In my opinion Psychedelic Trance is within electronic music, or maybe all music, what Science Fiction is within literature and cinema. Sure a couple of people will now scream: “nooooo! dub step! roooobots!“ 🙂 or generally think their style is more scifi than Psytrance because it’s electronic at all. But they are of course wrong and I will make my point here. Just kidding, they may be right too, and I’m interested in their arguments.
First a small disclaimer. I will call that whole subgenre of electronic music just „Psychedelic Trance“ even though the word is not totally correct as a word for the whole movement. There are many styles within that movement which are not accurately described by this. For example the whole psychedelic chill-out and downtempo stuff. But this article is not about the exact names or words for the styles.
Science Fiction and Psychedelic Trance have a lot in common
For me great Psychedelic Trance shares a lot of the features of great science fiction. I truly love science fiction, have read hundreds of books and seen countless movies and so much of my love for it comes from the same reasons as my love for Psychedelic Trance.
An unpredictable tip into other worlds
In my opinion good Science Fiction takes you onto an unpredictable trip. It takes you into realms that you have never seen before or even imagined and leaves you in awe. It takes you out of your mundane life into a world that is sometimes no even comparable to the real world. While reading or watching great science fiction your mind may be expanded or you might even learn something about yourself because of the new perspectives that you have gained. Great Science Fiction is not just entertainment like Pacific Rim, it is an experience!
And that is exactly what great and im my opinion real Psychedelic Trance is supposed to do. It is supposed to take the listener onto an unpredictable trip into a world that is created by both the listener and the music. It can be an emotional trip but in most Psychedelic Trance it is more mental trip. It is designed to trick the mind into altered states similar to the experiences on certain drugs. But the awesome thing is that with great Psychedelic Trance it even works without any drugs once the listeners brain is used to the way the music works. It can be truly amazing resulting in synesthetic experiences as well as states of zen and a feeling of finding a way deeper into oneself. One of the greatest compliments I have ever got to my music was from a friend completely alien to Psychedelic Trance who told me he listened to my album in the car and missed three exists in a row.
Exploring the boundaries of technology
You are into Fantasy books and movies or psychedelic Rock? I of course agree with you: Fantasy books as well as other psychedelic music have those properties too. The main difference to fantasy is that science fiction is specifically about science and technology and psychedelic Trance is highly technological music. It is electronic music after all.
The same way science fiction explores future technologies and tries to imagine always more never thought of science, Psychedelic Trance explores the technical possibilities of sound design. Making great Psychedelic Trance is a constant quest of finding new sounds. A quest to sonically go where no man has gone before. Synthesizers are the tools to explore sonic possibilities the way a science fiction author explores technical possibilities. And in addition to that, the sounds that find their way into Psychedelic Trance and the way they are used have a distinct „outer space“ character to them. Sure other electronic music sometimes has that too, but I believe the „outer space“ character is not inherent that consequently in many other kinds of music.
To come back to the first paragraph, Dub Step for example certainly explores sonic boundaries as well, but it doesn’t want to take the listener onto an unpredictable trip, which is why, it is for me not “science fiction” 😉
If you are only interested in how psychedelic trance sounds you can scroll down for a couple of examples. Everything in between is a more general description of the psychedelic trance culture.
About that psytrance culture
I think I can say, that I’m not infatuated with Psychedelic Trance. I’m in love but I also don’t have any illusions anymore. In my opinion it sucks just as much as any other genre. For me 90-95% of the music that is released as Psychedelic Trance or any of its various styles is completely generic copycat music. Just shadows of a handful of true classics and gems. But under close inspection that is, in my opinion, the same in any kind of music.
The common dynamic
Also sometimes the same dynamic also has a component of „derailment“ in it, since a new style may develop or import traits that are not in sync with the main idea of the genre anymore, which can lead to a whole new genre. This whole dynamic seems to be a necessary process for the development of new styles, but in my opinion it takes far too long until people get bored and annoyed (sometimes they never do) and this is resulting in a insanely low overall quality of released music in terms of originality and soul.
