Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment