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Apr142010

Unveiling the Secret - The Roots of Trance

Unveiling The Secret - The Roots of Trance

by Dave Mothersole

So there we were, three fresh faced, south London former soul-boys in bashed up Armani jeans and Converse, huddled together on the back of a motorbike taxi, heading off to our first party.  “We’ll show these hippies what it’s all about” I thought as the driver, perched up on the bike’s tank, deftly negotiated the pot holes and a million insects buzzed away in the warm night air.  It was late August 1986 and still monsoon time.  As we grew closer I could see dozens of Royal Enfields haphazardly abandoned on the pathway that lead to the carcass of the old Catholic church where the party was being held.  Groups of people were sat around outside smoking chillums.  Some looked up and stared as we passed by and it began to dawn on me that this might not turn out quite as I’d expected.  Nothing though, could prepare me for the shock I got as we walked inside. 

It was like stepping into another world.  UV pictures of blacksploitation babes and leather clad joy boys hung from the walls as the speakers pumped out these dark, synthetic beats.  Wild eyed loons in flip flops and rags leapt about next to girls who looked like they had just walked in off some Milanese cat walk.  An American kid in his late teens dressed in a Mickey Mouse tracksuit and sporting the best Billy Idol haircut I’d ever seen, walked up and offered us some liquid acid. “Full trip or half trip” he leered, pulling out a whacking great needle-less syringe and gesturing at us to hold out our hands for a dose.  “Could change your life” he said with a sly chemical grin and an air of overbearing superiority.  I went for half, holding out my nervously clenched fist in a mixture of curiosity and fear. 

Outside Indian chi ladies from the local villages had set up little stalls selling tea and cakes and all around people were dancing like it was their last night on earth.  Clouds of pungent Manali smoke filled the air as the incessant, narcotic groove chugged away like a runaway train.  It was like Lord Of The Flies and H.G. Wells’ Time Machine in a blender with an acid fried version of Miami Vice.  A post apocalyptic Monte Carlo, reclaimed by nature and inhabited by a tribe of wild, decadent, jet set gypsies partying their way into some new collective consciousness. 

 Far from showing them what it was all about, we looked on in a mixture of horror, fascination and wide eyed disbelief.   Passive observes who’d stumbled across this weird bacchanalian scene.  In a church, at the end of a dirt track.  A few thousand miles from where we from, but a million miles from anything we knew.  As defining year zero moments go, this was a major one for me.  I’d expected to find a few burnt out pot heads singing Bob Marley songs around a campfire.  Not this.  That American kid was right - life was never quite the same again.

 

To understand how a bunch of western misfits, searchers, junkies and fugitives ended up dancing to a mutant strain of proto-techno on a beach on the Arabian sea, you have to go back to the late 60’s.  The story of how Goa became a magnet for freaks the world over, can be seen in the excellent Facebook documentary, Goa Hippy Tribe.  Suffice to say though, by the mid 70’s, the full moon parties were in full swing with bands playing all night on big four way speaker stacks.  Come the early 80’s, the original crowd of hedonistic settlers had been joined by a new generation, many of them European, who brought their own music with them. 

It’s unclear exactly who set up the first electronic music parties in Goa - some credit a character called Dr Bobby (father of Tiga) - but it is known that many of the new arrivals would frequent clubs in Ibiza, London, Berlin, Rimini and Riccione when they returned to Europe for the summer.  It’s also clear that they had little or no attachment to the 70’s rock favoured by the original crowd.  Initially they were met with some fierce resistance, but by 1983 electronic music had pretty much taken over.  And so it was that at the same time that Chicago was creating House and Detroit was forging ahead with what would become Techno, the roots of Trance were being sawn on the beaches of Anjuna and Vagator.  And just as Chicago had Ron Hardy and Detroit had The Electrifying Mojo, Goa had a DJ called Laurent.  If it wasn’t for him, it’s quite possible that the music played at parties in Goa would have been little more than a carbon copy of what was going on back in Europe and America.  But like all true pioneers, Laurent made it much more than the sum of it’s parts and in doing so created a whole new style of music. 

