St. John, Graham. 2009. “Neotrance and the Psychedelic Festival.”

St. John, Graham. 2009. “Neotrance and the Psychedelic Festival.” Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music 1(1): 35-64.

Religio-spiritual characteristics of psychedelic trance music – the countercultural practice of “tribal” psytrance festivals, concerns with people’s participations within the festival.  Explores ecstatic (self-transcendent), performative (self-expressive), and reflexive (conscious alternative) manifestations in psytrance music culture.   Increased study of EDMCultures by scholars of religion, music, and culture –

(beautiful thick description of missions of festival, conditions, types of music played, arena)  – notes scholarly review of rave cultures focus on drug use, but offers counter that these substances aid in the goals of the festival.  “That EDMC’s contextualise collective alternation of consciousness, especially among youth, has triggered a range of passions: from moral panics and hysteria such as that expressed by Christian fundamentalists [kx ^7], to statements of self-awakening [^8], to other material produced by rave-evangelists” (37, see also Fritz 1999). Revitalization of EDMC practices such as clubbing, raving  – despite historical and acute marginalization (Wagner 1997).

Turns to Victor Turner’s lens of communitas – “this is where individuals, often strangers to one another, in contexts that are in-between (or liminal) to their routine daily round, and perhaps also collectively undergoing physical ordeals, may experience a spontaneous ‘flash of mutual understanding on the existential level, and a ‘gut’ understanding of synchronicity’ (Turner 1982, 48)” (38). Rhythm and personhood as synchronized, facilitated by other variables like location, lighting, décor, costumes, sense of time, type of music, volume, tempo. “The Vibe”  (a la Fikentscher 2000) approximates a religious experience for participants, without participation in institutionalized religious forms – translated as “tribal”-  “signify a desire for a sacred sociality, a social warmth howsoever temporary perceived to have been lost or forgotten in the contemporary world of separation, privatisation and isolation” (39) – updating versions of Durkheimian collective effervescence.  “While the romaniticisation of particular indigenous models is indicative to this process [see Newton 1984; Luckman 2003] and while ‘communitas’ may actually be a site for the amplification of divisions based on subculture, class, gender, ethnicity and race [see, for instance, Thornton 1995 and Saldhana 2007] – it nevertheless appears to be adopted as a generic signifier [in the subculture]”  (39).  The re/unification of tribes in complement to, or to replace traditional institutions?

Coming together of different tribes, to be together in a sense united – heterogeneous sub-subcultures in communion.  Raving communities predominantly populated by young whites – models of peace, love, unity, and respect are often shielded from differences in social location, identity, oppressions – however, globally, a multi- and inter-cultural space.   Coming together of aesthetic scenes , populated in early Vancouver rave scene as “queers, Goths, electro and new wave freaks, cyberpunks, anarchists, activists, S&M scenesters, tattoo and body modification lovers and dancers” (Van Veen, 92)  – [kx^ however, this is now not the case – raving culture has moved to the forefront of popular consumption – fringe group membership is not a point of entrée –it can be easily accessed by those who purchase]  – scenes alight with disposition, identity, fashion choices, music, drug use, jargon – however, tribal distinction communicates transcendence of difference through “an apocalypse of subjectivity” (41). An arena where difference is simultaneously accentuated and obfuscated (temporarily) – Carnivaleseque? “while carnival lasts there is no other life outside it.  During carnival time, life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom” (Bakhtin 1968, 7). Play, immediacy, spontaneity, grotesquery, individuals blending into one through participation.

Sourced in Goa trance, post-Goa psytrance events are globalizing – overnight or weeklong campouts likely held outdoors, where dancefloors become integrated with natural surroundings – beaches, deserts, forests, etc. – celebration of celestial events or turning of seasons.  Tied heavily with New Age religiosities and philosophies of environmental and personal unities, energies, peace, enlightenment, utopianism, self-transcendence, mysticism, “re-enchantment of the West” (see Partridge 2004)… not formed into traditionally organized sects or meetings, but individuals focused on networking with others of similar beliefs.  Seeking direct association with divinity through ancient texts, religions – appropriations of Hindu or Buddhist religious artifacts, combined with alien or galactic imagery that works to transcend Earth – “These elements combine to augment personal growth, enlightenment, status, and credibility, complicating the ‘tribal’ identification within the psytrance-imaginary, and rendering rather futile simplified efforts to dismiss formations through critiques of cultural appropriation” (43).

Potlatch sharing of substances, drinks, products – obtaining “sacred otherness” through shared consumption – “If I thus consume immoderately, I reveal to my fellow beings that which I am intimately: Consumption is the way in which separate beings communicate.  Everything shows through, everything is open and infinite between those who consume intensely” (Bataille 1988).

