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category: Culture,Music

Channel The Madness

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 by

The sun rises across the serene azure seas as the assemblage come to terms with what it has just been through. A kaleidoscope of half dreamt visions and semi-myopic thought bubbles lie indented into the recent subconsciousness; ego and personality temporarily unsure of their place and their entwined identity; the very core of one’s being is awestruck and dazed by what it has just experienced. It’s 6 am on the very precipice of life and death - a cliff. This cliff has no barriers today, and the daunting edge that would usually be tread upon with prudence and vigil is now danced upon with merriment and curiosity.

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Peering over the edge while keeping the earthly 150 BPM rhythm – BAD-DUM-DUM BAD-DUM-DUM BAD-DUM-DUM BAD-DUM-DUM – the congregation is not even slightly taken aback by how insanely sheer this cliff is, or how easily a slight gust of wind, change in temperament, or wayward root may demolish their lives faster than the Labour Party became the Nationalist Party after they got elected. Typical reactions of an everyday nature have been put on hold, at least for the time being. A new structure of profound experience is taking root; one which is fertile land for new categories of abstract thought to grow firmly and develop rapidly.

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The scene across from the open fissure at the edge of this island is the definition of surreal – an animated collection of modern day Dionysus worshippers revelling in the moonlight, illuminated only by the stars, a single 60-watt light bulb, and the shine from VirtualDJ coming off the laptop playing the accompanying music. A single photo of this going mainstream would be enough to make conservatism rise noticeably in polls.

For this is a Goa party, a psychedelic trance party – a psy. A transnational global movement originating on the beaches of India in the 1970s, this nomadic movement has gained massive traction and become the ultimate meaning of the sound of the underground, worldwide. For no scene is as prevalent in every country, from South Africa to South America, Iceland to Australasia, in the same way as the psytrance scene is – and no scene is as different as this.


A classic example of Psytrance

This disposition towards difference is inherent in the scene – there is no place for tourists here, for they would not be able to withstand the sensory overload that is a psytrance party. A prismal spectrum of colours is splashed all over the scenery, from the mismatched clothes and the unkempt hair and eccentric accessories to the modern lasers and flashing lights (when the organisers can afford the rent), creating a variegation tinged with a heart of darkness and a penchant for the abnormal.

While the visuals may be relatively vanilla to anybody who has come across counter-culture movements and party scenes in the last few decades, the audiology remains virgin territory. As a dichotomy to the peace and love stylings of the aesthetic, the music is abrasive and brutal, pounding into the audience like the DJs were on commission for each time they made someone turn to the guy next to them with an eyebrow raised, asking the simple question –  ‘are you hearing this crazy shit?’

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It’s as if an electrofied Zeus has come down from above, spec’d up for the digital age, to clap thunderbolts and shit lightning, all through a four channel mixer and a bounty of effects. Between the delayed arpeggio melodies, organ-shaking bass, and triple pounder with cheese life-affirming kick, the attendees at this party can do nothing but be taken, in sway, like Demi Moore in Patrick Swayze’s arms in Ghost, and be made to dance the night away.

But What Does It All Mean?

The visuals and audio are just part of the full Goa package, however. Going to a psytrance party for the first time is reminiscent of that time you got so high you became scared and thought you were going to die. The sense of mischievous adventure, of risk and daring, of doing something your parents would tut and shake their heads at, is mixed with the fear that this time you may have gone too far. This time, you may have crossed the line into madness. This time, you’re not sure if you’re going to make it out unscathed.

And the thing is, you are right for being wary. Psytrance will change you.

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There is a reason this subculture has been able to remain alive and relatively unchanged for so long, and has spread so far and wide. It is because the psytrance scene is an ideological powerhouse – foregoing any semblance of a fuck given towards the current trends in music, fashion, taste, politics or celebrity, these popular culture turncoats have defected, their cultural apostasy as offensive to organized culture as a heretic is to organized religion.

This abandonment of popular culture leads to a radical re-thinking of values and beliefs most of society hold dear. The modern Western adage ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’, is transformed into the much simpler ‘Play Hard’; an idiom useless to the banksters, financiers, and marketeers that drive our contemporary economy. Whereas most people work hard all week to then let loose throughout the weekend in a flurry of vodka red bulls, social smoking and promiscuous behavior, just to wake up on Monday and complain about Monday with a Facebook post about how sad Monday is, a Maltese psytrancer’s weekly schedule may go a little different:

Day 1: After spending the week not eating to ensure the optimum drug performance of the already bought pills, the typical psytrance bacchanalia will then go on to spend the night (after being picked up from the pre-designated meeting place to ensure party location secrecy) carousing, celebrating, making merry – that is to say, wiling the fuck out to psy trance music. As the morning approaches and the drugs begin to fade, the point where society says “whelp, that was fun, now it’s time for that Monday morning post”, the hardcore psytrancers ingest a second batch of stronger drugs, to ensure continued ascent.

Day 2: It is noon, and the idea of setting up camp here for a day or two has been spread. Some of the assembly have made tea and coffee out of the back of their car. A passed around chillum is now part of the scenery, being blessed with a ‘Boom Shankar’ and a tap on the forehead before each puff. Local fishermen, used to this behavior, chat to the dancers still capable of chatting, and shake their hips every time a sufficiently legit part drops.

