely, he built and programmed all custom GAIA gear), but his love and immense talent for the music prevailed so he has rather chosen musical career. His classical music education gave him this amazing ability of making complex trance compositions with a classical twist, infused with gorgeous melodies, but also performing them live on stage for what Rank 1 became famous.
Born in 1975, he started to develop his passion for synthesizers at a very young age, somewhere in the mid 80’s – a few years back fans could see his tweet with a photo where he’s around 10 years old or so, holding his first synthesizer. It didn’t really come as a surprise since synth music in the 80’s exploded in popularity and was featured everywhere: music, video games and movie soundtracks, with the supreme of keyboardists and composers as Vangelis, Giorgio Moroder, Brad Fiedel, Jan Hammer and Harold Faltermeyer. Even the whole music genres and subgenres had a prefix or suffix „synth“ – synth pop and spacesynth were the best examples. It was definitely the decade which had the biggest impact on classic trance music producers and it’s not a coincidence that some of them have also produced synthwave albums as Push, Roger Shah and Robert Nickson, giving a tribute to their musical roots.
Benno said in one interview that as a child he loved to listen to various synth compilations and albums, especially those of electronic music pioneers as Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk and Vangelis. This influence can be strongly felt in his music – he often uses lots of analogue synths (and not many producers could proud themselves of such an impressive collection of gear and a studio as he has!) and implements classical music elements as Vangelis, but it can also be seen in his live performances in which he rocks the keytar as Jean-Michel Jarre or has Kraftwerk-a-like set up as Rank 1 had playing live at Trance Energy in 2009 where they recorded their video for “L.E.D. There Be Light”.
As I’m a big fan of synth music and the mentioned electronic music pioneers myself, it was incredible to me to find in Benno a musician who is a mix of all of them! He is definitely one of those synth wizards able to make synthesizers sound so alive, telling the whole little musical stories, often filled with cosm(omat)ic feels (this was a pun intended 😉 – one of Rank 1’s tracks on “Symsonic” album was “Cosmomatic” and was solely produced by Benno). Once he said that making electronic music is a pure process of math and programming, but what’s amazing is that the outcome is actual emotional music!
Rank 1 live sets at Sensation, Trance Energy and ASOT
Back in the 2000 and 2001, in the very first Rank 1 live performances, Benno was already a star on the stage, effortlessly playing in front of the huge crowds (25,000 – 50,000 people) at ID&T’s festivals, already mentioned Sensation and Trance Energy. He would make the crowd go completely crazy playing his Roland keytar, simply by hitting the riff of Cygnus X’s „Superstring“ in famous Rank 1’s remix.
Rank 1 were part of Sensation’s anthem team and had produced three successful anthems for the festival: “Superstring”, “Such Is Life” feat. Irish singer Shanokee, and “The Anthem 2003”. “Superstring” was an anthem of the first edition in 2000 and to this day the most adored and played anthem of Sensation. They made “Beats at Rank-1 Dotcom” and “L.E.D. There Be Light” as anthems for Trance Energy. Rank 1’s appearances in the line ups of Sensation and Trance Energy used to completely sell out these festivals and often would make the mainstage of Trance Energy forcely closed due to overcrowding, especially in 2002 when they recorded their performance, which was released as a DVD to their “Symsonic” album.
Exactly the same thing happened 20 years later at A State Of Trance (ASOT) 950 festival held in Utrecht in 2020, when lots of fans complained that they didn’t manage to enter the mainstage and see Rank 1’s long-awaited live act. Namely, the mainstage was already closed even before they began their set which was a very special live played Megamix, in the manner of Sensation’s famous Megamix, containing almost all of the above mentioned timeless Rank 1’s anthems.
Armin and Benno’s joint collaboration
Benno’s talent and fierce live performances impressed Armin, who previously worked with famous Dutch keyboardist Jan Vayne on Sensation anthem “Serenity” in 2005.
Rank 1 and Armin would often come across each other at these festivals, saying “We should make a track together” – and it happened! After making collaboration track with Rank 1 „This World Is Watching Me“ (feat. Kush), Armin invited Rank 1 as live guests to Armin Only show in 2006, held in Ahoy club in Rotterdam, where they performed the track together as well.
As Benno was stunned by Armin’s incredible DJ talent but also producing skills, shortly after Armin Only 2006 they joined forces and, as of then, started producing together.
