Global Voices

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.
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. 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

[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


"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

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
  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.


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 ( in collaboration with"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.

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.

Global Tribe on Facebook

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
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.

The Murder of Trinidad's Notorious ‘Robocop’ Leaves the Country Worried About What’s Next

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/20 - 12:44pm

Riot police in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Say the word “Robocop” in Trinidad and Tobago and the first thing that comes to mind is not the 1987 American action film, but Selwyn “Robocop” Alexis, a businessman and allegedly a major crime lord. Police had, in the past, arrested Alexis on various chargesincluding kidnapping, armed robbery, extortion, and perverting the course of justice. None of the charges ever stuck, but trouble finally caught up to “Robocop” on July 17, 2016, when he died in a shootout at a car-wash compound he owned in central Trinidad.

According to reports, two others were killed in the violence. Alexis apparently killed one of the assailants before succumbing to his own injuries, and a random customer also died in the gunfire. A five-year-old boy was shot as well, and is currently receiving care at a local hospital. Police have expressed concerns that the murder could spark a turf war between rival gangs operating in the area.

The news broke quickly on social media. On Facebook, Internet users shared videos from the scene of the shootout. Many people have felt compelled to comment on the murders. Kathryn Stollmeyer-Wight shared her thoughts:

[…] This man, Selwyn ‘Robocop’ Alexis […] How many times has he been arrested & let go for lack of evidence… […]
Today Robocop was shot dead.
Two other men were also killed.
Sadly, there will be reprisal deaths because thats the way it is.
We may not live in Paris, in Nice or in Baton Rouge, but ‘doh fool yuh fat’. We are living in T&T.

In another public Facebook post, Dane S.G. Wilson said:

You live by the sword you die by the sword. That's the only way out from living such a life style. […] An innocent man is dead and an innocent little boy is now fighting for his life! STOP THE KILLING!

On Twitter, photographer David Wears asked:

So here endeth the loooooong story of #Robocop. What all yuh think, #AboutTime or #SorryForTheLoss?#Trinidad#CrimeInTrinbago

— Jack WarnerBe (@DavidWearsPhoto) July 18, 2016

Calypsonian David Rudder, who always has a finger on the pulse of the country's politics and society (and who has a talent for highlighting their outrageous contradictions), tweeted:


Trinidad's most ” popular” criminal Selwyn ROBOCOP Alexis goes down in a hail of bullets.

— David Michael Rudder (@DavidRudder) July 18, 2016

In Trinidad and Tobago, euphemisms abound when it comes to describing gang leaders, who are often called “businessmen”, “community leaders”, or “entrepreneurs”. Because figures like “Robocop” may help people in downtrodden communities, they are often revered by residents who have come to depend on them economically.

Alexis’ widow has since suggested that he was killed by “ungrateful” people whom he would continually help. When her husband realised they did not want to work in order to help themselves, she said, he stopped the handouts and this “angered” them. Making the point that “Robocop” played the role of mediator in the community, she implied that the killers wanted him out of the picture so that they could have free reign with crime sprees in the area.

One Twitter user, accustomed to the insensitivity of some local media when it comes to sensationalising violent crime, asked:

@expressupdates @MarkBassant1 I see #Trinidad papers blurring #Robocop‘s body. 1st time Ive noticed censored murder victims pics. How come?

— Khadine (@khadine868) July 18, 2016

Even as Alexis’ son was giving interviews to the media, saying that his father was “a changed man” and only wanted peace, some Twitter users remained unconvinced:

finally ROBOCOP in Trinidad is dead

Categories: Global Voices

Ayatollah Khomeini Died 27 Years Ago, But a Trump Advisor Still Wants Him to Condemn Last Week's Attack in Nice

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/20 - 11:55am

Retired Lt. General Michael T. Flynn appears on Fox News. Image: YouTube

Donald Trump's presidential campaign has always advocated “getting tough on Iran,” but the rhetoric escalated ever so slightly last week, when retired Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, one of Trump's chief military advisors and a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, demanded that Ayatollah Khomeini—a man who's been dead for more than a quarter of a century—condemn the attack on July 14 in Nice, France.

Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, calls on a man dead 27 years to condemn extremism

— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) July 15, 2016

Appearing on Fox News with Megyn Kelly, Flynn said angrily, “I want the Imam, or Khomeini, to stand up and be counted and to talk about this radical form of ideology in their bloodstream, in their DNA.”

Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini died in 1989 after establishing the Islamic Republic of Iran, the first modern-day theocracy, following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Flynn either confused the name “Khomeini” with Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, or he is unaware that Ayatollah Khomeini died 27 years ago. Whether the mistake was confusion or ignorance, Flynn appeared on Fox News again the following day, on July 15, and said Khomeini again, insisting that the long-dead man denounce the attacks in Nice.

Internet users both in Iran and the US have shared a few thoughts about Flynn's curious interest in “the Imam Khomeini.” Iranian Twitter user Ameneh Mousavi tweeted:

عقلاي قوم اين درسته؟؟؟
ژنرال مایکل فلین مشاور نظامی دونالد ترامپ از “آیت الله خمینی” رهبر ایران خواسته حمله تروریستی نیس فرانسه رو محکوم کند

— ameneh mousavi (@MousaviSa) July 16, 2016

Wise people, can this be right? General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's military advisor, wants “Ayatollah Khomeini,” the leader of Iran, to condemn the Nice terrorist attacks.

Iranian-American journalist Saman Arbabi wrote:

On foreign policy #Trump team makes Bush team look like Nobel Laureate winners.

— Saman Arbabi (@SamanArbabi) July 15, 2016

American Internet users took an interest in the story, as well, after the Huffington Post wrote about it:

“Flynn’s offer to list Muslim leaders was undermined by the fact that his top example had been dead for 30 years”

— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) July 15, 2016

Cool, let's give the codes to ppl who cant tell diff bet. living ppl and really dead ones COME ON via @HuffPostPol

— Maude Snuggs (@MillCunningham) July 15, 2016

A parody account satirizing the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, also had some thoughts:

Wonder if he knows that Gorbachev isn't president of Russia.

Trump adviser wants Khomeini to denounce Nice attack

— Soviet Sergey (@SovietSergey) July 18, 2016

Categories: Global Voices

Iranian Hardliners Want to Stop Blocking Twitter — to Defeat Saudi Propaganda

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/20 - 1:28am

A screenshot of Twitter being written into the ancient Persian Cyrus Cylinder in an animation film for Farsi Twitter, highlighting the platforms importance for communications in Iran. Watch the video here.

A group of Iranian government hardliners, who typically stand at the forefront of policies curtailing freedom of expression, are demanding that Iran stop blocking Twitter.

This sudden change of tune has very little to do with the rights of Iranian users. Rather, they are making this move in an effort to ensure Iranian dominance in a so-called Twitter war with Saudi Arabia.

The group first took this new position in an article on Tabnak News, a conservative news website founded by former Revolutionary Guards’ commander (and current member) Mohsen Rezaee, in a piece entitled: “Has the time come to remove the filter on Twitter in order to enter into a  “online battle”? The unnamed author reasoned that Twitter's international appeal justified the move:

وییتر یک رسانه کارآمد و یک بلندگوی به شدت قوی در سطح بین‌الملل است که پیش از مسلط شدن سعودی‌ها بر آن، باید توسط ایرانی‌ها کنترل شده باشد. انتظار می‌رود برای حضور وسیع کاربران ایرانی در این «نبردآنلاین» که بخواهیم یا نخواهیم رسماً آغاز شده، بستر لازم در این دوره زمانی فراهم شود و قدرت عمل در اختیار تعداد بالای کاربران ایرانی قرار گیرد.

Twitter is an efficient media and a extremely strong microphone on the international level and before Saudi takes it over it must become controlled by Iranians. The necessary conditions should be provided for Iranian users during this period since the online war is official started whether we like or not.

The Tabnak article argues for the removal of censorship to obstruct a so-called “psychological operation” perpetrated against Iran by Saudi Arabia.

عربستان سعودی، یک عملیات روانی را در توییتر علیه ایران به راه انداخت و با هشتگ #ایران_تدعم_الارهاب_بفرنسا، کوشید تا به استدلا‌ل‌های مضحک حملات نیس را به گردن ایران بیندازد.

Saudi Arabia, has commenced a psychological operation against Iran on Twitter with the hashtag #Iran_Supports_Terrorism_France, trying to blame the Nice attacks on Iran with ridiculous arguments.

These concerns are nothing new, as Saudi Arabia and Iran have a long history of tensions in the region. While Saudi Arabia is often the leader in the Sunni sectarian side of regional tensions, the majority-Shiite Iran leads the other side. This past January, Saudi cut diplomatic ties with Iran when its missions in the country were ransacked following the execution of Sheik Nimr, a Shiite leader who advocated for Shiite rights in Saudi Arabia. Conflicts between the two nations also have escalated with the proxy combatants that both countries maintain in the Yemeni civil war. And last year, Global Voices documented the ongoing social media campaigns of Saudi-led Twitter accounts that fueled Kurdish tensions in Mahabad.

