THE TRANCE JOURNAL – PART 3 - TRANCE CULTURE

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30 Ene 2009, 21:45

THE TRANCE JOURNAL – PART 3
TRANCE CULTURE

As most of us know, all the best things come in threes; Three Musketeers, three Bourne films, and in the old formulaic gag, always 3 men going into the pub, to name but.... three. So I thought it was about time that my trance journal was given a third and, with any luck, final chapter. Up until now, I’ve already tried to sketch an outline, speaking largely in leman’s terms (as a part of the musical “laity” myself), of how it is trance works as a type of music, of what is it people like about the music’s “mechanics”. And in the second part I simply charted my favourite 150 trance tunes of the last 15 or so years, a chart which, looking back in retrospect, I would not change one iota. (Do read parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t already – it’ll make what follows here make much more sense.) So, what now?

Well, the main theme of this, as the title suggests, is the culture: the ethos, the philosophy, the iconography, the rituals, the way of life. It’s is about trance’s, to borrow an increasingly vague media term, mise-en-scène - Not necessarily the music itself, but everything the music and its listeners idealise and celebrate. There is a mantra in trance that goes, “trance isn’t just music; it’s a state of mind.” It’s a horrible cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s got a great deal of truth in it. But very few have attempted to explain what that “state of mind” actually is, what it involves. Every scene has its own culture, its own way of viewing the world. It is those ways of viewing the world that attract us to “our” type of music in the first place. There are two sides to this. Firstly, I think there are some aspects of trance music that deserve being looked at in greater detail and celebrated by trance fans, things that we maybe all know but don’t talk about a lot openly, certain general emotions and ideas that the music aspires to and we revel in. The question at the root of all that, I suppose, is what is it that a trance fan sees in his mind’s eye when he hears his favourite trance record? That, for me, means talking a bit about Ibiza, both my memories of being there in 2005 and what the island reveals about trance music in general. Hopefully, most trance fans will be able to relate to what I say. And, secondly, I feel there are certain aspects of trance’s culture that desperately need qualifying to so-called “outsiders”, there is a projected negativity that leaves the trance scene cloaked in surreptitious mystery and hedonism. That, of course, means discussing frankly the oh-so touchy subject of “illegal substances”. This could be a long one, so go make yourself a cup of tea before we get going... To me, this isn’t worth doing unless we’re going to dig deep.

EMOTIONAL NATURE

The problem is where to begin. The thing that I think is quite unusual about trance is that it presents something of a cultural paradox, quite an odd dichotomy. Trance, being created through computers, is a very technological type of music. As I mentioned in part one, its clean production styles and 4x4 beats make it quite a rational, ordered type of music. It is what some would see as quite “cutting edge”, quite futuristic. That might give the impression that, like our built up, urban worlds, the music produced is cold, robotic and devoid of human emotion. Yet, the images it conjures and tries to encapsulate are, to me, often those of the natural world. You know that feeling of warmth you get when you see a beautiful sunset, a starry sky, billowing clouds, a gapping canyon or an outstretched ocean? These images couldn’t really be any further from the sterile, formulaic world of computers. The names of trance songs, generally speaking, reflect this, I think. Just scrolling through my trance collection in alphabetical order here are just some of the names that jump out at me: Access To Paradise, Adrift In Space, Andromeda Heights, Angel, Arisen, Arctic Globe, Big Sky, Blue Horizon, Bounty Island, Clear Blue Water, Cloudwalking, Dawn, Destination Sunshine, Dewdrops Of Sunlight, Elevation, Eternal Voices, Fallen Tides, Fly Away, God’s Garden, Heaven Scent, Hurricane, Ibiza Sun, Lift, Like A Breeze, Liquid Sweep, Lunar Eclipse, Miracle Of Autumn, Moonshine, Northern Lights, Ocean Drive, Offshore, Orbit, Orion’s Belt, Out Of The Blue, Paradise Now, Pearl River, Rise, Saltwater, Shattered Skies... and so on. The names of many trance projects show a similar trend: Above & Beyond, Airbase, Airwave, Altitude, Aurora, Blue Amazon, Coast 2 Coast, Cold Blue, Cosmic Gate, Digital Nature, Fire & Ice, Flutlicht (which means “flood light” in German), Freefall, Lightscape, Lost Tribe, OceanLab, Plastic Angel, Plummet, Solar Stone, Solid Globe, Static Blue, Sunburst... and so on. There are some emerging themes here: the vastness of space, motion, particularly its speed and vertical direction, the shifting of light, water and seasons, divine apparitions and other heavenly notions and the seemingly never ending passage of time. Some find it quite soppy and sentimental, but the trance scene also seems to show a great deal of interest in human emotions and communal relationships. Again, just some of the track names you might find in any trance collection: Age Of Love, Alliance, Burned With Desire, Carry Me, Close To You, Connected, Don’t Be Afraid, Embrace Me, Eternal Optimism, Let Go, Linking People, Love Comes Again, The Loves We Lost, No One On Earth... and so on. All these ideas, to me, reflect a subconscious fascination with the world around us. Not always in a specifically rational sense, but in a way that appreciates that feeling of wonder and awe that defines the greatest of human experiences.





