Pushing the Boundaries: Investigating the Musical and Social Aesthetics of Dark Psytrance

Pushing the Boundaries: Investigating the Musical and Social Aesthetics of Dark Psytrance

Botond Vitos (Independent Researcher, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8665-6.ch011
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Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the Melbourne psytrance scene, this chapter addresses the musical and social aesthetics of the dark psytrance (darkpsy) electronic dance music subgenre and its furious dance floors. The interviewees of my research often regard psytrance tracks as the musical transpositions of psychedelic drug – particularly LSD – experiences. Dark psytrance can be considered the hard core of psytrance, sending its LSD-infused musical structures into overdrive. Regarded as the flagship in the evolution of psytrance by fans and considered to be uncomfortably or even menacingly intensive by others, darkpsy follows the basic imperative of becoming increasingly faster and adopting more abstract forms of expression, destabilising rigid boundaries and catapulting the listener into a zone of the unknown. Such dissolution of meaning is celebrated on dance floors of high intensity, where psychedelic music and drug become integral parts of a media ecology that is aimed at the presentation of the unpresentable.
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Introduction: Darkpsy Overdrive

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the Melbourne psytrance scene, this chapter addresses the musical and social aesthetics of the dark psytrance (darkpsy) electronic dance music subgenre and its furious dance floors.1 In Australia, psychedelic parties have been organised already since the early 1990s, and by the mid-1990s Melbourne became a centre of the psychedelic electronic music played at ‘doofs’ – the Australian onomatopoetic word2 for its primarily outdoor festivals (St John, 2012, pp. 248-251). While doofs had initially attracted anarchist and eco-activist collectives, by the 2000s the audiences had widened, and festivals turned into “a frequently transgressively carnivalesque context in which young, and youthful, populations could suspend obligations internal to traditional familial roles and citizenship in a semi-legitimate context” (St John, 2012, p. 253). Through the example of the Rainbow Serpent Festival, the largest psychedelic festival in the Melbourne area, St John (2012, pp. 259-262) also points to the lack of a dominant ideology and the presence of a range of agendas that can be propagated and contested at such festivals.

While the local contexts and explanations of the psytrance vibe may indeed vary, the name of the genre suggests that psytrance is electronic dance music ‘optimised’ for psychedelic drugs such as acid. My interviewees often regard psytrance tracks as the musical equivalents of psychedelic drug – particularly LSD or ‘acid’ – experiences, suggesting that psytrance cannot be “understood” properly without having experienced such drugs. Academic psychology discusses the psychedelic state triggered by LSD consumption as a profound ASC or altered state of consciousness (Ludwig, 1969). The pharmacological list of the commonly perceived effects of such states include alterations in thinking; distorted sense of time; (temporary) loss of control; change in emotional expression and body image; perceptual distortions; change in meaning or significance; sense of the ineffable; feelings of rejuvenation; and hypersuggestibility (Ludwig, 1969, pp. 14-17). Especially with higher doses, the psychedelic effect may trigger, for over eight to twelve hours, intensive and disturbing distortions is sensory perception: thoughts are potentially ‘realised’, and impressions are amplified or distorted. Acid is thus conducive to ‘tripping’ or getting away from the non-altered, waking states of everyday sense perception, in terms of one’s personal, virtual adventure. It also attracts attention on musical subtleties and synaesthetically aligns the trip to this enhanced flow of the music. My research also suggests that experience may trigger reflections on one’s personality and life narratives, in synergy with the music. My interview and fieldwork accounts correspond to the academic view that the nature of each LSD trip is highly dependent on the dosage, the personal predisposition or expectation (set) and the actual environment (setting) (Pechnick and Ungerleider, 2004).

Most interviewees agree that the uncanny, the abnormal, the grotesque, and ultimately the ‘trippy’ characteristics of the music are channelling the same sentiment of “feeling weird, psychedelic or . . . out of place” (Magan, individual interview, March, 2013) as the psychedelic experience. As suggested by the following interview fragment, many psytrance tracks can be seen as the musical transposition of LSD’s effects.

  • Q: You told me that there are certain clues of a different plane of reality that you can reach while on acid. Do you think that this kind of second plane, let’s say, or these kinds of realisations are built in the music as well, somehow?

  • John: Yeah, yeah, for sure.

  • Q: And how?

  • Jimmy: The music is almost … A lot of the music that we listen to, especially in psytrance, is designed to …

  • John: Well, it's written on that plane almost. Sometimes it doesn't make sense unless you're on that plane.

  • Jimmy: Or at least have experienced that plane before.

  • Rick: It enables you to achieve higher states of consciousness, or not necessarily higher, but . . . you can get really weird with psychedelics, if you're listening to good music, it will take you there safely, if that makes sense. So, yeah, the music is like a guide (focus group, June, 2012).

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