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category: Culture,Music

Behind The Veil

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 by

Look up, and you will see web-like fluorescent threads illuminated in the light like so many dreamcatchers safeguarding this gathering of souls from the evils outside. The dreamcatcher was originally used to protect infants, and it is not a coincidence that you see these vague glow-in-the-dark webs in this way. At this time, in this place, you are an infant, open to the world, your every pore sucking in the wonder around you. Eyes wide, your gaze is drawn to the side. What is this object? Shaped like some kind of pear, like something out of a swami’s handbook, you are drawn to it.

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Slowly, imperceptibly to yourself, your dance slows. Your arms drop to your sides, no longer flailing wildly. This object captures your imagination, and everything, even the music, becomes secondary. You are only yourself, and this shape.

“The geometry of a mandala symbolizes the unity and harmony of the cosmos.  When it is used as a tool for meditation it envelopes the observer into such a hypnotic state that chattering thoughts stop. This leads to a higher state of consciousness and awareness.” Talk like this emanating from the Vidyāraṇya, or the highest Ayatollah, even from the Pontiff’s office, would be expected. But for local artist Stefan Stomping Sun, it’s just part of the job.

The psytrance scene demands an ethos be present behind the veil of entertainment. An unwritten stipulation must be considered when doing anything psy related, and that stipulation is simple – this isn’t just music, this is part of a deeper complex ethnology. A variant set of mores and quasi-permanent international benchmarks by which to measure oneself by can be the asphalt that paves the road, but one’s own innate creativity must be the leading hand that guides the way.

And that is the case for Stefan, and his form of output at parties, déco. He isn’t just helping to create a visual atmosphere to support a party – his work has a broader meaning than that.

Stefan's Handiwork
Stefan’s Handiwork

What brought you here? What makes you you? Family, friends, experiences, knowledge – all these flash through your mind as a whirlpool of meaning envelopes you, until you are no longer sure where you are. You think of higher energies, the spirit – is your spirit pure? And the question – can you hold your own against yourself?

“Particular patterns and symbols that are widespread amidst the psytrance scene hold more profound meanings or intentions.  These are usually related to subjects such as spirituality, eastern philosophies, ancient beliefs and cultures, shamanism, sacred geometry and geometry found in nature.”

These thoughts aren’t normal for a Saturday night out – but with psytrance they are.

“These are not used only for aesthetics, they don’t only speak to the eyes, they hold the power to speak to the soul.“

Heavy words to be used about decoration. But given the context of the counter cultural tendencies of the psytrance scene, they are not unmerited. The scene as a whole, be it the music, the aesthetics, the stylings, the drugs, are all allusions to an alternative to mainstream life.

“There always seems to be a group of newcomers – without any particular attributes. The psy scene in general seems to attract people from the dance scene, the reggae scene, the rock scene, and the punk scene,” posits Reuben Spiteri, organizer of the popular party series Presence, and Malta’s biggest alternative festival, Earth Garden. Having been organizing alternative events for years now (to as much success as you can with such a small demographic as in Malta) he has seen that the scene’s devotees have been adrenalising the scene for nigh on 15 years. And he has seen how psytrance keeps attracting neophytes on a regular basis.

psyreuben

While every other scene, from rap to metal to techno and everything in between, has central tenets and pushes certain values, they do not have parties on cliffs. They do not keep going till the sun comes up, and then keep going further. They do not keep going till they have achieved Nirvana, that truly liberated state, free of suffering, where within a single night they have gained insights into their own beings that they will keep until the day they die. The psytrance scene compels you to confront some real shit relating to your personal world and the natural physical world at large – if you intend on being more than a psychedelic tourist.

What if…this is all there is? There is no afterlife. There is nothing to hold you back from your own desires but yourself. There is nothing around, only this material world with all its mysterious ways. What is this feeling, pawing at your outer consciousness like a deep rumble, a raw and unfettered, wild thing seeking to draw you out from your shell? Elemental, furious yet lulling, it takes you into the very depths of your consciousness, to a time before you were conscious. It speak to you as an individual. It speaks to you as a member of humanity. It speaks to you as a being of this world.

“The very essence behind trance and thus psytrance is that you are taken into a higher state of consciousness and awareness.  It is a concept rooted deep into us, it is the first sound that we hear, the constant hypnotic beat of our mother’s heart when we were still in the womb,” Stefan explains. “Psychedelic culture is something tribal; the people respect the connectivity they have with one another and the music” thinks Nebula, a local DJ.

