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Oct 21, 2009

The Phenomenon of Goa Trance

History of Goa Trance By Fred Cole and Michael Hannan

This article explores the phenomenon of Goa trance, a form of electronic dance party music originating on the beaches of Goa, on the Indian subcontinent. The term "Goa trance" and the range of alternative terms for Goa trance are discussed. The history of the Goa scene is examined in a number of stages. The geographical area itself has had a fascinating history which is briefly summarised. Following that, the early history of the Goa beach scene in the 60s and 70s is described, before a more detailed examination of the heyday period in which the Goa trance style was developed. The decline of the Goa trance scene in Goa itself is also discussed. Since Goa trance was developed in the Goa area by an international community of DJs and recording artists from Europe, Australasia and other parts of Asia such as Japan, its dispersal back to these parts of the world is explored. The current commercialisation of the style is described and the main recording artists, DJs and record labels are identified.

The second part of this article is concerned with analysing some of the stylistic characteristics of Goa trance. The aesthetic of the idiom is touched on before a more detailed treatment of aspects of musical style and party practice. This is informed by analysis of some of the recent recorded repertoire, as well as observations made while attending Goa trance parties.

The data for the historical and much of the descriptive material for this article comes from two main sources. The first consists of interviews conducted by Fred Cole with a number of the important DJs and artists who worked in Goa during the main period. These include Ray Castle, Steve Psyko and Fred Disko. A second source of data is the World Wide Web. Many web sites are devoted to Goa Trance, including home pages of important DJs such as Goa Gil.

In the last decade of dance music there have been hundreds of terms coined to describe the main genres and the various sub-genres of musical production. Judging by its use in the dance music press and on the dozens of WWW pages devoted to the genre, the term Goa trance has achieved some level of currency. In his 1996 interview, Ray Castle (in Cole, 1996a) stated that "it 's only in the last two years we've started hearing these words 'Goa trance'....before that I used to call the parties 'Trance Dance'." Steve Psyko (in Cole 1996b) believes that the term was invented by the English, because they "always want to put a label on something like that". Further more, as with punk, "they have stereotyped Goa trance; they have decided that Goa trance is just one kind of music." As this article proceeds it will become clear that one of the striking characteristics of the music played in Goa since the early 1980s, is its stylistic diversity. None the less, the contemporary recorded music marketed under the label of Goa trance or some variant of it, may indeed have certain definable stylistic characteristics. This theory will be examined below under the heading 'Musical Style'.

The currency of terminology is also subject to waves of fashion. One UK party promoter on the Goa Trance mailing list (Barron, 1996), claimed in October 1996 that the 'G word' is now so unfashionable that "if you went into a record label over here (i.e. Dragonfly, TIP, Flying Rhino etc.) and called the music Goa Trance you would be laughed at"; and furthermore that, if you used the term on a party flyer, no-one would attend the party. He suggests "Psychedelic Trance" as a more appropriate term since most of the music is being made in the UK, Australia, Israel and the US, not in Goa. Curiously, though , the party advertised in his message refers to "Psychoactive Trance" . There is some support for the term "psychedelic trance" from other sources including the BooM! Records web page (1996), Hugh James Sharpe (1996a), and Ray Castle (in Cole 1996a), who also has a predilection for the term "psychotropic trance" (Castle, 1996b). Both Castle (1996b) and Sharpe (1996a) also use the elided form, "Psy-Trance". Other terms used by Castle include "fluro" (based on the use of fluorescent lights and images), "altered state", "Goa techno trance", "electronic trance" and "acid techno"(1996b, 1996b, 1996a, 1996c, and in Cole, 1996a). Sharpe (1996a) uses the term "Ambient Goa", and Derek Jordan (1996), "Ambient Goa trance"; although it is not clear whether they are referring to Goa Trance or to a [more] ambient variety of it. Mat Joyce (1996), a Goa Trance mailing list subscriber, has ventured a few other alternative genre names such as "Uplifting", "High Energy", and "Alien", but these suggestions were rejected by two other subscribers, including Hugh James Sharpe (1996b).

Added to the possible confusion created by this plethora of terms, is the frequent association with other established genres such as techno, acid trance, and acid house. Sharif (1996) suggests, for example, that "among many of its devotees, [Goa trance] is considered to be the purest form of acid house music."

