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. 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.
A Goa beach : Paradise on Earth...
...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.
Goa Gil and his wife Ariane in a meditating posture.
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!"
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).
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.
Sunset from the Shore Bar
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, light-years away from the original Hippie spirit of the 60's...