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postcards from the event horizonGraham St Johnhttps://plus.google.com/105623560017324457043noreply@blogger.comBlogger44125
Updated: 2 years 2 weeks ago

Researching the Burning Man Diaspora

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm
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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. 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

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm

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

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm

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

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm
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

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm
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

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm
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

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm

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

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm
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.

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

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm

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

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:47pm
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.

Begoggled in the Mega-Vibe: Burning Man

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:46pm
Reposting a blog entry from 2007 after it was pulled by Google in late May 2011 after a DMCA Cease and Desist notification that an image reproduced infringed copyright. There was obviously a mistake here on my part, but thanks to the copyright owner of what was frankly an ordinary photograph of a structure reproduced a zillion times, that image has now been removed and I think the post looks much better.

Kyle Hailey
This post offers a brief history of electronic dance music culture at Burning Man, referencing vectors of resistance and expression within EDMCs that are explored further in my book Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures. Towards the end there's some loose comments about the curious interfacing of desert and city, as the begoggled second life merges with the first.

In attending to electronic dance music, I recognize that Burning Man is most certainly not a dance festival or a “rave”, that it hosts many different styles of music, and is, moreover, a site of multiple performance genres, visionary and fire arts. At this point it should be noted that while Burning Man is frequented by a growing population of those who might identify as "technomadic" (i.e. geek nomads and mobile digerati whose "anywhere/anytime" internet connectivity enables rootless business and lifestyle practices), the "techno" explicit to my discussion is specifically related to electronic music practices.

Burning Man, 2007. Scott London.

Metaraving: Bright Lights and Sweet Spots

Burning Man is an annual festival held on the vast canvas of an ancient lake bed (called the "playa") in the Black Rock Desert, northwestern Nevada. As an unparalleled universe of radical self-expression and non-dogmatic ritual initiated on San Francisco’s Baker Beach by Larry Harvey and Jerry James in 1986, Burning Man would become, following its transition to the Black Rock Desert in 1990, an outlandish pilgrimage center for alternative art and performance communities in the Bay Area, the West Coast, across the US, and around the world. The event is backed by decades of Californian freaklore. In his discussion of the “cults of Burning Man”, Erik Davis (2005: 17) outlines “cultural patterns” manifesting in this “promiscuous carnival of souls, a metaphysical fleamarket, a demolition derby of reality constructs colliding in a parched void”. Refractions of Californian spiritual counterculture more generally, these milieus of participant gravitation—the Cult of Experience, the Cult of Intoxicants, the Cult of Flicker, the Cult of Juxtapose, and the Cult of Meaningless Chaos—are cultures of performance and praxis overlapping with on-site vibe tribes, and their variant styles and outrageous commitments.

With a diverse array of musics ranging from neo-tribal rhythms to breakbeat, hip hop to lofty intelligent soundscapes alongside jazz and punk rock etc, as Robert Kozinets and John Sherry (2004: 289) point out, “multiple musics demarcate, blend and merge on geographic boundaries, spilling into one another … pooling into pure concentrations near encamped banks of speakers”. In this staged city such “pure concentrations” may coincide with the concentrations of responsibility constituted in Dionysian, outlaw, exile, avant-garde, spiritual and other vectors emerging within electronic dance music culture and gaining admission to this outland. As an ocean of vibes orchestrated and nurtured by “tribes” trained in these “cultic” practices and amplifying variant audiotronics, this vast counter-matrix appears as a miscegeny of bright lights and sweet spots, a sonic hyper-liminal zone like that which I experienced on my initial visit to Black Rock City in 2003 when I camped with the crew at Low Expectations right by the House of Lotus dance camp.

Burning Man was and never will be a “rave”. Yet its status as “the ultimate metarave” (the phrase comes from tireless media producer and impressario Michael Gosney who initiated San Francisco's Digital Be-Ins) seems to have solidified in recent years. In 2006, the year of my most recent Burn, the evidence was manifest in the wake of the torching of the 40 foot figure—the city’s limit experience which sees most of its inhabitants and hundreds of “art cars” encircle the blazing Man, with the scene approximating the Drive-in At the End of Time. Packed with fireworks and mortar-rockets, the towering icon cascades with sparks and bursts apart in a spectacular series of detonations, its demise willed by the bold and the sumptuous who've arrived in their tens of thousands. Kozinets and Sherry (2004: 293) suggest that “like many elements of post-rave, the burning of the Man opens up opportunities to embody a popular dance orgiasm facilitated by modern technologies”. Following the burn in 2006 I realized what they meant, for I found myself amidst mobile dance camps who’d unloaded their systems equipment, in one case go go cages, and were pumping bass and breaks across the alkaline desert night, attracting thousands of Burners wired-up and el-wired.
Photo by Scott London
This post-burn tradition goes back to 1997 to the unassumingly named “Community Dance” event. Operated by Gosney’s Radio-V, San Francisco’s Anon Salon along with the pioneer Howard St warehouse party collective the Consortium of Collective Consciousness (CCC), Dimension 7 and LA’s Tonka sound system (not to be confused with the original UK outfit by that name), that event featured trance progenitor Goa Gil (who played for 7 hours).
Photo: Scott LondonBut standing tall beyond this was the most outlandish scene of all: “Uchronia” an installation 200 feet long, 100 feet wide and 50 feet tall, funded by Belgian artists and built using rejected timber from a Canadian lumber mill by dozens of volunteers. Used in the title of Charles Renouvier’s 1876 novel Uchronie (L’Utopie dans l’histoire) and replacing topos (place) from ‘utopia’ (which literally means ‘no place’) with chronos (time) to generate a word that literally means no time, “uchronic” refers to an “alternate history” that enables its observers to question their reality. For its creators, Uchronia was a “portal, showing us what the world could be like if creativity ruled supreme” and time is hung differently. What one observer in the San Francisco Chronicle described as a “giant’s haystack twisted into a computer model of a wave with curved entrances on three sides”, was thus an intentional parallel-world posing the question to its occupants (“Uchronians”) in the fashion alternate histories pose for their readers: “what if?” And the principal activity within this time-machine, this spatio-temporal question mark in which most were undoubtedly oblivious to its meaning intellectually yet might have understood viscerally? With the desert night a welcome reprieve from the frying sun and white-outs, its occupants bathed in neon-green light, what would become more widely known as “the Belgian Waffle” was a dance club. Video by Mark Day. And of course, on the final night, it burned. With its image seared into my retinas for almost a week, Uchronia became a cavernous conflagration, an allegory of impermanence, the flaming whispers of which engulfed all who bore witness. In the wake of its desolation, on the celebratory margins of its dissolution, sensual acts of beauty transpired in blinking conclaves upon the playa. In its remarkably short life, surely one of the most spectacular clubs ever created.

One of the other huge structures on the playa in 2006 was the Connexus Cathedral, which was a dance club over the main nights.

Photos by Scott London and Steve Fritz.

The Techno Ghetto
But it wasn’t always like this. What was then known as “rave” music was first amplified at Burning Man in 1992 when a small “rave camp” appeared a mile from the main encampment, “glomming parasitically”, according to Brian Doherty’s account in This is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground (2004: 66), “onto the Porta-Johns.” The camp was organized by Craig Ellenwood of the early Oakland acid party crew Mr Floppy’s Flophouse. The headline act was Goa Gil, who played from Aphex Twin’s “Digeridoo” on digital audio tape to no more than 25 people. Also playing to hardly anybody were Brad Tumbleweed, Dave Synthesis (aka “Dsyn”), Craig and Terbo Ted. Terbo Ted has the mantle of being the first person to DJ at Burning Man. Ted informed me that in 1992 he “played on Friday afternoon to literally no one, with only ten miles of dust in front of me. It was awesome”. While he can’t recall it with precision, the first track played was some “spacey stuff” from a Jean Michel Jarre 12 inch from Craig Ellenwood’s record pile, “a record he was willing to sacrifice to the elements … it was literally a sound check” (ibid). Here is a link to a short excerpt from Terbo Ted’s live acid techno set in 1995, which was the first electronic music recorded at Burning Man to be released on CD (“Turbine time” on Shag).

The period was primitive to say the least. As Charles A. Gadeken reported in 1993: “I remember going out to the rave camp, it was five guys, a van, a couple of big speakers, a card board box covered in tin foil, colored lights and a strobe light. It was all cool.” But the reception was generally less than enthusiastic. Ted recalls that the punk (add your own prefix: anarcho, cyber, steam, shotgun, etc.) sensibility predominating at Burning Man held DJ culture complicit with “consumer society and a stain on an otherwise anarchistic, art-oriented event.” On one morning near sunrise in 1993,

a hippy dude came up to me while I was playing music on the sound system and he holds up a knife towards me and yells “are you crazy?” And I say “no, you’re the one with a knife”. And then he says he’s going to cut me or the speakers. So I turn it down, ditched the decks and circled far and wide off into the desert. He tried to cut the speaker cones with his knife but they had metal grills on the fronts, he looked like a fool and gave up and wandered off. I put on a cassette of Squeeze’s Black Coffee in Bed as he was walking away.Burning Man forced the techno reservationists to maintain their isolation a mile from Main Camp between 1992 and 1998, during which time the camp evolved into a kind of outlaw satellite of Black Rock City. Over the following two years, San Francisco’s DiY music and culture collective SPaZ (itself co-founded by Ted and D syn, along with Aaron, No.E Sunflowrfish and various others) orchestrated the sounds exclusively. It was extreme, eclectic and haphazard. Ted recalls that at one point in 1993 “we put on a cassette of the Eagles’ Hotel California by request of these two cowboys who rode in from the desert on horseback. They were thrilled.” According to Aaron, that same year “a wind storm blew down our speaker stacks, but they were still plugged in and we never stopped playing”. Listed as the official “rave” in the Burning Man brochure for 1994, SPaZ would effect a great influence on sound system culture at the festival.

Burning Man, 1995 CCC.