Goa Trance History

The area of Goa, situated approximately half-way down the western coastline of the southern part of India, has had a colourful history of occupation. From the tenth century until early in the sixteenth century it vacillated between Hindu and Muslim rule. In 1510 it was taken by the Portuguese whose presence lasted, except for a few short periods of occupation by the British from 1797-98 and 1802-13, until 1961. In that year the Indian Army took possession. The presence of the Portuguese for 450 years had a strong effect on the cultural life of Goa, clearly evident in the present era by the many Catholic churches and monasteries and other characteristic architecture, but also reflected in the cuisine and the arts.

The multicultural history of Goa is an important background to the development of the Goa beach party scene in the early 1960s. According to Ray Castle (in Cole, 1996a, p. 9), Goa is an unique part of India with a "special vibe" related to the Portuguese background. He sees the hippies who flocked to Goa as the "new colonists", and the locals as being as tolerant of their occupation as they were of the Portuguese. For Castle (1996a, p. 3), the general attraction of India for the hippies and other misfits was both to its spirituality and to its hashish, which was legal up to the mid 1970s, at which time the laws were changed with pressure from the U.S.

The available documentation of the early history of the Goa beach parties is scant. Boyd (1996) states that the hippies descended on Goa in 1968, "to sleep on the beaches, partake of the marijuana weed and generally try to 'get their head together'.". Richard Ahlberg (1996), quoted on the Goa Trance Mailing List, adds that:

About thirty years ago a man named eight-finger Eddie and other ex-pats...found a perfect beach...beautiful warm friendly villagers...and a paradise-like haven in which they could...with the utmost freedom...enjoy a life free from all distractions...these people started to have "parties" on the beaches or in the jungles...eating psychedelics and dancing to the music of the time.

The music of the time was, of course, nothing like the music that has come to be known as Goa trance. Boyd (1996) suggests the Grateful Dead. Ollie Olsen (in Cole, 1996d), who has collaborated with the pioneering Goa trance DJ, Fred Disko, recalls Disko telling him that around 1980 the staple beach party repertoire still consisted of the Doors, Neil Young, the Eagles and perhaps some Pink Floyd. The name Disko was given to him because he was one of the first to introduce electronic dance music to the scene. Another pioneer Goa trance DJ, Goa Gil, who was "one of the originators of the famous Goa full moon parties", played live with a band, and also DJed in Goa through the 1970s. When, at the beginning of the 1980s, he grew tired of the "rock/fusion/reggae" music he was spinning, he introduced "the first post-punk experimental electronic dance music coming from Europe, the neue deutsche welle, electronic body music" (Gil, 1996). Ray Castle (1996a, p. 3) supports this view, that "Goa techno trance actually originated from hard line, electronic body music, groups like Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Frontline Assembly, as well as from Eurobeat."

The international character of the Goa scene seems to be a key to the development of the genre of Goa trance. Fred Disko (in Cole 1996c, p. 8) mentions French and Italian DJs, specialising in electronic music, Australian DJs playing rock, and others playing only South American styles. Disko, also believes that the classical music of India played a strong part in the development of Goa trance:

If you go some place where you have 10 tablas, six sitars, some woman is quotedsinging. After a while it goes so fast, you know you just suddenly fly, like a trip. The trance is not coming only from the Goa trance music; [it] is already there, everywhere. (p. 8)

Another international aspect of the Goa beach party scene was the variety of events. Disko (in Cole 1996c, p. 7) remembers one night with two completely different full moon parties on different beaches: one "electronic bom bom bom", the other "reggae, very cool". Disko's observations are supported by New Zealander, Ray Castle (in Cole 1996a, p. 7), who refers to German, Dutch, French and Swiss DJs in Goa, as well as to Goa Gil, an American. A few of these people were in Goa primarily to collect music from other DJs, musicians and party participants. The collecting and exchange of music was a central practice of the Goa trance community, as Ray Castle (p. 7-8) explains:

The freaks and the hippies used to collect the most mind-boggling psychedelic dance music they could find and bring it to India and play it at these parties, and we used to exchange this music......In the old days we used to call it "special music". It was very obscure and it was very hard to get your hands on. You were a real connoisseur or collector, and Goa was a kind of fraternity of obscure, weird psychedelic music collectors getting together, getting stoned, and getting off on the music; and sharing each other's music, exchanging it, copying it, and then making parties out of it.

The quest for "weird psychedelic music" was inspired and facilitated by the use of LSD, the drug which has become intimately linked to Goa trance parties. One of the extraordinary features of the Goa beach parties in their heyday was the usual availability of free "acid punch" (Castle, in Cole, 1996a; Chambers, 1996).

