Goa Trance - The Phenomenon
Article posted by admin on 5/08/2002 10:50PM
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 subgenres 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."
History of Goa Trance
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.
Goa Trance in Other Locations
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".
Artists, DJs and Record Labels
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).
The Aesthetics of Goa Trance:
Goa Gil (1996) draws the link between the Goa trance phenomenon and the revival of awareness in ancient tribal practices. He claims to be attempting to "use trance music and trance dance experience to set off a chain reaction in consciousness", believing that "since the beginning of time mankind has used music and dance to commune with the spirit of nature and the universe". His aim as a Goa artist is to "[redefine] the ancient tribal ritual for the 21st century."
Like Goa Gil, Ray Castle (1996a) finds a strong connection between Goa trance and tribal culture:
Like the aborigine, eons ago, that contemplated the planetsphere, whilst hitting their sticks, blowing thru a hollowed out pipe (didjeridu). These open-air, wilderness, tribedelic, pagan-like parties (rituals) are along this line of primordial communion.
Furthermore, for Castle (1996a) "there is a transcendental, peak experience quality to these parties, that have the potential to be quite transformational psychic events; catalysing a collective, group-mind, interlocking, which is experienced beyond fashion, sex, ego, and commerce (at least in India where they are free, besides the bribe money to the cops).". He sees his role as "a kind of channeller of frequencies and beats to massage and activate the unconscious and the superconscious via ecstatic, meditative, trance/dance; which becomes a form of europhoric, collective catharsis."
The DJ as shaman is a recurring metaphor in writings about Goa trance. It is also applied to the artists (often DJs as well) who create the tracks of commercially issued recordings. The notes for TIP's Blue Compilation suggests, for example, that the composers "vibrate the skull, gently massaging and revitalising the brain, shaking out the psychic cobwebs" and further that "with their healing vibrational medicine [they] transport us to megaverses of aural delights." The tribal emphasis in the aesthetic of Goa trance is also reflected in the visual elements used in parties. Sharif (1996) comments, for example, that "Goa trance inspired dance parties now being held in the UK and Europe ...heavily borrow from imagery of Indian, Maori, Australian Aboriginal and Native American cultures".
There are various definitions relating to the musical style of Goa Trance available on the World Wide Web and in other locations. Most of them are a mixture of subjective, often flamboyant descriptive phrases and some technically oriented information. One typical example (on the Clubdub/Cybernia homepage) is:
Goa Trance is best described as a psychedelic dance music. In Goa, India, the main dance drug is LSD. Needless to say, the music and its composers take full advantage of this, constructing each song with a complex weaving of synth, 303 and analog noises into a powerful kaleidescopic tapestry of sound. Then add to this strange samples from films and other sources, and wooshes and bleeps that further stimulate the psychoactive mind. The beat is a steady 4/4 kick but is often hidden deep within the twirling array of analog sounds. Much of the melody comes with a constant barrage of evolving 16th or 32nd note sound streams.
Another web page (Dance Music Definitions) confirms the idea of intricate textures, notes the presence of "psychedelic sounding wobbly noises, and acidy sounds" and "boingy wibbly noises", and remarks on the inordinate length of tracks. Sharif (1996) suggests further that "Goa trance has its roots in rock and acid house, also using Eastern inspired scales, rhythms and melodies. The tempo tends to fall somewhere between 125 and 160 bpm, averaging around 130-145 bpm."
As with all attempts to define the musical essence of a particular genre, there are bound to be contradictions and discrepancies in the various accounts unless a comprehensive quantitative analysis is conducted of a large sample of widely accepted typical examples of the genre. This is not feasible within the scope of this article, but some general remarks about musical style have been made below on the basis of a survey of a number of Goa trance CDs, mostly compilations. These CDs are listed at the end of the article in the Select Discography. Other comments relating to DJ performance practices are made below on the basis of field experiences at Goa trance parties in Northern New South Wales, as mentioned above.
In general, the structure of a Goa trance track reflects the idea of a journey, both in a mythological sense and as a reflection of the LSD experience. Paralleling the archetypal hero setting out on his quest, the tracks start with subtle undulations of sound. These slowly intensify, with constant timbral evolution and accretion carrying the listener along the narrowly defined pathway of the trance experience. As the hero meets challenges on the way, so too is the listener challenged by periodic breaks in the trance flow, often containing some mysterious text quotation or sample, designed to involve the mind on a different level to that of the otherwise constant pulse of the music. When the beat kicks in after such an occurrence, its intensity or textural density is proportional to the point of time reached in the track. The tracks are mostly around eight to ten minutes in duration. At the fifth or sixth minute the climax of the track has been reached, and from that point on the journey , as it moves towards its end, it mirrors the build up to the climax. In the context of a party, as the main beat drops away or cuts out altogether, there is a feeling of uncertainty as to whether the track will continue to build, or whether the DJ will cut to another track altogether.
