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Researching the Burning Man Diaspora

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
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Graham St John  Temple of Juno 2012 by bluedogsd
After my first encounter with Burning Man in 2003, I grew intrigued by its global reach over the subsequent decade. This trend is reflected in the 2012 Black Rock City Census results (BRC Census 2012) in which we learn that 24% of the population of Black Rock City are reported to be non-US residents (about 10% European). There is no reason to believe that this global gravitation to the quintessential do-ocracy in the desert will abate any time soon. While this trend is fascinating in itself, of corollary interest is the stimulus that descending upon the Man is having back in the world. By 2014, pilgrimage to the world's largest temporary city has triggered a global diaspora, with regional developments worldwide, stoked and nurtured by the Burning Man Project. Across the planet, official Regional Events (adopting the Ten Principles), as well as other event-communities, art initiatives and “transformational festivals” are being influenced, if not directly inspired, by Burning Man and its ethos.
While the Burning Man Regional Network in North America has been growing steadily since the 1990s, the global regional network builds apace. In February 2014, adopting successful procedures, along with skilled facilitators, from the annual Burning Man Global Leadership Conference format, the first European Leadership Summit was held in Berlin, with participants from 25 countries. Larry Harvey, Marian Goodell and James Hanusa were among the speakers, and Meghan Rutigliano a most capable co-ordinator. As an Australian, I was myself fortunate to be among the EuroBurner participants converging in Berlin. I’ve rarely had the privilege of sharing a room with such an ensemble of activated individuals, who while representing various regions, initiatives and projects, were united by their experience and challenges transposing Burning Man to regions across Europe. Like bright-eyed and barefoot ambassadors, each participant appeared to me a condensate of good will conveyed from those regions to join their spirit to the flame. There is great potential for this Summit to evolve into a fully fledged annual Conference.
In Berlin, I was given the opportunity to introduce Burning Progeny: The European Efflorescence of Burning Man, a cultural research project supported by the University of Fribourg and the Swiss National Science Foundation, designed to gauge the evolution of the Ten Principles in the European Burning Man movement. This project, in which I am collaborating with my Burner-colleague Prof Dr Francois Gauthier in the Dept of Social Science at UniFribourg, involves a survey of EuroBurners developed partly in collaboration with the Black Rock City Census team, and projected to expand into a comparative ethnographic phase of European Regional Events. The Burning Progeny survey(closes on March 7).
Among the difficulties undertaking this kind of research is that, as far as I know, there has been no comparable study of the Burning Man movement, including in the US, where the regional development is prolific. It is somewhat alarming that, despite its flourishing in North America and elsewhere around the world, and per contra to the annual growth of media profiles (see the up-to-date aggregator of Burning Man news reports and blogs over at Vox Ignis)the movement has attracted comparatively little interest among social and cultural researchers—at least compared with the mammoth blinking mirage in the desert, which of course continues to attract student researchers like flies to a carcass.
Black Rock City should clearly remain an object of study, year after year. And, in my view such studies will ideally be informed by auto-ethnographic methods driving the continual evaluation of one’s self, or indeed one’s otherself, in the desert of the surreal. Such approaches are preferable to, say, documenting an event history already raked over 1001 times, or revisiting the very same theoretical model applied with a similar conclusion by another graduate student a few years ago, begging questions about the value and usefulness of the research …. or whether playa theory was better last year.
Don’t take me the wrong way. I’m familiar with the confrontational, and even overwhelming, conditions faced by those committing to document, datamine, excavate Black Rock City and its populations during their moment under the sun. But Burning Man is a Bermuda Triangle of Research (BTR). Anthropology graduates brandishing golden passes to an ethnographic Wonkaland, data creeps, Syntheists on radical sabbatical, surveyors of burnoir couture, purveyors of occult mathematics, have disappeared in heavy whiteouts, never to be seen again. And that’s to say nothing of the missional evangelist last sighted busting moves out at DISTRIKT, the embedded Deleuzian who deterritorialised in the deep, or the would-be novelist who haunts every camp on the playa (you know who you are). Every one a victim of the BTR.
Actually, there have been numerous quality researches telegraphed back from “the front” in Nevada, with true grit accumulating at the coalface converted into various books on, and indeed films depicting, Burning Man. But as Burning Man has evolved into a movement that has long extended its reach beyond the Black Rock Desert and its temporary metropolis, actual research commitments (if measured by research publications, for example) are strongly disproportionate to the growth of the global regional network and its mushrooming diaspora. Researchers haveturned their attentions to the outward expansion of Burning Man and its flourishing ethos in the default world. And yet while details are emerging on the dissemination of Burning Man’s inclusive community logic in collectivities beyond its geographic and temporal boundaries (Chen 2011), quality and innovation experts figure how the Ten Principles can catalyse radical innovation in organizations, especially higher education (Radziwill and Benton 2013), sociologists celebrate the impact of a “living model of commons-based peer production” on the San Francisco Bay Area's new media industries like Google (Turner 2009), and journalists field reports on the status of Burner “neotribalism” flowing between San Francisco and Black Rock City (Jones 2011), little if any research on the proliferation of the Burning Man movement and its founding principles, either in North America or globally, has been undertaken.
There are probably a host of reasons for this silence, including highly competitive academic funding environments preventing the turnover of otherwise feasible projects. Perhaps its simply a matter of motivation. Burner researchers are Burners first and foremost, and who wants to spend their time inside the trash fence of Black Rock City or Burn-inspired events “doing research”? I guess some of us just can't help ourselves. And some might rightly ask what's in it for Burning Man? What is the usefulness of research to the Burning Man community? These are good questions at a time when The Burning Man Project is promoting its pedagogies of practice and seeking philosophical exchanges in ever widening circles.
In a recent article in the 10 Principles Blog Series, Larry Harvey (2013) has written that “the Ten Principles have proven to be useful, durable and productive; they have enabled us to think and communicate, they have enabled us to act, and they have helped us to project our culture into the world. However, this could cease to happen unless we remain ready to constantly exercise and examine them.” As a study of the translation, adaptation and mutation of the Burning Man ethos abroad, Burning Progeny is a project responsive to this endeavour. And in this way, while remaining independent, it aims to be in service of the Burning Man community.
References 
P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }A:link { } BRC Census. “Results from the 2012 Black Rock City Census”. Chen, Katherine K. 2011. “Lessons for Creative Cities from Burning Man: How Organizations can Sustain and Disseminate a Creative Context.” City, Culture and Society 2(2): 93–100.Harvey, Larry. 2013. “Introduction: The Philosophical Center”. Nov 12. https://blog.burningman.com/2013/11/tenprinciples/introduction-the-philosophical-center Jones, Steven T. 2011. The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert Is Shaping the New American Counterculture. CCC Publishing.Radziwill, Nicole M., and Morgan C. Benton. 2013. “Burning Man: Quality and Innovation in the Spirit of Deming.” Journal for Quality and Participation. 36(1): 7–11.Turner, Fred. 2009. “Burning Man at Google: A Cultural Infrastructure for New Media Production.” New Media and Society 11(1–2): 73–94.
If you are a EuroBurner, we'd appreciate your participation in our survey: Burning Progeny: The European Efflorescence of Burning Man, integral to a cultural research project supported by the University of Fribourg and the Swiss National Science Foundation. The survey is open until March 7.