 

Legend has it that when he left France for Goa he told his family he’d be back in a couple of months, never to return. Whether this is real or not is anyone’s guess. * Goa has always has been a place that lives on rumours and half truths and separating fact from fiction has never been easy.  For his part, Laurent credits fellow Frenchman Fred Disko with being the first person to play electronic music in Goa.  And there were of course others like Swiss Rudi, Stefano and the now ubiquitous Gil.  But it was Laurent who defined the style and set the parameters for what would become Trance. 

He took all the new electronic music coming out of Europe and America, cut out most of the vocals and parts he didn’t like, extended the parts he did and stitched it all together into one long, constantly morphing psychedelic groove.  New Wave, Italo-disco, EBM, New Beat, Goth, Electro, Hi-NRG, Synth-pop, House – anything was up for grabs.  As long as it had the right vibe, it could be made to fit.  But unlike his DJ counter parts in the West, Laurent didn’t use records - the heat and dust in Goa made that imposible - he used cassettes. 

Tapes had been played at parties in Goa ever since the introduction of amplified music and by the early 80’s the Sony profesional walkman was the deck of choice.  It was hard wearing, sounded good and it had a pitch control.  It also had a mechanical pause button with a very precise action.  This was imperative, not just for playing live, but also as a way to re-edit and re-arrange tracks.  Many of the biggest hits in Goa during the 80’s were substantially re-edited, often to take out any unwanted vocals, but also to extend some of the rhythmic passages.  Laurent’s re-edits of  Blancmange’s “Living On The Ceiling”, Boytronic’s “Hurts” and Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf” are legendary examples, but many other songs had the same treatment. 

Removing the vocals was considered important as they would often distract from the dancer’s trip.  However, it did depended on what type of vocal it was.  Anything that sounded pop-y was out, but more abstract subject matter, especially if delivered in a “New Wave” style voice, was allowed. So acts like Depeche Mode, Psyche and Front 242 were often played with the vocals intact, whilst Den Harrow, for example, wasn’t. 

But whilst singing was often removed, newsreel and documentary style voices were used a lot.  And as LSD and Manali charas were the most prevalent drugs at parties, the audiences were very susceptible to the content of these soundbites.  Religion, re-birth, the cold war, drugs, time travel, mysticism, nuclear disaster and sci-fi were all popular themes and at times it felt like these messages were being beamed down directly from space. That we were God’s chosen ones; his disco dancing, cosmic flower children; ecstatically gyrating our way, shiva-like into new realms and  understanding.

 

That’s probably why Laurent’s style caught on.  By taking the psychedelic aspects of experimental rock and applying them to electronic dance music, he had created a sound that was both accessible and otherworldly.  It was functional too, which was important because like any other DJ, his success depended on his ability to make people dance.  The demographic in Goa at that time was quite wide, with the age range going from 18-50 and the male to female ratio being fairly even.  His skill was to get all these people on board whilst simultaneously pioneering a new style of music.  And like all truly great DJs he was able to do this because he had the ability to make records translate.  Tracks like Orient Affair’s “Classic Dance” or Hypnosis’ “Droid” may have sounded a bit camp or even pompous back in Europe, but they were given a strange poignancy as 500 people kicked up dust clouds under the coconut palms. 

Messing with song tempos was another Laurent trademark and you would often hear him slowing Hi-NRG tracks down to around 100bpm.  He really understood the importance of context.  How, because of the drugs, the mind blowing locations and the tribalistic nature of Goan beach parties, he could make tracks feel and sound different.   

Playing for anything up to 10 hours at a time he would move from dark, hard hypnotic beats during the night, to sweet, uplifting, sun kissed grooves in the morning.  From Skinny Puppy and Nitzer Ebb to Koto and Laser Dance; from 100 to 150bpm; from nightmare-ish and scary to blissed out and glorious.  It was a heady combination and one that had a tremendous impact on the lives of many. 

Three videos, the second of which contains the only known footage of Laurent DJing

After that first party I stayed in Anjuna for a few months as the season picked up, before travelling around India. I went back to Goa the following year and fully immersed myself in the freak lifestyle. It was a wonderful time and I was lucky enough to be a part of some truly amazing parties. When I got back, Acid House had started to happen in England, so I got involved in that and gradually lost touch with the Goa scene.