The Tabnak article does mark a departure from the ongoing contrast between the relatively moderate administration of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and more conservative factions of the Iranian government. However, it should be noted that Tabnak and Rezaee form into a hardline faction that are often critical of other hardliners, such as those close to the former conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Before Rouhani came into office, the government's position on Internet content was often articulated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In one speech, he said:

Today, there is Internet, satellite, and many other communication platforms for easy communications. Various thoughts compete to dominate the minds of Muslims. Today however, we are at a battlefield and face a real campaign to influence our minds. This war and campaign is not a disadvantage. In fact, it is to our advantage. I am certain that we will win the war if we enter the battlefield and do what we have to do, taking out and using our ammunitions, which are our Islamic thoughts stored in our barracks of divine studies. We have to do this.

Rouhani came into power in 2013 with promises of increasing freedoms online. While a conservative majority in other parts of the Iranian government has made this promise difficult to keep, they have had some victories.

In January of 2015 they prevented the filtering of popular messaging applications such as Whats App and Viber by blocking the decisions of the hardline judiciary in implementing their filtering rulings. In January of 2016 they also brought the CCDOC (Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content) towards a decision not to filter Telegram. This was no small feat, given that the CCDOC is managed by the judiciary (not to be confused with Iran’s Ministry of Justice), which is typically a conservative body.

Iranian Internet users have often wondered why these decisions have not been extended to unblock Twitter and Facebook, platforms that were censored following the 2009 Green Movement.

What is the the difference between Instagram or Telegram and Twitter where only the latter is blocked in Iran?!

— MAHDI TAGHIZADEH (@mahdi) July 5, 2016

The Tabnak article continues, specifically highlighting Twitter “Trends” as a reason for Saudi Arabia's success in dominating Iran on Twitter:

به نظر می‌رسد با توجه به شرایط کنونی و فعال شدن عربستان سعودی در توییتر برای ایجاد جنگ روانی علیه ایران از طریق «ترند» کردن موضوعات ضدایرانی، باید در این مقطع درباره رفع مسدودیت توییتر در کشورمان بررسی‌هایی توسط نهادهای تصمیم‌گیرنده صورت پذیرد.

It seems that considering the current situation and the active presence of Saudi Arabia on Twitter for the psychological warfare against Iran through “trending” anti-Iran issues, we must at this time gather the deciding organizations to considering the unblocking of Twitter.

The feature of Twitter “Trends” that amplifies certain social media campaigns does not in work in Iran, since the Iranian government blocks the platform, which prevents Twitter from tracking the geolocation of trends inside the country.

It is unclear how far Tabnak's call to re-open Twitter will go. Tabnak founder Mohsen Rezaee himself has been a member of Facebook since his 2013 bid to run for President and on Twitter since 2015.

In a Facebook post from earlier this year, Rezaee stoked Israeli and Saudi tensions with Iran with this statement to his followers:

روزی كه #اسرائیل، دوست امروز #آل‌سعود از ایران شكست بخورد، همه مردم منطقه فریاد زنده‌باد #ایران سر خواهند داد».

The day that #Israel, today's friend of the Al Saud's are defeated by Iran, the people of our region will celebrate with cries of “long live Iran”

A follower responded to Rezaee's post, mocking the fact that he had circumvented Iranian laws and censorship for religious reaons:

ضمنا شما برای استفاده از فیلترشکن حجت شرعی دارید دیگه؟

The day you use a circumvention tool for religious justifications?

The irony of Iranian officials belonging to social networks that are blocked in the country has long been acknowledged by Iranians.

In its conclusion, the Tabnak piece argues that the only dangers Twitter poses to Iran are through Saudi-led efforts:

حقیقت آن است که توییتر دارای ابعاد اخلاقی منفی نیز نیست و تنها ابعاد امنیتی برای آن متصور بود که با توجه به تحرکات اعراب ضدایراتی، این ابعاد پررنگ‌تر می‌شود.

The truth is Twitter does not have a negative moral dimension just a security dimension that was magnified through a anti-Iranian movement led by Arabs.

Previous official reasons given in 2009 linked Twitter to foreign efforts to promote “sedition” with the Green Movement protests.

This is part of a new tide of political figures previously inclined to condemn and censor media such as Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan who took to social media to counter the recent coup,.

