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Trance Dance and Transnational Counterculture
“Watch out dude! That chick you were just talking to might be a ladyboy!” A forty something year old man with an American accent yells to me from a low table where he and some other eccentric characters are drinking psilocybin mushroom shakes. We’re at the Mellow Mountain Bar, one of a few places on Koh Phangan where mushroom and cannabis shakes are sold. He’s sitting with Dax, who’s originally from Holland but has lived in Ibiza for the past several years, and Jürgen, a Swiss ski instructor who travels when there isn’t any snow in the Alps. Dax is showing off a tattoo he just got of an Aztec calendar on his back, mistakenly telling everyone it’s Mayan. “Really?” I ask the American man. “Yea,” he replies. “You’ve gotta be careful man. You never know around here. On Koh Phangan you can never really be sure whether the girls are actually girls or guys…I’ve heard that a ladyboy actually won an international beauty contest for women! I’m just watching out for you. I mean, that might be your thing, I don’t know, but if it’s not that would be a pretty unpleasant surprise to find out the girl you’ve been talking with at the bar all this time is actually a dude!” She was gone by that point, and I suppose I’ll never know if she was actually a girl or a guy. Nobody would suspect that she could be a man in most places, but this is Koh Phangan. It’s quite a place. Jerry was probably just trying to mess with me, and he was tripping on mushrooms, but this Thai island is full of men who have had sex changes and like its sexual permissiveness and parties. I know I at least met one. I was talking to a tough looking woman at a dance party who was friends with the deejay, and asked her what she thought about the whole ladyboy thing. She said in perfect English “Well, I’m a ladyboy! There’s nothing wrong with it!” Ladyboys are just one of many fascinating groups of people on the island. Jerry proceeds to show me Grateful Dead tattoo on his ankle, telling me about how he toured around America with the band and about how he heard that Jerry Garcia spent time on Koh Phangan. This Jerry says he came here because he heard that it’s a bit like utopia. He’s from LA, and explains to me that he used to be a professional basketball player in Europe, has spent time on the road with the Dead, and how he now runs his own business over the internet in California. He tells me that every now and then he likes to just drop everything and go wander around someplace like Southeast Asia or Latin America. Trippy electronic music is being played by a long-haired Thai deejay who looks like a pirate, and some people begin heading down the hill to dance to faster music on the beach or at the outdoor bar next door. Jerry likes the music, but says that classic psychedelic rock is more his style. It’s been a week since the Full Moon Party ended and lots of people are still hanging around on Koh Phangan and dancing. What is this place? How does this situation exist? It seems surreal, and I haven’t even had a special shake. A huge percentage of the people who travel to Southeast Asia on a low budget visit this island at some point and participate in the dance parties that go on here, and some stay for a long time. It’s a major destination for people learning yoga, meditation, and massage techniques, but it’s most famous for its dance parties on the beach. The way of life is fairly leisurely here, but at night there is intense trance dancing, what some would call rave style dancing. Worldwide it seems that this type of dancing to psychedelic electronic music has become popular among many people seeking freedom. Trance dancing to electronic music is a contemporary practice that has arrived to its current state within the last twenty years. This dance style noteworthy because there are no specific steps, and individuals dance alone among others for long periods of time. In trance dancing situations nobody tends to tell others how to move their bodies as long as they aren’t bothering anyone, and a very natural, flowing, hypnotic style has emerged. Around the world large numbers of people have come to realize the power of this type of social gathering. Trance dancing to electronic music is closely
associated with the use of mind altering substances such MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, marijuana, and sometimes lesser known “research chemicals” like 2-CI, and some claim that simply through dancing they arrive to altered states of consciousness. Humans have been doing various styles of trance dancing for thousands of years, but in modern times it hasn’t been commonly practiced within highly industrialized societies. Not everyone who does trance dancing at modern events places a special significance on the altered states they may reach, and there is no uniform system of beliefs which modern individuals can use to make sense of what they experience, but I believe this dancing is a manifestation of a deep seated desire humans have to make contact with something beyond the material world. It is significant that contemporary trance dancing has emerged when it has. Around the world organized religion seems to be losing its influence on vast numbers of people who come from what could be called the “global middle class”. In other words, they are the individuals on the planet who enjoy the fruits of modern technology and economic development. This segment of the world’s population is small but extremely influential, and most members of the global middle class are taught to think in terms of the concrete, that which can be seen, that which is scientific, and that which is of economic value. If the members of this class practice religion they don’t normally enter altered states of consciousness by trance inducing practices or the ingestion of hallucinogenic compounds in a formalized ritual setting within the framework of “religion” the way South American tribes ingest Ayahuasca to see the spririt world, or the way Hindu Sadhus smoke hashish to commune with the god Shiva, or the way some Indonesian trance dancers continue to enter the trance state as they have for generations while listening to Gamelan music. They enter altered states using borrowed spiritual techniques like Transcendental Meditation or Zen Buddhism, by spending a long time practicing yoga, by having near death experiences, by using psychedelic drugs, and now by trance dancing to electronic music. Contemporary trance dancing has come to be associated with a general fascination with what lies beyond this plane of existence, combining ascetic elements of Western New Age meditation and yoga culture with the hedonism of the hippie counterculture of the 60s and 70s. Ethnographer Erik Davis describes it as “spiritual hedonism”. This trance culture is connected to the counterculture of the past, but is at the same time something new. Davis describes a psychedelic trance dance party in India stating that “By 3 a.m. or so, the music grew heavier and the so-called “power dancers” took the floor: utterly absorbed, ceaselessly flowing, totally dedicated to the beat. Their bodies sought to express every oscillating pulse, every twisting melody and waveform, like Deadheads bonedancing in overdrive…These people were surfing the psychedelic bardo, that liminal zone that variously evokes dreamtime and death, primal rites and apocalypse. My own limbs had first plumbed this zone during Grateful Dead shows in California during the early 1980s…But in contrast to the Dead’s notoriously loose if often resplendent noodling, Goan trance seemed more economically engineered for psychedelic journeying (2004).” I’ve seen people dancing this way all around the world, and it’s fascinating. Throughout the remainder of this introduction I explain how I came into contact with the underground psychedelic element within electronic music which is associated with the type of dancing that Davis wrote about. In chapter one I discuss a few existing social science works which are related to my ethnographic work. In chapter two I examine the origins of contemporary trance dancing, looking at how some elements within disco music were very psychedelic, how technological innovation within music led to the creation of new sounds which have over time been picked up by people interested in experiencing liminality, and the way various groups of people seeking to live outside the confines of their societies have turned to trance over the past two decades. After this I have included an appendix using my own travel narrative to compare three sites for contemporary trance culture: Thailand, the
Thesis An extensive worldwide network has emerged in relation to a set of practices that have come to be associated with a relatively recently developed form of music which I define as psychedelic electronic dance music. and North Carolina. or PEDM. existing social science writing related to this topic. most participants belong to the global middle class. This trance dance culture is by no means homogenous but has some overarching characteristics. and members of this culture are part of an international network which connects many countercultures worldwide such as those associated with the Burning Man Festival. and with various squatter and alternative living movements. Participants in the culture go to events during which they spend long periods of time dancing to electronic music. members of this culture tend to be critical of the current form of neo-liberal economic globalization which is dominant worldwide even though they are very involved in that process and have been heavily influenced by it. the Rainbow Family. white young adults comprise the majority of participants. . The dance culture and network associated with PEDM have their origins in the 1960s counterculture and in the long term backpacker culture that came out of it.4 Burning Man Festival in Nevada. politics. people who are heavily involved in global trance dance culture are interested in the idea of having direct transcendent or psychedelic experiences and tend to see these experiences as figuring into an alternative way of life which is more in tune with the planet and human nature than the way of life associated with the dominant bourgeois paradigm in which individuals are encouraged to exercise temperance in their daily lives and work hard in order to gain material wealth and lead a sedentary lifestyle centered around the nuclear family unit. and in relation to the ideas participants have concerning the use of psychedelic/entheogenic drugs. and on information available online. showing how they are all interconnected and how they relate to global trance dance culture and to global social trends. In the final chapter I will draw conclusions about the significance of this global trance dance phenomenon based on my own ethnographic data. a significant number of the people involved in this culture are interested in altering their consciousness for what could be described as spiritual reasons using psychedelic/entheogenic drugs and/or via techniques like meditation or yoga. but overall. in trance dancing participants often see a way to escape from or rise above the problems associated with the rat race of life in the capitalist world and/or political and personal conflicts. There are important variations within this global trance dance culture in relation to how antagonistic groups or events associated with it are to “mainstream society”. and spiritual techniques. as a whole this culture discourages excessive materialism and glorifies intense lived experiences.
Ibiza. I was fascinated by the long term backpackers who had been on the road for months. first at a fairly commercialized rave in the Dominican Republic. and it was no more expensive than going on an Outward Bound type trip. and 9-11 was still fresh on many people’s minds. When I was in high school I went to Peru with my parents on an organized tour during the summer of 2001. London. I’m white. The next year when I was 16 my parents let me spend the summer in Nepal doing volunteer work. which I will also refer to as PEDM. and during the 70s both of them began to practice meditation. Many people did this during that time period. I found out about the volunteer organization I travelled with through a catalogue which listed various summer opportunities for teenagers. It was great. Rather. alternative living movements. I’m an only child. My mother practices TM. a valuation of long term independent travel. and somehow the owners of the small volunteer organization found me round trip tickets to Nepal for $1100. San Francisco. I grew up around many people who practice meditation. but elements of it remained influential. Airfare was cheaper then. She was a middle aged school teacher from San Francisco who had been part of the original Haight Ashbury hippie scene. radical politics. and Israel among other locations. In part because of all this moving around I feel very comfortable traveling and meeting new people.5 My Discovery of and Position in Relation to PEDM During the 1960s and 70s many young people around the world participated in a counterculture which sought to change society via music. Berlin. does not have a single source. indigenous spirituality. They travelled to India to study meditation. Three such elements are a fascination with altered states of consciousness. My situation in relation to PEDM is a fairly interesting one. and my family moved around a lot growing up. After the Vietnam War ended the counterculture fragmented and lost influence. and come from a middle class background. similar to most of the people involved in the 60s counterculture. My parents were somewhat involved in the countercultural happenings of the hippie era. and are associated with ideals which champion an alternate modernity. It was 2002. Despite variations between scenes it is possible to say that around the world a “global trance culture” exists. and my father practices a different type of meditation called Sant Mat. and love. . and through my research and personal experience I have discovered that meditation movements are closely related to and have significantly impacted PEDM. This was several years ago. The movement originated in America but spread to Europe and came to affect many nations. and during that time a lot of travelers were avoiding Nepal because of fears related to Maoist rebel activity. so there was only one other participant in the summer program. and Americans were paranoid. but too short. the Indian state of Goa. The more “psychedelic” forms of electronic dance music are significant in that they aim to alter the perception of listeners. and earth religions within the industrialized West that became prevalent as people began questioning their religions of birth as part of a general questioning of all social institutions (Saldanha 2007 and Booth 2004). Detroit. This culture connects a wide variety of groups and social movements worldwide to each other. altered states of consciousness. It was part of fascination with Eastern mysticism. and later in a more underground context in Spain. Psychedelic electronic dance music. I travelled a lot before I ever saw a rave. but was by no means homogenous. it has multiple points of origin: Chicago and New York. and it’s while travelling that I came into contact with PEDM. and a desire to escape the rat race of life in industrialized nations and seek out alternative lifestyles which are more human and closer to nature. were developed by people living outside of mainstream Western society. The organization was based in Maine.
We lived in the houses of Nepalese families and helped school children practice their English. Mr. and suggested I go to a Spanish speaking country as an exchange student and learn the language. He made a fair amount of money during the dot com bubble and had decided to drop out of American society for a while. so the teacher and I decided to take time off from our program and do most of the Annapurna Trek in the Himalayas. It was funny. invited all of us from UNC to a large rave which was to be held in a massive cave there in Santo Domingo that has been converted into a dance club.6 Despite our age difference we really got along. For example. I put up posters at a coffee shop and a middle aged businesswoman called me and when she spoke with me she thought it was a scam. I met several people who had been trekking in Nepal and travelling as backpackers around Asia and other Third World areas. It’s amazing. so we would all hang around and drink hot beer on his balcony in the evenings. His family is fairly wealthy. and liked it. Towards the end of our trek we met an American man who had been travelling over 4 years. but similar in many ways. They’re connected. Paudel wanted me to help promote his trekking company in the US after returning. so after that I gave up. I participated in backpacker culture. Psy’s background is very international. at 16. the sadhus. The long term travel scene in Europe is definitely different than in Asia. and my parents were halfway around the world. Afterwards I returned to America and started college at UNC Chapel Hill and stayed in Spanish House. I did. Paudel was a member of the Nepalese upper class. when I hiked the month long Camino de Santiago. One guesthouse we passed advertised itself with a sign that read “Stay where Jimmi Hendrix Stayed!” There were also local wanderers. and wear their hair in dreadlocks. a medieval pilgrimage route across Northern Spain. Hindu ascetics who do lots of yoga and meditation. Moises (Moses in English). One night he suggested we go trekking. Living in Spain was something else altogether. He also encouraged me to “live the adventure life”. and he convinced a few people to go down and stay with his family over spring break in 2005. which is a dormitory that houses many Spanish speakers. Psy has three passports. Mr. festivals. One of his cousins. I did that. and got into some very interesting situations. go on pilgrimages. Nepal was a major stop on “Hippie Trail” across Asia. and his father had helped arrange Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mt. and very exotic. and raves tend to put people on the same level with each other if they come from a similar enough background that they feel as if they can in some way relate to each others’ life experiences. I didn’t know much about electronic music but had always been curious about raves. and it’s easy to see why. I went to Spain for my senior year of high school in 2003 with the idea of making it down to Morocco and then around Europe during the summer. He had ridden from California to Costa Rica by motorcycle. I was put in the home of the head of a trekking company called Yeti Trekking and Mountaineering. Based on my personal experience. and I also met people who had done some hiking on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails in the United States. including the school teacher from San Francisco. It didn’t take much convincing. It was volunteer work after all. During the trek we came into contact with many people who were travelling across Asia by land. contexts like travel. I’ll call him “Psy”. Psy’s family lives in Santo Domingo. showing that these long hikes and backpacker travel in the sense of long term independent travel are interconnected. . and loved to show foreigners around his country. Everest. Paudel liked Western women. It was obvious to me that this itinerant wanderer culture had inherited a lot from the 60s counterculture. His father is a dual citizen of Italy and the Dominican Republic and his mother is Japanese. because he treated me. like a potential business partner. One guy in the Spanish house was Dominican. Paudel. It seemed to be somewhat of an upper class phenomenon in Santo Domingo. I failed at that miserably. She said “What is this some kind of joke or a scam?! You’re just a kid! ” In any case. He had sent his children to boarding schools in English speaking countries like Australia and England.
this debate over whether or not electronic music and trance dancing are “authentic” is common. and I couldn’t stop thinking “Santo Domingo”…”Holy Sunday”…it felt like a wild church. but during my time in Spain in high school friends of mine who play Celtic music discouraged me from going there. Many were on MDMA. and one of them had a little leather pouch full of pills. who is from Southern Spain. I’d heard that Ibiza had a huge electronic music scene. which I’ll delve into later in this work. for some who are into rock and folk music styles which value one’s ability to play instruments in front of an audience. At that point I was honestly considering moving to Europe for good. didn’t have much money. to find more trance. but it seems funny that they called electronic music somehow unauthentic purely because it is electronic. She kept telling me things like “Ecstasy is amazing because it makes you really feel the music. going on into Sunday. There were hundreds of people dancing in fairly free form way to mesmerizing music. and will feel connected to everyone. I do see the grain of truth in that accusation. Most of the time there were people hanging around playing hand drums and guitars and . There were neon signs advertising a cell phone company called Orange. That was when I realized that that was meditation. There we were. I already knew that I wanted to lead a very different lifestyle after college than most of the students in Chapel Hill. How authentic is it for Julio. a rave is also authentic if you ask me. but I was scared. or “Ecstasy”. and let go. and hoped to find a secluded area where it would be possible to camp for free. but. everybody dancing together but at the same time alone. Under its effects you can dance for hours. and allow their bodies to move as they will in ways that feel natural. and they seemed genuinely hypnotized. Several deejays had travelled all the way from New York to play.” My parents and their meditation friends had given me all sorts of warnings about how it’s better to get to altered states without chemical help so I didn’t take MDMA.1). I had a sleeping bag and tent. She was going around giving them out and selling them. music produced by deejays will always seem to be somehow “false”. It was Saturday night. Moving fractal patterns were displayed on large screens. That’s why I went to Ibiza. and I still had over a week of free time before the study abroad program started. But.7 Before experiencing my first rave I had only heard about them from scary news reports. I managed to find a secluded spot near a lighthouse outside Ibiza town and slept outside in my sleeping bag on my first night. In the end this is all just a matter of personal preference and taste I think. and claimed that the scene and electronic music where over commercialized and somehow cheap and unauthentic. After one year at UNC I did volunteer work in Senegal for seven weeks and then returned to Spain with a study abroad program. Later I moved to an economical campground with a very international clientele. After that he flew back to the US. so I took a ferry to the island of Ibiza. I started talking to some girls at the bar. Maybe MDMA could be a positive thing if used properly. I really got into the whole spectacle of the situation. and this is at times very distasteful. and spending more time in Spain seemed like the logical thing to do at the time. and it is true that certain elements of global trance culture have become heavily commercialized in some locations. I could have taken one. and lost my friends. I showed up before the beginning of the study abroad program to do some hiking with my dad. a mass of humanity. It originally became widespread after it started being used in “underground therapy sessions” by scientists like the controversial Alexander Shulgin (Collin 1997: ch. but it definitely feels authentic to me to lose myself in the music while dancing to trance. If people really get into the music. but when I saw one for myself it seemed significant. I saw many people on MDMA. But. and it seemed like some kind of a futuristic but simultaneously very primal ritual. something really special happens. My next contact with trance dancing was that summer. to play the Irish flute? I think it is authentic for him to play the Irish flute. and up on a stage fire dancers moved to the music. And. and in which there is a clear distinction between the music makers and the audience.
He had dreadlocks. but some were “freaks” who had been travelling around the world for a long time and moving between different electronic music scenes and living a materially poor but experientially intense lifestyle. At night some of the guys from the group I talked to on the beach managed to get me an entrance pass into the club next door called Space. At Bora Bora deejays played trance and house music. According to most people writing about contemporary Spanish culture the modern hippie phenomenon was originally introduced by travelers from Northern Europe who spent time in the country before the end of Franco’s fascist regime in places like Ibiza. The world class deejay Carl Cox is based there. There were many working class people on vacation from England and Northern Europe who were searching for debauchery. Juan Carlos Usó. Space is a 24 hour dance club. I’ve come to see. and deejays tend to play fairly psychedelic variants of electronic music. He appeared to be in his early 30s and looked like he came from somewhere in Northern Europe.org/uso. which is a bar on the beach where deejays play electronic music during the day. Underground “Goa freaks”. The British man explained to me “Ibiza is free. It was immediately apparent that there were different demographic groups going to Ibiza. He carried a shoulder bag that looked like it came from Latin America. While in Spain I lived in Sevilla. My next contact with trance dancing was in a much more rebellious and countercultural context in Sevilla during the fall. had a rest. They tend to combine punk and hippie fashion. and there were people who sought out the hippie scene. In Space it was also possible to see very different groups of trance dancers side by side.1 Now there is an indigenous hippie movement which has connections with similar movements around Europe and the world. backpackers on a tight budget. It’s a way of life.” Since then many other people have been very generous to me in trance dancing situations. there were many gay people who went to Ibiza as a gay friendly destination. 2008. lots of tattoos. and was sharing them with everyone. and people would dance there every day until it got dark at which point they rested a few hours before going to clubs or secret outdoor parties. where there is a group of people who call themselves squatters or “okupas”. Many dancers wore very nice clothes. Money is made from the bar but nobody stops people who can’t afford the drinks from buying drinks at a nearby store. One day while there a wealthy man from England invited me to hang out with him and his multinational group of friends. . That’s why so many people come here. and baggy fitting cloth pants. November 8.imaginaria. One man in particular stood out. and stylish clubbers from London and Milan all mix at Bora Bora. and inside of it the rave atmosphere continues 24 hours a day during the tourist season. For people like him. The bar defies neat classification because it hosts large outdoor dance parties every day during tourist season and charges no cover. there were a lot of fashionable clubbers from around Europe and the world wearing stylish and expensive clothes. and was at it again in Space. All these groups interact with each other on the island.8 smoking hashish. In Ibiza it seems to be the poor man’s dance club. I’d seen him at Bora Bora during the day. He had danced almost non-stop all afternoon. there were people doing seasonal work.htm. and often call themselves hippies in Spain. Squatters can be found all over Europe and there are some in America. no shirt. Some members of the group were on Ecstasy. While on Ibiza I spent a lot of time at Bora Bora. He had a large barrel full of ice and cans of beer. The club is massive. trance isn’t just music. and this shows that divisions between scenes within electronic music aren’t rigid. multiple piercings. “HISTORIA DE LA PSIQUEDELIA” *online+ Available http://www. It’s liberated. Because of my travel style I interacted mainly with the more countercultural travelers who sought out inexpensive dance parties and didn’t go to upscale bars. The squatter movement is one 1 “Arnal.
Many dancers took ketamine. To get in people had to yell through the bars of the door. and the overall impression was that the people going to those dance parties considered themselves to be separate from mainstream Spanish society. . That squatter house. and through people I met there I learned about a different squatter house where they did illegal dance parties. Almost everyone drank. Breakbeat is defined as a type of electronic music which uses a non-straightened 4/4 drum pattern as opposed to a steady beat like house and trance. The music varied since it was made on the spot by deejays who had varied tastes. but others kept going. After a few months of holding wild dance parties every weekend neighbors began to complain about the squatter house. Café Cultura got me very interested in psychedelic trance. psybreaks or psychedelic breakbeat is a form of psychedelic trance that emerged in the mid 2000s. and it’s his religion! The music is his religion!” The dancers who were packed into the small venue kept going until very late. A few months after the place closed some Spanish friends of mine took me to a very underground bar outside of downtown Sevilla. They attracted a fascinating mix of people. but at that time Café Cultura was hard to find. but it kept people dancing for hours. concerts. “This place is open late. The rhythms can be characterized by their intensive use of syncopation and polyrhythms. which is one of the few places where people define electronic music subgenres. It may or may not still be there. spicing breakbeat basslines into psytrance influenced tracks. Squatters in Spain occupy unused buildings to live in and to create spaces in which parties. ironically. and the squatters were forced to leave by the police. 2 According to Wikipedia. I went there some after a German friend showed me how to find it. During the fall of 2005 I went to multiple dance parties at the squatter house. Most people who are knowledgeable about electronic music would probably describe the majority of the music that was played at those parties as a mix of breakbeats and psychedelic trance. and to find the place people would listen for the booming bass and look for Christmas lights hung above a long dark corridor. The place was filled with smoke. in la Plaza de la Encarnacion. All my friends told me before going to the bar was. Downstairs there was a bar with a small dance floor where people danced to psychedelic trance music. I didn’t leave until the sun was coming up. and there was a bar selling cheap alcohol. I had never heard of psychedelic trance as a specific style until then. The squatters had occupied a dilapidated brick building in downtown Sevilla. It was down a stairway at the end of a long dark hall.” Then. was the first place I saw a rave type dance party explicitly connected to a rebellious counterculture. You couldn’t enter the hall from the street because there was a big locked metal door preventing passersby from going in. and anarchy symbols. or psybreaks. and the walls were covered in painted slogans and marijuana leaves. and performances can be done. In Sevilla there is a squatter house which is open to the public called “Casas Viejas” where free movies are shown every week. with the fact that the city of Sevilla began renovating La Plaza de la Encarnacion and building some giant surrealistic mushroom sculptures that look as if they were inspired by psychedelics. and a surly guy with a green mohawk and dog would let them in. The expulsion of the squatters also probably had a lot to do.9 facet of what could be called Spanish counterculture. or “trippies” which was what people were calling LSD. Inside deejays would play electronic dance music from around 1 AM until dawn. He looked at me and said “This is psychelic trance! Look at the deejay! Look at him! He’s feeling the music! It comes from Israel. sometimes until noon.2 One notable difference between those parties and parties I encountered later was that people didn’t seem associate them with Eastern or neo-pagan spirituality. when we arrived one of the guys I was with pointed at the deejay and let out a sort of maniacal laugh. and most people smoked Moroccan hashish mixed with tobacco in the form of joints. MDMA.
000 people were there. What did I do? I danced like mad. and can produce near-death type experiences in which individuals report seeing a light and contacted God or some sort of higher being. He always wore a multicolored glass mushroom pendant around his neck. Accessed on November 8. In that class we had interesting discussions. It was free. and I later learned that the group of people living there helps organize the Dragon Festival. I got to the festival at night.dragonfestival. He had apparently taken a high dose of ketamine (a dissociative drug)3 and was with other friends of his.org). and on breaks between classes Jordi smoked hashish in the courtyard. The place is called Beneficio. He seemed to be in no hurry to finish his degree. told me about an interesting commune in the mountains north of Granada close to a town called Orgiva. and it was raining fairly hard.10 During the spring of 2006 I took a class at the University of Sevilla entitled the Anthropology of Religion. although the professor approached the material from an overly Catholic perspective in my opinion. inspired by the San Francisco “Human Be In” of 1967. The effects of ketamine on consciousness were explored by the biophysicist and psychoanalyst John Lilly who also invented the isolation tank and investigated dolphin intelligence (erowid. wine. and it was relentless. I stayed in a small tent and lived off beer. Many of the people at that party really did live outside of mainstream society. It is potentially addictive. or been exposed to overwhelming music like that. That spring I was staying in an apartment with several other guys.com Available www. 5 The Human Be-In was held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park during the afternoon and evening of January 14. I ended up going. . That was an interesting weekend. The event was free. The Dragon Festival has been going on since 1997 according to their website. a Canadian man named Devin who travels around as a street musician playing bagpipes and is into something called Osho active meditation. and is attempting to preserve the spirit of the British free festivals of the 80s and early 90s such as the Stonehenge and Castlemorton festivals. and attendees took psychedelic drugs. but harder trance than what I had heard before. The overall impression of the place was that I had entered into some kind of postapocalyptic world where everyone had converted to some sort of punk/hippie/New Age neo-tribalism. “the Dragon Festival”. I had never seen so many people dancing at once. and I got to know a classmate who went to outdoor raves. and claim they are the 3 Ketamine is used medicinally as a veterinary and human anaesthetic. It was trance music. 2008. People had come from all over Europe to the Dragon Festival. Around 8. and deejays from all over Europe were going to play. the day that LSD was made illegal in California. including social welfare. I mentioned the commune to my drug enthusiast classmate one day and he told me about a big festival that was about to be held near there called El Festival del Dragon. I was on my own. and met all sorts of new and interesting characters.com. meeting lots of strangers and learning new things.5 They call themselves the Rainbow Family of Living Light. 1967. and some British people I met told me about how that sort of party used to be very popular in the UK with a group called the Travelers until they were outlawed in 1994 by a law called the Criminal Justice Act. and ham sandwiches. The music could be heard from very far away. Some lived in caves outside Granada. and one of them. but it was nearby. locally grown pot. and some of them travelled around to different festivals all year round supporting themselves by various means. and it was like nothing I had ever seen. 4 Dragonfestival. The cover of the San Francisco Oracle announced the event as “A Gathering of the Tribes for the Human-Be-In. and is connected to what could be described as a countercultural and spiritual group which originated in Colorado in 1972.4 I never went to the commune at Beneficio. I was supposed to meet my classmate Jordi there but never found him.
blessings on our food…” The people there were attempting to live off food they grew themselves. but she was the exception and not the rule. and allows people to work in a café or help clean up the desert after the festival in order to earn back some or all of the money they spend on getting in if they need to do so. Classes start a few weeks later in Spain than in America. While there I met a dreadlocked girl who had snuck in. and he invited me to go to an event called the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. Burning Man is huge. I was all set to go to UNC Chapel Hill and start classes in August. like many things associated with PEDM and hedonistic subcultures which claim they are changing the world for the better. It looked surreal. with people in costumes and huge artwork. camping in groups and sharing supplies. 300-303) . Proceeds supposedly fund artwork. During the meal he says people of various nationalities chanted “Blessings on our food. and some Hassidic Jews from Israel who were living there let him stay in a teepee in their yard and shared a meal with him. enjoyed music by local bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. They believe that they are changing the world through festivals. Burning Man is known around the world. is in many ways a paradox. Burning Man lasts a week during the end of August and the beginning of September. receive. It was amazing. Burning Man. I had seen something about it on the Travel Channel when I was younger. and some backpackers I met in Morocco told me about it. called art cars. but much better organized than the Dragon Festival. and during that period of time people build a temporary city centered around a giant neon man which is burned on the second to last day. turn on. and most people get around on bicycles or on foot. and some of the best trance deejays perform there. and fire safety crews. and listened to talks given by speakers like Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary who instructed everyone there to “tune in. According to him the authorities tended to ignore the community as long as they didn’t sell too much marijuana. This $200 or higher entry fee limits who can go even though the organization offers discounted tickets to some people based on need. Within El Festival del Dragon independent vendors sell food. cleanup. When my friend Devin visited Beneficio he accidentally dropped his tent into a canyon on the way there. It does have many connections to free festival culture. and when he left he said we were welcome in San Francisco any time. Within the festival money isn’t used except in a café in the central encampment which sells coffee and ice. but found a cheap ticket back to Spain and managed to sign up for a third semester of study abroad so I could go to Burning Man. and give away everything they use during the week. similar to the Travelers in the UK. It can be chaotic and often creates a big mess for the locals. While hanging out in Granada at one point during my stay in Spain during 2005 and 2006 I met a guy named Darrin who lives on a boat in San Francisco Bay. To get in you have to buy a ticket which normally costs over $200.11 first of a new group of humans that is going to heal our ailing world by bringing together people of different cultures to create a new set of values which respect nature. My roommates and I let him stay with us while he was in Sevilla. but I ended up in San Francisco and stayed with him for a while. and drop out” (Greenfield 2006: pp. It’s a long story. There are few rules. No cars are allowed inside the event unless they’re somehow modified to become works of art. and cannabis products. He later helped turn over a compost heap and ate another meal in sort of communal dining hall. but cannabis was also a major crop. and during the summer I came back to America and spent time on the West Coast. drinks. Apart from that people trade. and even though their semesters go later it’s possible for Americans to do exams early and finish in December. but Burning Man is definitely not a free festival like El Festival del Dragon.
For some. Accessed on November 20. I took it to be saying that deep down we’re all good.com describes as “an organization of randomly gathered free spirits who surf the bleeding edge of culture. and I heard it being played from art cars while at Burning Man. which is probably the most accurate and complete history of the event to date.sfgate. known as psybient. describes Shpongle.DTL. Any human can have psychedelic or religious experiences similar to near death experiences which make people contemplate the very nature of reality. It is slower than most psytrance. or psytrance.7 Shpongle’s psychedelic trance. Justin. space. Trance can be freedom’s soundtrack. and Raja Ram. and the song that made the strongest impression on me has a female voice in it singing “When shall I be free? When I shall cease to be! No more arbitry (a neologism for derived from arbitrary). and society. To the background of psybient noise it is possible to make out an authoritative voice saying things like “I think it’s time we just move on. 2008. but it’s a major one. For a brief time at the end of each summer. 2008. Rhapsody.com/shpongle. a sort of surrealistic mood music. which burningman. 2008. Everything could be different. .rhapsody. In 2007 48. From that humble beginning.com/cgi-bin/article. That album seems to really have a message. In 1990 San Francisco Police informed Burning Man participants that they would have to take their party somewhere else. After the first burn nobody had plans to expand and create a world famous countercultural gathering. In one song a man says “We’re like 6 Berton. “Friends mourn Burning Man devotee who hanged himself. Many living near the beach were frightened by the Dionysian display.fr/psychedelic_trance/psy_history_part2.” I bought the album after the festival. An eclectic group gathered around the fire and had a party. Accessed on November 20. and time”. According to Brian Doherty’s 2006 book This is Burning Man: the Rise of a New American Underground. With the help of a group called the Cacophony Society. it’s now one of the biggest cities in Nevada. In 1986 a group of friends in San Francisco burned a wooden figure on a clothing optional beach called Baker’s Beach to celebrate the summer solstice.8 They use many samples of Eastern ethnic instruments and contemporary synthesizer-based psychedelic music. Nevada (Doherty 2004). “Nothing Lasts…But Nothing is Lost” was released in 2005. 7 “Shpongle” *online+ Available http://www. The album clearly promotes a message.6 PEDM is only one facet of Burning Man. which is a popular psychedelic trance group based in the UK as “essential listening for the Burning Man community”.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/09/14/BARUS4SLF.12 Burning Man is fascinating because it is very hard to define. and normal people are stuck in the middle of many conflicts that we have no control over. The members are Simon Postford (also known as Hallucinogen). 8 “How the hippies discovered EDM” *online+ Available http://pagespersoorange. the festival has grown to what it is today. November 18. is very eclectic. While inside the festival electronic music can be heard 24 hours a day. a music download website. a local woman made artwork and burned it on that same beach during the late 70s and part of the 80s. who were major players in the development of the original Goa Trance sound in the hippie enclave of Anjuna Beach. and mixes messages about global change and mind expansion with music. i-in perfect harmony!” This leads into a guitar sample and some wild horn music.htm. One of their albums. It’s saying that much of our world has become over-politicized. morality. but that’s what happened.000 or more people attended. and Burning Man Project’s founder Larry Harvey and his friends burned the first wooden man in part to continue her tradition. and that locked within the human mind we have the keys to freedom.” *online+ Available http://www. the event was moved to the desolate Blackrock Desert near Gerlach. the only way out seems to be transcendence.
”9 While in Israel I went to an all night trance party at a beach bar in Tel Aviv called Sakkaya and talked with several guys who had recently returned from a long trip to Central and South America. Several people at the rave site told me they had recently returned from India. and his burly Palestinian friend drove us around town while playing loud music from his car’s powerful sound system that he simply called “Goa”. In the late 80s large numbers of Israelis began traveling to India for long periods of time upon completing their military service as part of a ritual that has come to be known as the “post military trip” and there they came into contact with the trance dancing scene on the beaches of Goa. and psychedelic art on them promoting illegal parties. One of the parties was broken up by police with M-16 machine guns. The only sure thing is death. and the dancers looked like psychedelic guerrilla warriors. In Israel things can have a very apocalyptic feel.. and there was a tent set up called the Extreme Chillout Zone where volunteers passed out informational pamphlets on various drugs explaining the possible risks and environments where each drug tended to be found. It was actually held in sight of the controversial barrier wall that divides the West Bank from Israel. and the album suggests that it is the next step. Several individuals wearing flowing clothes were being carried in sedan chairs. phone numbers. At one point during the night a girl handed me some flyers with dates. They told me that on their travels they had gone to some really intense full moon trance parties in several different Latin American countries. Later on during my trip I visited my friend Lorenzo in Bologna. Most of the people there had done their military service and spent time in India and other Third World trance destinations as part of larger post army trips.com November 18. . marijuana. Life is uncertain. Isratrance.. I went back to the Dragon Festival during the spring of 2007 with a group of people from five different countries. Strange fluorescent works of art were hung in the trees. states that “. 2008. a popular online trance music forum in Israel. and strong hallucinogens like LSD and were the drugs of choice. One of the Palestinian guy and Lorenzo’s best friends is Israeli.in the early 90s Israelis started bringing back tapes of this new music that suited the Israeli state of mind very well. The music was highly emotional and very releasing which was just what the post army traumatic Israeli needed to release all the tensions built up within them. I’ve continued to travel widely and attend trance related events since going to Burning Man. The music was fast and dark. One couple I spoke with had a statue of the Hindu god Shiva glued to their dashboard. To be respected members of society individuals must complete mandatory military service. They had done military service and led regimented lifestyle for a 9 Isratrance. As I’ve gotten deeper into trance culture I’ve come to see that it has very millennial overtones related to altered states of consciousness. and they shared a two liter bottle of water mixed with LSD with dancers. Hashish.com [online] Available www. Life must be the preparation for the transition to another dimension.isratrance. Through lots of phone calls and the help of friends who speak Hebrew I made it to two underground parties in the hills near Jerusalem. I learned about the party when I stumbled across a large procession headed towards it through downtown Pisa. A few days later I flew to Israel and came into contact with what is probably the strongest trance culture on Earth.13 caterpillars contemplating pupatia. and have come to see how significant trance dancing is in many people’s lives. and loud Goa trance music was played from floats. To them I think it would be fair to say that trance was associated with liberation.” This is heavily influenced by Eastern mysticism. and that summer I went to visit my girlfriend of the time in Italy and attended an illegal psytrance party in Pisa which was held in protest of the expansion of a US military base. and they all like Goa trance. LSD and psilocybin were said to be common around psychedelic raves and festivals associated with the Rainbow Family.
or unity? I think so. people. the effects of drugs on people and society.14 significant amount of time. and music between these sites and other sites. I found it really interesting that they dressed the same. I will describe a variety of beliefs and practices related to trance in these three areas. the Peace Convoy. danced to the same style of music. and Western North Carolina dance parties. What is this global trance culture? Does it have any rhyme or reason. the Rainbow Family. India. The European radical left has a very strong psychedelic element that is very pro-Palestinian. and the concept of the “global nomad” as part of my research. I will show how there is a flow of ideas. I have done extensive reading within and outside of the social sciences related to the history of psychedelics and the counterculture of the 60s. the 2008 Burning Man Festival in Nevada. Politics are not discussed on the dance floor. . and while backpacking they had spent time trance dancing in places like India and Thailand. and took the same psychedelic drugs as many pro-Palestine anarchists and countercultural types I encountered in Spain and Italy. and how in all of these places trance dancing figures into people’s ideas of an alternative way of life and for some people ideas about an approaching change of era. the relationship between raves and religion. the history of raves and the music scene in Goa. but this element within the European radical left interestingly has a lot in common with Israeli psychedelic culture. the phenomenon of backpacker travel. and afterwards they had experienced the extreme freedom of backpacking. Now that I have described how I entered the world of psychedelic electronic dance music I am going to explain the history of the musical style and describe the geographies of trance while focusing on three areas where I have spent time doing field research: backpacker enclaves in Thailand. the Burning Man Festival.
Shalev understandably had his doubts. entitled Fused by Paradox: the Challenges of Being an Israeli Psy-trancer. have had a more specific focus than me. When I travelled to Israel in 2007 I joined the website Isratrance. He said that it was a huge culture with many different facets and scenes which varied widely from region to region. To my knowledge. I was a bit wishy washy. but none have exactly the orientation I am most interested in since they for the most part delve into topics which are related to PEDM but do not examine this culture in depth on a global scale in the same way I have. One work deals with the relationship between trance dance and religion on a global scale. Shalev included. I posted a message on the site stating that I was an anthropology student considering writing a senior thesis about psychedelic trance music and wanted to go to some parties while in the Middle East. but does not investigate the relationship between PEDM and counterculture and backpacking as much as I have. In his Master’s thesis and in the above article he later wrote Shalev describes some of the main features of Israeli PEDM culture (PEDMC) and shows how within the trance party environment. There is a fair amount of academic literature available on topics which are related to this trance dance culture which my study focuses on. At the time I was still really just discovering psychedelic dance music. It is by no means intended to be read as an all encompassing ethnography of PEDMC. focused on related movements such as the Rainbow Family or Burning Man. and the style is not really that popular in parts of the US I have lived in so I underestimated the size and diversity of the culture at that point and thought I could possibly sum it all up in one academic paper of fifty pages or so. Would it not be more fruitful to focus on some aspect of PEDM and investigate that extensively? Shuki was for the most part right. that I feel are particularly relevant to my thesis. He asked me what I intended to focus on with my investigation of trance culture.15 Chapter One: Literature Review The purpose of this section of my work is to describe a few concepts and ideas put forth in existing literature on PEDM and related socio-cultural movements and relate them to my own first hand experiences with PEDM. Somebody responded and gave me the contact information for a man named Shuki Shalev. I just want to write about it all.” I believe I said something a bit like that. most existing research has investigated specific sites like Goa. Below I describe a few points from Shalev’s thesis and an article he wrote entitled (En)Countering the Beat: Paradox in Israeli Psytrance. known . “Well. India or Ibiza. which is a major forum for PEDM enthusiasts in Israel and worldwide. Most other researchers investigating PEDM. about all psytrance culture around the world. and that it would be very difficult to accurately describe it all in an undergraduate honors thesis. which is quite possibly the strongest trance culture anywhere in the First World. on specific trance dance communities or movements within the First World. on related social phenomena which are intertwined with PEDM such as backpacking and neonomadism. I read Shalev’s Master’s thesis. and spoke with him over the phone. something which proved to be impossible.com. and investigate what PEDM means for the individuals involved in it. at least in terms of numbers of participants. so what I have tried to do with this work is simply describe the dance culture as I’ve experienced it in various parts of the world as well as describe how it emerged in the 90s and spread around the world to become a significant social force. It’s about Israeli trance culture. Such a work would only fit in a very large tome. Spain where this phenomenon has been particularly influential. In addition to purely academic literature there are many non-academic books that I consulted during my research which delve into topics that are related to PEDM. who is currently an anthropology Ph.D candidate in Israel. Before reading all of the other works that I mention below. I contacted Shalev. or examined multiple aspects of PEDM within volumes containing various articles about separate but related issues.
After doing several years of investigation Shalev came to believe that participants in Israeli PEDMC are in fact doing a countercultural act by going to illegal dance parties which the mainstream views as countercultural.16 as the mesibot in Israel. rather than creating something entirely new and countercultural. transistim have a tendency to view the mesibot as a very open and accepting environment for people of all backgrounds. and respect. and cannabis. is put into practice. for much of the communication within Israeli psychedelic trance culture. known as transistim. Israeli PEDMC has many features which could be described as countercultural and probably utopian by some. participants tend to replicate the source culture of the main demographic group responsible for the establishment of PEDM as a significant social phenomenon in the Jewish state (that of late modern. there seems to be an overall consensus within Israeli PEDMC that parties adhere to the old rave scene slogan of PLUR: peace. to the point that it seems to have lost much of its “relevance and appropriateness to the contemporary Israeli situation” (Cohen *1989+ 1995: 210). PEDM became a significant social force in Israel in the early nineties. and that even if they may view the dance gatherings as entirely countercultural and separate from mainstream secular Jewish society they actually replicate many of the social trends and prejudices that are present in mainstream Jewish Israeli culture. secular. prefer trance culture events to be non-profit endeavors. and that within trance parties individuals of all types can find a very acceptant and open environment for self expression. many transistim appear to carry some of the social trends and prejudices of mainstream Israeli culture with them to the mesibot. Zionism. rather part of a search for a viable supplement to the cultural ethos of Zionism. unity. puts forth the view that the rise of Israeli PEDMC was not part of a total rejection of Zionist ideologies by the youth. and that within the mesibot participants openly consume banned substances such as LSD. it seems that even though transistim often have a tendency to view Israeli PEDMC as an alternative culture to that of the global culture of neo-liberal market capitalism. Shalev cites the Israeli sociologist Uri Ram (2000). And. psychedelic dance music gained such a strong foothold in Israel largely due to the fact that the country has become such an integrated part of the global neo-liberal economic system and the fact that young Israelis have become more individualistic and international minded than in the past. in which deejays and organizers just make enough money to pay for overhead costs. this corresponded with some significant changes within Israeli culture. which placed more emphasis on the individual and on personal betterment and gratification than Zionism. PEDMC within Israel was largely established by and is still for the most part dominated by Jews of European descent. in part because a large number of the parties are held illegally on government land. because many associate the parties with a not-for profit ideology which runs counter to the neo-liberal profit driven mainstream. Yet. Shalev. and respect. post-Zionist Israel). Ashkenazi Jews are . unity. which emphasized the importance of individual sacrifice for the good of the nation. which many argue has replaced Zionism as the unifying national ethos of Israel. even though they have a tendency view their parties as being completely rebellious and separate from the mainstream (Shalev 2006). Interestingly. According to Shalev. the language of global capitalism. love. And. citing various other Israeli authors to support his ideas. Israel shifted from being a nationalist and collectivist society inspired by Zionism to one driven by liberalized secular materialism inspired by neo-liberal economics. love. and leading them to use English. Ashkenazi Jews. with which feel they can no longer overtly identify. in which the rave scene’s creed of PLUR: peace. participants in Israeli PEDMC. leading them to do things like go on backpacking trips abroad and seek out cutting edge psychedelic dance parties. MDMA. Yet. who stated that the erosion of Zionist ideal was partly a result of Israel’s exposure to the forces of globalization which stressed ideas like social pluralization and hyper commercialization. including the erosion of Israel’s founding Jewish nationalist ethos. For example.
but that they had formed their opinions based on how they had seen Eidot-Hamizrax Jews and Arab Israelis behave at parties in the past. That doesn’t sound so bad. Transistim try hard to keep so called undesirable elements out of the mesibot. who know how to dance to the music in ways that are socially acceptable within the culture. they may be referred to by other partygoers as either Arse or Shimon. it is . fair enough. and who in general act in a socially acceptable manner while they are at underground dance gatherings. but there is a stereotype of working class Jews of Eidot-Hamizrax origin not being affiliated with PEDMC on a spiritual or ideological level. which thus associates them with those of Eidot-Hamizrax heritage. transistim use some terminology to describe undesirables that highlights the prejudices of the mostly Ashkenazi group of people that is the driving force behind Israeli PEDMC. which makes it clear that middle class Ashkenazi Jews are the ones responsible for ranking categories of people within Israeli PEDMC. creating an open space for all those present to express themselves freely. Ashkenazi transistim typically refer to themselves as Anashim Yafim (“beautiful people”) or Anashim Exuti’im (“quality people”). or damaging property. Some Israelis argue that this ethnic stereotyping has a grain of truth. which is the slang equivalent of Shimonim that is used to refer to middle class Ashkenazi Jews. party organizers. So. or do any number of other unsavory activities. making them distinguishable from Anashim Yafim. fighting. when I went to some underground trance parties in Israel several people actually told me that they didn’t like parties as much when there were many people of Eidot-Hamizrax or Arab Israeli descent present. but there seems to be a general consensus as to who they are. start fights. The unwanted guests are those who are not connected to PEDMC on an idealistic or spiritual level and who use the mesibot as nothing more than a site for crass self indulgence. “Undesirables” are sometimes referred to as Arsim (“punks”) or Shimonim.). rather than Yoramim. some are clearly more welcome to participate in the culture than others. I don’t care what anyone says. and they supposedly didn’t understand the dance culture as well as Ashkenazi Israelis. is that according to general popular opinion within Israeli PEDMC ideal partygoers are those who have some sort of ideological or spiritual connection to PEDMC and help create the best possible atmosphere when they attend parties. it’s probably best to shut those individuals out. and shimon is a name that transistim stereotypically use to refer to Eidot-Hamizrax. Well. or Jews of North African or Middle Eastern descent. These are normally individuals who have been around PEDM a lot. because according to them people of those groups often started trouble. etc. thus adding to the atmosphere. These very same people then all proceeded to tell me that they weren’t racist and had nothing against Arabs or Jews from Arab countries. It is clear that plenty of middle class Ashkenazi Jews misbehave in the mesibot. who know how to handle themselves properly while on drugs. which is a term that means “nice/beautiful people”.17 normally viewed as the most ideal party participants according to overall Israeli PEDMC consensus (determined by those who occupy positions of power within the culture: deejays. yet. thinking of trance culture as a place where all are accepted and free to express themselves. Arse is an Arabic term that means “pimp” but in Israeli slang means “jerk”. there is this paradoxical situation within Israeli PEDMC in which insiders to the dance culture tend to have a very smug view of their own community. and of them using underground dance parties as little more than a venue to do such things as attempt to take advantage of tripping women. When someone of any ethnic background behaves in a socially unacceptable way within the mesibot by doing something like talking rudely to women. which is consistent with what I saw while in Israel. And. Shalev’s assessment of general Israeli PEDMC opinion. but who are these unwanted guests? Transistim don’t normally discuss this. and that therefore the presence of large numbers of non-European Jews and Arabs detracted from the overall atmosphere. For instance. who dress in a way that is fashionable within the culture. Yet.
it appears that despite the fact that many within Israeli PEDMC urge transistim to just “Trust in Trance” as if it’s going to be a remedy for all the social unrest in that part of the world. reproduces many of the trends of the source culture that it comes out of. giving them a space for candid self expression. John 2004: ch. People of varied ethnic and linguistic backgrounds go to the mesibot and enjoy the parties. So. John. as in other scenes around the world that have been written about extensively. producing the best vibe possible. is very relevant to my work. probably due largely to the fact that historically they have not been as heavily involved in PEDMC and backpacker travel as Jews of European descent. India. I believe that the same goes for most of the trance scenes and social movements I will discuss in the coming pages. This does not mean that Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent and even some Arab Israelis don’t go to the mesibot and enjoy the parties and feel accepted. and even racist. and the fact that as gatherings become more commercialized and “aboveground” many participants tend to view them as less spiritual. As liberating and inclusive as the mesibot environment may seem for many transistim. Another author presents the idea that drug use and dance at rave events allows individuals to dissolve the ego and return to a sort of pre-lingual infant like stage in which there is no awareness of one’s physical distinctiveness and in which people feel as if they are “at one with the universe” (St.1). suggests that when individuals dance for long periods of time at rave type events they experience some form of these states. but. In the Israeli context this normally means that these are individuals who were able to backpack and stay in locations where PEDM is very prevalent for extended periods of time. Within Israeli PEDMC. Israelis who are very heavily involved in PEDMC tend to enjoy parties the most when the majority of the participants are heavily involved in the culture and at least think they fully grasp its meaning. As you will also see in my descriptions of other works which cover issues related to PEDM. and the attitudes and inequalities of mainstream Israel are reproduced within the gatherings. the difference between more underground events like illegal raves and institutionalized or “mainstream” dance gatherings. even if it views itself as extremely countercultural. The majority of trance insiders within Israel are of European Jewish descent. those who are most heavily involved in PEDMC within Israel tend to come from a background of relative economic privilege that allowed them to fully adopt PEDMC and view themselves as local extensions of a globalized culture. Moving on. The articles contained in the book examine such issues as the possibility of viewing rave as a new religious movement. A couple other interesting concepts discussed in the book are those of “collective effervescence” and “communitas”. Rave Culture and Religion. One of the writers. which allowed them to backpack and stay long term in trance destinations such as Goa. taking on the PEDMC mindset as their own. I still believe trance culture can be a positive force and has the potential to bring people from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds together. Yet. other scenes all around the world have been charged with being exclusive in favor of whites and the middle class. Any social movement. which he . the mesibot is still very much a part of Israeli society. and they have to a large extent been able to become ‘infected’ by PEDM and become trance insiders because of their position of relative economic privilege. while individuals of other ethnic backgrounds normally have less prestige within the culture in comparison. Tim Olaveson. supposedly “ideal partygoers” tend to be of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. One author examines the similarity between rave dancing (which I refer to as trance dance) and certain indigenous rituals involving movement and the ingestion of mind altering compounds. a collection of articles about the relationship between dancing to electronic music and spirituality edited by sociologist Graham St.18 clear to both Shalev and I that some of the prejudices of middle class Jewish Israel have definitely carried over into Israeli psychedelic trance culture (Shalev 2008).
a set of egalitarian. inherently emotional experience or state. It is communal. an essential and generic human bond. and in my opinion this also goes for PEDM gatherings in general. One of their “trips to the zone” was to Black Rock City. a sort of connectedness and communion with the larger whole that is the dancing mass. but for others they mean something more. and quotes Reynolds stating that raves are timeless places where utopias are both imagined and lived. non-rational bonds between concrete and historical individuals. Neither Durkheim nor Turner were able to clearly define this type of a concept in concrete terms. rolling Viking ships. Similar to Durkheim’s collective effervescence Turner thought that communitas emerges in ritual and characterizes certain social gatherings. Now many of the cacophonists think the festival has become too tame and are seeking out more extreme opportunities elsewhere (Doherty 2004). Based on my observations during research I agree with Olaveson and Shalev that trance dancers seek out this type of exalted state. but they both insisted that they were referring to some sort of real phenomenon (2004). electric. In the final article of Rave Culture and Religion Robert V. an assistant geography professor at the . This linking of the rave to the TAZ. and the TAZ to collective effervescence/communitas is significant. collective. and Rainbow Gatherings. and communitas/collective effervescence. Olaveson also describes how some have made a comparison between raves and a concept which is very relevant to several of the phenomena connected to the trance dancing I am investigating. a sort of “nowhere/nowhen wonderland” (2004). especially since the group known as the Cacophony Society regularly organizes what they call “trips to the zone” meaning that they attempt to put the TAZ concept into practice. but that others see it as spiritual site which enables transformational experience (2004). transformational experiences.19 argues are essentially the same thing. direct. and it refers to a feature of certain social assemblies. This concept was originally developed by the anarchist theorist Hakim Bey. for some they’re just fun. especially religious rituals. and that in the space individuals spend time reveling in surrealistic surroundings where it is possible to find such things as giant glowing lobsters. Another major academic work which is relevant to my study is the 2007 book Psychedelic White: Goa Trance and the Viscosity of Race by Arun Saldanha. Kozinets and John F. This is consistent with my own observations. Their “trip to the zone” in Nevada was largely responsible for making Burning Man a major festival and eventually a major center for global PEDM culture. and mobile taxidermied horses. The anthropologist Victor Turner later described a somewhat similar condition with the concept of “communitas” which is “an unstructured or rudimentarily structured community of equal individuals. Collective effervescence is a concept that was developed by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim throughout several of his works. the site in the arid Nevada desert that has become home to the Burning Man Festival. that of the Temporary Autonomous Zone or TAZ. and consists of a liminal or marginal space that occupies the cracks left behind by the state which eludes formal structures of control. Olaveson makes note of the fact that several writers like Matthew Collin and Simon Reynolds have proposed that some raves can operate as TAZ’s. From reading this book it appears that in their most extreme forms raves can lead to TAZ’s. or ecstatic. energetic. Sherry describe how Burning Man has become a sort of sacred pilgrimage site for many ravers and non-ravers alike which shares common ground with other contemporary events like Oregon’s Country Fair. The Israeli anthropologist Shuki Shalev has proposed in his writings that in the trance party environment many dancers on drugs experience something he calls “hallucinogenic communitas”. neo-pagan festivals. and can be described as “an essentially non-rational affective state or experience which is temporary in nature and a possible source of great cultural creativity”. They make the observation that for many Burning Man is just fun. and a deep.
20 University of Minnesota. but rarely politics or money. AThousand Plateaus(1980). Saldanha did not find a situation in which the rave scene’s creed of PLUR: hope. he found a situation in which white (which includes Israeli and Japanese) Goa freaks sought to remain separate from those who they deemed to not fully understand their lifestyle. because of neo-liberal tourist development strategies the Goan government has in recent years allowed a lot of up-scale hotels to be built within the state. to inter-racial relations through their drug and trance dance oriented lifestyle since they do not want to interact much with people who aren’t living outside of the regimes of work. and since then has been interested in what is going on there. a state of affairs in which they have given in to “the unintended self-defeat of creative flux owing to an all too easy following of lines of flight”. using the Hindu mystics’ long tube like chillums to smoke cannabis in groups in a quasi-ritual fashion. In addition to that. and respect. It is very common look at psychedelic drugs and parties as if they opened the minds of those involved to seeing the world in new ways. Arun Saldanha is half Belgian and half Indian. the concept is used to define a “rhizome”. chakras. In his book Saldanha also makes the observation that now many young Indians from middle to upper class backgrounds are getting involved in the trance scene in Goa but that they oftentimes stay in their own cliques and do not hang around as freaks long term like the foreigners. and examines race relations surrounding the parties there. and family life long-term and regularly going to dance parties like them. school. Saldanha uses the terminology of the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. was fully lived out. mostly from Western Europe and Russia. Saldanha also proposes that many freaks have fallen into what Deleuze and Guattari called microfascism. or closed off. In contrast to this glowing view that some advocates of psychedelics have put forth. love. and the fact that many middle class Indians now go to Goa on short trips to see the freaks and raves as a sort of exotic tourist attraction within their own country (2007). Saldanha found members of what he called the “in crowd” to be very cliquish and almost racist. and has done a lot of clubbing in various countries around the world. He went into his study expecting the trance parties in Goa to break down racial barriers.10 He also examines the domestic tourist situation that has emerged surrounding the party scene. and now increasing numbers of “mainstream” charter tourists on two week vacations. . Some freaks practiced yoga. but during his research Saldanha began to believe that this is not always the case (2007). Saldanha 10 A line of flight or line of escape is a concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and used extensively in his work with Felix Guattari. This is a gross oversimplification of these concepts. unity. and to relating to people they may have previously been closed to. To get a better idea of them read Deleuze and Guattari’s works. In short. He came into contact with the rave scene in Goa during a trip to India to visit his family. and palmistry. In the first chapter of the second volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia project. These individuals from the First World had adopted Eastern spiritual terminology and ideas. non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. and they used Hindu and Buddhist symbols in relation to dance parties and spoke in very esoteric terms in daily life. oftentimes avoiding meaningful contact with Indians who they deemed to be untrustworthy or too materialistic (2007). commonly discussing such topics as auras. Rather. A rhizome is used to describe theory and research that allows for multiple. are going there and view the other foreigners who are living the freak lifestyle as a tourist attraction. Saldanha approaches his ethnography of the Goa trance scene in Goa from the perspective of cultural geography. stating that the members of the “in crowd” which drives the Goa trance scene actually make the group more viscous.
and one Thai girl told me about how she knew a Swedish girl who had become a prostitute in order to save up money and continue travelling. and I had them in mind in Thailand and while attending trance dance events in the US. Saldanha definitely makes valid observations in his book. and they can make it so that people who have had them tend to relate best with others who have had those same types of experiences. but. and makes some very astute observations about how people who profess to be opening their minds and rebelling against oppression can fall into a sort of countercultural snobbery. It’s just that people from a certain cultural background tend to find the trance lifestyle and related countercultures attractive. Many foreigners in Goa are most certainly disrespectful of locals. and leads to certain viewpoints and perspectives among those who dedicate themselves to the effort. which I noticed are mostly frequented by whites. people who come from families where there aren’t serious money problems. but. That said I encountered many foreigners who were suspicious of locals. meeting new people and encountering that which is foreign. If there was more meaningful interaction between foreigners than between foreigners and locals it was mainly since travelers share a certain context. this didn’t just lead to people being inconsiderate of locals. while I just seek to document a network as I have experienced it. in which what is a modest amount of money in a rich country can allow one to live like a king in the third world. On Koh Phangan destitute travelers often steal from other travelers. there were many Thais who hung around the raves on a more or less equal footing with the “farangs” or foreigners. but this more than anything seemed to come out of the fact that in many tourist destinations poor locals view foreigners as cash cows. thinking they were always up to no good. seeing them as little more than servants. These are intense experiences. This is a rebellion undertaken by those who have the luxury to go about rebelling in such a way. they oftentimes find that the other people with . Saldanha makes broad observations on race in Goa. It can be a sort of paradox. and avoid restrictive power regimes as much as they can. hedonistic. I really do not think that this is because of a sort of hippie snobbery which excludes people of non-middle class non-white backgrounds. just the same as some people I encountered this summer in Thailand were in ways disrespectful to locals. Wild West. but whose parents probably push them to adopt a fairly regimented lifestyle and attain material goals while they actually are most interested in living intense experiences and may not care that much about obtaining a nice car or house or settling down.21 describes a very complex situation in Goa. A similar situation would almost inevitably emerge among whites in such a context in Europe or North America. In my own observations. We live in a world of gross economic disparity. These long term backpacker towns and rave hubs that the music Saldanha described has taken root in can almost have the feel of a sort of lawless. The Thais who do these things are just adapting to the situation they live in. not without reason. This suspicion wasn’t always without reason. especially if they take part in mind altering practices. travel extensively. because although individuals may proclaim to want to open their minds by doing such things. and that gets to some backpackers’ heads. and it is common for Thai drug dealers to sell adulterated ecstasy pills mixed with yabba(speed) or for dealers to report drug users to police immediately after selling them their pharmaceuticals. In the crowd I hung around in Southeast Asia I didn’t see the cliquishness Saldanha describes. and because of that some who have the ability to do so put the concerns of others and their health after their own personal highs. On Koh Phangan it is common for ladyboys to try to trick drunk or tripping foreign men into sleeping with them. It led to some people being inconsiderate of everyone around them or resorting to illegal activity.
In his work he describes a type of person he refers to as the “expressive expatriate”. One thing to note about Saldanha’s book is that he mentions the fact that Hindu sadhus hang around the trance parties in Goa. In his work D’Andrea states that a good rave party “must remain at the edge of experimentation: the Body without Organs of Techno. Another work relevance to my study is Global Nomads: Techno and New Age as transnational countercultures in Ibiza and Goa by the anthropologist Anthony D’Andrea. opting for an intense but at times precarious existence on the global periphery (2007: intro). or which motivate some to travel by foot or bicycle for months on end . they have similar otherworldly aspirations to those of the freaks. but claims that the reason they would do this is because these outsiders did not yet respect what was going on. D’Andrea’s study has a focus more similar to that of my own. and wander a lot. on people who have gone about rebelling from this nine to five reality that gives material wealth yet seems to leave many members of the global middle class spiritually drained. often First World background.214-220). One issue D’Andrea does not look into extensively is the fact that many within the First World follow festivals around in a nomadic fashion or hike for months on long trails like the Appalachian Trail or hop trains or wander on bicycles in order to avoid restrictive nine to five realities. challenging coherent being not only during but also after the experience”. setting the lines of flight towards and through the personal realm of transcendence at the extraordinary”. and have been in regular contact with each other according to acknowledgements Saldanha gives at the end of his 2007 book. arrived. He claims that it is due the potentially dangerous nature of this psychedelic trance dance endeavor that some hard core freak scenes have an air of sacredness in which participants are often unfriendly or slow to accept people they perceive to be outsiders who don’t respect the ritual. He also notes that some wealthier Indians who have had international experience are able to integrate themselves into the Goa freak scene since they exist within Western style nine to five realities they can rebel from (2007: p. but. unfolding as a nomadic desiring-machine. 56. . in which he made many of the same points he made in his 2007 book. rather that 11 Saldanha wrote an article entitled “Smooth Striations” for the book Rave Culture and Religion in 2004. The “expressive expatriates” he describes are motivated by many of the same reasons that motivate members of the Rainbow Family to stay in festivals for weeks. someone who has chosen to stay for extended periods of time outside of their country of origin in order to have greater personal freedom and pursue spiritual goals or dedicate themselves to psychedelics away from the control mechanisms that structure their lives within their ambivalently rejected homelands. They didn’t understand the seriousness of the ritual.57). 65-69). and that this limit experience can either unravel as spiritual epiphany or mental illness (2007: pp. or turn to urban squatting of the style I saw in Sevilla. or which motivated many British people to follow free festivals around the UK until they were illegalized. D’Andrea is critical of Arun Saldanha’s description of the freaks as being elitist and perhaps even racist. setting them apart from many of the sedentary locals who make money from dance parties and from short term bus tourists from Indian cities (2007: pp. 11 During his time in Goa D’Andrea repeatedly saw freaks leave dance floors as teenagers and tourists. usually Indian males. Based on his observations of mystically oriented trance dance in Goa and Ibiza he makes the claim that during trance parties “an overwhelming emotion shatters personal references. Saldanha and D’Andrea are friends. I have met many people who fit this description during my travels throughout the world of psychedelic dance music and the world of backpackers and travelers in general. They are poor and not white. D’Andrea claims that racism is not intrinsic to ideological components of trance culture.22 such an orientation tend to be of their same middle class.
He notes that some of the people involved in Toronto raves view the events as spiritual or as an act of rebellion. Jojo works menial jobs for food. but overall he paints the picture of an ambivalent rave movement that is not openly rebellious and is difficult to link to specific activist agendas although he acknowledges that in certain times and in certain cases raves can promote specific causes or challenge authority. money. in which they lost much of their revolutionary feel as they went “aboveground” in legal venues. and that as they have become more “mainstream” and commoditized. D’Andrea notes the fact that sadhus often go to trance parties where they dance and smoke chillums with foreign freaks. 5). and a place to sleep. that of Toronto. Yes. they simply are part of a world which is full of inequality and dedicate themselves to a certain endeavor which not everyone understands. He states that many Indians occupy positions in the Goan trance scene ranging from inside members. and this is very similar to the situation I saw among Thais at raves on Koh Phangan (2007: ch. to romanticized icons. and that there are gangs of local Goan youth who control party infrastructure. and don’t want it to become commoditized as some kind of quick thrill for bus tourists on weekend trips. According to Wilson the Toronto scene. It is mainly significant to my research in that it looks at a certain urban rave scene of the type that most people perceive the phenomenon of “rave” to consist of. Another work which is somewhat relevant to this psychedelic network I have studied is the 2006 book Fight. and that it is for this reason the sadhus are often found around trance parties. but. Some of these youth enjoy the music and become deejays. Wilson considers rave to be a “youth” phenomenon. He thinks Western dropouts and sadhus share a somewhat related otherworldly orientation because both groups of people cultivate ecstatic experiences involving drugs and meditation. giving the example of an Indian couple from an upper middle class background that participates in the New York trance scene. and lives like a vagabond with all his belongings in a blue bag. For example. Interestingly. D’Andrea describes a young man from Northern India who hangs around trance parties who he characterizes as a “socially marginalized subject”. happy hard core. moving to legal venues due to conflicts with police. youth are major players.23 freaks fiercely oppose any cheapening of the experience. He wears ragged clothes and regularly dances and converses with people in Hindi and English at trance parties. Collin described a similar situation in his 1997 history of the British Acid House culture regarding the legalization and mainstreaming of raves. there are many middle aged people involved in psychedelic trance dance scenes and festivals related to these scenes. Youth. In addition to describing rave in Toronto as a youth phenomenon he describes the way in the early days there was a lot of idealism surrounding raves in Toronto. drum and bass. and Rave into the Twenty First Century by sociologist Brian Wilson. The trance dance . In addition to this he states that there are many diasporic Indians who are trance insiders in Goa and abroad. much like most other urban rave scenes in the First World. much of this initial idealism and feeling that the movement was somehow revolutionary has waned. D’Andrea argues that trance freaks are not racist. and like the English rave scene. to material brokers. and examines various facets of that scene and what it means to the Canadian youth involved. D’Andrea notes that many young travelers surrounding the trance scene seem to admire Jojo and his apparently carefree condition. He states that he is an “interesting addition to the wildness of types inhabiting the psychedelic contact zone”. Indians with a certain mindset and lifestyle are very much a part of the scene. Flight. and this is very different from what I have seen it to be surrounding PEDM parties. began soon after the rave movement started in England. or Chill: Subcultures. They introduced him to some of their friends who were major DJs and party promoters in Goa. it has split up into various sub genres over time such as house. Like Saldanha. Basically. and Goa. he mentions a rave party that was held in Ontario in protest of homophobia called “Unleash the Queen”.
This distinction is more than anything just a construction. All of these events were in special rave dance venues and attracted an urban sort of crowd. and that some believe that by using MDMA it is possible to see the spirit world. and had glowing dreadlocks. We’re moving into a new era or something. It was very profit oriented. often called Mali in the US. black.12 This type of trance is sometimes similar to certain tracks that are classified as “psychedelic trance”. That rave was definitely a part of this subculture that Wilson characterizes as “rave”. and one in Atlanta. and comes from a very humble economic background. DJs. black on the outside and white on the inside for raving. but they were “ravers” rather than “expressive expatriates” or “freaks” like the people described in the books by Saldanha and D’Andrea. Large numbers of people are going to feel their consciousness expand. viewed in its entirety.com/biography. but the parties aren’t normally as associated with counterculture. although many who dance to mainstream trance view it the same way as people who dance to Goa trance or psytrance. meditation. and didn’t have so much of a “hippie” or “freak” feel although there were many individuals who attended who had extreme dress styles and seemed to consider themselves as rebels against the mainstream. to a new level!” Will is training to be an electrician. Hip hop’s too materialistic now. It’s like we’re moving up. The only raves I have experienced that are of the type Wilson describes were one in Santo Domingo. global PEDM doesn’t have uniform political goals or a specific cause other than the action of the trance dance. 177-178). Will was 22 years old.paulvandyk. or as opening their minds through rave. and many were dressed very nicely. One guy in particular comes to mind. Paul van Dyk is an East German who picked up electronic music of the style invented by black artists from Detroit who travelled to Berlin to try to expand the market for their “techno” during the 80s and reworked it to make a sound many called “trance”. but I just love the music! I’ll rave till I die! This doesn’t have to be white music. and some very eccentric characters. who played at a venue balled the Black Hole along with many other deejays from around the country. but had underground elements that had connections to more psychedelic dance cultures. . He said “People accuse me of being an oreo. What I found interesting about the Paul van Dyk event was that it had a very urban and clubby feel. On New Years Eve of 2008 I attended an event near Baltimore with my friends Raya and Eric from North Carolina who knew a house deejay from Chapel Hill. and strong hallucinogens like LSD or mescaline. because many of those Baltimore ravers would be characterized as “expressive expariates” or “freaks” if they were spending a long time travelling as backpackers or working as bartenders. I think some crazy shit’s about to happen. 2008. November 20. A more “mainstream” rave event I’ve attended was a Paul van Dyk concert in Atlanta during March of 2008. and told me about how he had been reading books on various drugs. or yoga instructors on Ibiza. but like the Toronto scene. He was taking pure MDMA.aspx. Cocaine seemed to be very prevalent with 12 “Paul Van Dyk’s biography” *online+ Available http://www. and really seem to go into extremely altered states of consciousness. a large outdoor rave event done annually to commemorate the reunification of Germany which has now spread from Berlin to various cities worldwide such as San Francisco and Tel Aviv (Sylvan 2005: pp. There were various musical styles played on multiple floors. There were people with sweet tart necklaces and flashing pacifiers and that sort of thing. Paul van Dyk’s trance sound was very influential in the development of the Love Parade. which I believe creates energies that can be channeled into many causes but don’t have to be. There was a special VIP section where people got to watch a private screen projecting fractal images along with the music. one outside Baltimore. Pepe Lapointe.24 landscape I describe has a more otherworldly orientation than the Toronto rave scene Wilson describes.
using them as little more than sites to pick up members of the opposite sex and become highly intoxicated. In a sense. They didn’t have the feel of clubs in which people are trying to look good in order to pick up members of the opposite sex.25 the crowd there. Put in more mundane terms. He states that sexuality is a major part of traditional tantric practice. he describes it as being an offshoot of the original rave scene and states that parties which focus on the genre and another style called drum and bass. movements. and that was honestly more exciting. and the event was definitely not “anti-establishment” although many were on drugs. tend to have a very open atmosphere without a “pick up” vibe. Wilson labels these individuals “toxic ravers” (2006: p. That can be a result of these parties. but some did. which around the world seems to have come to epitomize the most mystically oriented dance scenes. But. an Israeli I met this summer explained the situation of some hard core trance freaks in relation to sexuality very well. It seems that in the trance events Saldanha and D’Andrea describe in India there is a situation in which people who do not perceive of the parties as sacred are considered toxic ravers. a sort of virtual dimension of every body which contains a reservoir of potential traits. For instance. but. and many danced in a very hypnotized way. Davis suggests that tantric techniques like meditation. and the trance dance help people arrive to a state similar to that of the Body without Organs described in Deleuze and Guattari’s books. It’s not about sex. and that it can be coaxed up through various etheric centers called chakras that lie on the spine. The Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan are more about sex. The rave seemed very image oriented. “In Goa. Erik Davis. The day after the rave my friends and I survived a freak tornado.118). It’s different. but to embrace and transmute these energies through a kind of internalized. I found this to be the case in most of parties I was around which featured very hypnotic and intense “psychedelic” music.13). When Wilson briefly mentions the Goa trance scene. and at times that could lead to people meeting members of the opposite sex but I’ve come to see that in general people don’t go to psychedelic dance parties with the intention of having a one night stand. According to Wilson most Toronto ravers are white and come from a middle class background but the events aren’t in any way closed off to minorities or the poor. This said the event attracted a wide variety of dancers. many of these people who profess to accept anyone in the rave scene also complain that some do not respect or understand rave culture and the purpose of the events. He states that the goal of tantric techniques is the transmutation of a cosmic energy the Hindus call shakti. affects. which was developed by British blacks soon after the beginning of the rave movement. which supposedly emanates from a serpentine coil at the base of the spine called the kundalini. etc. Several of the people he interviewed for the book tell him about how they believe rave culture is wonderful because it accepts all kinds of people (2006: ch. including some underground types. who wrote one article in Rave Culture and Religion. Most attendees did not have an otherworldly orientation. psycho-ritual alchemy”. retention of the orgasm. it seems very similar to New Age concept of the astral body.2). in some kind of exalted or altered state. and describes tantra as aiming “not to suppress or transcend the emotional and physical energies of the body. but that within such practices people attempt to “transmute sexual energy into rarer and more potent elixirs” (2004: ch. People tended to be really out there. intentionally hurting the vibe. which some claim can be stimulated “artificially” under the influence of certain drugs. and not as psychedelic. . it’s about drugs. and not as many people really cut loose as have at some other events I’ve seen. and probably would have been viewed as “toxic ravers” to some hard core trance freaks due to their dress style and choice of drugs. describes Goa trance as “hedonic tantra”. the events are more oriented around going into a trance state while dancing. connects.
and People of the Rainbow: a Nomadic Utopia. one of the authors describes how many conservatives within Israel believe trance dancing and backpacking are behaviors corrupting post-military youths and making them selfish. but it gives a sense of the sort of orientation many have at spiritually or psychedelically oriented trance dance parties.26 in Israel there are people who return from Goa thinking they are beyond this world and that they are dolphins and this sort of thing…very strange. and Abbie Hoffman helped make the psychedelic experience a major element of a larger social revolution which had many humanitarian and justice oriented elements seeking to stop the Vietnam War. The book on Israeli backpackers is a collection of articles covering various topics such as the differences between party and drug oriented backpackers who don’t care about learning about local cultures and other sorts of travelers who get deeply involved in local cultures. in and of itself it has no ideology or social agenda. fight for women’s rights. there is a lot. Ken Kesey. Interestingly. and describe the Israeli backpacking trip as a new ritual for mostly white non-Russian Israeli Jews which originated when veterans of the traumatic Yom Kippur War of 1973 began feeling alienated and disenchanted and went exploring abroad. and supported social justice. peace. because of all the drugs and trance dancing. As for other literature related to this global PEDM network. The people who do these things have sex. and encouraging ecologically sustainable living. An article from the same Zionist publication argued that self-gratifying behavior by . but the scene is not about the sex. It was all love. the Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice. Most backpackers have always been fairly secular Jews from middle class homes. and happiness. allowing them to reevaluate their attitude towards and place in their homeland. This is how I have approached the trance dance throughout my work. Shalev also made note of the fact that PEDMC was established in Israel by middle class. When people at these parties have an otherworldly focus they have a very different feel than other “leisure” events. I have chosen just to relate a few of the topics considered in a few of these works to my own ethnography of the global psychedelic trance dance network. but that more actively religious Jews have now gotten involved in trance culture (2006). It seemed to make sense. mostly Ashkenazi Jews returning from backpacking trips. The various authors make many references to meditation courses. trance music. During the 60s figures like Timothy Leary. just potential applications. Some more actively religious Jews have now begun doing the trips (Noy and Cohen 2005). I would hazard to guess that participation in trance culture and involvement in backpacking among religious Jews are probably two interconnected phenomena. and the psychedelic experience…” All of this is very esoteric. and drug use. but now larger numbers of people are doing the trips and not as large a percentage of travelers feel extremely alienated from Israeli society. The trance dance can manifest itself in that type of context and often does. but. Both backpacking books make references to Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan. and some believe that backpacking trips are “tragic proof of society’s failure-the young generation no longer believes in Israel”. There are also some academic works which cover topics related to the PEDM phenomenon but don’t focus on music such as Israeli Backpackers: From Tourism to Right of Passage. I believe that it is for this reason. secular. it’s about the drugs like acid. kind of like the Deleuzian BwO. achieve racial equality. and the fact that entering trance type states does not automatically make someone an anti-racist or make them feel guilty about having more money than some people that many who claim to be getting in touch with the universe and learning gnostic wisdom while dancing are at times quite cliquish. and young people took LSD and listened to rock. and can be cool towards people who they think haven’t been exposed to the same mental states as them. Now they even have special Israeli reintegration centers for these people.
Like you are not you. if Freeman is correct about the role of trance in cultural evolution conservative Israelis may actually have a reason to worry if they want Israeli culture to remain exactly like the culture they knew when they were young. or more or less enlightened. in addition to trance dancing.: MIT Press. owing to the malleability that can come through the altered state. Bjorn Merker. “A Neurobiological Role of Music in Social Bonding.”13 So.27 backpackers is connected to the “Western” phenomenon of postmodernism. Steven Brown. or at least be playing a role in such a process. It is the social action of dancing and singing together that induces new forms of behavior.422. “Fundamentally. and gather together in places like Sab Kuch Milega (everything is possible in Hindi) in Tel Aviv. In their examination of trance culture one author mentions an article in which a journalist describes trance. but a loss of ego is what I had been referring to before.” in The Origins of Music. your fears. making them less self centered and more concerned with spiritual matters. trance dancers who have been backpacking form a very strong subculture within Israel. which interacted with the cultural evolution of behavior. deadening apathy” of backpackers who have “no worries-or plans-for the future”. all the things that come with individuation-your ego. or going into trances while listening to music. your dreams. From what Israelis have told me. like you are not this individual that has this stuff that is about this thing that happened three years ago. there’s this sense of. 2000). If trance states really do break down preexisting belief systems they may be helping to form new cultural beliefs. the music of Israeli youth culture and of the “full moon parties” of backpackers abroad as suited to “ego aggrandizement”: “What blocks out thought better than the blinding lights and raging volume of an ambiance whose noise itself is an escape from the daily routine of life (Shira Haviv quoting Sheleg 2000)?” It is interesting that many believe trance dance dissolves the ego. The role of trance states was particularly important for breaking down preexisting habits and beliefs. and that the “disease” suffered by Israeli backpackers is “founded on the principle of pleasure gratification. The sense of there’s no separation between you and everything else. He stated “I conclude that music and dance originated through biological evolution of brain chemistry. has played a major role in the evolution of human society. you know. eds. These new cultural forms aren’t necessarily selfish or rebellious. That meltdown appears to be necessary for personality changes leading to the formation of social groups by cooperative action leading to trust. Wallin (Cambridge Mass. stems from the global phenomenon of postmodernism that Israel as a “member of the West” cannot escape (Shira Haviv quoting Schvindlerman 2000). . and Nils L. Bonding is not simply release of a neurochemical in an altered state. which is has the feel of a backpacker gathering place even though most people who go there are travelers who have returned from abroad and want to keep the backpacking atmosphere alive back home. The following quote is from a trance dancer. or more or less group oriented than the 13 This statement appears on page 58 of Sylvan’s book and it was taken from this article. all that is identified as self (Sylvan quoting a raver 2005: p. This led to the development of chemical and behavioral technology for inducing altered states of consciousness. returning backpackers have played a major role in popularizing meditation and yoga along with certain styles of dress in their country. Freeman. I want to say dissociation of the self. and the emphasis on the individual and the here and now. your hopes. At least from what I’ve seen.74).” Another thing that it would be possible to relate these remarks by right wing Israelis about the dangers of trance to could be the work of the neuroscientist Walter Freeman who believes musical entrainment. and members of this culture often spend time mostly with other members of the subculture. The “vast.Walter J.
The picture of backpacking which is presented is that the phenomenon began when countercultural drifters from the West began doing long trips to the Third World during the late 60s and in the 70s. although some do so. This is interesting. with a distinct style known as “Israeli Goa” composed and performed by internationally well-known Israeli groups such as Astral Projection…Israeli youth associate trance music with escape.music commonly played at full-moon parties. In reality. In general they stay in backpacker enclaves. In one of the articles in the book on Israeli backpackers Ayana Shira Haviv states “. and most go to similar places and do similar things. This new culture can be very hedonistic and cause problems in certain cases. and the way the Rainbow Family is dedicated to non-violent conflict resolution within gatherings. a form of electronic music similar to techno but with a higher rate of beats per minute(around 150). how all group decisions are made during directly democratic nightly discussions. Israelis exert a strong influence on the scene.28 Israeli cultural forms of older Israelis and Israelis who haven’t backpacked. They’re just part of a new way of being Israeli that has emerged recently largely because of the post-military trips and trance dancing. and the group of people discussed by Niman has continued to exist and expand. I definitely don’t think it indicates a cultural collapse or mean the young are overly selfish. characteristics associated with travel to the Far East. connecting Israeli fans to another fan base in the Western world. and the Beats influenced the hippie counterculture which sowed the seeds for backpacking and Goa trance in the late 60s. In the 1997 book People of the Rainbow: a Nomadic Utopia the communication studies specialist Michael Niman describes a type of neo-nomadism that is not discussed in the works that focus on trance dance and electronic music or backpacking. Backpackers like to distinguish themselves from “tourists”. self-identifying themselves as being more involved in local cultures and as exposing themselves to more difficult and adventurous situations. Ernest Hemingway. and since many of these people would be considered conventional in their aspirations. freedom. or “Goa trance”. and sound effects in the background borrowed from Eastern (especially Indian) musical styles to create a “psychedelic” effect.” The other book on backpackers paints a similar picture of who backpackers are and why they travel but covers people from all nationalities. and how . although some seek to drift until they discover an “elective center”. only leaving mainstream society for a time. or home abroad (Cohen 2004). and rebellion against authority. He covers many topics. One of the authors describes what literature many backpackers see as influential to their views and travel aspirations. but that now on the whole backpacking cannot be defined as countercultural since many more people are doing it than in the past. viewing the experience as a “time bubble” during which they can live an extremely liberated existence.” This same author believes trance dance isn’t countercultural in places like Thailand and India since Israelis take advantage of people who are poorer than they are to obtain a nice backdrop for parties that are in no way rebellious against mainstream Israeli culture since they are held in distant lands and can’t directly affect much of anything back home (Shira Haviv 2005). Even though the book is over ten years old it still contains some information that is very pertinent to my study. Trance music is popular among youth in Europe and Australia. He found that some of the most popular authors among backpackers are Jack Kerouac. but. He describes the nomadic TAZ’s created at events connected to the Rainbow Family. such as the way gatherers attempt to not use money at their events. rarely striking out on their own completely and going off the beaten tourist path. In the international world of psychedelic trance. Hemingway influenced the Beats. is “psychedelic trance”. no lyrics. and increasingly Israeli raves back home. Thompson (Wilson and Richards 2004).. they tend to group together with other backpackers. and Hunter S.
the Rainbow Family is interested in creating an environment in which all are welcomed as long as they are committed to bringing positive energy to gatherings in some form or fashion, a bit like Burning Man. Interestingly, the 1997 book examines the gatherings mostly as an American phenomenon, but briefly covers foreign Rainbow Family scenes that have developed in Canada and Europe and the fact that some members of the group have purchased a lot of land in Belize. Electronic music and the “rave” phenomenon do not play a major role in the events Niman describes, but he briefly mentions in passing that some gatherings featured something he called “Zippie raves” starting in the 90s (p.153). It seems that this name comes from the Scottish writer Fraser Clark’s concept of the zippie, the “zen inspired professional pagan” who revels in the possibilities presented by technology but respects nature.14 Based on my observations, the Rainbow Family concept has really spread around, and is very connected to certain trance dance scenes and to other festival movements like Burning Man and the free festival movement in Europe and also to squatting and long term backpacker travel in the Third World. The way Niman describes Rainbow Family events, they are much more ideal TAZ’s than many of the trance dance situations I have observed, and they are perhaps more “outside the system” than Burning Man since people don’t pay money to enter the events. He presents the view that the group’s utopian gatherings can exist precisely because they are nomadic. They move to new sites before the group can create serious enemies in the communities near the events (Niman 1997: pp.182-183). This stated, they don’t feature the astounding artwork or surrealistic imagery of Burning Man. As my friend Josh who has been to Rainbow gatherings stated “They’re great. Tons of people just get together and share stuff, and camp in the woods, but the big difference is that people don’t build all kinds of neat shit like they do at Burning Man.” Niman briefly addresses the topic of race and class at the gatherings and according to him the most represented group is middle class white people, but these people are not ideologically closed to the idea of others getting involved, and the family has even proposed doing outreach programs to get inner city youth involved in the gatherings. In addition to this middle class group there are poor homeless people who follow Rainbow Gatherings around. This discussion of race and class is very important regarding the trance dance, because in our current context it seems that whites from a First World and middle class background are some of the most likely people to get involved in trance dance and hedonistic utopian counterculture events, but, this is definitely not universally true. D’Andrea made the observation that many people of working class backgrounds who came from broken homes or who had been involved in squatting or illegal activities such as drug dealing were often very attracted to the psychedelic scene in Goa, and that many of these individuals would rearrange travel plans after passing through Goa and stay for months since they somehow understood the freak stoicism and punk/hippie amalgamation that occurs in India. As Collin describes in his journalistic account of the Acid House scene, the British youth responsible for the original rave movement in the 80s were largely working class (1997). Niman describes a somewhat similar situation with Rainbow gatherings in the US, in which there are a fair number of people who come from impoverished backgrounds and live as hobos following the Rainbow Family and helping set up the events in order to have a place to belong in the world and be accepted as decent human beings (1997: pp.100-101). The TAZ can be attractive to marginalized people if they are given access to it. I think that when events like raves and Rainbow Gatherings are easily accessible to people of working class backgrounds and minorities they can be extremely powerful and that anyone involved in
“Fraser Clark…Zippy Elde-at-Large.” *online+ Available http://matrixmasters.com/pn/speakers/FraserClarkbio.html, Accessed on November 21, 2008.
such events who views them as creating utopian energies should promote the inclusion of minorities and the poor. It’s just that when someone has to struggle to get food they don’t normally want to drop everything and go off to a rave or festival that claims to be utopian. If there were some way for many people to sustain themselves within nomadic TAZ’s maybe more poor people would get involved. In The Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice one article examines a phenomenon that is going on in Australia in which backpackers fund their trips by working temporarily on farms similar to the way many Hispanic people work on farms in the United States. Due to rural labor shortages in recent years, backpacker hostels have opened around what are known as the “harvest trails”, and farmers are enthusiastic about employing travelers to do temporary labor. Interestingly, farmers often prefer backpackers to Australians stating that “they come here to work and don’t cause any trouble (Cooper, O’Mahony, and Erfurt 2005).” That sounds oddly familiar to things I often read about Hispanic laborers in the US. The difference is that backpackers only do such work for a short time, aren’t normally from very poor families, and often engage in a lot of hedonistic and leisure activity while they work on farms, and they see it as an adventure, all part of the travel experience rather than just a way to eke out a living with great difficulty. Unfortunately, it’s in some respects a luxury to be able to adopt the carefree attitude of people who work to support their neo-nomadism. This is the same type of attitude many people seem to adopt while working at festivals like Burning Man or helping build latrines and cleaning up trash at Rainbow gatherings. Seeing that all of these zones for freedom seeking like festival cultures and backpacking culture are interconnected, and that the networks of organic farms like WWOOF and growfood.org allow backpackers all around the world to have room and board and sometimes a stipend in exchange for work15, and that some websites such as Backdoorjobs.com16 allows travelers to obtain temporary paid work and that websites like couchsurfing.com allow travelers to find couches to crash on for free worldwide, I do not really think that the concept of large numbers of people sustaining themselves within zones outside of nine to five reality such as backpacking, festivals, or countercultural farming communities is such a stretch. It would require more organization and communication than exists now for such an alternative globalized subsistence system to reliably support large numbers of people long term, but, theoretically such a thing could happen. It certainly isn’t impossible. I stayed on a kibbutz in Israel briefly, which is something many travelers do, and there a similar situation to that of the Australian farms exists. The nature of labor is simply different than it is in multiple service industry jobs I’ve quit in the US. The feel is also very different from my current job working with teens that have addiction problems. Now I’ve been thrust into a preposterous role in which I am supposed to constantly lie and tell drug addicted kids I think all drug use is bad, and I don’t believe that. I think altered states are very much a part of the human experience, and in some contexts drug use can be very positive, we just can’t allow ourselves to obsess over drugs and let them become detrimental to our lives. Unfortunately, too many people become addicted to drugs, and in court mandated drug rehab, it is taboo to tell the recovering addicts that not all drug use is negative. I have to lie every day, and speak in overly simplistic black and white terms just to survive and save up money to escape to backpacker world once again, and
“Wordwide Opportunities on Organic Farms” *online+ Available www.wwoof.org, Accessed on November 18, 2008.
