Psytrance

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25 years

How Psytrance separated from Progressive, went through a fast generation conflict and eventually partly reconciled with Progressive again.

In the last part of our history lesson about the musical development of the scene we will talk about a genre that has been its eponymist ever since: Psytrance. We invited two widely travelled veterans as speakers, namely the two DJs Boom Shankar and Daksinamurti.

Boom Shankar loves and lives Psychedelic Trance since the early 90s. As a DJ he has travelled to all 5 continents during the last 20 years, contributing with his music to many epic parties and festivals. He is also the label head of BMSS Records and is involved in the organisation of a variety of events, among others SUN Festival in Hungary and the Alice im Wummerland party series in Germany.

Daksinamurti discovered the magic of Goa Trance at the beaches of India in the late 90s. Since 2000 he has been performing his ever evolving, genre-defying formula of Psychedelic Trance at countless parties and festivals all around the world. His love for diversity, mystical themes and shamanism also finds expression through his label Sangoma Records. Since 2013, he has been producing music under his own name and as part of Android Spirit.

Around 2000 Psytrance and Progressive separated quite distinctly and quite fast from each other. How do you remember this time?

Boom Shankar: The turn of the millennium was really an interesting and decisive time for our scene, as Goa Trance slowly developed into Progressive Trance, Psytrance and then Full On. Concerning this development, in my opinion, the album “Midnight Sun” by Alien Project was almost prophetic. It was the first time that on five of the nine tracks a certain Avi Smhailov (Astrix) co-produced with Ari Linker. That record that came out on Phonokol was played continuously at every party in Asia. At the same time, GMS released their milestone “No Rules” on Spirit Zone, which was a huge development of their previous album “Chaos Laboratory”, which definitely still belonged to the genre Goa Trance and came out under the name “Growling Mad Scientists” too. But then GMS dared to look forward “full on”, which led to a further influx within our scene.

Other artists and tracks I think were groundbreaking at the time are Deedrah with “Reload”, the debut album of Parasense (then still together with Zolod) with the name “Apple” which came out on Acidance and Talamasca’s debut album “Beyond the Mask” (3D Vision). But also the Israeli label HOMmega, which was founded by Eyal Yankovich (RIP) and even released a VA under the name “Full On” in 1997. Back then this label was responsible for many milestones (Psysex – Hardcore Blastoff – 2001 / Hujaboy – Hujajoy – 2002 / the debut album (when disregarding his raver past) of Astrix – Eye to Eye (2002).

Daksinamurti: I don’t really have anything to add to that anymore, except for the phenomena Skazi and Infected Mushroom – which I leave uncommented as that this time.

art1The sound you’re talking about was very different from what was being played as Progressive Trance then. Did that also lead to a division of parties and festivals?

Boom Shankar: Especially in Switzerland I noticed how the Psytrance scene split. In those years there were few parties that still spanned the entire musical spectrum, far more were either “Proggi” or “Psy”. Up to this point, this was the first time such a “division” or fragmentation of our scene did occur.

Daksinamurti: The thing with the division I can confirm. It’s going even further and mixing with the aesthetics of EDM (if there is one at all), where the artist takes on the role of animator and not storyteller. The role of the DJ itself has been so watered down in recent years that you almost have to be ashamed to use this term. It seems to me that there are some artists in the scene who are only out for fast fame without having earned it musically.

art2This is often described as “commercialisation”. Possibly as an answer to this a new sub-genre of Psytrance was created. Very fast, very intense, radical. Definitely not for everyone. Dark Psy is the keyword here, and the related genres Forest and Hi-Tech should be mentioned as well. What was it all about?

Daksinamurti: A question that surpasses our scope… No light without darkness – as the saying goes! First of all: I see myself as an artist, who as a DJ and as a label manager with Sangoma Records, has strong points of contact with this genre and therefore, please accept possible criticism constructively in order to increase quality. In addition I would like to do without the term “Darkpsy”, which came into use at the beginning of the 2000s, because it is too prejudiced and clichΓ©d. I myself don’t feel that this music is necessarily dark, but rather deep. I also don’t find the classification as night music necessarily appropriate. You can also have a lot of fun with it during daytime.

