Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Open the Pod-bay doors, Hal.

Psy-trance Culture

a. The Other

As with the rogues, the trance culture is also dominantly viewed by outsiders with suspicion and often much negativity. Thompson says he has friends who view the Trance community with much disdain and consistently point out how ridiculous the whole affair is. To test this, I decided to randomly ask people at a local pub how they felt about Psychedelic Trance. Many of the responses were much the same, in general describing the community as characterised by annoying people who waste their time on drugs.

The Chicago school of Sociology generally saw the public as being in opposition to subcultures. This is mainly because subcultures are seen as deviating from societal norms, and thus being in opposition to it (Gelder & Thornton, 1997: 2-3). Trancees feel that their culture come under constant scrutiny from outsiders. They seem to define themselves as being what the ‘other’ is not. This feeling of ‘otherness’ is emphasised by the bad press that the community have received over the years. On Friday the 3rd of May in 2003, “Die Burger” published an article “Weet jy waar jou kinders is?” (Do you know where your children are?) which labeled the trance culture as being a bad influence on the youth, promoting drug use and promiscuity. Police presence and even raids on gatherings have become a more regular occurrence in recent years. All this contributes to the people’s sense of alienation from the dominant society.

b. Organisation

The trance community displays a great sense of organisation. Gatherings are marketed well and effectively; bigger organisers such as ‘Vortex’ and ‘Alien Safari’ have an effective marketing campaign able to reach many by the distribution of flyers. Online web communities, such as 3am.co.za and bomelakiesie.co.za, have been established to offer information regarding the ‘scene’ and upcoming gatherings. Word of mouth is also used as a tool for ‘spreading the word’. The logistics that go into setting up a festival for over 6000 people are immense and much money is put into organising venues, setting up stages and managing the many people who attend.

Hierarchies exist in the community based on how long one has been part of the scene. This is also based on how familiar people are with the latest music in the scene and its fashion trends. As has been seen in other studies of rave culture, within the trance community exclusivity is primarily based on “hipness” (Hutson, 2000). Organisers of trance parties uphold these hierarchies through the selection of the most popular Dj at a gathering.

c. Space

A general romantic view of subcultures sees them as being nomadic and displaced, making it difficult for them to identify with a certain place. The opposing view is that subcultures have a strong sense of place and identities are formed around a fix location (Gelder & Thornton, 1997: 315). Trance culture falls into both these categories. Gatherings are held in a variety of locations, but there are some locations which are regularly used. Everyone I spoke to have their own favourite location. Oscar, for instance, is especially enamored by the Theewaters Kloof Dam where gatherings are regularly held, while Thompson recalls having his most meaningful experiences at the Nekkies Resort in Worcester. Hector feels most “at home” at the Stellenbosch Wine Farm. These locations are not owned by organisers of trance gatherings, instead the spaces are rented out, but people of the community temporarily see these spaces as their own, rather than the property of someone else.

d. Language

Trancees also have their own vocabulary. The word ‘aweh’ is used a lot and has a variety of different meanings. It can be used as a greeting, for example to replace the word ‘hello’. It is also used as confirmation, for instance, one would ask “would you like to go to the dance floor?” and the reply would be “aweh”. Another use for “aweh” would be to express happiness and well being, by exclaiming “aweh”. There are a variety of words for ‘dance’, for example “stomping”, “grinding” and “boogey” are the more commonly used. The term ‘irie’ has been expropriated from Rastafarian culture to describe a friendly atmosphere or to describe a good deed, as in “it was really irie of him to help us get the car started.” There are countless more examples which I will not go into here.

e. Technology

Technology plays an important role within Trance culture. While they do not create their own technologies, they make use of existing technology in their own way. This is especially so with Djs and producers of music. Music produced for Trance parties are made by music synthesizers. Synthesizers are often modified to produce the unique sounds that are found within trance music. The amplifiers used at gatherings are also state of the art, and ‘Vortex’ is said to be host to one of the loudest sound system in the world, reaching up to 90 kilo-watt of sound. Thompson recalls his astonishment at watching the metal bins vibrate during one gathering.

f. Economy

Within the community there is an active economy. This can mostly be seen at the stall area of a gathering where various items such as food, clothes and curios are sold. I spoke to some vendors and according to many their shops are their main source of income during the summer. They attend a gathering every weekend where they would sell their wares or foods. Prices of goods tend to be very high. For example, a bottle of water costs R20 and a ‘Psy-Trance Hoody’ would cost you R150. Selling of drugs is also very prominent within the community. Drug dealers make a lot of money, especially at bigger gatherings. I spoke to a dealer who said that he has made over R50, 000 at one gathering.

g. Master/Apprentice

In the case of master/apprentice, within the trance community this can be translated into older members introducing newer members to the Trance lifestyle. All my interviewees said that they were introduced to the scene by older members. They are all in accord that their initial experiences were overwhelming and that guidance as to how things work was very important to them. Older members would explain how certain drugs work and of what drugs to be careful, as well as acting as role models on how to approach dancing and other people.

h. Ritual

Dancing is an important activity for the community. All those who I interviewed said they feel in unity with each other and with the universe when dancing. Thompson says that after attending a gathering he can be physically exhausted to a point where he cannot even stand but that his mind has been “spiritually recharged”. Music and dance gives people at these events a sense of purpose. Hector says that at one gathering he had ‘lost’ himself on LSD, but when he started to dance he realised why he was there and who he was.