In these years, SPaZ, members of which later initiated the Autonomous Mutant Festival, were effectively encouraging Burning Man to be “more like the UK festival vibe where anybody could bring their sound, big or small”. So, in 1995, while SPaZ set up their small system at four points amplifying everything from minimal techno and drum-n-bass to psytrance under a four story three-cornered scaffolding with lights and “variously garish and random streamers, banners and tarps, from punk to dayglo-indian-balinese-cybertrance-batiks to outright monstrosities” visible from Main Camp, Wicked (the famed UK derived outfit who held full moon and other parties on beaches and in parks around the Bay area between 1991-1996) arrived with their turbo rig and scaffolding supporting their black and white banner. SPaZ hosted artists including Minor Minor (Gateway), Theta Blip, Chizaru and Subtropic. Featuring himself, among with DJs Markie and Bay area guest’s Spun, Felix the Dog, Rob Doten and Alvaro, Wicked co-founder (and now running Grayhound Records) Garth stated to me that they “played for 4 days and nights through hail, wind, rain and electrical storms”. North America's first free party tekno sound system, Pirate Audio, also made an appearance that year. On the windblown frontiers of techno, in this nascent vibrant ghetto accommodating the eclectic, experimental and inclusive sounds of SPaZ, the house sounds of Wicked, and other sounds besides, Burning Man had begun to attract a variety of socio-sonic aesthetics, paving the way for the mega-vibe it would later become.

In this period, besides differences between the habitués and proponents of varying dance aesthetics (from the inclusive to the more proprietary) there was considerable conflict between those who regarded themselves true Burners and those they held as little more than raving interlopers. As Ted remembers, “ravers were always pariahs at Burning Man …. it’s like we were the poor people on the wrong side of the tracks and the wrong side of the man”. At one event, a bag of human excrement was dropped on the dance camp from a low flying aircraft. According to Garth, Burning Man had the porta-potties removed from the rave camp before the festival ended. “When people started crapping on the desert for lack of options, someone carried over a bag to main camp .... Burning Man was so enraged by this they flew over and apparently dropped it on one camp."

1996 was the year of the “techno ghetto”, the brainchild of Terbo Ted and an attempt to make the ghettoized rave camp a legitimate outer suburb of Black Rock City (BRC). According to Ted, who had the support of Burning Man organizers, as a “mega-theme camp” the “techno ghetto” idea was a “fractalized imprint” of BRC’s Main Camp at the time. “We were into pre-planned zoning, using surveying flags to plot out an orbital city with sound systems on the outer ring and encampments in the center”. “Ghetto” sound systems included SPaZ, the CCC, Gateway and Wicked. Together with a live PA from local electronic producers E.T.I. and Astral Matrix, Wicked DJs played along with DJ Dimitri of Dee-Lite all performing under a projection pyramid constructed by VJ and laser outfit Dimension 7.

The "rave camp" in 1996, Mickey.
But, things didn’t go according to plan in the ghetto. According to Garth, “the honeymoon ended that year. The theme was “Hellco” and that was what they conjured up… by this point there were too many [sound systems], all bleeding into each other…. it felt more like a super club on the playa”. As Terbo Ted recalls, the “ghetto” was an “abysmal failure … DiY gone mad… Music snobbery and cliquishness and DiY anarchist tendencies prevented an orderly camp from forming and the resulting spread-too-thin sprawl proved to be dangerous in an era when cars were still driving at every vector on the playa at high speeds in dust storm white outs”. Both Garth and Ted are in part referring to a tragic incident in 1996 when three people were seriously injured sleeping in their tent near the Gateway sound system, one in a coma for months, after being collected by a stoned driver. Together with an apparent perception that the “rave” was giving Burning Man a bad name within official circles, and the likelihood that techno was perceived as disturbing electronic chatter for many participants (including Doherty, who recounts hostilities in This is Burning Man, 2004: 171-173), this incident generated an unofficial “anti-rave policy”, which was effectively countered through the compromise entailed in Gosney’s innocuously named “Community Dance” in 1997.

The Veg-O-Matic of the Apocalypse vs Goa Gil

That known DJs were being targeted by Burning Man organisers was a circumstance endured by Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky), who was apparently pursued on the playa by “Pipi Longstocking” in the mid 1990s. But the tension between ravers and Burners seems to have been appropriately dramatized in a performance which saw a standoff between Goa Gil and a giant peddle-powered flamethrowing drill and Margerita maker called the Veg-O-Matic of the Apocalypse—or, more to the point, anti-rave crusader Jim Mason who was peddling the beast. Mason’s Veg-O-Matic is described by Robert Gelman in his article Trial by Fire: “It’s straight out of hell, suggesting engineering from the industrial revolution transported to Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Part vehicle, part flame-thrower, part earth drilling device, I envision this machine being used to battle creatures in a 1950s monster movie, or to torture souls of the damned in the realm of satan”. With a pressurized gas-charger spurting flames as far as seventy feet from its barrel, and a gathering mob inciting it to greater acts of destruction, the Veg-O-Matic was known to burn installations in its path following the demise of the Man. On its post-Burn rampage, when the Veg-O-Matic rolled into the first Community Dance camp in 1997, Mason found Goa Gil (and a UFO art installation) directly in his path:

The crew of the machine is tilting the flamethrower’s barrel up at the console. Gil is staring down the 12-foot barrel of this jet powered char-broiler. I had to remind myself that this is theatre, or is it? I’m still not sure. “Burn it!” the mob chants, “Burn THEM!” Like an opposing pacifist army, the ravers are standing their ground, some shouting in defiance of the threat, some in disbelief that this could really be happening. Chicken John, like the demented circus ringmaster that he is, issues his now-familiar warning over the bullhorn [“Stand Aside”]. We seem to have travelled back centuries in time. I don’t remember ever feeling farther from home than this.Photo by Leo Nash

The mob were even demanding Led Zeppelin. It was perhaps in this moment so far from Kansas—when Gil stood his ground, even turned the volume up, in the face of obliteration—that EDMC gained credibility at Burning Man. Yet such gains are not synonymous with legitimacy. To this day, disputes rage over the validity of arrant “loudsters”, “monotonous computer loop music,” and the presence of some of the highest paid DJ brand names like Paul Oakenfold and Tiesto. See, for example, this discussion on tribe.net. When the biggest names in commercial dance music perform “45-minute showcase sets to massive crowds at MTV-Beach-Party-style setups”, it is recognized to be the “EDM equivalent of putting a Starbucks or H&M on the Esplanade”. In a typically avant response, which notably does not reject electronic music, the author of this comment, ST Frequency, states in a post on Reality Sandwich that he would rather “something a little more eclectic and unexpected, like funky industrial bluegrass, or ambient dub-zydeco” than “a cacophony of 22 differentepic trance records ‘blowing up’ from every imaginable direction”.

A Rhythm Remorseless

While concerns are held about the presence of what Mark Van Proyen refers to as the “Ibiza set” and other “tourists” swamping the festival (in Gilmore 2006: 151), after several Community Dance events, which were promoted by producer Gosney’s Radio-V as a “techno tribal ritual celebration” (involving the likes of Gil, Shpongle, Ollie Wisdom, AB Didge, Medicine Drum, Kode IV, Tsuyoshi, X-Dream, Nick Taylor and Tristan, and with contributions from techno-tribes such as the CCC, Anon Salon, Koinonea, Sacred Dance Society and Dimension 7), the audiotronics and culture of post-rave would become integral to the event.

Blue Room fire truck, 1998, CCC.

Simon Posford at the Community Dance camp 1999. Landon Elmore.
In 1998, a community sound system featuring New York's Blackkat collective, The Army of Love, SPaZ and Arcane was unpacked on the playa. Holding their own desert dance gatherings over the previous five years in the Mojave, Moontribe also set up that year, with artists performing for three consecutive nights next to The Temple of Rudra, with the final party drawing 2000 people following Pepe Ozan’s opera. Symptomatic of the ongoing tensions, as Ozan apparently neglected to inform the Burning Man organization about his deal with Moontribe (they were providing the soundcheck for his opera), the event’s unique peace keepers, the Black Rock Rangers, unplugged the generator at dawn on the first night. With the all-too-familiar experience of having “Rangers” shut them down, Moontribe’s Treavor successfully pushed for an agreement for an all-night party after the opera on the Friday night, which also happened to be a full moon. According to Treavor, with himself, Petey and Matthew Magic performing: “we kicked in with some full on Psy Trance/Techno madness and tons of people came over and stayed in front of our system until around noon when it was about 110 degrees and time to end”.

Community Dance lasers 1998, Michael Gosney.
Full Moon morning, Burning Man 1998, from Fusion Anomaly.
Given their commitment to throwing free Full Moon Gatherings in the Mojave desert since 1993 in the face of considerable adversity (remote conditions, the law and internal conflicts included), a Moontribe association would draw considerable kudos in an environment which would continue to contest the presence of “commercial muzack”. Yet, internal compromises, collaborations and concessions within Burning Man would see what was initially a source of much derision and contempt—and ghettoized one mile from Main Camp—gain greater acceptance within its sprawling inner but mostly outer conclaves (the loudest camps are now placed in the "Large Scale Sound Art Zone" at the periphery of the city, where speakers must be faced away from the city, and where a maximum power amplification of 300 watts is permitted).

Burning Man art project funding reveals the persistence of an uneasy relationship. As author of the forthcoming ethnography on Burning Man (Theater in a Crowded Fire), Lee Gilmore, informed me: “many organizers of dance oriented theme camps complain that the Burning Man Organization never funds their artistic contributions, so they have to foot the bill themselves. For their part, the organization says they simply have limited resources and other priorities. And that the EDMC scene has many other self-funding and/or commercial venues.” In 1998, the “techno ghetto” was no more. By 1999, when the final Community Dance camp was staged in Landon Elmore's recreation of the Barbury Triangle Crop Circle, the sounds of psytrance, breakbeats, tribal house etc had become flush with the soundscape of Burning Man.

Aerial view of Community Dance Camp 1999. Barbury Triangle Crop Circle. Landon Elmore.
By 2007, with Large-Scale Sound Art Camps like from Emerald City, the Opulent Temple of Venus, Lemuria and the Connexus Cathedral, electronic dance music culture had become integral to Burning Man. The audio-visual aesthetics and style of venues are diverse: from performance troupe's like El Circo with their post-apocalyptic "dreamtime imagery" and Bag End sound system to the Deep End groovement; from salacious theme camps like Bianca’s Smut Shack and Illuminaughty, to the Rhythm Society’s Blyss Abyss or the Church of WOW; and from fixed sound art installations like the House of Lotus to mobile units such as the Space Cowboys "All-Terrain Audio Visual Assault Vehicle" (a Unimog fitted with video projectors, displays, a bubble for a DJ, and a sound system, which they claim is "the largest off-road sound system in the world"), and the shape and location shifting vehicles of the DI5ORIENT EXPRESS.

Photos by Kyle Hailey
Decompressions and Recompressions

The spirit of Burning Man is raised throughout the year in San Francisco at events such as the pre-Burn Flambé Lounge, the annual Decompression Street Fair, the How Weird Street Faire, the Sea of Dreams New Year's Eve events and numerous sound art camp fundraising events held between May and August every year. The Decompression events have become hugely popular multi-area dance parties, and attracting many who’ve never been to Burning Man. The San Francisco "Heat the Street Faire" Decompression party is a reprise of the Burn held on 8 city blocks two months after the event.
By 2007, there were Decompression events in various US cities including Los Angeles and New York, and international events such as those in London and Tokyo. There were even “pre-Decompression parties” like the one I attended in October 2007 at a warehouse at 1300 Potrero produced by Want It and Ambient Mafia (watch a video of the party here) and, of course a host of Decompression after-parties.

Kyle Hailey
This seemingly endless series of events provokes inquiries about the boundaries of Burning Man. When does the event terminate? When does it start? And for that matter, where is it? While the annual event transpires for a week from late August into September out beyond the small town of Gerlach-Empire in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, its spatial and temporal boundaries are getting fuzzier. It might be stated that this was always the case. Historically the event has been a virtual imprint of San Francisco arts, technology and visionary cultures, its mutant-vehicular and theme-camped topos inscribed with emergent aesthetics and prevailing trends (such as the fairly belated Green Man theme of 2007), with remote experiments drifting back into the city proper, morphing the Bay area in often unseen and surprising ways. Indicative of scenes evolving within San Francisco, Burner fashion, body-mods, multimedia, performance arts, alterna-kit and desert punk filter back into what Burners call the “default” world. And so, to stay with my theme, the sounds and styles of Black Rock City are evident in San Francisco clublife at venues like 1015 Folsom, Sublounge and Mighty in SOMISSPRO or in art spaces like SomArts Cultural Center, Nimby and Cellspace along with parties in countless warehouse spaces. As Steven Jones makes clear in his San Francisco Bay Guardian article "Burner Season", Burning Man art and San Francisco club scenes “have merged and morphed, symbiotically feeding off one another to create something entirely new under the sun, a sort of code for the freaks who like to dress outrageously, dance madly, and be embraced for doing so.” As Promoter Joegh Bullock explains, the term "Burner" has become “shorthand for a certain style of party”. One of the main sites of Burner sensibility has been Bullock’s Anon Salon. Referred to by Gosney as San Francisco’s “cyberdelic speakeasy”, from the early 1990s Anon Salon had been an interactive, avant-garde, no–spectator style event reflective of cutting edge trends (such as the “New Edge Salon for Movers and Groovers”, Ambiotica), and buoyed by a camaraderie poorly grokked by non-Burners.

Residual Burn

New York city resident, DJ Spooky, recently (see film) referred to Burning Man as a context for "the prolonged present”. Out there, “the demarcation lines we’ve all been conditioned to accept dissolve… time blurs, you lose all of these strictures of New York, waking up, or going back to sleep, people, parties, events, blur, scenes blur, camps blur…” This is a common experience: playa life is an altered reality in which day and night, camping spaces, pounding rhythms, weird pants, strange laughter and familiar people, merge in the disorienting carnivalesque. Out on the playa, "now" is an extended experience seemingly lasting longer than most other "nows" in the lives of participants, generating a powerful compulsion amongst devoted Burners to relive the liminal experience of the playa time and again, year after year, often modifying and optimising the experience to suit their personal pleasures, dreams and visions. In making the return journey, pilgrims are not only revisiting the same place but are re-accessing the same time. But it is a "time" that is not so much a duration as a "time out of time", an "eternal presence" reminiscent of that explored by Roy Rappaport in those intensive ritual phases in which one experiences “the sheer successionless duration of the absolute changelessness of what recurs, the successionless duration of what is neither preceded nor succeeded, which is ‘neither coming nor passing away,’ but always was and always will be” (1999: 231). Awash with synchronized melodies and off-beats rhythms, under the rule of the sun and the heat of controlled burns, playing chicken with a fleet of motorized tarts, in the gaze of an androgenous BRC denizen with cyberdreads, in this “successionless duration”, “one returns", to revisit Rappaport, "ever again to what never changes”: playa time.

It may be a "place" out of time, but the prolonged presence of this place seems as fine and persistent as the white alkaline dust one carries home from the playa. Many Burners relate how the experience of Burning Man impacts their "default" existence, that their "pilgrimage" effects and shapes everyday life on the street, at work, in their homes, how they interact with others, how they raise their families, a theme considered in Lee Gilmore's ethnography, and by contributors to the book she co-edited (with Mark Van Proyen) Afterburn, and worthy of further research.

So what happens when banana time is snuk out at carnival's end? When elements of "the quick and the changeless" steal back to the "default" world? When impermanence gets an encore? Burning Man clearly leaves a compelling impression on its habitués many of whom reboot eternity the year round in a proliferation of Burn-inspired intercalary events. The event appears to be at the center of a burgeoning creative counter-cultural industry whose mission is to make now last longer, to enable one's "freak" to be more often set to "on", to facilitate the distribution of playa time across time and space. As the commitment to extending Burner artistic practices, ethos and identity beyond Burning Man possesses a reverse correspondence to that of "leaving no trace" on the playa, as the dedication to mobilizing Operation Enduring Freak appears to hold a strange equivalence to reducing MOOP ("Matter Out of Place") in the desert, Regional and other residual burns immolate the present across the continent and further afield. As announced at the official Burning Man webportal, "dozens of satellites orbit the Mother ship," with this cultural movement now encompassing "over sixty communities in seven countries, spread out over four continents."

As bike-saddled and begoggled Burners, drunk on playa time, in pink leathered chaps, pith helmets and home-made masks, ride the tall curling white-outs through the streets of San Francisco, as the Bakhtinian "second world" of the people floods the thoroughfares and habitats of the "first", as the remote cosmic life revives local lifestyle, it seems reasonable to assume that one's "social time", to again cite Rappaport, becomes enchanted by the ecstatic theater of "cosmic time". Research on the growing network of Burner tribes, and the accelerating frequency of Burn-inspired events, would shed light on this. The name for Vancouver's regional event, Recompression, might indicate something of the extended liminality desired. New York's Freak Factory, Santa Barbara's Clan Destino, or the network of virtual groups on tribe.net and Facebook et al. might illustrate what post-Burn liminalisation looks, sounds and is encoded like. And the name (along with the activities) of the extra-event disaster relief initiative Burners Without Borders may provide us with some insight on the borderless future.

But, amidst this accelerating and expanding presence, this prolongation of the prolonged present, what becomes of Burning Man, whose "spirit", like that of any "event", is its own ephemerality?

  • Doherty, Brian. 2004. This is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
  • Erik Davis. 2005. “Beyond Belief: The Cults of Burning Man”. In Lee Gilmore and Mark Van Proyen (eds). Afterburn: Reflections on Burning Man. Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press.
  • Gilmore, Lee. 2006. “Desert Pilgrimage: Liminality, Transformation, and the Other at the Burning Man Festival”. In William H. Swatos, Jr (ed) On the Road to Being There: Studies in Pilgrimage and Tourism in Late Modernity, pp. 125-158. Leiden: Brill.
  • Kozinets, Robert V. and John F. Sherry, Jr. 2004. “Dancing on Common Ground: Exploring the Sacred at Burning Man.” In Graham St John (ed), Rave Culture and Religion, pp. 287-303. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Rappaport, Roy. 1999. Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thanks to Kyle Hailey for many of the beautiful images here. More of his images at the following: Burning Man 2007, Beautiful People from the Future and West Coast Dance.

Photos by Kyle Hailey.

NOW OUT IN PAPERBACK: The Local Scenes and Global Culture of Psytrance

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:46pm

Graham St John (ed). The Local Scenes and Global Culture of Psytrance
(Routledge, 2010). OUT NOW IN PAPERBACK

Buy online from Routledge and get a *20% discount and free shipping* using the code ERJ88

This lively textual symposium offers a rich harvest of formative research on the culture of global psytrance (psychedelic trance). As the first book to address the diverse transnationalism of this contemporary electronic dance music phenomenon, the collection hosts interdisciplinary research attending to psytrance as a product of intersecting local and global trajectories. With coverage of scenes in Goa, the UK, Israel, Japan, Italy, the US, Portugal, The Czech Republic and Australia, the collection features a dozen chapters from scholars researching psytrance in worldwide locations, employing various methods, within multiple disciplines.

“This stimulating collection of essays by some of the key researchers in the field provides a genuinely insightful and engaging contribution to the study of psytrance, which students, tutors, and researchers will be turning to for many years to come. I warmly and enthusiastically welcome it.” --Christopher Partridge, Professor of Religious Studies, Lancaster University, UK


Psytrance: An Introduction. Graham St John

I Goa Trance

1. Goa is a State of Mind: On the Ephemerality of Psychedelic Social Emplacements. Luther Elliott
2. The Decline of Electronic Dance Scenes: The Case of Psytrance in Goa. Anthony D’Andrea
3. The Ghost of Goa Trance: A Retrospective. Arun Saldanha

II Global Psytrance

4. Infinite Noise Spirals: Psytrance as Cosmopolitan Emotion. Hillegonda Rietveld
5. Psychedelic Trance Music Making in the UK: Rhizomatic Craftsmanship and the Global Market Place. Charles de Ledesma
6. Re-evaluating Musical Genre in UK Psytrance. Robin Lindop
7. (En)Countering the Beat: Paradox in Israeli Psytrance. Joshua I. Schmidt

III Liminal Culture

8. DemenCZe: Psychedelic Madhouse in the Czech Republic. Botond Vitos
9. Dionysus Returns: Tuscan Trancers and Euripides’ The Bacchae. Chiara Baldini
10. Weaving the Underground Web: Neotribalism and Psytrance on Tribe.net. Jenny Ryan
11. Narratives in Noise: Reflexivity, Migration and Liminality in the Australian Psytrance Scene. Alex Lambert
12. Liminal Culture and Global Movement: The Transitional World of Psytrance. Graham St John

More information and reviews here:

Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture edition 3.1

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:46pm

DANCECULT | Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture
Volume 3 * Number 1 * 2011

with Guest Editors Anna Gavanas and Bernardo Alexander Attias


## Feature Articles ##

The Forging of a White Gay Aesthetic at the Saint, 1980–84
--- Tim Lawrence

The DIY Careers of Techno and Drum ‘n’ Bass DJs in Vienna
--- Rosa Reitsamer

Rumble in the Jungle: City, Place and Uncanny Bass
--- Chris Christodoulou

Headphone–Headset–Jetset: DJ Culture, Mobility and Science Fictions of
--- Sean Nye

DJ Goa Gil: Kalifornian Exile, Dark Yogi and Dreaded Anomaly
--- Graham St John

## Conversations ##

Off the Record: Turntablism and Controllerism in the 21st Century, Part 1
--- tobias c. van Veen and Bernardo Alexander Attias

##From the Floor##

Nomads In Sound vol 2
--- Anna Gavanas

Meditations on the Death of Vinyl
--- Bernardo Alexander Attias

Turntables of Doom
--- Kath O'Donnell

We call it Swedish Techno
--- Anna Ostrom

”War on the Dancefloor”: The Reproduction of Power and Pleasure at the Amphi
Festival in Cologne
--- Johanna Paulsson


Man Vibes: Masculinities in the Jamaican Dancehall (Donna P. Hope)
--- Marvin Dale Sterling

Hold on to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973–92
(Tim Lawrence)
--- Charlie de Ledesma

Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture edition 2.1

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:46pm

DANCECULT | Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture
Volume 2 • Number 1 • 2011

Dancecult returns with two themes: the dystopian and remix aesthetics of
Detroit and a special From the Floor section on the Love Parade.


## Feature Articles ##

Disco’s Revenge: House Music’s Nomadic Memory
-- Hillegonda C. Rietveld

Hooked on an Affect: Detroit Techno and Dystopian Digital Culture
-- Richard Pope

Maintaining "Synk" in Detroit: Two Case Studies in the Remix Aesthetic
-- Carleton S. Gholz

Festival Fever and International DJs: The Changing Shape of DJ Culture in
Sydney’s Commercial Electronic Dance Music Scene
-- Ed Montano

## From the Floor ##

Nomads in Sound vol. 1
-- Anna Gavanas

# Special Section on the Love Parade #

Where is Duisburg? An LP Postscript HTML
-- Sean Nye, Ronald Hitzler

Party, Love and Profit: The Rhythms of the Love Parade (Interview with
Wolfgang Sterneck)
-- Graham St John

Pathological Crowds: Affect and Danger in Responses to the Love Parade
Disaster at Duisburg
-- Luis-Manuel Garcia

## Reviews ##

Hip Hop Underground: The Integrity and Ethics of Racial Identification
(Anthony Kwame Harrison) PDF
-- Rebecca Bodenheimer

The Local Scenes and Global Culture of Psytrance (Graham St John)
-- Rupert Till

Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound (Tara Rodgers)
-- Anna Gavanas

Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures (Graham St John)
-- Philip Ronald Kirby

Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Steve Goodman)
-- tobias c. van Veen

Music World: Donk (Dir. Andy Capper)
-- Philip Ronald Kirby

Speaking in Code (Dir. Amy Grill)
-- tobias c. van Veen

Edition 2.1 is not only a new edition of Dancecult, but a redesigned look. Congratulations to all the volunteers in our new editorial and production team (along with our authors and reviewers) for getting this over the line. Special mention to tobias c. van Veen as our new Managing Editor who is to be congratulated for his dedication to managing this edition, overseeing the redesign of the PDF articles and the transition to our new server. Further accolades to Reviews Editor Karenza Moore; Art Director Cato Pulleyblank who designed our great new logo and transformed our look in Indesign; our Copyeditors Catherine Baker and Katrina Loughrey who poured over the Old Testament; Production Director Gary Powell and Production Assistants Ed Montano, Luis-Manuel Garcia and Botond Vitos; and not least OJS wrestler and Operations Assistant Neal Thomas. Extra thank you to Luis-Manuel Garcia for the German to English translation.

For the full list of our new team see:

Please note that we have a new Dancecult Style Guide (DSG) now available for download. Tobias and myself have worked hard on producing the new DSG. It is a major improvement on our former style guide (the Old Testament) which now includes coverage of our cross platform requirements. For those submitting material, you must download and read the DSG thoroughly before submitting any material.

From the sweet spot,

Graham St John
Executive Editor

tobias c. van Veen
Managing Editor

Boom Festival 2010: Divine Mothership of Trance

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:46pm

 Photo by Boom Festival

My eyes open upon a lakeside vision.

As I come up, by me sits a woman who might be an Elven princess from epic Tolkien. She bears an uncompromising grin, and I imagine a light jeweled coronetelle wound about her brow as her gaze is cast across the bight. Sparkling azure eyes are fixed upon the structures on the other side, now fading under brilliant pre-twilight.

I too had been surveying shapes on the Other Side—its contours now also receding from view. For some duration, perhaps fifteen minutes or so, my sensorium had been exposed to vistas of inter-dimensional proportions, remote visions, spectral gifts that played havoc with my normative space-time continuum. Here, lakeside, I had been submerged in a world parallel to the “real”. While it is a “world” to which I am unaware in daily life, within the Mothership where The Veils had thinned to a flickering filigree, these worlds had collided.

I had been visited in this duration by hyperspatial emissaries, bearers of gifts presented to me as in a series of objects unfolding in a longue durée of brilliant patterns; offered Persian-like carpets rolling out incessantly and self-unfurling banners festooned with motifs I could hardly understand; unloaded containers evoking God’s Tool Box, with countless back-lit panels opening before me like drawers within drawers within drawers; revealed puzzles possessing morphing shapes and shifting depths like inter-dimensional Rubiks Cubes. I was enticed by a divine strip-tease performed by animate Matryoshka dolls shedding infinite layers of finely embroidered safran garments the discarding of which never obtained absolute exposure. It was a ceaseless operation, and all I could do was stare in complete wonderment, with my eyes closed, and my mouth ajar, at the process of revelation. I wish I possessed the mechanism to understand the contents of these gifts, were operating the program to process the data, had installed the wares to recognise the Logos, held the knowledge to reassemble this hyperspatial Kinder Surprise.

Photo by Jakob Kolar

With eyes closed, I had been gazing upon a world parallel to my own, just as she had been gazing across the lake to the other side. We are equally overcome by the wondrous images encountered. And as our vistas merge under a carnival of reflected lights, I see that which grows mesmerising in the faded heat and light of this day.

We are hunkering in the dirt across a small bay of Lake Idanha-a-Nova, Portugal. On the other side lie clusters of bizarre tents and fantastic structures like those found in an oasis of sound and vision to which one has trekked many thousands of kilometers. The structures belong to the zen gardenesque Healing Area: a Puja Tent, Sound Temple, yurts, Sweat Lodges, tipis, mandala meditation and massage therapy buildings.

Photo by Jakob Kolar
And more immediately across the bight stands the elegant Sacred Fire stage.

Photo by Boom FestivalBearing a roof resembling a princely turban, it has been established upon a rise above a fire burning near the water's edge. Its flames are visible on a point of the lake where a puja ritual was held during the Opening Ceremony one week ago.

 Photo by Boom Festival

Photos by Jakob Kolar

The Sacred Fire was the scene of a tumultuous orgy of ethno-trance acts last night (including Wild Marmalade, Hilight Tribe and Ganga Giri), the eve of the Full Moon when there also transpired a fire walk. 

We are at the 2010 edition of Portugal’s Boom Festival. Founded by Diogo Ruivo and Pedro Carvalho in 1997, the biannual festival has evolved into a sacred site for enthusiasts of psychedelic music, art and culture, who have descended, like us, upon this lakeside site in the Beira Baixa province, from locations around the globe. For thirteen years, Boom has been the venue for the ecstatic and consciousness expanding expression of the Goa vibe (see short film on Boom history): a veritable psychedelic Mothership. And now, here we are, being abducted by the vibe. Behind us, back around our peninsula, abductees are probed by bass, protracting their limbs and winding their heads on another plane, at the Groovy Beach stage, this year a magnificent horned structure built by the people from the Do Lab: (see video).

Photo by Aaron GautschiPhoto by Jakob Kolar
Photo by Boom Festival

Photo by Jakob Kolar
Photos by Reagan Blundell.
Back beyond the Groovy Beach, lay an extraordinary shanty oasis at which there was always something new to hear and see: the Golden Shack Gamelatron (a collaboration between Shrine and Taylor Kuffnery).

 Photos by Jakob Kolar
Beyond the Gamelatron, at the festival's crossroads, lay another oasis, nothing less than the Ambient Paradise, the chill stage purposely built like a decompression chamber with calming LED lights and which at its centre holds a stage with dragon sculptures reclining above a pool of water.

Photos by Jakob Kolar
 Photo by Reagan Blundell
To our right we are captivated, for in that direction lies the Dance Temple.

Photos by Boom Festival Photo by Reagan Blundell.Sally Doolally. Photo by Noam Chojnowski
Down in the Temple over the past week we have been treated to sensual wonderments, premiere sounds on the psychedelic continuum, from polished Goa nuggets care of Man With No Name and Psychopod, night sounds of the likes of REV, electrance care of Perfect Stranger, progressive psyvibes manipulated by Zen Mechanics, M-Theory and Flip Flop et al, to soaring morning melodies orchestrated by James Munro, Antix and Sally Doolally. In this global sacred site for the psytrance community built by Belgian visionary François and with design input from Android Jones and programming of Alfredo Vasconselos, we had been exposed to the work of DJ Dick Trevor who could surely be awarded an honorary doctorate in Psychedelic Science at the Advanced School of Re/Mixing (and who recently played a devastating four hour set at the Ozora Festival – probably the best set to which I’ve been privileged) and Treavor Walton, founder of California’s Moontribe, who, wearing a t-shirt reading “Dance You Fuck” (I needed no such encouragement), not for the first time this season, unleashed a vocal sample care of Israeli duo Quantize which evoked the underlying theme of the year, week and day …. “heavy doses of Dimethyltryptamine”.

