The Psychedelic Culture & the DJ / by Lars Hansen a.k.a DJ Krelle
This article offers a deeper perspective into the mechanics which make up the psychedelic DJ. It goes further than just stating that a good dj is equal to good track selection, mixing skills, ability to read the floor and so forth, instead it tries to offer a deeper look into the subject. As such, keep in mind, this article represents an ideal to follow and a history to understand, especially useful for the DJ who has already achieved good superficial skills.
My own background for writing this article has been my involvement in the psychedelic party scene as a dj, organizer, freak & musical geek since the mid 1990ies.
The psychedelic party scene and the DJ
During the 1980ies, long before I heard of the term "Goa Trance", pioneering psychedelic DJs such as Goa Gil, Laurent & Fred Disco where already laying down the building blocks, not only for a neo hippie inspired electronic party scene, but a whole new sub culture as such.
This new emerging culture had its roots in one of the last hippie refuges located in the state of Goa in India. This culture did not need electronic music to keep it going, what kept it together was peoples wish to be together, in a place that offered them a sanctuary from the normal western culture – a place of personal and collective freedom and acceptance.
So, parties were taking place in Goa before the music turned electronic, and this was where the pioneering Psychedelic DJs made their first steps onto a new scene. Understanding this proto Goa/psychedelic trance culture is important when wanting to gain insight into what lies at the roots of the psychedelic DJ.
The Legacy of the psychedelic DJ
Being practically born out of the neo hippie culture residing in Goa, the psychedelic DJ automatically inherited a true psychedelic legacy of alternative wisdom. Be it shamanism, alternate political views, exploration of the mind through psychedelics or whatever – the psychedelic DJ got an injection of it all.
Something truly unique in this regard was that the artistical expression became a melting pot of all these things, inspiring DJs and dancers to seek a deeper, almost ritualistic meaning, inside the collective trance experience presented to them by the DJ.
The DJ would be their guide (some would view him as a shaman), the collective experience, the magic and it all was perfected into what could almost be called a ceremonial event, which I will choose to refer to as the "Goa Style Party".
All this happened, on its own, with no support from big companies or governments, it happened because people wanted it, and needed it.
Many say, that dancing under the stars, engaging in a trance along with others elevated their consciousness and enabled them to communicate with and through something larger than themselves. For some it was the ”cosmic spirit”, for others ”collective consiousness” – What it was called did not really matter, what mattered was that it was REAL.
Being open minded, allowing for new ideas and thoughts to take hold, promoting the exploration of virtually anything worth learning about – peace, enlightenment and evolution of human kind – showing the world an alternative – that was at the core of this culture, and that is at the core of the true psychedelic DJ, inspiring him to make his own philosophy in regards to who he is, and why.
The commercial breakthrough of Goa/Psy Trance music and the impact on the Psychedelic DJ
Early psychedelic DJs would mix together tapes and create weird psychedelic soundscapes mixed with repetitive elements, a sound gradually becoming more and more potent as constant experimentation bore fruit – in turn gaining in popularity up through the late 1980ies until it finally broke through into the commercial market in the early 1990ies with the establishment of, among others, labels such as Dragonfly Records(1993), Spirit Zone Recordings(1994) and Blue Room Released(1994).
Because of the commercial breakthrough of Goa/Psy Trance into the mainstream pop culture many more people got initiated into the goa/psychedelic scene, not by visiting the source (goa), but by getting it spoon fed by media and other commercial entities such as record labels.
This ”spoon fed” sounds worse than it really was, because one thing to remember is that what made the goa/psychedelic scene appealing back then was its essence as described earlier. Keep in mind, that in the early 1990ies the cold war was over, private computers (and later the internet) were changing the world. Along with this comes a total new culture, full of its own values, ceremonies and so forth, all build around the party situation.
So – The culture had a foundation of its own, which was quickly spread through mass media, new party organizers, documentaries and the thousands of people going to the events, having a great time and in turn introducing their friends to the scene (An initiation seen from a tribal perspective).
The commercial breakthrough meant that the music for these ”Goa Style” events became available on vinyl and CD to new DJs who had never gone to Goa, never having received the vibes directly from the source. It was, a cascading effect.