Dr Graham St John is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, where he is working in collaboration with Prof Dr Francois Gauthier in the Dept of Social Sciences researching the global Burning Man movement as a religion beyond religion. His website is www.edgecentral.net

[New Book] Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am

In his new book Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance (Equinox, 2012), Graham St John presents a vivid account of the visionary dance culture of psytrance, mushrooming globally following its beginnings in Goa, India in the 1970s/1980s. Based on extensive international research, as the first detailed work on psychedelic trance, the book explores the diverse roots and global proliferation of this music and festival culture. Consideration of comparative aesthetics, spiritual technologies and controversies with studied attention to internal dynamics will strike appeal among those holding scholarly and popular interests in ritual, music and culture.

400 pages / 45 B&W images / 10 years work

Available from Equinox


Contact the author for signed/personalised copies

Global Tribe on Facebook

Reviews

"From the esoteric traveler jams of Goa to the liminal zones of Boom and Burning Man, Graham St John guides us through the cosmic carnival of global psytrance with an intoxicating blend of deep research, empathic ethnography, and edge-dancing cultural analysis. This is the definitive book on what has become, from the perspective of planetary spiritual culture, the most resonant music scene of our transhuman century."
Erik Davis, author of The Visionary State and Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica.

"Graham St John writes more insightfully about psytrance than any other academic. He provides a sophisticated understanding of that subtle relationship between contemporary spirituality, dance and music. The festival and the party are also a window into broader cultural trends. He understands both the intensity and transformative experience of psytrance, and draws on, and develops, contemporary academic theory to interpret psytrance in a way that is both respectful and incisive. We need more work like this."
Douglas Ezzy, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Tasmania

New Book: Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness: Essays on Liminal States, Psychic Science, and the Hidden Dimensions of the Mind

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am

The latest anthology from the Evolver Editions of North Atlantic Books edited by Daniel Pinchbeck and Ken Jordan, Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness: Essays on Liminal States, Psychic Science, and the Hidden Dimensions of the Mind, is an intriguing collection in which I was honored to be included. An earlier version of my chapter "Divine Mothership of Trance: Boom 2010", was posted here at Edgecentral two years ago.


