Saturday, May 16, 2015

Psytrance, trance, trance culture

Deep in the Heart of Trances: dance floor 8am Sunday
Someone asked me about trance and trance culture and out of curiosity, I googled it. I wasn't really satisfied with some of what came up, so... though I’m far from an expert, I have learned a little in these past five years. Here is how I see or experience trance (primarily psytrance) and trance culture. Other people will experience it differently – there’s room for us all. Speaking of which, Hey older people! If you liked festivals in days gone by, these events are basically everything you probably wanted a festival to be, except the music is different. Hit me up if you want to go to one of these.
Here is a link to a soundtrack for this journal entry. Just click and play in a different window and click back to here... Aes Dana - Summerlands (chill) or Alwoods - Psychedelic Dream (faster).
Into the forest!
Of course there is the music, but the culture is about more than music. There are shared values and views – including a high value placed on transformation and growth, and an openness to other people’s values and views. For me, trance culture is more about the people and scene than the music per se.
Psytrance! Here is what it’s like. To begin, you have to find out where and when an event is being held. Some of the big ones like Lucidity, Enchanted Forest, Lightening in a Bottle, and Ozora are widely advertised. The smaller ones are discovered via friends, flyers, Facebook, and so on. I want to focus on smaller events, which I prefer over the larger ones (easy to connect with people, easy to find quiet space, and not as much craziness as at some of the larger ones). 
Armadillo Acres
The gatherings are nearly always outside – such as in a forest, at a beach, or desert. Typically there is a drive of at least several hours to an obscure country setting. When you get close there may be one or two small cryptic signs that you have to look for to see.
Down some narrow road and through a gate and you’re on a one lane dirt lane now, winding through trees and ahead is a shade shelter, table, and two or three people (if it’s after dark, there will probably be sparkling lights). Pull over, get out, and walk to the table where you’ll usually receive a friendly greeting from the crew members (maybe my friend Ally Fiesta and me) working the gate. Sometimes the land-owners are at the gate, in which case, it’s more of a business transaction.
Sonic Bloom 2011 (Colorado)
Your ID will be checked, you’ll pay (for smaller festie, about $50 for Friday-Sunday – Not Bad!), and have a discussion about things like leave no trace camping and what to do if things get too intense.
Drive further along that one lane road, up hill and down dale, until you start to see scattered campsites with tents and canopies, sometimes with cars and trucks parked around. Some gatherings have no car camping, some have limited car camping, and at some, almost everyone is car-camping. Car-camping just means driving in and pitching a tent next to your car or truck. Some people sleep in their van or SUV.
Art Outside, near Austin, 2012