I’m not fan of what Trance became.  As soon as people started calling it Psy-Trance and making music with Goa in mind, it lost its way for me.  That’s fine though.  I’m not a fan of what Punk became either -  but that doesn’t stop The Clash being my favourite band.  Just because Trance became a narrow, soulless succession of drug triggers, that doesn’t take anything away from what  Laurent did back in the 80’s and early 90’s.  His legacy goes beyond way beyond such limitations.

Apparently he’s stil living in Goa, doing his thing, shunning the limelight and occasionally turning down interviews with visiting journalists.  The real father of Trance.  A true legend. 

Listen to Dave’s tribute mix to Laurent.

A selection of the acts played by Laurent and others in Goa from 1983-1989

Acts Of Madmen, Alien Sex Fiend, A Split Second, Anne Clark, Android, Arthur Baker, Art Of Noise, BAD, Bappi Lahiri, Blancmange, Borghesia, Boytronic, Cabaret Voltaire, Carlos Peron, Cassandra Complex, CCCP, Chris & Cosey, Code 61, Cyber People, DAF, Decadance, Den Harrow, Depeche Mode, Devine, Dr Calculus, Ecstacy Club, Egyptian Lover, Electra, Fad Gadget, Fatal Attraction, Force Legato, Front Line Assembly, Front 242, FockeWulf 190, Giorgio Moroder, Hard Corps, Hashim, House Master Boys, Hypnosis, Icarus, Information Society, Ironic Remark, I Start Counting, James Ray and The Performance, Jellybean Benitez, Jean- Michel Jarre, John Carpenter, Karen Finley, Keith Leblanc, Koto, KLF, Kraftwerk, Krush, Lama, Laser Cowboys, Laser Dance, Liaisons Dangereuses, Man Parish, Manufacture, Mark Imperial, Mark Shreeve, Ministry, Mittageisen, Moev, Morton Sherman Bellucci, Moskwa TV, Neon, Neon Judgement, New Beat Express, New Order, Newcleus, Nitzer Ebb, N.O.I.A., Nux Nemo, Off, Orient Afair, Peter Richard, Poesie Noire, Portion Control, Public Relations, Psyche, Richard H. Kirk, Robotiko Rejekto, Sandy Marton, Severed Heads, Screaming Trees, Signal Aout 42, Simple Minds, Sisterhood, Skinny Puppy, Space Opera, Spectrum, Soft Cell, Syntech, Tackhead, Tangerine Dream, Tantra, Telex, The Maxx, Time Zone, Torsten Fenslau, Total, Tribantura, Two Of China, Vicious Pink, Voyou, Yello, Zwischenfall, 400 Blows, 4You, 16 Bit

There has been a fair amount written about Goa in the 90’s, but this is by far the best piece I’ve seen it contains the only known interview with Laurent

 *addendum made 30/04/10 following confirmation from Laurent himself - see below comments

Reader Comments (65)

Excellent read about something I knew very little about Dave. Well jealous of your trips there now! J

April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy P

wicked article + great mix. anyone know what any of the tunes playing in that first video are? epic

April 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterncw

thanks for the feedback guys. really pleased you like the article & mix.

the songs in the first vid are;

megabeat 'twin beats' and stardiver 'lifetime mission'

the vid is from a party in 1992 in maharahstra - the state above goa.

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

awesome thanks for the info.

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterncw

watching those vids it's the particular soft quality of the reverb against sand/sea/sky/trees that is the magic x-factor. hated the goa scene (avoided it when i was in india in 1989) - but i'm sure those parties were a gas. lovely post.

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Ingram

thx for the article and mix. magnificent! awaiting for more notes ;)

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentervenohm

fascinating stuff... and it's inspired an invention of a whole new genre....

maybe

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterloki

Magnificent and gradated article. I had great fun reading it. It would be nice to hear Laurent┬┤s side of the story. Love this kind of musical stories.

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterInfra

thanks for your kind words.

infra, you can read laurent's side of the story - or at least a bit of of it in the erik davis piece linked to above. the bit with laurent starts 2 / 3 of the way down, but it's all worth reading. definitely the best thing i've seen about goa in the 90's.

here's the link again

http://www.techgnosis.com/paradise.html

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

Just got through it ! Well done... I'm jealous and starting to think I got there 10 years too late (1998) even though I had the time of my life :D

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKunal

The author does psychedelic trance a huge disservice; in its heyday in the mid to late 1990s, it was not a 'soulless succession of drug triggers' but a highly experimental form of music, no less avant-garde for being aimed at the dance floor. I would put the output of Juno Reactor, X-Dream, Total Eclipse, Montauk P, Koxbox, Deviant Electronics, Prana, Cosmosis, Noosphere, Orichalcum and Sandman (to name but a few!) up against the trippiest old Goa tracks; that hipster ideology doesn't care for psy-trance is all the more reason to pay attention to it.