The process of absorbing unusual music from diverse international sources often had a liberating, mind-broadening impact on those involved. Steve Psyko (in Cole, 1996b, p. 3), for example, was inspired by the "innovative and strange music" of some Japanese musicians living opposite him in Goa, forcing him to reassess his musical aesthetic. Castle (1996a) has reinforced this idea, claiming that the international nature of Goa "flushed out parochial attitudes and tastes."

Particular tastes had, however, developed among the Goa trance DJs in the late 1980s, and these influenced the practices of preparing music for parties. Ray Castle (in Castle/DJ Krusty 1996a) has described the process of remixing tracks to make them more aesthetically suitable:

There were always too many insipid vocals, and often tracks were too short. So we used to use Sony walkmans--no DATs then --to cut up the track, edit it, and stitch it together in various versions to make custom Goa mega mixes for the party.

Until DAT machines became common in the early 1990s, the predominant method of playback was using cassette decks. Playing vinyl recordings was never a realistic practice in the heat of Goa as the vinyl would easily warp. Castle (in Cole, 1996a) remembers DJ "Sven Vath coming to Goa with all his records wanting to be the techno pope of India, but he couldn't do it" Castle advises that "you've got to adapt to tape decks and DAT machines to pull off these parties and play for eight hours."

Paul Chambers (1996), a British Goa Trance artist now based in Byron Bay , Australia, recalls that on his first visit to Goa in the 1985/86 party season that all the music was electronic. He recognised only a small selection: artists such as Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Dead or Alive, and Portion Control; the rest was unknown to him. He was particularly impressed by the rapid electro basslines in the tracks he heard, but when he returned to England in January 1986 he discovered that "the real Goa sound proved very elusive to find and hear [in England]. The nearest was on certain b-sides of 12 inch singles and dub mixes."

On his return to Goa in 1986/87 he discovered he recognised more of the music being played, but was still unfamiliar with most of it. In both these seasons he remembers the parties involving a maximum of 200 people. A typical party involved:

a PA, a few coloured lights, some black light, and occasionally some psychedelic banners, but not much. There was one dance floor and the music normally started around midnight. Local Indian ladies would set up mats to one side selling cakes, biscuits and chai. There were no police hassles at the parties, though there were many stories about police busting people for drugs and having to pay backsheesh (a bribe) to get away.

Ray Castle, who was to become one of the most influential Goa DJs, first went to Goa in 1987 as a partier, "dancing [his] head off". The following year he returned and did some DJing but he was more involved in "orchestrating" parties: choosing sites, hiring equipment, and finding people to do the artwork, the lighting and the DJing. He began to organise extended parties including one which went for three days and two nights with "non-stop doof" . In the 1989 season he did more DJing because he felt that some of the DJs he had used were not playing enough "challenging" music. The staging of the parties was very informal and spontaneous. Permission from the police was often secured by offering a little backsheesh of 50-100 rupees or some beer.(Castle, in Cole, 1996a, p 8)

The police, however, started to crack down on the parties in 1990, but the atmosphere relaxed briefly for the 1991/92 season, generally regarded as the last important year of Goa parties. Steve Psyko (in Cole, 1996b) sums up the situation:

When I was in Goa in 1991--that was one popular year-- there was a party every two days. There had been no parties for one or two years because of one or two problems with the police. Suddenly the parties were on again; everything was in full scale............suddenly the feeling became something that that everyone wanted to identify with.....Suddenly everyone wanted to identify with the feeling coming from Goa.

By this time the size of the parties had increased dramatically and had become even more international. Paul Chambers observed many Japanese and Israeli people, and estimated that the parties had between 500 to 1500 people and were held on average every three days. The parties were staged using "fluro light and some coloured globes, with some fluro banners" (Chambers, 1996). Both Chambers and Psyko (in Cole, 1996b, p. 7) have identified Ray Castle as the main DJ of the 1991/92 season. According to Chambers, Castle was involved in almost every second party, and the standard of the music being played was the best he had heard anywhere up to that time. Chambers decided to leave Goa, however, after the police closed down a big Ollie Wisdom party, causing a "widespread paranoia about police hassles" to develop.

Ray Castle (in Cole 1996a, p. 9) claims that the Goa party scene declined because it became too popular and too visible:

The authorities became embarrassed by it....it was getting slammed in the West, about it being a drug haven..and the Indian government were courting tourists and they wanted to bring more up-market tourists to Goa. It never really worked because Goa doesn't really have the infrastructure to entertain those people. The beach was a bit polluted; it was only good for the hippies and freaks. So they kept using the drug thing and other things, and political chaos; so that every second year the party's been off in Goa. And then the mafia moved in and wanted more backsheesh. It's more expensive to put on a party in Goa than it is in London or in any big city in the world now. It's lost it's innocence- the locals have become a bit perverted by the money.

