WHAT IS PSYTRANCE?
A History of Psychedelic Trance.
Trance is defined as an elevated state of consciousness induced by meditation or by the stimulation of our senses.
“Well the technical definition would be music with repetitive beats, but actually trance music is regarded as a type of music that stimulates a neurological effect in the brain that tickles the endorphins to make them come alive and allow consciousness to be expanded through the cosmic sound of music.” – Raja Ram- DJ
Psychedelic trance, often referred to as psytrance, is a form of trance music that developed from ‘Goa Trance’, It has a unique and complex sound with specific properties: a powerful rhythmic base, 140+ beats per minute, layers of acoustical or synthesized traditional instruments (gongs, guitars, drums, didgeridoos, etc.) and often played live and spontaneous.
“Trance music goes way back to the early caveman. They were dancing around the campfire at night and banging bones on bones, making a little percussion, chanting, and going into trance under the moon and the stars. Today, in the 21st century, we are still doing the same thing. And the idea is that if you dance to this kind of particularly psychedelic music at faster bpms… and you do it for some time, you can go into a trance, or a trance-like state. And sometimes, you even have transcendent experiences, where you go outside of your body and beyond the normal world, into something special, something beyond words. Most of these things we can’t describe in words. But that’s what the idea of trance music is. And to me, it’s a special magic that we can’t get any other way. When you want to dance, and get high from dancing to music, this trance music takes us in a special way like nothing else does. It can be deeply meaningful with other people and within your own self.” Chicago- DJ
Sound impacts our bodies in a way no other art does. The sound of music, it’s pulses and vibrations, affects us physically. The higher frequencies have divisions of lower frequencies, essentially accelerating you, in a very gentle way.
Elena Mannes, in her book ‘The Power of Music’, says that scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function. And that archaeologists have discovered ancient flutes- one of which is presumed to be the oldest instrument in the world- that plays a scale similar to the modern western scale. She writes, “This human relationship to sound starts early. The fetus begins to develop an auditory system between seventeen and nineteen weeks. Already, we are in a world of sound, of breath and heartbeat, of rhythm and vibration.”
The physical value cannot be underestimated. “You don’t actually dance to psytrance- psytrance dances you.” – Visionary Artist Android Jones.
“For me, trance music is ALL about dancing. That’s the essence of it for me, the dancing. There are lots of peripheral aspects but the essential things … the kick drum, the tempo, the baseline being a constant, no chord changes, create a hypnotic groove that if you dance to it for a while, you find yourself being overtaken by the music … and then you spontaneously move your body … and then your body takes over… and then you can spend some time outside of your mind, just like an active meditation. And that’s good for the soul.” – Billy Cosmosis, DJ
Psychedelic derives from the Greek word ´Psike` (mind) and ´Deloun` (relative to the sensational). In this expression, psike-deloun describes a manifestation of the spirit, the mind, and the soul. The simplest example would be that you see and feel what you are thinking but through your physical senses, from what had otherwise originated within your consciousness. Something like your own personal projection screen of mind into perceived reality.
“It has become the new form of spiritual culture, where before we had classical, jazz, and rock and roll. All of which were great, and I love, but trance is part of the new evolution which has happened post computers, in this new electronic age that we have developed into. Before all of this it wasn’t really possible. It’s all changed: instead of everybody having a guitar, everybody has a laptop; instead of everybody going into a studio, now you can sit on your porch with a sea behind you, making these incredible sounds. And then play them for your friends and your children, creating a family event. It’s for everybody.” – Raja Ram- DJ
In distinct comparison, all other forms of electronic music are around 120-128 beats per minute. Psy Trance music is between 135-145 beats per minute. It’s powerful, fast, multi-layered and emotional.
Eamon Armstrong, for Everfest, writes: “A complete psytrance experience follows a cycle which allows trancers to do deep psycho-spiritual work during the course of the musical session. It begins with Full On, the celebratory style of trance that is most popular. As the sun sets, pystrance typically moves into Twilight and the sound becomes darker. Twilight then turns into Forest, which is faster and has a tendency for more complicated and almost menacing sounds. It’s in Forest that you hear evil robot aliens and invading intergalactic insects. While this style is more aggressive, it allows the trancer to shake and work through more complex emotional experiences.” Read the excellent, well researched article here: Boom Festival: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Surrender to Psytrance.
Psytrance will be the kind experience that takes courage to walk towards, but in the end, you will certainly be happy that you did.
