I consider myself a true music nerd. I try to embrace any genre of music, to understand which artists shaped the world of electronic music as we know it today. Unfortunately, being only 26 years old, I wasn’t able to experience Woodstock, The Summer Of Love, the acid and Chicago house boom in the late 80’s, or any of the legendary rave parties that happened during the 90’s and 00’s. So all I’m left with is to dig through decades of music history and discover artists that influenced many of the following generations.
I’ve come to like a lot of different types of electronic music––from the early psych and krautrock to new wave, darkwave, industrial, EBM, Detroit techno, Chicago house, acid house, IDM, electro, minimal, acid techno, deep house, dub techno, noise, ambient. The list goes on. There’s just one genre of which I could never quite understand the appeal...Psytrance.
For the people who don’t know much about this genre, let me give you a quick recap: Some hippie dudes that were tired of their post-industrial society life, arrived in Goa, India in the mid 1960s, and decided to settle down because of the beautiful beaches, the low cost of living, the religious and spiritual practices, and of course, the copious amount of weed, which was still legal back then.
While other nightclubs and beach parties in the world would run on alcohol, Goa was fueled by acid and hash. During the 70’s, DJs would play the classic psych rock stuff like Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd at Goa parties, and industrial, acid house or electro during the 80’s. By the time of the early 90’s, Goa party culture had spread all over the world. A new genre called Goa trance was introduced. It incorporated the sounds of electro, new wave, psych rock, but also elements from Hinduism, Buddhism and Shamanism.
The Goa trance parties attracted characters and personalities from all over the world––from Japanese science professors to Venezuelan hairdressers, almost every person would be on a trip, exploring themselves while dancing in a strong, colorful and tolerant community. Most of the times, the parties would take up during sunrise, as the beautiful scenery they were dancing in would be exposed.
In the late 90’s, psychedelic trance––shortened to psytrance––developed from the established Goa trance scene. Although it was still heavily rooted in the distinctive electronic rhythms of its Goa origins, it had more sophisticated melodic devices and distinctive basslines, long builds, tracks that lasted more than 10 minutes, and a fast pace usually in-between 130-150BPM.
Before I continue, I want to say that I realize that psytrance has reached cult status, and that I respect the supporters of the culture and scene that really believe in this music genre. But from time to time, I always find myself in an endless discussion with a true psytrance believer, who is trying to convince me that this is the best electronic music genre ever that’s best enjoyed on any type of psychedelic drugs, and even better on a massive sound system! Let me try to explain to you why I can’t stand psytrance, even if I’m on acid.
Most of the psytrance tracks have really poor and amateurish sound design. Although some fans would describe it as one of the most complex electronic music genres, I find it uncreative and lazy. Adding up different layers does not automatically make your track sound full – it’s actually quite the opposite, as most psytrance tracks sound pretty flat. I know it’s not that easy to create a sense of depth into your sound – but most psytrance producers really lack of creativity and skill, in which even the pioneering artists lead a bad example to the amateurs.
The lack of creativity also leads to another issue: psytrance uses the same patterns over and over again. A classic 4/4 beat with layers being added one by one, building up to a lame ass break and dropping to the same old rhythmic tendency. You could go to a psytrance party and it would be the same scheme for the whole night.
Do you know this annoying moment in a psytrance track, where an irritating vocal sample comes in? Usually it’s something drug-related, spiritual, or with a ‘deeper’ meaning, like:
'I can feel the LSD floating through my entire body, streaming through every pore. All of my most sensitive areas were in flames, my extremities pulsating in tingling sensation. It was a fantastic and exhilarating sensation that would open new worlds for me. An exciting experience I would never forget. I was suddenly aware of every small detail in the room. I began to float up and away from my body.'
FUCKING BORING! If you don’t use a vocal sample from a movie properly, it just sounds really uncreative. I also feel like the genre is more focussed on celebrating the drug usage instead of the music itself.
But most importantly, psytrance really sucks in my opinion because of its cheesiness! The fast beats remind me of some of electronic music’s scapegoats from the 90’s like gabber, happy hardcore or eurodance. The rapidly punching doing-doing-kickdrums are mixed with pseudo-psychedelic elements that are supposed to trip me out when I’m high, but actually make me want to throw up.
As a matter of fact, I once went on a small beach festival where the line up mostly consisted of psytrance DJs, and when the acid started to kick in, I really had to run to the other side of the shore as fast as I could because I couldn’t fucking stand that cheesy noise. It was almost like a nightmare! A psychedelic nightmare!
Of course, cheesiness is a relative term. For some people Ricky Martin sounds super cheesy, for others it’s the best music in the world. But it’s still a mystery to me how psytrance can appeal to millions of people, with very few agreeing to my point of view. Yes, the incorporated elements might be psychedelic and trippy, but all still on a very cheesy level. Even the artwork and design of most psytrance covers and festivals are absolutely cheesy!
With all this being said, it also very common that a lot of people from the psytrance scene have a really close minded attitude towards other electronic music genres. If ever you find a guy who likes psytrance, but also house, disco and techno, it’s usually a guy who doesn’t really care about music and is just fine with everything. But true pystrance believers really believe in their genre and its sub-genres only, and nothing else. And that’s not a healthy attitude in my opinion, no matter how much vegan food you eat.