PSYTRANCE: MUSIC OF THE NEW COUNTERCULTURE

Written by Vir Rattan Chowdhry

Goa has seen it all. Freed from Portuguese rule in 1961, a village of bare minimums is what remained. A virgin paradise with lush green palm trees, open fields, serene beaches, quaint structures and a magical sunset. Little did it know that its next invaders were going to be of quite a different nature. The world’s flower children were on their way from all over the world, onto a common path through the Middle East now known as the ‘hippie trail’. Sad to know that is not at all possible in this present day. “See you in Goa for Christmas’, were the words said to all compatriots on the road. As we have it, they finally reached. The locals were primal and basic, almost shocked to see bare-naked bodies of different color jiving on the beach. They brought an atmosphere to the young and independent village of Goa. Sensing the newcomers’ demand for food and refreshment, chai shops and restaurants with fish curry and rice started to flourish. The ever-popular Flea market started simply as a place of trade and exchange amongst these baby boomers, a very different scenario from the commercial center it has become today. Yes, we must ‘adapt’ with the times. In fact, the present day beach shack culture that is a trademark, all the live band jams prominent through pubs, bars and restaurants and many other signature elements of modern day Goa can be credited to our hippy friends. They were the first ones to put Goa on the map for any kind of tourism. It’s quite sad that the authorities only glorify and attack the few negative aspects of this culture. Goa created a new shrine for the perfect collection of young hedonistic, differently thinking individuals at the perfect place and at the perfect time.

The most unique ritual however, developed by this tribe, were the full moon parties.

Since Goa was not always powered all over with electricity. Especially in the areas of Anjuna and beyond. Even now the ever-faithful orange streetlight shines dimly, leading the way. These colorful marauders would wait for the moon to be at its brightest, and then come out to play. Starting with acoustic jams leading into pure electric Rock N Roll, as our flowery friends did manage to bring in Fender sound systems, an electric bass and an electric guitar. Long time Psychedelic Trance master Goa Gil was a prominent figure in these jams, and is from the first generation of hippies to enter Indian soil. Goa flourished with what seemed to be a perfect amalgamation of counterculture and spirituality. ‘Goa is a state of mind’ it is popularly said. Many of these individuals were exposed to mystical experiences, within and around themselves. Instances of synchronicity, connection, oneness and freedom. With time their music of preference began to change. Due to the developments made by Roland from Japan in the 80s, many analog synthesizers drum machines and digital audio workstations came into existence. This lead to a boom in electronic music all over the world and people, who didn’t even know music, could become musicians. This electronic music took different shapes in different parts of the world. From their visits back home, these Goa freaks brought back with them Techno from Germany, Acid House from England and various other electronic musical styles. With the use of cassettes and DAT mixers, it became possible to join these pieces of music together, to create a long term, hypnotic and transcendental effect. This switch took place somewhere in the late 80s. By this time, the tribe had become bigger and word had spread around the world, for Goa being a center for hedonism, spirituality and dance rituals. Journeying into the 90s, Goa Trance was born. At the time very similar sounding to Acid house, due to the use of similar synths, but more indigenous to the experience the Goa party had to offer. Musicians in the scene had become more enthusiastic about converting there own experiences into sonic stories and slowly an arsenal of Goa trance DJ’s and producers started to birth. DJ Laurent and Goa Gil are said to be the pioneering minds behind what became the new sound of the psychedelic movement. Along with other musical brains such as Green Nuns Of the Revolution, Psykaos, Shiva Joerg and the Infinity Project, the sanity of young psychedelic travellers were in good hands. Parties were arranged differently, back then. As opposed to the fixed venues we have today, Goa was open free land. Parties were set up anywhere and everywhere. Bamboo Forest, Anjuna Temple, Arambol Lake, the hill on South Anjuna, Chapora fort and I could keep going on. 9 Bar is one such venue that has existed through the course of this modern movement. A signature sunset spot, it is close to many psychonaut hearts. Speakers were set up, and the ‘techno shamans’ would weave audio webs of consciousness for thirteen to twenty four hours. The freaks did the decorations themselves, involving UV paint, banners with psychedelic patterns, aliens, Hindu deities and fractal designs. Parties have been said to go on for days. In my conversations with many who have experienced those times claim that even though the music was not as intense as it is today, the experience was a lot more twisted. I was told that people would stare at the morning sun and celebrate their survival. I do believe a ceremony such as this is about breaking layers. We come in the night with our burdens of our everyday rat races. We begin our journey and since it is the destination we begin to lose ourselves. In a space of common rhythm and pure ecstasy. Slowly these layers start to shed and it becomes a little uncomfortable, because you are slowly being exposed into your true self. This does get a little uncomforting, but you just have to let go. Somehow it is happening through an extremely powerful hypnotic groove. The sweat is gushing away the impurities and the muscles are working overtime, the ultimate detoxification. All around you are specimens going through similar processes and this most definitely creates a common understanding. As the morning sun rises there are expressions of empathy, appreciation and smiles of gratitude being hurled around, and you are still dancing. Somehow I do understand the old school annoyance with what the scene is like today, but it is all on an upward path. I’ve heard there was a time when no alcohol was involved, no onlookers standing around the dance floor. Due to some occasional trouble, even today, people come to experience magic more than pick up girls and ‘look cool’. That does prove for this scene to be one of meaning.