Categories: Global Voices

The Lives of Migrant Workers in Thailand's ‘Little Burma’

Global Voices Online - Tue, 2016/07/19 - 9:23pm

A migrant worker is pictured laboring in a construction site in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, Thailand. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

This article by Nyein Nyein is from The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Wandering through Samut Sakhon, just southwest of Bangkok, the image of people wearing the traditional wrap-around sarongs called longyi or tamein while speaking Burmese could make a stranger feel as though they are in Myanmar's largest city Yangon, rather than a Thai city.

For many Burmese migrants in Thailand, Sunday is the only day off each week—a time for relaxation and a brief respite from hard labor; but for thousands of other daily-wage workers, there is no such day of rest.

Those who migrate to the region are often motivated by the hope of earning better salaries. Samut Sakhon is perceived from afar as a safe haven, as the pay here is known to be higher than Bangkok, yet the fishing industry situated in the province remains infamous for its low wages and exploitative conditions.

Known locally as Mahachai, but widely referred to among foreigners as “Little Burma” (Myanmar is formerly known as Burma), the port town of Samut Sakhon hosts between 300,000 and 400,000 Burmese migrants working in some 6,000 factories and fisheries.

Ma Thein Win is originally from Myanmar’s Tenasserim Division, and has been in Thailand for five years. She had previously worked in Bangkok, but in April she moved to Samut Sakhon hoping to increase her income as a construction worker.

The 45-year-old mother of four longs to return to her home village in Dawei District.

“But we have no money and no home; how could we go back and survive?” Thein Win asked softly, all the while tidying a pile of wood next to the construction site, where men worked atop the unfinished buildings.

If there was gainful employment to be had in their homeland, many in Thailand’s migrant community spoke to The Irrawaddy of going back to Myanmar, instead of seeking work in a foreign country in order to survive.

Migrant workers are pictured laboring in the Talaat Kung shrimp market in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, Thailand. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

‘We keep our patience’

In 2012, Myanmar's then-opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited Thailand—and Mahachai—for the first time. She visited a second time in June of this year, this time as state counselor after her party won elections in November 2015 by a landslide. During that most recent trip, Suu Kyi met with only a small number of Mahachai’s migrants, after Thai authorities blocked access to Myanmar’s de-facto leader for labor rights groups and a large crowd of waiting Burmese nationals.

Thein Win was one of many migrants unable to be present at Suu Kyi’s talks with Burmese workers in Thailand. Reflecting on The Lady’s visit brought her to tears, which she attributed to “mixed feelings.” Suu Kyi, Thein Win still hoped, would work to “bring good” into their lives.

Burmese workers at Talaat Kung, or the shrimp market, also became emotional when discussing the state counselor’s visit and their hopes for better job opportunities, which Suu Kyi recognized during her Thai visit. Their wages are often inconsistent, ranging from 200 Thai baht (US$5.72) to 300 baht ($8.58), the latter of which is the official minimum daily wage in Thailand, but is often not afforded to foreign migrant workers.

Sorting through shrimp on a table, Aye Myat Mon told The Irrawaddy that she earns the Thai minimum daily wage for her eight hours of labor, but that working times vary depending on the availability of shrimp or other seafood. Claiming to be 18, but appearing much younger, Aye Myat Mon arrived in Thailand four years ago from Moulmein, Mon State, and lives with her sister—she said only her parents remain at the family home in southeastern Myanmar.

Securing sources to speak on the record about working conditions in Mahachai was particularly challenging; many of the individuals laboring in the seafood industry dared not make complaints to the press.

Thai employers are reluctant to attract media coverage focusing on the region’s docks, markets or construction sites; workers told The Irrawaddy that if they were discovered as having contributed to a story on Little Burma, they feared they would be later fired.

“As we are working in another country, we keep our patience, as Amay [Mother] Suu has said,” Ye Min, a worker in Talaat Kung told The Irrawaddy, before being interrupted by a superior, ending his interview.

Migrant workers are pictured laboring in the Talaat Kung shrimp market in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, Thailand. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

‘Being preyed upon’

Workers also shared stories of their fear of Thai police scrutinizing their identity documents and employment papers, looking into whether they have permission to legally work in the country.

“The police ask for money to make extra income when they suspect our documents [are incomplete],” said one man working in the shrimp market, in both a hushed voice and on the condition of anonymity.

The number of migrant workers in Thailand is estimated at between 3 and 4 million, but less than half are officially registered. Different policies have been implemented to assist workers from Myanmar in obtaining legal documents, particularly when their current papers expire. This includes registration for a “pink card,” or employment permit, which can be pursued after the expiry of a four-year visa.