Nebula in action
Nebula in action

‘Kollox sew man?’ ‘Ija ta’, bomba.’ You are rudely awakened from your trance by your friend, alarmed by your unwavering steely gaze off to the side like some kind of zonked-out specter. Brought sharply back into this world, you look around at the characters around you. Kids with dreads, men in suits, skinheads, women in tribal clothing and others in make-up and heels. The crowd is as diverse as snowflakes, each a unique collage of nature and nurture, each with a different method of expression…each brought here for that elusive it that cannot be found elsewhere. Each one of these collection of souls, for the moment, is family.

This reference to tribalism is not uncommon – parties are frequently referred to as gatherings, with innuendo based on phyletic ancestralism customary. Being present at a psy party does certainly feel like being in an alternative time capsule, with full on shamans running about, amid trendy kids and nouveau hippies, sweaty veterans and spaced out psychonauts. A sunrise and the most immersive waves you’ve ever seen provide the perfect setting for this post-colonial pre-colony re-enactment, a hark back to the times when god was not in a church, but all around us; god was not in the material wealth we accumulated, but the natural abundance that was all around us.

The stars are less bright now. The moon wanes as the east brightens. The familiar redness of the early morning will be here soon. You go by the sea and put your hand in. Still cold. Perfect. You take off your shoes and let your feet dip into the water, taking a few minutes to re-collect yourself. Get grounded. The people near you are strangers. Foreigners. Yet you strike up a conversation with them like they’re long-lost friends, and they respond in like manner. No other way to speak to people here, except as fellow travellers caught up in the unruly waves of life, rowing your own boats by hand in what feels like a storm. Grounded? Haha. Time enough for that tomorrow…

“For thousands of years humans have been using certain tools to tap into these higher states.  Drumming, sound effects, chants, pictures and surroundings, mental exercises, natural substances derived from nature have all been used as tools to make these shifts deeper and more profound.  This same concept can be applied to psy party if one looks at it as more of a spiritual experience rather than a purely hedonistic activity,” Stefan continues. This duality becomes obvious very quickly to anyone with even a passing interest in the psy scene. While the foundational maxims are based on spirituality and a connectedness we have somewhat lost in this modern Panopticon we call home, it is so very, very easy to abuse the psytrance scene until it is nothing more than an emporium for quick highs and easy escapes.

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In fact, some of the people passing through the revolving doors of perception that is the Maltese psy scene are just there for the instant gratification, the debauchery – taking epicureanism to the next level, the psy scene provides an appealing and relatively safe place to frolic freely, revelling in this new colourful space free from common boundaries and judging eyes, a place that is there to open you to new experiences, open you to new ways of living, and open your third eye.

And thank god these places exist. Without some form of subculture to allow social boundaries to be pushed, how would you expect the modern precept of constructs such as gender equality, ethnic equality, tolerance, and environmental care to take hold in our youths? From our governments ads? From our education system? From mużew?

I think not.

Stomp and turn, shake that ass and wave your hair. Twist. Punch the air. It all feels a bit underdone when you compare yourself to the couple next to you dancing samba…except that…it doesn’t. And that’s the point. Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. Dance whichever which way you want, because here, on this dancefloor made of the same elements as us, we are not unequal or equal. We are not even different beings. We are all various expressions of the cosmic entity, and our skin, our bones, our minds are being shaped by these wonderful scapes of sound and sight. It is now light and you can see the faces of your fellow trancers more clearly. Weary, but happy.

The sun will be up in a few minutes, and you know the afternoon heat will find you still on this beach enjoying a swim with friends. But for now, while it lasts – and the intensity shows no sign of wavering just yet – it is time to dance as if you’re free.

The Maltese psytrance subculture makes up for the lack of imaginativeness so characteristic of so many aspects of Maltese culture. The accepted and overbearing banality of mainstream culture had to provoke a reaction somewhere, similar to Manwel Dimech reacting to his cruel oppressors. Psytrance provides the platform to just loosen all those tight bearings work/life balance has placed on you, and allows one to just bust some moves while watching the sun rise on a Sunday morning, beaming on the edge of a cliff.

Category Culture,Music

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