Photo by Jakob Kolar
Allow me to digress. Found in various plants, produced in the human brain (according to Rick Strassman in The Spirit Molecule, the pineal gland), and often smoked (“free based”) in a chillum with an effect lasting between 15-30 minutes, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, was spruiked by Terence McKenna as one of the most powerful vehicles for inter-dimensional transit. He wrote in True Hallucinations that its “strangeness and power so exceeded that of other hallucinogens, that di-methyltryptamine and its chemical relatives seemed finally to define, for our little circle at any rate, maximum exfoliation—the most radical and flowery unfolding—of the hallucinogenic dimension that can occur without serious risk to psychic and bodily integrity.” While William Burroughs reported traumatic experiences mainlining synthetic DMT at high doses, McKenna was a cheerleader for tryptamines, efforts echoing his personal commitment to spiritual technologies believed integral to humanity’s push toward liberation in transpersonal consciousness, and his indebtedness to Hermeticism, the search for the “philosopher’s stone” or lapis philosophorum—“nothing less”, he wrote in the same source, than “the redemption of fallen humanity through the respiritualization of matter” (1993: 77).

Since the 1990s, references to DMT escalated within psytrance productions—in which McKenna remains the most commonly sampled individual, his popularity proliferating following his death in 2000. Indeed, like a familiar from the beyond speaking on behalf of the multitudes who continue to encounter hyperspatial dimensions, his immortal brogue is stamped all over psytrance productions. For instance, on their debut self-titled album, 1200 Micrograms filter McKenna recollecting a life-changing experience from 1966: “I remember the very very first time I smoked DMT...” (“DMT”, TIP.World, 2002). Throughout the decade, artists projected McKenna as something resembling a seer. In 2001, Avihen Livne teemed up with Jörg Kessler and, as Cosma Shiva, producing “In Memory of Terence McKenna” on the EP by that name. The psychedelic dirge invokes McKenna: “vaporize it in a small glass pipe” … “a shaman is someone who has been to the end, is someone who knows how the world really works” … “what the alien voice in the psychedelic experience wants to reveal is …” and later the ghost of McKenna speaks in the unintelligible alien tongue he would sometimes deliver in his presentations.

With their material saturated in the effects of DMT and ayahuasca, the Shpongle-inspired ethnodelic outfit Entheogenic (Helmut Glavar and Piers Oak-Rhind) offer a sounding board for McKenna. The opening track on Spontaneous Illumination (C.O.R.N. Recordings, 2003), “Ground Luminocity”, heads off into a deep jungle vibe, with bird calls, insects buzzing and water flowing over rocks, all nurtured by flute and warm percussive lines. And like an epigram, the voice of McKenna: “The search for a doorway out of mundane experience …. Nature is the great visible engine of creativity” (Ott’s 2005 remix of “Ground Luminocity” [Entheogenic, Dialogue of the Speakers, Chillcode], finishes the sentence: “against which all other creative efforts are measured”). An apparent tribute to the seminal work co-authored by the McKennas, “Invisible Landscapes” begins with the bard: “life is a problem to be solved... its a conundrum. It’s not what it appears to be. There are doors. There are locks and keys. There are levels. And if you get it right, somehow it will give way to something extremely unexpected.” “Twilight Eyes” has a classic orchestral feel, with McKenna averring that “shamans in times and places gained their power through relationships with helping-spirits”, and with the line (from I Claudius) “I promise you, you’ll dream a different story altogether”, the listener is set adrift with McKenna standing on a ceaseless shoreline proclaiming “imagination, really, is the last frontier”, while waving the wayfarer off into deep dreamspace.

And now bathed in twilight, I am seated upon the ceaseless shoreline of Lake Idanha-a-Nova, coming up with knowing smiles and nodding heads, and shedding tears in recognition of a permanent impermanence. And like a comic book magi of sacred compounds attired in crinkled Flower of Life pajamas and appearing majestic against the fading light, before us dances nanobrain, our hyperdimensional adventure tour guide. “Acceptance”, “love” and "peace" are the words he'd repeated earlier before dispensing an alien brogue not dissimilar to that channeled by McKenna. It has been a long and tiring week at the pulsating heart of the world’s visionary dance festival, but the tide was in on the shores of possibility.

Photo by Jakob Kolar

I am compelled to take further stock of the cultural aesthetic in which we are implicated. This is a festival culture whose music has been, for at least fifteen years, quite literally smudged with DMT. While attempting to locate the first DMT-influenced track is probably futile, plunged into the Blakeian-infinite which they sought to resonate, The Infinity Project’s Mystical Experiences (Blue Room Released, 1995) is likely to have been partially influenced by DMT. The line “I met an alien with a blue aura” (from “Blue Aura”) is as proximate to DMT-space as Mary Poppins is to nanny duties. In 1997, the legendary Danish mind experimentalists Koxbox went “Searching for Psychoactive Herbs,” the ultimate track on their Dragon Tales (Blue Room Released), an inspired album cleaving away from the astral-planes drifters hallmarking the Goa tradition. With the track “D.M.Turner” (a tribute to author of The Essential Psychedelic Guide, D. M. Turner who drowned in his bath in 1996 after injecting a serious dose of ketamine), it appears that their search had not been in vein.

Forming the group DMT in 1998, members of the Goa trance royal family Raja Ram, Graham Wood, Greg Hunter, Johann Bley and Martin Glover produced the track “DMT” (Dragonfly Classix, Dragonfly Records). But it was Shpongle’s landmark Are You Shpongled? (Twisted Records, 1998) that had sung the ode to DMT. With its calypso bassline, “Divine Moments of Truth” features Raja Ram divulging his experience in DMT-space: “it was like a gigantic creature, that kept changing shape”.

Over the next ten years and more, references to DMT-space proliferated in music and cover art, in visionary art and event design. Whether in the work of Carey Thompson, whose gateway installation the DMTemple became, in 2006, a prominent feature at festivals in Europe and the United States, including Turkey's Soulclipse, Sunrise Celebration, The Glade and Burning Man, as well as Boom (a variation of which featured at Boom this year), or in the music itself, DMT had grown legion.

 Photo by Boom Festival

The gateway concept has been especially appealing. Within the visionary arts and music community, DMT has been associated with a movement towards a state of grace, a reconcilement to one’s own physical demise, an encounter with ego-death and indeed mortality itself. Shpongle had the measure of this on Nothing Lasts … But Nothing is Lost (Twisted 2005) on which McKenna had the final word. On “Exhalation” there’s a break in Raja Ram’s flute and McKenna eventually exhales: “Nothing is lost...” The track “Nothing is Lost” from the same release is both a dirge sung for McKenna and an acceptance of impermanence, offering his master's voice: “Nothing lasts... nothing lasts. Everything is changing into something else. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing is wrong. Everything is on track. William Blake said nothing is lost and I believe that we all move on.” In this revelatory mode inspirants are challenged to find peace with the ultimate truth, to accept their inevitable complicity in the cycle of life/death. “Life must be the preparation for the transition to another dimension”, explained McKenna on “Molecular Superstructure” from the same album. With the expansion of personhood enabled by DMT, and with the now pervasive work of Alex Grey a popular means of expressing comfort with mortality (see especially his painting “Dying”), the barrier that separates life from death for us moderns grows ambiguous.
Alex Grey's "Dying".
But inside the 2010 Boom Festival, upon the edge of abduction, just where was all this heading fifteen years after The Infinity Project’s Mystical Experiences?

Blue Lunar Monkey’s “Mysterious Xperience” (Beyond 2012, 2008) spruiks like a carne: “it starts quite quickly and there’s quite a strong rush … and there’s quite a display of geometric, kaleidescopic visual imagery”. But then it grows introspective in ways expected upon a ride in an amusement park: “I think what may occur with DMT is that it opens specific doorways, which are otherwise closed. And through those doorways it is possible to make contact with external freestanding kinds of real experiences”. By 2009, the door to eternity seemed to have been left ajar. Hujaboy’s formulaic full-on “Liquifried” (VA, Planetary Service, Mechanik, 2009) offers American comedian Joe Rogan’s condensation of McKenna and Strassman: “it’s called dimethyltryptamine. It’s produced by your pineal gland. It’s actually a gland that’s in the center of your brain. It’s the craziest drug ever. It’s the most potent psychedelic known to man, literally. But the craziest thing about it is it’s natural and your brain produces it every night as you sleep. You know, when you sleep, during the time you’re in heavy REM sleep and right before death your brain pumps out heavy doses of dimethyltryptamine.” At this juncture, like a carne barking in a fairground midway, Rogan’s rant seemed to be on a high frequency play-loop. Thus, on “Freakstuff” (A Spark of Light, FX System), Brazilian Arthur Magno (aka Fractal Flame): “life is a massive fucking mystery. And there’s only a few different ways to really crack below the surface of that mystery. And the best way is psychedelics.” The same bark had been used by Hujaboy, accept that he decided to include “and the heavier the psychedelic, the better.” Mood Deluxe permitted Rogan another breathe: “And guess what? No one’s dying from psychedelics. All our thoughts on psychedelics are all based on bullshit propaganda, that you heard about people, you know, going crazy and losing their minds. You’re not gonna go crazy, you’re gonna go fucking sane” (on “Stealthy Fungus”, Divine Inventions, Liquid, 2008). An audio-billboard for the red pill, “DMT Molecule” by Mister Black includes material from the same monologue: “you should all smoke DMT and join my cult mother fuckers!” Rogan even made an encore on Fractal Flame’s “DMTrip”: “you take this shit and literally you are transformed into another fucking dimension.” And by the time Israeli duo Reshef Harari and Adi Ashkenazi (aka Quantize) arrived, any subtlety, subliminality and mysteriousness appears to have vaporized. Their “Dymethyltryptamine” [sic] (Borderline, Echoes Records, 2009), begins with the filtered voice of McKenna repeating “DMT” which quickens next to the pulse before Rogan bursts through with the new black: “heavy doses of dimethyltryptamine.”