“...the spirit of child-like, untrammelled curiosity is what we are striving for. Not the anal retentive, rational person, not the ‘i’ll go for anything’, channelling ‘flake’, but an attitude of “we don’t have to look far for miracles because they’re all around us. Everything is astonishing; the universe on its surface is alive with mystery. Well, how do we make our way toward that when we live in a culture, practice a language, embody a philosophy - scientific rationalism - which is entirely designed to suck wonder out of reality, to turn everything into shades of gray, to subvert all hope that lies outside the realm of career accomplishment material possession?”Terence McKenna

This to some might seem like quite a random quote. What does it have to do with music? But, if you think about, it sums up the general point. As I stated in a previous journal in which I referred to the great Terence McKenna, sometimes reality as experienced "normally” and explained rationally is completely mundane and sterile. And we are encouraged by science not to be surprised by the world around us. The world just works and is as it is. Reality is reality; therefore there is nothing to be surprised about, nothing to awestruck about. As McKenna put it, the more rational we become, the more we try to separate ourselves from nature, the more we fight our animal instinct to be emotional, natural creatures, the more we suck that wonder out of reality. Reason and emotion always seem to be in conflict. Despite its technological roots, there is something deep within trance culture that yearns to forget reason and just let the natural world impress itself on us, not to think, just to feel. Trance fans will often use the word ‘euphoria’. It’s a sort of trance buzz word. But outside music, who else might you hear refer to the concept of euphoria. People who climb to the top of huge mountains? Astronauts looking back at Earth from space? Someone stood in the full gaze of the sun as it dips below the horizon? Again, it’s about the power of nature, viewing things that make you feel like you’re at the centre of something vast and incredible. Essentially, ‘euphoria’ is just another word for awe or wonder, and it’s what trance is all about. And this euphoria isn’t always given a positive, “warm” spin. Darker or more aggressive styles of trance still try to push towards this same emotion. As long as that sense of “mystery” or sense of being overwhelmed by the universe around you remains. Because, let’s face it, Mother Nature can be just as dark and aggressive as she can be beautiful, and that in itself can be fascinating and awe-inspiring.

-Euphoria
A feeling of happiness, confidence, or well-being sometimes exaggerated in pathological states as mania. Origin: 1880–85; < NL < Gk euphoría state of well-being.
– dictionary.com


I myself have become increasingly drawn to chillout music over the last few years, particularly pure ambient. To me, there is an important element of parallel, which actually strongly links the two types of music. The celebration of nature and the cosmos is very much the same, the only difference being the approach. The music is deliberately more wistful and contemplative; trance philosophy with the energy and sense of rapid motion taken out. Trance might make you feel like you are flying above or through a canyon at high speed, chillout might make you feel like you’re standing completely still on its highest point, surveying everything around you. Some would call it melancholy, but I think it’s often subtly different to that. Its isolated safety, feeling cleansed. So, there’s more than one way to approach this idea of euphoria. Trance can still be uplifting and emotionally “overwhelming” without being pure “sunshine and rainbows” all of the time.

THE WHITE ISLE

Of all these natural notions that to me form the basis of trance’s iconographical patchwork, there are two that stand out. They are the sun and the sea. Here’s where the island of Ibiza becomes such the big deal. To most trance fans (and house and techno fans for that matter), Ibiza is the Mecca, the Jerusalem. It can’t be forgotten that trance is a brand of party music and Ibiza is essentially a party island. If the truth be told, it is THE party island. It’s both the setting and the atmosphere that make Ibiza such a special place for trance fans, I think. The things that make Ibiza such an important place for trance fans sum up trance as a type of music. There is a sound in trance (and house) called the “Balearic sound”. It’s a sound that celebrates the sun and sea of those islands, again, it’s a sound that links the “party music” of the island and the island’s chillout, and I think it’s a sound that most trance fans have a real soft spot for.

Ibiza is, of course, a Spanish island. Therefore, despite the worldwide invasion every summer, the Spanish culture still plays an important part. It’s a laid back place, where people do what they want, when they want, at their own pace, where it’s too hot to do anything energetic during the day and too alive to be sleeping at night. As with most Mediterranean cultures, everything gets pushed back a good 4 or 5 hours. There’s no rush to eat an evening meal; that might not be done until well after the sun has disappeared beyond the horizon. Throughout the course of the day there is a profound serenity hanging in the air, the lapping of the waves and the warmth of the sun cleansing minds and bodies. And when the sun does finally set an excitement descends onto the streets, a buzz of anticipation. You know that butterflies feeling you used to get as a kid on Christmas Eve? Well, if you’re a fan of trance and you’re walking along San Antonio’s front at about midnight on a summer’s night, a ticket for Cream Amnesia clutched gratefully in your hand, that Christmas Eve feeling returns. Because you know what’s the round the corner- pretty much the pinnacle of trance culture.