This website connects individuals with many temporary work opportunities in multiple countries. There is a link to the website on www.wwoof.org. See www.backdoorjobs.com, accessed on November 22, 2008.
I hate that. Many of the kids like me because I’m not overly authoritarian, and one suggested I start my own drug rehab program. That would be something! I would encourage everyone to learn to meditate and do yoga, and practice tantric sex, and use drugs with the right mindset, not push this goody goody two shoes stick up the ass twelve step program shit. In the world of work many people have to wear masks and say they believe things they don’t, and the world needs transparency. Unfortunately, I took the only job that was offered to me, and for the moment I wear a mask. And honestly, if I could make as much as a laborer on some sort of organic farm I would do that. The US economy sucks…what could I do? I wish I didn’t have to be some ridiculous authority figure, but unfortunately, it’s either this or McDonalds. What can I do? I’ve elected to subsist with as much dignity as possible, but things could be much better. Most workers find themselves in that situation, and backpacking a release, an escape valve. For instance, I have to adhere to a silly dress code. Why? What’s the point? Why not just go around naked or in whatever we want to wear? Why not dig a ditch in a tuxedo and seal a business deal in the nude? A world where a person could do either of those things without getting too much shit their peers would be much more free and ideal than this one if you ask me. Is this an overly extreme view? Perhaps, but I believe it nonetheless. What the hell is wrong with my jeans that have a patch? They’re very comfortable, but no, I’m forbidden to wear them at my job! They’re “unprofessional.” My argument is, what the hell is professional? So many of us are forced to appear and behave in such a way, but if you ask me it’s just boring, unexciting, stifling, and rarely candid, rarely open, rarely truthful, zen like, and relaxed. Who wants or needs it? Fuck professionalism! Fuck that demeanor! We need to loosen up a bit. In backpacking travel subsistence situations there is more of an attitude of “Okay, you’re an able bodied human. I’m no better than you but we need some help with this…” Labor relations are ideally more horizontal and informal in that type of environment because bosses often know that their workers don’t consider the work to be their entire life or fear them. Oftentimes workers are left alone completely by their superiors to pick vegetables on their own or that type of thing and on the Australian farms pay is simply based on how much an individual picks. From what one Welsh woman who did Australian farm work told me, it would be almost impossible to get fired as long as one does a bit of work, and the farmers almost always need more workers. Laborers may work hard, but the whole feel is different than it is in a service industry or professional job somewhere like the US. If this type of feel within labor would become more widespread it would benefit those seeking increased freedom and mobility worldwide. Plenty of work needs to be done all the time, and if people could do more nonbinding work such as farm work or construction which didn’t require a lot of smooth talking and an inflated resume many who are content with a simple life for a time would probably benefit from the situation. It would allow more people to explore the world, and that would be good, and it would also allow people more with an “unconventional” outer appearance (i.e. tattoos, piercings, wild hairstyles) to find work. Pardon my language, but why the fuck should someone have to dress up in a silly costume and modify their appearance drastically, covering tattoos and piercings, and limit their self expression, just to subsist?! I had to cut off my dreadlocks just to fucking subsist! Whatever happened to freedom self expression? Huh? I’ve been trapped in America for the past year, well that’s an exaggeration, I want to be here for the moment, but for a long time I couldn’t find work. Finally I got a job working as a mentor for juvenile delinquents with drug addiction problems. Many employers in cafes and restaurants, which cater to upper middle class sensibilities, think I look like a bum, a shifty character, but I won’t grovel before the bastards, no sir. What is so evil about a beard and long hair? I’ve got my
2008.32 countercultural dignity! I and my other unfortunate friends who look disreputable can work hard. He has a Ph. a spiritual release. It can be a lot of things to a lot of people. It may sound cheesy. That’s a whole long story I won’t tell here. since PEDM is often associated with subsistence outside of nine to five realities. Many musical styles can be associated with that yearning for freedom that I refer to. some people thought I was a permanent festival nomad and member of the Rainbow Family. He traveled around to many rave events in the US and Europe. but I mean that sincerely. which is where I have done much of my library research. expressive expatriate. a non-profit organization in San Francisco dedicated to helping people find unique spiritual paths within the complexities of our postmodern world. in Religious Studies. at the University of North Carolina. and I got in free because I volunteered. and his book is classified as fitting within the framework of Religious Studies/Cultural Studies. and lots of us are out there. We just have to organize! Help build an alternative mode of existence! We already have some structures in place that can help us do that. they’re not handing out tabs of acid to young Hispanic children or anything like that. I went to LEAF in the spring of 2008 without a tent. which makes sense. This is somewhat of a digression from PEDM. and someone gave me a tent. a battle cry. We’ll bust our asses for something we believe in. Of course. but worth noting nonetheless. but was fortunate enough to live on the West Coast of the United States while conducting his research. One can only speculate. and backpacker overlap in the global PEDM trance dance network. Before moving on I think it is also necessary to include information I have learned from a 2005 book entitled Trance Formation: the Spiritual and Religious Dimensions of Global Rave Culture by a man name Robin Sylvan who is the founder and director of the Sacred Center. the music has been kind of been an anthem to go along with my yearning for freedom. accessed on November 18. but I believe it. which featured some psytrance music during the spring of 2008. Goa freak. but I believe the yearning expressed via psychedelic trance is desperate. that’s subjective.com/lss/about_overview.17 Of course. but. .. The program just seeks to get more people involved in the festival.D. In many respects Sylvan seems to be thinking along similar lines as me. raver. it has been placed in the music library. They have a program called LEAF in schools and streets which gets underprivileged youth involved in the art festival. but it seems to me very odd that it wouldn’t also be included among social science books. it may very well be relegated to a similar position. but that’s what it’s been for me.php. Oddly. it seems that within the First World in socially liberal areas certain 17 For a description of this program see http://www. of purely musical relevance but nothing more. This shows that there are members of this group roaming around many festive environments and freedom zones worldwide. I imagine that if this piece ever managed to make its way into any academic library other than the one it currently sits in gathering dust at the University of North Carolina. Perhaps it was relegated to the music library because the writer’s views could come across as very “new agey” and not “serious” or “rigorous” enough. and out on the West Coast there are large numbers of people who go to rave events and participate in spiritual practices related to the altered states of consciousness many people have discovered via trance dancing to electronic music. All of these categories of American festival nomad. which has many connections to other festivals such as Rainbow Gatherings. intense. For me this type of investigation would have been impossible. The concept of countercultural outreach mentioned by Niman in his book about the Rainbow Family is similar to a program done by the LEAF festival in North Carolina. but.theleaf. For me at least.
elements of rave culture have been taking a very spiritual or religious direction, especially areas with very strong New Age spiritual cultures like that of San Francisco. Sylvan makes extensive use of quotations within his book, and this conveys a sense of what many trance dancers are feeling at these events, and he introduces a few interesting concepts such as the idea of “container”, a perimeter surrounding rave events and keeping out undesirable elements and holding good energy in. To use Wilson’s terminology, the container keeps out toxic ravers and lets the people inside cut loose. Some of the interviewees describe experiences very similar to things I’ve felt. One such description is below. My experience of my body was just this pure column of energy, it was just this pure connection from top to bottom of this pulsing…I just remember breathing and feeling this rush from way above my head to way below my feet…(Sylvan quoting raver 2005: p.84). I really have felt something comparable to that in the trance dance context, and since then rave type dancing comes really natural to me, almost subconsciously, and I know I’m not insane or special, and since this account and various other similar accounts appear in Sylvan’s book it’s safe to assume many ravers have felt that type of sensation. An interesting thing I got out of the book is that spirituality and counterculture go hand in hand sometimes when individuals participating in countercultures are altering their consciousness in some way and, “experiencing the numinous”, as Sylvan describes it, but only some people perceive of these states as spiritual since hardly anyone arrives to those states anymore within the framework of “religion”. They could just as well fit within the framework of “psychology” or “getting high”. For some trance freaks it’s just what they do, and they don’t call it anything. It seems that in very socially liberal areas like the West Coast of the United States where large numbers of people have been living outside of major religions like Christianity for a long time and where many people have a high enough standard of living that they have the time and energy to dedicate themselves to experimental ways of living and spiritual practices like meditation and yoga which have become acceptable enough in “mainstream” society in those areas that such activities are not seen as “fringe” or “flaky” there are many spiritually oriented ravers. In such areas where New Age methods for altering consciousness are widely accepted many seek to use psychedelics only occasionally in what is considered a constructive way and some use various methods such as chanting and group meditation to attempt to arrive to states similar to those produced by drugs like MDMA. From the research Sylvan did, it also appears that many groups of people who regularly trance dance together on the West Coast have gotten to a level of familiarity and closeness with each other that some dancers are saying they feel their minds go to a place that is similar to states that they originally experienced on drugs because they are comfortable enough to truly let themselves go. For this type of dancing situation to occur, people normally must be very open with each other and in groups of cynics and very self-conscious, image oriented people everyone often seems to think drugs are a must. In his book Sylvan covers both mainstream and underground electronic dance music events, and makes the claim that elements within all scenes are interested in otherworldly matters but that a certain element within global rave culture he calls the “intentional” rave scene is one of the most fertile breeding grounds on Earth for cutting edge explorations in spirituality and community (p.178). Some groups within this “intentional” rave scene have formed close knit communities in which members regularly go over to each others houses for potlucks and help each other with personal and professional matters, and some trance dancers live together in shared houses or in warehouses like the Cloud Factory Collective in Oakland. One theme that is dominant throughout the book is that groups of people need to have a consensus that they want to collectively experience ecstatic states and respect everyone
present, creating a safe and comfortable environment for self-expression, to make the most out of raves. According to Sylvan the intentional element within rave culture has grown and matured significantly in recent years, and groups raving in this way allow dancers to integrate the experience into their daily lives. But, Sylvan notes that it is a mainly white middle to upper-middle class phenomenon. Sylvan has been a rave insider on the West Coast since the mid 90s and states that he has seen rave communities in various cities take a more ritualized direction in recent years, using more altars and doing opening and closing ceremonies, incorporating elements of various religions from Hinduism and Buddhism to Wicca and Native American religions. Another thing he has noticed is that as trance dance communities grow and mature, they have to at times split up into various groups, or make their parties increasingly secretive in order to preserve the dance as a sort of ecstatic ritual and keep out what are perceived as negative elements. One interviewee from the LA’s Moontribe explains the way as the parties grew during the 90s many people who just wanted to get high on anything they could get their hands on started showing up to the full moon gatherings in the Mojave Desert and that this started corrupting the original vibe, making it much less innocent and bringing in a lot of the problems of mainstream society. Moontribe’s response was to go more underground, and make their gatherings less well known. Some accused them of being elitist, but organizers claim it was simply to preserve a good thing (pp. 164-165). Some think Burning Man organizers should have done the same thing, but many of the groups like Moontribe that Sylvan describes do theme camps each year at that festival. So, in light of all this reading, the main thing that sets my investigation apart from that of previous authors is that I focus heavily on the concept of PEDM as a globalized countercultural network connected to groups of people seeking to live and have intense experiences outside of mainstream society either briefly or long term. D’Andrea’s expressive expatriates are the sorts of people I have mostly focused on, although I focus more broadly on backpackers in general and also members of First World countercultures. My research comes from a certain vantage point, because I discovered PEDM through travelling, and it is mainly while travelling that I have been around it. Most of the raves Sylvan describes are attended by people who have regular jobs and have fixed addresses, whereas I’ve attended events with many perpetual roamers. I spent a month going to dance parties every day in Thailand during the summer of 2008, and the crowd I was around most could be best described as globally nomadic. Many of these people I met in Thailand, and almost all the Spanish dancers I was around at squatter house parties and the Dragon Festival, did not speak in esoteric New Age terms about chakras and energy flows, Kundalini energy, Shiva, paganism, etc. etc. when referring to their own dancing. Rather, they just threw themselves into their dancing and went on and on, for hours and hours, and I think it is certain that something was being altered in their minds as they trance danced. Were they having religious or spiritual experiences? I really think that depends on how one perceives of these concepts. In Thailand there was a strong New Age element, but it somehow seemed rougher, less bourgeois, than the New Age spirituality described by Sylvan. It was backpacker New Age rather than Bay Area professional New Age, and while those two categories certainly overlap in many instances, in the backpacker New Age culture I saw those involved were in general less concerned about leading “wholesome lives” and justifying their partying by affirming that they held down regular jobs than many of the people that Sylvan describes who consider raving to be a spiritual practice. The feel I got from hanging out with a lot of people in Thailand who had been backpacking and going to psytrance parties for extended periods of time was that they were on the global periphery, concerned with living free in an intense way. At times the parties could almost have the feel of battle, and many dancers sought to
stay outside of their home countries as long as possible whatever the cost, almost as if in a self imposed exile. Another interesting thing to note is that in Spain I rarely heard members of Spanish countercultures speak about raves in terms of spirituality, quite possibly because there that term is almost synonymous with Catholicism. The Spanish guy that pointed at the deejay at Café Cultura and said “The music is his religion!” was a self declared atheist of Catholic heritage who was not religious, or even “New Agey”, and more than anything what he was saying was that the deejay hypnotized himself with his music, and was overcome and consumed by it. Is that religion? Is that spirituality? In the following section of this work I will discuss these terms and examine how they relate to global PEDMC.
Above: Typical Images from beach parties in Koh Phangan, Thailand
36 Some Thoughts on the Spirituality. which are typically defined as the drugs such as LSD and psilocybin which vastly alter one’s sense of reality. I consider spiritual matters to be related to humankind’s ultimate nature and purpose as beings with a unique relationship with that which perceived to be beyond both time and the material world. for someone who knows how to meditate it may have a different significance altogether. what about Dionysus cults in the classical world which used alcohol in their religious rituals? What about mystery cults in ancient Crete which used opium. but at this point in history is a Western backpacker who gets trashed on this opium alcohol blend while visiting Thailand actually having a “spiritual experience”? The brew can certainly be placed in different categories depending on what sort of person consumes it. for a Western or Westernized Karen individual it may just be a substance used for hedonistic purposes. they make people feel mellow and can induce feelings of euphoria. Yet. In the original version of this work. not just psychedelics. or the use of opium by sadhus in India for religious purposes? I raise these questions because . or one or more deities. Some people who consider themselves atheists may enter states of consciousness that some describe as “spiritual”. Yet. Yet. and what exactly is spiritual hedonism? It’s very easy for people to declare that the psychedelic drugs are spiritual because they have this property of vastly distorting one’s reality and making many feel as if they “expand their consciousness”. The drugs called “psychedelics” are normally the drugs that people think of as aiding humans in having “spiritual experiences” linked to what some have called consciousness expansion. and stated that “it’s very spiritual stuff”. and PEDM I have come to feel that before diving into other issues with this investigation of global trance culture I must first clarify how I am using the term spirituality. I personally don’t know if it is used in a ritual way. the one that I turned in before defending my thesis as a university student in 2008. at least opiates and to a lesser extent alcohol are often demonized. a concept which is closely tied to religious belief and faith. He told me about a type of opium infused alcoholic beverage that some people make in his region. For instance. What does that mean? Opium and alcohol are both addictive drugs that are normally not classified as “psychedelic” by those who are genuinely interested in exploring altered states of consciousness for what could be described as their own spiritual growth at this point in history. which humans should not use for spiritual growth. for a very traditional Karen individual it may very well have a spiritual significance. Where is the line between secular hedonism and spirituality. Both opium and alcohol have been used in religious rituals by various cultures. and placed in the category of “bad drugs”. And. This word is in a very subjective realm that varies greatly depending on one’s cultural background and life history. a source of transcendent reality. becoming aware of things that were always there but never noticed before. and many people argue over what is and is not “spiritual practice”. but they aren’t normally thought of as “consciousness expanders” by psychedelic enthusiasts. opiates and alcohol are downers. drugs. During the summer of 2008 I visited a Karen village in Thailand and while there I met a very friendly old man. For the purposes of this work I define spirituality as anything dealing with matters of the spirit. I was not specific enough about this issue. a wide variety of psychoactive drugs have been used for what could be described as spiritual or religious purposes over the course of human history. So. because it gets thrown around by a lot of people. And. but it may be or may have been used in such a way at one point. and can mean vastly different things depending on who one talks to.
but look at Christianity. He and many of the people involved in his psychedelic research community in New England took so called mind expanding drugs in what many would describe as a purely hedonistic manner.37 they are very difficult ones.” *online+ Available http://findarticles. to give one example. Some members of that movement such as De Quincy claimed that initially when they took opium they were inspired creatively by dreamlike experiences but that as they became addicts the drug drained them of their original spirit. was huge spokesman for LSD as a mind expander and as something which could help people have direct transcendent experiences and become freed of society’s false constraints and see things as they really are. these sorts of things can easily collapse into self indulgence and self destruction. Is radical alteration of perception under the influence of the so called psychedelic drugs in and of itself spiritual? How about just getting drunk on wine and watching the man burn at Burning Man and then going back to one’s camp to have sex in a tent? I know I keep restating this point. . and spiritual and hedonistic are very blurry in the world of PEDM. and much more. which protested against uptight bourgeois sensibilities. but it is a modern example of how drugs can have a religious and symbolic significance. Going into a primal state and experiencing various forms of ecstasy involving sex and any of a variety of drugs can be thought of in a spiritual manner. religious and secular. The psychologist Timothy Leary. It is drunk mostly in a secular context. and all sorts of drugs have been used in such a context: alcohol. It is a holdover from antiquity. Was the use of opium by the Romantics for literary inspiration “spiritual” or just “artistic” since it was for the most part done in a secular realm? There is definitely a lot of overlap between drug use for spiritual purposes and drug use for artistic inspiration. During the early twentieth century the occult figure Aleister Crowley used opiates like morphine and heroin and cocaine as well as mescaline.com/mi_m2267/is_3_68/ai_80310010/pg_2/tag=artBody. The lines between constructive and destructive. Christians don’t drink to the point of being drunk in church. When Timothy Leary fled the US after escaping from a minimum security prison in California with the help of the radical political group called the Weathermen he spent time in Switzerland in 1972 in exile. Is absolute self indulgence spiritual? That’s hard to say. A. 2008. What is definitely true is that there are some types of activity which are clearly not positive. If we look back to the Romantic Movement of the nineteenth century. which symbolizes the blood of Christ. several well known writers used opium and claimed it gave them artistic inspiration. The most accepted drug in Western Civilization is alcohol.18 Anthony D’Andrea has made the claim that the contemporary global counterculture that PEDM is a part of belongs to a long lineage of protest against uptight bourgeois sensibilities stretching all the way back to Romanticism. Leary said of Barritt that “His every 18 Alvarez. tobacco. Within most Christian traditions believers participate in communion during religious services and they drink wine. Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed opium inspired his famous poem “Kubla Kahn”. psychedelic plant concoctions. While there he spent time with a man named Brian Barritt who got him to try heroin and for a brief time Leary was physically and mentally addicted to the drug. cannabis. “Drugs and Inspiration. What is self indulgence? Is someone who regularly runs long distances and becomes addicted to that self indulgent? I don’t know. a modern day instance of a long tradition of sacramental drug use by human beings. and definitely was not always using drugs for “spiritual” or “research” purposes even if he may have claimed to have been doing so. and sex for what he called spiritual practice. alcohol. but it all depends on one’s viewpoint. but. meditation. but by most accounts he did not lead a very pure or enlightened lifestyle. accessed on December 4. opium.col1.
com/blog/2006/08/Sadhus-hippies-and-old-fashioned. and opium. So. Cleo was briefly a follower of the meditation teacher known as Osho. Was he directing his mind towards some kind of higher power or spirit when he shot up heroin with Barritt. . Odzer travelled to Europe and the Middle East in the 70s where she worked as a model. Hippies. He advocated cocaine as something which gives people glimpses of a higher realm. Leary went so far as to extend his discourse about mind expansion and consciousness exploration to a highly addictive opiate and to get off of that drug he drank massive amounts of alcohol. but many have used this category to justify a lot of self-destructive behavior. for example. and opiates in order to loosen what he called the “girders of the soul” and help him project his astral body so he could. “Sadhus. an American anthropologist and writer who was heavily involved in the early Goa scene that died several years ago.D in anthropology.” Tim told Barritt he would merely test heroin out so that it would “no longer be a mystery” making his drug education “more or less complete. but he went in and out of drug addiction for much of his life and died an alcoholic. and in the work she put forth her view that Thai 19 Carney. marijuana.38 word and deed conveyed an intriguing sense of the dark deep vegetative wisdom of opium. and they are intertwined.156-157). Young people in that city now regularly go on drug binges in which they consume heroin. 435-439). Thailand. An interesting case in point highlighting the complexities of this issue of spiritually related drug use is what is going on in the Indian city of Darmsala.html. and Old-Fashioned Junkies: Drug Culture in India”. She wrote her dissertation on prostitution on the infamous Patpong Road in Bangkok. So. and spent the later part of that decade involved in the hippie scene in the Indian state of Goa. travel anywhere in the universe at will (Boothe 2006: pp. 2008. like Darmsala.” Leary did get off heroin by doing some sort of detox method that included drinking massive amounts of red wine (Greenfield 2006: pp. During her time in India she was at one point a spiritual seeker and later a cocaine and heroin addict for a number of years. Crowley stated that he used meditation. in essence. was from a wealthy Jewish family in Manhattan. The occult writer Aleister Crowley. whose real name was Sheila Odzer. One tragic example of the way a sort of freedom advocating discourse surrounding substance use and abuse leads some to get sucked into very big problems is the life of Cleo Odzer. It is hard to say when something is positive or negative in a cut and dry black and white way. is a realm in which spirituality and pure hedonism overlap. and detailed her hedonistic sexual and drug related exploits in the book Goa Freaks: My Hippie Years in India. *online+ Available http://www. the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. occult magical practices. sexual magic. it seems that many travelers who saw certain drugs as aiding them in reaching altered states which they perceived as spiritual contributed to a local drug addiction problem. ecstasy. cocaine. She returned to the US and went through drug rehab and later obtained a Ph. engaging in “spiritual practice” like Aleister Crowley and his followers who shot up opiates as a part of their occult practices? Who really knows? If it was spiritual practice it most certainly wasn’t the most positive sort of spiritual practice that could be undertaken. advocated the use of drugs for spiritual purposes during the early 20th century. This was at least what he claimed he was trying to do. and it is hard to separate the two easily. ether. Cleo. and experimentation with drugs including hashish.19 PEDM. For several decades it has been a major stop on the backpacking route and many foreigners go there to do what one writer described as “spiritual meditation” and also go on all night drug binges.scottcarneyonline. accessed December 4. Scott.
20 Her ethnography and attitude in general have been criticized as being very ethnocentric and self-serving. I’ve never been to Goa. and this realm influences people’s views. It is a sort of view in which people have reached extremely altered states such that they view life from a certain vantage point. and some have described it in terms of magic or alchemy. but what do you do after that? There are bumper stickers that say “I went to Goa and all I got was this superiority complex. I don’t see a new culture that is right. accessed December 5. I don’t think our old life was right. some in shamanistic terms. that is fair to everybody. That realm is not necessarily good or bad. that makes people happy. an at times bleak view of the present that yearns for salvation. The documentary “Last Hippie Standing” portrays Cleo Odzer as a very nice person. 2008. and some in terms of PEDM discourse. “Patpong Sisters: a page dedicated to the bargirls of Patpong Road. and thinks she tarnished the name of the scene there with her exploits and glorification of heroin and cocaine use in Goa Freaks: My Hippie Years in India (Saldanha 2007:pp. But more importantly. this woman returned to Goa in 1999 and while there returned to her old coke habit and soon. Goa Gil. It’s almost a form of self sacrifice at times. Shortly before her death in 2002 Odzer was interviewed for a documentary called Last Hippie Standing.com/. once Odzer was addicted to heroin and cocaine she was almost certainly not engaging in positive spiritually oriented drug use. she’s served as an example of what not to do for me.” That statement seems to sum up a lot of the ideology surrounding PEDM.wordpress. yet it isn’t total nihilism. . It’s just a type of experience that humans have always delved into in certain mystic contexts. In it she said “I don’t know what the future brings. I really do think that many of these seemingly hard people are directing their consciousness somewhere in genuine love of a chaotic world full of injustice. As far as I see it. While doing her anthropological research she dated a pimp. and I think she was a good person that just ended up making some bad choices.” and it definitely seems that some individuals do just that. They just throw themselves into that booming sound and dance and dance and dance. died. A local doctor said it was from AIDS. although he finds her death unfortunate. I don’t know what is right. or at least it could be described in those terms for some people. Carl. And that’s all I want. It in some cases can approach nihilism among some dancers who seem to have lost all hope with nine to five reality. The drugs sucked the life out of her the same way Deleuze and Guattari describe how the junky drains their Body without Organs of possibilities over time as they use drugs habitually to tap into a region in which they feel a euphoric world of possibilities without ever acting on them. and surrounding the PEDM scene in Thailand some who had been 20 Jacobson. but we have to continue trying. and some definitely go into altered states similar to those experienced by mystics. rather quick witted entrepreneurs.39 prostitutes are not exploited victims in many cases. To make something that is peaceful for everybody. unfortunately. Based on my reading and observations the core of the subculture is spiritually oriented and devotional in some way.” *online+ Available http://patpongsisters. that culture is what I don’t want. but I know what I don’t want: New York is what I don’t want. she was involved in this discourse in which people are calling certain hedonistic practices “spiritual” in some cases and in some cases “liberating” in order to justify destructive behavior.80-83). a famous deejay who was involved in the early Goa hippie culture and doesn’t advocate hard drug use does not approve at all of the way Odzer lived her life. some in terms of Islamic or Jewish mysticism. as if some freaks are in the world but frequently enter another realm. which in my opinion is a nascent form of mystic discourse. it’s not right. What does she have to do with my work? For one thing. which some refer to as Babylon. Anyway.
declaring that the music does nothing more than draw out dark energies. For example. and then the so called hard drugs like amphetamines. some people take them to stay up and dance. and that because right now certain substances happen to be illegal they will not even consider opening doors that may now be closed to them (D’Andrea 2007). Some argue that it’s just a form of escape from reality. and some think not. and it’s very widespread. some within the PEDM network go down tragic paths like Odzer. This is just a gross simplification based on my observations at parties and conversations with many people. There are definitely a lot of complaints out there about the culture surrounding the style of electronic music that developed in Goa. because of the conditions of the world we currently live in and the allure of drugs that are highly addictive and always produce euphoric effects. but everyone can agree that the music is associated with altered states of consciousness that some would describe as spiritual. at this point in time. cocaine is probably seen as the least bad and occasional use isn’t even viewed negatively at all in many cases. As for the so called “hard drugs”. mescaline. At the same time. then either MDMA or cannabis depending on the scene. D’Andrea states that the higher ups at the meditation center have adopted an overall anti PEDM stance. like Cleo Odzer. But. and Jimmie Hendrix. Are the experiences necessarily productive or positive? That’s another issue altogether.40 there for long periods of time seemed to look down on those who hadn’t. India. Yet. hash and weed don’t produce extreme alterations of consciousness like acid or mescaline. many countercultural types who have been involved in the ashram at some point or another are saying that the ashram meditators are too bourgeois and uptight in their views and are simply afraid of exploring all of reality. it’s definitely valued by many in the psytrance world. Of course. similar to the way many did within the hippie counterculture of the sixties and seventies such as Jim Morrison. and then alcohol is just a sort of party substance which is rather neutral by most but is seen as negative by some and positive by others. back in the early 1900s Aleister Crowley and others touted coke as some kind of wonder drug that allowed adepts to glimpse a higher realm. on the whole. but most within the PEDM world think there are better drugs to achieve that end. Janis Joplin. psilocybin. the classic drug of the rave scene. in many cases it is hard to say whether strong hallucinogens or cannabis are more valued. The anthropologist Anthony D’Andrea. an institution that has definitely influenced and been influenced by the scene in Goa due to the fact that many of the people who go to the center have spent time involved in the rave scene in Goa and vice versa. As for amphetamines. and it can produce oceanic feelings that could be described as spiritual. There is a very strong cannabis culture. But. heroin. and it is fairly common for dancers to take it to stay awake and have energy. etc. and I saw some of this in . For that reason I place as slightly less valued than the strong hallucinogens. and much of the imagery surrounding psytrance gatherings and the heavily distorted sounds of the music itself are inspired by altered states brought on by the stronger psychedelics drugs. it would probably go as such: strong hallucinogens (LSD. displaying the sort of countercultural cliquishness and snobbishness that Saldanha described in his book about Goa. and it is important to keep in mind that it is in no way true across the board. and many PEDM enthusiasts like to think of their marijuana or hash smoking in a ritual sort of way. In any case. and the substance has a history of religious use. Unfortunately. but the drug is generally acknowledged as having the potential to be addictive and as lacking the ability to aid dancers in expanding their consciousness and have spiritual experiences.). it isn’t as valued as LSD or other strong hallucinogenic drugs. if the drugs surrounding PEDM had to be listed on a scale from most to least spiritual and valued. and to a lesser extent cocaine are seen as degrading to the overall psychedelic trance party atmosphere. As for MDMA. spent time at a place called the Osho meditation center in Pune.
some alter their minds and reach what could be described as transcendent or liminal states without labeling their experiences as “spiritual”. and have experiences they describe as spiritual. Within PEDMC drug use can be viewed as positive or negative depending on context. Opium and opium tea are viewed in a much more positive light since they are thought of as being more natural and I hung out with one man who said he liked to smoke opium and then “battle through. She was sitting with a British guy who had taken a high dose of psilocybin mushrooms at a place called Pong’s Paradise. and as just giving a bunch of false frantic energy. is that “spiritual”? That all depends on how one looks at it.41 Thailand. Others. What that large powerful thing is. trance dance and claim to reach altered states they describe as spiritual without the help of any drugs. well. but anything that is seen as adding to the overall Dionysian atmosphere of a trance party is generally valued. and it seems that some are entering regions of human consciousness that approach this sort of experience in PEDM situations. The spirituality surrounding PEDM varies widely. and in many instances it involves drug use and in some it does not. but they’re generally viewed as pretty bad drugs within PEDMC. This guy didn’t call his tripping a spiritual or religious thing. but. This is in some way similar to the lyrics of some songs by a punk rock and electronic music fusion band called Dust Galaxy that produced an album in 2007 that has the Hindu god Shiva on the cover. My friend Emma gave me one example of that type of situation one day in Thailand. and the work of the psychiatrist Rick Strassman. I think the best thing I can do is turn to a few musical examples and stories. And. i. which could be described by some as a soul. Hallucinogens that allow people to have so called spiritual experiences while dancing are the most valued. a black British Drum and Bass music producer who was heavily involved in the early rave scene. To conclude this discussion on spirituality and further clarify how I am using that term throughout the remainder of my work. tapping into an ultimate reality. oftentimes people who know how to meditate and at one point used psychedelics. this idea of plugging into something larger. Some take drugs with a very devotional mindset and trance dance. and nothing is black and white. DJ Krust. they have grand insights that seem extremely significant to them at the time. There is a wide variety of human behavior that can fall into this category of turning towards the light satellite. In his song Coded Language he says things like “Our music is our alchemy!” “We are unraveling our navels to ingest the sun!” “We know the heart is the philosophers stone!” and says that artists should attempt to channel divine frequencies to “Uplift the consciousness of the entire. As for what constitutes spirituality within PEDMC. some dislike the idea that it is higher).e. and these various methods are interconnected and related. And opiates. Is that type of realization spiritual? He was definitely getting in touch with his inner self. is hard to say. and force himself to stay on his feet and dance. . the light satellite. where a lot of psytrance is played. and plugging into an ultimate reality. That stated. the singer says “My love for you is limitless…Come on baby don’t be so uptight! Turn your heart to the light satellite!” That’s what I refer to when I refer to spiritual practice and spirituality. In the song “Limitless” which is kind of a mix between punk rock and psychedelic rock. but he was an oddball. many trance enthusiasts are experimenters and will try anything once. finding new things out about who he is. Some call certain very self destructive and self indulgent practices spiritual. raps about what could be described as very otherworldly or mystical matters. world!” It seems that DJ Krust referring to a contact with some sort of higher power or force (or great power. fucking. but it has been the central preoccupation of shamanic and mystical practices for thousands of years. but as he sat with Emma he told her he had suddenly realized he was gay. on the island of Koh Phangan. it all just depends on how you look at it. yet.” He claimed it was wonderful to dance on opium. injected heroin is definitely viewed as very bad by most and I’ve never seen anyone shooting up at a party.
and that it may have a lot to do with a chemical called dimethyltryptamine that we all carry within our bodies (some have more of it in their bodies than others). If you don’t get the reference disregard it. Daniel Quinn is the guy that wrote that whole series of Ishmael. We just see them in varying ways. I met Sagiv during the summer of 2007 in Israel. The drunken stoner prophet claimed he would release his knowledge in writing one day in a book entitled “The Light”. a sort of animist missionary. feeling a sort of sacred vibration. He then slapped the top of his head. When I was living in Seville. He would get people into these long drawn out discussions about what he called “tapping into source!” a sort of tapping into an ultimate power. that she felt it flowing into her through the top of her head and down throughout her body. He didn’t call that spirituality. and that these people would group together in a community that will change the world. Anyhow. this natural psychedelic drug in our bodies is not the only thing involved in spiritual experience. Spain during the spring of 2006 I had several long conversations with an enigmatic man from Los Angeles who claimed to have made several documentaries and to have been a Hollywood insider. a bit like the one described in a book called The Story of B written by Daniel Quinn several years ago. this tall dignified black man would carry on for hours while rolling and passing around hash joints and drinking bottles of Cruz Campo beer. He said many things. He was somewhat of a self declared bar room prophet. Of course. and that it moved him. but claimed he felt the music pulsing through some sort of energy field within his body. and debated with him. He was from a Colombian Jewish background. and said he heard and felt the music there. and that she didn’t dance.42 Depending on what cultural background people come from they may perceive of plugging in experiences differently. which according to him are the most psychedelic of all trance parties because “The music pulls your brain out through your eyes and ears!” Sagiv was very experienced with LSD and smoked copious amounts of hash. and of feeling a sacred vibration. and then the Story of B that was popular in pop culture a few years back. In my work when I refer to spirituality I refer to something akin to the drunken stoner prophet’s “tapping into source. especially among tree hugging hippie types in the US. including an idea that with increased political tensions and social unrest more and more humans are going to become shaken out of their present worldview and “tap into source”. Expatriates and local English speakers actually stood around and listened to this man rant. The point is that he had a message about what most in the West would call “spirituality”. they can tap into source!” He did seem to have a degree of credibility with some due to his powerful oratory style. and told me that in order to properly understand the very fast and distorted sounds of dark psytrance one has to listen to the music through the top of their head. and I have heard a lot of talk about the chemical within psychedelic trance culture. My Ishmael. A girl in Thailand told me she was the same way with psytrance. Whether or not he actually felt anything other than the alcohol and THC is irrelevant. I have yet to find it in stores. but I think any human can have them. and that it caused him to . This leads me to my next story…that of Sagiv. He said things like “People can walk on water! People can levitate! People can levitate objects. not through his ears. but it appears to play a major role in such experiences. heal themselves and others! If.” Is there truly a source to tap into that can make humans get in touch with the universe and feel an ultimate power? There is some scientific evidence that at least suggests that human beings have a built in capability to have so called mystic experiences. and helped organize dark psytrance parties. the music moved her. How can we make sense of the claims of Sagiv and the girl I met in Thailand? Some psychedelic drug enthusiasts I told about Sagiv suggested his brain’s pineal gland could be releasing DMT during trance dance situations due to certain things that may have occurred to him as a result of past psychedelic experiences or very intense life experiences he had been through.
stanford. He believes the chemical plays a major role in human spirituality and in matters of life and death. the Rebirth of the Goddess. Virtual Reality. UFOs. accessed December 6. Strassman.21 I was never familiar with the pineal gland or DMT until I got into PEDM. causing DMT to be created in the brain. he acted as if he was overcome when he danced. and it’s fast. René Descartes believed the pineal gland to be the seat of the soul and the place where human thoughts form. when humans consume ayahuasca(which contains DMT). the supposed point of connection between the physical realm and the great beyond. Space Tribe released an album in 2006 on which there is a track entitled “Inner Revolution”.”*online+ Available http://platp.” Was DMT involved? Rick Strassman has presented fairly compelling evidence that this chemical really does play a major role in such experiences. Space Tribe is a well known producer of psytrance and now has a line of dance clothing. which is a product of the decomposition of adrenaline and can cause many of the same effects as mescaline. and felt something larger than himself. which is the point when a fetus develops sexual organs becoming male or female (2001). and more pseudoscientific writers like Terrence McKenna have written a lot about it as well as Dr. something akin to “tapping into source. Shamanism. This is closely related to something known as the third eye in Hinduism and Buddhism. In the 1991 book The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms. and when humans take pure DMT. they have the most profound mystical experiences that we as 21 “Descartes and the Pineal Gland. and in that work Huxley proposes that the chemical that causes changes in consciousness is adrenochrome. While in Thailand I hung around quite a bit with a Belgian man who has been around the PEDM network for years who sometimes wore purple shorts that had the logo of a group psytrance deejays called “Space Tribe” on them. very psychedelic trance. but I think it is safe to assume that there is no one single chemical that can cause an inner revolution. Evolution. This is the inner revolution!” That bit about manufacturing a chemical that causes changes in consciousness comes straight out of Aldous Huxley’s classic work The Doors of Perception. and the End of History the late Terrence McKenna proposed that when humans consume what he called “heroic doses” of psilocybin mushrooms. Even though Sagiv didn’t speak of his trance dance experiences in spiritual terms that most would describe as “spiritual”.edu/entries/pineal-gland/. which is supposed to be in a part of the brain that western scientists call the pineal gland. calling it a spirit molecule that connects humans with what lies beyond the physical body. DMT had not been studied as extensively back then. Now more people speak of DMT as the chemical that can cause an inner revolution. 2008. but surrounding PEDM many speak of DMT as a so called “spirit molecule” which is released when humans have experiences in which they feel like they are tapping into some kind of ultimate reality like the drunken prophet’s source or the Dust Galaxy’s light satellite. and that the pineal gland begins producing DMT when an embryo is 49 days old. which psychiatrist Rick Strassman says is the gland where humans produce DMT since the gland contains the necessary materials to produce the so called “spirit molecule”. DMT is very big in today’s psychedelic culture though. in which people feel as if they tap into something larger and beyond the physical world. I have heard quite a bit of music put out by Space Tribe.43 perceive dark psytrance the way he does. In that track there is a voice that states “Each one of us may be capable of manufacturing a chemical. but in my view reducing mystical experience to any one chemical is overly simplistic and just silly. citing the fact that the place he hit himself on the top of his head was around an area that is supposedly influenced by what is known as the crown chakra within several Eastern mystical belief systems. minute doses of which are known to cause profound changes in consciousness. the Amazon. .
trance dancing. who is an experienced meditator. external administration of psychedelics. . and that now we need to go back to how it was long ago. Rick Strassman studied DMT extensively during the 90s. Strassman conducted his research in a clinical setting during which he injected volunteers with DMT and had them describe their experiences to him. DMT is contained in the human body in small quantities. any combo of these things. “tapping into source”. claims the human spirit is contained within the molecule. in any of a wide variety of ways: fasting and flagellation. Dr. and that these experiences are simultaneously a glimpse of another plain. Strassman. a glimpse of the end of history. and people can explore it on purpose or by accident. out of body. spirituality. In my opinion PEDMC is a modern day example of humans interacting with the realm of direct religious experience. These experiences are somewhat similar to experiences related to DMT experiences brought on by a sudden release of the chemical within the brain during intense stress or major life events. Many of the volunteers reported being transported to a different reality in which they would see and sometimes interact with beings. and a tool for our own self betterment. and probably much more. which is something many people say they feel in the trance dance setting. back during the heyday of shamanism. and religious experience. That whole realm of experience exists within the human consciousness. the most fascinating fact about all this talk of DMT is that it is produced naturally within the body. and can trigger humans to have intense experiences either when it is released internally or externally administered. Most reported feeling pulsing vibrations. It plays a role in dreaming and near death. the light satellite. doing some of the first legal psychedelic research since scientists like Timothy Leary created a moral panic in the 60s. and some reported having out of body and near death type experiences in which they felt as if they were “pure awareness”. as well as by experiences in which people clinically die for a time. carrying out a sort of species wide inner revolution. Dr. To me. or by the sorts of psychedelic experiences described by Terrence McKenna in his speculative 1991 book. Sufi whirling. but at this point mainstream scientists have still not arrived to a consensus as to what its purpose is. If there is some sort of seminal “spiritual experience”. and his findings appear in the 2001 book The Spirit Molecule. tantric sex. and that psychedelic drugs that are not naturally produced in the body such as LSD can interact with DMT. an archaic revival. I would argue that it is the sort of experience described by the people who received doses of DMT during Rick Strassman’s research or described by those who trigger a release of DMT during deep meditation. and that DMT related experience is the root of all belief in gods and goddesses and the root of the human urge to be religious. yoga and meditation. near fatal accidents. Strassman presents the view that this molecule is involved in religious or mystical experience brought on by meditative practices.44 a species are capable of having. Strassman states that it is perhaps a sort of “vehicle” allowing what he describes as disembodied consciousness to be carried to other realms of existence. He proposes that as humans have moved away from extremely intense direct mystical experience our religions have become increasingly complex.
“Fuck Buckets”. and is about to start leading groups of women around Europe. People are really getting into the music. been a tour guide for groups of 18-38 year old women in South America. The bald Thai deejay is immersed in his music. “Me Love You Long Time”. People are taking turns jumping through a flaming hoop. the main party beach on the island of Koh Phangan. It’s around 2 A. The trance dancers I’ve talked to view it as a very negative drug. “Wow! You’ve got some pretty fucking scary eyes man! Have a cigarette!” I tell him I don’t smoke. and is highly addictive. Shady men walk up and down the beach whispering to revelers about how they have drugs for sale “Psssst. In Australia he races dirt bikes. Australia. “Bethlehem Buckets…Jesus Christ’s favorite bucket”. He’s been a pizza delivery driver in Amsterdam. I’m dancing on the beach with some British kids who have just finished high school and are taking tame off to travel before university. We get along well. ecstasy. answered phones in London. John is a wild guy.. The signs on the stalls are humorous “Shalom Buckets”. where the party never stops.M. The deejay booth is up in a small tower and on the front of it there is an Eye of Horus. A group of ladyboys is hanging around down by the water where they’re smoking cigarettes and drinking buckets. and many more. A middle aged European walks by with a slender prostitute. “Drink some of this bucket! It’s tasty!” I end up hanging around with him for several days. or fire dancing. Some Thai men are doing poi. He’s been on the road for years and has found various ways to sustain himself. There are some Israelis doing tricks with a spinning crystal ball on the beach. It’s smoked. He smokes cigarettes and .yabba. but he’ll have none of it. To the right there are numerous stalls where locals are selling buckets of vodka Red Bull and other mixed drinks. Suddenly a strong looking man of thirty or so with a red Mohawk addresses me. It’s another night on Koh Phangan. John is from Melbourne. weed…” They’re really pushing yabba. which is some form of amphetamine that is manufactured in Burma and sold cheap in Thailand.45 Chapter Two: The Origins of Psychedelic Electronic Dance Music I’m on the beach outside of Zoom Bar in Haad Rin.