You can almost smell the bravado, perhaps even thicker than the pungent vapour of DMT itself. But while some of this smacks of braggadocio as producers and DJs compete with one another for hardcore user status, the significance of this sampladelic tsunami should not be underestimated, for the writers of psychedelic sonic fiction (psy-fi) are channeling the zeitgeist. Whether in private alcoves by the beach or suburban terraces on summer afternoons, in special blends optimised for group sessions and indeed for the dance floor itself, DMT is the new black—if by which we understand “black” to be the equivalent of an inter-dimensional portal through which one vibrates in a depth-shifting coat of electric colours, and through which one grows connected to the ever-at-hand-albeit-illusive mysteries, the numinous that captivates one with an intrigue that fuels daily life, and fires a recognition that death and life are not unambiguously separate.

Over the past few years, this recognition has grown ever proximate care of changa, a DMT-blend first prepared and popularised in Australia, and now smoked on dance floors around the world. This short-lasting preparation, has inspired other DMT-enhanced leaf blends which may include, for instance, pau d’arco, damiana, pink lotus, calea zacatechichi, lions tail, calendula, passion flower—the latter being a MAO inhibitor rendering the experience like a “smokable ayahuasca” (see article on changa by Jon Hanna) and has even inspired an effort to establish psytrance as a “religion”.

Changa may be rooted in McKenna’s 1997 speaking tour of Australia. In his talks at various events, McKenna shared the wisdom that DMT could be harvested from alkaloids in local Acacia, and local psy-fi artists acknowledged the significance of the wattle, the national floral emblem (and local designation for Acacia). On “Burning Point” (Sun Control Species—Unreleased, 2004), Australian artist Drew Davidson (Sun Control Species) drops a McKenna sample pungent with the acrid vapour: “The national symbol of Australia is the wattle. It’s an Acacia. The Acacia ecology of Australia is jammed with DMT.”

The experience in DMT-space (especially the sonorous chirping of insects) had an early impact on trance music production in Australia, notably Space Tribe’s 12-inch Ultrasonic Heartbeat, which features “Cicadas on DMT” (Spirit Zone Recordings, 1996), and later the music of Insectoid. If Aldous Huxley had articulated that mescaline afforded a trek into the “Antipodes of the mind”, the “psychological equivalent of Australia” where “we discover the equivalents of kangaroos, wallabies, and duck-billed platypuses—a whole host of extremely improbably animals”, replete with exotic birdlife (kookaburras), insects, didjeridu and Aboriginal songlines, “Insecticide” and “Tribedelic Nomads (Animistic Mix)” (from Insectoid’s Groovology of the Metaverse, WMS Records, 1998) might have been the soundtracks to the antipodean trek from the Antipodes. “New Vistas” offers the pertinent sample to this remote viewing: “I feel that I am merely an agent, giving your some keys, which have been given to me, to pass on to you. These keys are to unlock doors out of your present prison. Doors opening in on new vistas. Doors beyond where you are now.” This material reeks of tryptamines and offers echoes of the experiment at La Chorrera down the Rio Putumayo in the Columbian Amazonas in 1971, on the subject of which the McKennas had written in The Invisible Landscape (1975: 109-110): “Because of the alien nature of the tryptamine trance, its seeming accentuation of themes alien, insectile, and futuristic, and because of previous experiences with tryptamine in which insectile hallucinatory transformations of human beings were observed, we were led to speculate that the role of the presence was somehow like that of an anthropologist, come to give humanity the keys to galactarian citizenship”. The national floral symbol of Australia seems to have been ingested, and the keys to the tryptamine palace handed over, in further work, such as the various artists producing on the Demon Tea label, whose compilation titles Oozie Goodness - The Eye Opening Elixir (1998) and Not My Cup Of Tea (2001) offer insight on this development.

At the lakefront laboratories downstream from these developments, we are intrepid Australians  communing around a blend of our national emblem presided over by the alien anthropologist nanobrain. The blend is what he styles nanga, a potent changa derivative also dubbed aussiehuasca. It contains Peruvian Banisteriopsis caapi vine shavings which serve as an MAO inhibitor, and DMT "coaxed from Aussie acacialoids by alchemical maestros". As he informs me, "50/50 percentage ratio by weight, mixed with intent and charged with love ... vibrate to integrate, BOOM!"

Out here upon the frontiers of experimentation, we are in proximity to a transnational cult of seekership in which participants are exposed to new sensorial possibilities care of pungent blends and potent derivatives of changa ready-made for an interactive and inter-dimensional dance floor experience. McKenna had touted DMT as the fastest route to the Otherword which he characterised as "hyperdimensionality” or "hyperspace". As Otherworldly events, as hives of consciousness, psychedelic festivals expose participants to something akin to a Mystery School in Hyperspace. While none of this constitutes formal ritual, nor formal education, at Boom's Dance Temple we can read all about it in the music, and smell it in the morning air. We can see it in the animated movements of our fellow Temple worshippers hailing from a multitude of countries, and we feel it shaking hands with God under a misting system at 148 bpm.

With yet another promo for DMT, and Strassman’s book, take Swede Wizack Twizack’s (Tommy Axelsson) "Spirit Molecule” (Space No More, 2010). The effort to uncover this “strange chemical” and understand its capacity to replicate an experience identical “to events to come after life”, should not be undervalued. Opening the door to a psychedelic fairytale, “Spirit Molecule” sails off the map of terra-cognito to relate “the secret history” about which trance multitudes might approve: “since the dawn of time, man has used psychedelics. From the ancient myth of Adam and Eve until today … From the Eleusian rituals … to modern day ayahuasca parties, every society has used psychedelics”.

Speaking of mystery cults, a few days back I introduced a presentation by Chiara Baldini, my galactic sister (with whom I share a Dreamspell galactic signature: Yellow Planetary Seed). Chiara had been on site some two and a half months assisting in the preparation of the Liminal Zone, Boom’s educational arena. Part of an amazing bamboo structure called The Drop (which also included Boom's performing arts space, the Theatroom), the Liminal Zone has evolved into a significant portal of consciousness expansion, replete with ecological principles and visionary art, and which this year has been physically embraced by a Visionary Arts Gallery featuring work from, among others, Android Jones, Amanda Sage, Xavi and Carey Thompson (this years Arts Director).

 Photo by Reagan Blundell

Photos by Boom Festival
Photo by Jakob Kolar
Chiara had also become, over this period, an embedded historian, writing pieces for the Boom website, such as this essay exploring the significance of Shiva and Dionysus in Goa trance. She has also produced a chapter investigating the cult of Dionysus in contemporary psytrance for the collection I recently edited The Local Scenes and Global Culture of Psytrance. Her presentation “Boom vs Eleusis” was an entertaining and insightful speculation concerning the Mysteries of Eleusis and their contemporary equivalent. Connections with Eleusis, the two millennia long ancient Greek festival of initiation to the cult of Persephone and Demeter, have been repeatedly drawn within contemporary psytrance, especially among those who seek to return to states of connectedness and intentional ritual they perceive have been lost or forgotten.

It might be argued that the Boom Festival itself exemplifies this loss of direction or vision. While there may be a connection between the kykeon (the barley-derived drink knocked back by fasting initiates at Eleusis on the final night of the festival before they were exposed to the mysteries inside the Telesterion) and LSD-25 (whose psychoactive properties derive from alkaloids in the fungus ergot which may have parasitised the barley drunk at Eleusis), it could surely be argued that, unlike the mystery cults of ancient Greece, there is little evidence at Boom of singular mythical authorities whose stories govern the lives of its festal population. Also, with the prevalence of dodgy drugs, and with the proliferation of cocaine (at least that which is sold as “cocaine”) and questionable “MDMA” and other substances, liminars enter this arena with a high degree of risk. And not only that, with growing commercialization (e.g. Boom is selling coca-cola in 2010), along with the gangs of thieves ransacking tents on the final night of the event and throughout the festival, is it any wonder that critics have vent their spleens at the Boom organisation? Opponents have long included those who mount and attend Anti-Boom, an off-party situated across the lake from Boom for years? This year, Anti-Boom would actually be shut down by police after the first night of operation when they launched sonic salvos, like Boom-breaking audio fireworks, from their pirate enclave across the lake. 

But for all the bitter broadsides, beauty, wonder and intention is in bountiful supply on the shores of lake Idanha-a-Nova. Over in the Healing Zone, there are multiple daily workshops, for instance, on sound healing, water practice, Qigong, meditation, yoga, sweat lodges, etc. And down in the Dance Temple individuals and crews of nationals from a multitude of states and altered states converge to conduct personal rituals of transformation, an exposure to Otherness rarely achieved elsewhere. It brings tears to your eyes, as it would to my Finnish companion on a bus back in Lisbon the day after. Tears of joy welled in his eyes as he recounted his first exposure to the Temple a week before, when he wept openly. These moments of transit neither possess nor require elaborate description or explanation, other than that the liminars habituating the torrent of bass and adrift on the mesmerising melodies within the Temple's Funktion One set up might announce little more than that they're having “the shit”. But we needn’t even measure this experience against the (limited) vocabulary supplied by participants, but by the preparations that those who descend upon this site in central western Portugal undertake to enable their exposure to the Mysteries. They make pilgrimage from all across the world (see Day One entrance video from BoomTV), participants from scores of countries, many hauling their buses, their funky motor homes and their arses great distances. For instance, I’ve had recounted to me tales of those who’ve trekked (ie. walked) across Europe to arrive at Boom, and others who have cycled. What's more, they expend considerable effort in acquiring the resources by which their exposure to Otherness is assisted.

