Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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’.

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