The good thing is that because of that dynamic there are many different styles like „old school“ as well as „progressive“ or „dark“ and many more within Psychedelic Trance. And I think it’s pretty interesting that this is, down to the names, not very different from what happened in other music scenes.
Same same but different so I want to point out some ways in which Psychedelic Trance is remarkable.
Psychedelic Trance has at least six remarkable features
1) It’s small but all around the globe
First of all, Psychedelic Trance is small and relatively unknown but it always had a vivid scene all around the globe. This was probably happening because for a long time the center of the Psychedelic Trance movement was in Goa, India. Travelers from all over the world got in touch with the music there and took it home to their country. Most notably England and Israel, whereas Israel is the only country where Psychedelic Trance has reached commercial dimensions. It is a mainstream there. With the rise of the internet this has even amplified and Psychedelic Trance has mini-movements in any conceivable country. But it also has big festivals of up to 50’000 visitors in countries like Brazil, Mexico, Portugal, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Croatia, Israel, India, Thailand, Australia and Japan.
2) It’s quite old, yet still mostly unpopular
Second, it is amazing how long it has existed without ever getting really popular. It’s routes go back to the 70ties, to the end of the hippy-epoch and the beginning of electronic music.
It very probably started in Goa, India. But during the eighties the music played at the famous „Goa parties“, although mostly electronic, was a blend of various electronic music. It is hard to tell when it really separated and artists started to create electronic music specifically for Goa parties. I’d say it became a distinct genre within electronic music around the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties, but don’t quote me on that.
3) It’s been mostly a hobby
Third, even though it is so widely spread and has been around for so long, Psychedelic Trance has not yet become truly commercial and it maybe never will. For very long it has not even been truly recognized within the electronic music scene, not being mentioned in magazines or only very rarely being part of festivals with other electronic music. It has always been the weird distant cousin of electronic music.
4) It happens in unbelievable locations
Fourth, the locations. Psychedelic Trance lets itself force indoors only during cold seasons. It is predominantly an outdoor movement and it makes its way into ridiculously beautiful locations from beaches to mountain tops, from deserts to forests. Sometimes parties even take place outdoors in snow and temperatures bellow freezing. So intense is the wish to enjoy this music in the nature.
5) Those trancers are especially weird
Fifth, the trancers. For a long time the people who listened to Psychedelic Trance were the spiritual descendants of the Hippies. Trancers are a bit different from some other followers of other music genres in that they connect more things to the Psychedelic Trance movement but just the music, the hairstyle and the clothes. For them it is a philosophy, a way of life, almost a religion for some. Trancers often completely identify with the scene and they can spot other trancers in real life similar as people in the fight club. Just without the injuries. I’m aware that this is not exclusive to Psychedelic Trance though.
However in addition Trancers very often are interested in ecology, spirituality, yoga, health and lots of new age stuff. Some are very dedicated in helping others and the planet but what I find most remarkable is that more than an average proportion of all trancers are self made artists in various areas. In the last decade this has declined though because of various reasons. Psychedelic Trance has finally become more popular, even a fashion trend for some, and fused in parts with techno and so did the people and the drugs for that matter. More and more people who visit the festivals are tourists from other genres or people who simply misunderstand the ideas of psychedelic trance and they have very different expectations and behavioral patterns. These people there have little appreciation for the dedication of the hard core and many are abusing Psychedelic Trance Festivals simply as place to take far too many drugs.
But also those supposedly creative people, the people in the core are not without fault of course. Hypocrisy is wide spread these days also within Psychedelic Trance. Since many would say to be „connected with nature“ or print „respect nature“ on everything they can, but discard their trash and other things wherever they want. Some talk about how important healthy food is, how dangerous chemtrails are and the benefits of yoga while smoking cigarettes, snorting amphetamine and drinking alcohol in ridiculous amounts. Others read books or listen to lectures about being creative, open, living conscious and expanding their minds while smoking pot on a daily basis for years without questioning it or having themselves hammered with mindless copycat music at festivals for days without even noticing.