My first and (so far) only visit to Ibiza was back in 2005. I and my mates were all 18, some of us had barely turned 18. We were quite naive really and this, being our first “lads holiday”, was like being thrown in at the deep end. This was our first real taste of the freedom that most of us would eventually take for granted in our university years. I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for what we encountered and, because of that, I’m not even sure some of us made the most out of our visit. A number of things did stand out though.

Firstly, the beautiful natural setting of the island is backed by a significant amount of cash. Many of the more upmarket bars and clubs are as plush and as lavish as you can imagine, without totally ruining the “laid back”, traditional vibe that much of the island retains. The famous Sunset Strip is a wonderful clash of classy modernity and Balearic rusticism, a contemporary setting sitting quite comfortably in a natural one. One of my favourites was Coastline Café, which we visited on our first proper night on the island before attending Cream Amnesia. No expense is spared in that place. The sea outstretching in the darkness and the waves still lapping the coast below, you are treated to comfortable surroundings, perfect ambient lighting and a variety of light entertainment - dancers in the mini swimming pools on the main decking, magicians, fire jugglers and, of course, a DJ up in a quaint little DJ booth overlooking the punters below.

But that night we didn’t even see the sunset. In fact, it’s one of my main regrets from that holiday that we only went to the Strip specifically to view the sunset once, and not even as a whole group. Two of my mates, neither of them trance fans might I add, even had the audacity to say, showing their levels of maturity at the time, that going to see the sunset was, and I quote, “gay”. I can’t speak for the other 3 lads who were there to view that sunset with me, but I remember being mesmerised by it. We found a quiet little place, about 5 or 6 bars down from the famous Café Del Mar and drank beers looking out over the water. From what I remember the crowds were pretty big, many of the bars without a spare chair and large numbers of people spread out of the rocky area around the bars, mainly to our left. But despite the large crowds, I don’t remember it being noisy at all. The four of us didn’t really say much, to be honest. We just sat and watched the sun slip slowly away, filling every corner of the visible sky with fiery orange light. And, in retrospect, I have often thought to myself, clearly all those people congregated on the rocks and sat in the bars along the front had not come to Ibiza just to get mashed and dance in darkened rooms. That’s not all it’s about. These displays of natural beauty mean a lot to them too – it relaxes them, it moves them. The sun going down is like a spiritual rebirth, which is later celebrated in the clubs until the sun rises again. This “sun worship” is fused into that “Balearic sound” that I was talking about earlier. If you put on Chicane’s Far From The Maddening Crowds or Oceanlab’s more recent Sirens of the Sea and close your eyes you’re back on the Sunset Strip gazing on that ball of fire. I can’t speak for every trance fan, but there’s nowhere I’d rather be. Believe me, it is no coincidence that the greatest party on earth has chosen Ibiza as its home.


“The ocean.. in the Heaven.. It`s all they talk about.. In the sunset... How fucking wonderful it is to watch that big ball of fire melt into the ocean...” – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Most of the clubs in Ibiza put those in Britain to shame. In some cases, just the sheer size of the clubs can be overwhelming. Your average super club in this country will, I suppose, comfortably accommodate around 1,500, at a push 2,000, people. Privilege, on the other hand, which must still hold the title of “biggest club in the world”, has a capacity of 10,000. But that knowledge can’t really prepare you for the experience of actually stepping inside Privilege. Again, our visit to Privilege in 2005 was a slight disappointment. We were sold tickets for a lesser known event, roped in by some drinks deals that turned out to be something of a con. The music that night was a really weird jazz/house combo, performed with loads of live instruments and vocalists and rather than really explore our surroundings we spent far too long just sat in one of the many bars drinking the ludicrously expensive drinks. I think that was a combination of our young bodies struggling to last the pace at the holiday’s half way stage and being slightly too immature to appreciate the great musical temple we were sat inside. But even the bar we sat in sort of summed up the fabulous creative extravagance of the island itself. This bar, from what I distantly remember, couldn’t quite make its mind up whether it was indoor or outdoor, quite secluded and dark with greenery everywhere – not your average terrace as you would imagine it; more half garden, half bar. To go from “biggest dancefloor in the world” to isolated garden in one short staircase is in itself a novelty. But the real spectacle of Privilege is its 25 metre dome which hangs high over the dancefloor. It’s pretty much the first thing you notice as you come up through the entrance into the centre of the dancefloor. And you stand there and think, “fuck me!” And they’ve suspended the DJ booth over a huge swimming pool... why? Because they can, that’s why. It is worth going to Privilege just to see interior of the place. And all the other super clubs display a similar eye for the visually impressive and the comfortably luxurious. Es Paradis, for example, with its marble floors and columns, looks like a courtyard from ancient Greece. These are not cheap places to be or get into, but they are worth their weight in gold for how their surroundings can make you feel at ease.



The island does have a seedier side; that can’t be forgotten. San An’s West End is a cheap and tacky place, a far cry from the semi-rustic luxury of the Sunset Strip. But visiting such a tacky drinking hole is a relative necessity to offset the great expense of exploring the island’s plusher offerings. And after dark, that pre-club sense of anticipation and raw excitement makes it an enjoyable, albeit slightly more drunken and “debauched”, place to be. I’ve often thought that a lot of people my parent’s age must think Ibiza is like some mass violent orgy, like that scene in Pirates Of The Caribbean where Sparrow and Turner arrive on the island of Tortuga and it’s wall-to-wall fighting and fucking. It’s slightly more cultured than that.

