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Claus Sterneck / Claus in Iceland
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Wolfgang Sterneck
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Wolfgang Sterneck

- The Psychedelic-Trance-Culture


The location turns into a field of energy when a Goa party reaches its peak. This field is not visible in an optical sense, but is, nevertheless, perceptible for all. Freely moving bodies with perception concentrated on the moment. Within the dancers there is a positive emptiness spreading out to be filled by the rhythm. All around, there is ecstatic dancing; the borders between the dance-floor and the rest of the world continuously disintegrating.

At this point, these events look just like big trance rituals. Hours of dancing along to a monotonous rhythm, perhaps accompanied by the use of psychoactive substances, trigger a psychedelic transition to a trance-like state. Within the bodies endorphines are being released leading to a euphoric state. It becomes possible at last, to let go of everything, release the inner blockades and just go with the flow.

Such parties are in a line of tradition from schamanistic drum rituals over secret Dionysus feasts and the bedevilments of witches and on into contemporary underground cultures. Outsiders are not able to comprehend these experiences. When the paths of trancers and strollers cross after a trancy night the following Sunday afternoon, you get what seems to be an encounter of worlds in total opposition. But these two worlds and all their differences soon quickly disappear at the next food stall.

Getting away and Escape

In a society based on control and reason, a trance night may turn into a politics of body. If this experience is only limited to a short moment of individual escape from the bonds of daily life, then the comparison to simple escape is evident.

It is essential to deal with one’s own personal experiences during a party and put them into a social context. It then quickly becomes clear that personal experiences are not simply products of coincidence but in their very core show the impact of certain life conditions and social structures. The de-facto social systems need a blocked human being who will function without contradiction and who will join the constant quest for success, even though they basically just desire an inner and outer flow. It is necessary, therefore, to go beyond these short and liberating transcendent experiences and force personal and social structures to break.

Party Politics

Like in many other underground scenes, at the beginning of the Goa- and Psytrance scene there was a strong expression of a subliminal desire for a life stretching above and beyond simple civic duties. What played a big role here were such values as self-determination and a sense of community as well as the zest to actively partake in one’s own creative development, albeit, by do-it-yourself means.

When people got together for a party to celebrate together as a community and break free from the bonds of daily life, what it achieved was at most a moment of socio-cultural free space or a “temporary autonomous zone” (TAZ). The political character, thereby, is not just formed by banners or flyers. It’s an inherent and important question in party politics if trancers deal with each other as if in a community or in an egocentric way. It is a matter of politics whether there are only men up on the stage or whether you also have women participating in their emancipation. It is also a matter of politics if only a single person ends up getting money out of the event or whether it’s a really great party for a whole group of people. Plus, the way the environment is treated also becomes a matter of great political concern at an open-air event. Not to forget resistance against control, commerce and consumerism as other important political aspects.

Psychedelic Illusions

The “reclaim-the-streets” actions showed in an impressive way that it is possible to link politics and party in a more closely defined sense. It is very rare for such projects to come out from the Goa culture and participate in such actions. The Goa culture hardly harbours any direct political message or a holistic understanding beyond cliches.

As exceptions to this, we have the visionary cybertribe concepts that are trying to achieve a linking of life-forms in a community, creative development and political engagement. However, what is also emerging is a certain de-politicisation in favour of a concealed spiritual or an unreflected psychedelic attitude.

In the sense of a predominantly fun-oriented society most Goa freaks are satisfied when the drugs finally start to work and remain indifferent to deeper political questions. The party over the weekend becomes an island where everything is different. But, latest when the DJ is off on his ego-trip, and the high prices for the drinks have way exceeded your personal party budget and the police start a raid it all becomes clear, once more, that every island is surrounded by a sea.

If we look at the fuzzy descriptions of Techno-Shamanism, people refer to the intensity of the release of positive energy at a mass trance experience. The wrong conclusion, often made here, is that this would lead to a personal change in consciousness that would subtly become manifest and make a long term impact in social processes.

Similar positions were also found at the beginning of the techno cultures when the hope existed that the original ideals of “Peace, Love, Unity and Respect“ would end up changing society in a flowing process from within. However, comparable developments remained without any actual impact due to commercialization and the subliminal take-over of society. The capitalist system always succeeds in marketing its own antithesis, which has already been seen to happen with the hippie and punk cultures.

The Om and the Beer can

The Goa- and Psytrance culture is often characterized through cliché Indian designs. Hindu gods are one of the most apparent features of many party flyers and decorations. A lack of knowledge obviously ignores the fact that these symbols, often used as brands, ultimately stand for the extremely repressive cast system and the discrimination of women. From within the Psytrance scene there is often a self-conception of tolerance, deepness and creativity until today that distinguishes the Goa scene from both civic society and other music scenes. But at the same time, many other features show little difference to other scenes.

The stylization of DJs to stars of the scene is a clear sign, as well as the trendy standardization of party names, dance styles and fashion attributes. Also the use of psychedelic substances is characterized by a consumerist attitude and, as in any other scene, the fun drugs of beer and speed have become the prevailing substances consumed nowadays.

In contrary to the original ideals of the Psytrance scene it is not a question of developing a different world, but of just achieving short-term escape from normal social structures. When the sun rises over the the dance-floor in the morning and most Goa freaks are deep in trance-dance you will find the screwed-up flyers with the psychedelic colourful Om lying around between countless empty beer cans. But who’s looking down when the DJ is being celebrated?

Published in:
Tom Rom and Pascal Querner (Ed).:
GOA – 20 Years of Psychedelic Trance

Wolfgang Sterneck:
The Gatherings of the Cybertribes

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