Photo by Boom Festival
No, this is not the Telesterion at Eleusis. There is no unifying mythic system by which participants are able to interpret their visions or translate their altered states. Not a ceremonial occasion, in the shamanic-anarchist style advocated by McKenna the Dance Temple facilitates a multitude of private encounters with the numinous, multiple states of entrancementl. And there are no heirophants, just as there are no singular types or sources of consciousness alterants—no unifying symbols, such as the head of barley a la Eleusis. But among this literal “alphabet soup” of research chemicals—which clearly retains the “meat and three vege” of LSD (commonly signified by the image of its synthesizer, Albert Hofmann), cannabis sativa (whose leaf is a ubiquitous symbol of altered states), psilocybin (with the image of the mushroom axiomatic to alterity) and MDMA (the “love” drug)—we find that DMT has evolved as an authority unto its own, whose private and public teachings are extolled in the sonic mythography and visionary artistry of our times. For the initiated, the numinous affect of usage precipitates reverence, and entire cults of adoration develop in which this plant matter and its psychoactive fruits are venerated. With DMT, since these “fruits” derive from plants with relatively indistinct features, their adoration is rarely expressed in iconography, but is known in its pungent vapour, the olfactory memory of which signals one’s own connection with the Other World, and to those with which one has been vaporised.

Disembarking upon this beachhead of possibility, gazing into the Otherworld, it occurred to me that DMT does not enable access to The Mysteries, like a puzzle to be re/solved, a game to be completed, a lock to be opened, a story to conclude. Indeed, solving mysteries is the conceit of the old scientific model. As we subject the unknown to possession, measurement and control, mystery grows ever more illusive, receding from view like the Elves vanishing to Valinor. And it further occured to me, above the clouds on a flight from Lisbon to Budapest post-Boom, that the puzzle-like objects I had been presented with in a nanga session on the shores of Lake Idanha-a-Nova were not to be “solved”, cracked open, uncovered, but to be recognised as signs of the greater Mystery in which I was implicated, in which we were soaked—fragments of the universe in which we’re a part. Here, the gift is that recognition.

Photos by Boom Festival
Many thank yous to my traveling and camping companions, especially Nano, Chiara, Aleaha, Paris, Damo, along with Marco, Karl, Graziella and all the organizers and participants of Boom 2010, all accomplices at the scene of the sublime. Special thanks to Dick (Maestro) Trevor. Thanks also to Boti at whose apartment in Budapest I completed this, and to the photographers whose stunning work is reproduced here: Jakob Kolar, João Curiti, João Prata, and Rui Ribiere (for Boom Festival), Reagan Blundell, Noam Chojnowski, and Aaron Gautschi. Parts of the story are extracted from my forthcoming book Global Tribe: Spirituality, Technology and Psytrance.

 Photo by Reagan Blundell.

 Photo by Noam Chojnowski

Black Pearl Eclipse Adventure, Cook Islands

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:46pm

I rose from the deck to carve a few shapes in the night.

And made a quick meal of it.

Lurching aft, and then to starboard, it took all my effort to avoid shirt-fronting the subs and stumble overboard without a trace.

I've waded through effluvious moshpits across Europe, parlayed with psychedelic bogans from Wonthaggi, and thrown it all in with jihadi of doof and other party fundamentalists in locations too numerous to mention. But what could have prepared me for this new peril, this eightball odyssey on the High Sea, this berth on a ship of divine fools?

Sailing south-east in the Cook Islands, north-east of New Zealand, we were charting the frontiers of dance, scanning the horizon for the perfect rave. But like a frumptious colony of crustacea, my colleagues in extreme recreation clung to all that was available, including the makeshift dance floor, resembling, at times, an incident room. This was no time for showcasing new form, for aerial hieroglyphs of the kind one might inscribe when, as in this case, broadsided by quality sound. Like pale-faced practitioners in an unorthodox church of dance, we rode it out, on a steady 145 BPM at 30 knots.

We were fifty-odd adventurers, from Melbourne by the most part, habitués of that city’s psytrance and related scenes. Expatriates, world travelers, mavens of mischief and experience seekers hunting one of the greatest prizes of all: totality, that cosmic vibe that is activated by a total solar eclipse.

Image by Jacq Smith
It was the morning of July 11, and I had boarded the Tekou Maru II, an Island Trader with eight crew which had now steamed over 100 nautical miles south-east of Rarotonga. Months earlier, I’d enlisted with the Black Pearl Eclipse Adventure, a ten day journey from Melbourne to Rarotonga whose highlight was a sea-faring trip to intercept with the line of totality arching across the South Pacific. Over the previous week, I had joined my rogue brethren in bonhomie and compatriots in eclipse chasing and duty free drinking who occupied the Raro Backpackers on the western beachfront of the main island. Small groups split off to explore the island, snorkel reefs, go ocean fishing (providing dinner for beach feast parties on two occasions), climb mountains or chill on the decks of beach-front bungalows.

Images by Jacq Smith
Others climbed to the base of Te Rua Manga, “the Needle”, which afforded majestic views over Rarotonga. Our group arrived on the island alongside other consortiums of scientists, totality freaks and amateur astronomers who had travelled to the Cook Islands to observe the eclipse—such as the 500 who would sail to the island of Mangaia, which, alongside Easter Island (Rapa Nui), was reported to offer one of the best land-based vantage points for observing the eclipse on its 11,000 km journey over the South Pacific (cloud cover would dash the hopes of those who travelled to Mangaia).

 Image by Martin Heine

To Keu, our curious young neighbour who was drawn over to marvel at the spectacle of the freaks now inhabiting the Raro backpackers and breaking-in a new sound system far surpassing anything he'd heard or seen before, we were an unfathomable fraternity of foreigners - in his amazement, "totally random". Be that as it may, our purpose on the island was far from random.

And not self-obsessed. On Friday night, Black Pearl held a benefit night at the shorefront club Rehab, where several DJs performed (Jules, Shadow FX, Ed Motive and Doobie) raising $700 for a local charity supporting islanders suffering from industrial and road accidents.

But the main performance was a few days off, and my ragtag posse of shadow dancers were preparing for the jump-off point. For my own part, I volunteered for this mission with two successful sorties stenciled on my fuselage. The first near Lindhurst, South Australia, in early December 2002. The second near Antalya, southern Turkey, Easter 2006. Both total solar eclipses were celebrated at electronic dance music festivals—predominantly psytrance—mounted on the line of totality. Such events have been held since at least November 2nd 1994, the date of the “eclipse rave” in Chile, near the coastal city of Arica at the edge of the Atacama. That event signaled the birth of a highly specialised traveler phenomenon. That moment when the Moon’s perfect union with the Sun activates the fleeting display of its golden corona had made deep grooves upon my soul in these ecstatic social contexts, with this cosmic event enervating the social experience, and the orgiastic sociality of the festival enabling an intimate connection between those who shared the experience. It was, therefore, a total experience where the umbra of the total solar eclipse crossfades with the ecstatic aesthetic of the dance party: a cosmic vibe sought by totality freaks who hunt this magic across the planet.

On Rarotonga, Saturday July 10, every thing had been set in motion to rendezvous with totality. John-Paris McKenzie, operator of Black Pearl Eclipse Adventures, is no stranger to the cosmic vibe, to being gowned in the golden fleece. He had notched up six previous total solar eclipse events in locations the world over and had been gowned in totality more than twice as long as any one else on board. The totality freak’s freak, Paris had fitted out the Island Trader with a quality sound system, hired DJs/producers (including Shadow FX, who has a reputation for driving women crazy, as seen in footage (compiled at Boom 2008) reproduced on his website, the gregarious Ed Motive and the viceroy of vigilance Aaron Smiles.

Shadow FX (James Hayes)
A dance floor had been fashioned on the freight deck, and there was even a chill area aft. There was substantial risk involved in this venture, perhaps greater than that faced by the Pedas-Sigler family of educators who initiated formal eclipse cruises—on ocean liners—back in the early 1970s. Much depended upon the weather. Would the sea be rough? Would clouds occlude the eclipse? Would voyagers grow mutinous?

While there had been a severe storm the night we arrived on Raro, the winds had now grown comparably light. But out on the open sea, as the Tekou Maru II cut through swell upon swell and Venus undulated off the port bow, many a voyager’s stomach was exposed to turbulence. As the night air grew rank with unsettled guts and an unremitting torpor, these Melbournites were rewriting the meaning of the “Melbourne shuffle”: long periods of motionlessness followed by rapid bursts of activity on the dance floor, which in this case involved the rapid freighting of one’s stomach contents into buckets and over the rails—a transference of energy kicked-off by one of the locals, the ship’s nurse, who gave it all up soon after our vessel left the harbour at Rarotonga. Many passengers capitulated in similar fashion throughout the night, as the roiling progressive psychedelic builds played by Brendan Armstrong, Tony Loucas and Aaron Smiles were met with a chunderous applause. Sick!

 Images by Martin Heine
At around 8.00 AM on Sunday July 11, we had sailed into the Straights of the Non-Ordinary. My guts ceased churning as swells rode against the hull no more. It took me a while to recognise that the ship’s engines had stopped. I wheeled about to take in 360 degrees of ocean horizon. We were now drifting in The Path, an unusual dawn on any seas, high or low, an uncharted region apparently remedying nocturnal nauseas and maritime maladies. As the night lifted in a floating world where the veils were growing thinner, anxieties and troubles that had mounted over the past weeks and the previous night were rapidly evaporating. While the sky to the east remained cloudy, with the assistance of my special issue eclipse glasses it became apparent that the Moon was moving into alchemical alignment with the Sun. Voyagers were awakening to greet the cone of shadow racing across the Earth toward us. And as the Sun came to form a crescent off the starboard bow, it grew evident that the cumulus curtains were parting across the proscenium arches of the heavens and we privileged avatars were minutes away from one of the greatest spectacles on Earth.

We were on a bearing to collide with the cosmos, and what’s-more, had tickets to front row seats. As show time approached, awareness of duration had vaporized, though it must have been around 8:20 AM by which time the music was switched off, and our prow was in direct alignment with a Sun occluding Moon.

 Images by Tony Loucas  
Inside this time-out-of-time so remote from land and routine consciousness, cosmic travelers were awash in a heavenly ambiance. New music was now being broadcast from the distant horizon, an overture that cannot be sampled, reproduced or replayed with any accuracy. Cries rose from the decks as awe-struck and bespectacled voyagers gained every vantage to absorb a sea of shadows that now came flooding over them like a tsunami. At this numinous threshold in space-time a divine chorus lifted me off the deck.