Another thing I must mention before I leave this particular topic is that anyone out there that thinks Kevin & Perry Go Large is an accurate portrayal of Ibiza or trance culture is shooting significantly wide of the mark. The idea that Ibiza is the best or the easiest place to get laid, girls being turned away at Amnesia’s doors for being too ugly, the DJ character being the ultimate arrogant twat and the Germans dressed in military uniforms marching around the island are, to me, are all perversions of the real Ibiza. Even the actual scenes from inside Amnesia don’t feel very “real”. It’s a comedy film, so it has to exaggerate certain stereotypes and stereotypes that everyone recognises. The film does, however, have an amazing soundtrack, if that’s any consolation.

I will be returning to the island this coming summer, and being older and wiser, I’m determined to make even more of this next visit. Needless to say, I’ll be going there to sample the surroundings and relax as much as I’ll be going there to “have it large”. In other words, the Café Del Mar part of the holiday means just as much to me as the Amnesia part does.

TRANCE & DRUGS

Computer games don’t affect kids; If Pacman had affected us as kids we'd be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive music. - Marcus Brigstocke

I’m under no illusions that the main thing "outsiders" associate with trance is the use of so-called “recreational” drugs. In many people’s eyes, these drugs are not just part of the culture, but the very foundation of the culture. Their “logic” is – the music is repetitive so you must need stimulants to enjoy it, take away the drugs and nobody likes the music anymore. This assumption is, it gives me great pleasure to say, complete pap. It needs to be said clearly at the outset. The vast majority of trance fans love trance for what it is as a type of music, for the ideals and philosophy I’ve already described. The drugs are certainly a part of the culture, without a doubt, but they aren’t the reason people get into trance. Trance isn’t just an excuse to take drugs. But, to be quite honest, I don’t see drugs as sinister part of the trance scene anyway. Used carefully, I think they can actually have a positive influence. The dance scene’s main drug of choice is, of course, ecstasy; there are some very good reasons for that, which I’ll come to.

As a kid I was very anti-drugs, and I think it’s interesting that maturing and pursuing an education has pushed me in the opposite direction. The risks of drugs are preached at school as “probables” and “very likelies”, rather than what they are - worst case scenarios based on people’s recklessness and lack of knowledge. And all illegal substances are presented as being as bad as each other – so cannabis is as dangerous as crack, heroin the same as LSD, MDMA the same as mushrooms. And when you realise that some of what you’ve been told is wrong or exaggerated, you start to wonder, what else could they be wrong about?



Bill Hicks – In his classic stand up performance, Sane Man

And the difficulty is, because these substances are illegal not a lot of medical research is done on them. At least, not enough. A lot of the information we get is hearsay and a mishmash of “friend of a friend” stories. The hard truth is, as much as you can read about them, you can’t really understand drugs until you’ve taken them yourself and that draws a very dubious line down the centre of society. And I’ve discussed this with friends – there is a distinct psychological barrier in people’s minds when it comes to that first time. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you that it won’t, you look at that first pill in your hand and think, “This could fucking kill me.” You do take it and that barrier is completely smashed down.

There is the danger however that a lack of negative experiences on drugs can push you so far the other way that you become complacent. And some do become complacent. I find that people who haven’t taken MDMA (ecstasy) exaggerate the risks to a ridiculously degree, while many that have taken it neglect them so much that they do run the risk of causing long term damage to themselves. As always with human beings, there is an irrational polarisation. I have seen people go a number of ways. One good friend of mine did it for the first time and was absolutely blown away, but has only done it once since and has turned it down on a number of occasions. While another mate of mine uses it completely willy nilly, in social situations that don’t even suit the use of MDMA, sitting at a house party where everyone else is only drinking chewing his own ear off. Everybody’s different and people tend to react in different ways, in ways that reflect their own levels of self-control and temperance. The reality is, you’re much more likely to do yourself lasting damage through recklessly excessive use over a number of years than you are to drop dead on the dancefloor from taking one ecstasy tablet. People who die on the dancefloor from taking MDMA are people who either take way way too much at once or drink insane amounts of water while on it. If you do the former of those two things I tend to have limited sympathy. If you choose to do it at all, and as Hicks says, it’s a personal choice, you have to do it carefully, in controlled amounts and go extended lengths of time of maybe a few months without doing it at all to allow your brain a chance to recover. If you’re sensible about it, it is believed to be relatively harmless.

