Of cans and worms… Let’s talk about psytrance

Dazed, bemused and slightly confused, I was on yet another mission at the Ozora Festival until I stumbled upon a discussion about psytrance at Chambok House with speakers: Tom Rom, Raja Ram, Mat Mushroom, Graham St John, Pascal Querner and Jens Zyger.

Tom Rom caught my attention when he spoke about the missing spirit of activism in the scene and the passive, apolitical attitude of the psychedelic trance community. 

hippies_by_radiozombiex-d5oe48r

It wouldn’t be (completely) fair to say that we’re a bunch of ignorantly blissed-out happy clappy hippies, chilling with the faeries, often residing on Planet Zork. Or a clique of spiritually-challenged trustafarians that regurgitate esoteric idioms because it’s fashionable.

gaara_of_psytrance_by_m3sequeira-d31fhwl

But spiritual narcisissim does exist in the scene and conformist ‘holier than thou’ yuppies, that ‘treat the third world as an emotional playground for the rich’ (Sutcliffe) can be spotted from a mile. We’ve got to learn to laugh at ourselves though in order to embrace certain truths with grace.

Members of our particular ‘species’ are noted for their fascination with the mysticism of ancient spiritual practice and the quest to reach enlightenment. We are well and truly off the planet and in another dimension and for good reason as we continue to master the art of achieving balance when existing between dimensions. Its special for sure. But…

 

'Down to Earth' by Jal Alders

‘Down to Earth’ by Jal Alders

…At times, the scene can also appear so disconnected that not only does it succeed in alienating itself (even from other ‘subcultural’ movements) – it also becomes a vehicle for pure escapism – perhaps even arousing a false or delusional sense of reality in which only few can afford to indulge.

So does this make us apolitical, complacent, ignorant? Does it lure us in to passive acceptance of issues affecting our planet – thus making us complicit and an accessory to the crimes being committed against it because we don’t realise with real eyes the real lies?

Hippies_by_english_pyro

Is this what Tom meant when he said the psy community lacks that impassioned spirit of activism? That it neglects the original activist values of the underground movement that spawned it because it’s too busy orbiting around its ego and that its sense of spiritual superiority forbids it to lower itself to 3-dimensional standards?

Raja Ram spoke a different truth. He argued that we are already activists because we are demonstrating exactly our position by celebrating, dancing and sharing; we are contributing to the manifestation of an alternative reality – something we are practicing right now at the Ozora Festival and at every single other festival that we go to the ends of the earth to reach. Dance and celebration express the spirit of our activist nature. Simply speaking, Raja is saying we are wired to rave and always have been for milennia and by continuing the ‘work’ of our ancestors, we are already doing a great justice to humanity and ourselves…

 

Image of the Dance Temple at the Boom Festival (2012), by Pierre Ekman

Image of the Dance Temple at the Boom Festival (2012), by Pierre Ekman

It is our pro-activist (ARTivist?) nature that has created the alternative reality that drives the psychedelic movement. It’s a global phenomena that’s given birth to a genuine co-creative community. We’re a wild bunch. You could say most people within it are making an effort to contribute something to the scene and the results have been exceptional.  In recent years, for example, the quality of event production has gone through the roof.

 

Momento Demento Festival, Croatia (2013)

Momento Demento Festival, Croatia (2013)

We’re accelerating because we are learning, sharing and mastering everything we know. The quality of production at some of the festivals I experienced this year was simply off the scale and that’s saying something about where we’re headed. Revelationary ideas are being brought to life at these events and this is a massive activist statement in itself because the experience is enough to penetrate hearts and minds and open eyes. More importantly, we are learning something about the way we choose to live, think and be, thus transferring such ideas and solutions into our everyday lives.

 

Taken by Lera Mi at Momento Demento Festival, Croatia (2013)

Taken by Lera Mi at Momento Demento Festival, Croatia (2013)

We have the power to manifest our dreams and I have witnessed what my friends around me have achieved and how their passion has been rewarded in the most wonderful of ways.

But is it cynical to think this reality is something that’s only available to a privileged few? What about the rest of us left to endure the wrath of a corrupt capitalist system at a soul-sucking cost? What if you cannot be where thousands of others are bouncing to the same beat? 

We are going off tangent and I’m sounding cynical, but rest assured I believe in hippies a lot more than I do in Santa Claus. It’s still an antithesis to the capitalist culture industry.

anarchy_by_abbastanza

TeKno (with a K please) also represents that antithesis. An informed, intelligent, conscious grasp of the geopolitical landscape is combined with a socialist, marxist, communist or anarchist approach to dealing with the shit of the world. TeKno has risen from the ashes of the working class movement. It’s not always so wise to make flippant comparisons because all so-called underground counter-culture movements stem from the same seed – we all know this. But one thing’s for sure: Tekno is far from ‘apolitical.’

