The original Goa scene:How hippies discovered EDM

The original Goa scene:How hippies discovered EDM

The past is the step to the future.This is perhaps the most updated historic reference to the roots of Goa trance.Perhaps you'll learn some things about the music you love.

Article taken from

The original scene: Goa or How the hippies discovered EDM

As far as the Hippie community of Goa, its origin and its way of life are concerned, a few books have already been published on the subject [3]. Therefore, only the main events which are necessary to understand the surrounding in which this music appeared will be mentioned here.

Goa, an Indian State on its own

The State of Goa, with more than one million inhabitants, is located approximately in the middle of the Indian West Coast.

In 1510, Portuguese colonists landed on its beaches and the European occupation lasted until 1961. This western presence for 450 years has strongly shaped the cultural life of Goa, for instance through the traditional catholic events celebrated at the end of the year.
As a consequence, it is a region on its own in India : the Goans themselves feel a little bit like strangers in India.

This situation made the settlement of the first Hippies over there in the mid-60's all the easier. They were looked upon as the new colonists, towards whom the Goans proved as tolerant as they had been with the Portuguese.

The Hippies arrived…

The first Hippies who travelled to Goa were as much attracted by its beautiful beaches, the kindness of the inhabitants, the low cost of living, the mildness of Winter or the Indian spirituality than by its local hashish, which remained legal until the mid-70's. One of the first Hippies to have set foot over there in the mid-60's was Eight-Finger Eddie. He and his friends launched the first "Goa parties" : campfire on the beach, acoustic guitars, and dancing under the influence of hallucinogenic substances …

At Christmas, Goa became the official meeting point of all the Hippies who were exploring the Eastern world. They used to meet on the beaches of Anjuna, Vagator, Calangute, to tell each other their amazing journeys. At first, they just rented a guesthouse for a month or two, but soon, some felt at home on the Goa shores and decided to settle there for good. From then on, the Goa Hippie community began to expand dramatically.

and then electronic music

During the Seventies, the musical repertoire of the first Goa DJs was mostly made of the mind-blowing rock music of the time : Led Zeppelin, the Who - both groups came to Goa - the Grateful Dead, the Doors, Neil Young, the Eagle, Pink Floyd, but also some Bob Marley, Parliament...

In 1979, one or two songs by Kraftwerk could already be heard during the parties. But it is in 1983 that two French DJs, Laurent and Fred Disko, soon followed by Goa Gil, organizer of the "Full Moon Parties" alternating live groups and DJs, grew tired of the "rock/fusion/reggae" tunes they used to spin and began to play the electrobeat music coming from Europe : Cabaret Voltaire, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Frontline Assembly, the Residents, New Order, Blanc Mange…

It is worth noticing that a similar phenomenon was taking place in the United States, particularly in Detroit, on WGPR radio thanks to Charles Johnson, also known as Electrifying Mojo, or in Chicago, in the Warehouse club with DJ Frankie Knuckles. The seeds of Goa Trance, Techno and House were planted at the same time.

Back to Goa. These new sounds were first mildly appreciated by the Hippies. The tunes played by Fred Disko were too strange for them. Laurent took everything under control, and thanks to his less eccentric style, acidheads began to prefer these futuristic sounds to the wah-wah of Jimi Hendrix. On top of that, it was easier to dance with that kind of music.

The Goa mixes

From then on, the gathering and exchange of the weirdest and most mind-blowing music from all over the world, called "special music", became the official sport of the Goa Hippie community. The remix of the tracks was a necessary task, since most of them included pointless lyrics and were way too short. The DJs used walkmans to record the useful parts of the tunes, and then proceeded to all sorts of manipulations before delivering 100% Goa-style mixes to the dancing crowd.

And then, as early as 1985, all the music played in Goa had become electronic. Some well-known groups could be identified, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Dead or Alive, Portion Control… Yet, most of the time, the tracks came from 12" B-sides or dub mixes, which were very hard to get. As an illustration, here is a short anecdote about Sven Väth, the German Pope of Trance, when he first visited Goa : "One of the first Goa DJs, Laurent, came up and said how much they liked my early, 16-bit recordings. Hardly anybody knows those records !"