“The thing that happens on the psytrance dance floor that is so fundamentally different is that when it clicks, it’s almost like you’ve entered into a secret society. There’s a feeling your entire body gets when you’re getting initiated. It’s not abstract anymore. It’s like when you first ‘get’ yoga or meditation. There is this huge deep thing that existed long before you and will exist long after you and now you’re a part of it- along with everyone else. You realize there’s this higher degree of intelligence that’s been waiting for you this whole time.” – Android, DJ
“Trance culture and the psytrance subculture is a difficult thing to define, a few things in the mix: eastern spirituality, dreadlocks, hippies, beaches, hedonism, dancing… a mix of all those things. It’s got its excesses from my point of view, which are not so good, some unhealthy aspects, but on the whole, I’m happy to support and be a part of an envoy of taking it around the world. Because generally speaking most people are ecologically aware, they have dropped outside of the rat race, or are peripherally involved in it: creative types, almost an alternative nascent culture. I quite dig it. I’m happy to promote it via the music. The music is the focal point of it, it creates the social place where people meet and perform their dancing together. It’s international and global in scope… with all types of cultures contributing. It’s also, generally speaking, quite a positive force, mainly because people are groping for a new paradigm, how to live a creative life, a life that’s satisfying.” – Billy Cosmosis, DJ
“To be honest, Psy Trance is great and all with small crowds, but when its played for thousands and thousands of people, it’s got an energy unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Its finally getting that big stage to shine on and the instant success is the proof in the pudding all of us long-time-trancers always knew it would, if given the chance.” – Treavor Moontribe.
Bo Nuanual, for an article in The Untz, writes.. “In June of 1993, the now legendary Moontribe full moon gatherings began, and a prominent sound of these events was a new thing some called Goa Trance and others fittingly called Psychedelic Trance. As a genre, it’s taken nearly a quarter century to have its moment in the sun in the United States, which is odd considering how many legendary names in American electronic music got their start on psy, and how unbelievably popular it is as a whole the world over; South America, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, Asia—you name it. One of the last men standing from that first era of American Psy Trance DJs and organizers is the co-founder of those wild desert parties, Treavor Moontribe. If you recognize the name and you’re not in the psy community, that’s probably because you know him as one half of global bass and downtempo duo Desert Dwellers with Amani Friend.” For a full interview go read Bo’s article here: Treavor Moontribe: A Quarter Century of Psy Trancing in America.
Infected Mushroom is one of the biggest acts in the psy scene today and one of the best-selling groups in Israeli music history. Performing both as DJs and as a live act, they have reached a significant amount of crossover recognition since their debut in 1996. When asked how they would describe PsyTrance, they said, “Psy trance differs from typical Trance because it isn’t fluffy or commercial-sounding. Where Trance can be uplifting and euphoric, it lacks the heavy-handed emotional nature of psy. It uses melodies that achieve a level of pleasing harmony, whereas psy uses melodies that can be characterized as ‘sinister’ or ‘dark’. Goa Psytrance tends to be even quicker than other forms of Psychedelic Trance, and is often influenced by the sounds of the East, especially India. Trance is like skipping around in a flower garden, whereas true Goa Trance is like jumping on all of the flowers in the patch.”
“There were literally people involved in organizing Moontribe with me that quit because they hated Goa so much. I find it’s still this way in America, but luckily there is a whole new generation loving it and in great numbers. So, regardless of the haters, it’s finding a way to shine through so strongly that it just cannot be held back any longer!” – Treavor Moontribe
Psy Trance now is a broad term and within it there are sub-genres that were created in metropolitan cities of Europe and America for the purpose of commercializing the music. These new versions drew from influences which made the music mellower, funkier and more progressive. However, Goa Trance and what today’s Psytrance sounds like is far different.
If we try to understand the evolution of Psy-Trance then, it is necessary to travel back to the sixties, to that place in India called Goa. It is there that hippies, searching for harmony with nature, and tired of their life in postindustrial society, began visiting to renew the practice of their liberties. With rejuvenated freedoms, they celebrated on beaches and threw psychedelic parties influenced by the music they had grown up with, genres ranging from Acid Rock to Reggae.
We use the term ‘hippie’ because during that era, that is how they were referred to. The word hippie came from hipster and was initially used to describe beatniks who had moved into New York City’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. The term hippie was first popularized in San Francisco by Herb Caen, who was a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Wikipedia states, “The origins of the terms ‘hip’ and ‘hep’ are uncertain. By the 1940s, both had become part of African American jive slang and meant ‘sophisticated; currently fashionable; fully up-to-date’. The Beats adopted the term hip, and early hippies inherited the language and counter-cultural values of the Beat Generation. Hippies created their own communities, listened to psychedelic music, embraced the sexual revolution, and used drugs such as marijuana, LSD, peyote and psilocybin mushrooms to explore altered states of consciousness.”
However, although the name and origin of the music comes from entheogenic experimentation (any psychoactive substance that induces a spiritual experience), we do not believe a mind-altering substance is necessary to step into the state of trance.
The hippies of the 60’s famed era, favored long hair and casual, often unconventional, dress, sometimes in “psychedelic” colors. They advocated nonviolence and love: a popular phrase of theirs being “Make Love, Not War,” leading them to acquire the moniker: “flower children.” They promoted openness and tolerance as alternatives to the restrictions and regimentation that they saw in middle-class society; often practicing open sexual relationships and living in various types of family groups. They commonly sought spiritual guidance from sources outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, particularly Buddhism and other Eastern religions, and sometimes in various combinations. Astrology was also popular, and the period of the 60’s was often referred to as the Age of Aquarius.