“Even if they are documented migrant workers, they are often being preyed upon,” said Sai Sai, a staff member at the Migrant Workers Rights Network, an organization assisting migrants from Myanmar in Thailand.

Sai Sai explained that authorities’ suspicions can be raised by a worker’s lack of Thai language skills, and can lead to an arrest for suspected drug use, or for traveling between provinces within Thailand—the “pink card” does not facilitate freedom of movement and only allows migrant workers to remain in the part of the country in which their documents are registered.

According to a Bangkok Post report, the registration deadline for a migrant work permit has been extended until July 29, after which, authorities say there will be no leniency. But a further crackdown is expected—on those both in Samut Sakhon and throughout Thailand—for whom meeting registration requirements remains difficult.

Migrant workers are pictured laboring in the Talaat Kung shrimp market in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, Thailand. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Categories: Global Voices

In China, a University Degree Isn't Always a Golden Ticket to Employment

Global Voices Online - Tue, 2016/07/19 - 10:57am

Chinese graduates at a job exhibition in 2007. Photo from state news agency Xinhua.

Once again, more than 7 million students in China graduated from university in May. If you add in the 300,000 overseas graduates and previous years’ graduates who are still looking for jobs, that means more than 15 million young people were reportedly seeking their fortunes at the same time this year.

As a newly rising economy power, China is considered to have a huge job market. Indeed, when you google “find a job in China”, millions of results pop up. But the reality is many graduates struggle to find work after finishing their studies. In fact, a popular saying that has arisen in recent years holds that “graduation equals unemployment.”

In 2013, the unemployment rate of graduates from colleges and universities two months after graduating was 17.6 percent, according to Times Higher Education; for those in rural areas, it was 30.5 percent. That's higher than the general unemployment rate (or at least what's thought to be the unemployment rate, since data out of China is unreliable). As China's economy has slowed down in the past two years, the graduate unemployment problem only has worsened.

The frustration of China's younger generations is reflected in a number of widely circulated social media and mobile text messages, such as the following:


When we were born, the infant formula was toxic; when our bodies were in development, we could only consume junk food; when we attended kindergarten, the school fee was out of control; when we graduated from university, we were unemployed; when we tried to earn our living via the stock market, it collapsed; when we tried hard to fall in love, we found out all handsome guys were gay; when we started chasing after the mainstream [culture and values], they were no longer mainstream.


What university means: management is like prison, the quality is for hooligans. [Students] learn how to kiss in public, consume like a white-collar worker, daydream in class. Skipping classes is common, dormitories are like internet cafes. Taking exams becomes a profession, only the aristocracy can afford school fees. Thesis looks like Baidu search results. Everyone gets short-sighted. The food in school canteens is for feeding animals. Having a job is like a dream. Graduation equals unemployment. Jobs [available] on the market are for rural-to-urban migrants.

Many believe that part of the problem of unemployment for recent university graduates is related to the policy of higher education expansion since 1999. Back then, only about 35 percent of high school graduates entered post-high school education including colleges, technical schools and universities. But in 2015, the percent was more than 80 percent, and about 40 percent became undergraduates at universities. For big cities like Beijing, the number of students entering university was more than 70 percent.

Some argue there aren't enough jobs for so many university-educated people. On popular social media site Weibo, Lydia commented on the over-supply of graduates:


Graduates are everywhere, and college students are not worth anything now. How could you tell the difference?

Another Weibo user, “Nomadic hero”, wrote that a side effect of expansion is a drop in the quality of graduates in general:


The fight for educational justice to make sure the majority of people have the chance to go to school is good. But it is true that the quality of students is getting worse. It is the university, rather than students, that lose value.

“Ling Yan San Chi” lamented:


Graduated for two years already, but I am still working on how to find a job!! Why is my life so miserable?

Though it is difficult to find job, many still consider entering university as the best path to obtain specialized skills and climb the social ladder — hence they do not feel regret for the choice. “HaiDe XiaTian” even chose to carry on his studies in postgraduate school:

后悔啊,可是后悔又能怎样 只能硬着头皮走下去,考研是通往理想大学的最后也是唯一的机会

I feel regret [about pursuing higher education], but there is no other way and I have to carry on down this path. Going to postgraduate school will be my last chance to enter an ideal university.

The graduation ceremony is called commencement, which should stand for a new beginning for graduates, but many see it like an individual struggle, such as Weibo user UsedToBe5:


Finding a job is a tough thing because you have to fall down and get up again and again. Of course, I have no one to blame since I choose it myself.