The Full Moon Parties : an initiation

Until the mid-90's, the Hippie vibe, which had remained strong on the Goa beaches for 30 years, had a huge influence on the travellers :

Tsuyoshi Suzuki [Prana] : " My life changed. I dropped out of the society completely. In Japan, you have to belong to the company. This is how our parents educated us. So, I graduated from University, then I worked. After Goa, I just quit. "

Mark Allen [Quirk] : " I realised working to earn lots of money was not what I wanted to do with my life. My optimistic vision is that it's not so much dropping out as realising that you don't have to do a nine-to-five. It's actually trough coming together and celebrating life together that it inspires other people to go off, travel, get creative. So many people are just in a job, frustrated, dreaming."

James Munro [Technossomy] : " It opened me up to religion. Seeing how you can be happy without materialism. The ambitions I had when I was little, of earning shit loads of money, just went."

As Goa Gil always says, the Goa spirit is more than "a disco under the coconut trees". Actually, the DJ is looked upon as a modern shaman, turning his desk into an altar (with Hindu symbols for instance), and leading his congregation to a spiritual journey through the night, rewriting the history of humankind : soft and slow tracks at the beginning, getting more and more repetitive and harder. The climax is reached at dawn, and then happier and more melodic tunes are played, so as to welcome the sunrise. Symbolically, this evolution of the musical set represents the destruction of the ego, before the created void is filled with light.

Contrary to other forms of EDM, the mix quality is not that important : on the one hand, the journey that is told through the set needs breaks, and on the other hand beatmatching would prove almost impossible with the historical use of cassettes and DAT during the parties (vinyls would melt or get dirty with dust).

A typical party

The party season is from November to April. Two renowned places are Bamboo Forest on Anjuna Beach and Disco Valley on Vagator. Legally speaking, playing amplified music after 10pm is forbidden : thus, every party is technically breaking the law. Until 1990, a little baksheesh - the money came from the bars receipts or directly from the pockets of the Trancers - or a few beers would keep the police away.

To find a party, you have to rely on the rumours you heard during the day, or ask the taxi drivers. At dusk, people go the their favourite bar on the beach (e.g. Shore Bar on South Anjuna or Nine Bar on Vagator Beach). There, you drink a beer and smoke your first joint. Around 9pm, it's dinner time. At midnight, the music begins to be played loud. You can follow the Vespa line, driving through the night, guided by the throbbing beats.
Here you are. All around the dance floor, in front of which stands the shaman-DJ under his tent, you have the chill-out zone, with its kerosene lamps and its mats placed by local women, selling tea, sandwiches, fruits, cigarettes. This is also the place where you will meet the dealers.
Between 3am and 5am, the party reaches its peak. The music generally stops around noon, but huge parties can go on for several days.

The collapse of the original scene

In 1990, the police finally intervened, and the parties were systematically shut down. But in 1991, the pressure from the authorities decreased. Meanwhile, the Israeli or Japanese youth had heard of Goa. Among other triggering factors, DJs like Fred Disko or Ray Castle had made Goa Trance Parties around the world as soon as 1987. A human tide streamed onto the Goa beaches...

Until then, around 200 people used to attend the parties, but in the 1991/1992 season this figure went up to 1500. From 1997 on, the tourists in Goa outnumbered the Goans. Goa progressively turned into another Ibiza : young western clubbers, clumsily trying to mimic the Hippies from the 60's, were actually arrogant with the locals, couldn't care less about the Indian culture or spirituality, while polluting the environment. In 2000, ecstasy became the number 1 drug in Goa. Said Goa Gil : "We came here so long ago, to the end of a dirt road and a deserted beach. It was like the end of the world. And now the whole world is at our doorstep."

Politically, this situation became highly sensitive. It wasn't about a few misfits dancing on a deserted beach anymore, but about Goa reported as a drug haven all over the world. Police raids during the parties became more and more frequent. The authorities were also subjected to the increasing pressure from environmentalists, wanting to stop the raves because, they claimed, they caused severe damage to Goa's beaches and rainforests. The environmental group began to lobby against the "noise pollution" of the parties, deeming the loud music a public menace. Their wish was finally granted when an Indian court banned any outdoor music over 45 decibels.

