In my study, I explore a specific kind of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) event - the psytrance party to highlight the importance of social connectivity and the generation of a modern form of communitas (Turner, 1969, 1982).
Since the early 90s psytrance, and a related earlier style, Goa trance, have been understood as hedonist music cultures where participants seek to get into a trance-like state through all night dancing and psychedelic drugs consumption. Authors (Cole and Hannan, 1997; D’Andrea, 2007; Partridge, 2004; St John 2010a and 2010b; Saldanha, 2007) conflate this electronic dance music with spirituality and indigene rituals. In addition, they locate psytrance in a neo-psychedelic countercultural continuum with roots stretching back to the 1960s. Others locate the trance party events, driven by fast, hypnotic, beat-driven, largely instrumental music, as post sub cultural and neo-tribal, representing symbolic resistance to capitalism and neo liberalism.
My study is in partial agreement with these readings when applied to genre history, but questions their validity for contemporary practice. The data I collected at and around the 2008 Offworld festival demonstrates that participants found the psytrance experience enjoyable and enriching, despite an apparent lack of overt euphoria, spectacular transgression, or sustained hedonism. I suggest that my work adds to an existing body of literature on psytrance in its exploration of a dance music event as a liminal space, redolent with communitas, but one too which foregrounds mundane features, such as socialising and pleasure. In addition my work contributes to popular music studies and youth cultures research notably when related to field work methods and ethnographic approaches.
My inquiry harnesses a variety of fieldwork methods to argue for re-evaluation of the psytrance party. Attention in particular is paid to the event’s many material elements and how they interact. They include site spaces, infrastructure, dancing, or ’chilling’, bodies, DJs, sound systems, organisers and drugs. The study applies concepts developed in cultural anthropology such as communitas, in the new ethnography (Goodall, 1999; Marcus 1998) - reflexive researching and partial insiderness – and, lastly, the ‘vibe’ and the DJ-dancer relationship, which remain fundamental to electronic dance music cultures.