In the same way as each individual track takes the listener on a journey, there exists an expanded level of this process in the DJ's set, which in the classic Goa full moon party can last eight to ten hours. When the set starts, usually around 10pm the energy and mood of the music is relatively restrained, but it slowly builds over the next four or more hours until around 2am to 4am, when the highest energy levels are attained.. As dawn approaches the energy levels remain high, but there is a subtle shift in the sound of the music, with a noticeable emphasis on increased high frequency content.
The bpm (beats per minute) range of Goa trance tracks is most commonly from 140 bpm to 152 bpm, with most DJ sets hovering around the 144 bpm mark. On the most recent compilations surveyed, the average bpm seems to have increased with many of the tracks clocking at around 150 bpm, whereas an earlier recording, Order Odonata (Dragonfly Records, 1994), has most of the tracks in the 130-140 bpm range. This suggest that the tempo of Goa Trance is on the increase. Indeed there has been some discussion of the tempi of recent tracks on the Goa Trance mailing list, with some subscribers complaining that the genre has become too fast.
The issue of tempo is an interesting one considering the possible relationship between musical tempo and human brain physiology. The frequency of alpha waves in the brain, critical in inducing trance states in humans, lies approximately between 8 and 12 cycles per second, and varies from one person to the next. . Many traditional trance-inducing musics of the world contain rhythmic elements which mirror these rates. Typically performances start at the lower level and increase over a period of hours towards the higher level. The gradual increase in frequency allows for the variation in different human alpha wave frequencies. In Goa trance there is a constant stream of 16th notes which when played at the suggested average of 144 bpm yields a flow of musical events at an average of 9.6 cps. This situation parallels that of traditional trance musics. However if the average tempo of Goa trance has increased there is a chance that partiers with alpha wave rates in the lower end of the range might not lock with any of the music being played in a party situation. .
The speed variation limitations of the typical playback equipment used for Goa trance parties has effected the practices relating to tempi of the tracks being played. The Djs using DAT machines (with no facility for vari-speed in contrast to record turntables), tend to beat match the tracks in groups of four or five. Typically they will then choose a track with a swirling beat-less breakdown, and bring in a beat with a different tempo underneath. Goa tracks often have these extended beat-less endings to facilitate DAT mixing. This practice may have arisen historically through the earlier use of cassette decks. According to Castle (in Cole, 1996a):
You had to guess the end of it; you had to know your music well; you didn't have the timer as precise as you do with DATs. You'd get to know which tracks worked with which tracks...just make connections; they wouldn't always be perfectly beat matched, but with this psychedelic music it's not so critical I think, 'cause each track is a journey, and they're long tracks with certain acid techno......a lot of psychedelic tracks... have lush beginnings and lush endings.
Goa trance DJs rigorously label all their DATs with track titles, durations, and bpms. All tracks have ID numbers to enable quick location. The use of CD players is becoming more common, as more Goa trance is being released on CD, and vari-speed CD decks become more affordable.
In common with most forms of techno, or electronic dance music, the most prominent ingredient of Goa Trance is the kick drum. In Goa trance however, the kick tends to be quite dominant, often processed through an effects unit independently of the rest of the track.The thick, 'beefy' bass drum sounds associated with this style are often, if not exclusively, based on those of the Roland TR909 drum machine. This machine, manufactured circa 1984, was the last of the Roland drum machines to incorporate analogue synthesised drum sounds, as opposed to sampled waveforms. This meant that it was possible to shape the sound using rotary knobs on the front of the machine to adjust parameters such as decay, attack, timbre etc. As these machines are now hard to acquire, most Goa trance artists use samples of the TR909 or similar vintage drum machines in their work. However, as the TR909 is capable of many hundreds of different timbres, a large amount of variation through multiple sampling is still possible. The basic kick sounds are often augmented by adding in a low tom, or sometimes even a sampled synth bass timbre, to give extra punch and definition.
The Roland TB303, the 'bassline' or '303' in common parlance, has been extensively used in house and commercial club dance music over the years, and is responsible for many of the acid bleeps, squelches, squishes and whooshes found in traditional psychedelic trance. Goa trance artists tend to look for more original ways of expressing high frequency chaos, mostly using sampled sources manipulated using the filter section of the sampler (e.g. Kurzweil K2500, Roland S760, Akai S3000 series). However, the influence of the TB303 sound can still be heard in many Goa trance tracks.