Image by Tony Loucas
I was not alone in the ascension. Voyagers, some hobbling out from the cabins aft, some rubbing sleep from their eyes and gaining the observation deck, others hunkered down on the dance floor, and others still fumbling with camera equipment, became exposed to a transfigurement routinely reported since Eighteenth Century astronomers predicted this cosmic event. The jubilant reaction of eclipse voyagers is reminiscent of that described by Andrew Weil who was in Miahuatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico on March 7, 1970, as the umbra passed over the villagers, who broke into a “spontaneous ovation of the heavens”. The description can be found in Weil’s Marriage of the Sun and Moon: A Quest for Unity in Consciousness, where it is told that the total eclipse, which lasted over three minutes, was an experience, and held an impact, that was immeasurable. For those moments in the umbra, the present lasted for a prolonged duration. Weil explained that there was a quality to those minutes “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.

Weil went on to offer an explanation for why the people of Miahuatlán were getting high. At this privileged juncture in time and space where humans share in the perfect alignment of Earth, Moon and Sun with their own bodies, “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”. Furthermore, 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.

By extension, the integral view provides perspective on why this cosmic synchronicity appears to have held such significance for the global psychedelic trance community, where, since the mid 1990s, dance parties and festivals have been mounted on the line of totality, growing in size and proportion with each event. But there is something more going on, since this perfect alignment does not simply involve a line-up of the Earth, Moon and Sun with the individual Self, but potentially of manifold selves, a multitude. And so the Sun’s perfect corona signals an opening, a portal that opens not simply to the possibilities of individual human creativity, but to novel forms of social experimentation. There can be no denying that the experience, which attracted dozens of people from varying backgrounds, many strangers to one another, had the effect of unifying many who came, witnessed and were transfigured.

In those social events that have grown on the line of totality over the past decades, fellowship in dance has been integral to the experience of the eclipse. It might be argued that since there was barely any dancing, not of the kind where dancers can maintain trance-like states, along with the contents of their stomachs, the voyage was missing that special vibe. Yet this fails to capture the significance of the experience, for the sound system, a quality rig with quality selections and performances, remained integral to the experience, offering voyagers a soundtrack to a trip that, given its remoteness from land and other people, resembled a space opera, with the grand symphony itself beginning after 8:00 AM Sunday morning when the ship’s engine was shut down, the sound system was turned off, and the cosmic music began.

Image by Tony Loucas
An unusual extravagance perhaps, but it was in this liminality, after the system was shut off and before the afternoon tunes appeared care of Ed Motive and Doobie and Rodney, that the sound system made its real significance felt. At this oceanic crossroads, the silence grew louder, the shadows harboured an alien glow and my compatriots were beholden with the shining appearance of the Pirates of Penzance. And it could not have been so without the progressive psychedelic trance swabbing the deck all night long care of Tony Loucas, Aaron Smiles and Shadow FX.

Still aglow from the experience, fellow voyager, Kitty Forest, put it like this:

Shadow FX cued a perfectly moving version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' as the stars of the show slipped gently behind soft cloud and I wept again with gratitude. How easily it could all have been missed and Mother had reminded us one final time it was her decision, never ours, to view this eclipse. We had all taken a huge gamble and traveled long and hard on the off chance we would witness a three minute natural marvel. And we won.
In the wake of a Moon-occulted Sun, no voyager aboard this victorious floating theatre could now be uneducated to the meaning of the name of our vision quest: Black Pearl, in the realisation that the valuable black pearl harvested in the region was just now mirrored in the morning sky.

Image by Tony Loucas
Yet the cosmic black pearl is rarer than any saltwater gemstones of the region. Unlike the gem harvested from the seabed, this “black pearl” held no monetary value, other than the relatively cheap cost of the adventure itself. No exchange value. The experience of singularity encountered when the Sun aligns with the Moon in a perfect marriage where the observer must also be a party to this alignment at a precise terrestrial location, holds a value that can hardly be measured, a value that is, at its foundations, spiritual.

 Image by Martin Heine
Returning to Rarotonga, as hunter-voyagers, we had collectively harpooned a total solar eclipse off Mangaia - among the greatest of catches for experiential big game hunters, now obtained to distribute among our various tribes and communities.

Fellowship of the Corona.  

Black Pearl Footage as screened on Raro TV (footage by Vidman).
Thanks to Paris for organising Black Pearl, and to my brothers in the PLA and all voyagers for accompanying me on this adventure. Thanks also to the people of Rarotonga, Pa the mountain guide and the captain and crew of the Tekou Maru II. And thanks to all the photographers for their disciplined attention to detail.

Technomad Book Launch: San Francisco : Soul of the City

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:46pm
Friday, JULY 30th 9:00pm – 10:00pm
1015 Folsom, 1015 Folsom Avenue San Francisco, CA
Book Launch for Graham St John’s Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures.
Panel discussion on San Francisco, Burning Man and our contributions to
the Global Tribal Revival. Graham will read from his landmark book and
discuss the contributions that Bay Area groups and projects have made to
the international rave and festival culture, including a panel
discussion with: Marian Goodell (Burning Man), Michael Gosney (Digital
Be-In, Earthdance) and Brad Olson (How Weird Street Faire/CCC)

The Launch is part of SOUL OF THE CITY: Transforming Metropolis at 1015 Folsom 8:00pm - 3:00am

A benefit for Entheon Village, Red Lightning, Sacred Spaces and Feed the Artists at Burning Man 2010 - Celebrating the Evolution of the Revolution

More info

The Local Scenes and Global Culture of Psytrance

Mon, 2014/03/10 - 3:46pm

Announcing my new edited collection: The Local Scenes and Global Culture of Psytrance

This lively textual symposium offers a rich harvest of formative research on the culture of global psytrance (psychedelic trance). As the first book to address the diverse transnationalism of this contemporary electronic dance music phenomenon, the collection hosts interdisciplinary research attending to psytrance as a product of intersecting local and global trajectories. With coverage of scenes in Goa, the UK, Israel, Japan, Italy, the US, Portugal, The Czech Republic and Australia, the collection features a dozen chapters from scholars researching psytrance in worldwide locations, employing various methods, within multiple disciplines. With chapters offering significant contributions to our understanding of globalization and music cultures, scene demise and transformation, ephemeral and cosmopolitan assemblages, counterculture and paradox, psychedelicization and genre, virtual tribes and the Internet, the carnivalesque and the aesthetics of nonsense, festivals and the logics of sacrifice, and other topics, Psytrance will strike interest across anthropology, sociology and studies in popular music, culture, media, history and religion.

Psytrance: An Introduction. Graham St John
I Goa Trance
1. Goa is a State of Mind: On the Ephemerality of Psychedelic Social Emplacements. Luther Elliott
2. The Decline of Electronic Dance Scenes: The Case of Psytrance in Goa. Anthony D’Andrea
3. The Ghost of Goa Trance: A Retrospective. Arun Saldanha
II Global Psytrance
4. Infinite Noise Spirals: Psytrance as Cosmopolitan Emotion. Hillegonda Rietveld
5. Psychedelic Trance Music Making in the UK: Rhizomatic Craftsmanship and the Global Market Place. Charles de Ledesma
6. Re-evaluating Musical Genre in UK Psytrance. Robin Lindop
7. (En)Countering the Beat: Paradox in Israeli Psytrance. Joshua I. Schmidt
III Liminal Culture
8. DemenCZe: Psychedelic Madhouse in the Czech Republic. Botond Vitos
9. Dionysus Returns: Tuscan Trancers and Euripides’ The Bacchae. Chiara Baldini
10. Weaving the Underground Web: Neotribalism and Psytrance on Tribe.net. Jenny Ryan
11. Narratives in Noise: Reflexivity, Migration and Liminality in the Australian Psytrance Scene. Alex Lambert
12. Liminal Culture and Global Movement: The Transitional World of Psytrance. Graham St John

Reviews“Psytrance is an intriguing transnational phenomenon for anyone interested in popular music, subcultures, and alternative spiritualities and lifestyles. Although still relatively unexplored, it is an increasingly significant area of study in Sociology, Cultural Studies, Popular Music Studies and Religious Studies. A dynamic feature of a multi-faceted, global, psychedelic occulture, psytrance presents the scholar with a fascinating, if bewildering array of musicological, cultural, and spiritual confluences. Edited by Graham St John, the foremost EDMC theorist, this stimulating collection of essays by some of the key researchers in the field provides a genuinely insightful and engaging contribution to the study of psytrance, which students, tutors, and researchers will be turning to for many years to come. I warmly and enthusiastically welcome it.” --Christopher Partridge, Professor of Religious Studies, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University, UK

The Local Scenes and Global Culture of Psytrance is a rich collection, full of pieces that combine the results of detailed fieldwork with up-to-date theorizing. I particularly like the way this volume goes beyond the longstanding preoccupation of popular music scholars with subcultural expression, and into a whole set of other, interdisciplinary issues. This book is very much about music, but it also tackles such phenomena as the global “festivalization” of culture, emerging forms of music-based religiosity, transformations in the nature of cultural labour, and shifts in the social meaning of travel. Psytrance comes across here as much more than just one more interesting musical niche. Interweaving technologies and bodies, the archaic and the contemporary, the local and the cosmopolitan, psytrance condenses within itself many of the key cultural dynamics of our time. The articles gathered here delve into those dynamics with skill and commitment, and the result is a book that should interest any scholar of present-day cultural expression.” --Will Straw, Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University, Canada

“Graham St John has assembled a thought-provoking and rewarding collection of essays that explores the rarely considered musical and cultural practices that make up psytrance. Dedicated to its local variants and its global tendrils, this collection frames psytrance through scenes, subcultures, neo-tribes, political economies, cultural politics, and aesthetics, as well as movement and mobility, giving us an engaging contribution to the nascent study of electronic dance music cultures.” -- Geoff Stahl, Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa - New Zealand
Purchasing the bookNote this book is only available at present in hardback. While it is expensive, if there are enough sales over the next year, it will become eligible for Routledge's Paperback Direct program (ie. will be a much cheaper paperback). So, if you can get your library to aquire it or your professors to buy it, please do so. Or, if you are unusually wealthy, go ahead and grant yourself this indulgence.
Buy it from Routledge

But it from Book Depository = cheaper: free delivery.

Buy it from Amazon.com