MDMA basically causes the brain to produce a large amount of a natural brain chemical called serotonin. That feeling of euphoria that I talked about earlier? That is serotonin being released. That high level of serotonin creates a number of feelings and emotions that can reach a level of intensity that has to be experienced to be appreciated. The best way to describe it loosely explains why MDMA is trance’s drug of “choice”. It’s all the wonderment you feel when listening to trance music sober, all the same mental imagery, but put under a magnifying glass. It’s getting to the top of Everest and some more, without even walking up the mountain. And that’s why people do it. There are other reasons, of course. You don’t tend to have memory black outs like you do with excessive drinking, it gives you the energy to last till 6 or 7 in the morning, you don’t have to go to the toilet as often as you would if you were drinking alcohol (which means you don’t have to miss any of your favourite DJ’s set), and, it’ll probably work out cheaper than getting pissed anyway. And what is the positive influence with MDMA? Well, you stand in a pilled up crowd and a pissed up one and you’ll notice the difference. That sense of feeling connected to other people can produce such a buzz in a good crowd. There’s less anger, less pent up frustration and absolutely no will for people to fight each other – just sheer undying love for music and, who knows, maybe even a few strangers. As McKenna says, as much as we love it as a species, alcohol turns most people into “jerks”, whereas, MDMA can turn complete jerks into vaguely loving, emotional people. There will always be exceptions to that rule, and you can still meet people on MDMA who are thoroughly annoying, but that is the exception and not the rule.

The film Human Traffic is an interesting look at clubbing and drug culture. It’s such a textured and honest film that you can pick out an awful lot of “hidden” truths from it, positive and negative. You have to remember that, again, it’s a comedy so you have to take some of it with a pinch of salt. And I think it does stress the hedonism a little too much... and not all the music in the film is trance by any means. But the main positive thing about that film for me is the sense of comradeship and good-will there is between the group of friends. There’s a great scene where Jip rings Moff to tell him that Lulu has decided to go out with them and Moff is visibly uplifted by the news.


"Nice one, bruvvvva!"

These people can’t wait to be in each other’s company and share good times. The idea that these people just want someone to relate to and escape society’s increasing sense of alienation is a constant theme. The only thing they have in life that is of any value is each other. Society typecasts these people as “everything that is wrong with society”, when in reality they are the product of everything that is wrong with society – lack of meaningful emotional interaction, a sterile, loveless, modern existence, being judged for what you attain and not for who you are. Human Traffic is actually a deeply philosophical film, a powerful sociological critique, but it sometimes talks in a language that only clubbers themselves can truly relate to.

Present is gone. Fantasy is a part of reality. And we take the brakes off. We’re thinking clearly, yet not thinking at all. This feels right. We stop trying to control things. Warm rush of chemicals through us. We’re fluctuating. Is this brain damage? We forget all the pain and hurt in life, we wanna go somewhere else. We’re not threatened by people anymore. All our insecurities have evaporated. We’re in the clouds now. Wide open. We’re spacemen, orbiting the earth. The world is beautiful from here, man. We're nympholetics desiring for the unattainable. We risk sanity for moments of temporary enlightenment. So many ideas with so little memory. The last thought killed by the anticipation of the next. We embrace an overwhelming feeling of love. We flow in unison…we're together. I wish this was real. We're on a universal level of togetherness where we are comfortable with everyone. We're in a rhythm, part of the movement, a movement to escape. We wave goodbye. Ultimately, we just want to be happy. Wait. What the fuck was I just talking about? – Jip, Human Traffic

I’ve not taken any psychedelic drugs myself up until now, but having recently gotten into the philosophies of Terence McKenna I’ve read about them with interest. What mainstream culture will find most shocking about Terrence McKenna’s psychedelic philosophy is that he believed psychedelics are not only a positive influence but the only thing that can save our decadent world from crashing and burning in the relatively near future. The following is a little extract from a previous journal which I feel makes just as much sense here:

McKenna was an expert in “psychedelics” and experimented with a variety of highly hallucinogenic substances, such as salvia and DMT. He believed that certain hallucinogenic drugs, in particular the drug psilocybin, had played a significant role in our evolution. He further argued that for the period that such substances remained part of our diet, human beings were more communal, less concerned with possession and status and significantly less driven by their own egos. Such ideas are indeed just theories, but there is no doubt in my mind that McKenna was a talented philosopher, a visionary and a thinker totally unrestrained by popular prejudices. And his use of drugs wasn’t pure hedonism. They fed into a vision and a view of the world that was highly complex and unique. And I think a lot of people will have sympathy for this vision because he, like so many, felt that human beings have taken a wrong turning somewhere in their development – that the ego has taken over, our true place in nature lost.


This is half of a Terence McKenna lecture called Seeking The Stone. It’s not specifically about music, but it’ll make everything I’ve said about McKenna clearer, if you have the time to watch it. Part 2 is available on Google Video.

I’ve heard so much talk, even from my favourite stand up comedian, George Carlin , about how psychedelics open up new windows of perception, about how they can revolutionise your thinking. I’m not sure MDMA falls into exactly the same bracket as psychedelics, just as I’m not sure the philosophy of trance and psychedelic trance can be said to be exactly the same, but I think they fall under a very similar bracket. They both encourage a return to ancient communalism, a “going back to nature” philosophy – even if parts of it are completely subconscious. That, to me, is a positive influence.

Needless to say, if you are one of those many people who go out every weekend and get so drunk they can barely stand up, while at the same time negatively stereotyping users of other drugs as "wasters", "degenerates" and "hippies", you're a hypocritical moron and no less ignorant than the people who go around saying, “You have to be high on drugs to like trance music.” If you use alcohol irresponsibly you have no leg whatsoever to stand on when it comes to judging people who use substances like MDMA.

If you’re just anti-hedonism, well, that poses an entirely different set of questions....

CLUB SAVAGERY AS MODERN PAGANISM

To me clubbing is a microsomal part of the anti-thesis of civilization. I mean, these people.... they are animals, they are disgusting, sweaty, savages prancing around to the dull synthetic beat of whatever shit modern music has thrown up recently. There is something quite pig-like about them, one is reminded upon looking at these neanderthals of the soma fuelled mindlessness of Huxley's dystopian brave new world. And what's worse about these odious cretins is that they have succeeded in persuading popular culture that the nightclub is *the* social medium of our generation. Everything else is secondary, 'oh, lets go out and eat and THEN go to a nightclub'. Barbarians.... Your filthy habits should be punishable by the state. - jim1111

The problem are nightclubs - the place of sexuality, lust, vanity, sin. Nightclubs should be banned. - Hugo0102

These particular quotes appeared in the trance tag shoutbox last year, the second being a positive response to the first, albeit the only positive response that was posted. Normally, I try to ignore such pointless trolling, but some of the sentiments and the sheer levels of exaggeration in jim1111’s initial post intrigued me. Is this really what the term “trance” means to outsiders? Is the perception really that negative? His first sentence is particularly interesting. Clubbing is, apparently, the anti-thesis of civilization. Well, “clubbing”, which is obviously a big part of trance culture, is essentially groups of people getting together to share a common passion, i.e. music, to engage in an activity which is older than so-called “civilization” itself, i.e. dancing. That on its own isn’t really that sinister. In fact, you’d think that was quite a noble concept – bringing people together. And the idea that the only emotions that are indulged when such people do come together in this way are selfish ones is generalised and largely a fabrication of the outsider’s underactive but over rational imaginations.

But we can go deeper than that. This idea of being “civilized” is interesting and goes back to what I was saying about the conflict between reason and emotion earlier on. The language of jim1111 is that of the rational purist, the modern philosophy that all the time encourages us to believe that we become better creatures, higher beings, when we deny our animal instincts, when we separate ourselves from nature. The interpretation given is one that says that “clubbing” is a perversion of the civilisation process, a process that gives us morals and gives our world order. When we go out and let our emotions flow wildly we “lower” ourselves to the position of “animals”, of “savages”, of pigs. Dancing, one of the most overt expression of emotion we have, is reduced to sexual cavorting and even sweating, a perfectly normal bodily function, looked down on. To me, this is all part of the great intellectual myth of our age, a myth that human beings struggle with internally all the time. Whether it be for religious reasons or because of the sense of intellectual superiority that our rationalism feeds us, we seem afraid of the animal in us. But, what we forget is that the animal in us is the nature in us.



So, maybe jim1111 is right. Maybe trance and clubbing are the anti-thesis of civilization. As I’ve already said, there is in trance music that longing to get back to nature, not to think about nature and explain it, just to feel it impress upon us. Maybe when we enter that club and let ourselves go, we go back in time and become like our pagan ancestors, reprojecting the ancient rituals and the hypnotic mysticism of the African drumming that I mention in part 1 – a throwback to the days when our gods were those of our environment. Despite its futuristic sounds and use of technology, there is something strangely primeval about the culture of trance music.

But, to me, none of this is necessarily a bad thing. As Terence McKenna said, there is a need for human beings to retake their place in nature, not to view it from outside and pass judgement on it, but to “feel” part of it - to be part of that "Gaian mind". The progress of history is a constant duelling of the ancient and modern. And it is modernity that makes human beings cold and egotistical - at least, more so than at any point in our evolution. That is not to say that unstrained emotion is the only right and proper ideal for human beings to aspire to. All I am saying is that both the ancient and the modern have their positive and negative aspects. We must make time for both reason and emotion; we must make time for ourselves internally and our communal spirit, our contemplative instincts as well as our celebrative ones. Celebrative euphoria is a righteous enough idea when it’s the euphoria of a mountaineer, or an astronaut, or even just the walker on the untouched sunset beach; why should it be any different for the clubber?

Trance culture is not a “Clockwork Orange” culture; it’s not a nihilistic or anarchistic culture. It pulls away from the mainstream, the established order, without looking to attack it. It doesn’t want to destroy; it just wants to “get away from it all”. “Rave” culture when it first emerged probably was a bit wilder and more reckless, maybe even a bit more resentful of the established order. Old types of “rave” music like breaks and hardcore were more aggressive. But the emergence of trance, particularly the Balearic sound, calmed things down a bit and created a generation who are, to a degree, more “cultured” or, at least, more chilled out. There is an element of hedonism to it, of course, but it’s not a hedonism that is purely narcissistic; if anything it’s noticeably communal and has an undercurrent of appreciation for “higher purposes” and “mysticism” – a hunger to be connected, emotionally “plugged in” to everything around us, including other people.