The hi-hats are used as propulsive glue, with subtle rhythmic emphases and variations providing a contrast to the insistent kick drum and bass synth repetition. Commonly the half closed hihat is used on the 8th note offbeat as the track builds [eg. "Nothing like a good friend" - Inscape, TIP Blue Compilation 1995]. As well as the basic kick drum pulse there are overlaid sounds, sometimes indicating changes in sections of the arrangement and sometimes to add textural focus. For example, "Megallenic Cloud" by Green Nuns of the Revolution [Trancentral 4 - A Trip to Goa 1996] starts with a theremin-like overlay that lasts almost 8 bars. Synthesised high frequency swirling sounds act like fills to signify the start of new sections or changes of instrumentation.
A feature of Goa trance tracks is the inclusion of sampled voice snippets of texts taken mostly from old movies. These are usually employed in the breakdowns , but are also sometimes used as overlays. As stated at the beginning of the musical style section, they serve to provide a marked contrast to the insistent driving pulse of the kick and 16th note rhythmic drive of the bass and other levels of the texture. For the dancer in a trance state they are intended to stimulate the imagination before being grounded again by the return of the driving kick drum rhythm. Examples of these quotations are "Got a hot date with a 3 stage rocket!" [eg. "Wow" - The Infinity Project, TIP Blue Compilation 1995] and "Now .... To prayer ...... It is time to charge the spiritual battery" [eg. "U.R. The Alien" - Brainman, TIP Blue Compilation 1995]. The sampling of fragments of traditional instrumental or vocal music is a technique used to make references to world music cultures which are regarded as appropriate to the aesthetic of Goa trance. Some of the cultural areas commonly targeted are Australian Aboriginal (e.g. the didjeridu), Japanese (e.g. koto, biwa), Indian (e.g. tambura, sitar, tabla, voice) and Arab (voice).
Goa trance tracks nearly always have a 16th note single pitch repetition, using a sharply defined upper harmonic filter swept synth timbre with the oscillator close to the point of resonance. The filter cut-off point is often achieved graphically using tools found in the most popular computer sequencing packages such as Steinberg's Cubase or E-Magic's Logic. This enables a simple 16th note single pitched repeated note to become a rhythmic entity in its own right, as the audible component of the sound fades in and out of the human hearing range. It can also take on melodic qualities as the resonance control on the filter approaches higher values.
The form of Goa trance tracks follow a fairly rigid framework, based on 8 or 16 bar building blocks. The changes in texture invariably coincide with the 8 bar divisions, although sometimes an additional part will fade in through an 8 bar cycle. Often a high frequency swirling fill will signal the beginning of a new block. This track construction process is influenced by computer sequencer design, encouraging a building block approach to composition. There is a process of layer interchange between subsequent blocks, where one or two layers of the texture are added or removed, often using material rhythmically or melodically related to previous sections.
Sometimes long sustained sounds or samples, often incorporating slow harmonic filter sweeps are subjected to 16th or 32nd note gating in a rhythmic pattern. Heavy distortion is often employed on the synth and kick sounds. Oscillator cross modulation and hard oscillator sync produce wild, chaotic harmonic shifts. Constant filter sweeps on all parts except the kick produce a continually changing frequency balance. Different parts are often given different reverbs, to place each layer in a different acoustic space. Delay is used as a compositional device, with the delay time synched to the tempo of the track, either in 16th , 8th note, or some dotted note division. Repetition of single notes within the melodic fragments is used to accentuate the trance like qualities of the multiple delay effects found in the majority of Goa Trance tracks.
Tonal and Melodic Devices
The pitch organisational basis of Goa trance, as with many other dance music genres, is the centering on a single tone. This idea is related, perhaps coincidentally, to the modal centering of Indian classical music. There are however several tracks among those surveyed that involve shifts to another centre, usually in the middle of the piece. There a number of tracks that shift down to the centre defined by the flat seventh of the main centre [eg "Sirius 2" - Satori Razor, Trancentral four - A Trip To Goa, 1996]; and a few others that move up to the centre defined by the flat third of the main centre.
Middle Eastern or Asian influenced melodies or melodic figurations are common. Typically melodic material is based on scales which have a flat second, flat third and flat seventh. [eg.A, Bb,C, D,E, G in "Megallenic Cloud" - Green Nuns of the Revolution, on Trancentral four - A Trip To Goa, 1996] . The notes of the Phrygian mode are often evident. Sometimes the sharp fourth is heard indicating that the concept of scale construction may in fact be related to Indian scale (gat) theory. A number of tracks use both the minor and the major third, creating a suggestion of the diminished blues [octatonic] scale. More often than not, though, only a few pitched notes are used melodically in any one section of a track. The most common tones found in melodic patterns are the tonic, flat second, flat seventh, flat third and perfect fifth.
Melodic design generally takes the form of short repeated fragments which often morph timbrally over time, using the envelope on the filter to mute or open the high frequency component of the sound, in a similar sort of way to a wah wah pedal [eg. "Protozoa" - Blissed, on Rites of Passage, 1993]. Pitch bend is commonly used to add character to melodic lines. Glissandi are often used as hits, emphasising accents in the music.
