You’ve moved to the boondocks, surrounded by forests and mountains on all sides, minimal road access – sheer idyll. There are neighbors within a couple of kilometers who are farming and living off the land just like you. Your homestead is thriving, the gardens blooming and fruiting, the atmosphere peaceful and productive.
Then, the tribe moves in next door.
They arrive with no warning on the government forest reserve bordering your land, and set up a cloth boundary around what is traditionally open pasture, within which they erect a series of shacks and most prominently a large sound system that begins to pound out psytrance for the next 48 hours.
When this happened to us, we were presented with something of a dilemma in our response. We could leave for the duration, risking our property becoming part of the tribe’s realm and possibly squatted or damaged. We could attack – a well-placed petrol bomb would have made short shrift of their rig and scared them from ever coming back – but flight or fight should not be the only responses in an anarchist’s lexicon of reaction.
Instead we set up a kitchen and guest rooms and invited the wandering cosmic ferals into our home, providing food and shelter in exchange for money. It gave us the opportunity to study and evaluate this transient flock of neo-hippies.
On the surface, the psytrance tribe – a decentralized and apparently anti-authoritarian drugs caravan focused around a strain of psychedelic dance music that originated in Goa in the late 80s – appears to follow an anarchic structure of organization and intent. The crews organizing these parties are, supposedly, rabidly anti-establishment in their views, and the punters who attend seemingly reject conventionality in favor of a free and radical lifestyle.
The crew look like anarcho-primitives – ripped, ragged clothing, wild hair, moving from place to place and party to party. They are affinity groups – friends who have come together in an unofficial affiliation in order to throw the party. They carried large amounts of food and ran a kitchen and chai shop. Yet all these proved to be the trappings of fashion, and from our observation it appears that the psytrance movement does little to challenge authoritarian structures, and in fact, collaborates in their continuance.
The organizers had paid the appropriate sums of money to various police and bureaucrats to attain a semi-legal ‘license’ to have their party. They were charging money at the door for entry, and controlling the drugs sold within – predominately LSD and MDMA, but with a sinister dose of cocaine and methamphetamine thrown in. The undercover narcotics police were highly visible during the event, and we heard stories of busts being made of people who had consumed large quantities of psychedelics the night before.
The party-goers were largely Israelis stomping furiously, as if trying to exorcise the demons of their military service through a spastic tarantella, and rich Indians escaping the phone-pits of Delhi and Bangalore. Together they whirled and pranced and leaped, twirling poi and juggling and tripping the light fantastic within their psychedelic stalag in the mountains. The entire event revolved around the consumption of high-powered hallucinogens, and without them two days of psytrance is entirely unlistenable – resembling something akin to being locked in a washing machine which is being hammered on the outside by a variety of metal objects.
It became clear that the entire event, rather than challenging social conventions or promoting a radical alternative lifestyle, was little more than a narcotics playground organized for monetary purposes. Granted, prudent use of psychedelics can provide insight into interconnectivity, personal development, spiritual growth, but the greatest challenge is in applying these experiences into a more sustainable model. The psytrance tribe serves as little more than an initiation rite – you go somewhere in nature, listen to home-made hypnotic beats on very large sound-systems, and frolic around with your hallucinations. Cosmic.
But there was little in the way of independent thought or action involved. The majority of people paid their money, took their drugs, danced, and left. The interactions between them were minimal, and the general consciousness of the impact they were having on their environment almost nil.
Compare this with the UK squat party movement, or teknivals, where I first heard the phrase “party is protest”. Even though they are still often money-making ventures, their basis is inherently anti-authoritarian as it asks for no permission and brooks no collaboration with authority. The atmosphere and nature of these events is comparatively militant compared to what I have experienced at psytrance parties, which seem exclusively focused on the twin social crutches of hedonism and escapism. You could never have a psytrance solidarity party, or benefit for an activist group. The whole point is to generate a placating numbness, to force consciousness out for prolonged periods. There is no information on causes or actions to get involved in – the outside, experiential world doesn’t figure, hence why we were subjected to a two-day sonic assault, whereas with squat parties, it’s pretty standard to try and minimize the public relations collateral damage. The narcissistic selfishness of the movement was summed up by one psytrancer’s oblivious question: “Who asks the neighbors?” Even the Rainbow Family of Love and Light has a better claim to conscious resistance and alternative lifestyles.
Yet here are hundreds of people looking for something different, and I can’t help but feel the movement is a co-option of people’s natural will to rebel, to cast off societal norms, to break loose. In all, it felt liked a missed opportunity to do something more than indulge and satiate base desires for inebriation and unconsciousness. With the effort that had gone into organizing it, we were left feeling that it could have been so much more.
One image will remain with me from the migration of the psytribe to our locale: that of a hundred people leaping and prancing to repetitive beats in a fenced off compound whilst the local stonemasons relentlessly chiseled granite in the foreground, keeping pace with the furious music with each blow of their hammers. I know which group I have more solidarity with.