Maybe the future of Goa parties will consist in commercial venues, with the support of the authorities, like Goa2000 [4], light-years away from the original Hippie spirit of the 60's...

Birth of a musical genre or The betrayal of the Goa spirit

Paradoxically, the advent of a music designed for Goa parties coincided with the collapse of the scene at which it was aimed. Actually, according to some, the mere idea of a specific music in Goa is nonsense. Says DJ Steve Psyko : "The English have decided that Goa trance is just one kind of music, [but] in the beginning, the feeling from Goa music is anything goes". As a matter of fact, this music appeared along a scene which was different from the Hippie scene of Goa. At the end of the day, the expression "Goa Trance" has never been very appropriate. As we will see it, the term " Psychedelic Trance " soon took over.

The pioneers : 1988 - 1993

In the early 90's, acidfreaks came back to Europe, Japan or Australia, willing to produce a music specifically made for the Goa parties. They would come back the next season, with their bags full of DATs, and see the effect of their music on the crowd. Raja Ram, a key figure of the scene, remembers : "At that time, you could go into a record shop, and it was impossible to buy any of this music. It didn't exist. So the following year [1989], I went back to Goa, as I did for the next eight years. But the next year I went back, I started meeting a lot of the musicians in Goa and it started getting a lot more serious, because one started plugging in with the scene, and meeting people at studios, and discussing ideas, and when I got back after that season, we started getting into the music really full time, working on it more or less everyday. And we ended up making I think 60 tracks or something like that with The Infinity Project, with Graham."

Of course, nobody agrees on which track was the first Goa anthem. The question is probably of little relevance. Strangely enough, it is not a track intentionally meant for the Goa parties which is often looked upon as the first proto-Goa trance tune. It is The KLF - What Time is Love, judiciously labelled "Pure Trance version", released in October 1988. Nevertheless, there is a strong link between the KLF and Goa Trance : in the 80's, three key protagonists of the forthcoming Psy scene were at the sides of Jimmy Cauty, 50% of The KLF, in the group Brilliant.
First of all Martin Glover, a.k.a. Youth, bassist of Killing Joke before participating in the project The Orb, and who founded the first Goa label, Dragonfly Records, to spread this music to a wider audience than the DATs happy-few, after he enthusiastically came back from the Goa beaches.
Ben Watkins follows, founder of Juno Reactor (*), great electronic music experimenter since the mid-80's. Associated with Johann Bley, he was the author of the first Goa Trance hit in the UK charts in 1992 : "Jungle High". He also participated with Stephane Holweck, also a member of Brilliant and future member of Total Eclipse (*), in numerous ambient projects, like Electrotete. What a nice family photo…

To this picture, we could add Ronald Rothfield, alias Raja Ram. Member of the Jazz Rock band Quintessence in the 60's, he discovered Goa parties in 1988, as he was almost 50 years old. Back to England, with his friend Graham Wood, he wrote a couple of tracks under the name The Infinity Project ("Kicking with Boris", "I Love my Baby", end 1989), being inspired by the sounds he had heard in Disco Valley. Followed the creation of an homonymous label, TIP. The British commercial take-off of Goa Trance was at hand…

Last but not least, another backpacker who had spent some time in India : Joie Hinton. The latter participated in the formation of Ozric Tentacles in 1982. Their music was a subtle mix of futuristic sounds and roaring guitars, making use of all sorts of samples that Joie had brought back from India. In 1989, Joie Hinton and Merv Pepler created Eat Static, the 100% electronic side of Ozric so to speak. First producing conventional Acid House tracks, they quickly found their style (appearing on their EP "Almost Human" in 1992) which had, and still has, a considerable impact on Goa Trance artists.

August 1993 : the first Goa Trance compilation is released, on Youth's label : Project II Trance. It contained tracks by artists which would become key figures of the scene : Simon Posford (Hallucinogen (*)), Stephane Holweck (Total Eclipse (*)), Martin Freeland (Man With No Name (*))…
The same year, the first organized structure for Goa Trance parties came to life, once again in London, thanks to Chris Deckker, an Australian percussionist who had found inspiration on the shores of Goa : Return to the Source. He'd be soon joined in his enterprise by a famous DJ, Mark Allen, organizer of the Pagan Parties.