Not everyone is gloomy about the situation. A hashtag on Weibo called #graduation doesn’t mean unemployment# gives the topic a positive twist, and messages try to offer support, tips and personal experiences.

The latest status with the above hashtag was published on July 12 by Weibo user “WanAn Xin XinYu,” who was one of the 7 million newly graduated young people in 2016:

今天又要去面试工作了,希望明天能开始工作 #毕业不等于失业#加油!虽然已经失业快一个月了

I am going to have another interview today, and I wish I could start working tomorrow. #graduation doesn’t mean unemployment# Add oil [a phrase of encouragement]! Although I have been unemployed for a month.

Categories: Global Voices

The Week That Was at Global Voices Podcast: Freedom, Not Control

Global Voices Online - Tue, 2016/07/19 - 6:17am

This week we take you to Indian-administered Kashmir, Nepal and China. We also speak with Global Voices contributor Angel Carrion about Puerto Rican opposition to a US fiscal control board, and we chat with Global Voices author Thant Sin about an outpouring of support for an official in Myanmar who dared to speak out against a radical Buddhist nationalist group.

This episode features stories by Kisholoy Mukherjee, Vishal Manve, Sanjib Choudhary, Oiwan Lam, Angel Carrion and Thant Sin. Many thanks to all our authors, translators and editors who helped make this possible.

In this episode of the Week that Was at Global Voices, we featured Creative Commons licensed music from the Free Music Archive, including Please Listen Carefully by Jahzzar; The Universal Fluff Theory by Krackatoa; Anamorphic Orchestra by Alan Singley; Origami 1726 by the Blue Dot Sessions; Driving me backwards by Phil Reavis; and Carcrashlander Instrumentals by Cory Gray.

Image used in the Soundcloud thumbnail is by Andres Musta. Uploaded on to Flickr. Taken on January 2, 2012. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)



Categories: Global Voices

Russian Artists Reimagine Pokémon Go With Soviet Cartoon Characters

Global Voices Online - Tue, 2016/07/19 - 4:16am

Who wouldn't want to catch this little dude? Cheburashka, a beloved Soviet cartoon character, placed in a Pokémon Go setting. Image from 2D Among Us.

The Pokemon Go game is taking the world by storm, and although it officially launched in Russia only today, July 18, Russian users have already joined in the fun. And Russian officials have already warned that the game could be used to “spark riots” and could “ruin us [Russians] spiritually.”

Other RuNet users have taken a more light-hearted approach to making Pokémon Go their own. A group of Russian artists and designers from the 2D Among Us community on VKontakte, Russia's largest social network, asked the question: What if the game was situated in the former Soviet Union and populated with characters from old Soviet cartoons? The resulting image manipulations are frankly adorable, bringing Cheburashka and other well-known cartoon figures to mobile screens, and placing monkeys, parrots and cute poltergeist Kuzya in recognizable post-Soviet landscapes, such as shabby garages, decaying playgrounds and industrial backgrounds.

Everyone's favorite big-eared wonder Cheburashka in front of a broken phone booth. Image from 2D Among Us.

The artists also played with other game interface elements, replacing the pokeball device with a children's red rubber ball. The details look so familiar that one VKontakte user remarked they could “almost hear the sound of that ball.”

The Monkey from 38 Parrots cartoon finds herself in a dilapidated factory setting. Image from 2D Among Us.

The 2D Among Us community shares images of cartoon or movie characters edited into images of mundane reality, providing a playful and often surprising look at the things we observe around us every day. See more Pokémon Go-inspired cartoon characters on the 2D Among Us VKontakte page.

The Dude (Muzhychok), a character from the great plasticine cartoon “Last Year's Snow Was Falling.” Image from 2D Among Us.

Categories: Global Voices

‘People Are Getting on Those Boats Because They Want to Live’

Global Voices Online - Tue, 2016/07/19 - 3:06am

Screen capture of a rescue operation by SOS Méditerranée via YouTube

With conflict and insecurity plaguing North and West Africa and civil war lingering in Syria, people continue to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea on makeshift boats to seek sanctuary in Europe.

The human cost of these passages has been dramatically high. In 2015, more than one million people were estimated to have entered European Union countries by sea, five times more than the year before. So far in 2016, the figure stands at more than 240,000. According to the UN Refugee Agency, about 3,500 people who tried to immigrate to Europe died or went missing in the Mediterranean Sea in 2014. In 2015, the number rose to 3,771. This year has already seen 2,944 people perish.