Certainly there are some among the listeners who like it extreme and fast, which may in some cases be due to a certain youthfulness. But there are also people who have been in the scene for decades and have a strong need for something “real”. This is where the self-proclaimed “authentic scene” meets, which often, almost militantly, distinguishes itself from certain “commercial” subgenres. Here you can encounter artists, who pass by Beatport charts and Likes completely. However, this can also quickly lead to narrow-mindedness and arrogance if you perceive everything with blinkers. For me, speed and volume are no criteria for good music. Also as far as quality is concerned here’s where talents of most diverse facets gather. Unfortunately the term “underground” is often misused for bad quality. In the beginning the musicians of these genres were smiled at and put on the sidelines – today hardly any festival wants to go down without such artists. The obligatory prophecies of doom for a “darkfloor” have probably already been heard, but I often have the feeling that there are often financial interests behind them and that these floors and artists are still treated like stepchildren. Usually the budget for the whole lineup corresponds to one or two headliners of the mainfloor. Another observation is that many artists and labels, especially in the Hitek area, are quarrelling with each other and get into each other’s way instead of achieving more together. Many attempts to organize independent genre festivals have also failed due to megalomania, authorities and lack of support from listeners. To emphasize, especially in the Forest area, is the style-defining label Parvati Records, which has been doing great work for almost 20 years now and is constantly developing in a positive sense.

Boom Shankar: When you look at the development and differentiation of the last two decades within the psytrance scene, you inevitably come to a realization that I share with Daksi: That a further division into subgenres is taking place, contrary to the original and yet still strongly idealized motto or philosophy of “We Are One”.

When I think back to the origins of our scene, which at that time was still called Goa, it makes me almost sad or at least thoughtful that we can only use these ideals and this perception of “oneness” as decoration, but can no longer live out this diversity under one roof or starry sky. The original idea was a synonym for the participants’ diversity: a colourful bunch of different personalities with the complete range of social and societal backgrounds.

This was also reflected in the music and the art in general: At the parties of the early nineties everything that was played by the DJs there was simply “Goa”. The complete BPM spectrum was represented, from 120 to 160, a further categorization and “pigeonholing” was simply not available. This freedom to experience and live out music and art without the typical classifications was one of the main characteristics of our scene, which was able to distinguish itself from other, already more commercialized genres. This peculiarity (which had already been present in Techno, for example) was then noticeably lost in the early years of the 21st century and found its manifestation in the ever-increasing “subgenrisation”, which then led to pigeonholes such as Dark, Hi-Tech, Forest, or even before that Psytrance, Full On and Progressive trance.

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In my own (controversial) opinion, Hi-Tech and everything that followed (I lost track of it by now) can also be described as a classic generation conflict: In the early and mid 2000s it was already the second trancer generation that was part of the community. Here one should not ignore the social component that (to put it flatly) the youth wants to distance themselves from their elders in the field of music and has to do so in order to find and live out their own identity.

In the eyes and ears of the kids, what was known as Psytrance was no longer “underground”, but already commerce and a clearance sale as it has been with all other previous electronic genres – the logical consequence: Music for the (second) jilted generation. So faster, harder, crasser, cooler, you name it… Hi-Tech here we go! The fact that quality and originality often fell by the wayside is unfortunately a bland aftertaste if you really believe that speed enters into a symbiosis with the intensity of psychedelic experience, true to the motto: The faster and more blatant, the more psychedelic. I see this in a more differentiated way.