International pressure was also a factor. Boyd (1996) cites a report that the "Israeli government put pressure on the Goa authorities to clamp down on the beach parties- it seems that a sizeable contingent of Israeli soldiers on R 'n' R in the area, returned home unfit for army service".

Apart from police intervention at parties, there were many reports of burglary, mugging and police harassment of the foreign visitors to the Goa trance scene.

Locations, Artists, DJs and Record Labels

What has become known as Goa trance, has, especially since about 1990, spread widely to other places through the movement of DJs, artists and partiers, through commercialisation in clubs, and by the release of recordings. The DJs from Goa have been performing Goa trance sets in other countries throughout the history of Goa Trance. Fred Disko did parties in Nepal in 1985 and Thailand in 1987. Ray Castle did a series of trance dance parties in Europe from 1987 to 1991 under the name of Pagan Productions. He has also worked a lot in Japan and has stated (in Cole 1996a, p. 9) that the main circuit for Goa trance since the late 1980s has been Tokyo-Goa-Amsterdam. Steve Psyko, who currently spends six months of each year recording in Sweden, recalls (in Cole 1996b, p. 7) attending some Goa Trance parties in Sydney in the late 1980s, and he started making them himself in Melbourne in 1991. Despite the fact that an identifiable musical style or range of stylistic approaches to music played at Goa trance parties has existed at least since the mid 1980s, Ray Castle (in Cole 1996a, p. 9) believes "it wasn't until 1991 or 1992 that people went back to Europe, or Japan, or even Australia, and began making music specifically for psychedelic trance parties".

Goa- style parties and music making have emerged in subtropical Australia, specifically in the alternative lifestyle region of Northern New South Wales. The scene is focused on Byron Bay which, like Goa and Kathmandu, is one of the World's most popular backpacker tourist destinations. Ray Castle (1996b), who lives nearby at Surfers Paradise, has described the cultural mix and the unique parties of the region:

The Byron Beach scene is a split between surfer, newage-sanyassin-yuppies, bohemian spiritualists and wholelistic-counterculture misfits, many who have drifted in from the Asia traveller circuit or are completely disenfranchised from urban culture. This psychotropic, rainbow belt, east edge, part of Aussie has been notorious for its Goa-style, tribedelic meltdown, beach and forest parties over the last few years. It's the full sunrise bliss experience in pure, untainted nature, in an extremely mellow, tolerant, country environment. There are many DJs, artists and musicians living in this bubble, enclave. There are starting to be many fusion, feral/techno groups like Trance Goddess and Curried Grooves. The parties are often quite ritualistic with much fire twirling and didgeridoo huffing and puffing, and the participants sport the most off-the-planet hairdos. A truly unique antipodean alternative, electronic music scene is mutating quite ingenuously here with its own idiosyncratic, exotic flavour to the freakquency tweakages and style of party production. An example of which would be the PsyHarmonics double compilation, "Dancing To The Sound Of The Sun.

The true spirit of the Goa Trance phenomenon is kept alive in these Australian events which are often non-commercial in their operation, in contrast with Goa parties in Europe. The outdoor atmosphere of a subtropical beach or forest is also impossible to achieve in Europe. None the less one of the main Goa trance events in Europe is an outdoor event, the Voov party. This grew out of the Amsterdam trance dance parties that Ray Castle was involved with from 1987 to 1991, and it was inaugurated in 1992. The locations change but are always outdoors on a farm or other suitable space. Ray Castle returned to Europe to DJ at the 1996 Voov festival near Hamburg to a crowd of around 10,000.

The European venues are otherwise indoor. There is a London indoor party called Return to the Source held in an old opera theatre but mostly Goa trance nights are held in clubs. Richard De Souza (1996) who is cynical about the validity of the term Goa trance, is equally disparaging of the clubs that have emerged:

The only link between trance music in the UK and the Indian state of Goa is that some DJs and people partaking of this activity have vacationed in Goa and may have attended the famed beach parties in Goa. In an effort to recreate some of the "magic" they experienced at A BEACH PARTY, they renamed some clubs in London and Manchester as Goan Trance clubs.