They released their first collaboration album „Imagine“ in 2008, and as it gained a huge commercial success, they continued collaborating on Armin’s albums „Mirage“, „Intense“, „Embrace“ and the newest „Balance“, but also on other Armin’s singles / EP releases and remixes. As a proven anthem maker at Sensation, Innercity and Trance Energy, Benno is Armin’s partner in ASOT’s anthems production team as well.
Benno played keyboards at Armin Only shows „Imagine“ and „Mirage“ as well, and as Jaarbeurs, a new home to Armin Only since 2008 (the Dutch editions, as the show was actually a world tour), was a previous home to Trance Energy and Rank 1, his live performances were always something special there, invoking memories of the audience when he would play “Superstring” or any other of Rank 1’s anthems.
Working with Armin had an impact on Rank 1 so the follow up of their first album “Symsonic” was put aside but also Rank 1 split their duties and Piet became the DJ of the duo and Benno the producer. Benno wasn’t exclusively Armin’s co-producer so he continued his work on Rank 1’s tracks, releasing them as singles or EP’s, and has also teamed up with other producers under their brand name such as Artento Divini, Jochen Miller, Ronald Van Gelderen and JOOP, artists of his home music label Be Yourself Music. As Rank 1 he collaborated with lots of famous trance producers as Marco V, Nic Chagall of Cosmic Gate, M.I.K.E. Push, Alex M.O.R.P.H., York, Cerf, Mitiska & Jaren, and many more.
In 2017 Armin celebrated his 20 years of career with the special „The Best Of Armin Only“ show in Amsterdam ArenA where Benno had the honor, together with other artists, to open and close the show, revealing this time his classical side with virtuoso skills on grand piano. The intro (Overture) part performed together with Susana (whose track „Shivers“ with Armin recently took the title of the best track of ASOT radio show among 1000 top tracks played over 20 years of the show) and Katya Gabeli on violine was one of the highligths of the show which took the crowd’s breath away! Sadly, I couldn’t be there but I was watching the stream that night and was amazed by such an impressive and beautifully produced show!
In 2009 Armin decided to revive his old alias GAIA together with Benno. As he later explained in one of ASOT episodes, it was due to some copyright issues with his music under the name Armin van Buuren in USA so he wanted to release tracks under the name GAIA.
Namely, Armin made GAIA alias exclusively for a huge event “4 Elements, held in May 2000 in Ahoy, under which he produced the anthem of the same name. So till 2009 it was the only track Armin produced under the GAIA name.
Success of GAIA’s following tracks “Tuvan”, “Stellar”, “Aisha”,”J’ai Envie de Toi” and “Empire Of Hearts” lead to GAIA’s first live appearance in 2014 at Ultra Music Festival (ASOT 650 stage) what caused fans nearly fainting from the experience! GAIA wore hoodies and just stood up still while delivering incredible live set – except that they would, here and there, show who is under the guise with their signature hands movements (Armin’s open arms pose – Benno’s pointing fingers pose).
GAIA quickly grew from a mere side, strictly producing project, to unique live performing trance phenomenon what culminated in fully live analogue synth show „Moons Of Jupiter“ in 2018 in Paradiso, Amsterdam’s famous concert venue.
They released the album under the same name in June 2019 which was the first underground / IDM album of Armin and Benno as a producer duo but definitely the album they are the most proud of. Namely, in Paradiso, although the show was a presentation of the album, the album was still in experimental phase and they wanted to see the crowd’s reaction to the tracks they wrote and performed right there on the spot (Rank 1 would do the same in their live sets). For me, it was mind blowing not only being one of the 1200 lucky ones who were able to enjoy this so far unprecedented GAIA’s show (because tickets were sold out in less than an hour!), but also being the part of the crowd whose reactions will be the base of Armin and Benno’s decision which tracks will make it to the album!
The album represents a beautiful journey to space, with the stories of each of the Jupiter’s moons. Made with completely analogue gear (and just one soft synth, according to Armin’s words), it’s also a kind of a retrospective of electronic music they’ve been growing up with, starting from electronic music pioneers to classic trance music, still deeply embedded with Armin’s and Benno’s own sound and style.