But hell. We have some amazing parties in Melbourne. but trance is my favorite. share MP3s. trade music. called bush doofs. sometimes accompanied by severe perceptual distortion and hallucinations and by extreme feelings of either euphoria or despair”. and I don’t know what it is. but you can’t say that it all comes from India because we were doing parties with trance music in Melbourne before Goa trance got big.com/browse/psychedelic. I come from Melbourne.. accessed on October 31. experience. They love the stuff. and people camp out and dance all night. I can listen to just about anything. it’s my music. and they picked it up in India. But. After that they plan on going to Iran where they’ve obtained an invitation allowing them to get visas to spend some time there before going to Dubai. but the Israelis seem to be the most into it. It’s backpacker music. At first all the parties were in warehouses. Plenty of Australians. It’s interesting that you want to find out how this music got spread around. John is a bit worried about how things will go since he’ll be travelling with a woman he isn’t married to through some strict Islamic countries. and is going to slowly make his way there from Asia. In the end I’m a trance guy.reference. It seeks not to destroy the culture from which it sprang but rather to explore its fringe possibilities” (2007: p. Europeans. You find similar songs being played at backpacker hangouts around the world: Bob Marley. it’s hard to define exactly what makes a certain party or scene. “ Psychedelic: a meaning charged term without a clear definition Something which is psychedelic is officially defined as anything which is “of or noting a mental state characterized by a profound sense of intensified sensory perception. like Manu Chau. He’s about to take a flight to India where he’ll visit the Himalayas and then go into Pakistan to meet his English girlfriend. Most of the people who are really into the music and are dancing hard are Israelis. music. and then you’ve got a few random nuts like me and you. He plans on cutting his hair short to blend in. We have parties out in the bush. it’s not just them. That scene started in Melbourne after raves first got big in England in the late 80s. and spiritualities borrowed from other populations. .psychedelics – in the singular like ‘economics’ 22 “Definition of psychedelic” *online+ Available http://dictionary. and are even considering going to Afghanistan. but then they got too big. it’s pretty hard to say exactly where it started. People pass CDs around.46 drinks a lot but climbs high mountains and dances all night to trance music. He likes my project idea. or musical style “psychedelic”. great to dance all night to.22 That’s just one dictionary’s definition of the word. it’s good stuff. look around. Arun Saldanha argues that “psychedelics” is the commitment certain whites have to transforming themselves through drugs. He has 6 months of free time before starting his new job in Europe. This is John’s second visit to Koh Phangan. It is an “unraveling from within” of the “moral cement” which defines the privileged position of the white bourgeoisie. It gets in your head and makes you move. and trance. and carry this sound around the world. Wherever you go in the world where lots of travelers are hanging around you find certain music. They want to go trekking in Pakistan. “Trance music man. really. Eventually I get around to explaining to John what I’m doing on Koh Phangan. You’ve got to see it.12). In reality. I think it’s the Israelis who are responsible for spreading trance music around. In any case. Here’s what I think. Good luck with your thesis. rock from the 60s and 70s. and Japanese dance like mad. So yea. just not the young gap year kids. 2008. Saldanha also states that “The set of practices of self-transformations. if you stay at Zoom or one these other bars until the very end. On any given night on Koh Phangan. They may work a month or two there cleaning hotel rooms or doing construction if they feel like doing so before catching a flight to Amsterdam.
reference.psychedeliclibrary. I enlarge the term significantly: insofar as whites use the pleasure of drugs. backpackers and travelling deejays who have spread psychedelic electronic dance music to popular travel destinations around the world and carried it back to their respective homelands. and psilocybin. participants in dance parties associated with hallucinogens and spirituality in the hippie enclave of Goa. accessed on Nov 18.24 Basically.6). Several different groups of people have been very influential in the development of today’s countercultural trance dancing: gay clubbers and deejays in America. cultural trends. Certain styles of electronic dance music are referred to as “psychedelic”. sometimes mystical structure of feeling that. and the exotic to alter their minds and position in the world of whites. Demographically whites are probably the main group taking strong hallucinogens in a nontraditional setting. It has inherited a lot from the counterculture of the 1960s and the psychedelic rock of that era. participants and organizers of “free festivals” in the UK and Rainbow Gatherings and Burning Man in the US. The psychedelic electronic dance music which can be heard at trance dancing parties worldwide in association with transnational countercultures has its roots in several different places. but this doesn’t make it a purely white phenomenon. accessed on November 1. art.org/etcmarsh. travel. was epitomized by the 1960s cult of LSD. I’ll call them psychedelic…psychedelics shows the many possibilities of whiteness (p.htm. and certain sounds. 24 Marsh. and new wave/industrial music made by groups like Front 242 during the 1980s. The Transformation of the 60s Counterculture into New Forms Throughout the 1970s rock music fragmented into a variety of styles and what was known as “the counterculture” associated with it ceased to have a great deal of influence in the lives of most individuals living in first world countries.com/browse/psychotomimetic. 2008. participants in “underground therapy” using the drug MDMA associated with the work of American chemist Alexander Shulgin.” *online+ Available http://www. but the values and ideals of the 60s lived on far away from the 23 “definition of psychotomimetic” *online+ Available http://dictionary. mystical experience. working class British bohemians living on Ibiza. and for some reason it has stuck. but is associated with altered states of consciousness. and activities which are associated with altered states brought on by the ingestion of substances like LSD. the word doesn’t have a clear definition.47 and ‘aesthetics’…is the hedonistic. followers of the Indian meditation teacher known as Osho. I find Saldanha’s definition lacking since many non-whites take psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin. Richard P. Israeli ex-soldiers who spent time in India following their mandatory military service. . and music enthusiasts who have discovered PEDM by chance on the internet or after attending festivals or events where it is played. Many people now dance to various forms of PEDM but few know much about its origins. The term psychedelic was used interchangeably with the word “psychotomimetic” during early scientific experimentation with substances like mescaline. Detroit techno. but the definition of that word states that psychotomimetic experiences or situations mimic psychosis23 and that has a much more negative connotation than the word psychedelic. But. “Meaning and the Mind-Drugs. 2008. it has also inherited a lot from disco. But. house music and its subgenre acid house. The term “psychedelic” was used by the widely known psychologist Timothy Leary in the 60s and was picked up on by the counterculture. ritual. participants in the first “rave” parties which began being held in the UK during the 80s. as the term implies. mescaline.
Free festival culture continued to flourish long after the original counterculture of the 60s had ceased to be a significant social force for most members of British society.html. 2008. After the Stonehenge Festival was banned free festival culture continued to exist and grow and PEDM began being played at free festivals and free illegal raves in 1990 (Collin 1997: pp. The Stonehenge Free Festival didn’t have a specific start or end date. and because they expressed a desire to escape late capitalist society by dropping out and creating an alternate universe within festivals. During the late 60s a significant number of travelers from the West began going to Asia. and the Commonwealth (Saldanha 2007). and people showed up and began camping around the beginning of June and some stayed around for a week or more after the solstice. Around the same time that a significant number of backpackers began doing long trips to the third world on a low budget a new type of festival began developing in the US and England.6). Europe. Kabul. clothing. The Stonehenge Free festival was held during June every year from 1972 until 1985 when police stopped people from celebrating the solstice around Stonehenge. and that theoretically someone could perpetually live within the festivals. and within the festivals participants enjoyed performances by rock groups like Hawkwind and Gong. Istambul. In 1972 the first Stonehenge Free Festival is reported to have been held to celebrate the summer solstice.48 eye of the mainstream press. Throughout the 70s and 80s many free music festivals during which participants camped out for days or weeks at a time began to be held around the UK. People from industrialized countries continued travelling to places like Goa after the counterculture had waned in influence in North America. Goa.25 The first Rainbow Gathering was held in Granby. . The festival was a celebration of various alternative cultures within the UK and was closely associated with a group of people called the New Age Travelers or the Peace Convoy who were essentially modern day gypsies who travelled in caravans between different festivals around the UK supporting themselves by various means such as selling crafts. They attempted to travel as long as possible for as cheap as possible. Most people traveling on the Hippie Trail during the 60s and 70s considered themselves members of the counterculture. The most famous of these festivals was the Stonehenge Free Festival. It was during that time that the “Hippie Trail” across Asia came into being. These festivals are meant to function as what the anarchist theorist Hakim Bey referred to as “temporary autonomous zones” or TAZ’s (Collin 1997: ch. 25 “The Stonehenge Free Festivals” *online+ Available http://ukrockfestivals. Kathmandu. and Bali.198-200). A member of the Rainbow Family once claimed to me that a gathering is always going on somewhere in the world. Within these utopian spaces of Dionysian frivolity and ecstatic communion participants are able to create a new form of society which moves from place to place and which some hope will come to encompass everything one day. and sometimes by receiving welfare checks from the British government. oftentimes in search of spiritual wisdom. Colorado to celebrate the Fourth of July the same year (Niman 1997). During that time period the former Portuguese colony of Goa on the west coast of India became a popular gathering place for westerners travelling around Asia and a distinct “freak culture” developed. and drugs. accessed on November 18. The Hippie Trail was an overland route from Western Europe to East Asia which was not clearly defined but which included some key destinations like Ibiza.com/henge-menu. and most experimented with drugs during their journeys. These gatherings were significant because they created a festival format which has been imitated up until the present day. Much of today’s backpacking culture has its roots in the Hippie Trail. Some studied Eastern mysticism. Tehran. Bangkok.
27 “The Aum Festival” *online+ Available http://tribe. and who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth green again. similar to the way there is a lot of internal variation within PEDM. which did not want large numbers of ragged foreign vagabonds hanging around China during the Olympics. From what I have seen and from what people have told me. The Rainbow Family claims that they are fulfilling an ancient Native American prophecy which states that “When the earth is ravaged and the animals are dying. international Rainbow Family events often overlap with the remnants of the Peace Convoy in Europe. To give a few examples of this phenomenon.49 The Rainbow Family of Living Light formed in July of 1972 with the first national Rainbow Gathering.28 The situation seems to be similar in Latin America.com/blog/archives/24.”26 A festival travel culture sprang up in relation to Rainbow Gatherings much the same as it did around free festivals and people around the world have begun to affiliate themselves with the Rainbow Family. The basic premise of the gathering and subsequent gatherings which have been going on around America and the world since then. accessed on Nov 2. When I was in Thailand a small international Rainbow Gathering event was held in the Yunnan province of China. 2008. 2008. but apparently would have been much bigger if it weren’t for resistance on the part of the Chinese government. classes. The Israeli Rainbow Family and a few other foreign Rainbow groups are heavily involved in trance dancing to PEDM. Simon.” The theme for the 2009 Burning Man Festival is human evolution. and that some foreign groups calling themselves Rainbow Family use PEDM at events connected to the group. Rainbow Gatherings continued to go on in America as the influence of the counterculture diminished. similar to free festivals in the UK. Many members of the Rainbow Family now attend the Burning Man Festival and regional burn events around the world and these festivals have close connections to PEDM and trance dancing.org. 2008. I’ve heard tracks refer to “warriors of the light” and in one song an eerie voice proclaims “I see a new world being born. There is a group of 26 Rainbow Family Unofficial Website [online] Available www. “The End of the Rainbow” *online+ Available http://www. is that people can live without money and get along if left to their own devices. There is a lot of internal variation within Rainbow related events. and a lot of PEDM makes references to new enlightened humans.simonlewiswriter. we are no longer limited to the five senses. During the 90s the Rainbow Family came into contact with PEDM. It seems that the Rainbow Family concept spread to other countries where electronic music is more popular than it is in the US.27 Rainbow Gatherings are often characterized by a lot of drumming and singing in groups.net/arkansasrainbow/thread/78701af3-f6fa-424d-904f3275fab29e7a. especially related to ideology about drugs.welcomehome. accessed on November 2. accessed on November 5. I saw English speakers who were obviously members of the same group since they were wearing matching rainbow colored jackets and pants passing out condoms at the Dragon Festival in Spain in the spring of 2007. One adventure travel writer has noted that there are a fair number of long term backpackers of multiple nationalities wandering around Asia and calling themselves Rainbow People. a new human species. a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colors. although a psytrance festival with connections to the Rainbow Family was recently held in Arkansas. They will be known as warriors of the Rainbow. This was a free music festival during which participants were discouraged from using money and which is thought to have been inspired by the “Human Be In” held in San Francisco in 1967. . 28 Lewis. This is different than the US because here electronic music is more peripheral within Rainbow scenes. and at large events groups overlap. creeds.
Live it!” Below it he had drawn a heart with an anarchy sign inside it. He helped perfect the art of blending two records together. mixing it with studio sound . He claimed that within the Rainbow Family social relationships come first. marginal dance club culture in the US had many ties to 60s counterculture. and cutting bass and treble frequencies in and out to heighten the energy level on the dance floor. Mancuso always laid out a buffet of fruit. and when I told him I planned to study Rainbow type gatherings he smiled. This is probably because a psychedelic electronic sound did not fully develop until the late 80s. and that they say “welcome home” to newcomers at their gatherings since it’s hard for anyone to truly feel at home in the “real world” because everyone puts money before social relationships. On the way to Richmond he explained to me that he was a member of the Rainbow Family and an anarchist clown. moving between soul and rock. During the time period when PEDM was being developed most people who affiliated themselves with countercultural ideals saw electronic music as unauthentic and as being related to the disco music which emerged during the 70s as the hippie movement fell apart. playing African drum sequences and chants. He had heard of the music and the place but didn’t know much about it. Every Saturday during most of the 1970s the long-haired and bearded Mancuso decorated his home like a children’s birthday party and opened it up to a mostly gay. We talked a bit about Goa. Later. He played the music he loved. and people could follow them around America leading a life similar to that of the New Age Travelers.50 people with connections to the Rainbow Family living in the nearby agricultural community of Beneficio which multiple people told me about during 2006. and within some influential gay clubs people danced to disco music under the influence of psychedelic drugs. and there are signs with this written on them at the entrance to the Burning Man Festival in Nevada each year. and that is a commonly heard slogan within Rainbow gatherings and events which are influenced by the group. I picked up a young hitchhiker when I was leaving Chapel Hill.welcomehome. David the hitchhiker was interesting because he had been in college but ran away to travel perpetually. and juice for the dancers. Despite this. The main US Rainbow Family website is www. Psychedelic Disco It is important to note that up until the 90s electronic music was not popular at long countercultural outdoor festivals in first world countries. He had a sign that read “North please”. and sold no alcohol. In the UK people continued to enjoy psychedelic rock played by live bands at free festivals and music festivals like the Glastonbury Festival. He mixed and matched musical styles.org. black and Puerto Rican clientele who danced well into Sunday. when I was in Tel Aviv during the summer of 2007 I attended a trance party at Sakkaya. and this was a significant step towards the development electronic music. My friend Devin told me that at the entrance to the village of Beneficio in Spain there is a sign which says “Welcome Home”. He left a note in my car which read “Endless fun and freedom await. but didn’t think academics would be able to understand the phenomenon very well. Don’t just document it. Also. and some Israelis who called themselves members of the Rainbow Family sold cheap pizza from a stand near the dance area. In the early 70s DJ Francis Grasso played disco music at a flamboyant gay club in New York called Salvation. nuts. the Grateful Dead were still around. an outdoor beach bar. Another New York gay club which influenced the direction of dance music in the 70s was The Loft. North Carolina to drive to Toronto to visit Devin before he left North America to return to Europe in May of 2007 after my semester finished and before I went to Italy and the Middle East. which was an old factory loft and home to designer David Mancuso. and they a sign which read “Welcome Home”.
Those who knew him describe him as an egotistical and rude drug addict. The Music Box was a different sort of club. People also used mescaline. but his music was closer to the PEDM of today. One early house pioneer. and to add in extra bass at crucial points (Collin 1997: pp. extending some segments and taking out others. and lacks string sections. In 1977. One music critic stated that Mancuso attempted to lay dancers under a spell and “trip them out”. LSD. Farley Keith Williams. rock. The club was predominantly black and gay. The club came to be associated with a style of music called garage music (Collin 1997: pp. It was a non-alcoholic “juice bar”. European electro pop. In addition to playing music Knuckles spiked the punch dancers drank with LSD. and sought to preserve that spirit. Some pioneers began dancing under the influence of the recently rediscovered drug MDMA. described the new genre as disco with a harder kick drum (Collin 1997: pp. but he was a great artist. In 1984 Knuckles left the Warehouse and opened his own club called the Powerplant. but there is definitely a difference between the genres. and the new drug Ecstasy. People on the Chicago scene described his sound as being rawer than that of Knuckles. and innovative synthesizer music from Germany made by groups like Kraftwerk. While there he began experimenting with a Roland TR-909 drum computer he bought from a pioneering Detroit artist named Juan Atkinsi to lay down beat patterns which he would weave in and out of records. This club is the source of the name of house music. taking records apart and re-editing them on reel-to-reel tape. attempting to create glimpses of spiritual utopia through his music. The influential DJ Larry Levan played every weekend from the club’s opening in 1976 until its close in 1987. Another influential New York gay club of the 70s was the Paradise Garage. Those who attended parties at The Loft felt almost as if they were initiates to some secret society which was exploring new dimensions of the human experience.51 effects. gospel. and dancers would go into a trance-like state of ecstasy while listening to Mancuso’s music (Collin 1997: pp. but it was a continuation of the disco tradition. While playing music there Knuckles began creating an entirely new style of music. Another influential DJ of the disco era was Frankie Knuckles. The scene was dominated by black and Puerto Rican homosexuals. marijuana dipped in PCP. and rearranging the way they flowed to make the experience on the dance floor more intense. who many writers describe as the most energetic dancers in America at that time.18-20). and cocaine. attempting to use his music to enhance the effects of the drugs dancers used. reggae.14-17). Some claim that the idea of using drum machines came from Detroit and a new type of very . Other Chicago deejays soon began experimenting with drum computers. He mixed various genres like disco. House is generally faster and has more percussion and bass than classic disco. LSD was very prevalent at The Loft. As Hardy’s mixes became well known. LSD. but there was plenty of PCP. These drum computers were very cheap at that time because Roland had not been able to find a market for the technology. which was one of a series of gay “bath houses” which were closed after being declared public health hazards after the AIDS epidemic hit. but Hardy’s music was more intense and sometimes abrasive. At a rival Chicago club called the Music Box a deejay named Ron Hardy was also using a drum computer. at 22. They helped make musical history. soul.19-22). Levan had been a regular at Mancuso’ Loft. Knuckles was more orderly with his music. Knuckles moved to a new club in Chicago called the Warehouse. people began applying the term “house” to his music. He then began adding pre-programmed rhythms from a beat box to his mixes.11-12). or “ecstasy” at the Paradise Garage. using it to make tracks flow together. Knuckles started his career at a club called the Continental Baths in New York. It’s hard to determine exactly where the boundary between disco and house lies.
While experimenting with a Roland TB-303 Bass Line. and wasn’t heard of again until the mid 60s when it was re-synthesized by a drug researcher named Gordon Alles. During the Cold War the American and Russian militaries hoped to discover a “truth serum” which would make prisoners reveal sensitive information while being interrogated (Booth 2004 and Letcher 2007). Other notable drugs the military experimented with include LSD. People interested in a more “trippy” sound began using the acid noise. Germany in 1912 and patented two years later. and because of it the subgenre called acid house was born. The Detroit sound influenced Chicago. It was a crazy buzzing noise which twisted and writhed. It is due to Shulgin’s work that MDMA began to be used for spiritual and recreational purposes. Other people claim that the sounds of Acid Trax were simply bizarre enough that listening to it amounted to a simulated acid trip (Collin 1997: pp. This album made knowledge of the 303 more widespread. The substance affects the chemistry of the brain in ways which are not yet fully understood. and used it to create an album called Acid Trax. After that the drug was forgotten for decades until the US Army began studying MDMA in order to find out if it could possibly be used to help with the Cold War effort. Now nobody really knows why they called the new music acid house.52 technological music which developed there in the mid 80s called techno. MDMA: the Psychedelic Empathogen MDMA played an important role in the development of psychedelic electronic dance music and the type of party which has come to be known as “rave”. and that was when he began his psychedelic research (Collin 1997: p. During the early 60s Shulgin worked for the Dole Chemical Company and was given extensive liberty to experiment with hallucinogenic substances.25).21-22). experimenting with. studying their effects on himself and his friends. California until 1994 when the DEA forced him to stop. Shulgin is a psychopharmacologist who has spent his entire career synthesizing. Shulgin has produced countless mind-altering compounds. MDMA was only one of many chemicals the US military considered using to interrogate and influence people (Collin 1997: p. and Trax Records boss says the noise reminded him of acid rock he listened to during the sixties. He worked with the molecules of substances which resembled mescaline. and later by a California chemist named Alexander Shulgin.25). and when he did he was fascinated by its effects. It is related to mescaline and amphetamines. MDMA didn’t prove very useful. He first synthesized the drug in 1965 but didn’t try it until 1967. a man named Marshall Jefferson and his friend DJ Pierre discovered a strange new sound. They recorded it. and Hardy and his friend Nathaniel Jones liked it. Ron Hardy began playing Acid Trax at the Music Box and it was a hit. The drug was first synthesized by the Merck pharmaceutical company in Darmstadt. In 1966 Dole made it clear that they did not encourage psychedelic research and Shulgin quit his job and began synthesizing new drugs legally on his own at his home in Lafayette. and psilocybin. and has been described as a “psychedelic amphetamine” and also as an “empathogen” due to its effect of making people open up to others . cannabis. Of all the psychoactive compounds Shulgin has produced MDMA has become the most widespread. and writing about new psychedelic drugs. and hundreds of them are detailed in his books PIKHAL(Phenethylamines I have known and loved) and TIKHAL(Tryptamines I have known and loved) which have become extremely popular among members of contemporary countercultures worldwide. Some say it’s because they spiked the water at the Music Box with acid. a device originally designed as a practice aid for guitarists. He says that after taking mescaline in 1960 he realized the whole universe is contained within the human mind and spirit.
love. creativity and humor. Osho’s teachings included a belief in dynamic or active meditation. Some followers of Osho practice ecstatic Sufi style dancing. allowing dancers to make fluid movements (Collin 1997: 26-28). In 1983 some people began promoting the drug aggressively for profit motivated reasons in Texas. Osho started his career as a philosophy professor and public speaker. but no academic papers were published on it until as late as 1978 since those involved in MDMA research didn’t want it to be made illegal like LSD. India where people could study his spiritual techniques. . Ibiza is a very fascinating place. The drug not only opened people up to new emotions but also helped them dance. a similar but less impressive compound. and travelled around India arguing against socialism and institutionalized religion and advocating a more open attitude towards sexuality during the 60s. It quickly became available in gay and later straight scenes and was illegalized in the US in 1985 (Collin 1997: pp. celebration. MDA. accessed November 20. His message resonated with countercultural westerners.tv/action/viewvideo/204/OSHO_Sufi_Whirling/. 2008. and the relationship between the ashram in Pune and the hippie community in Goa was written about by Anthony D’Andrea in Global Nomads: Techno and New Age as Transnational Countercultures in Ibiza and Goa (2007). It also seems to free up the spine and limbs when taken in combination with rhythmic music. Many felt the drug helped them. Working Class Bohemians and New Age Mystics on Ibiza During the early stages of mass Ecstasy production the drug was picked up on by another influential group of people. and have had a notable impact on Western New Age thought. because during the 60s it was very much a hippie enclave and there was a great deal of circulation of people and ideas between the Spanish island and destinations along the Hippie Trail to Asia.53 without fear. awareness.disclose. Osho’s teachings emphasized the importance of meditation. Progressive minded therapists with ideals influenced by the 1960s counterculture eagerly began using the drug to help patients suffering from post-traumatic stress conditions.29 Before ecstasy became a widely known street drug sanyassins took the drug to explore new aspects of their consciousness and on Ibiza they helped introduce MDMA to dance clubs in the 80s.28-34). drug addiction. By the end of the 70s there was also a small recreational market in MDMA. Neo-sanyassins quickly spread his ideas to countercultural enclaves around the world like Ibiza. Ecstasy first began being manufactured on a massive scale in the early 80s and at that stage those making it did so with a strong belief in the drug’s utopian possibilities. which oftentimes involves hypnotic music and dance. In 1970 he took on the role of spiritual guide and began initiating disciples known as neo-sanyassins. but it is clear why they did so. Knowledge of the substance slowly spread out from therapeutic circles. was used by hippies as early as 1967 and was used in gay clubs during the 70s. also known as Osho (Collin 1997: pp. followers of the Indian meditation teacher Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. neurotic disorders. phobias. During the 70s the island became increasingly commercialized and also began 29 “Osho Sufi Whirling Video” *online+ Available www. It isn’t clear at exactly what point neo-sanyassins began experimenting with Ecstasy for spiritual purposes. Shulgin started an “underground therapy movement” using MDMA and helped spread it around the United States during the 70s. and in 1974 he established an ashram in Pune. Osho encouraged his disciples to experiment with all aspects of the human experience and did not actively condemn drugs like other prominent meditation teachers of the time such as the Maharishi. It was marketed as “good to dance to”.35-36). and marital difficulties.
Canada. They claimed that the word “shoom” summed up the feeling people get while high on MDMA (Collin 1997: pp. but some working class bohemians from the UK attended world class clubs like Pacha and Amnesia which originally played psychedelic rock and reggae to a hippie audience but over time began playing disco and eventually house music. 54-60). At that point all the music was basically grouped together under the term acid house. After the 1987 tourist season Oakenfold and St. gays. It only lasted a few weeks before being raided by police. The parties and music were quickly imitated in other countries like the US. selling drugs. but MDMA was the most popular drug to dance on although all psychedelics were popular. but . and also what writer Matthew Collin described as “working class British Bohemians”. and Australia. Members of the early scene found the music revolutionary because it brought together all kinds of people peacefully. getting them hooked on drugs. Initially the British tended to stick to tacky tourist discos and were content drinking cheap beer.47-54). As the parties grew conservative elements in British society worried they would corrupt impressionable youths. experience hungry young people from the UK who were not content with mundane jobs in the service industry and roamed around Europe in groups working temporary jobs. and doing petty crime. On Ibiza they discovered MDMA (Collin 1997: pp. During the end of 1987 and throughout 1988 young British bohemians and artists like Paul Oakenfold who had spent time on Ibiza experimenting with MDMA formed the acid house scene in England in clubs like Shoom. It still attracted countercultural travelers and New Age idealists. carried by international travelers. even football hooligans from rival teams. Throughout 1988 and 1989 parties grew bigger and bigger. There was much idealism at the time. RIP. and was known as a hedonistic playground for the international jet set. Rave parties which charged an entrance fee were banned in 1990 and stopped by a new arm of the British police called the “Pay Party Unit”. but after that another club called Shoom opened. The new music contained elements of house and Detroit techno. Paul returned to England and opened another club called The Project in London. and during his visit Oakenfold tried ecstasy. who interestingly was a right wing activist who considered himself an anarcho-capitalist. That term and concept spread very quickly to other countries. and Spectrum. In the 60s it was a hippie enclave. and there they attempted to keep the Ibiza vibe going. 1988 was declared the “second summer of love” in England. Holland. and this time around it was fueled by Ecstasy and electronic music rather than LSD and psychedelic rock. and on farms which attracted thousands of dancers. and some entrepreneurs like Tony Colston-Hayter. and followers of New Age philosophies like the sanyassins. had a thriving gay community. The British adopted a term from the black soul scene and called them raves. Because of its “trippy” effect DJs used the acid sound which was popularized by Ron Hardy in Chicago extensively. and in the 80s it helped give birth to rave culture.189192. and people like the Scottish writer Fraser Clark and an American named Terrence Mckenna quickly began claiming acid house movement was revolutionary and comparable to the hippie counterculture of the 60s and 70s although it was fairly apolitical (Collin 1997:pp.54 attracting a gay scene. began organizing large events in warehouses. Ibiza has been popular with hedonistic critics of mainstream western culture at least since the time of the surrealist movement (D’Andrea 2007: ch. Ecstasy began arriving to Ibiza in the early 80s. at airstrips. During the 1987 tourist season British DJ Trevor Fung and his cousin Ian St. Paul opened a bar in San Antonio on Ibiza called The Project which would become a gathering place for young Brits who danced on MDMA at various clubs around the island.206-207). In September Fung invited DJ Paul Oakenfold to Ibiza to celebrate his 26th birthday. Party locations were often not revealed until a few hours beforehand.16-17). By the mid 80s it was a popular holiday destination for Northern Europeans.
At first travelers on the Hippie Trail stayed in Calangute. and didn’t stop people from nude sunbathing and taking drugs. Many lived in squatter houses. the New Year. punks. In 1990 idealistic and nomadic DJs like the members of the Spiral Tribe associated with what could be described as an ideology of countercultural anarcho-communalism and nature worship began playing acid house around the UK and came into contact with free festival culture as more money minded party promoters moved their rave parties to clubs like the Ministry of Sound. and squatters who sought to live outside of the confines of mainstream society (Saldanha 2007: pp.3). and drums on the beach. During the 1984-85 tourist season in Goa deejays like Laurent. Disco Fred. and by the end of the decade it was commonly visited by hippies. Some music by Kraftwerk has been described as electronic body music as well as music by the group Cabaret Voltaire (www. Some of them carried music back and forth between their homes and Goa (Saldanha 2007: ch. This was a very crucial time. and accused it all of being effeminate “disco”. The Anjunkars tended to be very open to the “freaks”. As early as the mid 80s travelers began holding “Goa parties” in their home countries. and Goa Gil began playing all night dance sets. A distinct music scene developed.” The Origins of Goa Trance Far away in Goa other developments had been brewing since the 60s.com). Music from groups like the Talking Heads and the futuristic German synthesizer music of Kraftwerk eventually became popular.front242.101-102). Goa Gil. Goa Gil. In 1975 electricity arrived and amplified music fueled parties late into the night (Saldanha 2007: ch. and backpackers would come together there to celebrate Christmas. claims he played purely electronic tracks during the early 70s. Both groups were trying to live a very free existence and the groups overlapped. but by the beginning of the 70s the countercultural hangout had become the more remote Anjuna beach. Psychedelic Identity within Electronic Dance Music 30 Front 242 helped popularize a type of early electronic music called electronic body music during the 80s.38-40). but during most of the 70s and 80s the music in the drifter enclave was psychedelic rock and later reggae and new wave. As a former New Age Traveler I met at Burning Man this year explained to me “They were called crusties since they didn’t bathe often. . In 1970 the world famous Goa trance DJ. They had a lot in common with the travelers. copying and looping segments of songs which didn’t feature vocals to create a hypnotic effect. Anjuna beach became a gathering place for people travelling around Asia.3). and consisted of mainly didgeridoos. They had a crusty appearance. Aldous Huxley and Allen Ginsberg are thought to have visited the former Portuguese colony in the early 60s. They used analog synthesizers. because electronic music was still very new. In the early days the music was exclusively acoustic since there was no electricity. who grew up in California and played psychedelic rock in San Francisco until travelling to Asia in 1969. guitars. and full moons. and scenes had not become clearly defined. At this time electronic music came to be associated with a group of people known as the crusties who could be described as environmentalists. but some die-hard rock fans wanted nothing of the new sounds. In 1986 more explicitly dance oriented music by groups like Front 24230 from Belgium began arriving to Goa and people began dancing to the music for hours on LSD and hash.55 because of a legal loophole free raves were allowed to be held until 1994 (Collin 1997: pp. and the guitarist Eight Fingered Eddy began staying in Anjuna.
Kodwo. such as the free raves done by crusties. and became much faster.” *online+ Available http://spannered. “techno rebels”. 2008.org/music/722/. Techno artist Juan Atkins says he was inspired by the book The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler. such as the black artists Juan Atkins. by the development of acid house.jhu. and early acid house artists imitated the Detroit sound made by artists like Juan Atkins to distance themselves from the more disco type Chicago house coming out of clubs like the Warehouse.33 The electronic music that these artists made caught on around Europe but especially in Germany and Belgium. 34 “Interview with Robert Hood. To understand PEDM it absolutely essential to understand the origins of a music style called “techno” since many around the world refer to all electronic dance music as techno. 32 Eshun. and with deejays like Paul van Dyk in Germany who reworked the Detroit techno sound to make something new called trance in time to play that sound at wild parties in Berlin as the USSR collapsed. These futuristic ideas of salvation through synthesized music spread from Detroit. 33 “Derrick May Biography” *online] Available http://www.html. and the original funky and futuristic sound of Detroit transformed into something new when some European artists began producing their own techno. He associates techno with an aesthetic known as “afrofuturism”. So. but not so much with psychedelics. particularly to black Americans living in Detroit. and Derrick May who are credited with starting techno music in Detroit during the mid 80s as a blend of European synth-pop with soul and funk.31 Techno was influenced by futuristic and fictional themes that were relevant to life in American late capitalist society.com/biographies/1608004300/DerrickMay.56 Arun Saldhana does not give a very complete description of how Goa trance came to be defined as its own genre in his book. Early techno was associated with a sci-fi aesthetic. Some elements of this rave culture were countercultural and psychedelic.2eshun. .34 This music was all part of a mix of styles that at that time was associated with the movement known as “rave”. In 1985 Juan Atkins released a work called “No UFOs” which came to be associated with a style of music. which is referred to as techno.html. at the beginning of the 90s as Goa was becoming known for its parties the various musical movements which 31 “Interview with Detroit producer Alan Oldham” *online+ Available http://spannered. They are associated with certain areas and events and key players. “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism. 2008. the transfer of the spirit from the body to machine is a central preoccupation within techno. Kevin Saunderson. and with early acid house deejays like Paul Oakenfold. separate from Chicago house. The problem is that none of these genres of music has an exact definition. 2008.musicianguide. The music lost much of its syncopation and “funky” feel. Detroit techno artists began going to Europe to try to expand the market for that type of music since it had only caught on in major urban areas in the United States.edu/journals/new_centennial_review/v003/3. accessed on November 22. helping give rise to such styles as hard-core and minimal techno which are very distant from the original soul and funk influenced sound of Detroit. 2008.org/music/802/. and by German and Belgian hard-trance. including the anthropologist Anthony D’Andrea who wrote about trance dancing in Goa and Ibiza (2007). accessed on November 22.” *online+ Available http://muse. accessed on November 22.32 According to techno producer Derrick May. He states that the music was influenced by the development of Detroit techno. In the late 80s. The sound was very percussive. accessed on November 22. and a term in that book.
The dance scene in Goa was heavily influenced by the Osho meditation center in Pune. and many of the dancers took hallucinogenic drugs or sought to alter their consciousness by dancing. Goa Gil. a certain electronic sound already was associated with psychedelic movements in Europe.57 fell under the category of “rave”. but many argue that the term isn’t necessarily valid (Saldanha 2007: pp. if anything. acid house. then squatted an abandoned house in Vagator(a beach famous for its trance parties). This was when record labels like Dragonfly in the UK began selling compilations of “Goa” music. but that it doesn’t have the same transformative powers or the ability to give people revelations like LSD or mescaline (Saldanha 2007: pp. but Goa trance formed when travelers carried techno. but in Goa this became the explicit focus of parties. and synthesizer music to India and reworked it to make something unique. Goa Gil states that in Goa artists wanted to use the party atmosphere as a medium to uplift the consciousness of participants in the trance dance experience. or psytrance. for example. Now. but. came out of the Haight-Ashbury psychedelic tradition. Many people consider the true roots of today’s PEDM to be in Goa. The parties had spiritual overtones and featured altars with incense and banners with pictures of Hindu gods like Shiva and Ganesh. Sound Conspiracy has links with the legendary Spiral Tribe. this doesn’t make Goa the source of psychedelic electronic music. accessed on November 10.html. North America. That music was definitely considered psychedelic. there was a lot of idealism surrounding electronic music in Europe in the early 90s. Before anyone was talking about Goa trance nomadic UK deejay collectives made up of crusties and New Age travelers were going around Europe and holding large gatherings similar to the Dragon Festival I attended in Spain playing electronic music using DJ equipment. 35 “Goa Gil and Ariane” *online+ Available http://www. but it wasn’t until the mid 90s that “Goa trance” became a widespread term after Paul Oakenfold starting talking about the unique sound coming out of the Indian hippie enclave. At the end of 1998. There were groups of people in Europe who considered themselves to be very countercultural who were trance dancing to electronic music called hard-core before Goa trance ever became a known genre. mesmerizing sound.com/bio. In any case. creating a distinct sound which people called “Goa trance”. many around the world seem to think that the only electronic music which can be called “psychedelic” is electronic music coming out of the Goa tradition. and came to be an amalgamation of hedonism and mysticism (D’Andrea 2007). . The overall attitude around Goan dance parties was that MDMA can be a good thing. especially at the beginning of the nineties. a British-French anarchist tekno collective called Sound Conspiracy drove a bus and two trucks from Bologna to Delhi. but this isn’t exactly correct. Arun Saldhana gives an interesting account of contact between European crusty music and Goa. and Australia. This was not necessarily new. is the source. as it is now known. As the rave explosion hit Europe in the late 80s the music was quickly adopted and reworked in Goa. The Goa party concept quickly spread to backpacker enclaves and countercultures worldwide. People were fascinated by its power to make an awe inspiring. 38-43). At the Goan parties MDMA was only peripheral since dancers wanted to go on full on “trips” using drugs like LSD.35 Acid house. and didn’t subdivide the music as much as is done now. 38-43). which was essentially a catch all term applied to the music played at large dance parties at which many people took MDMA. 2008. but it was not Goa trance. a loose movement of traveling UK sound systems holding raves in rural areas all over Europe.goagil.
A skillfull deejay was playing 165 bpm industrial gabber without a hint of melody in a little roofless cubic space with a constant strobe. amphetamines. “psychedelic trance”. 37 “Trance” *online+ Available http://www. probably because of the fact that many Jewish people worldwide such as Allen Ginsberg have been major countercultural figures and the fact that foreign travelers can work in exchange for room and board on the kibbutzim in Israel. some of them skinheads. on vinly(never seen in Goa Trance)…. and they labeled the music there “trance”. and gin. many people worldwide who sought to keep the 60s counterculture alive adopted psychedelic trance as their own. but. To make things more complicated. Israeli artists like those who formed Astral Projection and Juno Reactor picked up on the music that was being played in Goa and created a significant social phenomenon in their home country. The Israelis picked up on an already existent scene. Conservative elements in Israeli society started to worry that trance could be a sinister force causing the young to lose faith in Zionism.isratrane. but the music has now permeated all of Israeli popular and youth culture. without any tan. and dabbled with the music and eventually came to be a “world trance center” to use the terminology of a website called the Trancers Guide to the Galaxy. Israel’s involvement in trance dancing has been written about some by social scientists studying the phenomenon of backpacker travel and the new tradition of the “post-military trip”. but now. and called the parties “trance parties”. accessed on November 22. which Bob Dylan did in the 70s36. 36 “Dylan and the Jews” *online+ Available http://www. Rave intellectual Simon Reynolds describes Goa as a floating signifier. one of the Sound Conspiracy people drunkenly invited me over to their den. accessed on November 22. continuously falling over from a dangerous combination of ketamine. and Austrian trance dancers explained to me this summer in Thailand. although this trance was much more “psychedelic” than that of deejays like Paul van Dyk. Israelis were deeply involved in the Goa scene. and more than anything the countercultural floating signifier has become the trance state itself. 2008. Israel has always been somewhat involved in Western counterculture. This new music was explicitly associated with ideas about altering consciousness and viewing reality in new ways.php. In many places the terms “Goa trance” and “psychedelic trance” became interchangeable. it was really with the adoption of trance inducing electronic music that Israel became a global center for psychedelics. 2008.com/Israel. This is true for some people. joints.58 On December 21. From what German.html.37 Once Goa trance started being produced by large numbers of Israelis a new term developed. Large numbers of Israelis began travelling to India in the late 80s on post military trips. Similar to the way countercultural groups gravitated toward the term “acid house”. and in India many of these travelers became caught up in what was going on in Goa. 1998. Israelis receive enough money to travel for six months to a year or more after leaving the military in their early 20s. Swiss. Saldanha quotes his 1998 book Energy Flash stating that “Goa the location has become Goa the state of mind”.looking very gauntly urban and punky. at the end of the first decade of the new millennium it seems that the original Goa trance sound has branched off into a few different styles with the development of new music technologies. Members of rave movements in multiple countries began hearing about this new music with mystical powers that had been developed somewhere in India. probably because of the state of mind that one can get into while dancing to mesmerizing music. Ecstasy. the young Britons and French present were blatantly not Goa freaks (Saldanha 2007: pp. in central Europe many refer to all outdoor PEDM parties as “Goa parties”.com/Trance.151-152). .radiohazak.
Thailand.” *online+ Available http://www.41 As some are claiming that this new progressive trance sound is too clubby. accessed on November 22. He quotes a poster on an online discussion board stating that psytrance is “dark and serious like motherfuckin’ cancer baby! (Saldanha 2007: p. 2008.htm. . and that they do nothing but promote chaos. 40 “Rainbow Summoning Festival. 2008.chaishop. This spreading to backpacker destinations was paralleled by a spreading of PEDM from backpacking destination countries back to backpackers’ countries of origin. accessed on November 22.viewprofile&friendID=370923602.43)” This dark and serious music is designed to get the job done. In the 80s a lot of dance music was produced in the US. Australia (which already had a rave scene).” *online+ Available http://chaishop. and it is very common on the Thai island of Koh Phangan. and to an extent everywhere where people go backpacking. This concept of “psytrance” has now spread to many countries. It is “economically engineered for psychedelic journeying” to use the terminology of Erik Davis (2004). who claim they are uplifting the consciousness of the public with their psytrance parties. In countries with already existent rave scenes the Goa/psychedelic trance/psytrance sound was picked up on by people who sought to use electronic music to alter consciousness.cfm?fuseaction=user. In 1994 the Criminal Justice Act was passed in the UK and free outdoor raves associated with psychedelics and counterculture were outlawed. the same Rainbow Family that started in Colorado way back in 1972.” *online+ Available http://profile.40 For many the term psytrance is interchangeable with “Goa trance” and “psychedelic trance”. 38 “Dialects of Infinity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. but according to Saldhana psytrance was the term that started being used to describe the darker electronic sound coming out of Goa towards the turn of the millenium and beyond. The parties then began to be suppressed in mainland Europe as well. accessed on November 22.chaishop. Progressive psytrance has developed in the 2000s as a less abrasive alternative to psy-trance. 2008.com/index.38 among squatters and anarchists in the EU. and has become very popular in the former Yugoslavia. A little after that the hippie enclave of Goa became famous for its dance parties featuring electronic music. but some claim it’s too “clubby”. 39 “Psychedelic Utopia in Ukraine. to give an example. to Latin America.myspace.39 In Russia. This music is not very melodic. others are arguing that the darker forms of psytrance which are popular now among many people who consider themselves to be very “underground” are too dark. 2008.com/v4/article/12240. Psytrance is a problematic term in that it can mean very different things to different people.India” *online+ Available http://www. 41 “The birthplace of psytrance.59 In his article in the book Rave Culture and Religion Arun Saldhana describes the way that towards the end of the 90s music became increasingly dark and fast in Goa. This music was modified by British people who spent time in Ibiza leading to the rave movement around the world.htm. there are now deejays who call themselves members of the Rainbow Family. This is what is known.com/static?url=/user/roberdo/ttg2007/ttg_bosnia. but this word has been adopted by a wide variety of groups worldwide who are interested in altering the consciousness of dancers. and this new take on psychedelic trance has come to be known as psytrance (2004). Travelers carried the sounds they heard in Goa to other countries which are frequented by backpackers such as Nepal. and in Russia and some of the countries which belonged to the USSR such as Ukraine.. Indonesia (especially Bali). accessed on November 22. and uses extremely distorted sounds.com/static?url=/user/roberdo/ttg2007/ttg_india.
techno.60 and many deejays moved to places like Goa or to Koh Phangan in Thailand to continue making music (Saldanha 2007: pp. Some people who participate in very “psychedelic” or “countercultural” dance scenes but don’t identify the music as psytrance don’t necessarily identify with the world trance guide. On Koh Phangan. The majority of the music was more uplifting than the darkest of dark psytrance which is currently being produced in places like Russia and Finland. People download the music. I heard all sorts of electronic dance music. and pin down in exact terms. Interestingly. and trance dance gatherings in North Carolina. and this year when I was there I made a concerted effort to not just listen to the music and dance. Another interesting thing to note is that the trancers guide has each year made a world map which declares certain countries as trance seeds. in August of 2008 those making the guide announced they would no longer continue to do so since they can’t make enough money doing it. It has focused on music coming out of the Goa tradition. and go to raves while backpacking or dance at festivals or underground raves or in squatter houses. With the exception of the Bay Area. Around the world within countercultural spaces PEDM is very popular. and few people knew how to define anything in exact terms. but much of it was very hypnotic and “psychedelic”. and others as world trance . For the past several years a group of psytrance promoters have published a world guide to psychedelic dance scenes called “the Trancers Guide to the Galaxy”. liner notes on an import ambient CD-that I first heard about Goa…These parties rode the cutting edge of psychedelic techno music-what we now call psytrance-and they attracted New Age traveler types as well as the raver elite (Davis 2004). 177-181). PEDM terminology is disputed and hopelessly vague. house. a variety of sounds are present within electronic music. Another reason I think the guide may be stopping is that the overall scene is so hard to define. The music varies. but. Some people from the West Coast I met vehemently reject the label “psytrance” but dance to very “psychedelic” music. but this music is not a very commercially successful style. There are also individuals who go to “mainstream” trance or rave events with psychedelic intentions. but to ask other people how they defined the music. and which could be described as fitting into an extensive PEDM network. In the early 90s I started tapping into the growing psychedelic undertow of dance and electronic music. and the parties vary. and sometimes when deejays play in one space the crowd is countercultural and when they play at a different venue the feel is much more “mainstream”. This is because the most psychedelic dance music styles aren’t profitable. the United States was largely out of step with this dimension of the techno scene. In any case. Burning Man is acknowledged by rave scholars to be a major global center for psychedelics and electronic dance music. another major global center for PEDM. but. Not many music stores sell it. Around the world now it seems that many groups of people consider psytrance/psychedelic trance/Goa trance to be the only psychedelic electronic dance music. I heard a myriad of terms: tribal house. around festivals and environments where people are practicing what Saldanha and I would consider to be “psychedelics”. and it was only through stray clues-a boast by a British backpacker. In the following travel journal I describe three such spaces: the backpacker context of Southeast Asia. others as heavily tranced. they always feature ideas about how it is a positive thing to explore altered states of consciousness and about how trance dancing is a means to free oneself from restrictions that have been imposed on people by dominant society. psytrance. there are now parties held around the world which are affiliated or at least associated with two very broad concepts known as counterculture and psychedelics. One thing is certain. psychedelic trance. Erik Davis describes the US situation in relation to Goa very well. tribal trance. the Burning Man Festival. and many more. some as intermediately tranced.