Worldwide spreading : 1994-1998
The expression "Goa Trance" appeared around 1994, before it was replaced in 1996 by " Psychedelic Trance ", the reference to Goa becoming a bit dowdy. We'll see why in a minute.

During this period, it was a genuine turmoil : the first album of Juno Reactor, "Transmissions", seen as the Goa Trance manifesto, was released in January 1994. Following the path of Youth with Dragonfly Records, new labels appeared : as already mentioned, TIP by Raja Ram and Graham Wood - dead then brought back to life as TIP World in 1999 -, but also Platipus by Simon Berry - who, after the success of " Children " by Robert Miles, in 1995, moved on to more commercial stuff - Matsuri by Tsuyoshi Suzuki and John Perloff - label which sought in 1999 following the disinterest of his father Tsuyoshi - Flying Rhino under the guidance of Sally Welch - sought in 2002 following financial difficulties - Blue Room Released, led by Simon Ghahary - disappeared in 2002 following the financial withdrawal of the Blue Room group - Phantasm… Thus, thanks to its independent music network, well-established since the Beatles era, England led the way.

Yet, Great Britain was not completely alone. The party scene had been restricted on the island by the Criminal Justice Bill passed in 1994. Outdoor parties, which are an elementary requirement of a proper Trance experience, were thus not possible. Meanwhile, Germany's liberal laws and the newly reunified East sparked a party paradise, which had a strong effect on the musical development and success of Goa Trance in Germany.
The first Goa Trance festival took place near Hamburg, in 1992 : the Voov Experience, today the first European festival, which gathered 12.000 people in 2002. Two years later, it was a well-known label which was created in the same region : Spirit Zone. In France, the Gaïa festival took place for the first time in 1992 - 6.000 trancers in 2001 -, and Distance, a commercial label, showed some interest in the Goa sound in 1994, gaining substantial profits from it.
Indeed, the "Distance to Goa" series represents the biggest regular sell of the scene, with 25.000 copies sold for every compilation. But the first sells were far from these figures. A catalyst was required so as to get more people in touch with this new underground music.

In the mid-90's, Paul Oakenfold was a very popular English DJ, with his own label, Perfecto. Along with Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker, he had introduced the British crowd to the new dance music sound coming from Ibiza, at the end of the 80's. Ollie Olsen, pioneer of electronic music at the end of the 70's and of Goa Trance with the second album of his project Third Eye ("Ancient Future", released on his label Psy-Harmonics in July 1993) made Paul discover Psy Trance. On December, 18th 1994, Paul Oakenfold was the guest DJ of the famous BBC Radio 1 broadcast "Essential Mix". Between 2pm and 4pm, he played the first Goa mix [5] to reach a whole country. He also arranged to have some of the small label Goa recordings reissued on his influential dance label, Perfecto, creating a sublabel, Perfecto Fluoro, dedicated to Goa Trance, on which appeared Man With No Name (*) for instance. The fact that this music was then available on Perfecto legitimated it for other big-name DJs in England.

Between 1996 and 1997, the Goa movement reached its peak : the media had become aware of the phenomenon [6], star-DJs appeared. But the hype was soon gone : sales suddenly dropped, and the scandal resulting in the collapse of the English leading distribution network Flying left a great void, dragging down some UK labels, artists and party organizations. Techno magazines, especially in France, decided that the Goa style couldn't offer anything new anymore, and focused on other genres. The death of Goa Trance, or at least of its more commercial side, was symbolically marked by the compilation "Let it RIP", released by Matsuri in October 1997.

Israel : the second home of Goa Trance

The development of the Goa sound in Israel was somewhat different from what it was in Europe or Japan. India was closed for Israeli until 1988. As soon as the borders were opened, Goa shores were assaulted by groups of young Israeli, whose military service was over, and who were seeking a cheap and peaceful place to rest. When they came back, they brought back electronic music and drugs in their bags. The first psychedelic parties, called "Full Moon Gatherings", began in 1990 on the Nizanim beaches. In 1993, the police began to crack down on the parties, looked upon as drug havens. DJs were arrested, gears confiscated.