As the dawn of the 2000s approached, Goa Trance had started travelling the world. Due to the heat of the Goan summer and the intense monsoons that followed, they were trying times for partying to take place. In order to replicate the Goa experience internationally, these freaks took to stomping on festival grounds in Europe and other areas in the world. More producers started to rise and bring their own style. This was also made possible with development in music technology and Goa Trance slowly became Psytrance. CDJ’s were now available and could take the weather conditions mother Goa had to offer. This is of course in no comparison to all the live MIDI controllers and analog set ups we are seeing today. Full On music started to pump out of Israel and England, Dark Psychedelic was surging out of Europe and Russia, the distinct twilight style of South Africa. Now of course we get everything from everywhere and not to forget many more sub-styles at our convenience. This music is exceptionally intricate as it deals with minds that are most vulnerable. They are entrusting their psyche to these frequencies, which is why the one controlling them must really understand what he/she is doing. Psychedelic Trance music has another beautiful property. It is designed according to the time of day, surroundings and to induce a certain flow of emotions. There are fun daytime psychedelic sounds by the likes of Dickster, Tristan, Laughing Buddha and Earthling. There is the groovy night sounds that come from Ajja, Dust, SouthWild, Psymetrixx and Gaspard. We have powerful dark psychedelic music, coming from masters such as Dark Elf, Kindzadza and Darkshire. The folks from Parvati Records, Disco Valley Records, are developing beastly forests sounds. Forest Psychedelic is said to have been born under the age old trees of Chapora. I can see the relation between the sound and the surroundings that inspired it. There are various other styles such as Psygressive and Suomi Saundi that are slowly gaining in popularity. The list of labels grooming and spreading talent, is endless. The style of Psytrance is becoming more profound and musical as time progresses. Technological wonders have lead to producers converting the experiences in their minds into proper waveforms of brilliance. There is an infusion of rhythms from various cultures, melodic ideas from different geographical locations and a thumping bassline of unison and oneness. We now have psychedelic producers implying musical modes and complex mathematics in order to produce crisp, mind-boggling sound. The beats per minute ranges from 138 – 170 onwards. The various styles can no longer be classified through speed because now there is dark music at 138 and Full on Music at 148. It now mostly depends on the dynamic and mood with which that space of silence is filled by the producer. Many artists are even sampling live instruments into their act, let alone artists such as Highlight Tribe and Peaking Goddess Collective, who replicate electronic sound with organic instruments.

The local scene in the motherland is also booming, with the burst of versatility and maturity in Indian musicians. We now have acts like Starlab, Kerosene Club/ Flipknot/ Fiber Stomp, Janux, and Farebi Jalebi taking international stages regularly. Artists such as Groove Addict (Nano Records) are affiliated with top record labels all around the world. Producers such as Daash, Hydropanic, Chakraview and Aghori Tantrik are some of the talented homegrown musicians that are influencing many younger minds. There is also a local army of labels such as Vantara Vichitra and Digital Om that are doing wonderful things to put India on the world map. The availability of Indian DJ’s with eclectic music tastes is not a problem anymore. Triptone, Nitin, Karan ‘Third Eye’, Karran Khanna are some of these prominent names. Goa is still the world center for the Psychedelic Trance culture with ever-mystical spots such as Shiva Valley, Monkey Valley, Pipers Plateau and Hill Top that are curating top of the line Trance –n- Dance experiences.

Even though the culture has had to adapt to a more industrial framework as compared to the free flowing days of the sixties to nineties, it is still a new wave world culture. People are still uniting over different ideologies, mystical experiences and a sense of belonging. This music is often shunned and disregarded as a ‘sensible’ genre of music. I do strongly believe it is only for those who wish to understand it. Not in any tone of judgment, but simply to agree to disagree. Quoting Bob Dylan, one must not criticize what they cannot understand. It is also one of the youngest styles of music to exist, and is undergoing a period of rapid growth. It is only exciting to know what evolution in the human mind and available technology will bring in the coming years. Psytrance is a perfect mixture of modular analog physics, rhythm, groove, melody and cutting edge production. There is also a plus point, which is exclusivity. The crowd comes for the experience the music has to give. It is not simply a soundtrack to another ‘epic’ evening with the ‘bros’. It is not simply a theme song to use an excuse to interact with the opposite sex. It takes a lot more than that to really groove. Psychedelic Trance truly provides that, and to top it all, it is an anthem of a movement that is still going strong. Trusted in the hands of musical connoisseurs and new wave concepts that hold the solutions to all the problems our world has today.

PHOTO CREDITS: BRIAN WILLAMS

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