Melbourne-based Goa DJ Steve Psyko (in Cole 1996b, p. 6) maintains that Goa raves in European cities are now attended by "a very mainstream crowd", and that he and his friends are dissatisfied with the way the genre has been stereotyped and commodified. Psyko claims that "the English... have decided that Goa trance is just one kind of music." This he believes is very "un-Goa", that "in the beginning the feeling from Goa music is...anything goes." (p. 8). The current popularity of Goa Trance raises other aesthetic and cultural issues for Psyko:

The parties are made for money...the music is made for money....It reflects the Western mentality. What attracted me in the beginning of electronic music was that it didn't reflect the Western mentality. I am not really interested in any music that reflects that...where consumption is the basis of the mentality. (p. 6)

Melbourne-based DJ and recording artist, Ollie Olsen (in Cole 1996d, p. 8), has provided some clues as to how this commercialisation has occurred. He claims to have introduced Goa trance recordings to Paul Oakenfold, a very popular DJ, remixer, artist and label owner on the current English dance music scene. Oakenfold began to spin Goa Trance recordings, and the style received a real boost with the presentation of his "Full Moon Party" Essential Mix on BBC Radio 1.(Clubdub/Cybernia webpage) He also arranged to have some of the small label Goa recordings reissued on his influential dance label, Perfecto, creating a sublabel, Perfecto Fluoro, dedicated to Goa Trance. The fact that the music was then available on Perfecto legitimated it for other big-name DJs in England.

Olsen (in Cole, 1996d, p. 6) has noted the commercial success of certain artists and labels:

In England in the last year the trance thing has got really big.....bands like T.I.P. and their label.....becoming very big over there. Man With No Name is like the commercial end of the Goa thing...but he sells incredible amounts of records now. I think that every 12" that Tsuyoshi puts out he's probably selling 5000 now, which has grown remarkably, and getting stronger all the time.

Sharif (1996) reports that "Goa trance has now become the latest vibe of city clubland- with tracks like Robert Miles' Top 5 hit "Children" signalling its march into the mainstream". He also quotes French DJ Yohann as saying that the Goa trance "craze [is] dominating house parties, pulling more than 4000 people to each rave".

Below are lists of Record labels, artists and DJs who are currently commercially active in Goa Trance. Although containing substantial numbers of names the lists are far from complete.

Labels include Dragonfly (UK), Perfecto Fluoro (UK), Flying Rhino (UK), Blue Room Released (UK), Matsuri Productions (Japan), TIP Records (UK), M Track Records (The Netherlands), Psychic Deli Records, Symbiosis (UK), kk Records (Belgium), Krembo Records (Israel), PsyHarmonics (Australia), Trust in Trance Records (Israel), Orange Records (The Netherlands), Fairway Records (France), BooM Records (The Netherlands) Orbit Records, Joking Sphynx Records (France), Platipus Records (UK), Pyramid, Harthouse (Germany), Eye Q (Germany), Phantasm, 23% Records (US), Celtic, Transient, POF (Germany), Tunnel Records (Germany), Tokyo Techno Tribe Records (Japan)

Artists include Doof, Kox Box, Prana, Hallucinogen (Simon Posford), Astral Projection, The Infinity Project, Man With No Name, Green Nuns of the Revolution, Juno Reactor, Etnica, Total Eclipse, Slinky Wizard, Bass Chakra, Kode 4, Black Sun, Insectoid, Boris, Rhythmystec, Sonic Sufi, Masaray, Mantaray, Disco Volante, Cosmosis, Joking Sphinx, Technossomy, Tomahawk, Transwave, The Auranaut, Sirius 2, Arcana, Shaktra, Miranda, SYB Unity Nettwerk, The Pollinator, Les Diaboliques, Genetic, Ayahusca, Reflecta, Phreaky, Orichalcum, Synchro, Kuro, Johann, Witchcraft, Transwave, Psychaos, Voodoo People, Mandra Gora, Voodoof, Einstein, Paul Jackson, Masa, Ree Kitajiima, Har-el Prussky, Nordreform Sound System, Robert Miles, Kurusaki, X-tron

DJs include Paul Oakenfold (UK), Goa Gil (USA), Ray Castle (New Zealand), Steve Psyko (Australia), Fred Disko (France), Richard Ahlberg (Sweden), Hugh James Sharpe, James Munro, Dominic Lamb, Sven Vath (Germany), DJ Yohann (France), Tsuyoshi (Japan), DJ Lestat (France) Sven Dolise (Germany) Planet B.E.N. (Germany), DJ Kuni (Japan), 333 (USA), Mark Allen (USA)

Many DJs are also involved in recording tracks for commercial issue often in collaboration with other artists or DJs. For example Ray Castle is a member of Rhythmystic, Masaray, Insectoid and Mantaray, collaborating with different people for each project. Another good example is Psyko Disko which is a collaboration between two DJs (Fred Disko and Steve Psycho) and a musician/DJ (Ollie Olsen).

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