This is where SOS Méditerranée comes in. SOS Mediterranée is an organization aiming to provide assistance to any person in distress at sea, whether they are men, women or children, migrants or refugees, who find themselves in mortal danger while crossing the Mediterranean. The project is financed by private donations and public funding. The funds raised go toward renting the boat and the daily costs of maintenance and rescue.

The MS Aquarius in Cuxhaven, 2012. CC BY-SA 3.0

The ship used for the operation is the Aquarius. SOS Mediterranée was started by German merchant marine captain Klaus Vogel and Sophie Beau of France, who has experience in humanitarian programs. The project was created after the end of the Italian navy's Operation Mare Nostrum, which also aimed to rescue migrants in distress at sea.

SOS Mediterranée‘s blog includes several accounts from those who have made the perilous journey. These are a few of their stories.

Kebba is a 22-year-old welder from Gambia. He fled his country because of the reigning dictator and lack of work:

La seule façon d’avancer est de devenir soldat, et je n’ai pas voulu faire ça. J’ai perdu mon père et il fallait que je soutienne ma mère et mes jeunes soeurs, alors je suis parti chercher du travail ailleurs. En Libye, j’ai été kidnappé. J’ai été détenu dans un camp pendant deux mois. Il n’y avait presque pas de nourriture, pas d’eau, pas d’endroit pour dormir. Ils ont tué six personnes que je connaissais dans les camps. Ils disent ‘donne-nous ton argent ou on te tue’, et ils tiennent parole. J’ai voulu rentrer chez nous mais je n’avais aucun moyen de m’y rendre. Alors j’ai décidé de prendre ce risque de partir en Europe. Les trafiquants nous ont gardé dans un autre camp, pendant deux ou trois semaines. Le jour venu, ils nous ont entassés dans le bateau en caoutchouc. Il n’y avait pas de capitaine, seulement la volonté de Dieu. J’ai deux rêves— de devenir soudeur en mer et d’écrire un livre sur ce voyage. Mais si la vie ne m’accorde rien d’autre, j’espère au moins pouvoir vivre en paix

The only way to get ahead is to become a soldier, and I didn't want to do that. I lost my father and had to support my mother and my young sisters, so I went looking for work elsewhere. In Libya, I was kidnapped. I was held in a camp for two months. There was virtually no food, no water, nowhere to sleep. They killed six people I know in the camps. They would say, “Give me your money or we'll kill you,” and they kept their word. I wanted to go back home, but I had no way of getting there. So I decided to take a risk and go to Europe. The smugglers kept us in another camp for two or three weeks. When the day came, they stuffed us onto the rubber boat. There was no captain, just the will of God. I have two dreams: to become an underwater welder and to write a book about this journey. But if life gives me nothing else, I hope to at least be able to live in peace.

Screen capture of a rescue video on the operation's YouTube channel

Cyrill is a Cameroonian executive who fled the brutality of the militant group Boko Haram in the northern part of the country. He spoke of torture houses, robberies and violence he witnessed in Libya, a launching point for many of the boats headed to Europe:

 La Libye est un pays hors du monde, qui a perdu tout sens moral. Un monde revenu à la condition de la chair animale. Ces enfants qui s’entraînent à tirer sur les noirs dans la rue, les rackettent en leur mettant une lame sur la gorge ou apprennent à torturer les migrants sous le regard de leurs parents. Ils parlent du viol systématique des femmes sur la route, de ces passeurs ou geôliers impitoyables qui les battent et leur crachent dessus en leur répétant qu’ils ne valent pas le pain qu’on leur donne.

Libya is in another world—it is a country that has lost all sense of morality. A world that has returned to an animalistic state. There are kids who are trained to shoot at black people in the streets, rob them by putting a blade to their throat, or learn to torture migrants as their parents watch. They talk about the systematic rape of women in the streets, the ruthless smugglers and guards who beat them and spit on them and tell them that they're not worth the bread they're giving them.

Gode Mosle is a 22-year-old Syrian who lived in Damascus. He is now in Sweden but remains traumatized by his memories of his escape:

J'ai dit à mes amis en Syrie de ne pas prendre ces bateaux. Il faut qu'ils viennent par la Turquie et la Grèce, même si c'est beaucoup plus cher.  On était environ 700 dans le bateau mais il n'y avait en fait de la place que pour la moitié .Ces passeurs sont des animaux. Ils crient sur les gens, les volent et les frappent quand ils embarquent. C'était une sorte de torture psychologique qui a commencé avant même le bateau. Deux Africains sont morts dans la cale.  Ils ont été asphyxiés, ils ne pouvaient pas respirer à cause des émanations du moteur. C'était bancal, on ne pouvait pas se mettre debout ou bouger. Dès que quelqu'un le faisait le bateau menaçait de chavirer .Il y avait beaucoup de hurlements. Je ne referais pas ce voyage. Je ne peux pas oublier ce que j'ai vu. Les gens veulent vivre, c'est pour ça qu'ils embarquent sur ces bateaux.