“While the psy-festival is a context for self-immolation in the furnace of dance, it is, at the same time, a context for the performance of the self, the presentation or staging of a persona, which, exceeding that of the routine self, quite literally becomes an other self: indeed, the freaky self. In countercultural history, the freak is never straight, stationary or complete, always somewhere in-between and entirely ambiguous with regard to moral rules, dress codes, gender regulations, disciplined embodiment and legal mind states. Transgressing categories, trespassing psychic limits, seeking forbidden knowledge and drifting between marginal sites, as ontological and territorial nomads, freaks are characterised by movement and uncertainty. Accommodating the creative recombination of aesthetics, undisciplined embodiment and psycho-somatic states, Boom is a freak theatre, a staging-ground for what Turner had called the “subjunctive mood” (Turner 1984: 21), an experimental state or atmosphere where occupants – wearing outfits with theriomorphic (animal-like), anime, superhero, mythical and extraterrestrial themes, adopting stylised (e.g. fractalised and UV reactive) glyphs printed on clothing, badges, and personalised patches, and through innovative dance moves – indulge in alternate personas. The queering of gender, is also not uncommon, with females perfecting androgynous appearances and males adopting effeminate styles. On the dance floor and around the festival site, illuminated under UV lights, caught in lasers, distorted by hypnagogic projections and other advanced lighting techniques, in dreadlocked and shaven hair aesthetics, dermal anchors, tattoos and other body modifications, amid the acrobatics of fire staff and glow poi twirling, club and globe ball juggling, and in spectacularly-altered states of consciousness, participants become freaks on display. While public nudity does not typically extend beyond the clothing-optional lake and its foreshore areas, for an unknown but small percentage of the population, with daily temperatures soaring, dance floor habitués are notably under-dressed, accentuating lithe and queer bodies striking lascivious poses especially down at the Groovy Beach stage” (47)

Enabling trance- the possession-like quality embodying music – but this offers misleading frameworks.  Rave as “a rite of passage leading nowhere…. It is a ritual without content, ecstatic, solitary and narcissistic.  It is a game of change; its trance is aleatory and dizzying” (Gore 1997 – kx^ but, is this true?) Trance as metaphor for life devoid of meaning, Baudrillardian scopes? An overwhelm by nothingness, a deconstruction of institutions and meaning?  A dis-possession?

Carnivals (festivals) as temporary authorized anarch (see Stallybrass and White 1986, Bahktin) – tribal carnival has intent of translating carnivalesque liminality into the everyday lives of participants – globalization and year-long practice of freakiness and communitas

“also recognised as a “cultural drama” (Turner 1982); an event contextualising the transmission of popular cultural values, the amplification of a population’s “ultimate concerns”15 surfacing in response to emergent and ongoing crises. As liminal periods of uncertainty, ambiguity and potency, movement events are vehicles for the display, performance and dramatisation of a people’s cherished symbols, beliefs and causes upon which various performance genres and media effect inquiry, reflection and possible resolution. In this thinking, an individual’s engagement with or contemplation of his or her culture’s ultimate concerns, its sacred values and beliefs – its sacra (Turner 1967: 102) – is thought to be amplified in such spaces since they are temporarily transported beyond their routines to a space both in between and outside day-to-day life” (55)


Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1968 [1944]. Rabelais and His World. MIT Press.Bataille 1988

Fikentscher, Kai. 2000. “You Better Work!”: Underground Dance Music in New York City.

Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Fritz, Jimi. 1999. Rave Culture: An Insider’s Overview. Canada: Smallfry Press.

Gore, Georgina. 1997. “Trance, Dance and Tribalism in Rave Culture.” In Helen Thomas (ed) Dance in the City, pp. 73-83. London: MacMillan Press.

Luckman, Susan. 2003. “Going Bush and Finding One’s ‘Tribe’: Raving, Escape and the Bush Doof.” Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 17(3): 315-30.Newton 1984;

Partridge, Christopher. 2004. The Re-Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization and Popular Culture and Occulture (Vol 1). London: T & T Clark International.

Saldanha, Arun. 2007. Psychedelic White: Goa Trance and the Viscosity of Race. University of Minnesota Press.

Stallybrass, Peter and Allon White. 1986. The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. London: Methuen.

Thornton, Sarah. 1995. Club Cultures: Music, Media And Subcultural Capital. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Turner, Victor. 1982. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. New York: PAJP.

Van Veen, Tobias., C. 2003 “It’s Not a Rave.” Journal for the Arts, Sciences and Technology 1(2): 90-6

Wagner, Ann. 1997. Adversaries of Dance: From Puritans to the Present. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.


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