6) There is a lot of dedication
Now, I might have been a bit hard with the trancers in that last paragraph, but I’m allowed to because I’m one myself and I’m not criticizing everybody. I have been a part of the scene for almost 20 years as a guest, a musician and an organizer of festivals. In all that time I have never earned more money than I invested with any of my undertakings. Even though our festival went very well and was a financial success our team has decided that it is crucial for the integrity of the festival, that we do not take money from it and keep it completely voluntary and disconnected from financial interests in order to focus on quality only. Also I always made it a point not to try to earn a living from my music, because I want my music to be created when it wants to, without the pressure of money and deadlines in my back.
And with that strange attitude I am not alone, which brings me to the sixth remarkable point. Some people in this movement are so passionately and wholeheartedly obsessed with it and do believe in it’s good so much that they invest hundreds and thousands of hours of voluntary work into festivals, art and music. This results in an truly amazing degree of artistic and cultural variety. Really, the art created sometimes is beyond words and I’m not only talking about the music. There are thousands of Psychedelic Trance artists who never see a single cent and I dare to say, that at a good festival one out of ten people is actively and voluntarily contributing to the festival or the scene in any way. The amount of dedication is simply astounding but often also heartbreaking when the worlds of pure consumption and boundless creation clash.
How does it sound? It sounds awesome! Or at least crazy…
Now you probably want to hear what that sounds like and that is where it gets very difficult for me and you. Because of course if you head over to youtube and type in „Psychedelic Trance“ it will give you lots and lots of it and you know, im my opinion 90% doesn’t even remotely match what I wrote here about great Psychedelic Trance. Also if you read this and then go to a Psychedelic Trance Festival you would be very lucky to hear a lot of music that fits my description above. Most music at festivals only tries to do that at best or does something completely different at worst. Most music you would hear is either phony or entertainment.
But on the other hand, if I give you examples here, fellow trancers might hate me for my choices. But I’d say… f. it! I have to show you something, right? So sorry trancers, I’ll give those nice and open minded readers who have made it till here some examples which I consider matching my description of Psychedelic Trance. I want to keep it short and try to show a big picture. There are hundreds of tracks that deserve to be here, but I had to cut it short.
So I will start with an example of „goa trance“ today mostly called „old school“ from around 1995. Pyramid – Technossomy
Another old school example from 1998. The album it was on may be the most influential album of Psychedelic Trance. The Lone Deranger – Hallucinogen
Soon some people got fed up with too many sounds because it was overused. So „progressive“ tried to reinvent it, minimizing as much as possible and meeting with techno while keeping a psychedelic touch. Klein Aber Doctor (Invisible Reality) – Atmos
progressive evolved into things like this song which is part of a wonderful album. Lungs of Life – Vibrasphere
In parallel to the evolution of progressive the original „goa trance“ evolved into something new, for example what Logic Bomb did on their album headware
And later it evolved into stuff like this, meeting with regular trance mostly called „full on“ brilliantly done by Protoculture on his Circadians album:
And because that was too cheesy, predictable and unpsychedelic for many, a new unpredictable, rule breaking counter movement started, generally called „dark psy“. This song from psykovsky is not a perfect example, but it comes from psykovskys “da budet” album which is considered dark psy, yet it is probably the most enjoyable for untrained/spoiled ears.
Dark psy also remembered goa trance evolving into something called „forest psy“. (or is this example still „dark“? I might get flamed for my style definitions…)
Today all those styles are still represented at festivals and sometimes they fuse in the minds of people like me. Intermezzo Extended – SubConsciousMind
Fusions between non-electronic styles and Psychedelic Trance of course also exist, here are three examples of fusions with classical music.
From the album Classical Mushroom from Infected Mushroom, which is a must have imho.
From the album Imaginings and Fabrications from Terrafractyl. A newer album and a true masterpiece in playfulness and musicality. A rare gem in this genre.
And another one from my kitchen. Desperation Symphony – SubConsciousMind & Judith
As a bonus a song which originated in the genre but is not at all that genre or any genre anymore, yet a truly timeless masterpiece. Taken from the album Tales of the Inexpressible from Shpongle. If you didn’t like anything so far, this is your best chance!
I’ll leave it here and hope I could give you both an insight into great Psychedelic Trance and my deep love for it.