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Day 9: A small commune has been set up. Surviving off of fresh fish caught from the sea, supplies bought from the nearest grocer, and a perennial supply of strong, cheap drugs, the ever-changing DJs, switching between morning, progressive, dark, and full on, according to the position of the sun and the moon, keep the lifeblood of this community flowing strongly. The vibe is one akin to a family’s in a hospital waiting room upon hearing that their pregnant daughter has successfully given birth to a beautiful baby boy; celebratory, buoyant, a literal state of ecstasy.

Day 37: The handful of people remaining have become so in tune with each other, nature, and the universe, that they all realize, simultaneously, that the party has finally come to an end. After profuse hugging and well wishing, the congregation worshipping at the altar of Psy head home – it is a Thursday, and they shall need approximately three solar days rest to gain sufficient means to re-integrate back into society.

Day 38: Unable to sleep much that night due to the visions and snatches from the recent psychedelic blitzkrieg, the recent partygoers lie in bed, forgetting any pressing matters bar one – when is the next gathering?

While not every party may take this exact route, you get the picture.

However, it would be shallow to conclude that drugs are needed to enjoy the psy scene. While they are certainly a major part of the experience for many psy goers, especially the newer devotees, the majority, and arguably the veterans, just dabble. In fact, the people who seem to really embrace the total countercultural lifestyle usually have other methods of obtaining that ever elusive high; that is, through their own natural energies.

A Certain Disposition

Between their homeopathic remedies, organically sourced greens, healing crystals obtained from that trip to India, meditation classes, and earth coloured clothes, these modern day tribesman have developed a way of living in the past, in the present. That is, while they all use social media, drive cars, and eat pastizzi (sans animal lard, of course) these Westernized shamans have been able to allude to another way of life, a less competitive, more cooperative, way of living; one that entails a proximate and intimate mode of existing that is enmeshed with nature.

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For as digital and modern as the music production is in psytrance, one of the central tenets, if not the central tenet, is the idea of stepping away from modernity and going back to our primordial roots. Conveyed in the attitudes of the people, in their appearances and even in their dancing style (a sort of ritualistic floor stamping and limb moving, not dissimilar to Tonga and Maori pre-war [or rugby match] Sipi Taus and Hakas, minus the overt aggression and replaced with lovey dovey smileys : ) ) one can easily understand how becoming part of the psytrance scene may lead to loss of integration with modern society…an amputation needed to become one, once again, with Mother Nature.

And nothing brings one closer to one’s ancestral roots than exotic landscapes. A party in a field in Belgium with 200 people or a party in London in a room with 150 people just cannot beat, in psytrance par excellance terms, a party on the top of a cliff with 50 people. Or on a private beach. Or even underground in an unused quarry surrounded by fields and their glorious Maltese potato yield.

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Be it Lake Idanha-a-Nova in Portugal, Koh Phangan in Thailand, Bahia in Brazil, or the beaches of Malta, a beautiful environment filled with a group of counter-culturalists being blasted by 150 BPM electronic dance music seems to equal a damn fine way to meet our elemental maker.

And if a chemical element is involved for some, then all the better.

The thing is, you can quite literally sense a different air around this whole subculture. Now, that may be the incense, but PATRON tends to believe it is a vibe, an energy, a certain je ne sais quoi that comes from living, every day of your life, in closer sync with the natural world. This intangible quality that the psychonauts have developed by foregoing most modern amenities associated with keeping up with popular culture (imagine mentioning Gangnam Style to someone today, and they say they’ve never ever heard of it – that’s what I’m talking about) has allowed their energy, as it were, to be less polluted and carbon based and more sustainable and green.

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As a result, they seem happier, more of the time, than most people. When you stop following all the trends, you shed all the weight that comes with keeping up. Instead, the space most people fill with vacuous intimate knowledge of Beyonce’ buoyancy becomes filled with a solid knowledge of the natural lies of the flora indigenous to Malta; instead of following the overblown drama of Game of Thrones/Gossip Girl/Geordie Shore, they follow the real solar adventures of the moon, the sun, the stars; instead of knowing where to get some gash in Newcastle, they know when meteors pass near our home world.

To them, this is certainly more fulfilling than most of the shit we fill our days with.

Thus, choosing to live a life closer to the natural world instead of the modern world, while still living in the modern world, inevitably leads to lengthy parties held to a backdrop of the most exotic locations our island is blessed with, with the most cutting edge music production this world has to offer.

It’s madness, but it does make a sort of sense, and when it feels so right, why even try and argue?

All in all, the Maltese psytrance scene is a fascinating subculture that goes to show that animism may still have a foothold in this unequivocally Roman Catholic conservative stronghold. Let us introduce you to some of the key players that keep this scene together, and give them recognition for all those long hours you’ve spent staring at the iTunes’ Visualiser, waiting for the next astral meeting of primal energies on the Elysian plains.

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Continue reading about the Maltese Psytrance Scene

All photography by Mick Abela.

Category Culture,Music

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