The early to mid 90’s were a very special time to be in Goa.
I used to think Goa Trance was little more than a bunch of repetitive beats and irritating samples of people saying hey, this must be heaven, man! It was only when I came of age and spent a few seasons in Goa taking acid that it began to make sense.
Perceptions of the music were as subjective as the psychedelic experience. No one could seem to agree much on what made good trance. After every party, no matter how great a time everyone had, there were always but always people bitching about the music. The tracks were too old, they were badly mixed or the DJ wasn’t stoned enough. Perhaps one of the worse things about the whole phenomenon of the trance movement is that it spawned a whole new generation of music critics who considered themselves expert in the field.
But this was precisely because the music was so personal, melding as it did with your particular trip. Either way the music gave you the waves but it was up to you to surf them. At it’s best dancing to trance could be better than sex. At it’s worst, however, it became a cruel, mental torture that messed your head up all night.
In Goa I usually went to bed early and the woke up at around 3:30 am to go to the party. That gave me time to shit, shower and get my party gear ready. I’d need my torch to find my way through the jungle to the beat that was already calling me, money to buy my drop of acid and fluids and I learnt to take a packet of dehydration salts with me.
By the time I found my way to the party it was hoped that most of the darker characters had already gone home and soon the cooler crowd would be arriving. Old Goan mamas held reign on their chai mats, serving tea and cakes to stoned freaks who had no idea which pocket their money was in. The DJ occupied a discreet post somewhere to the side and there was minimal lighting on the dance floor itself.
The night could be hellish. Many people actually liked it that way, dancing through the dark in a painful anonymity, exorcising their demons before the dawn. Then with dawn you’d hear a wave of motorbike engines and feel a new energy taking hold of the party. The light began to grow and you’d suddenly realize what a beautiful place you were in. The dance floor swelled and hundreds of people would suddenly go wild as the DJ unleashed a new mood.
It was also the time when you saw who you’d been dancing with all night. You’d drift through the dance floor, testing the waters, looking for the space that suited you the best. Ideally no one stood about or talked and you’d feel the personalities of hundreds of people as expressed through dance. There were the hoof and elbow stampers of the Israeli chieftains, the springs and twirls of Greek nymphs and the martial aerobics of Japanese travellers exploring the meaning of freedom for the first time. The parties attracted characters and personalities from all over the world, people with dance that more resembled theatre and they generated energy wherever they went.
Most people were too high to care what anyone thought of them and were free to explore themselves and their personal journeys as far as their dance could take them. It was a medium that conducted the flow of thoughts and feelings in a way that word could never do. You found movements to express your anger, sadness or love. There were rarely any strong sexual vibes and most people were too high to even entertain the concept. Instead you were free to play roles as you moved and feel how everyone reacted to your personal dance. At its best it was a kind of group therapy.
At the end of a party you had gotten to know around a hundred people without ever talking to them. You knew who your friends on the dance floor were although you probably never exchanged a word. Often you might not even see them again until the next party and then you’d continue from where you left off. Soul mates recognized each other for the first time and no one could hide who they were. As dawn hit at one party I felt a tap on my shoulder from a young Portuguese DJ – he squeezed a drop of liquid acid onto my palm and twisted away into the dance floor before I could even smile.
As with any congregation you felt part of something greater than yourself. It was something more conductive than water where any wave of energy could spread through the dance floor in a moment. A fight, an embrace or a new arrival were all things you felt without using any of the five senses. It was like melding into some electrical field or making love to 300 hundred people at once.
The dust rose with the day and soon everyone’s nostrils and lips would be lined with red sand. You could feel a bottle of water being opened a 50 meters behind you and you’d all dance on even when you had no more strength to do so. Then it would suddenly all be over. After 7 hours of psychedelic experience you’d suddenly understand how the music had formed part of you, how it had flowed down your veins and poured out again as sweat. Lost and bewildered, you’d amble about in the sudden silence like soldiers after a battle, unsure of where your destiny lay next.