In Siting Culture: the shifting anthropological object. This is probably because anthropology has tended to focus on Third World or “traditional” cultures. accessed on November 22. In his article “Which world”. which was the most commercially successful. and that within the next few years some very interesting musical developments could occur. . 2008. It was originally developed by people from the First World. is that the country is listed as only having “intermediate action”. not realizing that the music was only really being sold to a few educated young professionals and Algerian immigrants in its original form and that the music by Cheb Khaled. when many groups of people and musical scenes are coming together and mixing. If anything. Seeing that there are electronic music scenes which are very “psychedelic”.org. and many who were involved in the development of Goa trance claim they were heavily influenced by Indian classical music.fr/psychedelic_trance/psy_history_part4. especially since it was first developed using music technology invented by the Japanese who now produce music they call “psytrance”. Cambodia. was not even Räi in its original sense.htm. and many consider it Western but tracks often use Eastern or “ethnic” sound samples. Marc-Schade Poulsen examines some issues which are related to what I have found while researching PEDM. I find it interesting that few anthropologists have tried to study in depth the cultural complexity of PEDM. or at least music of the postmodern psychedelic world.61 centers. One odd thing I noticed about the map for Thailand. Poulsen is critical of the way certain musical styles have been picked up on by marketers and sold as “world music” in the West. That is a very distinct situation from what I’m writing about. but in the case of PEDM anyone with certain equipment can pick the music up and rework it. this system doesn’t really work.42 What is interesting about this type of music is that it really belongs to no nationality or specific culture. and how this music was exported to the West during the 80s and marketed as “world music” without much success except in cases when the music was changed and made more pleasing to the Western ear by artists like Cheb Khaled. and there may be no other place on Earth like that. and exchanging ideas. divorcing the musical styles from their cultures of origin. but this doesn’t account for the fact that on Koh Phangan people dance to trance every night of the year outdoors. and an American website. but which don’t self-identify themselves as “psytrance” scenes. and Vietnam which aren’t recognized on the map. has adopted that same terminology for a map of US states. Poulsen notes that in Algeria during the time when Räi was being exported to the West many in the country were proud that it was “popular around the world”. but now many in poor countries produce it. but. Some young men from Goa I spoke with told me that there are underground communities of trance dancers living on communes or enclaves for dropout types in places that haven’t been publicized much since they don’t want their scenes to become overrun with tourists. but. it’s true “world music”. PEDM has been transformed in many cases in a similar way to produce a more marketable sound. but at that point the music could no longer be said to be Räi in its original sense. for good reason. it is impossible to declare the music Western. there are similarities. and that this attempt to define the trance world in terms of one all encompassing guide has failed yet that large numbers of people. he discusses the way people from rural Algeria moved to the city of Oran and popularized a style of music called Räi which was played at cabaret shows attended by single men. tranceam. so especially when an Indian or Thai deejay is playing. perhaps more every year. 42 “2003 or return to the source?” *online+ Available http://pagespersoorange. are trance dancing. some think we are living in a time similar to when acid house or Goa trance first developed. Very underground trance dancers organize parties in places like East Africa.
and like the PEDM of today these older trance inducing musical styles contain minimal melody and vocals and have mesmerizing repetitive beats and repetitive tonal patterns based on only a few pitches as central elements (Fatone 2005: 202). In the following travel journal I give an account of my recent travels throughout the worldwide PEDM network. and nobody really asks many questions about where it comes from since it is native to nowhere. and it has become globalized. and sometimes marketed as “world music”. It’s a contemporary hypnotic trance dance inducing music. It seems that across cultures this style of musical structure facilitates trance states. that puts people into a trance while dancing. It is repetitive. such as Balinese gamelan angklung. beautiful to some and repulsive to others. or something people at least want to dance to in a rave context. but intricate within that repetition. Musical styles have been used on a local scale all around the world to facilitate trance. that strange noise. 2008 Global Trance Map according to the Trancer’s Guide to the Galaxy . It has no single culture of origin. It’s just PEDM.62 and market it as something new.
63 2008 Trance Map of the United States by www.org Hand drawn flyer for a 1990 “Goa party” in Israel .tranceam.
India .64 A 1994 Full Moon party in Poona.
and allows significant variation. It is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to find live deejays playing psychedelic electronic dance music almost every night of the year. or alcohol. On the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand there is a lot of fire dancing. I chose to travel to Thailand during the summer of 2008 because the trance dancing scene there is very reliable and consistent and because of the country’s history as a stop along the Hippie Trail. People dance alone. trance at Burning Man. and they’ve all followed this type of format. At the Burning Man Festival the music always goes on non-stop somewhere. but the parties there are mainly held during the winter. . and towards the end slower. but knowledge of these groups is spread by word of mouth. I needed to travel somewhere where large numbers of people trance dance in a known location. it was on the Hippie Trail. and most travelers leave when the monsoon arrives. At some parties there are separate areas where fast music and more down tempo music are played simultaneously. I’ve been to PEDM parties in Nevada and North Carolina in the US and in several other countries. tea. but are often accompanied by friends. It is often thought of as a good place to fly into to start one’s first backpacking adventure since conditions aren’t as rough as they can sometimes be in India or China. and then the energy level is gradually increased. and someone is almost always dancing even though trance dancing is only one possible activity among many. In this portion of the thesis I will describe three significant trance dancing scenes that I have experienced personally: trance in Thailand. which is very general. and trance in North Carolina. more ambient music is played. Partygoers normally alternate between dancing and sitting on the sidelines to drink water. and for years has been seen as a gateway to Southeast Asia and as a good place to go after earning a bit of money during working holidays in Australia. and Vietnam are close. There are trance scenes in other parts of India such as Himachal Pradesh in the north where dedicated trancers dance during the summer. Apparently there are groups of people in various countries around the world who trance dance regularly and link this activity to ideas about mysticism and/or ideas about participating in countercultural ways of life. smoke. and parties everywhere tend to have a similar format. Trance in Thailand: Thailand is one of the most popular backpacking destinations in the world. there is some sort of an overarching psychedelic dance party format that seems to have caught on with countercultures around the world. or watch other people dance and talk with friends away from the loud music. A website called the Trancer’s Guide to the Galaxy describes Goa as being the psychedelic trance mother scene. because other countries of interest like Laos. Like India. No matter what time of day parties start less intense music normally is played at first. Thailand is generally viewed as a very friendly country. but from what people who have been to India have told me there is no guarantee that I could have found consistent parties there. and since even though prices have increased as the country has become more economically successful in recent years it is still a very affordable destination for longterm budget travel. Cambodia. and in Italy and Spain I went to parties which were closely associated with anarchist political discussions. or “poi”. In Western North Carolina the spaces where people dance are often used for yoga before or after music stops. and despite political problems has been relatively peaceful for years.65 Appendix: My Travels throughout the Global PEDM Network Psychedelic electronic dance music can now be heard all around the world. Despite all this internal variation.
Switzerland. The origin of the tradition is fairly hazy. Israel. Many of the early parties in Goa were held on full moons. which is interesting since what many consider to be the most psychedelic strain of electronic music was first developed in Goa. but it is most active during the Brazilian summer. and before heading back to Bangkok to fly home some of their friends on Koh Phangan threw them a big party on Haad Rin beach at Paradise Bungalows. Australia. There is now a large trance dancing scene in Brazil which started in the state of Bahia because of foreign backpacker influence and because increasing numbers of Brazilians are taking long backpacking trips themselves. so it seemed like the perfect place to go. Over time this party came to be a monthly affair. The West Coast scene of the US has already been researched a lot. accessed November 22. or Mexico. The 2008 Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand 43 “Get a Life in the slicon jungles of Brazil” *online+ Available http://www. I found some very dedicated trance dancers. It was the night of the full moon. the West Coast of the US. and I thought it would be interesting to compare those parties to the full moon trance parties which are held each month around Asheville. 2008. North Carolina. For some reason. and the concept of the “full moon party” is widespread in backpacking culture and counterculture around the world. I needed to go to a major backpacking destination. rather than just doing it because that’s what everybody does while on Koh Phangan. especially in non-touristic countries.com/static?url=/user/roberdo/ttg2007/ttg_brazil.chaishop. One of the most famous and infamous elements of many people’s trips to Thailand in recent years has become the “Full Moon Party” on the island of Koh Phangan. A Dutch friend sent me an e-mail in December of 2008 informing me that he would be flying into Bangkok to travel around Southeast Asia over the summer. Other possible locations for my trance dancing research could have been Russia. The Trancer’s Guide to the Galaxy describes the Thai scene as being very friendly and states that it was started by travelers who had spent time in Goa around twenty years ago. a former Portuguese colony. Guatemala. I wasn’t disappointed. This person had been travelling in Asia for a very long time. and one must be fairly connected to find the more psychedelic and countercultural parties at which large numbers of dancers view the dancing as an activity which can help one reach altered states of consciousness and facilitate mystical or religious experience. especially since in Thailand there are “Full Moon Parties” every month which feature a lot of PEDM. and the full moon has been viewed as a good time to have big parties by backpackers in Asia for a very long time. and I would have arrived during their winter. and quickly came to be closely associated with trance music. and within US rave culture full moon parties have been big ever since the Wicked Crew began holding them in San Francisco in the early 90s (Sylvan 2005: p. people who were still hanging around on Koh Phangan a month after the first party thought it would be a good idea to throw another one. It also hasn’t been going on there for as long as it has in Thailand and it would have probably been harder to find parties. countries of the former Yugoslavia. Germany. Ukraine.43 Portugal and Brazil are two of the most heavily “tranced” countries according to the Trancer’s Guide to the Galaxy. but all of these scenes are more sporadic than the one in Thailand even though the majority of participants are oftentimes more likely to be really into trance dancing in these locations.164). but according to the Lonely Planet guidebook to Thailand which some refer to as the “Backpacker’s Bible”. Greece.htm. . Trance dancing in first world countries is very countercultural but there are few places where people can dance every day since people mainly dance on weekends or while attending festivals and it is difficult to travel cheaply in economically powerful countries.66 Ibiza is mainly a clubbing destination. the parties began in 1986 or 1987 when somebody from a western country left the island to return home.
” Some hard core backpackers I met who have been travelling for a long time lamented that recent development on Koh Phangan and the growing Full Moon Parties are exemplary of how much Thailand has changed in the last twenty years. as part of the “post-military trip” done by Israelis. and this is common! If they were smoking ganja more than drinking they wouldn’t fight! For them this is the same as Mallorca!” All kinds of people go to Thailand from around the world. and later on Buddhism was introduced and people converted to the new religion and preserved some Hindu symbolism. and that this has hurt the “vibe”. I like to drink. and they do not know how to act. The country was never controlled by a European power which sets it apart from its neighbors.000 people during the low season which is the northern hemisphere’s summer. In describing backpackers one sociologist has stated “…they primarily desire the achievement of unlimited freedom to do their own thing. It is good to take drugs like LSD also. especially in the South (Lonely Planet 2008). and sometimes in the northern part of the country. . They’re just on drinking holiday as if this was Southern Spain. so these parties often double. There is also a significant Muslim minority within Thailand. We’re still here. At the height of the ecstatic rush of such events.67 describes the Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan as the world’s largest regularly scheduled raves. as embodied by the much-maligned ‘Full Moon Parties’ on Pangan. pass through on larger “gap year” trips before starting university or entering the labor force.44 The party keeps going all the time on Koh Phangan. One German man I spent a lot of time with who self identified himself as a “freak”. or to create a new life teaching English. which may include the unrestricted hedonic quest for enjoyment and fun. but the specific event known as the “Full Moon Party” normally starts a day or two before the night of the full moon and people hang around for a day or so after the full moon. Many go there to run away from themselves and their problems. but I know how to act when I drink. but Koh Phangan’s trance scene is strongest. In the past it was taken over by Indians. now these British island monkeys have arrived. who introduced Hinduism. I couldn’t find any other websites with statistics on Koh Phangan. The approximately 168 square kilometer island has a permanent population of around 12. and can attract up to 30.000 people during the high season. meaning that he lived the psychedelic dance music lifestyle. to find themselves while studying meditation or yoga or trance dancing or taking psychedelic drugs. at which point many backpackers move on to the more tranquil island of Koh Tao. but foreign cultures have been influencing Thailand for thousands of years. PEDM can be heard in other places in Thailand such as on Koh Samui or in Bangkok. Many say the parties have become too mainstream and that now only a minority of participants understand psychedelics and trance dancing. Full Moon Parties normally attract 8. but now there are all these middle class British kids. to sort out issues at an important juncture in their lives. triple. fresh out of school at 18 years old. It’s like no other country I’ve visited in my life. I never saw fights here 15 years ago. or to roam around and have sex with prostitutes. The population information is available on Thai government websites which are not in English. complained to me that “Thailand used to be full of nice freaks. the participants may indeed experience ‘existential authenticity’…(Cohen 2005). Drinking heavily is for people of their mentality.000 as of 2004. 44 These statistics come from Wikipedia. Now one of the strongest trance dancing scenes on Earth has developed on the island. They can’t understand the value of psychedelics! Drinking is okay.000 to 10. or quadruple the population each full moon. Thai PEDM parties feature a wide variety of Buddhist and Hindu symbols as well as psychedelic art.
at meditation centers which teach techniques but aren’t affiliated with any major religion. but. India is probably the country where the most foreigners are searching for spiritual wisdom. This plays a role in the trance dance scen New Age Spirituality in Thailand Thailand is a major center for what could be described as “New Age spirituality”. which makes it a bit different from the New Age culture of many upper middle class professionals described by Sylvan (2005). and she told me about how many foreigners there practice meditation. During the Vietnam War large numbers of American soldiers went there on leave and this is part of the reason that sex tourism has become as big as it is in Thailand. New age is a very vague term. so my definition is not complete. many foreigners see it as extremely spiritual. I have a good friend who recently returned from Guatemala. New Age could be defined in many other ways. for example. and because of this Thais drive on the left side of the road. the country is no different than any other place on Earth where there are large numbers of people who come from a global middle class background who have been travelling for long periods of time and are trying to live outside of their respective mainstream societies.68 During the time period when European powers controlled most of Asia Thailand retained its independence but established a close relationship with England. Countercultural westerners on the Hippie Trail began arriving to the country while the Vietnam War was still going on. The British helped “modernize” Thailand. Even though many travelers haven’t practiced such techniques themselves large numbers of them tend to at least be aware of their existence and . In the context of global trance dance centers it is possible to find many people who combine drugs with otherl means of altering consciousness in a way that has been described as “spiritual hedonism”. Recent development has been fast and neo-liberal in nature. In Thailand there are large numbers of long-term travelers who spend time learning how to meditate at Buddhist wats. nomadic New Age culture. When defined in this way. In parts of Mexico where there are many travelers. for example. and massage as well as to the ingestion of mind altering substances for spiritual purposes. a bit like psychedelic and counterculture. “New Age spirituality” can refer to practices such as yoga. and like India. meditation. When I refer to “New Age” I mean an eclectic individual approach to spirituality practiced mainly by the global middle class which rejects traditional religious dogma and through which individuals seek some kind of direct contact with an ultimate reality. but it exists. This is something which is extremely difficult to pin down in exact terms. but even though Seven Eleven stores are everywhere. This global trend towards New Age spirituality among people who are attempting to live outside of the confines mainstream society is simply very strong in Thailand. While traveling in Thailand many people do meditation and yoga courses or come into contact with or learn a wide variety of esoteric healing practices. even though Thailand’s New Age culture is particularly robust. The New Age culture I saw in Thailand is a backpacker. reject drugs outright as a false shortcut to a higher plain. followed by a few other Asian countries including Thailand. Many major meditation teachers. for the purposes of this thesis I will define New Age spirituality in this way. Thais still respect Buddhism and their elderly king. and since then it has become a major backpacking destination. In this respect. and learning how to do very spiritually oriented yoga such as kundalini yoga at places like the Agama Yoga Center on Koh Phangan. but almost anywhere on the planet where there are a significant number of people travelling to locations which they find somehow “spiritually pure” or “in tune with ancient wisdom” there exists a strong New Age spiritual trend. it isn’t uncommon to find spiritually oriented yoga classes. and all serve to evoke an overall feel rather than define anything specific. Outside of trance dancing scenes psychedelics and more self-denying approaches to altering consciousness are often at odds with each other. The country is still very Asian.
It would have been hard to make it to the May Full Moon Party so I decided to explore Northern Thailand and some of Laos and go to Koh Phangan for the June full moon party. because it gave me a clear picture of what backpacking through Southeast Asia is like. Many of the people who trance dance in Thailand have done meditation courses or spiritually oriented yoga. but who want to in some way directly experience the infinite. I tried to get in the car on the right side. and others think it’s a Thai version of Cancun where people seek nothing more than debauchery. Most travelers pass through Koh Phangan during much longer trips and some end up staying for a very long time. and many Americans who don’t travel know of the street because of this. alternative healing practices such as Thai massage. Khao San Rd. These are people who oftentimes don’t fully believe in any specific religion. like myself. Some people absolutely love the place. and stay on the island until the beginning of the July party at which point I would return to Bangkok to meet my Dutch friend and travel with him to Cambodia for nine or ten days before returning to America. is the center of one of the largest backpacking ghettos on Earth. and acupuncture are very visible in popular backpacking destinations around Thailand. and just said “Khao San Rd. but there was no space in their taxi. In addition to this. On the drive there he kept on trying to convince me to visit a brothel and showing me pornographic pictures of women taking bubble baths. This was a good choice. As I exited the airport I encountered a group of Australian young people who were trying to go to Khao San Rd. My Travels as a Snapshot of the Backpacking Context I flew into Bangkok alone the night before the May full moon and spent two nights at the Sawasdee guesthouse on the world famous Khao San Rd. but no! It’s like England. There are also large numbers of visitors to Thailand who do not learn meditation or yoga techniques there but have spent time at meditation centers or ashrams in other countries like India or Nepal. The driver looked at me.69 acknowledge that people doing such practices are probably altering their consciousness in some form or fashion. I had to take my own. This creates a distinct spiritual climate among travelers. and overall Thais and foreigners have very mixed views about the island. It appeared in the novel and film The Beach. and almost everyone who travels to Southeast Asia on a low budget passes through at some point. because direct spiritual practices or at the very least esoteric healing practices are very visible and these things are a common topic of conversation for many people. People drive on the left. In Thailand New Age and non-New Age travelers coexist and interact with each other. . and trance dancing tends to fall into a similar category of activity for them. My arrival to Thailand was typical. Reiki.?” I guess everyone with a backpack goes there normally.
Almost everybody I spoke with knew about the Full Moon Parties and intended to go to Koh Phangan or was purposefully avoiding the island. and met some nice people while there. Backpacking is a social context that is distinct from everyday social contexts surrounding school and work environments in most highly industrialized countries. It also describes how Thailand is now known for its “psychedelic full moon beach parties” at which foreigners have introduced the idea of eating psilocybin mushrooms which Thais have now begun selling to visitors and taking themselves. I stayed at the Royal Thai Guesthouse for around $4 per night. and I passed the time looking at the scenery through the window and reading a book by British cultural studies professor named Andy Letcher entitled A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom. Travelers normally interact mostly with other travelers rather than with locals. Travelers talk to each other very readily. and are quick to form sometimes short lasting but intense or at least amiable relationships. Reading this was reassuring because wherever people dance under the influence of psilocybin or other hallucinogens they tend to play the sort of music I’m studying and trance dance. who claimed that psilocybin and other natural tryptomines can give humans glimpses of an ultimate reality. The book describes how the consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms is a fairly recently adopted practice within Western culture which was introduced to America by the banker and selffunded academic Gordon Wasson before the beginnings of hippie culture after he discovered psilocybin while travelling in Mexico and meeting the female shaman Maria Sabina in Oaxaca.70 Khao San Road-main street of a large backpacking ghetto in Bangkok I took a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is much less hectic than Bangkok. It’s a beautiful city. The book also explains some of the ideas of Terrence McKenna. and that these drugs offer humans visions of the end of history which he calculated is going to occur in December of 2012. and is near mountains. McKenna was very enthusiastic about the birth of the acid house movement in England and claimed that rave culture was the beginning of a “telepathic community” and part of a shamanic renaissance. Almost everyone else in my train car was Thai. although many Thais who speak English talk a lot with foreigners and foreigners who speak some Thai .
and then normally part ways leaving each other nothing more than pieces of paper with e-mail addresses scrawled on them. They were good down to earth people who liked to have a good laugh and drink beer with friends but weren’t so into all the meditation stuff or into trying mind bending drugs. My social interactions in Northern Thailand and Laos reflected these trends. While at the temple the kiwis ran into a Chilean woman they had met earlier who was about to start a Thai massage course and was doing a lot of reading about Buddhism. and the excursion sounded fun. I succeeded. and at commonly visited sites. After that we parted ways. rode to some waterfalls. drinking beer. My time with four young people from New Zealand is representative of the sorts of interactions backpackers normally have in Thailand. I was seated nearby. but these days all sorts of people are out travelling the world on a low budget. swapping stories. They planned on going to the June Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. We all showed up at the Chiang Mai train station at the same time. what to see. the argument is made that backpackers center their social lives around where they stay while they are travelling. and this made me get a bit cocky with my moped handling skills. We exchanged e-mail addresses. Why not? It’s cheap to rent a moped. “What do you think about Bush?” We had some good discussions about the differences and similarities between the US and New Zealand. and I spent a lot of time with the four kiwis over the next two days. While on the road relationships formed between travelers tend to be thought of as more significant than those between travelers and locals since locals are in a very different social context. One of the guys convinced me to follow his lead. At the desk some German girls were politely complaining that they had bed bugs in their mattress. and have less leisure time and more responsibilities than backpackers. Backpackers tend to move around countries in shifting bands. at bars. After dropping my things off in my dreary and hot room and taking short walk I went to the common area of the guesthouse and ordered some food. I of course got the question every American traveler got before Obama came along. This would later affect my trip negatively. so maybe we could meet again. They weren’t religious. In The Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice and in Israeli Backpackers: from Tourism to Right of Passage. sometimes losing and sometimes gaining members and these groups of people tend to meet each other at guesthouses. smoking cigarettes. going up a steep embankment and doing a jump with my moped. I went on a 3 day trek into .71 are quickly accepted by locals. on treks. and that’s how things go while backpacking. The next morning we went to a temple on a mountain at the edge of the city. They’re like a lot of the backpackers anywhere. The two kiwi couples in their early twenties who had arrived from Bangkok at the same time as me were planning a moped trip into the mountains. The cheapest rooms were on the seventh floor and there was no elevator. and they invited me over and asked me if I wanted to join them. and become acquainted with other travelers. and that within hostels and guest houses individuals network and learn about where to eat. and watching Hollywood movies or Thai soap operas. Backpacking was originally very closely associated with “counterculture” and “psychedelics” and an interest in exotic spiritualities during the early days of the Hippie Trail. so I stayed there. A multinational crowd hung around at all hours eating food from the restaurant. The backpackers from New Zealand weren’t very otherworldly in their travel aspirations. do a lot together for several days or weeks. especially if travelers stay in an area for a long time. and visited a hill tribe village. Independent travelers meet. Luckily I didn’t have that problem. A short Thai lady came running up to us and convinced us all to get in her van and go to her “cheap and comfortable guesthouse”. Interactions between travelers and locals can be significant and meaningful though. The downstairs common area of the Royal Guesthouse is typical of countless guesthouses around Southeast Asia.
I met people who were doing meditation and massage courses. Sometimes they work as prostitutes on the side. He had never been formally educated. and met Barbadian woman in her early 30s who was doing a Masters degree in Gender and Development at a university in London. and was about to take a job teaching English so she could support herself but needed to spend lots of time writing. just the same as I’ll probably never see most of the people I spent time with during the trek again. While hiking one day our party came across a centipede and Tony caught it and put it in a bottle of homemade liquor to give to an older man who lived in a village we would be passing through as a gift. but there definitely was not a consistent trance scene. When I met her I was asking directions to my guesthouse and she had just lost her laptop computer. Needless to say. and had grown up in Brazil and England. which is a type of bar which is common in Thailand where the women who serve drinks are paid to make conversation with customers. people who were teaching English. had lost much of what she had written for her thesis. She lamented that all her photos were on the computer. and explained some Buddhist beliefs to me. and seemed to have become a bit cynical. but saw no real trance culture. probably at a bar called the Spicy Club or another one called Ozric Tentacles. and had worked as a hostess in a bar in Tokyo talking to lonely men and taught English to Japanese children.72 the mountains outside Chiang Mai with ten people from various countries led by a 23 year old man who belonged to the ethnic group known as the White Karen. English. but was still a very idealistic person. Back in Chiang Mai I saw a club that played some psytrance music along with other genres like drum and bass. I did notice several middle aged white men with young Thai women. The old man and Tony taught me some Thai. and started talking. There are sporadic PEDM parties around Chiang Mai. Spanish. had been in and out of the UK for years. saw many foreign men walking around with prostitutes. she was half Sri Lankan and half Trinidadian by heritage. She had no true home country. These places are surprisingly common in Thailand. The old man told me that he could communicate in a rudimentary way in French. Sanya then pointed out to me that we were in a “girly bar”. and unless Sanya had explained to me that it was such an establishment I wouldn’t have known. Her passport was from Barbados. but . We were walking the same way. It isn’t really obvious. I ended up getting fairly drunk by around 8:30 AM while trying to communicate with this older Karen man using simplified English and words contained in the Lonely Planet Thai language phrasebook. She was writing a thesis on sex trafficking in Burmese refugee camps in Northern Thailand. The night after staying in the old man’s village I woke up early and the man who received the bottle of centipede liquor insisted that I drink with him. and there were many bars where people danced to more mainstream forms of electronic music like house. had travelled around South America and Canada with Hare Krishnas for some time. and briefly visited a café with a marijuana leaf on the sign where they played ambient electronic music. He explained to everyone that the Karen believe such drinks are aphrodisiacs. and that it felt as if she’d lost the last thing grounding her in this world. but nothing like the parties on Koh Phangan. We sat down at a bar to talk. but I’ll probably never see them again. Hebrew. I sympathized with her because I do things like that all the time. Sanya had a very dark sense of humor. between that liquor and smoking part of the man’s harsh banana leaf cigarette I made it hard for myself to hike that day. Sanya had spent over a year in total living in a Burmese refugee camp near Mae Hong Son. She and her roommates weren’t close because she says they aren’t free spirited enough. and had seen some very tragic things happen. We talked a lot. because all kinds of people go to the bars who aren’t looking for prostitutes. I saw a Thai cover band playing Doors songs. but it isn’t officially done through the bar. German. and Japanese. I had heard some about the political situation in Burma. they were “wooden”.
Sanya explained that since the mid 80s members of minority ethnic groups in Myanmar (Burma) such as the Karen and Karenni had been fleeing violence and oppression in their country to live in refugee camps in Thailand. but at one point while she was there some of the Burmese men obtained guns and started an uprising against the Thai soldiers who were essentially governing their camp. She had been around when shots were being fired. they overlooked much of what is good about travel and trance dancing. and gave me the impression that many young professionals give me. Sanya was a good person. but she was investigating something truly tragic. and everyone living in Sanya’s house had time off for some reason. and warned me that the Full Moon Party isn’t what it once was. dismissing it all as very self-indulgent and hedonistic. She said they’ve become too commercial and that many young backpackers pass through for several days for parties. Looking back on all of this.73 not much. Everyone in the house seemed to not be very enthusiastic about backpacker culture or trance parties. and explained to me that he found the fact that so many backpackers adopt neo-hippie fashion styles such as dreadlocks and primitive jewelry really foolish. putting a strain on the small island’s ecosystem. When I was around her she was taking lots of Valium. Sanya had friends who lived on Koh Phangan and on the larger island of Koh Samui. Everyone in the house was several years older than me. or time limitation. and it was run by an authoritarian Thai military officer. and why I was in Northern Thailand. not that this is a bad thing. and then they leave. She didn’t say it in those exact words. the parties were amazing. She wasn’t particularly impressed by my thesis idea. The Australian man told me he’d been to Goa before. They were very…well…straight. They were well-meaning. but really kind of a mess. and the fact that I would be spending a lot of time hanging around the parties on Koh Phangan. She lived with a British man and an Australian who were working with non-profit aid organizations doing something they never explained to me. and many families from war zones have fled to Thailand. focusing on the bad behavior of some people. at least in my opinion. but her stories were so interesting that I hung out with her a lot before leaving Chiang Mai. that was more or less the gist. She didn’t go into much detail. In short. and ended up meeting Sanya’s roommates. and that yes. but. without learning anything about the local culture. I keep thinking about some comments John from Melbourne later made about an aid worker he met (for John see ch. responsible men with good jobs who wanted to help people. Somehow he has gotten a job as a tour guide for young women. so we all spoke quite a bit. Some of these ethnic groups have members in several countries and don’t really self identify themselves with any national identity. I didn’t really have any agenda. The Burmese families couldn’t ever leave the camp Sanya stayed in. but. I was investigating the leisure habits of an international drop out leisure class. Myanmar is run by a military junta. or specific place I needed to be. 1 intro). He wasn’t into trance dancing. and leave bottles on the beach and take drugs and act like fools. which she was very familiar with and had participated in from time to time over the years. There has been sporadic conflict in Myanmar for a very long time. and a young break dancer she was friends with was shot and died. The Australian and British aid workers were very serious. I stayed around Chiang Mai a couple days more. but that’s mainly because he’s proven himself to be capable of handling . John is very much a freedom oriented person. which is somewhat like the aid work world. but didn’t know what was going on at the time. and insurgent groups in the southern part of the country near the Thai border have been resisting control by the central government for years. which is sold over the counter in Thailand. and doesn’t like to be tied down. or have to fit in some box or play the games associated with the professional world. but that he found it very unnerving to see the impoverished locals alongside so many tripping foreigners. and drinking heavily. It was funny when I described my thesis to her. and they definitely made some good points. Sanya had seen some terrible things.
a German woman travelling with her two grown daughters. and an Israeli ex-soldier who had spent a lot of time at the trance parties on Koh Phangan. She had spent a lot of time in Pai when she had time off from working in the refugee camp. For example. I went to Pai by bus. and had already visited his sister in Japan before arriving to Thailand. He told me that when he was in Northern Thailand one time he passed through a small town that few backpackers go to. rave type parties in the Australian outback. . Their website is www. I’m just curious to see for myself what this place is like. Sanya had to go to nearby Mae Hong Son from time to time for work related purposes while staying in the camp. and he would soon go to visit a friend who was doing some sort of foreign aid work in Bangladesh. It would ruin her reputation because she had to appear “professional” and “respectable”. She was just going to sit in this town a while and then go back to her posh life in New York. and I guarantee you. massage. The town has very cheap accommodation. He said “I just don’t buy into this stuff. a group called Burners without Borders associated with Burning Man has done various humanitarian projects. It’s as if she fed off of that or something! I mean. an adventurous Czech man named Yon. a man named Franklin who lived on a boat in San Francisco. and that in his words…“Some woman who had been hanging around in this village for over a year wouldn’t stop carrying on about all the terrible things that were happening in that area. as if I needed to feel guilty about that or something. and go to high energy dance parties at the Bamboo Bar with her Japanese friends. pretending to be some kind of martyr but really not doing much more than sitting around on her ass and bitching and acting depressed. but in her words “Pai was her playground”. and nobody cared. and getting paid for it! I know the world’s a mess.” What if more aid work programs made use of the time and energy of members of backpacker and festival culture? It’s not such a stretch.45 I had plenty of time before the full moon. in this remote village. a 23 year old former marijuana farmer from Oregon. Some of the notable people I met were Warwick.org.74 himself in foreign cultures. Since then more people have affiliated themselves with the group and since then Burners have done other things like help rebuild houses and schools after a 2007 earthquake in Pisco. It is also a major center for people studying meditation. She assured me I could meet many interesting people there. I may have a better idea of the big picture of the life of normal people around the world than she does. my God. and it’s possible to help people in some way and still have a good time. Warwick had been to some of the “doofs”. and it was immediately evident that some kind of neo-hippie culture is going strong there. Warwick was taking a long vacation from his job. and the Burning Man subculture is closely linked to trance dance and the raves in Goa. I just thought. She couldn’t be seen running around drunk and acting crazy in Mae Hong Son. She was so bogged down in all this depressing information. she was just as selfish as anyone else. Peru. Nobody knew what she did in Pai so she could hang out with the hippies and smoke pot. but we can still have a good time. and Sanya suggested I visit Pai which is a small town in the mountains west of Chiang Mai. and many yoga studios. lots of bars and restaurants catering to backpackers. I’m just taking a look around. because there were too many people working for non-profits there. probably more selfish! There she was.” Yon had 45 Burners Without Borders was created after participants in the 2005 Burning Man Festival spontaneously volunteered to help with cleanup and house renovations in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. but he didn’t buy into the mystical ideas some people have started attributing to trance dancing. an Australian geophysicist. but it’s not like she was really doing anything about those problems. and Reiki healing. It’s as if the hippies think that if they take enough LSD and Ecstasy they’ll turn into wizards or something! I’m honestly worried it could lead to something like Huxley’s Brave New World.burnerswithoutborders.
The problem with a lot of people is that they get to that out there space. People can go beyond that”. but there wasn’t any trance dancing going on. Franklin was an odd guy. and Franklin hung around one particular vegetarian restaurant a lot engaging people in conversations. Like Terrence McKenna. He said some pretty out there stuff to anybody who was willing to listen. and my time was limited. had exotic stones hanging around their necks. The organic farm was impressive. A friend of the family was running the farm at the time. so he did so after being abducted the first time in the early 1980s. and talked a lot about how they were trying to learn how to meditate. and liked all things countercultural. They wore flowing clothes. Yon stated “LSD opened doors for me. and UFOs. It sounded a bit like Ken Kesey instructing people to “go beyond acid” after the early days of acid tests in the 60s (Wolfe 68: pp. and had helped the human race arrive to where we are today. Hallucinogens combined with psytrance can help people have religious experiences. They all had a very “New Age” style about them. She was born in Germany but now lives in Tasmania where she runs an organic farm which is part of the WWOOF network of farms at which travelers can stay for free and receive meals in exchange for working a certain number of hours per day. I’ve had very spiritual experiences with LSD. but he makes a decent living as an artist. and one of the daughters had feathers and beads woven into her hair. He lamented that American women are too cruel. The mother and daughters planted fruit trees with me. not some sleazy sex fiend. I met the German woman and her daughters at the vegetarian restaurant where Franklin would hang around and try to suck people into his discussions about prostitutes. Cambodia and this island where they had built some huts. and become mindful of every passing moment. It was run by a Thai man who received help from his grown son and a few Thai women as well as from foreign backpackers from all around the world who he allowed to stay in huts for around $3 per night. which makes many uncomfortable (McKenna 1991). I would have loved to have stayed there for a long time. In Pai there are many cafes where people hang around reading and talking. and during the day I spent there I ate a delicious lunch and helped plant fruit trees. and people contributed donations to a common kitchen fund. I told the mother what I . Everyone ate meals communally. and are just kind of like… ooaahhoow!!!!.. and that they were kind. He was just lonely. He wasn’t a bad man at all. was divorced. In Pai he was studying Reiki energy healing. but had now fallen in love with a waitress in Chiang Mai. The mother was in her fifties.. and for six months the two had ferried travelers back and forth between Sianoukeville. The mother and daughters invited me to go visit an organic farm outside Pai which was a bit like a WWOOF farm with them. The farm provided most of the food visitors ate. They charged a small fee for people to stay at their encampment. and he talks about this a lot. but her daughters had grown up in Tasmania and spoke to their mother in German sometimes. I didn’t catch their entire family history. and if he had the funds to stay in Thailand or Cambodia he probably would have settled down and married someone. and her nineteen and twenty four year old daughters were traveling with her.75 recently rented an island with a British man from the Cambodian military. Franklin is what many would call an “acid casualty”. He told everyone the aliens suggested he try taking psychedelic drugs. he insists that UFOs and the psychedelic experience are somehow related. Yon was into psychedelic trance music and meditation. He was an artist. The American who lived on a boat in San Francisco was in his sixties. and every few weeks they bought food on land. the failure of the American political system. 29-31). and openly talked to people about how he had been with several prostitutes during his travels.and they don’t progress beyond that. claiming he’d been abducted by aliens several times.
Asher had spent a few weeks on Koh Phangan. “Yea. which is about a theoretical scenario in which the Northwest US secedes from the union and creates an ecologically sustainable society. I took LSD at doof parties. Amanda is 23. and with it headed off to travel the world for a year or more. Amanda did a lot of yoga.” Then some French girls with colorful hippie clothes came up to the table talking about how they were looking to buy marijuana. The older sister understood my angle. amassed a large sum of money. and has been going to Rainbow Gatherings since she was a young teenager. and massage.” Amanda then introduced me to a couple from Asheville. She had been around Israeli . and meditation. He pulled out his mp3 player and had me listen to some new music another backpacker had given him. and now smokes her former product only very occasionally. Amanda understood exactly what I meant when I told her I was studying the spiritual aspect of electronic music. I saw some kids shooting up heroin on the beach… I don’t know. I’m trying to evolve spiritually. Amanda had been to Burning Man a couple of times. Her passion was sustainable living though. and there were tons of upper middle class British kids who didn’t really seem to be into the kind of electronic music you’re interested in. Franklin is Jewish.76 would be writing about and her distaste was immediately visible. and is very much a part of what could be described as contemporary American counterculture. sensible people have done that. Her twenty four year old sister had moved away from Tasmania and lived in Sydney. and the way he described it to me. but the foreigners trash the place with bottles and act like idiots at the Full Moon Party. but still encouraged me to pursue my research. he had met other independent Israeli travelers and they tended to stick together. and had been around trance a lot. I told Asher I was researching trance music and he immediately became friendly. and she didn’t like a lot of what she saw on Koh Phangan. She sold marijuana in Oregon for a couple of years. She said “I went to a Full Moon Party. She came from a difficult family background. I wonder what Sanya from Chiang Mai would have thought of Asher? She’s very much a left-wing political radical. Asher explained his personal drug philosophy to everyone at the table. He only drinks beer. and for some time she grew a large vegetable garden and a lot of marijuana. The nineteen year old hadn’t. Koh Phangan is a nice place. Like most Israeli backpackers. I didn’t pry to try to get the whole story. Asher said “It is probably because of the trance music that I saw so many Israelis on Koh Phangan. Now I want to get there on my own. and told me she really identified with the Palestinian cause. North Carolina. She liked folk music. but electronic music. some people have really made that into a way of life.” It was funny to see an interaction between the youngest daughter and a son of Indian immigrants who had recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a chemistry degree. but she didn’t come from a stable home. She talked to me a lot about the book Ecotopia. Asher was 22 years old. and had already been to several other countries besides Thailand. and loves talking with Israelis. She told me she had met the well known environmental and human rights activist Vandana Shiva while in India. She’d seen Goa Gil play several times in the Northwest US. she associated that with destructive behavior. and was traveling alone. was “the spirituality of electronic music? Are you serious?” She was more into acoustic stuff. and he loved the trance scene. He said “What do you mean? You’re learning to think about nothing? I don’t get it!” Then I met a girl from Portland named Amanda back in town at a bar where they were playing trance music. He had a hard time leaving. Later I met a young Israeli guy on his post-military trip who was having a conversation with Franklin. and it gave me a glimpse of how to arrive to a certain state. He had a long time to travel. and yoga. The response of the youngest daughter. Some very good. and is scared of hallucinogens. although they all spent time with backpackers of other nationalities as well. and it felt like a bizarre frat party where people were pretending to be hippies. Everything was overpriced. and had been around the doofs. who claimed she had converted to Hinduism. Israeli people love this music. It’s a pretty island.
bartender. In Frank’s words “It’s a bit like Pai. which means “crazy” in Thai. and fire dancer at an open air bar called Ting Tong. For some reason I do. In Frank’s words “Yea. Yon. and told me he attended a big trance party in the forest.” They were in their 30s. sporting long hair and beating bongo drums on the street. It was Frank’s second trip to Thailand. Now he wanted to meditate. A big difference between Frank and me is that he doesn’t like to dance for hours. and had travelled around America following the Grateful Dead. and fairly apolitical. I saw the possibility of community there. and Donna got Frank to go to a rave in Atlanta during the 90s. and told me she worked with an Israeli woman at the hostess club for Japanese men in Tokyo. Transformus. but the scenery is nice. I saw the trance DJ Goa Gil perform there in May before leaving the US.77 travelers plenty. Frank and Donna told me they want to be perpetual travelers. Frank and Donna weren’t from Asheville originally. and where the Western North Carolina trance dancing community regularly holds events. He wanted to see where the moment took him. After Jerry Garcia died Frank toured with the band Phish. but locals profit from the tourist dollars. not charging him for services. People always asked him why he didn’t travel internationally when he was younger. Amanda had been in Pai several months and lived with a Thai boyfriend she met after losing her ATM card and becoming trapped. It was neat to meet Frank and Donna. and that’s when he met Donna. and that was my main nighttime hangout in the town since they played trance music sometimes. He ran away from a conventional lifestyle to live with a roving band of gypsies. they’ve been to rock concerts at Deerfields. and had and sucked him into a dark underworld of hard partying. and Frank’s response was that he wanted to know his own country first. the Czech who was studying Reiki explained to me one day that he didn’t want to hang around Ting Tong much since he was trying to spiritually balance himself. After he had finished renting the Cambodian island he had lived in the beach town of Sianoukeville for some time. it really seemed like they were just there for the drugs. but had lived there several years and told me they loved the atmosphere. Yon described it as being very surrealistic. It’s a bit strange because it’s in some ways more of a neohippie settlement than a Thai village. and he didn’t really buy into the idea that the psychedelic experience could be religious. He sold meatball sandwiches and beer at concerts to support himself and claims he’s seen every mid-sized to large city in the continental US. For Frank. but he wants to know all of human experience. In short. but no. but she found their backpacking trips a bit escapist and self-serving. For this reason he had spent about a month drinking heavily and taking amphetamines with a wild woman. Frank was a few years older than Donna. and he wasn’t attached to that lifestyle. Yon had been to Pai during 2007 before renting the island. and many of the Thais hanging around Pai have gone neo-hippie themselves. He was a DJ. and claims an extremely beautiful prostitute had fallen in love with him. which is a site outside Asheville where they do the North Carolina regional Burning Man event. really.” Frank wasn’t familiar with Goa trance or psytrance. Donna was into both jam bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead and rave culture. North Carolina. touring with the Dead was like running off to the circus. and there aren’t any touring communities following bands in America. and he told me he wanted to move there eventually. he’s visiting other countries. From Pai I headed on to spend just a day in Mae Hong Son with Frank and Donna from Asheville. I met Amanda at Ting Tong. For example. Now that he’s older and has a bit of money. Lots of cool open minded people from all over are hanging around looking for a good time. Donna and Frank toured together selling beer and sandwiches at Phish shows for a time. Pai is a nice little town. I saw that in some way it could possibly be something like what we had touring with the Grateful Dead. and said that if he could he would go to a psychedelic trance dancing party. . There aren’t many tourists in Mae Hong Son. or the acid house movement that went on in England twenty years ago. because they frequent places I’m familiar with in Asheville.
but once again. His advice to me was “Get an education. and having fun together. so I really think there is something to be said of the backpacking context. Luang Prabang is a pretty city with a lot of French architecture. In what other context would an Australian geophysicist hang around and tell stories to an American anthropology student and a marijuana farmer? We ran into Franklin at a market. The bus stopped at a town on the Mekong River where everyone got visas and boarded the “slow boat to Luang Prabang”. and theorized that Burning Man. we are not strict with drugs here! It’s no problem!” The German New Age farmer and her daughters were on the boat. We had planned to meet Frank and Donna. and I would go on to hike up a mountain with the Israeli couple and see them both get covered in leeches three days later. She seemed pretty depressed when I left Chiang Mai for Pai. I may or may not see those people again. A few years ago the locals began attracting tourists by renting out inner tubes to float down a river that passes through town. and Israelis. Your country is going to implode. and wandered around the old city. it’s a much more recently developed backpacking destination than Thailand. but the social interactions were significant. and people passed the time hanging around on the deck and talking. An Israeli couple took my seat. I rode in the back of a truck all the way to Chiang Mai where I met up with Amanda and Warwick from Pai. He had returned to Chiang Mai from Pai to be with his new girlfriend who he could barely communicate with. I stayed there a couple days. The ride lasted two days with an overnight stop in a small town along the way. It’s very rare that I get into discussions that genuine and involved at home. which is on the Thai-Burmese border. I sadly had just eight days there. so for two days we hung around in cafes. facing similar circumstances. We all hung out with some of Amanda’s Thai friends who had spent time in Pai recently. who flew there. but you have to develop a convincing argument!” He looked like pictures I’ve seen of the writer Jorge Luis Borges. It would be interesting to know how many people get badly hurt on that small stretch of river every year. “Look. At many of the bars along the river the owners offer free . you are Palestinian! The Israelis stole your space!” In all fairness. and leave the United States. because some people drink at every single bar. and he showed us some political post cards he’d designed. It was very uncomfortable. Amanda introduced me to some Thai friends who convinced me to take a whirlwind trip to Laos to renew my visa. Rainbow Gatherings. We’d all been to Chiang Mai before. Amanda had to renew her visa and Warwick was waiting for a flight to Bangladesh. Now I have some new e-mail addresses. and now there are numerous bars set up along the riverbank where the owners have built rope swings and diving platforms for tubers to jump into the water. but couldn’t find them. so it was nice to run into them again. I don’t think they knew I was sitting there. then visited the popular traveler hangout of Vang Vieng. and after that moved on to the capital city of Vientiane where I caught I flight to Koh Samui in time to make it to the June Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. and we all parted ways. I went on a minibus run by a hostel where Amanda’s Thai friend worked to the Lao border with some Italians. Vang Vien was a funny little place. Danes. and talked. You should run away to Asia and try to position yourself as a visionary who’s pushing a new political system or something of that sort. and seen the sights.78 From Mae Hong Son. During most of the ride I sat next to a marine biologist from Argentina who now lives in Kuala Lampur and is hoping to get involved in politics back home. Sanya the graduate student wouldn’t pick up her phone. As for Laos. I went down the river with the Israelis who stole my seat on the minibus. The boat was fairly uncomfortable. Outside of Chiang Mai the bus driver stopped at a Seven Eleven and picked up passengers. telling everyone “This is Laos. and some people drank whisky. An Italian man who had studied political science at university nudged me. Lao men on the back of the boat passed around joints and tried to sell marijuana. and walked around. We were all fellow backpackers. and the Full Moon Parties are part of a CIA plot to stupefy the young. so hopefully she’s okay. and a woman vomited.