It is also interesting to consider this development in connection with typical consumer behaviour. While in the 90s LSD and mushrooms were clearly the typical travel companions, ketamine, speed and GHB then became more widespread in the scene. Exceptions, like the two gatherings that I was able to attend at that time and that were organized (I think 2001 and 2003) by Crystal Head Tribe in Switzerland and celebrated Albert Hofmann’s discovery of the “sacred Eleusian brew”, and on which a certain Goa Gil (2001 together with Nina Hagen as intro!) played for 18 hours, were also there at that time. But it was already clear that the focus or trend was changing.

In terms of musical output, however, the early 2000s were an enrichment, as a lot of experimentation took place and there were also artists who produced at a high level within the Dark / Nighttime drawer. Penta and his label Auraquake are a perfect example. Dark, deep, fast, intense, but still danceable in terms of BPM, even without the help of mind-altering or stimulating substances. During these years Russian producers became a guarantor for intense sound and luminaries within the subgenre, especially Parasense, CPC, Fungus Funk, Psykovsky and of course Kindzadza. The latter is a perfect example for the development towards a faster and more intense sound. While his first album covered a range of 145 -149 BPM, today you can multiply that by a factor of 2, and in my opinion the psychedelic character has halved rather than doubled, but that’s my subjective opinion and some others will vehemently contradict me – isn’t it great to live in a democracy?!

In addition to Russian labels like Deja Vu Records or Osom Music, there was also an international expansion and multiplication within the nighttime label landscape. Pioneering labels in my opinion were Doof Records in Israel (Zirkin, Bonky, Double REL), Digital Psionics in Australia (Dark Nebula, Scatterbrain, Kluster), Acidance from Greece (Digital Talk, Neuromotor), Parvati in Denmark (Azax Syndrom, Droidsect, Jahbo) or Peak Records in Switzerland with artists like Ajja, Psyberpunk or one of the most multi-layered producers of our scene, Electrypnose, who in my opinion is the perfect example for a continued multifaceted life and resistance to any categorization.

One of the interesting excesses was the so-called Twilight Sound, which got pushed by the South African labels Nexus Media and Timecode around the year 2004 and helped artists like Shift, Pitchhikers or Artifact to success. Also Yabai Records from Japan, 3D Vision from France, Discovalley Records or Manic Dragon from Hong Kong were responsible for the development of this subgenre. Questionable excesses, which also led to a further commercialisation and marketing of the whole scene, were the mix of “Psytrance” or Twilight with Heavy Metal and Pop. The best example was Skazi with his Chemical Crew. They were also loud and fast, but I assume that even the Hi-Tech disciples agree with me that speed and loudness didn’t really lead to more psychedelic character…

art3For some years now, the generic term Psytrance has been used by more and more artists who have historically been assigned to the Progressive corner. Ace Ventura is probably one of the best known names who have been doing “Psychedelic Progressive Trance” for years. Labels like Blue Tunes release things that are relatively close to the Full On of 10 years ago with their rolling bass lines. How do you see it?

Daksinamurti: Yes, there are overlaps and it also seems to work well – I think especially Yoni found a good mix with Ace Ventura and also with Alpha Portal (with Astrix). In addition, there are also strong approaches in the foreseeable area with zenonesque dark progressive sounds. Often producers have a Psychedelic as well as Progressive project and go double-track.

Boom Shankar: I think that this reversion of the Progressive trance artists to the origins of Psytrance is connected to the fact that simply the clichΓ©d and thousandfold heard sound has become stale. Especially the last years, where Progressive contains less and less psychedelic elements as well as less and less trance, but more vocals, more breaks and drops than music in between (especially the typical offbeat is a good example), have led to a tendency of extreme commercialization. Some artists have made the leap into popular trance (see Vini Vici) and conquered this scene by storm, which of course goes hand in hand with a different audience and a different party culture. Others, like the aforementioned Ace Ventura, return more to their origins (see Psysex) and have founded a new project (Alpha Portal together with Avi) in which they can better express themselves musically. This is certainly connected with the fact that every trend becomes boring at some point and you have to break new ground as an artist – since this is difficult with an established name, the logical consequence is either to adjust the sound step by step or to start a new project. It’s interesting to mention that Yoni is an enthusiastic fan of yours, Daksi – I’m still waiting for Forest from Oshrat… πŸ™‚