Other times it was pure hell. You’d turn up, drop acid and then be unable to find anywhere on the dance floor where you weren’t being hassled by some idiot. I remember one night where I danced for an hour next to a huge Scandinavian who stood about with a large rucksack on, sighing and glaring at everyone. Finally he grabbed me with one hand and with the other held a small Indian boy who was trying to sell something. I spun away before he could hit me.
When it wasn’t going well you could read the uncertainty and suffering on people’s faces. You’d join forces with a few other dancers and try to create some energy together but then a water salesman would set down his boxes between you and start counting his money. ´Get out of my fucking temple!´ I’d want to shout but these were the local mafia and the last thing you needed on acid was an enemy.
The New Year Goa Parties
The New Year’s parties were always the most chaotic. Thousands of tourists and Indians turned up for 48 hours of unmitigated anarchy. The Indians from the interior were the most irritating nerds imaginable. They walked down the beach fully dressed, socks and shoes and all to take photos of girls in bikinis. This was my girlfriend in Goa, they tell their friends back home. At night they’d become hopelessly drunk and every year a couple of them would drown as they tried to swim for the first time in their lives.
Frequently at the parties you found yourself playing policeman on the dance floor as you prevented hordes of Indians from surrounding unsuspecting Western girls. When one friend of mine tried to intervene at a New Year’s party the Indian in question withdrew a full length sword. He waved it around a bit until everyone kept their distance and then walked around with it the whole night. Oh-oh, there’s the lunatic with the sword again,´ people murmured and moved away.
New Year was also when the Goans got their own back on the arrogant Indian tourists who had been treating them like shit for weeks. Gangs of Goan lads looked for drunken tour groups from Bombay and then beat the shit out of them in the forest.
In the end it was always better to look for the smaller parties where you had a chance of finding friends. You never really knew what might happen to you or when you might need help. On my 21st birthday I was at a party and someone gave me a shot of acid punch. Someone must have made a mistake with the maths though as instead of a 100 micrograms I ended up taking closer to a 1000.
I spent a good deal of the night in a state of emergency, reminding myself every couple of seconds that it was time to breathe again. I could barely see or stand up in the storm of perception and found myself in the morning sitting next to a fire somewhere at the back of the party. I had precious little idea of where I was or what I was going to do. A friendly face arrived at my side and I managed to recognize it as belonging to my friend, Isaac.
“Isaac, I’m, uh, the night was, like, difficult, ah,. I don’t know how, I mean, difficult, is your motorbike with you?”
“Sure, where do you need to go? “
“Ah, I’m not sure-”
“Oh, did you have a bad trip?”
Once I managed to communicate that the word got around that my night had been rougher than most, there was a crowd of people looking to help. As I had no home at the time I was taken back to the house of some friends to be babysat. They fed me papaya and yogurt until the afternoon when I got my head together enough to head back to the beach.
Parties in the Himalayas
In general the family feeling was stronger in the mountains where the parties were smaller and more personal. Everything was a lot more work in the mountains and ensured that only dedicated freaks got to the parties. They were generally staged about 3 hours walk up the slopes and the hike in the darkness almost killed us. Once there was a party held at the house of a friend just one hour above our village. That evening however a heavy mist rolled in and by midnight no one had shown up.
“There were just five of us and a huge sound system,” my friend told me. “We thought no one was going to turn up. But then around 1am the wind picked up and swept the mist away. Suddenly we could see torchlight up and down the mountainside, hanging onto every rock and cliff imaginable. Everyone had got lost in the mist.”
In the full moon the snow-capped mountains gleamed blue and everyone in the party looked like an angel. Here we danced from midnight through till noon and in the morning the villagers came out to laugh at all the strange foreigners bouncing around in circus clothing. No matter how bad your night had been you couldn’t help but be blown away by the view in the morning and that was alchemy enough for most people. You could feel the whole mountain waking up and then just as suddenly as the dawn had turned the snow peaks pink, low-level clouds would roll in and you’d find yourself breathing water. If it rained on a cold night you ran the risk of breaking your ankle in the mud or catching pneumonia. Somehow it all seemed worth taking the risk.
All good things come to an end, they say. Maybe they just move on. I turned up at some of the same parties in the mountains a few years later and it was like taking a picnic at high altitude. Everyone sat around smoking and had no idea of what a party should be.