Public gatherings—part music festivals, sometimes protests, often simply excuses for celebrations of life—were an important part of the hippie movement. The first “be-in,” called the Gathering of the Tribes, was held in San Francisco in 1967. A three-day music festival known as Woodstock, held in rural New York state in 1969, drew an estimated 400,000–500,000 people and became virtually synonymous with the movement.
In today’s day and age, the word ‘hippie’ is interpreted in many different ways, but in essence still refers to the values that hold true: believing peace and love are essential in an increasingly globalized society, supporting health with fresh local food diets, espousing sustainability and permaculture, and using herbal medicines as preventative measures against disease. Currently, people of all ages and placement in society can espouse ‘hippie culture’ in terms of how they want to live their lives, without actually ‘being hippies’ as one would depict them straight out of Dazed and Confused.
But back in the 60’s, in the Haight/Ashbury districts of San Francisco, hippies gathered in radical protest against the ‘system’. They were opposed to: materialism, conformism, enslaved work, societal control, greed, competition, class differences, racial segregation, ideological repression, and governmental bureaucracies that destroyed the fluency of life. They expressed their psychedelic style through youthful, daring fashion, colorful graphic art and music by seminal cultural artists such as Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd.
But as that era drew to a close and crackdowns on their freedoms increased, they looked for other places in the world to live out their desired life. So, in the 70’s they migrated to the beaches of Goa (India) where there were no restrictions on how they wished to live. The beach of Anjuna was the most favorited; and when eventually their acid-parties influenced the rest of the world, they contributed to what would become known as the ‘Summers of Love’.
At its core then, Psytrance was the evolutionary soundtrack to the lives of the people that were part of that process. Through the revolution of the 60’s, to the rebirth in Goa in the 70’s, through to the blending of Acid Rock and Regge traditions with DJ-led trance dance culture. A culture that grew and absorbed innovations in original EDM productions, performance and aesthetics from all around the world. And because of the transformation and the significance of the music to the lifestyle, much of psytrance today is still very much deeply based in spirituality, exploration, rebirth and discovery.
It presumes that you will, in a trance-like state, dancing amongst others, journey into a connected existence with all that is happening inside the environment of where you hear the music (and perhaps beyond). And through that, you will be moved. Moved to thought, to intention, to inspiration, to reaching into something you will want to return to later. It is for this reason that psytrance festival locations tend to be forests, ruins, or near bodies of water, where energetic fields tend to always be at their highest. And away from the adulterating forces of industrial life. In combination with these settings, the music and the energy allows one to ‘fall into the beat’ and travel down those ‘thought roads’ of the meditative state.
The trance part of the experience is more or less the ‘ultimate’ part of the experience.
And though the presence of mind altering substances are certainly present, true music festivals are not used for mindless substance abuse. They are created and delivered on the foundations of ‘hippie culture’, where the reason for doing what you are doing is carried on the back of a value system that has deep roots in the culture of societal freedom, love and expression. These festivals espouse tolerance, acceptance, and well-being, with the purpose of the event understood as a ceremony of ritual wherein the primary element is the harmony between the people involved. You get spectacular music being played through incredible sound systems. And through its deep undertones, pitches and wandering riffs, a collective experience is created, shared and remembered.
In Canada we have 2 events in Quebec: Eclipse Festival and Timeless Festival. Both held in beautiful forest campground settings, beside rivers and lakes, where under normal circumstances you would enjoy a magnificent camping experience, let alone one that came with a festival!
In the US, the psytrance festivals are merged in with other genres of music, to produce a more rounded musical experience where a Psytrance stage is just a part of an overall variety of choice. The biggest of these festivals are: Arise (Loveland, Colorado- August), Down To Earth (Ferndale, NY- August), One Love Experience (Lake Perris, California- October) and Symbiosis Gathering (California), which is our personal favorite and the gold standard of music festival experience in North America. This year Symbiosis Gathering is occurring in Oregon as the Oregon Eclipse Gathering in collaboration with 10 other worldwide festivals who will have a curated environment inside the main grounds.
The most famous, and completely Psytrance festival, is Boom Festival (Portugal). In his article for Everfest, Eamon Armstrong writes:
“Boom is known to be a foremost destination for psytrance enthusiasts, but it’s really more of a festival of psychedelic culture. It’s an independent gathering with no sponsorship and is also the largest festival in Portugal, one of the least wealthy of advanced Western economies. As opposed to weekend-long U.S. festivals with high ticket prices, Boom is much more affordable and has a strong social policy on tickets. Travelers from across the globe come for music, workshops, art, activist hubs, family environments, and the incredible atmosphere. Indeed, there are over 150 countries represented in the week-long intentional community. It is a favorite of some of the most popular artists of the visionary genre, with Android Jones, Daniel Popper, Amanda Sage, Carey Thompson, and Chris Dyer creating dynamic pieces specifically for the event. Speakers come from far and wide, including modern technology leaders and venerable wisdom-keepers from indigenous traditions.”
We hope you are encouraged to adventure into the world of psytrance and a psytrance festival near you. It might be the beginning of a truly rewarding and exciting path.
More psytrance festivals can be found in this list here, Popular Psytrance Festivals.
All photography by Mario Miotti