  
Book Description:

A diverse group of authors journey into the fringes of human consciousness, tackling psychic and paranormal phenomena, lucid dreaming, synchronistic encounters, and more. Collected from the online magazine Reality Sandwich, these essays explore regions of the mind often traversed by shamans, mystics, and visionary artists; adjacent and contiguous to our normal waking state, these realms may be encountered in dreams or out-of-body experiences, accessed through meditation or plant medicines, and marked by psychic phenomena and uncanny synchronicities. From demons encountered in sleep paralysis visions to psychic research conducted by the CIA, the seemingly disparate topics covered here congeal to form a larger picture of what these extraordinary states of consciousness might have to tell us about the nature of reality itself.

"[A]n absorbing and fascinating read... collected, edited, and introduced by Daniel Pinchbeck; this book is a Renaissance of compelling writers delving into some of the most intriguing topics... Whether it’s Alberto Villoldo’s shamanic perspectives of mankind’s evolution into 'Homo Luminious' or Russel Targ’s article about the CIA experiments into psychic research, the book is hard to put down, however, the best thing about this is that it can be read at your own pace, with each chapter being a unique perspective. One must give this stellar collection of authors credit for their excellent writing style and compelling insights." —Dreamspeaker

http://www.randomhouse.com/book/219583/exploring-the-edge-realms-of-consciousness-#aboutthebook

Seasoned Exodus: The Exile Mosaic of Psyculture

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
My new article in Dancecult 4.1 - special edition on psytrance. Graham St John Eight Finger Eddie. Photo. Anders Tillman. AbstractPsychedelic trance music and culture (psyculture) is explored as a culture of exodus rooted in the seasonal dance party culture evolving in Goa, India, over the 1970s/1980s, and revealing a heterogeneous exile sensibility shaping Goa trance and psyculture from the 1990s/2000s. That is, diverse transgressive and transcendent expatriations would shape the music and aesthetics of Goa/psytrance. Thus, resisting circumscription under singular heuristic formulas, Goa trance and its progeny are shown to be internally diverse. This freak mosaic was seasoned by expatriates and bohemians in exile from many countries, experienced in world cosmopolitan conurbations, with the seasonal DJ-led trance dance culture of Goa absorbing innovations in EDM productions, performance and aesthetics throughout the 1980s before the Goa sound and subsequent festival culture emerged in the mid-1990s. Rooted in an experimental freak community host to the conscious realisation and ecstatic abandonment of the self, psyculture is heir to this diverse exile experience.
 Download full article PDF at dj.dancecult.net
  Bamboo Forest 1991/92. Photo by Luc Pliot.  Mandrem Beach, Goa 1991/92. Photo by Luc Pliot.



Chasing the Cosmic Sweet Spot: Total Solar Eclipse Gatherings

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
Photo. Tony Loucas
“Once I saw people applaud the sky”. 
It was March 7, 1970, and later maven of integrative medicine Andrew Weil had become witness to an extraordinary life-changing event. Under a clear Saturday morning sky, Weil had observed villagers and natives crowding into the market town of Miahuatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico, where they were exposed to a total solar eclipse. Marveling upon the sky, the locals are reported to have broken into a “spontaneous ovation of the heavens”. In his Marriage of the Sun and Moon: A Quest for Unity in Consciousness, Weil offers the immediate background for the excitement: “with great drama, a nebulous darkness grew out of the west – the edge of the umbra, or cone of shadow, whose swift passage over the globe traces the path of the total eclipse.”
The unearthly light endured for over three minutes, a temporality expanding into a prolonged present. Weil explained that there was “a quality to those minutes within the umbra that must be like the feeling in the eye of a hurricane. After all the dramatic changes of accelerating intensity, everything stopped: There was an improbable sense of peace and equilibrium. Time did not flow.” Indeed, it was three-and-a-half-minutes of clock time incomparable to any duration he’d previously known. “Then, all at once, a spot of blinding yellow light appeared, the corona vanished in the glare, shadow bands raced across the landscape once more, and the dome of shadow melted away to the east.” It was then that all of Miahuatlán broke into applause.
The people of Miahuatlán were getting high. Real high. At this privileged juncture in time and space they shared in the perfect alignment of Earth, Moon and Sun with their own bodies. And subsequent to this moment, our mesmerised observer sought to understand why this cosmic synchronicity had such a transfiguring impact on those who experience it. According to Weil, “to participate in that moment of uncanny equilibrium is to have one’s faith strengthened in the possibility of equilibrium and to experience the paradox that balance and stillness are to be found at the heart of all change”.
Photo. Deadreamer
The union of the Sun and the Moon is recurrent in philosophies and myths world-wide, that are “symbolic of the union of conscious and unconscious forces within the human psyche that must take place if one is to become whole.” Typically accessed via meditation, drugs, hypnosis, trance and other techniques, those hidden realms of consciousness occulted to us in our daily lives, are said to be perfectly represented by the corona of the Sun in union with the Moon, which is also recognized as a union of masculine and feminine energies. Thus, a total solar eclipse signifies an alchemical exchange of solar and lunar phases of consciousness, with totality contextualizing something of a peak psychocultural experience.
If we hold that there is truth in this reasoning, it then figures why such cosmic events are significant moments in the world of Goa/psytrance, whose participants, following the path Weil trailblazed in the early 1970s, would become totality freaks. By all accounts, the first “eclipse rave” was held near the coastal city of Arica at the edge of the Atacama, Chile, on November 2nd and 3rd 1994. Held in the immediate years of transition from Pinochet, that event was organised chiefly through a Chilean-German partnership, and was sponsored by outfitters Pash and filmed by MTV. With no more than 300 freaks converging (many of whom had been travelling to Goa), the occasion featured Derrick May and for the first time in his homeland, Ricardo Villalobos.
Astronomers Studying an Eclipse, by Antoine Caron (1571, oil on panel).Eclipse chasing has a long background. Historically, the experience of totality associated with a total eclipse of the Sun has been a cause for celebration or alarm, and has been interpreted according to local cosmological systems. Scientists have shown great interest in total solar eclipses since the 1700s, but it was in 1836 when solar physicist Francis Bailey had founded the industry of eclipse chasing while generating popular interest in solar physics. From that period, populations were known to travel from locations outside the line of totality to observe the spectacle, with multinational scientific expeditions mounted over the next century. Eclipse chasing eventually became a recreational pursuit with help from the Pedas-Sigler family of educators who, from the early 1970s, initiated eclipse tourism on cruise ships.

These entrepreneurs had, in fact, attempted to stage a rock festival (“Eclipse ‘70” in March 1970 at the same time Weil had experienced his epiphanies in Mexico), in the line of the Moon’s shadow in a tiny fishing village in Suffolk, Virginia, called Eclipse (so named after a total eclipse there in 1900). But the proposed event was opposed by the townsfolk who condemned the potential “freak-out” on their turf only months after Woodstock. 

These eclipse tours, which began with the “Voyage to Darkness” cruise off the north Atlantic coast of Canada in 1972, demonstrated that it was not only subscribers to Sky and Telescope that were gravitating to remote regions where shadow bands stalk the Earth. From the early 1970s, the 100 mile wide shadow has drawn many into its path. While the eclipse failed to be drawn into the orbit of the counterculture in 1970 in Virginia (when the dance music eclipse festival idea was abandoned for lunar liner cruises), with the aid of cheaper travel, electronic music technologies and the internet, it would take another 25-30 years for the dance music eclipse event to materialise.

By the late 1990s, as a cavalcade of spiritualists, astrologers and psychedelic big-game hunters found themselves in the playing fields of the HierosGamos, scientists and hippies found themselves proximate to one another in social spatio-temporal scenarios planned according to the alignment of celestial spheres at sites anticipated as optimum observation points on the line of totality. Despite the growing presence of those determined to record the experience using photographic equipment, psychedelic trance festivals accommodated those who implicitly recognise that a total solar eclipse is not merely a “cosmic event” to observe remotely, and nor just a personal alchemical experience, but a wild social event in which one was immersed totally. Like a daytime Full Moon party, or a dozen turns of the New Year celebrated at once, the alignments affected a licentious atmosphere among the crowds gathering in the totality.