Rhythm and Rhythmic Division
The introductory sections of Goa trance tracks typically contain wild analogue synthesiser sound textures and a complex rhythmic or metrical organisation. The tempo of the track is often not predictable until revealed by the entry of the kick drum. The 16th note is the basic rhythmic division of the style. 32nd note rolls are sometimes used as fills at the end of a section. . Rhythmic developments of the original motif slowly build in density and intensity, usually in blocks of 16 or 32 bars. The quarter note kick drum 'doof' will then drop out for a couple of bars. Often the whole track will stop and a soft voice will utter a thought-provoking phrase such as "I don't know ........ It may be something to do with being in the mountains ' [DOOF - Star Above Parvatti, TIP Blue Compilation 1995]. Then the track will resume with the re-entry of the kick drum. The last section of a track is often a mirror image of the arrangement sequence at the beginning of the track. The bass sequence is generally the prime rhythmic determinant in the textural organisation of a track.
The use of the term Goa trance is contentious among many of the practitioners of the genre, but on balance it appears to be useful for representing both the historical origins and practices of the Goa dance party and the recent emergence of artists who are working with what seems to be a coherent set of stylistic practices in the making of commercial recordings. The focus of Goa trance has always been on the DJ who takes the participant on a mystical journey during the course of an all-night party. The DJs who regularly visited Goa, particularly over the period from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, determined the emergence of a range of existing recorded and remixed musical styles appropriate for use at Goa trance parties. These same DJs helped spread the idea of the Goa-style party to other parts of the world, and also stimulated the practice of creating recordings especially written for use at trance parties. In many cases the original Goa DJs are also actively involved in the making of contemporary Goa trance recordings. The current popularity of Goa trance has led to the establishment of many record labels devoted to the dissemination of the genre to an increasing record buying market. The Goa trance party has evolved into a commercially organised indoor event in the large cities of Europe and North America, but its original outdoor tropical tribedelic character is still represented by parties held, for example, on the beaches and in the forests of Northern New South Wales in Australia.
Barron, Jon (1996), Goa trance mailing list (owner-goa@lists, intelenet.net), October 8.
Boyd, Brian (1996). "Hippy Hoppy Party Goas" in Irish Times, March 9
Castle, Ray (1996a) Interview with DJ Krusty (Melbourne DJ), by phone, August 1995
Castle, Ray (1996b). "Psychotropic Trance," on Goatrance homepage
Castle, Ray (1996c) Email to Fred Cole, September 19.
Chambers, Paul (1996). Email to Fred Cole, 11th October 1996
Cole, Fred (1996a). Interview with Ray Castle, Coorabell, 29th June 1996
Cole, Fred (1996b). Interview with Steve Psyko in Melbourne, 2nd April 1996
Cole, Fred (1996c). Interview with Fred Disko, Melbourne, 2nd April 1996
Cole, Fred (1996d). Interview with Ollie Olsen, Elwood, 29th March 1996
De Souza, Richard (1996) "Worn Out," on Goatrance homepage
Ahlberg, Richard (1996). As quoted by Melissa Woodrow on the Goa trance mailing list, [email@example.com], 24th July 1996
Goa Gil (1996). "DJ Goa Gil and Ariane," on Goa Gil Home Page.
Jordan, Derek (1996) "Mystical Experience" by Infinity Project" [record review], on Goatrance homepage
Sharif (1996). "Goa trance," in jmag, Spring issue, p.10.
Sharpe, Hugh James (1996a). Goa trance mailing list [firstname.lastname@example.org], 20th October 1996
Sharpe, Hugh James (1996b). Goa trance mailing list [email@example.com], 8th October 1996
Dance Music Definitions homepage [http://arachnid.cm.cf.ac.uk/User/C.M.sully/terms.html]
Goa Gil's Home Page [http://scitexdv.com/Users/todd/Gil/bio.html]
Goatrance homepage [http://184.108.40.206/help/extra/people/goatrance]
Blissed - Rite of Passage - Tokyo Tekno Tribe Records 1993
Order Odonata - Dragonfly Records 1994
Blue Compilation - TIP Records 1994
The Japanese Experience (trance in japan) - Krembo Records 1995
Dancing to the Sound of the Sun - Psy Harmonics 1995
Tantrance (A trip to psychedelic trance) - SPV Records 1995
A Voyage into Trance (mixed by Paul Oakenfold) - Dragonfly Records 1995
Trancentral four - A Trip To Goa - Kickin Records 1996
Hacking the Reality Myth - Psy Harmonics 1996
Infinity Hz - Matsuri Compilation 1996
Psyko Disko Psyko Disko - Psy Harmonics 1996