Rising to fame
When Armin brand changed the course to more commercial pop dance music, they began to work with renowned music producers and artists within pop, house and even rock music genre as Fernando Garibay, Scott Stortch, Toby Gad, (late) busbee, Ne-Yo, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Mr. Probz, Inner City / Kevin Saunderson, Kensington band and David Hodges from Evanescence, just to name a few. These kind of productions gave them a chance to broaden their spectrum of music styles and deepen their already impressive knowledge in producing and sound design which resulted in making their famous Masterclass on producing.
The funny thing was that working with pop producers and artists was almost one Rank 1’s prophecy coming true. Namely, in an interview Piet gave back in 2005 in Russia, when the interviewer asked him what will the style of the next Rank 1 album be, he decisively answered: „Pop music!“. Whether he was joking or not, in less than ten years from that interview, Benno was already heavily involved in pop dance productions, what eventually brought Armin and him a huge nomination for Grammy award in 2014 for their track „This Is What It Feels Like“ with Trevor Guthrie. Also, in The Netherlands they won a whole myriad of Buma’s awards (an annual ceremony where Dutch writers, composers and their music publishers are awarded by the Foundation Buma Cultuur for their achievements in the music industry) and platinum records for their productions, and are nowadays one of the most influental people in Dutch electronic dance music.
But nevertheless the work with all those top notch world producers and artists, the love and passion for trance music run in their blood and trance will always be the genre of their hearts. Benno would thus come out to the spotlights again to proudly express himself in Rank 1 or GAIA live sets.
Inspiration for drawing
I would say that musicians and artists are very similar – and musicians are artists per se. When you have the talent, there is always the need for creative expression and often the joy isn’t always in the outcome, but in the process of creating.
This is what happens to me during drawing. While creating, you kind of „switch off“ from the outside world and music even enhances this special state of consciousness.
I found that GAIA’s music and live sets mostly give me this kind of feeling during drawing and as I was listening to their music fresh after the surgery to distract the mind from the health issues and as a comfort, thus the special love and connection was born with this non-commercial but extraordinary Armin and Benno’s side project.
I did few artworks of GAIA as a tribute to them such as the one under the topic “GAIA”. Here they are:
But it wasn’t GAIA’s music exclusively my inspiration. Back in 2016, when I was attending Dublin Institute of Design’s Graphic Design course, Rank 1’s music and sets were my main driving drawing force. Those tasks, which needed a creative built of a thin air, were something completely different than law and I was often struggling with creative blocks. We were advised by our teachers to search for inspiration around us and to document our creative journey, what took me to long walks around Dun Laoghaire where I lived. During those walks and researches, I’ve discovered later Rank 1’s tracks as „13.11.11“ and „The Great Escape“ which fitted so well into that majestic coastal scenery with their cinematic feels and were sort of inspiration in those creative journeys. I would also get nostalgic listening to „Airwave“ and especially „Superstring“ which reappeared that year again in Rank 1’s newest rework.
A friend, who runs Rank 1 fanblog, revealed me those Rank 1’s early live sets at Sensation and Trance Energy which were so energetical that they became my background booster music for finishing all of those homeworks, artworks and projects in almost impossible deadlines – I simply needed something upbeat to make me do my tasks faster than usual. I was flying around apartment, cutting, cleaning, combining, drawing, fixing to those classical uplifting acid-ish raw live played sets which were actually refreshing in those times when trance was quite poisoned by bigroom sounds. Then I would just ran out to dart with my boards and other art gear, and obligatory headphones with Rank 1 again on, while still fixing and completing everything on my way to the Institute of Design.
Two of my three big projects were inspired by elements from Rank 1’s music videos and sets – the giant disco ball from their Trance Energy sets and Hope (Jaren Cerf’s character) from Cerf, Mitiska & Jaren vs Rank 1 „Witness“ video.
When I was stuck with the project, I called in for Hope to help me – and to my surprise, Jaren really saw that and sent me a very special message on her Instagram, posting a photo from the video with caption “Hope says: You can do it!”. It was surreal, as I instantly knew what to do – and, to my ultimate joy, my project got the highest appraisal by my teachers and the whole class!
After my first Rank 1’s portrait back in 2015 which ended up printed on my shirt for ASOT750NL festival held in 2016 (and didn’t go unnoticed as people thought it was a photo) and which ultimately impressed Rank 1 themselves who published it on their socials, I just had to give them a special tribute once again!