So, as cosmic cowboys, prophets and prospectors joined the hunt, a whole new social event came into being as a highly specialised traveller phenomenon. Subsequent to the Eclipse Rave in Chile, solar seekers travelled to events mounted in Siberia/Mongolia, South Asia and Venezuela, where over 500 people trekked to “Total Eclipse 98”, held on the Peninsula de Paraguana at the northern tip of the country. The party featured the likes of Doof, Sid Shanti, Mark Allen, Max Lanfranconi from Etnica and Pan. In Dream Creation, Jason C (1998: 30) reported being “lapped by the Carribean Sea, cocooned in a sand-dune, surrounded by smiling technicolour people”. “Nothing can prepare you”, he reflected, “for the moment of totality. A wall of darkness races towards you, sudden dusk. And then …. You can see the cosmos like you’ve never seen it before, the Sun’s corona illuminating the Earth in a 360 degree sunset”. 
After witnessing an eclipse in India in 1996, Simon Posford and Raja Ram produced their ethnodelic “…And the Day Turned to Night”, the closing epic on their 1998 debut album Are You Shpongled?. Toward the end of the millennium, about 15,000 people travelled to the momentous Solipse Festival at Ozora, Hungary, which has been the site of the Ozora Festival since 2003.
  Star Sounds Orchestra at Solipse, Ozora 1999.
Ozora Festival 2009. Photo. Pascal Querner.
There was another Solipse in Zambia in June 2001 and in early December 2002 festivals were held on the path of totality near Lindhurst, South Australia (Exotic Native's Outback Eclipse), and in South Africa (organised by Vortex, Alien Safari and Etnicanet on the border of Kruger National Park). For an excellent documentary of the former event, see The Outback Eclipse Story by Lastlight Films. 
In the early years of the new millennium, these cosmic events accumulated a large following, as observed in 2006 at Soulclipse in Paradise Canyon on the fast flowing Koprulu Canyon River in Southern Turkey. At mid-afternoon on the day of the main event, the sky changed wrapping the 7-8,000 present in strange shadows. At that moment Hallucinogen flicked the switch, the Sun was occulted by the Moon and Venus burned high in the mid-afternoon sky.
Soulcipse 2006. Photo. Picspark
It was a three minute cosmic snapshot whose dark flash left an imprint on the multitude of naked retinas belonging to the howling massive. These massives have continued to grow and howl amid this daytime nightworld. Recently there have been smaller, exclusive and limited events in Altay, Siberia, (Planet Art Festival, July-Aug 2008), on Amami Island Japan (2009) (see the trailer for Ray Castle's forthcoming documentary Moon Shadow) and on Easter Island (2010). While the much vaunted Honu Eclipse festival on Easter Island was apparently plagued by difficulties and a small turnout, the concurrent Black Pearl Eclipse adventure to the Cook Islands in the same line of totality in July 2010 was a glaring success. With 50-60 intrepid adventurers, I boarded the island trader Tekou Maru II (fitted out with sound system and DJs) to intercept with the cosmic shadow off Mangaia in the Southern Pacific were treated to two minutes of blissful Shadow Time.
Photo. Vagabond Forest
Black Pearl Eclipse Adventure, Raratonga, Cook Islands, July 2010.
2012 has already seen one major eclipse gathering, with Symbiosis holding a massive gathering to celebrate an annular eclipse out at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, 17-21 May 2012. With a diversity of electronic and fusional styles, that event had four main stages and a strong Burner flavour (indeed the event was held just down the road from the Black Rock Desert, the site of the annual Burning Man Festival). The gathering was held on the shores of Pyramid Lake, with the permission of the Paiute Tribal Council - the last time an event was held there was in 1986 for a Grateful Dead concert.
  Eclipse Stage at Pyramid Lake, Nevada May 20 2012.
In the wake of the Symbiosis Gathering, international totality freaks now prepare to be bathed in the next umbra at the Eclipse2012 Festival near Cairns in Far North Queensland, Australia, 10-16 November 2012.

The style of music that has been performed at these events is as diverse as that which is accommodated within the shifting soundscapes of psychedelia. In 1998, the compilation Eclipse - A Journey Of Permanence & Impermanence, released by Twisted Records in advance of the eclipse festival in Venezuela, included a few Goa and ethnodelic anthems such as that produced by Nomads of Dub (Simon Posford and Nick Barber) whose revelation in deep space “Spirals” sampled a radio communiqué from a remote observer reporting “vivid colours, different colours, glittering colours, … colours that are really indescribable, I’ve never seen colours like that”. The same album featured Doof’s “Balashwaar Baksheesh” which attempts to sonify the unheralded awe associated with something akin to a collective birth. A woman sampled announces that “I’ve never ever seen anything like it before in my life, the energy that everybody felt, they were grabbing onto something for the first time… It was amazing, the happiness that everyone felt”. Around midway, the track ascends in waves of ekstasis with females and males screaming like it’s 1965 and they’re being exposed to The Beatles live. 

In 1999, Flying Rhino released the dub and downtempo influenced album Caribbean Eclipse inspired by the eclipse passing over Colombia, Venezuela and the Caribbean Sea on the 26 February 1998. The album gathered some of the foremost artists in the scene, including Posford, George Barker and Jewel Stanbridge (vocals), who as Binah, produced the momentous “Crescent Suns”. Like an audio post-card for the eclipse, the back of the CD holds the question: “Where will you be standing for the next solar eclipse of the sun?”  

Over ten years later, the compilation released by Rockdenashi Productionz, Black Sun – Eclipse in Japan for the July 2009 eclipse in southern Japan featured local darkpsy artists who, according to the liner notes, expressed their “understanding of the world in creative darkness”.