The music brought back from Goa or that you could hear in clubs like "the Penguin" gave ideas to the Israeli youth. This is where the most well-known Psy act would appear : Astral Projection (*). After a few Indus and Techno productions, Astral Projection, at the time SFX, wrote their first Trance tracks around 1992, like "Allah Acbar". The same year, the first Israeli hit, composed by Erez Jino (today Analog Pussy (*)), appeared on a local compilation, Trance Mix 1. In 1995, the first Israeli Goa Trance album was out : "Progressive Trance", by Indoor (*).

As for the parties, a police intervention was always in the air. Long building sets were thus inappropriate. Moreover, Trancers needed a powerful and fast music, to forget their gloomy everyday life and freak out to the max. This particular context led to the development of Nitzhonot, standing for "Victorious Trance", with a high rhythm (above 150 bpm), simple structure and cheesy melodies. One of the first compilation with this kind of music, out end 1997, was "Over the Sunrise", with the Nitzhonot guru, Holly Shwartz, Holy Men. This simplistic music wasn't the cup of tea of Goa purists though, who then avoided those parties.
Around 1998, travels to Europe became cheaper. A few Israeli trancers decided to go and have a listen to what Goa Trance had become beyond their borders…

Musical changes : 1998-2002

In Europe, the evolution of Goa Trance had followed the opposite path to Nitzhonot. After 5 years of melodic music with a short hype, a sudden change occurred. Psy Trance became darker and more repetitive, getting rid of the multi-layered melodies, and concentrating on rhythm and groove. An obvious influence from the Techno sound can be felt here, even if the tracks remain very hypnotic and psychedelic. This trend, becoming the main orientation, was nothing new though. You could already hear this style, especially in Germany, in albums like "Wellenbad" by Der Dritte Raum, released in 1996.

The milestone album in the field was released in 1998 : X-Dream (*) - Radio. Subsequently, a trend called Minimal or Techtrance developed, with key figures like S-Range or Son Kite.
Scandinavians also got involved in this change. One of the first Vikings to go down this way was Tomasz Balicki, better known as Atmos. People started talking about the "Scando sound", featuring dark atmosphere and very hard sounds. We can mention Battle of the Future Buddhas or Ka-Sol for instance. In 2002, melodic tunes became popular again, yet they have got rid of the musical fuss of the 94-96 years. The production was clearer as well. We are talking about Full-on.

The Aesthetics of Goa Trance or A Very diverse genre

Goa Trance, Psychedelic Trance, Minimal, Techtrance, Scando sound, Full-on : quite a long list (though not complete…) to name a musical genre. All these terms mirror the evolution of the Psy sound throughout the past decade. Actually, according to the Wikipedia Encyclopaedia, the whole Trance style is "the most ambiguous genre in the realm of electronic dance music. [It] could be described as a melodic, more-or-less freeform style of music derived from techno or house." Ambiguous, free-form : no wonder then that the Psy production is so diverse and hard to put specific features on. But let's attempt the impossible…

Musical inspiration

As we've already seen it, the music played in Goa was made of the most mind-blowing and hypnotic pieces of sound you could find on the planet. In 1987, DJ Rey "brought the Hindu God Shiva to the dance floor" by playing the first Acid House cassettes brought over from England. It was a cultural shock, which would be reflected in the forthcoming Goa Trance style : "the movement embraced the somewhat contradictory ideals of New Age ascetism and drug hedonism" (New York Times). Hippies and LSD meeting Ravers and Ecstasy, an association labelled "Zippies" by Fraser Clark. Incidentally, this combination was promoted by Mark Harrison and his Spiral Tribe in England at the same period : "As a legend would have it, said Harrison, there's a musical note that will free people, there are rhythms that can induce trances and take you nearer to the spirit world." Sounds like a Goa Gil sentence, doesn't it ? There is little doubt that some followers of the Spiral Tribe eventually ended up on the shores of Goa, promoting this philosophy.
So, the first Goa Trance tracks appeared from a mix between the first Acid House tracks, the weirdest musics found in the world, especially borrowed from the Industrial sound, and of course classical Indian music, notably in the tonal and melodic devices. To this connection, it is worth noticing that, contrary to what is sometimes said, Goa Trance is not a direct offspring of the Trance genre, even if mutual influences are obvious.

1. Some major tendencies in compositions

We can find several common points between a significant numbers of so-called Goa Trance tracks. It goes without saying that these features are neither necessary nor sufficient to label a musical piece "Psy Trance".

1. Structure

1.1 A sonic voyage

The structure of a Goa Trance track generally reflects the idea of a journey. The track starts with subtle undulations of sound, slowly intensifying, with constant timbral evolution and accretion. Periodic breaks in the trance flow occur, often containing some mysterious text quotations (Terence McKenna, Timothy Leary…) or movie samples (Matrix, Star Trek, Contact…). The tracks are mostly around eight to ten minutes in duration. At the fifth or sixth minute the climax of the track has been reached, and from that point on the journey, as it moves towards its end, it mirrors the build up to the climax.

1.2 A form influenced by softwares

The form of Goa Trance tracks follow a fairly rigid framework, based on 8 or 16 bar building blocks. The changes in texture invariably coincide with the 8 bar divisions, although sometimes an additional part will fade in through an 8 bar cycle. This track construction process is influenced by computer sequencer design, encouraging a building block approach to composition.

2. Rhythm

The beat is generally a steady 4/4 kick. This monotonous rhythm is a key to the "Trance" aspect of this music. As well, it explains the discrepancy between Psy Trance and black, polyrhythmic dance music.

16th notes are the basic rhythmic division. The bpm (beats per minute) of Goa Trance tracks is quite medium, between 135 and 155, with an average at 145. Initially, the tempo was more moderate, a little bit more than 130, then it increased until 199, before another decrescendo following the influence of other musical genres.

In passing, we can mention that a link is often made between the alpha waves frequencies of the human brain, associated with the state of trance, between 8 and 12 Hz, and a constant stream of 16th notes which, when played at the suggested average of 145 bpm, yields a flow of musical events at an average of 10 Hz. Coincidence or more ?

3. Specific Goa sounds

3.1 Kick drum : TR 909

Like in many other EDM, the main element is the kick drum. Yet, in Goa Trance, it is quite dominant. The sounds used are mainly coming from the Roland TR 909 drum machine. This machine, released in 1984, was the last of the Roland drum machines to incorporate analogue synthesised drum sounds. It was possible to shape the sound using rotary knobs on the front of the machine to adjust parameters. As these machines are now hard to acquire, most Goa trance artists use samples of the TR909 or similar vintage drum machines in their work.

3.2 Acid sounds : TB 303

Extensively used in house and commercial club dance music over the years, the Roland TB 303 is responsible for many of the acid bleeps, squelches, squishes and whooshes found in traditional psychedelic trance. Today, these sounds are mostly obtained thanks to the use of sampled sources manipulated using the filter section of the sampler. Though, the influence of the TB303 sound can still be heard in many Goa trance tracks.

3.3 Sounds treatment

With a view to obtaining the psychedelic touch, sounds are manipulated in every possible way, even more than in other forms of electronic music : distortion, ever-changing filtering, harmonic filter sweeps, chaotic harmonic shifts reverberation, multiple delay effects, long sustained sounds or samples… The list is endless, especially since the introduction of specific computer programs in the field.

4. Tonal and melodic devices

4.1 Tonality

The pitch organisational basis of Goa Trance, as with many other dance music genres, is the centering on a single tone. This idea is related, perhaps coincidentally, to the modal centering of Indian classical music. Yet, there is sometimes a shift down to the centre defined by the flat seventh of the main centre.

4.2 Modes

The most frequent modes are the minor harmonic and the phrygian modes.

Fast arpeggios of 16th or 32nd notes are often found. Melodic design generally takes the form of short repeated fragments which often morph timbrally over time, using the envelope on the filter to mute or open the high frequency component of the sound

The Goa Trance aesthetics briefly described above mostly applied until 1997.

2. Musical gears

The instruments used by Psy Tance composers are the same as those used in other EDM forms. Though, some are particularly appreciated :

Concerning the synthesizers, the best choice is supposed to be the analog ones, or virtual analog, since they allow the insertions of effects in real time. Two great classics : the Roland TB 303, already mentioned, or one of its clones (Syntechno TB-303, TBS-303), overused in the past, or the Roland SH-101. We can also mention the Roland Juno 106 or the Roland Jupiter 6.