Inspired by this new sound and culture, many DJs took up spinning ”psychedelic goa trance” at ”Goa style parties”... Of course, there's a big difference from spinning vinyl at an established club, to djing DAT tapes on the beaches of Goa – but still, the formula worked, and the goa culture took hold.
One thing to remember was, that the information level at that time was very decent. When becoming informed about what a ”Goa Style Parties” was, you would be getting more cultural and philosophical content than you would get drug info. This meant that all in all, both people going to the events and also the ones organizing & performing at them were very well informed as to the roots and values of the culture.
For a contemporary example of this kind of information check out the DVD ”Liquid Crystal Vision”.
The larger part of DJs currently spinning at parties have never been to Goa, let alone been there while the culture was formed. The Goa Style Parties are now a global phenomenon, as is the culture.
The definition of the Psychedelic DJ
The legacy of the freedom loving neo hippie culture of Goa, which defined both the first Goa style parties, dj roles and the rest of the scene bare down heavily on what has shaped the role of the psychedelic DJ.
One need only look to their values, and you will see many of the same ideas and concepts popping up. To understand what a psychedelic DJ is, one must realize that most of all it is an ideal, something to strive for. In essence, a psychedelic DJ will mirror the ideology of the culture, but not necessarily by adapting to it, but by taking part in its creation and development.
Some themes, concepts and ideas lie at the heart of the culture, and a good psychedelic DJ will try to understand and perhaps even use them in his life, and eventually his musical presentation.
• The concept of altered states of consciousness.
• The idea of increasing awareness of ones body, soul, intellect and the universe as such.
• The idea and reinvention of ancient tribal rituals and ceremonies.
• The communication with lost and forgotten life & culture.
• The effect of trance & dream states, and how to manipulate them.
• Reaching & stimulating the psychedelic experience, enabling us to explore new areas of the mind.
• The concept of the voyage through sound, thought, emotion, time & imagination, brought on by the trance & day dreaming experience. As sampled from the movie Dune in the track “Dancing Galaxy” by Astral Projection "The spice extends life, the spice expands consciousness.... Travel, without moving...".
• Physical sensations, Runners High, Body Trance, Healing or Regeneration.
• Human memory and the way we access it through sounds, feelings and altered memory access whilst in different trance states. Essentially, being able to use the mind differently, by using trance states as a tool to do so.
• Openness – Towards people, ideas, emotions, sensations – everything.
• Allowing for the possibility of spiritual experiences, on a collective or individual level.
• All in all, being aware of that what goes on at a true Goa Style event can potentially change people’s personalities, their lives and essentially the world as such.
So – This is pretty crazy stuff huh ? Too much to swallow for most – Remember, its an ideal.
No wonder so many people often refer to the goa style party culture as being a cult, and the DJs as preachers or cult leaders. Actually, this might not be that far from the truth in some respects, but still, keep in mind, inside this culture personal freedom and openness are of paramount importance. We are not seeking the creation of rules for each other, but more for ourselves – and even then not so much rules, but guidelines.
In essence, the psychedelic DJ can and is encouraged to define himself on his own... How good that definition will work is of course up to the individual to evaluate. There are no rules, but there are stereotypes... and then there are those who seek to break the stereotypes, and also those who seek to impose rules. Its anarchy!
The importance of DJ stereotypes
Since there really is not any one person who can stand up and say ”Hey, THIS is the TRUE psychedelic DJ, THIS is what it is ALL about”, because that would impose a definition on what is ideologically supposed to be FREE, then how do people tell the good DJ from the bad ? Fake vs Real ?
First of all, the goa/psy culture has now become so big that there are simply ”scenes within the scene”, every scene will subscribe to their own value set... Some are far away from what originated on the beaches of goa, and others are more true to the original spirit. All usually believe their scene is the best, since that is, after all, why they reside in it.
Therefore, every subscene within the goa/psychedelic party culture often has one or more stereotypes of DJs it prefers. Describing all of these are beyond the scope of this article, however, I will outline 2 opposite stereotypes and leave it to you to fill in the in the blanks.
Stereotype 1 – The ”Rockstar” DJ.
This stereotype seeks to create a DJ set which will stimulate the maximum visible response among the audience. This is done by playing music which is easy to comprehend and very straight forward, along with an accompanying stage show aimed towards direct communication between DJ and audience. Basicly actions that signal ”Put your hands in the air”, ”Scream” and so forth – often combined with hand gestures signaling the progression for every 32 – 64 beats in the music.