I’d been thinking about the island ever since a British Jewish pimp who had run away to Israel to avoid tax evasion charges told me and my friend Tim about it on the roof of the Sky Hostel one night in Tel Aviv in 2007. Some of the people at these bars did trance style dancing. and Family Guy all day long every day at high volume.79 Lao whisky shots. I feel that this snapshot of the social interactions and experiences I had in Northern Thailand and Laos is exemplary of the types of interactions most people traveling alone would have in any major backpacking destination country on Earth. It was nice to finally go. but. A nineteen year old British guy doing a gap year trip before starting university at Oxford convinced me to get on the boat. meaning that they have magic mushrooms or marijuana in them. Trance dancing and backpacking are in a sense very similar. Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan After traveling for a month I went to Koh Phangan. and then tubers proceed to jump off of high platforms. Some of the establishments are known to sell “special shakes”. “My mate saw a Burmese bartender kill a man!” The boat driver was taking vodka shots. As for trance dancing in Laos. Of course. The town itself is very odd. In both cases people act individually but in a group. adventure. which are extremely strong. These Indian men from London in nice clothes were passing around a bottle of vodka. Backpacking is a context of extreme informality. One of the Indian . freedom. political idealism. I was in a fairly surreal situation. and was ready to find a true trance destination rather than just hear rumors of possible psychedelic dance parties in the forest. because many of the businesses play reruns of Friends. It doesn’t matter if you say things that make you sound irresponsible and reckless. I didn’t find the type of trance parties I’m most interested in. similar to people’s impressions of Koh Phangan. with rave music. psychedelics. People’s impressions of Vang Vien vary. Others are disgusted by the TV bars and move on. Once again. The difference between this context and the context most of us find ourselves in during our daily lives in the First World is that backpacking is a cultural limbo zone in which individuals are freed for a time from restrictive power regimes like work and school. people can and do lie about their backgrounds since nobody in the backpacker limbo zone knows with certainty what other participants in this zone were doing before they met. and so is trance. Some people absolutely love the town and hang around for weeks. He said “That place is mental. I didn’t go out in Vientiane. I saw the social context in which these types of parties developed in Goa and Ibiza. people danced to what could be described as fairly club oriented or mainstream trance in a bar I went to in Luang Prabang and at an outdoor bar in Vang Vien. and discuss things which would shock people in other social contexts. In Northern Thailand. but alone with others. They’ve got the wildest beach parties imaginable. but the parties had to stop at 1 AM. the Simpsons. It doesn’t matter if you have lots of tattoos and piercings. I’d heard so much about it. and tons of drugs. blatant hedonism.” When I arrived to Koh Samui it was the night before the June full moon. people fucking in the water. and the future Oxford student was telling everyone stories he’d heard about all the lawlessness on Koh Phangan. and later Laos. and some nicely dressed Indian men came up to me in the small airport and asked me if I would be interested in taking a speed boat to Koh Phangan immediately. and idol lounging are all juxtaposed. people can also be very truthful. It’s a context in which New Age spiritual seeking. People are alone. but.
It’s in a category unto itself.000 people at the Full Moon Party. because this means that this British guy went to Thailand. One of them introduced me to his friends saying “This is the guy who did that crazy jump on the moped! He’s lucky he didn’t fall off a cliff!” They had to go back to Koh Samui the next day so we didn’t see each other anymore. and the Vinyl Club. It was evident to me that Koh Phangan isn’t solely a trance destination. Many took drugs. During the month I stayed on Koh . but other sound systems played a more mainstream sound. We’d said that we were going to email each other but got busy and forgot. because backpackers move between the same spaces. and numerous deejays along the beach played all kinds of electronic music to foreign and Thai revelers alike: male. and ladyboy. One bar played reggae. The small medical clinic down by the beach was packed full of party victims. There were around 10. We sat down and told each other about where we’d been. The problem with my first few days on Koh Phangan was that I wasn’t yet fully integrated. Tommy’s. Then they took all the vodka and sped away back to Koh Samui. I wasn’t in the know as to where I could find the most psychedelic dance music. where the deejays played the most psychedelic dance music sound. and headed down to Haad Rin beach to see the party. and thousands of people. were dancing. they played hip hop and contemporary pop. Later on that night we met some Thai girls from Bangkok who worked at a Seven Eleven convenience store. The thing about the Full Moon Party is that it isn’t exactly a rave. and things were already going full tilt. This is absolutely crazy to think about. I got a good idea of what many people experience on Koh Phangan. and I ran into two of my kiwi friends from my first nights in Chiang Mai dancing on the beach. The Oxford boy had no place to stay. drinking. and was very strong. but nobody smoked marijuana openly. At the Cactus Bar. We luckily managed to find a room at the SK Home guesthouse.80 men had just flown to Koh Samui directly from New York City to meet his relatives and had a large suitcase and nice leather shoes. But. Things like that aren’t that uncommon while backpacking. It was a strange image. One bar played exclusively classic rock. Some of the music was psychedelic electronic dance music. female. There were Thai women yelling about how we needed to buy buckets of liquor. One bar up in town had a live guitarist. My Oxford companion ran into a childhood friend from London on the beach. and stayed up until sunrise on the night of the full moon after my Oxford friend had slipped away to his new girlfriend’s hut. that psychedelic dance element was there. and didn’t talk much to many die hard trance dancers until after the Full Moon Party had ended. so we stuck together and talked about our travels. The boat’s owners had to pull him out of the harbor with a pole. and she told us about how someone they both knew from primary school had been in India for months and was now really skinny and had a long beard. They had never been to one. and explained that they had come to see the Full Moon Party. and the Full Moon Party has become a huge tourist attraction for anyone visiting Southeast Asia as well as for Thais like the girls I met who were on vacation from Bangkok. We arrived on the night before the full moon. The Full Moon Party features different styles of music because all kinds of people are around. and fell into the water while trying to climb onto the dock. They spoke fairly good English. It’s a party destination. In any case though. for example. The Oxford guy got wasted and slept with a girl he’d just met on the night of the full moon. During the Full Moon Party I mainly hung around Zoom. and was trying to become some kind of Hindu ascetic. Fire twirlers were dancing on the beach. People were running around covered in glowing paint. and making noise. mostly foreigners. By the time we got to Koh Phangan the Indian guy from New York had gotten fairly drunk. and had taken time off from work to see the spectacle. I saw some very skilled dancers. and just happened to run into a girl he knew from home. Many travelers don’t want to hear heavily distorted mind-bending noises associated with psychedelics.
. Most PEDM deejays are male. MDMA. and is much smaller than the Full Moon Party. People smoke marijuana and hashish openly.81 Phangan I saw many familiar faces from my travels in Northern Thailand and Laos. or Goa trance. One of the regular Djs is a beautiful German woman called “Venus Vibes”. The Shiva Moon party is held twice a month. Haad Rin on the night of the full moon Shiva Moon Party As soon as Haad Rin emptied out after the Full Moon Party prices went down and it became evident that the true trance enthusiasts are more into the other parties that go on between full moons. just a few hundred people dancing in the forest. but most people only stayed a few days. The first Shiva Moon party I went to was held eight days after the Full Moon Party and it was after going to that party that I really got connected to the psychedelic trance dance community on Koh Phangan. and many dancers take drugs such as LSD. They’re held at least twice per month. but there’s much more to the island. such as the Shiva Moon Party in the jungle. and psilocybin. which isn’t allowed on the beach in Haad Rin. I went to the party with Jürgen the Swiss ski instructor. I attended two Shiva moon parties while on Koh Phangan. and he introduced me to the psychedelic crowd. When most people think of Koh Phangan they think of Haad Rin and the Full Moon Party. The music is all psytrance.
there was a fairly even male to female ratio. Like the other parties on Koh Phangan. They are much more cohesive events than the Full Moon Party. but others were genuinely into the music and dancing. and hallucinogenic drugs are prevalent but not everyone partakes. a young Swiss man who was experimenting with the legal hallucinogen 2-CI. and mushroom shakes throughout the night and into the morning. but doesn’t always do drugs. and after all the DJ music stopped he invited people to his hut where he played the didgeridoo accompanied by Japanese drummers. a German who had ridden a bicycle across Thailand and goes to renaissance fairs and Goa parties regularly in Europe. and Ollie. but the party didn’t seem as sexually charged as the larger Full Moon Party.82 A Thai family owns the land where the parties are done. At these parties I met interesting people like Dia. They’re classic trance parties. Some local women sell simple food. which has some of the effects of both MDMA and LSD. . Some were only there to try to sell drugs. because there is one DJ booth. water. He was doing contact juggling. most dancers weren’t Thai. and the admission fee is around $7. Ollie goes to outdoor “Goa parties” often in Switzerland. He says that by doing it this way he can fully appreciate the psychedelic experience and that when he smoked marijuana every day he closed more doors than he opened. an Iraqi man who has used all kinds of psychedelic drugs and claims that he can now arrive to those same states he’s experienced on drugs by simply dancing. Ollie told me he had sworn off marijuana and now only took powerful psychedelic drugs such as 2-CI once every month or two in a trance dancing context. Some hippies who are friends with the family who owns the land where they hold the Shiva moon parties sell hand made jewelry and leather bags. but there were many Thais there. A bar sells alcohol. where many of the dancers have the goal of reaching an ecstatic state by dancing to hypnotic music. I also met Marcos. As with the rest of the parties on Koh Phangan. The parties start around midnight and keep going until after sunrise when only people who really feel the music are still around. and everyone focuses their energy on dancing to music coming from that booth most of the night.
and are a gathering place for the dedicated trance dancers of Koh Phangan. Now I want to organize parties back home. and told everyone about a yoga class he taught at a studio in the mountains in the interior of the island. and aren’t up to dancing really hard. Normally deejays start out playing progressive psytrance. I can say with certainty that sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion alone combined with dancing and music can somehow alter perception. which is near the land where Shiva Moon Parties are held. One of the deejays who played frequently at Ban Sabaii while I was on Koh Phangan was an English man who helped run the bar.83 Ban Sabaii Day Parties After all the major nighttime parties on Koh Phangan a PEDM party is almost always held at a place called Ban Sabaii. Some very colorful people went to the day parties. and doesn’t obligate anyone to buy drinks. Anyway. After my first Shiva Moon Party I left Haad Rin Beach and moved to a very economical hut at the S.P. and want to provide people with a nice place to dance in good company. Some people who want to drink really cheap beer buy it from the convenience store down the street. One was a Russian man who called himself Shiva. which is characterized as being less harsh sounding than psytrance. had recently gone through a nasty divorce. Maybe this trance music is the most pure sound there is. He had been living in Thailand several years and spoke the language almost fluently. this group of people. and claims to have been trained as an opera singer. most people arrive to day parties very sleep deprived. It was really amazing to see how long people would hang around Ban Sabaii after music stopped. The bar which hosts the parties charges no admission fee. There was a sense of community there. I had been awake almost 48 hours. The music is more peaceful sounding than dark forms of psytrance. and alternate between dancing and lounging in hammocks. The parties are small and intimate. The day parties start as soon as people begin showing up. The Ban Sabaii day parties seemed somehow very genuine. I stayed awake until sunrise after two of the parties sitting and talking to people on the beach and playing guitar. for example. for the so called “freaks”. After my first day party I always hung around with the Ban Sabaii crew at larger parties. As the day progresses dancers get more energetic and the music speeds up. Many of the hard core dancers who I had been seeing since the Full Moon Party were staying around Ban Sabaii in simple huts. He was from Moscow. to 6 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s as if people are communicating in a non-verbal way. but the genre really has no specific definition. I went to four of them while I was staying on Koh Phangan. and gives a different vibe. The parties oftentimes go on until 2 o’clock in the morning or even later.M. After parties he always sang opera. Resort next door to Ban Sabaii and attended a day party. A Scottish girl who I talked with a lot while on Koh Phangan said “It seems like it should be like this forever. This can be anywhere from 8 A. It is played because people are physically exhausted when they arrive to the day parties. and I never saw anybody complain. and after deejays stop playing music people hang around on the beach playing drums and guitars and some smoke joints. dancing…I really think that you can see everyone’s personalities through the way they dance. The owners of the bar truly love trance music. When I arrived to Ban Sabaii with Jürgen one time.” .
The Half Moon Party I went to featured glowing artwork hung from the trees but there wasn’t religious imagery like there was at the Shiva Moon Party. and I met several people who had Ecstasy. a German man with dreadlocks and some gold teeth was selling drops of liquid LSD which he had carried to Thailand from Amsterdam. There was psytrance as well as other forms of PEDM which could be described as trance. The party was definitely more of a trance party than the Full Moon Party. but since the word has no clear cut definition music aficionados could argue endlessly about which forms of electronic music are more or less psychedelic. Like the Shiva Moon party. and more people drank buckets. whenever there is a half moon. but the Half Moon Party was larger. which is officially called “Black Moon Culture” for some reason is held once a month near Ban Sabaii on the beach on new moons.84 Images from Ban Sabaii Day Parties Black Moon and Half Moon Parties After the Full Moon Party the biggest parties on the island are the Half Moon and Black Moon parties. is that when people say “Ecstasy”. I only went to one Half Moon Party because I accidentally fell asleep and missed the second one. but there were many more young British travelers and people who seemed fairly conventional in their style of dress than were at the Shiva Moon parties. As for strong hallucinogens. I arrived to the Half Moon Party around midnight and many people were already dancing in the outdoor and covered dance areas. in that almost everyone was dancing. What I came to realize on Koh Phangan though. The Half Moon and Shiva Moon parties had a similar format. that can mean a lot of things. From what people told me the Half Moon Party has been held in different locations over the years. which some people perceive to not be quite as “psychedelic” as psytrance/psychedelic trance/Goa trance but which are thought of as “tribal” sounding. The Shiva Moon parties are normally held when there is a crescent moon. When I went to the Half Moon Party the main difference I noticed between it and the Shiva Moon Party was that the music wasn’t exclusively psytrance. this is true. People did smoke marijuana. but not as openly as at the Shiva Moon parties. It can . but for the past few years it has been held in the jungle near Ban Tai. but apparently they all tend to resemble each other somewhat. admission cost was about $7. people mean heavily distorted. The Half Moon Party is held twice a month in the forest. so after the Ban Sabaii day party the Half Moon Party was the next major event I attended. If by “psychedelic”. and the Black Moon Party.
Some people danced until well after the sun had risen.85 mean pure MDMA. Shlomy loves trance music. On the day of the Black Moon Party I went to the post office in Haad Rin. The whole psychedelic crowd of drug takers and abstainers was present at the Half Moon Party I went to. He had just arrived from Koh Samui and didn’t know much about Koh Phangan yet.P. I was splitting the price of a $4 hut with someone else. and the drinkers didn’t tend to move as fluidly or dance as long as the psychedelics. and Shlomy convinced me that it would be a better idea to go rent a bungalow down the beach beside the Black Moon Party so we could be closer to all the action. Shlomy had done his military service in Israel when he was younger but didn’t do a long post-military trip afterwards. which is next to the harbor. but there were also large numbers of people who were not regular ravers or trance party goers at home. The alcohol crowd seemed less comfortable around heavily distorted music than the psychedelic crowd. and some are foreign. This doesn’t mean that people who dress in a more “conventional” way. The party was hosted by Mac Bay Resort on the beach fairly near the place where they do the Ban Sabaii day parties. they aren’t likely to speak of their experiences in mystical terms or experience the same things as hard core freaks. and an Israeli man in his late 20s approached me asking if I knew of any good parties going on that night. I didn’t see people drinking mushroom shakes. Resort. but there was also a more alcohol oriented crowd of people who didn’t take hallucinogens or think of their dancing as active meditation. but had taken four months off of work to travel. but. They may have sold them at the event. Images from the Half Moon Party-some adhere to the trance freak aesthetic and others don’t By the time the Black Moon Party arrived I had met several of the local DJs and was acquainted with many of the dedicated trance dancers. I gave Shlomy a ride on the back of my moped to the S. but if they did not many people were drinking them. . He’d only visited Europe for a month and afterwards went to university. which is in between Ban Sabaii and Mac Bay. all the hard core dancers were there. Once again. There was an admission fee but people could get in free by arriving before the event had officially started or if they rented bungalows at Mac Bay. but it can also mean MDMA mixed with other substances like MDA or amphetamines. Now he’s a lawyer in Tel Aviv. Some are Thai. and don’t take psychedelics or meditate can’t go into some type of trance type state while dancing. and liked my book about Israeli backpackers. There are a lot of very questionable characters hanging around the dance floors of Koh Phangan.
that marijuana and hashish are very spiritual drugs. such as Pai. He told me “This is bucket music. and after that claims he was overcome by an external energy and did the Dance of Shiva. but others . much smaller than the Full Moon Party. Emma. and meant to appeal to appeal to people who had radically altered their consciousness in some way or another. similar to many trance freaks. and asked him a question. and we invited a bunch of people from the Ban Sabaii crowd to come hang out at our new place. Thomas had adopted the view of the cannabis smoking sadhus. and discovered the “Dance of Shiva”. and that they can bring people closer to God. but came from New Zealand. but the meat of his story was that while dancing on LSD the Hindu god Shiva had appeared to him. the Scottish girl who said that she thinks people communicate in a non-verbal way when they trance dance. and Klaus. She did a good job. The impression I got was that Thomas had simply been traveling so long and been around people of so many nationalities that he had invented his own dignified way of talking. I saw some young Thai trance dancers smoking in the middle of the dance area. The way somebody explained it to me. Within Thailand certain areas seem to be havens for cannabis smokers. was that at the larger events on Koh Phangan people smoke less openly because police are more likely to be around. Emma was trying to help me with my project by searching for people with interesting stories. The rules are very blurry. He saw these substances in what I would describe as a sacramental way. At the edge of the dance area locals were selling drinks and some food. a 41 year old German trance freak with dreadlocks carrying around a vial of liquid LSD was angry. He told us that in Goa had completely let go. but people cannot smoke everywhere. Thomas spoke in elaborate metaphors. He’s known to sell extremely strong magic mushroom omelets which he and his wife prepare in their own kitchen. Chad is from Koh Phangan. At 10 o’clock. She asked “Are you willing to give up everything for me? Are you willing to give up your family. but bigger than the Shiva Moon Party. but not as openly as at the Shiva Moon Party or during the Ban Sabaii day parties. Like all the major parties on Koh Phangan. It was very fast and distorted. At the beginning of the night a Japanese deejay played mostly progressive trance. showed up with a mysterious man from New Zealand. this Israeli lawyer convinced me to rent a bungalow with him. The music Chad played at the Black Moon Party could be considered dark psytrance. and is considered a key player in the Koh Phangan party scene. which he described as a dance of chaos which destroys and recreates the world.86 So. while taking a type of LSD called “Shiva’s Third Eye”. Thomas was in his mid 30s. various DJs played throughout the night. and his family played a role in starting the Full Moon Party phenomenon in the late 80s. He has converted part of his house in the interior of the island into a very informal bar which is a gathering place for many local and foreign trance enthusiasts. Railay. and everything you know?” Thomas explained that what this meant was that Shiva wanted him to keep growing marijuana even if his parents and siblings disapproved of his decision and disowned him for doing so. Thomas believed in the value of all psychedelic drugs in addition to trance dancing. but few foreigners. The Black Moon Party was around the same size as the Half Moon Party. and at the edges of the dance floor and down by the water people smoked joints. and Koh Phangan. Thomas says he told her was willing to leave behind everything he knew. I saw a group of British girls who each had individual buckets! They were so drunk already that they were falling down on their backs when they tried to dance! I don’t like this Japanese deejay! ” The music made an abrupt change when Chad entered the DJ booth. Emma was fascinated by the fact that Thomas spoke with what she described as a very “posh” English accent. Drug penalties can be very harsh in Thailand. Some people were really into his music. As for Shiva. They aren’t making it psychedelic enough because they only are interested in making people drink alcohol. and explained to us that over the years he had grown marijuana on and off.
and the other was a young French woman who took LSD while she was worrying about her relationship with her boyfriend at home. cats. Pong normally played psytrance or classic rock. He told me he had been on the dance floor around the world for over 15 years as a psychedelic nomad.87 I spoke with found it too dark and scary sounding. I saw two people have very bad drug trips. prescribed me some medicine. One girl told me “It’s too fierce sounding. He claimed that when he was at the Boom Festival. and tied my shirt around my knee. Koh Phangan can be a dangerous place for many reasons. I visited the houses of some locals. I just couldn’t wear shoes comfortably. some deejays played very dark music and he worried it would cause people to have accidents. She actually jumped out of the back of a moving pickup truck. and he views trance music as a spiritual tool. and completely lost control. and tied the legs around my feet. Babadee said he and some of his friends jumped up on a very visible platform and tried to dance in a way that would bring people peace in order to counteract the dark noise that they thought not everyone could handle. if anything just to get a better idea of what people were learning. During my days on Koh Phangan I spent my time exploring the island with other travelers and locals who were involved in the party scene in some form or fashion. I may have slowed my healing process by dancing so much. He explained to me that he deejays. but luckily didn’t break any bones. John rode with me to an emergency medical clinic where the doctor said “You are luckyyy! No broken bones! No head injury!” Then he pulled out a photo of a man who had gotten severely injured or died recently and showed it to John while laughing. I hurt my feet and knees pretty bad. I would have gone to nearby Koh Tao. and I was most interested in the trance dancing. . and flipped my rented moped on a steep gravel road while riding barefoot. and kept pet monkeys. but plays what he considers an intense but uplifting style of psytrance. such as a 23 year old deejay who worked at the Mellow Mountain bar and taught me some about how to make trance music. I was only one of many people going around Koh Phangan wrapped in bandages. He cleaned out my wounds. bandaged me up. but it was definitely worth it. I came to see that there is a lot of interaction and exchange between the New Age meditation and yoga scene and the trance freak scene. which is run by a British expatriate and his Thai wife. where a Thai boxing coach had a gym and outdoor café and bar where kick boxers and backpackers hung around eating and drinking beer and mushroom shakes while lounging around on cushions.” One trance freak told me that dark psytrance is “the sound of chaos”. and sent me on my way. Only the tops of my feet were hurt. He’s well liked around Koh Phangan. and hanging around reading and drinking tea in cafes such as the Lazy House. the dirt bike racer from Melbourne who was going to travel to Pakistan and Iran. and large reptiles. but I didn’t have much money. I also spent time at a place called Pong’s Paradise in the interior island. Unfortunately I had to pay a lot of money because of damages to the moped. so I could walk around. I was trying to follow John. one had just left the US Air Force and drank a mushroom shake. Daily Life on Koh Phangan I stayed on Koh Phangan one month. which is a large psytrance festival in Portugal. but luckily was not badly injured. Emma from Scotland described him to me as a “football hooligan type who would have gotten into a lot of trouble if he’d stayed in Britian”. and I don’t want to go there. I had zip off pants. dogs. and seemed to be having flashbacks or something and went crawling down the beach. and had helped introduce psychedelic trance to South America. I would have liked to have taken one of the many yoga or meditation courses which are offered around the island. It’s common knowledge on Koh Phangan that rental places make money from wrecks. which people described to me as a calmer island with good snorkeling and scuba diving. but after the June Full Moon Party I was in a moped accident and couldn’t comfortably wear shoes for three weeks.
Most foreigners I met who were deeply involved in the trance scene were either staying on Koh Phangan for a time as part of long trips. On nights when there were no large trance parties I normally went with the various people I had gotten to know on the island to places like Mellow Mountain or Zoom where DJs play music every night. Cambodia. a psytrance bar that a DJ from Zoom had told me about. Tim’s mom is Jewish but he doesn’t consider himself Jewish. Of the different Middle Eastern countries he’s visited Israel is his least favorite. He studies journalism in Amsterdam. but all in all I found it to be a very friendly place.88 but many trance dancers such as Klaus with his bottle of liquid LSD made fun of “those silly yoga people”. many of the same people participated in trance parties and went to meditation and yoga courses. We travelled in Egypt. Tim is a good guy. Jordan. In general. Bangkok. He was sitting at an outdoor café with a Chilean woman who had just arrived to Thailand and giving her advice about where to go. and San Francisco The day before the July Full Moon Party I took a ferry back to the mainland and got on a bus to Bangkok where I met my Dutch friend Tim who isn’t into trance parties. Some spiritual hedonists. by doing massage or teaching yoga. but knows a lot about politics and likes to get very involved in foreign cultures. We greeted each other. and some businesses run by mixed Thai and foreign couples. Hard drugs such as yabba or heroine which weren’t seen as spiritual were viewed pretty negatively although many tried them at some point. Then I noticed my friend Ollie from Koh Phangan. He explained to us that . and others danced without drinking or taking drugs. would go through periods of heavy partying and then head off to yoga retreats to detox. Others who were part of the New Age meditation and yoga scene dismissed trance freaks as “undisciplined and reckless”. but also want to be able to calm the mind and be free of worldly desire. He’s not into New Age type stuff or psychedelics at all. A French man came up and told us about how he was returning home to attend some outdoor rave festivals. There are a lot of very questionable characters around. and I sat down. people on Koh Phangan who had travelled a lot independently and were interested in spiritual matters were oftentimes open to trying both yoga and meditation and taking drugs as well as drinking alcohol socially. He’d been there several times. just a collection of tables and chairs next to a stand selling buckets of alcohol. for example. or had outside income sources they didn’t talk about. Actually living there for a long time as a foreigner would perhaps be difficult for someone who hasn’t already saved money. Many seemed to have the attitude of wanting to enjoy all that life has to offer. The Chilean lady went to bed and Ollie walked with me to Ooze. I walked out into the hustle and bustle of Khao San Road. I knocked on his door at the Green House guesthouse around midnight and we were reunited. making money as DJs. and wants to specialize in war journalism and travel to combat zones. Ooze is on a side street off of Khao San Rd. There are many foreign own businesses on the island. and about how he had been going back and forth between Thailand and France for several years. This is similar to the situation Anthony D’Andrea described in Global Nomads: Techno and New Age as Transnational Countercultures in Ibiza and Goa. We met during the summer of 2007 in a relaxed beach town in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt called Dahab and travelled together for several weeks. and Israel. It isn’t really a club. and people don’t tend to discuss work. and there is a lot of corruption. Apparently live deejays play there sometimes but on the night I was there they were playing amplified psytrance music from a Thai guy’s laptop. not looking for anything in particular but hoping to perhaps find Ooze. One thing I noticed is that within the trance community on Koh Phangan money isn’t a popular thing to talk about. but in reality. and supports the Palestinian cause. It’s easy to see why so many people stay on Koh Phangan a long time. When I arrived to Bangkok Tim was sick from some tainted food he’d recently eaten so I went for a walk alone.
and backpackers as well as with domestic trance dance scenes and countercultures worldwide. After leaving Bangkok Tim and I went to a large island called Koh Chang near the Cambodian border. many of the travelers Tim and I met had been to Koh Phangan or Goa and gone to trance parties. It seems that there are various traveler trance dance hubs worldwide such as Koh Phangan. which is the communist political party in Cambodia. and in Laos. These hubs have probably helped popularize electronic dance music in all tourist areas within traveler destination countries. all the way to Bangkok. Paul Van Dyk. it is certain that this current communist party isn’t doing a very good job in guaranteeing even the most basic food. Then a white French guy from Ivory Coast came up and started telling Ollie and me about how Guatemala is going to be the next big destination for trance freaks. visiting Sianoukeville. the Cambodian People’s Party. Whatever that means is difficult to say in exact terms. and Ibiza. Try to make it down there. The music and parties are awesome. Ollie explained that he only takes psychedelic drugs outdoors. One man who worked at the Siem Reap guesthouse Tim and I stayed at explained to us that the CCP. Bahia. Phnom Penn. This music can spawn trance dance situations among willing participants but is not as strongly geared towards altering consciousness. “I’m serious. but that during the rest of the time it’s just a cheap bar and gathering place for trance freaks. I was lucky to even be able to ride the bus. Koh Chang.89 on some nights people dance at Ooze. Then a decision was made that a few buses could travel from Siem Reap to the Thai border on Election Day but that only foreigners could ride. so maybe Zion will become a sustainable trance destination in the future. the Cambodian city beside the ruins of Angkor Wat. Tim and I rented bicycles the day before the . The French man seemed environmentally conscious. DJ Tiesto. shelter. and Angkor Wat before Tim headed east to Vietnam and I turned around to go back to Bangkok and catch a plain to San Francisco. and we then went to a club where the deejay played drum and bass to shoot some pool. and he liked one called the White Candle Party which he claimed advocated more free expression on the part of citizens. hedonists. where we met a young French expatriate who wants to start holding trance parties on a secluded beach near some huts he’s building on land given to him by the family of his Thai wife. and in Bangkok. I left Cambodia on the day of their national election. Cambodia. He’s going to call this place Zion. On Koh Chang and around Cambodia I heard a lot of club oriented mainstream trance but didn’t find a scene comparable to the one on Koh Phangan. Similar to what I had found in Bangkok. and medical care for Cambodian citizens. and the government had insisted that bus stations shut down in order to prevent inter-city travel in order to insure that citizens would do their civic duty and vote. Sianoukeville. but. He’ll almost certainly attract the Israeli trance dancers. Laos. which was a complete farce by the way. We then travelled around Cambodia. education. Examples of more accessible electronic dance music which is popular in backpacking destinations includes music such as that by Paul Oakenfold. After that we parted ways and went to bed. This style of electronic music was played alongside more psychedelic forms on Koh Phangan and at the Burning Man Festival I saw a lot of this more “mainstream” trance being played at bars and on art cars. always won the elections. I did a hellish bus journey from Siem Reap. There were many parties. Lago Atitlan! It’s the next Goa!” He then started telling Ollie about how he knew of a big warehouse party and knew how to get LSD or MDMA. and that at the center of these scenes there is a very mystically oriented and countercultural group which interacts with New Age enlightenment seekers. and didn’t seem greedy. Northern Thailand. and Analog Pussy. Goa. but outside of the hubs the music is normally of a less psychedelic and more “accessible” style of the type that was played in backpacker dance bars I saw in Vang Vien. but few of them were heavily involved in trance dance scenes.
Anyway. and had traveled by train and bus all the way from the border between Kyrgyzstan and China and Vietnam. Adam had been planning on taking a plane from Pnom Penh to Bangkok to avoid an uncomfortable ride. He uses a crutch to help him walk. He traveled with hardly anything. and several months later escaped from this work farm only to step on a land mine. and it doesn’t even make much sense to vote since everyone with any ounce of intelligence knows the CCP will automatically win. One large CCP truck full people drinking beer passed us. so they kept the bars and restaurants foreigners go to open while actually closing karaoke bars and other nighttime businesses frequented by mainly Cambodians in order to ensure they would go to bed early and vote the next day. Interestingly. Adam told me he’d been in Pnom Penh recently. he gave that money to some Buddhist monks who said they would watch after the old blind man and use Adam’s money to take him to the hospital for medical treatment for his skin condition and accompany the man to buy new clothes and school books for his grandson. and trying to understand more about the world. so many people stick to the more tourist oriented restaurants and bars which only some wealthier Cambodians go to. many backpackers who were partying at the bars and dance clubs (many of which featured trance music) in Siem Reap didn’t even know the election was going on. His father was Israeli but Adam had never been to Israel. it was just interesting that the touristy nightlife area of Siem Reap was buzzing with activity on election eve while everything else was dead silent. and they came across an old man with no eyes. He was on vacation from school or taking a break from school. and was trying to cultivate feelings of empathy for the people around him. such as his young grandson who guides him around by the hand so that he can beg. losing his leg. He really was what I would consider a scholar. According to him the elections are just some sort of massive pep rally in which the government tries to make people feel as if they have a voice without actually giving citizens any real power. and he survived that. and this probably has to do with something Tim suggested. The touristy bars and restaurants are cheap by first world standards.90 election and rode out into the country. Now he is completely dependent on others. telling me he’d heard his dad tell many stories about intense dance parties in his home country. and some kind of skin disease. but his study was completely independent. and somebody was yelling things about the election in Khmer through a megaphone. but I spoke with a couple of very interesting men. Adam explained to me that he was studying Zen Buddhism. . The guide translated for the old man. Instead. and he did it on his own time. and we saw many CCP trucks driving around cheerleading for the election. According to the Cambodian man Tim and I spoke with the elections are completely rigged. Tim suggested that the government didn’t want outsiders to realize how extremely corrupt the political situation in Cambodia is. and foreigners are often hesitant to go into pool halls or karaoke joints full of only Cambodians. one leg. and meeting people. telling Adam that a young soldier had gouged his eyes out on a work farm during the Pol Pot regime when he had told the young man he deserved respect due to his age. and was willing to pay two hundred dollars for a ticket. and was at that point heading back towards the west. just a couple of changes of clothes and a small backpack stuffed full of books about the politics and history of Asia and also on Buddhism. He told me he’d been spending time in multiple Asian cities and towns reading. One was a Swedish man in his mid twenties who was in medical school. He was quite a person. probably about how the CCP is great. and after reading something about the importance of empathy towards all living beings he was walking down the street. He liked trance music and dancing and was interested in my project. but locals can’t afford the prices. guided by a local man he had hired to show him around town for the day. Somehow he survived that. The foreigners only bus ride was long and uncomfortable.
Some police ran over to arrest him. For the most part. but. Then. This was an interesting perspective. He left town and went to Siem Reap for a few days. and said a price while pointing towards a girl who appeared to be about ten years old. He had already been to China where he visited his old friends from when he taught English there. Jamie was just doing a summer trip to a few countries like me at the time. and since I don’t really subscribe to any specific religion or belief system. When I explained to Jamie what I was doing he was interested in the project. Adam and I talked quite a bit with an English man named Jamie who used to teach English in China during the journey. oftentimes cheapening their own experiences because of the way they view them. after leaving the old man and walking a few blocks. and said “How about the young ones?!”. almost immediately after having that extremely emotional and positive experience of giving this suffering man badly needed money. North Carolina. He got so high on Saturday night . He saw rave as a somewhat less disciplined method to reaching altered states of consciousness than meditation. I guess this really has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in fairly conservative Southern towns in the US where there are many evangelical Christians like Fort Smith. He said he went out to a dance club with some Chinese friends and they gave him some extremely powerful MDMA. In many American towns the average citizen has no idea what meditation even is. the fact that my parents meditate within an official framework of certain schools thought like Jamey’s TM that are promoted by big time international gurus has kind of pushed me away from studying meditation in a conventional sense. and had decided to leave Cambodia for Thailand. He told me he now sees drugs as a crude approximation of something which can be reached in a more healthy way via meditative practices. Jamie’s story about the last time he ever took Ecstasy before giving up drugs in favor of meditation was really humorous. explaining to Adam that if he had eyes he would have cried tears of joy. but. I don’t really know what it is exactly. in some bizarre way. and in those places if I had told many people that my parents meditated they would have responded with blank stares and suspected my whole family of being involved in diabolical cults. but he now practices Transcendental Meditation and doesn’t use drugs. so he doesn’t exactly come from a background in which psychedelic drugs were being used in a somewhat responsible way. Adam told me he meditated and that it helped him cultivate feelings of empathy. but without even taking any drugs I really do at this point feel as if I can alter my consciousness somehow while dancing. and stated he would accept a lower price. and used to take a lot of Ecstasy at raves. he was part of a certain rave scene with very self destructive elements in which individuals were regularly taking large doses of MDMA mixed with speed.91 The old man was extremely happy. a man Adam described as fat and stupid looking accosted him on the street saying “You buy weed! Opium! China White heroin! You want sex?! Boom boom! You like lady?! Boy?!” When Adam said he didn’t want any of those things the pimp/drug pusher acted confused. but due to the smooth talking of his guide they told him that if he left town immediately and paid a bribe he wouldn’t have to go to jail. the rave thing suffices for me for now. an aspect of the human experience. Both he and Adam were interested in Zen Buddhism and Buddhist ideas about empathy. breaking his nose. Adam said he wasn’t interested and the vice pusher once again acted confused. but for me. we are not encouraged to explore altered states that can somehow be perceived as direct religious experience by mainstream society. At that point Adam got completely enraged and punched the man in the face. Arkansas and Lumberton. I’m skeptical of gurus. I would study meditation someplace like India where it’s more accepted as just something that people do. rave has served that purpose up until now. and the guide interpreted for him. and most people only delve into that region of consciousness very sporadically and seem to think they have to use drugs and that the states experienced on those drugs aren’t real. Jamie had been involved in the original acid house scene in England. and now that he’s 31 he said he felt raves were for younger people.
which is key to neoliberal style economic development. We all partied! I knew people who taught drunk!” Well. He falsified a two year degree using a graphic design program. Of course. Jack had been living in China seven years. All his talk inspired me to get a TEFL certification to teach English as soon as I finished college. but that was somewhat different and teachers were expected to be very “wholesome” and “responsible” and have a conservative appearance for the most part. and can essentially exist within it in some cases. success. Within the backpacker ghetto there are actually shops and stalls on the street advertising false degrees from various universities including Harvard. get married on Koh Phangan during a Full Moon Party. and I am currently planning an overland trip from Spain to East Asia and am hoping I can teach English to survive if I ever go completely broke and become trapped somewhere. but many of them don’t take them seriously. I find that situation intriguing. including one huge one the size of Burning Man which was held in celebration of a lunar eclipse. and they love to have a good time. for example. this makes me question the quality of English instruction in China. and distrusted authority figures. they just figured that it’s typical English teacher behavior in China. As he and others described to me. It’s as if because these foreign English teachers are Western they are automatically viewed as somehow worthy of jobs. Ironically. One was an Australian man who hadn’t even finished high school and had escaped on a plane to Beijing to avoid paying steep fines for two drunk driving charges in Melbourne. experimented with psychedelics. Apparently the middle school he taught at required English teachers to have at least a two year degree. Until leaving Australia he had been a bus boy at a restaurant. also an English teacher. The agency placed him in the city of Guangzhou. the Chinese and others seem to be hiring large numbers of Western dropout types who don’t like the regimented lifestyle associated with nine to five reality as part of broad governmental policies which push the English language as key within the world of international business. There is a similar situation in relation to English teaching in Thailand as there is in China. Around Khao San Road degree falsification is a perfectly acceptable thing to admit to people. Jack didn’t look or act wholesome in a conventional sense. and when he arrived the principle told him to just go home and he didn’t work until Wednesday. and this type of mentality is precisely what drives many of the English teachers out of their home countries. Princeton. She never finished college.92 that he was still out of it on Monday morning when he was supposed to go teach class. but it appears that they are given significant leeway in terms of how they are allowed to behave themselves in certain countries which are poor or very nonWestern. He told me about how he’d been to lots of good raves around Australia. My roommate Joe taught English in Japan for two years through an organized program called Jet. and they probably do actually do those jobs well in many cases. Jack had taken time off from teaching and was in Thailand to see his friend. there are many wild characters who become English teachers in China. Jamey laughed and said “Hell. taught an English class at a community college in Pai. and also said that in China he knows . a two year degree is nothing. these English teachers exist in a world of work while in foreign lands. What if these dropout types actually influenced the mentalities of their Asian students? As for more on this language teacher phenomenon. Teaching is a means to an end. it’s almost as if it’s on the edge of the backpacker limbo zone. which is generally viewed as the only possible route to prosperity. and Yale. Oxford. I arrived to Bangkok three days before my flight left and ran into some more interesting people who got me involved in some deep discussions. but I haven’t used it yet. but was able to teach every few days in order to make enough money to pay for living expenses. and happiness. He had dreadlocks. In comparison. Amanda the pot farmer. making it appear as if he was an electrician in order to get a job as an English teacher through a job placement agency. but.