The use of drugs, especially psychedelic drugs, is prevalent within the trance community. Of all the people I spoke to, everyone is in agreement that drug use, especially psychedelic drugs, is one of the defining characteristics of the scene. Altered states of consciousness that come about from ceremonial activities (such as dancing) or through the use of drugs has long been an area of interest within anthropology. These states are characterised by a change in thought patterns brought on by slow wave patterns in the frontal parts of the brain. (Winkelman, 1986)

Studies show that there are a common set of characteristics found across cultures in regard to altered states of reality. (Winkelman, 1986)These include: alterations in thinking, change in sense of time and body image, change in emotional expression, change in meaning and significance, feelings of rejuvenation, feelings of empathy, and hyper suggestibility. (Bower, 1986)

The characteristics mentioned above are in general accordance to the characteristics described by those who I interviewed about their drug experiences. As detailed in my account of a trance gathering, both Oscar and Peterson had ingested Psychedelic drugs. Both Oscar and Peterson experienced feelings of rejuvenation, as when Oscar raised his arms in a display of Euphoria. Both subjects experienced feelings of giddiness in the initial phase of their experience, finding great delight in joking about trivial matters. In the later stages, Peterson displayed a great sense of empathy toward me as a friend, while Oscar started feeling increasingly negative toward his surroundings, yet finding a sense of comfort among Peterson and me. Both described their experience as transcending ordinary reality, being ‘shown’ a new way of looking at the world.

Thompson feels that he has reached this kind of ‘transcendence’ before without the use of drugs, often through extended periods of dancing. Studies show that altered states are often reach in non-western societies through extended periods physical exertion, as well as from hunger and thirst. (Bower, 2006) Whichever way these ‘states’ are reached, they are clearly significant to those who experience it, and in my opinion, is one of the reasons why people find meaning in among each other and in the community.

Trance Party

In my third year I did a small project on the 'Psychedelic Trance' scene which is quite big in the Western Cape. It turned out to be a really good project and I did very well, but I don't feel I really managed to capture what goes on there. In the end it seemed more like the outline for a parody than anything. I think my perspective is a little biased because Psy-trance begins to work on my nerves when I'm exposed to it for long periods of time. Here is a small excerpt from my journal for a party I went to with two of my friends who" I know to be familiar with the ‘scene’"....

C. The Gathering

We arrived at the gate where we each paid a R140 entrance fee. Security guards wearing red shirts directed us to a large parking area where we immediately parked the car. Oscar and Peterson were in hurry to purchase their drugs so they could relax and start enjoying the party. I agreed it was a good idea to get it out of the way. I was interested to see how long it would take them to acquire the drugs. Oscar was looking to find LSD, while Peterson wanted ‘magic mushrooms’. Oscar suggested we go search in the stall area as that is where drugs are more commonly found.

The stall area is a specially demarcated area for the selling of anything ranging from curios, to clothes and food. Food is very expensive, but in some cases worth the money, as with the slow prepared vegetarian curries and stews. The clothes for sale are well manufactured and are decorated with various astrological and psychedelic symbols in bright colours. Yellow, green and velvet pink seem to be the more popular colours. A common feature among the curio shops is the selling of smoking paraphernalia. A lot of the time, these kinds of shops are kept by Rastafarians.

Peterson knew the Rastas would have magic mushrooms so he approached the first one he saw. The Rasta acknowledged that he did indeed have magic mushrooms and that he was more than happy to part with it. They then openly concluded their transaction, Peterson purchasing two grams of mushroom for R100. I was surprised at how quickly the objective was achieved, but reckoned that the LSD would be more difficult to acquire. My assumption turned out to be correct as the vendors then sent us on a sort of treasure hunt, referring us to this person and that person until finally we found someone who sold LSD. By this time I had become so involved in the search, I did not keep my distance from the transaction as I did with the purchasing of the magic mushrooms. The vendor led Oscar and I through the back of the tent to an area where cars were parked facing away. He then searched a bag from the back of a bakkie from which he took out a small plastic bag with little sheets of paper in it. Oscar paid R100 for a tiny flat square.

We returned to the car where we opened some beers, signifying that the party had begun. I had brought a tape recorder and planned on ‘checking in’ every so often with observation or comment by any of us. I recommended that they should take their drugs later as it might be a good idea to have the experience during the daytime, as well as in the night. Both agreed to wait.

01: 36

We return to the car for more beers after having spent some time on the dance floor. Everyone is in agreement over the magnitude of the event. What looks to be over a thousand people are gathered in front of a huge stage decorated with banners hanging from constructed towers reaching up to 15 meters high. Most people are dancing to music which sounds like it is coming from a science-fiction movie. It is very abstract and seemingly random, but it is held together by a constant repetitive bass drum, and a pulsating synthesized bass line.