It’s a good idea to take some time choosing a campsite. Some people like to be as close as possible to the music and dance floor, while others like to be farther away. The music gets really really really LOUD, so some distance and not in a direct line with the direction of the speakers may be a good idea. Some people will have art or related materials at their campsite. I hang fabric woodblock prints I made as well as Tibetan prayer flags and crystals, and like at home, I always have an altar (there are also altars at the sound stages).
Set up your campsite. People are always willing to lend a hand if you need help. A nice hug is all the thanks anyone will want. You’ll have noticed by now a fair number of people with long hair, dreads, tattoos, piercings, feathers, and so on. And there will be a fair number of people with no outward counter-culture manifestations. Oh look, here comes a guy dressed in a giant bunny suit. Starting to feel like home!
Atrium Obscurum morning meeting
Let’s say it’s Friday afternoon. Sit back and relax OR walk to the dance floor or to the chill stage or dome or wherever to lend a hand setting up. It’s a good way to meet people and get started… there is high value placed on “co-creation” – in other words, these gatherings are not about passively attending, listening to the music, dancing, and so on. They are transformational gatherings, where we’re all involved in making it happen, i.e., co-creating – and in every case, working toward a higher vibe, a higher experience, a tranceformation for everyone.
For several years I’ve been a member of a crew – Atrium Obscurum – that puts on events. In addition to doing stuff that any crew member does like setting up, taking down, working the gate, and so on, I also bake cookies to bring (15-20 dozen, always with extra chocolate chips, of course) and I often present a workshop. More on workshops later.
Making deco, Kai and Tyson (Atrium Obscurum)
The sun is going down, but the music hasn’t yet begun. Maybe time to wander over toward the dance floor. Someone said something about a ceremony… sometimes the ceremony involves designated people wearing all white clothes with chanting and incense, and sometimes the ceremony will bring everyone in so that at some point there is a joining and swirling togetherness and the music starting up thump thump thump it’s really LOUD and this is really fun! The dance-trance ritual has begun.
At the events put on by Atrium Obscurum the music starts Friday night about 9 and stops Sunday about noon with the main climax happening from about 4 to 6 Sunday morning. There is a main stage for dancing and a chill dome for cooling out, though there is a lot of back and forth and at times there may be more people dancing at the chill dome than the main stage.
The Wave Farmers at Soul Rise near Austin
Into the night the tempo picks up and there are poi spinners and hooping, and other flow arts happening. People spinning with fire are off to the side for safety reasons there are lighted hoops and poi and it’s pretty to see. People are dancing and there are little groups of people sitting and talking with one another. Friday night is generally more subdued than Saturday. But the music never stops.
Saturday morning is quieter with the volume and tempo down. People are having coffee, yerba mate, and so on; cooking up some breakfast; wandering around, seeing friends; just a nice social time. Around noon or so, workshops will be starting (see below).
Art Outside
As the day unfolds into Saturday afternoon, the music tends to be mostly chill – for a relaxing day with old and new friends, taking a nap, taking it easy. I’m walking around, passing out cookies. There is a beginning anticipation of Saturday night.
There are artists set up beside the dance floor (which, by the way, is dirt or sand, usually shaded by trees and maybe a fabric shade). These are visionary artists who will paint or draw or otherwise create art throughout the gathering. Two of the artists you’ll sometimes see at Texas, Colorado, and other regional events are ChopsWanderweird and Chance Roberts.
Art Outside
As the sun goes down, lights begin to come on with some campsites having little sparkly lights and some having art light installations. There is someone else with a bunny suit on and there is someone with nothing on and someone with a tuxedo (no shirt of course) and some kandy kids are starting to come out and as night falls, the music is loud and good and people dancing and outside of the lights the darkness is good and it’s safe and if you need a hand, someone will help you. There are folding camp chairs and blankets (you brought your own, right) at the edge of the dance floor and it’s all a friendly and relaxed scene.
Artists working through the night
Into the night the tempo picks up and more people showing up on the dance floor – ecstatic dancing, being, laughing, swirling, stomping, yeah, this IS psytrance and you may realize that this music which you thought you didn’t much like is entering your self… The music and dancing continues well into Sunday morning, usually tapering off but not all the way off around 8 or 9 and mellowing out through the morning and finally stopping about noon. At least in the U.S., there will be almost no trash left as “leave no trace” is part of the trance/transformational festival ethos.
Workshop at gathering near Austin
Here is something I wrote a couple of years ago: Many of the people are from my tribe and to some extent (from a lot to a little) many seem to have hippie values. It is just so good to be around them. It feels good; it makes me happy. Now I’ve become friends with some of the people here and of course that’s even better. Some wonderful times hanging out, socializing at campsites.
I’ve experienced the transformational potential of the music, the dance, the dancers, the art – of the people who participate in other ways. The magic and the transformational potential is in the whole co-created milieu. A few weeks ago I spent time in a naming ceremony camped at the far edge of a festival. It was a perfect time and place in every way.
CK teaching re the end of life (honoring Adrian McF)
Of course there is ecstatic dancing, beauty, saying true things, euphoria, insight, validation, transformation, integration. I am amazed that I’m doing these things. At this age.
So, I’ve described a weekend of music, good times, and fellowship. How is this a “culture?” For some people it’s pretty much what they do, but for others, these events are an important part of life and liberation. Where else will we experience the freedom of ecstatic dance surrounded by others doing the same? Where else are values of peace, transformation, acceptance, and loving your neighbor so highly valued? Well, actually, these things are valued in other places – religious or spiritual settings, for example. But for me (and who else can I speak for?), there is no place or setting as conducive to growth, as accepting, as ecstatic, as connected as within trance culture.
8 o'clock Sunday morning on the dance floor
Music (from Wikipedia): “Psychedelic trance, psytrance or just psy (derived from the ancient Greek word ψυχή "psyche", mind; soul; breath; spirit) is an electronic music style characterized by arrangements of synthetic rhythms and complex layered melodies created by high tempo riffs… Psytrance lies at the hardcore, underground end of the diverse trance spectrum.” Think in terms of loud, repetitive, and usually very fast (140-150 bpm) electronic dance music played by DJs. There are what seem to be infinite genres, sub-genres, sub-sub-genres, and so on. You can read about some of the musical details via google.
InertG at Unify in Colorado
Drugs: Some people use drugs and some do not. Psychedelics and cannabis are the primary substances used, though there are also alcohol users. There are Sanctuary spaces for people having difficult experiences with psychedelics.
Sex: Drugs, sex, rock & roll! Not really. There is sensuality, but this isn’t a cruising scene. It’s a lot more about relationships and if sex is an outcome of a relationship, fine, but sex doesn’t seem to be the purpose. But maybe that’s just me, my age, and my relationships LOL. Suffice it say, all my experience in trance events says everyone is safe all the time. Have you ever been in a people pile? That’s where 5 or 8 or 15 or however many people will kind of pile up together just to be close and kind. Sweet. These are not a fraternity parties! Burner culture is apparently more overtly sexual, but I’m just repeating what I’ve heard on that.
Chops and Jeff at New Era Transmissions
Workshops: The workshops are an integral part of transformational gatherings. Throughout the day there are workshops on yoga, edible plants (a walk in the forest), flow arts, permaculture, and related. I’ve led several workshops on psychedelic healing in PTSD and at the end of life. People seem to be hungry to learn and share – to gather knowledge and understanding (tools for life) to take back to everyday life.
From my campsite near Dripping Springs
Spirituality: Some electronic dance music (EDM) events are just about the party, while some have a strong overlay or even foundation of spirituality (at least as I experience them). From the unification of ecstatic dance to the workshops on yoga and flow arts to the ethos of safety and belonging the focus stays on the human potential to be at one with one another and with nature. There is no dogma, no preaching at, no charismatic leader – rather, there are those old messages: You are beautiful, I am beautiful, we are One.