This holistic approach, to let the subgenres become one again, we represent with our label BMSS Records – which is reflected in our name too: Brother moon sister sun, thus the united duality. This reduction to just one special style has never really convinced me, especially since there are artists in the entire spectrum of our scene who represent a creative enrichment for the whole, and we want to offer them a platform with the label, regardless of whether the output is now classified as Progressive or Pytrance or Full On! As an example I can also mention the back to back sets that Daksi and I often play and in which we manage to unite our styles.

art4Finally: A short comment on the current state of the scene. What is exciting right now, what is promising?

Boom Shankar: In my opinion it is fascinating how international our scene has become by now and in which countries Psytrance has found its way. Examples of this are the Chinese label Goa Productions and the Spirit Tribe Festival in Yunnan. Our scene has also spread to countries like Lebanon (Analog), Malaysia (Epic Tribe) or the United Arab Emirates, countries which are otherwise not really known for an open and liberal society or politics. This can also have a positive influence on society in general – at least that’s my hope!

I would also like to see more platforms like Bandcamp as an alternative to the major shops. The advantages are obvious: Prices can be set by the artists / labels themselves and they get a fair share of the sales (compared to Beatport the ratio is almost the opposite), the tracks can be listened to completely and multiple times and especially at Bandcamp there is a community. If you consider that Beatport is only successful because of the charts, which only serve to consolidate and legitimize the throne of major players, then you ask yourself, why do we all play this game with a company that is not part of the scene and only restricted to turnover? Pride, vanity and also “class thinking” are the main reasons in my opinion, and these character traits are actually in direct opposition to our original virtues.

I am also thankful for how many interesting people and meanwhile also good friends I got to know through the scene and how far this network now extends. That’s definitely a positive aspect of globalization, which of course has also found its way into our scene. It is and remains wonderful to be a part of it and I thank everyone with whom I can share these experiences!

Daksinamurti: Self-promoters now have their momentum which is also due to the Zeitgeist. But yes, they still exist, the kind of parties with a goose bump factor – you just have to scratch a little below the surface. A lot has remained. In addition to the well-known trance hotspots, which also have their ups and downs, new ones were added. Meanwhile there are scenes in countries like China, which you wouldn’t have expected 15 years ago. One can also say that the European festival summer has strongly shifted to Eastern Europe. This is also due to the fact that as an organizer in Germany so many obstacles are put in your way that it is almost impossible to organize anything bigger. The current problems of the Fusion Festival and the authorities’ systematic arbitrariness are a good and up-to-date examples. Support your local events – otherwise you might have to travel a long way in the future in order to celebrate undisturbed.

Furthermore, I find it remarkable how many creative artists our small scene has come up with who still captivate and surprise one. There are many false prejudices about our scene, our music and electronic music in general. In the public a lot is reduced to drugs – a pathetic attempt to explain and devalue something you don’t understand yourself and what goes beyond your own horizon.

It would be desirable for people to buy and support the music of the artists they like to hear. Even festivals now manage to be sold out within a few hours and days.

Less consumption mentality and more creativity – become active and communicate it to the outside world. I think our scene has many right approaches and answers how a creative coexistence of cultures can work – especially in times like these, in which more and more emphasis is placed on exclusion and isolation. I could never have imagined having so many friends all over the world and participating in their lives. It’s a source of inspiration – many thanks for the hospitality and love which I receive so often.

  • GOA TRANCE

    The early days: How Techno turned Goa Trance turned Psytrance

    PSYTRANCE

    How Psytrance separated from Progressive and reconciled with Progressive again.

  • PROGRESSIVE TRANCE


    How it became house-y, technoid and then got psychedelic again

    CHILLOUT

    The easy-going genre that defies any definition