Psytrance = Eastern spirituality | Zen philiosophy: change yourself, change world. Think Dalai Lama and Goa Gil.                                                                                                                  

TeKno = Epitome of the counter-culture movement. Ambassador of anarchy philosophy: replace the system, change the world. Think Spiral Tribe, Teknovil, Mutoid Waste, squats, parties under the M25, Dave the Drummer and maybe ‘one night in Hackney.’

Tekno is like the wasabi to the sushi of psytrance: gives it a good solid kicking and another type of reality check. They both come from the same root, yet each has something that it can offer the other, making the whole complete. So we balance each other out like yin and yang: as demonstrated at this year’s Sonica Festival, which orchestrated the gathering of these two very different tribes as artists such as Mickey Meltdown, Jeff 23, 69db, Ixindamix, Drastic Beat, Superman and others bought that Tekno vibe to the festival’s Lunar Underground Stage.

422037_10151336783590005_1602846216_n

My research and sources indicate there’s never before been a stage dedicated to pure tekno at a psytrance festival. Soundsystems in massive trucks are often blasting away in the car parks. It’s what me and my partner in crime, Nicola discovered at Boom back in 2004 when we found ourselves camped (complete with little tent) in the midst of a monstrous truck-village with earth-shattering soundsystems all aorund. We referred to the location of our little abode, as the ‘Brixton side of town.’

I spoke with Superman during Sonica Festival about this fusion of psy and tekno tribes. You can listen to the audio recording of the interview here. (Once I’ve uploaded it).

Moving on: As a person of Brit-Asian origins, I see the world from the perspective of the global south. I am a product of polarised cultures with bullshit detectors that start bleeping in my crown chakra like an Alpha Romeo car alarm. Particularly in places such as Goa. I will explain why later. But this reminds me of a quote that was brought to my attention by a friend recently:

Going to India isn’t an act of rebellion these days, it’s actually a form of conformity for ambitious middle-class kids who want to be able to put something on their CV that shows a bit of initiative… Your kind of travel is all about low horizons dressed up as open-mindedness. You have no interest in India, and no sensitivity for the problems this country is trying to face up to. You also treat Indians with a mixture of contempt and suspicion, which is reminiscent of the Victorian colonials. Your presence here, in my opinion, is offensive.” (Sutcliffe: 1999:140)

 

Holy cow - literally.

Holy Cow

 

Not cool to categorise – but you do get these attitudes, and they apply not just to the psy scene, but everywhere. It disturbs me more to experience or witness them in our scene though because India is the spiritual root of the psytrance culture and I believe this has contributed greatly to its sacred value: we cannot deny that inextricable connection. Western imperialism reigned here once and post colonial generations continue to be welcomed back with open arms, because Indians are like that: beautiful compassionate people that love unconditionally. That’s why sometimes I just feel like saying: ‘You can stick your narrow-minded, condescending, spiritual narcisissim up your white middle class arse.”

Spiritual superficiality is a sad state of affairs, but on the contrary, I also have friends in the scene that are more Indian than me. In fact, I have to admit that psytrance taught me more about my own culture than my own culture. Make sense? We rebel and retaliate against whatever our parents try to teach us. We try to deny or ignore, yet it never leaves our subconscious minds. I grew up watching 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s Bollywood (after that period, it began to suck). I didn’t appreciate it then as I do now.

 

Zeenat Aman plays the part of a scarred beauty in the classic, Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978)

Zeenat Aman plays the part of a scarred beauty in the classic, Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978)

My parents sent us to Hindi school so I learnt to write it; they exposed us to mantras, masala chai, meditative chants and more, but we took it all for granted… So when psytrance came along, I didn’t even need the psychedelics, it was such a mental trip to see massive backdrops of Ganesh, Krishna, Sita, Rama, Brahma, Shiva, Parvati, Kali, Vishnu, Sariswati, Laxmi, Durga adorn the confines of the BRIXTON FRIDGE! 

 

Radha-Krishna

Radha-Krishna

Wow, I thought. What the fuck is this? I was blown away. It re-connected me to my own cultural roots – so that has been one magnificent trip for which I will always be thankful. Over the years though, I’ve noticed the integration of Hinduism and Buddhism in the psytrance culture to the point of saturation that it makes me question where it’s all really going and what’s really going on. Is spirituality being ‘sold’ and is its substance being diluted while capitalist values seep into the movement to be stroked? Graham St. John, I hope, will be one of my next interviewees for this discussion – don’t hold your breath, but do watch this space.