It’s definitely true that drugs that can produce what have been described as numinous or transcendent ego shattering type experiences do not automatically do that to everyone who takes them. Some Chinese people love the stuff. some drugs like ketamine in high doses or the legal drug salvia divinorum. or DMT reliably produce dissociative phenomena in all users in which people report feeling as if they detach from the physical bodies or to have the physical sensation of falling inward into their own bodies. Jack told me about how some Chinese businessmen once gave him ketamine in a dance club and that he didn’t know what it was. In Jack’s words “It was as if I was just trapped in that club! I was walking around in circles. and one of the Welsh ladies started screaming at her. that thing that many humans have called God. What are these experiences? I can’t say with any certainty. and some lady who they apparently knew popped out of an alley and started talking to one of the men. and even though they may experience something akin to what a person experiences when they come extremely close to dying they don’t necessarily think too deeply into the philosophical implications of it all. We need to end this. That experience can be absolutely terrifying for people who aren’t expecting it to happen or who are very attached to viewing reality in a certain way.” I wonder how these Chinese businessmen perceive of their experiences on ketamine? It has been proven by researchers like John Lilly to at times lead people to have what could be described as near death experiences in which they feel as if they float through a tunnel in the center of their field of vision. I think there is a lot of overlap between this category of devotional or “spiritual” drug use and pure hedonism. He didn’t know where the Chinese got the music from or how to classify it specifically. and said that famous deejays from the West rarely visit the country’s smaller cities. or “tapping into souce” in some form or fashion even if they don’t call it that. When approached by people of different mentalities and personal histories drugs affect people in different ways. They are similar to experiences reported by people who have clinically died and been revived with electric shocks or for some reason survived after doctors declared them dead. leaving the their physical bodies and in some cases feeling as if they contact a higher force or power.” The Welsh woman responded by saying “Hell no I won’t shake your filthy hand! You’ve been giving blow jobs down . I have no idea how much time even passed. While I was out drinking with Jack we ran into some of the Koh Phangan trance dancers. He took the drug and became completely disoriented. when somebody approaches a drug experience with a devotional sort of attitude. and prefer psychedelic music. Certainly.93 people who take lots of ketamine and dance to very repetitive electronic music. but. or even who I was. but if mainstream music is all there is they’ll dance to it. Shake my hand. I wonder how secular Chinese businessmen who dance on the potentially addictive animal tranquilizer ketamine wrap their minds around the ego death type experience that can be brought about through using the drug? Is that “spirituality”? This is difficult to say. They had been drinking for many hours. What’s funny is that that ego death or whatever it is can be euphoric in a way on some drugs and some people seek out that experience and use it as just another way to alter their minds while partying. Klaus the German and a Turkish guy named Parish. or an attitude in which they are focusing on some kind of higher plane. and had no idea where to go or where I was. The skinny English woman said “Let’s get along. They just lean over and wave their arms back and forth for in a repetitive way when they take it and listen to really poor quality electronic music for hours. and it is a type of experience many meditators report to have had. Klaus and Parish just like to dance. that person tends to have a different drug experience than someone who just wants to feel good for a while. but. After dancing until the sun came up I went with Klaus to eat breakfast and some Welsh people he knew sat down next to us. saying she had to leave. We found them at a club outside of the backpacker ghetto which played mainstream house and trance.
This isn’t a typical thing to do to new friends. I imagine there probably is some truth in this. Many words were exchanged. I wonder what empathetic Adam would have thought? That young man may have died. As the brawlers were leaving Klaus yelled “British are just stupid island monkeys! You cannot control yourselves! If you are this drunk you need to just curl up and sleep in a corner!” The controversial English woman stayed around and ate breakfast with us. and someone spilled beer all over it. according to him and Klaus. Americans seem not to have gotten very caught up in this backpacker trend. but he says stuff like it is. and most of the Americans I met who weren’t members of organized tended to self identify themselves as countercultural.94 the lane!” Then a man who was apparently friends with the skinny English lady showed up. An Australian man we were with who was traveling with his wife and children and described his family as “the Fun Family” and himself as “Fun Man” since he had recently gotten very short dreadlocks and looked a bit ridiculous saw what had happened and said to his two children “Look kids! That’s what happens if you act like an idiot!” That judgment seemed a bit harsh to me. and in the backpacking context he has no need to. But. the feel of travel in Thailand was different fifteen years ago. but. in that context one can get away with saying things that could be seen as very rude in everyday nine to five polite first world society.” He and some other Thai workers then cleaned up everything as the drunken UK fighters stumbled off. Fun Man is a chef. Australia . A drunken English boy had climbed up the scaffolding of an unfinished building and fallen several stories to the sidewalk below. This is Burning Man: the Rise of a New American Underground. doesn’t mince words. He’s a good man. They have been to Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries many times. Apparently she had made somebody jealous. I know that if nobody had called an ambulance Fun Man would have done so for the injured boy and that if he had had the power to do so he would have helped him. and this somehow led to a drunken brawl in which three tables got knocked over and Klaus’ full bucket of vodka Red Bull spilled. This said. especially beyond a certain age. At one point in Bangkok before flying home I was sitting at a café and reading a book. and huge pool of blood was on the sidewalk. and then resell them. are still around. When Klaus and I visited the Fun Family hotel room Fun Man declared a huge wrestling match and tossed me across the room after karate chopping me in the shoulder. and he and his wife buy failing restaurants in Melbourne. What is different now from the earlier travel situation is that a broader swath of First World society now goes backpacking. In my experience. and claimed that as travel to the area has become more common many more people who cause problems in bars in First World countries have started showing up. I didn’t look but the scene of the incident was surrounded by EMT’s and police. but it was all in good fun. acknowledging that not all British people are drunken brawlers. Because of this they often have lots of free time after selling businesses. The Welsh lady dropped a recently purchased stuffed ostrich puppet during the fighting. fix them up. and one of the Welsh guys yelled “Leave now!” to the English woman and her friend. Fun Man is an eccentric fellow. here is your puppet. and a big lady who is a chef in Perth. They both lamented that too many “mainstream” tourists who see Thailand as nothing more than a place for “holiday making” are hanging around Khao San Road now and that they often can’t control themselves when they drink. and smiled at the Welsh woman. and said “Madame. After the violence had ended a polite young Thai man who worked for the bar picked up the wet puppet. Anyway though. Klaus and the woman proceeded to make out and I left. and Jack. probably due to a lack of vacation time. The following night Klaus and I came across a gruesome scene on the street which seemed to verify the claim that the British can’t control themselves. Don’t forget it. but Klaus approved of her. plenty of nice people like them and Jamie.
and feeling a bit depressed. and that this boy claimed to feel God when he did so. and said she hoped Burning Man didn’t ever lead to something like his regime! She was a neat person. such as some members of the Cacophony Society described themselves as Dadaists (Doherty 2004). which was a movement within art that began during WWI in Switzerland and was a protest against the “reason” and “logic” of bourgeois capitalist society that participants in the movement thought had led to the outbreak of war.nga. techniques.gov/exhibitions/2006/dada/cities/index.95 asked me to tell her about Burning Man. although someone I spoke with who used to be a heroin addict told me that many users of that drug report having had out of body experiences. One girl I met in Sianoukeville. 2008. biographies. Is that valid? He became an addict and had a couple very hard years. and then other people who have another sort of very rationalistic mentality can have absolutely mind blowing experiences on a drug like salvia or LSD but not attribute any special philosophical or mystical value to what happens to them under the influence of those drugs. That sounds very much like Arun Saldanha’s definition of psychedelics. and if that isn’t “spiritual” or “tapping into source” I don’t really know what is. I explained Burning Man to her. as if it’s some sort of window into a certain amped up high energy way of being. this chef from Melbourne told me that her friend in Melbourne had gotten wrapped up in this Dadaist philosophy and somehow began using alcohol and amphetamines in what she described as a “philosophical manner”.shtm. The Australian Dadaist certainly used methamphetamine with a different mindset than most of the recovering amphetamine addicts that I currently work with in California. She also told me about how she had a friend at university who studied philosophy who was really into Dadaism. Cambodia told me she knew an Australian boy who become very religious while reading the Bible on methamphetamine. in the same way that the drug was approached by Beat Generation writers like Jack Kerouac. about how it costs money to get in but that on the inside nobody uses money and that everything operates on what they call the “gift economy”. and that doing that was plenty psychedelic and mind altering for her. even though it’s terribly unhealthy. Adam had given me a copy of it but I hadn’t started reading it yet. slogans” *online+ Available http://www. accessed December 3. She was lesbian. and told me she’d spent all her time on Koh Phangan getting drunk at the Cactus Bar and dancing to pop music. She was drinking buckets at another table and reading a book about the Cambodian genocide. Some of the early organizers of Burning Man.”46 That sounds a lot like things figures like Timothy Leary have stated about psychedelics. As writer Hugo Ball explained the movement “For us art is not an end in itself…but is the opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in. Smoking crack most certainly is not a healthy way 46 “Dada: cities. In Mexico in 2006 I hung out with a former crack cocaine addict who claimed that when he began smoking crack he did it with shamanistic intentions. She laughed. but does that make his drug use any better? Or the supposedly “non-philosophical” amphetamine use of teens in California any worse? Someone like this Dadaist in Australia can approach speed. Who really knows what’s going on? Was he using speed as a religious sacrament? Is that sacramental drug use of okay? The occult writer Aleister Crowley believed heroin and cocaine could be used for “spiritual” purposes. I recognized the book. Members of the movement expressed themselves artistically in ways that have been described as embracing chaos and irrationality. art. which doesn’t alter perception in extreme ways like psychedelics. and told me about how Pol Pot had tried to abolish money in Cambodia. that’s just one more example of how people use many different substances for a wide variety of reasons. . one of the few Western homosexuals I met while backpacking in Thailand. Anyway. So. and those drugs are highly addictive and don’t alter perception in the way drugs like LSD do.
2008. In the movie Leonardo Decaprio and a French couple discover a secret beach colony of backpackers who have dropped out of society for good and tried to create their own utopia on an island near Koh Phangan. One person can call something philosophical inspiration and another can just call it getting high. As for very rationalist minded people. In Global Nomads: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice various social scientists make the observation that within backpacker culture people value the exotic.ac. and untouched by Western civilization. not just Koh Phangan. they most certainly experience psychedelics in a different way than people who consider the drugs mystical. The idea of “spirituality” and “philosophical substance use” and “abuse” are all very diffuse and vague. but according to his biographer he was in many ways an extremely an egotistical man at times. and I think it would be extremely difficult to define which uses of drugs for spiritual purposes are good and which are evil. I didn’t go there because people told me it’s more expensive than Koh Phangan and there is no trance dance scene to speak of. but. Something I found very interesting about The Beach though. Alex Garland drew on his own experiences to write the novel. For example. It’s noteworthy that some of the sound track could be described as Goa trance.il/~mluz/dionysus. but that those travelers who go off the beaten track and 47 Luz. It was strangely reminiscent of Yon the Czech’s story of renting an island in Cambodia. The movie was released in 2000. The fact that The Beach was filmed on the island has made tourism increase dramatically. and that which is off the beaten track. but from what I’ve seen some seem to see the whole of Southeast Asia as the perfect place to go on drunken benders that last days or weeks. is that Koh Phangan is depicted as being overrun with drunk and decadent backpackers and as not being a very “authentic” place. taking drugs for selfish and hedonistic reasons (Greenfield 2006). and was based on a 1996 novel by the British writer Alex Garland who based the book on his own experiences as a backpacker.47 Alcohol is generally not thought of in religious sort of a manner these days within psychedelic circles. .html. which is off the West Coast of Thailand rather than in the Gulf of Thailand like Koh Phangan. For example. and the category of “philosophical use” often overlaps with these categories of “spiritual use” and with pure hedonism. at least one person has claimed to use it that way. and that the hedonistic inhabitants of the multinational beach colony play electronic dance music during an outdoor party. alcohol was used in cults worshiping Dionysis in Ancient Greece in what could be described as a context that sought to facilitate direct religious experience. and must have passed through Koh Phangan at some point a few years after the Full Moon Party tradition had already become well established and once large numbers of people were visiting the island. and different drugs affect different people in different ways. The movie was filmed on Koh Phi Phi. He once again said “Come to Burning Man!” Upon returning to North Carolina I watched the 2000 film The Beach with my roommate. just mainstream electronic music in bars. Menahem. and this is an impression that someone had over ten years ago. I flew to San Francisco where I stayed with my friend Darrin a couple of days on his boat before returning home to start another semester at UNC Chapel Hill.haifa. After all this intriguing discussion with the chef from Perth. This shows that the concept “beach rave” has become a well established ritual within backpacker culture. and while thinking about Dadaism. “Dionysus: Myth and Ritual in Sources of the Archaic Period” *online+ Available http://research. accessed on December 3. Timothy Leary claimed to be pursuing grand goals of expanding his consciousness and getting in contact with some kind of higher power.96 to go about finding truth. Since then the parties have grown even more. and dissolving his ego. It’s more of just a social drug. and another can call it seeing God and all of these people who are using substances in these different mindsets have different experiences.
European. leading to increased tourism and causing the locals to focus their economy more on the backpacker influx. I have a friend who’s talked about doing it for several years. but some people within rave scenes like the ones in Los Angeles and San Francisco have been psychedelically and spiritually oriented from the beginning and have now come to be influenced by the parties and music of global trance dance hubs like Koh Phangan. Falafel and Space Pizza!” which play reruns of American TV shows like Friends to a mostly Israeli. I wanted to spend some time with my good friends from North Carolina. I think there is something special in the social context of long-term travel and also of festivals like Burning Man. the people who stay on the island for long periods of time and who are involved in making the more psychedelic and mysticism oriented music are very countercultural. but I can’t settle down until I’ve seen more of that context. and glimpse a fleeting world that I wish could spread to affect the real world more. Back to Burning Man: When two of my roommates told me they were going to Burning Man in 2008 I had to go. where some people obviously discovered it was fun to go tubing down a river which passes by some impressive mountains and cliffs. I guess I function. North Carolina or Northern California worldwide. In the case of Koh Phangan. Also. and Australian audience. and then those places and the amazing things which can be experienced there become common knowledge to all travelers and more people begin going and then the locations stop being remote and can become flooded with foreigners. If anything it would be interesting to slowly do the old overland route from Europe to Asia. I had just returned from Thailand. and wasn’t aware of scenes like the one I found on Koh Phangan. I knew that my North Carolina circle of friends was about to disperse. I just don’t know that I function that well at this stage in the American world of work. When I went in 2006 I was just discovering PEDM. who told their friends. and spent lots of money. Similar situations exist surrounding many traveler enclaves. Eventually certain activities and places can become “must see attractions” which draw in what could be described as “mainstream” tourists. and try to explain stuff about travelling and all this trance stuff. but most people don’t know what I’m talking about. I haven’t discovered it yet. The original “rave” concept came out of the British acid house movement in the late 80s and that spread around the world before the very psychedelically oriented parties and music of Goa became well known. We were all graduating from college or getting ready to leave Chapel Hill for some reason or another. and quite honestly. A good example of this type of phenomenon would be Vang Vien. More than anything I went to Burning Man to be with friends. It’s not utopia by any means. and it is now common to find PEDM at full moon parties held in backpacking destinations and countercultural enclaves such as Asheville. and told their friends. I just think that some sustainable existence within the informal and gregarious backpacker limbo zone is possible. Anyway though. I talk to people. Trance freaks who have spent a long time in psychedelic dance hubs play a role in carrying the music and trance party concept to new locations. since I knew I would be moving on.97 find new places like Goa or Koh Phangan tell their friends. Laos. people heard about wild parties on a secluded island full of hippies. and now the hippies have become the minority. Even though this is the case. but I would like to. but what the hell?! I’d met so many people in Southeast Asia last summer and around the Middle East in 2007 who were familiar with Burning Man and the fact that PEDM is a major part of the festival that I wanted to go see how connected burners were to PEDM scenes in places like Thailand and India. but I wish it was different. . opening cafes such as “Shalom: Israelis Welcome. It is out of this context of trance hub and home country countercultural interaction combined with domestic innovation that the Burning Man Festival has come to have the mix of PEDM it has today.
366 people officially attended. Also. and hardly even had enough money for food. It’s too touristy. Locals from the nearby town of Gerlach and from the nearby Paiute Indian Reservation get in free. and drank water which my friend Josh from Raleigh had bought to share with everyone.” I guess. France. They had flown out to Nevada from Raleigh several days before me and had been preparing for the festival with some friends of ours who drove all the way to Nevada from North Carolina. Most people organize their camps in a very similar way. fire safety. and some organize more elaborate “theme camps”. cleanup.599 people. Nathan Asher. I didn’t know everybody beforehand. and that he’d been to a Full Moon Party. the ticket cost has steadily crept up every year for the past several years. picking up various people along the way in several different cities. and my roommates Nancy and Greg were waiting for me at the airport. and people who live in Empire. Everyone set up their personal tents around the large circus tent. and trying to restore the area to its natural state. and in 2008 the count came to 49. has travelled abroad a lot. In 2008 the event grew once again. but too many people go there. Some of the other principles the festival is based on are “radical self expression” and “no spectators”. and it appears that it will continue to do so. In his words “Thailand is a great place. Before heading off to the desert to go to the festival our large group gathered to eat breakfast in the restaurant of a casino.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration. It doesn’t have corporate sponsorship. Organizers have stated that “trying to describe Burning Man to someone who hasn’t been is like trying to describe color to someone who’s blind. Basically. Altogether 22 people camped with us. I slept in someone else’s tent. and within the festival people do amazing . They also carried 20 bikes in a trailer all the way to Nevada for us to use at the festival since it was around nine miles from one side of Burning Man to the other. Mysteriously. He never got in with the Ban Sabaii day party crew. No matter how cynical somebody is. When I went in 2006 47. some people who stay afterwards to help with cleanup get in free and oftentimes use Burning Man as a meeting place to learn about ways to live a countercultural lifestyle long-term. and clothes with others. I spent the last of the money my parents saved up for me to go to college on a plane ticket and an entrance ticket to the festival. food. One of the major tenets of Burning Man is “Leave No Trace”. My perspective is different because for kiwis backpacking in Thailand is a very mainstream activity. Nancy’s brother. Nevada get discounted tickets. It creates a unique social context.98 I flew into Reno. Theoretically the ticket cost goes to funding art installations. I didn’t prepare much of anything for the festival. Josh and his girlfriend made a circus style tent out of parachute fabric in Raleigh which we all set up on the first night and used as a gathering space all week. and sanitation. I just don’t know. People have asked me about it all around the world. Burning Man is a very unique event. Other than this. Within Burning Man people are supposed to supply all their own food. or trying to describe sex to a virgin. and the guy from New Zealand told me about how he’d been to Thailand. but I definitely see where they’re coming from. at Burning Man participants camp out in an extremely arid desert for one week leading up to Labor Day at the end of every summer and create one of the most impressive art festivals and parties on the planet. was the drummer for a now defunct rock band based in Raleigh called Nathan Asher and the Infantry. Our camp was nothing special for Burning Man. and if they can they are encouraged to share things like drinks. meaning that people must carry out all their own trash and that a crew of hard core burners stays out in the desert for weeks after the event picking up cigarette buts and beer cans. Burning Man is impressive. and New Zealand. but everyone became acquainted quickly. and to pay an insurance fee to the Bureau of Land Management. he wasn’t involved in the scene I was in. He brought friends from India. Turner. the singer from that band.
it’s impressive.99 things. some peanut butter. and didn’t really care that they fired him. Another amazing thing about Burning Man is the generosity that people who have extra things show to others. He ran out of money. Even for those who aren’t trying to get drunk these bars serve as gathering places to talk with other burners and find out what’s going on. it’s not something that appeals to me. At Burning Man that year Darrin told me a lot about his time in Thailand. and most recently he worked for a hardware store in Oakland interpreting for Spanish speaking customers. He told us about how he goes to renaissance fairs frequently. He went to UC Berkeley and graduated with a business degree. but. and worked as a financial analyst for several years. He was fired after he passed around topless pictures of women from his company at Mardi Gras during an important meeting. in that it’s a sort of temporary suspension of norms which encourages people to act in radical ways. but he’s found his niche around the Burning Man crowd in San Francisco. which is the name that has been given to the temporary city of Burning Man. but inside people share what they have. Darrin has been to Burning Man every year for the past six years. while the backpacking limbo zone is more continuous. not that this contributes to a more enlightened populace or could create a utopia. People who somehow or another had a lot of supplies to prepare food for others had travelled hundreds or thousands of miles to Burning Man and even paid for tickets to have the privilege to go in this temporary city in the desert and prepare food for people like me. When I showed up to Darrin’s camp I had a ridiculous hat on. One very visible example of the way people express themselves at Burning Man is through nudity. Now he’s unemployed and receives money by renting a boat out to someone. Most people pay a lot to get in. but it’s possible to drink for free. and a strange necklace someone had given me. and lived in the Mexican state of Oaxaca for a time. or maybe the elite giving to the elite”. Darrin isn’t exactly an example of the “productive American man”. and that’s all! I got all sorts of food from different themed camps such as “Porn and Eggs” and “the Pancake Playhouse” for free. My friend Tom made a very insightful comment when he said “It’s not the rich giving to the poor. Perhaps the most dramatic example of people giving things away is all the free alcohol. for example. and after that didn’t want to go home so he went to Thailand. but when she found out he genuinely was poor she wanted nothing to do with him. no shirt. Camped next to Darrin was a guy from Arizona who hadn’t travelled overseas. and plans to keep attending. People normally have to provide their own cups. He told me he had a Thai girlfriend for a little while. it’s the middle class giving to the middle class. set up bars like “the Moonshine Tavern” which give away free alcohol throughout the week. Since then he’s worked on cruise ships and sailboats. This is a big similarity between Burning Man and the backpacking context. With all the dust storms and radical temperature variation. plus I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to that sort of thing. and saving up money to take periodic trips abroad. although Burning Man has a much more Dionysian feel. He’s had an interesting life. and feel comfortable expressing themselves in ways they couldn’t in the outside world. a sleeping bag. Starting at the beginning of the event groups all around Black Rock City. and nobody cares if you don’t. Nobody cares if you walk around naked. didn’t go prepared because I didn’t have money. I find it really admirable that nudity is allowed. Many would call him a drop out. He just saw it all as a big joke. and a couple of cans of beans. All he said was “I see you’ve been up all night!” Darrin was camped with other people who live on boats in San Francisco Bay along with a few other people from around the country. . I showed up with bagels. I. but. and was able to prolong his stay by teaching English in Chiang Mai. I find that amazing. He worked on boats in Australia for a while. expecting nothing more than gratitude and a good atmosphere in return.
and there is no band lineup. because from what I saw there was always a camp somewhere in Black Rock City which was playing some form or another of dance music. Most people. and saw many people playing instruments. They oftentimes aren’t comfortable dancing initially. . and over the course of an evening figure out how to move fluidly and then feel comfortable dancing for the remainder of the week. which this year featured huge screens with projected fractal images and flames which shot out from the DJ booth. The most visible music is electronic. I saw a marching band walking around. MDMA is popular at the festival in addition to hallucinogenic drugs ranging from LSD to psilocybin to DMT. There are probably more people at Burning Man who are not regular trance dancers than there are habitual trance dancers. There is no main stage. people tend to group a lot of different types of electronic music and dancers under this category of “rave”. and others don’t. there are various varieties of electronic music around. Anyway. such as a dome I stumbled upon which was run by some ravers from LA who provided visitors with vodka. danced mainly at night. Within America. where so called “Goa freaks” will get mad if somebody suggests they are going to “raves” or ‘trance parties”. North Carolina as well as all varieties of parties which are called raves. wine. and because of the countercultural orientation of the festival. but in reality it is a very different sort of event. and hoola hoops. The festival goers are the main attraction.100 Many styles of music can be heard at Burning Man. on art cars. so the music is associated with altered states of consciousness ranging from being tipsy on wine to having out of body experiences. and out in the open. but they aren’t normally famous. At the event many people go out to rave camps with huge sound systems and big name artists on the edges of the city like the elaborate Opulent Temple. most of the DJs were not famous. at Burning Man dancing is a major part of what people do throughout the week. or with the large Bonaroo Festival which is held each summer in Tennessee. This year it would have probably been possible to dance non-stop all week long. A few years ago during the whole dot com boom thing a bunch of tech nerd yuppies started coming out here and playing their damn electronic music. and within the festival people commonly dance while under the influence of these drugs or while smoking cannabis. and this is the word that has caught on in the popular consciousness regarding electronic dance music events in the US. the dancing is very “psychedelic”. For example. but the majority of the dancers at these places only trance dance occasionally. Thankfully that element isn’t as strong here anymore”. I wonder what that he would have thought of a fierce looking trance freak like Klaus from Germany with his vial of acid? At Burning Man. including myself and my various friends and acquaintances at the festival. and the whole place felt like a big frat party at times. and by this I mean people who go to clubs and concerts and dance for hours to mainstream electronic dance music as well as people who go to PEDM shows and to full moon dance gatherings like the ones held near LA and in Asheville. “Rave” is a term which the British acid house movement adopted from the black soul music scene. but didn’t ever go someplace during the festival with the intention of watching a specific band. It has been since the first rave camps arrived in 1994 (Doherty 2004). or meditating. at camps. Some bands do play music at Burning Man. drinking. and like Koh Phangan. A major part of Burning Man is the “rave” aspect. but there were many bars and camps throughout Black Rock City where it was possible to dance during the day. Music is played by live DJs and bands as well as from stereos in the bars. Because of this. Some people have tried to compare Burning Man to music festivals associated with hippies and counterculture such as Woodstock. similar to the way the title “Goa party” has caught on in Germany and Switzerland. I met one old rock fan who said “I can’t stand this trance crap. Some people like this. there are many people who regularly go to what I’m going to call “trance dancing events”. Similar to Koh Phangan.
Burning Man has a very psychedelic and countercultural orientation. for example. It tended to be of a more ethereal. Zippies. like the music made by Chad at the Black Moon Party. Burning Man claims to be the antithesis of these things. thank God!” For them. like Koh Phangan. . 2008. a trance freak and deejay who had spent a long time in India. So. This said. who is based out of Space. The music is much less distorted. when I told these guys at the Opulent Temple I was looking for a Belgian psytrance deejay they all got disgusted looks on their faces and said “We don’t have any psytrance here. At that point I never imagined I would actually go. since many see Oakenfold’s and Cox’s music as being “mainstream trance”. 27th. trance. They say it is too commercial. Paul Oakenfold was one of the key players in starting the acid house movement. said Hindu prayers when he and his friends smoked Nepalese hash from chillums. and now that it is commonly played in expensive clubs around the world it has come to be associated with an urban and yuppie aesthetic for some people. but they weren’t the biggest rave camps. was currently based in Bali.101 As for the nature of the music. other worldly. and has too much of a “pop” sound oriented towards reaching a wide audience. The music is perhaps more MDMA and sex oriented than LSD and mysticism oriented. there were camps featuring very fast and hard psytrance which could be described as non-melodic. is that Burning Man. played at Burning Man at the Opulent Temple but I missed it since I was at a dance party which was organized by the San Francisco Bay boat people. or tribal trance rather than psytrance. describing those who formed it as zippies. “Chuppies. but for others psytrance means something else. but today many trance freaks in places like Thailand don’t value his music. The Scottish writer Fraser Clark who spent years on the Hippie Trail wrote enthusiastically about the early acid house movement. After one of the Ban Sabaii day parties Babadee claimed he would probably go to Burning Man. hated alcohol. Paul Oakenfold 48 Grogan. and claimed he and some of his friends had helped spread psytrance around South America. which at the time was thought of by many as a rebirth of the 60s counterculture. and isn’t associated with Eastern Religious imagery. and told me he would play uplifting psytrance.com/economyindicators/economic/11486836-1. but they weren’t normally associated with intense trance dancing. mysterious sound. psytrance meant a certain very heavy sound. and I heard rumors of Paul Oakenfold playing. It’s definitely true that his CDs which are available in stores don’t have as psychedelic or mystical an orientation as CDs from DJs like Goa Gil. Carl Cox. Pete. but. and the E-generation” http://allbusiness. This concept was influential in the adoption of electronic dance music by groups like the Rainbow Family and the New Age Travelers. the 24 hour dance club I went to in Ibiza. so this is interesting. so I didn’t get his e-mail address. Anyway. but which many of the DJs considered to be house music. and this was Carl Cox’s first time. Paul Oakenfold helped start Acid House. and this is extremely significant. I was referring to Babadee.html accessed on Oct. it tended to be very hypnotic. but people can trance dance to it. and it’s widely played around the world. Paul Oakenfold has played at Burning Man several times. but I didn’t find much very fast or fierce sounding music. anti-yuppies who respected the Earth and valued technology. which was very danceable and definitely psychedelic.48 and some have described Goa freaks as zippies. brings together all kinds of electronic music. In addition to this there were camps that played a funky house type sound. and Paul Oakenfold has played there. We’ve got tribal house. What this means. For example. I went to the Opulent Temple during the day to ask the camp’s organizers if they knew if a Belgian psytrance DJ I met at Ban Sabaii would be playing.
102 and Carl Cox played a role in the development of the scene that the zippie concept came out of. and the 2008 theme was “The American Dream” and organizers claimed that through the event people were coming together to show what is good about American culture and then share those things with the rest of the world. but for me at least it’s come to have significance because I heard it played so much this summer in Thailand. accessed November 22. It isn’t exactly the most “psychedelic” song imaginable.shtm. “DMT”*online+ Available http://erowid. which McKenna described as “self transforming machine elves” that help individuals evolve. I don’t know the whole story. maybe participate in a study. and is deeply interested in psychedelics. Alexander and Anne. and seems to be an eerie complaint of sorts. I’ll have to find some more sometime. hearing the song again at Burning Man just made me think back to all those nights on Haad Rin beach talking to people like John from Melbourne. And. just reaffirming the fact that people are dreaming of escape.” as if that woman was a siren or something. But. Some found this a bit odd. On DMT I had a similar experience but I suppose I didn’t smoke enough to have that experience of contacting the so called beings. DMT is a chemical that occurs naturally in the human body in very small amounts and is believed to play a role in mystical experience and dreaming. At one point while I heard the song someone was telling me about their travels through India.org/library/books_online/tihkal/tihkal06. Then this woman says “with the things you say”. I fixated on that refrain of “you…you….49 When smoked or injected it brings on an extremely intense trip during which users report feeling like they are transported to a completely different place where they sometimes contact alien entities. As for this American Dream theme. I kept on hearing a song which I consider very beautiful being played from art cars this year. and Josh carried a metal barrel for making fires at camp all the way from Raleigh which had “the American Lucid Dream” written on the side of it. Now that idea of zippie is most popular among Asians. and the legal drug Salvia. and in it a female voice repeats “You…you…imagine… you…you… imagine…you…can…get away” a bunch of times to drum sounds and synthesized noises and something that sounds like a harp. Then. which is based in London. something that is difficult to put in words. Laos. so it’s not really that mystical or revolution oriented. 2008. this theme was open to interpretation. of being just consciousness but not body. down on the beach talking with people who were living outside of the daily routines of work and school. I’ll go ahead and admit. and Cambodia around backpacker enclaves. There seems to be a lot of utopian desire 49 Shulgin. at least imagining or attempting to live an adventurous utopian existence for a time. It’s by the British electronic music group Cicada. On the ride from Reno to Burning Man Josh and I talked about Terrence McKenna. They both caused me to have a sensation of my physical body dissolving. Josh believes in the machine elves. but I saw many upside down and right side up American flags this year. He hasn’t been backpacking like me but he’s been around idealistic festival nomads at festivals like Burning Man and the Rainbow Gatherings for years.imagiine…you…can…get away…. . I have smoked salvia and DMT. Every year Burning Man has a theme. but Josh is genuine. on Koh Phangan. Some people who have returned year after year to display their artwork refused to come because of the theme. but. DMT. who is very much part of the established two party political system and not visibly countercultural. and I found that interesting. finding it too conformist or something. and on salvia I felt as if my whole consciousness gravitated towards my belly. whose e-mail address I lost and I’ll probably never see again. and nobody talks about it in PEDM scenes I’ve been around. many people at Burning Man in 2008 visibly supported Barack Obama. One deejay at the Opulent Temple played a track during which he mixed epic sounding music with an Obama speech.
2008. Other than that the there is no connection between Obama and the Weathermen. I wonder what his radical friends at home would have thought? Their brand of activism is certainly different than that of the late Terrence McKenna. This desire was a big part of the 1960s counterculture. but they’re not psychedelic. and come back from the experiences remade in terms of the political and social arena. and he took it. meaning that between 1999 and 2002 Obama and former weatherman William Ayers. give a talk a Burning Man. That group of radicals overlaps with the Global Justice Movement. A topless woman wearing a wig ran up and kissed Greg at one of the rave camps. and that when people have intense psychedelic experiences they contemplate wholeness.org http://luminopolis. and dropping out” (Greenfield 2006). which they tend to view as escapist and hedonistic. focusing on political goals (Takahashi 2004). who stated that the first duty of any political activist should be to become psychedelic in order to have an idea of their place in the universe so that they may make their moves cognizant of the entire field of action. tuning in.org accessed on Oct. which overlaps with countercultures worldwide at events like the monthly synergy project in London. and thinks that voting is just a superficial method used by a powerful elite to make the population feel as if they can make a difference. remade in such a way that they are more fit to struggle for social change that will benefit the human species and the planet (1991). Most of them aren’t active supporters of psychedelics and don’t have a New Age or mystical orientation. My roommate Greg considers himself an anarchist. especially since the Weathermen. don’t take any drugs or drink. He and his wife talked about some of their experiences with the various compounds they had experimented with over the years. In scary sounding political adds before the 2008 presidential election in the US Republicans warned people that “Obama is friends with a terrorist”. He believed ecstasy to be a contemplation of wholeness. helped Timothy Leary escape from prison in California on the condition he would claim he supported violent political acts. and about 50 “Synergy Project” Luminopolis. As for Ecstasy. While he was at Burning Man with me some of his political radical friends from the Chapel Hill area were protesting at the Republican National Convention. and the fact that many of my roommate Greg’s radical friends don’t attempt to alter their consciousness in any way at all. and hardly any have travelled as backpackers in the Third World or participated frequently in festivals like Rainbow Gatherings or Burning Man. claiming that all people needed to do was start an internal revolution with LSD and “turning on. In some ways these people could be considered countercultural. and Ayers made a $200 donation to Obama’s re-election fund for an Illinois state senate race. danced. 31 . Utopian desire is manifested in different ways during different historical periods.103 within Burning Man. were members of the same anti-poverty group.50 It’s hard to make sense of everything. who were proponents of psychedelics and violent political action. st . Many of them listen to punk rock. This is all interesting to consider. joining radical political groups like the Weathermen. and considers American democracy to be a joke. and enjoyed it immensely. who is now a university professor in Chicago. and many of the participants in that counterculture rejected American party politics entirely. preferring to remain “monophasal” in the words of a sociologist who wrote a chapter of the book Rave Culture and Religion. and passed him an Ecstasy pill with her tongue. and are vegan for moral reasons but not because of ideas related to meditation or mysticism. I just happened to see the man who is largely responsible for the spread of the drug of that name. Alexander Shulgin. Dancing at the Opulent Temple to trance music accompanied by an Obama speech made me keep thinking about all of this. Leary didn’t originally even support anti-war demonstrations. and an obstacle to truly revolutionary action.
and thinks economies everywhere need to be more self-sufficient. I met several people who had spent time around the trance parties in Koh Phangan and Goa. I also observed a very strong New Age enlightenment seeker element at the festival. In response to that. and owning big houses and cars and that sort of thing probably consumes more natural resources than living the contemporary countercultural nomad lifestyle. meditation. of an overall atmosphere in which both pleasure and spiritual seeking were encouraged. I saw problems. These hypermobile nomads use a lot of natural resources for transportation. Some people really do move around between festivals like Burning Man as a way of life. and about how during the trance dance experience people may have what they describe as mystical or spiritual experiences. and live for long periods of time in what could be described as non-restrictive spaces of very informal social interaction. just the same as all my flying around the world. and that some people use it very often and see it as nothing more than another way to get high. There were many practitioners of yoga. He obviously hasn’t “fried his brain”. and were distressed that around the world so many people are mixing the drug with other drugs like methametamine. I had a good experience at Burning Man. As for Burning Man.104 how they believed MDMA could really be a positive tool when used properly. but don’t normally have many material possessions. but that afterward they don’t have a way to relate those experiences to the “real world”. almost everyone at Burning Man agrees. Interestingly. but that people needed to be responsible about their psychedelic experimentation and not use drugs as an escape. They both stated that they thought that arriving to altered states by ingesting compounds like MDMA or 2-CI was not inherently better or worse than arriving to altered states through other methods. after which point they go back to their daily lives and don’t really change anything. and he didn’t talk about trance dancing. if more people went to Burning Man who didn’t have time restrictions more people would probably do things like travel across the country in bio-fuel powered caravans or by bicycle to arrive . In theory. Alexander Shulgin is now in his 80s. I saw the same situation while backpacking. proving that Burning Man is a temporary hub for international countercultural contact. alternative healing practices. and many Americans who identified with counterculture in some form or fashion or who had been on backpacking trips like me. I don’t really know what to say. Shulgin told people he no longer takes MDMA. and these people interacted and overlapped with the psychedelic drug takers. For example. rather as exploration tools. and about how sometimes people arrive to altered states of consciousness which mimic the effects of certain drugs purely by thinking they have taken hallucinogenic compounds when they actually haven’t. seeking out similar things in some cases. Many have made the same argument about trance parties. Anne Shulgin talked some about how psychedelic drugs are in truth only effective tools which humans can use to arrive to certain states that they have the potential to arrive to without drugs. like my roommate Nancy. and focus on locally grown food and use less fossil fuel. and go between organic farms like the one I visited in Northern Thailand. and is still a very intelligent man. But. and he’s been experimenting with psychedelic drugs since the 60s. the festival creates a massive carbon footprint. if more people who participated lived outside the mainstream economic system long-term the nature of the event would change and it would almost inevitably make less of an impact on the environment. I agree. I met foreign travelers who were visiting the festival on larger trips around the US such as a former New Age traveler I spoke with at the Green Tortoise Camp. Nancy has expressed to me that she thinks Burning Man really isn’t that revolutionary because all it consists of is a bunch of people going into a space and temporarily being really nice to each other and feeling free to express themselves. and stay on communes and in squatter houses within America and abroad. Nancy had been working at an organic farm in Western Virginia on and off since she graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. and people who were interested in psychic phenomena. So. but.
and the group was pretty much the same group of people who went out to Nevada. but nobody there really knew the history of that music or was familiar with the terms Goa trance or psytrance. Josh and his friends set up the circus tent behind the house. As it is now. Someone did some fire twirling. and is convinced that more people are going as spectators now. A week after returning from Burning Man to North Carolina Josh held a “decompression party” at his house in Raleigh. for people to do such things an entire alternate economy would need to exist. there is a very small minority within Burning Man which perpetually exists in countercultural space. I suppose it did kind of have the feel of Burning Man. and lined the yard with glow sticks. He’s heard that the European trance festival has become what Burning Man once was. and almost commercial. Somebody played a Goa trance CD out in the circus tent.105 there. But. Josh told me was thinking of going to the Boom Festival in Portugal in the future instead of Burning Man. In theory. festivals like Burning Man could help people create a viable alternative economy.. He’s worried Burning Man is getting too big. but almost everyone there is merely visiting an alternate existence during a week long vacation from work or school. In addition to people who had been at Burning Man there were many people there who weren’t able to go. Above: music at camp. Below: images of the Opulent Temple and around the festival . He and the Raleigh crowd adopted this idea from more established communities of burners on the West Coast. The concept is that it’s a bit difficult to readjust to normal life after Burning Man so people need to get together with friends who were there soon afterwards to recreate the vibe of the festival.
Like the events on Koh Phangan. is a professional fiddle and banjo player. the parties are associated with various forms psychedelic electronic dance music. One of my roommates former roommates. This is different than . which I missed. It’s all too big. markers. and these scenes worldwide are all in contact with each other even if sporadically. New Age enlightenment seekers. Another common practice related to trance dancing in a countercultural context is the full moon party featuring psychedelic electronic dance music. but. somewhat like the crowd I saw around squatter houses in Spain or at trance parties in Israel. I mean that people had a certain style about them that could be described as “contemporary hippie”. but the event wasn’t commercialized. For example.164-165). The events have been going on since at least the early 2000s. Most participants seemed to identify themselves with contemporary counterculture in some form or fashion. social phenomena beyond specific musical genres or religious associations”. to acknowledge our unity of spirit and to ground this collective experience through our bodies and into our daily lives”. Israel. with ideas. Joe regularly travels to Asheville to play bluegrass music.108 Trance Dancing in North Carolina: Asheville Full Moon Gathering Many are surprised when I try to tell them that parties in North Carolina are related to dance parties going on in Thailand and that those parties are related to Burning Man and parties going on in India. They charged $7 at the door to cover expenses. I found the event interesting because people smoked marijuana openly inside but not cigarettes. and after that people danced to music played live by various local DJs until the early hours of the morning. and seemingly diffuse. and colored pencils provided by the party organizers. festival nomads and festival zone visitors. Inside the building where the gathering was held there was a dance area and a small room where people relaxed and drank water or smoked marijuana. people. similar music and dancing scenes exist among many countercultures or groups which could be described as seeking an alternative way of life worldwide: backpackers. In March of 2008 on the night of the full moon he played at a gig in downtown Asheville and dropped me off at a dark building where they were having an “Asheville Full Moon Gathering”. The group’s website describes the gatherings as “an opportunity to practice living and breathing at a higher vibration. We met at a Celtic music party outside Sevilla through mutual friends in 2003 while I was studying there as an exchange student and Joe was doing study abroad through UNC. If someone had told trance dancers on Koh Phangan they couldn’t smoke tobacco lots of people would have gotten really mad. Some people danced nearly non-stop from the time I arrived around 11 PM until sunrise. Not many people drank alcohol. and another area where people drew pictures using paper. The party was small in comparison to some I have been to. The crowd could be described as adhering to a very countercultural aesthetic. fire twirling to electronic dance music is a common practice at what could be described as countercultural spaces and gatherings worldwide. It can seem to have no core meaning. It was very different than the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. and it seems that the idea of the parties probably comes from West Coast rave culture and full moon parties done by groups like Moontribe around LA (Sylvan 2005: pp. who has never been to a PEDM trance dance event. and music flowing between them. As on Koh Phangan. and Russia. and feature different types of music and have a very mystical orientation. Brazil. but the dancers were very energetic. some of the enthusiastic partygoers practiced yoga with a spiritual mindset and some took hallucinogenic drugs which they saw as being spiritual. The event started around 8 PM with kundalini yoga. The gatherings are fairly well known around Asheville. and that “we share a cultural identity that is rooted in global. By this.
Dress can be very superficial though. crystals. such as a man who claimed he had helped spread the full moon party concept to the Czech Republic. but that many people who are involved in bluegrass music or jam band scenes see electronic music as unauthentic and club oriented. but the event didn’t have a “backpacker” feel in that most people lived at least temporarily in or near Western North Carolina at the time. People tell me there used to be a “rave” culture in North Carolina in places like Raleigh but that in recent years it hasn’t been active due to a large number of Ecstasy related arrests. North Carolina and that they are associated with a neo-pagan group and aren’t as focused around electronic music. This is probably because in the Southeastern US. It was evident to me that there is a group of people in North Carolina and surrounding states that is very into psychedelic electronic dance music. and one of the DJs played a song in which a voice kept repeating “This is Goa…this is Goa…this is Goa…”. which are held in Pisgah National Forest during warm weather. . I don’t know the exact count of how many people were at the event I attended. and have more of a music festival feel and many people camp. each summer and the crowd of people that goes to events organized by a collective of purely psytrance DJs called Touch Samadhi. and learned that the crowd that goes to Full Moon Gatherings overlaps a lot with the North Carolina crowd that goes to the regional Burning Man event. and that some had done long trips abroad. but the outdoor events begin on Friday night and last until Sunday. Now it seems that the main trance dance scene in the state is based in Asheville. but I met a few people. It seemed that many of the people there had travelled to different festivals such as Rainbow Gatherings and Burning Man. The people I talked to hadn’t been to Goa or Koh Phangan. but it was around the same number of people who would go to a medium sized bar on a busy night. are normally bigger than the indoor event I attended. where large numbers of participants do not affiliate themselves with counterculture and have more conventional styles of dress. or other trance dance hubs in common backpacking tourism destination countries. and I have met many people who dress in a “conservative” way who trance dance like crazy and lead a very countercultural lifestyle. I didn’t know anyone there when I arrived. Transformus. and incense. but were familiar with the term “Goa trance”. if people are ever exposed to electronic dance music it isn’t of the more psychedelic varieties and they normally hear it in urban clubs which are very profit oriented. Near the dance area there was an altar set up with Buddha and Shiva statues. From what people told me outdoor events.109 the situation at some of the parties on Koh Phangan. The party I attended lasted one night. Somebody told me that full moon events are also sometimes held near Apex.