The common thread between these different psychedelic styles? The shared experience in a cosmic event: a cosmic vibe. In his memoirs, Bailey wrote of his total eclipse experience in 1842 when he mounted a telescope inside a building at the University in Pavia, Italy: “All I wanted was to be left alone during the whole time of the eclipse, being fully persuaded that nothing is so injurious to the making of accurate observations as the intrusion of unnecessary company”. Bailey was expressing a concern common to the singular research scientist, yet remote from the experience of the eclipse festival. For while the presence of other people may disrupt scientific measurements, in the immeasurable landscape of the vibe, “company” is paramount. 
And it’s not only one’s close friends or family, but those others who’ve journeyed from far and wide to celebrate the event. Disembarking from a multitude of countries, speaking many languages, their heavenly bodies occupy that sacred space between the speaker stacks on board main floor motherships where they ascend to make interception with the sounds, the planets, and each other. On the line of totality, and in the direct line of astonishing music, solar eclipse festivals attract international habitués to a multicultural freak out of the kind that are unparalleled planetwide. With the continuation of these events, the cosmic vibe carries through to the psychedelic trance events of the present.


Graham St John is author of Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance (Equinox, Sep 2012). A shorter version of this article is reproduced in the book Goa: 20 Years of Psychedelic Trance.

Freak Media: Vibe Tribes, Sampledelic Outlaws and Israeli Psytrance in Continuum

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
I have a new article published in the journal Continuum in a special edition on Mediated Youth Cultures.


St John, Graham. 2012. "Freak Media: Vibe Tribes, Sampledelic Outlaws and Israeli Psytrance." Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 26 (3): 437–447.

Abstract

As an electronic dance music movement, for over 20 years, psytrance (psychedelic trance) has been a context by which sonic, visual, pharmacological and virtual media have facilitated the expression of interwoven narratives, experimental modes of performance, and the experience of intense sociality in scenes the world-over. A key theme adopted within this movement is the ‘tribe’, the discourse around which is multivalent, though here I focus on the transgressive dimensions of psytrance to which one is attached as a member of a tribe apart. The article provides detailed examination of the outlaw figure and sensibility in psytrance, illustrating how cultural producers – e.g. DJ-producers, label owners, scene writers, event management – facilitate the party vibe, and a distinct ‘psychedelic. or ‘freak’ identity via this trope. Among the chief icons of performance, prestige and tribalism sampled within psytrance music and culture, the outlaw is adapted from popular cultural sources (especially cinema) and redeployed as a means of dissolving and performing difference. The exploration of the outlaw conceit in what I call nano-media amplified by the producers of psytrance music illustrates how a psychedelic fiction is generated. Specific, although not exclusive, attention is given to Israeli producers, which offers comment on psytrance in Israel where this music is considered popular.

Download the PDF

Prologue to my new book Global Tribe: technology, Spirituality and Psytrance

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am

They occupy the Temple in the thousands. At the dusk of a scorching day, in outfits with vivid fractal designs, alien insignia, OM symbols and geometric mandala patterns, they arrive in cohorts who’ve journeyed from a multitude of national embarkation points. With utility-belts slinked at the waste and dreadlocks knotted back, imprinted with futuristic glyphs, etched in tribal tattoos and marked by facial piercings, they come bearing gifts of specially prepared decoctions, meads, herbal mixes, ganja cakes, crystal powders, beer and other intoxicants, along with fruits and energy supplements they will share among friends and strangers encountered through the night, and into the day. Entering this vast hexagonal covered arena, the noise of the surrounding festival recedes as occupants are enveloped in “3D sound” controlled from a stage upon which rests a stellated dodecahedron portal within which scheduled DJs perform the hypnotic bass and rhythm patterns of electronic trance music dictating a compulsion on the part of those present to become activated by moves. And as the natural light fades, the Temple is enlivened with psychotropic projections, morphing geometric laser patterns and blacklights triggering ultraviolet reactive designs and illuminating the awestruck appearances of Temple dancers who will carve shapes into the night. At one side of this structure, groups huddle under luminescent Day of the Triffids-like installations crafted from recycled material, and all around the edges the enthused are lost to engrossing acrobatic displays, spinning fire staff and twirling LED poi with stunning light-trail effects. Into the early hours of the morning, the intensity of furious-paced “darkpsy” transits towards uplifting and melodic sounds as the Sun clears the horizon and begins its journey over the sky’s proscenium arch.