The ”Rockstar” stereotype is all about having fun and partying, its about burning off some energy, to some point engaging in mass hysteria.
Now – This stereotype shows that within the psychedelic scene, you can evolve freely and be successful, even if what you evolve towards has very little to do with the original scene.
Stereotype 2 – The ”Spiritual” DJ.
This stereotype seeks to create a dj set which is true to the original source experience explored and promoted by the initial goa/psychedelic party scene. He will have a focus often on deeper or more ground breaking music, music which does not always reveal its nature right away, but lets the mind work on it. The philosophy & intent is true to the ideals stated earlier, such as shamanism, the voyage/story and the likes.
As such, the spiritual DJ does not seek attention for himself, but acts as a guide for the dancers, who will, each on their own, interpret the music – perhaps reacting to the collective vibe in the process or perhaps not.
This stereotype shows, that within the goa/psychedelic scene there is also a strong connection to the past and traditions. That knowledge is passed on, from the old, to the young.
So – What makes a psychedelic DJ good ? Well – First of all he needs to fit the party at which he is to perform. Depending on the crowd you need the right DJ. Some DJs are flexible and adapt to the crowd, which is of course great, as long as they are still true to their own vision and philosophy, i.e. real not fake.
What matters is the content of the DJ set, the image, the idea and all sorts of aspects which are really down to the persona of the DJ. Even DJs who do not try to create a lot of hype about themselves, will still be exposed to the perception of the audience and the organizer... So, no matter what the DJ wants, image matters.
What about TALENT? Does it matter?
When having evaluated the DJ from factors such as philosophy and image, being put into a stereotype it could seem like this is all that matters, that is however not the case.
What it all comes down to is how well you are able to present music in correspondence with your own philosophy, living up to your image. Its a case of ”so you talk the talk, do you walk the walk?”.
After all, a ”spiritual” DJ stereotype needs to be able to create an experience which is in line with what the audience expects and even needs from a DJ fitting his profile. The same goes for all other stereotypes (or free individual definitions).
How well a DJ is able to present music will also depend on the technical aspects of Djing, that is, mixing technique, sound quality, experience and understanding of musical theory. The importance of this aspect of Djing is on the rise, and is becoming more and more talked about.
This even more so since the advent of Djing software where everyone with a computer can try out Djing for themselves. After all, who wants to pay big money to listen to a DJ perform when you feel you yourself could be doing a better job?
Still, very much in tune with the original vibe of the Goa scene, many will say that mixing technique doesn't matter. So, there we have an example on how old values are still being kept alive, while they, to some, seem outdated and foolish. After all, good mixing is about keeping the flow of the music, fitting musical pieces together naturally and not crashing 2 tracks together, resulting in the loss of harmony.
If crashing 2 tracks together actually sounded the best, then THAT would be good mixing, but then again, you will still need to be in control of how they crashed together, essentially your technique would need to be good.
In any case, its up to each person to decide what they prefer, the tendency is strong towards preferring technically good Djs.
The value and function of the DJ; past, present & future
In the early days of psychedelic Djing the music was not released and often improvised on the spot. Later commercial releases were available, and the music was played in clubs and in commercial venues.
During the 1990ies there were a limited amount of releases, very few in the early 1990ies indeed, while more and more stuff was released especially from 1995 and onwards.
Since there was a limited amount of CD and Vinyl releases available, the role of the DJ through the 90ies was often that of a music collector, trying to get as much unreleased material from labels & artists as they could. The reason for that was, that what could really make a DJ stand out was the fact that he had music the broad audience had not heard before. Since there were fewer releases back then, it was more likely that the audience would know the tracks the DJ would spin, especially if he spun released material.
The importance of this was HUGE, and DJs priding themselves of a ”100% Unreleased DJ set” would often be chosen before others (regardless of other Djing abilities). In essence, Djs were often split in 2 camps – The DAT DJs spinning unreleased tracks (or sometimes just music copied off vinyl or cd), or the CD / Vinyl DJs using mainly the commercial or promotional label releases.
This all changed however, curiously along with the internet broadband revolution and the increasing popularity of big psychedelic scene festivals such as VooV Experience & Boom Festival.