This time I decided to draw Piet and Benno’s portraits separately. The common trait Benno (but also Armin – see Mr. Perfect series!) and I share is perfectionism – it can sometimes paralyze and demotivate you, but, on the other hand, it can give you that special boost to outdo yourself. That’s why Benno’s portrait resulted in making it three times – I wasn’t happy with the first version, started to erase it and as I was fixing it with Panpastels with which I didn’t have any experience, it came out completely different than I imagined. The next day I decided to draw another one, a graphite pencil version and this version you will still find on my Facebook art page and other socials. I really loved it and still consider it one of my best works so far.
It also represented a kind of a shift in my drawing style back then where I would combine realistically drawn face with the rest being in more sketchy style. I loved to „experiment“ with Rank 1’s drawings as they themselves love to experiment with various music styles. Three years later I had an accident as one colored drawing got stick to the portrait and as I was trying to erase that part, it ended up ruined. And as much as I wanted to sit down and cry, I decided to start all over. I took my pencils and erasers, overcame my fear of failure and drew it even better – it’s the artwork which you can see at the beginning of this article ;).
Then I made my second (you can see it under the Rank 1 title) and third Rank 1 artwork:
and as they came out amazingly realistic and are for sure one of my best works ever, I used them when I made a custom Rank 1 vinyl for the cover and labels:
Being a musician is thus a very special call as musicians have this tremendous power to inspire and touch other people’s hearts, make them happy, but also to transform or save lives. And this is the turning point where one will designate the special status to someone whose music has such power and impact.
Namely, in times when I needed a creative inspiration, described above, but also a boost, hope and comfort to get through the most challenging moments, I always had on repeat music in which Benno was involved, whether it was production with Armin under Armin or GAIA project, or with Piet (or solo) under Rank 1 project. Somehow, it would just always appear in important moments in my life. Armin’s „Imagine“ album was my soundtrack to 2008 and 2009 when I was, alongside my job, volunteering at court and preparing judicial exam (and nailed it!), especially tracks „Never Say Never“ and „In And Out Of Love“, where Benno would make appearance in AO Imagine and play them live. „Intense“ album and GAIA’s UMF live set and tracks were my saviors in 2013 and 2014 when I was mostly in hospitals and ended up on hard surgery and post recovery.
Benno is the common denominator to these projects but that doesn’t make Armin’s or Piet’s contribution less important – they are all my musical superheroes!
And when you go through such hardships in life (and even stand Face To Face death), your goals and values change radically. Modern days human mind is usually in the past and future, but rarely in the present moment. We care more for our careers, mostly doing what is expected from us and less about what we would really love to do. Then in making our bold career and other plans, as Armin would say – life happens! Difficult times teach us to enjoy little things and to appreciate life. And this is one of the reasons why I’ve returned to drawing and music.
This new, rather “reformed” view on life, lead me once to a very special moment back in 2017. I was walking home from work, it was raining and I had „Superstring“ in Rank 1 remix playing on my headphones. I was truly enjoying the music, fresh air and the walk. I stopped in the middle of the empty road when the famous „Superstring“ riff hit.
Hearing that heavenly melody, which overflowed me with happiness, exactly as it did back in Amsterdam ArenA during Sensation The Final (little did I know back then that I will hear it even live from Rank 1 themselves in 2020!), I looked up to the sky, feeling raindrops falling down my face, and started to cry and smile at the same time, thinking how this moment would have never even happened if the odds would have turned out differently! It was a genuine moment of appreciation of life (and a track which ultimately became an anthem of my life!), a proof that it’s possible being happy with nothing but the pure force of music, without all that what we were being taught that it was the way to happiness.
That girl over there, standing in the rain, was the same old me when I was a teenager without a worry in this world, when I would just lay down on my bed and simply enjoy listening to my vinyl records – something for what later in life I didn’t have time due to „more important things“. But the life’s irony had it that those things lead me to this whole new mindset and back to being myself, my core self. Conveniently enough – Be Yourself is also the name of Benno’s music label and his personal motto too, which has been proven to be more than true! I know that one day that special moment will be „lost in time, like tears in rain“ (a quote from my favorite movie „Blade Runner“, for which Vangelis did the soundtrack), but till then – as the mighty „Superstring“ – it will always stand as a reminder to Celebrate Life and as the Witness of the Power of the Music and Musician 🎵!