The darkness offers a fair amount of anonymity on the dance floor, and faces look vague in the ultraviolet light. This allows for alleviating any inhibition one might have toward dancing. People stomp their feet and raise their hands in the air, looking almost primal in their actions. There are visible groups dancing more closely to each other, laughing and attempting to communicate. It is surprisingly easy to have a conversation over the onslaught of sound, but holding a thought is difficult, as the music battles to be one’s focal point. Activity on the dance floor is very overwhelming.

We are glad to be back at the car. We decide to find higher ground where we can sit down and get a good view of the overall party.


We return to the car after spending some time on a hill talking and drinking. Looking down from the hill one gets a better idea of the party’s layout. The dance floor is right in the middle of everything. A little behind the floor is a long line of stalls and further on down the road is the entrance where we came in. Directly behind the stage is the parking area where Oscar’s car is parked and just behind that there is dam for swimming. To the right of the stage is a camping area where many tents have been erected. There is a constant flow of people coming back and forth between the tents and the dancing area. A bar selling alcohol has also been erected on the periphery of the dance floor.

After some time, Oscar decides takes half of his LSD square. Peterson decides to wait before ingesting his mushrooms. Oscar and Peterson take great delight in referring to themselves as Subject A and B over the tape-recorder. They are excited to be, as they say, my guinea pigs.


Oscar declares that he is starting to experience some ‘symptoms’, but is unable to explain them. He amuses himself with the tape recorder and mocks my distorted sense of ethics in attempting an experiment on him. A group of young men walk by the car, greeting us by letting out grunts and howls. Oscar bursts into laughter over the absurdity of the noise they make.


We have been alternating between sitting and dancing for some time. The music ‘got a bit much’ so we returned to the car. At the car, Oscar extends his arms in a show of happiness and euphoria. He claims to feel very content with himself, his behaviour mirroring the statement. Peterson ingests his mushrooms along with mixed fruit yoghurt. He displays some concern over the large quantity of mushrooms but with some encouragement from Oscar, he ingests the whole lot. At this point, Oscar also ingests the remainder of his LSD. We head out to the hill so the two can ‘come up’ on their drugs. Oscar says that ‘coming up’ while on the dance floor can be disorientating.


Peterson and I had spent much time sitting on the hill and talking. Oscar had gone off to dance area to hopefully find someone he recognised. Before he left, the three of us had a long debate over which mountain the sun would rise. The discussion seems symbolic of the two trying to find their ‘bearings’ while coming up on the drugs.

While Oscar was away, Peterson initiated a conversation on the space-time continuum. We are both big fans of science-fiction and enjoy talking about things like time travel. Peterson was especially interested in the implications of time travel, how if one had traveled back in time, a single choice could alter the course of the future, changing the present forever. This then turned into a discussion on cause and effect and we both concluded that thus far we were happy with the choices we had made in our lives. Peterson noted that he was enjoying the conversation immensely. He then seemed to display great empathy toward me as a friend. We were sharing a moment, and even though I was not under the influence of any drug, I had felt it also.

Oscar returned and was happy to see us. He had not found anyone he recognised on the dance floor. By this time, he was well into his experience. It seemed to me that his attitude in general had turned negative. He found the people on the dance floor to be ‘menacing’ and said that the atmosphere was claustrophobic. I recommended we return to the car, which by this time had turned into our ‘safe place’.

10: 30

The three of us are tired and want to go home. It has been a long night. Peterson is contented and continuously amuses us with his sharp wit. Oscar seems collected but his attitude toward the party and the people is not very positive. He is upset by the ‘wastefulness’ he sees and the people ‘freak him out’.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tortoise - Salt the Skies


I would like to start an NGO in Stellenbosch that would serve to help people living on the street. Not everyone goes to the Night Shelter, for plenty of different reasons. The STNS does help a lot of individuals, but it involves commitment to the institution on behalf of the individual that not everyone is willing to make.

I've had this idea for a long time which involves the low-cost manufacturing of long-john like warms pajamas and full rainproof coats (I paid something like R25 for the best covering plastic rain jacket - I imagine they manufacture for considerably less).

Anyway, I would like to distribute material things like this that would benefit people on a small but necessary scale. The NGO wouldn't offer any kind of psychological or religious help, perhaps a cup of coffee and a place so sit for a while (during the day).

It is perhaps a tad idealist and I haven't really thought of all the angles.

There could be unique rules like it is okay if you're drunk but we won't let you in if you're going to act like an asshole.

I can imagine the potential outcry from the pre-dominantly Christian care organisations. They will use the Eikestad Nuus as a spear-head against the organisation, claiming that we are "contributing to the problem of vagrancy in Stellenbosch".

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Most famous man in Stellenbosch

Random Images


I've been a little distracted.

Perhaps I will post something later.

In the meanwhile, I found this amazing blog of old (and new) records,

Also, thank you to the 9 unique visitors for coming here. and three of you for kind of sticking around.