Virtual synthesizers appeared along the computer era. One very popular is Reaktor by Native Instruments.
The sequencers used are generally softwares. Two acclaimed sequencers among the Psy Trance community are Cubase by Steinberg or Logic by Emagic.
You can even find softwares which are true virtual studios : Fruity Loops, or Reason by Propellerhead. Interesting for beginners, these programs are generally considered to be far too limited to make professional Psy Trance tracks.

2003 or return to the source?

For the last two years, the music industry has been in recession. Undeniably linked to the world economic crisis, the sales drop is also attributed to the proliferation of illegal musical tracks on the Internet. The Psy Trance scene is also endangered, all the more so since its commercial structures are weak and unprofessional. Maybe this occasion should be grasped by the Psychedelic scene so as to revive the spirit of the early years …

The musical situation

1 Towards a genre fusion ?

Do we really have to say it once again ? Goa Trance was born through a musical melting pot in the mid-80's. This state of mind is still vivid today : " You can be influenced by Hungary, just like by Indian music, or Arabic music, combined with a strong kickbass ! ", said for instance Stephane Holweck (Total Eclipse). Actually, the simplistic definition given in the previous chapter was never strictly applied, except in the 95-97 hype tunes. We know where this led this part of the movement…

Historically, we can find many elements from other musical genres, electronic or not, in the works of lots of artists, straight from the beginning : Eat Static, the true pioneers, mixing Funk, World music, Trance and Techno, then Metal Spark, who introduced the first Jungle elements as a concept in their album "Corrosive", or Electric Universe using many Electro elements in their early productions.
At the end of 1997, the biggest part of the artists stopped searching for inspiration in India and started looking West towards Detroit and its Techno sound. House came next, with the pioneer album "Headcleaner", by Atmos, in 2000. The influence of what is known today as "Club Trance" can also be heard in more and more tracks ("Electric Roundabout" by Human Blue for example).

2 Towards a Club culture ?

The latter influence may come as a surprise. Indeed, as the Raw 42 Music Guide puts it, "the Goa Trance scene differs from so many other scenes of music because of its purely party environment. Whereas styles such as House and Techno were more confined to clubs and other enclosed, almost secretive locations, Goa thrived on its purity, its connection with nature, its focus on the essence, not the surroundings." Until recently, Psy Trance only truly made sense during large open air gatherings, and absolutely not in hyped clubs.
The point is that the political context forced this evolution : throughout the world, more and more festivals are cancelled by authorities, similarly to what happened in Goa in the mid-90s. People have no choice then : they have to go to indoor parties. As a matter of fact, it's not really the same kind of tracks which can suit those parties best.

Being played in the same locations as Club Trance, Psy Trance ends up by being influenced by it, especially regarding the quality production. For the best or the worst : the initial psychedelic imaginative chaos slowly vanished behind a very clean production, more danceable, though maybe less innovative musically speaking. Another sign of mutation lies in the fact that DJs have become the main trend starters, whereas this was initially the role of labels (TIP used to pride itself of changing the sound of the entire scene with each new compilation).

At the end of the day, the scene is splitting in two : on one hand, producers of music intended to parties, roughly equated with the Full-on and Progressive subgenres ; on the other hand, insatiable searchers of new psychedelic territories, not necessarily on a 4/4-beat basis, like Psy Ambient (e.g. the Shpongle project by Simon Posford and Raja Ram).

The commercial situation

1 Sales falling : why ?

As already mentioned, CD sales are freefalling worldwide : -2,8% in 2001, -8,8% in 2002. This decline is particularly visible in the Psy Trance scene, whose sale figures were never brilliant. Indeed, a typical album sold around 2.000 copies, and a big success is considered to be above… 5.000 copies. Psy Trance artists whose CD sales regularly rise beyond 20.000 copies can be counted on the fingers of one hand : ex-Transwave, Infected Mushroom, Astral Projection or Hallucinogen, whose album Twisted was the biggest sale of the movement, with 85.000 copies. You got the picture : what we're dealing with here is a micro economic market.

There are several factors explaining the current state of this market :

- Overproduction in comparison with the market capacities : at the beginning of the movement, the commercial structures were adjusted to the scale of the audience. You had one distribution network, 5 labels and around 20 known artists. Today, you have 10 distribution networks, more than 50 labels and innumerable produced artists, while the audience didn't expand that much.

- Music pirates : in a way, the number of Psy Trance listeners increased thanks to the Internet files sharing programs. Yet, these WWW newcomers don't necessarily have the desire or possibility (they are mainly students with little money income) to go beyond their mp3-files collecting habits.

- Lack of publicity : in many locations, since the 1997 flop, it proves impossible to find Psy Trance CDs at the regular record stores. Let alone the complete lack of commercial promotion on the main media.

- Poor-quality tracks production : despite the lack of a solid market, labels don't hesitate to produce more and more artists, inciting them to release an album as early as possible, often before they are mature enough for such a task.

Here we stand : on one hand, too much music produced, with poor quality, unfit to the size of the potential market. On the other hand, a young audience with very little money income, yet perfectly knowing how to illegally download the music they can't find in local shops [9].

2 Back to the original spirit ?

A bleak outlook, isn't ? And here comes the question : how do psy artists manage to survive ? Not thanks to album sells, that's for sure, but thanks to live sets and DJing.

It is worth noticing that Goa heads don't hesitate to spend their money for this kind of events. Psy festivals throughout the world are numerous : we already mentioned the Voov Experience in Germany or Gaïa in France, but there are also the Portuguese Boom Festival, the Greek Samothraki Dance Festival, the Swiss Zoom Festival, the Celebra Brasil and South Africa Festivals organized by Etnica (*)… All these events easily gathered thousands of people, especially in Japan : no less than 5 festivals every year over there (Solstice, Visionquest…) ! Thousands of Trance freaks ready to pay 100 euros without problem…

On thinking it over, we realize that the gist of this Elecrtonic Dance Music lies in this kind of events : quoting Russ from Mind Games, "the home experience is simply a distant shadow cast in the mind by experiences on the dance floor".
From then on, we could look at the scene from a totally different point of view : CDs becoming mere promotion tools for the bands performing at the parties, and consequently, labels turning themselves into booking agencies. Some renowned artists already went down this way [10].

For others, unfortunately, it remains easier to sell a few CDs than to get booked to major venues. The economic side of things doesn't only concern CD sales, but also party organization. And sometimes, the risk of financial losses prevents the organizers from taking artistic risks… Even if the parties have regained the prominent role they should have never lost, like on the beaches of Goa in the heydays, the complete disappearing of the commercial side of the movement is not planned for tomorrow. A return to the source within the reasonable limits of the market…


What is Psychedelic Trance ? Through the previous page, I tried to give a few historical hints to answer this question. In the first part of the 90's, the answer was rather obvious : Psy Trance was a music, first hand-made by local DJs then by European musicians, aimed at being played during "mystic" parties on the Goa shores for a bunch of neo-Hippies. Today, the answer is far less obvious, so less that we can even wonder if this music still deserves its name.

Indeed, we witness today the development of a nostalgic feeling among the first generation involved in the 90's scene, while the teenagers getting into it at the beginning of the 21st century are as enthralled as the old freaks were at their age. Is it just another version of old hats whining about the good old days ? Probably so to a certain extent, though this explanation is not entirely satisfying.

To many respects, the Psy scene of today is less psychedelic than it used to be. Except maybe in the countries new to the phenomenon, like South America or Eastern Europe, the mystic flavour of the Goa parties seems gone : there are just another rave party, where Hardcore or Jungle have been replaced by Trance. A good part of the Trancers attending those parties would feel offended if they were called "babas". And most of all, because of the introduction of loads of Techno elements, among other reasons, the music has become more hypnotic than psychedelic. Some call this phenomenon a natural evolution, stating that the music is more innovative than ever. This is true, but the problem is that most of the time, these innovations don't take place in the psychedelia department.

A parallel could be drawn between the fate of Psy Trance and the fate of Psy Rock, illustrated by the Pink Floyd story. The former, pionneers of the English psychedelic rock scene thanks to the contribution of Syd Barrett (Piper at the Gates of Dawn), changed their musical direction after Syd was left behind. Inspired by experimental symphonic rock music (Atom Heart Mother), they progressively (Meddle) took the path of mainstream rock sound, still innovative (Dark Side of the Moon), but not so much psychedelic...