Not many people in North Carolina are familiar with Goa Gil even though he has played at Deerfields several times. I told some local guys who go to many music festivals I would be going to Deerfields the next day to see Goa Gil. They were from Goa. and told about how they saw psychedelic music as very spiritual. Most of the people I know in North Carolina aren’t into PEDM so I went by myself. and a trance party called Cicada Fest which was held in honor of the insects. festivals. and their parents sent them to New York to study. and periodic events. which is a 940 acre tract of land 20 minutes south of Asheville that is used for weddings. They also explained to me that the name “Goa Gil” means “Goa tribe” in their language. On Friday night Goa Gil didn’t play. and after a few hours some young Indian guys who had driven down from New York joined us. and . They also liked Pink Floyd and The Doors. concerts. I arrived to Asheville on a Thursday night. They told me that they have been dancing to the music of DJs like Goa Gil for a long time and that there are many DJs who stay in Goa all year round and don’t tour around like him. I tried to camp under a tarp but the wind kept blowing it away so I ended up sleeping in my car two nights. Drumming in groups is a practice that is widely associated with contemporary festival cutures. I stayed next to a couple from Charlotte who had been dancing to electronic music several years and who had been to various events at Deerfields including Transformus. psychedelic cultures. They explained to us that they were really happy to come see Goa Gil play since they missed the trance dance scene in India. a trance dancing event called “Sacred Smoke” held on April 20th at which many of the participants smoked cannabis and danced to psytrance. On that weekend I was once again in Asheville with my roommate Joe and some of his friends who play bluegrass but aren’t interested in trance dancing to electronic music. We sat around a fire as the sun went down. The three of them had been going to trance dance events and listening to music like that made by Goa Gil since they were young teenagers. and attended a bluegrass jam. and that Gil hopes to bring together a tribe of trance dancers from around the world. but there was a lively drum circle.110 Goa Gil show at Deerfields Immediately before I left to go to Thailand in May of 2008 I attended a Goa Gil concert at a site called Deerfields. but I met many friendly people at the concert. They were familiar with Deerfields and had seen many musicians play there but hadn’t heard of Goa Gil. I showed up on Friday afternoon as many people were setting up camp. The next day I drove to the concert alone. Some were true Goa Gil fans but others just like Deerfields and frequently go to events there. before the event began.
Everyone pretty much agreed that people can go into some sort of . but they could just as well be using other images. I don’t habitually do yoga. This strikes some people as unauthentic and disrespectful of Hindus and Buddhists. Then Goa Gil entered the DJ booth and began playing much faster and more distorted. I noticed a lot of familiar faces from the March full moon gathering. Around noon the next day I attended a yoga class with some of the people I was camping with. more “psychedelic” music. at times dark. started playing in the afternoon. and a statue of the Hindu god Shiva doing the dance which creates and destroys the world. He trance danced all night and into the next day. and at least some people were dancing all the time. but I definitely see it as healthy and would like to learn more. almost like death metal trance. it is extremely common to find the Star of David used hanging from trees at trance parties. These images around mystically oriented PEDM dance events seem to serve to create an atmosphere more than anything. Only a few people danced energetically. which is legal in America. and contains the hallucinogen LSA which has similar effects to LSD. Goa Gil’s French wife. It definitely has a very otherworldly sort of a feel. which is what they were using in Goa when the trance parties first began to be held back in the 80s. but after Arianne finished with her more down tempo music Goa Gil played non-stop for around 24 hours. It was taught in the dance area. The overall feel of the Goa Gil concert was a bit similar to that of the Shiva Moon parties I attended on Koh Phangan. As for the overall sound and feel of his music. In Israel. I’ve never seen another deejay use DAT tapes. According to Gil he can still produce a great sound using older technology so he sees no need to change to more advanced DJ gear. When I spoke with him he was getting ready to drink morning glory tea. I also saw some Buddhist imagery. In front of the DJ booth there was an altar with incense. but it is uplifting. Gil is known for his endurance in the DJ booth. and it had a very “tribal” sound. Gil’s music is extremely intense and can be dark. It’s not that the dancers are Buddhist or Hindu. but these images serve as symbols to give a certain feel of mystery and awe. and some gave tired dancers massages. and also that many people had come from other states to see Goa Gil. Some had Pre-Colombian Aztec type images on them and one had Greco-Roman pagan imagery on it. people who have been around psychedelic trance music for a long time have described it to me as the epitome of the classic Goa trance sound. Arianne. I went to the drum circle with the guys from Goa and we joined for a little while. People rested by a roaring fire when they weren’t dancing. Around the dance area I spoke with a few interesting characters. for example. I can see how it would help people arrive to altered states with a lot of practice. crystals. At all the other trance dance events I’ve attended multiple deejays played. there was a lot of Eastern religious imagery. When he started playing large numbers of people began to dance. but does not feel as fierce as some of the darker psytrance I’ve heard in places like Israel. It is a common element in gatherings related to PEDM as well as festivals centered on performances by live bands such as LEAF or the Shakori Hills Festival of Music and Dance which are fairly well known among large numbers of people in North Carolina. and is extremely intense. Some people have also used Christian imagery around trance parties.111 countercultures worldwide. but I’m not there yet. but I find a lot of their music too dark. In addition to this there were fluorescent banners hanging from bamboo poles around the dance floor. She played music with sound samples of groups of people chanting and playing flutes. The big dreadlocked man played non-stop until late Sunday afternoon. As with many of the other trance dance events I have been to. such as a Thai man who lives in New York City and has spent time around the parties on Koh Phangan.” Around the fire at my campsite at one point during the weekend I got into a big discussion about the role of drugs in trance dancing with about ten people. He deejays using DAT tapes. A guy in his late 20s who hung around at the fire where I camped told me “I love the boys from Touch Samadhi (a collective of psytrance DJs).
Touch Samadhi’s Fall Equinox Trance Gathering One day. and didn’t know if he could go. Stephen is a psytrance deejay. and thought any group with that name would probably be interesting. I had to go everywhere by bike or convince people to chauffer me around. Stephen was originally into the electronic aspect of hip hop music. Stephen now makes psytrance and occasionally plays in bars around Durham and Chapel Hill and on the radio. aren’t expensive. these events. and can be very good depending on the context of use and one’s intentions. But. He hasn’t backpacked. “You saw Gil’s show at Deerfields! I saw you there!” I vaguely recognized the man. so this is probably why the ticket was $7. and my parents took my car. If the events attract professional deejays those deejays need to sell tickets to survive. where it’s possible to just show up at Zoom on any given night and go crazy for free. He had a great time. and the tickets for the Touch Samadhi event were $70 for the entire weekend. but wants to go to Goa one day. there was an entrance fee. “Are you going to the Equinox thing next weekend?” I had heard something about it. and studied music technology while in college in New York City. He was low on money. I convinced Stephen to go to the Equinox event and we rode to the mountains in his car on Friday. He’s in his late 20s. After this he introduced me to some of his friends from a sort of free form yoga class.112 trance by simply dancing. He saw one of the twin towers get hit by a plane and fall from where he was living at the time. North Carolina. I still hadn’t been to a Touch Samadhi event. Stephen told me he was seriously considering going to an event at Deerfields put on by Touch Samadhi which was being held to celebrate the autumnal equinox. in comparison to other concerts and festivals. Like the Goa Gil event. The tickets for the Goa Gil show were $50. The DJs at the Full Moon Gathering I attended weren’t professionals. Trance dancing here in North Carolina is different than in Thailand. and explained to them a little about the trance dance events that go on at Deerfields. He went to the concert because he was interested in the phenomenon of astral projection. I was reading something dry for a Spanish literature class and drinking some coffee at Weaver Street Market. but since seeing the Israeli group Astral Projection in New York he’s been into PEDM. soon after going to the post-Burning Man decompression party at Josh’s house in Raleigh. a local food cooperative near where I was living in Carrboro. and called him on the Thursday before the solstice. . and to get a good idea of the full picture of what went on in North Carolina in terms of trance dancing I felt it would be good to go check it out. and a man addressed me. While I was in Thailand my dad’s Jeep stopped working. In any case. I got Stephen’s number. but I saw so many new faces while researching for this thesis I didn’t know where I had seen him. Stephen is a unique guy. He’s from Durham. but that drugs aren’t inherently bad. but didn’t know how I could get up to the mountains.
but people can definitely dance to it. In Stephen’s words “It sounds like a space ship is attacking or something…pretty crazy. When I saw Alexander Shulgin speak at Burning Man he told the audience that he and Terrence. Mark’s music isn’t exactly what I would describe as “psychedelic”. and I’m not going to get into whether or not this could have any grain of truth to it or not. We camped at the same spot I camped at for the Goa Gil party. Shulgin looked at everyone and said “Look at me! I’m organic! I’m using my brain. and until Sunday afternoon we alternated between dancing to the fast music at the main stage and relaxing at down-tempo area.” Stephen told me that the first time he visited Deerfields he saw Terrence McKenna’s brother Dennis McKenna speak about his experiences with psilocybin mushrooms in South America. I’ve seen him play multiple times in bars in Chapel Hill. but I find that a bit difficult to believe. hard hitting psytrance. People who like to dance like to dance. and eventually killed him. At the chill stage area there was a covered space with crystals and a Shiva statue inside. He believes that the mushrooms did a similar thing to Terrence McKenna. Saturday. a German house deejay and biochemistry graduate student who lives in Chapel Hill. He said “Psytrance is sort of like cheerleading for psychedelics. It was heavy. where almost everyone chews it in the mountains. but they didn’t want to go to the event.” On Friday night.why not? I had already chewed coca with my parents in Peru as a teenager. and synthesizing these compounds. Thailand. and they are very popular in countercultural circles. I went to Deerfields. Nobody who camped there in May was at the Touch Samadhi event. People wouldn’t like this wild stuff in Durham or Chapel Hill. and that eventually it kills the ants. but Stephen believes Terrence took his shrooming too far. The fact that he was there proved to me once again that electronic dance music doesn’t have rigid boundary lines. On the way there Stephen explained some of his ideas about psychedelics to me. but that he did not agree with Terrence’s message that hallucinogens which occur in nature are better than compounds discovered by chemists. I’m not a chemist.. and using electronic music seems to be a very effective way to keep people dancing a long time. Stephen found it really interesting that I’m investigating the political implications of trance dancing. and apparently it’s legal to buy it online. Terrence and Dennis claim to have chanted at certain sound frequencies while on high doses of psilocybin and that they actually caused the psilocybin to somehow bind to their DNA. citing the fact that there is some kind of mushroom in the Amazon region that can grow inside of ants. Mark is mostly a house and minimalist techno deejay. where deejays played a more ambient type of music which it was possible to dance to but which was much more relaxing than the fast psytrance being played at the main dance area. I tried some. Stephen. who has now died but is more famous than Dennis. I was hoping to perhaps find someone who had been there before. and some cushions which tired dancers could relax on. but he enjoys psytrance parties.113 Once again. were friendly with each other. sees psilocybin mushrooms as living entities with a spirit. but I was surprised to see Mark. like many shamans. A video artist . so it seems plenty real to me!” The McKenna’s have been big advocates for the magic mushroom. Stephen and Mark knew each other. We called Frank and Donna. and I see psychedelics as more or less the antithesis of politics. but it seems like it could be a sort of primal noise creating a global tribe of sorts. and they gathered a large following of psychedelic enthusiasts worldwide with this message. It has a different sort of feel. so we had a nice group. and thinks that Terrence McKenna took so many that they overcame him and turned him into a mouthpiece. with lots of distorted noises. After stuffing wads of the leaves in our mouths and smoking some marijuana out of an apple Stephen and I walked down to check out some of the fast music being played at the main stage. After setting up camp Stephen pulled out a bag of coca leaves he ordered over the internet and offered them to people. and Mark introduced me to his friends. Coca is just a mild stimulant. the couple I met in Pai. It’s just what these men claim.
51 JBA Network. Many different DJs played on both stages over the course of the weekend. Another thing I saw at the Touch Samadhi event which seems to be a common element in many trance dance gatherings and alternative gatherings worldwide was massage. I don’t know that he single-handedly introduced the Goa trance concept to Asheville.touchsamadhi. peace. Timothy Leary would be proud. I didn’t go. in addition to that there were also hoola hoopers. love. The same site describes Kri’s tracks as being “like a tidal wave. peace. That’s a pretty straightforward message. definitely cheerleading for a certain style of psychedelics.52 In addition to Kri DJs from around the United States played at the event.51 Kri is recognized globally as a good DJ. I remember one very well from a Shiva Moon Party. At that point he was well known for skills in breakbeats and for scratching records. acid”. In Israel and in Spain I saw large numbers of people juggling to PEDM. like a werewolf’s howl. A massage therapist with a shade structure was at the event giving massages and only asked for donations. I was walking back to the campsite to meet Stephen because we were planning on going for a hike. Now. It was quite a site to wake up Sunday morning to pounding psytrance and poke my head out of my tent to see a bunch of middle aged women hoola hooping to fierce sounding dark psytrance. he has single handedly created a devout trance family in a tiny southern town that had previously never heard of any such thing. hypnotic type activities like hooping and fire dancing go well with trance.com accessed November 22. As with almost all outdoor trance dance events I’ve ever been to. a deejay from Winston Salem. one deejay came from Canada.hope. and another came from the UK. and it was possible to buy them. One website which promotes DJs describes Kri stating that “Kri left it all behind to pursue full-time the haunting promise Goa trance laid out for him. acid…. She’s the one who told me about the equinox event originally.net/cgbin/users/profiles. But. and since then he has made it his mission to bring the Goa trance to new people.ol?username=krisamadhi th accessed on Oct 25 . but they were good. Venus Vibes played it. it seems that repetitive.” Well. Also. 52 “Touch Samadhi” *online+ Available www. but this eerie new sound captivated him. love.114 projected images of various scenes onto a screen behind where the deejay was playing. 2008. Touch Samadhi formed in the 90s after a man who Stephen and I know only as Kri became fascinated by some relatively unknown electronic dance music he discovered in a record store in Atlanta in a box labeled “Goa”. but I think it’s really neat the way the North Carolina trance community integrates yoga into the parties. and in it there is a voice which repeats “hope. . At the main dance area people could rest beside a large fire. but I never once saw a hooper in Israel or Thailand or in Europe. and has played more that once at the club Space in Ibiza. Description of “Lost Baba” http://byregion. and nearby a stand sold overpriced food. I wasn’t really familiar with any of them. In front of the deejay booth at the main dance area there was an altar with incense and a Buddha statue. people did fire dancing. North Carolina remixed some of the same tracks I heard on Koh Phangan. and that makes sense. I’ve only seen the hoola hoop thing around American neo-hippie scenes. though I don’t know who made the original version of the song. 2008. A lady had a structure set up near the main dance area where people could pick up special hoola hoops she had decorated. such as images of chimpanzees walking around and spiraling patterns. but he was definitely influential in doing so. and was on her way to a yoga class. In any case. and I ran into a girl who stayed at my campsite at Burning Man. During the middle of the day on Saturday deejays stopped playing on the main stage and that space was used for a few classes. like a sandblaster bursting open your third eye”.
and that through very intense psychedelic experiences humans catch glimpses of some “object in hyperspace” which we are approaching collectively. circulating. 54 McKenna called events during which the universe becomes more complex “ingressions of novelty”. and working with energy. The event seemed to be very characteristic of many of the trance dance and festival environments I’ve been around in this respect.ca/en/ research/rir/?action=record. I found it very interesting that the equinox event demonstrated so many characteristics common to trance dance gatherings I have seen in trance dance hubs and at large festivals. but it is very mystically oriented. 267-69). mostly all the drugs consumed were hallucinogens. which are not physically addictive. coexisting with a more hard partying and at times self destructive path towards inner exploration. It reminds me of something a British girl told me at Ban Sabaii one night. like yoga and qigong. and in it there are many very enthusiastic trance dancers.cornell. and the evolution of language and culture.115 Other than that there was a qigong class. but that in reality this gathering at Deerfields was one of the larger Touch Samadhi gatherings held annually in Asheville. within the body. It became extremely popular during the 90s in China and now it is illegal to promote certain styles of qigong which are known to alter consciousness there since it involves people meditating in groups. As with most trance dance events I’ve been around. 2008. This lady was talking about how she combined qigong practices with psytrance. a sort of end of history.54 People were talking about it in the main dance area at one point while all the deejays were resting. and within the mental space of meditation individuals can’t be monitored by the communist party. Trance dance parties seem to create an ideal atmosphere for a sort of mass desire to become in some form elevated out of our everyday state of mind. disciplined practices. and that it wasn’t much bigger than one of the low season Shiva Moon parties on Koh Phangan.astro. it meditates me. and about how within qigong practitioners learn to move energy through their bodies in certain ways.edu/question. Asheville’s trance dance scene is very peripheral when viewed from a global perspective. accessed on November 22. and that’s cool.viewrec&gotorec=451751. Qigong refers to a variety of traditional Chinese practices that involve methods of accumulating. Alcohol was widespread.php?number=686).irb-cisr.” In terms of mind altering substances at the event I saw many marijuana smokers. but I prefer to just let go. Other than this. I’ve done yoga too. She said “I’ve done meditation. having the speaker guide me. I let the music move me. the beginnings of consciousness. MDMA was floating around.53 This clearly illustrates the fact that meditative practices can be very political. moving to the sound. Astronomers say that this date does have any special importance other than that (see http://curious. .gc. Based on calculations from the Chinese divinatory system of the I Ching among other things he declared that psychedelic experiences provide humans with glimpses of a final ingression into novelty. Stephen and I heard a very interesting group discussion about a supposed impending global change that is going to come in December of 2012. some guys near my campsite were taking LSD. and that after reaching that object 53 “Whether it is illegal to practice Chan Mi Gong” *online+ Available http://www. This is also the end of the Mayan B’ak’tun cycle of the “Long Count” of the Maya calendar and day of the winter solstice. or Qi. which he said would occur in December of 2012 (Letcher pp. but that she thinks psytrance actually moves energy through the body for dancers. There were New Age nonindulgent. and that she hopes to find a good way to combine trance dancing with qigong. the development of DNA. The historical background of this date is due in large part to the fact that Terrence McKenna theorized that the rate of change in the world is speeding up. Such events include things like the Big Bang. and some people were taking mushrooms.
which consume massive amounts of fossil fuel. and have interacted with the Rainbow Family. and many of the people from this trance dance community are involved in Burning Man events and music festivals like LEAF. showing that there really is a trance dance community in Western North Carolina. and McKenna stated that it has some kind of significance within the Chinese divinatory system of the I Qing. but it triggered Stephen and I to have a long discussion about oil. Stephen suggested to me that perhaps these alternative type groups could help develop an autonomous zone which people could escape to in the future. but we are certainly in a period of rapid changes. and neither are most of the people involved in contemporary countercultures. Who knows? People seem to really like to focus on the idea of a grand changes during all historical periods. I saw familiar faces at the equinox gathering. At Burning Man this year there were talks given every day about this supposed impending change. . But. and what are Stephen and I. If there is an impending change.116 we will enter into a new realm in which history as we know it ceases to exist. This 2012 date has been floating around in apocalyptic. but this idea of an impending global shift in 2012 is fairly widespread in US counterculture. kind of like the idea of new humans who are going to transcend petty differences and come together to heal the Earth. what’s the solution? Certainly. Many seemed to believe the speaker. eating up oil. If anything. that idealism can be worked with. and countercultural circles for a long time. mystic. alternative energy sources need to be utilized. of people who had been at both the full moon gathering and at the Goa Gil concert. ideally this situation could transform civilization. and I saw some people who were into the Mayan calendar in Thailand. I’m not an expert on those things. What this speaker was saying at Deerfields recently though was that we may not actually visibly see a change in 2012 but that something in the universe will probably shift. and to go to these gatherings like Burning Man and this equinox dance party we’re using cars and plains and buses. According to archaeologists that is the end of the Mayan calendar. As Stephen and I tried to return home we were greeted by an inconvenient surprise…no gas at the pump! That was just due to a temporary scarcity of oil in that part of the US. I don’t know how practical this idea is at this stage. and all these global nomads I’ve rubbed shoulders with doing? We’re still moving all over the place. but it’s a beautiful concept in my opinion. it could very well stem from the fact that our civilization could run out of fossil fuel or use so much of it that we make our planet hard to live on. There are many countercultural connections which extend all around the world. but that would require a lot of dedication and work on the part of participants. but not just that.
com. and are oftentimes associated with near death or drug experiences and throughout history have been understood by many in mystical terms. He also acknowledges that many people view trance parties as simply fun. 55 “Andrew Twardon. Gil claims that while living a simple life in India he gradually coaxed this energy up his spine and that it inspires his music. Ph.php?option=com_content&ask=view&id=19&Itemid=35 th accessed on October 26 . The scientists studying this phenomenon give out of body experience a purely rationalistic explanation. seems similar to kundalini. and that this can lead to “oceanic feelings” which can lead to either a sense of enlightenment or madness (2007: pp. scientists have long acknowledged that yoga and meditation can affect one’s overall state of mind in a positive way. and accepts this view as valid also.117 Chapter 3: Conclusion In conclusion. which is said to emanate from the base of the spine. which is designed to provoke kundalini awakenings in others.org/index. but they don’t officially attribute any mystical significance to the practices. these experiences are oftentimes life changing. D. . acknowledging that it definitely does something to calm the mind. On the BBC News website there is an article about how scientists can reliably trigger out of body experiences in labs by making volunteers feel as if their eyes are located somewhere other than within their heads. contemporary trance dancing to PEDM is a very significant global phenomenon which is associated altered states of consciousness which can either be perceived of as simply enjoyable or as somehow spiritual. that the brain is playing tricks on people. and that they had become so tantric that they even made partying a valid spiritual path. since many groups have done similar things since the beginnings of human history in order to enter a trance state and commune with some sort of higher power or “tap into source”. The idea of chi from qigong and traditional Chinese medicine. during certain types of massage. Also. He claims that he and other artists who established the scene in Goa had spent so much time in India practicing various spiritual techniques that they began to see the world in a different way.55 Anthony D’Andrea makes the argument that sometimes intense meditative practice alone often leads people in India to become “psychically deterritiorialized”.” http://twardon. of a sort of spiritual energy. In an interview with Goa Gil that appears on his website. the deejay states that the spirituality or religious nature of trance parties all depends on how people look at the events. 2008. looking at objects which are actually not in front of their faces through virtual reality goggles. and which can be released in times of extreme distress. just to give one example. and this practice of calming the mind is related to liberation of the mind. but that this is nothing new. www. Andrew Twardon. because all this lies within an esoteric realm that the dominant rationalist/scientific worldview that is currently the most widely accepted means of understanding the universe does not really know how to handle.goagil. It’s hard to say how ideas about these energies and psychedelic experience. a spiritual energy which many practitioners of various forms of Eastern mysticism believe in. or after someone has pursued some sort of discipline like yoga or meditation or taken certain drugs in a certain context. meditation. He helps patients with meditation based psychotherapy. This energy is also referred to as “coiled snake energy”. But. is a well respected psychologist and Zen Buddhist who practices in New York City. out of body experience. near death experience. Goa Gil relates many of his spiritual experiences to the concept of kundalini.214-220). and the trance state are related with any certainty.
have become the very puritans they rebelled against long ago. for many skeptics and free spirits it doesn’t make sense to follow dogmatic foreign gurus who direct their disciples to live according to strict doctrines of vegetarianism and oftentimes sexual abstinence. and it appeals to spiritual seekers. but according to the standpoint of the dancers experiencing these altered states they can be perceived in many different ways ranging from “Wow. examine the fact that widely accepted meditation practices like Zen Buddhism became popular among many people who had been a part of the 1960s psychedelic happenings because experiences brought on by certain drugs approached by people in a certain state of mind are virtually indistinguishable from states brought on through meditation. most practitioners of New Age spiritual pursuits like meditation and yoga have no idea how much of an overlap there is between what we in the West call “psychedelics” and “meditation” in places like India and Nepal. or to begin practicing Zen Buddhism. Jerome got into meditation. The word “trance”. I visited Hindu temples in Nepal when I was 16 years old where people who practiced meditation and yoga were smoking hashish and playing music in a religious context. and groups of people seeking to solidify a sense of community. They got mad and told him he could no longer go to their meetings. a professor emeritus of educational psychology at the University of Northern Illinois. Also. lazy. This is what could be called “sacramental drug use”. This is definitely an instance in which sacramental drug use got dogmatic. and seeking to reach those states through the closest available non-drug means since the drug culture of that time was full of problems. . This led to the meditation boom.118 In the 2002 book Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. and pray when they do it. It raises a lot of interesting questions because it is associated with altered states of consciousness that definitely shape the way people view the world. objectively it’s hard to determine when drug use is morally right or wrong. which can be positive in some ways and very negative in others. and live very tranquil lives. I was super fucked up!” to “I just saw God!”. Now the pursuit of psychedelics is often looked down on as destructive. and told his Rastafarian friends he no longer needed ganja. Contemporary trance dancing appears to appeal to a lot of people who are fed up with the way things are going currently in the industrialized world. which they borrowed from foreign cultures after having psychedelic experiences under the influence of drugs like LSD and becoming intrigued by the idea of liberating the mind. and self-indulgent by well respected professors and medical professionals who acknowledge the value of New Age spiritual disciplines like yoga and Zen Buddhism or TM. various scholars including Thomas B. When I was younger one of the people who practiced meditation with my parents was a Rastafarian from Jamaica named Jerome. and people who seek an easy escape from their problems. Roberts. during which it became extremely common for well educated people from the West who wanted to liberate their minds to begin following gurus like the Maharishi in India. but. meditating or doing yoga. It can seem at times as if many middle aged former hippies who are now respected professionals and live in suburban homes. like psychedelic. but this doesn’t make it healthy necessarily. but something significant is definitely happening to a lot of people when they dance for hours at a time to PEDM. but in reality. is another one of these terms which has no exact definition. and since they are such subjective experiences there is really no way to prove with certainty what is actually going on in rationalist scientific terms. Is sacramental drug use good or bad? Who knows? It is true that many sadhus smoke hashish every day.
travelintelligence. has oftentimes been used by anthropologists in describing dance rituals in traditional cultures such as dances done in Bali in relation to hypnotic Gamelan music. which was developed by the Paiute Indian Tribe. accessed November 23.html. and to be manipulating this energy which Western science has no way to explain well. accessed on October 28 . accessed on October 27th. 2008. which is associated with the idea of “altered states of consciousness”. Tim. 2008. 58 “Shaker Dance”.com/browse/trance.html.60 Trance dancing is an activity which brings together elements of meditation. and become almost supernatural. including drowsiness or sleep and also states created by the use of alcohol. Accessed November 23. hypnosis. and people can feel and experience things and perceive them as one thing when in reality they are something else. reflection. Many of the people doing this discipline claim to feel energies flowing throughout their bodies. or at least forces which can feel extremely powerful and significant to those experiencing them directly. In addition to this.org/daniel/lakota/Ghost_Dance. Boston: Shambhala. They then started the Ghost Dance. and “an unconscious. or “devout religious contemplation or spiritual introspection” and the concept of “psychedelics”. 1997. 60 Ernst. drugs. which has given the name to this contemporary electronic dance music. whose reservation is adjacent to the site where Burning Man is held each year. “a state of complete mental absorbtion or deep musing”.com as “continued or extended thought. cataleptic. Does this energy exist? That’s hard to say without feeling or experiencing something. Carl W.html. A great example is that of qigong in China. or techniques of meditation”. http://dance-to-help-your-special-needs-child.59 dance practices within Islamic mysticism such as the dance style practiced by the widely known “whirling dervishes”. .com/shaker. 2008. or hypnotic condition”. th 59 Eliot. 2008. in which participants danced for hours and claimed to come into contact with some kind of higher force. which is defined by dictionary. as their traditional worldview was under extreme stress since whites from the East wanted to control their territory. contemplation”.com/travelwriting/1001311/San-Trance-Dance. 57 “Ghost Dance” http://hanksville.56 This idea of trance. or to Native American ceremonies such as the Ghost Dance. The mental phenomena which have been described by many traditional cultures and followers of New Age spiritual practices as direct religious or mystical experiences do not cease to exist when a culture makes a collective move towards an extremely materialistic worldview which refuses to accept that there may actually be some higher power out there. which are defined by the same dictionary as “any modification of the normal state of consciousness or awareness. so from an objective standpoint 56 “Definition of trance” *online+ Available http://dictionary. Sufism: an essential introduction to the philosophy and practice of the mystical tradition of Islam.57 It would be possible to list many examples throughout history and across different cultures in which trance dancing has been used in a mystical or religious context: religious dances among the Shakers in the US.58 trance dancing among the San of the Kalahari.119 Different definitions include “a dazed or bewildered condition”.reference. dance therapy is a widely accepted movement within Western medicine. “San Trance Dance” *online+ Available http://www.
and felt as if they had no real place to turn.html. are long-term world travelers. Butoh can at times be almost grotesque or disturbing.62 The practice emerged in a context in which the view of the world held by traditional society was no longer valid. Flight. friends and societies to have transcendent experiences. PEDM trance dance events have more of a mystical and countercultural orientation than what could be described as more “mainstream” raves like Wilson describes. accessed November 23.xs4all. . different people see them in different ways. where there was recently an authoritarian communist government which discouraged citizens from thinking of anything in mystical terms.chaishop.com/static?url=/user/roberdo/ttg2007/ttg_russia. Butoh was created by members of an artistic Japanese avant-garde who felt demoralized because of US intervention during post WWII reconstruction. the argument is made that participation in rave events is such a personal experience that it is hard to attribute any specific ideology to them. while others. and Rave into the Twenty-First Century by Brian Wilson.120 it is impossible to even know with certainty after experiencing something amazing that it was even “real”. 209-213. Trance dancing doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as political or as a form of mysticism. I find it very interesting that psytrance has recently become so popular in Russia. has no specific steps. and egalitarian than the one we currently live in. it is definitely possible for people who are extremely happy in their lives. and with their families. and states that many of the dancers he saw in Goa had had traumatic experiences and hard lives before turning to trance (2007: pp. 61 “Shamanic Revival in Russia” *online+ Available http://www. People definitely experience certain things while trance dancing at PEDM related events which could be described as “transcendent”. described as a “stamping dance”. such as the people who developed the scene in Goa and many of the dancers I spent time with in Thailand.htm. and some have tried to describe it in mystical terms while others have insisted that it is purely an art form. This style of dance.nl/~iddinja/butoh/eng_1. Anthony D’Andrea describes trance dancing to psytrance as a stomping dance. and in some cases similar to the context in which certain groups of people have begun trance dancing to PEDM. Some believe that it is necessary to become demoralized to become humble. Some people can see the events in mystical or spiritual terms. accessed November 23. just. 62 “Butoh: Dance of Darkness” *online+ Available http://www. A rave community in the Northwest US called Oracle sometimes does Butoh workshops in conjunction with trance dance events (Sylvan 2005: p. and it is closely associated with groups of people who are seeking to become free of the confines of life in the “real world”. although. Youth. some can see them as political. In the book Fight. and large numbers of people simply see them as fun. Contemporary Russian trance dancers are certainly experiencing things which Sufi dancers or Native American Ghost Dancers would describe in spiritual terms.168). 2008. 198). which was developed during the 1960s. These experiences can come from elation or despair. 2008. Contemporary trance dancing to PEDM is a broad phenomenon.61 Another movement it would be possible to compare contemporary trance dancing associated with PEDM to is the Japanese style of modern dance called Butoh. and that this destroys the ego and opens people up to spiritual abilities. Many of these people who practice trance dancing are involved in groups like the Rainbow Family or in festivals like Burning Man which seek to provide a glimpse of a possible future world which ideally would be more humane. and in it performers slowly move around in ways which they describe as emerging naturally from within the body. Some trance dancers are purely internal travelers. a bit like the context in which the Ghost Dance developed among Native Americans. or Chill: Subcultures. but all the same.
but this doesn’t necessarily make these experiences objectively good or bad, they just exist, and can feel extremely powerful for those involved. Some have argued that contemporary trance dancing to PEDM is very hypocritical in that practitioners are almost all from a privileged background from a global standpoint, belonging to what could be described as the “global middle class”. This is a fairly valid argument. This contemporary psychedelic dance movement, just like the 1960s psychedelic movement, seems to have caught on most strongly among members of the global middle class who have the leisure time to worry about things like consciousness expansion. Others have criticized trance dancing to PEDM saying it is escapist and accomplishes no political goals and doesn’t fight injustice in the world, and that it can be extremely selfish and at times destructive to traditional cultures and the environment. In response, all of these criticisms are valid in many instances, but I believe there is value to the trance dance movement. It’s very non-authoritarian, and in many cases is very inclusive, but, in many cases, people who may want to experience things associated with trance dancing are not able to due to a lack of money or ability to travel new places and meet people involved in this phenomenon. For trance dancing to be truly egalitarian global wealth must be distributed more evenly and economies everywhere need to become more people oriented rather than purely profit motivated, providing all workers with decent living wages and free time, something I don’t see happening anytime too soon. Trance dancing could possibly play a role in the creation of an alternative economic space in which labor practices would be more flexible, personal, and informal based on my observations and the research of D’Andrea, Niman, and others on neo-nomadism. Parties in places like Koh Phangan or Goa, or even the supposedly “leave no trace” event that is Burning Man, can negatively impact the environment. In addition to directly impacting the environment around where parties are held participants often travel long distances, increasing their carbon footprints. If organizers would take the proper precautions, cleaning up after parties, and if countries would work together to find more democratic and clean methods to transport individuals around the world, trance parties could be much more environmentally sustainable. I believe that the mental states and social situations experienced in relation to contemporary trance parties could play a major role in positive spiritual and political movements in the future, especially if activities leading to these states and situations were to become more closely associated with fair trade, green energy, and local and organic food movements and possibly become associated more directly with non-dogmatic intentional communities. Trance dancing could possibly help create a synergy which could change the world. Dancing to PEDM is only one of many ways to arrive to what I consider a “transcendent” state, but I find it very significant since it is so accessible to large numbers of people and isn’t associated with any rigid doctrine. It may be a glimpse of a style of, for lack of a better word, “religion” that could perhaps one day become more widespread, and which could affect the way large numbers of people view the world. To give an example of this idea of a liberated, non-dogmatic spirituality, I’ll tell a short story about a man I met with my dad in South America the summer before I went to Spain as an exchange student. I went to Ecuador with my dad before going to Spain in 2003 and we took an intensive Spanish class at a language school in Quito. While doing the course we stayed at a lively backpacker hostel called Centro del Mundo. A short and muscular Israeli with a shaved head hung around the common area of the hostel a lot, and I spoke with him a fair amount, and we went out to bars and played pool some. Yaniv had been traveling several years. He had been an officer in the Israeli Defense Force, and had seen quite a bit of violence. After leaving the military Yaniv did a long trip to Asia, and during the trip he studied some form of meditation at an ashram in India. He told me he learned to meditate but
that everyone was too serious, and that the guru needed to lighten up. Every morning at this ashram, students woke up early to meditate in a large common area and the head guru sat on a big cushion on a platform above everyone else. To summon students to the morning meditation session someone would hit a big gong. Yaniv thought it would be funny to play a joke on everyone, so he snuck out in the middle of the night, stole the gong, and tied a tiny gong he bought at a market in its place. Then he hid the big gong under the guru’s cushion. In the morning when the gong striker tried to wake everyone up they were surprised to find the gong missing, and all they could do was make a “t i i i i n g” rather than a “goooooooonnnnnng”, and the guru became very upset. Somehow students made it to the morning meditation session, and some of the higher up meditators informed everyone of the crisis “We regret to inform you, that somebody has stolen the gong. This isn’t funny.” Then the head guru sat down to meditate and his cushion was hard. “What’s this?” he said. Then he discovered the gong. Yaniv broke out laughing, and admitted to what he had done. He was banished from the ashram and headed off to the beach raves in Goa. That was the first time I heard about them. When I met him Yaniv was helping run a sister hostel of Centro del Mundo, and had no plans to return to Israel. He told me “I’ve had some very interesting experiences with mushrooms, and then I discovered how to arrive to similar states by meditating, but it’s hard to say what’s going on really…it’s just a feeling, it could just be the brain doing that, or it could be something beyond this world, and there’s no way to know with any certainty. It’s just there, and I don’t like connecting it to some ideology or another, but it definitely feels significant. You just feel it, and it’s hard to express in words.” That feeling, I believe, is quite possibly the root of all human religion and for better or worse, trance dancing is allowing large numbers of people to tap into it. This is significant. As for what this “it” is that people are tapping into, it’s hard to say. I don’t make the claim that everyone at trance dance events is having some sort of transcendent experience and feeling forces that throughout history have often been perceived as emanating from some kind of higher power, but, some people are. In the 60s counterculture certain figures like Timothy Leary made the claim that vast numbers of people could open their doors of perception and discover higher realms of consciousness leading to religious experience. Leary tried to prove this during the Good Friday Experiment which was conducted during a Good Friday Mass. Half of the members of a group of theology students were given psilocybin and half were given nicotinic acid. It soon became apparent who had received psilocybin because members of this group began doing things like climbing on the cross and proclaiming that they were having intense revelations and seeing God. Many used experiments like the Good Friday experiment to make the argument that people have religious experiences under the influence of psychedelic drugs, but, not everyone perceives of their experiences as “religion” or “spirituality” or “mysticism”. These are all just words, and they don’t really describe the range of phenomena that are associated with the type of experience that Robin Sylvan and others have described as “numinous”. Apparently in Hindi there is no direct translation for spirituality, and “spirituality” is the most commonly used term in my experience surrounding dance scenes and psychedelic scenes in which participants believe something special is going on when they alter their consciousness but don’t want to describe their experiences within the framework of any specific belief system or religion. The westerners who claim to be discovering “spirituality” via psytrance and other psychedelic cultural practices don’t realize that that isn’t even a word in Hindi, which is the main language in India, which is more or less perceived as the promised land in which enlightenment can be found by many practitioners of New Age techniques and by many psychedelic drug takers.
As for what can be said with certainty about this PEDM phenomenon, it is definitely associated with an extensive worldwide network, and is associated with a certain type of dance culture. Those who dance to PEDM tend to be critical of the current form of civilization that has come to characterize the First World even though they are a part of it. They have a somewhat otherworldly orientation, not necessarily calling the states they reach while dancing religious or psychedelic, or transformative, but altering their consciousness by dancing for hours or by doing this in combination with drug use and/or spiritual techniques like yoga or meditation. This PEDM network has major dance hubs at which it is possible to live a trance dance lifestyle non-stop: Ibiza, Goa, Koh Phangan, and many more possible locations I don’t know about yet, and is responsible for periodic dance parties in backpacker destination countries worldwide; it also is connected to many powerful domestic trance dance scenes dominated by non-backpacker nomads, returned neo-nomads, festive zone visitors, urban ravers, and festival culture nomads like burners and rainbow people. Powerful domestic scenes dominated by regional natives exist within parts of the US, in several European countries, Israel, Japan, Russia, former Soviet republics, India, to some extent Thailand, countries of the former Yugoslavia, the backpacker destination and sender country of Brazil along with a few other Latin American countries, and more recently South Korea. In many places parties connected to the network are illegal like the early British raves. It links numerous worldwide subcultures and countercultures to each other, and many who trance dance to PEDM do not realize how many cross-cultural connections exist within the dance culture on a global scale. Below I sum up the situation succinctly. 1. PEDM was able to emerge because of modern technological advances and disparities in wealth between the periphery and core and has its roots in the 60s counterculture.
2. Those who participate regularly in the PEDM network tend to try to seek out what could be described as collective effervescence, communitas, or seek these things as well as the TAZ and possibly the Deleuzian BwO. 3. PEDM can play a role in very constructive social movements which promote environmentalism and/or social justice, but, in and of itself it is not altruistic. 4. PEDM is now mainly associated with members of the global middle class, but, many of these members are not rich at all. As D’Andrea described in his book and based on my observations, many people who participate in PEDM culture, especially in dance hubs and backpacker destination countries as well as in countries like England, Israel, and Germany where electronic music is extremely popular, come from a working class background and seek refuge in the periphery or in dance and/or festival culture from unsatisfying and restrictive labor restrictions and living conditions. In addition to this, many people who D’Andrea would describe as expressive expatriates have given up what development officials would describe as a very high standard of living in order to pursue an intense and liberated but at times precarious lifestyle away from the control mechanisms of the state. Even though PEDM is mainly associated with members of the global middle class many poor people from the Third World can and do participate in the network in dance hubs and national scenes, but, they tend to be people who find the trance dance enjoyable and not find the music too monotonous or strange sounding. They tend to have some kind of otherworldly orientation if they get involved, like the sadhus in India, or some of the locals on Koh Phangan I met who regularly consume high doses of psilocybin mushrooms or do Buddhist meditation.
Turkey.124 5. what connects it is that dancers who participate intensely in the network all around the world aim to enter a sort of trance state. That can be elitist. and many members of the network do not know of the existence of scenes in other countries or regions which are connected to the scene they participate in most frequently. in my experience this is mainly just because people have differences in opinion as to what constitutes a good party. oftentimes there are many visitors to the PEDM network who briefly dance to the music or pass by the booming sound systems and find the music unpleasant. opting to go find other ways to spend their time in festive zones such as the Koh Phangan Full Moon Party or the Burning Man Festival. because within PEDMC there is a lot of utopian desire. but others say that this could never happen since people want to rave dance with other people like themselves. This intense lived experience can lead to collective effervescence or to a temporary autonomous zone. Jews from Arab countries. European Jews. Most people in our world today do not enter this type of state on purpose. transcends cultural boundaries. rather. but. In some areas of intense PEDM activity these outsiders who do not understand the ritual are looked down upon by the trance freak hard core and shunned. 7. but PEDM dancers do. Ideally I think it could be. it isn’t necessarily malicious. Not everyone who goes to PEDM gatherings is of the culture. Another interesting thing to study would be PEDM culture among Arab Israelis and Palestinians. Some have made the claim that the music can help bring together Arabs and Jews and other groups of people who have conflicts with each other. and to settle down with a nuclear family. so from an ethnomusicological standpoint it is almost impossible to pin down and declare the music to be of any one culture. . and could it possibly be a force for positive societal transformation? Only time will tell. it is a mostly global middle class culture with a very otherworldly orientation which rejects many of the values of the global middle class which encourage people to focus on obtaining a good job. Egypt. rather. it is not normally connected to a rigid ideology or political belief system other than at times being connected to a vague concept of a sort of communalistic anarchism at some festivals like Burning Man and the Dragon Festival in Southern Spain. 6. no matter how rich or poor they are. and Ethiopian Jews at mixed rave events. PEDM has multiple national origins. some could argue it isn’t even a culture. interactions between Arabs. the links between jam band traveler culture and electronic music. The fact that a musical style has emerged which has the specific goal of putting dancers into a trance state is very interesting. PEDM dancers tend to be very accepting of anyone who seriously wants to trance dance. and this state is universal. PEDM is not entirely cohesive. and the growing popularity of PEDM in Russia and the Balkan countries should be studied more. and the connections between electronic music scenes in Muslim countries like Jordan. Other aspects of this globalized phenomenon such as the globalization of festival movements like the Rainbow Family and Burning Man. and material possessions. and the United Arab Emirates and the Israeli psytrance scene. but. and is up for interpretation. Will PEDMC continue to flourish and grow. In this sense. money. and can be very rebellious against mainstream society. but. in favor of intense lived experience. the diaspora of the UK travelers. My study is not enough. and is constantly shifting. 8. This is significant. but.
com. Analog Pussy. www. A few big name artists in the mainstream trance world are Pete Tong.psychedelic-traveler.chaishop. and Psyclone all make music that is labeled as psytrance or Goa trance.uk/stations/psytrance a website with many different online radio stations that play various forms of PEDM 7. Doof.com the homepage of Touch Samadhi. Electric Universe.org the main Rainbow Family website 6. Atmos. www.com a website with information about all sorts of mind altering drugs 8. Space Tribe. Hallucinogen.com a website which helps nomadic types find temporary work 12.internet-radio.tranceamericana. Paul Oakenfold. In my opinion the best way to learn about new psytrance music and artists that haven’t yet become well known outside of their regional scenes is probably to look at the website www. and ATB. Raja Ram. www. www.fullmoonpartykohphangan.backdoorjobs. http://www. www.welcomehome.wwoof. if you are interested in learning more about PEDM here are some of the very famous names: Shpongle.125 Some Internet Resources for PEDM and Neo-Nomadism 1.com a website promoting the Koh Phangan full moon parties 9. Infected Mushroom.Isratrance. www. www.com another farming network travelers can make use of 13.com the main Burning Man website 5.com a major Israeli trance website 2.org a website that travelers can use to find organic farms to work on around the world in exchange for room and board 11. .com the website for El Festival del Dragon. Carl Cox. which has a lot of free music 4.touchsamadhi. www. www.erowid.org.organicvolunteers. Astrix.burningman. www. or just go to some parties and talk with people. DJ Tiesto. the free festival that I have attended twice in Southern Spain 10. www. Paul Van Dyk.org the main US PEDMC website 3.dragonfestival. Juno Reactor. Oforia. www.net a resource for travelers who want to get involved in psytrance scenes around the world Also. Goa Gil. Astral Projection.
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