After the year 2000 the scene experienced a virtual explosion of new labels and new releases.
This means that today there is so much music being released into the commercial channels that almost no one is able to listen through it all, canceling the huge effect of the old time DAT Djs (who are almost gone now), and even undermining the big effect unreleased material used to have.
Today'ss DJs can focus on listening through enormous amounts of music, in the quest for the best and most interesting tracks to present in their sets. Unreleased material is still just as welcome, but the ”never heard before” effect of it is all but gone. As such, modern DJs could be said to some extent to function as intelligent musical spam filters, letting only the best of the best music into their sets.
Another new factor in todays Djing is digital djing, using software/PC instead of CD players. While still not mainstay among the DJs, it still offers anyone who wants to have a go at Djing a chance to do so without them having to invest in expensive gear. It is basically the same thing that is going on in the production scene, where software applications are replacing old & expensive hardware solutions.
For the present, it means that Djing and music production is way more accessible than in the past. 10 years ago you would have to know someone who owned some gear, nowadays many just choose to pirate a commercial software product and they are ready to go.
This is especially appealing to the very young, who do not have to bother with a day job nor raising a family. They have the time they need to learn, and the motivation to do so.
What this means is more people make their way on to the scene. This can be seen as a good or bad thing, personally I think its a good thing that we get more talent in the melting pot, but its a problem with very young people since they are often very unprofessional and get exploited easily.
Essentially, serious DJs are professionals, buying the music they spin, requiring payment for services to keep on Djing and using their experience. However, when the competition is 16 year old kids who perhaps just spin MP3s for free, since it seems like a big chance for them to get on stage, then that undermines the foundation of the professional DJ and riscs to devaluate the craft.
For the future DJs, the requirements for living up to their philosophy and image is of paramount importance – The best DJs hope for a more demanding and knowledgeable audience, the worst will want to keep things superficial where their flaws are not revealed. As such, the Psychedelic DJ’s show themselves as human beings, regardless of the ideal.
The learning curve for Djing is not that steep, especially in the psychedelic scene where technique has often been deemed less relevant, particularilly in the past. For the future however, if you want to make it as a psychedelic DJ, you will have to make a bigger difference towards the positive in the scene in the eyes of the audience, and not only behind the decks.
The symbiosis between the DJ and the audience, and its importance
This is a simple matter. The audience attends the event and the DJ delivers the music. Therefore the audience needs the DJ and the DJ needs the audience. More or less.
The DJ has value to the audience, and the DJs philosophy and talent in regards to presenting his set is important to them. After all, if the DJ sucks, they wont get the experience they want and need.
Audience & DJ are 2 entities that engage, together, in the party situation. As such, both need to be informed and in touch with their own philophies and beliefs.
Often focus is on the DJ, and how good he is – But really, there is such a thing as a skillfull audience, just as well as there is a skilled DJ.
Personally I think, that the psychedelic DJs job goes beyond putting on records at a party, but it also includes promoting the values in which he believes. This means that he should encourage a state of open communication between him and the audience, if they are lacking in skill he should teach them, if he is lacking in skill he should learn from them.
Booking ethics: The achilles heel of the psychedelic Djing craft!
A major problem for many psychedelic DJs is the booking system within the psychedelic scene. Sadly, as a psychedelic DJ, it can be difficult to make a name for yourself, both because there are so many who can call themselves DJs, since the learning curve for just putting a CD in a cdplayer and turning up the channel volume is not that steep. Because of the low focus on djing technique, anyone with basic equipment control abilities can pass as a DJ in the scene.
Psychedelic DJs do not have the same promotional benefits as the productions artists since they can not release albums, but are at best reduced to getting their name promoted in regards to CD releases only by putting together tracklists for compilation releases. Mixed CDs are rare in the psychedelic scene, most people want the tracks in their full length, and also prefer their dj mixes to be longer than 80 minuttes. So, even though there are cd releases which are mixed by Djs, they are very rare and not frequent releases as the case is in the house scene.
What this means is that it is very difficult to break through as a psychedelic DJ, even if you have all in this article sorted out and you are totally real, talented and so forth.
Often many DJs will promote themselves on factors other than their psychedelic djing skills, for instance by offering DJ gigs to organizers who are themselves often DJs. This is called ”I book you, you book me”, a beneficial relationship for both DJs & Organizers, but not for the crowd, the culture or the other talented DJs who focus ALL their energy into the task of becoming better DJs through a more pure approach.
Another factor which makes things hard is artists 2:1 deals, where production artists both present their livesets as well as a DJ set. While not really ethically wrong, it does cut DJ timeslots which could have been filled with people specializing into the task. Still, if an organizer can add a DJ, from another country, then that will improve on his events chance of attracting a bigger audience. Also, who is to say the local or other DJ would be any better? A sad excuse for betraying a whole culture by neglecting ones responsibility to support artistic talent, just to add another widely, cd-released & supported, brand name to ones flyer.
The last is at the core of the matter – Since it is very difficult to judge a DJs quality from anything but his DJ set as performed at a party. While production artists often have tangible products in the form of CD releases, the DJ relies solely on his name for bookings. No bookings, no name – to make a name for yourself on par with production artists, a psychedelic DJ will need several bookings at well known festivals or other prestigious events.
If true talent has a hard time breaking through and getting a chance in the scene, then that talent will often never fulfill its potential in regards to achieving its purpose as stated in this article.
It only takes 1 artist 2:1 deal combined with 1 "I book you, you book me" deal to spoil a lineup for an 8 hour in door event. For festivals and 24 hour events the problem decreases, but sadly that part of the culture is very hard to establish in most western countries. Either way, DJs have to compete so much to get bookings, that often organizers get away with paying them NOTHING, or even leaving them with a bill.
It has been said, that in some cases some DJs will even pay to be featured on a lineup.
These factors do not serve the culture, nor do they serve the promotion and support of true DJ talent. Therefore, they are the achilles heal of the psychedelic DJ, and perhaps represent the biggest problem for 90% of all psychedelic DJs putting all their light into their craft.
Rounding it all off
As you can see, from the volume of this article, there is a lot of content to be put into the idea of the ”Psychedelic DJ”. The same can be said for the whole culture thriving on the pioneering vibes from the first Goa Style parties – a vibe so powerful, it spread to the whole world. Even though this has turned out to be a long article, I still feel it barely scratches the surface.
In one way or the other, DJs become role models, also in our culture. They inspire others, and as such take part in their lives. This is a big responsibility, something I would want to encourage everybody, who put themselves in the role of DJ in our culture, to be aware of.
Respect it. Please.
Last, I would like to add, that we put a lot of emphasis on djing artists, production artists and organizers – While this is of course OK, I think what we must not forget is, that most of all, it is the partygoers who make the event worthwhile for each other...
People make the party.
Oh man great artical!
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amazing article dude though i am a bit discouraged as even i really have an eye for djing in the near future...:)
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big ups and shouts for such a fantastic article - says a lot
and a few djs outhere should really read it.
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This is the most intelligent thing I've ever read on this site. Congratulations... ANYONE calling themselves a 'DJ' on this scene should read it, and maybe have a re-think about what they're doing, and why they're doing it...
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dj krell ,
Thats ur perspective ....but ya as u write beautifully and pen ur wisdom and experience...some things are being done differently.....the best djs are the ones who know exactly how the common psy dude will come out n feel after his performance....but again the mind can only be controlled to a point after that to each its own.....the dj's are just a catalyst ....not the doer as a whole.....its the whole set up....
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I hate such articles which only comes from one point of view.....psy and substance abuse are hand in hand and please no more anlysis.....let it roll and take its shape.....a river will flow where there is a valley .....the river here is psy and the valley are we guys.....boom boom bam bam!!
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Great insight analysis and very profoundly written- Condemn the ”Rockstar” DJ!!
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WELL WRITTEN tat all i have to say
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mojo science u are such an acid burn out!
and rohit, how can u possibly expecta a dj to know what every listener will feel after a set!??
most stupid statement!
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great article really interesting read and yep, compared to '96-'99 there really is a dearth of 'great' European 'psychedelic' DJs around at the moment, something that surely must change.
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Thanks for all the magical imagery you've drawn of the psychedelic scene !
Much respect and love !!!
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This is one of best articles i have came across in all WEB!!! very intelegent and straight from the heart... Thank YOU!!!!!!!!!!!respect..