Denying our animal instincts makes us no more moral and, more importantly, no more happy. Reason has not created utopia. That capacity to "feel" nature, the orgiastic tendencies of our evolutionary past and McKenna's full-blown "religious experience" of altered states of consciousness, all have to play a part in bringing greater happiness to human beings. Music, even music styles as technological as trance music, can be a big part of this rediscovery of the “natural human being” if we think about it in the right way. The individual who thinks like jim1111 is McKenna’s “anal retentive, rational person”, whereas bubbling underneath the whole of trance culture is McKenna’s “spirit of child-like, untrammelled curiosity”.

To me, trance is a wonderfully complex and contradictory brand of music, its culture in particular being an expression of the inner contradictions in the human species that remain ever present. The modern and the ancient conflict a lot in human cultures, the two are usually diametrically opposed. But, in trance music they sit alongside each other, mutually supporting each other. As a culture, I would sum it up as philanthropic pleasure-seeking – which on its surface seems like an oxymoron. Trance fans are a generation of escapists and idealists who have resisted the will of our rational age to squeeze out the emotional and animalistic aspects of our characters – modern yet ancient, synthetic yet natural, artificial yet organic, cultured yet wild, altruistic yet self-aware, rational yet emotional, grounded yet free, rebellious yet peaceful, global yet drawn to certain spiritual homes and, most importantly, at ease with reality.

And I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Matt Darey’s Gamemaster, words that I think all trance fans can relate to...

Embracing the goddess energy within yourselves
Will bring all of you to a new understanding and valuing of life
A vision that inspires you to live and love on planet earth
Like a priceless jewel buried in dark layers of soil and stone
Earth radiates her brilliant beauty into the caverns of space and time
Perhaps you are aware of those who watch over your home
And experience it as a place to visit and play with reality
You are becoming aware of yourself as a gamemaster

Imagine earth restored to her regal beauty
Stately trees seem to brush the deep blue sky
Clouds billow to form majestic peaks
The songs of birds fill the air, creating symphony upon symphony
The goddess is calling for an honouring of what she allows to be created
Through the core mystery of the blood
Those who own your planet are learning ... about love



Some trance links: Above & Beyond, Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Oceanlab, Nitrous Oxide, Jonas Steur, Vibrasphere, John O'Callaghan, Chicane, Signum, Paul van Dyk, Sean Tyas, Marco V, Ferry Corsten, Marcel Woods, Nu Nrg, Aly & Fila, Super8, Icone, Ronski Speed, Stoneface & Terminal, David West, Matt Darey, Filo & Peri, DJ Shah, Tilt, Michael Dow, Lange, Solarstone, Orjan, M.I.K.E.

A few random non-trance links: Radiohead, Kings of Leon, The Killers, The Kooks, Coldplay, Kate Nash, Katy Perry, My Chemical Romance, Nickelback, In Flames, Metallica, Cannibal Corpse....

Comentarios

  • Flyct

    A very very interesting post, almost an ethnological/culture anthropology essay. It adresses some of the things I've been pondering myself when being an active part of this culture (unfortunately more a couple of years ago than now..). I would also add, to the interesting part about civilization, that new streams of music have always been accused of hedonism, anti-civilization, sin (like it would be such a bad thing...), and even crimeful actions. The treatment and view of the trance ("electronic dance music") scene from the outside mirrors that of how society viewed the surface of rhytm and blues, rock n' roll, hiphop... The new and difficult to understand is always scary to the big mass. I have much more in my head, but need to think it through. Just wanna thank you for producing some very interesting reading and provoking old thoughts I thought I had left behind. :) Peace

    20 Mar 2009, 14:34
  • Addicted2Melody

    Thanks for the kind comments, mate. An anthropological angle is definitely something I was pushing towards with this journal, particularly with the final part, so I'm glad that came across. I would definitely agree with you that many forms of music are seen as subversive by mainstream society when they first emerge. Rock music was certainly blacklisted as "the devil's music" in the 50s, metal is continually blamed for suicides and rap and hip hop are accused of encouraging gun culture and gang warfare, to name but a handful of brief examples. The thing is with the trance scene, and I hope this comes across in what I say in the article, is that I feel that the main components of trance culture and it's overall philosophy are actually less "threatening" to mainstream society and even less immoral than those of most other non-mainstream music cultures. In other words, while most music cultures are nowhere as subversive as their relative outsiders like to think, trance is arguably the least subversive of all. Some may accuse me of being biased because I'm a trance fan, of merely talking up my own genre, but because trance is such a complex phenomenon I'm happy to admit that the fact it is not at all destructive or surreptitious is not necessarily obvious if you look from the outside. As I was writing this journal, the punk music of the 80s was something that constantly popped into my head as a point of comparison. Punk's philosophy was political. It was about sticking two fingers up to those who "make the rules", doing the opposite of what you're told you ought to do for the purpose of making a political point. When 'rave' culture first emerged I think it had some of that punk aggression in it, a lot of that deliberate rebelliousness. And I think a lot of outsiders think all today's clubbing culture is still like that, when in fact trance and it's house and techno cousins are much more erudite and refined than people give them credit for. The natural beauty aspect that I describe, for example, is something I suspect most non-electronic music fans are not widely aware of. Anyway, thanks again, Mille. Glad you found this thought provoking.

