Soulclipse > by Graham St. John

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Photo by deadreamer

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I recall reading on the refreshingly irreverent about an unconfirmed report that the former Portuguese colony of Goa was considering renaming itself `Progressive'. It's an intriguing quip, reflecting current anxieties over the rampant marketing of counter-cultural communitas and the formulaic standardisation of a sound (distributed as `Goa Trance') that now more accurately evokes a Fruitopia commercial, than the new spiritual experiments around Anjuna village way back in the day - such that the experience in Goa might now effectively approximate, well, a Fruitopia commercial, or a kind of `freak Club Med', as Erik Davis would have it.

While the renaming of the exotic locale in the East which gave birth to an electronic music juggernaut now convulsing with sub-genres, neo-styles, fluid labels and more DJ name changes than can be tracked by the human eye, might capture the ambience of the particularly cosmopolitan sophistication of a dance music scene with counter-cultural pretensions, what would we relabel the Indian state in a further five years? Will `Progressive' still be progressive?


The issue of commercialised communitas aside, the quip evokes an underlying dilemma. That is, while sound might evoke sensations similar to the original experience, may even be engineered in efforts to reproduce it, and party goers might seek to recapture the original experience, sound doesn't tend to be experienced in exactly the same way again. Though this seems the case for all musical experience, a `progressive' music is a (sub)cultural recognition of this tendency. To become committed to the progressive experience, literally living on the edge of the progression --- where nothing remains the same --- is to commit to a lifestyle as ephemeral, perpetually upgradeable and permanently unfinished as the intended character of the sound.

Seeking the edge involves journeying to transgressive margins, especially international psy-trance festivals, where transgression is the context for progression. Having danced on the verge, for the experienced this `otherworld' becomes likened to a pilgrimage destination, a centre out there sought by the those who'll board the Psy-Trance Express (I'm reminded of DJ Krusty's so-named van here), make sacrifices, endure ordeals and wear outlandish pants in order to re-obtain it.


While `progressive' is (arguably) impossible to capture due to its necessarily shifting audiotronics, and variable interpretation, I've recently encountered something of a rock in the quicksands of the present, a mountain range towering above the arctic tundra of Goa trance, the wastelands of `full on' and much of which now holds `Progressive' pretensions --- a veritable Gibraltar of the genre. You can't deny the body's desire to respond with the wildest trouser-splitting gesticulations known to human-kind. Blue Planet Corporation's (Gabriel Masurel) Cosmic Dancer performed this trick on me and, unlike my pants, should withstand the intense pressures of time and interpretation (well, perhaps a couple of years) marking a `novelty wave' in the progression. This will be the soundtrack of a remake of Dr Seuss's The 10,000 Fingers of Dr T. Or it should be. Performed in the right context, such functional dreamsonics, familiar yet novel, effect a strange gnosis.


And such was the experience of the uncanny enveloping me in Paradise Canyon on the fast flowing Koprulu Canyon River near the Mediterranean city of Antalya in Southern Turkey for Soulclipse, a celebration of the eclipse, when, as Hallucinogen appeared to have flicked the switch, the sun was engulfed by the moon and Venus burned bright in the clear mid-afternoon sky. A three minute cosmic snapshot, the dark flash of which left an indelible imprint on the thousands of naked retinas belonging to the howling massive (around 7-8000 people) - all the weirdest kids in the classroom.

staring at the sun

When a hail storm had collapsed the Soulclipse main stage on Monday afternoon just before the opening ceremony was due to begin, what appeared to be a disaster was eventually turned around. Quite miraculously, nobody was seriously injured. While it didn't look good at that point, praise must be handed to the organisers, the Indigokids, since after major logistical challenges and set times gone into orbit, the main stage was operational by Friday night. In the meantime, the Liquid stage and chill --- a lush area on the river, graced by a gallery of amazing art works and tall luminescent mushrooms - were pulsing. Given the many difficulties holding an event of this kind and magnitude in this location, my hat's off to the Indigokids for building the context for the vibe.

Noah stares

And this brings me back to my rather indulgent tangent. The Zen phrase `nothing remains the same' indicates that the trance experience is as much about permanence as it is about movement. There appears to be a deep-seated paradox at work here. Perhaps the closest we might get to resolving this is demonstrated by the commitments of those who rise from their deep-seatedness and gravitate in numbers to aesthetically evolved nodes of progression manifesting at the earthly junctures of major celestial events across the globe. And perhaps the nearest and most eloquent designation for the optimum experience sought within what is a largely non-textual and non-vocal socio-sonic space (i.e. the dance floor), is the phrase identifying an experience most recognise but are hard pressed to articulate any further: the good `vibe'.

top hat girl
photo by Vapours



These parties reconstitute the sixties `vibe' in what is possibly its most evolved contemporary state (regardless of whether Vibrasphere is playing). Having made transit to such sites of ineffability at remote locations in a fashion resembling the now mythical Goa Full Moon parties, habitus will camp on the edge of the progression, remastering themselves under the pressure of the bass. At least that's the potential, for these are uncertain realms pregnant with possibility --- digital-chemical interfaces whose outcomes cannot be predicted. Emersed in black light baths and probed by laser light, undone by the crankingest sounds of unreleased `acid', even as sensoriums are aswamp in liquid LSD, the interfaced and off-their-faced yield to the threshold, potentially re-programmed in the mix.


In a place where everything potentially unravels, nothing happens. Perhaps this explains why the experienced labrats of these digital-chemical laboratories are troubled describing --- and maybe don't seek to describe - what they've experienced (beyond statements of `avin it', being `out there', going `crazy', `mad' or in near-heroic tales of munterment). And perhaps this in part also explains why trance critics are so disapproving of the apparent vacuous, empty and `non-politically' progressive characteristics of psy-trance. Is Progressive little more than a treadmill? Trance festivals psychedelic theme-parks? Mindless escapades? Given the branded bottling and resale of `experience' as Trance (btw. participants were required to sacrifice up to 180 euros before entering Souldclipse), you can't ignore the criticism, but there is something wearing about the moralism in the motives of detractors, replicating in some ways those who've mobilised against subcultural contexts for accessing alternative states of consciousness, who've sought to eliminate or domesti cate the `savage trance' (a term attributed to researcher of Brazilian and African trance rituals, Roger Bastide, in Frank Gauthier's translation in his chapter in Rave Culture and Religion), triggering epidemics of puritan self-discipline along the way.


In the language of Tony D'Andrea, who also contributed to that book, the abandonment of rational mind states might involve an `oceanic eroticism' enabled by MDMA, and/or a psychedelic asceticism' facilitated through LSD and other entheogens. And with the addition of ganja, alcohol (from beer to absinthe) and ketamine, the seas are rarely calm. Sailing towards the edge of the known universe where cosmic love and personal derailment are reported, the trance-massive want their MTV (mindscape trance vacation).

For those who hear the noise but cannot feel the music, it will seem unfathomable that the `singularity' could be obtained amidst the carnivalsque bustle of the dance floor, seemingly as unfeasible as the prospect of achieving enlightenment at Burger King. But these hyper-liminal landscapes of (un)becoming and heterotopias of serious fun are thresholds to which the experienced will, as circumstances allow, gravitate time and again, anticipating and perhaps even achieving, nothing. Permanent-neophytes, they are travellers who, in a fashion consistent with those populating what D'Andrea calls the transnational techno `freak-scape', do not move. Perhaps it's just this promise of an indescribable familiarity, that drives these vibe-fanatics to converge from points across the globe --- like Israel, Japan, Russia, Italy, Brazil, Sweden, Poland, Peru, Spain - since for them, nothing is sacred.


In revisiting such an experience, trancers relive a time-out-of-time frame so often reported to parallel the experience of ancestral forebears who, if traced back far enough, are believed common to all (as far back at least as those high times when primitives enjoined effervescent happenings in Day Gloed torsoes). An ongoing commitment, the party constitutes a cosmic housekeeping ritual, ultimately ensuring that nothing does in fact remain the same.

The total solar eclipse psy-trance festival, Soulclipse, was such a return. Many had stepped through space and time from previous eclipse festivals like Outback Eclipse in South Australia in Dec 2002 (I travelled from Istanbul and camped with one of the makers of the documentary film The Outback Eclipse Story, Gareth Moon). Perhaps this was because many of the pilgrims to Turkey were indeed Australians, trancers recruited along the way, fixated by this strange attractor lying somewhere between the speaker stacks when heavenly bodies and the earth are in correct alignment.

It takes planning, resources and a good social support base to potentiate abandonment. Campsites and campfires are nexus points for exchange and support --- like that provided by the crew I travelled and camped with in Turkey, establishing a good base in the field near the top of the valley. After a chance meeting with Paris (operator of Australia's Psyclone Events) in Istanbul's Saltanahmet district, I hooked up with a posse of mostly Australians and New Zealanders all making the journey south. Van loads of black sheep --- and over the course of the ensuing days, there were more than a few loose in the top paddock. These weren't `Slippers and Pipe Trance' types. More Gum Boot Psy - hardcore mercenaries.

Possibly the biggest Aussie (and Kiwi) landing since Gallipoli (around 700 Australians present and most of those from Melbourne), and we still got annihilated attempting the heights . But if it was a sacrifice, the cause had nothing to do with national identity, but a desire to abandon desire and identity. Commanded by the bass, called by the melody lines orchestrated by the likes of Freq and Echotek, comrades in arms, legs and utility belts crossed into No Man's Land. At the Liquid floor on the night of the eclipse (Wednesday March 29), as camp fires dotted the valley, I sacrificed the flesh on the soles of my feet and toes for the rhythm. Old hands Atmos and Ticon had prepared the build through the afternoon.

From dusk onwards, D-Tek, Onyx, Par a Hula, Hyper Frequencies and other unknowns (since the set times had gone awol), combined to form the most wonderfully sustained sonic assault I've ever experienced. Misshapen bodies caught in laser light, smoking torsoes here, a stray foot there, we were pinned down by precision programming. Bandaged and battered, two nights later Echotek rallied me out of the trenches towards the edge of the progression. And I was not alone. Amongst Turkish comrades, many of whom seemed to have ventured out of Antalya on Saturday night for the final push, we passed into the whirring rhythm, and were taken to pieces. Shrieks of exhilaration could be made out over the driving beats.


Capitulation was complete.

Thanks to Superblasta, deadreamer, Digitalex, kata, Marc, Mfractal, Michinio, Robin and Vapours for all the eyecatching images. Tristan White has an excellent and amusing photo and video journal), and MALEX has great shots (see Performance section especially).

reprinted with permission from