Here is a video on global trance culture, The Bloom Series. I told Leslie that it’s kind of an idealized view and she said that fits well with my view – and she was right.

And here is an earlier 7 Minute Psytrance Documentary. I showed this to Leslie to help her understand what I was doing. I think it played a small part in her being so supportive of my involvement with the psytrance scene - though she never cared much for the music and was a total non-camper.

My list of things to bring for a summer event in Texas
Some venues have water, electricity, cell reception; and some have no water, electric, or reception.
Day pack with flashlight, water, gum, Gatorade, DEET, anti-itch, lighter…
Ice chest(s) with yogurt, coffee, sandwiches, apples, ginger ale, Gatorade, water, protein drink. You need lots of ice in Texas!
Water 2 gal/day minimum for drinking – and you can actually get a fairly decent shower with 2 gallons of water (get wet, clean up, rinse)
Freezer bag food, Tabasco
Cooking pack with super cat stove and fuel
Mug, plate, plastic ware, paper towels
Medicine, fiber (all the necessities), batteries
Change of clothes
Jacket, cap
Sleeping pad [large or small]
Car air pump
Sleeping bag (non-REI) and/or fleece, sheet
Pillows, sheets
Fan (portable) with extra batteries
Insect repel
Fest box with decos – textiles, hangings, etc.
Mats for ground?
Phone and charger


Penguin said...

Lovely article here. I will be sure to refer new folks to it. Thanks, Charles!

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