It’s mid-summer in Portugal, at the tail end of August 2010, and I’m on one of the most expansive and impressive outdoor dance floors on the planet. The Dance Temple is integral to the biennial Boom Festival held in central-eastern Portugal near the protected area Parque do Tejo Internacional and the village of Idanha-a-Nova. An eight-day event, Boom is the premiere production in world psychedelic trance (psytrance) and visionary arts culture, with its Temple attracting near 25,000 people holding passports from approximately seventy countries. If there’s a global centre of psyculture, this is it. Inside the Dance Temple, I’m immersed in a soundbath of languages and caught in a blizzard of sensory impressions. Up on stage, an artist is DJing from a laptop and orchestrating a sonic broadside incorporating hypnotic melody lines around persistent and seductive bass-lines. Frequencies amplified through the sound system enervate my whole being. Time passes, and I too pass outside of normal time. And within this prolonged now, the optical grows rhythmic and sounds become visible. The national colour-codes and iconography of Japan, Israel, Sweden, Brazil and Australia, to name a few, blend with expatriate gestures, not dissimilar to those performed by forebears in Goa, India, the birthplace of Goatrance, the formative dance movement from which psytrance and its various subgenres grew. There’s possibly 10,000 people on and around this dance floor at this moment, a vast congregation of fleshy gesticulations, its habitués performing the international hand and foot signals of trance. I feel like I’ve landed among a community in exile. There’s multiple personal, lifestyle and cultural concerns this community’s inhabitants have sought exodus from, and at this moment they’re communicating their desires in the expressive mode of dance. And, as I slide into the groove, I feel like I’ve come home.

As I come about, I’m face-whipped by a woman with long black dreadlocks. Commanding a wicked stomp, she’s beside herself. Nearby, a Japanese freak in his early thirties stands astride jabbing at unseen soap bubbles up ahead. He’s joined by compatriots in carnage alive on the pulse. An Italian girl in fairy wings swivels gracefully four-stepping in perfect unison with the beat. A German freak, who I recognise by his unyielding grin, is cutting it up inside his own personal smoke cloud. Others clown around, hug their partners in the sublime, prepare a chillum, maintaining form amidst the mayhem. All about me, transnational beat freaks ride the 16th note loop of psychedelic trance, compelled by its progression, acting as if everything depends on its maintenance, as if a faltering move will cause a collapse in the rhythm and a diminution of the vibe. And as we pass outside of ourselves, it seems to me that everyone has fallen into the slot, that zone which everybody knows though few can articulate—that moment in which nothing remains the same. “This is it”. Grinning under bass pressure, my crazy Russian neighbour shouts something barely intelligible, something about the “mothership” we’ve boarded. Oscillating between self-dissolution and spectacular displays of the self, its passengers are blissful abductees. Many producers have collaborated to steer our ship through the night. In transit, time’s lost and the world is gained. Eventually, I snake my way across this incredible synesthetic stomping ground, idling to absorb kangaroo stilt performers jumping over gales of laughter. Leaving this dance floor is like finding the best route out of a metropolis. Floating on a wave of exhilaration and the aromas of chai, charas and changa, eventually I emerge out of the Temple and disappear into the wider festival.

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Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
I am excited to announce that my new book Global Tribe will be finally out in a few months.
Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance
Graham St John
Preorder from Equinox 
Out: Sep 2012

Cover designed by Symbolika (symbolika.com) in collaboration with gwyllm-art.com"From the esoteric traveler jams of Goa to the liminal zones of Boom and Burning Man, Graham St John guides us through the cosmic carnival of global psytrance with an intoxicating blend of deep research, empathic ethnography, and edge-dancing cultural analysis. This is the definitive book on what has become, from the perspective of planetary spiritual culture, the most resonant music scene of our transhuman century."~ Erik Davis, author of The Visionary State and Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica.
Trance events have an uncanny ability to capture an era, and captivate an audience of travellers occupying the eternal theatre of the dance floor. As this book shows, the tendency within psytrance is to thwart the passage of time, to prolong the night, for those who adopt a liminal lifestyle. Amid the hustle and hubris of the psytrance carnival there is a peaceful repose that you sometimes catch when you’ve drifted into a sea of outstretched limbs, bodies swaying like a field of sunflowers in a light breeze. And you feel intense joy in this fleeting moment. You are the moment. You are inside the flow. You are all. Embodying the poetry of dance, you are living evidence that nothing lasts. And this is a deep revelation of the mystical function of trance. It is difficult to emerge from this little death, because one does not want the party to end. But it must end, even so that it can recommence—so that one can return to repeat the cycle.

The result of fifteen years of research in over a dozen countries, this book applies a sharp lens on a little understood global dance culture that has mushroomed all over the world since its beginnings in the diverse psychedelic music scenes flourishing in Goa, India, in the 1970s and 1980s. The paramount expression of this movement has been the festival, from small parties to major international events such as Portugal’s Boom Festival, which promotes itself as a world-summit of visionary arts and trance, a “united tribe of the world”. Via first-hand accounts of the scenes, events and music of psychedelic trance in Australia, Israel, Italy, the UK, the US, Turkey and other places, the book thoroughly documents this transnational movement with its diverse aesthetic roots, multiple national translations and internal controversies. As a multi-sited ethnography and an examination of the digital, chemical, cyber and media assemblage constituting psytrance, the book explores the integrated role that technology and spirituality have played in the formation of this visionary arts movement and shows how these event-cultures accommodate rites of risk and consciousness, a complex circumstance demanding revision of existing approaches to ritual, music and culture.