 

Goddess of prosperity, Laxmi

Goddess of prosperity, Laxmi

Everything here is connected. So when we say: ‘let’s talk about psytrance,’ it opens up a massive can of worms. India, spirituality, activism counter culture, resistance, revolution and so much more… So what’s the bottom line? To be honest with you… I have no idea. There are too many worms to explore.

(Indian accent) Shanti shanti, we will find them and try to dissect them, or just let them be… (and move on to other issues of greater disturbance instead).

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13 Responses to Of cans and worms… Let’s talk about psytrance

  1. Pingback: It’s All Coming Back (part 2): Dubsaharan Tales of the Unexpected… | Anukology

  2. Tom Rom says:

    very well written out of your heart. Great that we initiated a process of thinking this way with our discussion in Ozora 2013!

    • Thank you for the inspiration Tom! It’s definitely something I’ve wanted to voice for some time. I felt specially relieved to see you throw the activism card. I believe there is plenty of room for this discussion on this one…

  3. LucyD says:

    Thorough and thought-provoking … Sadly true about India and her populist tourism state.
    really enjoyed reading this. Thank you

    • Thank you Lucy, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. India’s populist tourism state is a complex issue for sure.. would love to delve into this further. feedback always welcome!

  4. Jérémie says:

    After living in a truck for a while, being a teknohead, then diving into psytrance, wanting to achieve the fully off the grid state, with truck, fields, solar pannels, countryside living… I ended up living in Paris suburbs, with a brillant social work that really changes things for, lets say, 300 hundred people.

    Instead of 6 months of holidays and travelling, i get 6 weeks a year. Instead of no rent, no charges, i have 1000€ rent, and charges. instead of being always outside and surrounded by nature, i live in the middle of projects in tall buildings.

    But the energy i’m waking up with every morning is not wasted to serve skiing tourist in ski seasons, who spend 100 000€ for a 6 ppl dinner. Every day, i go to bed exhausted, and i know where my daily energy went, to who i’ve transfered it to.

    And when i am empty, when the city have ate up my brain too much, where i find this world too harsh and too silly…. I take a week of holidays, fly off to a psy festival with all my friends. Unleash the psychedelic party frenzy, eat the energy around me, charge my batteries with love, fun, thoughts, optimism. And then fly back home with inspiring memories for the next months, fuel for life.

    That’s how i live psytrance these days.

    And what’s good in psytrance scene, is that you can give it the room you need to. In regard to where you’re at in your life. If you need to loose yourself, if you need to be lured and then desillusioned, if you need to be off the grid, if you just need week crazyness. Whatever you need it to be, psytrance scene can be. It’s multiform, multishape, like india 🙂
    The shape it has for you can evolve for you during your life, and it always has a room to stay by your side.

    But it can be a wonderful tank of happiness and optimism.

  5. Persephone says:

    From my research and experience there are two conversations happening at the same time on Planet Festival: in the psytrance scene people are asking themselves: “what about political activism?”, while in the tekno, comunist driven scene, people are inquiring: “what about spirituality?” And guess what??? The “opponents” find out that they are in fact complementary and… they even need each other!!!! Yeah!!!! Welcome to the post 2012 era, baby!!!!

  6. Pingback: Psychill and Psytrance Top 10 of 2013… coming soon. (Like, on Dec 31st). | The Blog I Write Stuff In

  7. Really fascinating Anu. Thanks.

    I wrote quite a damning report of Sonica a few years back after the outrageous hypocrisy i was exposed to at that festival in 2007, the year the organisers agreed to accommodate the Duracell battery dance tent on its Power Up tour mid festival, right next to the “healing area”. It was one of the ugliest things ive seen and heard at a festival that was trying hard to pretend to be alternative.
    http://edgecentral.blogspot.com.au/2007/08/sonica-2007-mountains-trees-and.html

    Seems like these days Sonica are getting with the program, and perhaps even with that kind of convergence they’ve had in 2013 – ie Spiral Tribe teknival and psycultural event – perhaps even shaping the program. I don’t know how that went -as i wasn’t there.

    I too was taken with the psychedelic teknival topos of earlier Booms…

    One thing’s for certain, psyculture is complex and ever shifting, and I appreciate your understanding of the nuances of the appropriation of Indian religion and philosophy in psyculture. I look forward to reading more.

  8. Lewis Smart says:

    The world needs more tekktrance. The fusion of ancient memory with future potentiality, of spirituality with technology.. that’s what’s needed.

  9. Lewis Smart says:

    It should also be noted that there is a great deal of dedicated exploration and documentation of psychedelic states in the dance scene, at trance and techno parties both, and this should be recognised as a form of activism.

  10. super mario says:

    “The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” -Jim Morrison

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