I told my friends in Syria to not take these boats. They should go through Turkey and Greece, even though it costs a lot more. There were about 700 of us in the boat but there wasn't even room for half of us. Those smugglers are animals. They scream at people, steal from them and hit them when they get on board. It was a kind of psychological torture that started even before the boat. Two Africans died in the hold. They suffocated; they couldn't breathe because of the exhaust from the engine. It was so rickety, we couldn't stand or move. As soon as someone did, the boat threatened to capsize. There was a lot of screaming. I wouldn't make that voyage again. I can't forget what I saw. People are getting on those boats because they want to live.

For more on the subject, a French-language documentary by Jean Paul Mari shows the daily challenges faced by SOS Méditerranée over the course of a year of SOS Méditerranée:

Categories: Global Voices

Meet the Nicaraguan Feminist Group Fighting Gender-Based Violence in Central America

Global Voices Online - Tue, 2016/07/19 - 2:00am

“The founders of La Corriente” attend a feminist conference organized by the group in June 2016. Photo: Facebook

Launched in the early 1990s, La Corriente has been described as “a type of Central American feminist network consisting of groups and individual activists alike.” Members dedicate themselves to education, publication, and the organization of conferences on the ways in which gender is lived within Central American societies and the ways women can collaborate together. Initially, and for a long time, La Corriente was a movement based in all of Central America, but it later shifted, focusing all its efforts on Nicaragua.

Based in Managua, this program has three areas of focus: education, research, and communication. Activists launch a new outreach campaign every year, aimed primarily at young men and women. They work mainly with issues such as sexual and reproductive rights and the secular state. They have further developed their activism with by staging events like “Las Reinas Chulas” (“The Pretty Queens”), a cabaret theater show and feminist movement that they and another organization created together. The theater has enjoyed great success, and allows La Corriente to reach out to many people at once and transmit values in a clear way. “Los Machos,” seen in the video below, is dedicated to viewing feminine and masculine conventions from a humorist perspective.

Another one of La Corriente's works is the radio show “Cuerpos Sin Vergüenzas” (“Shameless Bodies”), which is broadcast weekly on the Central American University radio network, where it addresses various topics related to sexual and reproductive rights, such as sexual diversity. The show’s objective is to influence the public opinion and create a space to exchange ideas with listeners. The shows are available as online podcasts through Ivoox. The last episode, titled “Celebramos Nuestro Orgullo” (“We Celebrate Our Pride”), was dedicated to LGBTIQ pride:

El 28 de junio celebramos en Nicaragua el día del orgullo lésbico-gay-bisexual-trans-intersex-queer con una marcha nacional que partió del Colegio Teresiano culminando en Metrocentro, en la que participamos diversos colectivos feministas y LGBTIQ así como personas que se sintieron convocadas a demandar respeto en una sociedad donde persiste la discriminación por motivos de orientación sexual e identidad de género.

On June 28, we celebrated the lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-intersex-queer Pride Day in Nicaragua with a national parade that started at the Colegio Teresiano [Saint Teresa High School] and ended at Metrocentro [downtown], in which various feminist and LGBTIQ groups participated as people who felt called to demand respect in a society where discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity persists.

As a part of its activism, La Corriente defends sexual diversity and has carried out initiatives like “Revivir La Foto” (“Relive the Photo”). This series is the result of a research group called “Transitar Por el Género” (“Transiting [or Crossing] Through Gender”) focused on the binary description of gender and the examination of the so-called “dissident bodies” that challenge the social and sexual order regulated by heterosexual norms. In the video, participants are asked to take a photo from years ago and explain why it was an important event:

In the episode above, Shandi shows a photo of her high school graduation and tells how her top goals were professional training and, even more so, the development of her true identity. In the video, Shandi says she was able to attend university, but the intolerant environment there prevented her from finishing her degree.

The initiatives and projects carried out by this group can be followed in more detail on its website and social-network channels. La Corriente's most-recent activity was a regional feminist meeting at the Central American Feminist Conferences in Managua in mid-June, which you can follow on different social networks. The challenge of women in Central America, the visibility of African women, and the restrictions on abortion in the region were just some of the topics emphasized by participants.

Categories: Global Voices
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