 
Contents
Ch 1. Transnational Psyculture
Ch 2. Experience, the Orient and Goatrance
Ch 3. The Vibe at the End of the World
Ch 4. Spiritual Technology: Transition and its Prosthetics
Ch 5. Psychedelic Festivals, Visionary Arts and Cosmic Events
Ch 6. Freak Out: The Trance Carnival
Ch 7. Psyculture in Israel and Australia
Ch 8. Performing Risk and the Arts of Consciousness
Ch 9. Riot of Passage: Liminal Culture and the Logics of Sacrifice
Ch 10. Nothing Lasts

Another review:

'Graham St John writes more insightfully about psytrance than any other academic. He provides a sophisticated understanding of that subtle relationship between contemporary spirituality, dance and music. The festival and the party are also a window into broader cultural trends. He understands both the intensity and transformative experience of psytrance, and draws on, and develops, contemporary academic theory to interpret psytrance in a way that is both respectful and incisive. We need more work like this.'
Douglas Ezzy, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Tasmania.

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Ohms not Bombs webportal

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am


Ohms not Bombs is a great new web portal resource created by Pete Strong with vast info on networked nodes, events and campaigns illustrating how dance party & political protest became mobilised in Sydney and odysseys beyond.

Rave From the Grave: Dark Trance and the Return of the Dead

Edge Central> Graham St John - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
Karnaval 2008, Italy. Photo by www.alexcanazei.com
A new book from McFarland, Zombies Are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead, edited by Cory James Rushton and Christopher M. Moreman, has recently been published which features my chapter "Rave From the Grave: Dark Trance and the Return of the Dead" 

For more about the book see  Zombies Are Us.


While McFarland is unlikely to win awards for excellence in publishing, this is a very good collection of essays and has a companion volume "Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition". These were originally one volume but I guess McFarland saw the $s in the lead in to Halloween this year. In any case, these volumes are integral to a zombie heuristic apocalypse that has recently effected scholarship.

Unfortunately, this publisher can't see the value in promoting the TOCs of some of their books, like this one, but you can view that and some content at Google books. The photo above by Alex Canazie (which, by the way, is infinitely better than the "naked chick" chosen for the cover design) was intended to be included with the chapter but could not be included in the book (which features no figures).

Here's the introduction to my chapter, Rave From the Grave: Dark Trance and the Return of the Dead

Amid the aural assault you catch a line from Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10: “Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me”. Behind the chilling caterwauls, a petrified girl whispers “Are we still alive?” The former line is used in Xenomorph’s anthemic “Necroid Millenium” (1998), and the latter DarKDescendent’s “The Invasion” (Brazilian V.A.Mpires, 2008), sonic bookends to a decade in darkpsy, a genre of psychedelic trance (psytrance) music that has arisen in popularity internationally. Also known as “horror trance” or “night trance”, performed by DJs before crowds of enthusiasts during the darker hours at psytrance events around the globe, darkpsy revels in the gothic liminality of the zombie, and other monstrous icons. Part of a larger ethnographic and documentary project on psytrance, this chapter investigates dark trance (and zombie raves), documenting how the zombie illustrates a desire for social re-animation among youth in the contemporary. 
Lifted from horror cinema and computer game fiction, apparent in vocal samples, label sensibilities, fashion, and body modifications, and evident in post-apocalyptic aesthetics, the living dead caricature is manifest. Simultaneously dead and alive, with protagonists seeking transit from death to life, the zombie is a liminal figure ready made for the dance party. After all, a selling point for Return of the Living Dead (1985) was that the dead were “back from the grave and ready to party”. The dance floor has become a critical topos for the zombie since it signifies the desire to return from deteriorating lifeworld conditions, to be revived from the isolation, even social “death”, of modern life. It is on the psytrance dance floor that the zombie holds such purchase for it offers a symbolic assemblage emblematic of the altered states of mind and flesh sought and achieved there, an iconic repertoire for the dispossession of routine selfhood. Moreover, it is a device appropriated in the collective performance of re-enchantment from a spiritless and disembodied lifeworld. As the living dead archetype articulates self-dissolution, the zombie has become allegorical of the desire for social revitalization. Yet, the zombie possesses a deep ambivalence that renders this monster an ideal icon for ecstatic entrancement. Thus I begin with a discussion of the zombie as a historically ambivalent signifier for ecstatic dance.



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Wanna Swim Like Phelps? Take a Dive Into the Physics of Drag

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Who Needs Frank Ocean? Check Out These 5 Great Albums Instead

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It’s Really Hard to Make Money as an Olympian

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