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Gilbreath

Thanks a lot Dave !

Will check it out rightaway !! :)

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterInfra

Well what can i say.
Coming from part indian heritage and having a burning desire for all music that to me sounds good(regardless of genre)and loving my roots,i have come to find this piece written on the original time Goa was forming it's sound absolutely mind blowing.From this piece i have not only learned a little about Goan Parties but also felt extremely priviliged to have the chance to understand the true workings on when the writer felt that connected to a level of sound that initially changed his life...This narration has immense passion and equally as precise and informative as well as the the feel..I have been to Goa many times,but in the 90's and 2000 and i always tend to go out partying there and really don't find it that much fun... Kind of wished i had been going in that era.....
But i look forward to going again some time soon and doing some homework on the legend that goes by the name of Laurent.....

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMalmo

This was a fascinating read. I'm from India and I've been to Goa a few times myself, but considering I was born in 87, this was in a completely different time - the 2000's. And it really is different now in a lot of ways and after reading this piece, that seems unfortunate. Guess I'll never really know though.

Thanks for the article anyway. Cheers.

April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSG

This write up has inspired me so much that when i go back to Goa i have decided to seek out the one and only Laurent and offer him a Naan bread for a mixtape

April 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUrdu Elvis

I was there in the early and mid 90s and I wish I could turn time back and start all over... Just listening to the music makes me happy... Thank you!!!

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUta

Hi Dave,
Gil sent me this link... I can only say I am very honored by this post!
You are right, I am still living in Goa, but I spent more and more time in SE Asia, Goa became boring, mass tourism and investors have killed the spirit of the place... and it costs me dear to admit that, having spent decades there in a privileged situation...
I d like to clafify some points though ;D
The story about me being given a tape deck for being an 'unrepentant leech' is an invention of some journalist (i think Erik Davies, in the link you've given...) and it makes me sick to hear that.... let me tell you why:
I was playing electronic music in Paris before going to Goa... we used to rent a barge on the Seine and do all night parties there. So when I came to Goa for DJing, I had all the latest explosive stuff of the time and as I knew all the people in the Goa scene, so the day I arrived in Vagator, in early March of 1984, I found myself naturally playing all night in a party... After a couple of months, my girlfriend had some problems and we lost all plane tickets and money was all gone! So I could not leave anymore, and spent many seasons and monsoons doing what i liked... playing music at parties!
But I NEVER earned a single cent out of this activity and we were living on my girlfriend's flea market sales and I became a gambler, having to play backgammon for a living (I am lucky and was doing very well!) But being called a leech by a tourist who doesn t know me is not nice, as I gave my life and health (I have to repeat, for FREE) for this story, and I have to see such comments...! Anyway I noticed you questioned the veracity of this allegation in your article!
You described quite well some aspects of the party history.
I don't know if we met in Goa in those days? Do we know each other?
BTW... This is the first time I speak personally about this period... the other "interview" is not legitimate! He was very lucky to manage to get out of Vagator with his recorder!
I am also grateful, as i saw some band names i had forgotten and immediately got them on the net (I have all my original cassettes,and DAT tapes, but after25 monsoons, they are dead... so I collect whatever i can find of my DJing day(84-93).

Thanks for this tribute, i am really glad someone remembers!

Enjoy

Laurent

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurent

Great stuff! Linked to this article on a little blog written on the site above (the April 28th entry).

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBaz

hey laurent,

thanks for setting the record straight about those days. you're quite right i got that bit of info from the erik davies piece.

that aside i'm glad you liked the article and honored you replied.

i really hope that some of your old recordings are salvigable and that if they are you decide to make them public at some point - they are a hugely important part of dance music history that most people just don't know about.

thanks for the music and memories,

dave

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdave mothersole

amazing tale. thanks for sharing. Ko Phangan needs to be written up too

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIain

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