    21 Mar 2009, 0:01
  • Andiaz

    Amazing entry, as always. Actually this is probably one of the best entries I've seen on this site, especially the White Isle section. I think I've read that one like 5 times so far, and every time I just wanna book a ticket or two to ibiza. Hope to see you there someday man! Keep writing those journal entries by the way.

    23 Mar 2009, 1:57
  • Addicted2Melody

    Thanks a lot for the kind words, Andreas, mate. I'm delighted people have found this interesting and not too drawn out and rambling. I keep hearing from certain quarters that Ibiza is "not what it used to be" and losing its spirit. But I'm hopeful that when I return from the Isle in late July, I'll be able to report that there's plenty of life in the old dog yet. As long as trance, house and techno exist, Ibiza will remain the spiritual home of clubbing music. FACT!

    23 Mar 2009, 10:52
  • RoverTheOctopus

    Hey, I'm finally glad to be reading this. This is great and I'm only down to the first section on the emotional aspect of trance. I have to fully agree that trance really does speak to our emotions through title names. Whenever I hear T4L's Moonwalk, I see a voyage in space, and I can see a glowing blue Earth in the foreground of the sun's burst of light against a sea of stars. The same is true for Octagen & Arizona - Starburst. I just see a the sun's rays just project outward as the song's break opens ever wider. Trance also has many songs with verb names, whose melodies seem to speak for themselves. Fictivision vs. Phynn - Escape (Phynn Mix) has such a spooky series of melodies and arrangements, that I think of a person escaping from a dangerous situation. It's little things like that that make me fully appreciate trance in ways I can't do with other music genres. Great diary. I'm going to go finish reading the rest!

    30 Mar 2009, 16:12
  • RoverTheOctopus

    Also, another (hopefully not irrelevant) point worth adding is that I think music is where reason and emotion become one like nothing else. We have musical scales, because it works mathematically so that all the notes in each scale can work harmoniously, and also because it is what is most suitable for our ears and mind.

    30 Mar 2009, 16:34
  • Addicted2Melody

    Thanks for the comments, mate. Interesting as always. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, "the melodies speak for themselves". That's exactly it. For many fans of non-electronic music, a big premium is put on the "message" of the lyrics. A song-writer telling a story, almost. And a lot of people criticise electronic music for a lack of lyrical "focus", a lack of "meaning". But, in trance music, it's left more to the imagination of the listener. The focus is the mood and the raw emotions, and you build into that your own specific mental imagery. The same themes are always there: the sense of motion, the natural world, light and seasons etc., but those themes aren’t necessarily contained within any lyrics; they’re almost part of the melodies and key changes themselves. And that’s why, to me, it’s more than just dance music. There’s something unique about it. As a type of music, it strikes that point between reason and emotion, between the animal and the divine, like no other; emotionally charged, but mathematically precise.

    31 Mar 2009, 23:39
  • Shponglation

    WOW! So glad to see somebody so attached to music like me:)

    5 Abr 2009, 11:36
  • perobandera

    Very nicely done m8, i really enjoyed reading it...though i would love to see similar texts about house and especialy techno...electronica trinity...

    14 May 2009, 2:29
  • Addicted2Melody

    Thanks again for the comments, guys. As for similar texts on house and techno. Much of what I've said here could be applied to house and techno. Clubbing culture is so inter-connected. As much as people like to push genres apart from each other, there's a huge degree of overlap. But I'm sure real house and techno "nuts" would put a slightly different spin on things. A spin I'd be more than interested to read.

    15 May 2009, 22:56
  • Addicted2Melody

    It seems as though I could have said much of what I've said in this journal in far fewer words, had I only discovered the following quote from Terence McKenna sooner: [quote]“The emphasis of house music and rave culture on physiologically compatible rhythms, and this sort of thing, is really the re-discovery of the art of natural magic with sound. That sound, properly understood, especially percussive sound, can actually change neurological states, and large groups of people getting together in the presence of this kind of music are creating a telepathic community, a bonding, that hopefully will be strong enough to carry the vision out into the mainstream of society. I think the youth culture that is emerging in the Nineties is an end of the millennium culture that is actually summing up Western civilisation, and pointing us in an entirely different direction; that we are going to arrive in the third millennium in the middle of an archaic revival, which will mean a revival of those physiologically empowering rhythm signatures, a new art, a new social vision, a new relationship to nature, to feminism, to ego - all of these things are taking hold, and not a moment too soon.”[/quote] – Terence McKenna While I thought I was making some sort of unique observations on dance music using McKenna's theories, McKenna had already made those observations himself 17 years earlier. And, in less than 200 words he pretty much sums up my entire focus for the first and third of these trance journals. Needless to say, this quote is going straight onto my main profile with the other McKenna quotes. What an inspiration that man was and continues to be.

    16 May 2009, 12:15
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